Music Reviews

Artist: orchestramaxfieldparrish presents ÆRA
Title: To The Last Man / Index Of Dreaming
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Faith Strange Recordings (@)
Distributor: CD Baby
Rated: *****
This double-CD seemed promising in both the name and the packaging. Having no prior knowledge of what I was about to hear (and not bothering to be pre-conditioned by the accompanying pesky one sheet’) I dove in heard first figuring something called orchestramaxfieldparrish would be colorful and fanciful, just like the artist, right? (The b&w CD cover should have been a clue) Well, no. Nothing Maxfield Parrish-like about this at all, except that it is kind of arty. Now if I HAD read the one-sheet before listening to this work, I might have had a better frame of reference, although I think it would have prejudiced the review somewhat.

Without getting into the esoteric of whys of the "presents ÆRA" portion of the orchestramaxfieldparrish project name (apparently that tag was just for this 2 CD project), orchestramaxfieldparrish is a guy named Mike Fazio who has had a few releases under that name, and also Gods of Electricity, a collaborative project with a few other people. I think the latter project is more multi-faceted than orchestramaxfieldparrish, but never having heard it I’ll make no further comment. Suffice to say, this isn’t Fazio’s first release, and he’s obviously an artist who has developed over several albums worth of material.

I can’t say I was awed or overwhelmed by the first couple of tracks on the first CD - To The Last Man. The opener- "Elegæa," presents a series of strong, low, sustained orchestral string tones mixed with some synthetic drones. Perhaps it was supposed to be dramatic, but it left me flat. I could imagine a collaboration between Edgar Froese and Klaus Schulze where they got together and smoked too much hash. A lot of sonority but not much substance. The following track, "To Touch the Sky" loses the bass in favor of chittering and ringing tones, still with a basic drone feel. The most annoying thing about this track was the vinyl simulation of subtle clicks and ticks throughout. Pointless, in my estimation. The beauty of the digital format is the elimination of sonic distraction in ambient audio. To me, once a record picks up those annoying imperfections, it’s ruined as far as my listening experience goes for subtle music like this. That’s’ a good reason why a portion of my record collection never gets played anymore.

Now that I’ve gotten what I didn’t like out of the way, let’s move on to what I DID like, which was just about everything else. Track the third, "Ennoæ," immediately reminded me of Steve Roach. It is the only track on the entire 2-CD album that has any rhythmic impetus, and actually came as a refreshing change of pace. I was beginning to get a feel for Fazio’s brand of ambient drone, and could hear parallels with artists like La Monte Young, Robert Rich, Phil Niblock, Klaus Schulze, the spacier elements of vintage Tangerine Dream and to a lesser extent, Brian Eno. Four more tracks round out the first CD, running the gamut from natural environmental to the outer regions of space to cozmic awe. My only misgiving was the simulated vinyl ticks that kept reappearing every now and then.

The second CD, Index Of Dreaming is where things really come together for orchestramaxfieldparrish. Instead of names, the tracks are numbered – 1/1, 2/1, 1/ 2, 2/2, 1/3. They flow together so well that it seems like an entire work, rather than separate pieces. All of the spacey, dreamlike musical textures Fazio has in his arsenal are employed to make this one hell of a cosmic trip. Quality soundscapes of the first order. Where the first CD might have been somewhat of an experiment, the second is masterpiece in restrained sonic layering that never breaks the mood, or jars the listener. (And thankfully, no clicks and pops.) While seemingly minimal, there is a deceptive complexity about the ambience that should hold up well to repeated listenings. If you close your eyes, you easily imagine being in a floatation tank without the tank!

