Music Reviews



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Artist: Mensimonis
Title: Clone Fever
Format: CD + Download
Label: Opa Loka Records
The story of how Radboud Mens and Lukas Simonis came to work together as Mensimonis is remarkably prosaic. Both independent audio experimenters in their own right, they both helped run recording and improvisation workshops in secondary schools, whereupon they found themselves on stage performing together in front of a bunch of teenagers who, they say, preferred playing “a stupid game on their iPhones” to listening. It’s a refreshingly unpretentious beginning.

But unfortunately, the story behind it is arguably more remarkable than the sound itself. Simonis runs spontaneous guitar notes and short patterns which are sustained through feedback until the result is a thick soup of guitar drone that carefully tip-toes towards howl-round but stays under control. The more electronically-minded Mens meanwhile is generating deep drone tones that sit underneath, much of it slightly buried in the mix and supplementing the overall tone.

While long tracks are never a problem, the succinctly-titled 22-minute-long opener “The individual is handicapped by coming face-to-face with a conspiracy so monstrous he cannot believe it exists” doesn’t quite warrant its own duration. There’s not enough progression, nor is there enough detail in the sound, to sustain interest for that long. Second track “Few believe me when I tell them that the rulers of this planet are of reptilian bloodlines” is less patterned, a more consistent wall of electronic drone and hum with occasional hints of metallic industry.

“Give the clone a soul, god is watching over your shoulder” is a little bit more twinkly, with the bass tones lolling around in space vacated by stripping back the guitar feedback, and the gentle balance is certainly more palatable- the strongest track of the bunch. Final track “All rumors being investigated” brings plain and persistent rhythmic guitar twanging back to the fore in a slightly more ingratiating fashion, but shifts towards the familiar feedback drone in the second half more successfully.

This is one of those extended drone releases with such a steady hum that when it finishes, your ear begins to feel alienated, as though it has normalised this music as its new base level. While it isn’t spectacularly innovative or eventful on the surface, it’s a coherent and simple package of long drones that will take your thoughts into a different place.
Mar 07 2017
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Artist: Beta Evers
Title: Delusion
Format: LP
Label: Bodyvolt
Rated: *****
Personally I knew Beta Evers, a.k.a. Brigitte Enzler, because of some tracks I listened on compilations or for her collaboration with Gerald Donald on the projects Gedankenexperiment and Zwischenwelt, basically because I own and like those one. He material wasn't really easy to get for me, so when Fulvio Guidarelli (a.k.a. Lisfrank) told me that she did her first album, I was quite curious. Even if this is her first album under the Beta Evers moniker, Brigitte since 90s has been active, first with a band (i didn't find its name) and with a small label, then after a hiatus, on the late 90s she started to organise parties and then in the early 00's she founded the Kommando 6 collective. After a while and until 2006, Kommando 6 became a label devoted to electro music. The following years see Brigitte busy with collaborations and Beta Evers 12"s releases. On late 00's she founded the label Bodyvolt and its sub-label Venus Noir (which is focused on producing electronic music female vocalists). Briefly this is her past and now I can talk about "Delusion". It has been released on vinyl by Bodyvolt and on CD by Daft Records (in this edition, as well as on the digital download, you can find two bonus trakcs: "Hit Me" and "Kalt"). Listening to the tracks of the album, the first thing that pops out to my attention is the detached style of Brigitte's vocals. Since we have titles like "Frozen Breath", "Sore Suspense", "Nothing But Art And Pain", "Torrid Illusions" or "Kalt", the impression I had is that she wanted to use the tracks like a personal journal where you find her emotions there, naked. For that reason they didn't have the need to be overexposed using vocal melodies or pathos. "On a day without light, you touched me...", she's saying opening the album and the cold atmosphere starting with "Velvet Leaves", will carry you through all the record length. Musically we pass from upbeat tempos like "Frozen Breath", "Stirring Dreams", "Torrid Illusion" and "Hit Me" to mid tempos like most of the remaining tracks, where electro wave and minimal synth are the main influences. For the synths timbre, analog is the way to go: you can hear the sawtooth and the square waves making their ways, like claws tearing a curtain, through the dry beats of the drum machine. "Delusion"'s even if it's containing songs it's not an easy listening album and it grows every time you listen to it. She will play live in Germany in 2017, keep an eye on the live events list!
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Artist: Michel Banabila
Title: Sound Years
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Tapu Records
“Sound Years” is a Michel Banabila sampler, segueing selected tracks from ten previous albums along with one new work into two gentle, chilled-out continuous pieces. This has the diversity and variation of a various artists chillout compilation, but impressively, it’s all the work of one man (and a couple of guest appearances).

