So it has been a while again, but they were simply too many good releases in the first couple months of 2019 that I had to write about them. Most of the music featured in this entry come from the electronic music domain, which speaks to the volumes of great work that is currently being produced. And breaking news: finally someone re-released Laurie Spiegel’s seminal works to remind us just how incredible an artist and how radical her vision for music is.


King Midas Sound -- Solitude | Cosmo Rhythmatic | Ambient, Experimental, Spoken Word | Germany

Witnessing creative evolution is wondrous to behold, and it exactly this feeling of wonder that the new King Midas Sound record brings. The brainchild of producer extraordinaire Kevin Martin and singer/poet wordsmith Roger Robinson set off with a vision of leftfield electronica, neo-soul extension and dub overtures. The band’s sound was multifaceted, showcasing energetic outbreaks but also introverted overtures, covering a wide range of moods. But the return with Solitude finds Martin and Robinson at a very different state.

Robinson stands in the spotlight for this record, delivering a tour-de-force performance through a spoken-word narration. It is a deeply personal story and throughout Solitude: it feels as if you are presented with entries of Robinson’s diary, to the point that you begin to question whether it is appropriate to be hearing these stories. At the same time, Martin reverts to a state of minimalism, enriching Robinson’s narration with a cinematic presence. Yet, despite its minimalism this is a hard hitting record, deeply personal and inspired. Through its passages you feel the artists’ need for creating such a work, and it is that honesty that radiates through the dark ambiances of Solitude.


Finlay Shakespeare -- Domestic Economy | Editions Mego | Electronic Pop | United Kingdom

Finlay Shakespeare first appeared in the scene in the late 2000s under the Future Image alias, producing a mix of IDM with glitch and acid elements. The influence of Aphex Twin was clearly pronounced in his works, but through the years Future Image evolved into its own strange beast. Still, despite the complex motifs and genre-bending of Future Image, Finlay Shakespeare has a whole different side that he explores with Domestic Economy.

Stepping away from the IDM motifs and the ambient haze, Domestic Economy finds Shakespeare navigating the seas of electronic pop music. At first glance, the record appears to be a simple amalgamation of electronic music immediacy and pop music catchiness, but a closer inspection reveals something different: the excessive perspective of Shakespeare is still prominent as is revealed in the minimal introductions and long-form compositions. It is this dichotomy that sets the record apart -- there are times when the record appears ecstatic, heavy beats bouncing around the soundscapes in “Pontyclun," and then there are times of introspective sentimentality with “Perris." After a couple of listens, you realize that there are layers to Domestic Economy and it is a work that rewards whoever takes a peek beneath the surface.


Ossia -- Devil’s Dance | Blackest Ever Black | Experimental, Ambient, Techno | United Kingdom

Bristol-based producer Daniel Davies is a prominent figure of the UK’s electronic scene, mainly through his involvement with multiple record labels, including Peng Sound and No Corner. His work with record labels is so well known that it might throw some shade over his own creative output with Ossia. Davies’ started releasing music under the Ossia moniker in 2015, creating a dark brew of experimental electronic, with some impressive releases like Gridlock and fantastic collaborations with the likes of Giant Swan.

Davies returns now with his debut full-length for Ossia, Devil’s Dance. Staying true to the tradition of his hometown, Davies takes a step away from the prevalent Berlin approach to electronic music. His work is drenched in ambiance and atmospherics, resulting to an inherently dark and cold work. The pathway through Devil’s Dance is filled with post-industrial landscapes, subtle noise injections and post-techno aesthetics. But, what really propels this work is this devilish touch that Davies puts on top of this amalgamation of elements. The synth progressions in the title track, the desolate atmospherics and the inclusion of jazz themes in “Radiation” provide the record with a unique twist. And on top of all this stands the unusual perspective of Davies, highlighted brilliantly in the abstract long-form closer “Vertigo," which plunges the record into complete darkness.


Efdemin -- New Atlantis | Ostgut Ton | Ambient Techno | Germany

Phillip Sollman is a veteran of the Berlin electronic scene, putting out records under the Efdemin moniker since 1999. Through the years, Efdemin has remained true to its origin, coalescing techno progressions and deep house aesthetics through a minimalistic point of view. Yet, it appears that Sollman and Efdemin is undergoing a process of transformation -- the producer has recently collaborated with experimental artists like Oren Ambarchi and Konrad Sprenger (Jorg Hiller) and has also explored acoustic compositions. In his Monophonie show, he explored the instruments of composer Harry Partch, von Helmoltz’s siren, and the sculptures of Harry Bertoia.

