Music Reviews



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Artist: Helado Negro
Title: This Is How You Smile
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: RVNG Intl.
New York-based Roberto Carlos Lange’s sixth album is predominantly Latin-textured melancholy acoustic pop, with elements of soul ballads and even lounge. Though introduced as being aimed at topics of politics and race, it’s got an introspective tone that makes it all feel like heartfelt and romantic love songs, even though the lyrics (some English, some Spanish) are sometimes fatigued world-weary assessments of the difficulties of life. If you don’t pay attention to this, you can mellow out to this, no problem.

While a lot of acoustic guitar music is now revered in production terms, as though adding any non-acoustic elements would be some kind of sacrilege, that mistake is not made here. The production touches are gentle, but beneficial- a few drum sounds here, a bit of synth bass there, nice use of delay on “Todo lo que me falta”, all small doses but effective. Little sonic skits like “Echo For Camperdown Curio” and “November 7” are where the most unusual stuff happens, little bursts of analogue synths and found sound and tape-style edits that belie a studio playfulness.

Highlights include “Seen My Aura”, a gently funky walking number that has pop crossover and radio potential. “Sabana De Luz” which is the closest we get to a party atmosphere, but we’re clearly still inside Lange’s head. If looking for one track that channels the full sound of the album, try “Fantas”, and not the overly intimate and slightly unrepresentative opener “Please Won’t Please”.

The title, while not overtly ironic, could certainly be misleading, and if you’re expecting a feel-good party album, think again. If however you’re in the mood for a rich and heartfelt bit of relaxing acoustic pop (I’ve resisted mentioning Seu Jorge until now), with just hints of lyrical edge and modern production, this may catch your ear.
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Artist: Cordis Cincti Serpente
Title: Cenobitorium
Format: Tape
Label: Industrial Ölocaust Recordings (@)
This is my second encounter with Cordis Cincti Serpente, the dark ambient/esoteric occult project of Adrian Marcado from Bari, Italy, following 'Noo Yuggoth (Redux)' which I reviewed back in the summer of 2017. This work should have been reviewed much earlier than the present, but as so often with some things, this one "slipped through the cracks" so to speak, and got mixed in with the "already reviewed" pile when in actuality, it wasn't. Be that as it may, a brief refresher on this project is in order. The Latin-derived name Cordis Cincti Serpente is taken from the title of one of Aleister Crowley's Holy Books of Thelema, so you know magick is involved here. 'Cenobitorium' is derived from Cenobite, a term originally ascribed to a member of a monastic community, until Clive Barker co-opted it for his extradimensional demonic beings in the Hellraiser series. Considering the tone of this recording, I'm more inclined to go with the latter rather than the former.

While 'Noo Yuggoth' was Lovecraftian in nature, this is something completely different. It is a work in 3 parts (Cenobitorium I, II, III), 9:42, 13:06 and 23:24, respectively. Much of it is uncomfortable, and all of it is enigmatic. Right out of the gate you are confronted with clashing windchimes, an oppressive drone and squealing animal sounds (pigs, hogs, swine, maybe others). The drone turns buzzy and becomes even more oppressive. The squeals grow more frantic and might be representative of other animals as well. There is no convenient description or guide put out by label or artist for this work, so your imagination can run wild. Ritual slaughter? Inhumane symbolism? Who can say. The swine don't sound like they're having a good time though. Fortunately this is the shortest track, but it still seemed rather long to me.

Part 2 begins with a number of foley sounds (ordinary activity) difficult to identify in specific, interspersed with brief, thick slabs of low chords until a drone emulating an electric grindstone emerges between a cluster of random metallic sounds. That semi-piercing sharpening drone wears on the ears rather quickly, and eventually morphs into a different piercing pitch just as uncomfortable. That ceases about halfway through and you're left in a rather strange, unsettling electro-acoustic environment. The electric grindstone drone makes intermittent reappearances as well as other higher pitched piercing drones adding to the anxiety. The electronics which have been in the background up to this point become a rhythmic element, eventually petering out with muffled, manipulated voices trailing off. Part 3 is a dichotomy of being both the weirdest and most normal segment of this work. It's comprised of recurring sounds that include traffic; an intermittent but measured clanging bell (buoy warning?); a semi-garbled low pitched repetitious sequenced synth; unintelligible manipulated voices; an intermittent chordal string pad played lightly in the background; and other sonic rumblings. This goes on for 23+ minutes.

