• Our 20 favourite 12″s of 2017

    By | December 5, 2017

    From essential track IDs to crafted EPs.

    Having picked out our favourite 7″s and 10″s, we turn our attention to the 12″ in the second of our retrosepctive rundowns of the last twelve months.

    And just as 7″s no longer represent the year’s biggest chart hits, so has it been some time since 12″s were exclusively the domain of the dance floor.

    From the simple 2-track club banger to EPs that border on mini-albums, we’ve demanded that each 12″ offers something more than just an aggregation of the year’s best tracks.

    Some though, like Objekt, Denis Sulta and Bufiman do represent the year’s most urgent dance music, or in the case of Bicep, Four Tet and Nathan Fake distil new albums in more forms.

    This year, the 12″ has also been the friend of the UK’s burgeoning grassroots jazz movement, capturing the nascent scene as it grows and evolves, whether on Joe Armon-Jones & Maxwell Owin’s Idiom, Moses Boyd’s Absolute Zero or the improvised voyages of A.R.E. Project.

    And finally, the 12″ was also home to several beautifully crafted EPs, cementing concepts and musical ideas – from Fatima al Qadiri’s provocative sexual politics to LAPS’ DIY dancehall – that circumvent generic boundaries for something true to the musical diversity of 2017.

    You may have also noticed that we’ve changed the emphasis of our lists this year away from the tired, arbitrary and frankly over-used ‘best’, to the more openly subjective ‘favourite’. We believe this more accurately reflects the fact that these rundowns are essentially recommendations of what we’ve enjoyed most this year, as selected by our weekly contributors Patrick Ryder, James Hammond and Chris Summers, alongside VF’s editorial team, Gabriela Helfet and Anton Spice.

    What were your favourites this year? Let us know in the comments below.

    See the rest of our 2017 review:

    Our 50 favourite albums of 2017
    Our 10 favourite 7″s of 2017
    Our 12 favourite reissue singles of 2017
    Our 30 favourite reissues of 2017
    Our 12 favourite soundtracks of 2017
    Our 12 favourite record sleeves of 2017


    20. Bicep

    Glue EP

    (Ninja Tune)

    Listen / Buy

    Bicep may have dropped their long-awaited debut album, taking first place as the most track ID-requested producers of the year by a country mile in the process, but the audio pinnacle from this Belfast duo actually came in the form of their final release of 2017. The Glue EP delivered one of the LP’s finest cuts on the A-Side, plus fresh tracks which included the delightfully acid-tinged ‘DLR’ on the reverse. – GH


    19. Dazion

    Don’t Get Me Wrong

    (Second Circle)

    Listen / Buy

    This curveball dropped right at the start of 2017 and hasn’t left the record bag since. Lead track ‘Be A Man’ sashays across the dance floor with jasmin-infused disco pizzazz, lush synths and a belly-dance bassline underpinned by sharp-as-brass percussive shuffle. Things take a step down to Room 2 on ‘Rigola’, the groove staying in the pocket, with vibraphones to the fore. A triumph for the Music From Memory off-shoot that was heard far and wide this year. – AS


    18. Carla Dal Forno

    The Garden

    (Blackest Ever Black)

    Listen / Buy

    A VF favourite coming off the strength of last year’s debut full length You Know What Its Like and its accompanying singles, this year gave us four new cuts from Carla Dal Forno which made for more essential listening. An artist who sets out an alluring sound world of mysterious and uneasy pop music, The Garden carried on where her debut left off in its sparingly affective structures and ability to craft distinctive vocal hooks that work their way in with repeated listens. – JH


    17. Denis Sulta

    Nein Forteate EP

    (Sulta Selects)

