Music Reviews



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Artist: Stuart Bruce
Title: 3 Quintets for Treated Guitar
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Outside Records
First of all, let me state categorically to eagle-eyed readers that this is NOT my work. The fact this reviewer’s name matches the artist name on this release is one of life’s little coincidences. We really, genuinely, aren’t the same person. Google it. This Stuart Bruce was engineering Do They Know It’s Christmas while I was still in primary school.

But this solo release, on Stuart’s new label, falls well within the realm of the experimental sonics that I’ve reviewed plenty of on ChainDLK. Soft, mellow drone tones and pad-like sounds unfolding slow melodies complemented by lush and languid sustained and processed guitar notes, this is top quality avantgarde soundscaping with a strong pedigree.

After the smoothness of “Stillpunkt”, with its dusting of gentle percussive twinkling like gentle wind chimes, “Klangfarben” as the name somewhat implies is a little more raw, with slightly harsher hits and percussive hits that may have been derived from pulling guitar strings in unexpected ways, though it could also be synthetic, it’s hard to tell. Halfway through “Klangfarben” the sense of unease and alarm builds somewhat, it’s decidedly the most sinister of the three pieces, and it’s the reason why this release won’t end up on my going-to-sleep playlist.

Final piece “The Moon In Your Head” is the most melodic, and the most akin to a conventional-sounding quintet in some ways, with separate and panned instruments complementing and counterpointing within an environment that still has the bass notes underpinning it, but yet overall is a little brighter and more optimistic, particularly in the near-euphoric patterns at the end.

There’s quite a classic feel to it at times, a confident simplicity. When the synth bass drone ebbs forwards joined by careful use of delay it can sound like a particularly mellow Tangerine Dream track at points.

I did not make this (honestly I didn’t), but I wish I did.
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Artist: Chvad SB
Title: Structure
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber
Apparently this is Chvad SB’s 80th release in about 27 years, which with some artists might imply that they’re knocking them out without much thought. And on the surface, the bold simplicity of the layered drones, strung-out notes and heavily processed guitar noodling in the two 22-minute pieces that make up “Structure” could imply that it didn’t take long to formulate. But scratch a little deeper and you find that, like strong minimalist art, the exceptional balance and control of this release is what makes it really strong.

Supremely long synthetic tones, some imitating strings, others their own form of steady tubular or sine wave beds, loop and loop. Six minutes into opening track “Column” we begin to hear the first elements that could be described as notes, playing out glacially slowly like the melody of a slow ice melt, before with admirable patience we are finally introduced to the reverb-soaked electric guitar sounds, which strum away with a surprisingly happy tone.

“Pillar” is a more echoey affair, with a hall-like ambience and gentle waves of electrical hum and interference sounds being cut through by spontaneous percussive tube hits and single strained guitar notes. Hints of American twang just creep into the guitar work at the end.

