Music Reviews



Klangwart: Bogotá

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 14 2019
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Artist: Klangwart
Title: Bogotá
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Staubgold
Long-established but not particularly prolific duo Tim Reuber and Markus Detmer, generally labelled as ‘neo-krautrock’ or ‘avant-rock’, have travelled somewhat for this Bogotá project. As the name unsubtly suggests, they went to the Colombian capital in 2014 and collaborated with a variety of local musicians who each added a variety of organic elements that fuses well with the krautrock sound. The resulting flavour is a strong fifty-fifty blend of Spanish South American expression with more measured and teutonic rhythm work.

The album bookends “Porro A” and “Porro B” have an upbeat, hints-of-motorik beat that is strongly reminscent of the first Silver Apples releases. Save for a few production touches, most of the rest of the album sounds like it could have been contemporary to that late 60’s, wig-out, shades-of-early-prog-rock-and-alt-jazz musical make-up. However some more effects-laden sections, for example the dub-like reverbs in “Chocolate” or the brighter more modern-sounding synths in “Improv 2”, give away that it’s newer.

“Drum Battle” is a notable highlight, rolling live drum patterns around in an effects-laden space with rather trippy results that results in one of the album’s darker but most satisfying moments. This contrasts nicely with the fairly light-footed jazz meandering of longest track “Blind Date”, or the very chilled out groove found on “Rico”.

It largely sounds a little like it’s fallen through a wormhole in time and that the last twenty years of musical history haven’t happened, but sometimes that’s not a bad thing, and if you’re openminded to hearing a genuinely fusion-driven and well-rounded collection of krautrock blended with South American flavours, this will go down a treat.

Saba Alizadeh: Scattered Memories

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 13 2019
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Artist: Saba Alizadeh
Title: Scattered Memories
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Karlrecords
Iranian Saba Alizadeh’s debut album is largely built around his work as a player of the kamancheh, or ‘spike fiddle’, and on first introduction appears that it is going to be a fairly traditional work, drawing heavily on his country’s rich musical culture. But this is also a broader and more ambitious work as well, with the well-travelled Alizadeh obviously influenced by a wide variety of more experimental electro-acoustic works and soft-touch electronics as well, resulting in something that’s a genuine fusion of traditional and brand new sounds.

Sometimes it’s more of the former, with pieces like “Scattered Drops” drawing on the mesmeric patterning and near-cliché, sitar-style string sounds to build a slowly shifting pattern, that’s explored in reasonable length and only book-ended by more abstract sounds at either end. Last track “Fluid” has an expansive, languid feel to it, evocative of hot open plains and emptiness.

On the other hand, pieces like “Ladan Dead End” are handled very differently, with the acoustic instrumentation clearly a starting point, but on tracks which have clearly travelled a long way in production terms, with thick blankets of atmospheres, pads, reverbs, electronic clicks and post sounds that do, at times, bring to mind some Future Sound Of London works- slightly alien-sounding, barren and flute-infused opener “Blood City” being a case in point.

It’s a respectful and thickly textured blend of old and new instrumentation that draws on some sources that could sound stereotypical, yet successfully sounds fresh and newsworthy, traversing a path that carefully avoids the various traps of novelty and cultural appropriation to bring you something that you’ll certainly enjoy if you’re interested in hearing modern Eastern sounds.

Standing Waves: The Wave

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 11 2019
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Artist: Standing Waves
Title: The Wave
Format: CD + Download
Label: self-released
Staying fairly close to the comfort zone of ‘fusion music’, the exotic soundscapes of “The Wave” are a collection of bright instrumental performances that blend Eastern-sounding elements, particularly percussion and tabla, with more Western folksy and jazzy elements, in the piano and often prominent violin. It has an energetic, live, improvised ensemble feel to it for the most part, but later on, some more melancholy-infused pieces such as the two-part title track to give it a sincerity and depth.

