Album Review: Tensnake – ‘Glow’

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Imagine an album that was the result of a night of passion between Random Access Memories and Settle, one whose heritage contained the 2010 hit ‘Coma Cat’ and oozed deep disco. Of course, Nile Rogers is it’s cool great-uncle, Jacques Lu Cont babysat it, and it looks up to Moderat, Lindstrom and Pharrell Williams just as much as Prince and Michael Jackson. A little spoilt, a good dancer, weighed down with high expectations after this drawn-out, hyperbolic comparison. Born the 10th March 2014 at Synthesiser General: Tensnake’s first LP, Glow.

Though it isn’t as quite as good (and certainly won’t make as much money) as Disclosure and Daft Punk’s 2013 giants, their DNA looms loud in the 80s funk guitars, UK Garage beats and the sheer dancefloor pop appeal strewn through the record. And like it’s chart-topping ancestors, Glow is infused with dance music’s past, paying homage to funk, house and disco as it ranges from pounding intensity to inane club-pop. It’s even got a meta-‘Giorgio by Moroder’ bit. Wisely, since he is neither French nor yet universally revered, Tensnake doesn’t try the philosophical robot angle, but mocks his work: the vocals insist “I’ve been listening for ten minutes already to this Tensnake shit. What the fuck are you guys talking about. I know, but whatever, I don’t need any twinkly, 80s, c’mon-lets-wear-a-tanktop-shit-fucking-rah-rah-rah-shit. I just want something hard, I just want big bass like, wah-wah-wah, like dubstep, like club step, like electro”.

Intermittently the strident 80s pop and the 2-step vibes come together in hugely fun disco flourishes, as on the pulsing ‘Good Enough To Keep’ or 2-step flavoured ‘See Right Through’, both of which sport excellent, diva-worthy deliveries from Fiora. This isn’t house for skanking or eye-rolling or gurning, but for all out, probably-will-be-embarrassed-later, committed boogieing. Other potential soundtracks for montages of silly discoing include the Michael Jackson-referencing, funk-laden ‘Selfish’ and irresistible slink ‘Love Sublime’ (feat. Nile Rogers! Of course!), which takes the minimal disco of ‘Inspector Norse’ and blends in a vocal line worthy of Kylie.

With all these references to juggle, you might be wondering whether Tensnake risks losing his own sound under those of his influences, but there are careful, contemporary clues scattered throughout and 2014 rises clearly through the callbacks and tipped hats. There’s a hint of trap in ’58 BPM’’s intro before it becomes a slow-burn 80s ballad, an EDM wobble amongst ‘No Colour’’s Discovery synths and hip-hop beat, that anchors Glow in the present. Occasionally, the cheese gets away from Niemerski, but on the whole, it’s fantastically produced, hip-friendly dance fun.

Forgive me one last link to R. A. M. and Settle…  This is yet another dance album that avoids the pitfalls of stringing together separately conceived singles. Just like the aforementioned, regardless of many collaborations and genre switches, Glow makes complete sense taken as a whole. From the stretching bass muscles and flexed synths of the uplifting warm-up ‘First Song’ through to the Hawtin-worthy repetitious build of ‘Last Song’, this is a real escalation in Tensnake’s sound. Dancing is awesome. It’s sexy, it’s fun – we can stand to do more dancing!

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The Top Five Albums of 2013

Finally, Rock and Rolle’s BEST albums of 2013, the top five!

For numbers ten to six, click here.

It’s been a vintage year, but these are the albums I’ve come back to again and again – obsessed over, agonised over, adored. Here’s the order of my list that it’s in.

5. The Marshall Mathers LP 2 – Eminem

The sequel to a much revered classic by a living legend, MMLP2 had a lot of scope for ending terribly. Instead, we were treated to the best Eminem album in a decade – packed with furious flow, fantastic wordplay and the full spectrum of human emotions. The immediate high of the scattered call-backs to his earlier works remain a thrill; but it’s an album that reveals more with every listen thanks to the sheer complexity of the rhymes. Even just taking phenomenal opener ‘Bad Guy’, hook-laden ‘Rhyme or Reason’, speed-of-light ‘Rap God’ and earworn ‘Dangerous’, this was one of the most impressive and entertaining records around.

4. Random Access Memories – Daft Punk

Forget how many times you’ve heard ‘Get Lucky’ in the last 6 months and remember how you first heard it. A slice of pure, irresistible funk – a perfect pop song? Then mounting anticipation; frantic commentary on the game-changing natures of Discovery and Homework whipped up with a teasing, enticing marketing campaign. Unbelievably, Random Access Memories lived up to all the hype. Prog, funk and jazz, live recordings and not of 4/4 beat to be found confounded expectations, once again throwing electronic conventions out of the window. From the first over-excited stream to the latest replay, this is an uplifting, fresh album, cleverly bringing together the past and future. And ‘Giorgio by Moroder’ was the best track of 2013, which helps.

