Julianna Barwick – Will...

The long awaited follow up to one of the best albums of 2013 ‘Nepenthe’ from the brilliant Julianna Barwick.

Tim Hecker – Love Streams...

It won’t appeal to all tastes, but Canadian composer Tim Hecker’s ‘Love Streams’ is a strangely beautiful listen.

HAELOS – Full Circle...

Mairéad McGuinness reviews the debut album from new Matador Records signing HAELOS,

Drombeg – Earthworks...

Fans of Max Richter, Nils Frahm and other luminaries of the ambient classical genre will find much to admire in this debut album by Drombeg (aka Thom Brookes)

Max Richter – Sleep...

Apple’s iTunes has often been cited as a contributing factor to the death of the traditional album – the advent of mp3 technology and iTunes in particular, gave consumers the ability to cherry pick tracks and created the ‘shuffle’ generation. As a by-product of this, our collective attention span when it comes to music seems to have taken a nosedive – if those thirty second audio clips don’t reel us in, it’s a case of ‘next please’ and we have wandered somewhere else. How richly ironic then that ambient classical composer Max Richter presents the full length version of his latest album to the world exclusively through iTunes, a mammoth, eight hour excursion into the world of sleep, designed to be an aid to, and an enhancement of, an experience that takes up just under a third of our lives. The irony is compounded by the fact that Richter operates in a genre where patience is a pre-requisite for listeners – ambient classical music is completely devoid of instant thrills, the antithesis of the iTunes generation. Richter has been at the vanguard of the ambient/classical  movement and with Sleep, he has created his most challenging but arguably his most rewarding work to date. It’s hard to establish just how serious Richter is when he invites listeners to press play and drift off to this 31 track recording, that flows seamlessly from one piece to the next – to do so reduces it to nothing more than some bog standard, slight and inconsequential piece of New Age fluff – it is anything but that. There is too much beauty here in Richter’s delicate piano pieces, adorned by sombre strings and a melancholic serenity that takes the breath away.  ‘Dream 1 (before the wind blows it all away)’ is based...

Slow Meadow – Slow Meadow...

On very rare occasions, we discover new music and it feels like we have uncovered buried treasure. All attempts to ‘review’ or critique this kind of music are rendered useless; we are forced to let the music weave its spell, take a deep breath and just gush. Slow Meadow is the first release on Post Rock duo Hammock’s new label. It is the latest project from respected ambient artist Matt Kidd and it is utterly gorgeous.  So much of the music of the ambient genre acts as nothing other than a gentle wash of sound, but there is much more going on here. The slowly shifting chords form the backdrop as guitars, synths, strings and cello sob and sigh their way through a suite of instrumental songs that is at times, incredibly moving. The music makes the perfect soundtrack for this time of year as summer slowly drifts towards the heavy melancholy of autumn – the airy, pastoral feel of Linen Garden (Part I) conjures up  images of blue skies and summer magic – by the time we reach Part II, the final piece on the record, the mood has changed to one of bittersweet beauty. In between we get the breathtaking ‘Summer Vigil’ and the shoegaze melancholy of ‘Every Mournful Breath’, profoundly beautiful compositions that move at the same glacial pace, but never once is the spell broken across these eleven tracks. Hammock guest on the opening and closing tracks but their influence is subtle and sympathetic to the mood of quiet rapture that Kidd creates.  Listening to this record on headphones, it is easy to lose track of time, to immerse yourself in the wondrous textures and wordless magic of music as astoundingly lovely as this. A rare and precious find –...

Scuba – Claustrophobia...

The early nineties – indie kids look on in horror as dance music begins to infiltrate their cosy, dimly lit world of jangly guitars and art house noise bands. Eventually, they are forced to succumb as the influence of the acid house scene becomes all-pervasive – Madchester and baggy is born and your new favourite band is likely to be sporting bell bottom jeans and oversized sweatshirts. It’s all about the bass, the beats and whatever it takes to keep you happy and dancing all night long. For many of us, our distrust of ‘real’ dance music ensured that while we could stomach a little Happy Mondays or Primal Scream, that’s as far as we were prepared to go, choosing to  remain blissfully ignorant of the music that influenced these bands. Since 2003, Scuba, a.k.a. Paul Rose, has been making the kind of music that only true aficionados of the underground club scene really get. Invariably categorised as Dubstep, Techno, House, Garage or some flavour of all of the above, Rose has been at the cutting edge of a scene that remains impenetrable for your average music fan. Fourth album Claustrophobia offers a way in for those of us with a passing interest in electronic music – the thing that strikes you on first listen is just how sonically well constructed this album is. Rose has created the kind of album that revels in its attention to detail. The swirl of ambient sounds and tinkling glockenspiel that prefaces opening track ‘Levitation’ is the kind of detail that sets this record apart from your average club record. ‘Why You Feel So Low?’ is darkly thrilling, scanning similar terrain as Jon Hopkins while ‘Drift’ and ‘PCP’ form the core of an album that mixes conventional club land fare with something a little...

Inventions – Maze of Woods...

