Music Reviews



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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Sounds From The Matrix, Vol. 20
Format: CD + Download
Label: Alfa-Matrix (@)
Rated: *****
Gotta get this one in before the year closes out. Every year the Belgian record label Alfa Matrix releases a compilation of (hopefully) its best and brightest, and this is #20 in the long line of great compilations. Participants this go-round include: Psy’aviah Feat. Kyoko Baertsoen; Helalyn Flowers; Synapsyche; IMJUDAS; I-Scintilla; Junksista; H.O.W.; Llumen; Mental Exile; Metroland; Implant; Aesthetische; AD:Key; Kant Kino; Avarice In Audio; Reactor7x; Dunkelwerk; Circuito Cerrado; and Alien Vampires Feat. Chainreactor. 8 of them are returning participants from last year.

This year's offerings are somewhat less varied than last year’s, but there are still plenty of cool tracks. Psy'aviah kicks it off with "Plan B," a track from their 2018 'Lightflare' album in case you missed that one. A bit low key for an opener, but still a great voice and melody from Kyoko Baertsoen. Helalyn Flowers makes another stellar appearance with "Tetrachromatic," a strong melodic tune that should perk up some ears. Ferrara Italy's Synapsyche reflects some "Mirror Terror" with both clean and dirty vocals; pretty standard electro music but it has a good bouncy beat. IMJUDAS slow it down considerably with "Without Us You Are Nothing" ...good vocals but I’m not really sure what this song's about... Chicago's I-Scintilla makes an impression with "Human" (Angelspit Mix), some rousing electro-industrial fronted by Brittany Bindrim. Junksista's "A Little Naughty" doesn't have the impact of "Monday," their entry for last year's comp, but it's still a pretty good song. Can't really find anything on H.O.W., but their "Happiness Imperative" is a neat little electro gem with nice melodic female vocals. Llumen offers some dour synthpop with "The Dark Inside Her Eyes" (Bunker Edit). Unfortunately there's not enough going on to make it interesting, with verse, after verse, after verse, after verse... Damasius Venys' Mental Exile puts forth one of the stronger tracks on this comp with "Renegades". You might know him from the band Mondtraume, who were on last year's comp. Metroland had one of the more intriguing tracks on last year's comp with "Man in a Frame," but this year's "Memorabilia" sounds like a Heaven 17 outake from the late '80s that was excised from an album, and better left that way. Disappointing, with nothing more than retro-sequencing and stale vocoding. Implant's "Oxynoxe" (Karl Hefner & Hugh Lagerfeld Remix) sounds a bit phoned-in; I expect better from this Alfa Matrix staple. Aesthetische gives "Berlin" a bit of a martial beat, and any DJ willing to give this track a spin in the club may get some surprising reactions from the dancefloor. AD:Key lays it on the line with "You Can't Fuck Me" with expected results. Oslo's Kant Kino offers up some old-school EBM with "Destruct," a solid entry on this comp. Never heard Avarice In Audio before, and this seems to be the first band on the comp that has any real aggrotech leanings. If that's your thing, you just may enjoy their "Trojan Horse". More of that style comes your way with Poland's Reactor7x, and their "Circus of the False". Not my thing, but I have to admit that it's very well done. I could have done without Dunkelwerk's "GxSTxPx 4C" (Bunker Edit) as this isn't the time to dredge up any Nazi memories, especially sung in German. Mexico's Circuito Cerrado shows some promise winning over Hocico fans with their wild "Revolution," and this will make a killer dancefloor track. Finally, Alien Vampires Feat. Chainreactor close out Vol. 20 with "Hyperbolic Doubt," maybe an aptly titled track if there ever was one. I hyperbolically doubt this is much of a song. Great for the dancefloor, headache-inducing just for pure listening. Those scratchy vocals are at a minimum though.

