Music Reviews

Artist: Arctic Sunrise
Title: When Traces End
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Sophomore album for the German duo of Torseten Verlinden (vocals) and Steve Baltes (electronics) who are Arctic Sunrise, following on the heels of last year's 'A Smarter Enemy'. While I liked that album well enough, 'When Traces End' is really a better effort, as experience can be a powerful motivator. What I like most about this album is its vibe; a hard to describe quality, but metaphorically, it squeezes the juice out of the darker aspects of 80's electropop distilling it down to a fine concentrate, then embellishes it with a modern millennial sensibility. Songs are moody and introspective, but not pointlessly angst-ridden as some of the gothier projects of the aforementioned bygone decade. The first couple of tracks have a Cure-ish sound to them musically. I really like the beat and descending staccato eighth-note synth line of second track, "Tell the Truth". The semi-cynical lyrics referring to people who lie to make themselves look good really resonated with me. The ambiguous "Mine Forever" might initially sound like an eulogistic love song to a deceased lover, but delve a little deeper and you can envision a psychopathic murder ballad. The guys create a great wistful atmosphere on "Let It Rain" and a kind of sinister one on "Over Me". Uptempo title track "When Traces End" may not have a dynamic hook, but it has plenty else going for it, vocally, lyrically and instrumentally. The warranted cynicism of "A Lifetime to Disagree" speaks volumes to the plight of so many who have to tow the corporate/party line just to survive, and the (futile) future of someday - "When I am older - a lifetime to disagree - I will be bolder...". "The End of Things" succinctly chronicles a resolute break-up, but in the downtempo "Your Eyes" it appears there is some melancholia for the loss. I would have liked a snappier, less brooding and more positive end to the album, but perhaps that would have been out of character. As is though, there is plenty to enjoy here, and I think the more it's played, the more it will grow on you. I said it before, and I say it again, this is thinking man's synthpop, devoid of the cliched silliness you often find in the genre, and we all could use some good music worth sinking your ears (and $$) into.
Artist: Rasalasad
Title: Thisomorphia
Format: CD
Label: Thisco (@)
Rated: *****
The impressive list of guests of this release, artists as as Jarboe, Merzbow or, marks, at least in part, the importance of the work of Fernando Cerqueira and his SPH which published a lot of tape that are now collector's items. Now his successor label, Thisco, publishes this collection of tracks where, as Rasalasad, he reworks sound sources of the guests or adds a music to their spoken words.
The voice of Jarboe opens this release in "Value" and is gently accompanied by a complex juxtaposition of drones while "Astellar", based on sources by Matthew Waldron, in noisier by nature. The field recording and small noises of "This" are exactly one step away from overwhelm the spoken word piece by Wildshores while the one by Von Magnet is underlined by drones and isolated buzzes in "This". The noisy sound sources provided by Emil Beaulieau for "Spectre" and by Masami Akita for "Axx" are treated in such a way that the drones used by Rasalad create a dialectic so it's not something that could cover the noises but instead it underlines them. The only track without a guest, "Night Walk", is intensely cinematic and the spoken word create that sort of sense of listening an audio track of a movie. "Silence" features spoken words from the same text by John Zerzan and when they appears distorted as they were recorded on a noisy radio channel marks a sharp departure from the previous quiet drones. "Deriva" is the first track using a rhythmic element, probably in the sound sources provided by Smell & Quim, and "Stellar", featuring Antonym, is almost a return to the form explored in "Night Walk" with his evocative use of movie samples. The remix by Shhh…. of "Simulacra" is a track based on the contrast between the quietness of the synth line and the noisy, and almost industrial, rhythmic part.
The great Cerqueira's merit is his ability to blend the multi-faceted contributions into a form which is reasonably coherent and doesn't generate, even in his variety, the sense of hearing a compilation. Apart from some technical flaws, as a couple of tracks ends abruptly, this release could even ends in some end of the year playlist as it reveals some really interesting writing ideas. Please hear carefully.
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Artist: Flowers for Bodysnatchers
Title: Love Like Blood
Format: CD
Label: Cryo Chamber (@)
Rated: *****
After their previous well received album, Aokigahara, Flowers for Bodysnatchers returns with a new release that acts a next step towards a personal form of dark ambient where their sort of modern classical influence, marked by the presence of piano movements which are the skeleton of this release, creates something different inside of this genre.
The drone of "The Obscure You Deserve" introduces the listener to the first piano line of this release which covers all the sounds in the background, so it apparently seems an almost classical composition, while "Sorrow (Silhouette To Void)" carefully constructs a soundscape featuring sparse natural samples. The alternation between drones, noises and foley sounds makes "A Disease Called Love" a track of great complexity while the quiet return of the piano in "Hearken Our Storm" has a relation with the underlying samples. While the first of "To The Loveless" is almost noisy, the insertion of strings in the second part creates a romantic effect. The rhythmic structure of "The Life I Ruin" is a drastic departure from the atmosphere created to this point while "Tiny Black Tale" is an incursion into almost industrial territories with his abundant use of noises. The overall quietness of "Memory (Night To Void)" introduces the listener to the finale of "Time Shall Heal No Wounds" where the piano writes the last sad notes of this release under the sound of the rain and the voice of the crows.
A vast improvement in all aspect from their previous release, this album is perhaps one the best release of the year in this genre with his remarkable variety. Truly recommended.
Artist: Foretaste (@)
Title: Space Echoes
Format: CD + Download
Label: BOREDOMproduct (@)
This is bright, openly accessible, sincere and straightforward synthpop. It will appeal to fans of everything from Kylie Minogue to Erasure to Goldfrapp to Spray. Some tracks have an extra tinge of darkness to them, but it’s slight, and doesn’t detract from the fact that this is eleven radio-friendly pop numbers.

