Music Reviews

Artist: Mother Of Mars
Title: Seed 2 Sky (Remixes)
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Ransom Note Records
I reviewed Vito & Druzzi’s original “Seed 2 Sky” back in November, then coupled with an A-side “Hera In The Valley”, calling it “exemplary electronica”. Now, Ransom Note Records have followed it up with six remixes to pull the synthy, subtly progressive house with tribal percussion pattern sounds of the original into half a dozen different directions.

The outstanding version here is from C.A.R., who’s used the instrumentation of the original as the basis for writing a brand new song that sounds completely coherent and like it ought to have been the original version all along. A slow, slightly proggy vocal over the steady, faintly Kraftwerk-y original groove with added more dramatic percussion as the song demands, it’s on the edgier side of dream-pop and works exceptionally well- hopefully an indicator that the two parties should collaborate more in future.

Justin Robertson uses his Deadstock 33’s alias and takes the track on a twelve-minute journey of slowly knob-twiddled staccato acid bassline with delay-washed higher elements, slowly layering up more and more percussive patterns and introducing the melodic elements one-by-one to raise the energy level with expert care. By comparison Ess O Ess’s is a very mellow and straightforward house take with rich pads and feel-good synth washes, holding back a slightly more driving bassline until over three minutes in to good effect, but overall somewhat more modest.

Graintable’s remix is a stripped-back breakdown, focussing solely on the synths and pads and completely percussion-free. The liberal use of a tape warp effect is strangely disconcerting and, for me personally, spoils what would otherwise be a very smooth and simple wave of calming synth noise.

Leaf’s remix is another ten-minute adventure, this time with a slightly more indie-electronica vibe reminiscent of DFA. Again it’s heavy in washes and slow builds, but is perhaps the remix that doesn’t sustain its running time quite as well as the others. Finally Malestripper’s version adopts a similar vibe but with a thinner and more electro rhythm and some dramatic, faintly novelty synthwave tom hits and a slightly weirder structure that’s less interested in evolving normally.

It’s a great packages of remixes, and one of those with enough variety and quality in it that it becomes a worthy 51-minute deep house listening album in its own right, which is rare.
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Rebuilding l'Alt Empordà
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Störung
The Störung label, with strong links to Catalonia, have gathered together twenty original pieces of sound art from different artists into a charity record from which all proceeds will go to causes in the area of Alt Empordà that was hit by a tornado on January 7th this year. Over two hours of high quality electronic experimental soundscaping, for a worthwhile charity? What’s not to like? Why bother with the rest of the review, just buy the thing already!

Should you require further convincing, here we go. There’s a wide variety of artists here- mostly pan-European but some from further afield- contributing mostly arhythmic layering of distinct artificial sounds ranging from all shades of noise, to processed synthetic waves and strains, with smatterings of long chord pads and the occasional arpeggio loop to taste. Most pieces run between five and ten minutes, with just a couple of exceptions on other side, and the dynamics are generally kept flat and near-ambient so as to create coherent otherworldly atmospheres rather than any particular surprises.

Highlights include the all-too-short and tantalising complex recipe served up my Mise_en_scene, and the quite full-on thirteen-minute arrangement from the Pink Twins with its broadly early 90’s trance flavours, and the predictably excellent combination of heartbeat-like pulses and melancholic sort-of-violin notes offered up by Scanner.

Other notable works include the twisted and filtered crowd noises (football I think) bent into an unusual shape by Francisco López, the beautifully minimal analogue pattern-forming from both Federico Monti and Asférico, and the mesmeric sub-bass rumblings provided by Barbara Ellison. The soft resonances of Enrico Coniglio’s piece that wraps up the two-hour experience with a surprisingly warm fuzzy feeling.

What’s interesting about the collection overall is that despite the slight bleakest of the concept, there’s a thread of warmth that runs consistently throughout- a notable absence of dischord or excessive darkness that it might have been so easy for artists to fall into after discussing the concept and the cause.

Regardless of the charity aspect and the speed with which this compilation has been put together, it’s a really splendid two-hour collection showcasing a variety of different sound art with touches of electronica and absolutely worth checking out.
Artist: -N
Title: Suggestions
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Oqko
Beneath the witty self-referential conceit of theming an EP around a failed Google search for your own work lies a couple of long, raw, heavily glitched and dynamic sonic messes, plus an interlude track. Awkwardness is the name of the game right from the off in first track “Make sure that all words are spelled correctly”, built from feedback, white noise, deep and lo-fi analogue electric interference, and squelching weirdness. There’s no rhythm yet with rapid and unpredictable cutting it’s relentlessly frenetic. At points a sense of pattern briefly appears and it fleetingly has the semblance of extremely distorted techno, but within seconds the craziness returns.

Brief interlude “Try different keywords” is built from the same ingredients but is slightly more measured, in that the noises overlap less and there’s at least a hint of order. “Try more general keywords” starts slightly more plaintively, with drawn out slightly-guitar-ish wailing sounds acting as a form of glue, but eventually we devolve back into a similar melée to the first track, screeching and ear-bending towards the very edges of listenable noise.

