In November 2017, Young Fathers announced that they’d completed work on a new album. The trio – Alloysious Massaquoi, Graham ‘G’ Hastings and Kayus Bankole – marked the news by previewing a brand new song, ‘Lord’ and a subsequent accompanying video. Just like their previous standalone 2017 single ‘Only God Knows’ (written for the Trainspotting T2 film and described by director Danny Boyle as “the heartbeat of the film”), ‘Lord’ provided an enticing glimpse of what to expect from Young Fathers’ third full album; something typically unique and exhilarating, but leaner, more muscular and self-assured than ever before.
Titled Cocoa Sugar, the twelve track album will be released on 9th March 2018 via Ninja Tune and follows the group’s previous two albums; 2014’s Mercury Prize-winning DEAD and 2015’s White Men Are Black Men Too. Written and recorded throughout 2017 in the band’s basement studio and HQ, Cocoa Sugar sees Young Fathers operating with a newfound clarity and direction, and is without doubt their most confident and complete statement to date.
Vinyl LP pressing, includes bonus 12 inch single. Like master painters exploring a subject over a lifetime’s work, Kevin Martin and Dylan Carlson – The Bug and Earth, respectively – have each been mining and defining their genres for more than 20 years. They’re united by an interest in – really an obsession with – heaviness. They search for, examine and break the boundaries between beautiful and ugly, minimal and maximal, light and dark – but The Bug and Earth always make music that is heavy in the most thrilling of ways. Ninja Tune asked The Bug and Dylan Carlson to perform live in LA around the label’s 25th anniversary, and Martin and Carlson took the opportunity to rekindle The Bug vs Earth project. They holed up in Daddy Kev’s legendary LA studio, with DJ Nobody engineering, for two very long days. Those recording sessions have resulted in the masterpiece that is Concrete Desert. Inspired by J.G. Ballard’s urban dystopias, and the Californian dream capital’s sordid, fragmented underbelly, Martin says that the album is in some ways a Los Angeles-set companion piece to London Zoo.
Forest Swords, aka acclaimed Merseyside-based producer Matthew Barnes, returns with his eagerly anticipated new full-length record on Ninja Tune. “Compassion” engages with an uncertain world we’re experiencing, distilling it into a unique sound territory: Barnes’ exploration of the mid-point between ecstasy and frustration, artificial and human feels timely and affecting. The result is an assured, compelling body of work, tying together the ancient and future: weaving swathes of buzzing digital textures, field recordings, clattering beats and distorted jazz sax with fizzing orchestral arrangements.
Actress, real name Darren Jordan Cunningham, known to friends as Daz, returns with a new album, now on Ninja Tune and a new music system called AZD (pronounced “Azid”), a chrome aspect journey into a parallel world. An artist who has always preferred to make music than to talk about it, in AZD he has achieved another remarkable landmark, one which is as resistant to interpretation as it is demanding of it. The album is themed around chrome – both as a reflective surface to see the self in, and as something that carves luminous voids out of any color and fine focuses white and black representing the perfect metaphor for the bleakness of life in the Metropolis as suggested by Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate. Take lead single, “X22RME” (pronounced “Extreme”) which elegantly plays between the lines of Oriental classic rave and Balinese warehouse Techno machined in a Rotherhithe lock up welding the grooves into a seamless cracked joint. At the other end of the spectrum is “Faure in Chrome,” a byproduct or development from his collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra, in which he “repatterns” aspect of Faure’s Requiem into a piece which sounds like the very institution of classical music being encased in electronic ice and scanned through a high frequency bandwidth. In between are gems like “Runner,” a personal re-soundtracking of Blade Runner ” and “Falling Rizlas,” an alienated music-box ballad. It’s a remarkable piece of work, that harks back both to Actress’ previous productions and to earlier iterations of the (broadly conceived) “techno” project without being beholden to anything but Cunningham’s forward-facing, individual and disembodied vision.
