Music Reviews

Artist: microClocks (@)
Title: Soon Before Sundown
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
We here at Chain D.L.K. like to think of ourselves as the heralds of cutting edge music, music on the fringe of popularity, with a vibrant creativity that is oft overlooked by mass-media outlets. Yet, there is a certain necessary hypocrisy to that in that we don't cover all leading edge music, just that which fits within our genre parameters. So no matter how creative, or visionary hip-hop, country, regular rock or alt-rock, heavy metal, folk, blues, jazz (with certain exceptions), etc. artists or bands are, numerous submissions just aren't going to get reviewed because of their genre affiliation, no matter how good they are, and sometimes, they're pretty darn good. A label such as Echozone sometimes submits new releases that just don't fit in here, and sorry, but if the music doesn't fit our genre parameters, I (and the rest of us) just can't review it. So what happens when a worthy candidate that doesn't easily fit into the pigeon-hole shows up? Well, that's just the dilemma I have with microClocks.

If you ever heard previous material by this German band (that don't at all seem German) you might mistake them for a regular rock band or an electro-tinged pop band. The material on their latest recording, 'Soon Before Sundown' is miles way from that though. First and foremost, this is a dark album. It opens with a droney mood piece punctuated with sullen strings, eerie tinkling keys and plenty of atmospheric gloom as the "Follow the..." intro to "White Rabbit" (no, not a cover of the old Jefferson Airplane song) where it explodes with progressive urgency. This doesn't sound at all like the band did previously; what they're doing now is formidably advanced. The singer, J.T. sounds quite a bit different than before, his voice has become much more interesting and atypical of standard rock vocalists, now along the lines of such iconoclasts as Peter Gabriel, Peter Murphy, Lou Reed, Rogue (Cruxshadows), Peter Hammill, and Ian Anderson, with a certain edge and panache to it. No, he doesn't sound like any of the aforementioned, but the voice stands out, and is perfect for the material. This one song goes through a number of changes one would typically associate with progressive rock but never gets too far afield from its driving impetus. Marc Dorman's guitar magic is astounding here. microClocks doesn't let up for a moment on the follow-up, title track, "Soon Before Sundown," a rabid rocker with some dynamite organ from Stevie Jay. Yet it's Dorman's guitar on the instrumental break that elevates this track beyond the pale, recalling 'Nursery Crimes' era Steve Hackett. Okay, yeah, this is sounding a bit like prog-rock to me. But things take a darker turn on "Loves End" incorporating elements of goth and symphonic metal into a delicious, heady musical stew. High drama and exigent execution seem to be the norm on this album.

While not goth, songs such as "Here I Am" and "Life is Grim" do have a gothy tone to them, but there is also an arty, progressive bent that permeates the songs on 'Soon Before Sundown'. While not quite a "concept" album, as the opening song might suggest, microClocks explores social themes of love, loss, desperation, failure, the supernatural, the extraterrestrial, friendship, fear, and maybe above all, hope. The songs are all well-crafted and carefully arranged. I find it interesting that besides the core of J.T., Marc Dorman and Stevie Jay, two drummers (Daniel "Butcher" Stieber, Hendrik Hausmann) and two bass players (Andreas "Shapeshifter" Nicolau, Nicolas Rodriguez Pagan) were employed on this recording, all very capable players. The album ends with two strong rockers - "To a Friend, and ""Raptor" that keep the energy level high. This is a good thing in my estimation, rather than petering out with a melancholy ballad. My only disappointment is that the album is very guitar-dominated, and I saw plenty of opportunities for keyboards to take a more upfront role. Still, this is an album that's going to turn more than a few heads, and delight lots of ears. If you thought you knew microClocks before, you haven't really heard the same band they are now, and just what they are is tough to pin down, but absolutely worthy of attention.
Artist: Batalion d'Amour (@)
Title: Fenix
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Polish band Batalion d'Amour has been around since 1989 and has five previous albums since 1998. They're kind of a goth/darkwave outfit fronted by the gorgeous Karolina Andrzejewska who has been with them since their previous (2005) album 'Niya'. One good reason why you (and I) may not heard of them before is Karolina sings mostly in Polish. (Well, to be fair, there is one song with English lyrics, and a version of one other song in English later in the album.) For me, this proves to be quite problematic; if I can't understand the songs without the translated lyrics, they're not going to resonate much with me. Be that as it may, Karolina has a beautiful voice (way better than their previous vocalist) and the band is also quite adept instrumentally.

