Electronica Album Reviews

Roger and Brian Eno: Mixing Colours review – an intimate conversation

(Deutsche Grammophon)

The Eno brothers have collaborated before, most recently on 2019’s revamp of the celebrated 1983 Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks documentary score (credited to Brian). Mixing Colours, the Enos’ duo debut, is a double sound-painting made up of natural phenomena (in tracks such as Snow, Desert Sand) and colours (Ultramarine, Burnt Umber) that plays out as an intimate conversation. Fifteen years in the on-off making, its slowly unspooling, generative beauty feels like a balm for these anxious times.

Most of these bejewelled instrumental tracks began with multi-instrumentalist Roger – the younger, less well-known brother, an experimental musician in his own right – on piano. His slow key strikes are bell-like. These compositional sketches would then make their way to Brian, who would work on them on the train, adding resonance.

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Vladislav Delay: Rakka review – techno from the end of the world

(Cosmo Rhythmatic)
Inspired by the arctic tundra and the climate crisis, the Finnish producer’s angriest work to date is a mix of unstable, deconstructed beats and bludgeoning noise

Most people tend to start out angry at injustice in the world, and then have that anger pared down by the passage of time until they’re playing golf and voting Conservative. Vladislav Delay, AKA Finnish producer Sasu Ripatti, has done the reverse. As Luomo in the mid-00s, he evolved the elegant minimal house that plays in cocktail bars into its ideal form. Sensual and subtly detailed, his tracks had a quiet toughness, but all certainly felt well with the world. His Vladislav Delay moniker was for even more beatific ambient techno. But by the time of his 2012 masterpiece Kuopio, its equally strong sister EP Espoo and the skittish jazz-techno fusion group Vladislav Delay Quartet, disquiet had crept in. The beats drummed like quick, nervous fingers on a tabletop, or a steady fist at a door.

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Moses Boyd: Dark Matter review – party-facing solo debut


Moses Boyd is a drummer in the same way Questlove from the Roots is a drummer, which is to say that the twice Mobo-winning 28-year-old Londoner is a producer-composer-collaborator-influencer not bound by the kit surrounding him. A progenitor of the current London jazz scene, Boyd’s official solo debut goes large on cross-pollination – and dancing.

Whereas Boyd’s previous Mobo-winning duo with the saxophonist Binker Golding and his Exodus ensemble remained more or less on-genre, Dark Matter exists very much in the wake of Boyd’s breakout track of 2016, Rye Lane Shuffle (which featured Four Tet and Floating Points on mixes). This is the London hybrid jazz of now – a party-facing electronic record that takes note of Afrobeats, two-step garage and Boyd’s travels in South Africa.

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Katie Gately: Loom review – nightmarish orchestrated despair

Earthquakes, shovels and screaming peacocks are all sampled in a bombastic and occasionally ingenious album

A nail-bomb of grief explodes in this second album by US musician Katie Gately, trauma seeming to rip open its edges. It was written while her mother was dying from a rare form of cancer; the title suggests this horror looming into her life, but also somewhere she can thread it together and tie it down.

Related: Katie Gately: ‘I’m a pretty diehard Billy Joel fan’

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DJ Diaki: Balani Fou review | Ammar Kalia’s global album of the month

(Nyege Nyege Tapes)
DJ Diaki’s debut is a speeding cascade of sound that skilfully re-creates the pounding atmosphere of Malian street party Balani Show

Recent years have seen some of the most exciting dancefloor-focused music moving further and further away from its spiritual homes of Detroit, Chicago, Berlin or London. Now, styles such as South African gqom or Angolan kuduro-techno are pushing their way into club sound systems with rattling tempos in excess of 200bpm and unpredictable polyrhythms replacing the familiar four-to-the-floor kick.

The work released by Ugandan label Nyege Nyege Tapes is among the most inventive of these styles. Encompassing sounds from the ground-shaking rhythms of Tanzanian singeli to the electro-synths of Ugandan acholi, the label has been challenging a recent trend towards often purposefully punishing “deconstructed” club music with their joyous reimaginings of east African music. Their latest release by Malian DJ Diaki is no less formidable. A stalwart of the Balani Show sound system – a party setup playing electronic, layered versions of the marimba-style instrument balafon – Diaki now releases his debut on Nyege Nyege.