Merely describing the sounds doesn't do this work justice, but there's no other way I can think of to relate it. The work is so arcane that very few people are likely to be interested in it, so a release limited to 23 cassette copies (there may still even been some available) seems like the most practical idea. (Also consider the cryptic symbolism of the number 23.) While I can't see how 'Cenobitorium' would be good background music for working ritual magick, I can see how it would be inscrutable enough to interest some who might practice it. 'Cenobitorium' is a work which I refuse to rate (by number of stars) not because it is undeserving, but simply because it is unquantifiable.
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Artist: Stillnox (@)
Title: Mercury
Format: CD + Download
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Getting anywhere commercially in the music biz these days is always a Herculean task, even to merely get noticed with all the noize out there. It's even harder on the fringe of goth/industrial/darkwave because it's such a specific genre subset; the people who like it are such a small segment of the music listening population; it rarely (if ever) gets widespread notice nearly no matter how good it is, and the people who like this kind of music are notoriously picky and typically unforgiving. It's even harder if you're a solo artist without a band and without a reputation. Also, there is zero chance any label is going to want to pick up your album, or give you any kind of distribution deal unless you're relentlessly touring and have some sort of following. So with all this in mind, here comes Poland to Manchester, UK transplant Martin Seraphin and his Stillnox project. He founded Stillnox back in 2002 but never really got it off the ground until the completion and release of 'Mercury' in January 2019. It's self-recorded, self-produced darkwavish electro-goth , but it really took me a good long while to get into it.

Somehow Martin managed to convince 5 Polish gothic divas - Agata Pawlowicz (Desdemona, This Cold), Anja Orthodox (Closterkeller), Maja Konarska (Moonlight), Agnieszka Kornet, and Inga Habiba (Faith-Healer, HabiArJan, Lorien) to support him vocally on the album. Martin sings all the lead vocals, which may take some time to get used to because it’s not exactly typical. The Polish divas are all vocally wonderful, and their presence is a big plus. Also on the plus side is Martin's skill in the instrumental aspects of the music. His synth work is very good and the rhythmic aspects are solid and dark dancefloor worthy. From what I can tell, ‘Mercury’ seems to be a concept album, but the concept seems rather nebulous to me. The songs are interesting and somewhat varied but not exactly what I’d call typical of the genre. In a way, some of the songs are almost progressive, not due to instrumental virtuosity or complex compositional structures, but rather in a conceptual and emotional manner. It is unexpected, and might even be a bit off-putting at first. It took me at least a half-dozen listenings to get into it at all. Some of that was due to Seraphin’s voice, which like some (Edward Ka Spel of Legendary Pink Dots comes to mind) is an acquired taste. It goes down much smoother when he sings with the ladies as opposed to just solo.

‘Mercury’ is an ambitious debut outing at 16 tracks (18 if you get the digital version with two extra bonus tracks) and not everything has the same level of quality or engagement. The album is “front-loaded,” with most of the best tracks coming early on. Things begin to drag in the middle beginning with “Mercury’s Code” and while Martin warbles “don’t give up” you might be tempted to. Then out of nowhere comes “The Hope,” an un-dark, dancey electro-house number which would be a well-needed uplift, but lyrically it’s just a little too wordy and the chorus hook isn’t memorable at all. This is symptomatic of a number of tracks (but not all) on this album. Maybe it’s the English/Polish language differential, but it is still something that needs to be addressed. The one track in Polish (“Nadir”) sounds about right in balance of lyric to expression, but I admit I have no knowledge of the language. Viscerally, it just sounds right.

