Hello! I’m Rory O’Callaghan, and welcome to Love Tempo, a monthly newsletter that collects my thoughts and findings from the world of independent and electronic music. If you enjoy what you find, please consider subscribing by using the button below.
Hot Off The Press
Five new releases you should wrap your ears around this month…
There’s a moment towards the middle of ‘Get Sun’—the lead single from Hiatus Kaiyote’s latest album Mood Valiant—where singer Nai Palm’s vocals are pushed skywards. Fuelling their ascent are the sun-lit strings of Arthur Verocai, the legendary Brazilian composer, who the band (having just scraped enough money together to travel half-way around the world) recruited as an unlikely collaborator. It’s the centre-piece of an album that represents Hiatus Kaiyote’s most accomplished work yet: six years of touring, solo adventures and personal struggles poured into twelve songs, all teeming with life.
Sonically, the band go big on feeling, with little left on the cutting-room floor. For some, it may feel too much, their unabashed sound a touch over-indulgent. Yet if you’re willing, it’s easy to become enveloped in the record’s rich textures and psychedelic world-building. At its heart lie Palm’s bending, multi-tracked vocals, shifting from sonic device to lyrical guide in a way that’s reminiscent of D’Angelo. The rest of the band expertly weave around her, their accompaniment ranging from the laid-back groove of ‘Red Room’, the gentle orchestration of ‘Stone Or Lavender’ and the zany synth-funk of ‘Chivalry Is Not Dead’.
“My goal is to make everyone move, whatever tempo” says Karen Nyame KG, the London-based musician, radio host and UK funky veteran who’s fondly dubbed the ‘goddess of rhythm’. The producer, who took a lengthy break from music before returning with 2018’s KG EP, was speaking to Resident Advisor ahead of the release of Sensei II—a killer new set that marks the latest evolution in her vibrant, percussive sound.
Featuring extensive live vocals and instrumentation, Sensei II contains music that’s notably free of typical dance-floor constraints, allowing KG to experiment with both duration and tempo. Although still capable of doing the business in a club setting, the majority of these tracks stand on their own two-feet as fully-fledged ‘songs’ in the traditional sense. KG also appears to have turned her attention to South Africa in recent years. The Zulu-inflected vocals on ‘Nzinga’ or the amapiano indebted lead single ‘Koko’ point to a cultural exchange already established by like-minded artists such as Scratcha DVA—connecting the dots between percussive house styles, both at home and abroad.
As his name might suggest, Airhead is tricky to pin down. The UK musician—otherwise known as Rob McAndrews—has worn several hats over a now decade-long career. A longtime bandmate of James Blake, he’s a talented guitarist who moonlights as a maker of wickedly strange club music. There’s another side to his output too, one that inhabits a more introspective setting. and a bit of hope arrives in this latter mode, slipped out via Bandcamp at the beginning of July.
Simply prefaced as “a collection of ideas from the last year”, the release consists of ten drifting compositions—more sketches or demos than finished songs. ‘so far away’, the collection’s second track, is perhaps its most full-bodied: snapping drums, swirling electronic tones and a ghostly vocal that sounds like it’s trapped in a faulty dictaphone. Elsewhere, McAndrews’ guitar leads the way. His playing is feather-light and folksy, crafting cuts such as ‘silent sleep’ and ‘forever’ as delicate miniatures to fall into.
Early June saw the release of the Steppe EP on London imprint Control Freak Recordings. Co-produced by Will Hofbauer & Sangre Voss, its four tracks lurk in the shadows, staying true to the label’s expanding catalogue of brooding, bass-heavy UK techno. ‘Pumice’ and the Ciel remix of ‘June-O’ are noteworthy asides, but the second track ‘Flundra’ is the choice cut here. Despite clocking in at 122 beats per minute, it sounds slower: a skeletal, half-time beat and weighty feel reminiscent of classic-era dubstep. As it crawls forward, a cloud of oscillating low-end pressure blows across the mix like thick coastal fog. Its dark and decidedly minimal, a handy tool for a DJ in search of a left turn.
In recent times, the revered London producer Joy Orbison has positioned himself as a champion of emerging talent. After years of keeping relatively low profile, he landed a coveted slot on the BBC Radio 1 Residency roster last year. In the time since, he’s used his show to shine a light on some of the UK’s most exciting new artists: Mansur Brown, Wesley Joseph, KEYAH/BLU—just a few anointed with the Joy O co-sign.
