Thursday, February 21, 2013

best (irish) EPs of 2012

1 - Lakker - Torann   (Blueprint)

2012 was a strong year for duo Ian McDonnell (aka Eomac) and Dara Smith; having released three EPs, contributed a mix to Rob Booth’s Electronic Explorations series and added to their ever-growing list of admirers (‘Spider Silk’ sounding right at home in Blawan’s blistering Boiler Room set). The superb Torann EP shares a few common touches with the latter producer; dealing in twisted, warped techno with deceptive off-kilter rhythms, sinister disembodied vocals and chainsaw-like serrated edges. It’s excellence all the way, but particular standouts are provided by ‘CIAR’’s sonar-ping percussion and vortex-like gravitational pull, or the interplay between the eerily harmonising voices and low-end tones on ‘Static & Amp’.

2 - Lar Kaye - Lar Kaye  

It’s tempting to view Adebisi Shank’s output (particularly the kaleidoscopic patterns of their second album) as sort of a more guitar-oriented parallel to the electronic maximalism of recent years: indeed, it becomes even more tempting when you read through Simon Reynolds’ article and note his mention of the influence of anime and manga on Rustie’s Glass Swords, or if you consider the band as the inverse to “rock music achieved electronically”. The tempos may have been more frenetic and moshpit-friendly, but there was definite common ground in terms of the interest in primary colours, anything-goes genre-blending and “thrilling overkill”.

Lar Kaye’s debut EP sees the Adebisi guitarist blur the lines further with a sound that’s even more electronically-based and encompasses subtle R&B or ‘bass’ music elements as well as those familiar-sounding stuttering gameboy rhythms. There’s a lot going on in each track, but the balance between elements is exquisite. ‘Echo Island’’s vocoder babble, steadily pulsing rhythm and exotic-sounding (marimba?) melodies give way to a rousing chorus-not-chorus; ‘Crash’ alternates between chiptune chatter and an ambient post-rock vibe; ‘Effector’ glides along so irresistibly that its easy to overlook just how much its elements keep shifting and refracting. Then there’s sublime closing track ‘The Love Loop’, which sounds like a blissed-out, heavily narcotised Foals track; a treated guitar line and vocal hook matching each other for melancholy while cut-up harmonies, warm bass and sporadic arpeggios complete the picture.

3 - Ilex - MV101   (Quarter Inch Collective)

After 2011’s exhaustive Old Din compilation came this EP, a welcome development of her richly layered electronic sound. Ilex has the knack of creating tracks that seem familiar and almost vintage-sounding, but nonetheless come across as fresh and adventurous. ‘Bi’ unfurls patiently with sonorous steelpan tones before giving way to ‘Jing’’s hypnotic down-tempo pulse. ‘Li’ goes for a brisker tempo but remains light as a feather, all elegant tendrils and chimes. By contrast, the outstanding ‘Takuo’ is dark and compelling; starting off sparse and ominous and gradually building in intensity before it becomes an unrelenting, churning track that seems to peak any number of times.

4 - No Spill Blood - Street Meat     (Sargent House)

Lar Kaye (Adebisi Shank), Matt Hedigan (Hands Up Who Wants To Die) and Ruadhan O' Meara (Magic Pockets) had been receiving rave notices for their live shows as No Spill Blood for some time before they released their debut EP, and the record - picked up by Sargent House (Fang Island, And So I Watch You From Afar, Boris) lived up to expectations. A fuzzed-out, unrelenting synth-punk wall of sound, Street Meat showcases the trio’s unique alchemy -  nodding to prog, post-hardcore, Goblin soundtracks, krautrock, or The Clash ('Good Company' is 'What's My Name' with space-rock guitars set to stun).

O’ Meara’s analog synths combine with Hedigan’s bass to create a sludgy low-end miasma; the former add compelling dystopian textures, while the latter locks in with Kaye’s drumming to propel these larger-than-life, no-prisoners-taken tracks. On top of that - or rather thrown into the mix - are Hedigan’s distorted vocals relaying an (apparently) apocalyptic narrative based around coal mining.

