Music Reviews

Artist: Innercity Ensemble (@)
Title: III
Format: CD
Label: Instant Classic (@)
Rated: *****
I don't know if the palace in Ostromecko, a village in the heart of Poland, where Innercity Ensemble got hosted between 10th and 12th July 2015 for a three-day lasting improvisational musical meeting, fostered the inspiration of this group of talented musicians playing a plenty of conventional and unconventional instruments, but this third output is just a confirmation of the incredible stylistic whirling carousel they already forged. I honestly have no idea of what titles mean, but the beautiful music they built sometimes speaks by itself. The opening "Pismo Powstaje Noc" evokes the atmosphere of a possible tale of a Thousand and One Night by its graceful percussive arabesques and the sudden grandiose entry of Wojciech Jachna's trumpet, sustaining the incredible textures where two darbukas sets the flow in a way that reminded to me some outputs by Mazurek's Sao Paulo Underground. Both the darbukas and the trumpet again are the columns of the following track "Gdy Oddech Gór Rozpoznany," which sounds like an entranced evocation during some mysterious shaman-driven dance, disgorging its energy in the narcosis of the following "W Przeswicie Gestego Powietrza" and the prog-tinged blissful nuances of "Namacalny." "Staje Sie Pradem Nieprzespanej Godziny" sounds like the awakening from the previously rendered bittersweet mental trip and its fantastic crossover between a sort of dirty samba and surf rock over sonorities that could fit the revenge of some wounded gringo is utterly catchy. The bridge between the bitter lullaby on the trumpet (close to Erik Truffaz style) and a sort of lopsided amalgamation of ambient and obscure electronics features "Przenika Przez Drewno I Stal", maybe the track where electronics are more clearly listenable, preceding the bright finale of "Godzi Nas Ze Swiatem", sounding like the moment when a sort of atonement got reached. Some aspects of what seems to be the sonic rendering of a collective spiritual journey could have been clearer if I understood what the Polish titles were meant to say, but Innercity Ensemble's music is pleasant.
Feb 21 2017
Artist: Astvaldur
Title: At Least
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Oqko (@)
“At Least” is a seven-track, 26-minute instrumental mini-album that has feet in two camps. On the one hand (or foot if you want a persistent analogy), this is smart electronica, with complex trap rhythms and crisp percussive loops, but on the other hand/foot/whatever it’s also an experimental piece, featuring esoteric samples, cut-up orchestral noises, off-kilter bleeps and whirrs and some rich ambiences.

Astvaldur sounds (and is) Icelandic, and there are tonal qualities stereotypical of that country here- it’s expansive, it’s sounds cold, a lot of it is quite empty and it’s as crisp as snow.

“Hark” is a slightly odd intro piece, being neither just an intro nor a fully-fledged first track and hinting at a sound much more grime-like than the rest of the release. The next two tracks set the predominant format- a fairly frenetic but soft kick drum as the biscuity base, with a slightly plinky synth arpeggio bouncing above, and with the other sounds and soft synthetic textures more lazily ambling over the top.

“Flesh” is a highlight and a more tense affair, the glacial ambience replaced by slowly building tension, a very filmic concoction worthy of a cat-and-mouse chase in a spy thriller, with tinnitus-esque super-high notes for extra disquiet.

“Punture” [sic] is more stripped back, depending largely on looped bleeps that are akin to a music box panicking, while “Locked On” is a tension bed, ominous and technical. The brief “Mother” ends things in a playful way, with synths playing bright melodies with a sound like blown raspberries, though somehow it sounds more like an intro than a finale.

There is a breadth of different moods constructed from the same building blocks here, a strong musicality and the confidence to use emptiness as a key feature. While nothing about this release will blow you away, it’s a rich collection of ideas in a relatively small package.
Artist: Glice & Coen Oscar Polack
Title: Race To The Bottom
Format: Tape
Label: Narrominded
“Race To The Bottom” is a single, 42-minute improvised slab that combines raw electronic noise with music concrete. Despite being billed as a single track, there are two fairly distinct sections, the first for the first fifteen minutes, the other for the remaining twenty-seven.

In the first part, the central bed, while synthetic (I think), sounds a little like tuvan throat singing, with subtle and slow variations in pitch giving a constant and unsettling sense of suspense and disquiet. There’s a constant and very frequent undulation in this, giving it the tone of a old car motor constantly ticking over. Over this are constant and rapid blips like secret hidden radio messages.

At points, we are joined by other instrumentation that’s been pulled so far away from its comfort zone that it’s barely recognisable- there’s something which I think, unconfidently, is a saxophone, though I wouldn’t be shocked if it turned out to be a clarinet. A few minutes later there’s something that has a chanted vocal quality to it, yet it’s so distorted you have to question whether it’s somebody shouting, or a guitar wailing. It starts to feel more like a musical quiz than a passive experience- “can you tell what instrument this used to be?”

