Music Reviews

Ben Chatwin: Staccato Signals

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jul 03 2018
Artist: Ben Chatwin
Title: Staccato Signals
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Village Green Recordings
For his third album under his own name, Scotland-based Ben Chatwin wanted to ‘switch his brain off’ and play with analogue modular synthesizers, utilising their quirks to let melody and structure form naturally without too much premeditation. However, unsatisfied that he’d pushed himself hard enough, he then decided to add some ‘real’ perfomers into the mix- cornet and tenor horn, cello, and on some tracks, a four-piece string performance from the Pumpkinseeds.

And it’s clear right from the off that the result is something much more epic and grandiose than could have been achieved solo and just using synthesizers. The strings are crucial throughout, and particularly to the overture “Divers In The Water” and first full piece “Silver Pit”, setting out a stall that’s unabashedly cinematic and sets out to scale high. The analogue synths form the rumbling basses and gutpunching sounds in what sounds very much like a film prelude or trailer music.

Tracks like “Helix” drop the energy somewhat, setting off on steadier, more journeyman and atmospheric set-up of slow builds and soft drops that aren’t quite as punchy and which, at times, feel like they’re simply missing a lead line. Highlights include the brighter-sounding “Bow Shock” and the rougher-hewn textures of “Substrates”.

At times it sounds distinctly like Hybrid, without the beats, which in my view is certainly a compliment, though on tracks like “Fossils” and the slightly Vangelis-ish “Knots” there’s a slightly more synthwave flavour that peeks through.

It exudes quality in its production, and if it were coupled with that magic ingredient of memorable or heart-wrenching melody, it would be nothing short of amazing as a piece of cinematic electronica.
Jul 02 2018
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Electro Bass Development (phase II)
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Subsonic Device
Rated: *****
OK, first of all, I’m late reviewing this one but luckily quality doesn’t expire and on „Electro Bass Development (phase II)“, we have the presence of classic names that helped to define the electro bass genre as a plus. I'm talking about names of the likes of Debonaire (Italian dj relocated in Miami and active already in the 80s), Bass Junkie and Dynamix II (which were already active in the 90s) or Darxid (who came soon after), plus names which are in activity since ten years or so already, like DJ Xed, Dark Vektor, John Robie. The youngest one is the project of a Spanish guy called Roberto Rey who started Negocius Man in 2013 or so. The compilation has been issued by Subsonic Device, Darxid’s label, on double vinyl and it’s still available for you to purchase, but only in this format. No digital files to purchase or download. We have eight tracks/projects as Dynamix II and John Robie are teaming up for „They’re Coming“. If you are already a fan of the genre, for sure you are owning at least some releases by most of them. Probably the surprise of the lot is Otto Von Schirach, because I reviewed his 2004 album „Global Speaker Fisting“ and it wasn’t sounding electro at all, if I remember well. Maybe the last one I had the occasion to check ten years ago titled „Oozing Bass Spasms“, had some electro influences, but in this case, „Bass Low (Down Pitch Out Mix)“, mixes synth stabs and am 80s electro hip hop approach with digital distorted bass lines. The effect is sounding like nice a mutant electro funk tune. Tracks like Bass Junckie’s „Galactic Combat“, DJ Xed’s „Spectral Subspace (Subsonic Mix)“, Dark Vektor’s „No More (Sóc Un Frik Sóc Un Tècnic)“ or Dynamix II vs. John Robie’s „They're Coming“ are sure sounding true to the classic sound of the genre. Darxid with „Hungry“ mix powerful bass and vocals distorted lines with syncopated beats creating a song that sounds fresh and it’s able to stick to your memory immediately. Debonaire’s „Electro Novocaine (Injectable Beats)“ sounds cinematic, menacing and powerful. As approach it seems that Claudio Barrella is remixing himself and this created a nice effect. Good compilation which grows with the listenings. You can check some tracks on YouTube.
Jun 23 2018
Artist: Christopher Chaplin
Title: Paradise Lost
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Fabrique Records
Christopher Chaplin’s second album is a truly curious beast, and probably the oddest setting of John Milton’s poem that you’ll have ever heard.

As the artwork suggests this is a properly theatrical work, merging sparse bits of English-language opera singing (Nathan Vale on the first and last tracks), beat poetry (Leslie Winer on the second track), sporadic and often very ominous-sounding string and woodwind orchestrations with some experimental percussive performance elements and an occasional smattering of modern electronica, drones and synth twiddling.

Sometimes meandering into abstract soundscaping, and at other times feeling more like an overtly staged performance piece, it seems to revel in the defiance of expectations on each level- including lyrically, being difficult to follow and inviting you to try and interpret that which may not actually be interpretable.

Personally I am more intrigued by the Nathan Vale-featuring “I Dread”, which has a greater sense of dynamic, than the sultry, smoky squidginess of Leslie Winer’s rambling lines on “Dave The Shoe”, on the grounds that the latter feels less distinctive. The shorter final operatic piece “Of This New World” feels somehow more conventionally vocally, but the offset of plaintive melancholic tenor singing against glitchy electronics is still a winning combination.

Although this work feels like it ought to make more sense in a live performance setting than on an album, it’s a properly unusual work that commands attention.

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.

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