Music Reviews

Artist: Foretaste (@)
Title: Space Echoes
Format: CD + Download
Label: BOREDOMproduct (@)
This is bright, openly accessible, sincere and straightforward synthpop. It will appeal to fans of everything from Kylie Minogue to Erasure to Goldfrapp to Spray. Some tracks have an extra tinge of darkness to them, but it’s slight, and doesn’t detract from the fact that this is eleven radio-friendly pop numbers.

The breathy, slightly husky vocals sound like a French Marianne Faithfull. This is most noticeable in “Every Shadow”. The album is not blessed with the strongest choruses and hooks you’ve ever heard, so the understated, faintly sexy approach is quite fitting, and the pieces fit together more comfortably in the later, slower tracks.

The arrangements sit on that synthpop borderline where you’re not actively sure whether it’s deliberate 1980’s pastiche, or just a genuinely heartfelt and misunderstood love of the synthesizer. There are modern production touches and qualities, this is not simply a wantonly 1980’s album.

It’s space-themed, but only to a degree. The promo blurb describes the album as having been inspired by the sci-fi work of Ray Bradbury, Philip K Dick and Stanley Kubrick. That influence isn’t necessarily obvious. The influence of Jean-Michel Jarre, Kraftwerk and Vince Clarke is much more openly audible by comparison! Only the closing track “Alpha” really tackles the space theme head-on.

“First Symptoms”, “One By One” and “Every Shadow” are highlights, and among the strongest standalone pop pieces (although “Lost In Space” was the single, available separately with remixes). “I Know Where You Find You” has a filmic drama to it, segueing into “P.U.L.S.E.” in a manner that’s neat but almost too easy, highlighting a slight lack of sonic variety. “Paradise Of Broken Hearts” as a strong slow ballad sounds faintly Soft Cell-like.

Foretaste’s fifth album is polished, poppy and appealing, if a little bit unchallenging. It falls just slightly short on the catchy hooks front but it’s still a very enjoyable listen.
Artist: POS.:2 (@)
Title: Circuits
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Sophomore release from German electropop duo Matthias Grod (songwriting, keys, production) and Thorsten Kruger (lyrics, vocals, songwriting, keys) following their 2015 release, 'Now!'. I was only able to listen to a couple tracks off their debut, but in comparison, 'Circuits' sounds more polished, while still maintaining their club-friendly style. There seems to be a little less edge, but more attention to songwriting and melodic content. While on their initial release there was a similarity to OMD, here they're more along the lines of Pet Shop Boys and Neuroticfish. Roughly half the songs are sung in English, the other half in their native Deutsche, sometimes both languages in the same song. Lyrics are more emotional than deep, but hey, this is (synth)pop music; usually comes with the territory. Synthwork is on the lighter side for the most part, competent but not overwhelming, still with snappy and effective arrangements. As with many new albums I hear the strongest songs with the most potent hooks come early on; "I'm Waiting," "So Lonely," and "Neonlicht" are tracks 1, 3 and 4 respectively and really have the most to offer in the way of hit potential. There is a nice change of pace on balladish track 6, "I Wanna Be Free" with additional vocals by a woman named Jeanette, but after that it begins to get formulaic. The band still has its groove but the songs seem less memorable. I can tell they're really trying, but somehow they miss the mark. Good hooks can be tough to create, even when you have nice melodies going for you, and unfortunately too many fall short on this album. (Perhaps they should have included a cover of something well-known- Apoptygma Berzerk's "Until the End of the World" might have worked well for them.) The big missed opportunity though comes on the last track, "Thunder and Sun". It's a 6 minute instrumental that's the darkest and heaviest thing on POS.:2's plate. It's also a little industrial. This is a track that builds with tension and intensity, but ultimately it's a letdown. It really needed something more- dramatic vocals or at least a recitation to give it a raison d'être, but without that extra oomph, it falls flat. Be that as it may, the album is well-produced, and there are still a few really good songs on 'Circuits,' as that may be enough to keep synthpop fans and club djs interested.
Artist: Franz Kirmann
Title: Elysian Park
Format: CD + Vinyl
Label: Denovali (@)
Distributor: Cargo Records
There’s a lot of variety in “Elysian Park” and it shouldn’t be pigeonholed, as a stroll through this park is a stroll across disregarded and meaningless genre boundaries. ‘Drone’, ‘ambient’, ‘downtempo’, ‘glitch’, ‘experimental’, all terms that could be applied in moderation but not to the whole piece.

