P024 – NIAGARA – Apologia

Vinyl LP / CD / Digital
Written and produced by Niagara;
Mastered by Tó Pinheiro da Silva, Artwork by Márcio Matos;
Released September, 2018;

VINYL/DIGITAL: Order from us

A1 – França
A2 – 6:30
A3 – Momento Braga
A4 – 40
B1 – Senhora Do Cabo
B2 – 2042
B3 – Damasco
B4 – Siena
B5 – Graffiti
CD – Via Garibaldi (CD bonus track)
CD – Matriz (CD bonus track)
CD – Cabo Verde (CD bonus track)
CD – O Astro (CD bonus track)


The Donald Duck voice during “França” seems to be adapting to this new world of Niagara. But once you go through the portal, it’s all sunshine and ocean surf.

“Apologia” is the first full-length by the trio of Alberto, António and Sara, expanding their organic machine music into hazy, fresh territories. Most tracks in here are concise, around the 3-minute mark, and they appear to us as openings to a fertile underground stream, ever moving. We are shown glimpses of some other world that simultaneously looks ancient and a patchwork of today’s moods of exotica. Throw in some sparse synth work reminiscent of Blade Runner ‘s skyline and you can hardly tell if this sounds like the future or some distant past.

Longer tracks “6:30” and “Siena” help you settle along this pan-tastic journey, acting as centerpieces to the album. “Siena” displays the loveliest flute vibes and gentle synthetic stabs adding to the groove. Fourth World PLUS.

Vinyl LP; individually hand-painted, hand-stamped copies available for the world.


Unique psychedelic killers from Niagara, mounting a sterling debut album with Lisbon’s Príncipe five years after their first 12”, ‘Ouro Oeste’ [2013]. Trust that they have lost none of the weirdness that’s endeared them to freaks around the world ever since they emerged. If anything they’re stranger, more spaced-out and porous to wild influence…

Outlining Niagara’s definitive description of contemporary exotica, ‘Apologia’ limns a frayed, buzzing sort of “Fourth World PLUS” sound, where the “PLUS” refers to their embrace of noise as an agent of chaos. But it’s not necessarily malefic chaos, and should be taken as a smart acknowledgement of the overlooked yet crucial role that roughness of grain and construction play in contrast with so many clinically smooth and even anodyne efforts from the same, imagined arena of worldly music for a new age.

In allowing for the entropy of time and the inevitable infidelity of attrition to enter their soundsphere, Niagara’s organic machine music keenly reflects a natural world order without the need for algorithmic process. Their world is a fertile interplay of acoustic and electronic sources rendering hazy, fata morgana-like glimpses of musical possibility, practically triangulating the visions of likeminds such as Jamal Moss/Hieroglyphic Being and Dolo Percussion with the explorative precedents of Portugul’s Telectu to realise a fine expression of anachronistic modernism.

Most of the tracks loosely work around 3 minute timeframes, lending a zig-zagging mosaic quality to the tracklist in between its longer parts. Richly colourful spiritual jazz arps and raw machine grooves spring from opener ‘França’, triggering a cascade of ideas that bends between acidic kosmiche in ‘6:30’ to the heatsick boogie gliss of ’40’ and the stark emptiness of ‘Senhora Do Cabo’, to give up the gorgeous, extended flute and acid meditation ’Siena’, and mess with Vangelis-style synth majesty on ‘Via Garibaldi’, before spending their coolest energies in the drowsy Afro-latin swagger of ‘Cabo Verde.’

