Music Reviews

Artist: Precursor
Title: Desire EP
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Basserk Records (@)
Precursor- labelled as “Precursor (NL)” on some stores to avoid confusion with other Precursors- serves up a 4-pack of melodic techno.

“Kosmos” is the centrepiece, an eight-and-a-half minute gently progressive journey of stuttering synth chords and a rubbery bassline. But for the slightly broken rhythms, you could apply a ‘trance’ label to some of the elements here. The brief breakdown after five minutes, jumping with both feet into a widescreen crescendo, is done with a lot of gusto and polish. This is road trip EBM, mesmerising and with a broad scope.

The other tracks are shorter and accomplish a little less. “Norge” is little more than a rhythmic synth stab pattern, well suited to the age of DJ stems and multi-layering. “Desire” has a similar formula to “Kosmos”, slowly progging warm chords over a kickdrum-heavy breakbeat, still cinematic but without scaling to quite the same heights as the opener. “Still Here” is similar again, milder stabs and a more overt sense of suspense.

It’s a consistent formula that works well, serving up an enjoyable EP of complex rhythm programming and restrained, slowly adjusting synths that will fit very well into a variety of chin-stroking deep techno journeys.
Artist: Olivia Louvel (@)
Title: Data Regina
Format: CD + Download
Label: Cat Werk Imprint (@)
This is a noble and fascinating concept album about the period of 16th century British history when both England and Scotland were ruled by women. Accompanied by an arts council-funded interactive website and with track titles referencing specific battles, it’s the most unusual history lesson you’ve ever sat through- and possibly the first one where it’s recommended to gaze out of the window.

But crucially it is not, as you might first think, an excuse to dig out the lute and the hurdy-gurdy and explore 16th century instrumentation- very much the opposite in fact. This is hyper-digital, cold soundscapes of slow voices, clicks and effects. Analogue oscillations and tight glitches roll over windy ambiences.

Vocal tracks like “My Crown” and “Love Or Rule” are the most accessible, and should appeal to fans of Christine & The Queens or Funkstörung, though much of the work is too languid and melancholy to make it truly accessible pop. The expressiveness of “Elizabeth Song” is close to what Björk would sound like with a screech-free British accent. Whilst listening to it a colleague of mine said it sounded like the dreamier side of Warpaint as well, I don’t wholly agree but I’ll include it as a second opinion.

“The Four Marys” is the closest that the vocal tracks get to the folk story tradition, an oral history of sorts, completely reimagined for deep electronica. It’s deeply unusual and attention-grabbing.

The instrumentals are named after battles, though again this could be called misleading as there’s no real conflict in them- they’re moods and tones, memories from old battlefields not sounds from current ones. There are a couple of exceptions, like “Pinkie 1547” with a highly processed soft percussive noise that might once have been cannonfire, and the severely out-of-place final rhythmic jolt of “Battlefront” (if you’re adding this to a sleep playlist, you’ll want to leave the final track off), but other than that, generally the whole work has a sleepy, drama-free feel to it.

The overall effect is rather lush. Though I won’t pretend to have truly picked up on a narrative (too much time gazing out of the window in my previous history lessons perhaps), nevertheless it’s a rich collection of atmospheric electronica with elements of deconstructed granular dreampop. It’s released on Louvel’s own label, Cat Werk Imprint.

If history lessons had sounded like this in school I would have paid a lot more attention.
Artist: Nash The Slash
Title: Decomposing
Format: 12"
Label: Artoffact
Canadian multi-instrumentalist, and predominantly electric violinist, Nash The Slash’s 1981 EP “Decomposing” was, it’s claimed, the first EP that was intentionally composed so that it would play ‘correctly’ at 33-and-a-third rpm, 45rpm and 78rpm. In the digital version, each of the four tracks is included three times, once at each of these speeds; vinyl purchasers will have to track down a turntable capable of running 78rpm if they want the full package! Though the original 12” is rare, it has been re-released before so this isn’t the first dusting-down for this particular EP.

The electric violin is the melodic lead on all four tracks, doing the multi-tracked ‘singing’ in a way that’s not wholly dissimilar to how Mike Oldfield will sometimes use electric guitar; initially well rooted in a poppy and familiar melodic structure, but with the will and virtuosity to wander into more prog-rock-esque diversions and solos.

But to call this ‘electric violin music’ would be a disservice. Ignoring the lead sound, these tracks are proto-electro-punk, dramatic synth stabs throbbing over robotic rhythms. “The Calling” is relatively light, with a tonal quality very similar to Brian Eno’s “Another Green World” but substantially faster (even at 33-and-a-third). “Life In Loch Ness” is a darker rumble, with a single electrically-charged rubbery bass note starting solitary before the door eventually opens into a rather epic cinematic overture performed by distorted synths. The seven-minute-long (at 45) “Womble” is early-doors bedroom techno, with heavy reverbs and delays layering up a fantastic groove. “Pilgrim’s Lament” wraps things up sweetly with an almost Vangelis-like warm salve, again with a very cinematic feel.

