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Albums - Issue 615

Madlib

Sound Ancestors

Madlib Invazion

Psychedelic hip-hop opus
Looking back over Madlib’s vast discography, it’s astonishing to realise he’s never made a solo album under his own name before. The hip-hop producer has cut records as his high- pitched rap alter ego Quasimoto, combined with J Dilla as Jaylib, and famously collaborated with the late MF DOOM for the classic album ‘Madvillainy’, while pursuing many other strands of his music taste with projects like Yesterday’s New Quintet. ‘Sound Ancestors’, though, is the first time he’s stepped up front. Originally dreamed up in London in 2018, but worked on remotely during lockdown, Four Tet took on a curatorial role, helping to select tracks that would fi t together from Madlib’s unreleased archive, especially tunes that would best reflect his broad-ranging yet unique style. Talking to Kate Hutchinson for The Guardian, Four Tet said: “I wanted to show off all the different facets of what he does and can do. And I didn’t feel that anyone was really making a record like this.” ‘Sound Ancestors’ explores Madlib’s particular flavour of cut and paste sampladelia. The raw, lo-fi crunch that is a hallmark of his hip-hop production remains; mixed with the trippiness and sense of disorientation that is sometimes a side-effect of his music. ‘The Call’ is a slab of paisley psyche funk with heavy beats that could almost be a private press early ’70s nugget, if it wasn’t for the vocal sample snippets that season the production. It’s instantly recognisable as him. ‘Theme From Crabtree’ mixes reggae vocal interjections with a loose-limbed beat and a melancholy descending vibraphone riff, and ‘Road Of The Lonely Ones’ is a lush ballad attached to neck-snapping drums, demonstrating Madlib’s signature blend of the rough with the smooth. Things get stranger, though, as the record progresses. ‘Loose Goose’ has a spiky, circulating riff that sounds like it could be either some ancient instrument or a synth, moving over a slow dancehall beat, sample ephemera and dissonant machine tones. ‘Dirtknock’ could be the centrepiece, with scratchy breaks underpinning a vocal and guitar sample from a cult Welsh post-punk band (naming no names). It’s a striking combination that shows Madlib’s sample sources, and musical tastes, are encyclopaedic. ‘Hopprock’ is far more amorphous, with a long beatless intro of moody cello, jazzy thumb piano and the sound of various answerphone messages being deleted, before it morphs into spidery post-punk guitar and snapping beats. ‘Sound Ancestors’ itself harks back to the spiritual jazz Madlib has explored as Yesterday’s New Quintet, with hand percussion, splashy cymbals, upright bass and fl ute. It’s a reminder of Madlib and Four Tet’s mutual appreciation for jazz, and how it has continually manifested in both of their records. ‘Hang Out (Phone Off)’ is another highlight, with its irresistible slap bass and Rhodes keyboard groove, and a great vocal that fi ts with the modern soul style of Steve Lacy or Thundercat, and ‘Two For Dilla’ is a tribute to the late producer with whom Madlib collaborated. To listen to ‘Sound Ancestors’ is to step outside of the modern world and instead be transported to Madlib’s astral plane. In the same Guardian feature, the artist said that when he produces, “sometimes I’m not actually doing the music, the spirit can lock into you; it’s like a meditation”. His channelling and meticulous arrangement of past records into new pieces preserves not just these forgotten artefacts of sound, but also the essence of hip-hop itself. While mainstream rap production has changed into an almost entirely electronic form, Madlib proves there’s still a universe of possibilities with samples, if you use them correctly. ‘Sound Ancestors’ is among his greatest statements. BEN MURPHY
Ben Murphy

Om Unit

Acid Dub Studies

ADS001

A salute to acid
The latest album from Bristol drum & bass adventurer Om Unit sees him lean into his chameleon-like qualities, this time eschewing 160bpms for a bona-fide conceptual exploration. While last year’s collaboration with Seekersinternational was an eclectic affair, leaping nimbly from UK hardcore to dancehall, here Om Unit narrows the focus so he can zero in on two of his great loves: the hypnotic sway of dub reggae, and the timeless acid that emanates from Roland’s iconic 303 machine. ‘Acid Dub Studies’ lives up to its bold title, with squelchy acid basslines wrapped tightly around the soundscapes of all 10 of its tracks, and while an initial listen raises concerns Om Unit might have spread the ambition a little thin this time around, closer inspection reveals the rich shimmers of dub techno and ambient that takes it to a deeper place. ANGUS PATERSON
Angus Paterson

