Music Reviews

Artist: radian
Title: rec.extern
Format: CD
Label: thrill jockey
Distributor: n/a
Radian (Martin Brandlmayr (Drums, Vibraphone, Computer), Stefan Németh (Synthesizers, Computer) and John Norman (Bass)) have been associated with the austrian electonic scene around pita/mego for a while, their refusal to be definded as neither nerd/noise/avantgarde nor postrock always made them fall out a bit. Since they moved to Thrill Jockey it seems like they eventually found a home which provides the patience, rapture and support the trio needs and deserves.
rec.extern is Radians 3rd release, it was recorded and mixed by John McEntire in his Chicago studio and is a result of meticulous engineering and a perfectly thought out concept. But all the minimalism and stringency inheres the most passionate and articulate understanding of what sound can be and how far it can be taken. The sinus tone, clicks and cracks now team up with the reinforced audibility of the vigorous sound of the actual acoustic instrument making an impact as fragile and virtuous as possible.
Watch out for Radians US-tour (with Pan American + Signer), it would be a shame to miss "Jet" where Radian almost start to rock in Thrill Jockeys best postrock-tradition. Almost, if there wasn't this beautifully carried out seriousness.
Artist: Daniele Brusaschetto / SANdBLASTING (@)
Title: ScassatoLive
Format: CD
Label: D.S.K. (@)
I know for most of you out there pronouncing his last name must be a nightmare, but you better try to learn it by heart cause you're gonna be hearing more and more from this dude. His newest is a live CD with five bonus tracks, remixed versions by Luca Torasso, aka SANdBLASTING.I've seen, and actually even opened for Daniele, live when he was still playing with something similar to a regular band (now he tours the world all alone) and his set was quite impressing. While back then his primary focus would be guitar noise over some pre-recorded industrial tracks now the guitars take a few steps backward (not always though) and grant even more space to the murky and cold industrial soul pumping, blasting, hammering, looping and stomping underneath.The remixes are actually really quite good I must say. SandBlasting was able to capture all the sides of this multifaceted artist, going through the dark claustrophobic suites and the violent outbursts of industrial music and noises, eventually enhancing its industrial brutality, adding electronic textures and industrial(-dance) rhythms, spicing things up with drum'n'bass fills and bass-lines, flavoring with additional layers of noise and samples, cutting, pasting and rearranging Daniele's vocals, looping sounds, creating ebm compositions from Daniele's repertoir; and overall bringing a big deal of all new rhythmical essence to the table that wasn't quite as developed before and that is not bad at all!I believe that if these two guys were to work it out so that they could find a compromise, I can see them playing together and be a terrific duo!
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Artist: SIGNAL
Title: The Message is Clear...
Format: CD
Label: VinylHoR
This under-legal-drinking-age duo has an Armenian heritage but is based out in LA, where allegedly they are quite appreciated in the Teknoklub and rave scenes. Since I had never heard of these guys before, I was going through their info sheet, and it looked quite interesting and promising when they were described as Prodigy meet Orbital «holding on to thier rock roots as well as being influenced by hip-hop and the music of their Armenian heritage». "The Message is Clear..." is their second full length album and after listening to it several times to make sure I am not mistaken I would probably say that they must have drastically moved away from the above described sound, if they ever even played that stuff (maybe on their 1999 debut "On the Sonic Forefront"...). This record right here doesn't have any Prodigy or Orbital, if you as me (even though I can hear they tried real hard to emulate Prodigy's vocals and beats in "Let Me In" and in "Trancemission", which actually is a pretty good track); rock and hip-hop influences I couldn't find either (except for a little rapping on "LFO Child" and sporadic ebonic wording samples in "Down From Up"); and as far as Armenian music, I am no expert in the field but I think I would have recognized sounds coming from thousands of miles away... Anyway, it is not my intention to bitch about the description of Signal given by others, my concern is rather that I wasn't too thrilled with this at all. Not that it isn't well performed (their sound palette includes Roland's 909, 606, the Akai MPC milestone, a guitar and some keyboards and brings to the table noteworthy sounds) but their compositions are just a little too commercial for my taste. I am not gonna say it's euro-style (cause that would almost be offensive) but, straight up, it seems like its only aimed at the high dancing masses and doesn't keep an eye on quality. If I was listening and bouncing to this at a rave it would probably sound different and much cooler, but on a CD it sounds like they floating somewhere in the North Atlantic, not very sure whether to sail towards the US (even thought the West Coast would be a better beach for this) or rather let themselves carry by the currents leading to the European shores. Most of their tracks would be a kicker in Ibiza, Berlin, Zurich and places like that... One's for sure: they would have a hell of a blast if they were to perform in Mittle-European raves, I can tell you this much!