I’m partially but not wholly convinced by the 33/45/78 concept, which originated from a radio DJ’s error in playing one of Nash The Slash’s previous EPs at the wrong speed rather than from any high concept. In parts, it works- the more filmic pieces “Life In Loch Ness” and “Pilgrim’s Lament” breathe more freely and with more melancholy at 33rpm. However at 33rpm, “Womble” reaches almost ten minutes long, losing its energy and outstaying its welcome a little. At 78bpm however, while things are not completely happy hardcore, is a little bit Pinky & Perky and the squeakiness is no more musically valid than pretty much any 45rpm record is at 78! Certainly I would say you would pick one of the three speeds and stick to it; listening to them back-to-back is a too-repetitive 12-track experience.

The production quality is a little dated but it’s easy to hear why Gary Numan invited Nash The Slash to be his support act around this time. Nash sadly died in 2014 so a chance to revisit some of his work was overdue.
Artist: UnicaZürn (@)
Title: Transparondem
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Touch
“Transparondem” is a truly timeless bit of analogue experimental synthesizer music that, while finished in 2016, could be advertised as an “undiscovered synth gem from 1970” without too many people crying foul (the ‘two sides of an LP’ structure adds to this as well). Like Tangerine Dream in one of their less rhythmic moods, or like the Radiophonic Workshop indulging themselves with the opportunity to go freeform, this is music that manages to transcend the technology that’s being used to create it, rather than being defined by the equipment.

In “Breathe The Snake”, the title possibly a reference to the Thames, water and waves are the omnipresent theme; not actually sampled, but recreated by the slow ebb and flow of settings on synths. This is an alien beach, with gloopy tides that are relaxing but also faintly toxic, with dark, slow, square-wave tones. Subtle but distinct stereo separations add a slight uneasiness.

“Pale Salt Seam” is a more complex work- a mellotron, seemingly improvised, sounding like a drunk alien church organ, squeaking and vocalising over warm chords that ebb similarly to the first track, but in a more comforting and structured melodic manner. Arpeggiation increases gradually, as things get busier without really changing tack. Rightly or wrongly it feels to me like an inebriated organ version of Jarre’s “Waiting For Cousteau”; diving across a reef of harmless monsters.

In a way there’s not all that much in “Transparondem” to assess- two soundscapes, both around twenty minutes, both with relatively little in the way of internal progression. They’re smooth, and they adjust and adapt tonally in a way that keeps things interesting enough. Overall it’s a warm if unchallenging synthesized tribute to water.
Artist: Claudio Parodi (@)
Title: Right Error
Format: CD + Download
Label: Migro Records
Rated: *****
The first thought on this release is about its relationship with modernity: even if it seems a CD, it's in fact an USB key hosted in a CD case with a stereo, binaural and quadraphonic version on this release; so it's something as a farewell to a way of conceiving the release as something to be heard on an hi-fi system. The three version of this work could be easily associated with stereo, headphones and hi-fi system and, from this perspective, it triggers a refection on the role of the environment in music listening: even the stereo version has sharp separations between channels drowned in uncountable moments of silence as requests to the outside world to enter in this release during the experience of listening which is the other theme of this release whose title belong to an answer by Thelonious Monk to a person asking why he was upset after a performance: “I played only WRONG errors!”. As Claudio Parodi states in the liner notes, he interpreted this phrase as an hint that there's something similar to a right error and this concept makes sense at least at a couple of levels: there's a relationship between what's written in a score and how it sounds and there's a relation between the nature of sounds and the way they are organized in a piece.
The stating point, the pivotal wrong error, is a noise produced by a microphone, the Schoeps CMC6 MK4, perhaps by a coupling with a source during a recording session; as this error were recorded, it was stretched and organized according to the text of "Round Midnight" so to insert moments of silence and moving this noise among the aural field. The result reaches his apex in the part three of the track where, for a large part of the track, only the attack of the noise is audible as a text was made only on dots and commas and this is surrounded by four track where what it's heard is a single cell of noise that is used as a mark of a journey through space and this element triggers the final thought about this release.
This work remind us how composition could be considered as the plan of a path from a point A towards B and this journey is the true content of music that has to be comprehensible at the aural level and the pivotal aspect of this release it that shows this process with a remarkable clarity so, even if most people would classify this release as a boring sequence based on a single noise because they see music as something that has to inebriate the senses, it's a release that shows how minimalism has something important to say even today. It could be really irksome to hear for someone but it's food for thought; almost essential.
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