Music Reviews



Sep 07 2017
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Artist: Mana
Title: Creature
Format: 12"
Label: Hyperdub
Despite being described as an EP, “Creature” is an 8-track release, and Mana’s first release on Hyperdub is a quirky little bundle of atmospheric electronica with grand ambitions. Sharp-edged synth melodies jump and pitchshift over synthetic choral pads and sparse, crisp broken beats. Sporadic, subbass-laden kicks have hints of dubstep, but opened up into a more cinematic environment. Glitchier moments keep things on edge here and there.

Tracks like “Sei Nove” have a touch of the retro synthwave about them, and “Runningman” has a hint of old skool rave in its stabs. Longest piece “Rabbia” is a darker and more ambient journey through church-organ-esque tones juxtaposed against raw electronic pitched waves. Closing sketch “Consolations” gives the plucked synth tones a more Eastern quality. It all makes for a good collection of tunes that’s got consistent threads, yet variety.

Full of character but perhaps lacking a unique selling point, this is an interesting way for Mana to open up his Hyperdub account.
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Artist: Shit And Shine
Title: Some People Really Know How To Live
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Editions Mego
The Texas-based Shit and Shine offer up ten succinct slices of messed-up twisty beats with a crisp lo-fi tone, and plenty of glitches and speed ramps mixing up proceedings over some steady grooves that are cousins to something very dancefloor-friendly. Short but broadly techno-structured tracks are the biscuit base for a bunch of experimental tweaks but a playful tone.

“Dish 2 Dish” at times sounds like Josh Wink on helium. “Lil’ Wannabe Gangsta” slows things down with one of those hip-hop samples that glitch artists love to tweak. “South Padre Low Life” sounds akin to an 8-bit racing game chiptune soundtrack where the samples have been corrupted, in a good way. “Raining Horses” turns the sound of a man in pain into a percussive crash.

Yet despite all of this, it’s not quite as thoroughly silly as the title and artwork might have you believe. There are more straight-laced tunes as well, such as “Girl Close Your Eyes” with a bassline that invokes memories of Soul Mekanik. “Notified” is a serious heavy-stepper with a lovely bouncy wubb wubb wubb to it.

It’s a diddy little package of glitchy instrumental house, with a cover that looks like CBBC’s Hacker T Dog character has gone rogue. It was clearly a bunch of fun to put together and there’s plenty of energy in it. It’s perhaps short of a stand-out moment or two that would make this shit really shine, but if you like your house music super-quirky and laden with glitch, check this one out.
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Artist: Kedr Livanskiy
Title: Ariadna
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: 2M Records
Kedr Livanskiy (real name Yana Kedrina; kedr livanskiy is the Russian name for a kind of tree), hailing from the outskirts of Moscow, funnels a variety of influences into this 10-track synthpop album. It’s got one foot firmly in the past, with production touches such as the slightly muddy reverb on the vocals feeling like a throwback to 80’s new wave, but with some expansive synthetic soundscape work that also feels quite up-to-date, and a selection of super-soft house beats that are sort of timeless (within the last 30 years).

It’s openly an album of two parts, with the first part described as a kind of suburban melancholy. Long synth pads underpin shoegazey vocals, most of which are in (I assume) Russian so I’m afraid I don’t know what they’re about but I’m guessing they’re not a-laugh-a-minute. Highlights include the very lush “Sunrise Stop”, and the spaced-out beatless “Mermaid”. The rather anachronistic “ACDC”, featuring Martin Newell’s slightly featureless reading of William Blake’s “The Tyger” and wandering into 90’s Amen breaks out of the blue, ends up working well after a rather flat start.

The second half is allegedly more urban and less insular, though it’s a subtle change. The house beats are thicker and more prominent. “Za Oknom Vesna” is a bit of faintly lo-fi deep rolling techno with a pop vocal draped on top; only the snare drum sounds dated. With a bolder and more confident vocal hook, “Love & Cigarettes” could have been a standout. The core of the album is wrapped up by the unimaginatively-titled instrumental “Sad One”, sorrowful keys echoing away over windy environmental textures.