The vocal work and ‘vocal overtoning’ showcased on the misleadingly titled “Frog Chorus” (there’s some actual frog ambience at the end, but not even a hint of Paul McCartney here) are quite intriguing, a-linguistic vocal exercises in melody and percussive mouth noises that at times borders on the territory of New Age Music (particularly in “Hildegard’s Dream”) but for the most part is a workable and refreshing substitute for conventional lyrical singing. It’s hard to tell sometimes what’s sampled and what’s original, with elements like the uncredited throat singing on “The Wave pt. 2” presumably a sample, but fused together with the real performance elements in a very convincing way.

It’s certainly a familiar-sounding approach to fusion, and a recipe that shouldn’t result in a platter that feels new. However it’s carried by the polished composition, performance and production that give it an undeniable richness, vibrancy and class. It also has potential as a stepping stone for listeners of more traditional music who are intrigued by something that’s just a shade more experimental without being challenging.

Belp: Crocodile

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jan 25 2019
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Artist: Belp
Title: Crocodile
Format: LP
Label: Jahmoni / SVS Records
“Crocodile” is a playful half-hour mini album spanned by ten short ideas that disassemble electronic dance music production elements- in particular hi-hats and snares, which are a focus- and more organic percussive sounds, pulling the rhythms apart and playing with bending and twisting them into something that sounds like it ought to be danceable, yet defies you to be able to do so.

It’s exemplified by “Endless Preparations For A Ceremony”, the conscious tripping-up of rhythmic patterns structured akin to avant garde jazz. The title track takes a similar rhythmic approach but with more use of atmospherics and heavily reverb-drenched vocal sounds to give it a moodier and more well-rounded feel, while “Strand”, despite being the longest track (at over three and a half minutes!) is a more stripped back and minimal affair.

“One And A Half Years Later” is an example of the more denser tracks, taking some spoken-word music documentary narration and layering it over a bendy and squelchy downtempo groove reminiscent of Wagon Christ, while final track “Catch” is a bold and punchy flourish of untraceable some-kind-of-tribal samples.

Overall it’s an unusual collection of exercises in unexpected rhythm programming, but at times it does feel a little bit under-baked, like a collection of incomplete musical sketches- certainly worth a listen though.

VV.AA.: This Is Frafra Power

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jan 25 2019
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: This Is Frafra Power
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Makkum Records
“This Is Frafra Power” a fascinating highlight thrown on a music scene many will be completely unaware of, but which will be well worth your time and money checking out if you like your electronica, hip-hop-light and complex African rhythms all melted up in one pot. Gathering together eight tracks from different artists, but all recorded in Francis Ayamnga’s studio in Northern Ghana, it’s a polished set of what we might coarsely label as “Afro-pop”, but with strong rap elements and deftly light electronic touches that give it more character than that label may suggest.

Despite an apparently small geographical scope and the self-imposed small pool to compile from, there’s a good deal of variety here. There’s a raw electro-grime edge to tracks like Matala Ligiri’s “Ragazeer” and more of a party vibe to Bororiga N Lobema’s “I Remember Yesterday” and the quite 80’s sounding “Awudu Messenger” by Seero. Some Western-ish pop styles are reconstructed and given unique flavours in tracks like Ndaana Eera Ymah’s “Linda Ayupuka” and the bold opener “Fausty Amoa Mabila” from Nosanayine.

For the sake of trying to compare it to known European music, at its most electronics-infused it does occasionally bring to mind Major Lazer (but without the subbass), old M.I.A. or Two Culture Clash, but pieces like Sugri’s “Sugri Hajia Zenabu” are more traditional-sounding group-vocal-driven affairs that feel less modernised.

The sound quality is generally good, but with some slightly lo-fi and compressed elements, particularly on some of the vocals, which leave a little unsure whether it’s a deliberate effect or a lo-fi consequence of overloaded microphones. The consistency of production between tracks, grown naturally from the single studio source, helps the compilation hang together as a proper listening album.

It’s a fascinating and quite leftfield collection of a region and modern musical culture I was completely unaware of, and for that reason alone you should check it out simply as an eye-opener. The fact it’s nicely produced and good authentic pop music is certainly a bonus of course.
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