Music Reviews

Artist: Celadon (@)
Title: Bitter Sweet
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Distributor: CD BABY
Rated: *****
Celadon is back with a new release titled 'Bitter Sweet'. The last I heard from this Seattle project of Eria Maia's was his 'Post Industrial Delicacies' CD a while back. As I recall, it was kind of a scattershot, unfocused affair that left me scratching my head. There were some good ideas and signs of talent but it seemed buried in the effluvia of excess with a lo-fi veneer. I'm happy to report though that Celadon has solved most of these problems and added a few new twists.

Beginning with 'Dark Decorum: The Gothic Charm School Theme Song' (polite mix), Maia shows that he can pull off an instrumental track with some complexity and panache. It is sort of pleasantly melancholy neoclassical little tune with a spritely pace. I get the impression that Eric didn't write the song, as it is 'based' on the music from the Gothic Charm School video. I went to check that out, and had a good chuckle, not because of the music. 'The Lady of Manners,' Jillian Venters, who started this Gothic Charm School thing (book, website, videos, etc.), is a hoot! Well, I suppose Goth needs a spokesperson to defend its poor maligned image, and she's as good a choice as anyone to take on the job. Anyway, Celadon carries off the track with aplomb, and I suppose the association can't hurt in the publicity department.

The next track, 'Passageway' features vocals by Sataray backed mostly by harmonium and percussion. Sataray's witchy voice sounds like she's invoking some kind of ancient ritual magic, and it sounds pretty spooky. 'The Deepest Sea' is a remix of an older Celadon track with a shoegazer flavor submerged in an ocean of sonics without being shoegazer music. 'Fuligin' might be what Tuxedo Moon would sound like if they were an Industrial band and had a progressive rock guitarist guesting. Somewhat slow and heavy with atypical percussive accents and a lot of background ambience. 'Sinister Device' has Balinese-like percussion rhythms, a dark bass undercurrent and a variety of other dense sonic elements that weave in and out of the music. We get another mix of with 'Dark Decorum: The Gothic Charm School Theme Song' (subversive mix) that is a bit heavier than the first, but to me, it's a case of 'too much of a good thing'. Moving on, 'The Long Walk Home' features Vanessa Skantze on wordless vocals that aren't quite in the Lisa Gerrard category, but still present a sorrowful wailing lament. Celandon's musical backing keeps it from getting buried in tragedy. 'Wisteria' follows, with Sataray again lending her voice, and this time it's an actual song with lyrics. The song is enshrouded in a ghostly musical atmosphere with quasi-trip hop beats. Nice track; Mr. Maia ought to work with this lady more often. 'Last track, 'A Stately Decline' was done live as a solo bass improvisation for butoh dance, but it doesn't sound much like a bass solo to me. It does feature the lower frequencies enmeshed in a wailing wall of noise, but I couldn't really get into it. Overall, 'Bitter Sweet' is a pretty decent release; it certainly has some good things going for it. I think Celadon needs just a wee bit more tempering, and maybe a full-time creative co-conspirator.
Artist: Chaos And Terror (@)
Title: We Are Still Alive
Format: CD EP
Label: Crunch Pod (@)
Distributor: Crunch Pod
Rated: *****
Crunch Pod label owner Ben Arp is back again with his C/A/T project, now expanded name-wise to Chaos And Terror. 'We Are Still Alive' is a 2009 EP release that I didn't get my hands on until not too long ago (sorry Ben, the chain on the Chain D.K.L. chainsaw needs some oilin') and this release heralds a bit of a change for Chaos And Terror, with the addition of Kat Clarke, who I assume is the rivetgirl whose images appear on the artwork of the CD. I'm not sure what she does in the band, but her visual demeanor is sufficiently startling.

As for the little less than 30 minutes of music on the EP, it seems as though Chaos And Terror has, with the exception of the opening track, '51X Reveal,' become less chaotic and more focused. Arp's growling hoarse vocals compliment the material; they are intelligible, forceful and dramatic. This is something lacking in a lot of electro-industrial EBM bands; distorted and processed vocals can often obscure what a vocalist is trying to get across.

