We’ve come into 2014 following the few years where ‘analogue’ seems to be one of the most ubiquitous words in underground electronic music. Opal Tapes has been one of the most visible proponents of analogue music in recent times and following a prolific year in which they released no less than 20 tapes, usually released in batches of 4 or 5 simultaneously, you’d be forgiven for having missed out on a few of their stronger releases. Michigan native and London-based Karen Gwyer undoubtedly created one such release, her album Kiki The Wormhole, which followed on a few months after her debut album on No Pain In Pop, Needs Continuum. The latter Gwyer recorded in the months building up to the birth of her son and resulted in a warm, woozy and understandably personal record. The former, as the name would suggest, is a sound distinctly steeped in the space imagery that so prominently influenced the Detroit masters Gwyer is indebted to.
For her latest EP New Roof, Gwyer returns to No Pain In Pop with the lengthier compositions as seen on display on her Opal Tapes release. “Lay Claim To My Grub” sees the slow-burning affection of Needs Continuum left behind for a more immediate and urgent approach. Clocking in at over 15 minutes the track ushers in a more overt techno influence but still retains much of the woozy psychedelic qualities as displayed in her earlier works. The restlessness of “Lay Claim…” is it’s most endearing feature, with head-space filling synth backed with the forceful beat reminiscent of early 90s British techno which eventually subsides leaving the melody to ease the track out. “Nail Bars of The Apocalypse” is an appropriately named (relatively) short interlude which is a downcast beatless organ affair and serves as a suitable break before the imposing 17 minute “Missisissipippi”, the moodiest of trio. Drawing more influence from drone and ambient techno than the first track, “Missisissipippi” trawls with the atmospheric murk reminiscent of Voices from the Lake and moving into vague psychedelic dubbiness which recalls fellow No Pain In Pop-er Forest Swords. The synth line which permeates the entirety of the track ultimately provides a constant and intimidating reference point as other sections come and go through the length of the track providing an interesting contrast with the intimate Needs Continuum by developing a significantly more isolating sound.
Whilst techno has undoubtedly influenced Gwyer’s past works her association with No Pain In Pop indicates a more home-based intention behind them. New Roof with “Lay Claim…” on the contrary provides us with Gwyer’s most overt attempt at creating something with more of an eye to the club. Recent live shows which seen her play with Opal Tapes labelmates in Berlin’s Panorama Bar show, along with New Roof, a willingness on Gwyer’s part to engage further with dance scene. The darker aspects of her sound as explored in the second and third tracks show the breadth of Gwyer’s influence and may hint towards what further directions she can take her music. There may be far from a dearth of artists who are currently techno influenced analogue music but New Roof shows that Gwyer has a greater level of depth and consideration in her music than many of her contemporaries.
Words by Antoin Lindsay