Music Reviews

Assemblage 23: Endure

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Mar 25 2017
Artist: Assemblage 23
Title: Endure
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Metropolis (@)
Rated: *****
The guessed cover artwork for the return (more than four years after the previous album "Bruise") could bee matched to one of those surprising discoveries of frozen ancestors of homo sapiens in the cave of some forgotten mountain. Well, imagine this situation projected in the future: maybe some snooty anthropologist could find the well-preserved corpse of Thom Shear, the lad behind Assemblage 23, together with mysterious objects like a floppy disk, a Korg MS-20 or a Roland SH-101 in the coffin, to classify it in some undefined area of the evolutionary ladder. I wonder how they would label it... maybe futurepopithecus? Most of the ten tracks orbit around that amalgamation of EBM-synth lines, a dense wave imprint and that touch of Balearic house, a somehow baffling mixture of recipes that it's a little bit like an imaginary meal (I would never be so brave) where you eat the raw ovary of a female peacock to show some disputable gastronomical courage and find a strawberry-flavoured chewing gum inside. All kidding aside, despite the retrofuturistic aftertaste and the above-mentioned baffling stylistic choices, there are many easy "danceable" and enjoyable tracks if you miss that kind of EBM, wisely deranged to future-pop sonorities: thumbs up - particularly for the editing - for tracks like "Barren", "Call The Dawn", "Bravery" and "Salt The Earth" as well as for some remixes included on the bonus CD, if you opt for the deluxe edition (particularly the one of "Bravery" by Solitary Experiments and the one of "Salt The Earth" by Angeltheory. Besides any distinctions and stylistic consideration, I think that the way your ear got trained in the 90ies or just your likings will let you think A23's enduring sonorities deserve to get thawed at room temperature or put it back in a place for protective hibernation.

Ludodowwn: Mirror / Bleach

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Mar 24 2017
Artist: Ludodowwn
Title: Mirror / Bleach
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Ludodowwn
Ludodowwn’s debut EP is not as “grimy” or “twisted” as its accompanying press release and branding would suggest. Branding as “dystopian mesh of Radiohead and Animal Collective”, I’d agree with the latter but not the former.

“Spit & Lead” is the opener, that sets a very bright uptempo tone that isn’t maintained throughout the release. Ludodowwn’s native Australia has a strong track record of electronica-pop (and for the record I’m thinking more SonicAnimation and Infusion than Minogue there) and the opening track suggests the release will be along those lines, with an uncredited female co-vocalist and a well-rounded synthpoppy arrangement. Things get darker and slower later on, but it’s a nice place to start.

“Two One” brings a faintly tribal synthdrum programming to the fore. The vocal is low in the mix and hard to discern but is vaguely Joy Division-ish, seeming almost drunk in parts. Highpitched synth bleeps and FX busy themselves at the top end while the bass notes evolve very slowly.

Title track “Mirror / Bleach” is a track of very distinct halves. Three minutes of moody melodic drone, metallic chord washes and distant voices abruptly jump at the three-minute mark into a short-lived groove (the “Bleach” part?) that seems to have been borrowed from a chillout lounge album and which can quite justifiably and shamelessly be described as ‘funky’. It’s a massive gearshift and it mostly works, but despite being the title track, in the context of the EP the “Bleach” bit, if that’s what it is, is a major anachronism.

“Heads Within Heads” has that glitchy 75bpm rhythm with spurts of rapid-fire hihat fire as though the drum programming is itching to break into drum’n’bass but isn’t allowed. The languid and indiscernible vocal lacks the energy of the underlying music that expertly shifts and adjusts its tone, heading at parts back into the vicinity of synthpop territory.

Things slow down as they wind up, with penultimate track “Polar” a ballad-slow, super-light drum rhythm over which lullaby-like loops repeat. A sharp-edged bass cuts in halfway through and the vocal gets less soporific and more pained, but both settle down again towards the end.

Closer “Escapism” is also quite lethargic, pitch-shifting synths over a slow-stepping beat that again is 70bpm but sounds like it wants to be 140. Again the offkilter approach to vocal tempo gives things a strangely inebriated or carefree tone, which forms interesting parallels with the sombre and sad tones being created.

Overall this is a succinct and natty EP, with a lot of ideas and production values that are very high for a debut. It’s insular but polished downtempo electronica from someone who’s clearly one to look out for in future.

