I bought four albums that came out this month. Here are my initial thoughts after a few listens:

Dutch Uncles – Out Of Touch In The Wild

Full of funk and inventiveness, with a tastefully bright production sheen that makes it pop out of the speakers. The Dutch Uncles sound less whimsical here than on their previous album (Cadenza) with a more assured bearing, but having lost none of their song-writing ambition.

Ulrich Schnauss – A Long Way To Fall

Ulrich Schnauss is undoubtedly a master craftsman, his work as a sound engineer giving him an unrivalled knowledge of how to fill a sound-field with enveloping waves of delicious noise. His main problem since releasing the stupendous A Strangely Isolated Place has been sounding increasingly like himself. In an attempt to head in new directions here, he has made an LP focussed solely upon the synthesizer and its versatile sound-producing ability (as opposed to the sampled guitars and drums he used to create the electro-shoegaze style he became famous for). Unfortunately too much of his palette has remained the same (as he has always used a lot of synthesizer!) but the structure of the tracks feels different and he is using more ‘hard-edged’ electronic sounds – including some uncharacteristically elastic basslines. Some of the beats are quite novel, veering the sound more in a techno direction at times. Overall, although I don’t think it is a masterpiece (Pitchfork has rather uncharitably described it as “an ill-at-ease collection of midtempo electronic cheese” and there is a sliver of truth to that), there is a lot to keep coming back for.

Mountains – Centralia

I’d occasionally heard/read about this group over the last few years but never taken the plunge. The overwhelmingly positive reviews for this tempted me in. This is electro-acoustic ambient music, combining instruments – cellos, picked guitars – with waves of synthesizers. It’s a great combination and the album is paced beautifully, with 20-minute monolith Propellor as the centre-piece. It perfectly fits Brian Eno‘s definition of ambient music: “Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”

Pantha du Prince & The Bell Laboratory – Elements of Light

Stylistically this was a perfect fit – techno auteur Pantha du Prince already used plenty of bell sounds in his work, making great use of their percussive/melodic capabilities and unique timbre. Here he hooks up with a bell-playing ensemble and a three-tonne bell carillon for a short symphony of minimalist techno. It is relatively slight (two longer segments flanked by three ‘palette cleansers’) but builds nicely on the legacy of Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

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