Ghetts

Conflict Of Interest

Warner

Stunning grime for a new era
"I don’t care about nostalgia,” says Ghetts on the opening track of ‘Conflict Of Interest’. “My best years are ahead of me”. It’s a bold statement for a veteran dropping music after a year packed with talented new MC breakthroughs. While guest appearances from Stormzy, Skepta, Emeli Sandé and Ed Sheeran are clearly signposting a big British event, it’s anything but Bake Off escapism. Ghetts can unpack anger and darkness better than ever before, atop spacious productions that endlessly leer and bump and grind. It’s easy to forget how long Ghetts has been around (his first collaboration with Ed Sheeran was a decade ago), but perhaps it just takes time for a voice like this to produce one of the most beautiful grime records ever; almost weighed down by its overcast realness, yet buoyed by a decade-and-a-half of experience. TRISTAN BATH
Tristan Bath

FYI Chris

Earth Scum

Black Acre

A brave, erratic debut
Producer duo FYI Chris coalesce a generous nostalgic scoop from subcultures past to create a quietly brave debut. The “Northern-bred” duo forge a link between raving in the Hacienda and their tight-knit music community in South London. Rolling house loops and sci-fi synth- lines gently unfurl beneath most of the tracks, veering off into a handful of key guest slots along the way. Simeon Jones adds soulful vocals to two tracks (including chicken shop hymn, ‘Morley’s Preferences’), while Mancunian punk poet Thick Richard tells a gritty autobiographical tale on ‘Scum Of The Earth’. It’s an erratic sort of album — FYI Chris reconstruct a disco beat on ‘Black Dragon Loop’, only to ramble around with subdued acid on ‘Green Paraquet’ moments later — but this is just a reflection of life in a contemporary UK scene full of contradictions. Well worth a look. TRISTAN BATH
Tristan Bath

DJ Overdose

Emulator Armour

L.I.E.S.

Steely electro beats
Dutch producer Jeroen Warmenhoven is a bastion of the electro underground. As DJ Overdose, he’s two decades deep, moving from overdriven drum machine dirt for dancefloors to interstellar melodic works. ‘Emulator Armour’ is his fifth album, and finds him returning to L.I.E.S Records after a 2018 EP. Opening with the spectral strings and IDM drums of ‘5x4’, Overdose wastes no time. ‘Time I Get Nasty’ is a propulsive electro cut with a relentless groove and cirrus drifts of synth, while ‘3000’ hits the spot with a sinuous East Asian riff and serrated bass. But there are surprises too, like the cyborg R&B beat of ‘Halsslagader’ and the weird ’80s soundtrack funk of ‘Dinges Danges’. Like another Dutch maverick, Legowelt, DJ Overdose does what he wants, and the results, as here, are often exceptional. BEN MURPHY
Ben Murphy

Shiken Hanzo

Fate Worlds

Inperspective Records

Cinematic drum & bass
Colchester-based Shiken Hanzo has created a stir in the drum & bass underground with his highly atmospheric, katana-sharp production style. Since 2015, he’s made a name via releases on Repertoire, Samurai Music and his own Hojo Clan, mixing intricately detailed sound design, techno loops and beats pared back to the minimalist bone. On this debut album he further explores this zone in-between genres, with traces of dubstep, halftime and ambient discernible in its spooky depths. ‘Necromancy’ has thrumming kick drums and clattering percussion performing a call and response over brooding techstep synths, while ‘Shinobi Hiden’ excels with its brushes of icy synth work and scalpel precise breaks. ‘The 27 Dead Apostle Ancestors’, meanwhile, with its tumbling percussion and chopped vocals, resembles nothing else around. Formidable. BEN MURPHY
Ben Murphy

Danny L Harle

Harlecore

Mad Decent

Stomping euphoria
Bursting with trance arpeggios, offbeat bass, high-pitched vocals and even higher tempos, ‘Harlecore’ is PC Music affiliate Danny L Harle’s glittering love letter to once-maligned ’90s dance sounds. ‘Do You Remember’ could be a Eurodance pumper that’s soundtracked a million holiday romances, while the bonkers ‘Ti Amo’ is mákina meets auto-tuned Latin pop over a well-known Stranglers sample. It’s dizzyingly epic and grand throughout. ‘All Night’ is an instant anthem, synth euphoria turning into hard dance stomp, and modern vocal modulation pouring emotional hook on hook. ‘Take Me Heart Away’ then turns everything up to 11, sounding like Calvin Harris three pingers high and rising. It’s this comparison that hints at a thrilling possibility: with even Harris making ’90s-inspired piano hardcore and Mad Decent on the promotion here, could this be the future sound of American EDM? We hope so. JOE ROBERTS
Joe Roberts

