Music Reviews



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Artist: Drew McDowall
Title: Unnatural Channel
Format: LP
Label: Dais Records
Rated: *****
Drew started his musical career in Glasgow with his post punk band The Poems, where there was also his then wife, Rose. After few years they moved to London and he joined Psychic TV and began collaborating live with Coil, becoming an official member of the band in 1994. He played in classic albums such as: "Astral Disaster", "Musick To Play In The Dark", "Worship The Glitch", "Black Light District" and "Time Machines". He moved to New York in 2000, so decided to part ways with Coil. He collaborated with Kara Bohnenstiel in the group Captain Sons And Daughters (CSD) and with Tres Warren (of Psychic Ills) in Compound Eye. In 2015 Dais Records released his first solo album "Collaps". The album contains five tracks of experimental electronic where idm, ambient and industrial intuitions meet. On May 26th 2017, always on Dais Records, Drew will release his second album, titled "Unnatural Channel". This new album expand a bit more the sounds of its predecessor by adding more rhythms and by experimenting some more with his modular synths. The album opens with "Tell Me The Name", a track which sounds like ocean waves made of throbbing sounds which suddenly blast off and when the apparent calm makes its way, buzzing sounds, and treated vocal samples soon after are joined by distorted industrial rhythmic patterns. After that, we have "Habitat", a track suspended between clanging sounds and synth strings and leads which sounds like coming from hell. "This Is What It's Like" plays even more with this dark atmospheres mixing mid tempo industrial rhythms filtered through an eco with whispered vocals. The main track is divided into two parts and if most of the first one creates a dark ambient atmosphere with some rhythms toward its end, the second one is sounding more industrial and rhythmic just to sound a bit like early Chris & Cosey at the end. "Recognition" sounds like a kraken fighting for his life while the short "Unshielded", with its synths rhythmic noises and the vocals sounding like a tribal chant, is like the recording of a ritual. I found this second album rich of ideas and sounds and more focused compared to the first one. I'm sure you'd gladly check it out if you already appreciated Drew's past collaborations. If you are totally new, well, if you like Autechre and industrial music, I'm sure that you'll be amazed listening to "Unnatural Channel".
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Artist: Psyclon Nine
Title: Divine Infekt (re-release)
Format: CD
Label: Metropolis (@)
Metropolis recently re-released one of the most impressive albums by Psyclon Nine. I'm one of those, who has never considered this band as controversial as some reviewers did in the past, when too many people still filtered anything surrounding them as rightwing, leftwing, communist or fascist, according to a blind and blinding watertight compartment-like vision of the world that came and keeps on coming in handy of well-known manoeuvres. In spite of the helpful clarification "No computers were used during the composition of this album", reprising some known messages that wink at animal rights activists, "Divine Infekt" is massively computerized: dating back 2003, it featured a higher dosage of synth-pop, aggrotech (particularly in the use of voice by P9's frontman Nero Bellum) and electro-industrial and just some traces of black metal (more clearly listenable in other outputs of the band). Specialists in synths will readily recognize the typical taste of some synth-squeezing such as the dynamics of the highly performative Nord Lead (maybe the 3 or the 4), the choruses on brass pads typical of EBM or the pre-delay of 30-35ms combined to some impressive sets of Pitch Shifter on the glorious Boss SE-50 to make the voice harsher. I won't say it could be considered still innovative from the technical viewpoint, but the content of its anguished lyrics could certainly be. This inflamed ring starts and ends on the title-track "Divine Infekt", whose refrain - a recorded voice repeating "We all deserve a life in hell" in a viscous web of synth-driven arpeggios and kicks - is the hypnotical motif of both the original opening version and the Aggrotech-oriented remix by Anthony Mather's band Tactical Sekt. A ring of fire, whose more interesting blazes are the more danceable "Clinik" (its medley "Bludgeon abortion/Lethal amputation/Onslaught of torment/Embrace the offering/Necrotic flesh/Design of tainted surgery/Cold steel blade/Neutralize mortality" could be echoed in your mind for a while), the brilliant synth programming that got forged for a genuinely provocatory song like "So Be It", the almost romantic "As You Sleep" (maybe the most melodic moment of the whole album) as weel as those songs (particularly "Clinik" and "Slaughter"), where you can hear the first bricks of the bridge joining electro-industrial and symphonic black metal, whose building would have been completed on their following album "INRI". Also available on a limited vinyl edition.
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Artist: Tegh
Title: Downfall
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Midira Records
The title of “Downfall” is inspired by John Gilpin’s tragic 1970 photo of a boy falling to his death from the wheel well of an aeroplane, so it’s no surprise to find that Iranian sound artist Tegh’s ‘noisy ambient’ album is a bleak and barren affair. Cold synth pads play slow minor patterns (like a very depressed Moby) while different colours of noise growl and curve across your hearing. At times the noise, a sort of hybrid of guitar distortions and white noise, swamps you- at other times, there’s wide and near-empty space.

