Music Reviews

Artist: zeitkratzer
Title: zeitkratzer performs songs from the albums „Kraftwerk 2“ and „Kraftwerk“
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Karlrecords
When this release first landed on my desk, my initial reaction was, “didn’t I already review that a couple of years ago?”. Sure enough, a collection of Zeitkratzer’s cover versions of tracks from the albums “Kraftwerk” and “Kraftwerk 2” was released in 2017, and this release is volume 2, with almost identical artwork save for the colours. This is Zeitkratzker going back and filling in the gaps, covering literally all of the tracks from those two albums which they didn’t include on volume 1 on 2017. Logically, there can be no volume 3. In fact in my playlists I’m tempted to reassemble the tracks into the order Kraftwerk released them, but that’s for another day.

What I said about the first album is still so applicable here that I will shamelessly copy and paste one paragraph from it: “Focussing only on the earlier Kraftwerk albums which had a thinner and arguably more abrasive tone, the ensemble of woodwind, strings, a couple of brass instruments, piano and drums faithfully recreates the barren soundscape that was originally electronic, in an almost exclusively acoustic way. It’s admirable for its attention to detail and an excellent tribute.”

“Harmonika”, the short finale track from “Kraftwerk 2”, is the opening prelude number here, a mostly shapeless drone. Initially the segue into “Stratovarius” is very smooth because both parts are relatively flat, sedate and abstract- but the second track breaks out of that eventually, with some impulsive jumps in energy and sudden twists into chaos that, eventually, almost ten minutes into the album, finally turn into a discernible rhythm and form which a listener will recognise as an acoustic ensemble interpretation of that classic Kraftwerk groove. In its more settled moments, it’s more than a little reminiscent of the Cinematic Orchestra in its tone. Across its twelve minute span “Stratovarius” has many sections and covers a broad range of styles, making it come across like a theatrical soundtrack almost.

This strong dynamic continues through “Vom Himmel Hoch”, a bold exercise in experimental string work that bends tones and traces a broad variety of escalations and impacts at various speeds, including a fair dosage of frantic, especially in the middle.

Final piece “Wellenlange” is mostly more sedate, with a twangy guitar sound that unexpectedly transforms it into a brooding bit of ambient-country-Americana. Through the slow introduction of repetition this gradually becomes more recognisable and formed, but it remains one of the most unusual interpretations of a Kraftwerk track you’re likely to hear.

It’s satisfying and rewarding that Zeitkratzer have gone back and filled in the gaps, taking on the challenge of the ‘missing tracks’ from the early Kraftwerk material. It was certainly worth completing, and far from being any kind of cash-in or novelty item to trade on the Kraftwerk name, the result is a second volume of fascinating acoustic works that stand up in their own right, very strongly indeed.
Artist: Kontrabassduo Studer-Frey with Jürg Frey and Alfred Zimmerlin
Title: Zeit
Format: CD + Download
Label: Leo Records
Daniel Studer and Peter Frey have been working together as a double bass duo for two decades. On their pieces as a duo on this release, here is a comfortable, confident and assured musical relationship that allows them to speak as though with one voice, charting avantgarde jazz moods and tones ranging from leisurely to tense with the greatest of ease. Opener “Praeludium” is engagingly downbeat and sultry, while “Interludium” is scratchy, digital and sinister. In “Excursio” this sinister tone adopts a rhythm and gathers a tense momentum.

Alternated with these home recordings is something rather different- numbered excerpts from a concert in Zurich in 2004 where Studer and Frey are joined by Jurg Frey on clarinet and Alfred Zimmerlin on violoncello. These four performers were put in different rooms where they could not hear each other, and microphones and speakers pumped this sound into a fifth room where the respectful and quiet audience was, and from where the recording was made. A detailed plan was made in advance and distributed among the performers, but the set-up allowed for no call-and-response, no collective tempo monitoring and so on. And yet it’s hard to believe in pieces like the stop-start-impulsive “Pars Prima” or the meaty “Pars Secunda” (14 minutes in its own right) that they couldn’t hear each other, as the synchronicity is very strong. Or perhaps these performers were already so comfortable and experienced in each others’ company back in 2004 that they already didn’t need to even listen to each other at all.

These two theoretically disparate sets of pieces are tightly segued into each other to form one near-continuous 51-minute work that oozes character- a fascinating explanation of working with acoustic double basses in truly experimental fashion to form an outlier on the most extreme outskirts of jazz.
Artist: Tralala Blip
Title: Eat My Codes If Your Light Falls
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Someone Good
It’s almost a shame that the promotion for Tralala Blip’s first full album in over five years still puts so much emphasis on the five band members’ status as differently abled individuals, as it takes attention away from an end product which is worthy of attention regardless of how it was created. The fact there were additional challenges in its creation makes it more impressive, and no disrespect is intended, but it’s an album that deserves repeat listens regardless of the individuals behind it.