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Ferocity, “The Hegemon” Album Review

Ferocity - The Hegemon
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Jazz & Blues Album Reviews

C.W. Ayon – What They Say | Album Review

C.W. Ayon – What They Say


Self Release

12 songs – 42 minutes

Cooper “C.W.” Ayon is a New Mexico bluesman channelling the Hill Country Blues of the likes of Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside, but adding his own individual personality and creating something wonderfully timeless and yet thoroughly modern. What They Say is Ayon’s ninth album, although this reviewer had not had the pleasure of hearing his music before.  Whether you are a long-standing fan of Ayon’s music or whether you are new to it, however, WhatThey Say is an worthwhile release, featuring six brand new songs and re-recordings of six songs from various older albums by Ayon.  As such, it serves both as an excellent introduction to his music but also as an snapshot of his career to date.

In addition to writing all the songs and singing in his winningly unaffected voice, Ayon plays a variety of acoustic and electric guitars (primarily a 1964 Silvertone, but also an acoustic Breedlove, an Ibanez Artcore and a custom-built Partscaster). He lays down a series of subtly differing tones through both the variety of guitars he uses but also the way he attacks the strings. He is an excellent guitar player, establishing a series of grooves with neatly repetitive yet catchy riffs, while adding rhythm through a simple kick/snare and tambourine setup.  He is joined on upright bass by Felipe Toltecatl and together they produce a mesmerising sound that touches on rock, hints at soul and is all blues.

The first track on the album, “Little Stuff”, sets out Ayon’s stall pretty accurately with its memorably almost-pop riff, and it’s uplifting message that “don’t you worry about what you got left. In the end it’s all just little stuff.” “End Of My Rope” has echoes of a John Lee Hooker boogie while the single string guitar melody underlines the vocal melody.  The music draws you in with its trance-like grooves and rhythms, but never gets boring or tired.  The simple four note hook in “I Need You Now” is so obvious and inevitable one wonders why nobody has coined it before. The one-chord stomp of “Well I Know” runs for over five minutes but there isn’t a wasted second on the recording.

Ayon has a lighter touch on guitar than Kimbrough and Burnside, and he does not have the same grit and gravel in his voice (although it is none the worse for that). Indeed, there is a lightness and melody to the songs that separates them from traditional Hill Country Blues, even while retaining the incessant and irresistible rhythms. There are hints of early Kelly Joe Phelps or even The Wood Brothers here, but the music is also distinctly individual.

This is an album with very few overdubs. The atmospheric closing instrumental, “Nautilus”, features some tasty finger-picked acoustic guitar, with a haunting background melody overdubbed on slide guitar.  Otherwise, it’s just Ayon and Toltecatl, recorded live, and what a glorious sound they create.

Recorded and mixed by Gary Laney at Nautilus Studio in San Angelo, Texas, What They Say is a very impressive release that bears repeated listening.  Highly recommended.

NoName James – Orange | Album Review

NoName James – Orange

Live Bug Music


CD: 13 Songs, 63 Minutes

Styles: Acid Blues, Contemporary Electric Blues Rock

“This music is not mastered. If you want it loud, turn it up!” Orange is indeed a loud color, as exciting as red without being as fear-inducing. Red is for panic buttons. The latest album from “NoName James” Scios (hailing from Orange, New Jersey) is for partying – loud partying. The disclaimer on the back of the CD cover is completely true. What it leaves out is the second rationale for having fourteen “unmastered” tracks – nine originals and five covers. Both this artist and Jimi Hendrix use instrumentation to induce musical trances, allowing listeners to “get in the zone” or “zone out.” Whereas Hendrix relied upon droning guitar riffs to achieve this effect, NoName James and his companions crank up all the instruments at once so that it’s nearly impossible to discern one line from another. Even more remarkable is that there are only three types involved: guitar, drums/percussion, and bass. This is rompin’, stompin’ acid blues.

Says James: “I have been playing many years (that is a 1976 Strat in the cover photo) I bought new, and played a few years before that. [I’ve] backed up many people, had many of my own bands. Worked thousands of gigs and been to a million jams. This is my third studio CD under NoName James. It has been getting some airplay around the country and here in NJ.” There’s a lot to be said for someone whose musical career has spanned more than forty years, no matter if he’s become a household name or not. It takes perseverance, willpower and a genuine love for blues and blues rock to live the dream of being a touring performer. Hopefully, this CD will catch fire on Sirius XM Radio and stations around the globe.

NoName James does triple duty on guitar, vocals and percussion, with bassist Auturo Baquer and drummer Tom Papadatos alongside him. Mustaffah Mysteriouso guest stars on congas and electric drums.