The result of these creative travels is a transference of experiences to Efdemin. The project’s new record New Atlantis finds Sollman altering his scope. While still relying on the repetitive techno progression and the laid back deep house tonality, New Atlantis is a distinctly more ambient offering. “Good Winds” displays this pronounced quality, as the long synth tails wash over the soft percussion. But more importantly, Sollman has also found a new outlet for experimenting with different sonic artifacts, and it is in these moments that New Atlantis becomes truly endearing. “The Second House” presents this side brilliantly, and the vocal sample actually narrating much of Sollman’s perspective with regards to sound and instrumentation.


Silk Road Assassins -- State of Ruin | Planet Mu | Grime/Trap/Ambient | United Kingdom

The project of Tom E. Vercetti, Lovedr0id, and Chemist released its debut EP Reflection Spaces in 2016. In this short introduction Silk Road Assassins presented a vision for electronic music that embraced the harsher elements of grime and the extravagant aesthetics of trap music. Despite this not being a novel mix of sounds, what made the difference for Silk Road Assassins was the flow and continuity of the work. Considering the background of the three members, all of whom have worked in scoring for films and video games, the full picture comes together quite nicely.

The band’s debut full-length State of Ruin provides a deeper and more comprehensive dive into this vision. Again, what is really striking here is the ability of the trio to create this strong narrative: the record kicks off with an ambient minimalistic introduction in “Overgrown” before unleashing the off-kilter trap collaboration with producer Kuedo in “Split Matter." From that point on, Silk Road Assassins stretch themselves across the electronic music spectrum. Straightforward dance-like deliveries in “Families” meet with the minimalism of “Pulling the String” and the over the top sound design of “Shadow Realm” featuring experimental act WWWINGS. They all make this record feel like a schizoid video game, where each level operates under different rules but put together they are still part of the same story.


Laurie Spiegel -- The Expanding Universe + Unseen Worlds | Unseen Worlds | Ambient/Experimental/Drone | United States

I always thought of Laurie Spiegel as one of the unsung heroes of experimental music. Spiegel is best known for being a pioneering figure of computer music back in the early 1980s, making use of new technologies and algorithm design to produce her debut record The Expanding Universe in 1980. Spiegel understood the flexibility that computer music could provide, and she set out to built her own software Music Mouse in the mid-1980s. She used Music Mouse to create her sophomore work Unseen Worlds, which came out in 1991.

Despite receiving recognition for her work, it always felt that her two most innovative releases fell into obscurity. But through the years record labels set out to undo that injustice, the latest one being Unseen Worlds, a company named after Spiegel’s second album. Listening back to Spiegel’s two releases today it is amazing to see how forward-thinking those still are. The Expanding Universe feels like a manifesto of computer music and synthesized sound, with Spiegel adapting traditional music motifs to the electronic domain. But it is Unseen Worlds that feels that much more surprising. The focus here shifts on sound design, resulting in a record that uses drones to shift between darkness and light, making the work seem contemporary, as if it was released today.


Voin Oruwu -- Etudes From a Starship | Kvitnu | Experimental, Ambient | Ukraine

Kiev-based producer Dmitriy Avksentiev has been tempering with many sides of electronic music. Under the Tropical Echobird moniker he briefly explored the deep house, while with Koloah he ventured into the adventurous techno and IDM territories, also with a slight hip-hop twist. But it was his Big Space Adventure under the Voin Oruwu project that finds him at his best. With Voin Oruwu’s debut Avksentiev revealed a more adventurous style of mixing techno and electronic with an ambient foundation.

However, with his follow-up record Etudes From a Starship Avksentiev makes a giant leap for Voin Oruwu. The record finds the producer liberated from the structures and confinements of standard electronic music. Straightforward progressions are sparse and few in this work, and instead of the usual textures popping in electronic music Avksentiev bases much of his arsenal to sound design principles. The ambient passages of “Blur Planet” and “Even Mind” accommodate the electrifying moments of “Decay Instability,” and the off-kilter rhythms of “Limulus” and “Ceremony." The amazing result of this approach is how different each track appears, yet the overall narrative of the record remains intact.


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