Music Reviews

Artist: Olivia Louvel (@)
Title: Data Regina
Format: CD + Download
Label: Cat Werk Imprint (@)
This is a noble and fascinating concept album about the period of 16th century British history when both England and Scotland were ruled by women. Accompanied by an arts council-funded interactive website and with track titles referencing specific battles, it’s the most unusual history lesson you’ve ever sat through- and possibly the first one where it’s recommended to gaze out of the window.

But crucially it is not, as you might first think, an excuse to dig out the lute and the hurdy-gurdy and explore 16th century instrumentation- very much the opposite in fact. This is hyper-digital, cold soundscapes of slow voices, clicks and effects. Analogue oscillations and tight glitches roll over windy ambiences.

Vocal tracks like “My Crown” and “Love Or Rule” are the most accessible, and should appeal to fans of Christine & The Queens or Funkstörung, though much of the work is too languid and melancholy to make it truly accessible pop. The expressiveness of “Elizabeth Song” is close to what Björk would sound like with a screech-free British accent. Whilst listening to it a colleague of mine said it sounded like the dreamier side of Warpaint as well, I don’t wholly agree but I’ll include it as a second opinion.

“The Four Marys” is the closest that the vocal tracks get to the folk story tradition, an oral history of sorts, completely reimagined for deep electronica. It’s deeply unusual and attention-grabbing.

The instrumentals are named after battles, though again this could be called misleading as there’s no real conflict in them- they’re moods and tones, memories from old battlefields not sounds from current ones. There are a couple of exceptions, like “Pinkie 1547” with a highly processed soft percussive noise that might once have been cannonfire, and the severely out-of-place final rhythmic jolt of “Battlefront” (if you’re adding this to a sleep playlist, you’ll want to leave the final track off), but other than that, generally the whole work has a sleepy, drama-free feel to it.

The overall effect is rather lush. Though I won’t pretend to have truly picked up on a narrative (too much time gazing out of the window in my previous history lessons perhaps), nevertheless it’s a rich collection of atmospheric electronica with elements of deconstructed granular dreampop. It’s released on Louvel’s own label, Cat Werk Imprint.

If history lessons had sounded like this in school I would have paid a lot more attention.
Artist: UnicaZürn (@)
Title: Transparondem
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Touch
“Transparondem” is a truly timeless bit of analogue experimental synthesizer music that, while finished in 2016, could be advertised as an “undiscovered synth gem from 1970” without too many people crying foul (the ‘two sides of an LP’ structure adds to this as well). Like Tangerine Dream in one of their less rhythmic moods, or like the Radiophonic Workshop indulging themselves with the opportunity to go freeform, this is music that manages to transcend the technology that’s being used to create it, rather than being defined by the equipment.

In “Breathe The Snake”, the title possibly a reference to the Thames, water and waves are the omnipresent theme; not actually sampled, but recreated by the slow ebb and flow of settings on synths. This is an alien beach, with gloopy tides that are relaxing but also faintly toxic, with dark, slow, square-wave tones. Subtle but distinct stereo separations add a slight uneasiness.

“Pale Salt Seam” is a more complex work- a mellotron, seemingly improvised, sounding like a drunk alien church organ, squeaking and vocalising over warm chords that ebb similarly to the first track, but in a more comforting and structured melodic manner. Arpeggiation increases gradually, as things get busier without really changing tack. Rightly or wrongly it feels to me like an inebriated organ version of Jarre’s “Waiting For Cousteau”; diving across a reef of harmless monsters.

In a way there’s not all that much in “Transparondem” to assess- two soundscapes, both around twenty minutes, both with relatively little in the way of internal progression. They’re smooth, and they adjust and adapt tonally in a way that keeps things interesting enough. Overall it’s a warm if unchallenging synthesized tribute to water.
Artist: Angelina Yershova
Title: Resonance Night
Format: CD + Download
Label: Twin Paradox Records
The core of “Resonance Night” is an instrumental piano album, around which is built a very high-end electronica production full of sharp digital noises and sampled breathing. There’s a strong emphasis on melodic leads, often sparse rather than lyrical, some catchy, some improvised. The net result is somewhere between Planet Mu, Leaf, Chilly Gonzales, Brandt Brauer Frick and the rich contemporary vein of experimental soundscapes.

Though the press release cites “piano drones”, I don’t wholly agree. Rhythm is a frequent presence here, and there’s often a steady and assured drive and pattern, whether it comes from the piano itself in pieces like “Resonance Train” and its partner piece “Resonance Night”, or from the heavy drum programming on “Sweet Glissando”. Atmosphere-led pieces like “Intermezzo 80 Hertz” are in the minority.