It’s an impenetrable sonic wall, custom made for people looking for something challenging.
Artist: Colin Stetson
Title: All This I Do For Glory
Format: CD
Label: 52Hz / Factor / Kartel Music Group
Rated: *****

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Colin Stetson is a force of nature. There are no two ways about it. This Canadian alto/tenor/bass saxophone and contrabass clarinet player has been making records from his studio in the woods of Vermont and when he's not playing on somebody else's record, or doing his metal projext Ex-Eye, or guesting with Arcade Fire or playing in duo with his partner Sarah Neufeld (Arcade Fire's violinist), he's either playing solo shows or recording this incredible music made uniquely with his instrument and his body, which are technically the same, or an extension of each other.
After his incredible trilogy of solo records and his beautiful Gorecki "Sorrow" symphony album, Colin is back with another masterpiece of physicality. But before we get into WHAT he does and HOW he does it, let's talk about what it sounds like. The music is beautiful. It's like the soundtrack for a Siberian landscape where something, or a whole herd of somethings, is inexorably advancing towards you and you don't know what it is. It can be scary, haunting and tense but once you embrace it it's also deeply calming and mesmerizing. There is rhythm and there is sound, there is tone and, yes there are melody lines that appear in the distance, like through the fog...
If you don't know what he's doing you'll assume there are overdubs of percussions, vocals and different types/sizes of saxophones, but in reality everything you hear is recorded live, without any overdubs or loops, and with a deep commandeering of his respiratory apparatus, which he puts through the wringer with seemingly endless circular breathing excercises that allow him to play a 13 minute song without ever breathing in once! He gets all these sounds by putting different mics on different parts of the saxophone and of his neck and his chest so that he can play the sax, while hitting the keys to achieve percussive sounds, while singing muffled melodies with his throat. It's truly special and unique.
Colin is one of my favorite musicians and I urge you to see him live to REALLY fully understand how amazing he is. His live performances are even more deeply transforming, transporting and transfigurating than his beautiful records and when you see him do his thing live, when you see his face get all red, his lungs contract and expand, his carotid artery bulge out like it's about to burst and his sweat drip, and all this while NOT using any loop pedals, NOT using any pre-recorded music, NOT using any band, and while NOT breathing, THEN and ONLY THEN you will truly understand!
Artist: My Silent Wake (@)
Title: There Was Death
Format: CD
Label: Minotauro Records (@)
Rated: *****
'There Was Death' is the 10th studio album from Somerset, UK Gothic Death/Doom Metal band My Silent Wake. In the not too distant past I've reviewed a couple of their more experimental non-metal albums ('Eye of the Needle,' 'Invitation to Imperfection') and was really impressed by what I heard. Now I wouldn't count Gothic Death/Doom Metal among my favorite genres, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate it once in a while. The ringleader of this outfit - Ian Arkley (lead vocals & guitar) is not one to sit idle, and I probably should have expected a new MSW album by now anyway. On this album the rest of the band is comprised of the usual suspects - Addam Westlake (bass), Gareth Arlett (drums), Simon Bibby (keys & vocals), also with some guest growls and screams by Esoteric's Greg Chandler, who also recorded, produced, mixed and mastered the album. (Nice job Greg.) I briefly went back and listened to MSW's 2015 'Damnatio Memoriae' album to get a feel for the band in their GDDM mode, and also to see how they progressed in the genre. In some ways it's a step beyond, in some others not so much. 'There Was Death' is 9 tracks, a sort-of concept album (on death, obviously) which opens with 'A Dying Man's Wish.' This is a morose mass of sludge that crawls along like the dying man in the title. Arkley's typical guttural growly vocals seem more like they're narrating a story on this one than singing a song. Plenty of doom and gloom, but it sound very indulgent and fails to ignite the spirit. Oh boy, if the rest of the album is like this, it's gonna be a bumpy ride. Fortunately the next track "Damnation Memoraie" (btw, not on the album of the same) redeems the opener quite nicely. It give you nearly everything you might expect from a great Goth/Doom/Death Metal band- good catchy riffs, momentum, forceful vocals, nice changes, and excellent playing all the way around. "Killing Flaw" rips it up for 2 1/2 minutes before Arkley even gets a gruff word in. It also happens to have a spooky gothy organ break. "Ghosts of Parlour Lives" is my favorite track on the album. It begins like a darkwave number, with a lighter touch, but turns somewhat metal a little ways in. Kind of balladish, but not what I'd call a true ballad. Nice chorus of voices, and I'd swear there's an (uncredited) female in the mix. Although I've heard only a fraction of MSW's albums, this song may well be the best thing Arkley's done in this genre. There's a sensitivity too it that is often lacking in this kind of music. It also sports some very cool changes. "Mourning the Loss of the Living" is only a 36-second transitional piece of just Ian's voice and guitar in non-guttural, non-metal mode, and it sounds pretty good too. Title track "There Was Death" is a bit disappointing not having anything outstanding going for it other than speeding up toward the end. "Walls Within Walls" is a hard-charging number with more oomph, and it just might appeal to metalheads of any stripe. "No End to Sorrow" sounded like a completely different band at first with acoustic guitar and Arkley's non-growling vocals which turn growly on the second verse. And uh, yeah, this is a goth doom-death metal ballad. The album ends with "An End to Suffering," at first an atypical track for the GDDM My Silent Wake, sounding more like it belongs in their experimental camp with quieter acoustic string instruments and harmonium, until the anthemic metal buildup at the end. The vocals are (mostly) gruff but it's a nice mood piece anyway. I can see Gothic Death/Doom Metal fans going nut over this album in spite of what I believe are some shortcomings. Definitely worth a listen anyway even if you're not a big fan of the genre. It hits the market in February exclusively on the Italian Minotauro Records label (Music from the Labyrinth). BTW, the album cover is by the renowned Finnish artist Juha Vuorma.
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