The Interceptor – The Interceptor (electronic post-rock)
self released, 2012, DD album, 29m 30s
The Interceptor (a creative alias of the musically promiscuous Chris Saunders, a man who seems to join or form a new band every week), is a purveyor of electronic music; there’s a definite 8-bit vibe but these tracks are far from purist chip-tune territory. Looking at the project’s fairly minimal online presence we can discern an interest in soundtrack that tallies with the primarily atmospheric content of the music: specifically, these sounds are intended as a soundtrack to killing zombies, driving through apocalyptic wastelands and fighting cyborgs or serial killers. Which might lead the listener to expect something heavy and harsh, in the manner of electro-industrial or powernoise, or some kind of circuit-bent hybrid like Army of 2600, (particularly if they are familiar with the balls-out lunacy of some of the rock music Saunders is involved with) but his timbres here are surprisingly polite. The music is basically assembled as mid-tempo instrumental rock, with evocative, somewhat melancholy melodies, and arrangements that drive their narratives along with a constantly but subtly mutating textural soundscape. The sounds are all electronic, and they are simply processed; the album gives the impression that it would be achievable with mid 1980s technology, and indeed it would sound very eighties, but it has too much of an ear to the intervening twenty years of dance music aesthetics, and it baulks at some of that decade’s sonic crudities (such as massive, totally artificial sounding snares and horribly clicky kicks). The sound is pretty unassuming, eschewing spectacle in favour of melody, groove and ambience; the meat on the plate is the emotional content, which is compelling to say the least. The most powerful of Saunders’ various projects is undoubtedly Earthmass, whose music is also extremely involving, but where Earthmass is epic, The Interceptor feels more intimate and personal; it’s a superb, skillfully crafted soundtrack to your own personal story of the zombie apocalypse, not to the whole shebang, and all the more exciting for it.
Ummagma – Ummagma (ethereal rock)
self released, 2012, DD album, 47m 23s
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Ummagma are launching themselves onto the scene with a simultaneous dual release; Andre LaFosse did the same thing recently, but where his two albums showcased radically different approaches, these are actually pretty similar. Quite gentle songs, that are generally inviting, although they have their moments of cold and darkness, are arranged and produced with creativity and imagination. The melodies are of a pleasing, somewhat wistful bent, and are decorated at tasteful intervals with compelling hooks, which sometimes serve simply as the vocal equivalent to a riff, and occasionally erupt with anthemic intensity. A combination of intelligent processing on the instrumental sounds and carefully crafted synth patches keeps the textural interest high, with a wide variety of sounds giving each track an individual character. The overall mood is pretty floaty, and we are kept at an anaesthetic remove from the action by a warm reverberant ambience; the aesthetic is clearly indebted to shoegaze and dreampop, but the textures are far less ‘all over’ than is usually the case in those styles. If shoegaze resembles abstract expressionist painting, then Ummagma resembles some form of figuration, albeit one in which form is obscured by an overriding concern with colour and tone. The overall effect is one of nostalgic longing, paradoxically perhaps, as the soundscapes are so warm and comfortable at the same time. A sense of loss pervades the album, but it seems more a source of celebration than anguish; it revels in a certain gentle pain, the sort of dull ache that reminds a slightly detached subject of their own capacity for feeling. Unlike much of the ‘hypnagogic’ music that travels similar affective territory this album is just as concerned with the business of its own construction however, with some very imaginative playing, some of it quite upbeat, and a constantly transforming set of textures that give the nerdier listener plenty of food for thought. A very accomplished and enjoyable work.
Ummagma – Antigravity (ethereal rock)
self released, 2012, DD album, 41m 58s
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On the cover of Antigravity three sylph-like young bodies, clad in swimming gear, float languidly above a hazy scene, that could be a cityscape, but which has the ambiguity of a distant lake bed glimpsed through clear water on a bright day. That’s a great metaphor for a modern, urban subjectivity, and it’s one that seems to be borne out in the music. Is it antigravity that keeps them afloat, or the medium in which their world is drowned? What keeps these songs afloat is, again, a combination of musicianship and a liquid, ambiguous aesthetic. The hard-edged rhythmic synth sound of ‘Micro-Macro’ is exchanged for the restrained acoustic guitar curlicues of ‘Back To You’, but in both cases they anchor the music to a certainty, an emphatic musical statement that is reinforced rather than undercut by the pelagic and expansive sense of the soundscapes within which they are situated. There’s a good deal of groove in this album, whether it comes from an insistent rhythm guitar, as in ‘Live and Let Die’ or a driving, acid-rock influenced bass-and-drums motor as in ‘Lama’ and ‘Kiev’, and combined with the more assertive elements in the textures, it serves to add deep structure to the floaty and dream-like atmospheres. There’s a complexity to Antigravity that emerges whenever the listener settles down to what seems a simple set of premises; a variety of different sets of pop and rock assumptions are invoked simultaneously, and none of them unequivocally endorsed. I think the real creative core of Ummagma’s approach here is to be found in the production, which unifies a disparate set of elements into a seamless whole, without smoothing off all the corners; the songs are great, but they sound a lot more remarkable like this than they would if they were simply bashed out on an acoustic guitar. Like Ummagma this is an accomplished record, but it ramps up the musicianship another notch, and takes more of an eclectic, magpie approach to its arrangements. Superb stuff.
Vee Kay – Fade Out (hip-hop)
Killamari Records, 2012, DD album, 42m 34s
Vee Kay’s beats wobble my headphones on a regular basis, whether as the backbone of a Three Kings High tune, or in the guise of a Digiflex cut; here he’s standing under the spotlight, enlisting a succession of my favourite rappers to get verbal on his grooves. This has been his most visible M.O. in ten years producing, although it’s been more likely to be the emcee’s name on the track. Production work has a particular position in hip-hop, unlike the place it finds in other traditions; in hip-hop ‘producer’ means ‘composer/ arranger/ engineer/ turntablist/ crate-digger/ producer’, everything bar ‘lyricist/ vocalist’ in fact, but the structure of the music serves to subordinate all of that creative work to the verbal content. The bars quite naturally command the listener’s attention, just because they are words, and because they locate the emcee’s personality front and centre; a good beat can go almost unnoticed, although it will always reward close listening. It is every bit as important to the success of the track however; these twelve tunes are an object lesson in finding that perfect balance, between a groove that works as a piece of music in its own right, and one that offers a propulsive launch-pad for a set of lyrics. These are some heavy and atmospheric beats, very much of the old (i.e. pre-dubstep/ grime) school, offering some serious head-noddery, and blessed by the illest of the UK underground’s flows, from East (Kent), West (Bristol), North (Tyneside) and other points for all I know, since not every emcee on here is familiar to me. Apparently Vee Kay has other musical fish to fry, and Fade Out means exactly what it says; this, to quote the Bandcamp page ‘is the last Hip Hop album that Vee Kay will produce. Period.’ I can see that hip-hop offers a particular set of compensations and challenges, whose appeal might have a limited lifespan for a producer, but I’m sorry to see him bow out, because few of his peers can produce a groove as deep and nail that balance so precisely. His future progress in other styles will doubtless be well worth following, and Fade Out is a superb valediction to this one.