In my opinion, the best of Signal is to be heard when they escape the tekkno cliches (you know, the slowly sweeping cut-off filters, the volume increasing 16th snares, the commercial reso-synth hooks and the like) and migrate into moving ambient textures driven by trippy drum'n'bass (like in "Believe", some parts of "It All Starts Here" or "LFO Child" again). The best rave track in my opinion is "A Memory of You", that's a kick! If they only could stay away from the cheap synth lines and the easy-listening (or no-listening-just-bouncing) dancefloor beatz and concentrate their production around what I know they have the potential to do, I'd be far more appreciative. I mean, Prodigy, Orbital, Chicane and many others get the people moving anywhere, but you can listen to their stuff at home and realize that there is a big deal of quality, there is an essence, a soul, there is real music, there is power, and you don't even have to look hard to find it... it's right there in your face (or ears ;-)... With Signal's sound, I feel like it doesn't offer me all of that, unless I strictly dance to it and that's it. Sorry guys, not my cup of tea!
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Title: Only You / Lost & Found
Format: MCD (Mini CD)
Label: Delicious Records (@)
If you read my review of the Yazoo's tribute CD you should already know David Mahr's name. There he covered "Mr. Blue" while on this three tracks single he gives his treatment to "Only You". David did a version similar to the original but at the same time he gave his freshness, succeeding in this way into the "update" of an important track of the synthpop realm. The other two originals are the beautiful "Sugar Candi (What Do You Mean To Me)" and "Century" where he shows his skills presenting two tracks with elaborated melodies and catchy atmospheres: it's almost impossible to forget "Sugar Candi"'s refrain once listened. The previous MCD was LOST & FOUND. On that one the sound was paying, on a couple of tracks (the opening "More Each Day" and "Rain"), the tribute to Vince Clarke's bands but this doesn't count when you have got a track like "Never Alone". I think that if released back in the 80's this song should compete with songs like "Take On Me" or Howard Jones' "What Is Love" and this is encouraging for synthpop fans. If you love these sounds be sure to check David's music along with The Agency X's one where he team up with Lars Wallden of Avante Garde.