Chaos And Terror have also moved toward a more commercially accessible song format. That is not to say that the music is by any means 'commercial' or 'pop'. I don't think Arp has any inclinations toward synthpop, or ever will. Chaos And Terror is still dark and grim with a vengeance. The music on 'We Are Still Alive' is a lot closer to bands like Combichrist now than Velvet Acid Christ and Snog, which to me, is a good thing. These tunes are sure to get the blood and fists pumping in the clubs, and elicit a great audience response in live performance.

I think the most important aspect of 'We Are Still Alive' is that it forges a strong identity for Chaos And Terror. The tracks are good, but this is only the (new) beginning, and I know Ben probably has a lot more to offer soon. A couple of notes- there is still a fair amount use of spoken word samples in the music (my sore spot), but at least it seems somewhat appropriate, and doesn't completely overtake the music, except on the first and last tracks. They might be Ben's way of saying goodbye to the old C/A/T by exorcising his musical demons and ushering in the new era of Chaos And Terror. A dialogue sample towards the end of the last track says ''¦you say we're on the brink of destruction, but it's only on the brink that people find the will to change'¦only at the precipice'¦' Apparently Ben's found the will, and that's a good thing. Check it out.
Artist: Interface (@)
Title: Body Flow
Format: CD EP
Label: Nilaihah Records (@)
Distributor: Nilaihah Records
Rated: *****
Here's a band that doesn't need a lot of introduction; Interface seem like they've been
around forever. For the uninitiated, think synthopo, futurepop, electro along the lines of
Information Society, Assemblage 23 and De/Vision. Eric Eldredge is the main guy, from
NYC. Last year I Interface's remix EP, 'Destination Focus' and wasn't really knocked
out by it. Not because I'm not a big fan of remix CDs (I'm not; it often seems like just a
way of beating a song to death) but because I thought 'Destination' wasn't a very strong
song. 'Body Flow' is entirely another matter.

Granted, this song has been around a while (since February) but don't blame me, take it
up with the home office. I just review 'em as soon as I receive 'em and as soon as I can
get to 'em. 'Body Flow' originally appeared on Interface's 2000 full CD release 'Visions
of Modern Life'. Here we get the single version plus 6 remixes' (and one track titled
'Neuromantic'). 'Body Flow is a good, strong dancefloor track. It's not going to change
the world, but it's perfect for the club environment, with a lot of crossover potential for
dancefloors other than the goth-industrial. So the single is good, how so the remixes stack up?

First one ' Break Your Face mix by Level 2.0 is very futurepop. Still has a nice hard beat
with an overlay of VNV style synths. Not earth-shattering but definitely dj friendly.
Aesthetic Perfection remix which follows begins with a sample of the vocal hook then
builds rhythmic momentum. It's a bit stripped down, something djs might find useful but
does not lack intensity. The Sebastian Komor remix is a more atmospheric, beginning
with moody guitar and the vocals in the distance. There's no beat until 1:43 into the track when it's accompanied by some low snakey synth lines. This remix is all about
atmosphere. It really gets cooking at about 3:47. I actually liked it a lot, but it's more of
an art piece than a dance remix. 'Neuromatic' breaks up the remix junket and it has a
very trancey feel. Good beat, spoken word samples and spoken word vocals, nice synth
work, 126bpm for those who care. Back to the 'Body Flow' remixes - Cyanide Regime
remix uses a grainy processing on the vocals, which aren't as up-front as the big beat. I
wasn't too wild about this one. The kick just dominates everything. Next up is the 25
Hour Juicebox Mix by Alter Der Rune. (Hey, I remember them!) I would have expected a
more twisted remix by Alter Der Rune considering their 'Giants From Far Away' release
last year. There are some interesting elements in it but I have to say I'm a little
disappointed with their overuse of retro synth sounds and not enough sonic mangling.
Cervello Elettronico are up next (and last) with their remix, and for my money, they
manage to get the job done that Alter Der Rune didn't seem to pull off so well. This is the
most out-there mix of the song on the entire EP. The music and vocals mangled,
distorted, processed and manipulated to perfection while still maintaining a good beat and rhythmic impetus. (Good job C-E, will be reviewing your CD next.)