    Listen / Buy

    Glasgow homebro Denis Sulta launched his own label with two choice EPs this year, the highlight of which was its inaugural release, Nein Forteate, featuring ‘Dubelle Oh XX (JVIP)’. The kind of synthy club anthem that Sulta is rightly becoming known for, its greatness lies about 3 and a half minutes in, when the track, seemingly at its peak, suddenly cuts out… Is it a mistake, a DJ faux pas, a power problemo? Nah. It’s Sulta bringing in a silky smooth “ohhhh yeah” vocal, before dropping the ole hook in back again to maximum effect. – GH


    16. Beatrice Dillon & Call Super

    ‘Inkjet / Fluo’

    (Hessle Audio)

    Listen / Buy

    One of our favourite collaborations of the year also appears on one of our favourite labels in sweet symbiosis, as Beatrice Dillon unites with Call Super for this Hessle Audio affair. As with many of the 12”s gracing this year’s list, the A-Side ‘Inkjet’ is a legit slice of aqua electronics, but it’s the flip – ‘Fluo’ – that we’ve been rinsing since it dropped. A soundtrack for the robot takeover to come, with Blade Runner-esque dial tones making way for exquisite saxxy breakdowns midway through. Proof, if ever you needed it, that no B-side should be left unturned. – GH


    15. Avalon Emerson

    Whities 013

    (Whities)

    Listen / Buy

    Avalon Emerson returns to Whities for the follow-up to her Narcissus in Retrograde EP – one of our favourite 12”s of 2016 – on a different, but no less excellent, tip. With this catchy double-dose, she continues her well deserved ascent as one of the most exciting producers around: ‘One More Fluorescent Rush’ serves glitchy, spaced out feels, before ‘Finally Some Common Ground’ takes off on a Soichi Terada-esque, one-way trip to the intergalactic mothership. – GH


    14. Four Tet

    ‘SW9 9SL / Planet’

    (Text Records)

    Listen / Buy

    Aside from a couple of split 12”s last year, 2017 marked something of a return to the prolific output we’ve come to expect from Kieran Hebden, releasing a handful of 12”s, a load of material via multiple Spotify aliases, some brilliant remixes, the year’s most ID’d edit ‘Question’, and a new full-length infamously made using just a laptop and a view over some unspectacular woodland. Thankfully, the album’s two stand-out tracks were also collected on this limited 12”. Propulsive, melodic dance music for the headphones or the dance floor, ‘Planet’ is Four Tet’s finest since There Is Love In You. – AS


    13. Craven Faults

    Netherfield Works

    (Lowfold Works)

    Listen / Buy

    Elusive, evasive, but delivered with unerring authority, Craven Faults is one of this year’s wildcards. Arriving on a mysterious label with a soaring two-track EP of airborne krautrock, Netherfield Works pays its dues to ’70s Düsseldorf and the San Francisco Tape Music Centre and casts them to the English winds, forging two sprawling tracks from within a nest of patch cables in an old Yorkshire textile mill. A modular synth record that, like recent works by Kaityln Aurelia Smith seems to shed its machined origins to become something altogether more organic, Netherfield Works overflows across two sixteen minute tracks that will appeal to fans of Cluster, Steve Reich and the like. – AS


    12. Fatima Al Quadiri

    Shaneera

    (Hyperdub)

    Listen / Buy

    Few EPs set out to challenge norms and hegemonies like Fatima Al Qadiri’s Shaneera, which riffs on the English mispronunciation of the Arabic word for “outrageous, nefarious, hideous, major and foul.” Reconstructing snippets of Grindr chats, online drag and femme comedy skits, and Iraqi proverbs into a hybrid vernacular built from Kuwaiti and Egyptian Arabic, Shaneera is an intoxicating listen – all menacing dubbed-out electronic arrangements – and a self-confessed “love letter to evil and benevolent queens around the world.” – AS


    11. Bufiman

    ‘Peace Moves’

    (Dekmantel)

