Among the swathe of new releases currently jostling around the 5:4 jukebox, i want to start by flagging up two interesting recent releases, both serendipitous discoveries from the panning-for-gold approach to listening that is my modus operandi these days. First is Duologue, a five-piece from London whose latest EP, Memex, has initiated a host of earworms that are continuing to burrow around my subconscious at the moment. It’s an obvious place to begin, but their sound has more than a little to do with Radiohead, and not simply due to singer Tim Digby-Bell’s ululating vocals that often sound strikingly like a less defocussed Thom Yorke. Their songs share Radiohead’s interest in playing with the multiplicity of conventions associated with rock and pop. Thus, the EP’s title track melds dream pop and autotune to strange effect, crumbling into a hard-edged coda, while ‘Operator’ bumbles along at a fair old lick, with some nicely-judged harmonic shifts in a pair of softer episodes that break up the momentum—yet overall carrying a sense of ecstatic stasis, made manifest in the song’s energetic dancefloor-infused conclusion. But third track ‘Traps’ stands out way beyond either of these, evoking music from an earlier time while conjuring up a sense of balmy humidity; this is checked by the song’s regular structural shifts where major and minor tonality are superimposed (such a simple use of dissonance but still more-or-less unheard of in music of this kind) to delicious effect. Having also spent time with the group’s first album, Song and Dance (which i also warmly recommend), ‘Traps’ is definitely their strongest song to date, mature and subtle. The EP is available in physical formats (CD/vinyl) direct from the band and in digital from all the usual places, plus you can stream it below.
Music of a thoroughly different persuasion comes from OY, a Berlin-based duo comprising Swiss-Ghanaian vocalist Joy Frempong and drummer/producer Lleluja-Ha. Their latest album, No Problem Saloon is a slightly pruned and amended version of Kokokyinaka, put out as a limited release last year in Switzerland. Now everyone gets to savour the deliriously leftfield delights of OY, who aspire to integrate such a wildly disparate collection of elements that it borders on the ludicrous. Indeed, the most fantastical aspect of No Problem Saloon is the way it blends so completely African and European styles, manners, attitudes and lyrics such that, for the most part, neither predominates. So we get songs like ‘Hallelujah! Hair!’, a paean to the simple, sensual joys of afros, cornrows and dreadlocks, featuring ethnic timbres alongside percussive elements derived from recordings of razors and scissors; or ‘Tortoise and Hunter’, a narrative tale set to tribal drums and sounds from traffic noise which breaks out into a furious second half of razor-sharp electronica and frantic drum kit work. The success of these songs, quite apart from the brilliantly imaginative use of sound, is in no small part due to Frempong’s lyrics, which are about as endearingly unaffected as you’re ever likely to hear, both in terms of content as well as delivery. They range from the personal—’My Name is Happy’, a subdued recounting of a variety of identities and their connotations—to the whimsically philosophical—”Life is like a mobile phone / Your units come, your units go…” from ‘Market Place’—to the profound, heard in the album’s standout track ‘Doondari’, recounting the Fulani creation myth originating from “a huge drop of milk”. Essentially a slice of drum-pumped electronica, Frempong’s rapid meandering through the repetitions of the story resembles a scrambling recitative passing through an assortment of episodes that skew off at oblique angles, the references to creation and milk finally combining in the quiet wail of a baby. It’s pure brilliance, embodying many of the host of reasons why No Problem Saloon is one of those glorious albums that you just don’t see coming. Genuinely essential listening, it’s available in both physical and digital formats from Crammed Discs, as well as on Spotify.
A few years back, i mulled over the mother of all epics, The Death of Rave by V/Vm (Leyland Kirby). Around 15 months ago, Kirby told me he was intending to reissue some of that material, and it has finally emerged as The Death Of Rave (A Partial Flashback). Eight of those original 111 tracks have been lovingly remastered, representing the essence of the original series, which sought to create ‘facsimiles’ in the form of “an audio soup of half remembered rave anthems featuring all of the hits and many misses from the golden age of the Northern U.K. rave scene”. Kirby’s acts of doomed memorial don’t merely echo or resonate their sources, but coalesce into shuddering walls and cascades of heavyweight sentiment, looking forward as much as back. Traces of material that were once rhythmic bob and circle like bleached palimpsests; melodies and chord progressions founder and are left blinking impotently; basslines and beats move with the sleekness of barbed wire and the grace of tectonic plates, triggering landslides and earthquakes, and even in their less dramatic moments they ensure everything feels thoroughly grounded. In this respect, Kirby’s dour, pessimistic tone is conveyed with considerable power, especially in brief moments of nostalgic clarity where the detritus subsides to reveal a fragment of something ‘pure’ embedded deep within. Nobody captures the exquisite pain of the hauntological ache with more poignancy than Leyland Kirby, and these eight pieces are a sublimely fitting epitaph both for The Death of Rave as well as the time and place from which it all originally sprang. Available in all formats from Boomkat and digital/streaming from Kirby’s Bandcamp site.