Music Reviews

Artist: Andreas Gross (@)
Title: Goodbye Mainstream
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Andreas Gross is not only the name of this darkwave band from Cologne (Köln) Germany, but also its leader. On 'Goodbye Mainstream' Gross (who does most of the music and lyrics) is joined by Swenja Schneider (vocals) and Christian Bohr (guitars). Once again this is a new experience for me - 13 previous albums from them I have never heard. I'm beginning to fell a little "left out of the loop". So I spent a little time stumbling through their back catalogue (courtesy of YouTube) and found a similar thread - well orchestrated darkwave with ethereal female vocals. In my wanderings I found their cover of The Birthday Massacre's "To Die For", a sweeter, slightly less bombastic version which was actually very nice. Okay, I'm sold on the band's ability, and it is certainly worth checking out their other stuff, but on to 'Goodbye Mainstream'.

The album begins with a brief, atmospheric instrumental ("s.e.b.o.") before launching into the 50's chestnut "Sleepwalk" by Santo & Johnny Farina. This vocal version sung by Swenja in a nice clear pop tone is an unexpected delight. Somebody has to use this on a movie or TV soundtrack! It's faithful to the original, yet contemporary. Goodbye Mainstream indeed; it hardly gets more mainstream than this! Not for long though, as most of the rest of the album is balanced between darkwave and neoclassical. Bohr's guitar is always tasteful and never overbearing playing his part effectively on every track and Schneider's voice, while delicate is very pleasant and clear as a bell. Previously Andreas Gross had a tendency to wrap his lady vocalists in a hazy gauze, but not so here; her voice is mixed up-front.I don't think it takes anything away from these atmospheric songs. One song, an instrumental track titled "Time Seller" uses bagpipes for the lead melody. The original songs are all very nice, but nothing stands out like "Sleepwalk". As a bonus, a cover version of NIN's "Hurt" is added, with a rare vocal appearance by Andreas Gross himself. His voice is more wistful and fragile than Reznor's, making for a beautifully bittersweet version of this classic tune, and a fitting conclusion.