There are no track titles, just five numbered parts that (with one exception) segue into one another to make a continuous 43 minute work. The first part plays almost like the imagined descent of the boy in the photo, but only the peaceful part; windy, reflective, but tactfully never impacting on the ground. The second part brings a more intermittent and tuned feel to the distorted electronics, like a musical Tesla coil, before the arrival of a surprisingly conventional organ-esque pattern that’s bordering on house piano. Part III is also organ-infused but as a beautiful calm series of pitched hums that’s borderline beautiful. Part IV is similarly structured but with evolving synthetic choral tones that unashamedly recall Part I. Part V layers the organ sounds into something both soft and cacophonous at the same time, before a surprisingly abrupt ending that is, sadly, probably the impact we thought we’d avoided at the start.

Whilst there’s melancholy firmly rooted in the DNA of this work and it seems an intentional attack on your heartstrings, there’s a steady calm in it that’s quite engrossing. It’s surprisingly successful and definitely an indicator that Tegh is somebody to keep an ear open for.
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Artist: Anne La Berge
Title: Raw
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Unsounds
Anne La Berge is part of Ensemble MAZE, and the six-piece ensemble are present here, performing two LP-friendly extended sparse improvisations of piano, double bass, electric guitar, flute, bass clarinet and electronics. The ensemble follow written instructions but with an energy that feels like it might have been spontaneous. We meander between sporadic and slightly more overlapping sections with a thread of melancholy running throughout.

Different combinations of instruments almost politely take their turns to be at the music’s core, meaning that if you skip the needle five minutes further on, you’ll hear something very different to what you were just listening to. Some of the transitions are smooth, others very abrupt, making it difficult to predict.

“RAW” has an unusual extra element that proves to be its USP. Each performer, as well as using their own instrument, uses a tablet which, when pressed, causes a very short spoken word sample to be played- quickly spoken dialogue that instantly seems to accelerate the pace and dynamic. These snippets are too brief to be coherent, but tantalisingly close to being understandable. Talk of structures and still-visible scars tease you into wanting to invent your own narrative. The shorter second piece “RAW 19” has more of this spoken word, more frequently overlapped, as well as a greater emphasis on radio-interference-style electronics and processing, than the relatively purist first piece “RAW 10.5”.

It’s a complicated pair of pieces with diverse character- sometimes bold, sometimes spacious, never easy to follow.
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Artist: Gebrüder Teichmann & Wura Samba
Title: 2 Cities / Berlin - Lagos
Format: 12"
Label: Noland Tracks (@)
For their own “2 Cities” release the Teichmann brothers have created a subdivision of their own still-fresh Noland label called Noland Tracks, for more club- and dance-minded material. Their first release, their second collaboration with Nigerian percussionist and singer Wura Sumba, is certainly DJ friendly- deep paired-back house beats with African percussive flavours, clean synthy basslines and simple, mix-friendly structures are the order of the day here. Part of a larger “Ten Cities” concept from the Goethe Institute, this is more dancefloor than art concept.

In “Fivefour”, things are at their best when things are kept simple- it’s a fantastic groove, steady and easy to get carried by. When the distorted lead synth starts wandering off into an improvised solo after the six minute mark things go a little wayward and start sounding a little thin. Also, beware a transition so surprising just before the two minute mark that you assume you’ve segued into a different track. The deep, slightly tribal house beat stops dead, we pause, and suddenly we’re into a retro electro environment. The original elements gradually reappear and fuse together, but it’s a drop so abrupt you might assume the DJ made a mistake!

“Transist” features Wura Samba’s vocal for the first time and it works well. The blend of African melodies and house beats is often a winner, and so it is here. Dark, acid basslines rumble under a slightly spaced-out vocal. This is one of those B-side tracks that’s stronger than the A-side.

Final track “Alantere” is mostly instrumental, with snippets of the vocal arriving halfway through. Here the percussion is allowed a couple of breakdowns to go a little wild, an interlude in what’s otherwise quite a moody, slow-stepping synthwave-ish track which has plenty of confidence.

The German - Nigerian collaboration is clearly a winning combination, and well refined. The result is steady but not attention-grabbing.
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