Despite his début album making Contact's top picks of 2014, Sphere-head Ryan Hunn remains something less than a household name. Sure, there have been lesser career accolades than getting a CM gong on his CV so far - stuff like being chosen to deliver DJ sets for Radiohead - but surely we reasoned our thumbs up for Ghosts of Then And Now should've sprinkled it's magic over the Illum Sphere brand, only for it to fall short of the normal commercial turbo our good taste normally applies.
We take this kind of thing seriously and on Glass, so does he, consciously jettisoning the multi-modal style of its predecessor in favour of something more orthodox and set in a narrower context: where before there was a blindfolded sense of mystery about what came next, the Mancunian producer has chosen a slightly blanker, more austere canvas this time round.
Hunn has described this scaling back as giving his music a "Different pace and energy" but the reality is something more prosaic; where before his default was to break into an established vibe by almost ejecting it from the room, now he relies on immersion and more subtle changes of tone. The result is a Europhile bonfire of grooves, led by Fall Into Water's moody dream/mare scape, itself a maze of both straight ahead techno and hypnotic washes, the two layers welded into one sinuous amalgam.
Continue reading: Illum Sphere - Glass Album Review
10) Illum Sphere - Ghosts of Then & Now
Former occasional turntablist for those funky divas Radiohead, Ryan Hunn created a record that blended jazz, drum & bass, hip-hop and soul amongst many others, channelling his famous live sets into an always fascinating whole.
9) Downliners Sekt - Silent Ascent
Fabrizio Rizzin and Pere Solé echoed everyone and no-one on this, their third album. Others made comparisons to Autechre, Burial and Booka Shade, but the reality was the duo were obsessively working their own deeply underground but still magical groove.
8) Objekt - Flatland
I'm not even sure we know definitively what "Dark Techno" is, but this second album for TJ Hertz under the Objekt banner proved to be far less dystopian than some anticipated. Flatland in truth was just as indebted to Detroit as Berlin, but it's sleek, clear lines were a lesson in intelligent design.
Continue reading: Andy Peterson's Picks Of The Year 2014
Readers won't be surprised to learn that Illum Sphere is not the artist's real name (it's actually Ryan Hunn), but this odd choice of handle - even by electronic music standards - hasn't affected his gradual rise to prominence. Proving that not being a household name counts for little in prestige terms, the Mancunian DJ/producer/promoter has remixed for the XX and spun the tunes for Radiohead, along with releasing stuff on a plethora of to-be-heard-on labels such as Tectonic, Young Turks and, finally, Ninja Tune.
Over the years, Hunn/Sphere has become known for eclectic mixes that hop from genre to genre like a pollen hunting bee, and 'Ghosts of Then And Now' follows a similarly restless path, never really concerned with establishing a discernible groove. Investing in broken beats and the occasional foray into the periphery of dubstep aside, his best work here is where he's joined by singing collaborators. When this happens, the abstraction is merely rough edges, so 'Love Theme From Forgiveness' (with vocals from Shadowbox) is that kind of 22nd century jazz created all too eloquently by Flying Lotus, whilst 'At Night' - with Mai Nestor - is gorgeously lucid sounding drum & bass and closer 'Embryonic' (Shadowbox again) expertly denuded R&B.
This might sound like a whistle-stop tour of every form of electronic creative expression in the last 20 years, but, broadly speaking, that's because this is what you get. Alone with just his laptop, Hunn is just as inventive, 'Sleeprunner' morphing between bleeps and soulful keys, whilst 'It'll Be Over Soon' trades familiar low slung beats with glitchy, polymorphic beats. The jaded might say that much of this has been the way of the slightly wonky crew for the last few years, but some trace elements aside, the Sphere ethos is about creating a meaner tune than the rest. This invention is realised on the album's title track, on which the subdued and the extrovert nestle together with insistent bass and vintage sounding organ melodies overlapping to convey an almost Caribbean vibe. A retro feel, and one further built on by 'Near The End'; a Miles Davies type fugue which is brave simply enough to be tried, almost no matter what it ends up being.
Continue reading: Illum Sphere - Ghosts Of Then And Now Album Review