telefon tel aviv

Album Review: DJ-Kicks - Various mixed by Apparat

The DJ-Kicks series appears to be hitting something of a stride... With several notable releases this year already in the bag, The Juan Maclean's being a particular highlight, here comes one more from IDM innovator Apparat.

And Apparat's entry certainly doesn't drop the ball. To a certain extent it does what you would expect... It's intelligent, electronic music that is built more for home listening than the dance floor, but the quality of the music and timing is good enough to make listening (repeatedly) a pleasure.

Things start off fairly heavily with Apparat's own 'Circles' - what feels almost like a trance track with a cinematic world-music guitar motif - before getting dubby on fellow IDM-ers Telefon Tel Aviv's 'Lengthening Shadows'. From there things spin out in multiple directions. This is a mix that is one moment cold, hard and clinical and the next warm and embracing.

The latter is best demonstrated by Four Tet's stunning remix of 'I Need A Life' by Born Ruffians... A track that manages to simultaneously feel like the heat of summer and joy of Christmas. It creates a neat centre for the album before things turn darker on Vincent Markowski's classic 'The Madness Of Moths' and Four Tet and Burial's 'Moth'. As Thom Yorke's haunting 'Harrowdown Hill' emerges from Ramadanman's 'Tempest' there is a stark urban feel to this album that shows the influence of Apparat's recent collaborations with Modeselektor.

The album closes on Tim Hecker's ambient melancholy drenched 'Borderlands'. Apparat's DJ-Kicks album is a serious business and that may alienate some, but it is a testament to how a good mix album can be much more than the reconstruction of a live DJ set. This is a mix album with more emotional punch and ambition than most electronic artists manage on their own studio albums, and for that BlackPlastic salutes it.

BP x

DJ-Kicks by Apparat is out now, available from on CD, LP and MP3.

2009: The Best of the Year

BlackPlastic tends to vary its approach to the inevitable end-of-year wrap-up a bit each year. Sometimes we do a full detailed breakdown of the best albums and compilations, whereas other times it is less formal summary of all that was good in the past 12 months. 2009 will be treated using the latter approach - this is partly in reflection of the quality of the year but it as much simply a reflection of the way BlackPlastic feels like tackling it this year. Lists are unimportant and to stick to them can constrain what needs to be said.

2009 was not quite the same vintage as 2008 in BlackPlastic's opinion (for more on 2008 see here, here and here) but it did have some absolutely fantastic music all the same:

One of the great things about end of year reviews is that they afford BlackPlastic the opportunity to go back and comment on albums we unfortunately missed at the time. No record from 2009 deserves that more than Girls' first album. Entitled, erm, Album, it was one of those records that sounds like a compilation tape from a mate with impeccable taste. The style is inconsistent but the passion and inventiveness of the tunes more than make up for it. Many have said that the production of this album is somewhat vanilla, classic as opposed to contemporary, and as such this is a record all about the tunes. BlackPlastic doesn't buy that - frankly it just sounds too 2009 for such twaddle to wash. Yes, it may contain classical styles but they have been applied with a modern sensibility and there are hints of too many times, styles and genres for this album to be anything but modern. Track to check: 'Lauren Marie'.

One of 2009's surprise highlights was The Horrors' sophomore album, Primary Colours. Channelling Joy Division and Can what it lacked in originality it made up for in quality of execution. Check: 'Sea Within a Sea'.

Showing off David Sitek's production skills even more than the Yeah Yeah Yeah's rather ace It's Blitz!, one of 2009's best débuts came from Telepathe in the form of Dance Mother. Abstract, dubby and ambient yet accessible and infectious. Check: that sublime production on 'Chrome's On It'.

Junior Boys' third album is perhaps a tricky one to love - it feels like a streamlined version of their precious two. Yet listening to Begone Dull Care it is clear this is a duo at the top of their game - streamlined is actually refined, for nothing this year boasted as much brains, as pure a vision. Frankly it is the best intelligent dance album since Morgan Geist's Double Night Time. Check: 'Parallel Lines'.

And if the Junior Boys refined then the Dirty Projectors' let the chips lie where they fell. Bitte Orca built on previous album Rise Above by growing in every conceivable direction. It still sounds simultaneously timeless and unapologetically futuristic. Check: the R&B anthem 'Stillness Is The Move'.

Another one of those records that got away - Desire's II has only just found its way onto the BlackPlastic stereo but the slightly sinister vibe and dark take on Italo ensures it'll be on rotation well into this year. If you listen to just one track make it the emotive ballad that is 'Don't Call'.

Also dark but without the retro edge was Telefon Tel Aviv's Immolate Yourself. It's been years since BlackPlastic has heard IDM that packs such a punch. Sadly band member Charles Cooper died soon after finishing this album. Rumour has it that his death may have been suicide. Listen to 'You Are The Worst Thing In The World' and it almost feels as though the pain of his passing has infected the songs.

