Welcome to this long overdue edition of Armchair Dancefloor. Below, as ever, you'll find The Playlist, featuring a cluster of new and forthcoming releases worthy of investigation. But first...
Focus: Mount Kimbie talk Cold Spring Fault Less Youth
I can't think of many times in my life that a track has excited me on first listen in the way that Mount Kimbie's "Maybes" did when I first heard it back in 2009. It's drawn-out guitar chords, desperate-sounding vocals and cavernous beats felt human and emotive in a way that seemed to transcend the song's crude electronic makeup. More potently, it sounded completely unlike anything else around at the time; combining the powerful dynamics of experimental dance music with pure, organic songwriting skill. In short, it was an exceptional debut move and one which marked the band out as one of the most exciting new talents in the UK.
Since then Mount Kimbie - the duo of Dominic Maker and Kai Campos - have gone from strength to strength. Follow-up single “Sketch On Glass” was a work of fractured, shuffling dancefloor brilliance, whilst their debut full-length Crooks And Lovers (which picked up a 9/10 rating on DiS from yours truly) was a masterpiece of textural, forward-thinking electronic music. Along the way too, bolstered in no small part by two years of solid touring, the band have gradually developed into one of the UK’s most genuinely fascinating live acts.
Next week the pair return with their follow-up LP, Cold Spring Fault Less Youth; an album that feels like a fairly massive leap forward from their debut. It’s a record that completely reimagines the muted electronic blueprint of that first album, adding layers of live instrumentation and a much more pronounced vocal presence, including contributions from True Panther-signed newcomer Archy Marshall (a.k.a King Krule) alongside the duo’s own understated verses. It all adds-up to create something altogether bolder and more ambitious than we’ve ever heard from the duo before.
Last week I caught up with Dom and Kai to discuss the album's origins ahead of its release, via a shaky Skype connection to Austria, where the pair had just come off stage following a support slot with The XX.
This album feels quite a bit more ambitious and grander in scope than your debut, how did the writing and recording of this LP differed from the last one?
Kai: “In some ways it was similar, our process hasn’t changed that much I don’t think, but there were ways it was quite different I guess. We spent more time actually in the studio and kind of went into our own world a bit. It took us quite a long time to get to a point where we were writing stuff we were getting excited about.
"The other thing is, I think we just felt like we had more options and a bit more freedom this time around, we didn’t have to play gigs at the same time so we just went into studio mode and if we had an idea about something we wanted to record we could kind of just go and do it. So it was kind of a bit freer in that way.”
So how long did you spend working on the album in total?
Kai: “About a year, I guess? I think that was when we first sat down to work on it and we started renting the studio and stuff. But a lot that time was spent just writing music - both good and really bad stuff."
So was there much involvement from people other than just the pair of you? There sounds like there’s quite a bit more live instrumentation on this album.
Dom: “Obviously we collaborated with Archy (King Krule,) who features on two tracks. Aside from that though, it was the first time we’d ever gone into someone else’s studio and had access to their equipment.
"We were about a five minute walk away from a guy called Andy Ramsay, who was the drummer in Stereolab, and we had access to his studio for a good two or three weeks. We did a lot of our recording there. All the instrumentation that you hear is us, but it was great having Andy there because he really facilitated the whole process of recording a load of drums and harmonium and stuff like that."
"Once we had everything we needed recorded, we finished it all back at our own studio ourselves. We had Archie coming in then to record his vocals. Then we did something else that we’d never done before, which was have the record professionally mixed.
"We were working with a guy called Dilip Harris and we sat in with him for a good two weeks just working through the record track-by-track and getting it to sound as good as it could. That was a really intense but enjoyable process.
“It felt good to good to have people like Dilip and Andy to help us along with [the album]. It gave us quite a lot of confidence and a better understanding of the music itself and the processes within it. I think we’ve taken a lot from that period of time in both of their studios - and we’ll use that as a tool for the next record.”
How did those two tracks with King Krule come about?
Dom: “We became aware of him a little while back when we were in the States - Kai found one of his tunes on the internet when he was working as Zoo Kid - and we got really excited about him. We sort of sat on it for a while, but eventually we went to one of his shows and after that we were just really keen to get him involved in some way.
