Music Reviews

BELP: Hippopotamus

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jun 16 2018
Artist: BELP
Title: Hippopotamus
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: SVS Records / Jahmoni
“Hippopotamus” is a compact 34-minute album of mostly relaxed, dubby, sub-bass heavy beats in complex, dancehall-like patterns, built with low-end sonics reminscent of Leftfield or releases on labels like Hyperdub, over which relatively simple synth chord progressions and digital atmospherics roll steadily and confidently.

Sebastian Schnitzenbaumer (BELP) was born and now lives in Munich but partially grew up on the Seychelles islands, and there are dual European and African influences on show here, as there are the dual influence of classical music training and an obvious love of deep dub and beats.

It’s almost entirely instrumental, with minor exceptions, such as the spoken word material on the opening track. Ending the first side with one minute of pure opera in “By Beauteous Softness” is a confident and effective touch.

Highlights include the rubber-bassed weirdness of “Clinging To A Cloud”, the sci-fi-dancehall crossover of unimaginatively titled “Space Dub”, and the atmospheric jazzy tones of “Time And Again”.

It’s a really well-formed release that doesn’t outstay any welcome. Certainly a release worth appreciating in an environment where you can really enjoy the bass, people who like their electronica dubby and deep should put this right at the top of their wishlists.

Ammar 808: Maghreb United

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jun 15 2018
Artist: Ammar 808
Title: Maghreb United
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Glitterbeat Records
An overt fusion between Northwest African traditional sounds and rhythms and sci-fi synth production, Sofyann Ben Youssef’s album as Ammar 808 is a bold bit of confident sample-driven electronica with a fresh-sounding and enjoyable vibe.

The time signatures are a blend as well. Some tracks, like “El bidha wel samra”, follow traditional 3 / 4 and less DJ-friendly patterns, and I’m not even sure what time “Layli” is in. Others, like “Alech Taadini”, have a 4 / 4 arrangement that would allow them to place easily in a broad-minded mix.

“Kahl el inin” is a prime example of the album’s harder-edged moments, that really justifies the use of the 808 in the name- thick, pure, subbass rumbling in a sort of ethno-techno- while by contrast tracks like “Boganga & sandia” have a more celebratory tone that is inherited from the vocal source material which, as far as I can tell, is treated with reverence and left structurally intact while the beats are built around it.

Over ten tracks, almost all under four minutes, it’s a tightly-packed collection of energetic dance numbers that doesn’t outstay its welcome. While it’s not going to win any awards for clever musical fusion, it’s easily carried by a feel-good factor and a deserved confidence in its own quality that definitely deserves a thumbs-up.

Tom Hall: Spectra

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jun 14 2018
Artist: Tom Hall
Title: Spectra
Format: CD
Label: Elli Records
Describing himself as an audio-visual artist, Tom Hall’s instrumental album “Spectra” sits somewhere between conventional synth-electronica- with hints of symphonic synthwave- and more experimental and drone tones, but with a reverent attitude to tonality and melody that prevents any of the pieces from stepping too extensively into the latter category. Hall openly references a broad set of influences from musique concrete to ‘quasi-pop’ and it’s an interesting melting pot that produces results that, while not revolutionary, certainly have a quality taste.

The release doesn’t retain the energy it begins with when opener “One Fell Swoop” starts, settling down into more atmospheric territory over time, but it’s not without its energetic elements- “Remain”, for example, has strong hints of the rapid-cut granular synthesis heard on BT releases like “This Binary Universe”.

The ‘one track to listen to on Spotify to see if you’ll like the album’ track would probably be “Intersect”, which gives you a strong idea of what’s going on here. The organ drone of “Ebb” could pass as the experimental final track on an EBM album, with some parts sounding like an early Chemical Brothers release with the beats taken off- last track “Last Retreat” reminds me, rightly or wrongly, of a beatless “The Private Psychedelic Reel”. “Flow” runs on similar lines but with some more unusual, ethnic-sounding bowed elements that give it a more distinctive profile.

Working with digital synth sounds commonly found in synthwave and pushing them into slightly more improvised, soundtrack-like and experimental directions, without losing track of their primary associations, “Spectra” is pretty successful without being eye-opening.

