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Artist: LYCIA
Title: In Flickers
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Projekt Records (@)
Rated: *****
With “In Flickers” (2018) LYCIA present an excellent, unpretentious, very intimate and at the same time emotionally charged album (which is not a contradiction as LYCIA were able to demonstrate with songs such as “She” or “The Path”).

The programmed drum patterns are carefully arranged, unobtrusive, but always supportive - mostly mixed in the overall sound: very aesthetic.
The chord progressions of each song are simple / modest, but very fitting and aesthetic as well.
Rock-inspired, heavily distorted guitar and bass are gently embedded in synth sound voicings and fine melody ornaments. They all merge into big ambient soundscapes, over which the fragile, breathy voices of Mike VanPortfleet and Tara VanFlower lie like fog.

The vocals are also kept very simple: very fine, tender and intimate. With Mike, the vocals are more breathy (he might like to show a little more of his vocal sound!). Really nice melodies (mostly “ahh” backing melodies) very clearly sung and with a very authentic, natural sounding voice from Tara. The two voices are really well combined.

The whole album seems to be from one single source: a defined, very meditative mood, with a lot of space and an overall dark-melancholic spirit. Everything is coordinated, partially almost a bit monotonous, mostly calm and with generally little mood and sound contrasts, but with atmospheric-distorted and milky-foggy soundscapes, which definately has its charm. The sounds are very well chosen for all instruments and well-coordinated!

If there's one thing I miss about this album, it's the strong contrasts and tensions. Everything follows everything. Sometimes I really wanted at least a few more powerful sounds to be set in the compositions. The individual instruments and synth sounds could - at least in phases - be played more independently and take up a little more leeway. In this regard, I particularly like “Rewrite” because the bass here is strikingly more present than usual, which is really good! Or “25 Years”, in which the vocals of Mike and Tara are set a little stronger. In addition, this song has more metallic, penetrating sounds (somehow bell-like) coupled with more massive drums. Such elements fit perfectly and do not detract from the overall meditative mood.

Most of the pieces sound like they were played or sung through fog, very atmospheric and in places almost romantic-beautiful, in a somber way - obscure and dreamy (pieces like "She", "Mist", "34 Palms", "Late Night Solitude”, “Autumn Into Winter”). Songs like “A Failure” or “Mist” are a more rhythmic. I find songs such as “In Flicker”, “The Path”, “She” and “Rewrite” particularly well done, because they are very defined and original, with all the musical peculiarities of LYCIA. “The Path” is extremely atmospheric and expressive and my personal favorite (great drum programming!).

A wonderful album! Especially for those special bitter-sweet, melancholic, dreamy moments when you want to immerse your soul in dark and gloomy moods.

Personal listening tip: “The Path”

What went through my head spontaneously: it could be exciting if there was a collaboration between LYCIA and the thereminist and singer Dorit Chrysler - at least for one song. I have the impression that they would fit together extremely well.

Credits:
John Fair (synth & drum programs)
David Galas (bass, synth & drum programs)
Tara VanFlower (vocals)
Mike VanPortfleet (vocals, guitars, synth & drum programs)

Dirk VanPortfleet (chau gong)

Mastered by Martin Bowes
All songs written, performed, recorded and produced by LYCIA.
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Artist: Aidan Baker & Gareth Davis
Title: Invisible Cities II
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Karlrecords
Two years after the debut collaboration from Aidan Baker on guitar and Gareth Davis on clarinet, here’s the sequel. Five long, atmospheric and meditative compositions built from loose melodies, with plenty of post-production layering and reverb effects. For the most part the clarinet is performed conventionally, while the guitar work is more invested into the dark atmospherics and effects work.

The first and longest piece “Hidden” sets an interestingly ambiguous tone that different listeners will interpret differently as either relaxing or sinister depending on whether they latch on to the gentle and pure clarinet sounds, or some of the lower rumbling drones and near-vocal grumbling below it and the crisp radio interference noises it ends with.

This tone persists without any great diversion through the deep-jungle-invoking sonic imagery of “Eyes”, through the sombre graveyard tones of “The Dead”, and into the barren, empty underworld of “Continuity”. The differences between pieces is fairly subtle throughout, though final track “Names” is notable for losing some of the rumblier tones in favourite of a more sedate palette, as though the previous tracks were set at night and this is a form of dawn to finish.