Now that I’ve absorbed what orchestramaxfieldparrish has to offer, I learned from the one-sheet that the first 50 copies of this CD included a 3rd CD titled, "Pæan No. 1 - The Paradise Syndrome". Damn! I never get those limited specials. I can still be content with To The Last Man / Index Of Dreaming though, because most of it is very appealing to someone who enjoys ambient/space/drone music as much as I do.
Artist: SITH (@)
Title: Leiden
Format: CD
Label: I Scream Tour Prod. (@)
Distributor: Season of Mist
Rated: *****
Since acts like TAMTRUM, ALIEN VAMPIRES or DAWN OF ASHES earn a lot of success with their musically mixture to combine a Death Metal-related sound outfit with Hellectro tunes, several newcomer acts following these idols in a comparable style come up to try their luck. Somehow in this style and kind this new French project has to be sorted in.
SITH consists in the first instance of Stephane Verdura, who is responsible for all compositional efforts of this project. "Leiden" means suffering – and indeed, the featured lyrically content of this album is a sort of violent mixture between hopelessness, hate, anger and reflects several views of disappointed relationships, violence itself and suicidal thoughts. The grim faces of the three musicians featured on cover art and booklet don’t leave space for a sedating summer sunshine and beautiful trip. Musically "Leiden" comes out quite expected. The foundation consists of the Electronic side like rotating synth bass lines and a pounding kick and snare-work generated of a drum computer. That is quite solid produced, but it also doesn’t hold anything refreshing asides this expected line – to me a pity, since a more diverse usage of this Electronica elements would help them a lot to leave some already known paths.
Their sound outfit gets accomplished with some grinding Metal-guitar riffs and a monstrous vocal performance between fragile and harder as hell. In between the expected straight and angry tracks like "Sin", "Eat" or "Love You To Death", there’s room for a more darker mood – I’m quite sure that every Goth-Rock fan will accept "Lost" as being one of the rather sentimental pearls this album has to offer. Some remarkable collaborations with Benoit 16 of TAMTRUM or VX from PUNISH YOURSELF even help to push more attraction on this album. Also worth to mention is the bonus track "Breath" at the end of this album, since the combination of a piano-driven foundation and differently Electronica arrangements works extremely well on this tune.
SITH are far away from being the next "big thing" this music genre has to offer, but still solid produced enough, to pick up some attention from the fans this genre has to offer. Released through their own label IS Tour Prod, but with the support and help of the approved Seasons of Mist distributor, you’ll be able to pick up this album in alternative record stores.
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Artist: Animassacre
Title: Shi No Sedai
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: DigiVirus
Rated: *****
Okay, same procedure which often happens: by slandering through the web, I stopped at my most-favorite Bulgarian music-output, and I had to recognize, that Simeon Dotkov and his better female half have produced a 6-track download-only EP, featuring the latest efforts of this harsh EBM/Industrial project. Released and hosted by the Vampirefreaks related label DigiVirus Records, this EP offers 3 new tracks and 3 remix works by CANDLE NINE ("Apathy" – turning this smasher into a quite useful EBM/Dark Electro tune with only slight Hellectro-ingredients), the Crunch Pod-recording act C/A/T ("Mecha Tremors" – straight and upbeating stuff for brain and body), and ZWELWE (turning "Mecha Tremors" too much into a hardcoristic and quite unnecessary Techno monster...). But most of the attention are of course placed on the 3 new tunes. "Ignore It" comes out relatively calm, highly danceable and with a better and mostly clear sounding vocals performance by Simon – it seems they’ve developed a bit in this special kind of production. Also the both additional tracks are worth a listen. The title track marches unstoppable forward in mid-tempo and features some interesting percussion works and a rich amount of voice samples. Also the last tune "User Hostile Interface" surprises with a mid-tempo based introduction, but turns into a harder and faster track by starting the refrain. I don’t know how the things are currently running with their engagement via Rupal Records, because this stuff is full of quality and would have been a good base to start the recordings of a possible second album. However, check the bands’ website and download it – it’s free available.

Artist: Benfay (@)
Title: Replay Life
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: Everestrecords (@)
Distributor: Godbrain/Finetunes
Rated: *****
Out of the baker’s dozen of CDs that I have just received for review, Benfay is lucky number one on the dissecting table. I visually scanned all entries including the accompanying one-sheets’ and decided Benfay would make easy pickings based on the music description. I should know by now that reading one-sheets for anything else but titles, discography, web addresses, distribution and biographical/factual info on the artist is a mistake. Also, failing to consider the strange humor of the Swiss (Swiss artist, Swiss label) and already knowing Swiss people with musical inclinations similar to mine, I completely let my guard down. The convoluted description of the work summed up in a quote by the artist (in an interview given to his cat, no less!) – "Replay Life is the reliving of myself in my own music" led me to believe I was in for an unparalleled session of repetitiveness and monotony. Such was not the case. I should have known by the track titles, like "The Partygoers Yelled", and "Tonight the Police Got an Anonymous Hint" that there was a little tongue sticking in the cheek.

