Music Reviews



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Artist: Electric Bird Noise
Title: Hearn-Roberts-Strong-Watts
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Records
South Carolina-based Silber regular Electric Bird Noise has been expanding the breadth of sound on his releases, always fusing drone, ambient and jazz into distinct shapes but now with increased emphasis on percussion. The title of the release and the song titles are all namechecks of the guest artists who’ve joined Brain Lea McKenzie this time around. The effect has drawn this release unexpectedly into the world of instrumental prog rock. Dynamic and powerful drumming, discordant guitar jangling, long chord beds, suddenly tempo changes- there’s a revelry in musical virtuosity here that feels live and energetic, and unusually positive, yet also pointed. “Steve Strong III” has a crescendo worthy of a full late 60’s wig-out., while “Hearn-Roberts I” brings to mind Robert Fripp in an angry mood.

But instead of prog rock’s lengthy noodling indulgences, these pieces are short- only one of them topping four minutes, and while some of the tracks are sequels in name, they all start and stop punctually, with no ongoing flow. In tracks like “Hearn-Roberts II”, this also manifests itself in a more conventional structure that toys around on the verges of being song-like.

“Hearn-Roberts-Watts” throws you by chucking in a spoken word speech, with Alan Watts as the orator, talking about self-awareness, being born, being God and karma, with the rest of the band noodling about steadily and respectfully underneath. Being honest this is an experiment that doesn’t quite work for me, clashing a little unsuccessfully.

An intriguing progression from Electric Bird Noise, and at only 27 minutes, it’s a collection that certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome.
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Artist: DJ Haram
Title: Grace
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Hyperdub
DJ Haram is a DIY musical producer based in the US, but it’s her Middle Eastern roots that come to the fore extensively on this unusual EP. Using organic flute and exotic percussion sounds, she has crafted 27 minutes of mostly instrumental music that has the structure of modern digital dancehall, and sometimes grime, but from a sound palette that jams brand new with traditional effortlessly. The track “Interlude”, which isn’t really an interlude at all, exemplifies it succinctly.

“Gemini Rising”’s heavy percussion and tense synth bass notes give it a higher tension level than some of the more playful tracks around it. “Body Count”, despite starting with samples of guns being cocked, ends up being one of the mellowest sections, with soft harp-like chords lolling nicely over the complex and gently danceable rhythm.

Mixing things up at the mid point, “Candle Light” has a vocal version, with Moor Mother (who DJ Haram also collaborates with as a duo 700 Bliss) offering up a sympathetic and nicely offbeat rap that rolls over the more grime-like track very smartly. In the unlikely event that the vocal doesn’t tick your boxes, an instrumental is provided.

To wrap up the release there’s a short remix of opening track “No Idol” which builds on a rhythm that’s mostly handdrums and playfully triggered samples of bedsprings that borders on tongue-in-cheek, but which really works, and which would likely get received well by DJ’s skilled enough to work it into sets.

The DIY aesthetic makes some of the synth work sound a little weedy and lo-fi at times, like a demo or a field recording, but that ends up being part of the unique character and charm of a release that’s broadly in a genre where subbass normally runs rampant.

There’s a rich encompassing theme that forms a story behind this release- every track is represented by a character in the artwork, all part of a small mythological world invented by DJ Haram and in which she draws parallels with her real life experience but also draws from religious tales of angels and creatures. It’s an interesting context, for sure, but given the mostly instrumental nature of the release, it’s not an essential or immersive part of it. Musically though it certainly stands up in its own right, a fascinating hybrid of sounds and cultures with an energy and originality that’s nicely infectious.
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Artist: Magna Pia
Title: Daiauna
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Feral Note
Hüseyin Evirgen is still one half of techno duo Cassegrain, but for the last few years has also been putting out solo works as Magna Pia. This release, on German label Feral Note rather than the artist’s own Arcing Seas imprint, is far more art music than techno. Evirgen’s first instrument the piano is brought centre stage, gently and respectfully treated, sometimes drenched in reverb and echo, and surrounded by rumbling percussive noises, long synthetic pads and drones and a handful of electronica’s other trappings.