Inventions is the result of two talented musicians from very different genres leaving their respective comfort zones to create something compellingly unique. Matthew Cooper has been writing and recording under the moniker Eluvium for nigh on twelve years now. He is one of the most innovative artists on the ambient classical scene; Copia, released in 2007 is an essential album for fans of that genre. Mark T Smith is a guitarist with Texan doyens of the Post Rock movement, Explosions in the Sky. Both have been so successful in their respective niches, that they are in danger of becoming slaves to the expectations of their fans, somewhat bound to the rigid, formulaic blueprint of their chosen genres. Inventions affords them the opportunity to push the envelope a little, and Maze of Woods, the second album recorded as Inventions, is a side project that may have delivered the best music either has produced in quite some time. Of the two, the influence of Eluvium seems more pronounced; Maze of Woods definitely edges a little closer to Ambient/Classical than it does to Post Rock – the guitar fireworks that are such a feature of the music of Explosions in the Sky are not evident anywhere here. But there are other elements that neither musician has utilised on any of their previous recordings; the cut up vocal snippets and stuttering beat of opener ‘Escapers’ is very different to anything either has done before. ‘Springworlds’ features the kind of ambient textures synonymous with the music of Eluvium, with Smith adding some nice, understated guitar work into the wash. On ‘Wolfkids’ and ‘A Wind From All Directions’ Inventions show a hunger to experiment with different sounds and textures while the beautiful ‘Moanmusic’ is based around a simple piano motif set against a jarring sonic backdrop. While...

Caribou – Our Love...

Canadian Dan Snaith has been making music under the Caribou moniker for just under a decade now. In that time, he has dabbled in a variety of different styles and genres, never really settling for too long on any definitive sound. Our Love is his best album to date by some distance – it is a beautiful slice of melancholy electronica, pulsating with a warmth rarely found in the icy confines of that genre. From hypnotic opener ‘Can’t Do Without You’ to closing track ‘Your Love Will Set You Free’, Snaith utilises an array of gorgeous analogue synth sounds to embellish these wonderfully understated songs, creating a kind of soulful electronica. Snaith is not afraid to lock into a groove when the opportunity presents, resulting in a collection of songs that appeal to the heart while nudging you towards the dance floor at the same time. A delight from start to finish. (4 /...

Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes...

Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke returns with another record of glitchy, experimental electronica.

Aphex Twin – Syro...

Pioneering electronic musician Richard James drops a new album some 13 years after the last Aphex Twin record and its a dazzling return.

Keaton Henson – Romantic Works...

Sublime, ambient classical beauty.

EAST INDIA YOUTH -TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER...

Hype can be a curious thing. For a new artist struggling to get heard above the clamour of a music scene saturated with hopeful wannabes, it can be a godsend. On the flip side, it can strangle a new act at birth, the weight of expectation too much to bear at a stage when the artist has had little time to grow. Ultimately, hype will bear fruit for those who have the requisite talent to back it up and crush those who don’t.  There are many exceptions to the rule but we are pretty unforgiving of musicians that surf in on a wave of hype if the music turns out to be an empty promise. William Doyle aka East India Youth is currently garnering rabidly favourable reviews for his debut album Total Strife Forever.  Music journalists and online bloggers are falling over themselves in the rush to declare his genius, showering the album with the kind of lavish praise usually reserved for the anointed few. On this occasion, you can believe the hype – Total Strife Forever marks the arrival of a prodigious and precocious talent. The Bournemouth born electronic composer has fashioned a remarkably confident debut, a genre hopping record that blends elements of Pop, R & B, Ambient, Indie, Electronica and Shoegaze to produce something that could have been an incoherent mess but turns out to be anything but. Doyle is a sonic alchemist, magically combining and fusing different styles to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Some have lazily labelled him the ‘new James Blake’ but in reality, the music he makes is light years away from the more minimalist approach of Blake. Dazzling instrumental ‘Glitter Recession’ opens the album, its tumbling arpeggio piano chords and...

Chequerboard -The Unfolding...

Instrumental music of hushed beauty from Dublin based John Lambert aka Chequerboard.

Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe...

Pure pop perfection from synthpop exponents Chvrches.

Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe...

Let’s get this out of the way straight from the start – Julianna Barwick has just released the most hauntingly beautiful record of 2013 so far. Nepenthe is the follow up to her critically acclaimed 2011 album Magic Places and is an absolute delight from start to finish, a celestial wash of sound that beguiles and captivates. The decision to decamp to Iceland to record with Alex Somers from Riceboy Sleeps has been vindicated – whereas Magic Places relied almost exclusively on Barwick’s heavily processed vocal loops and chants to weave its spell, Nepenthe incorporates subtly aching strings and ambient sonic textures to add further colour to her wordless, beautiful songs. There are guest contributions from members of Múm and Amiina, and the influence of some of Iceland’s finest musicians has changed Barwick’s music in a way that feels like a natural progression from the Magic Places album, without relinquishing the essence of what made that record so unique. Fans of Sigur Ros, Riceboy Sleeps and Julia Holter will relish the solemn, ethereal grace of tracks like ‘Offing’ and ‘Look Into Your Own Mind’.  ‘The Harbinger’ features a gorgeous looping vocal melody underpinned by a pretty piano motif that ebbs and flows like a half remembered dream. ‘Pyrrhic’ is darker; low, rumbling cello notes and sinister vocal samples drag the listener from the sweet bliss of the opening tracks. ‘One Half’ features an actual discernible lyric but it’s no less lovely for this nod to a more conventional song-writing approach and there are echoes of Elizabeth Fraser and the 80s Goth dream-pop pioneers The Cocteau Twins on the very lovely ‘Forever’. There is always a danger with a record like this that it could fall into the wishy washy New Age bracket – Barwick...

Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus...

Forget everything you think you know about Bristol based electronic duo Fuck Buttons. Forget their first two albums, forget the economic crisis, Daft Punk, summer festivals, Michael Buble and the recent freakishly good weather. Forget all of this and prepare yourself for Slow Focus, an album of jaw-dropping moments of brilliance, quite unlike anything you have heard so far this year. Over the top? Perhaps. But there is no question that with Slow Focus, our crudely named pioneers have produced an album that is their best to date, and one that wipes the floor with much of what passes for mainstream electronica at the moment. And forget that last sentence, because this is an album that goes beyond the confines of its genre and lays waste to nearly everything out there in the cosy world of pop and rock in 2013. The admittedly excellent new Boards of Canada album appears quaint and pedestrian compared to this behemoth – Fuck Buttons are not interested in minimalism, the concept that less is more or settling for a single musical idea and mining it for all its worth. Fuck Buttons bludgeon you into submission with layers and layers of electronic noise and monstrous beats. Subtlety is the enemy. More is more, and just when you think you have had enough, guess what? Here’s another slab of electronic meat to gorge on. Go ahead – treat yourself. It starts with the tribal drums and pitch shifting synths of ‘Brainfreeze’ and immediately we know we are in unfamiliar territory; Slow Focus is strikingly darker in tone than previous album, Tarot Sport. ‘Year of the Dog’ screeches and squeals over a fluttering synth before a choir of massed voices from Hades joins in to add a little levity. The hip...

Halves – Boa Howl...

Halves are a band that strive for perfection in everything that they do.From their album artwork right through to their stunning live visuals and meticulously honed songs there is a commitment to their craft that is integral to their identity as a band. In short, Halves care about their art, and how that art is presented to the world. Their debut album, ‘It Goes, It Goes (forever & ever)’, released in 2009 announced Halves as one of Ireland’s most innovative acts, peerless in their pursuit of excellence and they were rewarded with a richly deserved nomination for a Choice Music Award. They should brace themselves for more plaudits and award nominations because Boa Howl is another beautifully fashioned collection of songs and a front runner for Irish album of the year; a record of hushed, sombre beauty that draws you in with every listen. This trio of Brian Cash, Elis Czerniak & Tim Czerniak continue to forge a unique presence on the Irish music scene – their blend of ambient electronica, strings, brass and guitars are fused together to create something truly special, closer in spirit to bands like Efterklang and early Sigur Ros than to any of their peers on the local music scene. Opening track ‘Drumhunter’ sounds more than a little like Radiohead but from there on in the influences are harder to discern – Boa Howl is an album steeped in atmosphere, trading in light and shade and a melancholic splendour that is both haunting and affecting. The wonderful ‘Tanager Peaks’ features a stunning vocal contribution from Gemma Hayes, a perfect fit for a melody of such glowing beauty. ‘Best Summer’ emerges from a fog of electronica, a whispered secret that we are privileged to bear witness to, while ‘White Boa...

Sigur Ros – Kveikur...

After the blissed out ambient soundscapes of last year’s Valtari, Sigur Ros make a quick return to the fray with Kveikur, the band’s seventh studio album since their formation in 1997. Heralded as a darker, more industrial sounding direction for the band, Kveikur is their first recording since the departure of Kjartan Sveinsson, a founding member and someone who played an integral part in creating their signature sound. So is this the ‘industrial’ revolution advance publicity would have us believe? Well, not quite; while Kveikur contains some of the bands darkest moments since their second album, it is also liberally sprinkled with some of their most anthemic and poppy songs to date. Much of the speculation about the change in direction came about following the preview screening of a video for lead track ‘Brennisteinn’. Opening with a squall of static before settling into a dark and ominous groove ‘Brennisteinn’ is a fantastic opener and gives credence to the notion that Kveikur might mark a shift from light to darkness. But once Jonsi starts to sing, the darkness dissipates, and we are back in familiar Sigur Ros territory. ‘Ísjaki’ and ‘Stormur’ are the kind of rousing pop songs that first surfaced on their most commercial album to date Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, while ‘Rafstraumur’ sounds uncannily like an Icelandic Coldplay. We are a full five songs in before we are back to exploring their darker side again –the title track ‘Kveikur’ creeps in on a murky, distorted beat,  a little Depeche Mode at their most thrilling and threatening with a chorus that is vintage Sigur Ros – the trademark Jonsi falsetto soaring skywards, over thumping drums and stirring instrumentation. The album closes on a predictably sombre note with the nocturnal piano lullaby...

Sigur Ros – Valtari...

Ambient masterpiece from the Icelandic innovators.