Bit late with this one! Some thoughts on albums that came out in March:

Heterotic – Love & Devotion

Nice change of direction for electronica veteran Mike Paradinas, here with his (new) partner Lara Rix-Martin, aided by Gravenhurst‘s Nick Talbot who sings on half the tracks. Mike’s last album as μ-ziq, a break-up album brutally titled Duntisbourne Abbots Soulmate Devastation Technique (2007), seemed like a bit of a cul-de-sac for the project, with every ounce of melody and harmony crushed under the weight of digital manipulation. It probably achieved its aim as a purging of negative feelings about a lost relationship, but as a listening experience it was overly intense yet oddly dull and unmemorable. Great, then, to hear him back on record following a totally different path. Love & Devotion kicks off with Bliss (quite an apt title), immediately harking back to mid-to-early-90s ambient house, with breathily soulful female vocals, handclaps and a bouncy bassline. Vocalist Nick Talbot enters for the second track, Blue Lights, which hits a tempo high as a driving house number, again complete with distinctly 90s-flavoured piano chords. From there, though, the mood darkens, the tempo slows and grey-sky machine soul is the order of the day. It is an intriguing mixture of atmospheric electronic sounds with deliberately retro flourishes (midi trumpet choirs etc.) and titles like Robocorp (in particular) heighten the sense of looking back with wistful nostalgia. It isn’t an immediate gem but certainly one to keep coming back to.

Locust – You’ll Be Safe Forever

Here Mark van Hoen revives his Locust project, which had previously been the outlet for his slightly more ‘commercial’ vocal-oriented tracks, albeit with his own deliciously dark/off-kilter twist. The last outing for Locust was 2001’s Wrong (a clever twin CD format) so it has lain dormant for quite some time. Now he’s back with a collaborator in tow (Louis Sherman, who I am not familiar with) and although it isn’t based around songs in the same way as before, it is at the more accessible end of his work, compared with some of the odd (but compelling) sound experiments to be found on last year’s excellent solo effort, The Revenant Diary. Crisp beats, the occasional uncommon time signature (!), expertly crafted ambiance, spooky vocals and an overall sense of creeping unease.