It’s a short 8-track collection of quirky alt-pop with a healthy dose of both modern-sounding and more synthwavey electronica elements. Bright synth pads, drum machine and clap rhythms, verse-chorus vocals and generally upbeat vibes are the core, with other details coming and going on demand. That said, there’s a modesty and a laptop-staring introspection at times that make it feel more honest and unique, especially in a group setting with multiple vocalists where vibes are sometimes more inclined to turn to party sounds.

Tracks like “Voodoo Pins” are relatively conventional, almost rock-like, with cheery 80’s stabs and chants that make it decidedly radio-friendly. “Voltage Flowers” makes me think of Ninthwave Records, while “Nightmare Land Welcomes You To” has a songwriting quality to it that reminds me of fellow Australians Infusion at their broodiest, whilst also having shades of M83 in the more droney production elements. I may be overdoing it here but “Dear Formless”, another highlight, recalls Midnight Juggernauts- coincidentally another Australian band.

There are odder moments too. Opener “Pub Talk” is a glitchy downtempo affair that would sound at home on Planet Mu. Ballad-like “Star Of Hope”’s heavily effected vocal takes on an Eastern-sounding mantra-like quality. “The Canyon” is a nicely atmospheric winding-down conclusion, an album-closer in a classic style.

If I could change one thing about this release, I’d tweak the mixes to make the vocals more prominent and clear. If I could change a second thing, I’d make it all last longer- it’s only 30 minutes in total- because apart from those two details it’s one of the freshest-sounding pop albums I’ve heard in ages and it leaves me very much wanting more.
Artist: Electric Bird Noise
Title: Hearn-Roberts-Strong-Watts
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Records
South Carolina-based Silber regular Electric Bird Noise has been expanding the breadth of sound on his releases, always fusing drone, ambient and jazz into distinct shapes but now with increased emphasis on percussion. The title of the release and the song titles are all namechecks of the guest artists who’ve joined Brain Lea McKenzie this time around. The effect has drawn this release unexpectedly into the world of instrumental prog rock. Dynamic and powerful drumming, discordant guitar jangling, long chord beds, suddenly tempo changes- there’s a revelry in musical virtuosity here that feels live and energetic, and unusually positive, yet also pointed. “Steve Strong III” has a crescendo worthy of a full late 60’s wig-out., while “Hearn-Roberts I” brings to mind Robert Fripp in an angry mood.

But instead of prog rock’s lengthy noodling indulgences, these pieces are short- only one of them topping four minutes, and while some of the tracks are sequels in name, they all start and stop punctually, with no ongoing flow. In tracks like “Hearn-Roberts II”, this also manifests itself in a more conventional structure that toys around on the verges of being song-like.

“Hearn-Roberts-Watts” throws you by chucking in a spoken word speech, with Alan Watts as the orator, talking about self-awareness, being born, being God and karma, with the rest of the band noodling about steadily and respectfully underneath. Being honest this is an experiment that doesn’t quite work for me, clashing a little unsuccessfully.

An intriguing progression from Electric Bird Noise, and at only 27 minutes, it’s a collection that certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Artist: DJ Haram
Title: Grace
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Hyperdub
DJ Haram is a DIY musical producer based in the US, but it’s her Middle Eastern roots that come to the fore extensively on this unusual EP. Using organic flute and exotic percussion sounds, she has crafted 27 minutes of mostly instrumental music that has the structure of modern digital dancehall, and sometimes grime, but from a sound palette that jams brand new with traditional effortlessly. The track “Interlude”, which isn’t really an interlude at all, exemplifies it succinctly.

“Gemini Rising”’s heavy percussion and tense synth bass notes give it a higher tension level than some of the more playful tracks around it. “Body Count”, despite starting with samples of guns being cocked, ends up being one of the mellowest sections, with soft harp-like chords lolling nicely over the complex and gently danceable rhythm.

Mixing things up at the mid point, “Candle Light” has a vocal version, with Moor Mother (who DJ Haram also collaborates with as a duo 700 Bliss) offering up a sympathetic and nicely offbeat rap that rolls over the more grime-like track very smartly. In the unlikely event that the vocal doesn’t tick your boxes, an instrumental is provided.

To wrap up the release there’s a short remix of opening track “No Idol” which builds on a rhythm that’s mostly handdrums and playfully triggered samples of bedsprings that borders on tongue-in-cheek, but which really works, and which would likely get received well by DJ’s skilled enough to work it into sets.

The DIY aesthetic makes some of the synth work sound a little weedy and lo-fi at times, like a demo or a field recording, but that ends up being part of the unique character and charm of a release that’s broadly in a genre where subbass normally runs rampant.

There’s a rich encompassing theme that forms a story behind this release- every track is represented by a character in the artwork, all part of a small mythological world invented by DJ Haram and in which she draws parallels with her real life experience but also draws from religious tales of angels and creatures. It’s an interesting context, for sure, but given the mostly instrumental nature of the release, it’s not an essential or immersive part of it. Musically though it certainly stands up in its own right, a fascinating hybrid of sounds and cultures with an energy and originality that’s nicely infectious.
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