Music Reviews

IIOIOIOII: Chroma + Chromatic

 Posted by Marc Tater (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Sep 25 2019
Artist: IIOIOIOII (@)
Title: Chroma + Chromatic
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: AnalogueTrash (@)
Distributor: Bandcamp
Rated: *****
Formed in 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina, IIOIOIOII (simply pronounced I.O.) is the solo project of the Electronic musician Chris Gurney. After the self-released debut "Reflect" in late 2012 he could enter a deal with the British Juggernaut label to release his highly acclaimed follow-up album "Sun", which can be surely named as a highlight of this far too early disbanded label. After getting signed in 2016 with the Manchester-based Analogue Trash label and the release of the third album "Post Brimstone (Expanded Edition)", Chris nowaddays returns to provide his fourth album "Chroma + Chromatic" and this is undoubtly his most matured and coherent sounding album so far.

This all new album can be seen as classic double-CD release. "Chroma" presents the listener 10 completely new compositions, while "Chromatic" acts globally like the remix companion release although it has its very own flavor. IIOIOIOII's musically influences taking inspiration out of all forms of darker-minded Synth-Electronica although the globally mood behind Chris' outfit is fragile and in some cases sentimental. Over all musically influences stands generally Synthpop with Downtempo- but also Ambient-like ingredients. Chris impresses the most with his well-sorted compositions, as they follow clear structures and guidelines.

Same counts for his crafty programming skills. Let's pick out one of the true pearls of the 10 new "Chroma"-tracks, "Haloed Eyes" for example. It's an adorable moody Synthpop tune with fabolous Synth-pads widely thrown into the stereo field and a catchy chorus. Generally I prefer the rather layered and sentimental tunes over the ones which tend to build dancefloor-compatibility. It may belongs almost to his calm vocal performance that this album gives out a sedating impression. It is definitely more suitable to get consumed under a good pair of headphones instead to get dropped into the anonymity of the club-fodder arsenal.

If this crafty and beautiful produced album needs a word of crticism, well, Chris' kind to integrate his vocals into the track follows to my taste a bit too often the same register. His calm timbre sounds well but also relatively foreseeable, at times a bit too monotonous and could need here and there a bit more emotional outbursts to surprise.

Also the second part of this DCD package entitled "Chromatic" needs some introductional words. First off you'll get the usual doze of remix contributions to the original "Chroma" tracks by such projcts among others like Grendel, Adoration Destroyed, Glass Apple Bonzai, or The Rain Within.
Especially the refreshing Grendel remix of "Haloed Eyes" with its saxophone inserts sets a high level and transforms this track to well usable dancefloor tune. Also quite enjoyable are those rather Synthwave-influenced remix works of Glass Apple Bonzai ("Cyan Dream") or The Rain Within ("Digital Moon"). Although most of the remixes here are radical reworkings of the original songs I still think that those contributions only work well regarding business relations. To me the original compositions of the artist are more important and reflect better the musically talent behind. Luckily you'll get rewarded with two further original tracks, "Over" and "Path to Lose".

There's nothing wrong with a purchase of this well-thought produced album and it features a lot of attactive ingredients of Chris Gurney's musically development throughout the years. And since I am quite late (again...) to review it, I must admit, that it perfectly fits from its mood to the beginning of the autumn days. Stuff to sink in under headphones or in front of a fireside.

Felix Lee: Inna Daze

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Sep 25 2019
Artist: Felix Lee
Title: Inna Daze
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Planet Mu
Felix Lee’s debut album treads an interesting line inbetween dark, faintly gothic male-vocalled synthwave and the more cerebral, slow and sub-bass atmospherics more commonly associated with Planet Mu.

It avoids any temptation towards retro sounds, with fresh and sharp production, and complex beat work. In terms of sound space, it often goes big, with tracks like “Void” with its thick chord pads going very dramatic, “Smoke” with its gutbusting subbass and kicks, and a really nice interplay between driving synth urgency and sparse beats on “Still Torn” and the attitude-and-distortion-laden end track “Slow Decay”.

But it also retains a strong sense of introspection, mainly thanks to underplayed vocals, which can be heard in play in tracks like a slightly Infusion-ish “Headless”, or thoroughly pessimistic opener “KOH”. Slightly sparser instrumentals like “Unified” help out with this too.

Most of the tracks are vocal, around half of them with guests, and some connect with the sound better than others. In “Focused”, a distinctly grime-centric rap from Yayoyanoh changes the flavour, reducing the music to a backing pattern, and while there’s nothing wrong with it, it ends up being the least successful part of the album. On the flip side to that, Gaika’s still low-energy but more melodic contribution to “Sangre” is a much better fusion of sounds, and is nicely emotive.

