Album Review: Cave Singers – ‘Naomi’

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Remember back in 2004? We were beginning to recover from the sheer shock of indie’s regeneration after a decade dominated by grunge, nu-metal and pop-punk; Bright Eyes, Death Cab, and a whole host of other bands featured on the O.C.’s soundtracks, were dominant. Seattle quartet Cave Singers’ brand of warm, somewhat earnest indie-folk harks back to that West Coast golden age, and the tradition of sun-drenched, mellow guitar-centric indie.

In fact, the past clients of Naomi’s producer give a fairly solid run-down of the band’s influences; the Shins, Fleet Foxes, and Modest Mouse amongst others. The band members themselves are mostly veterans of other similar acts, with former Pretty Girls Make Graves members and a Fleet Fox in their midst. Rather more folky than any of James Mercer’s output and far less frantic than the majority of Modest Mouse records, but yet less harmonic than Fleet Foxes and their ilk; there’s something in the tone of the guitars, the warmth of the bass, and Pete Quirk’s vocals, that is inescapably part of the wider West Coast indie heritage.

Inevitably, much of the album sounds very similar. The instruments’ tone remains unchanged, and there’s a consistent “up-down strum, up down-strum, chord change!” pattern to the guitars, alternated only with careful, chilled fingerpicked lead lines. It’s a bit like listening to an early Death Cab record, but with Layne Staley singing vocals on an exceptionally mellow, blissed-out day. Unlike the carefully enunciated lyrics of James Mercer or Ben Gibbard though, the lyrics take rather a backseat, simply washing over the listener– even though the band (or at least, the press release) put a lot of stock in the album’s lyrical themes. Perhaps on paper they’re pertinent, but in practice they are too subdued to stand out. Of the similar sounding cuts, single ‘Shine’ is the best, with a pleasing lolloping, looping hook, some nice harmonica playing and Quirk’s voice sounding  richer than anywhere else on Naomi.

That said, the second half of the album is noticeably better than the first, with more memorable, individually discernible songs, and a wider variation in style. With ‘Easy Way’, at last things are shaken up a little, with rockier percussion, slightly more crunch in the rhythm guitar and more of a snarl in the vocals. In the past, the band has said that they never intended to play folk – perhaps this is the direction they should pursue in future. However, ‘Northern Lights’ – easily the folkiest track on the record, with hints of Dylan and straight-up campfire sound to it – is another success. Finally, closer ‘When The World’ brings tambourines, fuzzy bass and angst as Quirk moans “You’re like a leaf that blows away”. It’s got more momentum than the whole first half of Naomi; a bluesy, folk jam where the Cave Singers finally achieve what they’ve been hinting at for the past eleven tracks.

Arguably much of Naomi’s problems are caused by the tracklisting, as there are many early tracks which fuse into each other, which, had they been alternated with some of the later, more distinctive songs, would have probably shone in their own right. Ultimately though, they don’t commit enough to the sonic range which they eventually bring to bear, focusing too much on middle-of-the-road indie-folk.

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The Death of Traditional Album Releases

In the wake of a slew of articles proclaiming the death of pretty much everything (guitar music, journalism, dubstep…), I’m jumping on the bandwagon, and proclaiming that traditional single and album releases are dead. Press release writers and spin doctors, better watch your backs, the end is nigh.

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In the last month alone, there have been four huge album announcements –David BowieMy Bloody Valentine, Justin Timberlake, and The Strokes– all of which deviated from the traditional early-review-release, teaser-trailer, single, single, album template which has dominated the industry for decades. Even less well-established artists are dropping the traditional pomp and ceremony, with the internet enabling many to cut out the middle-man.

The big four were all major announcements, essentially come-back records for highly-established artists with a level of anticipation that would have been strong irrespective of  publicising tactics. Bowie and MBV in particular were all but guaranteed solid initial sales and a buzz of excitement around such long awaited releases. While Timberlake and The Strokes haven’t been away for quite so long, both have retained a colossal following and have iconic releases under their belts.

