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 Best of 2013 (10 – 6)

Mindblowing avalanches of hip-hop, a (whisper it) indie renaissance and the ever-growing dominance of an endlessly inventive electronic scene: by anybody’s standards, 2013 has been the best year for music in some time. As everyone’s music taste has steadily melted into one gigantic crossover success, the genre divides have seemed less important than ever. In a year where ‘Get Lucky’ led a disco revival, Kanye went full space-cadet, and Bowie had a number one album, these were my favourite records.

Thanks for reading, see you in 2014!

10. Psychic – Darkside

Nicolas Jaar’s woozy, skittish techno made a longform return in October, as he returned with guitarist Dave Harrington in his side-project, Darkside.  Having early in the year released their gorgeous album-remix of Random Access Memories, their third LP was a more experimental affair, adding dub beats and fuzz to the cyclical, disjointed Jaar sound. It’s minimalism calls to mind the 90s techno elite (Hawtin, Villalobos etc), but it also incorporates the space-prog and psychedelia alluded to in the band’s name – it’s techno-progrock fusion, undulating on whirring beats and strung out riffs, looping through the dark side of your mind.

9. Settle – Disclosure

Omnipresent thanks to its inescapable string of singles, the Lawrence brothers’ Settle was just one of the years’ fantastic mainstream successes. Brain-wiping repetitive beats, giant hooks, and a raft of excellent guest vocalists allowed the album to dominate the summer, zinging dance-pop, heavily indebted to late 90s garage, that was as suited to drivetime sing-alongs as mindless gurnathons. Get past the singles’ over-exposure, put it back on, and just try and sit still.

8. FIDLAR – FIDLAR

Dumb surf-punk will always have a place in my heart, and in 2013, FIDLAR did it best. Though Light Up Gold beat the Strokes at their own game and Wavves put out a decent second LP, only these LA boys were operating at a Black Lips level of debauchery and young-dumb-fun. Pure sex, drugs and rock n roll, I’ve played this again and again since February and thanks to its stellar hooks and sheer euphoric delivery, it’s still fresh. If you enjoy getting buzzed and shouting, this is the album for you.

7. Zomby – With Love

Following in the footsteps of Actress and Pantha du Prince, 2013 brought us a newly delicate, emotive Zomby – on record, if not in reality. Dark paranoia, lush instrumentation and beats from jungle, garage, dubstep and hip-hop pulsed through this double album, interspersed with miniature symphonies that were more classical than electronic. Spacious, beautiful and complex, With Love only grows with each listen.

6. Arc – Everything Everything

Taut, rhythmic indie has been stuck on the back-burner since Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand were relevant, but in January, it hit boiling point again with Arc. Stuffed with riffs, witticisms and creativity, it was a colossal follow-up album for the Mancunians – all electronic-influenced indie with wordplay worthy of the most tongue-twisting MCs. The gun-fire percussion and razorsharp guitars combine to hysterical effect, building complex songs that are catchy enough to be termed pop.

Leeds Festival 2013 – Hip-hop and Dance Take Over!

Vast quagmires gorging on beloved trainers, a tsunami’s worth of rain, and the immortal cries of “Alan!” and “Buttscratcher!” – 2013 saw Leeds Festival celebrate its fifteenth anniversary in style.  While many of the weekend’s scenes were familiar to anyone who’d spent an August Bank Holiday at Bramham Park, beneath the familiar layer of sludge something had changed.

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With two new stages dedicated to dance and urban music and a hip-hop superstar headlining was the heyday of NME-indie drawing to a close, just like Kerrang-rock before it? Or, less dramatically, was this just a reflection of the new alternative scene – a festival that was branching out, abandoning the old punk-versus-disco tribal traditions and embracing artists of a high quality regardless of genre, as so many fans have already done?

Dance

Leeds’ stylistic shift was most evidenced by the Friday night Disclosure/Nine Inch Nails clash. Though many (including Reznor) had questioned the justification of Biffy Clyro leapfrogging them to headline, Nails’ industrial rock crashed out to an astonishingly small crowd. It seemed that cult status or not, most punters wanted to cram in and watch Disclosure rattle through most of Settle.  With Ed McFarlane, Aluna “-George” Francis and Sam Smith as guests, the brothers whipped the packed tent into an utter frenzy – and the success of their dynamic house was the start of a much-repeated trend. Australians Parachute Youth delivered an excellent electro-house set early on Saturday, Charli XCX brought the house down with ‘I Love It’, and Friction’s drop-heavy DnB set delighted gurning people in all kinds of silly hats.

