Music Reviews

Artist: Monocorpse
Title: Cease To Exist
Format: 12"
Label: Enfant Terrible (@)
Though every track on Monocorpse's second EP is dark and twisted in its own way, there's a lot of variation between tracks. Opening track "964 Old Topang" channels genuine anger, second track "10050 Cielo Dr" switches to paranoia, yet "12000 Santa Susana Pass Rd" sounds like what you'd get if AI robots in two millenia's time unearthed a book about how to make glam rock and tried to interpret it in a post-apocalyptic underground music studio. "3301 Waverly Dr" sounds like a corrupt MIDI file rendition of "Vienna" by Ultravox, but in the best possible way.

The track names, in case you're wondering, are all genuine US addresses associated with Charles Manson murders. While there's definitely a deep undercurrent of sinisterness running through the whole thing, there are gaps in the visage. The rubbery basslines and the slightly 8-bit robot synths veer some of the production slightly closer to cheap 1980's B-movies than Monocorpse probably intended. Mr and/or Mrs Monocorpse keep themselves tightly under wraps it seems, with their press info and social media showing only the plain covers of their 12"s without any sense of the artist underneath. There's something just a touch too obvious and middle-class about it all, as though it's music that wants to homage David Lynch rather than music that really wants to scare you.
Artist: Musumeci
Title: Foundation EP
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Engrave Ltd (@)
Distributor: Paradise
At 7 tracks and 49 minutes, this release seems to stretch the definition of an EP somewhat.

Every track follows the formula of opening track "Terminus", quickly establishing mesmeric tech grooves over which the arpeggiating synths can meander back and forth. It's beautifully done, with a strong sense of being in the comfort zone- no tricks, no experiments, just the sense of oozing confidence in the power of simple spaced-out grooves.

"Prelude" is a stand-out track, slightly more dynamic and dramatic than the preceding pieces, with the sense of additional influences drifting in from sci-fi soundtracks, yet it still wouldn't sound out of place in a deep house mix. As the EP progresses, the tracks get shorter and more melodic, with "Melpomenia" carrying a tune that feels like it's yearning for a vocal.

Ostensibly themed around Asimov's "Foundation" series, there's certainly a sci-fi feel to some of the reverberant top-end bell and whistles, but otherwise this 'inspiration' really only stretches as far as being a convenient source of great unfamiliar track names like "Melpomenia" and "Trantor". Sci-fi fans hoping for a narrative journey through Asimov's Galactic Empire might be left a little underwhelmed, but fans of deep tech should lap this up.
Artist: Pinkcourtesyphone + Gwyneth Wentink
Title: Elision
Format: CD
Label: Farmacia901 (@)
Rated: *****
Elision is the result of a collaboration between Richard Chartier, in his Pinkcourtesyphone alias, and Gwyneth Wentink, a classically trained harpist. The sound of a triple harp, a 1600's variant of this instrument with three rows of string instead of the usual single row so it has a richer set of timbres and harmonics.
This track sound with a background noise interrupted by the melody of the harp enhanced by the effects applied by Chartier. In the first part of the track, while the sound artist develops his soundscape using drones and tones which are the base of his well known style, the harp prefers to develop arpeggios creating an hypnotic effect mirroring, in part, the resonances of the electronics. In the second part the Chartier's sonic backdrop is the main element which relegates the harp in the background except for a small moment as a solitary reprise of the first part that is an interlude for the final part where the drone accompanies the listener towards the end of the release.
As Pinkcourtesyphone is a project less austere than the releases that built an entire genre, it's a statement on how an artist can evolve without forswear his aesthetics by the dialogue with the characteristics of his collaborators. Another remarkable release.
Artist: Sindre Bjerga
Title: Dream Interruption
Format: CD
Label: attenuation circuit (@)
Rated: *****
Sindre Bjerga is an electroacoustic improvisation who works mainly with cassette players and amplified objects and his style is something closer to drone rather than to the destructured language of EAI. This release from Sindre Bjerga is an improvisation recorded during a tour of the Baltic which would represent an awakening from a dream.
Quiet noises and metallic sounds opens this release under a field recording background and, when the voices, mostly distorted by the slowing down of the tape, enter the scene there's the apex of the first part of this release. The second one is a quiet and meditative part based on quiet and isolated sounds while the third part is a drone that seems to enhance the noises which were the background of the part.
With a solid narrative: the falling asleep of the first part, the dream of the second and the rude awakening of the third, this release is a good example of how improvisation is not a casual juxtaposition of sound but is a movement with and end. It's worth a listen.
Artist: Spray (@)
Title: Enforced Fun
Format: CD
Label: Banoffeesound (@)
Rated: *****
Synthpop bands seem to be popping up all over the place in such profusion as never before, but maybe I just never noticed and they've been here all along, hiding in the shadows, waiting for the right time to take over our bodies and brains with their infectious beats and melodies. Such is the case with the UK duo Spray (Jenny McLaren - vocals, & Ricardo Autobahn- synths & stuff + production), who have been around since 2001. With some notable previous releases, such as 'Living in Neon' (2002) and 'Children of a Laser God' (2006) one could hardly say they're novices. There has always been something big and clubby about Spray's sound, ultimately geared for the dancefloor, lyrically tongue planted firmly in cheek, and catchy but disposable as a Bic lighter pop melodies, and that hasn't changed on 'Enforced Fun', but what has is the production- polished to such a high gloss on 'Enforced Fun' that you can easily see your image reflected back at you in it. I suppose it's a kind of natural evolution, but one with potential drawbacks we'll get to it a bit later.

