Music Reviews



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Artist: Chmcl Str8jckt (@)
Title: s/t
Format: CD + Download
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Chmcl Str8jck (Chemical Straightjacket for the phonetically challenged) are the electro-industrial duo of Kevin Snell (keys, programming, vocals) and Mike Cairoli (guitar) from somewhere in northern New Jersey. Hey! I used to be from somewhere in northern New Jersey, but nearly a lifetime ago... Anywho, this self-titled 8-track album (that's an album of 8 tracks, not released on 8-track tape, although that could have been interesting) is their debut , released July 4, 2017. Yeah, I know we're really getting to this one late; it was one of the many that sat at Chain D.L.K. Central (Marc's domain) until enough material piled up that it had to be doled out to us lucky reviewers. So what have we got here? Well, this is pretty basic stuff with some good twists that comes across like a quirky sort of EBM (simple) without trying to be the next dancefloor killer. Effective but nothin' fancy synth programming and beats with str8t-ahead industrial guitar adhere to the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) rule. In the vocal and lyric department Snell co-opts Revco, Marilyn Manson, Alice Cooper, Jello Biafra, Skinny Puppy, etc., etc, with a sardonic sense of humor, which makes this thing seem to work better than it ought to. It's a horror-tinged cyber-punky sort of industrial with processed voice that is more spoken than sung, but somehow still works well. I saw the video for "Dressed to Kill" (the song that opens the album) and it's like Devo meet Ministry in Ed Gein's back yard. (No joke!) Some of it was filmed at a pole-dancing club called Platinum Dollz (Passaic, NJ) and although the vibe is uber-creepy misogynistic ritual killer stuff that might turn off some folks, for me it seemed ridiculously over the top enough to be chuckle-worthy. On the other hand, a different YouTube video of the band playing live proved to be somewhat of a yawn. Guess they need to work on their live presentation to kick it up a notch or three. The songs on the album still have a certain strange fascination though, although their next venture could probably use some diversity.
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Artist: Madhavi Devi (@)
Title: The Truth of Being
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
Madhavi Devi is electronic musician, harpist, and meditative sound painter Cheryl Gallagher from the Austin, Texas area. Madhavi Devi has had a few collaborative releases prior to this first solo outing on the Spotted Peccary label, but I haven't heard them. On 'The Truth of Being' Madhavi Devi employs a blend of digital, analog, modular and software synthesizers, concert grand and electric harps, viola, ambient guitar, Tibetan bowls. Howard Givens (ambient electric guitar, modular synthesizers, effects) and Stephanie Britten Phillips (viola) are special guests on this album but they never overshadow Gallagher's work. On 'The Truth of Being' Madhavi Devi's ambient is of a soothing melodic sort without ever getting too caught up in the melody. It is richly textured and world music influenced without leaning too much in one ethnic direction or another. Over the six tracks on the album that's just a few minutes under an hour (a couple of the lengthier tracks are well over 10 minutes each), Madhavi Devi takes the listener on an exotic, yet familiar journey that can also serve as tranquil meditation. Rhythm is sparse and somewhat downplayed yet still present on a few tracks. Most of the melodic input is abstract which is fine by me. (Too often good ambient can be ruined by melodic themes that come across as too romantic or cloying.) The one thing I really like about this album is its varying shades; different tones of light and dark that always seem to be resolved perfectly. While sometimes I was reminded of Constance Demby and Michael Stearns, Madhavi Devi's music has a vibe of its own not owing to any other particular sonic artist or work. Gallagher also designed and painted the artwork for the tri-fold CD slipcase, impressing that she's the total package. While 'The Truth of Being' isn't a revolutionary work in the ambient genre, it is a very solid one with a high degree of replayability.
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Notes from the Underground. Experimental Sounds Behind the Iron Curtain, 1968–1989
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Edition Iron Curtain Radio
Experimentation and progress doesn’t happen in a vacuum and it would be wrong to assume- as we maybe have- that while the West were experiencing an explosion of experimental composition, particularly electronic composition, that ‘behind the iron curtain’ remained a cut-off world still stuck in accordions, oompah brass bands and folk dancing. Of course nothing could be further from the truth, as this 2LP collection, consolidating no fewer than four different collation projects gathering together experimental music from the USSR, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia and East Germany demonstrates.

There’s a broad variety of styles here, all with electronic elements but sometimes only serving as bit players in more traditional band set-ups. There’s raw wave music with angry shouted vocals, courtesy of Der Demokratische Konsum. The track from Vágtázó Halottkémek has more than a shade of prog rock about it, while the catchy vocal proto-pop hook in A. E. Bizottság’s “Pek-Pek” is a proper earworm. Kilhet’s “Extract Of Concert Number 4” has the abstract soundworking, splicing and tape effect energy that sits it nicely alongside 60’s Radiophonic Workshop-style performance sonic mangling, while the short-but-sweet “Live in Petfi Csarnok” from Vágtázó Halottkémek is a bold and theatrical percussive workshop.

