Music Reviews



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Artist: DunningWebsterUnderwood
Title: Bleed
Format: CD
Label: ADAADAT (@)
Rated: *****
"Bleed" is the debut release from DunningWebsterUnderwood, an improv trio that staves off a so-called traditional treatment of their instruments (tuba, baritone saxophone, turnable) as much as possible. Throughout the album, tonality routinely functions merely as an agent to create spontaneous, discontinuous, noise-like sounds. To put it another way, during melodic and harmonic moments, the sounds are more akin to drone metal without any of the typically-associated instrumentation (distorted guitar/s and drums).

The soundstage throughout the LP is similar: Underwood's tuba is left, Webster's bari is right, and Dunning's turntable and effects down-the-middle. With only three players, there is great capacity for sonic exploration, and the spatial configuration allows for maximum definition. Lengthy album opener 'Dustbleedblip' is beautifully malicious with swelling simultaneous drones in both channels whilst the edginess stems from the turntable's static, vinyl-crackle-like roar, which almost acts as a distorted guitar of sorts. It's immediately followed by the terse 'Lavaeclustercore' complete with horse lip flap sax and turntable swells similar to that of ocean waves breaking. This is surely next-level unconventional use of instrumentation, and a fair amount of it is both intriguing and palatable.

It's no surprise that I gravitate toward the longer tracks on "Bleed". They sound perhaps a bit more thought-out, and also tinker with intonation and harmonic-minor movement. At nearly six minutes, 'Tarnlavadust' is probably my favorite. Along with sustained droning, Dunning's incorporation of what sounds like a field recording of many voices in a hall of sorts is perfect. The listener is unable to discern what is being uttered, the result of which is one of my favorite types of audible subterfuge: a sound that beckons the listener closer to decipher the message, but there is none.
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Artist: Alexander Frangenheim (@)
Title: Talk For A Listener
Format: CD
Label: Creative Sources (@)
Rated: *****
The more I get to know the sound of Berlin-based double-bass player Alexander Frangenheim, the more I appreciate the attitude and the compositional approach of this guy. This release, aged a couple of years - one of those records that I guiltlessly cannot review because some stuff could be submerged by layers and layers of musical and sonic stuff I regularly receive! -, could be considered a sort of appendix if you met Alexander's sound on other occasions, as it includes eleven recordings he took before a preparation day in his own Studio Börne 45. In spite of the title, the parameter that Alexander wisely ignore is the so-called pleasure of its unknown listeners and supposed addressee, as the audience of the title is maybe himself, while his beloved double bass is the speaking entity. The unusual experiments he made on it gives an individual humanity to the instrument, which sometimes gives the impression sounding like covering many different moods of many different interlocutors, and the understanding of the listener got similarly enhanced by the recording technique of the close mic, which managed to grab the breath, the resonances of his interactions with his fair chatter and even the movements and the emotional feedback that could get easily imagined during the listening experience. An impressive set of extended techniques scratched bowing, dissonant contortions and suffocated tones feature this funnily dangerous exercise of humanization of a double-bass by his player/listener...
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Artist: Pr3snt
Title: Rakish
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Ghosthall
Rated: *****
Out on Ghosthall, a relative new label coming from Switzerland and Lithuania, "Rakish", the new EP by Pr3snt is ready to hit the alternative dancefloors. The duo coming from Zurich and formed by Vasco Bachmann and Flurin Gishamer was active in the business since ten years but in 2013 they decided to make their own music and, since then, they released music on Yoruba Records, Hive Audio, Click Records and their own Ghosthall. The EP contains four original tunes plus a remix of the main track made by Lithuanian deep house project called 0rfeo. The EP stands out for its mix of techno and minimal house where melody and sound richness are the roots elements of their sound. Pr3snt know how to satisfy your will to dance as well as feeding your ears with nice tunes where the alternation of rhythms and melodies. If the opening "Arp Test" is a nice dark techno tune, "Boundless" (which is born from a collaboration with Zurich club dj Grauer) has lighter mood with a mix of techno and electro. If "Sunsad" will please the lovers of early Moderat, "Rakish" will satisfy your will of pure Berlin style techno. Orfeo is closing this digital release by destructuring it giving to it a deep house flavor. Check it here https://soundcloud.com/ghosthall/sets/pr3snt-rakish-ep
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Artist: EmotiKon (@)
Title: Two of a Kind
Format: CD
Label: Timezone Records (@)
Rated: *****
You may recall Dusseldorf-based synthpop band Emotikon from a while back when I reviewed their self-titled debut positively. Now they are back, albeit with some changes. At that time this duo consisted of Mine Voss - vocals, and Tom Tron- synths, programming. Mine left in 2014 for other pursuits and has been replaced by Natalie Malladi-Rao. While their sound isn't completely different, there is more of an accent on the POP aspect of their synthpop sound on 'Two of a Kind'. At first, they sound a lot their previous incarnation on the title track ("Two of a Kind"); a nice little melodic number orchestrated with simple sythnpop musical staples. Then, things get a bit more intense on "Die Alone," opening with a melancholy cello intro, then an amazingly sophisticated melody on the verse. The chorus is almost as good. The whole tone and temperament of this song could easily be used as the theme song for a James Bond movie. It's that good. (Certainly better than the theme song of the last Bond flick.) Upping the pop aspect of their repetoir, "Say Hey" just begs for a Bollywood style video with its crowd-rousing chorus. It's a mind-numbingly basic, but catchy as hell; a little bubble-gummy but so what? Over the next 8 tracks Emotikon present a variety of simple pop ditties, some better than others, and a couple just downright silly ("Do It Like the Birds," "Love Potion"), but nothing comes close to the impact of the first few tracks, inspite of being augmented by saxophone (Norbert Deuben) and flute (Silvie Ansorge) on a few songs. I get the impression Emotikon is striving to pull in a much younger audience with 'Two of a Kind' and Natalie can hold her own vocally with pop singers like Britney Spears and Katy Perry, but image, presence and production are what make pop singers pop divas, and there's a way to go on that account. There's little depth on 'Two of a Kind,' just good, light synthpop fun for the most part. If that's what they're striving for, they've succeeded.
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Artist: The Phineas Incarnation (@)
Title: Liquid Karma
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
The Phineas Incarnation is Phineas Brady from Iowa City, Iowa, and 'Liquid Karma' is his project's debut album. He calls it Progressive Metal/Ambient, but that's not exactly the genre(s) I would place it in. There's no doubt the music on 'Liquid Karma' is progressive, but metal, I think not. To me, for metal you need guitar(s), and there are none here, as it's all synths & drums. Progressive jazz electronica might be a better tag. Two things should be noted- Brady is only 17, and he's a drummer. You'd know the latter immediately upon hearing this, but you'd never know the former without reading about him. For a teenager, this work is an astounding feat, but I don't judge by age, only talent, which Phineas seems to have in abundance. He makes no bones that 'Liquid Karma' was enabled by Reason 6.0, but who isn't using some sort of computer software these days to realize their electronic musical visions. The Phineas Incarnation uses a lot of arpeggiation on 'Liquid Karma'; in fact, that's the main modus operadi employed with the synths, not exclusively, but it's presence is a major factor in the music. As for the drumming, I'm not sure if it's actually played, programmed, or a combination of the two. One thing is certain, he's quite adept at it whatever the case.

