Music Reviews

Artist: The Azoic (@)
Title: re:illumination (the remixs)
Format: CD
Label: Nilaihah Records (@)
Distributor: Nilaihah Records
Rated: *****
RE:ILLUMINATION is a remix of selected tracks from The Azoic’s 2004 album, ILLUMINATE. I should probably state upfront that I’m not big on remix albums. Oh, they serve a purpose- usually to give club DJs more dancefloor variety. As far as The Azoic go, I’ve been familiar with them from the late 90’s where they were more Darkwave Goth-Industrial to their transformation into a Goth Club friendly EBM/Futurepop outfit. I’ve enjoyed both aspects of the band, and although I think there are too many bands gravitating toward the latter, The Azoic still manage to do it well. ILLUMINATE was a good album. In fact, most of it was already geared towards the dancefloor with solid driving beats sounding about as club-friendly as it could possibly be. So how do you improve on that, or why even try? The puzzler is, I really don’t know.

RE:ILLUMINATION is not a remix of the entire ILLUMINATE album. It has several different versions of only four tracks: "Going Under", "Ever", "Illuminate" and "Let Me Tell You Something". Seems to me to be more of an EP than a full album but at over an hour in length, I guess it could hardly be called an EP. Taking the remixes song by song, "Going Under" gets the treatment by Conetik, Internal Dialogue and Cesium (Fatalist Mix). Internal Dialogue’s version is the heaviest (and also the longest) but the Cesium version has more going on really propelling the song both rhythmically and instrumentally. The dark, hypnotic futurepop treatment worked well on this number. I didn’t think much of Conetik’s version. A loopy, quasi-hip hop beat with a lot of padding and vocal treatment made the song seem off-kilter. Creative, but not very effective in my opinion. I didn’t care much for Internal Dialogue’s mysterioso synth lines nor the sequenced 16ths. Throwing in a bit of occasional breakbeat was a nice touch, but the track got boring quickly.

"Ever" is tackled by DJ Delobbo, Liquid Devine, Hungry Lucy, Rich Ratvaski and (E) A+D (Skyscraper Mix). DJ Delobbo spends the first couple of minutes building the track into a heavy trance beat with only an echoed phrase from Kirsty’s vocals. A verse comes through when the beat dies down and then the beat picks up again. The synth treatment is pretty routine. The longest track at over 8 minutes, it’s kind of boring but a dancefloor stomper in places. Liquid Divine has a whole different take on "Ever", not ramping up the tempo and pushing it into dance domain. I actually like this version better than the original. There’s a good variety of sonics, musicality and beat elements. It works nicely. Hungry Lucy makes "Ever" more of a darkwave ballad, actually quite commercial sounding. Ratvaski brings the song back to the dancefloor in an even more trance-oriented version than Delobbo’s. I don’t think this enhances the song at all. (E) A+D’s Skyscraper Mix’ throws the song down into a well. I guess the idea was to make it dreamy but I didn’t find it very compelling either sonically or rhythmically.

"Illuminate" is remixed by GASR, Null Device, Distorted Reality (Recognized Mix), and Invisible Ballet. The title track of ILLUMINATE is a bit of a stomper in its original state. GASR rearranges the beat and adds some sequencing but the overall effect seems to make the track trudge rather than pulse. Null Device begins with an exotic approach, plucked string instrument (mid range harp?) leading into a kick drum and bass pulse combo. Kirsty’s vocals glide over the top with little intrusion save for melodic string accents. A synth line picks up the counter melody but it’s still rather minimal with the vocal being the dominant element. Distorted Reality’s Recognized Mix’ samples the word "recognize" out of Kirsty’s vocal over a pedestrian dance beat turning the track into something completely different, like a throwback to the 80’s. Well, that’s Distorted Reality for ya. Invisible Ballet uses a completely different approach – slower, more ambient and IDM with the vocal track pushed back for much of it and the beat with staggered bass up front. A very spacey feel, sort of the Boards of Canada approach.

