Top albums of 2015 advent calendar: Day 15
Xosar - Let Go
XOSAR is the moniker of Sheela Rahman, a California girl with a propensity for hard hitting beats and making people dance, so she's relocated to The Hague in the Netherlands where she can be much closer to the scene in which she's rising. In the techno (and related genres) world, the power of the female has been steadily increasing in recent years, and I could have picked several different releases to go on this list. But, for me, Let Go is the one that stands out.
What I like about Let Go is that it's a deceptively understated release; one of the first few releases on a fledgling subsidiary label (Opal Tapes' spinoff Black Opal), has simplistically attractive artwork with the artist name barely there, and comprises a mere seven tracks. However, from the first instances of opening track "The Gate" you know this is going to be something engrossing, and across the album Rahman showcases several different methods of attack.
The aforementioned "The Gate" is an ideal starter; it's like a techno tracks drawn in spindly coloured chalk on a dark blackboard, the elements seem friendly, but when the punch comes it smacks you right between the eyes. Following up with "Sail 2 Elderon" she takes any bruises you may have sustained in the opening track and swaddles them in velvety black synths that sweep you through dark passageways. Rahman has claimed that she's "always been fascinated by the paranormal realm of existence," and this shines through on the alienating "Prophylaxis," which tows the line between acid and techno, forcing you to jerk your body in awkward ways. She allows a cool down in a eerie green grotto on the hallucinogenic interlude "Gnome Circle."
The second half of the album is all downhill; and I mean that in that she's racing downhill at full-pelt unafraid of anything. "Hades Gates" is one of the most alarmingly intense techno tracks I can remember; even listening to it first thing in the morning will make you feel like you're absolutely buzzing on something. "Tales From The Tenderloin" once again takes us exploring around the outer reaches of glimmering solar systems, before "Watching Waiting Wanting" finishes us off in the most party-like atmosphere she's created on the record - saxophone interjections and all.
Of course my mediocre reimaginings of these tracks into words does them absolutely no justice. If you have any interest in any kind of dance or electronic music, or you like to listen to unusual and "trippy" music, then definitely give Let Go a shot.
Have I bought this album?: Yes, from the extremely reliable dance specialists Kristina Records
Torres - Sprinter
I saw Mackenzie Scott aka Torres perform 3 times this year. The first was at Primavera Sound, where she played solo. I was slightly disappointed as some of the best tracks from her second album, Sprinter, really use loud guitar riffs to great effect, but solo with just her voice and guitar I thought this dynamic would be lost. Of course it wasn't quite the same, but Scott's talent as a captivating, fearless performer shone through on that occasion, and the strong-willed woman that she depicts in her music came across fully. Later in the year I saw her at End Of The Road festival, this time with a full band, and as expected songs like "Strange Hellos" and "Sprinter" blasted happily out of the main stage's PA, showing that this relatively young band had what it took to play in the biggest settings. Finally I got to see her at her own show a few days later at Scala, my favourite venue. The boldness of the performance that I'd seen at EOTR was even more apparent at close quarters. Even more impressive was the way that Scott and her band remained tightly coiled throughout, with the young woman leading them heroically as if a leader in battle with her new comrades following her every command.
This strength is bound to the songs of her second album so tightly that sometimes you can't even see it. When there are moments on the album like "The Harshest Light" where she scathingly breaks down her incorrect behaviour and finds herself "just a misguided woman in Amsterdam," this doubt is born out of the pride she usually has in herself and the way she presents herself. She'll push herself to the limits to achieve whatever she thinks is possible, the scorching riffage of "Sprinter" beholds Scott at her most determined, indefatigable as her rock and roll propels her to claim "if there's still time I'll choose the sun, and I'll run it back for everyone." The crucifyingly dark "New Skin" finds Scott questioning her perpetual fatigue despite her youthfulness, but she comes out the other side damaged but stronger claiming "if you've never known the darkness then you're the one who fears the most."
Scott also paints scenes and characters from the world around her with a deftness, harshness and humour. "Son, You Are No Island" is nauseating in its execution, employing two plucked guitar strings and Torres' voice swirling around in gloom chastising the subject and cutting him down to size with acidic ease. "Cowboy Guilt" is a sprightly pop number that lightens proceeding in the middle describing a whirlwind time spent with friends old and new. The concluding "The Exchange" is the longest at nearly 8 minutes, but also the sparest as space is left for Scott's world-weary delivery of a monologue to her parents about fear of inevitable death. She admits "I'm afraid to see my heroes age, I'm afraid of disintegration," and ultimately she concedes "mother father, I'm underwater, and I don't think you can pull me out of this.
On an album that's full of heavy punches, lyrically, emotionally and musically, this one at the very end is the most striking of all. It's a moment that makes you sit and think for a moment and wonder about Scott's own mental health. At the mere age of 23 it's sad to think of people feeling such acute and fraught worry, but at least for Scott she channels it so breathtakingly well into her music - and by doing so helps out several others out there who feel the same way.
Have I bought this album?: Certainly, you have to support these talents.