It would be hard to dislike 'Goodbye Mainstream' unless Swenja Schneider's voice doesn't resonate with you, and this may be Andreas Gross's most accessible album yet. Still, I wish there were a couple of tracks I'd find myself humming after the music ended. Perhaps if they keep this lineup that just may happen in the near future. Available in CD or vinyl format from Echozone.
Artist: Taxim (@)
Title: Full of Empty
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: XenoBiotic Records (@)
Rated: *****
Taxim is a dark electro and experimental project from Essen, Germany, founded by Alex Ney in 1996 as a one-man project. The current line-up consists of: Alex (music, lyrics, vocals, bass), Kat (keyboard, vocals) and Jigels (keyboard). Including singles and EPs, they've had over a dozen releases since they began, and this is my first experience with the band. 'Full of Empty' begins nicely with a neoclassical piano chordal melody and arpeggios with a female voice humming along, then- WHAM! The door closes and heavy metal chords take over with electro-industrial percussion, synth orchestration on the melody, building all along with the same simple melody. A bit of a bombastic beginning, like symphonic metal, but all instrumental. The second track follows this format (exempting the metal guitar) and uses a different but similar melody. I should let you know that Taxim employed only one synth for the electronic parts, and made copious use of the Sonatina Symphonic Orchestra sample library on this album. Most of the tracks on the album are along the symphonic metal (or industrial, if you prefer) lines, and when not full-on, neoclassical. Prominent female (spoken) vocal samples come to the fore on "Keine Angst" ("Ich habe keine angst", or "I have a little anxiety"), and this track shows more industrial muscle while not sacrificing any of the symphonic. Other tracks such as "Computer Depression" and "Vollkommen leer" incorporate brief vocal samples as well. Taxim also puts industrial ambient synth effects to good use in transitional passages. Most of 'Full of Empty' sound a bit Blade Runner-esque; somewhat cinematic, but perhaps even grander; melodically simple but orchestrally rich. Last track, "Schizoid and Happy" features Kat's wordless vocals, which is very nice, but I found myself craving songs with lyrics. Maybe it just isn't their style to do that, and maybe they haven't found a voice strong enough to pull it off yet, but if they decided to head down that road, Taxim would likely gather a much bigger following. Still, 'Full of Empty' is an album to be reckoned with if you like symphonic industrial with a metallic edge. The album is available from XenoBiotic Records as a digital download (only), and there was supposed to be a physical CD released on MMD Records, but I couldn't find it in MMD's catalogue, so I guess that either fell through, or hasn't happened yet.
Artist: Man eats fish
Title: Recollective
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Audiobulb (@)
Rated: *****
This new release from Audiobulb is presented as 'characterized by concrete sounds with a lot presence, combined with abstract electronic texture and newly written and recorded works for string quartet'. It's a true presentation of this work that features a strong coherence of musical development.
The metallic beat of 'The Breakdown' opens this release with a track focused on the juxtaposition of the synth drones and the metallic resonances that, in 'Between Sound', are basic composition's element while 'All That Is Solid Melts Into Air' explores the melodic possibilities of the metallic beat. The gentle theme of 'Duality', upon the water's dripping acts as an interlude, or a development, of a form that is the unifying element of this release. 'Reconstruction (The Silent Duck)' could sounds as a chamber music track if the sounds of a metallic balls falling on the ladder, almost present in all tracks, doesn't appears. The violins of 'The Doors' introduce the listener into the second part of this release and, with 'Material', appear even the human voice to further colorize the musical palette. 'Just Beens' sounds like a small intro to the final part of this release: 'Birds', that starts and ends as a noisy track but has an interlude based on gentle strings samples that are the foundation of 'The Arrival'. 'Corridor Slow' closes this release developing the resonances of the string instruments used in the previous tunes.
This release sounds more like a cohesive unit than a collection of track and, even if it's anything truly impressive, it's a release that acts as a quiet soundscape of everyday activities. A nice release.
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Artist: Dronny Darko
Title: Outer Tehom
Format: CD
Label: Cryo Chamber (@)
Rated: *****
This album is described as a 'drone album of darkest black, every track a perfect 13 minute summoning of elder gods forgotten in time'. Without any info this release could be described as a release as carefully constructed as void of any other goal that being a milestone in form construction.
The heavy and atmospheric drone of 'Black Arts' opens this release and is based upon his opposition to almost pure silence and isolated sounds and samples. The same musical development is the foundation of 'Mortal Skin' where the variations are so subtle but so constant that could be ignored by distracted ears. 'Snake Hole' depicts a soundscape of frightening beauty while 'Arcane Shrine' returns to more canonic dark ambient resonances well described with the statue depicted in the album cover.
This release is hard to rate as it's as beautifully sounding as admonishing to be a pure exercise of form. However, how could art be afraid of beauty? This release will be truly appreciated by fans of this genre.
Artist: Museum of Devotion (@)
Title: Another Cold Wave
Format: CD EP
Label: Infrastition (@)
Rated: *****
Museum of Devotion is an Electro-industrial band from Ann Arbor, Michigan, consisting of James Cooper on vocals, guitar, keyboards and Robert Anderson on lead guitar, bass guitar and keyboards. Their first album, '...To the Pink Period' goes back to 1988. Then they were a kind of marginally interesting minimal Cold Wave band reminiscent of Joy Division, New Order and The Swans. A cult band to be sure. They've has a couple releases since then (haven't heard 'em) and now they've come up their latest, an EP titled 'Another Cold Wave'. Whatever charm they may have had "back in the day" has been completely lost on this one.

It starts out okay with a nice synth bass and drum groove on "Closer" (say, wasn't that the title of Joy Division's second album?) but then you get electronically processed vocals that lack any melodic interest whatsoever. The production is rather a mess too. The processing can't hide the off-key vocals and pretentious lyrics "..."closer to eternity... " are a real eye-roller. It only gets worse on "Lucky Charm". A driving beat and okay minimal synth but again the over-processed vocals and awful lyrics- " corsage in a pickup truck in the dark somewhere...don't even try said the man in black, if you fake the ride, you'd better walk the line." What the...? Even the aged Don McClean would be shaking his head in disbelief. I know they're really trying for a New Order kind of thing here, but guys, IT'S NOT WORKING! Adding in female vocals at the end doesn't help it any. Still, the song chugs on not realizing that it's a trainwreck. "Forgotten" manages to simultaneously incorporate the main riff from New Order's Temptation" and Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough". Not note-for-note, but too close for comfort. Other elements of the song are just a mess. Vocals buried beneath scads of processing, a wall of synth and/or guitar distortion, you can barely distinguish a verse from a chorus. Throwing in a few notes from DM's "Dreaming of Me" doesn't help either. Jeez, write something original already. Once again, female backing vocals can't save this. Final track, "The Trees" begins with a shoegazey ambience then rhythm with that (nearly) trademark New Order staccato bass, and a spritely melody from a synth with steel drum preset. Wordless vocals by an uncredited woman, a brief recitation about trees by a little girl. It's actually better than I make it sound; it's kind of bright and happy. Although the track is slight, it saves this EP from being a total disaster. You know I just have to scratch my head and wonder...why? The potential is there, somewhere. Better songwriting is the key. And cut back on that god-awful processing on the vocals. If you're going to do Cold Wave, either modern or retro, you need something melodically memorable that wasn't lifted from elsewhere.
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