"Fortunately, he was really into the ideas we had. At the time when he came into the studio we only had 15 or 20 second loops, so we had the initial ideas but there was no real direction at that point. Having Archy there really shaped the rest of those two songs. We wanted him to be very much a part of the process, so the time that we were with him he felt like a member of the band and really contributed a lot more than just his voice on those tracks.
"I’m really proud of how those came out and I think we both breathed a sigh of relief when it turned out to be such an easy process working with him. We’ve found someone we really want to work with again in the future.
“We’d kind of flirted with the idea of having people on our tracks before, but no one’s ever really grabbed us in the way that Archy has done, so it’s great to have him involved.”
How about your own vocals on this album? Putting those tracks with Archy aside, the presence of your vocals on almost every track is probably the most noticeable change on this record. Was that a conscious decision for you guys or did it just evolve that way when you started writing?
Kai: “It was very much the later I guess; we didn’t really realise how many songs had vocals on until towards the end.
“It was largely a case of not really wanting to direct anyone else on those songs. I had these ideas for the vocal lines and a really clear idea of how I wanted them to be, so it was a case of either telling someone else exactly how I wanted them to do it or just doing it myself.
“It’s just something that started developing as the record went on, and I started to enjoy it, and it just felt quite natural really. I think we felt in a good place, in that, we didn’t think it was a big deal particularly. It was only afterwards that we thought ‘well, maybe some people could see this as a calculated move?’ Certainly we weren’t particularly nervous or worried about it at the time, which was good.”
How much do you think touring extensively has influenced the sound of this record?
Dom: “I think it has had quite a big effect. We really dedicated everything to that two years of solid touring after the last album. Obviously, you become very much accustomed to the energy of a live set and working out how to deliver that in the best way you can. So it was a strange one coming out of that and straight in to the solitude of studio work. But I guess that period of time really made us confident in what we were doing.
“We really enjoyed tailoring tracks to the live show and playing around with the ideas further, and I think we were hoping that would be something we could still do with this new record. But in the live set-up we’ve got a lot of guitar in there and our own voices as well, and obviously that bled through into the studio work.
"To be honest with you though, it was quite important to us not to really think about how things were going to sound live until more recently when we’ve been rehearsing. If anything it would really detract from the music we were writing if we were constantly thinking whether or not something was going to go down well in a certain situation or ‘should this drop happen here?’ or ‘should this part be introduced here?’ So I think we tried to distance ourselves from all that when we were trying to write it.”
So did you road test any of this new album live at all before recording it?
Kai: “Two or three of them we played before we did the studio versions, which we’d never really done before, so that process was quite interesting for us. We’d come offstage having played half-finished ideas and have a better understanding of where they should be going. I guess that has had quite a big influence on those songs.
“But again, as Dom was saying, you don’t want to be thinking about that stuff when you’re in the studio too much. We just wanted to make the record that we wanted to make and then think about that afterwards. I guess it would be interesting to maybe do that with a whole album, start playing it out before it’s recorded, but it’s a dangerous thing, because you just start reacting to things like the moments when people in the crowd cheer, which isn’t necessarily always the most accurate indication of whether you’re making a good record or not.”
Finally, do you think your relationship to dance music changed since your earliest EPs? Obviously, those releases were signed to Hotflush - an influential dance label - and you guys were often associated with that circle of electronic DJs and producers. Do you feel like performing live and touring as a band distanced you from that scene all?
Dom: “I think our relationship to dance music is the same as it ever was really, but the context in which other people see it is maybe a bit different. We’ve always been - and still are - excited by the prospect of what electronic music can be, and it’s quite often where the most forward thinking and exciting stuff is happening. But we’ve always had so many other influences and other ways of getting across what we want to say. I think our process is quite far away from a lot of other people who make electronic music.
"We’ve always had one foot in that world and that’s the same now, but I guess the framing of that is maybe a little bit different. That's also been changed by what we’ve actually be able to achieve on this record; we’ve had a lot less limits in terms of time and money, so it was a case of, if we wanted to record live drums and spend two weeks doing it, it wasn’t as much of a problem. Although we’ve totally run out of money now, as we spent a year not playing any gigs. Fortunately, we’d saved enough to be able to make the record that we wanted to make.”