The breathy, slightly husky vocals sound like a French Marianne Faithfull. This is most noticeable in “Every Shadow”. The album is not blessed with the strongest choruses and hooks you’ve ever heard, so the understated, faintly sexy approach is quite fitting, and the pieces fit together more comfortably in the later, slower tracks.

The arrangements sit on that synthpop borderline where you’re not actively sure whether it’s deliberate 1980’s pastiche, or just a genuinely heartfelt and misunderstood love of the synthesizer. There are modern production touches and qualities, this is not simply a wantonly 1980’s album.

It’s space-themed, but only to a degree. The promo blurb describes the album as having been inspired by the sci-fi work of Ray Bradbury, Philip K Dick and Stanley Kubrick. That influence isn’t necessarily obvious. The influence of Jean-Michel Jarre, Kraftwerk and Vince Clarke is much more openly audible by comparison! Only the closing track “Alpha” really tackles the space theme head-on.

“First Symptoms”, “One By One” and “Every Shadow” are highlights, and among the strongest standalone pop pieces (although “Lost In Space” was the single, available separately with remixes). “I Know Where You Find You” has a filmic drama to it, segueing into “P.U.L.S.E.” in a manner that’s neat but almost too easy, highlighting a slight lack of sonic variety. “Paradise Of Broken Hearts” as a strong slow ballad sounds faintly Soft Cell-like.

Foretaste’s fifth album is polished, poppy and appealing, if a little bit unchallenging. It falls just slightly short on the catchy hooks front but it’s still a very enjoyable listen.
Artist: POS.:2 (@)
Title: Circuits
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Sophomore release from German electropop duo Matthias Grod (songwriting, keys, production) and Thorsten Kruger (lyrics, vocals, songwriting, keys) following their 2015 release, 'Now!'. I was only able to listen to a couple tracks off their debut, but in comparison, 'Circuits' sounds more polished, while still maintaining their club-friendly style. There seems to be a little less edge, but more attention to songwriting and melodic content. While on their initial release there was a similarity to OMD, here they're more along the lines of Pet Shop Boys and Neuroticfish. Roughly half the songs are sung in English, the other half in their native Deutsche, sometimes both languages in the same song. Lyrics are more emotional than deep, but hey, this is (synth)pop music; usually comes with the territory. Synthwork is on the lighter side for the most part, competent but not overwhelming, still with snappy and effective arrangements. As with many new albums I hear the strongest songs with the most potent hooks come early on; "I'm Waiting," "So Lonely," and "Neonlicht" are tracks 1, 3 and 4 respectively and really have the most to offer in the way of hit potential. There is a nice change of pace on balladish track 6, "I Wanna Be Free" with additional vocals by a woman named Jeanette, but after that it begins to get formulaic. The band still has its groove but the songs seem less memorable. I can tell they're really trying, but somehow they miss the mark. Good hooks can be tough to create, even when you have nice melodies going for you, and unfortunately too many fall short on this album. (Perhaps they should have included a cover of something well-known- Apoptygma Berzerk's "Until the End of the World" might have worked well for them.) The big missed opportunity though comes on the last track, "Thunder and Sun". It's a 6 minute instrumental that's the darkest and heaviest thing on POS.:2's plate. It's also a little industrial. This is a track that builds with tension and intensity, but ultimately it's a letdown. It really needed something more- dramatic vocals or at least a recitation to give it a raison d'être, but without that extra oomph, it falls flat. Be that as it may, the album is well-produced, and there are still a few really good songs on 'Circuits,' as that may be enough to keep synthpop fans and club djs interested.
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