Music Reviews



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Artist: Sontag Shogun
Title: Patterns For Resonant Space
Format: 12"
Label: Youngbloods
“Patterns For Resonant Space” is a relatively familiar-sound combination of reverberant and sparse piano playing, combined with electronic glitches and found sound elements to create a soundscape that’s melancholic and just a little bit spiky. There are ten generally very short slices of cinematic bleakness with a broad but not particularly revolutionary palette. Crisp digital processing counterpoints against pure grand piano tones in a well-tried and reliable formula.

Each piece has both a number (independent of the track number) and a name, as if to try and double-up the distinction between tracks that most comprise the same ingredients, which isn’t wholly necessary as they do already contain a reasonable variety of character, normally created by having one element that’s unique to each track. For example, “Barricade Bleu” adds some more watery noises. “Patient Elegy For Bernr’d Hoffman” adds some vocal ahhhhs reminiscent of M83 or Sigur Ros. “Music Box”, unsurprisingly, adds the distorted and twisted sound of a music box. “Windmill” leaves the piano aside in favour of forming loose looping patterns in the percussive sounds. The bizarrely named “Chopsticks, Motor, Lecture” adds relatively unchopped samples of what sounds like a school science lecture, then “£20,000” adds some quirky vinyl scratches, and so on.

The final and lengthiest piece “Leaves Like Photographs” is the only track allowed to evolve at greater length, existing in several stages and acting like a flavour of what may have been allowed to develop if some of the ideas in the other tracks had been allowed to play out for longer in more sparse and indulgent frameworks.

Fans of listening to immersive, reverb-heavy cold atmospheres who like wearing headphones lying down in dark rooms will really get into this and find 31 minutes too short. For a less focussed listening experience, it washes away into nothingness a little.
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Artist: thisquietarmy
Title: Democracy of Dust
Format: LP + Download
Label: Midira Records
“Democracy Of Dust” is a fairly brief collection of bass-heavy drones and shoegaze blending long drawn-out distorted guitar tones with synthetic noises and heavy effects.

There’s a strong formula here- all three of the opening tracks begin with dark and heavy synthetic bass patterns defining the percussionless rhythm. This is then gradually unfolded as more and more layers of drones and effects washes gradually fade in until the scale has been notched up to ‘epic drone’. The strongest of these is the opener “Welcome To Mendacity”.

Things get more diverse in the second half. “The Harbinger” is a stand-out track, taking industrial process noises and filtering them into a kind of profoundly slow techno, where the temptation to fade in dozens of drone layers is resisted in favour of a more open and ambient guitar strumming. The final two tracks “A World Without Power” and “Nobody’s Free Until Everyone’s Free” both adopt a slightly more arpeggio-heavy synthwave approach, with a slightly more sci-fi cinematic result.

This is a release that will appeal to fans of M83 or Sigur Ros and who are willing to take things into slightly darker and more sinister electronic territory. It’s a rich and full-on work but it perhaps lacks the diversity and variety of inspiration that would have made it really shine.
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Artist: Martin Jenkins
Title: Dance Cave EP
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Medical Records
Some techno tracks are so deceptively simple that when you first start listening to them they feel very “instrumental techno by numbers”, just the standard formula of house beat, simple one-note bassline and faintly tribal percussion that slowly layers up, drops elements out to introduce some gentle chord pads exactly when you’re expecting them, and then gradually strips itself away to a predictable close. The four tracks on “Dance Cave EP” are like this.

But it would be doing them a disservice to slate them as predictable (even though they are) because that’s exactly what they’re designed to be. Steady, calming, slowly shifting but never challenging, these tracks do exactly what they set out to do. Under pseudonyms like Pye Corner Audio, Martin Jenkins has done some pretty esoteric stuff, but this is deliberately straight-faced, line-toeing classically structured techno- no more, no less.

The title track is sonically reminiscent of early 90’s trance, while “Horror Hole” is just a tad darker and more pounding. “Sub Space” has just a touch more urgency in its looping pattern. Final track “Your Love Is Crawling All Over Me” is just a touch more melodically ambitious, heading (very slightly) in a direction that feels like it would lend itself to a wistful vocal that isn’t there.

Nothing on here is a classic by any stretch of the imagination but if you’re collecting solid, reliable, middle-of-a-techno-set-friendly rhythms on vinyl, this is an easy one.
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Artist: Liam J Hennessy
Title: Held
Format: LP + Download
Label: Sound In Silence
Liam J Hennessy’s debut, a mini-album based on the concept of writing a song every month throughout 2016. “Held” represents the first six results, January through to June, a 21-minute six-track collection of gently atmospheric soundtrack-style instrumental pieces featuring gentle guitar melodies, soft synthetic drones and chords, and lightweight beats structured out of field recordings.

“Beacons” is a highlight, a slowly evolving and measured layering of elements with piano and a last-minute slightly militaristic snare drum that sonically veers a little close to Coldplay without getting too close. Final track “Viewpoint” is also strong, infusing the guitar patterns with a strong and not too cliché emotiveness.

There’s a certain sketch-like feeling to this release. Several of the tracks feel shorter than their atmosphere would have warranted. Opener “Frozen Lights” feels like an unfinished idea, especially when it stops (“Viewpoint” also has an over-abrupt tail). “Over The Bay” has the flavour of an instrumental that’s waiting for a vocal to be added.

Gentle, relaxing, inoffensive, cinematic and smooth, “Held” is a polished bit of downtempo melancholy which perhaps falls a little short of being a fully coherent work but is certainly a deeply pleasant aural wash.
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Artist: Atonalist feat. Gavin Friday
Title: Atonalism
Format: LP + Download
Label: Audiotrauma
Atonalist is a collaboration between Renaud-Gabriel Pion and Arnaud Fournier, with Gavin Friday providing vocals on half the tracks. Between them their CV’s have an extremely extensive list of name-drops, everybody from Antony & The Johnsons to Björk to U2. One man whose name isn’t on that list is David Bowie- yet what they’ve managed to create here sounds very much like a missing late 1990’s David Bowie album, or at least a tribute to one. It’s dark electronica with steady rhythms, overlaid with jazz noodling and occasional diversions into hardier and glitcher electronic noise. This is fashionable pop music gone seriously dark.

Gavin Friday’s deep, breathy vocal has more than a few shades of Bowie at his most low-key, particularly in the extremely languid “la la la la la” refrain of opening track “Different To The Others”. The gravelliness also has hints of Dieter Meier at times. Shunning verse-chorus structures for the most part in favour of a more off-the-cuff storytelling approach gives it plenty of character.

“The Philosopher’s Argument” is a highlight, a mellow and atmospheric call-and-response-style instrumental between wind instruments with the most subtle use of electronic clicks as a gentle bed. “Final Prayer” pushes the edgy guitar crunching and white noise before starkly contrasting it with a sombre clarinet, to great effect- an antagonism that’s explored again back-to-front in “Behaviourist”. In other parts, such as “Massacre Of The Pretenders”, the juxtaposition is a little less successful, coming across as uncomfortably awkward.

It’s a deep, genre-defying collection of pieces with an absolutely lush production quality that manages to bring sharp electronic production into a more organic, Brian Eno-ish soundscape with great success. It perhaps runs out of tricks a little before the end of its fifty minute run but nevertheless it still shines brightly.
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