It appears that he’s been hard at work behind the boards too. sweetstuff pack is a two-tracker that dropped on Thursday, a collaboration with rising North-West London artist cityboymoe. In a similar manner to the singer’s debut single ‘Slide’, both these cuts have a nocturnal feel, featuring spacey pads and skittering trap rhythms over which cityboymoe floats effortlessly, laying down his vocals in a hushed cadence that’s part rap, part late-night croon. It’s a brief release, running through in under five minutes, but as Joy O hinted on instagram, there may be more just around the corner.
A handful of older records I’ve been enjoying of late…
Glasgow has long been one of techno’s most important outposts. The Scottish city—home to institutions like Sub Club and the renowned record shop and distributor Rubadub—has produced a steady stream of influential producers over the last three decades. Stuart McMillan and Orde Meikle, the duo otherwise known as Slam, can claim to be some of the first. Their 1996 debut album Headstates set the stage for what was to follow, both via their own label Soma and other imprints across the city.
Listening to Slam’s output in recent years, you’d be forgiven for thinking the duo favour quite a linear, hard-nosed brand of techno. Headstates, on the other hand, illustrates the duo’s range: spacey Detroit-esque pads, slow-motion breakbeats, shades of hip-hop and even—on the aptly named ‘Hybrid’—a foray into drum & bass. Unsurprisingly, the album’s standout offering is also its most well-known: ‘Dark Forces’ begins innocently enough, riding a sleek, quick-footed groove that’s illuminated by the occasional sizzling hi-hat. Around three minutes in, a menacing reese bassline upends the track. It’s deep and propulsive, bound to shift the atmosphere of any room its played in.
Jon Lucien was a singer from Tortola, British Virgin Islands who settled in New York during the mid-1960s. Commanding a rich baritone, he was picked up by major label RCA who initially planned to market him as "a Black Sinatra”. A debut album of popular standards was released in 1970, but its follow up—1973’s Rashida—saw the musician stepping into his own shoes.
Thematically, Rashida isn't all that remarkable: eleven misty-eyed love songs in keeping with many soul records of the era. However, contrary to its predecessor, all the tracks here are penned by Lucien himself. He also handles the arrangements, crafting a velvety, cinematic soundscape of warm brass and muted strings. Taking cues from further afield, there are subtle nods to his Caribbean roots and notable latin influences throughout. These are perhaps most explicit on ‘Esperanza’, a mid-album highlight and one of the record’s more beautiful moments. Although only performing modestly on release, Rashida has enjoyed lasting appeal, its rich sound and bossa-inflected rhythms a particular favourite of DJs during the acid-jazz era of the early 1990s.
In the late 1990s Mathew Herbert was at the top his game. Highly in demand, he churned out remix after remix, re-fitting both underground club tracks and the occasional chart hit. A master of blending the rough with the smooth, he’d take a track—Moloko’s ‘Sing It Back’, for instance—and hollow it out, leaving what was left to shuffle forward in a quirky, ramshackle groove. Melodic elements, often vocals, would then haunt the track like ghosts of what existed before.
It’s a formula he nails to perfection with his flip of Mono’s ‘High Life’ from 1998. The original song is a wholly different affair: a slow and emotive trip-hop ballad that hasn’t aged particularly well. In Herbert’s hands, it’s sped up to house tempo and given an elastic bassline, the previously schmaltzy vocals now echoing an ear-worm refrain. It’s a switch up even more impressive if you consider Herbert’s self-imposed rules, affording him only the sounds provided by the original artist when crafting his remix.
There’s not much information to be found on Brenda Jones. As far as I can tell, she lived in Dayton, Ohio and put out just one 7” on Mercury Records back in 1974. ‘Big Mistake’ is the B-side to that record, produced by Herb Abramson and written by Jones herself.
Uptempo and bright, the song is coloured with splashes of jazz organ and breezy flute that seem somewhat at odds with its cautionary tale. The lyrics speak from the perspective of an estranged mother, who fled a marriage and gave up her young child many moons ago. As she walks through the idyllic home she once owned, she laments her actions, her voice wounded and filled with regret. Set amongst its warm instrumentation, the song comes across bittersweet, a moving dancer that became a coveted closing record at soul nights in years gone by. Although you won’t find a digital copy easily, it’s well worth picking up the vinyl, which received a welcome reissue via Expansion Records last year.
That’s all for this edition of Love Tempo, thanks for reading.
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