Opening track "Bez Nas" ("Without Us") is a memorable one with a Spanish lilt to it. Second song, "Charlotte" seems to be the band's choice for a hit single, especially since tracks 12-14 are four different versions of it, and one version in English as I mentioned above. Funny though, as nice a melodic song as it is, I'm not getting "hit single melodic hook" out of this one, even in English; it's much too wordy for that. I'm not even getting a distinctive guitar part, or anything else that grabs the attention like a hit single should. Third song, "Miedzy Slowami" ("Between the Lines")seems to have more going for it, with a Fields of the Nephelim style guitar riff, strong verses and melodically memorable chorus. Good song for the dancefloor too. Throughout the album songs are done with dark romantic flavor, but I'm detecting a move away from traditional goth, and more towards a kind of progressive alt-metal sound. There is still a sort of gothy overtone, but not like they used to sound; steeped in it. On one level the songwriting seems to be getting better, but having found their niche, Batalion d'Amour seems to be heading for a more commercially accessible sound overall. Occasionally they do surprise though, as in the odd-timing instrumental break in "Zawroceni" ("The Way Back") and the acoustic "The Lost Diary" in English, a sentimental duet with John Porter. The song with Tomasz Grochola from Agressiva 69 adding some vocals with Karolina did nothing for me. On numerous occasions Karolina's voice is multi-tracked in harmonies, and although it's effective on the album, I'm not sure how that's going to translate live unless they add backing female vocalists. No doubt though that her lyrics are quite poetic; even in English (translated in the accompanying booklet) they have a certain charm to them. The band also adds some nice arrangement touches, especially in the keyboard department. As for the remixes of "Charlotte," the slowed-down acoustic version with violins is the best, and most different, and the English version is nice because it's in English. Pawel Penarski's remix clubs it up with a strong dance beat, but that's about it, and the "Radio Edit" is just superfluous.

'Fenix' could have been a lot better album if it was sung entirely in English, or perhaps two versions- one for the Poles and the other for the rest of us, because after all, English is the universal pop song medium, like it or not. Assuredly, there are those who would disagree, feeling that Karolina's words and voice are better, more expressive or even more exotic in her native language, but if you want to get anywhere in the world of popular music, English is a necessity. There are some few exceptions (Industrial in German for one, as it has that harsh guttural inflection and tone that conveys a certain sternness you can't get in any other language) but for what these folks are doing, the English language would serve them well. If they record their next album that way, I'll be all ears.
Artist: Electro Acoustic Ensamble
Title: Meditations in motion
Format: CD
Label: Manza Nera Label (@)
Rated: *****
The Electro Acoustic Ensamble is the project of Fred Casadei (double bass), Bruno Romani (alto sax), Francesco Manfrè (cello) and Daniele Onori (guitar) which is born after a fistful a jam sessions. The result is something in the vein of certain experiment between composed and improvised music as perhaps it's not exactly free jazz but has its flavor so almost all tracks are called "meditation" as they were part of a single composition.
After the first whistles of the string instrument the phrasing of the flute opens "Meditation number one" as a melodic element above the fragmented lines of the other instruments while the dialogue of "Saxophone at the mirror" is more equilibrated. The guitar accompanied by the cello and the double bass is the focus of "Meditation number three" while the cello is the main element of "Meditation number four". While the structure is closer to jazz when the sax is the main element, the string instruments moves the balance towards contemporary music and a track as "Meditation number five" is paradigmatic of this framwork and when Bruno Romani uses the flute, as in "Meditation number six", with relatively long tones or with slower phrases shifts the musical equilibrium towards a more cohesive one. The unstable setting of "Meditation number seven" with all the instruments not in an accompaniment role is balanced by the short duration and "Meditation number eight" is a quiet interlude to "Meditation number nine", practically a flute solo spectrally balanced by the cello. "Ligeti" sounds like an homage with his suspended tones and "Meditation number eleven" continues under this path with his use of extended techniques and "Meditation number twelve" is a partial return to jazz form that is completed in "Meditation number thirteen" which features percussions as the form is more rhythmically structured. "Meditation number fourteen" and "Meditation number fifteen" are almost a single track in two part as they share similar elements as quiet moments based on a single instrument at play. "Scratch and loose" is developed upon a suspension generated by the cello while "Meditation number seventeen" tries even some noisy moments with some use of dissonances while "Meditation number eighteen" is a return to form and "School out musicians" closes this release as a sort of divertissement.
While apparently is a cohesive release based on a canonical approach, the tension between the subtle differences that is generated by the double bass and the sax, rooted in a relatively traditional jazz language, and the string instruments, reminiscent of a more unstructured form, sometimes generates something close to a personal language. It's really worth a listening.
Artist: Alexis Tyrel
Title: Rebecca Loos
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: LessIsMore
This is a re-release of a 12” issued in 2006 on the Weave label, with both the original and the Gui Boratto remix both being 2006 vintage (coincidentally the same year I ended up working on a farm with Rebecca Loos herself, but that’s a different story). Only the “New Chapter” mix is newly added to the package, but it is a chance for the two older tracks to get a digital outing, which is welcome. Obviously there’ll be a public demand for the Gui Boratto remix, but the original mix is also worth checking out- a bouncy, sedate house affair with a lot of delicate piano work over a perky lightweight groove and rubbery bassline. The progressions are slow, the general attitude is smooth and rather mesmerising.

