Music Reviews



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Artist: John Matthias & Jay Auborn
Title: Race To Zero
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Village Green Recording
“Race To Zero” is an epic soundtrack for no particular film. Emotive and energetic strings, bold piano melodies, a variety of different percussive techniques and a sympathetic smattering of electronics and detail-driven post-production give the album an extremely high-budget and dramatic feel that just leaps out at the listener.

Tracks like “Tilted Stage” and the unusually constructed “Soma Vapour” bring the electronics work closer to the fore, making music that is reminiscent in parts of a BT or Hybrid score. There are some crazier moments too, such as the near-oompah brass of “Wax Heart” that plays against rapidly arpeggiating synth sounds over complex live-sounding drums.

Like a film score there are a variety of moods and tensions. “Stone Face” is a slightly militaristic call to arms, the clarion call of a heroic fight back, while “Caretaker” is a more plaintive and somewhat sinister piano piece, that leaves you unsure whether the titular character is a good guy in danger, or the source of some evil. While many soundtracks end with the big finale, here we end with “Songbird”, a reflective violin and piano piece with large doses of windy ambience that brings things to an slightly off-kilter conclusion.

It’s magnificent and if this were a film score, I’d be heading down to the cinema to learn more. It’s one of those albums where the only criticism you think of is that, at 38 minutes, it’s too short.
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Artist: Orphax
Title: Warschauer Straße
Format: CD + Download
Label: Opa Loka Records
“Warschauer Straße” is tourism transformed into sound. Amsterdam-based Sietse van Erve attempts to distil memories of a 2016 visit to Berlin into two long pieces of ambient drone soundscape. The tones are a blend of industrial and alien, with a hollow and distant feel. Sustained notes that may once have resembled an organ fade and rise, gracially slowly.

It’s a remarkably prosaic concept for an album- perhaps I ought to express my recent trip to the fish & chip shop as an hour-long drone as well- but putting the theme aside, it’s a solid and straightforward ambient work. Over the course of each of the two pieces, both over twenty minutes long, there’s remarkably little evolution- which may be a virtue, depending on the listener’s perspective. The second piece “Mehringdamm” feels like it has more of a tubular resonance than “Schönhauser Allee” but they are cut from the same mould.

Overall it’s just a little bit too primitive to make it wholly recommendable, but if you’re in the market for a semi-industrial light drone to while away the time to, this ticks the boxes. But when you look up either of these places on Google Maps, they don’t sound like this at all… ;-)
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Artist: Janek Schaefer
Title: Glitter In My Tears
Format: CD + Download
Label: Room40
The prolific Janek Schaefer, responsible for 30 albums in the last 20 years, has in “Glitter In My Tears” released something that is at times raw and at other times polished.

The album opens with “Sparkles Into The Light Of Night”, a gentle, slowly building six-minute ambience that sets the tone very nicely. It makes you wish that some of the other pieces, many of which are under two minutes long, had been explored further and allowed to breathe more. Perhaps Mr Schaefer could have turned this into three or four albums…

There are some tracks that stand out sonically- “Looking For Love” is a piano piece that sounds like a early prototype noodling demo for a potentially cliché piano ballad. The deep bass hum of the following track “Low Points” also clamours for your attention more than other parts do.

Novelty value also plays a part- “What Comes Around” unexpectedly adds a funky looped music sample (faintly Royksopp-esque drums and guitar) skittering around the edge of your consciousness, while final piece “Conclusions In Two Minds” gives you deep male voice choir tones followed by light aeroplane noises. Some experiments work better than others- the looped classical vinyl of “Hells Bells” is surprisingly eerie, but “Dawn Draws In” feels like an unfinished attempt at writing a childrens’ lullaby.

However there are other tracks, like “Swallow Hole”, “All In The Mind” or “Falls From Favour”, that typify the generic synthetic drone sound that suggests a lack of inspiration or distinctive character. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them, but they’re so brief that it’s unclear what they’re really accomplishing- they begin to seem like filler.

Overall it’s a mixed bag, which in itself could be seen as a virtue, as it recalls more diverse classic chill out albums (from Alex Paterson, Jimmy Cauty etc.) which felt more playful and less confined to one purpose or expression. It’s eclecticism is certainly hit and miss but there are enough worthwhile moments in here to justify some attention.
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Artist: The Holy Circle
Title: s/t
Format: CD + Download
Label: Annihilvs Power Electronix
The Holy Circle’s first full-length album is a dark pop album that combines the contemporary earnest pop of bands like Chvrches or MS MR, and darker more shoegaze elements. New member Nathan Jergenson’s rock-solid and tribal drumming style plays well against Terence Hannum’s grit-edged synthwave arrangements, with Erica Burgner-Hannum’s strong and clear vocal floating beautifully on top.

After the relatively accessible radio-edit arrangements of the opening two songs, the remaining six tracks are generally a bit more self-indulgent and dreamy. Highlights include the beautifully emotive “Early Morning”, and “The Refugee” in which Burgner-Hannum’s pure vocal shines through most successfully. “This Is” has one of the strongest hooks, but partnered with one of the flattest instrumental arrangements of the pack. Lyrically, the final two tracks “Shut Out” and “Basel” take things to a much darker place, brutal to the point of being very uncomfortable.

As a matter of personal taste, for me there are tracks where the vocal needed to be pushed louder and stronger in the mix- it’s a lovely vocal performance but ends up sounding a little muddy and over-washed in reverb, for example on “The Odds”, as if being held back from being the star of the show. Coupled with an ever-so-slight shortage of strong chorus hooks, it leaves the album without the powerful, stand-out anthem moments that could have garnered the band broader attention. Nevertheless it’s still a really strong collection of dark synthpop and The Holy Circle will be a name to keep an ear out for.
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Artist: Siavash Amini
Title: Tar
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Hallow Ground
“Tar” is a collection of four long experiments that meld electronic drones and atmospheres with more cinematic strung-out sounds. It’s deeply melancholic and barren-sounding, a forty-minute-long journey into the expansive desert of the subconscious.

Tar itself may be sticky but “Tar” musically has a variable texture- sometimes polished and smooth, at other times rough-hewn with slightly bubbly tones that do successfully evoke the title substance. The windier sounds of opener “A Dream’s Frozen Reflection” make way for harsher undercurrents in “Rivers Of Tar”, but throughout, the authentic string sounds give proceedings a generally rich quality that is what make the release shine best of all.

Final track “The Dust We Breathe” is notably more harsh than the preceding pieces, opening with a cacophony of noise like an army of angry mechanical bees. It settles gradually into the more typical uneasy dischord of strings and drones but it’s certainly dark and less pleasant overall.

It’s a very successful synergy of modern classical and electronic, and definitely among the best in its class.
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