Right from the get-go, the instrumental tsunami surges. “Hey Baby” features this powerhouse trio pulling out all the stops: “You used to love me, love me, love me, love me, love me once or twice every night. You used to gimme, gimme, gimme anytime, day or night. Now to get a little somethin’, somethin’, I got to stand in line.” Who’s our narrator’s competition? “Some fool on your phone.” Most folks focus on the intro when they want to strut their stuff, but James’ outro will blast one’s speakers to smithereens. Later on come commendable covers such as Tom Fogerty’s arrangement of Bill Monroe’s “Rocky Road Blues,” the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride,” and Paul Anka’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.” James’ best original tune is “The Ice Man Cometh,” a sly ballad about getting rich as a bluesman instead of a lawyer. There’s smooth harmony here, but you’ll have to check the included lyrics booklet to discover all the humor in the verses.

“Turn it up” with NoName James and company – just don’t summon the police!

Laurie McVay – East Side Blues | Album Review

Laurie McVay – East Side Blues

Reef Bay Records


CD: 12 Songs, 41 Minutes

Styles: Soul Blues, Harmonica Blues, Ensemble Blues

In order to discover the ethos of East Side Blues, the sophomore offering from the UK’s Laurie McVay, flip to the inside of the CD jacket. Its title is whimsically etched in beach sand, a happy white pooch in the midst of it, tongue lolling out. This is the bad-mood killer of all bad-mood killers. On twelve terrific tracks – eleven originals and one cover – Laurie McVay croons his way to soul blues paradise. That’s where listeners will be, even at the start. He also plays searing blues harp that would make Rick Estrin jealous. There’s not one bad or mediocre song on here. Laurie captures the essence of his brand of blues in a fluid, almost effortless manner. It’s hard for Ms. Wetnight to believe this is only his second CD. Quality of this caliber sometimes shows up by one’s third or fourth release, but trust me: McVay absolutely nails it.

Laurie has toured extensively in Britain and Europe with his band the High Rollers. East Side Blues follows his successful debut, My Kind of Blues, released in 2014. The title of his current album is a nod toward one of his heroes, Magic Sam, and Sam’s classic 1967 album West Side Soul. It also relates to McVay’s present home on the east coast of the Isle of Wight in southern England. Laurie describes East Side Blues as “more of a band album and probably more of a straight-ahead blues album than My Kind of Blues.” His influences, along with Magic Sam, include Bobby Bland, Fenton Robinson, and Little Walter.

Performing alongside McVay (vocals, harmonies, blues harp and acoustic guitar) are Andy Charles on lead and acoustic guitar; Stephen J. Parkes on keyboards and piano; Tim Hollis on bass; Graham Matthews on drums, and Miranda Jokel on harmonies.

“All I Ever Wanted” pumps up the beat and listeners’ spirits, hearkening to Delbert McClinton at his best. It’s a perfectly-balanced ensemble number. All the instruments can be heard clearly and crisply, with none outshining the others. Those who don’t dance to this one are six feet under. “Back On My Feet Again” and “When You Were Mine” follow, showcasing Laurie’s respective talents on harmonica and postmodern blues shredder. After that comes a funky cover of Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man,” featuring Graham Matthews’ catchy rat-a-tat drums. The real stunners, however, are tracks five and eight, putting the SOUL in soul blues. The former is a poignant ballad about what happens when an ex-lover won’t depart, even one’s slumbering mind. “You’ve been haunting all my days. Won’t you leave my dreams alone?” The notes of the guitar solo in the middle fall like a gentle shower of rain that turns into a thunderstorm. The latter, “Can We Leave It Until the Morning?”, is smooth and vocally brilliant, an indictment of a lying partner. “Never go to bed angry,” goes the proverb, but methinks the narrator will still have a beef come breakfast time. “I Hear You Calling” and “Monroe Blues” are great closers.

In a melancholy mood? Let the UK’s Laurie McVay brighten your day with East Side Blues!

Zack Walther Band – The Westerner | Album Review

Zack Walther Band – The Westerner


self release

10 songs time – 36:39

Although touted as an Americana-Roots band, the Texas based Zack Walther Band comes off sounding more like a Midwestern rock outfit. Zack handles vocals and guitar, Matthew Briggs on drums, guitar, vocals and bass with Mike Atkins on keyboards, vocals and bass. Various others contribute here and there. The nine originals along with one cover tune are given solid musical treatment.

“DFW” could find steady rotation on an “album oriented rock” radio station with it’s infectious guitar riff and soloing. It’s “Hey Hey” refrain is straight out of the Midwest rock scene. “What Kind Of A Man” is guitar fueled yearning rock and roll. They introduce a nifty synth riff and piano to “Payin’ For It Now”, a tale of misspent youth. The narrator of “I’m Going Out Of Your Mind” regales a girl he is leaving. Jeff Plankenhorn delivers some luscious lap steel to this one.

