Music Reviews

Zonk't: Banburismus

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Apr 16 2018
Artist: Zonk't
Title: Banburismus
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Sound On Probation
Laurent Perrier, who I last encountered using his Heal alias to produce a very focussed single-concept experimental album, has come up with something much more expansive and expectation-defying here- long, drawn-out part-electronica, part slow techno, part electronic dub.

The first side is completely comprised of one 18-minute piece “Square”. Opening with a very long and sombre synthetic drone, the listener may at first begin to think they’re getting 37 minutes of heartrate-lowering mellowness, but what unfolds after the misleading opening third is a much more complex arrangement of nicely odd electronica, gentle synth stabs bouncing around in lakes of decay and delay with meandering glitching pads and a barely audible bass note that manages, to some degree, to keep proceedings vaguely grounded.

The second side is in three parts, with first “Chronogyre”, which introduces a steady, almost dubby sub-bassline over which plays some increasingly sparky sawtooth-edged synth notes that gradually build in chaoticness, but the underlying groove stays rock-steady. Although it starts with some cheery baby giggling noises, “Colussus” goes darker, laying some cinematic synth pads over another steady rumbling bassline. The dubby themes continue into short final track “Conditional Probability”, which is the track that sounds most like recent The Orb tracks, in the best possible way.

It’s strong, warm, dubby electronica with a lot of variety and a real sense of journey and purpose, and it ought to command a lot of attention.

Territoire: Alix

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Apr 13 2018
Artist: Territoire
Title: Alix
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Humo
Oscar Arson, as Territoire, serves up a dark, slow-techno concept album based around the titular character being born into slavery. Not that you’d realise it was a concept album from the lyrics, as there are barely any. Instead what you get is seven slices of gothic-tinged bass rumbles, slow heartbeat-like kick drums, sinister whispered vocals, low gated and processed synth pads and atmospherics.

More conventional instrumentation- guitars, tuba, clarinet- are worked into some tracks but in nicely understated ways that add to the palette of those tracks without sounding like novelty- in some cases you may be hard pushed to distinguish that instrumentation from its synthesized setting.

After the very bold and attention-grabbing polished sound of opening track, erm, “Sourd”, “Esclvvv” begins a steady, not-too-heavy pounding that’s imbued with plenty of both fear and attitude. Things go a little off the boil with “Soumission” and “Chant” which settle into slightly less dramatic, industrial-ish rumbling. “Exil” is a bit more vigorous initially but unfolds into an almost ambient conclusion, which segues nicely into “Meta/Xim”’s broad and fairly empty rumbling into nothing. Final track “Quatre siècles de privilèges” sounds at first like the beginning of a new dawn- certainly not a happy ending but certainly slight hints of optimism rather than fatal finality.

At 37 minutes it’s quite short, but that helps to excuse the slight lack of sonic variation. The concept may not shine through but as a hybrid of some very dark techno with also-dark soundscaping and atmospherics, it’s got a polished sincerity and a powerful mood-changing tone.

Sonae: I Started Wearing Black

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Apr 13 2018
Artist: Sonae
Title: I Started Wearing Black
Format: LP
Label: Monika Enterprise
Sonae’s 8-track “I Started Wearing Black” is a deeply melancholic collection of stripped-back and glitched electronica sometimes bordering on techno, pairing sometimes-there-sometimes-not soft subbass kick drums with thickly layered polyrhythmic and arhythmic electronic effects into something very focussed and quite intense.

“Majority Vote” is quite a forthright opener, but the pace lets up a little with bell-toned “Rust” and the decidedly more melodic “Dream Sequence”, a definite highlight with its cello tones (maybe?) and a sense of building into grandeur. From that peak, “Soul Eater” and the title track are consciously rougher-hewn and more insular, with the title track’s spontaneous reintroduction of danceable rhythm making you wonder whether the first 20 minutes has all been a spectacularly elaborate intro. “White Trash Rouge Noir” pulls the same track, with a muffled industrial rhythm kicking in from nowhere halfway through an otherwise very sparse arrangement. “System Immanent Value Defect” is a prettier piece, with long sustained piano tones and light, glitchy rhythm programming underpinning gradually growing pad sounds that become quite lush towards the conclusion. Final track “We Are Here” ends on a downbeat, an odd broken-lullaby melodic tone falling away into increasingly random noise.