If it’s not likely to bring any substantial boost to their guaranteed sales, pre-release marketing is no longer worth the risk of exposing the record to leaks and downloads (which clearly would sap initial sales). If a record comes out unannounced  – as with MBV – are the masses more likely to buy it in the shocked heat of the moment, rather than anticipating the release and deciding to download it for free?

Aside from sales figures, the lack of warning from these artists also frees them from the weight of built-up expectations. Kevin Shields’ follow-up to the adored Loveless, was a risky release, and for The Strokes, every record since 2001 has been received with despondency. Removing conjecture-time also removes the threat of over-hype too but at what cost? The  weeks of anticipation, teaser releases and obsession that traditionally herald a key release have been an important part of the relationship between fans and artists for decades.

The trend isn’t limited to recognized artists either. As ever, the internet continues to change everything. A&Rs place increasing importance on an artist’s number of Facebook likes, and we’ve known since Arctic Monkeysthat building a strong online following can break a new band. A$AP Rocky is the most recent example of this, clinching a lucrative record deal on the basis of a Tumblr-centred following.

Amongst the ocean of uploads, finding the good amongst the dire is harder than used to be, particularly using hyperbolic press releases as a filter, but it’s certainly a more-level playing field for those reaching for mainstream success. More and more artists are releasing free mixtapes alongside their official album releases, with The Weeknd being one of the few to effectively use the entire concept as a pitch for a record deal then re purpose them  a year later as his ‘debut’.

The inherent risk of Tumblr is a certain shallowness. Drawing on images far more than audio, listeners are finding their introduction to a new band shaped by sepia-tinged pictures and brashly-animated GIFs rather than actually hearing tracks. It’s an extension of the “buying a Ramones shirt from Topshop, never heard any of their music” phenomenon that plagued the late noughties. Filter-altered shots of Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky dominated blogs much more than any of their songs; yet another odd dilution of pop culture.

Weighing up the lack of building excitement for a new release against the removal of any over-hype based disappointment, the new ways of breaking into the industry against the inevitable ensuing reduction, there are pros and cons to the demise of traditional campaigns. Either way, it’s unlikely to revert any time soon, as the ruthless revolutionary force of the internet marches on.

Ultimately, putting your music out there unannounced makes success much dependent on the actual merits of the release.  And these surprise album drops give us all an excuse to refresh Twitter even more frequently, just in case there’s a new Outkast record out of the blue.

(Originally published at http://lineofbestfit.com)

Album Review: Mekon – ‘Piece of Work’

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Despite having spent the ‘80s and ‘90s pushing the boundaries of electronic music with Psychic TV and other projects, John Gosling shows no sign of letting up any time soon. Known these days as Mekon, his fourth album Piece of Work is a riotous explosion, ranging from ear-worm electro-pop to grinding industrial but always maintaining its freshness and fervour. United by a consistently industrial, urban sound, the album conjures euphoria and despair equally effectively.

Whilst most recent “dark” electronic records rely on ferocious bass and sub-bass to create their tension and portentous atmosphere, Piece of Work whips up its doom-laden vibe with the help of older, industrial tricks. First single ‘Bin Therrre’ is a case in point, with its relentless chop-change synths building into grinding, glitchy techno. Elsewhere the aptly named ‘Disco Bloodbath’ is as Patrick Bateman-channelling as you would expect, all Hitchcockian strings and hi-hat rolls, before it plunges into disconcerting, demanding techno, reminiscent of the Fake Blood’s more cinematic tracks.

