I’ve often written about the joys of simply opening an email and discovering fantastic music. Reformat was another example of this rare pleasure and an even more special one to boot; since the group makes a very special and unique type of post-rock which I love, hearing their music for the first time was not just like finding an oasis in the middle of a desert, but suddenly discovering that oasis was also filled with wonderful birds.
There are not enough musicians out there doing the kind of post-rock that 65daysofstatic perhaps made famous, chunky, punchy, electronic post-rock that’s all about the contrast between harsher sounds and smooth vibes, music that can hit on all fronts and get you grooving. Reformat’s The Singularity is all that and more, a wonderful album that blends so many diverse sounds into something which feels effortless and articulate at the same time.
Naturally, I was stoked to get their Top 10 for 2018. It’s always exciting to be able to host words from the artists you like on your platform but for Reformat, my interest was especially piqued. And I was not disappointed; their list features overlooked albums like MØL‘s Jord, a true gem of 2018, and fantastic entries from the world of electronics like Jon Hopkins‘s Singularity. In between those, and beyond, there are picks which flesh out our understanding of what makes Reformat work. Read on below for that and much more!
Jon Hopkins – Singularity (Luke/Russ/Jay)
It was always going to be tough following Immunity but Jon Hopkins creates a perfectly balanced counterpoint with Singularity. Where the previous album had a slightly paranoid and claustrophobic vibe, the new release is more expansive and soothing. He compares the two contrasting experiences to MDMA and mushroom trips respectively, which makes sense of the distinct feel between the two. “Emerald Rush” is still unmistakably Jon Hopkins though and the way rhythm evolves and emerges from melody at the beginning of “Neon Pattern Drum” is masterfully crafted. The album is full of hooks that give way to moments of reflection and although he’s obviously a skilled technician, his motivation is to communicate emotion which is carved out with precision. That’s what elevates Jon Hopkins above other musicians trying to do similar things… each decision has real meaning to him and he communicates using a language he’s totally fluent in. His emotional connection to his work makes it clear that there’s a lot going on beneath the surface.
Other artists can learn from his approach; connect emotionally to your work, otherwise the audience will quickly find there isn’t much beyond the surface.
Hot Snakes – Jericho Sirens (Luke)
You know when a band you love gets back together, releases an album that feels like they’re just running through the motions and you end up wondering why they even bothered? This is definitely not that… there’s something timeless about Hot Snakes that is expertly captured on Jericho Sirens; it’s so raw, full of energy and makes these four old rockers sound youthful. The fact that it’s some of their freshest work yet is even more impressive. They clearly mean it and that makes it cathartic for the listener as well… the band open up and bring you into their world. “Six Wave Hold-Down” was apparently the first track they wrote for this album and it set a standard. We saw them in London recently and the new tracks sounded particularly powerful; John Reis was wielding his guitar like a Tiki warrior. His playing made an impact when I was first introduced to Rocket From The Crypt as a teenager and I still love the way he crams melody into an otherwise aggressive sound.
Between The Buried and Me – Automata I and II (Russ)
This band has been on my radar for some time but Automata I and II definitely sealed the deal for me. It is a little strange they released the two halves months apart rather than just releasing a double album, as it only fully makes sense when played together. Nonetheless it’s an accomplished body of work, encompassing most of the facets of the music I love under one roof. The album is a rollercoaster of ever-changing moods without being disjointed; from brutally heavy punishment to more beautifully fragile and melodic, and all spaces in between. The sheer ability of the band is staggering and to be honest somewhat depressing to a humble musician such as myself! Each instrument and every note is so carefully considered and perfectly placed. I would’ve loved to be a fly on the wall at the writing sessions and indeed the recording sessions. In my opinion, the mix is Jens Bogren’s finest work, with every detail being revealed even in the maelstrom of the most hectic passages. I understand why some people think it’s all a bit too much, there really is a lot to take in but that’s the pure joy of it for me.
Oneohtrix Point Never – Age of (Luke)
Oneohtrix Point Never first captured my attention with the perfect combo of electronic and organic sounds on “Animals”. Daniel Lopatin is one of those producers who’s a master of depth. First and foremost he makes really engaging soundscapes but on a deeper level, he somehow creates a sense of longing from the viewpoint of a machine. “Toys 2” epitomises that sound for me… it’s computer music but the computers are sad and that’s a very cool tension to be creating. It takes the listener on a journey using emotional and melodic—but totally ‘anti-song’ compositions. They are structured more like recollections of old memories that ebb and flow, with different details springing to mind and expressing something incredibly evocative, if not entirely tangible. It’s chaotic but there’s space for everything. Although I’ve avoided reading about the albums in too much detail, I know that OPN has massive concepts and the fact that there’s a rationale for the apparent madness gives him confidence to push boundaries and experiment. As a listener, I really want to get to know an album and build my own narratives before I revisit what the artist had to say in depth… that way, the music can speak for itself.