It’s hard to ignore the fact that Alberto, António and Sara a.k.a. Niagara have distilled their sound to imperfection on ‘Apologia’, resulting one of 2018’s most crucial and vital electronic albums.
Boomkat, September 2018

Portuguese psychedelic house trio Niagara release their killer debut (vinyl) album via Lisbon institution Príncipe, following a string of inventive 12″s, mostly released through their own Ascender label. ‘Apologia’ features a series of really fresh and unique electronic designs, comprising “ethnographic recordings, distant shortwave signals, and idiosyncratic synths” as journalist Philip Sherburne writes. This is really its own little dream world, full of new flavors and an almost childlike kind of openness. It’s really such a solution for tired ears, one of the best albums we’ve heard all year, and an absolute must if you’re into 40% Foda/Maneirissimo, Nuno Cannavaro, Mystic Jungle Tribe….
Amoeba Music, September 2018

Over the past seven years, Lisbon label Príncipe has become closely aligned with the dynamic style known as batida, a homegrown hybrid of Afro-Lusophone diasporic sounds like kuduro, tarraxinha, and kizomba. A little like Chicago footwork, it has gained a global foothold despite marginalized origins, turning producers like DJ Marfox, Nídia, and DJ Nigga Fox into artists of worldwide renown. But Príncipe’s remit extends beyond batida: The label’s second release, issued the same year as DJ Marfox’s debut, came from Photonz, a techno producer with a soft spot for early-’90s trance. The Portuguese electronic trio Niagara soon stepped up with five tracks of wonky, lo-fi house music steeped in Italo disco.

Niagara put out another EP, Ímpar, in 2015—virtually the only non-batida release to appear on Príncipe in the years after the their label debut—and now they are back with their first full-length album. But something has changed in the past three years. Where the toe-scuffing Ímpar tipped its hat to Metro Area and DFA, Apologia finds them building out their own soundworld, one that has less to do with established categories than chasing hard-to-define moods.

As is the case with a lot of questing, imaginative electronic music from recent years—Jan Jelinek, Andrew Pekler, Visible Cloaks—it’s not always easy to tell if this stuff is old or new, or even its hemisphere of origin. Zigzagging synth arpeggios drizzle over rudimentary drum-machine grooves, and conga taps arrive with the slow, steady drip of a leaky faucet; out-of-phase patterns circle each other like a dog chasing its own tail. It’s rickety but beautiful, janky keyboards and intercepted radio signals shot through with stumbling thumb piano and graceful synth pads. With instrumentation heavy on hand percussion, harp-like glissandi, and other new-age trappings, a tropical vibe prevails.

Despite the relatively high humidity, Niagara don’t seem interested in standard-issue chillout. Unease lurks below the surface of their blissfully lopsided machine jams. In the opening “França,” a manic, distorted voice—like Donald Duck on a bender—cuts against placid chimes and rippling ride cymbals. On “6:30,” mismatched synth loops and a dully repetitive groove spin in wobbly circles, while pastel chords flare up in the background, cartoonish and wistful.

Niagara find a certain strength in withholding. Many tracks feel like they could kick off at any moment; throw in a heavy bass drum, and you could confuse them for nightclub barnstormers. But the trio seems to realize that to lean too hard on the drums would be to overwhelm the music’s intricate architecture of interconnected loops. Take “Momento Braga,” in which screen-door squeak, pinball ping, R2-D2 chirps, and earthy marimba weave together seamlessly and glisten in midair, like a spiderweb. An echoing voice bobs at the center of it all, something caught within the song’s sticky matrix.

The most captivating material verges upon pure ambient. That goes for the beat-less “Senhora do Cabo,” just two synth chords drifting above vaporous tones, and the pulse-heavy “Damasco,” where a lilting synth lead trips over leathery congas. It has rhythm but no real forward motion, spinning in place like a mobile. “Via Garibaldi,” a bonus cut not included on the vinyl edition, pairs the tape-delayed synths of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol. II with a ring-modulated voice that sounds like a garbled radio transmission snagged straight from space. (There are four such bonus tracks, and they are among the best here; choose your format wisely.) “O Astro,” another bonus, might be a field recording played back on a malfunctioning reel-to-reel deck.

