'Smokers Delight' by Nightmares On Wax was - and still is - a pinnacle LP of our time
It was in 1948 that Columbia Records first starting cutting records from vinyl instead of the previous standard, shellac. The new medium allowed finer groves to be cut and playback speed to half. The result was that one side of a 12” record could play for more than 20 minutes—rather than five—and up to ten songs could be cut into each one. The album format was born.
For decades it remained relatively unchanged. CD and tape formats offered longer playing lengths (but DJ Sprinkles was one of the first to really capitalise on digital storage with a 30 hour piano solo filling a single 4GB MP3 file, the longest allowed on Mac and Windows at the time) so artists and audiences continued to fawn over the full length.
Then came iPods, shuffle and streaming services which all allowed—even encouraged—people to cherry pick their favourite tracks. No longer did you have to listen to the album as an artist intended. With that in mind many have responded by front loading songs to get your attention. Or by serving up an ‘album’ that’s actually just a collection of bangers with little nuance or narrative.
Vinyl LPs are becoming more popular than ever before
This is particularly prevalent in dance music, where producers feel compelled to get an album out asap, often when they don’t have the skills and ideas required to make one necessary. Still, they persist. Partly to win the extra press attention needed for gigs to keep coming in, and partly to try and legitimise themselves as A Serious Artist.
Despite ever more of these unnecessary albums, the format itself has never been more important. It’s an opportunity for an artist to indulge themselves and step out side their usual remit. Often this results in hackneyed intros, outros and ambient interludes, but sometimes it results in something spectacular. Something beautiful. Something you feel compelled to shout about to anyone who will listen.
Some sort of underlying story or sense of progression will always be key to a good album. Light must be balanced with dark, ups with downs and fasts with slows, or else you just get a homogenised mess that doesn’t keep a listener’s attention. Aphex Twin did it with Selected Ambient Works Volume II, Nightmares on Wax with Smoker’s Delight and Goldie did it with Timeless. Good albums become the soundtrack to your life: they are things you reach for to return to a certain period in your life, to augment your current reality—be that a comedown, break up or a BBQ—or to take you to someone else’s: see Flying Lotus’ Los Angeles, an album so beautifully evocative of the producer’s humid hood you can be in drizzly Leeds but still feel the warmth of the LA sun.
Goldie performing 'Timeless' with the Heritage Orchestra @ Wilderness Festival, photo credit: Style Me Sunday
With all this in mind, this month is a good one for dance albums: there is the broad and cinematic Larry Heard album Cerebral Hemispheres, which takes you on a wide ranging trip. In the process it touches on the sort of melodic basslines and jazzy keys that stood Heard apart 30 years ago and still do to this day. With some seriously lounge moments next to the more club ready house, it’s an album for all occasions.
Then there are the visceral bangs of SCB aka Scuba’s Caibu, which soundtracks a dystopian future through a techno lens. The drums are steel plated and booming, but as well as the physical impact, there are plenty of moody synths that create foggy, grainy atmospheres for the mind. Interspersed with spoken word samples and subtle moments of euphoria, it offers little rays of hope in amongst the doom and gloom of the grooves.
And then we have Brawther’s Transient States which deals in silky electronic house with sidesteps into dub and hip hop that are compelling and coherent. As the title suggest, it finds the producer offering a glimpse of of his influences and inspirations as much as the smooth dance floor weapons he’s well known for and all adds up to much more than a standard house LP.
In light of all this, we challenge you to turn off your phone, lay back and actually listen to one of these with no other distractions. You’ll soon forget the outside world and remember the unique thrill that real long players can, and should, offer.
Also check out last years podcast mixed by Goldie ::