Music Reviews



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Artist: Li Yilei
Title: 0:00
Format: Tape
Label: Ferric:Flux
“0:00” is a hybrid of analogue and digital, highlighted in the fact it’s a cassette EP release on the Ferric:Flux label (also available as a download) yet it consists of tracks labelled by timecode. Planetary radio signals are the atmospheric bed of textures over which has been set a variety of freeform synthesizer and guitar noodling that builds up a sci-fi-ish sense of emptiness and space which isn’t wholly cold.

The title track (or at least, the track that starts at zero) builds nicely, setting a stall out as though it’s going to delve into a long post-rock electronica epic with its guitar elements, then stops rather abruptly. Similarly the second track “5.28” pulls the same trick with a synthetic bell sound which gradually gets louder as though something big is approaching, yet it then fades far quicker than it appears and tails off, like an unfinished idea.

“13.31” broods, like a suspense underscore in a sci-fi game, themes which segue into more paired-back final piece “23:16” which is perhaps the only piece that doesn’t tease by building towards something that doesn’t appear.

For me, the format here is the problem. A fifteen minute EP on cassette is a restrictive space for ideas that feel like they needed more time to bake and then breathe. It’s more of a promise of things to come- which could potentially be very good- than a satisfying work in its own right.
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Artist: Ritual Howls
Title: Rendered Armor
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Felte
Detroit trio Ritual Howls’ fourth full-length album feels like it’s fallen through a wormhole in time from the late 1980’s. The combination of twangy guitar and bass, slightly weedy synths and squelchy electronics, simple drum patterns, gravelly vocals and sinister lyrics evokes thoughts of just-going-dark Depeche Mode, Cassandra Complex, pre-acid Shamen, or from slightly earlier, more than a hint of Joy Division. This release does for the more gothic side of 80’s indie pop what synthwave does for 80’s synth works, except that it’s even more authentic-sounding, with every detail from the songwriting to the production rooted so firmly in that sound that it must surely be a deliberate labour of love.

Luckily the songwriting is strong enough to carry it as a worthwhile listen rather than a tribute exercise. “Love Cuts” exemplifies the tone well and has anthem potential among the band’s fans. I was drawn more to the tracks that leant more electronically, with “I Can Hear Your Tears” a strangely appealing bit of anti-disco with a perhaps unintentional feel-good atmosphere. It’s a compact set of pop songs, generally keeping things to-the-point and well under five minutes, and tracks like “All I’ve Known” cut a decent pace that keeps things moving nicely.

Sonically there’s more than a hint of nostalgia about it, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing of course, and I’m sure there’s still a scene out there that will lap up this fresh material in a traditional style.
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Artist: William Basinski (@)
Title: On Time Out of Time
Format: CD
Label: Temporary Residence (@)
Rated: *****
This new release from William Basinski is based upon the recordings from the interferometers of LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) which captured the merging of two black holes. The two tracks were commissioned for two installations and stands among the less known part of this composer which is not based on loops but on abstract and almost liquid, in Baumanian sense, sounds.
“On Time Out of Time" is a long exploration of long tones which starts with an section based on a mid frequency drone a low frequency beat introducing the main section of the track where high frequency drones are sequenced and juxtaposed to create a quiet and moving atmosphere; it's almost evident how the main concern of this opus is the construction of a sonic synthesis as the black holes merging is seen as a metaphor for a relationship. The final section of the track is a shift from this peaceful atmosphere and is a melody for synth ending with rhythmical noises as a vinyl ending in a closed loop.
"4(E+D)4(ER+EPR)" which uses fragments from the previous track is instead based on a long loop and has a number of other elements in the background creating a multifaceted sound environment which requires a certain attention from the listener beyond a certain attitude towards contemplation.
Based, as usual from this artist, on his peculiar idea of time, as the source material is from 1.3 billion years ago, he's able to use the source material in a remarkable blend with his other canonical musical elements and writes another work of charming beauty. Among the albums of the year.
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Artist: Cluster Lizard (@)
Title: Prophecy
Format: CD
Label: Prostir
Rated: *****
The focus on the fact that Cluster Lizard, the bicephalous project by Kvitnu boss and skilled sound forger Dmytro Fedorenko and the brilliant audio and visual artist Kateryna Zavoloka (the mind between the cover artworks of Kvitnu releases and author of the simple, but elegant one for this output in the guise of Cluster Lizard), haven't released anything under Kvitnu, as their debut came under the mark of French label Le Cabanon Records and this second album is the release number one for a newly founded imprint, they called Prostir, isn't a really relevant aspect of this ... I think that the fact it has the same name of the national electronic payment system, developed by Central Bank in Ukraine in 2016, their native land, is not a casual choice. Similarly, the choice of the title for their album, "Prophecy", is not casual at all. Would it refer to a prophecy for their country or something that could be spread to all our planet? Maybe the answer is in the middle, due to the choice of the quoted lines in the title of each track, grouping different examples of visionary and somehow prophetic writers, poets (including Lesya Ukrainka, one of the key figure of modern Ukrainian history - besides her fascinating poems, she became known for getting arrested by zarists due to its strong activism in the Marxist movement... hers is the first Ukrainian translation of Communist Manifesto) and even sci-fi movie makers (the title for the third track is nothing but an English transcription of the Brunnen-G fight chant, taken from Lexx, a Canadian-German sci-fi series, also known as Tales from a Parallel Universe). The conceptual framework is surely interesting, but it wouldn't eclipse the skills of these guys in translating into sounds and masterfully grasped noises of the ideas and images they arise with their prophetic visions, as it's clear since the very first track. Quoting a line by Blake, that the visionary English poet himself used for the frontispiece of a print on the origins of man, the ambivalence within a line like "The Sun's Light When He Unfolds It Depends On The Organ That he Beholds It" gets fully mirrored by the sounds of Cluster Lizard, where the same sound evokes different images on the basis of the organ sound by which they wrap it! The other tracks follow similar strategies and paths, along which this consolidated duo fills those lines by electro-industrial gizmos, awesome sonic engraving and wise usage of filters, that reaches really high peaks (not so far from the art of masters like Autechre) on "Come From Forever, And You Will Go Everywhere" (quoting Rimbaud) and the last "This Happened Before and It Will Happen Again".
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Artist: Suplington
Title: After Life
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Youngbloods
Forming part of Youngbloods’ Spring Programme for 2019, Nakula Fogg as Suplington has offered up a fairly safe-sounding blend of ambient and avant-garde classical built from freeform elements, mostly plaintive violin and gentle percussion, generally served up on a bed of warm synthetic hum to create a sonic salad that’s mostly quite familiar-sounding and unchallenging, organic and fairly tasty.

“Limbo State” is a highlight, a very measured and balanced offering that explores empty space to strong effect and where the richness of the orchestral or pseudo-orchestral sounds can really breathe. This contrasts well with the glooper, more underwater textures in following track “Sore Eyes”.

At times though it does slip into cliché, with the wind chimes and seagull sounds of “Seagulls In Your Mind” drifting, particularly at first, perhaps too close to New Age meditation CD’s you might find in the kind of shops in Whitby that burn incense throughout the day.

It’s a calming, thoughtful and introspective work, but somehow it seems to stick on a single emotional note for too long, leaving me feel a little disengaged and cold about it.
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