Cold Spring Fault Less Youth is released via Warp on 27 May.
The playlist: new and forthcoming releases
Bobby Browser - Still Browsing EP [100% Silk]
This second release from Californian house producer Bobby Browser has actually been out for almost two months already, but I wanted to include it here as I feel he's being (to some extent) unfairly slept on as an artist. As with his debut EP Just Browsing - which was released last year, also on Not Not Fun offshoot 100% Silk - this follow-up is a work of lovingly nostalgic, disco-infused house music that sounds as if it's escaped from the hot tub at some seedy '70s house party. It's not exactly forward thinking stuff, but it is deep, beautifully melodic and very easy to enjoy.
Cromie & Sage Caswell - Vines/Pyrex [Peach]
This EP from LA duo Cromie & Sage Caswell is the inaugural release on Peach, a new label founded by Tim Saputo - one of the DJs behind New York's renowned TURBOTRAX® parties. Both of the two originals are gloriously sun-drenched works of complex, melodically rich house that feel like they're destined to be on repeat all summer. There's a very solid pair of remixes on the b-side too, from Detroit man of the moment Kyle Hall and Californian artist Ghosts On Tape - both of whom have been on runs of immense form over the past 12 months.
Laurel Halo - Behind The Green Door EP [Hyperdub]
I'm going to be honest here and admit that I never quite 'got' Laurel Halo's debut LP in the way that a lot of other people seemed to. I do enjoy that vocal, melodically experimental side to her, but personally I just find her beat-driven work a fair bit more exciting. Thankfully, this latest EP sees her confronting the dancefloor in a more head-on way than ever, resulting in an instrumental release rooted in the weirder ends of Berlin techno. For my money, it's the best thing she's ever done.
Leon Vynehall - Brother/Sister [Aus]
Brighton-based producer Leon Vynehall only released his first single last year, but the past 12-or-so months have seen him quickly make a big impression. This pair of tunes for Will Saul's Aus imprint are probably the boldest things he's done so far though. The a-side - which was one of the stand out moments of Saul's excellent recent Essential Mix - is a churning, peak-time house number built around a pleasantly wonky melody and an unstoppably catchy single word vocal hook. The b-side, meanwhile, sees him dial things back and delve a little bit deeper.
Move D - Wanna Do [Curle Recordings]
The a-side of this release from deep house icon Move D was originally distributed on a covermount CD with German magazine Groove. The team behind Belgian label Curle came across it, however, and decided it was too good not to get a full release. Both tracks on either side of this 12" - which is available on limited purple vinyl - are lovely works of classically-minded, gently infectious house music. If nothing else, there's just something pleasing about the fact that the German producer is still capable of producing this sort of utterly lovely electronic music nearly two decades into his career. His recent, funk-tinged "To The Disco '77" single on Electric Minds is well worth investigating too.
Owen Howells - Common People [Celestial Recordings]
Owen Howells is a London-based, Australian producer and head of the record label Shades (formerly known as Shades Of Grey.) He seems to have quite a talent for blending rock solid house and techno grooves with more contemporary moments of sonic experimentation, as he demonstrates on the a-side here; a slow-burning piece of chugging techno led by a murky spoken word vocal. B-side "Riding" is the best track on the EP though, blending perculiarly funky, resonator-cloaked percussive lines with a bass-driven core that just keeps building and building.
Powell - Fizz [Liberation Technologies]
Across the course of 18 months and a handful of EPs, Powell has marked himself out as one of the finest, most sonically inventive artists in the UK. This latest release for Liberation Technologies is probably the best thing he's done to date though. It blends brilliantly disconcerting, skeletal techno with playful jungle breaks and plenty of sonic peculiarity to create one of the most unique-sounding releases so far this year.
Systems Of Desire - Control/Consumption [Happy Skull]
Systems Of Desire is a new collaboration between Bristolian artists Kowton and Hyetal, which sees both producers bringing the best of their individual sounds together to create something genuinely unique. Their debut release - which is due on new Bristol label Happy Skull next towards the end of next month - combines the beefy, distorted kick drums that Kowton has made his trademark with Hyetal's glorious retro synths. The end result is something that is certainly worth getting a little excited about.
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