Music Reviews

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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Artist: Airchamber 3 (@)
Title: Crumble
Format: CD
Label: Amirani records
Rated: *****
Airchamber3 is an Italian trio featuring Andrea Serrapiglio, Andrea "ICS" Ferraris (who also writes for Chain D.L.K.), Luca Serrapiglio. "Crumble" is their first CD as a trio (although they all have previous experiences and side projects) and also features Alessandro Buzzi on one song. "Crumble" is the document of a series of recording sessions where the three experimented live with laptops, guitar, saxophone, cello, percussion and a bunch of other toys, gadgets and instruments (phototheremin, kaoss pad, wind controllers, loopabow, contact mics etc). These sessions were tracked live, without any overdubs, and were simply divided into multiple different sections that became the "songs" of this CD. If you are familiar with the live experimentation and avantgarde music scene you'll know exactly what it sounds like, if not you should come to NY and spend a couple of nights at John Zorn's venue The Stone, and you'll see... or hear... The downtown music scene of NY or the SF live improv scene have a ton of bands and artists that could be used as comparisons here (Fred Frith, Eugene Chadbourne, Chris Brown, Jim O’Rourke, Bill Frisell, Elliot Sharp and so and so forth). This is the kind of CD that would not be out of place in the immense Tzadik catalog, but if you are interested in a different, foreign look at what this scene has been creating, Airchamber 3 might be a good place to start your investigation.
Artist: Black Era (@)
Title: ... then...
Format: CD
Label: aquietbump (@)
Distributor: aquietbump
Rated: *****
There are times when releases find their way to me for review that never should be given any press, and then there are releases that aren’t given much press that deserve to find their way to me for review. Such is the case with Italy’s Black Era. If it wasn’t for my girlfriend in Spain who loves teasing me with new music I’ve never heard , I probably would have never heard of Black Era. If not for her, I would be missing out on something quite remarkable.

It’s rare that I bother to request a release from a band or recording label; my plate is usually full and I’m not in the habit of playing PR man just for a free CD now and then. Something has to really impress me before I consider taking on extra review work, as exposing GREAT new music is something I consider a labor of love. Such is the case with Black Era, and their ... THEN... ’ album. Although it has been out (in Italy and Europe) since 2007, Black Era might be brand new to the U.S. market. I decided to contact their label (aquietbump) on the basis of hearing a few song clips on the Internet for a copy of ... THEN... ’ to see if it would hold up to my initial impressions. The label followed through, and I am not at all disappointed.

Black Era have been classified as an Italian trip hop band (they’re from Naples) with a dark, brooding demeanor. If you think of some of the leading names in the genre, Portishead, Massive Attack, Tricky, Morcheeba, Tricky and the Sneaker Pimps might immediately spring to mind. What Black Era has produced on ... THEN... ’ is easily as good as some of the aforementioned’s best. What makes this album so deliciously listenable is its diverse sonic palette while remaining stylistically true to form and concept. The vocals of Dy Darshan (Daiana) are a cool blend of seduction and mystery perfectly suited for the dark moody music. An occasional male vocal levels up to Massive Attack terrain, the like of which can be found on MEZZANINE. While perhaps not exhibiting as much song variety as that album, the deceptively simple arrangements are equally effective as those on MEZZANINE, albeit on a lower production budget. Every audial element seems to have been carefully and thoughtfully crafted to create a surreal noirish urban atmosphere. Rainy deserted streets at night in some foreign city you vaguely remember from a film. The pulsing glow of a neon sign flashing in the distance. Eurotrash slouching near the entrance to a jazz dive, sneering as you pass. The scent of strong herb wafting from an all-night coffee shop. The man with the umbrella and briefcase staggering into the alley. The tall girl with the page boy cut in the fur jacket and white high heeled boots clicking on the pavement, large smoky round eyes glancing your way momentarily and you want to follow but know it will end badly no matter what...

The dream-like quality of this CD can’t be overstated. It is the quality that many strive for but few can pull off effectively. The only mood breaker in my estimation is "noam", a track that has Noam Chomsky questioning the justification of war over an ominous musical background. Didn’t really need that. Fortunately, the track only lasts a minute.