Garden City Movement – Apollonia (Jay)
This is a fairly recent one for me, but oh boy. Love, love, love this record. Apollonia embodies a lot of my taste in music on one album. There’s full-on pop, hip hop, disco, soul, psychedelic, electronic and a whole bunch more going on, all really cleverly put together. The album flows so well from one song to the next that you almost don’t realise how much ground it covers. Very intelligent stuff. It’s a real journey listening to it start to finish. At 51 minutes it’s fairly long but manages to stay fresh and gripping the whole way through and the production blows me away. So many elements, both electronic and organic, are mixed so well together. It’s a record that you can listen to over and over and find something new every time. The sonics can get quite busy at times and for music with so much detail, it can be quite difficult to keep it balanced and not overcrowded, but it all just gels together so nicely. From ambient textures, to mangled samples and vocals, Garden City Movement really explore a vast amount of sounds and everything has its place to sit, both in the song and in the mix.
Big Lad – Pro Rock (Luke/Russ)
If you haven’t heard the new Big Lad album, get your affairs in order and get it in your ears. Pro Rock is a sonic cocktail of face-melting breakcore and B-movie synthesiser soundtracks. It is full of contradictions; frenetic but melodic, nostalgic but future-looking… basically, if Richard D. James was marooned on a weird planet with nothing but eighties heavy metal and television at his disposal, this would be the result. The album is an example of totally abrasive noise wrestling with melody in perfect, chaotic harmony. The duo has a tendency to take things to illogical conclusions; riffs, breaks and synths leave you reeling after a three-way brawl on “Ricky Balboa”. That’s not to say Big Lad only have one gear, what makes this album great for me is that Wayne and Henri have a genuine appreciation and understanding of both heavy and electronic music. Wayne knows how to deliver a melody too and half the time you’re punching the air because it’s got you in the heart as much as the loins.
Opeth – Garden of the Titans (Live at Red Rocks) (Russ)
Live albums can be really hit and miss for me, it’s always difficult to get across the intensity of the live energy and sometimes the performances don’t live up to the expectations laid down by the studio recordings. In the case of Live at Red Rocksboth sound and performance are sublime, showing off the musical prowess and superb arrangements of Mikael Åkerfeldt and co. It must be an increasingly difficult task for Åkerfeldt to choose a setlist but the flow of tracks was superb. They mixed up their bludgeoningly heavy past with the more progressive and mellow soundscapes. Spanning their vast and varied career, this would be a great introduction to the band for anyone unfamiliar with their eclectic catalogue. For a live show, David Castillo’s mix is nigh on perfect, if such a thing exists… I’ve been blasting it in the car and although it works well as audio alone, I would highly recommend the Blu-Ray as live shows always make more sense when you can see the performance as well.
MØL – Jord (Luke)
This band have been bulked in with the so-called blackgaze movement but don’t let that put you off, MØL are on to something special. Their epic segues into expansive and dark spaces set this album apart; the sound they create washes over you in layers, heavenly and hellish at once but somehow still moving in synchronicity. “Bruma” could be the exception, switching a little more abruptly between distinct black metal tropes and soaring choruses. For me, the band’s at their best when the melodic influences properly blend with the heavier moments. They get the balance just right on “Vakuum”, where reverb-soaked lead lines shine through crushing guitars. It sounds like they’ve perhaps come from a similar place to Reformat in terms of some influences… let’s just say it wouldn’t be a surprise to find them rummaging down at Horton Market for discarded a-Ha hooks. As debuts go Jord is really strong, they deserve the attention they’re getting and it’s going to be good to see where they end up when the term ‘blackgaze’ is forgotten.
Parquet Courts – Wide Awake (Jay)
I was fairly late to the game with Parquet Courts. The first I heard of them was when a good friend put on their latest LP Wide Awake only around a month or so ago. The album grabbed me straight away. It’s got hints of punk, 60’s garage rock, and a variety of other influences and styles, all wrapped up in a noisy indie rock package. The album pushes and pulls a fair bit, both in pace and in taste, which I love… I also love the production of this record. It’s minimal and effective which really puts the band across quite honestly, rather than a lot of albums today that hide them behind a production sheen, masking the fact that the songs are actually pretty bad. Another thing that stood out to me was the lyrics. You’ve only got to listen to the second track “Violence” to get that this is an intelligent band and they have something to say but without seeming contrived. The singer’s delivery only backs up the message further. That being said, it’s not as though the band takes themselves too seriously, there’s an element of playfulness which again, to me, solidifies the honesty of this record. Love it!
Lorn – Remnant (Luke)
Russ initially recommended Lorn’s previous album, Vessel… the balance of hope and melancholy totally resonated with me; borrowing from video game soundtracks and cartoons from the eighties and nineties, it was right up my street. I still don’t know much about the artist behind the music but I’m in awe of every aspect of his work. The artwork and videos are all truly stunning, which is almost as important as the music to me. Remnant has a mixture of moments but it’s a much darker and amorphous album. The quietly aggressive approach on “REPLIKA” reminds me of Burial, only it sounds like he’s travelling home from raves on an off-world colony after an apocalypse, rather than South London. Sonically, it’s a deconstructed sci-fi soundscape but emotionally it’s a planetary swan-song, followed by the lightness of “MEMORY MANAGEMENT”, which feels like a rebirth after the oppression of the track before. If we took all of the heavy influences out of Reformat, we would perhaps be left with something a bit like this.