Caustic (Riesling Mix), XP8 (Deep Mix), and Interface (Subliminal Message Mix) al have a go at "Let Me Tell You Something". Caustic’s Riesling Mix’ uses distorted beats and processed buzzes for a good part of the track along with side stick, and is fairly minimal. Nothing much happening here. XP8’s Deep Mix’ makes The Azoic sound more like what you’d expect to hear in a typical dance club. (That’s dance club, not Goth-Industrial Club). Heavy, with the stutter treatment on vocals and synth. Not really my cup of tea but hey, maybe they’ll get some crossover play with this one! And finally, Interface builds the track with sequenced synth-work before bringing the beat to fore in the Subliminal Message Mix’. This is actually a pretty good remix of the track with elements that may elude you on a first listen. In fact, this is one of the few on this CD I like better than the original.

So how essential is this remix of selected tacks off ILLUMINATE? Not very, really. The Azoic haven’t put out a new album since 2004. RE:ILLUMINATION should have probably been done a couple of years ago. The Azoic are overdue for something new. I think it would have been a better idea to package RE:ILLUMINATION as a double disc with some completely new material. Buyers would feel like they were getting more bang for the buck, and it might even rekindle interest in ILLUMINATE for those who missed it.
Title: On and On
Format: CD
Label: Presto!?
Rated: *****
"To create «On And On», I recorded myself strumming a guitar for a long time. I converted the strumming audio to midi information (a collection of numbers that hold the basic pitch information along with duration and volume). The computer had to simplify the strumming, and in this simplification, left me with a melody ... a succession of number information that I used to trigger the pitches of an instrument much like a dulcimer". Call me lazy but sometimes quoting the artist himself is the best way to introduce a very peculiar work. "On and On" is a mammoth single-track, 70'28" by an artist who's surely not easy to pigeonhole, having worked with anything from pond microsounds to human voices to "traditional" instruments as in this case. But "On and On" is surely not a traditional guitar-based album. The simple strumming is layered and repeated in a sort of cascade continuum, with a minimalism that could even get on your nerves. You sense there are notes, yet the repetitive structure is that of a though minimalist opus (Charlemagne Palestine's strumming came to mind, though it's surely not the closest comparison). And yes, somebody has already underlined that, there's a sort of zen serenity and detachment that seems to spring from these notes. Now, I feel this acts a sort of Rorschach test: can you stand 70 minutes of (true, non plastic, non wallpaper) beauty and detachment? I can surely stand ugliness, and gravel-like sounds, but I've found this an uneasy listening. This eventually revealed a harder experience than I expected, and not because of boredom.
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Artist: Cory Allen (@)
Title: The Fourth Way
Format: CD
Label: Quiet Design records (@)
Rated: *****
"The Fourth Way" is Cory Allen's fourth full length album release, out on the Austin, Texas-based label Quiet Design, run by our very own contributor (and talented musician himself) Mike Vernusky. Allen's way of creating music includes a Fender Rhodes and a Moog Voyager and he augments those with software patches and raw computer data converted into crackling sound files. Abstract and uncontrolled as such randomized conversions might sound like, Allen finds a way to glue and encompass all of that together in a controlled environment of minimalist but expanding ambient music. Droning soundscapes, subtle textures, crystallized sounds mesh and clash in an interplay of emotions and thoughts. Through the bright glitchy sounds and the duller icy diluted pads, the listener is invited to proceed along a journey during which the careful balancing act between self-aware experience and hypnotic full immersion defines the rules of engagement. Quiet Design describes it as invoking a sense of "urgency and zen", and I believe that the relationship and contrast between any two antagonistic states of mind, are what contribute to the very fruition and enjoyment of "The Fourth Way".
Artist: Hardwire (@)
Title: Knflict
Format: CD
Label: Glow:Room Records (@)
Rated: *****

