Music Reviews

Artist: The Tenants of Balthazar's Castle
Title: the moon
Format: CD
Label: A. Star
Rated: *****
Upon hearing the very 1st track on this album, you are soon warned that the frequency spectrum on this album will be a wide one. By track two, 'the voice of the moon" (their lowercase) is a manic, hyperspeed and looping race to an unknown destination in Tron land. As a point of reference here, a stretch mind you, it almost reminds of a midi-derived Reich percussion piece smashed into a work by maximalist composer Paul Dolden, complete with accelerated phasing and organically panned stereo imaging. This lasts just a short time however, as shortly thereafter in the moon moves’ the swirl begins to deteriorate and melt upon itself. After this barrage, we return to a more spacious and sonically expansive place much like the intro. After a very patient 15 and one half minutes of this piece, we are hit with a sudden onslaught that would make any Merzbow fan happy. Its a big sound, and its in your face. Nice.

This was the first moment that truly woke me up. Starting at this mile marker, I found myself much more enrapt in the album as a whole. It’s almost like you are listening to a compilation or split 7" and then the 2nd band arrives - the one you like more. This does make for a trajectory on the whole.

Everything that follows is worth sitting through. Other noteworthy tracks are 'lamplighter', and 'the end' which introduces some woodwinds, synths, and consequently a feel not unlike Badalamenti scoring a Lynch film. 'rising', the final track does an effective job of leading you back out the door you entered.

I initially decided to forego the liner notes, although as I wrap this it appears they reveal a bit about the equipment used on the record. This is not really part of the way I enjoy going into a new listening experience but its there for those who are curious.

Artist: CAGES
Title: Folding Space
Format: CD
Label: Cold Spring Records (@)
It's very difficult to file Cages under one genre and it is also a bit difficult to review their debut CD FOLDING SPACE. Since the opening track "Dying" you realize that what Nola Ranallo and David Bailey did isn't musical experimentation or will to surprise the audience. The listening of the nine tracks of the album are a particular experience as it could be explained paragoning it to a cooking recipe. Take a female vocal similar to Bjork then add some pain. Then, take a man with many musical ideas and give him the freedom he needs to give form to the duo's nightmares. Shake it a while and bury the mix for a month near to your beloved cat and then open it at night before going to sleep. After a while you'll feel a strange chocking sensation but it is normal. In the air you'll hear the guitar tribalism of "Prisons of light", the guitar/vocal Velvet Undergroudism of "The new forever", the reverse guitar sound of "Dying", the post rock acoustic guitarism of "If it flies, it dies" or the power industrial approach of "Cavern". All the music seems to be at the service of Nola's voice which paint a scary scenario now screaming and then softly caressing your ears. I don't know if this is an experience you'll gladly try but for sure this album won't let you impassible.
Title: Dischord
Format: CD
Label: Rage In Eden (@)
Rated: *****
Dr Strangelove were famous for a song titled "Why do you do?" (people were thinking it was Depeche Mode because of some melodic similarities and because John deep vocals) and they disbanded many years ago. Now three of them are back as Analog Angel and DISCHORD is their debut album with that moniker. The album doesn't contain any of the old songs because the fourth original member did not want them to re-record the old tracks and to ensure that they didn't, he copyrighted them under his own name (despite them being co-written). Anyway, this helped John, Derek and Robert to show their skills and to pack the new album with 80's sounds and nowadays freshness. The first two tracks of the album "Touched" and "Television" reflects other kind of influences and they sound more 90's oriented (I found a bit of VNV Nation here and there, maybe). With "Shadows" little by little 80's are surfacing thanks to analog pads and leads which find a great balance on the short instrumental "Ich habe". "High heels" is next and it would be a great single with its melodies recalling Depeche Mode. Fortunately Analog Angel are more than that and after the only ballad of the album "Down on you knees" we have "No contest", a tune that mix Nitzer Ebb and synthpop. Then, we have "What we've become", a great upbeat synthpop song with unforgettable melodies which prepare the audience to "Deviance", a 4/4 upbeat tune really energetic. The last original song of the album is one of the better of the lot as "Inner innocence (Original innocence)" gathers dark moods, analog sounds, good melodies, energy and a certain demo feel that makes it sound intriguing. The album closes with "Down to your knees (carpet burn reprise)" and "Television (900 channels remix)", two good remixes that don't play around the original songs but they rather revise them showing a different side. For example I found the "carpet burn reprise" more convincing of the original version as it has melancholic atmospheres but it dismiss the romantic element characteristic of the ballads.
Artist: No Longer Human (@)
Title: Antipathy
Format: CD
Label: COP International (@)
Distributor: COP International
Rated: *****
I would have reviewed this one a lot sooner had the CD not been defective when it I received it. After numerous resurfacings (which kept me pushing it to the back burner) I finally was able to get it to play, although track #4 was still buggered. Anyway, No Longer Human is the dark electro project of Clint Robertson from Portland, Oregon. The project might have been named after Osamu Dazai’s 1948 novel by the same title (which was adapted to film in 2009, Japanese, of course), or maybe not. In any case, Antipathy’ mines the well-trodden wasteland of industrial dystopia sounding much like the other Blade Runners and Road Warriors who have traveled this route before.