Niagara’s resourcefulness suggests a castaway’s ingenuity, using unconventional techniques to unlock new territories. Cobbled together out of ethnographic recordings, distant shortwave signals, and idiosyncratic synths, Apologia sets its sights on an elusive state of transcendence. Consider it an escape vehicle to spirit listeners away from the failures of what more efficient, more expensive methods of music-making have wrought.
Pitchfork, September 2018

Since 2013, Niagara has left behind a string of EPs and CDRs mostly through Lisbon-based label Príncipe and their own Ascender imprint. Hardware-only, the trio huddles over card tables and tweaks skeletal parts out of synths and drum machines, feeding them through pedals, mixers and filters. Their music lives off the rickety bpm negotiation of multiple machines set off by hand and overlapping, reverberating electronic tones. Like a botched house band, they’ve developed a dry dance music, kraut-inspired and wiry, that’s both infectious and rich. Príncipe, known for their embrace of the batida sound with a steady stream of unsteady tempos and jilted rhythms, is an oddly fitting as a stable for the group. It’s hard to imagine another label that could welcome Niagara’s aqueous, earthy sound.

Each of Niagara’s releases, though not exactly spick and span, etches out the trio’s naturally bumbling, staggered rhythms just a little bit further. Apologia, their debut full-length and biggest release to date, is marked by a subdued approach to their notably live feel. Highly repetitious, the grooves are present throughout but they are even-keeled and dwell in the mid-range, less demanding than the slightly bass-centric, four-to-the-floor structures the group has dabbled with before. Instead of bass hits planted on the beat, an arpeggiated synth, a tapped rhythm on a ride cymbal or an intricate marimba rhythm is repeated to establish a tempo.

Between the scraped-up vocal samples, loose hand drums, canopies of sparse electronics and the propensity to repeat phrases, Fourth World jargon is certainly in play. The rhythms, though, are at the fore, not the tonal matter, pulling away from purely landscape-inducing imagery and providing too many roots to fix on; the flotsam and jetsam phrases float, but they are pulled along by a gravity, centered around something bigger. A highlight is “Siena,” which nearly doubles the average song length on the album. Calm flutes and earthy timbres are kept in tow by a three-note synth line, filtered to have a slight serration. With ambiguously natural textures, unraveling rhythms, and meandering melodies, a less overt cohesion is developed through timbres’ overlapping qualities and the instruments’ slight cognizance of each other. “Fourth World Plus” is the term Príncipe uses to frame the album, and if nothing else, it is a true remark on the band’s sense of departure from past recordings.

Falling outside the maelstrom of music production transfixed on album cuts, the group’s recordings have typically acted as documents reflecting where the trio is at that moment. And while Apologia is a continuation of their sound, it’s also the group’s most cohesive set to date. They’ve made something undeniably imprinted with their voice and their humbled boogie shines in a new light.
Dusted Magazine, October 2018

As a full band, Niagara already distinguishes itself from their labelmates. A collaborative process, the trio builds psychedelic arrangements from crystalline synth arpeggios and rigid MIDI melodies. Tracks such as ‘França’ and ‘6:30’ have a decidedly analog sound with out-of-sync loops cycling through a wilderness of squelches, distorted vocals, and glissando harp strums. The serene ‘Senhora Do Cabo’ drifts through the same ruins where Richard D. James crafted his SAW series with sub-arctic synth pads and an ocean of reverb. While Principé’s more dance-music focussed releases use percussion to enforce an animated and rickety foundation of rhythm, Niagara employs congas and marimbas in a manner more in-line with a wind-chime; sparse, accidental, and melodic. As a result, the album is simultaneously painstakingly refined and feral, using traditional instrumentation but filtered through plasticky audio workstations of a Fairlight synthesizer.

In summary, and as a last-ditch attempt to bypass all the music-nerd jargon above, Niagara’s Apologia is the sound of Steve Reich tossing Dino Dino Jungle into a blender and washing it down with some cough syrup. I’m into it.
Boston Hassle, October 2018


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