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: New Forms of Synthetic Pop V.2.0
Format: CD
Label: Bloodline (@)

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This import CD compilation of Synthpop includes some of the biggest names in the genre and a few which most Americans consider EBM as well. Just taking one look at the roster for this compilation and you know you're in for a treat and Bloodline does deliver and cover all the bases as well. Amazingly enough this compilation though a German import begins with music by two Texas music students who began by playing cover tunes however their original compositions are anything but copies. This smooth synthpop band is known, like others on this disc, in the US by the indie label A Different Drum whose hallmark is the Synthpop soun and have sold thousands of CDs already. Perfidious Words have a slight industrial rock influence with a strong Depeche Mode like sound. Their song here "Mystify Me" comes out very much like a heavy D-Mode track but with a few minor differences. Stepping up the pace into a much more EBM territory we have Icon of Coil. To be honest I'm amazed they were placed on a Synthpop compilation but it mixes well afterall. Icon of Coil always pump up the dancefloors with their high powered beats and high energy melodies. This band has become one of my most recent EBM favorites and even hearing just this one track I'm sure you can easily see why. If you like this as well check out their newest release The Soul Is The Software. Changing pace a bit we drop down to the smooth harmonics of Echo Image. This particular track combines a small bit of acoustic guitar with some soft and nearly ethereal sounding synthpop melodies which quickly pick up the pace and become a pumping dance beat. Not sure what it is but Echo Image seems to be a favorite of the female persuasion but I like them alot as well. I think it's the soft male vocals, sort of Erasure-like, that must do it. Echo Image also has a bit of a Yaz overtone as well as far as old style comparisons go but I guarantee you nothing on this compilation truly sounds like any of this older music but is simply a younger spawn birthed from it. For more of Echo Image check out their full-lenth album Compuphonic. Next we have Neuroticfish which has always intentionally crossed the boundaries of Synthpop and EBM blending them so that the line is thoroughly blurred and has even made the bold statement 'Electronic Body Music Is Dead'. He is self-described as Industrial-Synth-Pop and the label seems to fit quite well. He often adds a bit of industrialized neurotic twitch beats in with synthpop melodies. He also tends to utilize elements of other forms of electronica like Drum-n-Bass to create his unique sound as well. Making another sonic jump in style we leap over to Statemachine, whose sound is more of an electro-rock pop sound. I hate to make the comparison but it's rather close in overall style to the short-lived EMF but with a more indie flair. Adding more electronics into the mix again we meet with In Strict Confidence, a hard and dark band from Germany. In Strict Confidence have attracted the attention mainly of Goths and EBM fans in the States as their music has a Darkwave feel to it and is less synthpop in my book that Icon of Coil is. It's more Darkwave/EBM than anything with Industrial influences. When most think of this band they probably imagine Dennis with 'white out' contacts on. Evil, evil children ;-) The compilation takes another sonic leap toward a slightly more Kraftwerkian form of synthpop by S.P.O.C.K. who are probably most known for thier Star Trek parody songs set to EBM music like "Never Trust A Klingon". This band has a sort of early sci-fi television influence set to modern dance music. This track is somewhat similar to the band NASA in it's overall pop tonality. This is followed by the Swedish band Elegant Machinery displaying a heavy Yazoo influence with early D-Mode Speak and Spell vocal styles. Merge has been compared with bands like Mesh or De/Vision probably based on the more straightforward approach they take. Merge combines both electric and acoustic guitars with synths to create a more harmonic sound. Much like earlier 80's bands Cocteau Twins created an ethereal blend of strings you can hear something similar in the background of the synthpop rhythms of Merge. Every song I've heard from The Nine has a sort of dark and brooding temperament to the vocals but the music combines many elements of rock, industrial and synthpop to create a sound that will one day catch the pop culture scene by surprise. Imagine when Michael Hutchins of INXS sings a moody track, a similar emotion seems to follow The Nine. There is something lucid about this band that is difficult to place your finger on. Beginning with bleeps and sung with German lyrics Melotron give us the smooth melody of "Alles Von Dir" (Everything for You) - very smooth, digital, and unique. However, not all of Melotron is so melodious. They have also been known to do some darker, heavier, EBM oriented tracks like their recent "Tanz mit dem Teufel" (Dance with the Devil). Close Encounters is headed by the female vocals of thier sultry singer. Clsoe Encounters has all the temperament of Annie Lennox with the sensuality of Rhea's Obsession but the ethereal dance music that only Close Encounters could create yet mildly similar to Delerium. This seems to be a band to watch for the future, who knows where they may appear next. While basically synthetic in nature it's not overly so and could easily get standard radio airplay as well as it masterfully combines various musical elements and instrumentation. In one word - 'Lush'. This German-based EBM band gives us a more down-tempo track with "Welt In Scherben" a melancholy synth melody however their full-length album Bis der Arzt kommt is said to also have some club power tracks as well. Enforce is Robert Enforsen, the former lead vocalist and frontman of Elegant Machinery and you can tell by the sound of this Scandinavian solo project. Covering a wide range of territory in the Synthpop scene and bringing some hot names and some rising stars as well New Forms... is a more than worthy addition to any Synthpop addicts collection.
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