Angelspit: Bang Operative

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Sep 20 2019
Artist: Angelspit
Title: Bang Operative
Format: CD + Download
Label: Black Pill Red Pill
After giving previous album “Black Dog Bite” a glowing review a couple of years ago (comparing it to acts like Blue Stahli and Celldweller), and being impressed with the Angelspit-produced Miss Ballistic album earlier this year as well, Angelspit’s eight album was a welcome arrival, and I’m happy to report it continues in much the same vein as before. It’s thick, angry, sharply produced electro-metal with muscle and vigour, littered with sharp percussive drops, heavy synth basses and distortion, all topped with frustrated anti-media, anti-celebrity, anti-quite-a-lot-of-things lyrics (exemplified in tracks like “No Guillotine, No Crown”).

The vocals are still largely restrained to one-note or narrow melodic ranges, befitting of the genre but this is what holds it back from having a real standout vocal hook that could cross over into radio land. Highlights that come close include “Celebrity Disorder”, or the on-the-nose but strangely satisfying “Jesus Disguise”.

Some tracks wear a slightly more retro and synthwave vibe on their sleeve, like the curiously catchy “Fear Monger” with its slightly Vangelis-esque and sci-fi melody line, the properly 80’s-esque final track “Promise Of Gold”, or the nicely dramatic “Play Rough” with its more understated spoken-word approach. Broadly I think the tracks with an element of drama and change, such as “HexenjÄger” (based on a soundtrack piece Angelspit originally produced for a short film) bring a breadth and are maybe more successful than the relentless wall-of-sound numbers.

It’s thirteen slices of roughly-four-minute-long angry anti-pop that deserves to find a wide audience, not just in the techno-emo area that it’s initially targeting.

Empire State Human: Genesis Apollo

 Posted by Maurizio Pustianaz (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Aug 28 2019
Artist: Empire State Human
Title: Genesis Apollo
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: House Of Analogue
Rated: *****
It was 2012 when Empire State Human recorded "Genesis Apollo". Then, it seemed lost until it resurfaced in 2019 into the files of an old hard disk, just in time for the celebrations of the 50th years from the moon landing. The mini album contains six tracks and the first one is the nine minutes long "1961", track which includes the whole JFK speech about the space program. This isn't the only atypical track of the lot, because "Genesis Apollo" has been composed as a sort of soundtrack: it has an unusual amount of vocal samples and no Aidan's voice, apart from the few parts on the opening track and on the extended version of "Apollo", track included in the 2002 album "Pop Robot". Empire State Human succeeded into making an ambient, space, synthpop album, thanks to the right balance of all the elements and without making it sound like an album made by a total different band and it wasn't that easy!

Gross Net: Gross Net Means Gross Net

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Aug 27 2019
Artist: Gross Net
Title: Gross Net Means Gross Net
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Felte
Philip Quinn builds his dark electropop by starting with acoustic guitar songwriting sketches, then surrounding these with sharp electronica production and dark atmospheric synthesis to produce a collection of songs that sit somewhere between the more sinister side of synthpop, the lighter side of techno and the more accessible side of industrial. Perky and pure-sounding synth basses, cinematic synth-choir pads drawing out long minor chords, and sparing use of beats come together to form a grandiose-sounding affair.

With a title that’s a play on ex-UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s meaningless assurance that “Brexit means Brexit”, lyrically this is politically charged and frustrated stuff, notably in tracks like “The Indignity Of Labour”. However the vocal, as though lacking in confidence, is so heavily washed in reverb and echo that it’s often difficult to make out what point is being made- “Shedding Skin” being an example of this.

Highlights include “Gentrification”, which is a more overt and catchy throwback to 80’s and 90’s synthpop melded with curiously Tangerine Dream-esque meandering synth arps that works quite nicely, and final track “Social Nationalists” which plays a slow plaintive vocal against more driven and direct beats.

Overall though it does appear to be suffering from the general malaise affecting a lot of the UK at the moment, not just artists- a fatigue drawn from our political failures, backwards steps and the sense of inevitability behind the rise of right-wing views anathema to what we thought our country believed in. Tracks like “Of Late Capitalism” and “Dust To Dust” feel like they have given up, resigned to their fate, and they feel slightly languid and flat as a result, rather than a call to arms- though the latter redeems itself with an aggressive crescendo finale.

It’s a musical expression of complex feeling that’s quite engaging, but unfortunately there are too many patches that feel muddy or self-indulgent, making the result a little bit too alienating.

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