Music Reviews

Analogue-X: Imaginary

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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May 09 2019
Artist: Analogue-X (@)
Title: Imaginary
Format: CD + Download
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
It seems like only yesterday (figuratively speaking) that I was reviewing German-Hungarian electropop band Analogue-X's 'Course of Life' album, and here they are already with a new one- 'Imaginary'. In terms of quality, there's nothing imaginary about 'Imaginary'; the band has significantly upped its game since its last outing. Not that 'Course of Life' was a bad album; it was really pretty good, but 'Imaginary' fulfills the promise of what this band is really capable of. Opening with the fantastical yet semi-low-key "Imaginary World," Analogue-X doesn't show all of its cards in the opening hand. It's a good song with a good hook, good beat and worthy synthtronics but there's an ace up the sleeve, and it's revealed in the killer "Angel of Light" which follows. It's almost as good as Camouflage's "The Great Commandment" (the best song that band ever did) and really kicks ass with its 4-onthe-floor beat and uber-memorable synth hook. Rene Mussbach is a good, but not great vocalist, but here he plays to his strength, which is drawing the listener in and putting an emotional spin on his lyrics rather than powering through them. ALexis Voice's synths work hand-in-glove to support the vocals rather than just show his technical prowess as was often the case on 'Course of Life'. I also noticed that Clarke Gahan is gone, which might have been for the best, if the quality of tracks on 'Imaginary' is any indication. The three tracks that follow are somewhat upbeat and certainly hook-laden, until we get to the romantic ballad, "Facade". It's rare that I hear a synthpop ballad that tears me up on a first listen, but this one did. Susie NLG's subtle backing vocals add a certain depth and sweetness that's a real asset to the performance. The song has a powerful hook too. The band picks up the pace again with "Call Your Name," and something tells me these guys are destined break the "regional" barrier with this album as they raise the bar with great melodic songwriting. It's about this point (8th track) on most albums where the quality tends to flag a bit and the songs coast. There's a modicum of that in "Time of Darkness" but not a big dip. "In My Memory" kicks it back into high gear with catchy synth riffs and a powerful left hook vocal. "Stage of Life" is one of those medium-tempo change-of-pace tracks that may take time to grow on you, and the same could be said for "Dark Moment". "Second Chance" capitalizes on Rene's vocal strengths, albeit with a good beat and synth execution. I expected a little more from final track, "My Guardian Angel" but it turned out not to be the clincher I was hoping for, just a nice melodic ending. Overall though, 'Imaginary' has so much meat on the bone one can't complain of leaving the table hungry. Hungry for more maybe, and we'll see what Analogue-X comes up with in the future, after their fame catches up with their talent.

Kedr Livanskiy: Your Need

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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May 03 2019
Artist: Kedr Livanskiy
Title: Your Need
Format: 12" vinyl + CD
Label: 2M Records
After her debut album “Ariadna”, Livanskiy says she felt “trapped by her own image”. The main medication for this issue, she says, was DJ’ing “old school styles of dance music”- ghetto, house, breakbeat and UK garage. So while the experimental, quirky, sonically fairly lightweight synthpop of the first album is still on display, it’s no surprise that it’s now fused with more dancefloor-centric elements.

This is most in evidence on the title track, which is here included in two versions, with the ‘deep mix’ a nice example of old school belearic dreaminess- as is “Sky Kisses”, which will appeal still enjoying the more blissed out tracks on old Beloved albums. “Bounce 2” is a fun throwback to ravier days, with its almost complete lack of bass evoking memories of listening to worn-out or badly recorded mix cassettes, for better or worse.

The alt-pop aesthetic is still very much present however. Every track retains a song structure around three minutes, and tracks like “LED” are sincere and straightforward pop ballads. “Why Love” is an alt-electro-disco highlight, and final track “Ivan Kupala”, with its early 90’s breakbeat, is nicely messy in the best possible way and wraps the album up very nicely indeed.

The ‘ghetto’ element peeks through in certain aspects, such as the rhythms on “City Track” and “Kiska” or the dubby version of “Lugovoy”, but in terms of overall, this remains ‘synthpop doing other rhythms’ rather than anything that would pass as urban music.

It’s a light electro-synthpop release with a lot of character and a personal touch being clearly expressed. It may not be substantial enough for some tastes- either in production depth or due to the brevity of the tracks- but for fairly wistful walking music, this has a lot of merits.
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Tombstone Trance Vol. 1
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Stabudown Recordings
Stabudown’s compilation album isn’t purely ‘trance’, in any generational use of the word, but a fairly broad collection of almost-entirely-instrumental EDM that spans synthwave, modern electro, synth-industrial, techno and, to a lesser degree, trance in the more early 90’s, less mainroom hands-in-the-air sense. Initially there’s a musical commonality that comes from some heavy and not-just-4/4 percussive elements that provide most of the tracks with a distinct bang, but as the tracks progress, things get more beat-free, introspective and spacious. The result is an earnest pack of tunes that’s so remarkably consistent and planned out that at times you could believe this is an artist album.