“Hidden Olympia / Diamorphine Clickstream” has a gentle, measured beat reminiscent of early The Orb tracks and ambient house. However “Hypertrance”, despite the somewhat clichéd 1990’s implications of its name, is a more experimental, arhythmic wall of tuned white noise that builds, stuns and fades with a captivating assuredness. “Lagon” and “Paradiso Beach” are smoother concoction of mellow synthetic strings and quasi-choral noises that would be right at home on one of Kompakt’s “Pop Ambient” compilatioons, while tracks like “Diazepam Dreams” sound like background sound design for a sci-fi alien spaceship. “Killswitch / Darknet” is challenging and awkward glitch in the first half, uplifting and emotive filmic arpeggios in the second half.

It is, frankly, all over the place.

The broad church and surprisingly warm production throughout, richer and more welcoming than the promotional material implies, never feels too ‘arty’ or unpurposeful. However, this self-labelled “sonic junk” can sometimes feel disjointed and it feels more like a collection of fourteen unrelated sonic experiments, rather than a coherent hour-long listening experience.

Beautifully presented vinyl and CD artwork designs, blending minimalist digital architecture into the barren mountains pictured on the front, complete an extremely polished, high-quality, but slightly scattergun package.
Artist: Y-Luk-O
Title: Autark
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Lukotyk Records
Distributor: Altone Distribution
“Autark” is a 4-track EP and a 6-track remix package bundled into one 10-track, 41 minute product.

Lyrically, this is as dark and gothic as the artwork suggests. “Autark”, “Zuse” and “Magnetar” are German-language, while “Communion” is an English-language lyric using a church Sunday service as a metaphor for sex in a way that’s bordering on the comedy lyric (“swallow me like communion”...), seemingly performed with a totally straight face.

Production-wise though, things are a bit lighter. Describing itself as “German-American Industrialpop”, they’re not ashamed of the “pop” element. This is synthpop, with a few discordant notes and jangles. You could easily take replace the metal vocal with something lighter and poppier and have something mainstream-radio-friendly. There are strong shades of bands like Empire State Human in the arrangements.

Of the four original tracks, “Zuse” is the most interesting, with its unusual, glitch-influenced groove, twangy country-guitar-like sounds and the most memorable hook of the bunch.

The remixes are generally on the short side- in fact they’re all shorter than the original version, which is unusual- and keep a firm eye on the original audience, rather than trying to bring the track into mainstream clubland or any other different realms. The Leipzig and Boston remixes are the band’s own, and it shows- stripping back but thoroughly respecting the original, polishing the synthpop credentials.

Artists Against Pop’s “Halle” remix demonstrates that they aren’t against pop at all and are seemingly rather partial to a bit of a power-pop-ballad, which is what the track becomes. Fakzility’s “St Eval” remix brings heavier breakbeats and guitars. Ninetwelve’s three-minute “Philadelphia” version is a dramatic, film-score type arrangement full of string stabs and percussion, while 11gram’s “Adelaide” mix gives it some Depeche Mode-like flavours.

This is two single’s worth of material rolled into one ten-track release that’s polished and sincere, but without having all that much of a “wow” factor.
Artist: Jana Irmert
Title: End Of Absence
Format: CD + Download
Label: Fabrique Records
This album is a set of half a dozen well-matched sonic soundscapes. While the title is “End Of Absence”, they all have a hollow, melancholic quality that imply a continuation of absence, a maelstrom of distant forces trying to creep into an empty void.

It’s a blend of found sound and field recordings with electronics and very occasional vocal moments. As a recipe it’s nothing new, there’s certainly nothing ground-breaking or genuinely experimental here, but this is a very competent and confident, beautifully balanced and progressive set of pieces that lend themselves very well to a fully immersive, good-headphones-and-darkened-room experience. You know how, when you’re in a noise-proof room in silence, you can begin to hear the sound of your own heartbeat? Well imagine if you were a robot, in a noise-proof room. This might be what you begin to sound like to yourself.

Despite the implication of tension that creeps into pieces like “Untitled (Slow)”, it’s also rather relaxing, in its way. The ebb and flow of it is not wholly dissimilar to waves crashing at an unrealistically slow speed on a rocky beach. It’s rather soporific in parts and you can easily relax or even fall asleep to pieces like “Obstacles”. It may not have the traditional sonic structure of a relaxation disc but the effect is not unrelated. The notable and slightly unwelcome exception to this is the second half of final piece “Altitude Adjustment”, where there is an uncharacteristic, sudden and percussive change that could jolt you out a slumber you’re not deeply enough in.

This is Jana Irmert’s debut album, but what it perhaps lacks in originality, it makes up for with an assured confidence and polish that makes it absolutely worth hearing.
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