Music Reviews

Artist: Emily A. Sprague
Title: Water Memory / Mount Vision
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: RVNG Intl.
Emily A. Sprague’s two most recent EP’s- 2017’s “Water Memory” and 2018’s “Mount Vision”- were previously only available digitally on Bandcamp (where they can still be found), or on limited edition cassettes. Here, they have been combined into a single 75-minute release and (I think) available on LP and CD for the first time.

This is detailed and delicate ambient music infused with innocence and positivity. Soft pad patterns, smooth-enveloped synth melody notes, distant-sounding atmospherics and low hums pervade. Although the promotional material makes references to earthy elements and human interactions, I’d suggest this result is more abstract than this would imply- it’s peaceful, pure and largely synthetic, but not in a bad way.

“Water Memory” is mainly built from two pieces- the 13-minute “A Lake”, a soft twinkling warm drone, and the 16-minute title track in two parts, a slightly more complex work with a revolving melodic pattern that unfolds and unravels peacefully. The first album is filled out by shorter pieces “Dock” and “Your Pond” which feel a little sketchier, the latter in particular feeling a little glib with its warm organ-ish keys.

“Mount Vision” is more flatly divided into three ‘Synth’ pieces that continue the warm ambient lineage and the gentle dalliance with melody (“Synth 2” assuredly the highlight, “Synth 3” sounding like one of Jean-Michel Jarre’s more freeform noodling numbers but performed with one of Moby’s synths), and two soft piano pieces that sit somewhere between romantic and melancholic and never stray too far from simplicity, and a gentle, watery ‘Huckleberry’ interlude.

Both albums are preceded by short (around a minute long) poem pieces which were not included on the original releases. These are not unpleasant, but even though I’m not accustomed to the original poem-less releases, there still seems to be something about them that doesn’t quite fit. For the purposes of sleep playlisting, those two will be getting skipped.

If you don’t already own either release, and if mellow ambient music with no challenges or surprises is something you need more of in your life- perhaps for meditation or sleep- then this is certainly worth checking out.
Artist: Terrible at Small Talk (@)
Title: The Abandoned Express Doubts
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
I thought I recognized the "fertanish" in the artist's email address; turns out I reviewed one of his releases when he went by the Fertanish moniker back in 2012. Terrible at Small Talk/Fertanish is Bill Murphy from Washington, D.C., and TAST is the most recent moniker evolved from Fertanish. The new name reflects an evolution to free experimental music, absent of vocals and blessed with a disintegration of common musical structure. Terrible At Small Talk’s first release, The Abandoned Express Doubts, is initially a composition of chaos that accepts peaceful interludes. As it continues, contentment becomes the focus while chaos is welcomed as a supportive friend to maintain balance.

The main album consists of four lengthy tracks - Superhuman (Part 1); Stauros (Part 2); Solitary (Part 3); Sepulchre (Part 4). The accompanying EP contains one long track clocking in at 25:38. That one is a composition for WTW8800YW0, a recording of sounds made while replacing a bearing on a washing machine. Actually, it is a remarkably rhythmic odyssey that should certainly enrich your life and perspective in the mellower side of the experimental noise genre. (There's actually a section in it towards the end that sounds a bit like a gamelan orchestra.) As to the main work, this was composed mixing cello, piano, guitar, guzheng, analog synths and found sounds to create a composition based on the idea that peace and chaos can exist in harmony. "Superhuman" (17:06) sounds like a jangling drone, with numerous overdubbed elements and repeated occurrences that does manage to change to a degree over time in its cacophonous symphony of odds and sods. This is the kind of piece you might expect to have heard from La Monte Young with John Cale and Lou Reed in the 1970s if only they had collaborated on such an album.

