Reviews



Jun 16 2018
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Artist: BELP
Title: Hippopotamus
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: SVS Records / Jahmoni
“Hippopotamus” is a compact 34-minute album of mostly relaxed, dubby, sub-bass heavy beats in complex, dancehall-like patterns, built with low-end sonics reminscent of Leftfield or releases on labels like Hyperdub, over which relatively simple synth chord progressions and digital atmospherics roll steadily and confidently.

Sebastian Schnitzenbaumer (BELP) was born and now lives in Munich but partially grew up on the Seychelles islands, and there are dual European and African influences on show here, as there are the dual influence of classical music training and an obvious love of deep dub and beats.

It’s almost entirely instrumental, with minor exceptions, such as the spoken word material on the opening track. Ending the first side with one minute of pure opera in “By Beauteous Softness” is a confident and effective touch.

Highlights include the rubber-bassed weirdness of “Clinging To A Cloud”, the sci-fi-dancehall crossover of unimaginatively titled “Space Dub”, and the atmospheric jazzy tones of “Time And Again”.

It’s a really well-formed release that doesn’t outstay any welcome. Certainly a release worth appreciating in an environment where you can really enjoy the bass, people who like their electronica dubby and deep should put this right at the top of their wishlists.
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Artist: Ammar 808
Title: Maghreb United
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Glitterbeat Records
An overt fusion between Northwest African traditional sounds and rhythms and sci-fi synth production, Sofyann Ben Youssef’s album as Ammar 808 is a bold bit of confident sample-driven electronica with a fresh-sounding and enjoyable vibe.

The time signatures are a blend as well. Some tracks, like “El bidha wel samra”, follow traditional 3 / 4 and less DJ-friendly patterns, and I’m not even sure what time “Layli” is in. Others, like “Alech Taadini”, have a 4 / 4 arrangement that would allow them to place easily in a broad-minded mix.

“Kahl el inin” is a prime example of the album’s harder-edged moments, that really justifies the use of the 808 in the name- thick, pure, subbass rumbling in a sort of ethno-techno- while by contrast tracks like “Boganga & sandia” have a more celebratory tone that is inherited from the vocal source material which, as far as I can tell, is treated with reverence and left structurally intact while the beats are built around it.

Over ten tracks, almost all under four minutes, it’s a tightly-packed collection of energetic dance numbers that doesn’t outstay its welcome. While it’s not going to win any awards for clever musical fusion, it’s easily carried by a feel-good factor and a deserved confidence in its own quality that definitely deserves a thumbs-up.
Jun 14 2018
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Artist: Tom Hall
Title: Spectra
Format: CD
Label: Elli Records
Describing himself as an audio-visual artist, Tom Hall’s instrumental album “Spectra” sits somewhere between conventional synth-electronica- with hints of symphonic synthwave- and more experimental and drone tones, but with a reverent attitude to tonality and melody that prevents any of the pieces from stepping too extensively into the latter category. Hall openly references a broad set of influences from musique concrete to ‘quasi-pop’ and it’s an interesting melting pot that produces results that, while not revolutionary, certainly have a quality taste.

The release doesn’t retain the energy it begins with when opener “One Fell Swoop” starts, settling down into more atmospheric territory over time, but it’s not without its energetic elements- “Remain”, for example, has strong hints of the rapid-cut granular synthesis heard on BT releases like “This Binary Universe”.

The ‘one track to listen to on Spotify to see if you’ll like the album’ track would probably be “Intersect”, which gives you a strong idea of what’s going on here. The organ drone of “Ebb” could pass as the experimental final track on an EBM album, with some parts sounding like an early Chemical Brothers release with the beats taken off- last track “Last Retreat” reminds me, rightly or wrongly, of a beatless “The Private Psychedelic Reel”. “Flow” runs on similar lines but with some more unusual, ethnic-sounding bowed elements that give it a more distinctive profile.

Working with digital synth sounds commonly found in synthwave and pushing them into slightly more improvised, soundtrack-like and experimental directions, without losing track of their primary associations, “Spectra” is pretty successful without being eye-opening.
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Artist: David Newlyn
Title: Collected Fictions
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Sound In Silence
Though he’s described as an ‘ambient producer’, this initially isn’t ambient music. It’s slightly lo-fi downtempo acoustic-cored electronica that takes relatively conventional instrumental set-ups of piano, guitar, bass and drum machine with long waves of synth pads, and stretches them into slow, melancholy numbers built around steady road-movie grooves.

Tracks like “Hymn To Bleachgreen” do open up with sparser, barren-sounding pads, but “Travelling For A Living”, after a slow plaintive electronica intro, brings the soft drums back in and returns itself a steady step in the direction of electronica MOR. Deliberately low-quality production touches on “Ashes” doesn’t wholly disguise the fact it’s just three minutes of meandering solo piano sorrow.

It’s obviously quite heartfelt at times but there was something about “Collected Fictions” that I just failed to warm to. Somehow it just felt that shade too effortless- and not in a good way- and with a diversity that seemed to come from inconsistency rather than real breadth or inspiration.
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Artist: Kuhl (@)
Title: The Circus of Outrageous
Format: CD
Label: Ubertanz
Rated: *****
“Nothing living should ever be treated with contempt. Whatever it is that lives, a man, a tree, or a bird, should be touched gently, because the time is short". The medley of the thought-provoking track "Civilization", opening "Circus of Outrageous" (some sonorities could vaguely resemble another notorious circus by Death In Vegas) by Kuhl - an interesting musical idea by Cas Greenfield and Mikey Cooling -, quotes "Green Dolphin Street", an old movie by Saville, inspired by a novel of Elizabeth Goudge. In spite of the excessively lovey-dovey tone of some moments of this movie, the quotation seems to be a sort of manifesto for the aesthetic self-assigned mission by this band (later on, they sing "There is power in beauty in the songs we have bought/Bringing order to chaos, we create not destroy/We fight hatred with love/What we learn makes us strong/We crush the spirit in the rivers of blood"). Maybe they took themselves too seriously, but the fact we live at the peak of a really decadent age, where someone like Kuhl (maybe they're not that original) could invite to a violently delicate riot, is almost unquestionable. A delicate riot, we said, as the ones that some 80ies pop bands that could have inspired Kuhl's sound (Yello, Pet Shop Boys, Spandau Ballet) as well as some nostalgic contemporary actors (such as Blue States - check tracks like "Headrush" to feel some similarities with the very last outputs by that pleasing bath of British nostalgia - or other pushers of lazy space or contemporary folk grooves of the 90ies) were maybe dreaming. I wouldn't consider "Circus of Outrageous" a genial album, but it's a multifaceted emotional pack, where the meaningful moments prevail even when they intentionally explore seemingly kitsch or cliched styles ("Uber", Kashablankha" or "You, Me, The Start and Love" - one of those song where a featuring by Louie Austen could be perfect! -). The way of singing some songs like "Zsa Zsa" or "Space Cake" managed to resemble the style by Earl Zinger. Nicely eclectic stuff.
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