Music Reviews

Artist: Blipvert (@)
Title: stop:skronk:explode!
Format: CD
Label: D-Trash (@)
Rated: *****
Back in the mid 80es the word was used to describe short but super fast paced high-intensity commercials which caused some viewers' nervous systems to overload (some might remember Max Headroom), but Oakland-based Will Redmond reclaimed the term at the beginning of this century. If that is not a clear enough indication of what you are getting yourself into, the title does say it all! "stop:skronk:explode!" is a ten track disc of crazed pieces made of short interruptions, skronky sounds and quick explosions. Talk about overload, you never get a break here, the blips just keep coming at you, just like D-Trash likes it. At times it sounds like a colorful and busy video arcade going insane or about to implode, other times it sounds like a bunch of people auditioning sounds from different sample libraries at the same time and with no apparent structure... In the most structured of cases an irreverent and cut up breakbeat glues it all together. There a tiny number of exceptions to the fury, but you'll have to patiently wait until at least half way through the disc for some resemblance of peacefulness (track 5 a soothing but still somewhat restless and disquieting ambient/lounge track and track 10 is a surprisingly relaxing and entrancing beat-less atmospheric piece that stands in net contrast with everything that just happened before it - think of it as the calm after the storm). It should be obvious that, if you are looking for consistency, you ought to look somewhere else, but if you do like to be startled with sensory overload look no further!!!
Will is known for his openness to experimentation. He lived in NYC and was part of the vibrant downtown music scene for a while. Once a member of NY-based avant-rock group PAK with Ron Anderson, he has collaborated with Elliott Sharp, Time of Orchids, Mambo Matins, Samsara, Muffinhead, DJ Squid etc). Will is one of those people that most Academics would conservatively dismiss as a knucklehead with a computer and too much time on his hands. Yet he really is a progressive Academic himself (NY and SF has a bunch of those, like the great Fred Frith for example) with two Masters degrees in teaching and music compositions and with works featured in places such as Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, NYU, Brooklyn Conservatory and so on and so forth. Whether you are impressed by that or not, is up to you, just give this a listen and decide for yourself.
Artist: Mittageisen (@)
Title: 1981 - 1986
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: mital-U (@)
Distributor: mital-U
Rated: *****
Well, here’s a new one on me, I thought I’d at least heard OF most all the early goth type new wave bands of the 1980’s even if I hadn’t heard them, but the Swiss outfit Mittageisen somehow eluded me. Eldergoths might be familiar with the name "Mittageisen" as a track from the first Siouxsie & the Banshees album. I’m sure this group was far more known in Europe than they ever were in America; but a remastered retrospective of their music 20 years later is an interesting document of a band that seemed to have a lot going for it. There are 19 tracks on this two CD set, 6 of which are previously unreleased.

So what is Mittageisen’s sound? Well, kind of a blend of what was happening at the time – guitars and synths, Bauhaus, The Cure, Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, Wall of Voodoo, Ultravox, that kind of thing. The rhythm comes courtesy of a drum machine. Maybe one thing that held them back from becoming a known entity in the U.S. is that they only sing in their native tongue, not English. Apparently they were said to have very expressive lyrics, but that’s lost on most of the American music-buying public, our phobia of foreign language being what it is.

For the most part, the music is set in a dark pop song format. Some tracks exhibit a more experimental tone than others, veering off into oblique sonic terrain. Considering what kind of music was happening at the time, this is pretty interesting stuff. Not earthshaking, but eclectic nonetheless. Very minimal-expressionistic and underground. The kind of cult band that would have been great live on a double bill with a group like Cabaret Voltaire. Apparently in their time they received a fair amount of radio play in Europe, European radio being far more progressive than what it is in the U.S. They even had a dance hit with a song called "Automaten" which is on this compilation. (You’ll be reminded of SNL’s "Sprockets".)

