Music Reviews

Artist: John Cage
Title: Complete Song Books (constructed by Reinhold Friedl)
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Karl Records (@)
All 92 of John Cage’s “Solo For Voice” pieces, recorded strictly in order, constitute a 65-minute collection of audio that is often far more art than it is music, for whatever that distinction’s worth. There is a massive variety of ideas in here, prototypes for a broad range of what modern experimental music has become, from drones to glitches to found sounds, much of it hollow, sinister and deliberately unnerving.

The vast majority of the pieces last under a minute. The most frequently heard sources include high-pitched feedback loops, metal percussive hits, mechnical hums as though from air-conditioning units, and human vocal groans and drones. There are recurring elements that, when listening solidly to the whole work, can border on repetitive, in particular the language-less theatrical spontaneous vocal expulsions; the LP divides the pieces into 4 sides and it’s perhaps more successful in smaller doses. Certain peaces (84 being a particular favourite of mine) are quirky and more humorous, remisicent a little of some Pierre Henry pieces.

In the classical tradition, John Cage as the composer is the ‘headliner’ of this release, but with musical pieces so loosely and unusually defined, a lot of credit must be directed to the key performer, Reinhold Friedl, and also to the studio engineer and electronic button-pushing of Rashad Becker. While the musical operating instructions are Cage’s, the real character and performance here is from Friedl’s interpretation. There’s both a sincerity and a sense of humour in it, and a diversity of voice- plus there are self-built instruments and Fluxus-style responses that mean that this version will never sound close to anyone else’s.

KarlRecords describe themselves as “an outlet for puzzling sounds”. The pleasure in this sound is either puzzling, perverse or pious, but nevertheless it’s a rich and very worthy album.
Artist: Nuage (@)
Title: Prints Of You -The Remixes EP
Format: 12"
Label: Translation Recordings (@)
Rated: *****
It seems that the idea of a remix project related to Prints Of You, a little masterpiece of the liquid side of drum'n'bass by St.Petersburg-born producer Dimitry Kuzmin, better known as Nuage, was already discussed and planned soon after its release together with the hyperactive guys of American imprint Translation Records. Enhancing the original tracks was a pretty hard mission, but the producers involved in the project somehow managed to reach the goal, maybe as they knew each other very well due to the fact Nuage already did remixes for Blu.Mar.Ten and The Levels and gave some of his tunes to Bop's imprint Microfunk. The remix of "Overseas" by Bop is the one that most impressed me: the Russian producer built an amusing pattern by means of noises that sound like hitting pool and table tennis balls over a sneaking bassline and you could have the feeling that his tic-tac-toe game occasionally breaks the vocals of the original tracks into ecstatic syllables. On the other side both Blu.Mar.Ten guys and The Levels tried to highlight the highly emotional hook and the melodic aspect of Nuage original inputs, but while Blu Mar Ten kept higher bpm on their revamping of "Colors" - clearly influenced by the typical sonorities of the artists belonging to Hospital Records super team -, The Levels offered an assay of the so-called Future Soul Music for the remix of "Shining" (featuring an excellent vocal performance by Veronique J), the style that gave them some notoriety in the scene. The release includes a remix of "Waterfalls" by Nuage himself, who reshuffled the original track by a delicate tribal tapping of claves and a sort of clipped typewriting-like hit in a pool of crispy natural sounds.
Nov 09 2016
Artist: Kalab
Title: Ank
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Noland
This relatively short album is an instrumental tale of industry, sounding like a small army of mostly content automatons frantically building and bleeping in a style that I could describe as ‘glitch’, yet actually sounds like the supremely methodical, but definitely not 4/4-rhythmed, complex programs of a busy assembly line. Complex patternless fast-repeated hits and beats jump around, clearly with much work to be done. As the album progresses, hints of dissent and discord encroach, but the production line never stops.

With the exception of “meta1” and “meta2”, all of the tracks are named using a numeric keypad only, “12”, “78”, and the closing track “+”, keeping well in tune with the mechanical theme and making you wonder whether you’re supposed to be listening to this album, or doing arithmetic with it. The numbers are, I'm told, associated with the underlying rhythms, but not in an obvious way, and "+" really is an additive remix of the whole album.

A video for the track “4”, set to visuals from Eric Erre, is certainly worth checking out. It’s not quite a typical track from the album- it has stronger 8-bit synth influences than most of the rest- but it gives you a reasonable flavour of it, coupled with some fascinating CG work.

The “meta” tracks are different pieces, respite from the building and quite incongruous in the context of the album- “meta1” distant, violin-like daydreaming loose melodies floating around in nothingness, “meta2” a padding, lo-bit spontaneous rhythm, both acting as short interludes from the main work.

The track “69” is the most noticeable shift of tone, adding a sinister edge with building discordant pulses and processed snare stabs implying trouble at the mill. “+” is the most complete standalone piece, a growing cacophony of metallic clangs and echoes that drops away into a more traditional-sounding and spacious experimental percussion piece, before a short build to a last (just slightly underwhelming) crescendo.

In fifty years, this is what the inside of a solar-powered car factory will sound like when something is going slightly wrong...
Nov 08 2016
Artist: Recondite
Title: Corvus EP
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Ghostly International
“Melancholic doesn’t necessarily mean dark”, says Recondite of this latest EP, and the parallels between plaintive reverberant sustained-chord ambiences and simple, steady, light house rhythms are explored in interesting ways on this 5-track EP. Opening track “Capable” walks along the balancing line with care, setting the tone for the whole EP with its calming yet also disquieting take on sparse instrumental house music.

Second track “Kauz” follows the same format but with deeper bass patterns, while third track “Corvus” has busier bell (or possibly xylophone) patterns and found sound recordings of members of the crow family that give everything a sinister, lonely edge.