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Come Saturday, it was the turn of the big hitters. Rather depressingly Chase and Status’ DnB-lite drew a truly colossal crowd, as did Skrillex’s spaceship show and aggressive brostep. Major Lazer pulled out all the stops (Diplo’s zorb, an audience member tied up on-stage and aggressively twerked over by scantily clad Lazer ladies) to successfully create a dancehall rave within a “rock” festival – though Jillionaire’s shout outs to all the Jamaicans, all Dominicans, then rather desperately, to all the West Indians in the house fell tellingly flat. Diplo’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ remix may have caused chaos down the front, but you had to wonder what the veterans of ’92 would have made of it all.

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Hip-Hop

Facing a crowd that each year sports exponentially more snapbacks and a mainstream comeback not seen since the early noughties boom, it’s not surprising that this year’s Reading and Leeds had the best hip-hop line up in ages. One of the biggest breakout stars of 2013, Chance the Rapper’s short set to a small but dedicated crowd was the crowning glory of Leeds’ hip-hop. Chance looked slightly taken aback by his reception, but increasingly delighted by the rapturous reception. Radiating charisma, he raced through Acid Rap hits, bringing call and response support on ‘Juice’ and building up a crowd that finished eating out of his hand. A nod to fellow Chicagoan Kanye with ‘All Falls Down’ and too quickly it was over; the crowd left in no doubt that Chance will soon be a household name.

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Angel Haze stuck to rocknroll clichés, turning up late and encouraging a closing stage invasion – but sneaking in a funky Missy Elliott cover and finishing with a thundering ‘New York’. More flamboyant visually, Azelia Banks still played it slightly safe – sticking to her singles rather than airing Broke With Expensive Taste – though ‘212’ proved an earworm, echoing around the campsites for the rest of the weekend. On the 1Xtra stage, Austrian Left Boy performed the weekend’s most complexly choreographed set, but booing of his version of ‘Call Me Maybe’ proved that a certain level of anti-mainstream sentiment lingers at Leeds.

Ferocious, shuddering sub-bass heralded the start of Earlwolf’s set, something of a homecoming after Odd Future’s manic reception in 2012. With tracks from Doris and Wolf, Earl and Tyler stayed away from the singles, leaving a persevering crowd a little disappointed, though the puerile crowd interaction was well-received. Cutting their afternoon set 45 minutes short, it seemed as a joke at the crowd’s expense –Tyler in particular playing on their discomfort,  yelling “Give it up for black people!”. Later, opening to broad-accented chants of “ayy-sap”, A$AP Rocky’s set was an altogether easier affair, propelled to instant madness by a breakneck ‘Long Live A$AP’. Given extra bulk onstage thanks to support from the A$AP crew, Rocky evidently enjoyed himself, flashing golden grills as he grinned throughout and enthusing as the crowd sparked up en masse for ‘Purple Swag’, screaming every word back to him.

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All of which left us with a 40-year-old white guy closing out the festival. Eminem last headlined in 2001, but aside from the sheer quantity of hits and variety of his back catalogue, there were no sign of fatigue; he remained as razor-sharp and energetic as he was over a decade ago. With material from his first (and best) three albums interspersed by more recent singles (‘Airplanes’, ‘Love The Way You Lie’), it was a set that constantly astonished, with a mesmerised crowd mimicking every rhyme –continually surprised as hit followed colossal hit; the man has simply too many to hold in mind. The best-selling artist of the 2000s had come out to play. Unintroduced and initially unnoticed by many, Dido’s appearance for ‘Stan’ seemed to make Eminem more comfortable than many recorded parts – but nothing could distract from the man of the hour. It came to a euphoric close – asking “Can I take you back to back to a time when I used to get fucked up?”, he brought out ‘My Name Is’, ‘The Real Slim Shady’ and ‘Without Me’ – before ending on ‘Lose Yourself’. From laugh-out-loud to tear-jerker to vitriolic aggression, via tunes and rhymes that are seared into the consciousness of a generation – for the umpteenth time, he’s back.

 

So, Leeds was certainly sold on Marshall Mathers’ hip-hop. But will the trend continue beyond 2013? Of course, Reading and Leeds have always had a strong mainstream element with a big proportion of the crowds going more to get wrecked celebrating their GCSE and A-Level results than out of any affinity to a specific scene. There’s no real evidence that this year’s swing in style and sound will have any more staying power than when everyone was into nu-rave and Klaxons headlined – but that the line-up was so dominated by two entirely non-rock genres surely says something. Biffy Clyro, System of a Down, Green Day  – the big rock bands put on great shows, to great reception.

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 In a weird crossover, almost everyone who was into the dance and hip-hop acts went to see skate punk bands – with no discernible link beyond an affinity for snapback hats? FIDLAR, Skaters and Wavves all pulled in devoted crowds with fierce circle pits demonstrating the old popularity of energetic fury hasn’t disappeared with the riots. But with dubstep, house, and hip-hop creeping up the bill, one wonders if Reading and Leeds aren’t leaning towards becoming “young” festivals, offering a range of music and an anarchic intensity, rather than the cream of the rock acts. There’s still that preference for ferocity, regardless of genre.