Heart stoppingly beautiful at times, no record made BlackPlastic laugh and almost cry at the same time as much as Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard's 'Em Are I. Check: 'Bugs & Flowers'

Two albums that managed to get BlackPlastic really gurning again: Nathan Fake's Hard Islands and Fuck Buttons' Tarot Sport. Making trance music sound like rock music flicked our switch. Check 'Castle Rising'and 'Olympians' respectively.

Overlooked by practically everyone else but saving a special place in our hearts is The Juan Maclean's The Future Will Come. It may not quite match the heights of 2005's 'Dance With Me' but it is still the best realised concept album from 2009. Check the muted brilliance of 'Tonight'.

It is seriously over-hyped and they were dangerously close to becoming 2009's Burial (stylistically coming off somewhat like the indie equivalent of Burial, too): the XX. Yet they still managed to tug on our heart strings on debut album XX. The atmospheric melancholy and loneliness is one thing but the XX never shine more than when the vocals demonstrate their heart, as on 'Heart Skipped a Beat'.

Some music does it for BlackPlastic simply by being incessantly joyful. That is the case for Passion Pit's Manners - not since Architecture in Helsinki released an album has anything sounded quite so ridiculously happy. Check 'Little Secrets'.

Barely scrapping into 2009, Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion is probably the oldest album on this list yet it is still very nearly took the top spot. From the ecstatic opening of 'In The Flowers' this was an album to lose yourself in. Dizzyingly creative and heart-warmingly joyful, it is telling that it has all but made us forget band member Panda Bear's almost as good solo album, Person Pitch. Most people will recommend 'My Girls' as the top tune but they are wrong - it has to be that delirious opener.

Snuck in at the other side of 2009, Lindstrøm & Christabelle's Real Life Is No Cool is this list's newest album. And glorious it is too, a sunny slither of disco perfection that turned out to be Lindstrøm's career highpoint to date. Check 'Keep It Up'.

Before the wrap with the album of the year a couple of compilations and a reissue deserve a mention.

The reissue is the Units' The Early Years of the Units 1977-1983, a set that proves there were legitimate challengers to Devo's creative dominance of the post-punk period. Seriously - this shit is essential, the cream from one of the best periods in music.

Compilation number one is Jay Haze's Fabric 47, which frankly came out of nowhere and blew BlackPlastic away. By the time this eclectic set arrives at the exclusive hip-hop track 'Something To Say' by Rockey that closes the album we were head over heels. Pure class.

Our other favourite compilation is Phoenix's Kitsuné Tabloid release. After a balls out start from Digitalism, Phoenix took the Tabloid series in a much, much more interesting direction. Featuring barely any tracks from recent years it instead manages to introductive the listener to some gems they won't know as well as reintroducing some they will. It also serves as a perfect autobiography for the band and, more to the point, sounds utterly gorgeous all the way through.

No contest for album of the year though. On BlackPlastic's first few listens it was great... A perfect fit like your favourite jeans. Yet it just got better and better. And better. No album kept us coming back quite like Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Performed live it is even better and it is telling that almost every track on the album is on the set list for the recent tour.

Putting your finger on what makes Wolfgang... so great is tricky, but BlackPlastic will try:

Producer Philippe Zdar (of Cassius) manages to distill a great band into a phenomenal one. Each track is so incredibly tight that it sounds like a band being covered by robots, in the best possible way. And at the same time Thomas Mars' vocals give the whole album a sense of urgency and vitality that most bands can only dream of. If they called it quits now Phoenix would still be one of the best bands of the last decade. Here is hoping they continue being fabulous.

BP x

Album Review: Immolate Yourself - Telefon Tel Aviv

Taking elements of post-rock, the sounds of early M83 and late Ulrich Schnauss - plus maybe even a pinch of mid-career BT - Telefon Tel Aviv snuck out their new album 'Immolate Yourself' a few weeks back.

BlackPlastic may have only just got around to commenting but Telefon Tel Aviv just might have gone and made the best straight up electronic album in a while. The strength here is really in the polish and attention to detail - the ambient melodies could easily have missed their mark if it wasn't for the layers of distortion and punchy drums that refuse to become enveloped in sound - each beat and stutter, each fragment of sound adds texture and detail.

With the rhythmic touches of breaks, the melodies of ambient house and the production quality of the best minimal techno 'Immolate Yourself' feels like a photographic image that literally stands up off the page.

The result is pretty glorious. The opening Birds lures the listener into an album that never gives up and whilst they know better than to stray too far from the template there is enough variety - in the 80s sheen and bubbling bass of Helen of Troy for example - to keep things interesting. Yet most of all it is the feelings Telefon Tel Aviv convey in their music that stays with the listener after 'Immolate Yourself' has drawn to a close.

Intelligent, emotive and modest.

Available on here.

BP x