    Listen / Buy

    Dekmantel celebrated a decade as a champion of left-field, dance floor meditations by delivering its strongest year yet, hosting an annual sell-out festival in Holland, a smaller soiree in Croatia, and releasing some of the label’s finest music along the way, including Dekmantel 10 Years 04 EP and Juju & Jordash’s Sis-Boom-Bah LP. However, it was Bufiman aka Wolf Muhler’s Peace Moves EP that best represented the weird af and wonderfully off-kilter sonics which have come to define the Dutch imprint. A seemingly bizarre combination of growling vocals and cranky, bent out of shape jack-in-the-box effects that sounds so wrong it’s right. – GH


    10. Moses Boyd

    Absolute Zero

    (The Vinyl Factory / Exodus)

    Listen / Buy

    Drummer and producer Moses Boyd exploded into the wider musical consciousness with ‘Rye Lane Shuffle’ in 2016, and this EP, co-released between VF and his own Exodus imprint, was his much-anticipated follow up. Ditching the horn stabs for shimmering krauty synths, Absolute Zero was born out of Boyd’s solo live shows but has since been reintegrated into the Exodus band with which he has sold out the likes of Corsica Studios and Jazz Café this year. Underpinned by his live-wire drum sound, this EP swells with a restless ease, referencing influences as broad as grime, ambient and hip-hop, rooting this new jazz mode in an urban context. One of the year’s breakthrough artists, expect to hear much more of Moses in the coming months. As objective as we can possibly be, the soft-touch laminate artwork by Optigram may also make this one of our favourite sleeves of the year. – AS


    9. Agnes Obel

    ‘Stretch Your Eyes (Quiet Village Remix)’

    (Phonica Special Editions)

    Listen / Buy

    You don’t need us to tell you how great it is to share a building with a record shop, let alone one as consistently on point as Phonica. So when manager Simon Rigg called us into his office one afternoon last summer with news of an extra special 12” on one of the shop’s in-house imprints we knew it was going to be good. Here Quiet Village pull apart Danish singer Agnes Obel’s ‘Stretch Your Eyes’ into a dark and dubby chorale, backed by an eerie a cappella imbued with the same haunting longevity of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrops’. – AS


    8. SW. / SVN

    ‘Sued 18’

    (SUED)

    Listen / Buy

    Who needs things like track names when the music can do the talking? Not SW. that’s who. The producer follows up a close-to-perfect 2016 LP (appropriately called The Album) to team up with SUED co-founder SVN. SUED 18 kicks off with Pepe Bradock-esque house heaviness on the A-Side, plus a knockout, subdued techno ride on the reverse. – GH


    7. Floating Points

    ‘Ratio (Deconstructed Mixes)’

    (Pluto Records)

    Listen / Buy

    Though Floating Points debuted versions of the slow-rolling, emotional synth-filled ‘Ratio’ via live shows and DJ sets last year, it finally saw a long-awaited official release this October. Well worth the wait, ‘Ratio’ is a shimmering number that harkens back to Floating Points’ supreme ‘Myrtle Avenue’ and ‘ARP3’ fare. And though it may seem like a mere sales gimmick to release the track in ‘deconstructed’ parts, as he did on the B-side, it’s not. If you caught his live set this year, this seemingly fractured 12″ actually makes perfect sense because no live version of ‘Ratio’ was identical. An exciting hint that the best of his new material is yet come. – GH


    6. Joe Armon-Jones & Maxwell Owin

    Idiom

    (YAM Records)

    Listen / Buy

    A record that captures the jazz routes and roots coursing through London at the moment, tying together the convergent legacies of broken beat, house, 2-step and fusion that having been coalescing south of the river for some time. Aside from being assembled from a quintet of fiercely accomplished musicians (Armon-Jones & Owin are joined here by Nubya Garcia, Oscar Jerome and Jake Long), Idiom is a refreshingly playful record that never takes itself too seriously. With discrete improvisations woven into the fabric of each track, Idiom is greater than the sum of its parts, and a testament to the community that has helped elevate it. – AS


    5. Nathan Fake

    Providence Reworks – Part I

    (Ninja Tune)