The second part, while constructed of some of the same building blocks, switches tone. The subbass drone is mostly gone, replaced in part by industrial sound effects, metal scrapes and drags. Electronic loops and squelches are more prominent and the vocal is almost clear and discernible (but not quite). Relatively speaking everything’s a bit more playful and a bit more percussive. As with the first part, tension builds so steadily that it’s barely perceptible.

It’s a dark, noisy, sinister and attention-demanding collaborative work with a very raw feel, that brings dramatic control and balance to a sonic ensemble that is too often just an exercise in extremes.
Artist: Astralfluidz (@)
Title: Mysterium Magnum
Format: CD
Label: Zhelezobeton (@)
Rated: *****
I always look forward to receiving music packages from Russia. The quality and innovation of new music of this country never ceases to amaze me. Kicking off the latest batch of releases from Zhelezobeton is the debut release by Astralfluidz titled 'Mysterium Magnum,' and it is definitely a winner. According to their Facebook page, this project began in 2015 and consists of one classically trained musician (who presumably handles the synths, keyboards, percussion programming, etc.) and one self-taught musician (acoustic, electric guitars, bass) from Vladimir, Russia. According to the promo sheet, the music on 'Mysterium Magnum' is "entirely dedicated to Alchemy as Royal Art," and "the music language of this opus may be characterized as a combination of epic symbolism and thoughtful sonic occultism." The track titles and artwork in the accompanying booklet definitely support this - "Prima Materia" (I. Chaos); "Enigma Regis" (I. The Red King; II. The White Queen); "Tria Prima" (I. Sulphur; II. Salt; III. Mercury); Quinta Essentia" (I. Terra; II. Aqua; III. Aer; IV. Ignis; V. Aether).

Of course by now you're wondering what the music sounds like. Well, many things really. From the opening track it's cinematic dark ambient full of ominous spacey drones and cosmic effects. It had me hooked right from the get-go. It only gets better as you move deeper into this album. There is dark ambient juxtaposed by angelic voices. From this a somber, melodic musical theme emerges, orchestral with percussion, rich and vibrant, yet mysterious. And voices, lots of wordless voices. More dark ambient, sonic rumblings, tinkling of glass, wind chimes, water, cosmic drones, legato strings, and much more. A snippet of Russian liturgical choir, then the Goth-Industrial kicks in with a powerful and rhythmic intensity in the melodic progression, building and expanding to its inevitable industrial-neoclassical conclusion. The windswept plains of a wasteland appears, with ominous rumblings and the chittering of strange creatures. Something submerged yet melodic begins to rise in its inexorable climb to the surface. The tinkling of glass chimes, then the bellowing of what could be a great steamship horn, ominous thundering in the background and an airy lead synth before the percussion kick in and another melodic theme emerges. Lots of voices and drama, reminding me somewhat of Mike Oldfield's more orchestral work (forget "Tubular Bells", think more like Ommadawn"), and yes, kind of proggy symphonic. But I love it! The last track is just about impossible to describe; it just has so many elements. It is the culmination of everything that has gone before it, and then some.

It is rare that I come away from a listening experience saying, "WOW! That was incredible!!" but I just did. Comparisons pale in the wake of this - Tangerine Dream? Bah! Early Delerium? Not even close. Vangelis? Nah. This is its own duck. And to think - this is Astralfluidz's debut album. Where will they go from here? But for now you have 'Mysterium Magnum' and I highly recommend you buy it. It is ever so worthy.
Artist: Nevrosa (@)
Title: Lost
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****

Nevrosa is a 2 person synthpop/postpunk band from Karlstadt, Sweden consisting of Patrik Axelsson - vocals and synths, and Emma Friman Browne - synths. Also, on this recording, Anton "Arne" Olsson played bass synth on two tracks. Apparently Nevrosa (not to be confused with Brazilian all-female thrash metal band Nervosa) has been around since 2005 in one form or another, but you'd never know that from this three-song EP. This has all the hallmarks of a "first time out" recording. The recording quality is kind of shaky, the drums (drum machine I believe) and bass are way too loud in the mix, and synths and vocals are getting lost in the sauce. Maybe that's why they titled the first track "Lost," but it's not a bad song in and of itself. Patrik's vocals are good in their Scandinavian synthpop style - melodic and melancholic, although not what I'd call strong. The music is minimal synth and coldwave. The title track is the strongest one on this EP, and the other two - "I hate you, don't leave me" and "Worthless" don't offer enough diversity from the first one to sound much more than a continuation of the first track. For a project that's been around since 2005, I would have expected much more progress than it seems Nevrosa has made. A couple other things have clued me in to what seems like an amateur project - a handwritten note accompanying the CD (claimed they ran out of flyers) and no website/email contact info on the CD slipcase. Now I appreciate the personal touch of a handwritten note (yes, I do occasionally get them, usually with other promo material included) but handwriting important info such as your email address could lead to possible misinterpretation. As far as the CD I received goes, I have no idea whether its for sale or not, or they just pressed some promo copies. (The tracks are on the band's Bandcamp website, otherwise there would be no review.) So over all I would advise this band that if they wish to continue and get noticed, they need to up their recording/production quality, write songs with more memorable hooks and work on diversity in material.
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