Mr. Mitch

Lazy

Gobstopper

One of the UK’s best
"Yo, I do my thing / I don’t jump through hoops / I’m starting to think / I don’t think like you” raps Manga Saint Hilare on ‘Lazy’, the eponymous track of Mr. Mitch’s third album. Hilare, one of the few features alongside Duval Timothy and Social State, sums up his ethos and Mr. Mitch’s oeuvre. With ‘Lazy’, Mr. Mitch oscillates from ceiling-threatening double-layered bass and glistening synths over skittish drum rolls, to ambient meditative tracks fit for yoga retreats. There isn’t a moment on this album that isn’t captivating. From the opener ‘Black Magic’, a club-ready anthem, to ‘Proud’ (featuring his son, Miles) to the taut and wiry ‘What They Want’, Mr. Mitch does a superb job in adding new colours to his palette while showcasing, yet again, why he continues to be one of the best UK producers around. DHRUVA BALRAM
Dhruva Balram

Dimension

Organ

Dimension / Warner

Radio-friendly d&b
He may have released a ‘FABRICLIVE’ compilation, an Essential Mix and singles on RAM, but Dimension’s stadium-sized drum & bass suggests ambitions beyond the club. His debut album ‘Organ’ shares the glossy sound of other superstars of the genre, like Sub Focus or Chase & Status. There are pop anthems here like ‘Alive’, with its rousing church organ and Poppy Baskcomb’s Radio 1-friendly vocals, while Liam Bailey’s yearning verses and the trance synths on ‘Lord’s Prayer’ seem built for performing at enormo-domes. But there are still concessions to the dancefloor sound, as on ‘Danger’ with MC GQ, or ‘Offender’, a hard dance/d&b fusion, while ‘UK Border Patrol’ is a melancholy trip-hop piece with a political message. ‘Organ’ is a commercial record unlikely to appeal to the underground, but will be ubiquitous on the big radio stations and, eventually, festival stages. BEN MURPHY
Ben Murphy

Clark

Playground In A Lake

Deutsche Grammophon

Sprawling, ambitious, uneven
Esteemed esoteric adventurer Clark is quite clear about the creative intentions underpinning his ninth studio album, ‘Playground In A Lake’. The first to showcase a long-held ambition of introducing a string ensemble to his sound laboratory, the intention is still to avoid the structural trappings of classical music. A fresh creative approach, though with a straight line to his existing body of work. In many ways, the oft-thundering scope of the album is a striking realisation of what he wanted to achieve. There is no shortage of abstract soundscapes, and certainly, no retreat into classical dogma, and its best moments are heard when these new symphonic colours are mixed in seamlessly. However, there are as many moments when the chasm between the two is more apparent. A bumpy journey worth taking. ANGUS PATERSON
Angus Paterson

Yoshinori Hayashi

Pulse Of Defiance

Smalltown Supersound

Agile house, bass and breaks
Japanese producer Yoshinori Hayashi’s second album for Norway-based, internationally-focused independent label Smalltown Supersound, ‘Pulse Of Defiance’, is an agile blend of house, bass, jungle breaks, and glitchy electronics; a superb, atmospheric project that builds carefully to a glorious peak. Hayashi manages to wear multiple sashes on the album. Over 12 tracks, the Tokyo-based producer expands his world of sound, showcasing his musical versatility with club-ready techno slotting neatly alongside jungle while allowing for moments of free jazz. There’s even time for flecks of dancehall within the grooves of ‘I Believe In You’, and a layered bass on ‘Gallop’ that would shake any club’s soundsystem. Near the end of the album, standout tracks ‘Shut Up’ and ‘Flow’ actualise the journey Hayashi set out on in ‘Pulse Of Defiance’. It’s a richly layered album, executed wonderfully. DHRUVA BALRAM
Dhruva Balram

Genesis Owusu

Smiling With No Teeth

House Anxiety / Ourness

Incisive, multi-genre anthems
On his debut album, Australian artist Genesis Owusu floats between genres until the lines between them blur. Borrowing from post-punk, Afrobeat, indie-rock, guitar-driven music, hip-hop, nu-wave and R&B, the Ghanaian-born, Canberra-raised artist melds them all together into a smorgasbord of sound that leaves the listener with an impressive sense of all things Owusu. ‘I Don’t See Colour’ and ‘Drown’ instantly stand out, as does the eponymous title track. The proto-punk nature of ‘Black Dogs!’ is raw and infectious, while ‘No Looking Back’ is a soulful ode to Owusu’s past. Throughout, the lyricism is incisive. Addressing racial inequality in Australia, Owusu also manages to craft anthemic hooks with his distinct mode of expression, which ultimately makes this a standout project from an artist who has staked a claim as one of the more exciting talents to watch right now. DHRUVA BALRAM
Dhruva Balram