Smoothness is the order of the day here. Gentle piano melodies, occasional plaintive guitar strums, and found sounds including the classics such as falling rain ambiences and tropical birds, blend with the mellowest flavours of electronica chill-out such as the deftly twisted and re-pitched vocal samples in “Earth Visitor”. Other sections are more pared-down, simple warm drones, deep vocal sustains and cultured resonance.

The second side opens with a slightly more cinematic bent- a real orchestra warming up alongside a virtual one, broad sci-fi choral pads and robotic noises have us floating outside a spaceship. The ambience gradually gets more down-to-earth, with plaintive violin lines (from guest Oene Van Geel I think) and micro-cut vocal snippets glitching away in “Radio Spelonk”.

While some of the elements are cliché, they are used tastefully in a way that freshens them up. Even the cockerel crowing sound, used to great effect by The Orb, makes an appearance. In fact The Orb is a comparison worth making; if you like either of The Orb’s most recent two albums, then you should absolutely check “Sound Years” out.

To someone unfamiliar with Banabila’s work, this is a seriously impressive and accomplished retrospective. A wide orchestral palette and some absolutely top-notch production, with a beautiful sense of space and an ability to shift subtly between warm and cold atmospheres, makes this an aural joy in its own right. The transitions are seamless and this absolutely stands up as its own work, without any of the unsatisfying incompleteness you sometimes get in compilations.

It’s released on Banabila’s own Tapu Records. Several of the original albums from which these tracks are sourced are legitimately available to download for free online, and this compilation will definitely make you want to peruse things further.
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Artist: Pan-Scan Ensemble
Title: Air And Light And Time And Space
Format: CD + Download
Label: Hispid Records / PNL Records
This recording of an improvised pre-Christmas experimental knees up features an impressive nine-piece line-up of improvisers whose combined musical CV includes over a dozen groups. A supergroup they may be, but as some football managers know, a group of star players doesn’t necessarily make a team. The Pan-Scan Ensemble however seem to be gelling very nicely.

It’s brass-heavy, with three saxs (one of whom spontaneously transforms into a flautist) and three trumpets accompanied by a piano and two percussionists, giving things a tone that’s heavily jazz-infused. No overdubs, no FX, just raw but mostly non-abrasive avantgarde improv.

Both recordings are an exercise in contrasts. The baseline mode is extremely sparse; individual instruments, individual notes, standing alone among sections of actual silence, tentative and tense. Then there’s a mutual consensus to crescendo, an unspoken agreement to disagree among the performers as they all get louder and more chaotic, before calm is restored and we settle back into abstract and sporadic instrumental opinions. Some instruments echo another, others contradict each other, but it’s clear there’s no tight structure or specific plan, just a selection of confident and skilled performers riffing wildly and freely.

“In Time And Space” the trumpet sounds are more sustained and there’s a greater sense of urgency in ‘the loud bits’, but otherwise despite one track being twice as long as the other, they still have the same overall sonic identity.

This is a well-produced, neat if slightly disposable little bit of fun broken jazz.
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Artist: Babils
Title: Ji Ameeto
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Sub Rosa
Babils’ fourth album, their first without founder member Michel Duyck, is a pair of sixteen-minute-long prog-rock wig-outs that hark back to the 1970’s heyday. Gently distorted guitars fed through rich analogue effects, rasping indistinct trumpet noises and muddy reverb-soaked vocals hanging on a string in the vicinity of lyrical structure, are constantly underpinned by a regular 4/4 bassline and steady live drumbeat that keeps everything at least vaguely grounded and prevents each piece from wandering into the stratosphere of soundscapes.

Each track starts off with a structure that’s almost pop music- French vocals on the title track, and sometimes hard-to-distinguish English lyrics on “C'est la raison pour laquelle nous ne cesserons jamais de recommencer”- showing that a steady groove and song structure is the seed from which each improvised adventure grows.

This is a release with more than one foot in the past, it’s practically prog nostalgia. Extremely brief glimmers of what may be more modern effects processors don’t shatter the illusion. An indulgent LP to enjoy with long hair, tweed and a lava lamp.
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