Music Reviews



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Artist: Basic Biology
Title: Twilight / Sensational
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Free Love Digi (@)
Rated: *****
Artists orbiting around the digital label Free Love Digi by the wit and inventive producer Quentin Hiatus keep on pushing interesting outputs by shuffling the cards of its deck of styles. Basic Biology is one of the outputs of this musical/genetic melange, coming out by the crossbreed of two different drum'n'bass producers, who met through their common friend Ghast. On one side, we find Thomas Brinson aka Thomas B, whose atmospheric style, driven by masterfully-built pattern, often goes darker, even if the sonorities that he explores on Basic Biology are closer to the more placid ones he exposed on Sugar and Spice EP (maybe the first or one of the first release on FLD), while on the mother side there's the brilliant multi-instrumentalist Matthew Cassidy, whose sonorities are generally brighter than the one of his counterpart. Just two halftime-dnb tracks on this output: "Twilight" (featuring the sweetly sour voice by Megan McKey) could perfectly fit a pensive chilling or romance in the eventide on the beach, while "Sensational" (vocalised by Matthew Cassidy itself...even if some younger lads could think Alvin or some other chipmunk is on the mic!) is a nice see-saw between chilling Balearic downtempo and sudden acidulous stings.
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Artist: Cuts
Title: Exist 1 + Exist 2
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Village Green Recordings
Here, Anthony Tombling Jr. releases the soundtrack to his own film “Exist”. As eight tracks, split across two twenty-minute EP’s, it’s essentially a single soundtrack album split (perhaps needlessly) into two parts.

This is work from the most cinematic edges of synthwave- soft, expansive chord pads, occasional slow expressive melodies, thoughtful and breathy female lyrics and ahhhs, with the odd kick of drama or tension creeping in just at the edges. Some tracks feature rumbling percussive elements, like the industrial-ish slow breakbeat of “Body Parts” that spends a long time distant before stepping to the fore for the emotive second section. Final track “Bunsen Burner”, in two versions, has a synth line that makes it feel like a leftover from the Tron Legacy soundtrack that falls just a little short of the widescreen production, but not much.

Detached from the film it was created for, it’s a polished bit of synthwavey electronica that falls a little short in distinctive character but still provides an enjoyable and atmospheric listen.
May 09 2018
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Artist: Proc Fiskal
Title: Insula
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Hyperdub
Edinburgh-based producer Joe Powers has an energetic take on grime, blending up crisp fast-cut beats, 8-bit sounds, glitchy scratches and ripped-up short MC samples, and longer field recordings and TV and radio samples onto beats mostly well above 140bpm. Then that’s played against soft synth pads and lightweight key melodies that bring the musicality for a series of exercises in contrast.

“Kontinuance” is a prime example of the dual-tempo approach, the manic sample cutting and complex broken-up beat playing nicely against the gentle synth patterns. The kung-fu-meets-8-bit-gaming tones of “Vaudeville” are another strong arrangement. When allowed to breathe in some of the mellower parts, the synths do sound a little weedy at times, though sometimes that plays in the track’s favour, an example being “A Like Ye”, a twisted love song constructed from lo-fi samples..

There’s also a more playful side, with tracks like “2L” and the squidgy-sounding “Dish Washing” coming in quite bouncy, almost jazzy in parts, with shades of old Wagon Christ flavours. Besides some slightly cheeky recordings of Joe’s phone conversations, the longer TV and radio samples seem to be frequently sourced from documentaries and there’s a tendency towards aggressive Scottish accents, often requiring Parental Advisory stickers.

The Peter Hyams movie “2010” is one of my guilty pleasures so any album that starts with a fairly whopping sample from it will always bias me towards it, I should disclose that while I’m here.

It’s a strong package of electronica-meets-grime with some unique flavours, many of them making for very good listening, but maybe with not enough standout tracks to make you want frequent repeat plays.
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Artist: C.A.R.
Title: Pinned Up
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Ransom Note Records
After describing Chloé Raunet’s second C.A.R. album “Pinned” as “a blend of supremely confident post-punk swagger with electronica twiddles, steady-walking house beats and just a dash of synthwave”, Ransom Note Records have followed it up three months later with a 7-track remix collection giving some of the most prominent songs on the album over 50 minutes’ worth of reworkings into deep house and the softer sides of techno, that largely keep the song structures intact and adopt a very classic and always welcome classic extended house mix layout.