As usual, this comp is free with a purchase of any of Alfa Matrix's roster of artists' albums (while supplies last, I imagine). Or, you can just purchase the digital download from Alfa Matrix's Bandcamp site.
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Artist: Haythem Mahbouli
Title: Catching Moments in Time
Format: CD
Label: Schole (@)
Rated: *****
“I don’t want to predefine my genre or have an instrument-centered composition (e.g. piano). I see music as a mix of sounds that create emotions. Emotions can emerge in any music form. I picture music as images; each of them is associated with an emotion. This album (Catching Moments In Time), is a journey throughout experiences I lived and tried to translate. My goal is for the listener to adapt it to their own, mix it with their emotions and create their own images”. By these words, the Tunisian composer Haythem Mahbouli introduces his brilliant release landed on the Japanese label Schole and feeding the expectations following such an introduction since the symphonic breezes of the opening "Catching The First Moment", whose piano and string driven grandeur mirrors the one of the closing "Catching The Last Moment", opening and closing brackets detaching the musical padded bubble of the aural experience he offered. Two big names of contemporary music scene sustained the emotional flight by this guy, who reprised his compositional work after a hiatus following his settlement in Montreal after the Tunisian Revolution in 2011 and the start of a job as sound designer for gaming industry: the name that most of our readers would recognize is the one by Taylor Deupree, who cared the mastering of the album, while the name that you wouldn't maybe expect, even if it makes sense considering the strong component of classical music into the recipe by Haythem is the one of City of Prague Philarmonic Orchestra, playing strings all over the album. In between the two brackets, many layered emotional sounds flood over listeners' eardrums and souls and the way such a flood gets organized through frequent crescendo, overlapping symphonies and the implant of spooky operatic parts could break the emotional banks of many of them. Some voiceovers have been embedded in some ascensional movements of this album, recorded as if they were transmissions from outer space and quoting lines by American poet Robert Lee Frost, such as the one from Birches: "I'd like to get away from earth awhile / And then come back to it and begin over". They sound consistent with the mood of the album - sometimes getting closer to the cinematic style well expressed by Jóhann Jóhannsson or Hildur Guðnadóttir, particularly in tracks like "Passage" or "Transition" -, whose general dynamics seems to activate different emotional or mnemonic areas before cathartic explosion, partially emulating techniques normally belonging to soundtracks. Awesome output!
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Sounds From The Matrix Vol. 19
Format: CD + Download
Label: Alfa-Matrix (@)
Rated: *****
A great way to discover new music and bands (or maybe some bands you already know but haven't kept up with) is through label compilation CDs. For the electro/industrial/synthpop genres, few do it better than the Alfa-Matrix label. This is their 19th label compilation, and that has to count for something. Alfa-Matrix comps can also be collector's items after they go out of print, so it's worth getting the physical CD. I can't say I've been lucky enough to own many of them (I think I acquired
one years ago, but can't remember where it is now) so I can't compare this one to others, but there is plenty of really cool stuff on it. Twenty tracks by twenty different artists, and I can only give a thumbnail description of each. Begins with ElektroklÄnge doing "Heimkonsole" (Mehrsprachige Version), a retro Kraftwerkian number with vocoder German vocals, steady kick for the beat, and bubbly synths. Low key but effective. Metroland offers "Man in a Frame," with spoken male & female vocals in the same mid-tempo rhythm as the previous track. Nice noirish synthwork. AD:KEY picks up the pace with "Reanimator"(Phoenix Version), more German vocals (male & female), in monochromatic melody, and the enhanced rhythm makes for good dance fodder. ELM's "Wapenrustning" (Hard-Mix) begins with the vocal chorus - "Know your place in the food chain" so you'll know right off the bat what this song is about. Carried off with a basic beat and nice bass synth groove, but not much more than that. Mildreda's "Neon Eon" starts out with a jarring vocal sample - "I said your fucking baby's gonna burn" and the music is full of plenty of industrial samples and sounds amidst the synths with
vocals that border on hellectro. It's kind of a mish-mosh but still pretty cool. Then you get "Blowback" from Psychic Force and this is a monster of a dancefloor stomper. The hook is in the instrumental synth break, and although the melody sounds like something I've heard before, it still carries some weight. Vocals sort of along the lines of early Front Line Assembly. Star Industry's "Shiver" (Aesthetische Cold Mix) sounds like John Foxx gone electro-industrial. So far this is the best realized track on the CD, with really good hit potential. "Anathema" by Crytek offers both raspy and clean vocals, but it's the clean vocals that have the grabbing hook. Mondtraume shows you "All You Cannot See" (Crytek Mix) and though the vocals are kind of "meh" it has a good driving beat. Kant Kino's "Wrong" sounds right to me with a really good chorus hook and brief amusing sampled phrases. Junksista featuring Essence of Mind disses "Monday" (everybody hates you), and sort of sounds like two different songs, but is memorable enough. I'ce already reviewed Psy'Aviah's "Game Changer" on the "Lightflare" album review, but it fits in well enough with the other tracks on this comp. "Kamikaze
Angel" comes courtesy of Helalyn Flowers, and it's the kind of track that makes you want to hear more from this band. Powerful female vocalist sounding like Pat Benatar gone electro-industrial. Outstanding, and another highlight from this comp. "Dead Sea" by Lovelorn Dolls didn't impress me nearly as much; sort of came off like Bel Canto gone metal. Sin.Sin featuring Helalyn Flowers has a moody groove, but wasn't nearly as good as Helalyn Flowers' "Kamikaze Angel." Imjudas is the dark
electro project of maXX from Helalyn Flowers (that band seems to have their prints all over this comp) and "Tulpa" sounds like Duran Duran gone dark electro. If nothing else, Komo Kommando will likely be remembered for their catchy "Music is My Religion"; just one of those songs that invades your brain and won't let go. Now here's a blast from the past - Mentallo & the Fixer with "Methodical Damage." Every lesson these guys ever learned from Skinny Puppy is packed solidly into this
instrumental track. Not likely to get much radio or club play but it's still loads of industrial fun. Implant's "The Phone Call" (Implant RMX) is strange and experimental for sure. Weird techno meets performance art. Final track by Schwarzblut is indeed an interesting one. Classical meets EBM, sung in German and I wouldn't have it any other way with these folks. Light and dark, heavy and floaty, totally eclectic, poetic and wonderful. I was actually stunned when it ended and left wanting more more more!