But it’s not all gloom and dancey dancey doom. Mekon keeps the record carefully balanced, as well as interestingly varied, by including bursts of outright joy, ambience, and neo-classicism alongside the darker tracks. Over the smooth electro-pop groove of opener ‘When I Was Walt Whitman’, a lazily self-assured voice sighs, “When I was Walt Whitman, boy, you should have fucking seen me”, as the backing synths ascend higher and higher. It’s insidious, smug, and one hell of a start. No less euphoric is the Balearic ‘No Business I Know’, which swoons and shimmers like a minimal version of Jacques Lu Cont’s ‘Church’ with added big-beat, Orbital-esque propulsive drops. Best of all is the Cleo Torrez featuring ‘Kicks’; blasting drums and spacey pitch-bent synths form a rousing backing as Cleo gives an M.I.A.-like turn of epic, meaningless, cool. The first line, “So raise your sunglasses with authority off the bridge of your nose, stop making a killing”, spat in her distinctive, Maxi Jazz accented vocals, says it all.

A master of the collaborative approach, Mekon’s well chosen guest vocalists only enhance his carefully crafted instrumentals. Torrez’s other guest slot, on ‘Wasted Mind’, sees her producing Kim Deal worthy wails alternated with languid rap over sleazy new wave beats, whilst Marco Pirroni (of Adam and the Ants) and Schooly D’s  contribution to ‘Hardcore’ provides retro gangsta rap and punk funk in equal measure over the grimey looping synths. It’s Rita Brown who gets the last word though, spitting in filthy perfection, “We were Franciscan nuns, we had it off with scum” on the excellent ‘Ravageable’ – a new filthy-electro playmate for Soulwax’s ‘Fuck The Pain Away’ remix.

A thirty-five minute rollercoaster ride, Piece of Work will leave you raving and craving for more. Much like his old contemporaries Orbital and their Wonky, Mekon has managed the clever trick of staying true to his ‘90s big-beat roots, whilst simultaneously sounding vital and relevant. In the mercurial ever-changing world of electro, that’s no mean feat.

All-Time Great Albums; The Libertines – ‘The Libertines’ (2004)

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Favourite albums are a deeply personal, almost private thing. It can be difficult revealing them even to close friends due to the sheer strength of feeling invoked. Somebody who really, honestly doesn’t get David Bowie, Nirvana, the Beatles – and they’ve tried and everything – is that someone who you want to be in your life? Of course, as compatible tastes don’t necessarily guarantee best friendships, neither do different opinions by default spoil them – but it’s easier to leave it unsaid. Talking about something you love and cherish with someone who thinks it’s overlong, pretentious, or not as good as the debut can be deeply stressful.

But, whatever, I refuse to believe anyone can flat-out deny the merits of my favourite album, so I’ll say it loud and proud. If I really, truly, can only choose one, then it’s The Libertines, the gorgeous tale behind the breakdown of one of the best English bands of the last decade. Of course, it was easy to fall in love with the Libertines, both album, band, and everything they stood for. Any teenager worth their scowls could crave everything they embodied; broadly, sex drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. The gang mentality, the intoxication, the clothes, the endless quotable interviews. And they could back it up, with killer live shows, the famed guerrilla gigs, and two stand-out albums.

The Libertines was a triumph. Recorded with Mick Jones’ live, scuzzy aesthetic, it dripped sincerity, wit, desperation, and love. Sonically, it was the accumulation of everything the band had worked on, and the driving, tight rhythm section provided a base for the duelling frontmen, their guitars, and their exchanges of accusations. From the fast, straight-up punk of ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ and the careening, out of control ‘Campaign of Hate’ to the acoustic beauty of ‘Music When The Lights Go Out’, it was relentlessly catchy and beautifully crafted.

And underneath it all lurked the drama, the “story” of Carl and Pete, Pete and Carl. It started from ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’’s very first line, “And ending fitting for the start, you twist and tore our love apart”, and the scathing response, “You got it the wrong way round, you shut me up and blamed it on the brown”. Accusations, reasoning, pleading; the disintegration of their enviable friendship was laid bare for all to hear – and all over a track that could drive dancefloors wild.