    Listen / Buy

    A primer on how a track, in this case Nathan Fake’s ‘DEGREELESSNESSS’ from his Providence LP, can be turned into (two times the) greatness, thanks to formidable edits. A-Side sees Overmono assuming the rework duties to craft one of the anthems of 2017’s festival season, teasing out the most euphoric moments of ‘DEGREELESSNESS’ across seven and half minutes. Meanwhile, a no less worthy of rotation revamp from Huerco S brings a psychedelic, Middle Eastern-hued séance to send you into a zen-filled trance. – GH


    4. LAPS

    Who Me?

    (MIC)

    Listen / Buy

    LAPS are Ladies As Pimps, the Glasgow duo and Golden Teacher affiliates forging an industrial dancehall sound that’s unlike anything else we heard this year. If there’s one big hit here it would be title track ‘Who Me?’, which finds a sweet spot between the sensual, the confrontational and the surreal we had no idea existed. It’s a trick ‘Edges’ manages too, before rounding off the EP with the fragmented “pyjama house” of ‘Lady Bug’. A charismatic record that pulls no punches, and a fine first foray into new music for 2017 label newcomer MIC. – AS


    3. Objekt

    Objekt #4

    (Objekt)

    Listen / Buy

    If in January someone had told us one of the biggest tracks of the year would be a slowed-down two-step garage beat-meets-techno superjam, we would have been rather confused about what the year held in store. But so it was. TJ Hertz’s first release since 2014, a 12” on the club-focused white label series under his Objekt alias, stormed dance floors far and wide thanks to its unexpected B-Side. ‘Theme From Q’ is the kind of track that works in sets of all shapes, speeds and sizes, because it’s just that great. – GH


    2. Hieroglyphic Being, Sarathy Korwar & Shabaka Hutchings

    A.R.E. Project EP

    (Technicolour)

    Listen / Buy

    Arguably one of the UK’s most prolific and inspiringly creative musicians, Shabaka Hutchings leant his saxophone touch to a number of contenders for our favourite releases of the year, including the Comet Is Coming’s psychedelic jazz 12” Death To The Planet 12”. That said, A.R.E. Project, a unique and forward-thinking, improvised collaboration between Hutchings, Hieroglyphic Being and Sarathy Korwar was the obvious choice. Captured during a completely live, two hour performance aboard a studio moored inside a ship along the Thames, the EP sees cosmic sax merging with Indonesian folk music and space-age electronics for a truly one-of-a-kind result. – GH


    1. Sudan Archives

    Sudan Archives

    (Stones Throw)

    Listen / Buy

    One of this year’s most enchanting debuts came from violinist, producer and vocalist Sudan Archives, whose self-titled EP on Stones Throw takes the award for our favourite 12” of 2017. Channelling the bedroom RnB production that sustained her early forays into music into an outward-looking hybrid sound, Archives draws as much on North African melodies and instrumentation as Stones Throw’s storied left-field hip-hop tradition.

    A self-taught violinist, she weaves finger picking rhythms into the fabric of her productions, and uses its sawing melancholy to lend a gorgeous nostalgia to each song. And while ‘Come Meh Way’ might be the track you’ll have heard most, ‘Oatmeal’ and ‘Goldencity’ exude the same singular clarity, marking out a route between the percussive, earthy RnB of opening track ‘Paid’ and the syncopated folk musings of final track ‘Wake up’. A modest record, both utterly new yet uncannily familiar, we revisited this EP time and again this year, and can’t wait to hear what comes next. – AS


    Illustration by Patch D Keyes.

  • The modular mathematics behind Craven Faults’ expansive kosmische musik

    By | November 23, 2017

    A step-by-step breakdown of Craven Faults’ modular process.