The result is a 41-minute work with a rich, emotive, cinematic feel. The title track is a scene-setter, tense and nervous, and hints of that mood never really go away. “Dionysys” has a sparing melody underpinned by a steady delayed drum sound that is the closest point to techno on this album’s distant orbit around it. “Sacred Ibis” is more romantic somehow, with a capriccio playing that feels fresh and honest, while “Tocharian Love” comes across as more of a lost love ballad, sad minor piano chords setting in odd, pulled-string-and-earth-tremor environmental oddness. “Inanna” takes a similar approach, with the drone atmosphere becoming some form of distant alien choir under quite a songlike melody.

Final point “And So We Crumble” is a quirky little finale, pitting pure piano notes against processed, detuned and cheap-sounding piano for a bizarre downtempo duelling-banjos affair, while the rumbling underneath grows gradually more displeased.

It’s an unusual combination, pitching ‘proper’ piano against both tonal and atonal sonic curiosities. However over the course of 41 minutes it does end up feeling a little languid and tired, without enough energy or enough diversity in approach that would really elevate it into something special. It’s perhaps unkind to say it’s one of those “if you’ve heard one track, you’ve heard them all” releases but there’s a degree to which that’s true. It’s certainly still worth checking out nevertheless- “Dionysus” is the place to start to get a flavour of it.
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Artist: Glok
Title: Dissident
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Bytes
Andy Bell- not the Erasure one, the one from Ride and the one previously a bassist with Oasis- yes, that Oasis- wanted to keep his middle-aged-guitarist status a secret so he could put out some much more synthwave works without prejudice and preconception, so for a couple of years, Glok was a mystery. The veil is now lifted, but given my lack of familiarity with Ride or affinity with Oasis, I find myself able to review it without prejudice anyway.

The nearly-20-minute title track is very much in the latter-day Tangerine Dream mould- a thoroughly digital, slowly changing and progressive bit of synthwave that’s not overtly retro but isn’t old fashioned either, decorated with enough care and detail to keep things balanced between interesting and mesmeric.

The rest of the tracks are less ambitious, but a bit broader in tone. “Kolokol” is sonically in the same ballpark, but with a more subdued structure that brings it closer to mellow belearic techno, but with the drums turned right down and the synth washes brought forward to dominate the track. “Pulsing” channels the 90’s trance vibes of Salt Tank or Union Jack into that format, to very successful effect and with a positive tone that makes it a highlight.

The four four-minute tracks that make up the rest of side B feel more like miscellaneous experiments and unfinished pieces than a coherent album conclusion, but they’re not without their merit. “Weaver” is faintly trip-hoppy, with a nice guitar melody line, but with a slightly flat and forgettable groove that perhaps skirts too close to library music, while “Projected Sounds” is gentle plinking over a Kraftwerk-esque rhythm pattern. The twangy guitar and synth blend in “Cloud Cover” is reminiscent of State Of Grace but without the vocal, and somehow ends up sound tired rather than relaxed, but final piece “Exit Through The Skylight”’s more complex drum patterns and just faintly toothy synth work provides a more interesting flavour to conclude with.

It’s the title track that really shines here, and along with “Pulsing”, the admission price is certainly justified, but it does run out of steam somewhat before the end.
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Artist: Ocean In A Bottle
Title: A Simple Case: I'm sorry... looking at the moon
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Records
Another in Silber’s 5-in-5 series, where artists offer up five tracks that combine to provide a five-minute-long listen, Ocean In A Bottle’s “A Simple Case: I’m sorry… looking at the moon” feels like its title is longer than the release itself!

Here are five pieces, mostly centred around a synthetic piano which is played fluidly. It is drenched in reverb which spills out into broader ambient sounds, but these are subtly applied and the effect is quite hollow- with the exception of the rather predictable rain sounds that rumble under final track “Walking Back Into The Rain”. The title track “I’m sorry” switches out the piano in favour of warmer pad noises, but flows directly into the romantic piano minor chords of “A Shuffle Of Your Feet”.

Yet another intriguing calling card on the 5-in-5 series, this one doesn’t feel particularly innovative but it certainly makes up for that in emotional likeability.
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