 Beyond their usual question-answer lyrical interplay, on the Libertines only a handful of the songs were Barat/Doherty co-written, and so the two frustrated frontmen exchanged barbs song by song. For Carl’s self-deprecatingly titled ‘Last Past On The Bugle’, Pete’s cajoling ‘Don’t Be Shy’. Immediately following the revelatory, confessional ‘The Saga’ (“A problem becomes a problem/when you lie to friends / when you let down your peopleI aint got a problem, it’s you with the problem”), the desperate, Carl-penned ‘Road to Ruin’ response (“How can we make you understand / All you can be is here in your hand”).

With closer ‘What Became of the Likely Lads’, they had the ultimate last word. The flipside of the love-hate displayed in ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’, it was an elegy for all they, and we, had lost. “Oh what became of the likely lads / what became of the dreams we had / what became of forever / well, we’ll never know”. 

Album Review: FLUME – ‘FLUME’

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Young Harley Streten, the 21 year old Sydneysider behind his nom-de-disque FLUME, is certainly not one to waste time. Having achieved virtual overnight success, as his Facebook page rocketed from obscurity to well over 115,000 likes in just over a year, the producer and DJ has also had opening slots for both the xx and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, and secured a place on mainstream radio playlists around the world with his cracking initial release, ‘Sleepless’. Very much making hay whilst the sun shines, he’s jumped at the chance and quickly put out his debut album, FLUME. Though it’s certainly the opportune moment commercially, there is of course the attendant amount of hype – the Aussies are excited about their young protégée and the risky, pressurising title “saviour of Australian electro” has been mentioned more than once.

It’s nothing if not ambitious. Streten covers a huge range of genres, flitting from house to chillwave to funk – although admittedly, FLUME’s core is rooted in downtempo electro and instrumental hip-hop. His warm, clean production sits well with the beat-driven electro as he impressively straddles the line between mainstream/commercial sounds and the more experimental edges. Alongside the variety of genres, further variation is introduced via a host of supporting artists, with Chet Faker, Jezzabell Doran, MC T-Shirt, Moon Holiday, and George Maple all contributing guest vocals. Thanks to this vocal variety, despite FLUME’s broad range of influences, it is his beats which form the album’s consistent backbone, allowing his signature sound to speak for itself.

Singles ‘Sleepless’ and ‘Holdin’ On’ both err on the side of synth heavy hip-hop and are effortlessly infectious, doubtless playing a big part in FLUME’s meteoric rise. Sandwiched between them is ‘Left Alone’, featuring Chet Faker, and a fluid, loud-quiet beat base which builds up into sheer euphoria. Enjoyable though the singles are, they feel just that; singles, rather than part of an LP. Elsewhere, the spacey progressive house of ‘Insane’, the excellent, shimmering bass-driven ‘Warm Thoughts’, or the liquid, de-tuned dubstep of ‘Ezra’ are far more interesting and show potential for future releases.

However, with fifteen tracks, FLUME is arguably overlong and certainly suffers from its tracklisting order. With its more commercial, Hudson Mohawke-esque singles all stacked at the beginning, it leaves a slight feeling of subsiding, or at least poor pacing, as the more ambient, immersive tracks are all ranged towards the end. It’s something of an idea overload; FLUME’s decision to try his hand at everything, whilst demonstrating his evident enthusiasm and frequent successes, comes at the price of the album’s coherency. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of potential here, and with more time and less pressure, FLUME could certainly produce better.

Album Review: FIDLAR – ‘FIDLAR’

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Ever since Drake’s ‘Motto’, kids around the world have been, both seriously and ironically, justifying their every dumb move with shouts of “YOLO!”. But a four-piece skate-punk band from L.A. have come up with an alternative life-philosophy acronym, and named both their band and debut album in its honour. And FIDLAR (which stand for “fuck it dog, life’s a risk”), with their carefree, hedonistic lifestyle and scuzzy, furiously catchy tracks, is looking a far more appealing core belief than the douchey machismo of YOLO.

Easily identifiable as influenced by big brother bands like the Black Lips and Wavves, and with more than a little in common with contemporaries the Bleeding Knees Club and Ice Age, FIDLAR is scuzzy punk-rock with an evident underlying pop sensibility. With all the skate/surf-punk influences of Los Angeles, backed up by the driving sound of San Francisco’s garage rock scene, the album is sun-drenched, hazy, and the perfect musical accomplishment for getting wasted and living for the moment.