“Huibu” mellows things out somewhat, with slightly more complex rhythm programming, a slower pace and more emphasis on the melodic loop.

Ricardo Donoso’s version of “Capable” is not a regular remix but more akin to a soundtrack re-arrangement, a slow building tension migrating into urgency. Rather than being filler, as remix tracks at the end of EP’s sometimes are, it ends up being the richest, deepest track of the release. If this were an extract from a film or game score, I’d be checking out the whole release immediately.

This EP is a super-polished half-hour-long journey of lonely space travel, on a spaceship powered by a steady electric 4/4 beat.
Artist: Spray (@)
Title: Living in Neon - An Introduction to Spray, Vol. 1
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Banoffeesound (@)
Rated: *****
For those of you that have never heard, nor heard of Spray, 'Living in Neon - An Introduction to Spray, Vol. 1' will prove a godsend. As a remedial tutorial, Spray is a Brit synthpop band consisting of bro-sis duo Ricardo Autobahn (synths, programming, production) and Jenny McLaren (vocals), active since 2001. (Prior to that, Ricardo and Jenny were with the Cuban Boys...maybe you caught the Hamster Dance, aka "Cognoscenti Vs Intelligentsia" on YouTube ?) 'Living in Neon' was their 2002 debut album, and here it is in all its glory, and then some. Since the release of that, Spray has done two more albums (one of which I reviewed not too long ago) plus a bunch of singles and EPs. Now for you Spray fans, you may be saying, well, I already have 'Living in Neon', why should I buy it again? Well dude (and dudette), because there is an extra CD in this package containing remixes, and previously unreleased and non-album tracks, and most of these are pretty neat. This is coming from a reviewer who usually LOATHES remixes. So obviously, this review is going to be more about the 2nd CD than the main CD, which has probably already been reviewed to death elsewhere by people more glib, insightful and snarky than me. However, I DO have a few observations, as I haven't actually heard the whole album previously.

First, it's rare that a band has such stellar professional production on a debut album, and kudos to Spray for that. Even the non-A list tracks are given a big huge sound. The B-siders such as "I Kill With My Car" and "She's a Brainiac" are songs that other synthpoppers would be lucky to come close to. Spray's sound on 'Living in Neon' is uber-commercially viable, but unlike other guilty pleasure and slightly underground acts, you will find yourself rooting for their unbridled success. Everything on 'Living in Neon' is bright, happy and poppy, but there's a big tongue-in-cheek element here. It's sort of like crossing Julie Brown with Abba; you're not really sure... So yeah, 'Living in Neon' is a killer album, and this version dispenses with the bonus track remixes of "Child of the 80s," "I Am Gothic," and "Spaced," and adds "Whizz for Atoms," "The Story of My Life is an FX Showreel," "Don't You Know Who I Am?," "Don't Go" (cover of the Yaz song), ""Mean Green Mother from Outer Space," and "Living in Xenon". While a few of these songs have appeared before elsewhere, none of them surpass the best material on 'Living in Neon,' but they're good fun and quite enjoyable all the same. 19 tracks makes this one CD a very worthy item all by itself.

Now for CD 2. It opens with the Alternative Main Titles version of "Living in Neon". Reminds me a bit of The Birthday Massacre's "Happy Birthday" sans guitars and gone orchestral. Occupant's Occumix of "I Am Gothic" is a stripped down synth-forward version of the mega-hit. Vocals are a lot clearer in this version. Thumbs up! Alternate version of "I Keep Missing the Love Boat" is beat-heavy and clubby. "We Are the Martians" was a demo for the Smashed mashed potato martians (whatever that is), a fun, but not essential track in Spray's oeuvre. Raindancer's remix of "I Am Gothic" is typical of club remixes; put it in a new groove, extend it and leave just enough of the original to know what song it is. Strictly for club DJs. "The Debonaire Spy Theme' is a previously unreleased instrumental that's kind of nice. "We Read It On the Internet" (It Must Be True) is another previously unreleased track, rejected from the original 'Living in Neon' album. Manic and amusing, it will take a few listenings to absorb it all. "Singing for England" was previously released as a single and is bonafide hit material. "Theme from the Manchester 2001 Film Festival" is a cool, heavy instrumental, but a little filler-esque. The Synomatik mix of "I Am Gothic" is novelty nonsense with pitched-shifted vocals and other effluvia. "Playing with the Big Boys" is another previously unreleased 'Living in Neon' reject. Don't know why it was rejected as it's actually very good. "Steppin' Up (Steppin' In)" is just club fodder rubbish. "Child of the 80s 2008" was taken from the compilation album 'Macabre Park' and doesn't sound radically different from the original to me. The 12" version of the feminist anthem "Leave It to the Girls, Boys" extends the song by a few minutes and mixes in some chauvinistic dialogue to prove its point. The manically paced "Tim Eames (The DJ of Your Dreams)" is a bit of a Brit spoof on the BCB radio dj, but of course, I have no idea who he is, except maybe the wanker Spray make him out to be. "We Are Gothic" is yet another version of "I Am Gothic," anthemic in its plurality, I can visualize a big production dance number in a graveyard for the chorus; maybe film it at Whitby 2017. There's also an unlisted (hidden) track, a tougher, compact version of "I Keep Missing the Loveboat" that has a vocal that sounds a lot more like Alison Moyet than Jenny McClaren. Liked that one more than the original.

All in all, this is an incredible "bang for the buck" even if that buck is going to set you back 10GBP ($12.50 or so, U.S.) so I highly recommend you get yourself a copy. For some, this may be all the Spray you ever need, but for many, the expanded 'Living In Neon' will open the door to becoming a diehard Spray fan.
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