Chip

Snakes & Ladders

Cash Motto Limited

Ice-cold bars
Dropping after two neatly scheduled diss tracks aimed at UK rap’s top dog, this is effectively a concept album about Chip’s polemic opinions on Stormzy. It’s not all about that, but it’s all about that. First of all, the question could legitimately be asked: Is it wise/fair/ funny to slag off a man who less than two years ago was name-checking Chip and 51 other British MCs from beneath the Glastonbury Pyramid? (Chip was eighth on Stormzy’s shoutout list.) You decide. But Chip goes in. “Why is it always Chipmunk clashing and all these ‘we used to be n*ggas MCs’?” goes one of many ice-cold bars. “Good in man city like Sterling” is another. ‘Skeletons’ sounds awful at first (“How many guys have you slept with? ... I'ma teach you what love and respect is”), but isn’t (there’s a clever twist). Chip knows exactly what he’s doing. SAM DAVIES
Sam Davies

Louisahhh

The Practice Of Freedom

HE.SHE.THEY

Noisy and exhilarating
In an era of bland business techno, Louisahhh is an invigorating rush of energy, a welcome sonic punch to the face. If you’ve been scorched by one of her gritty, high-energy DJ sets, then you know there’s something special going on here. A mix of tough techno, punk-rock vocals, heavy-metal abrasion, and industrial noise, it’s alchemised to noisy perfection on ‘The Practice Of Freedom’. Opener ‘Love Is A Punk’ shows that Louisahhh packs enough vocal charisma to front her own punk-rock band, and what follows is pure thunder. An outspoken feminist and a champion of queer culture, what’s defining is how these ideals coalesce so organically in her music. The cascading guitar riffs fuse effortlessly into the rumbling bottom end, sealed with a finish of Ministry-era industrial white noise that is engineered to perfection. Party vibes with a dangerous edge. ANGUS PATERSON
Angus Paterson

Kinlaw

The Tipping Point

Bayonet Records

Some brightness among murk
Throughout ‘The Tipping Point’, New York-based Kinlaw uses her voice as the album’s anchor. Unfortunately, that dependency becomes the album’s undoing, as the production is overwhelming and, at times, monotonous. Kinlaw’s pop-infused melodies work well: she allows her voice to soar on standout single ‘Home’, where she sings “Home is where we put things together” over a moody and laidback production. On repeated listens, it’s an anthem for lockdown contemplativeness, a song that matches the personal and collective stay-at-home inertia the pandemic has offered. But, there are few songs on the album that truly stand out; so much of the production feels uninspiring, despite sketches of brightness splattered throughout. It also is a misfortune that Kinlaw’s vocals burrow themselves in the background, at times barely audible, as her vocal affectations are the album’s strongest part. DHRUVA BALRAM
Dhruva Balram

LD (67)

Who’s Watching

67

Bone-chilling drill
As the foremost member of Brixton Hill group 67, LD has done more than anyone for UK drill. But being a godfather comes with challenges. Though possibly the scene’s most influential figure, he’s also one of its most persecuted. Police attention brought about by his music has forced him to change identities (he used to be Scribz, until a police injunction prevented him from making music under that name) and serve several stretches in prison — which is where he is now. He recorded most of this album before going inside, but sends occasional missives down a crackly payphone promising to be out soon. ‘Who’s Watching’ flirts with pop (‘Fell In Love’, ‘Free Smoke’), but like on the best 67 records LD is at home in the shadows. ‘Drillaman’, ‘The Ride Out’, ‘Out On Bail’ and ‘Outro’ are bone-chilling. SAM DAVIES
Sam Davies

John Tejada

Year Of The Living Dead

Kompakt

Subdued with intent
John Tejada is comfortably placed in the thinly populated category of accomplished dancefloor producers who know how to properly work with the album format. After all, he’s released them since the late ’90s, with ‘Year Of The Living Dead’ his fifth effort for the Kompakt imprint alone. Crucially though, the album showcases an on-going desire to forge new creative paths and work with new technology, and the results exude a relaxed confidence. It’s a rich introspective listen, unmistakably influenced by the sense of isolation that’s defined the past 12 months. Critical though is the striking detail that is chiselled with such precision into these low-key arrangements, which allows them to carry their moody emotions with such elegance. Eventually, Tejeda loosens up for a bit of a dancefloor stomp with the piercing acid of ‘Abbott Of Burton’. ANGUS PATERSON
Angus Paterson