Sound Bytes : Ninja Tune Special

If you’ve been snoozing for the past six months, it’s time to catch up on all the latest Ninja Tune releases, boasting a range of genres, but with that special familiar flavor. Here are some of my favorites which I highly recommend you check out. Incidentally, I noticed that most of these are now available via Bandcamp, where you can grab a lossless digital copy, so I linked them up accordingly! I hope that you enjoy!

Portico - Living Fields
Portico
Living Fields

There was something instantly familiar in the sound of Portico. From the deep rolling bass, to the atmospheric textures, to the minimalist and sparse layers of vocals, to the voice(s) behind those vocals. I finally looked at the credits and nodded in recognition of Jono McCleery‘s appearance on the four out of nine tracks on Living Fields. Besides McCleery, whose 2011 album titled There Is on Counter Records I have previously praised, Portico’s release on Ninja Tune features guest performances by Joe Newman (of alt-J) and Jamie Woon. “Living Fields is an album of catharsis and redefinition, born of a desire to create newness out of loss and change. Portico make music which moves forward towards distant places while offering rare intimacy as well, arriving somewhere between structured pop songs and a disintegrating ambience, a unique blend of the sublunary and the celestial.” The reference to new beginnings may stem from the recent departure of Nick Mulvey who previously made up the Portico Quartet, leaving Duncan Bellamy, Milo Fitzpatrick and Jack Wyllie to reinvent themselves, while leaving all the emotion still raw and exposed. This melancholy drenched state of mind is evident on my favorite pieces on the album, such as “101”, “Where You Are”, “Bright Luck” and “Brittle”. Fans of James Blake, Apparat, The Acid, and even the experimental reworks of Thom Yorke, will feel right at home with the electro-vocal explorations of song structures that easily create the soundtrack for all the club goers, the all-night drive-byers, and the early morning headphone commuters.
Amon Tobin - Dark Jovian
Amon Tobin
Dark Jovian

By now Amon Tobin needs no introduction. The 2011 ISAM and its accompanying live spectacle impressed the crowds with the ongoing evolution of sound design and production, building upon cinematic soundscapes, altered reality soundtracks and foley room theatrics. Dark Jovian is the first release since ISAM and, as the title suggests, it explores the darker side of “scores for imaginary movies” featuring a reference to planet Jupiter. Nearly beatless, with the exception of the complimenting remixes by Lee Gamble, Logos and Eprom, the EP traverses a sonic scenery of dreams and nightmares, rising towards its orchestral heights and then diving into abstract abyss. The five pieces evoke a feeling of vastness, floating through a space of void, within a very picturesque visual (and aural) vista. “I was really trying to interpret a sense of scale, like moving towards impossibly giant objects until they occupy your whole field of vision, planets turning, or even how it can feel just looking up at night,” says Tobin about this Record Store Day exclusive release. “I wanted it to pace very slowly, the way far off objects can seem still until you look away for a while and find they’ve shifted some distance when you look back.” Citing John Williams, Gerry Goldsmith and even Gyorgy Ligeti as influences, Tobin indulges in mastering a genre close to his heart. Highly recommended for soundtrack fans of PrometheusOblivion and Gravity, and of course everything Amon Tobin. Pick this up directly from Ninja Tune as a set of 2 single-sided 180g white etched 12-inchers, housed in a transparent plastic box.
Romare - Projections
Romare
Projections

I haven’t heard of Archie Fairhurst’s Romare project before, but given the fact that only after a few EPs on Bristol-based Black Acre he gets snatched for the London’s prevailing Ninja Tune, I had to give his debut Projections a spin. My first impressions were immediately aligned with the label’s focus on those records that leave their imprint on our minds: jazzy, grimy, housy and somehow African slash Latin American. Deriving his name from Romare Bearden, the American artist and writer who depicted African-American life in collages and cut-and-paste art, Fairhurst pays cultural homage to his field of academical study, using similar elements and techniques in his music. Images of Bonobo, Four Tet, Chemical Brothers and even DJ Shadow surface to the edges of awareness, where the early memories of driving a Celica with open windows and broken air-conditioning, are littered with spilled coffee, blown out speakers and warped cassettes.
Jaga Jazzist - Starfire
Jaga Jazzist
Starfire

With only five tracks to get through, the depth of Starfire is misleading. On “Big City Music” alone, clocking at over 14 minutes, the Norwegian 8-piece instrumental band explores numerous subjects that at once sound like main themes and remixes all in one. It is a lot less jazzy and  lot more cinematic – a welcome exploration in the 21st year of composition for this Ninja Tune veteran, still held together by Lars Horntveth, who in 2012 moved from Norway to Los Angeles and got inspired by the city’s space, light and sound. “Starfire is a beautiful, visceral, utterly exhilarating piece of work that keeps spiraling up and away, structurally complex, musically rigorous, but without ever losing touch with a certain earthy sensuality and human sympathy.” It’s hard to pin down exactly the genre of Starfire, and that, in itself, is its subtlety and motive – a psychedelic journey with twists and turns to keep you guessing. Perhaps one of the best Jaga Jazzist releases to date.
©

Words by HC