So with all that in mind, there are some quality songs on ‘Mercury,’ but definitely not all of them. There is also a lack of strong bass which upsets the instrumental balance. Martin’s got his work cut out for himself though in promoting this project and album. Live performance (essential these days) is going to require some vocal sirens to back him up, and traditional outlets won’t be inclined to help. I wish Stillnox well though, and perhaps the next album will be better.
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Artist: Exseind
Title: s/t
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Orion Network
Exseind, from “EXperiencia SEnsorial INterDisciplinaria” is as the name suggests an audio-visual hybrid from three collaborators, though as I’m reviewing the sonic product only, I’ll rudely disregard the real-time visual synthesis of Ce Pams, for the simple reason that I can’t see it, and concentrate on an audio work that is then a two-part collaboration between Cristian Gallardo on alto sax and flute, and Lars Gaugaard’s computing and electronics.

What this collaboration provides is an unusual and in-depth fusion of fairly light and intellectual slow techno that wouldn’t sound out of place on Planet Mu, with melodic improvised elements lifted from avantgarde jazz and liable at times to sound like Jethro Tull. On paper it’s an awkward-sounding combination, but in practice, it definitely works.

After the complex and intriguing opener “Greynarl”, it’s longest track “Is That A Gofford?” that has the most sense of purpose, building on a steady 4/4 beat that some of the other tracks eschew to give the clarinet a broad, fifteen-minute-long playing field to enjoy itself on, and the positivity is infectious and seems to hark back a little to the early days of electronic club music and exploring the limits of how far a 12” mix could go.

“Paloma” twists the time signatures in a more unorthodox fashion, turning the interplay between multi-layered sax and synth bass into a kind of waltz, before the strangely titled “So Flute”, while continuing to mix up the threes and fours to keep you on your toes, takes the electronics into deeper, rumblier territory and makes Gallardo’s flute work seem bizarrely abstracted and alien. Over twelve minutes it gradually becomes a little edgier, with just slight hints of 80’s dark and electronic industrial.

The return to bendy bass tones and quite jaunty, sometimes almost squeaky melody of final track “Beyond The Yonder” is so very listenable that when it slowly fades away at the end of the forty-eight minute album, you’re definitely left wanting more.

It’s a really strong release. Apparently it’s also available on floppy disc as well, but that isn’t one of ChainDLK’s format options- plus the size and format of the floppy is undisclosed, so as well as being unable to comment on the visuals, I can’t review its compatibility with my old BBC Micro model B either...
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Artist: Benjamin Finger / James Plotkin / Mia Zabelka (@)
Title: Pleasure-Voltage
Format: 12"
Label: Karlrecords (@)
Rated: *****
This release is the result of the collaboration between Benjamin Finger, whose "Into Light" was favorably reviewed a couple of months ago, James Plotkin, mostly known as a former member of Khanate, and Mia Zabelka, whose work in sound art is probably as important as unknown to the masses. "Pleasure-Voltage" is not a release based on a rather complex premise but it's simply, so to speak, a juxtaposition between the different musical language of the artist involved: ambient, industrial and sound art.
The A side is occupied by "Hostile Structures" which starts with a suspended atmosphere made out of the wide chords of guitar, the short notes of the violin and the piano using reverb to fill the sonic spectrum, then the second part features a dryer sound as the elements are in a quieter background while the third is almost ethereal approaching drone and the final part makes use of noises to create a precarious equilibrium between psychedelia, drone and EAI.
The B side is instead occupied by "Kaleidoscopic Nerves" which has a more linear structure based on reverberated tones and samples to obtain an equilibrium between a noisy background and a droning foreground, a stop and quiet notes of piano marks the beginning of the second part of the track that is a journey from a rain of notes to a wide drone horizon.
This is an impressive release created with already known elements and a widely used framework, but the quality of writing and the crafting of sound is of so high profile that could even give the impression to be innovative. It's really a work of art.
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