The consistency is both a blessing and a curse. Overall it’s a very coherent and quite single-minded 43-minute work, setting a filmic atmosphere- but any film that painted only one mood for this long would be accused of being dull. Such is the danger with this- if you’re not completely immersed and engaged with it, it may well leave you cold.
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Artist: Robert Haigh
Title: Black Sarabande
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Unseen Worlds
“Black Sarabande” is a collection of eleven short original piano works from Robert Haigh. Some, such as the title track or “Lady Lazarus”, are purist solo piano recordings, while others, like “Strangers On The Lake”, frame the piano in the centre of soft electronic ambience and gentle synthetic and sympathetic accompanying melody elements. Subtle production touches, like the backwards notes in “Wire Horses”, tip this release over into an electronica category, but only just.

The result is always spacious and calm, and sits in conventional piano ballad territory, painting sound pictures that are thoughtful, melancholic, sometimes romantic, but never really energetic.

Highlights include the icy, barren-sounding “Ghosts Of Blacker Dyke” (which was released as a single last year), which feels strongly pitched into soundtrack territory, and the memorable and faintly haunting melody in “Arc Of Crows”. The chord sequence in “Progressive Music” is calling out to be turned into a trance tune, Wim Mertens style.

Over the course of 39 minutes, though, there is a sense that it’s all a little flat. There are only occasional hints of dischord- the unexpected odd synth-strings in “Painted Serpent” feel like a new voice, albeit an oddly dated-sounding one- but overall the drama is limited just to slow introspection and doesn’t successfully progress. This leaves you feeling like you have spent two-thirds of an hour staring at a single painting. A beautiful sound, for sure, but it would have benefitted from braving its way further away from the conventional.
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Artist: Bouzidi
Title: Lazy Monday
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Tanzgemeinschaft
“Lazy Monday” befits its title for the most part, with the title track of this digital EP rolling out a steady synth house groove that takes a very relaxed, walking-pace attitude to life with its staccato synths and slow builds. What’s interesting, eventually, is that it manages to get somewhere in the end, bringing in melodic elements that start playing against each other in quite complex and unexpected ways that bring life into a track that starts out feeling like it may have nothing along those lines to offer.

B-side “Eve Master” has a more urgent percussion base, and slightly more freneticism in its high synth line, but the overall structure is again rather smooth and uneventful.

The package is rounded off by Alexis Tyrel’s remix of “Lazy Monday”, which offers up a fairly different vibe with squelchy low effect noises and a really rather loveable and quirky house groove that, for me, makes it the standout of the pack.

It’s a very casual pack of house tracks, with a confidence and a high production standard, but which seem to revel in their own lack of individuality.
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Artist: Dicepeople (@)
Title: Destroyer
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Syndicol Music (@)
Rated: *****
London's Dicepeople are back with a new 4-track EP, the band being distilled down to Zmora on vocals and Matt Brock - music (electronics, keyboards, drum programming) and backing vocals. This streamlining allows Dicepeople to get their point across more succinctly establishing a firm, 21st century cyber-synthpop sound. Zmora's sexy but icy vocals sound like what I think Arisa (the female robot from the Netflix Russian series 'Better Than Us') would sound like if she decided to front a band. Truth be told, more than half of Zmora's lyrics on these songs are spoke-sung, which although it suits the material, the results are generally better when she actually sings the lyrics. The first track, "Rollercoaster," is the obvious commercial single as it has the best melodic content and a decent hook. Straight ahead and fairly uncluttered (for Dicepeople) it does make an impact in its club-friendly manner, even if not a huge one. Brock amps up the atmos on "Siren Song" with cavernous orchestration making this one sound much larger than it really is. Zmora's vocals on it are rather diminutive in comparison. "Don't Save Me" reminds me of some '80s/'90s female-fronted coldwave/synthpop bands such as XEX, Adult, Book of Love, and others along those lines. It's very good filler and dance fodder but doesn't rise much beyond that. The title track is plenty rhythmic with talky-echoed verses and a stutter-doppler chorus that could garner some positive club response. If anything, it seems like Dicepeople are moving away from the conceptual in favor of the accessible, and for them that could be a pretty good thing. Likely these tracks come off better live too.
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