Music Reviews

Artist: Satoshi Takeishi
Title: Premonition
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Clang
Satoshi Takeishi is a well-known and experienced percussionist with a diverse and decades-long CV. The press pack comes complete with photos of him surrounded by drums and other percussive instruments. So listening to “Premonition” comes as something of a major surprise… there’s no percussion in it!

Inspired by Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” and originally intended as a temporary score to a film, this is stripped-down drone music- though I might prefer to call it ‘hum music’. From a synth, a ring modulator, an echo pedal and a bunch of computer pitchshifting comes a very pure soundscape of glacially-stepping sine waves.

The shifted alternating tones of “Abandoned Shadow” is the closest the work gets to conventional melodic progression, turning simple oscillations into an electronic ballad. In “Glimpse Of Silence” the modulation becomes more akin to alien vocalisations reminiscent of late 1960’s Radiophonic Workshop noises.

“Behind The Door” has, to contradict what I said earlier, a rhythm that’s almost percussive edging in with so much subtlety that it doesn’t break the flow. “Dichotomy Of Noise” toes a fine line between random arpeggiation and percussion and is the most jaunty and off-kilter section, it’s practically tongue-in-cheek. The opener “Prologue” and closer “Epilogue” bookend this relatively short album peacefully and appropriately.

It’s a beautifully restrained and simple collection of simple electronic ambiences with a net result that’s surprisingly warm and timeless. To me it’s more retro sci-fi than Franz Kafka, certainly, but I’d recommend it even more for that.
Artist: Nash The Slash
Title: And You Thought You Were Normal
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Artoffact
This posthumous re-release of Nash The Slash’s second 80’s new wave album revisits an album with a very broad range. There are some common elements among the 20 tracks- a distinctly lo-fi effected guitar approach to melding rock, pop and synths- but from those core ingredients the range is ambitious. Vocal songs are mixed in with instrumentals that range from quirky little ditties to broad film score work.

From the vocal tracks, “Citizen” with its crisp digital beat seems to predict LCD Soundsystem grooves over twenty years early, yet with a Meatloaf-style vocal. “R.S.V.P.” as a song is Rock with a capital R, but set on a bed of driving rough electro with no drums. Opening track “Normal” has a slightly Soft Cell swagger with a hard edge.

“Dance After Curfew” was a radio hit that with hindsight has elements of early techno, a Kraftwerk-esque vocal yet blended again with show-off guitar twiddles. Two of the bonus tracks are remixes of “Dance After Curfew” that bring relatively subtle but previously unheard differences to the album version.

Among the instrumentals,“The Hypnotist” has the groove of an energetic Tangerine Dream track with a virtuoso guitar solo on top, while “Animal Jamboree” is a more sinister downtempo affair with the ‘animals’ digital squeaks and bleeps in an ominous downtempo jungle. “Remember When” is a wobbly, effected guitar waltz. “Memories” evokes images of a late night danger montage in an 80’s cop show while “Stalker”, despite the name, is more of a chase scene score.

Although the title suggests a wilful weirdness, this album isn’t actually that odd. There are some lyrics that are certainly bizarre and hard to decipher, for example in “Vincent Crows”, but the theme of ‘being normal’ isn’t a recurring one.

The final four short tracks on the original album make up “The Ontario Suite”, originally part of the soundtrack for the Colin Brunton short film “A Trip Around Lake Ontario”- these are gentle, mellow numbers with a travelling vibe, and frankly a little generic compared to what preceded them.

Over 64 minutes (including the three bonus tracks) the seemingly deliberate lo-fi aesthetic does begin to wear a little thin. It’s as though the whole album has been recorded as a demo, with a view to going back and re-recording the whole thing properly later- which could have resulted in one of the 80’s strongest albums. As it is it’s still a great listen though, full of energetic inventiveness, and it’s a real shame that Nash didn’t release any further albums for almost a decade afterwards because it would’ve been intriguing to see which direction he was headed.
Artist: Dans Les Arbres
Title: Phosphoresence
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Hubro Music (@)
For their third album, Dans Les Arbres have taken their acoustic four-piece chamber music core and thrown it into what they’re calling a “more mixed economy of means”- a more electronic and processed environment, but still deeply ambient. The organic and digital elements play nicely together and it’s an expansion of their sound- but it may perhaps have taken away some of their uniqueness, because the result is a very familiar, experimental digitally-twinkling soundscape that’s arguably a little lacking in character. The grafting of tiny glitch noises and micro-samples

We’re a few minutes into the second track before we reach some distinct and fleeting percussive noises that border on recognisability. These are fleeting moments of proximity in what is otherwise just over 30 minutes of detached distance, and ominous quiet. It’s well tempered, an impressive exercise in restraint, but you can’t help but feel that you’ve been invited to a live avantgarde music performance- and you have accidentally gone to the room next door to the one the performance is in. You can make out some noises through the wall, but there’s a surprisingly alienating sense that this music is not being aimed at you.