It’s yet another really strong bit of guitar drone from the very prolific and consistent Silber label.
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Artist: Controlled Bleeding
Title: Headcrack - remastered
Format: LP
Label: Artoffact (@)
Rated: *****
One of the positive aspect/consequence of the launch of some new album by historical (but pretty unknown to younger generations) bands are the related reissue of some old entries. It's what happened on the occasion of the return of the legendary band Controlled Bleeding, whose recent album "Larva Lumps and Baby Bumps", followed by the remix collection of "Carving Song", was followed by the reissue by Artoffact of "Headcrack", the oddest (but maybe the best) release of Paul Lemos' brainchild, the album which was one of the turning point of their long history, when the band left the cacophonic style of their earlier outputs aside in order to develop a more original mixture of dark ambient and industrial. As I told, this turning point coincides with the alternation of remarkably bleak and creepy moments with paradoxically hopeful ones, to the point that you can't sometimes establish the exact separation of such a bipolarity. For instance, you can't really say the vocal chants they occasionally used belong to a hellish or a heavenly dimension, or if the ecstatic minimalism spread over the album are closer to the representation of deceitful illusions or, more likely, of a sort vividly blissful detachment. Under a more etheric point view (let's say so), it seems they translated into a necessarily bipolar sound the consequences of that fossilized rose (or the fossilization of love), portrayed on the cover artwork...damnation, blissful oblivion or maybe both. Cacophony sprouts again on the final tracks (the ones that have been left untitled in this remastered versions as well as on the head-banging and over-distorted noises of the last one, a remix introduced as "the missing Headcrack piece"), but such a resurface makes sense... Whatever you interpret this monumental industrial-ambient output, it's an essential building block of higher levels of modern music.
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Artist: Innlaandds
Title: s/t
Format: CD
Label: Wide Ear Records (@)
The same-named debut album by this combo of Swiss musicians - the long-lasting mates Bernard Trontin on drums and Michel Wintsch ("strumming" on a piano and a synth and caring composition on this output), the vocalist and lyricist Antoine Lang and Raphael Ortis on electric bass - explores inner visions and the sometimes paradoxical mazed of dream states and oniric visions, but I guess the outer visions of Swiss landscapes and environment could have heavily influenced a style that sounds oblique like the steep cliffs and the rugged terrain of that land. I also guess these folks are aware of such an obliquity or they maybe yearn to sound oblique, as someone could argue by looking at the cover artwork, highlighted the above-mentioned cliffs. They generically labelled their style as "experimental pop", a tag that hides the clot of influences of their sound: Antoine's voice (and sometimes lyrics) could resemble some crooners of contemporary jazz, easygoing off-key teeny pop-rock singers or my little adorable 4-yrs old niece during pitchy interpretation of Frozen theme songs; Bernard's drumming ranging from hard-bop jazzy sessions to pressing rockish lines, from slow riding to dubby "upholstery" as well as from trivial and interesting techniques. Similarly, Wintsch synth and piano-driven entities and Ortis basslines feature such a constant ambiguity, but they want to run the risk that such an ambiguity couldn't satisfy listeners whose ears experienced different workout (to call it so). It could sound odd, but Innlaandds' sound is consistent with what these Swiss folks try to represent.
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Artist: Para
Title: Paraphon
Format: CD + Download
Label: Freifeld Tonträger
“Paraphon” is the third album from Para, a trio consisting of prepared piano, French horn and double bass. It was recorded live at the Kaleidophon festival in 2016, though the sonic quality is easily that of an expertly produced studio album. There’s a broadly improvised feel, that I might even label as “traditionally avantgarde” if that’s not a contradiction in terms. Each instrument gradually builds or wanes its performance either in parallel with, or counterpoint against, what the other two are doing- leaving some periods of near-silence (and some very lush low subbass tones) and some periods of cacophony and chaos.

Of the seven tracks, over half of them have titles that were totally indecipherable to my media player, so I’ll have to refer to some tracks by number rather than name. The opening track “Karpaten” has a short and almost scat-like spoken-word section towards the end (Greek I think but I’m a language novice so I’m not sure) which gives a nice twist in an almost-jazz direction as it develops. The scat style reappears to strong effect in the fifth track, in which the French horn commits to a very passable didgeridoo impression and, with the best will in the world, it starts sounding like the soundtrack to a brilliantly deranged spaghetti Western.

The sense of tension in third track “Aupa” derived from the relentless piano high note hammering gives it a more horror-like flavour that isn’t necessarily all that welcome or successful, as for me the arrangements work better when they’re more refined, such as in sixth track “Matrjoschka” which develops a very dark, breathy and alien second half, and the much more relaxed final track “Glut”.

It’s a sterling performance that must surely have been mesmerising to watch live. Over the course of 53 minutes it’s got a careful level of dynamism and progression that keeps you attached at all times. While a couple of tracks some to lose themselves somewhat in their own melée and the sinister tones just occasionally come across as insincere, overall it’s a bold musical work definitely worthy of attention.
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