Maybe it’s the natural introspection that accompanies the winter months, or maybe its a desire to dive into sonic isolation after the hyper-social Christmas period. Whatever the case, the releases that have leapt out this month are almost all deep and immersive. But within that loose framework, there’s still huge variety: Australian retro jungle, Congolese techno, Scottish-Indian horror soundtracks, Dutch-Finnish underwater electro, and beautiful Malian blues beat are all here for the exploring. Whether it’s on headphones or out in the club, it’s worth giving these deep grooves your full attention.
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The Congo-born, Belgium-raised, London resident DJ/producer/theorist/multimedia artist Nkisi has always been a vital presence in the NON Worldwide collective that she founded with Chino Amobi and Angel Ho. She has navigated between deconstructed club and furiously hardcore techno, often operating at extreme BPMs. But here, inspired by the cosmology and music of her birth country, she’s settled into an amazingly assured, steady groove. It’s essentially techno, explored over seven long tracks, but it’s techno recreated from first principles: polyrhythms, drones, and swoops building and dissipating as if they’re evolving in the moment to fit the space they’re in. It still feels hardcore—not in tempo and distortion, but in the absolute certainty of its own identity and ideas. The 10-minute rolling “II”, with its gasps, rattles, and drones, is a bona fide classic.
Music in the Key of Minor
Al Kennedy from Nottingham, UK, has emerged from the “braindance” tradition of post-Aphex Twin sounds. But with every release, he finds his own voice, and here, over 12 tracks, he builds a sonic world of his own. The rhythms never quite repeat, yet are never intricate for intricacy’s sake. Instead, they let snaking funk govern the tracks’ momentum, while wistful and dreamy atmospheres and melodies grow around it.
Sky Maps EP
Lots of musicians claim to think synaesthesically, but it’s absolutely startling how visual the music of mysterious new British producer Image Garden is. From the trails of kickdrums that roll through empty space like after-images in “Birdworld” to the pure noise snares that come in like gunpowder flashes on “Towpath Siren,” to the little percussive warbles in the title track that bubble like neon light in the air—everything in these moody techno and electro tracks feels impossibly vivid and present.
The Naivety Trax label is an offshoot of Naïve–both run by Ines Coutinho, aka Violet from Lisbon, Portugal–but it’s rapidly growing into a powerful force in its own right: a varied, kaleidscopic counterpoint to the focused, back-to-basics rave and house of its parent label. These six tracks by new Lisbon talent Odete, plus two remixes, are inspired, apparently, by “surviving a day job, dealing with crushed dreams and memories, and a not very stable state of mind.” They’re certainly fragmented and odd, but for all that, they feel comfortable in themselves sonically—even cheery. There’s everything from wobbly ambient to reggaeton-like grooves, police sirens to sharpening knives, but at the heart of it all is a delight in taking sustenance from strange sounds.
AyGeeTee / Birdy Earns
It’s not often a record seems as untethered from genre as this one, but these 10 tracks from Londoner Andrew G Thomson and Berliner Arne Vogel certainly do. You could claim that you hear a bit of grime here, a touch of deconstructed club music there; some techno when the beat gets most repetitive, some ambient when the beat starts to fall apart. But nobody exclusively into any of those styles would have any of it. Rather, it feels like Morphology is about sound first—about the duo creating exciting, sometimes jarring timbres, then building patterns up around it. Does that make it awkward? Occasionally. Is it also thrilling to not have any clues as to what’s coming next? Oh, hell yes.
Another one that’s happily rooted in the early-mid ‘90s, specifically 1993 and ‘94, this brace of tracks from Melbourne, Australia flies the flag for jungle/drum’n’bass as a mode of spiritual uplift. Chords flow around you, rhythms roll around themselves in delight at the possibilities of breakbeat rearrangement. Hyperfeel looks both backward to peak rave and forward to imagined utopian futures.
N’taki (Cervo Edit)
The Banana Hill label and parties from Manchester support, “Afrocentric, global dancefloor sounds,” and this first in a series of re-edits of African artists continues that mission. Label resident Cervo coolly draws out the veteran Malian’s licks, emphasizing the closeness between Mississippi delta blues and the sounds of West Africa. He adds house elements as he goes, but never in a way that dilutes the original. It’s a gorgeous piece, and all proceeds go to helping village communities in Ghana.
Black Lake (Original Soundtrack)
The depths here are dark indeed. This is a soundtrack to a forthcoming film about isolation and possession by violent witch spirits—but you wouldn’t need to be told that in order to get a sense of the horror that runs through it. The chatters of analog synth, both alone and with insinuating distorted drum patterns, are clearly indebted to horror scores past, and it’s easy to be taken in by their eerie and outright terrifying effects. It’s not bleak by any means: the horror here is hot-blooded and invigorating, even when it’s at its harshest.
Johan Åstrand, from Karlsborg, Sweden, is something of an outsider artist. He’s been quietly releasing dark and creepy-crawling techno-pop since 2001. But he remains inventive: This new track is a fantastic meditation on the idea of being alone in the dark, whether literally or figuratively (in the sense of not understanding the world). Its images of lost individuals behind their screens, struggling to connect, hits on a universal feeling, and this track feels designed to be played to the moving bodies in a dark club in the small hours.
Samuel van Dijk—aka Mohlao and Multicast Dynamics—is a Dutchman in Finland, exploring a world inspired by virtual reality and imagined water worlds. It certainly creates imaginative spaces: whether it’s pulsing ambient, chattering acid, or Drexciya-inspired electro, every one of these 13 tracks develops the coherent aesthetic of the record further, drawing you into a dark but inviting zone of zero gravity. One for slow-motion dancers to flow to.
Copper Green Sedan
This EP by a South Londoner was apparently mostly composed alone in a campervan, on a road around northern Europe, but it doesn’t sound that detached from the club. There are certainly melancholic and introspective aspects to it, but the space techno disco of “Gene” and the slippery, bumping deep house of “Rolling in the Deep Grass” sound very much like they understand being around massed, moving bodies. Best of all is a remix by Desert Sound Colony of the title track, which lets a wiggly worm of acid synth loose to squirm around the tick-tock breakbeat of the original.
For all that deepness and immersion, we couldn’t go the whole month without at least one full-on banger. As a DJ, Grandmixxer is one of the most important figures in the younger generation of London’s grime scene, technically flawless in his mixing and possessed of a uniquely great record collection. But he’s no slouch as a producer either; this track has been sought after for many months thanks to its inclusion as a dubplate in his sets. It has all the old-school grime value of constant stimulation in the discomfiting ways: electrical buzz, walloping claps, and—as you might guess from the title—sampled screams. All of those elements constantly lurch at you from within the jagged rhythm patterns. A rude awakening of a tune.