"Stauros" (18:36) is minimal compared to the maximality of "Superhuman" working with individual feedbackish tones turned drones picking up richer noise variants along the way. Somewhere near the middle some improvised plucked notes hint at an abstract oriental melody and this is sewn throughout the rest of the piece. It ends on a much more rhythmic skein than it began, but ultimately in drone again. "Solitary" (13:09) begins with hazy, shoegazey guitar that morphs into sustained drone tones with a slowly pulsating yet shimmery effect. There are deeply chambered background incidents (of who knows what) along the way adding some uneasiness to the otherwise restive ambience. By the time piece is nearly over though, the uneasiness has grown and looms large over what otherwise would have been a tranquil excursion. "Sepulchre" (13:18) is the darkest of the four tracks, employing more "found sounds" and sonic elements not previously realized in the other tracks. While the main element is a modulated low drone, there are loops of tinkling bells, obscured voices, bowed cello tones, hollowish noise, and other sonic effluvia. It sounds as if it were recorded in a tunnel; simultaneously spacious yet claustrophobic. I suppose it does live up to its title. Noise-drone for those who prefer their noise toned down, and drones tuned up.
Artist: Nature of Wires (@)
Title: Reborn
Format: CD EP
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
I haven't been this excited about a synthpop band in a long, long time. Maybe you've heard of Nature of Wires, an echo of their beginnings in the early '90s before they faded into obscurity. From the UK (Herefordshire) and originally formed in the 1986 by Gary Watts and Andrew Stirling-Brown, and later joined by Lady B (Sarah Bouchier), they released one now-impossible to find album called 'Modus Operandi' toured a bit, then disappeared. Watts re-emerged in 2015 and teamed up with someone by the name of Countess M. for an album called 'Cyber Rendezvous'(2016). I checked the album out, and it was okay, kind of Gary Numanesque, and the electronically processed vocals of Countess M. sounded more like a guy than a Countess. They weren't particularly strong, but plenty cold and alien. Synthwork was good, but nothing I'd call a hit in the songwriting department. I'd give it a B-. Flash-forward to 2019, Lady B. is back, and so is Andrew Stirling-Brown, and 'Reborn' proves this band is in it for keeps, not just shits and giggles. The opener, "Try" is a killer all the way around, and Lady B.'s vocal recalls the power and glory of Yaz's Alison Moyet. This is EXACTLY what's needed to propel this simple but effective song to the top of the chart. Everything about it screams MEGA-HIT. If it were released in 1983 or so, these folks would be synthpop icons and still collecting royalty checks. Few synthpop songs I’ve heard written in this millennium have this much commercial potential. I’m dead nuts positive that if "Try" were entered in 2019 Eurovision song contest, it would have done way better than Michael Rice's piece of crap that doomed the UK to finish dead last. Not that Nature of Wires is the kind of act that appeals Eurovision's uber-commercial fans and judges, but even they would have had to respect this talent. "Human Nature," the song that follows is almost as good as the opener; the hook isn’t quite as strong, but Lady B's shows a lot of soul in the vocal department. The deeper into this EP, the darker the tracks get, but lose no melodic appeal. "Suffer" is good and does not stray from the formula that has worked so well for the previous tracks. Final track - "Fight" delivers similar quality. All along the way, the synthwork and rhythm by the guys is designed to support, not upstage the vocals, Dark, but not too dark; dance-worthy but not beat-overwhelming; just the right combination of everything. It's almost like this band studied exactly what makes hit material in the synthpop genre, put their own dark spin on it and struck gold. It’s serious, rather than frivolous synthpop, but still serious fun with an emotional kick. This outfit is one to be reckoned with, and I can't wait for the release of their full album 'Modus' this summer.
May 23 2019
Artist: SPIME.IM
Title: Exaland
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: -OUS
Turin-based SPIME.IM make instrumental electronica, technically, but as you may have come to expect from the -ous label, it’s deconstructed and made wantonly obtuse and hard to categorise. Playful messing about with synth sounds that might ordinarily be found in electropop or synthwave, pulling them into extreme abstracts at times, feels as much an exercise in pushing expectations towards limits as it does a practice of making listenable music.

It’s a half-hour-long set consisting of seven non-sequentially (obtusely) roman-numbered tracks, which stand alone and could have warranted names. Some of these are accessible, for sure. The rubber shifting bass tone of “XI” contrasts nicely with the full-bodied melodic synth pads that run over it, and sounds fantastic played loud. “II” has moments of rich cinematic gut-punching tension, final track “VII” mellows out to a peaceful conclusion, while “VI” (*not* the track before “VII”) builds into something that could defendably be called modern trance and club music, to the extent that you begin to wonder whether you’ve pressed the wrong play button, a danceable track which abruptly (obtusely) drops-out mid-bar as soon as your hands have started heading in an airwards direction.

The less accessible moments include “XII”, which takes the retriggering into high-BPM bombardment territory, and “I” which is much sparser, with a pleasant pitch-shifting bass tone, but a structure which has a strong appearance of complete randomness and a deliberate intention to defy pattern-spotters.

Ticking boxes in both ‘electronica’ and ‘art’, it’s a very listenable short album (or is it a long EP? Old labels no longer apply.) It will appeal to glitch and Aphex Twin appreciators looking for something fresh and stylish.
Artist: David Chalmin
Title: La terre invisible
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Ici d'ailleurs
Despite having a very strong track record as a composer, a producer and as a recording engineer, this is David Chalmin’s first proper solo album- but it’s a work of such assured confidence and accomplished production work that it’s hard to believe it’s technically a debut.

This 43-minute, 6-track album belongs at the most intelligent and thoughtful edges of progressive techno and electronica, with a collection of moody synth pads, rich atmospherics, rolling basses and steady sonic evolutions that almost commands you to pay attention to the details- but it’s also offset by a classical music aesthetic, exhibited mostly in the pure piano sounds heard in tracks like “Lumiere blanche”, which provide an obvious yet still very effective contrast to the distorted electronics. Opener “A l'aube” sets the tone well in this regard as a prelude, but second track “Les ames perdues” is more indicative of the release as a whole, underpinned as it is by a soft 4/4 rhythm that regulates the pace of this tightly-planned sonic journey.

“Image Nocturnes” has a rich combination of outer space atmospherics and slightly retro sci-fi synth sounds that strongly recalls Etienne Forget’s work on “Missions”, and which would sound equally at home soundtracking a picture or narrative that is both huge and introspective at the same time. “Vertige” reminds me of what happened when the Chemical Brothers went “Further”, taking sounds from the dark but still dancefloor-friendly edge of EDM and twisting them into a harder and more distorted journey, while “Matiere noire” in a way has the structure of 90’s trance music (the good stuff), with its offbeat synth bass note and plinkier arpeggios, but slowed and pulled into shadows.

As melodic instrumental electronica goes, this is premium-quality material, with a rich sense of composition and melody combined with sharp and detailed production. This release jumps to the top of its class.
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