DISPLACER: The Face You Deserve CD/DL Hymen Records
This is the final release of the year for prolific Canadian Michael Morton; who is on a seemingly unstoppable roll right now, in the productivity stakes.
Opening up with ‘Out of Time’, a steady bass line gels the gently applied and folded beats as cold and distant pads ease their way through the cracks; setting the scene for the general approach to this latest opus.
As usual though, Morton has the knack of surprising the listener once they have bedded in for the ride; throwing the odd curveball of electronics that wade in to kick over the bins and push items off shelves, as opposed to just tearing the place up. A gentle riot if you will, that is none more evident than on ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’ (Mike is actually a really nice guy).
The title track plays with Displacer’s trademark looping elastic band, panning electronic leads and stuttering rhythm; that sets the scene well for the beat-free analogue synth extravaganza that is ‘He Becomes the Dream’.
‘The Face You Deserve’ has a lot to live up to, given the impressive and expansive back catalogue Morton has given to the world over the years. Once again, he has delivered an album that stands tall in his discography that touches on the past; and indeed adds some extra footnotes for the future, as a bridge for the endless possibilities to come.
DISPLACER: Curse of the Black Vinyl LP Hymen Records / Crime League
As a partner in crime to Michael Morton’s ‘The Curse of the Black Lotus EP, we finally see the curse passed to its vinyl counterpart, that had been scheduled for release for some time now.
This mini album encompasses all that is good with Displacer, with an array of mixes and some unreleased numbers, covering some of the multitude of electronic genres that Morton dabbles with.
The opening Hologram mix of ‘Rzla’ is the perfect introduction, with a tense piano line drawing the listener into the scratching magnetism of DJ Swamp’s tear up of ‘Black Lotus’. ‘Freefall’ takes the simplicity of arpeggiated synth dancing along its merry path, whilst the undercurrent of beats and bass give foundation to its rise and fall; and for me displays Morton at his understated best.
There is an element of cool that permeates Displacer’s catalogue with relative ease. This aura transcends genre; and it is this that provides much of the accessibility he provides to a wider audience. ‘Unbreakable’ rams home this point, as it seals this 7 track long chapter in Michael’s career. Long may it continue.
SLIPDRIVE: River of Heaven OST DIGITAL DOWNLOAD Hymen Records
I will always welcome another project by Keef Baker since announcing the retirement of the main output under his slightly bastardised own name (Keith). This time his attention is focussed squarely on an official soundtrack for John Ossoway’s ‘River of Heaven’ role playing game released by D101.
Utilising the notion that the river of heaven is the name given to the Milky Way by the Chinese, it’s easy to grasp the concept of Baker’s intentions musically as the album opens. A firm grasp of Sci-Fi enthusiasm makes way for an aural cosmos of rich starlit sounds, which utilise key essences of computer game technology sound-wise and are wrapped up with clinical, yet warm beat play that stands firm with the aesthetics of Hymen Records.
There is much to be made from the press bumpf that namedrops Tron Legacy and John Carpenter soundtracks. Thematically speaking, the source material sustains the concept musically and the warping electronics enriched by glowing pads, drive home a vision of past future notions made reality; all within a balloon of modern space age electronica.
As always, Baker is the consummate professional where musical structure and composition is concerned; every note has a purpose, every ambient backdrop a rich bed for harmonies to bounce across whilst the rhythm sections remain razor sharp. This is a much different album from what we have heard previously from Keef, whilst retaining the ever so slight nuances that firmly stamp home the name of the composer.
Overall, ‘River of Heaven is one of those releases that I would have loved to seen released on hard copy to join my collection of his exemplary work; from an artist with more strings than his bow could possibly brace.
KEEF BAKER: Dry / Barren CD / DIGITAL DOWNLOAD Hymen Records
So we come to the end of the journey for Keef Baker releasing work under his own name, as he shifts his focus to other projects that have been making a mark. All the odds and sods that he hasn’t used over the years were passed to his label to compile a collection of songs that are a fitting departure to a remarkable journey. Released in the same format as his latest Nimon masterpiece; we have the main album in hardy copy format, backed up with a digital partner to give you more bang for your buck.
It is of no surprise that the majority of the CD ‘Dry’ harks back to Baker’s n5MD days musically. Opener ‘Stumpy’s Christmas Delight’ and ‘Soldeed’ wouldn’t have sat that out of place on his debut, ‘The Widnes Years’; with beats that fit well within much of the structures of his early work, accompanied by subtle harmonies and Keef’s well placed music theory that has served him so well on all his accomplishments.
The dry humour is as evident as it always was, with the ability to create some of the more evocative IDM out there, carrying the listener on a rocky emotional rollercoaster; only then to give it a tongue in cheek moniker to lift all seriousness out of the equation. It’s this ability to see life from both sides of the proverbial coin, that carries the listener on life’s ship of chartering the choppiest of seas, to the calmest of lakeside shores, that has elevated Baker into one of the scenes most respected underdogs.
From the situational aspects of the ludicrous ‘Jason Cheng and His Football Game’ (something I can relate to well), to the serious breakcore Venetian Snares nod of ‘Amenema’, and the soaring pads of ‘Moar Ambient pls Kthxbye’, as examples; we have here over the course of 35 tracks, an insight into all the tools at Bakers disposal. None of his other projects sound like the work he has done under his own banner, yet as always, all of this output is incredibly varied and of the highest standard.