The two bonus tracks are the digital & LP-only “Fire & Water”, another darker techno number with a more forceful, politely chanted vocal and pretty rolling hi-hats, and the slightly sluggish walking-electro of the vinyl-only track “Sunset” which has slight echoes of 90’s chillout lurking in its ambience.

Overall it’s a rich and deeply sincere synthpop album with a sorrowful core and some interesting production touches that rework some slightly backwards-facing sounds into something that sounds freshly constructed. If you like your pop music dark and brooding, this one is certainly worth tracking down.
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Artist: Antwood
Title: Sponsored Content
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Planet Mu
Canadian Antwood (not to be confused with Die Antwoord- or is that just me?)‘s second album is a 12-track, 42-minute collection of mostly instrumental ‘cyborg pop’ combining the energy and tight production of EDM and drum and bass with a cinematic and thoughtful aesthetic, and liberal doses of synthwave-style chords and thin melodies. Throughout there’s some bold and bizarre sample choices, built around the album’s concept of subliminal advertising explained in the interlude track “Sublingual”, that fill the whole release with character, a dash of politics and just a hint of tongue-in-cheek humour.

Opener “Disable Ad Blocker” is an epic opening that sets the tone boldly and it’s only one final crescendo and boom short of being the perfect four-minute album starter; “ICU” pulls a similar trick to open the second half. “The New Industry” is an odd dubstep versus hardcore hybrid of rapid gunfire-beats underpinned by a strangely tempered beat, with odd processed crying noises joining in halfway through to make things just a little weirder than they already are.

Things calm down substantially for tracks like “FIJI Water” and “Wait For Yengi”, which still have a rapid underlying data pulse rumbling inside them but which are dominated by purer, warmer chords and sparser moments. “The Hyper Individual” plays with the shock value of sharply interrupting these calmer times with gut-punching kicks.

“I’m Lovin’ I.T.” is an exercise in stop-start and double-speed rhythms with some quite chiptune-y flavours, while “Commodity Fetish Mode” and interlude “Derealization” are more laidback soporific bits of post-dubstep that give the second side of the LP a more sombre average than the first.

“Don’t Go” is a slightly daft self-contained mini-drama that starts with a monologue about teaching future generations to program computers and ends with an evil robot that decides it will wipe out humanity, before final track “Human” throws the kitchen sink into the production values with a frantic, multi-styled and quite enjoyably jazzy but of sharp glitch.

This is a fantastically polished, top-notch bit of cutting-edge electronica with barely an ounce of fat on it- sharp, focussed, dynamic, and sometimes hard to follow. It’s as striking and odd as the artwork suggests and it’s yet another hard-to-fault release from Planet Mu.
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Artist: Kassel Jaeger
Title: Aster
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Editions Mego
“Aster” is an hour-long collection of dark, sonorous ambient alien soundscapes replete with flitting electronic waspy noises, strangely warm and glacially symphonic bass tones, throbs and washes.

While some tracks such as the title track are rich with noisy layers, much of the time, such as on second track “Tenebrae” or “Ner”, the drones and more frantic elements fade away for sustained periods, leaving just odd-sounding ambiences with a liquidy, organic feeling. Pieces like “Rose Poussière” and closer “L'étoile du matin” are mellower, more chilled-out affairs, with faintly glitched sine wave hums that morph into something akin to church organs. The scientifically inaccurately-named “Set the planet on fire, you'll get a star” is reminiscent of some of the musical settings that have been built around sonic interpretations of NASA’s deep space telescope data, to personify the emptiness of space. “Uminari”, by contrast, has a harsher, sawtooth-waved tone to its lead tones that’s positively uncomfortable.

It’s a diverse journey of an album with an above-average level of dynamics and twists, yet a firm rooting in texture rather than rhythm. With a slightly soporific aspect, this is mostly spaced-out chill-out with a lot of depth and just a dash of razor’s edge.
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