So what is my final opinion? Well, it's a mixed bag. The song 'Body Flow' is a very,
very good track, especially for the dance club. The remixes are uneven- I'd say about half
and half. For djs, this remix CD is probably essential. For the non-spinners, it's optional.
Worth it for the Sebastian Komor and Cervello Elettronico remixes which you may not
get to hear in club because they're on the radical, arty side.

Artist: Cervello Elettronico (@)
Title: Process of Elimination
Format: CD
Label: Crunch Pod (@)
Distributor: Crunch Pod
Rated: *****
Cervello Elettronico (Italian for 'Electronic Brain') is the project name for the electro-techno-industrial endeavors of David Christian (aka Snarf). In the spirit of this ever-condensing ever technologically text-condensing world we live in, I'll simply refer to it as CE. CE has a plethora of remix credits under the belt as well as appearance on numerous compilations, and several of CE's own releases, being active from 2004. There is no doubt that CE knows its way around an electronic music studio. I've heard some of the remix work, and it's generally very good; creative and adventurous. That's one of the reasons why I found 'Process of Elimination' to be disappointing.

What I considered really cool about electro-techno-industrial music ten to fifteen years ago is not what I consider to be really cool about it now. As more artists fill the field in the genre, there tends to be a malaise of cliched structure and form, sonic similarity, and the overuse of the proscribed elements that began the genre in the first place. What began as 'experimental' has evolved into the conventional, and it is only by transcending the basis of the genre that a truly exceptional project or work stands out. Unfortunately, EC has taken the path of least resistance in its route to make its mark.

The basic problem with 'Process of Elimination' is one of heavy-handedness. Regardless of pacing from track to track, it is all very 'full on'; there is nary a breathing moment where some sequenced sound or other isn't hitting you in the face, with only transitional spoken-word dialogue serving as an occasional break. There is also a lack of dynamic shading that has the music at full throttle nearly all the time. I can understand wanting to present a powerful presence, but some of the most powerful music incorporates the use of restraint at time in order to build dramatic tension. There's quite a lack of that here.

Just about every track on 'Process of Elimination' is beat and rhythm forward. Regardless of the auxiliary sonics employed, the pulsing and pounding is an omnipresent element that cannot be ignored. While this occasionally works, it tends to make for uneasy listening overall. As for the electronic elements employed on 'Process of Elimination,' some of them are pretty neat, while others are not. The first (title) track begins with a neat off-kilter processed loop, and a wall wave of heavily processed electronic strings along with a tension-filled synth-line puts this track firmly in the Noise Unit arena. The echoed repetitive sampled dialogue snippets are superfluous; the track could have survived very well without them.

Anyone who has read my reviews in the past knows how I feel about the overuse of sampled dialogue. I really don't care how much you slice 'n dice it, process it, manipulate it, whatever, it's a cliché that for the most part should have been abandoned ten years ago. If you're looking to create a Blade Runneresque environment, you don't need to keep repeating 'A new life awaits you on the off-world colonies.' (Just an example, that particular sample doesn't appear on this album.) That's not to say 'Process of Elimination' is filled with non-stop spoken word sample, but there are enough of them on this album to make it wearying'¦and, at times, annoying.

One of the better tracks on 'Process of Elimination' is 'Polarity,' and that's primarily due to a low spoken narrative (by CE, I imagine, since no guest vocalist is credited on that one) that is subtly malevolent and creepy. There is dramatic tension in this track, and compared to the rest of the album, is pretty low-key. The sonic elements are on target and work well to enhance the mood. One other track worth noting is 'Violent Skin' with its vaguely Middle-Eastern flavoring. This reminds me of Delerium circa 1997, but maybe with a little more Oomph. There are actually more dynamics (albeit brief) here than on any other track. Some pretty good percussion loops too.