Next up is the upbeat “When The Show Comes To Town” with a reference to the cobra riding cowboy on the CD cover. Stinging guitars and horns propel this one. “Bad Girl” is a solid rocker while “Casualty” is more of a subdued rocker. Susan Gibson supplies an additional vocal on the catchy “Meet In The Middle”. The band delivers a good version of the Sam And Dave classic “Hold On I’m Coming” complete with horns and an un-credited harmonica player. The unknown harmonica player pops up again on “Bailey’s Light”, a bit of a breezy stroll of a song with a nice piano and guitar interlude.

All in all an enjoyable slice of rockin’ goodness that is sure to grow on the listener with each additional listen. Nothing here that approaches the blues, but everything it approaches is nicely done. If you are in the mood for a bit of a throwback sound you have definitely arrived at the right stop.

Johnny Rawls – I Miss Otis Clay | Album Review

Johnny Rawls – I Miss Otis Clay

Third Street Cigar Records


10 songs time – 37:25

Long time soul-blues singer’s latest is a tribute to his friend of about forty years, singer Otis Clay. Aside from vocals Johnny provides rhythm guitar and keyboards, while his four piece band and horn section take care of the rest. The CD consists of light soul music without a hard edge. The songs vary from moderate speed to slow.

“California Shaking Again” is a bit of horn driven soul-blues fluff. Like on other tunes Johnny supplies the background vocals as well on “Give A Toast To The Blues” that is a soul song except for some bluesy guitar. The title track, the only song recorded outside Ohio was recorded in Copenhagen, Denmark. It’s taken slow with some tasty organ and piano. “Can’t Read Your Mind” is a classic soul tune employing a nifty horn riff and smooth backing vocals.”Motion Of The Ocean” is about love making set against a hypnotic beat.

Everything else included here follows pretty much the same light smooth soul formula whether taken fast or slow. “Kissing And Hugging” uses synth strings as one of the only changes in sound. The closing song “The Wind” is a slow soul ballad. “Slow Roll It” has a particularly easy groove to it.

If you are a fan of smooth southern soul music that isn’t intrusive this is the ticket for you. Johnny’s voice is mellow and soothing. Johnny wrote or co-wrote all the songs on this effort. He also handled the production with an able hand and good instrumental separation.

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Pop Album Reviews

Sam Smith Delays and Renames New Album in Light of Coronavirus Pandemic

Sam Smith was expected to release a new album called To Die For on May 1st. Now, in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, the pop crooner has decided to both push back the record’s release and change its title.

Smith revealed the news on social media on Monday, writing that “the title of my album and imminent release doesn’t feel right” given the dire global health crisis. “I have to come to the decision to continue working on the album and make some important changes and additions,” they added. “I will be renaming the album and pushing back the release date — both of which are to be confirmed at this time.”

While that firm due date is still unknown, the London native assured fans the new album will arrive sometime in 2020. “There will be an album this year, I promise!” said the 27-year-old Grammy winner. They also pledged to drop new music in the meantime.

“But until then, I am still going to bring out some new music over the next few months, which I’m incredibly excited about,” Smith said, before closing, “Thank you for always being by my side and for you understanding and patience. I always want to do right by you. Always.”

Read Smith’s full statement below, followed by their latest single “To Die For”, which features a sample from Donnie Darko. They recently performed as part of Elton John’s “Living Room Concert for America” benefit show.

Sam Smith Delays and Renames New Album in Light of Coronavirus Pandemic
Lake Schatz

The Weeknd Unveils Three After Hours Bonus Tracks: Stream

The Weeknd’s latest album, After Hours, may be over a week old, but its tracklisting continues to grow. Today, a trio of new bonus tracks —  “Nothing Compares”, “Missed You”, and “Final Lullaby” — have become available. Stream all three below.

The new songs feature additional production and songwriting from After Hours collaborators Ricky Reed and Jason Quenneville. “Nothing Compares” — which is not a Prince or Sinéad O’Connor cover — was also co-written by rapper Belly.

Last week, the Canadian R&B star shared a Deluxe Edition of the record, which consisted of new remixes from the likes of Lil Uzi Vert, Chromatics, The Blaze, and Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin (our 2019 Composer of the Year). It also came with a live recording of “Scared to Live”, taken from The Weeknd’s appearance on Saturday Night Live earlier this month.

Abel Tesfaye is still on track to support After Hours with his massive summer arena tour. Snag concert tickets here.