Very much aficionados of the “write what you know” school of thought, the album’s central themes are drink, drugs, surf, skate, and girls. Though the sound is almost as limited as their lyrical range, they’re excellent at what they do – you’ll get little more than manic, chugging barre chords over the precise, driving rhythm section but the scrappy hooks will be in your head as soon as you first hear them. It’s genuine, honest, and though a little repetitive, unashamedly fun.

‘Stoked and Broke’ whirls along at break-neck speed, channelling the Black Lips and early Green Day, as Zac Carper slurs words soon to be adorning the exercise books of fifteen year olds everywhere – “I just wanna get really high, smoke weed until I die / There’s nothing wrong with living like this, all my friends are pieces of shit”. Later, on ‘Max Can’t Surf’ (re-recorded from their earlier EP), the pace slows but the sentiment remains. The last time you heard someone shout about “two packs a day” with the same venom, it was similar good-time layabouts the Beastie Boys, whilst in the hooky, surf guitar there’s more than a passing resemblance to the Beach Boys.

 Perhaps the most representative track is the self-explanatory ‘Wake Bake Skate’, a breakneck thrash with a Misfits-esque bassline (and more succinct lyrics; “I’m so fuckin’ cheap and I’m so fuckin’ broke and I don’t have a job and I don’t have a phone / Don’t have a life and I’m always stoned”). The only real point of contrast is in the album’s closing, secret track, when Carper sings “I’m spending all my cash on cheap cocaine, and I been wasted almost every day / I don’t know what to do, it kinda sucks being twenty two”.

Though it’s a realist final note, it’s a five-in-the-morning, comedown reflection, rather than a real decision to change. At a time when I, along with everyone I know, madly scrabble to find paid employment, it’s refreshing to hear someone standing up for the ideals of getting fucked up and not worrying about what the future might bring. 

 

 

Album Review: Foals – ‘Holy Fire’

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Take the nervous energy of Antidotes, the blissed-out instrumental beauty of Total Life Forever, and add a pinch of rock and roll grit, lashings of luxuriant production, and all the confidence that comes with making an album which is the sum of all your past achievements. Foals are back, and Holy Fire is so good that second titular word could easily have been another, more explicit, four-lettered word.

It begins with a slow, languid show of force – ‘Prelude’, an introductory instrumental, which casually shows off a glimpse of what is approaching. It’s a thoroughly confident move and, despite the potential for an epic jam, one that is carefully restrained. Next, the tropical guitars and jittery ADHD percussion of first single ‘Inhaler’ heralds much of what is yet to come. A crunching rocky riff is laid over the tropical indie, which calls to mind Friendly Fires or ‘Shuffle’ era Bombay Bicycle Club, and Yannis brings out a Jack Black-impersonating-Robert Plant wail – it’s a belter.

It’s a hell of an opening, but impressively Holy Fire manages to keep to its own high standards. ‘Milk and Black Spider’ is an absolute earworm, with dizzying spiralling guitars conjuring visions of wide, expansive skies (which should be good for their Coachella appearance). Elsewhere, ‘My Number’ is equally catchy, an unstoppable bubblegum pop-rock lilt which leaves you confused – should you disco dance or head bang?

And it’s not only the hooks that work well. Foals proved irrefutably on Total Life Forever that they pretty good at ambient instrumental beauty, and none of that has been lost in the intervening years. ‘Bad Habit’, the album’s first real breathing space, is a remarkably upbeat ballad, despite its grim lyrics whilst closers ‘Stepson’ and ‘Moon’ are elegiac and emotive, though understated.

Full of huge hooks, instantly memorable lyrics and with rich, honeyed production, Holy Fire’s echoing drums, fingerpicking, and beefed bass come together to form an excellent album. Though they’ve thrown in everything they have, Foals have managed to avoid overstating and have had the confidence to showcase their range of talents. A good year for different, intelligent guitar-driven indie so far.