It’s sad to see this chapter end, but then everything does have to have a conclusion, as everything in life is finite in one way or another. However, what better way to end a section of ones career by submitting a release of throwaway tracks, that have the ability to blow away many artists’ much prized main bodies of work; which surely underlines the credibility of Baker’s place in underground electronic music history.
DISPLACER & NIMON: House of the Dying Sun CD Hymen Records
Over the last ten years, Michael Morton has made waves for himself within electronic circles with his impressive Displacer project. Running parallel we have Keef Baker, who after many successful releases, put to bed that area of his work and concentrated on his guitar based ambient project, Nimon. Here on ‘House of the Dying Sun’ we have the collective input of both artists working together; to produce an album that gels like they were custom made for each other.
There is an overt Southern Americana feel to this release that stamps images of road trips across dusky and dusty highways, past ramshackle retail outlets, whilst tumbleweeds bounce along the backdrop of buildings that hark back to a wilder era, as weathered signs point to a western destination.
Baker provides the organic guitar/bass whilst Morton electronically fuses everything together with waves of pads and programming; and opener, ‘Ghost Dance’ is a monumental introduction that glides into existence as a portent of the other nine tracks that will follow. The beauty within this release, is that as a collective, the result is one that sounds neither like one or the other individually; but that of a different beast entirely.
Careful attention has been placed on the varying degrees and ranges of ambient sub-textures so they slide amongst the gentle fretwork and harmonies and nothing is overstated as the bass-lines intertwine with the subtle percussive elements; with ‘The Devils House’ and ‘Creature Comforts’ being prime examples of layered perfection, that rise and fall as one large intake of air, followed by a slow exhale.
‘House of the Dying Dun’ isn’t one of those flash in the pan releases. It’s systematically precise in what its trying to achieve, as an adult album that is one for the truer music fan, who shuns the fads and genre restrictions that are over-emphasised by those who feel the need to pigeonhole themselves in a restrictive bubble. A genuine pleasure to listen to from start to finish, this collaboration of two respected artists is a pivotal moment in alternative music history, amongst a stagnating scene sorely in need of a shot in the arm.
DISPLACER: Foundation CD Hymen Records
It’s nice to see Mile Morton on a roll with his Displacer project; it seems like barely two minutes have gone by since the fantastic ‘Night Gallery’ graced my Hi Fi and now we have ‘Foundation’ released on his new home at the well-respected Hymen label.
Opener ‘Dark Star’ is the epitome of the perfect intro; gradual washes of electronics and understated beats to waken the listener gradually and ease into the low tempo ‘The Waiting Place’. It would be lazy of me to draw reference from other acts this first track proper brings to mind, but it’s impossible not to. Imagine the more laid-back ambient and Koto pathways of Bitcrush frequently nibbled at with scratching percussion-like elements and you will be somewhat close.
‘Totality’ fuses my first impressions but broadens the horizon somewhat; fuzz guitar separating the concoction further, yet evident that this is first and foremost a pure chill out album, once the blissful ‘Red Sky’ climaxes.
What I love with this latest release is the blend of opposing forces at play; Mike has once again gelled the medium of dark and light without ever heading into grey territory. There is a clarity and purity to this latest piece of work that manages to hold warmth on the emotional front whilst still remaining mechanical electronically, as the excellent ‘Distress Call’ and minutely raucous ‘Spare Parts’ will attest to.
‘Foundation’ is one of those albums that will have many an alternative electronics fan chomping at the bit and one where Mike Morton has come into his own. Yes there are comparisons to many throughout, with nods at Gridlock on ‘We’ll Watch it Burn’ and footnotes that remind me of what has come before genre wise, but Displacer 2012 truly has something that cannot be taken away from him as a force in its own right; that he has joined his peers in being one of those artists that will inspire creativity in others moving forward.
TONIKOM: Found and Lost CD Hymen Records
It’s been two years for this third release for Hymen Records to appear from Rachel Maloney’s Tonikom. Two long years of contemplation, regarding her creative output under this banner and rediscovering her emotional building blocks of this project.
‘Across its Glassy Surface’, represents an essential catharsis. Understated rhythmical programming allowing for a wash of soulful, breathing pads and gentle harmonies that travel gently through the speakers like the waking from a long uninterrupted slumber.
Once more we have wonderful collection of tracks that cover a wide range of electronic music as a whole. Light spangles of wiry blips and chimes whirl and sporadically spit out over random, yet intentional percussion encompassing the basic key factors of IDM, break-beat and modern ambient dub sensibilities; never more so evident than on the fantastic chamber echoes of ‘Stumble’.
What we have with ‘Found and Lost’ is a slight deviation from the norm more often than not. The tendency to side step into different territories provides a welcome change in form, with light dance sub-plots evolving into the core structure of Tonikom, with the wonderfully modern ‘Lost to the Flames’, providing the listener with a possible future avenue that this venture may take form and evolve within.
Angina P and Haujobb end this latest release with standard but effective remixes that befit the styles they individually bring to the table. I am always a bit wary of remixes closing the show, but these do not detract from what is, all in all, an outstanding resurgence of an act that has taken a well deserved break.