I don’t know if there’s any U.S. distribution for this 2 CD set but it’s well worth checking out. The 2 CD set comes in a tri-fold digipack with a 24 page booklet, band info and photographs as well as song lyrics (in German, I believe, maybe Swiss, not really sure). Nice quirky cover illustration too. Your best bet is to visit the label website (mital-U) and order a copy. When music from a "lost" cult band like this comes along you owe it to yourself to scoop it up as quick as you can because you never know how long it will be around for. Even though you can find the video for "Automaten" on YouTube, you’re not going to find this CD on Amazon or iTunes. There were only 500 copies of this limited edition made, so you might not want to dawdle. Recommended.
Artist: Eyeless in Gaza (@)
Title: Summer Salt & Subway Sun (Boxed Set)
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Beta-lactam Ring Records (@)
Distributor: Beta-lactam Ring Records
Rated: *****
I have to admit, I’m one of those people who was more familiar with the name of Eyeless in Gaza than their material. They seemed to be one of those seminal bands who influenced a lot more artists who became popular than achieving widespread popularity themselves. Perhaps it was their ever-changing musical directions that made me view them as a whirling playground roundabout; already set in motion spinning and I just never felt motivated to jump aboard. So I treated myself to a crash course on the group’s history via their rather comprehensive website to play catch-up, and was rather impressed with what I found.

I knew Martyn Bates was involved with Eyeless but my exposure was limited to his "Murder Ballads" project with M.J. Harris (Scorn) which I really enjoyed. I was not familiar with the other half, Peter Becker. I also didn’t know that Eyeless in Gaza began as an industrial/experimental outfit (Antagonistic Music/Dissonance) releasing tapes as early as 1980. What with their various genre explorations from avant-folk to pop, funk, improvisational, experimental, isolationist, and so many other sonic permutations, the band has a rich and varied musical history, not only within the confine of their own project, but also in conjunction with other artists that include Anne Clark, Deirdre Rutkowski (This Mortal Coil), Lol Coxhill, Bill Laswell, Mick Harris, Genesis P. Orridge, In Embrace, and numerous others.

If Eyeless in Gaza was divided to a simple equation (practically impossible I imagine), Martyn Bates would seem to be the pop-folky half of the band, while Peter Becker, seemingly the more avant-garde element. But the superficial assessment is merely that; it is the combination of the two that makes Eyeless in Gaza the eclectic entity it really is. The juxtaposition of Bates’ vocal style (warm and soulful Brit folk-pop) with often uncategorizable musical arrangements is indeed quite a contrast. The atmosphere and ambience shares equal importance with the melodic and lyrical content. Improvisation is as important as structure. Minimal passages are as weighty as cascading sheets of thick sonic substance. There is really no separating the elements here, even if one composition seems to favor a certain set of elements more than another.

I get the impressions that SUMMER SALT & SUBWAY SUN is meant to be taken as a whole work, and not separate tracks, or even separate albums. While by no means a restrospective, it would seem to sum up a good portion of what Eyeless in Gaza is all about, perhaps even more important, what they’re about NOW. The 2 CD set was originally released in 2006 on another label, limited to 1000 copies. Between then and now, the only other Eyeless in Gaza releases were previous albums remastered and a book of lyrics. I don’t know how the original release of SUMMER SALT & SUBWAY SUN was packaged, but this one comes in a nice heavy duty glossy colorful box with two heavy duty glossy colorful cardboard sleeves and a glossy yellow lyric and instrumental credit booklet. (It helps if you favor the color yellow, particularly "golden yellow" on your color chart as that is the predominant color throughout.) I would have liked to have the initial limited release with the extra CD, "Wildcat Fights" to review, but there were only 400 copies of those and they’re probably long gone. Besides, that would be more like telling you what you can’t have, rather than what you can.