    Elusive, evasive but delivering with unerring authority, Craven Faults arrived on Lowfold Works last month with a soaring two-track EP of airborne krautrock. Undoubtedly indebted to ’70s Düsseldorf and the San Francisco Tape Music Centre, but assembled from within a nest of patch cables in an old Yorkshire textile mill, Netherfield Works expands like water overflowing from a reservoir across two fifteen minute tracks, the man-made structures from whence it came no longer able to contain its tidal force.

    To get a better sense of the process behind crafting such sentient, propulsive music, we asked Craven Faults to break down the modular mathematics behind the EP’s surging opener ‘Eller Ghyll’, giving an unprecedented insight into the nature of modular synthesis for the curious and capable alike.


    The modular synth is MU format (Moog Unit) and is a combination of modules from eleven different manufacturers but based around Oakley Sound Systems (built by Krisp1 in South Yorkshire), Synthesizers Dotcom from Texas and STG Soundlabs in Illinois, plus other modules from Spain, Ukraine, Russia and Germany.

    The Netherfield Works EP predominantly uses the modular but there’s also Sequential Circuits Drumtraks, Elka Sidekick 32 and MPC DSM drum machines, and on the track Tenter Ground there is an EDP Wasp synth, bass guitar, piano, EMS Synthi (not mine!) and a couple of friends playing drums and saxophone.

    When I decided to get into modular around 2010 I was open to any format, I went down the MU route because I found a small system second hand online. It now takes up 3 cabinets and is 99U in size (enough for 99 single width modules). There are 4 different sequencer systems plus various electronic switches, gate dividers/multipliers, Boolian logic gate, sample & hold, midi clock and midi time code interfaces, 5 VCOs, 3 basic LFOs and 2 complex LFOs, frequency multiplier/divider, 4 mixers, 5 envelope generators, envelope follower/lag/slew/pre-amp/gate extractor and a multi-function slope generator, 8 filters, phaser, ring modulator, fixed filter bank, sawtooth animator, Vactrol lopass gate, spring reverb, 4 waveshapers, 2 attenuators/inverters, noise generator and 7 VCAs, plus various utility modules. I don’t see this synth as a keyboard instrument, there isn’t one connected.

    The Euro modular synth market has far more choice for modules and there are a lot of interesting sound creating and sound shaping modules out there. Euro is really intuitive to use and it’s a lot easier to get great results, but for myself I like the idea of starting with nothing and having to try and be as creative as possible by using basic waveforms and the simple actions of control voltages that rise and fall. I like the limits imposed by basic synthesis. Some day I may add other modular formats to my system, everything is compatible, but I don’t feel I’ve exhausted the possibilities of what I currently have.


    ‘Eller Ghyll’ came about through a process that has become familiar for most of the Craven Faults tracks. Essentially, I have a vague idea of what to start with – this could be a rhythmical idea, an abstract feel, a sound, anything that comes to mind – and almost immediately go off down a different path, build up layers of sound, add more and more ideas and finally, remove everything that seems surplus to the needs of the track to get back to the initial idea I started with.

    ‘Eller Ghyll’ began as an idea to create a bed of interlocking, looped sequencers moving quickly but changing gradually over a long duration. This was to be underpinned by a series of intermittent bass and drum sounds coming in at irregular intervals, not actually adding to the rhythm but adding dynamics at certain points, in groups, with 3 or 4 minutes between each group. This idea was a theoretical starting point.

    1. The modular is locked to Pro-Tools with midi clock and the first task is to decide on a tempo, almost arbitrarily.

    2. I wanted two sequence lines to run simultaneously, in stereo, so I made a patch of sequencers to VCOs, pulse waves out into filters and VCA’s, envelope generators into control of VCAs – a pretty standard patch. The sequencers were tuned to 3 or 4 notes, I usually just use whatever they happen to be tuned to as a starting point and adjust as I go along.