David Newlyn: Collected Fictions

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jun 13 2018
Artist: David Newlyn
Title: Collected Fictions
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Sound In Silence
Though he’s described as an ‘ambient producer’, this initially isn’t ambient music. It’s slightly lo-fi downtempo acoustic-cored electronica that takes relatively conventional instrumental set-ups of piano, guitar, bass and drum machine with long waves of synth pads, and stretches them into slow, melancholy numbers built around steady road-movie grooves.

Tracks like “Hymn To Bleachgreen” do open up with sparser, barren-sounding pads, but “Travelling For A Living”, after a slow plaintive electronica intro, brings the soft drums back in and returns itself a steady step in the direction of electronica MOR. Deliberately low-quality production touches on “Ashes” doesn’t wholly disguise the fact it’s just three minutes of meandering solo piano sorrow.

It’s obviously quite heartfelt at times but there was something about “Collected Fictions” that I just failed to warm to. Somehow it just felt that shade too effortless- and not in a good way- and with a diversity that seemed to come from inconsistency rather than real breadth or inspiration.
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Karl Marx's 200th !
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Karlrecords
“Karl Marx’s 200th” is a charity record with a difference- or rather many differences- marking the 200th year of Marx’s birth (albeit with a release date which misses Marx’s actual birthday by over a month) with a non-ironic anti-capitalist consumer product from which all the proceeds will be donated to charities. To whom the proceeds will be donated is completely undisclosed into the press release- I’m assuming it won’t be the Republicans or the Conservatives.

Musically it’s two hours of a relatively un-mixed bag. Many of the artists have already put out releases reviewed on ChainDLK in their own right and could be said to be part of an established scene, and working within their comfort zones. Artists like Aidan Baker and Porya Hatami offer up unusual recipes of drones and electronic soundscaping, while tracks like AGF’s remix of “Capitalism Crashed” are more electronica-minded affairs with soft kicks, glitches and noise washes.

There are some exceptions to the consistency of the sound. For example, the album is wrapped up by a live acoustic song performance by Warnings. Kammerflimmer Kollektief’s offering is 90 seconds of sonic chaos built from looping guitars and odd percussive hits with a certain, perhaps unintentional, sense of daftness- similarly Gitter’s offering sounds dangerously close to a metal band arsing about. Nickolas Mohanna’s “La semaine sanglante” is enjoyably theatrical in parts, as is Guido Möbius’s angular concoction of tape effects and teeth-grinding industrial and construction site noises.

Schneider TM, normally associated with somewhat mellower electronica, must have been having an angry day creating “Hand In Den Mund” which ends up sounding quite Venetian Snares-like in its brusqueness.

While other tracks like “Kali” use spoken-word vocals, Nicolas Wiese’s “The Revolution Will Have Been Youtubed #2”, revolving around spoken word samples looped and processed in a variety of ways, is the only piece that seems to tackle the themes of Karl Marx’s work in a verbalised and direct, albeit quite heavy-handed, way. All other references to Marx are more oblique- often just in the track titles, or notably in the poetry of Seda Mimarolu’s appropriately-titled “Circuitous”.

Highlights include Jasmine Guffond’s stark juxtaposition of gentle electric guitar patterns against harsh electronic noise in “Niche Service”, Pharoah Chromium’s sinister, gaming-environment-like “Der Zerfall des Systems”, Alexandre Babel’s energetic percussion work “Karlstag” and a crisp, strangely optimistic-sounding glitch-electronica of Mark Weiser’s “Kapital”.

Most of the pieces are kept rather short, so as to pack 28 pieces in, cutting some of the more interesting drone work a little before its prime, with only two pieces breaking the six minute barrier- Yr Lovely Dead Moon’s rather lush 11-minute feminine beat-poetry-driven devolving deep house workout “Kali”, and Caspar Brötzmann’s eight minute Silber-esque guitar drone “Marx Crash”.

Possibly the strangest charity record you’ll ever buy, at two hours long it’s a bumper value pack and if you’re a fan of avant garde electronica and also of the apparently anti-capitalist cause, then you should buy it, unironically.

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