Rather than dissecting tracks, I’d rather give an overall impression of SUMMER SALT & SUBWAY SUN. Although not present on every track, I think it’s important to really enjoy Martyn’s vocal style to appreciate music of the music on these CDs. If you’re unfamiliar with it and you don’t care for a sweet, pure emotional, often delicate, nearly commercial voice, you would be best to spend your money elsewhere. You would be missing a lot of interesting music, but the Bates vox is part and parcel of the package. In the music there are shoegazing elements, post-punk elements, semi-psychedelic, ambient folk, industrial beats, gentle folk pop, cinematic soundscapes, Eastern motifs, and more. It’s really quite an eclectic pastiche. One comparison that comes to mind in terms of an artist who mixes an accessible vocal style with an experimental format is David Sylvian. Although the bulk of Sylvian’s output keeps closer the commercial song format, there are parallels in mixing an emotional vocal style with musical improvisation and unusual ambiences. SUMMER SALT & SUBWAY SUN exhibits a wide diversity of sound palettes and there are numerous passages on the CDs that may seem more like anything BUT what you might associate with Eyeless in Gaza. Then again, the unexpected is what they built a career on. These are two very moody, atmospheric CDs that provide a challenging, yet rewarding listen. Every track may not resonate with you, but there is enough excellent material here to call this an essential Eyeless in Gaza purchase, especially if there is a lack of their albums in your collection.
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Artist: COLOR THEORY (@)
Title: The Thought Chapter
Format: CD
Label: 11th Records
Rated: *****
Six years after his latest studio album containing original songs (the beautiful Depeche Mode cover album "Color Theory presents Depeche Mode" has been released in 2003 but I'm not counting it now) titled "Something Beautiful", Brian Hazard a.k.a. Color Theory is back with a new album titled THE THOUGHT CHAPTER. Well, the first thing that pops out while listening to the eleven songs plus the Death Cab For Cutie cover of "Photobook", which originally has been released on 2000 on their "The Forbidden Love" E.P., is that Brian thought a lot: if "Something Beautiful" was piano driven and more acoustic on THE THOUGHT CHAPTER the experience of covering DM songs affected his songwriting and his way of arranging a track. The album sounds more electronic and richer. The instruments are well balanced and the characteristic Brian's song gain in pathos sounding more effective. "Hypothetically" for example could be a perfect simple piano/vocals song but the choice of picking up a synth sound where the notes sound like a mix of an hammond and a synth open up the sound and when the piano plays few chords the atmosphere changes again. Also the choice of using different drum machine sounds widen the sound palette and also recording upbeat songs like the following "If not now when", "Behind the rhine" or the great "Zero crossing" has been a wise choice because Color Theory fans will felt rewarded for the waiting. Check some songs at Color Theory website and if you are fans of bands like The Lotus Eaters and you like also electronic sounds, this is your time to give to Brian a chance... P.s. I'd like to give kudos to the four Maya Klein's drawings because they match perfectly the atmosphere of the album
Artist: Troum
Title: AIWS
Format: CD
Label: Transgredient Records (@)
Rated: *****
While some may find the analog-origin of this material limiting (there are artifacts of the original tape recordings), I get the impression that Troum took careful attention to create an overarching and dramatic listening experience with AIWS. The crackles which launch the disc into the air also lend themselves to establishing a solid foundation for the analog soundworld that Troum inhabits, hinting at the journey ahead.

AIWS is the first full-length release by Troum since 2003. As per the accompanying notes, this is a collection of their own favorite works. Featured nicely are guitars, bass, voice, accordion, flute, sufi-songs... the list goes on. What is nice, however, is how seamlessly these instruments are woven together to create a tapestry of melancholic and sublime sounds that run a gamut of emotional and meditative states.

By track 7, Penthos (sorrow of mourning), one feels as though they’re watching an army trek across the fields of Siberia, or perhaps the listener is treading the path themselves. Very thought-provoking music, whose essence is difficult to capture with words. My favorite track on the album and a mere 2’46 long.

This album should appeal to a fairly wide audience, as the sound is ambient in nature but has hints of Rhys Chatham and Steve Reich, with the inward journeys of Godspeed You Black Emperor(!) or the scapes and arrivals of The Dead Texan, to boot. Kudos also goes out to the design for the disc, which makes AIWS a fine addition both visually and sonically to any collection.
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