So as you can see there's plenty of good stuff on this Alfa-Matrix comp, and it can be yours for absolutely free- with a purchase of one of their physical products from the Alfa-Matrix store (CD, DVD or vinyl). Or, you can listen to it streaming from their Bandcamp site for free! If you'd prefer a digital copy, you can get that there as well for about 9 Euros. Go buy something- support the label, support the band, support the music!
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Artist: Erik Friedlander - Black Phoebe
Title: Rings
Format: CD
Label: Skipstone Records
Rated: *****
I already quoted this amazing project by New York-based accomplished and talented cellist Erik Friedlander, while introducing "Nothing On Earth," Erik's soundtrack for the expedition in Greenland by Mick Abrams and Murray Fredericks. A particular cinematic nuance is listenable in the sound he developed together with Japenese talented musicians Satoshi Takeishi (percussion) and Shoko Nagai (piano, accordion, and electronics) as listeners can readily perceive in some tracks of this newly assembled album, which look like portraits such as the cheeky tango they crafted on the opener "The Seducer", the gentle gipsy riding on "The Risky Business" and the exciting "Flycatcher" or the almost grotesque chamber music scherzo of "A Single Eye", but it's not the main feature. The stylistic adhesive cementing the twelve lovely tracks they recorded in "Rings" is the way the trio build the loop-based composition approach by Erik in each single song, who doesn't sound repetitive at all, due to the varieties of music styles by which Satoshi and Shoko implant during their sonic landscaping. Don't expect anything really super revolutionary, but just some well crafted good music by three brilliantly peppy musicians (not a small thing nowadays). In my opinion, the better way to appreciate this feature is focusing on the repetition on strings by Erik and almost unselfconsciously sink the delicate piano-driven melodies and the likewise sensitive or pleasantly faster tapping on percussions in between vibrant or lazier moments, that could let you imagine Black Phebe were aimed to give a sound to an interstate between fiction and reality for secret admirers of daydreaming, who keep having a head on its shoulders.
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Artist: Psy'Aviah (@)
Title: Seven Sorrows, Seven Stars
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Alfa-Matrix (@)
Rated: *****
The more I review here on Chain D.L.K. the less I find myself aware of many worthy music projects I've never heard (or heard of) before even though some have been around for years and years. Not a bad thing though; I find myself in a constant state of "new discovery". Such is the case with Psy'Aviah. I had my doubts when I received the package- a
hand-colored and lettered envelope containing a USB drive attached to a joker playing card. My fear was that this was going to be "art school amateur". That was defintely not the case though. On the drive was everything I needed- all of the contact, photo and audio files, and more. Unfortunately some of the audio files were corrupted, but after emailing Yves he was kind enough to provide an alternate method so I could do this review.