Song titles aside (I think only Benfay can reconcile them with the music), what the listener is in for here is an interesting experience in the instrumental electronic IDM, often in the semi-glitch vein. It was described as abstract hip hop’ back on the one-sheet, but I don’t see it that way. Benfay likes to play with off-kilter beats and rhythms, so there tends to be less conspicuous repetition. Also, the compositions on Replay Life are held together with enough melodic sonic glue to make them appealing. Just when it skirts dangerously close to New Age mellowness, Benfay changes it up with dirty beats and a dark jazzy tonal placement. There is generous use of old school plinks and plunks, but somehow Benfay manages to make something new in the mélange.

Some tracks, like "Universal Time" add a heightened sense of drama, while others like "Befuddled Floorshow" have a laconic minimalism. There are tracks buzzing with busy notes, and others with riff ideas that don’t seem fully realized. Replay Life is a very mixed back. Not unpleasant though, and certainly never boring. I think this might be one of those odd little gems you can go back and listen to a year later and discover something else about that you didn’t appreciate at the time. In spite of coming across as a sketch-pad of musical ideas, it still has merit. I’ve heard the work of a lot of other artists in a similar vein who didn’t do nearly as well. Available on 12" vinyl and mp3 download only. Interesting... and sometimes intriguing.
Artist: Excubitors
Title: Operation Observation
Format: CD
Label: Lukotyk Records / LR013
Distributor: Rough Trade
Rated: *****
Four years ago three brothers from the idyllic province of the German countryside founded Excubitors to watch and spread the truth about the system we live in. The first album Aufstehung aus Ruinen brought the trio a certain degree of exposure and positive response from critics and synth music fans at least in the less commercially- oriented circles. Sascha, Stephan and Thomas combine English and German rather tastefully in their songs. Every language has its melody and thus fits better for this song or another. The usage of German samples is usually a good idea in songs sung in English. That leaves some place for wondering about their meaning, or just be a kind of spice for those who speak no German.
Among other topics the album takes loneliness as a theme; the isolation of an individual in the contemporary society in particular (Alleine, Isolated, Different; the last slightly reminding of Namnambulu’s sound).
Operation Observation deals with political issues as well. Steh Auf and Fehler im System criticizes the norms of our democratic system, not the least the fact that the deputies in the German parliament decide themselves whether to raise their own salaries or not. Such practice is common for many other countries too although it can be only compared with putting a cat in charge of watching the milk. The album discusses the practice of governments to accumulate data about its citizens. We are told that it is for security purposes and safe from falling into the wrong hands however the reality proves that things are not 100% so. Every now and then governments and large corporations star in various scandals of foul storage or sheer misuse of such data.
The title song is dedicated to the probably most important event of the post war Germany; the unification and the outburst of emotions that it caused especially among the eastern Germans who suffered under the inhuman regime in the DDR. Those who wish to live in freedom must be vigilant to make sure the human rights and the civil rights are not violated. Indifference to those rights was one of the factors that made Nazi dictatorship possible.
Im Visier was written about a youngster who ran amok in his former school in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany. Short time ago Germany was shocked by another massacre at school thus I believe the reactions to the release of this song may be ambivalent. The timing for a release of a song about such a charged topic may not be fortunate now and be a fertile soil for numerous misinterpretations. As you remember M.Manson was made responsible for the Columbine shooting. Alice Cooper was the first to put violence against children and women in the spot light and demonized by the critics who totally misunderstood him.
As a guest artist Anne Goldacker known for her work in Wintry and Obsc(y)re contributed with her talents to Observation as a counterpart to Sascha’s clean male vocals. A remix by a rather renowned combo Lost Area for Isolated closes the album.
I’m sure this album will bring Excubitors broader, well-deserved acknowledgement.
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