It’s a very smart and polished bit of very deep electronica, earnest and definitely worthy of attention.

Bad Stream: Bad Stream

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Apr 12 2018
Artist: Bad Stream
Title: Bad Stream
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Antime
Though he describes his work as equal parts rock and electronica, Martin Steer’s debut album as Bad Stream is closer to the latter than the former. With expansive synthetic but cinematic atmospheres, dark Rob Dougan-esque vocals, dramatic breakbeat drumming patterns, the guitar work is just one element in a very richly textured album with an extremely high production value. This is the sound of a very accomplished producer- less surprising when you find out that Steer is or was a member of Frittenbude.

Some tracks are more driven, with pulsing patterns that underpin tracks like “Already Dark” and one of the rockiest tracks “Megafauna”, while others such as the opener “Transition” have a grumblier and less urgent tone to them. “Nervous Love” pushes that contrast within itself, playing a steady confident walking-techno beat in the ‘verses’ against angry relentless drum crashes and louder guitar work in the sort-of-chorus.

I’ve very enamoured with this album, which is certainly going to get repeat plays above and beyond the reviewing process, but if I was scrabbling to find criticisms, I might suggest that consistency is its downfall. Across 71 minutes there’s a lot of epic mood atmospherics that hit mostly one particular pitch, and for that kind of running time, you could possibly find the sheer epicness of it tiring and wish for a little bit more variation. That’s not to say there is none- the almost house-piano elements in “Black Weed” being a great example, the long spoken-word samples in “Transition II” a less distinctive one- but it does appear that Steer has stayed somewhat in his comfort zone at times, which is a shame as the production touches are so deft that you do wonder if he could have been more ambitious in his scope.

As well as having a definite appeal to fans of the accessible-rock-music-with-electronica that seems to come out of Germany in satisfying quantities, this release is an absolute most for fans of UNKLE that I’ve already mentioned, but also Hybrid, M83, Ulrich Schnauss and beyond.

μ-Ziq: Challenge Me Foolish

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Apr 11 2018
Artist: μ-Ziq
Title: Challenge Me Foolish
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Planet Mu
I revisit µ-ZIQ’s 1999 album “Royal Astronomy” every once in a while. His most major label release (on Virgin) it has an elegant quality to it that stood it above its peers when electronica had just passed a commercial and creative peak and felt like it was beginning to wane, here was an electronica album with smoothness, depth and an organic quality.

So I was excited to find that “Challenge Me Foolish” is a collection of leftovers from that period of µ-ZIQ’s career- an extra bonus hour of unearthed unreleased material with the same blend of glitched-up post-bigbeat irreverence and sample frenzy mixed with jazzy synth instrumental parts.

And sure enough, sonically it has a lot in common with “Royal Astronomy”, and you can easily believe that tracks like “Inclement” would’ve been included on that album if there had simply been enough space. Pieces like “Perhaps” and the poppy, named-after-a-biscuit-company “Peek Freans” are quirky, quite Wagon Christ-like instrumental numbers with a bit of playful experimentation that maybe even seemed a little too daft for the finished work. “Ceiling” is a fantastically frantic bit of glitchy jungle that probably only got left off the album for being too hard.

Some tracks, like “Undone”, do feel a bit less polished by comparison, as though the decision that they hadn’t quite made the grade was made before the track was truly finished off- but there’s certainly nothing wrong with them, no rough edges, just maybe a lack of decorative tweaking that truly album-ready tracks often get. “Perfame”, with its baroque melody, has some surprisingly weak-sounding synth strings that have a slight feel of ‘unfinished demo’ about them, but they’re certainly not poor.

For anyone who enjoyed “Royal Astronomy” or any of that late 90’s blossom of interesting electronica that Planet Mu were right at the centre of, this is a bonus hour you’ll definitely enjoy.

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