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Hardwire is one those industrial-metal bands that are in it for the long haul. They formed back in 1999 in Arizona and have been active ever since, although their release schedule hasn't been as prolific as one might think.
Hardwire embrace the impactful industrial-metal verb of bands like KMFDM, Die Krupps, Skinny Puppy and Rammstein heavily relying on huge walls of distorted guitar riffs and bombastic hammering metallic rhythic patterns. Instead of using the same old and boring filtered EBM-type singing or the more spoken word vocal style of Rammstein or Laibach, these four desert lads adopted the quasi death metal vocal style that resembles that of Fear Factory (who are also a pretty prominent influence in their songwriting process).
"Konflict" is their second full length non-CDR album release and except for the four opening tracks, "Konflict" is pretty much a remix album, with pretty impressive interventions by Die Krupps (if you are a long time fan of Die Krupps like myself, you'll totally recognize their contribution and style), Angelspit, C/A/T, En Esch of KMFDM/Pigface, X-Fusion, Kreign, Caustic and Collapsed System.
Needless to say it's a great album to have if you are into heavy industrual-metal.
Artist: Legendary Pink Dots (@)
Title: Plutonium Blonde
Format: CD
Label: ROIR (@)
Distributor: ROIR
Rated: *****
With a musical career continuing over a quarter-century and releases numbering well over 40, LPD has managed to avoid making commercial concessions throughout that time and grow a cult of listeners into a sizable fan base. Not a huge fan base, but certainly a respectable one for this kind of music. No one in these economically depressed times would be doing extensive touring (especially in the U.S.) if they couldn’t count on a substantial audience willing to spend the bucks to see em live. And the Dots have been touring quite intensely over the last few months to support the new album, PLUTONIUM BLONDE.

The Dots have always been somewhat of an enigma, especially to reviewers and critics. I’ve seen them described as experimental-industrial, neo psych-folk, acidized avante garde ambient electronica, and all manner of other permutations in the pigeon-hole game. Truth of the matter is, LPD can’t be pegged down with a simple description. They are all of the aforementioned in general and no single one in particular. Even Current 93 (kind of a parallel as far as a similarly prolific career goes) is easier to quantify and assess on a "per album" basis. So what have the Dots wrought on PLUTONIUM BLONDE? Is this an essential Must-Have LPD release? Not exactly, but it is an interesting one.

As any Dots fan is aware, LPD is the band vehicle for Edward Ka-Spel, the Wizard of Odd in the windowpane world of the Dots device. Your trip through it is perceived through the lens of his kaleidoscopic spyglass, and like an LSD experience, you never know what you’re going to get in advance. Still, like the drug, there are certain things you can expect- tracks that start out as songs and tangentially morph into something else; Ka-Spel’s inimitable vocal meanderings with cryptic lyric imagery; ominous dream-like passages, and an overall tone of psychedelia. And yes, PLUTONIUM BLONDE definitely has all of these elements.

There are also a few tracks where the main focus is Ka-Spel backed primarily by acoustic guitar or even banjo lending a folky touch (think Incredible String Band rather than Pete Seeger) seeming more wistful than I’ve heard him sound in a while. But no ditty stays intact from beginning to end as strange, spacey ambiences take you elsewhere. Perhaps the most "commercial" track on PLUTONIUM BLONDE, if you could even call it that is "My First Zonee" sounding like a bit of Syd Barrett style twee Brit-pop. It actually has a simple, memorable hook. Nice, in a whimsical sort of way.

I’ve always found the Dots to be rather melancholy outfit and PLUTONIUM BLONDE is no exception. Still, Ka-Spel is not without humor. His oblique narrative on "Arm and a Leg" bears that out. There is also a good amount of sonic psychedelic effluvia which Dots fans have come to expect and enjoy. So why then, do I consider PLUTONIUM BLONDE a "good" Dots album, rather than a "great" Dots album? Lack of focus for one thing. Lack of intensity for another. Although it may take a couple of listens to really appreciate, by that time much of the impact has worn off. Of course, there’s always the "altered state" value, but having put my indulgence in that behind me, I can only reference my imagination. One other observation - PLUTONIUM BLONDE seems to be a more minimal and sparse endeavor than other LPD outings. It is generally fairly slow-moving too. Maybe something equivalent to an opium dream. After experiencing it, you might be apt to remark, "Where was I for the past hour, and what was that all about?"
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