3. Holy Fire – Foals

The best guitar-based record of the year comes from Oxford, the formerly spiky mathrockers turned luxuriant indie stadium rockers Foals. Building on the spatial, instrumental expanses of Total Life Forever, their third record saw them hit a new creative peak. It’s an album that creeps out of the speakers, from the slow-burn intensity of ‘Prelude’, through the anthemic ‘Inhaler’ to the sheer pop of ‘My Number’ – a single that demanded sun and bright blue skies. Carefully constructed, Holy Fire yields gorgeous lilting riffs, explosive rhythms and a newfound rock and roll crunch that entirely suits Foals. Beyond the singles, there’s an excess of massive indie to enjoy here.

2. Acid Rap – Chance The Rapper

Cutting above Kanye, A$AP, Jigga and the rest, the best hip-hop record for me this year was a free mixtape, from a 20 year old Chicagoan. Yelping and cartoonish, his style brings to mind early Eminem – but there was none of the aggression or insanity that characterised Slim Shady present here, but more the anti-gangsta analysis of Kendrick and early Kanye. Those are some colossal comparisons, but if Chance isn’t a household name by 2020, I’ll eat my blog. Alternately woozy and cartoonish, Acid Rap was off-the-walls, ADHD bursting with ideas and pop hooks. Infectiously good-natured, it will soon have you grinning and languidly struggling to keep up.

1. Overgrown – James Blake

Much as I am loathe to agree with the Mercury Prize, James Blake came a long, long way in 2013. Long gone is the dubstep, as is the taut, silent spacing of his 2011 debut. Instead, he brought us a disjointed, incredibly emotive brand of electronic soul and R&B, with both the trademark dubby shakes and voice-cracking melodies still present. Fragile beauty and a sense of yearning dominate Overgrown, but the songs are, for all their complexity, ridiculously hummable. There’s no doubt Blake is taking himself seriously, but the intimacy of ‘Retrograde’, ‘Life Round Here’ and the rest is utterly immersive; sensual, intricate, and like nothing else you’ve heard this year.

Album Review: Letherette – ‘Letherette’

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With chopped, falsetto vocals, filthy funk bass, and many a formaggio guitar solo lurking, it’s not hard to see that Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter have been a key inspiration to young pretenders Letherette – there’s even a photo of the Wolverhampton duo imitating their Parisian muses, DJing behind D.I.Y. masks, to be found online. So, for those of you who’ve been waiting since 2005, Andy Harber and Richard Roberts’ debut release will certainly tide you over until May.

Admittedly, the start of Letherette is dominated by just the sort of careening synth scales that so defined Discovery,with lead single ‘D&T’ a perfectly plausible Daft Punk album track, all housefunk and squealing falsetto samples. ‘Warstones’ – an instant, exuberant highlight – has been resurrected from an earlier EP and is still clearly channelling the robot-masked-ones. But, it’s so good that if you put it up online as a Random Access Memories leak, much of the internet would be lost in the ensuing exaltation. Whilst the inspiration is clear, Letherette add trickling, shimmering synths never yet heard on a DP release, as well as a pounding house beat that’s more reminiscent of His Majesty Andre than the discofunk of Bangalter and Homem-Christo, stamping their own mark on the sound.

Though the boys have evidently done their homework and made a few important discoveries regarding French electro, there’s more to them than mere copycat soundalikes. Another sky-rocketing success is the effect-laden, sub-aquatic bass of ‘The One’, which features borderline Timbaland ‘boom-click-boom’ percussion and warm, washing synths before diving into throbbing bass and driving, dubby house more akin to Justice’s ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ than anything Daft Punkian. Elsewhere opener ‘After Dawn’’s warm space synths and liquid, rumbling bass call to mind MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular.

Along with the aforementioned disco -house, prog is certainly a core influence on Letherette. The album’s very structure – slow, soaring intro, pulsing energy, ambient intermission, more disco exuberance, and a dreamy closing comedown – lends it an immersive, spacious mood. Mid-album interlude ‘Gas Stations and Restaurants’ drips echoing ambience and psychedelic vocals, building into the slow grooving ‘Cold Clam’, where a niggling loop and shimmering synths creating a more downbeat Massive Attack-styled sound – again, indicative of Letherette’s sonic breadth of vision. Final word ‘Say The Sun’ is an exercise in restrained euphoria, with calm synth loops laid over a proggy beat – an electronic equivalent of ‘Wish You Were Here’, wafting you back to reality.

Despite something of a slow start (the first few tracks are a little too “sub-par Daft Punk”, a little too derivative), Letherette builds into an expansive, absorbing album, spanning a huge variety of influences and threading them together impressively within a coherent framework. Like Messieurs Bangalter et Homem-Christo, it’s dance music that effortlessly transcends day and night, and is fluid enough to please aficionados of many genres. Though the Parisian goliaths return this summer, it seems unlikely that this Wolverhampton duo will be lost in their shadows.