Music Reviews

Artist: Aidan Casserly
Title: Music X
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: House Of Analogue
This 29-minute, 9-track album is Aidan Casserly's third album release of 2016 and we're barely halfway through the year. Aidan wears his heart on his sleeve and this is a brief musical journey through both sadness and optimism, and as the prolific speed of his output might suggest, there's a raw, immediate, and in some places almost improvised feel to it.

It's predominantly works for solo piano, or solo piano with subtle orchestral accompaniment. There are some powerful melodies and heartfelt performances in there, that wouldn't seem at all out of place in a film score- mostly accompanying the end-of-Act-2 scenarios when the hero begins to worry that all is lost and that no rescue is possible. Some of the orchestration is impressively arranged, though on a couple of tracks, such as "Bullet Valentine", the extent to which synths can sound like genuine full live orchestras is just slightly over-stepped.

"Echoes Backward" is the first of two songs on the album, a very brief piano-and-voice number with an unusual melody which at some points sounds like it could potentially have been recorded backwards. The other vocal track is the album closer "My Father Sleeps", deeply raw and sorrowful in its lyrics yet moderately restrained in the musical arrangement, and once you reach it, you suddenly feel like the entire album has been gradually working towards this point, like this was the story all along. The pathos is strong and well earned.

Of the instrumentals, "Walking To Drift" stands out as a highlight, with its angry synthetic opening is a rare flourish of anger in an otherwise melancholic collection. "Eye Of Horus" with its broad ethnic feel and almost jazzy flute playing is worth a listen too, and could perhaps have spent longer with the flute and less with the piano.

This is a short but powerful bit of emotional self-expression from an artist who's far away from the synthpop home turf on which I first heard him. The only thing I don't like about it would be the bold artwork and faintly naff title "Music X", that seems over-simplistic, over-modern, and somehow at odds with the nuanced music.
Artist: Celer
Title: Two Days and One Night
Format: CD
Label: Sequel (@)
Rated: *****
The brilliant producer William Long aka Celer introduces this new output by a sad and somehow epic story that occurred to his great uncle more than thirty years ago, whose sojourn in Tunisia exactly lasted two days and one night. In 1984, this 80 years old brave man arrived in Tunisi from New York City, stayed one night in the Hotel Amilcar, where he decided to mail a blank postcard to his family. The day after he moved to Hammamet, where he rented a hotel room, bought swimming trunks, before drowning in the ocean in the afternoon. Caught by this tragedy in family, William decided to step back those places where his uncle spent his last days, but the sad memories melted with the beauty of those locations and that's maybe the reason why the sound he recorded in North Africa and Tokyo combines ecstatic and lunatic moments in a lovely steady balance without that overwhelming melancholic waves, that often washes Celer's outputs. William managed to trace those two days and one night of his uncle in a really immersive way by well-balanced field recordings he grabbed during his journey and astonishingly emotional ambient suites ("Spindles and fire", "Sol Azur", "In all deracinated things"), that could remind some ambient stuff by Peter Kember's Experimental Audio Research or the moody drones by Todd Gautreau's Tear Ceremony and Sonogram- ), and meaningful sonic postcards, such as the anti-imperialist harangue in French in "We cannot be the rich ruling class of a poor country", the rendering of the moment when Celer's uncle wrote the above-mentioned postcard in "notes from the Hotel Amilcar (with television, ocean view, and a glass of water)", "Asleep against the black rocks near Cap Serrat" and "The fear to touch the sand", that supposedly rendered the moments that preceded the fatal event, whose tragic beauty comes out of the sonic emulsion of the final "Terminal points".
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Amuse Bouche Vol 2
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: Night Noise
Distributor: EPM
Despite being a mini-compilation, there's a strong consistency through it, and if I'd been sent it and told it was a single artist mini-album, I'd have believed it. It's house music in its structure and its form, all fairly mellow in its pace, but with strong retro-wave vibes to the production throughout. You can hear why these guys are all friends.

After Monolife's ambient mix of "Coastal" serves as a confident if slightly unusual over-long album introduction, Plastic Fantastic's "Dark Side Of The Moon" is a measured, systematic vibe that is pleasant and smooth, but has a strong whiff of 'corporate technology promo' about it. I'm more likely to hear it in a documentary about the early days of the internet than I am to hear it in a club, partly because of the slightly thin bottom-end.

Pino's "Nutmeg" has a funkier groove but runs out of ideas towards the end, while William Earl's "Tomorrow Theory" launches off into spacey arpeggios and melancholic echoes that leave me wishing I could hear a little more of the drum programming, but which is otherwise very neat- apart, again, from the "is that it?" ending.

Bedford Falls Players' "Chuggers In Crime" has its feet more firmly on the ground, with very Hardfloor, TB-303-like acid loops gradually tilting and shifting at a firm walking pace, this is music to walk up mountains to, and my favourite of the bunch. Structurally it also feels like the track where the journey was planned most thoroughly in advance.