But the overriding mood for most of the tracks seems to be frustration, bubbling into genuine anger. In keeping with the underground, subversive nature of the music in its context, a lot of it feels decidedly punky in its make-up (though the notable exception of AG. Geige’s weird-kids-TV-music “Elektrische Banane” has to be mentioned).

Perhaps fittingly then, some of the sound quality is understandably lo-fi. “Krebs ohne Stuhl” and “Untitled” are examples of tracks with a decidedly tape-sourced sonic quality that no amount of high-quality mastering will completely remove.

Other tracks worth making a note of include the deep and sinister rumbling flows of Ziemia Mindel Würm’s ”Untitled” (the one track were sound quality really is a hindrance to overall effect). The industrial-pop of New Composers’ “Max-Industry” stands up well as one of the brighter moments, as does the quite forward-thinking (if oddly named) final track, Ornament & Verbrechen’s ”Der lÄchelnde Chinese”.

To be fair, it’s not without its weak moments too- Praffdata’s “Live in Remont, Warsaw” being an example of a track that perhaps didn’t warrant being exhumed.

It’s a fascinating collection and a great insight- more than a glimpse, a positive 86 minute extravaganza- into experimental sounds with strong connections yet also profound differences to what we Westerners might think of as a experimental music history.
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Artist: Fabio Fabio
Title: Amore Cannibale
Format: 12"
Label: Ivreatronic
The second release on the Ivreatronic label is an EP, four tracks of lower-tempo, mostly-instrumental tribal house (or at a push soft techno) with strong, at times almost moombahton-ish grooves and a gentle toe-tapping appeal.

The title track builds really nicely, only properly kicking in well over three minutes in with a nice display of measured structure. “Alma” is a deeper offering with a slowly unfolding acid pattern rumbling under gun-percussion snares and some quirky throat singing noises towards the end.

“Frutto Del Paradiso” suffers from excessive sidechain compression but otherwise is a nice bouncy interplay of kick-and-clap and sampled folksy guitar and vocal sounds, while “You Got It” rolls around an infectious synth bassline and simple, slightly-off bell-sound melody.

It’s a strong pack of slow, accessible tracks with a feel-good vibe and a nice bit of character.
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Artist: Rimarimba
Title: The Rimarimba Collection
Format: LP
Label: Freedom To Spend
Reissuing three albums from 1983 to 1985, and adding an unreleased 1988 album (but only in the boxset, not available individually), this pack is a way of jumping your Rimarimba collection from zero to completist in one simple step- with a canvas carrier thrown in for good measure.

In chronological order, “Below The Horizon” is first up. The first half is a collection of shorter experimental numbers with quite a Radiophonic Workshop-ish attitude to sound layering coupled with a prog rock attitude, and quite a playful tone at times, that shines through in tracks like the excellent “Gone To Hell In A Small Bucket”. The second half is devoted to 21-minute work “Bebag”, a mesmeric and really well-rounded fusion of lo-fi synth and acoustic noises- including, as you’d hope from the artist title, a marimba- into something greater than the sum of its parts that brings to mind the idea of Steve Reich playing with a stylophone, but in a good way.

1984’s “On Dry Land” adds tape elements as its new key ingredient, maintaining the marimba and plucky endearing and off-kilter bedroom instrumentation but throwing in snippets of spoken word dialogue, presumably TV or radio extracts, to add variety. It’s full of energy and surprisingly fun- check out “On The Range” as a prime example. The irreverence turns dark occasionally- “Cacoughanation” and the discordant “Beyond Pain” are examples- but never truly sinister. Again the final track is by far the longest, “Not Enough Time” charting across long indulgent experimental territory to give the release further breadth.

“In The Woods” from 1985 is a slight evolution rather than a substantial change. The sound quality is notably improved, particularly in the guitar work, and there’s a slightly more earnest approach here, from the mesmeric and Tangerine Dream-esque opener “Spafft Moutafft Seeall + California” to the melodic synth drone of “Gone To Hell In An Even Smaller Bucket”. Tracks like “xit” exhibit more melodic confidence. There’s still spoken word samples, but fewer of them and more sincere, more akin to Negativland.

The 1988 album “Light Metabolism Number Prague”, previously unreleased for 30 years for undisclosed reasons, may even be the stongest of the pack. From the opening music-box-meets-Philip-Glass-meets-early-Orbital loops of opening track “Glass Abattoir” it’s a more matured and balanced sound, almost proto-techno in parts and very accomplished. With “Egg Foo Young” it’s aware, perhaps too aware, of the Asian-sounding results that are being generated by the stepping arpeggio patterns. But the sense of fun hasn’t completely evaporated either, as “Tom & Jerry” and bizarre vocal track “Why Do You Squeak?” both show in a way that will appeal to fans of They Might Be Giants’ early stuff.

This re-issue of Robert Cox’s work as Remarimba is a good move, and while it might not result in Cox’s retrospective addition to the experimental hall of fame (were such a thing to exist), it’s an enjoyable bit of mostly-lo-fi 80’s experimental that deserves to be dusted off for a new audience. And it is rather fun.
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