 

Single Review: Tribes – ‘How The Other Half Live’

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I’ve followed Tribes’ progression closely; unfortunately I’m one of those suckers who gets drawn in when writers whip out the oft-used hype of indie bands “being the next Libertines”. They were one of the first bands I ever interviewed, and I’ve seen them go from tiny, ill-attended gigs, to the NME Awards tour, to rapturously received festival sets. Whilst debut Baby had its ups and downs, it was anchored by some gigantic riffs, solid playing and undisguised ambition; from their very first video – a Camden roof-top gig – Tribes have been dreaming big. Now, barely a year after their debut, the second round begins – first single ‘How The Other Half Live’ is the forerunner, with album Wish To Scream scheduled for May release.

Immediately, it’s a notably different style from past stadium-grunge tracks like Pixies-apeing ‘Sappho’ or the crashing choruses of ‘Whenever’ and ‘We Were Children’ – in fact, by the time Jonny Lloyd sings the first line, “We need a change of direction”, it’s obvious that they’ve already taken it. The guitars are cleaner, the grunge crunch is gone, and if anything, the whole thing sounds quite a bit like Oasis.

But then, halfway through, the track swerves direction again, plunging into a squealing solo and a distinctly blues ambiance. Tribes have consistently proclaimed the Stones as one of their key influences, but this is the first time it’s been audible on record. Johnny gives us a nice Jaggeresque stuttering vocal, and with a little feedback, it’s over. Alongside the whimsical, almost pyschadelic ‘Wrapped Up In A Carpet’, the only other album track available so far, it makes Wish To Scream an interesting proposition. It seems Tribes’ influences have only got more diverse whilst they are certainly still aiming for the big-time. 

Film Review: ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’

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You’ve probably seen the trailer for The Perks of Being a Wallflower; it’s got Emma Watson, a memorable soundtrack, and its strap line, “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite”, has been plastered around the internet since it hit YouTube. Based on a 1999 novel of the same name, written by director and screenwriter Stephen Chbosky, from the start (and in fact from the first page of the “modern youth classic” novel) it’s been clear that this was a movie shooting for cult status. The storyline heavily references The Catcher in the Rye – at one point, actually mentioning it by name – but you can’t become your influences simply by listing them. So, does Perks on the big screen have anything more to offer than references to not-that-alternative-anymore alternative pop culture?

Firstly, I find it slightly problematic that Chbosky should be adapting his own novel for the screen. Obviously the film will be faithful to the novel, but is this further adaptation necessary? I was talking to a friend about film adaptations recently, who was of the opinion that the screen version and the original text should be considered two separate, distinct pieces of work if we are to get the most from each. Of course, each medium has its strengths and limitations, so we must take the rough with the smooth – and not be endlessly hung up on how films relate to their written word counterparts. So what is Chbosky achieving, beyond more cash? He is undoubtedly telling the same story, from the same perspective – but with a few scenes swapped in or out. That said, I imagine that the majority of fans will be relieved at the faithful, unproblematic transition to the screen. While there is less to be gained with the same man behind pen and camera, there is also necessarily less to be lost – we are safe in the knowledge that the story will not be corrupted or warped.

Certainly Perks is a very cinematic novel. With such a focus on mixtapes and specific songs, the novel always felt as if it had a companion soundtrack, one which the inspired reader would search out – just as they would the Catcher in the Rye. Elsewhere its traditional high-school movie set pieces (the big game, the fight, the who to sit with at lunch), written after the huge teen movies of the 80s and 90s, cannot help but carry cinematic connotations. And yet, there’s also the silent, typewriter scene where, without voiceover, the viewer becomes a reader again. It seems Chbosky was unable to pick a medium for his story, and continually attempts to combine both.