Yves Schlepe, from Belgium is the mastermind behind Psy'Aviah, and 'Seven Sorrows, Seven Stars' is the 7th album by Psy'Aviah, and sort of a "magic number" in its ouevre. Faithful readers of Chain D.L.K. may even know a good deal more than I do about Psy'Aviah (previous releases have been reviewed here), but a condensed background is that the project started in 1999, released the first album ('Creationism') in 2007, also EPs, mini-albums, compilation contributions and remixes along the way, as well as being very active live on the Euro club and festival scene. Over a number of albums Psy'Aviah has a proclivity of
employing guest vocalists, and very good ones at that. On this outing you will find Kyoko Baertsoen (ex-Hooverphonic, Lunascape); Roeland van der Velde (Model Depose); David Chamberlin (Entrzelle); Mari Kattman; Bernard Feron (Med, Combat Voice); Ellia Bisker (Sweet Soubrette); Pieter Van Vaerenbergh (Metafuzz, Zelon); Andrew Galucki; Alvin River;
Fallon Nieves; Addie Nicole (Halocine); Miss FD, and Diana S. The songs are as varied and eclectic an assortment as the vocalists within the genre, which is a veritable smogasbord of electronica.

Beginning with the intro, title track "Seven Sorrows, Seven Stars", a female voice-over gives the impression of Enigma in space. "Alcubierre Drive" which follows (with Kyoko on vocals) is a slinky, sultry bit of electronica steeped in trip hop rhythms and EBM basslines wrapped in spacey synth gauze. "Face to Face" could be an instant club hit with
Roeland's superb vocals and a killer hook. Dialing it back a notch, David's soulful voice on "Looking Back" expresses a bit of regret on this introspective number, yet still with a beat. What we learn from "Lessons of the Past" is that Mari Kattman is a vocalist to be reckoned with. No surprise that Yves chose to work with her again. The song is a good moody one too. 'From Another World' (Bernard on vocals) is a neat, medium-paced future pop classic. The anthesis of "Looking Back" is "Never Look Back" and Ellia's vocals are just right for this cool bit of pop electronica, and the music video for it is pretty cool too, in a still-life kind of way. "Opia" is a ballad (sans beat) that tugs at the heartstrings with Pieter on vocals. Well done, but not my kind of thing really. Nothing frozen about "Frozen" with hot vocals by Andrew on this nifty, catchy electropop number. Promising singer/songwriter Alvin River (from Italy) takes the lead on "Liberosis", stepping out of his acoustic element for this heavy dance track guaranteed to get 'em moving in the clubs. The singers take a break in the instrumental "Peace Paradox" but Yves can't resist filling in the gap with some appropriate dialogue samples. Another good club-friendly track. The next number is "Not What I Expected," literally. It's a sardonic electro stomper spoke-sung by Fallon sure to become a fave in dark music dance clubs. (Sort of goes back to Psy'Aviah's roots.) Addie's stellar vocals push "Stronger" over the top to be another potential dance club megahit. Are you ready to take a little "Wild Ride" with Miss FD? It's like Nine Inch Nail remixing Curve. Way cool! It all winds down ethereally with spoken word courtesy of Diana (who likley was the voice on the title track). A beautiful ending to a stellar album. But wait, we're not done yet.

The deluxe package also contains a second CD, the remix album! Remixers include Etasonic, Alex Dalliance, Skyshifter, People Theatre, Liquid Divine, Cutoff:Divine, VV303, rool, KONER, Cyborgdrive, Girlflesh, Implant and Amarta Project. If you're a regular reader of my
reviews, then you know I'm not big on remixes, but there are some interesting ones here over fourteen tracks of eight of the original album's songs. Don't know why "Wild Ride" got three remixes and "Liberosis" didn't get any, but...whatever. "Opia" gets a nice boost from Liquid Divine, and with the rhythmic backing, Pieter voice reminds me a bit of the Cruxshadow's Rogue. I especially enjoyed Implant's quirky industrial synth-heavy remix of "Not What I Expected", but not Girlflesh's clunky minimalist remix of "Wild Ride". The one outstanding remix of that track goes to Amarta Project. A bit old school in a pop-happy way, but welcome.

'Seven Sorrows, Seven Stars' is a real contender for album of the year. Yves' synthwork and production is stellar, and the album flows very well through its peaks and valleys. With such an array of talented vocalists and great writing, there is never a dull moment. The total package isn't cheap - 18 Euros or $20.00 U.S., but worth it for those that want the full experience. If want to skip the remixes, it will only set you back $13.50. Right now it's in pre-order as the release date isn't until April 15, plenty of time to set aside the cash, unless that's your doom-date for the I.R.S.
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