After an amusing Prologue delivered by actress Jane Badler (remember the sci-fi TV series 'V' ?) Spray launch into "Hit the Applause Light," a well-turned tune with a potent hook. If radio stations were still playing the kind of new music they used to play in the 80's, they'd certainly be playing this track. But so sad, all that's changed now... "Overdramatic" is nice melodic synthpop, but doesn't have the impact of the precious track. "You Show Me the Way" slows it down a bit, and is Enya-esque without going full-bore Celtic New Age. "Rotating the Square," as beatalicious as it is, may just be too obtuse for the geometrically challanged masses, but nerds will approve. The big hit (in my opinion) is "The Magic 8 Ball Lies," a song that has everything going for it. Great savvy lyrics, neat melody, and killer hook. What more could you ask for? "It's Not Enough" (with Kid Kasio) seems like typical danceclub fodder. "Diabolical Mastermind" seems to get lost in its own story drowning whatever memorable hook it could muster in too much plot. Although the lyrics are quite clever on "It's the Night of the Long Knives Charlie Brown" and the music has almost ska happy beat to it, it feels forced and artificial. (It was songs like this that seemed to herald the end of the halycon days of the 80's.) Although not one of the hottest tracks on 'Enforced Fun,' "Into a Tunnel" is wonderfully charming and thoughtful song, the likes of which you don't usually hear in the synthpop genre. Despite listing all the fave bands of the decade in the song "The 80's Never Died" (with Phil Fletcher & Don Quibeats) this paean to New Wave could have used a stronger hook, something as potent as the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star." "Fake Controversy Coincidentally Moves Product" (with Barry Thumbs) is more satire than substance, but that's self-evident considering the title. Perhaps it would have been better as an instrumental with sampled dialogue rather than a song with lyrics. "The Biggest Pool in LA." works much better in the cynical/satirical vein. Gearing up for the big production number ending with some assistancve from Hyperbubble, Spray prove they're hipper-than-thou in "The Very Nerve Centre of Art/Video Cliche". I'm getting all sorts of vibes here, from Abba to Freezepop and much more. Every weak point on the album previously is forgiven and forgotten with this one. And if that isn't enough, "The Final Song" melds mellow Madonna with Enya and delivers a stellar hook to boot.

Now about that glossy production- it certainly moves the band into the big league, and could be instrumental in getting them noticed beyond the standard synthpop market. However, there is a homogeneity to it that may have some casual listeners thinking "oh, all the songs sound the same" over the course of the whole album. While that's not really true, Jenny McLaren's voice is remarkably consistent, and her harmonies constructed for maximum commercial impact, and Autobahn's synth arrangements and programming are as perfectly executed as possible. So what's so bad about that? Nothing really, but I think Spray has lost a little of its former exhuberence and impulsiveness. Maturity will do that to you. But they still make damn good synthpop music.
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