5 - Defcon - In Binary Shrines    (Reset Industries)

The first release on Belfast’s Reset label (of which he’s a member along with Kab Driver, Brian Greene and Kaidi Tatham), In Binary Shrines is a dazzling mini-album of instrumental beat music along the lines of Teebs, Shigeto or Tokimonsta. The sci-fi influence and cosmic FX that permeate these tracks only strengthens the sense of kinship with Brainfeeder et al; along with the sporadically imposing low-end, it provides a nice counterbalance to the record’s frequently hazy textures and laid-back tempos. As is often the case with music like this, the tracks tend to bleed into each other almost seamlessly (and in the best possible sense), but the title track and ‘FM 2030’ are definite highlights. Highly recommended if you’re into the more beats-oriented sections of Oli’s Bleep x Sonic Router podcasts. For example like.

6 - Yawning Chasm - 3  

A busy year for Yawning Chasm saw them take on a few different forms: the Whispered Sun and Butterfly and Crab EPs saw them recording as a duo, Declan Q Kelly joining Aaron Coyne and helping to put a new spin on his lo-fi folk compositions; they were later joined by Jimmy Monaghan (Music For Dead Birds) on drums for live sets, but their third EP release of 2012 was a more stripped-back affair - just Coyne on his own, accompanied by baritone ukulele and gently melodic keys. The feel and aesthetic of 3 is strongly reminiscent of 2009’s The Shadow Is That Hidden, with the chimingly wistful ‘Little Pier’ coming across like a sequel-of-sorts to ‘Monsters’; ‘When My Mind Sounds, It Is A Screaming Bird’, meanwhile, is mellow but builds to a subtle climax. It’s Coyne at his most serene and laid-back.

7 - Flying Buttresses - Orson Welles EP   (WingNut Records)

Rapper Sebi C and DJ/producer/Community Skratch founder member Deviant had been working together in various incarnations for some time, but this marked their first collection of songs to be released. Sebi’s idiosyncratic stream-of-consciousness - by turns surreal and sardonic, with a knack for arresting turns-of-phrase - is perfectly complemented by Deviant’s mix of experimental hip hop, dusty piano interludes and off-kilter beats. With many of the tracks coming in at one or two minutes long, there’s a real feel of spontaneity and a sense that they’re jamming out ideas as they go along, to impressive effect. Instrumental versions of all the tracks are part of the package, while Mynameisjohn and Sixfoot Apprentice contribute a couple of solid remixes.

8 - Lakker - Deathmask    (Love Love Records)

Lakker’s third EP to be released in 2012 saw them continue in a dark vein. ‘LF9’ and ‘Preset Numb’ are insistent, chilly and dystopian-sounding, both tracks foregrounding high-pitched Morse code bleeps over pulsating-but-disorientated techno. Funnily enough the title track is the odd one out, its airy tones reminiscent of Aphex’ lighter side (eg ‘Fingerbib’), but (digital) closer ‘Default Numb’ takes its ‘Preset’ counterpart to even more shadowy and dread-infused depths.

9 - Mynameisjohn - The Thinker & The Prover / The Focusing Effect

Included two EPs here because (a) they're pretty much neck and neck , and (b) I realised forgot to include the latter when I completed the list blurbs.
The two EPs that Limerick-born producer Mynameisjohn released in 2012 were as unpredictable and all-over-the-map stylistically as his frequent mixes. The Thinker & the Prover ranges from zoned-out hip hop (‘The Cumulative Recorder’) to evocative ivory-tinkling soundtrack vibes (‘Sweaty Dreams of Bate Kush’) to the mournful sounding string-laden beats of ‘She Always Let Me Leave’, but threaded through it all is a sense of fun and irreverence and an ear for spacious, jazzy textures.
Meanwhile The Focusing Effect features this beaut of a track:

10 - The Gloaming - Live In Dublin

With an album due in 2013, this excerpt from a live set - made available for free download - showcases the rich, enthralling, intuitive sound of the five-man ‘supergroup’ of sorts. As Niall Crumlish put it in his State review, The Gloaming are “acting as a Rosetta stone for people...who know little or nothing about Irish traditional music”, re-affirming our island’s rich musical heritage at a time when it seems there’s few other things to be proud of. By turns melancholic and rousing, alternately sparse and busy, Live In Dublin’s exquisite musicianship is inspiring; its pacing masterful.

11 - Monto - Best Boy   (Melted Music)

Before the release of this EP, Monto - aka Ross O’Sullivan - had been releasing a prolific stream of tunes and remixes on his Soundcloud; but whereas a lot of that material was - if technically accomplished -  a little overly-familiar in its use of common bedroom electronica tropes, Best Boy marked a big step forward. Simultaneously sounding hyperactive and laid-back, playful and carefully measured; Best Boy’s blunted, colourful hip-hop-leaning instrumentals absorb elements of jazz, chiptune and electro. ‘Homage’’s hazily insistent groove provides a canvas that Monto flecks with videogame synth snatches, sporadic warm basslines and wind-chime-like effects: the interplay of elements is absorbing and perfectly judged. ‘FTW’, with its intricate, jazzy feel nods to Brainfeeder cosmonaut Thundercat, while the virtuoso ‘Pot Luck’ manages to build some serious momentum despite its typically unpredictable compositional approach: the way the extra percussion comes in at the six-minute mark to subtly push the track over the line - to single one moment out - points to Monto’s burgeoning production skills.

12 - Cubs - Willowfield    (Rusted Rail)

The latest release from outsider-folk collective Cubs starts off with a sample of dialogue from David Lynch’s The Straight Story, which seems somehow apt: Willowfield combines the kind of eerie, surrealistic, witching-hour vibe that Lynch is famed for with the more rustic, wistful and placid atmosphere that characterised that particular film. Core members Aaron Hurley (Phantom Dog Beneath The Moon), James Rider (United Bible Studies) and Keith Wallace (Loner Deluxe) are joined by new contributors Eddie Keenan (Driftwood Manor) and Cecilia Danell - the latter’s beguiling vocal turns on ‘Lowering Of Ropes’ and ‘When Skies Split Open’ provide a nice counterpoint to the discordant textures and unsettling effects that often infuse these psych-folk sketches. The loose harmonising of ‘Hollycroft’ may allude to ‘campside fires’, but its off-kilter, creaking ambience is reminiscent of Ghost Box’s eerie soundscapes as much as parched, dusty Americana.

13 - Woven Skull - Tenunan Tengkorak

This release by the Letrim-based experimental collective features five pieces played on Balinese Gamelan, which only serves to reinforce the ritualistic, mantric feel that imbues much of their music. Slowly unwinding, these tracks revel in the rich sonorities and resonances of the gamelan: where ‘Black Stone’ feels tentative, letting the tones reverberate before rhythms slowly take shape, ‘Village Cremation’’s hypnotic, intricate patterns provide a centrepiece of sorts, while ‘Two Snakes’ has a moonlit, hallucinatory air to it.

14 - Girl Band - France 98    (Any Other City)

While on paper Girl Band seem to all intents and purposes to be a throwback (Bleach-era Nirvana and Jesus Lizard are cited as influences, not that you’d struggle to identify that), the visceral, raw sound that they’ve created on France 98 (and on the ‘In My Head’ single before that) is absorbing enough to stand on its own terms. Shifting between tempos and moods, their mastery of dynamics remains constant. ‘You’re A Dog’ takes a classicist riff and amps the fuzz; bass, percussion and insouciant vocals all bleeding into one mass. The grungy ‘That Snake Conor Cusack’ is more spacious, with Dara Kiely’s vocal drawl gleefully and repeatedly extended to snapping point. On ‘Second One’, sparks and shards of feedback leap up and rain down on a propulsive, motorik-like beat, while ‘Handswaps’ is a sludgy, lumbering Mudhoney-esque number.

