Music Reviews



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Artist: M-Fast
Title: Videoband
Format: Tape
Label: Other Voices Records
Recorded between 2011 and 2013 but released (digitally and on limited edition cassette) in 2016, “Videoband” revisits the sonics of the 8-bit computer era, but mostly opens it up into a broader, more lavish production space.

The instrumental melodies are bold, catchy and strong. There are hints of early Human League and Depeche Mode. The intro suggests that it will open up into broad workspaces like Tangerine Dream or Jean-Michel Jarre, but for the most part it remains tight, and restrained. It’s the sound of analogue tech and bedroom computer enthusiasts, not the sound of epic sci-fi.

“Arcade Bastards” is a highlight, a euphoric chord sequence and driving lo-fi beats that could easily have soundtracked a racing game from 1988. There are points at which the deliberate adherence to thirty-year-old technology does make the overall sound feel a little constrained and muddy, and you wonder whether a little bit of modern EQ and mastering might have made it sound better, but it’s certainly not weak.

Other highlights included the slightly French electrofunk-tinged “Disco Turbulence” and the bright poppiness of “Fox Hunting”.

It’s an hour-long hybrid (or 50 minutes if you discount the two cassette-only bonus tracks), halfway between a ‘normal’ album and a remix album, with remixes from other artists shuffled in amongst the originals. Sonically, you don’t really notice the difference- the transition is seamless. The Werdes rework of “Arcade Bastards” acts more like an extended reprise than a remix. Without reading the tracklist you would assume just a single artist was at the helm throughout, and over the course of an hour, it perhaps falls just a little short in the variety stakes.

When it comes to 1980’s vibes there’s a fine line between faithful tribute and cheesy pastiche, and at times “Videoband” jumps, briefly, over that line. But it’s having a lot of fun doing it, and the result is a solid bit of authentic-sounding retrowave.
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Artist: Cloaca
Title: Almsgiver
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Records (@)
Silber Records’ long-running “5 in 5” series- 5 tracks from an artist, running time only 5 minutes in total- has thrown up some interesting and innovative works that have suited the restrictive format well. Some sounds, however, simply don’t function at their best in such a constricted time, and unfortunately “Almsgiver” is an example of this.

“Almsgiver” is a collection of five unique and distinctive drones, all with an acoustic origin, treated, drowned and super-manipulated by effects and ambience. It’s simple stuff, resonant, raw and powerful, with a pure tone that’s less gritty and lo-fi than the artwork might suggest. But it really needed time to breathe.

When fourth track “Forsworn” segues into “Euthyphro” (the only ‘joined up’ tracks), it’s a hint towards how mesmerising these sounds would be if you could get ten minutes of each one and really start to mentally wallow in it. When “Euthyphro” then abruptly cuts at exactly 1:00, you’re left wanting more, but not necessarily in a good way.

“5 in 5” has had some great moments, but this is one case where they should have foregone the novel 5-minute format in favour of a longer, more immersive release.
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Artist: Spaceheads
Title: Laughing Water
Format: CD + Download
Label: Electric Brass Records (@)
“Laughing Water” is a half hour mini-album that introduces the band’s new member Vincent Bertholet and his double bass, to the two existing members, Andy Diagram on live brass loops and Richard Harrison on percussion. The result is a jazzy affair which sounds like they’ve been playing together for many years. It’s a very natural and comfortable mix.

At times it’s energetic and very danceable- “Quantum Shuffle” is great fun. At other points, like “Aire De Rhone”, it’s more mellow and firmly in chill-out territory. Other tracks, like “Octopus” and “Pedalo Power”, are more quirky and playful, and in an introspective world of their own.

Besides the three-piece jazz elements, there are other production touches sparingly throughout- the sound of running water on the title track, unsurprisingly enough, and FM-style crackly radio overdubs on “Be Calmed”- but these are incidental little polishes. The trio of musicians is not only the core, but for the most part the entirety of the sound. The trumpet is carefully digitally treated and processed in sympathetic and interesting ways, the double bass and drums are largely kept ‘pure’.

“Machine Molle” has an unusual “everybody needs a piece of the world to find peace in the world” vocal refrain is a bit of an anomaly, but a real nod towards what Spaceheads could accomplish if they fleshed out to be a full-on modern equivalent of Sun Ra’s Arkestra.

If I was forced to put this release into one category it would have to be jazz, but I’d still heartily recommend it to fans of electro-swing, Cinematic Orchestra, Heritage Orchestra and beyond.
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Artist: Daniel Ruane
Title: Incandescent EP
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: The Silent Howl
“Incandescent” is a half hour of ambience that blends comforting tones with crisper digital elements in a way that’s like cold water and hot water being poured together and wafting in fluid dynamic patterns around one another until equilibrium is eventually reached.

The title track has a watery ambience that does feel just a touch cliché but which is still nothing short of pretty, and which slightly misrepresents the EP as a whole, as it lacks the sinister edge and extremely minimal techno elements that the other three tracks bring.

Second track “Codon” has more urgency, a relentless repeating synth note underpinning an electronic atmosphere that has very strong elements of Tangerine Dream, and definitely in a good way.

Third track “Amino” plays almost like a hybrid of the first two, with the same drumless analogue synth rhythms but washed with rich found sounds.

Closing track “Exo” has the same ingredients but with an additional tension and lo-fi, square-wave edge that could soundtrack the sinister approach of zombies. There’s a whiff of John Carpenter about it. If the first two tracks have lulled you into sleep, this is the track that will score your anxiety dream.

This is an impressive pack of tracks from Mancunian Daniel Ruane, and on the strength of this EP, it’s definitely keeping an eye out for more of his work.
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Artist: Empire State Human
Title: Christmas Long Gone
Format: MCD (Mini CD)
Label: Banoffeesound
Rated: *****
With the 2014 release of the album "The Dark", I thought that Empire State Human finished their adventure. Aidan Casserly after that album kept himself busy releasing tons of great music under different monikers like Glass Dancer, Ferrochrome, KuBo or his own name, to name a few. With "Christmas Long Gone", Empire State Human are back with four "new" songs plus a fifth one available only on the CD version. It's not clear to me if Lar is still a band member or if now Aidan is taking care of everything but I can say that the new EP has the same quality of the previous releases. The opening "Christmas Long Gone" is a new version of a track they gave for free some years ago and this version is melancholic but also powerful: the wobbling bass empower the structure while the rarefied atmosphere we find on some moments, help the creation of a melancholic aurea that works as counterpart. The other four songs are instrumentals that sound like an hybrid from the old synthpop E.S.H. songs and the tense ambient soundtracks that Aidan wrote during the last few years. This effect is more evident on the mid tempo "Fathoms" and on the spacey quasi ambient "Solar Trips". This is the nineteenth of Banoffeesound, a label that begun to release music only the last year but that have already got the attention of synthpop music lovers.
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