All the typical elements are in place- heavily processed vocals; driving beat programming; the standard catalog of synth sounds; movie dialog samples, and bleak songs based on a central sequence riff. Reminds me of Velvet Acid Christ, Suicide Commando and Accessory (anybody remember them?) to some degree. I’m sure other comparisons could be made; just pick your favorite dark electro act. Although why Clint lists Tom Waits and Nancy Sinatra among his influences, I have no clue. I like Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake, but I wouldn’t say they were influential as far as my own goth-industrial music was concerned.

For what it is, it’s not bad, just not particularly innovative. A couple tracks ("Let Me Go," "End Times") might even make good dark dance floor fodder. I will give No Longer Human this much- the pacing and atmospherics are varied throughout the album; it isn’t non-stop four-on-the-floor bombast.

Addressing the things I didn’t like about it, I have to say the overuse of dialogue samples is one of the key drawbacks here. I wonder if they were cleared... I’m guessing not because copyright clearance is expensive. The big corps rarely go after industrial acts anyway, preferring to target more lucrative rap/hip-hop acts. Using lots of dialogue samples just seems to be "so ten years ago" now, I don’t know why these bands continue to do so much of it. Being a musician myself, I used to sympathize with the MACOS (Musicians Against Copyright of Samples) crowd, but now I’m not so sure. Too many voices ranting in the music detract more than it adds. Just seems like unnecessary filler.

As for Clint’s vocals, well, what can I say? It’s the same electronically processed rasp you’ve heard a hundred times before. Once in a while you might be able to make out a word or a line-... "Let me go"... "One Night"... "Welcome to the... "... etc., etc., but you really need a lyric sheet to understand the words. Fortunately, they’re included in the CD insert, which is a plus. A lot of bands don’t even bother. For once, I’d like to hear a dark electro act ease up on the amount of electronic processing used on the vocals and let the voice come through. It might give the music some personality that could separate it from the pack. Sure, effects on vocals can create an aura of malevolence but used constantly, it just becomes tiresome.

I’m not saying NHL’s Antipathy’ is a poor effort; in fact, I kinda like it. Maybe something about the phrasing, the pacing, the simple sequences, the ambience or whatever sort of resonates with me. I just think it could have been better. Compared to a few other dark electro releases I’ve heard this year, it holds it’s own. In fact, if obscured vocals and a lot of spoken word samples don’t bother you, you might really enjoy this. It has a cool apocalyptic feel, and a big sound. Probably a good act to experience lives. Clint certainly looks the part with his modified rivethead mohawk. I just hope he might make a few changes on his next release to make No Longer Human really outstanding.
Artist: Elwood Emission (@)
Title: Ode to the Ego
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Distributor: iTunes
Rated: *****
Here’s another release I should have gotten about six months ago. Elwood Emission is one Lucy Kalantari from Brooklyn, NY. Her initial release under the Elwood Emission moniker is a 6-track EP (digital download only) by the title of "Ode to the Ego". Lucy describes her music as "Pat Benatar & Trent Reznor’s love-child, but that seems a bit aggrandizing and not quite on the mark to me. There’s no doubt it does have an industrial flavor, but at the heart of it is a singer-songwriter with a more mainstream background; think Alanis Morrisette, Fiona Apple, Sarah McLachlan, Amy Lee of Evanescence, et al. In fact, Lucy had an "adult contemporary" project called Luciar a while back and I heard a few snippets from that project’s Rules of the Game’ 2000 release, and it was pretty good. If it had gotten the right promotion behind it, it might have really gone somewhere. So the question is, what does a woman from Brooklyn with a lot of musical experience bring to the goth-industrial world? Well, for one thing, a great voice, and some talented songwriting when she really wants to strut her stuff. Her production skills aren’t bad either, for a boudoir studio’.

So, what of the songs? Track 1, "The Invitation" is a throwaway. The amateurish ukulele plunking makes it seem like it’s going to be a bizzaro indie folk album in spite of the emotive vocals. Things change rapidly on "Other," the best track on the album with a killer hook, a quirky electronic arrangement and strong vocals. "Run" pays some homage to NIN’s "That’s What I Get" (Pretty Hate Machine) in its pacing and dramatic building, but is actually a better song. Things heat up and the claws come out on "Despicable". With venomous chorus lyrics "You’re a waste of my time, you’re a waste of life supreme, you’re just a good for nothin’ fucker causin’ nothing but grief... " you wouldn’t expect from a girl who once had a band in the Dominican Republic called Teen Rock. Oh well, our past often comes back to haunt us, but Lucy isn’t denying her roots. She’s just moved well beyond them.

"Stillness" is a four minute instrumental piano composition, with a tone-drone background and a sample & hold synth. It’s sort of atmospheric, and might have been okay as filler on a full length release but is a bit of a letdown on a short EP. "Divine" is a decent enough dramatic piano-based song, but seems out of place with the heart of the material, the three songs in the middle. Kind of Kate Bush-like in flavor.

This EP leaves me wanting more- more good material like "Other," "Run," and "Despicable". The good thing is, since it’s available in digital download only, you don’t have to buy the whole CD, just individual songs if you like. Those three are good enough to purchase. It’s tough for an artist to cross genre territories but if Lucy continues with the Elwood Emission project and records more material like the three songs previously mentioned, I think she’ll be getting the recognition she may well deserve. A top-notch producer and a backer with a sack full of green wouldn’t hurt either.
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