    Each sequencer was programmed to work in a sequence of 3 to 6 stages. I varied the number of stages on the fly as the tracks were being recorded. This changed the juxtaposition of the notes played. The final take of pulse wave sequences was processed through a Revox B77 tape machine, creating delays. The tape machine creates echo by using feedback, sending the output back to the input on an analogue mixing console. EQ is cut on the desk channels so that the sound changes as the feedback progresses. This creates a kind of rhythmical texture to the sound rather than a simple echo delay. Spring reverbs have also been added to the sequencers to bring out some of the individual notes.

    3. To add to the rhythmical backing I created some loops of piano phrases which were lifted from the recordings for ‘Tenter Ground’ as the key appeared to be similar. These remained in the track until quite late on when they were removed. I also added a second set of sequencer lines which were intended to add to the rhythmical pattern but with a different sound, more like a string synth. This idea was also abandoned.

    4. The track needed another tuned rhythmic idea to sit at the higher end of the frequency spectrum. This was made with ring modulated sounds, again processed through the Revox, and also through a spring reverb.

    5. I created bass and drum sounds using the modular for the bass, and recordings of a drum kit I had made previously for a band I had been recording – individual drum hits in a large space. I also tried sounds from the Sequential Circuits drum machine. This morphed into a more melodic drums and bass section, almost like a rock band had started playing along. All these ideas were removed early in the process as the track was beginning to suggest a different direction.

    6. The new rhythm/drum ideas involved use of various drum machine sounds, overlaid kick drum sounds for different attack and sustain sounds. The Sidekick 32 drums have been processed in the Akai S950 sampler to create wood block-type sounds. The Sidekick 32 is a 1970s drum machine with pre-set rhythms so the individual sounds have to be edited out. The hi-hat type sounds are filtered white noise, processed with an Eventide Harmonizer. The arrangements were done in Pro-Tools.

    7. The first new bass ideas were to try something repetitive/melodic using bass guitar. These recordings were then remade with the modular replacing the guitar. This idea was abandoned to be replaced with the final bass idea of using just 2, then 3 notes at a quarter of the sequencer tempos. The bass is stereo, the lowest octave centred, higher octaves panned left and right, and also slowly modulated with LFOs. I decided to introduce the bass at the half way stage, around 8 minutes into the track, as I liked the way it appeared to ‘ground’ the track. I had the impression of the track almost hanging in the air for the first 8 minutes without the bass, almost like it was floating.

    8. The original intro to the track was a simple motif using a fixed filter bank and dual filter giving a kind of vocal formant type sound. This was dropped at the last minute to be replaced by a location recording of a stream processed through the modular, a tremolo in time with the track. This location recording was played through the modular initially to try and drive the envelope follower and use the subsequent voltage to control filters. I had wanted to mimic elements of the flow of water with sound shaping techniques. This, of course, did not work. There was, however, a setting for tremolo still patched from a previous recording and this seemed to give an outcome I hadn’t known I’d wanted, a natural sound retaining much of its original character, but with a new element which placed it somewhere new and unexpected.

    9. The outro/coda was originally made to be part of the main body of the track but worked better as separate end section. A sequence of 2 saw waves through a phaser into the lowpass gate, tremolo and a pair of spring reverbs.

    Some of these processes described here have been worked and altered many times. The above is a rough order of simplified events, but this is a process of continually going back to the start, going in circles, constantly looking again at the individual parts, not being afraid to throw away favourite sections or ‘clever’ ideas because the track is better without them.

    I use a lot of slowly shifting automation throughout. Sounds fade in and out almost imperceptibly, not just the main elements but also spring reverbs, which can have the effect of changing the tonal elements and adding resonances more than simply giving the sound a space.

    The most difficult part of this methodology is knowing when to stop, where to draw the line. I like to keep certain elements of the music relatively simple (using as few notes as possible, no key changes), whilst other elements become quite complex (overlaid time signatures and counter-rhythms).


    Hear the results in full on Craven Faults’ Netherfield Works EP, available on limited silver vinyl here.

    Photos by Sara Teresa.

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