The two short pieces “Sciure” and “Luminescent” are, relatively speaking, the brightest, wandering close to having discernible loops and a faintly more suburban feel. The two long pieces, “Flourescent” and “Phosphorescent”, are much more freeform to the untrained ear. “Phospherescent”’s use of woodblock-style noises makes it sound at points like a set of windchimes tinkling in a garden centre; but with a subtle drone underneath, like a distant hedge trimmer, to remind you that not all is well. And the drum-like sounds may be empty flowerpots falling over in the minute… wait a minute, this garden centre analogy may be stretching too far. But without meaning any disrespect, this ‘in the trees’ soundscape is more akin to the random sounds of a garden centre with no customers than to a wild forest.

Overall it’s a distant and surprisingly inaccessible half-hour of spontaneous but subdued noise stabs over a decidedly barren ambience. The lack of variety and the slightly over-familiar noise palette unfortunately mean that, for me, it’s a release that fails to stand out from the (very diverse) crowd.
Artist: d'Animal
Title: d'Animal l'Ogic
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Media (@)
It’s hard to pick a category for this release, so maybe take the category description above with a pinch of salt…

Surprisingly poppy by the usual drone and post-rock standards of Silber Records, “d’Animal l’Ogic” is a 14-track album of bright, vocal psychadelic pop with one foot in the 1960’s and the other in today, albeit the lo-fi alt-pop part of today.

Dan West is a one-man band I’m told, but it’s hard to believe from this release that d’Animal isn’t a full indie-rock band- guitars, bass, keys, guitars and vocals, everything’s there in the right amounts. The production is mostly faithful to the band structure but there are moments, such as towards the end of opening track “Hear It (Creeping Down The Alley)” where there are some genuine George Martin-esque moments with reversed tracks and found sounds. There’s clearly nothing precious about the target sound, as heard in the unashamed use of filtered house loops and scratch FX on tracks like “Comments”.

It’s also really strong song-writing. Vocally there’s a hint of They Might Be Giants about it, particularly in the harmonising. Lyrically it’s mostly a little more conventional than that, often concentrating on single lines or ideas rather than full-on four-verse-long stories. For example, “She Knows Someone”’s complete lyric is “she knows someone who knows someone”, yet it’s worked in different ways so that it’s both verse, chorus and bridge covered by six words. Conversely “Gemma & I” is a complete love story. If I was itching to criticise something, I might say that the vocal production does sound a little on the homegrown demo side compared to the rest of the sounds, but I’d be clutching at straws as to be honest it sounds fine.

There are plenty of highlights. “Retrofission” sounds like liquid drum’n’bass recreated using indiepop instruments, and it really works. “No Shame”, the only track to break the 5-minute barrier, has slight hints of Ben Folds about it, while “Pleasure Freak” has a Beck-like groove and some fun 8-bit flavours. Final track “Buena Vista” is mostly a Latin-tinged ballad, but with a bonkers and abrupt prog rock outro.

It’s packed with energy, a surprisingly successful 52-minute pop album that seems to have fallen backwards out of time but doesn’t seem to care. A total and very welcome surprise.
Artist: Strotter Inst.
Title: Miszellen
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Hallow Ground
As Strotter Inst., Christoph Hess plays with the mechanics of turntables as a physical instrument, rather than a record player. For almost two decades he has avoided using other people’s records, except when asked to do remixes. With “Miszellen” there’s a change of heart- he decides to take stems and elements from others, from artists that theoretically have influenced him over time, and warp and abuse them in a variety of ways.

Every track bears the name of an artist whom Strotter Inst. is paying tribute to, or heavily borrowing from, depending on how you look at it, but with the letters ordered alphabetically. This includes Asmus Tietchens, Nurse With Wound, and Tasaday. This inadvertently turns it into a bit of an alternative music quiz- “AABDMORRS”, anyone? How about “GIILLMSS U”?

While as a concept this might suggest that “Miszellen” is raw, sharp and analogue, the result is certainly none of those things. The raw ingredients are, as far as it’s possible to tell (they’re not credited), sourced from music concrete and avantgarde classical sources, along with electronic drones where it’s hard to tell whether they’re being played in, or whether they’re Strotter Inst originals.

Understandably, with such a variety of sources, the net result sits somewhere where several labels, though none of them would stick totally comfortably. There are dark industrial synthwave elements, there’s drone, there’s noise and found sound, there’s aspects of super-slow techno and more. The predominant mood is tense and ominous and there’s a lot of prevailing space.

There’s 70 minutes of material here, giving plenty of time for tracks like “ACEEH IMNSSSTTU” to swell into extensive filmic soundscapes of slowly pulsing bass notes with building, distant drumming. “DEHIN NOR STUUWW” is an accomplished piece of many parts and is at times reminiscent of Jimmy Cauty’s “Space” project but with an overriding sense of being further away. “146DP” and final track “ARLTU” both begin as a simple piano patterns which are then wrapped and then smothered in glitched electronic noise. “EFOSTU” features ambiguous vocal noises, while on “ÄDEKL” there’s the rare appearance of a discernible vocal sample, with a strangely cowboy swagger to it.

There’s a good balance between consistency and variety here, and it’s generally hard to distinguish where the original material ends and Strotter Inst.’s reworkings begin, which is a good sign. It perhaps never truly shines as a work that’s either attention-grabbing or beautiful but it’s a very coherent body of work that’s got some distinct character.
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