The week's top free pop listens, streaming away inside.
Mica Levi, Raisa Khan and Mike Pell are three humble but very bright London musicians who make free pop music from invented instruments. ‘Never’, their second album follows the Mercury Prize-nominated ‘Jewellery’. It’s plonky, plinky, and absolutely terrific – references, overt and otherwise include grime, Conlon Nancarrow, This Heat and surf/garage rock. That is to say, structurally smart but sonically scrappy music with an emphasis on the creativity of the moment, and ‘Never’ is a fantastically artful album.
It’s not the easiest of listens – the songs were written on guitar, then taken apart and put back together using the grimy sounds familiar to her fans, and, as an album, it’s thicker with sound that ‘Jewellery’, harder to pick apart. References to the toughness of life drench the album – on Nothing, a male voice talks about being painfully thin, as Mica sings about how worried her friends are, while on Easy, she glumly sings “Couldn’t be better” when Raisa asks “Are you sure you’re OK?”. Underneath this is a remarkable idealism, for this is a perfectionist album about the need for creative and personal honesty. The struggle is not easy, for us or for Mica herself, yet it’s still a stunning listen, surprising, vivid and alive with a fire in its sad belly. Against the essential joy of music and the burning instinct for honesty, compositional, emotional, artistic that this album has by the bucketful, it’s a great listen. [CRJ]
Konx-om-Pax – ‘Regional Surrealism’ [Planet Mu]
Tom Scholefield / Konx-Om-Pax has long been a favourite of Dummy’s, producing some incredible visuals for electronic artists, including Oneohtrix Point Never, Lone, Mogwai, Rustie and Hudson Mohawke. His music, too, has been the source of constant fascination, producing two excellent CDs for his own Display Copy, and now this, his first wide-release album. In spirit ‘Regional Surrealism’ harks back to that uniquely British approach to electronic music, from ‘Low’-era Brian Eno to the ghostly synthwork of Japan to the willful oddness of Aphex Twin’s more out-there moments. It’s a lovely album, really, steeped in the ambient and glitchy noise of his contemporaries and the colourful digital psychedelia of his visual output. Gloriously formless and wonderfully sensitive, it’s a fine addition to the canon of eccentric, pastoral futurism. [CRJ]
Purity Ring – ‘Shrines’ [4AD]
The debut album from Megan James and Corin Roddick, the Canadian duo who come together as Purity Ring, lives somewhere between fantasy pop and cloud rap, between illuminated manuscript and sci-fi silver screen. There is something spellbinding about Megan’s voice, not just in the sweetly naive tone, but in her elastic intonation and rhythm. She picks up words like handfuls of pebbles that she sends skimming across Corin’s skittering, shimmering beats. ‘Shrines’ is a proud, bold album; one that is at once romantic and grotesque. Songs seep into one another, creating one dense landscape without beginning or end. While on one hand that could be levelled as a criticism – perhaps the flow could have benefitted from a little more up and down – there is a definite sense of intention: Purity Ring are asking for submission, extending a world into which to pleasurably sink. And it is pleasurable, like being whispered a story in those final moments before sleep. ‘Shrines’ could be a coming-of-age tale gone feral, teeming with the poetic flourishes of a ripe imagination and tempered by the warm, round, blurry beats of now. Purity Ring’s power lives in that contrast. [RS]
Stream Purity Rings ‘Shrines’ over on NPR
ANGO – ‘Serpentine’ [mixtape]
There’s a raw edge to Montreal-based producer/singer ANGO voice that catches in the mind, an honesty in his tone that cuts through. While he treads a much-tilled path – how many times have I typed R&B this last year or so I wonder? – on ‘Serpentine’ ANGO finds the sweet spot to rise above. His thing is more bruised soul than R&B anyway, more Sade than Aaliyah, and it doesn’t get more bittersweet than True Blue (listen below) produced by Jacques Greene. Losing You, produced by Mike Din, and Paralyzed, produced by Prison Garde & Eames are also punchy standouts. But it’s closing track Get Out Of My Life that feels closest to ANGO’s heart, that reveals the quiet storm crooner within. [RS]
Download ‘Serpentine’ from ANGO’s website
The-Drum – ‘Sense Net’ EP [Mishka]
Chicago duo The-Drum have a heightened sense of tension born from a shared love of the sharp wit of JG Ballard and the honeyed flow of R&B. Following their ‘Heavy Liquid’ EP on Audraglint back in January comes ‘Sense Net’ on NYC’s ever-on-the-ball Mishka label. It bubbles and winks like digital froth on a CGI sea, leaving a rainbow of emotions in its wake: there’s the regret-tinged BLD; the sultry SYS; and, my favourite, the yearning, abstract keys/vocals of GON, which just is just begging for some razor-sharp lyrics to be dropped on it. Definitely worth catching The-Drum on their way up. [RS]