I, Poor Romantic: Cool oh no cool

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Mar 21 2017
Artist: I, Poor Romantic
Title: Cool oh no cool
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Basserk Records (@)
Dutch duo I, Poor Romantic’s debut release is a pair of rolling-and-stepping moody broken-beat synth tracks, with steady slightly glitched rhythms underpinning deep rubbery basslines and atmospheres. Languid and smooth vocals from Marjolein have that casual “don’t try too hard” half-spoken vibe that’s very popular at the moment, with the long spoken word sections of second track “We Have This Recording” bordering on beat poetry.

These are slightly DJ-unfriendly tracks that fade in and out, thickly arranged and mastered to make them strong walls of emotional synth sound. As home listening tracks, there’s perhaps a slight lack of variation that doesn’t sustain an average of six minutes per track. However if these tracks are an indicator of an album to come, if the album is carefully refined then it could potentially be spectacular.

Wealth: Primer

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Mar 02 2017
Artist: Wealth
Title: Primer
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Ventil Records
“Primer” is a short collection of dark, twisted post-techno soundscaping. Muffled and broken rhythms underpin dark synthetic drones and cathedral-esque tones, with subtly de-tuned, thoroughly modern, stark digital synths squealing and procrastinating over the top. It’s a somewhat familiar sonic set-up, but done with measure and restraint and a good sense of space.

Tracks like “Floor”, with its simple 4-note bass pattern and live-tinged percussion, and closer “Lethe” with its slow and clean melancholy chords, are deceptively simple, with delicate arrangements that skirt around minimalism without ever really being it, an impressive tightrope-walking production act.

Longest track “Plate LXXVI (Diagram For Lilies)” is the most progressive self-contained piece, initially ‘the ballad’ of sorts, soporific electric piano loops gradually making way for a light industrial rhythm.

On the brief “Queen Of The Night”, guest santur player Stefan Fraunberger brings both organic and ethnic flavours and widens the scope of Wealth’s sound, an avenue I’d hope they’d continue to explore on future releases. The more playful stepping of “Snares” is also a highlight.

Wealth’s moody, insular un-techno is a relatively well-tried recipe now, but “Primer” has enough quality in its production to make Wealth one to watch in the future.

Group Zero: Structures And Light

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Feb 27 2017
Artist: Group Zero
Title: Structures And Light
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Touch Sensitive Records (@)
Distributor: Cargo Records
As the name either says or contradicts depending on how you look at it, Group Zero is a solo project from Cathal Cully, who spent four years gradually accumulating his own collection of experimental synthwave-ish works while on hiatus from the band Girls Names. While he’s the guitarist and vocalist here, you wouldn’t guess it from this bundle of purely synth instrumentals.

Tracks like “The Fantasist” are ominous-sounding throwbacks to that raw analogue 1980’s sound, with slow arpeggios that could be labelled weedy but which work in context. Melodic lead lines sound not too dissimilar from early OMD elements, but without the full pop sensibility underneath. The “Pummelling Repetition Inside” when its prominent simple bassline is what I’d imagine Chicken Lips sound like when they’re grumpy.

In Cully’s own words his home recording setup is “modest” and there’s a sense of that prevailing throughout the album. Sonically it’s got a fairly narrow spectrum, all staying quite firmly in warm and analogue-like territories, with only the crispness of the percussion really cutting through to any degree.

With the exception of “Pyramid Of Light”, each track is essentially a single groove, arguably a single idea. Layers and elements come and go over time, but there’s nothing as audacious as a basenote change or a B section here. So it’s appropriate that most of the tracks are only three or four minutes long, otherwise their lack of internal variation might begin to overstay its welcome. Cully clearly knows which patterns are the most hypnotic, allowing tracks like the highlight “I Dream Unwired” and the nicely suspense-stretched “Vernissage” more time to breathe.

“Pyramid Of Light” is a short ambient-drone interlude with distant guitar noodling on it, a brief suggestion of a different direction that Cully could have headed in if not lured into proto-techno sounds, which segues into “Love And The Present” with its anachronistic indie-pop twangy guitar that gives away Cully as a ‘live band’ performer rather than a studio native.

Twelve-minute-long, digital-only bonus track “Zero Symphony” is also slightly atypical- a gradually building and tense affair of arpeggios, riotous distorted guitar noises and suspense strings that sounds like it’s the longest, most epic intro to a electro-rock album you’ve ever heard. Snare drums arrive after ten minutes but the electro-rock never comes- instead it runs out of steam, a definite anticlimax.

There’s a definite “bedroom synth experimenter” flavour to this release but it’s certainly not without its merits. If thicker kickdrums and subbasses were added, you could label this a deep techno album, but as it is it could be described as a slightly self-indulgent home-listening affair, but well above average.

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