The album consits of 9 tracks with a unifying theme- "the concept of eternal motion; the cycle of cosmic growth and decay, evolution and involution." The album opens with "Void: Emergence" with light, sequenced synths (some arpeggiated, of course) before the ferocious proggy drumming comes in. The timing nuances are impressive, and so is the compositional quality of this opening track. "Void: Design" takes it even further into prog-jazz-rock territory, this time the sequenced sythn seems less arpeggiated but has a mechanical element to begin with. Other melodic lines grow out of it, with a stuttery bass holding down the bottom. Phineas brings it into breakbeat territory (old school, I might add) after a ferocious drum battery then melodic synth pads support the piano-like arpeggios of the melody. All the while interesting time changes are taking place but only support, never subvert the melody. I've heard may a keyboard-oriented prog-rock band that aren't half as good as this! "Life: Quasimortality" opens with a rapid blippy arpeggio over subtle synth pad before some hard prog cooking. Phineas uses bass more as accenting stabs than a bass player would normally do. The track goes through a variety of rhythmic and synth changes playing with dissonace, yet retaining a melodic quality. One thing I noticed - Phineas seems to love cymbal bashing almost as much as Keith Moon at times. There's a portion on this track where a pretty synth arpeggio melody backed by organ presents a very lovely passage. The drums lay out for "Life: One Becomes Two" with beautiful ambient synth pads and the eventual arpeggios, which is the only rhythmic component in the track. "Life: The Divine Paradox" begins with an urgently climbing bass sounding like a later day King Crimson rhythm section jam session. Phineas adds ascending piano chords with a following synth to the mix then stops cold and synth arpeggio, synth pads stutter-bass take it in a different direction, yet still ascending until it stops. Then crazy fast arpeggios, sample and hold style, herald in the next section, like ELP's 'Tarkus' but twice as fast. Jeez- where'd that come from?

Fortunately, Phineas slows it down a tad for "Life: Birth of Omniscience" with some calming ambient synth pads. The calm doesn't last for long though as weird breakbeat percussive elements emulate strange creatures. The cymbals keeping time on the downbeat weren't particularly to my likeing here; I would have chosen something else. More sequenced arpeggios lead into the next (heavier) section, then a very prog-rock section interspersed with, and finally concluding on ambient synth pads. After some introductory synth arpeggio "Truth: Ego Death" begins hard and heavy with a rabid, bass-led killer progression, dissolving momentarily into dreamy arpeggios, then blasts back into rapid sequencing with high speed locomotive drumming, and a light little melody line. Seems incongruous, but it works. After a strange staccato break, the track finds it's happy place in a pretty mid-tempo pattern, and ironically enough, I'm reminded of Happy the Man here. It's really sweet. Phineas builds some nice tension with a rhythmic single note sequence with a prog-jazz melody laid over the top. Ambient pads add nice texture, then it fades into wind-chimey ambience which carries through to the end. Final track, "Truth: I, Infinity" begins with machine-gun sequenced synth before going into some crazy alternating ascending/descending synth lines, then calms down with some beautiful synth pads before the drums come in. The track then proceeds to go through a variety of progressions and changes before drifiting out on a cloud of tonal ambience. Wow!

It's hard to imagine another band or artist that could achieve this. Think Bill Bruford and Philip Glass with synths programmed by Larry Fast and Tony Levin sitting in on bass. Then again, this is sui gereris, it's own duck so to speak. While 'Liquid Karma' is a remarkable achievement that all who enjoy progressive electronica should hear, there are a few things I would advise The Phineas Incarnation to consider in its next outing. Lay back on the crash cymbals in keeping time; cut down on arpeggios for melodic content and and use more non-repetitive melodies; and give the bass more melodic freedom. This kid is on fire though, and his next work is likely to burn down the house!
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