Music Reviews



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Artist: Janek Schaefer
Title: Glitter In My Tears
Format: CD + Download
Label: Room40
The prolific Janek Schaefer, responsible for 30 albums in the last 20 years, has in “Glitter In My Tears” released something that is at times raw and at other times polished.

The album opens with “Sparkles Into The Light Of Night”, a gentle, slowly building six-minute ambience that sets the tone very nicely. It makes you wish that some of the other pieces, many of which are under two minutes long, had been explored further and allowed to breathe more. Perhaps Mr Schaefer could have turned this into three or four albums…

There are some tracks that stand out sonically- “Looking For Love” is a piano piece that sounds like a early prototype noodling demo for a potentially cliché piano ballad. The deep bass hum of the following track “Low Points” also clamours for your attention more than other parts do.

Novelty value also plays a part- “What Comes Around” unexpectedly adds a funky looped music sample (faintly Royksopp-esque drums and guitar) skittering around the edge of your consciousness, while final piece “Conclusions In Two Minds” gives you deep male voice choir tones followed by light aeroplane noises. Some experiments work better than others- the looped classical vinyl of “Hells Bells” is surprisingly eerie, but “Dawn Draws In” feels like an unfinished attempt at writing a childrens’ lullaby.

However there are other tracks, like “Swallow Hole”, “All In The Mind” or “Falls From Favour”, that typify the generic synthetic drone sound that suggests a lack of inspiration or distinctive character. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them, but they’re so brief that it’s unclear what they’re really accomplishing- they begin to seem like filler.

Overall it’s a mixed bag, which in itself could be seen as a virtue, as it recalls more diverse classic chill out albums (from Alex Paterson, Jimmy Cauty etc.) which felt more playful and less confined to one purpose or expression. It’s eclecticism is certainly hit and miss but there are enough worthwhile moments in here to justify some attention.
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Artist: The Holy Circle
Title: s/t
Format: CD + Download
Label: Annihilvs Power Electronix
The Holy Circle’s first full-length album is a dark pop album that combines the contemporary earnest pop of bands like Chvrches or MS MR, and darker more shoegaze elements. New member Nathan Jergenson’s rock-solid and tribal drumming style plays well against Terence Hannum’s grit-edged synthwave arrangements, with Erica Burgner-Hannum’s strong and clear vocal floating beautifully on top.

After the relatively accessible radio-edit arrangements of the opening two songs, the remaining six tracks are generally a bit more self-indulgent and dreamy. Highlights include the beautifully emotive “Early Morning”, and “The Refugee” in which Burgner-Hannum’s pure vocal shines through most successfully. “This Is” has one of the strongest hooks, but partnered with one of the flattest instrumental arrangements of the pack. Lyrically, the final two tracks “Shut Out” and “Basel” take things to a much darker place, brutal to the point of being very uncomfortable.

As a matter of personal taste, for me there are tracks where the vocal needed to be pushed louder and stronger in the mix- it’s a lovely vocal performance but ends up sounding a little muddy and over-washed in reverb, for example on “The Odds”, as if being held back from being the star of the show. Coupled with an ever-so-slight shortage of strong chorus hooks, it leaves the album without the powerful, stand-out anthem moments that could have garnered the band broader attention. Nevertheless it’s still a really strong collection of dark synthpop and The Holy Circle will be a name to keep an ear out for.
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Artist: Siavash Amini
Title: Tar
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Hallow Ground
“Tar” is a collection of four long experiments that meld electronic drones and atmospheres with more cinematic strung-out sounds. It’s deeply melancholic and barren-sounding, a forty-minute-long journey into the expansive desert of the subconscious.

Tar itself may be sticky but “Tar” musically has a variable texture- sometimes polished and smooth, at other times rough-hewn with slightly bubbly tones that do successfully evoke the title substance. The windier sounds of opener “A Dream’s Frozen Reflection” make way for harsher undercurrents in “Rivers Of Tar”, but throughout, the authentic string sounds give proceedings a generally rich quality that is what make the release shine best of all.

Final track “The Dust We Breathe” is notably more harsh than the preceding pieces, opening with a cacophony of noise like an army of angry mechanical bees. It settles gradually into the more typical uneasy dischord of strings and drones but it’s certainly dark and less pleasant overall.