That said, there are some excellent moments which only appear on screen. The scene-cut from communion wafer to acid tab is my favourite since Trainspotting, whilst the visual de-wallflowering of Charlie as he walks towards Sam and Patrick was another nice touch. The acting is strong – arguably more so than Chbosky’s unreliable 14 year old narrator’s writing. Though no amount of awkward gurning and avoidance of eye contact can make Logan Lerman appear six years younger, he gives an admirable portrayal of teenage angst and unrequited love. Emma Watson, in her first lead role since the-movies-which-must-not-be-named, successfully throws off her past role with a solid American accent and a well-played heartthrob (although her character does give the worst ever acid advice – look up at the infinite, incomprehensible terror of the night sky, yeah great idea). Elsewhere, Mae Whitman (Arrested Development’s Ann, Scott Pilgrim’s lesbian challenger) delights as a scene-stealing Mary Elizabeth, first as an antagonistic Buddhist punk, then as a hilariously clingy girlfriend.

With its concluding carpe diem morale, The Perks of Being a Wallflower risks ruining all its pop-culture cool with an overly cheesy ending. Although the tunnel scene is clearly shooting for becoming this generation’s cinematic reference of choice, it is nonetheless a strong scene, undoubtedly already taken to the hearts of many.

Ultimately, it’s a better visual association for Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ than the flipping Olympics.

Album Review: Proxy – ‘Music From The Eastblock Jungles’

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After making his name with ferocious Soviet electro tracks like ‘Raven’ and ‘Dance in Dark’, everything regarding one Evgeny Pozharnov went rather quiet. Whilst Pussy Riot have been taking all of the Russian music-based headlines, Pozharnov, a.k.a. Proxy has been cut off in Vladivostok, one of Russian easternmost cities, drawing together tracks both old and new for his debut album, Music From The Eastblock Jungles, presented in two parts.

Now, first up, let’s address the Russian thing. It’s hard to be objective once you already know the producer’s nationality, but there’s something about Proxy’s ominous, threatening soundscapes that seems inescapably Russian. Obviously that’s a ridiculous statement, but just as Oasis could never have come from Sussex, there’s no denying that you’d be hard put to make such menacing, dystopian music in Florida. From thunderous opener ‘Red Juke’ – a techno play on Darth Vader’s imperial march – to ambient closer ‘Nanomed’, there’s an unmistakably militaristic running through Music From The Eastblock Jungle, a darkness which invokes Russia’s dark history, its unforgiving climate, and all of the dystopian anti-communist prophecies which the West have ever cast.

The album’s other dominant influence comes from the antithesis of the terrifying Russia of 80s capitalist nightmares. It comes from Essex. As a small child, I was disproportionately terrified by the sight of Keith Flint, stomping around in a tunnel, shouting through the TV screen. Around the same time, Proxy must have seen the same video, and had a completely different reaction. Echoes of the Prodigy’s furious, synthpunk aggression can be found throughout Proxy’s work –particularly evident here on deep-bass romp ‘Raja Ganja’, lilting dub ‘In Time (Skit)’, and brooding rollercoaster ‘Shut Up!’.

The album’s two parts are clearly defined, allowing Proxy to thread together the various genres covered but still maintaining the record’s signature sound. Part I is broadly a dark take on traditional rave, with DnB, bass, and techno influences united by Proxy’s gritty, relentless production, whilst Part II becomes rather less bass-focused, but no less menacing, as thunders on through acid house, instrumental hip-hop and ambient influences. Though less bass means less tension, the tempo ramps up and intense, somewhat manic synths dominate instead, as on the jostling, aggressive ‘Indian Film’ (another pre-existing release) or the insinuating acid grooves of ‘Audio 15’.

And Proxy is evidently a man who believes reality to be just as dark as his music. In a pseudo-maniacal soundbite, presumably delivered as he towered over a captured superhero, cackling on a skyscraper’s roof, he dramatically states “You were never free from the inevitable. Perhaps now you will see”. It’s been well worth the wait, and this collection of hit releases, rarities and new tracks comes together to paint an alarmingly grim picture of Proxy’s Russia.