“Melancholy Modulation” encapsulates the album’s common tone nicely, opening with clipped stabs of the piano’s lower register before transitioning halfway through into romantic chords and calmness, before boom! The following track, the standout “Anarchic Piano” kicks in, more bass piano stabs, rumbling kick drums, percussive effects, and complex chord stabs. It’s an album full of energy and variety and it’s not afraid to wander between emotional territories.

There’s a strong and obvious sense of travel, most expertly played out in “Start Of Journey” (the final track!) where the heavily processed rhythmic bed, that may itself have evolved from a piano, is strongly evocative of rolling wheels, while interim piano notes are akin to passing scenery. It’s not a unique idea but it is expressed in a warm and mesmerising fashion.

When I was sent this release, I’ll be honest, I first approached it cynically. The mainstream classical music industry seems to thrive on young, attractive-looking new performers for their marketability, sometimes slightly regardless of their abilities; was such a base commercial effect in danger of drifting into more avantgarde classical territory as well? Well don’t worry, once I’d listened to the album I slapped myself hard on the wrist and chastised myself for being so cynical. While there is certainly a slight degree of ego here- few artists in this field put photos of their faces on their covers- this is absolutely NOT a case of style over content.

Check out ChainDLK’s interview with Angelina Yershova from last week for more info about the artist’s personal history and thoughts on the work.
Artist: Jos Smolders
Title: Nowhere- Exercises In Modular Synthesis And Field Recording
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Cronica Electronica
The “Nowhere” in the title is initially a barren place, the first three minutes of the opening track little more than faint geiger-counter-like glitches, before being crashed into by industrial electronics and barely discernible vocal declarations that form a jolting chaos for a couple of minutes, before disappearing as abruptly as they arrived, leaving only a radiophonic workshop-esque scenario of meandering tones.

This largely sets the tone for the entire work, which is substantially improvised, in Smolders own words “letting things flow and interfering only when necessary”, “I have left the idea of a preconceived/designed composition”, “there is only a vague idea before I start recording”. Large expanses of gentle scientific, sometimes sci-fi ambience are occasionally gatecrashed by sudden and acrid assaults of white or discordant noise so abrupt they ought to carry a health warning; five minutes into third track “For Rudy Carrera” being a prime example. “Song For Maya Deren” is like REM sleep briefly troubled by monsters, before the sleep of “Up Up And Back To 1982” mixes distant hums with vinyl crackle sounds akin to rain on a window before, once again, the nightmares return around the six minute mark. This evaporates, warm bottle-music arpeggios arrive, but these in turn are crushed into lo-fi, 8-bit 4-bit and beyond. It’s a pattern that repeats unpredictably and it’s certainly not always pleasant.

Were it not for the rather petulant sudden storms that whip up irregularly, I would be full of praise for the confidently sparse, measured soundscapes that are created here, a form of contemporary digital remodelling of music concrete that forms the larger part of the work. And while I certainly wouldn’t want to suggest that music should be anaemic or palliative, in this case it’s the furious interludes that don’t complement the whole, and a more measured temper throughout could have left this as a very elegant album, and it’s the cacophony-free pieces such as track 2 “NowHere” and track 6 “NoWhere” (do you see what they did there?) that are the strongest.
Artist: Keru Not Ever
Title: Tereza
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Infinite Machine
“Tereza” is a collection of angular, glitchy cold synthesized soundscapes, mostly arhythmic yet still percussive. It’s a January release that conjures images of some of the less mellow aspects of Northern winter weather.

There’s a variety of moods here, ranging from the expansive emptiness of the contrarily-named “Closers” to the threatening claustrophobic spikiness of “Blue Strobe Pastiche”. Each piece tends to around the five minute mark, which is mostly fair as the progressions and evolutions within each are subtle, though not non-existent. In the final minute of “Closers” there’s the distant sound of techno, as though you’re stood at the North Pole surrounded by snow but suddenly you realise there’s a nightclub two miles away.

There are faintly Eastern and ethnic tones in tracks like “Ode to the Past, Present and Future” and “Fusing Zeitgeist” which seem anachronistic in the mostly icy environments, yet they end up fitting rather nicely and giving the album a more distinct identity overall. Meanwhile, more esoterically, “Airflow! Velocity” samples something akin to the sound of trainers (sorry, ‘sneakers’) on a basketball court while a bulldozer approaches to demolish the gym- sonic combinations so random and disassociative that they stop being evocative of anything and become attention-seekingly weird in their own right.

The latter sections of the album settle down somewhat, from “Dogville” to the end, is mellow longer tones prevail, natural piano noises tinkle and the sidechained processing calms.

Overall it’s an unorthodox twist on a fairly well-established cold soundscape style, with an interesting if not constantly welcoming character.
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