The dearth of good, new dark trip hop bands and releases leaves fans of the genre with little to look forward to. Here is something well worth seeking out and I highly recommend Black Era. Aquietbump is a net label that offers this album (and others) as either a download or CD purchase on their website. I think you can actually get the download free (in a zip file), the CD you have to pay for. Can’t wait to hear their next release!
Artist: WERTHAM (@)
Title: Memories From The Pigsty
Format: CD
Label: Tesco (@)
Distributor: Tesco Germany
Rated: *****
MEMORIES FROM THE PIGSTY is the first pressed CD for the project headed by Marco Deplano. After thirteen years of existence, Wertham give you a tasting of what have been with eight tracks which are in balance from industrial and power electronics. Containing recordings gathered during the 1997÷2007 period, MEMORIES FROM THE PIGSTY is an album where Marco express really well his hate for decaying humanity. On the 20 pages booklet you''l find eleven writings where Marco expose his vision of English youth's attitude and behavior (boobs job obsession, alcohol and drugs addiction , sexual diseases, violence, etc). These writings are a sort of counterpart to the sound contained into the CD. Wertham, helped by John Murphy, Trevor Ward of the Grey Wolves plus Lou Chano and Andrea Bisi (they provided him sounds he used) on tracks like "Red bricks" and "Brand new toy" used an "in your face" approach (with distorted vocals and tons of noise) while on "Chavlad", "The kingston come" or "Essex girl" the sound has always an industrial industrial approach but made with tons of layers. For this reason the latters sound more interesting to me because they build a wall having a "sophisticated" sound structure. Not for power electronic lovers only...
Artist: Collide (@)
Title: Two Headed Monster
Format: CD
Label: Noiseplus Music (@)
Distributor: Noiseplus Music
Rated: *****
I hate when it happens; I receive a CD to review from a fairly well-known band months after it’s been released. Reviews are already published, verdicts are out, and I’m left with the unenviable task of confirming or denying sentiments previously espoused while still trying to remain original and unbiased in my opinion. First- the prejudice: I’ve always has a soft spot in my heart for Collide. I’ve enjoyed them since their initial release (BENEATH THE SKIN) back in 1997. Although I haven’t kept up with everything they’ve done, I’m familiar enough with their material to assess what they’re delivering here. If you want to cut to the chase and just determine whether to buy this latest Collide product or not, then I’d say BUY IT without a doubt. If you’re interest in my reasons why you should, then read on.

Collide kind of started out as a female-fronted electro-industrial mélange with dark goth pop inclinations. There were a few bands out there at the time doing this kind of thing but somehow Collide managed to do it better. When every other female vocalist in the genre was getting compared to Siouxsie Sioux, the vocal talents of Collide’s kaRIN invited a broader range of juxtapositions. The aural complexities Statik produced, especially on their earlier releases helped set the band apart from the glut of female-fronted gothy-electronica bands that populate the genre.

Collide has morphed somewhat from their beginnings; grown and changed but always retained the unique core of their sound- complex and beguiling. I think Collide’s turning point was their involvement with Curve’s Dean Garcia. For those unfamiliar with Curve (probably a minority), the band’s was essentially a fem-fronted duo consisting of Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia. Curve sits somewhere between shoegazer and noise pop on the genre meter. Last year kaRIN and Statik collaborated with Garcia on a one-off (so far) project called Ultrashiver resulting in an album titled THE SECRET MEETING. The end result was a lot more Curvish than Collidish in my estimation- not a bad thing at all. That album got great reviews but true to its name is a commercially "secret meeting". However, what Collide retained as a result of that project has ultimately influenced their new material on TWO HEADED MONSTER.

With the exception of kaRIN’s sultry-slinky vocal style (a hallmark of any Collide project), I wasn’t much impressed with Collide’s last studio album, SOME KIND OF STRANGE from 2003. In spite of guests cEvin Key of Skinny Puppy and Danny Carey of Tool it was altogether too slow, and the songs just didn’t seem that compelling to me. Flash forward to 2008’s TWO HEADED MONSTER and you have a whole different animal. First off, Collide sounds more like a band here than a recording project. I can actually imagine this album being played live more than any of their prior material. Although "Tongue Tied & Twisted" (line from a Pink Floyd song, eh?) opens the album with a dark, lurching semi-slow groove, the pace changes briskly with the followup, "Chaotic". Here you begin to notice the drum work (undoubtedly courtesy of Danny Carey’s reprise here) and the fact that kaRIN’s vocals seem more integrated with the music in the mix. Stylistically, kaRIN isn’t that far removed from Toni Halliday and it shows in numerous places on TWO HEADED MONSTER. I think the songs are a bit more accessible (probably unintentionally so) in structure on this album without falling into commercial cliché. This is a feat many bands strive for but few seem to accomplish without concession or conceit. And it is for this reason that TWO HEADED MONSTER transcends being merely a good album and becomes a great one. There are enough mood and tempo changes, enough twisted sonics, potently placed power chords, dynamic shifts and compelling rhythms to satisfy the most demanding alt rock listeners. Every corner turned by another track on TWO HEADED MONSTER holds a dark and delicious delight. If there is anything even remotely close to filler on this CD, it might be only one track- "Head Spin". Even on that song there’s enough sonic substance to hold your interest. TWO HEADED MONSTER could well be the breakout album for Collide, bringing them a much broader fan base than just the dressed in black set. Then again, who knows? They run their own record label (Noiseplus Music) ensuring artistic integrity and a meager promotional budget. One well-placed track on a TV series or a movie soundtrack could propel them into the spotlight. Unlike a lot of bands who achieve "overnight success", if TWO HEADED MONSTER is any indication, Collide are ready for it.

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