INDIE / ELECTRONIC CHECK MASSES Nightlife (Triassic Tusk) ●●●●●


Edinburgh trio Check Masses bring a wealth of collective experience to their debut album, gleaned from nigh on 30 years of immersion in the capital’s diverse and somewhat undersung music scene. Their beats come courtesy of DJ-producer Saleem Andrew McGroarty who

ran one of the city’s first hip hop nights, the Big Payback, in the 90s. Multi- instrumentalist Vic Galloway, now better known as a writer, broadcaster and all- round champion of new music, brings a background in grungy indie rock bands, while vocalist and songwriter ‘Philly’ Angelo Collins supplies plaintive soulful vocals over a trippy collage of shuffling dubby beats, twanging guitar, and smatterings of melodica and strings. The stealthy dub-meets-acid electro of ‘Dripn Angel’ is already out there as a

taster of the laid-back trip-hop soundscapes to come on Nightlife from the bruised blues of ‘The Moon & You’ to the sweet ska pop of ‘Lonesome Little Paradise’ which recalls the timeless skank of Collins’ onetime peer Finley Quaye. The title track is an easygoing lysergic indie funk highlight, forged in celebration of the scene that made them. Collins gives more deadpan attitude (‘where do you think my head is at?’) on the

gap year bad trip of ‘Moroccan Skies’, suffused with requisite casbah ambience, mischievous rhythm and the shimmering shudder of Galloway’s guitar.

‘Killers’ explores the banality of evil, with an unsettling sample of marines

Glasgow trio Mitchell Museum are demonstrating that slow and steady wins the . . . well, they may not be in a race, but they’re certainly still making music which feels thoughtful and well-composed, and which is eloquently shot through with towering emotional peaks. If their output over the past decade has been so infrequent as to leave you asking if they’re still going, then the wait between each release has brought us music which has been worth it.

The concept behind the record is novel, although hard to discern within the

music; bandleader Cammy Macfarlane has brought in his friends and family as guests, in the form of samples from Facebook and WhatsApp in which their voices are layered throughout the music, often looped, distorted and used as surrogate percussion instruments. ‘Grandfather Tapes’, for example, appears to feature a bassline composed of swirling, slowed-down bass notes of speech, while multi- tracked voices linger amid ‘Sunday Documentation File’; this is music which feels peopled, somehow. At heart, though, this is emotively constructed independent pop music, with

its own strong voice and some notable flourishes; the hip hop-timing beat to ‘Footsteps 101’, or the Animal Collective-style collision of gorgeous melody and odd sound collage going on in ‘Freakbeak’. The near-nine-minute epic ‘100 Types of Sorry in a Deep Blue Moon’ begins amid a sinister burble of what sounds like road or ventilation noise, and then blossoms like a flower into a swooning repeated

boasting of their strike rate giving way to a despairing downtempo acid pop ballad with Ozzy Osbourne-like baleful blues vocals. ‘The Will of God’ is another

strong ballad with a psychedelic chillout club feel and an atmospheric coda of bittersweet strings arranged by Pete Harvey of Modern Studies, while the soulful indie torch song ‘Unravelled’ also showcases the trio’s ability to seduce by stealth as much as produce a layered studio soundscape. (Fiona Shepherd) Release date tbc.

melody upon which layers of instrumentation build around Macfarlane’s yearning vocal.

This song sums up the tone of the album, with Macfarlane’s wistful voice reminiscent of Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue and the swirling, bittersweet, psychedelic positivity of their music calling to mind Flaming Lips. ‘Screaming at the internet is far from pretty,’ he sings on ‘Double Doubting Preacher’, but at least here he’s made something lovely of the background noise. (David Pollock) Out Fri 15 May.

ELECTRONICA NATHAN FAKE Blizzards (Cambria Instruments) ●●●●● INDIE / ALTERNATIVE SUFJAN STEVENS & LOWELL BRAMS Aporia (Asthmatic Kitty Records) ●●●●●

After a brief turn with Ninja Tune in 2017, Nathan Fake is back to his own label for his fifth album Blizzards. The ambient Norfolk producer has built a track record over the last two decades for merging his own experimental synth work into rural England’s tradition of pastoral ambient techno. Blizzards was recorded in one live take: technically impressive, though the

coherence one might expect in such an undertaking is oddly missing. Instead we have a solid but varied collage of different ideas and experiments Fake confidently teases out while passionately wearing his influences on his sleeve. Orbital-esque pulsing ambient waves sweep their way through ‘Pentiamonds’ and opener ‘Cry Me A Blizzard’. Boards of Canada-style synth rhythms emerge and re-emerge across the record. The unpredictability and manic-slash-chill dichotomy of Aphex Twin acts like a shadow ancestor, impossible to recreate but with clear lineage on lead single ‘Tbilisi’ and later on ‘Vectra’.

Later we start seeing the more striking styles Fake has given life to over his career. ‘Torch Song’ and 9-minute ‘Firmament’ develop patiently, showing off well constructed ambient beats with a swaggering sonic percussion. His love of older rave music is clear in ‘Stepping Stone’, and perhaps in the right tent at the right countryside festival it could set off a crowd. ‘Eris & Dysnomia’ starts off similarly before moving into hypnotically looped melodies and low-key polyrhythms.

With such a medley of different ideas, it’s hard to nail the whole album down into a single, emotive experience. Though it winds down calmly with drone closer ‘Vitesse’, it tantalisingly eludes the immersive grab of the heart that such electronica is powerfully capable of. Perhaps this is intentional, but regardless, Fake’s talents and originality are solidly on display. If he keeps producing music for years to come then British music will be no worse off for it. (Hamish Gibson) Out Fri 3 Apr.

Sufjan Stevens’ output over the years has ranged from folk hymns, electronic compositions about the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, an alt hip hop team up and of course numerous Christmas albums. The multi-instrumentalist’s last album proper was 2015’s Carrie & Lowell, which was a stunning reflection on the life of his mother and the man who would become Stevens’ step-father, Lowell Brams. This latest album is a collaboration between Stevens and Brams, to mark the

latter’s retirement from their Asthmatic Kitty label. The songs are culled from collaborations from the two over a period of ten years, before being completed with the help of a range of collaborators including pianist Doveman and Steve Moore of Sunn O))).

Aporia is billed as a meditative, new age instrumental album. It mostly features

warm, sci-fi synths that sprawl languidly over the record’s 21 tracks. Stevens’ voice only turns up on one of the tracks, and even then, it is barely there. It would perhaps benefit the album to have more moments like this, to punctuate the gauzy synths becoming too similar. Nonetheless, Stevens is a master at song construction, and the tunes here are

always inviting, if never fully captivating. The album could well sit in the background, soundtracking a journey to the stars, and indeed tracks such as ‘Agathon’ or ‘Captain Praxis’ should be in high demand for any filmmakers looking to ape the works of John Carpenter. Other songs, such as ‘Afterworld Alliance’, sound like ideas originally destined for Stevens’ more maximalist projects Age of Adz or Planetarium.

Aporia is unlikely to become anyone’s favourite in Stevens’ catalogue. It is a lengthy experience, and the fleeting moments of brilliance can frustrate as they signpost to the more fully formed parts of his output. However, for an album made over a long period, it flows remarkably well, and shows the unique relationship between Brams and Stevens. (Sean Greenhorn) Out now. 1 Apr–31 May 2020 THE LIST 87