Humantronic and Leonard de Leonard's "Minimal Palace" closes the album with an urgency and attitude that's slightly out of keeping with the other tracks, making me wonder whether the whole compilation is back to front and they should've lead with this track and put the ambient one at the end. Everyone's definition of minimal is different, but to me "Minimal Palace" is actually quite busy. The layers are very interesting but this track definitely had the opportunity to spin off in different directions, especially after the breakdown, and didn't take them.

Overall this is a solid collection of slightly sci-fi techno moods. As a genuine amuse bouche warming you up to listen to heavier techno it's might work quite neatly, but as a traditional sampler compilation driving people to check out more tracks by these artists and this label, unfortunately I don't think there was quite enough inspiration and imagination threaded through these tracks.
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Artist: Max Jahn
Title: Skyrunner
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Broque (@)
Distributor: Broque
"Skyrunner" is the sound of man, no actually a whole generation of people, who immersed themselves in clubland, revelled and excelled for many years, then got older- took a break, started a family, settled down, reprioritised, and began to realise that hangovers were now lasting two days instead of one. But instead of turning their back on the beats and slowly succumbing to MOR and chat radio on their Sunday mornings, they've decided to that simply being nostalgic about their clubbing days isn't enough- they still want and need the music.

All of which is a very flowery way of saying that this is a highly polished and mature album, that takes straightforward, slowly progressive 4/4 grooves and winds you around on a journey with each one that's both quite gentle and quite deep at the same time.

There's nothing euphoric or aggressive here, but there is determination, particularly in tracks like "Intergalactic Wildfire" which starts with a five minute crescendo towards a beautiful piece of progressive house happiness. "Sweat Tool" might have been envisaged and titled as music for dancing but could just as easily be music for jogging, for ex-clubbers trying to stave off the middle-aged spread.

Given the growing old theme, it feels fitting to compare some of these tracks to some other legendary producers. You could stick the name 'Josh Wink' on "Harmonic Blast" and people wouldn't question it. "Happy Little Droid" has a dubby soundscape reminiscent of the Orb's Kompakt releases. "Basics In Blue" or title track "Skyrunner" wouldn't sound out of place in a Sasha mix or you could even believe it's from a Sasha album. Several of the tracks have a slightly timeless feel to the production, and if you'd told me they were on a Global Underground compilation I'd have difficulty telling you if they were from 2003 or 2016.

Forget clubland, "Melotronic" makes me want to go for a long drive with this on the speakers- if the beats were peeled back you'd find a melodic chill-out classic underneath. "Bells Of Life" follows through on that idea, a film-soundtrack-worthy piece of pathos and electronic melancholy that comes just at the point where your aging legs might need a break from the beat.

The only thing I don't like about this release is the artwork, which looks like a monochrome screengrab from a cheesy 1990's techno video. It doesn't do justice to the music, which just shines with quality throughout the whole 75 minutes.
Artist: Anything Box
Title: Hope
Format: LP
Label: Other Voices Records
"Hope" was Anything Box's third album, though only the second that managed to get a public release due to issues with the Epic label. It was released in 1993, it's very much a product of its time. It sits very comfortably in the same pigeonhole as albums like OMD's "Liberator", Mesh's "Original 91-93", Erasure's "I Say I Say Say" or perhaps New Order's "Republic" without the guitars. The production is perhaps closest to Vince Clarke's early 90's work, the vocalist has just a slight touch of Marc Almond about his tone (but Marc Almond in a relaxed mood), while the songwriting is closer to Andy McCluskey's resolute optimism from the same period. I'm a child of that era and it's a winning formula for me- pure energetic songwriting that revels in 4-chord patterns and synthetic bleeps, and puts programming on a pedestal, but doesn't forget the importance of good verse-chorus songwriting.

The tongue-in-cheek mock live concert intro of "Entrance" isn't really followed through in the rest of the tunes. There's an unabashed non-ironic sincerity to the whole thing which, coupled with strong melodies, makes up for some of the slightly more mediocre production touches. Stand-out tunes include "Where Is Love And Happiness", "A Moment's Shifting", and the naive yet somehow quite profound closer "Life Is Fun". Ballad "Blue Little Rose" is arguably a weak point. The last three tracks on the album step away from the four-minute pop song structure and are a little more mellow and slightly indulgent, and while the hooks aren't as strong at this end of the album, I wouldn't call it filler.

Anything Box are still a recording and gigging entity. This may be a dated-sounding album now, twenty-three years on, but it's a time capsule of a slightly lesser-known album from some of electropop's golden years, and if it passed you by first time around, this re-release is a chance to catch up. I'm not convinced it has enough of a classic to warrant the luxuriant splatter vinyl re-release treatment it's getting through the Russia-based Other Voices Records, but nevertheless it's a very strong, solid 45-minute album, definitely worth a download if your CD's of early 90's OMD or Erasure albums are getting worn out.
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