The New Chapter remix is smoother and benefits from ten-years-later production values, but it isn’t a complete re-imagining. There’s an extra feeling of floating in space, with the vocal sample more distant. The rubbery bass pattern has been transposed into a bouncy synth and it’s all a little sci-fi, and a little short on progression in parts.

The Gui Boratto remix from 2006 is rather timeless thanks to its simplicity- a super-tidy house groove, and simple gradual layering of twinkling loops, dropping at the two-minute mark to a rich, expertly simple sustained bass notes. The interview sample is used less frequently and only as a fill, which is a sensible move.

This is at least the third outing for “Rebecca Loos”- there was another remix package in 2010 on the Grayarea label, including a Gideon remix and extra variants on the original mix, but none of those appear here.

The track is named after pseudo-celebrity Rebecca Loos because of the short repeated interview sample of Ms Loos describing some of the sordid details of her affair with David Beckham, which at the time of the 2006 release would still have been quite topical. The breathy delivery and sexy but non-explicit sample gives the whole thing a gently soft-porn, “Fifty Shades Of Grey” flavour that has been a mainstay cliché of mainroom trance music for many years. I expected that the LessIsMore label might have been classier than that; it seems like a bit of an obvious PR move rather than a really well-chosen sample from a musical point of view. But despite seeming like a bit of an excuse to re-milk the old Gui Boratto remix for a third time, it’s still worth checking out.
Nov 01 2016
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Okqo - Form_1
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Okqo
Despite being the Oqko label’s first compilation, “Form_1” is one of those collections that’s so well curated and consistent in its sound that you might easily believe that it was one musical artist releasing an album under eleven different monickers. Like-minded individuals have all offered up different recipes from similar ingredients, melting together techno rhythms, glitch techniques, melodies borrowed from ambient, and large doses of experimental electro-punk attitude.

Smog’s “Tesla” is a strong opener, setting off with a heavy tribal electronic beat that gradually makes space for a rich ambience before coming back apace. Rodrigo Sigal’s “Brain In Pulse” is a similar but darker concoction of sub-bass and glitchy flashes of melody.

It’s not all bang bang bang bang of course. Khan Of Finland’s catchily-titled “endlosrille_st012” is a more pondering, downbeat affair, and Astvaldur’s “For Now” is a more melancholic affair with seemingly improvised synth leads. “Tender Tone” by Lvis Mejia is a super-steady slab of measured, near-beatless techno with fleeting romantic violin lines.

There are also some more formless and experimental numbers. Bugaev’s “Raw” is a rich drone layered with glittering microseconds of white noise. José Gallardo’s “Sinfonia para un hombre solo en su casa” is an angry bombast of square waves and thumping steeped in distortions and delays.

The review promo didn’t include a physical product, but only photos of it, and it’s deeply unusual-looking. It’s not even a music product per se, there’s no disc or tape involved. You get one printed transparency for each of the tracks on the compilation, housed in a large anti-static bag. Each track has been represented as a rectangle of black-and-white binary data, with the most prominent musical changes visible as changes in patterns within the rectangle. Printed on transparencies, you can then layer any or all of them against each other to create new patterns. It’s an innovative idea and one I’d have been interested to play with.
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