After Hours (Deluxe Edition) Tracklist:
01. Alone Again
02. Too Late
03. Hardest To Love
04. Scared To Live
05. Snowchild
06. Escape From LA
07. Heartless
08. Faith
09. Blinding Lights
10. In Your Eyes
11. Save Your Tears
12. Repeat After Me (Interlude)
13. After Hours
14. Until I Bleed Out
15. Nothing Compares (Bonus)
16. Missed You (Bonus)
17. Final Lullaby (Bonus)
18. Blinding Lights (Chromatics Remix)
19. Save Your Tears (Oneohtrix Point Never Remix)
20. Heartless (Vapor Wave Remix feat. Lil Uzi Vert)
21. After Hours (The Blaze Remix)
22. Scared to Live (SNL Live)

The Weeknd Unveils Three After Hours Bonus Tracks: Stream
Lake Schatz

Dave Grohl, Billie Eilish, Billie Joe Armstrong More Perform on Elton John’s Living Room Concert for America: Watch

Say goodbye to the quarantine blues. On Sunday night, Elton John hosted the virtual benefit livestream “iHeart Living Room Concert for America” featuring everyone from Billie Eilish to Dave Grohl and it’s the biggest pick-me-up you could imagine. Watch a replay below.

The highly anticipated concert was organized last minute to replace the originally scheduled iHeart Radio Music Awards. It aired commercial-free on FOX and was livestreamed online for over an hour. As the name implies, artists played live from their own living rooms and everyone’s videos were scheduled back-to-back, giving the experience of one massive intimate concert. The star-studded event was dedicated to the doctors, nurses, scientists, first responders, and volunteers battling the COVID-19 outbreak.

John kicked things off with a short speech about the purpose of the concert. “Here we are, all together at home. You’ve got your family and loved ones, and I’ve got mine close too… We’re taking care of each other through this crisis,” he said. “Let me tell you what’s going to keep us together: All the goodness that’s happening in the world. There’s doctors, nurses and scientists on the front lines. They’re living proof that most superheroes don’t wear capes.”

Grohl then delivered a rendition of Foo Fighters’ “My Hero”, Eilish and her brother Finneas teamed up for “bad guy”, and Green Day’s Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong performed “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”. Additionally, Mariah Carey sang “Always Be My Baby”, Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes dueted “Oh My”, and Sam Smith crooned “How Do You Sleep?”. Lady Gaga and Lizzo also made appearances during the livestream.

John, Eilish, Green Day, and countless others have all had to postpone their highly anticipated tours due to the global health crisis. With most physical concert events grounded to prevent the spread of COVID-19, artists have turned to livestreaming to keep in touch with their fans. Find a full list of upcoming virtual concerts here.

Dave Grohl, Billie Eilish, Billie Joe Armstrong More Perform on Elton John’s Living Room Concert for America: Watch
Nina Corcoran

Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud review – fierce and ambitious but hard to love


Sobriety can smooth any artist’s fuzzy edges. Named after the Alabama creek that runs behind her childhood home, Katie Crutchfield, AKA Waxahatchee, ditched alcohol for good before making her fifth album, Saint Cloud, which sees her sound leap from reverb-laden indie rock to glossy, radio-friendly country. But even though her work has become progressively hi-fi since her scratchy, Cat Power-like 2012 debut American Weekend, there’s a sharpness in these songs that still unsettles.

It’s there in Crutchfield’s vocals, louder and fiercer than before, and on songs such as Fire, which is also difficult to love. Her lyrics, tackling subjects including addiction and self-hatred, often feel too verbose, but they become surprising and refreshing on closer listen. Can’t Do Much is an intense, jittery love song with a great opening couplet: “We will coalesce our heaven and hell / My eyes roll around like dice on the felt.” Lilacs despairs of a girl who has harmful inner monologues (“I run it like a silent movie / I run it like a violent song”). Arkadelphia feels like a Bruce Springsteen narrative with its fires restoked for today’s troubled thirtysomethings. This album has a bloodied, ambitious heart on its sleeve. It wants the world to hear it beating.

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Sorry: 925 review – full of disruptive ideas


Part of the London scene loosely headquartered at Brixton’s Windmill pub (from Fat White Family to Goat Girl and beyond), Sorry have undergone a radical upgrade in the two years since they started turning heads. Once a scratchy, pointedly blank boy-girl duo, their live band now numbers four and their ambitions stretch beyond indie rock.

Near the end of their debut album, a whimsical folk-pop song called Heather imagines a world where Sorry aren’t passive-aggressive misanthropes, but writers of whimsical sync-bait. A reworked oldie, Ode to Boy, is even more promising: a curdled takedown of a love song, its degraded sounds and malfunctioning effects play off against Asha Lorenz’s sarcastic pop vocal.

Related: Sorry, the band making ennui sexy

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