On the other hand, the track that follows that one, 'Crystal Lines' is rendered virtually unlistenable due to the injections of a random harsh percussive element. The rattling 'smoke monster on the move' (LOST) sound loses its effectiveness with all the conflicting sonic elements thrown into this track. This is EC at its worst; too much of everything, and none of it amounting to much of anything. On the final track, 'Automation and Dissent,' EC invites Uberman (of Uberbyte) to add some vocal vigor and spice up the proceedings. Mr. Pyne doesn't make his appearance though until the track is about half over, and by that time, it's too late to have much of an impact. It has the effect of shouting in a bucket, or swimming in an oil slick, buried in the sludge of a track that wasn't going anywhere fast anyway.

In conclusion, two or three decent tracks does not a good album make. I suppose if you're jonesin' for a megadose of hard-hitting techno-industrial, you might want to check this out, but that's about all you're going to get. I can only hope that CE gets a bit more creative with sonic environments and ambiences on its next release.
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: E.M.4 - Epitaph The End Chapter
Format: CD
Label: M Tronic
Rated: *****
The fourth and last volume of the Electronic Manifesto is an heterogeneous compilation released into a limited run of 500 copies and it gathers fourteen bands that have been invited to write their own epitaph. The album opens with three melancholic tracks made by TAT feat. Cypher & Pagan ("La fin de temps" mix Spanish melodies, electronic bass lines, orchestral arrangements and female spoken word), Stendeck ("It ended as it started" is a mix of ambient synth pads and electronic industrial rhythms) and Laag ("Tower of humans" is a convincing electronic mid tempo that gathers melodic deep vocals and electronic mid tempo rhythmic synth sounds with a nice texture of tiny melodies). With "When I was old (feat HIV+)" by Normotone we change a bit the registry thanks to cinematic atmospheres (recitative Spanish vocals with orchestral backgrounds and fragmented digital industrial rhythms). Ab Ovo with "Keystone" follow a similar path thanks to synth pads, piano reverbs, sampled vocals and guitar feedbacks. Flint Glass' "Death ritual" starts like a dark ambient track with ritual percussions just to turn after a couple of minutes into an ambient electronic tune with i.d.m. rhythm patterns. Philippe Petit & Lydia lunch, with "Requiescat in the dark", did a sort of movie for you ears where the passionate recitative voice of Lydia is joined by digital drones and processed strings. With Club Amour's "Science fiction" the compilation enters into the electronic realm with a good instrumental track where layers of synth pad orchestrations are sustained by vibrant bass lines. Melody and rhythm are the core of the track. With Umilenie's "Tempus fugit" we welcome retro e.b.m. music with an instrumental tune where upbeat rhythms (synth and drums) duet with catchy melodic lines. We have the same with Communter's "Analog death", a catchy electronic instrumental that will you beg for more. Veronika Nikolic's "My world (Ruben Montesco remix)" is the first tune to have a dancey rhythm and it's nice how it mixes electro beats with syncopated synth lines and a sensual female voice. Alexey Volkov's "Levitan" incarnate energy and strength thanks to retro e.b.m. 4/4 distortions. Ex_Tension with "The call of elara (remix from the orginal version of 9 Elma)" mix e.b.m. energy and ambient atmospheres creating a good balance. Geomatic with "The skin (feat Ed Randazzo)" sound like Depeche Mode playing e.b.m. R3MUTE's with "Less than zero (feat HIV+, Normontone version)" are here with industrial e.b.m. sounds a la Hocico influenced a bit by electro music. PEDRO PENAS ROBLES & LAURENT MALTINTI with "Vaya con dios (Normotone edit version)" close the album with an industrial i.d.m. version of what sounds like being a classic Spanish guitar folk song. Nice compilation, indeed...
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