Generally I’d say that some remix albums work and others don’t- but this definitely has to go into the former, “it works” category. Raunet’s gentle, slightly husky and not-trying-too-hard vocal work really suits some long deep electronica workouts, and despite the repetition- over twenty minutes of this release is remixes of “This City”- you can listen to it from beginning to end as a coherent house album. It’s one of those that’s perfect for while-you’re-working, or for long drives, but has individual tracks that are properly DJ friendly and will fit well in the middle of relatively leisurely sets.

There are two distinct sections- the first four tracks are generally fairly consistent and uniform house numbers. Michael Mayer’s take on “This City” is a perfect fusion of pop and house piano with steady motorway-friendly progressive house beats and opens the collection on a definite high. Marcus Wargull’s take on “Cholera” is in a similar vein but with somewhat less energy, before Bawrut’s take on “Daughters” adopts a slightly muddier synth bassline and a slightly more tribal flavour in line with the more chanted-rather-than-sung song content.

Jonny Rock’s nine-minute remodel of “Strange Ways” is quite rumbly as well, drifting towards a more synthwave-y sound that allows the vocal to shine through more than others do, and the restrained, held-back use of the bell-like three-note melody has a good impact; DJ’s beware on the last minute of this mix though, which is sparse and acapella when you might be expecting beat-match-friendly beats.

The second part, the final 3 tracks, mixes things up a bit and adds the variety needed to keep you engaged. Timothy Clerkin’s take on “This City” is another highlight, channeling some classic breakbeat samples, acid squelches and rave stabs into something bright and energetic that manages to rework some nostalgic sounds without wandering into cheesy territory, although it’s the one track where you do find yourself wishing more of the vocal could’ve been worked in in less buried, vocoded ways.

Lokier’s version of “Cholera” has a more industrial, attitude-laden groove that’s closer to the sound of the unremixed album, before Man Power’s version of (again) “This City” ends on a high with a bright, lightweight bit of synthpoppy production with synth guitar stabs that takes things into almost Goldfrapp-y territory.

Whilst the original album certainly wasn’t bad, given the choice I’d rather listen to this remix album, especially when looking for something that isn’t demanding my full attention. There’s not a single duff or flat remix in here, which is rare, so full marks for this one.
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Artist: Didi Kern & Philipp Quehenberger
Title: Linz
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Shameless
“Linz” is a live concert recording from early 2017 from a duo who’ve been performing together for 15 years- though from the extremely prog rock stylings and noodlings, you might think this had dropped straight out of the late 1970’s. Were it not for the sharp digital edge on some of the keyboard sounds, you could believe it had fallen through time.

Didi Kern’s virtuoso drumming is the main focus here, across two fourteen-minute-ish long pieces full of tempo shifts and complex pattern changes. Substantial parts of it are like drum solo show-off material, so much so that as an ex-drummer myself it’s almost tiring to listen to it, but Kern isn’t ashamed to drop into steadier 4/4 rock grooves every now and again.

Meanwhile Philipp Quehenberger plays synths, organ-style noises in dark arrangements of long drones and complex opinion-dividing chords and discords, with occasional twists into Rick Wakeman-esque arpeggios and flourishes that tend to run in strong parallel with the drums, jointly frenetic at times, more subdued- but never excessively so- at others, but with neither performer ever really taking a true lead or solo for more than a few seconds at a time.

You can tell it’s a live recording- not because it sounds poor, but the sonic quality is unmistakable, especially in the drumming which seems to have been recorded with a relatively small number of microphones, is a touch muddy, and whether intentionally or not, is further to the forefront than the keyboards which is a bit unusual. You also get the occasional audience member screaming “yeah!” or whistling at the rockier bits.

Fans of Yes and similar indulgent prog rock music will appreciate this as something new but decidedly in the old style.
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