It’s a very successful synergy of modern classical and electronic, and definitely among the best in its class.
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Artist: Carlos Casas
Title: Pyramid Of Skulls
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Discrepant
“Pyramid Of Skulls” is a Tajikistan-based field recording experiment in four parts of around seventeen minutes each. Found sound from a variety of different sources is layered and looped to create environments that manage to feel both familiar and implausible at the same time, as spoken word conversations blend with fireside crackling and light industrial machine sounds, melding overall into something that wanders in and out of making sense. The sound of the proverbial kitchen sink may be somewhere in the mix too.

To further complicate matters, Persian-sounding instrumentation such as the pamiri rubab and the ghijak are added, bringing folksy tones but played in strung-out and drone fashion, totally disassociated from their musical roots.

This isn’t purely ambience- this is deliberately and conscientiously layered and juxtaposed sound. Percussive elements are digitally looped and EQ’ed to make them unnaturally deep, bordering on organic techno. The vocal wails at the start of “Triune God” and the bizarrely lo-fi and distorted (possibly backwards) instrumentation alienate the folk tone from the original poem, exposing and twisting it into something warbly and alien. Certain editing, such as the abrupt cut at the end of “Avesta”, is seeking your attention in a way that soundscape works often don’t.

“Avesta” stands out for its increased use of analogue electronic noise, with white noise and primitive-sounding oscillations ripping through the soundscape with an abrupt determination, and a second half which is relatively sparse compared to the cacophony that has preceded it.

“Sinpoj Variations” gives a lighter touch to the editing, allowing some of the singing (credited to ‘Jonboz’) to breathe a little more naturally, with drones and plucked instrumentation meandering alongside. This slightly more minimalist approach continues into the final piece “Dargilik Variations”, where hollow reverb gives a more reverent and church-like tone, but the anachronistic electronics have not fully disappeared.

Overall it’s a bold clash of ethnically-sourced and ‘rustic’ sounds with an attitude-laden production aesthetic that demands attention and which isn’t afraid to break the context of the recordings even if it might seem disrespectful. And the net result is a success- bold, distinctive, and unusual, it’s a rare beast of a soundscape work that commands your attention and keeps you guessing, without detaching from its authentic origins.
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Artist: Emerald Suspension (@)
Title: Divination
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Emerald Suspension is an experimental electronic music project from Minneapolis, Minnesota and 'Divination' is their second release after 'Playing the Market,' an album based on patterns found in the stock market and other economic data. Haven't heard that one. Here though you will find a cornucopia of weird samples juxtaposed and interspersed with a sort of post-industrial musical melange, ala People Like Us (Vicki Bennett), Nurse With Wound, Coil, Einstürzende Neubauten, Jib Kidder, and other similar music artists of thus cut 'n' paste sample style. So touting this as something new and groundbreaking just isn't on the table. If you're comfortable with the adhan (Islamic call to prayer) in combination with struggling metal shopping carts, this could well be for you!

The first red flag though comes on the cover of Sonic Youth's "Mildred Pierce" (here titled "Mildred Pierce/Millard Fillmore") where not much changes from the original except for the "Mildred Pierce" sample (switched from male to female) and the noisy bits towards the end. Strange song to cover for a project like this. Elsewhere you'll find odd dialogue samples over big beat drum & bass loops, squinky electronics, ticking clocks, looped mechanical samples, bicycle bells, a Joplin rag, buzzing sounds, electronically manipulated voices, looped instrumental passages, PSAs and lots of other sonic effluvia.

While some might hail this as audio madness genius and hallucinatory psychedelic splendor, I'm not completely sold on it. There's just too much on 'Divination' that doesn't make any sense. It also makes me wonder just how much of the musicality is Emerald Suspension's and how much was pilfered (sorry, borrowed) from others. Granted, they do occasionally get into some interesting territory, such as the woozy electronic weirdness of "Krofftwerk [H.R. Pufnstuf]," but overall I wasn't duly impressed. For example on "Not Available" various samples of "This content is not available" and a female pop singer singing "I want to feel it," "Sweet sweet love, yeah, yeah yeaaaah" and "Keep on movin'" ride over a bass & drum rhythm section. How mundane. This is exactly the kind of crap that any yahoo with Audacity or similar audio programs can do easily with a bit of time and effort.

The bottom line is, if you like strange sound collages, you might find some interesting material on 'Divination'. Personally, I'd prefer something more substantial. At least they gave credit where credit was due in the liner notes.
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