TML’s “Goshun” is one of the heavier pieces, thick kicks with stuttering vocal sounds, while CLAWS’s “Scrappy Industrious F.U.” also has the banging attitude but with a production approach that’s so bright it ends up feeling feel-good possibly by accident. Kerridge’s “Death Is Upon Us”, Long Bastard’s “Send” and Bad Tracking’s “Arnos Veil” form a mini-industrial section (the second of those with some vocals, just to mix things up a bit).

Highlights include Koehler’s “Beyond Andromeda”, a deceptively grouping of semi-breakbeat and playful high synth arpeggios that’s strangely infectious. East Side Ancients’ upbeat but coarse-edged dub track “New Happy Fortune” is oddly nostalgic, but in a good way, and it runs nicely into the deeper reverbing delays of Grey People’s “Mourning Etiquette”. This in turn flowers smoothly into the ethereal tones and heartbeats of “Absolute Other” by Organic Dial. The two final tracks, from Vanity Productions and The Rancor Index, complete the descent into downtempo ambience, bordering on drone, and the journey is nicely complete.

It’s a well curated compilation that’s more thoughtful and diverse, and less in-your-face, then the artwork and branding may possibly suggest. Definitely the sound of life at the more interesting side of EDM.

Moscoman: Wave Rave

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
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Apr 25 2019
Artist: Moscoman
Title: Wave Rave
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Life And Death
After catching Moscoman’s “I Ran” release from last year on his own Disco Halal label, a new EP was very welcome. This one’s now on the Life And Death label but the style, and the quality, has remained consistent across these four new tracks of melodic, synthy instrumental house with a warm, analogue but not wholly retro flavour.

The title track is built around a bright chord scheme and enjoys itself, a fairly simple bit of feel-good instrumental electropop in a DJ-friendly format. “Dinner For One” is a little darker and wobblier, with soft rumbling bass, a scratchy, meandering distorted synth lead note, and an unusual and very confident breakdown involving near-silence and light but militaristic snare patterns.

There’s a bouncy, slightly 90’s feel to the slow unfolding and twangy guitar work of “550”, which ends up being my favourite of the pack, while final track “Space Comfort” is another bright number with an almost endearing naivety to it that recalls the heady early days of instrumental synthpop where absolutely nothing seemed to be regarded as cheesy.

Another strong, accessible and surprisingly poppy pack from Moscoman, perfect for filling your set with a bit of bright electro cheer.

Cosmo: Cosmotronic Remixed

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
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Apr 17 2019
Artist: Cosmo
Title: Cosmotronic Remixed
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: 42 Records / Ivreatronic
Cosmo is a bona fide Italian pop star, though I’ll admit that word of him or his albums hadn’t previously reached me in the UK. He (or his press people) emphasise that he “keeps one foot in the underground”, and on the strength of this 11-track remix package, getting mostly Italian artists to rework tracks from last year’s “Cosmotronic” album, that statement does appear to be valid and true. Across eleven DJ- and club-friendly tracks, we get a fairly consistent set of deep house and synth-electronica which is essentially no longer pop music, and which most of the time completely disguises and hides its pop roots.

The rapid kicks of Not Waving’s version of “Animali” set the tone nicely in terms of synthetic, synthwave-ish atmosphere and slow build, although it draws a harder, grittier rhythm which isn’t indicative of the usually steadier house rhythms that follow it. Bawrut’s steady techno-inflected-house version of “Tristan Zarra”, with its enviable live drum fills and stripped-back ‘polizia’ vocal refrain, is both a great track with broad appeal, and a strong indicator of the rest of the release. The acid tweaks of Elisa Bee’s “Bentornato” provide an appropriate bookend doing a similar job at the other end of the release.

Other highlights include the infectious bouncy synth bass of Fabio Fabio’s “Barbara remix”, and the modern twist on an 80’s jack groove gone dark in Fabrizio Mammarella’s “Attraverso lo Specchio” remix.

It’s not all plain 4/4 either. The odd-step-pop of the Splendore remix of “Tutto Bene” is notably gritty and faintly moombahton-esque, while the Stefano Ritteri version of “Sei La Mia Citta” is a pleasant, if slightly flat, slow Eastern blend.

I haven’t heard the original “Cosmotronic” album so can’t comment on its merits as a remix album compared to its source material, but as a stand-alone package of deep house and soft-edged techno, this really is top-notch stuff.

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