Music Reviews



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Artist: The Star Pillow
Title: Symphony For An Intergalactic Brotherhood
Format: CD + Download
Label: Boring Machines
The Star Pillow is the established drone-ambient monicker used by the prolific Paolo Monti and it gets another outing here for three lengthy improvised works of slow evolving sonic envelopes, pure-sounding and rich melodic textures and subtle atmospherics. Rising and falling tones form very loose repeating patterns that form part of the gradual tectonic shift of the sound as it develops.

First track “My Dear Elohim” draws out the string tones to give quite a cinematic and tense flavour. Relatively short piece “An Interstellar Handshake” has a distinct extra wobble to it that leaves you with an almost drunken feeling, while “From Dust To Stars” makes interstellar space sound like a harmonious and quite densely-packed place to live, with a surprisingly abrupt and arguably lazy ending.

It’s relatively simple and earnestly transcendental soundscaping that occupies its own space. It certainly doesn’t push any of the boundaries of originality or provide much challenge, but as an immersive 38-minute collection of fairly sci-fi sombre atmospherics, this is certainly safe ground.
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Artist: Ben Chatwin
Title: Staccato Signals
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Village Green Recordings
For his third album under his own name, Scotland-based Ben Chatwin wanted to ‘switch his brain off’ and play with analogue modular synthesizers, utilising their quirks to let melody and structure form naturally without too much premeditation. However, unsatisfied that he’d pushed himself hard enough, he then decided to add some ‘real’ perfomers into the mix- cornet and tenor horn, cello, and on some tracks, a four-piece string performance from the Pumpkinseeds.

And it’s clear right from the off that the result is something much more epic and grandiose than could have been achieved solo and just using synthesizers. The strings are crucial throughout, and particularly to the overture “Divers In The Water” and first full piece “Silver Pit”, setting out a stall that’s unabashedly cinematic and sets out to scale high. The analogue synths form the rumbling basses and gutpunching sounds in what sounds very much like a film prelude or trailer music.

Tracks like “Helix” drop the energy somewhat, setting off on steadier, more journeyman and atmospheric set-up of slow builds and soft drops that aren’t quite as punchy and which, at times, feel like they’re simply missing a lead line. Highlights include the brighter-sounding “Bow Shock” and the rougher-hewn textures of “Substrates”.

At times it sounds distinctly like Hybrid, without the beats, which in my view is certainly a compliment, though on tracks like “Fossils” and the slightly Vangelis-ish “Knots” there’s a slightly more synthwave flavour that peeks through.

It exudes quality in its production, and if it were coupled with that magic ingredient of memorable or heart-wrenching melody, it would be nothing short of amazing as a piece of cinematic electronica.
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Electro Bass Development (phase II)
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Subsonic Device
Rated: *****
OK, first of all, I’m late reviewing this one but luckily quality doesn’t expire and on „Electro Bass Development (phase II)“, we have the presence of classic names that helped to define the electro bass genre as a plus. I'm talking about names of the likes of Debonaire (Italian dj relocated in Miami and active already in the 80s), Bass Junkie and Dynamix II (which were already active in the 90s) or Darxid (who came soon after), plus names which are in activity since ten years or so already, like DJ Xed, Dark Vektor, John Robie. The youngest one is the project of a Spanish guy called Roberto Rey who started Negocius Man in 2013 or so. The compilation has been issued by Subsonic Device, Darxid’s label, on double vinyl and it’s still available for you to purchase, but only in this format. No digital files to purchase or download. We have eight tracks/projects as Dynamix II and John Robie are teaming up for „They’re Coming“. If you are already a fan of the genre, for sure you are owning at least some releases by most of them. Probably the surprise of the lot is Otto Von Schirach, because I reviewed his 2004 album „Global Speaker Fisting“ and it wasn’t sounding electro at all, if I remember well. Maybe the last one I had the occasion to check ten years ago titled „Oozing Bass Spasms“, had some electro influences, but in this case, „Bass Low (Down Pitch Out Mix)“, mixes synth stabs and am 80s electro hip hop approach with digital distorted bass lines. The effect is sounding like nice a mutant electro funk tune. Tracks like Bass Junckie’s „Galactic Combat“, DJ Xed’s „Spectral Subspace (Subsonic Mix)“, Dark Vektor’s „No More (Sóc Un Frik Sóc Un Tècnic)“ or Dynamix II vs. John Robie’s „They're Coming“ are sure sounding true to the classic sound of the genre. Darxid with „Hungry“ mix powerful bass and vocals distorted lines with syncopated beats creating a song that sounds fresh and it’s able to stick to your memory immediately. Debonaire’s „Electro Novocaine (Injectable Beats)“ sounds cinematic, menacing and powerful. As approach it seems that Claudio Barrella is remixing himself and this created a nice effect. Good compilation which grows with the listenings. You can check some tracks on YouTube.
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Artist: Ozmotic
Title: Elusive Balance
Format: CD + Download
Label: Touch
The balance of “Elusive Balance” lies in blending bold, slow soprano sax playing and some percussive elements against rapid electronic glitches, cold sci-fi synth atmospherics and drone pads in a way that works and doesn’t just sound like two styles of music trying to occupy a single space. And by and large, it’s a balance well struck.

At times, it’s very familiar synth-ambient material. “Hum”, with its cool choral-vocal ahhh sounds, muted melodic strings, and digital clicks like distant radio signals in deep space, is well-worn territory, but handled very smoothly. “Pulsing” has shades of moody sci-fi gameplay soundtrack, especially when the subbass pulsing in question comes in after three minutes and adds an irregular-heartbeat-ish sense of mild tension. “Lymph” adopts a warmer mellower ambient flavour which then throws the spontaneous drum hits of its second half into a different style of relief.

Final two tracks “Being” and “Insecting” are both strong track and slight anachronisms, driven by some more rapid pulsing that catches you unawares just as you’ve begun to think of this as a going-to-sleep listen, as though creeping- slightly- towards the finale of a sci-fi horror affair- bht the dramatic denouement isn’t included here.

It’s a nicely packaged short album of sci-fi, soundtrack-y electronica with a great deal of polish and atmosphere. It maybe likes the unique elements (or the game tie-in licensing deal) that would bring it a great deal of attention, but nevertheless it’s very strong.
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Artist: Jamaica Suk
Title: Clockwise
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Establishment Records
A name like Jamaica might still conjure up accidental cliché connotations of sun-kissed reggae, but this four-track EP is the polar opposite. Suk has left her jazz and metal influences behind and, clearly influenced by her new home Berlin, has produced some very pure thumping dark techno. Low sub kicks, twisting and reshaping hihats, rumbles and effects abound.

The title track plays the clockwork-regular 4/4 beat against some more varispeed elements, pitch-shifting effects and a counterpoint-rhythm driving synth note. “Two Moons” brings breakbeat patterning to the kicks and more distortion to the growling frequencies which plays nicely against a simple, endearingly idle synth melodic pattern, while “Vision” keeps it 4/4 again with a similar set-up but a slightly increased sense of urgency and alarm in the higher registers.

The Pulse One remix of the title track is quite a shift- against breakbeaty, with a much brighter-sounding arrangement centred on higher-pitched kicks with some claps, it’s brave enough to take the original stems into a different style at a time when too many techno remixes of techno originals sound nearly identical to the originals.

A short EP of solid pumping techno with some dark twists, not destined to be your set’s peak but definitely worth adding to the mix to bring some fresh-sounding textures.
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