Following the release of his most successful album to date, 2013’s The North Borders, as well as an even more triumphant world tour, British producer Bonobo (Simon Green) returned in 2017 with his sixth proper studio full-length, Migration. The album was partially inspired by his touring experiences, but also by the death of a relative. Green’s family is spread out across the world, and they all reconvened in Brighton, England for the funeral. These types of experiences cause Green to question what identity means, and where a person is from if he or she is constantly moving. As with all Bonobo recordings, Green absorbs a multitude of cultural influences here, from the underground club sounds of London to American folk songs. Strangely enough, other than “Bambro Koyo Ganda,” a collaboration with New York-based Moroccan group Innov Gnawa, the album somehow sounds less exotic than some of his other releases. This isn’t meant as a complaint, though, as Green has always demonstrated a talent for blending disparate elements into a cohesive sound. As ever, he excels at incorporating acoustic instruments and drums in a manner that makes it difficult to tell if they’re being played live or sampled and chopped up — he devised an algorithm for the drum programming, yet it sounds human rather than computer generated. “Ontario” is built on booming, crackly breakbeats reminiscent of the classic ’90s Ninja Tune sound, but the suspenseful swelling horns and delicate acoustic guitars and Rhodes keyboards take center stage. Other tracks are more club-focused and employ shuffling 2-step rhythms or thumping house beats, but the warm, emotive melodies are what drive the songs. Emotionally, Migration continues down the dusky path of The North Borders. It’s not an outright gloomy or depressing album, but it’s certainly not a carefree, relaxing chill-out record either. Tracks like “Grains” (built around an eerie yet homely Pete Seeger sample) seem world-weary but contemplative and quietly transcendent, and the Brandy-sampling “Kerala” is more outwardly ecstatic. The album ends on a subdued note with “Figures,” which slices up vocal extracts from “Just an Excuse” by Elkie Brooks. House fans will recognize the sample from when Moodymann flipped it for his instant classic “Why Do U Feel” in 2012, but Bonobo’s take is subtle and reflective rather than heart-wrenching, and it feels like it’s approaching the sentiment from a different angle. With Migration, Green blends the unexpected with the familiar and emerges with some of his most affecting work yet.
With recent reports from various think tanks predicting we have somewhere in the range of 15 years left before the collapse of society begins, it would seem like Kevin Martin’s sonic predictions of dystopian London that were set out on 2008’s London Zoo were pretty accurate. And if we are in fact declining rapidly to chaos, there’s no better time then the present to take the focus of that sonic assault from earthly domains and blast it to the netherworlds above and below.
The aforementioned London Zoo is where Kevin Martin, found his true voice. Pulling the fringes into a collective, unilaterally hateful assault. A psychological warfare driven by bass that on one hand captured a moment of London, yet also encapsulated a global message influenced by years of timeless and classic out-music.
The latest offering from the The Bug, Angels & Devils, escapes the London cage, drawing on it for influence yet blowing it up into a world-view now seen from Kevin Martin’s new Berlin home. A record that simultaneously draws on London Zoo, completes a triptych cycle which started with his Bug debut Pressure, and fills the spaces between and inserts what was missing previously. Both a year zero re-set and a continuation of what has been. Like the Bowie/Eno classic Low, or Can’s Tago Mago, the album is split into two distinct themes and explorations of light & dark. Bringing the angel & devil voices together under a single common banner. Antagonist at times, but not solely for the sake of being antagonistic, there’s a beauty and lush sparseness to be found within, even when at its most chaotic. Truly only The Bug could find the common ground between Liz Harris (of Grouper) & Death Grips and make it seamless. Angels & Devils stretches the polarity of its predecessor in both directions simultaneously and is even more extreme for its new found seductiveness and added intensity. Deep space is explored, and physical assault is administered. In these days of YouTube quick fixes, and single tune memory spans, its a joy to witness Martin actually charting a cohesive narrative that rejoices in celebrating life through sonic sex and violence, beauty and ugliness. This is an audio thriller that delights in pursuing its own singular path/vision.
With the Angel side(s) up first, things kick off with Liz Harris (of Grouper) in the submerged lushness that is “Void”. Followed by contributions from ex Hype Wiliams half copeland (“Fall”), the blissed out patois of touring partner Miss Red (“Mi Lost”), two truly zoned Bug instrumentals, and rounded out by Gonjasufi on “Save Me”. It’s a collection of heady, dubbed out cinematic blissfulness with a lurking darkness before giving way to devils…
Devils leads off with the return of long time collaborator Flowdan on the mic and the guitar of Justin Broadrick (Godflesh / Jesu) bringing a complete about face to the proceedings and setting the tone with “The One”. Roll Deep’s Manga steps up next with the instant Bug classic “Function”, which is being currently smashed on dubplate, by Mala, Kahn and Logan Sama. Death Grips raise the antagonistic bar with “Fuck A Bitch”. Flowdan & Justin Broadrick come back for the cinematic death crawl of “Fat Mac”. Warrior Queen steps in for hands down the nastiest vocal she’s ever delivered (which is saying a lot) for “Fuck You”, and finally Flowdan steps up again to round it all off with a Devils battle cry of sorts “dirty, fuck that murky…”.
The concept is completed by the artistic expression it’s packaged in, courtesy of Simon Fowler (Cataract). Known for his work for Sunn O))), Earth, and others, Simon has delivered a stunning hand drawn illustration, that sort that would make Bosch proud, showing the duality of the proceedings.