15 - Eomac - Eomac EP    (Acroplane )

Deep, disorientating and deceptive sounds from Dublin producer Ian McDonnell (one half of Lakker) . A thumping kick drum interacts with dubbed-out textures and waves of static on ‘Slide FX’, while the similarly low-end heavy ‘Apache’ features warehouse bleeps and a twisted garage flex. On the other hand, ‘Dramutic’ tips its cap to ‘Strange Fruit’-era Zomby with a side-order of weird, disembodied vocal samples.

16 - Deviant - Lookin' Fancy In The Pantry    (Alphabet Set)

Gathers together five Deviant remixes completed over the summer, characterised by the same offbeat approach that’s in evidence on the Flying Buttresses EP. Danny Brown gets the treatment twice, on a slurred, slowed-right-down version of ‘Blunt after Blunt’ and an excellent rework of ‘Die Like a Rockstar’. Elsewhere Deviant takes SertOne’s ‘Breath’ and lends it a frayed, blown-out feel, trading skratch for bleeps, while ‘Get Ta Fuck/Conversation’ kills two birds with one stone (the birds being Jeee4ce and Todd Tuttle) while adding accordion to the mix.

17 - Wife - Stoic     (Left Blank)

With this debut EP on the Throwing Snow-helmed Left Blank label (following in the footsteps of excellent EPs from Bristolians Vessel and El Kid) Altar Of Plagues’ James Kelly pursues a new aesthetic. Stoic is characterised by deep, reverberant textures, a knack for creating quietly ominous atmosphere and creeping tension, as well as a distinctive sensibility that takes in neoclassical and ambient influences. Its submerged melancholy and spatial depth has led to the odd Burial comparison, but the almost occult-like incantations of ‘Trials’ indicates a whole other level of intensity. An album on Tri Angle will follow in 2013.

18 - Niamh De Barra - Below The Sea    (Black Lantern Music)

Another striking release that followed on from 2010’s Cusp EP, Niamh De Barra’s mix of electronic textures, beats, cello and vocal loops is absorbing on tracks like ‘The Man in the Picture’ and ‘Big Day Below The Sea’. Meanwhile, ‘Rugcutter’ re-contextualizes none other than the main vocal hook from Groove Armada’s ‘I See You Baby’; a fever-dream that mixes a sea-shanty/doom-folk vibe with metallic and abrasive electronics and an air of robotic detachment.

19 - Ejeca - Boardwalk Sounds    (Relux Underground)

Garage-loving producer Garry McCartney had a prolific year - with releases on Tusk Wax and Needwant (among others), the excellent ‘You’ collaboration with fellow Belfast duo Bicep and attention from the likes of Jackmaster and Sasha. Boardwalk Sounds was released early in the year and has a deep, rolling house vibe. ‘In Deep With You’’s steady pulse - overlaid with smooth vocal samples - gives way to a vintage, old-school piano-led hook at the halfway-mark; ‘The Way I Feel’ has a more swung feel to it and a catchy vocal sample, while the standout is provided by the melancholic, shimmering ‘Valleys’, with its muffled low-end throb.

20 - Young Wonder - Young Wonder   (Feel Good Lost)

In many ways Cork duo Young Wonder are threading the kind of well-worn path that leads to rapid boredom - atmospheric synths, pitch-shifted and remix-friendly vocals, lashings of delay - but nonetheless they’ve got something that sets them apart, whether it’s their appreciation for dynamics or their way with a hook that lingers instead of evaporating into a digital ether. Nothing here quite matches up to stand-alone wonky-pop earworm ‘Lucky One’, but it’s a solid set that at its best (‘Orange’) calls to mind Purity Ring’s kaleidoscopic genre-stew.

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