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Four Tet - Live at Alexandra Palace London, 8th and 9th May 2019 Music Album Reviews

Kieran Hebden’s new live album reminds us that he is a stellar performer, not just a producer.
The British producer Kieran Hebden has one of the most distinctive signatures in electronic music. First, a gravelly drum machine; then, some jewel-toned synth pads; and, finally, a strip of harp or chimes or wordless cooing, unspooling like wrinkled ribbon.

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Efrim Manuel Menuck/Kevin Doria - are SING SINCK, SING Music Album Reviews

This joint project from Efrim Manuel Menuck and Kevin Doria has an overwhelming radiance to match Menuck's work in Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

Efrim Manuel Menuck’s solo recording career began as a counterpoint to his main band’s grandiosity. In contrast with his two main bands—the instrumental post-rock ensemble Godspeed You! Black Emperor and the more vocal and visceral Thee Silver Mt. Zion—his 2011 solo debut, Plays “High Gospel,” was a brittle and frank rumination on the deaths of loved ones and the dawn of new fatherhood. The reedy voice that gave Thee Silver Mt. Zion’s epics their edge sounded wounded and frail when stripped of bombast. But amid High Gospel’s piano hymns and meditative mantras, Menuck also unleashed “A 12-Pt. Program for Keep on Keepin’ On,” a blinding snowstorm of digitized drones and processed vocals that disrupted the otherwise-somber mood. In hindsight, Menuck was building himself a trapdoor—one that’s allowed him to reorient his solo efforts deeper into the realm of experimental electronics.


His latest effort stems from the tour for his 2018 solo album, Pissing Stars, where Menuck performed alongside Kevin Doria of avant-ambient vets Growing. Their onstage collaboration has blossomed into a new entity with the coming-attraction-billboard name “Efrim Manuel Menuck & Kevin Doria are SING SINCK, SING.” Recorded with, by their count, “six oscillators and three large amplifiers,” the duo’s first album together is practically blinding in its radiance. The result feels as overwhelming as anything in the Godspeed/TSMZ canon.

Across his myriad projects, Menuck’s ideological concerns have remained constant: the humiliating effects of capitalism, the authoritarian power of the state, the strength and solace of community. And since becoming a father at the start of the decade, Menuck has regularly invoked his son, reframing these macro ideas through an intensely personal lens. If Pissing Stars reflected the cruel, chaotic world that every new parent worries about bringing their child into, then SING SINCK, SING emits the fragile hope that the next generation will be able to steer toward a better future.

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You can immediately sense that change in tenor on the album’s engrossing opening track. Rather than simply rail against abuses of power, Menuck instead asks “Do the Police Embrace?”—a quizzical entreaty delivered inside a carnivalesque swirl of electro-loops. It’s the sound of someone who’s momentarily hit pause on the outside world to get lost inside their own curious thoughts. When Menuck asks, “Do they dance and do they love” and “Do they even have friends,” it feels like an attempt to disarm the oppressor by appealing to whatever’s left of their basic dignity. As his mind drifts toward his family (“I worry for my son”), “Do the Police Embrace?” starts to feel less like a protest song than a sincere plea for love and empathy in a world that so often denies it.

“Fight the Good Fight” and “We Will” are companion affirmations of perseverance—tender, comforting folk hymns that sound like they’re being beamed up into a UFO. But the album’s uncanny fusion of brutalism and bliss reaches its apex with “Joy Is On Her Mount and Death Is On Her Side.” Unlike some of Menuck’s previous work, SING SINCK, SING makes no explicit reference to his Jewish heritage, but with “Joy Is On Her Mount,” he’s effectively reciting yizkor for the natural environments ravaged by the ceaseless march of capitalism. As is the case with all the songs here, Menuck’s voice is only intermittently legible, his words momentarily acquiring definition like a radio station your car stereo catches as you’re driving between cities. But on SING SINCK, SING, that obfuscation is a feature, not a bug. As Menuck and Doria remind us, there is still beauty in this world—you just have to cut through the dark clouds to find it.


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