In an age when anyone with a computer can automatically churn out tracks that lack identity, master synthesist Steve Roach demonstrates a level of sophistication that is often missing in modern electronic music. Here, lush sequences are layered and slowly evolve over time while rarely repeating. Although his timbral palette has the richness of early space-music pioneers such as Tangerine Dream, Roach’s work is never nostalgic. These meditations are moody, polyrhythmic, and invitingly organic.
A U R O R A
MUTE /BEDROOM COMMUNITY
Throw all the geomorphic adjectives you like at Australian-born, Iceland-based drone composer Ben Frost and you’ll barely scratch the mantle when describing his seismic fifth full-length. Wielding lurching scorched ether machines, Frost grinds forth dissonant ash clouds and tectonic uplift. Featuring Thor Harris (Swans), Greg Fox (ex-Lithurgy), and Shahzad Ismaily, A U R O R A emits billowing polarities and looming chimes through its charred melodies, seizing cadence pits and unsettled synth fissures.
Old-school (read 1990s) sample jockey Andy Carthy shows how much music can still be made with minimal tools. Scruff’s biggest hit, “Get a Move On,” was built around a lone sample of “Bird’s Lament (In Memory of Charlie Parker)” by Moondog. Friendly Bacteria is equally minimalist, drawing on simply looped beats, unquantized bass lines, and synth gurgles adorned by faceless R&B crooners. Still, it’s spot-on happy, particularly in the sample-bountiful title track.
With every album, the Horrors becomes gentler in tone and more crafted in songwriting. On the band’s fourth, Luminous, the title describes the feel of these shimmering compositions, which give nods to both ’80s new wave and ’90s indie rave sounds. Echo and the Bunnymen-like chimes inform “I See You,” and bright jangles propel “First Day of Spring.” Elsewhere, Rideesque shoegazing rhythms dazzle on “Mine and Yours,” and “Sleepwalk” closes Luminous on a dreamy note.
Dave and Phil Alvin
The Alvin brothers’ first full album together since Dave split The Blasters in the mid-’80s, Common Ground is a joyous, loving tribute to the songs of blues pioneer Big Bill Broonzy. The Alvins aren’t Everly-type brothers; their talents and vocal tones are different. But when Phil’s clarion voice meets Dave’s smokey one, and Dave’s inspired guitar licks start flying, these Americana-lovers become greater than the sum of their parts.
A richly textured album of live rhythms, natural-sounding keyboards and guitars, and Karl Hyde’s selfless vocals, Someday World is exactly what you’d imagine from two of the most creative electronic music minds of the past 40 years. Bearing the inescapable stamps of Brian Eno and Hyde in almost textbook examples, Someday World, produced by Eno and Fred Gibson, is impossible to absorb in easily digestible samples, its nine tracks spiraling through glowing grooves and evocative sounds that are equally immediate and dreamlike.
B Sides and Remixes
These seven bonus tracks from the marvelous soul and funk singer/songwriter feature appearances and song reinterpretations by some stellar guests. Guitar wizard Gary Clark Jr. duets with ChesnuTT on the high-energy blues “Gunpowder on the Letter.” And Questlove of The Roots moves “What kind of Cool” from Landing on a Hundred (2012) to a new, ultragroove- y, sultry place. This assortment of gems offers new ways into ChesnuTT’s powerful original songs.