Music Reviews

Artist: Psycho & Plastic (@)
Title: Spacebus
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: GiveUsYourGOLD (@)
Distributor: Finetunes
The core of “Spacebus” is a simple, infectious, bouncing acid bassline that could pass as Hardfloor. Over it are layered some twinkly synth arpeggios and glitzy effects, plus the rather abstract, mostly-spoken-slightly-sung Hezza Fezza vocal. The radio edit of the track gets straight to the point (and straight to the bassline), but the nine-minute long original mix has the stronger, more progressive structure.

Unfortunately the vocal is the sole weak link here. Perhaps aiming for an airy and spacious feel, instead it feels a little bit improvised and under-cooked, as though it’s been phoned in somewhat. Clips of tracks on Hezza Fezza’s own website briefly show that Ms Fezza is capable of more than what’s on display here.

With the strong acid house vibe of “Spacebus” harking back to the late 1990’s yet nicely fresh at the same time, I expected B-side “Zvezdolet Lokomov” to be a straightforward, house B-side affair, but in fact it’s an utterly different beast- a curious three-minute downtempo soundtrack-esque piece based around slow synth-accordion-like chord progressions, and many layers of sound effects and ambiences. Again the spoken word vocal halfway through is something I could easily have lived without, but it certainly shows that Psycho & Plastic clearly have broad sonic ambitions, which should make their debut album, due 2017, an interesting listen.
Artist: Mara
Title: Sermata
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Filigran
This 4-track EP is an unusual blend of languid, Americana-style country guitar, juxtaposed against more frenetic, Gene Krupa-ish jazz rhythms- all decorated with the slightest hint of electronic bells and whistles as the cherry on top. The result is an organic downtempo bit of atmospheric chill-out, even despite the relatively high BPMs on some tracks.

The longer tracks “Sermata” and “Acid Lee Hooker” are indulgent and quite engrossing, settling into grooves that are quite frankly rather lovely. “Sioux” and “Via dell’amore” are more akin to instrumental versions of country-pop songs, still richly produced but a little less atmospheric.

This would be ideal fodder for the soundtrack to a modern day road movie across the plains of the USA- but with its warm tones, you could happily settle down on a beach with it too.
Artist: microClocks (@)
Title: Soon Before Sundown
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
We here at Chain D.L.K. like to think of ourselves as the heralds of cutting edge music, music on the fringe of popularity, with a vibrant creativity that is oft overlooked by mass-media outlets. Yet, there is a certain necessary hypocrisy to that in that we don't cover all leading edge music, just that which fits within our genre parameters. So no matter how creative, or visionary hip-hop, country, regular rock or alt-rock, heavy metal, folk, blues, jazz (with certain exceptions), etc. artists or bands are, numerous submissions just aren't going to get reviewed because of their genre affiliation, no matter how good they are, and sometimes, they're pretty darn good. A label such as Echozone sometimes submits new releases that just don't fit in here, and sorry, but if the music doesn't fit our genre parameters, I (and the rest of us) just can't review it. So what happens when a worthy candidate that doesn't easily fit into the pigeon-hole shows up? Well, that's just the dilemma I have with microClocks.

If you ever heard previous material by this German band (that don't at all seem German) you might mistake them for a regular rock band or an electro-tinged pop band. The material on their latest recording, 'Soon Before Sundown' is miles way from that though. First and foremost, this is a dark album. It opens with a droney mood piece punctuated with sullen strings, eerie tinkling keys and plenty of atmospheric gloom as the "Follow the..." intro to "White Rabbit" (no, not a cover of the old Jefferson Airplane song) where it explodes with progressive urgency. This doesn't sound at all like the band did previously; what they're doing now is formidably advanced. The singer, J.T. sounds quite a bit different than before, his voice has become much more interesting and atypical of standard rock vocalists, now along the lines of such iconoclasts as Peter Gabriel, Peter Murphy, Lou Reed, Rogue (Cruxshadows), Peter Hammill, and Ian Anderson, with a certain edge and panache to it. No, he doesn't sound like any of the aforementioned, but the voice stands out, and is perfect for the material. This one song goes through a number of changes one would typically associate with progressive rock but never gets too far afield from its driving impetus. Marc Dorman's guitar magic is astounding here. microClocks doesn't let up for a moment on the follow-up, title track, "Soon Before Sundown," a rabid rocker with some dynamite organ from Stevie Jay. Yet it's Dorman's guitar on the instrumental break that elevates this track beyond the pale, recalling 'Nursery Crimes' era Steve Hackett. Okay, yeah, this is sounding a bit like prog-rock to me. But things take a darker turn on "Loves End" incorporating elements of goth and symphonic metal into a delicious, heady musical stew. High drama and exigent execution seem to be the norm on this album.

While not goth, songs such as "Here I Am" and "Life is Grim" do have a gothy tone to them, but there is also an arty, progressive bent that permeates the songs on 'Soon Before Sundown'. While not quite a "concept" album, as the opening song might suggest, microClocks explores social themes of love, loss, desperation, failure, the supernatural, the extraterrestrial, friendship, fear, and maybe above all, hope. The songs are all well-crafted and carefully arranged. I find it interesting that besides the core of J.T., Marc Dorman and Stevie Jay, two drummers (Daniel "Butcher" Stieber, Hendrik Hausmann) and two bass players (Andreas "Shapeshifter" Nicolau, Nicolas Rodriguez Pagan) were employed on this recording, all very capable players. The album ends with two strong rockers - "To a Friend, and ""Raptor" that keep the energy level high. This is a good thing in my estimation, rather than petering out with a melancholy ballad. My only disappointment is that the album is very guitar-dominated, and I saw plenty of opportunities for keyboards to take a more upfront role. Still, this is an album that's going to turn more than a few heads, and delight lots of ears. If you thought you knew microClocks before, you haven't really heard the same band they are now, and just what they are is tough to pin down, but absolutely worthy of attention.
Artist: Batalion d'Amour (@)
Title: Fenix
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Polish band Batalion d'Amour has been around since 1989 and has five previous albums since 1998. They're kind of a goth/darkwave outfit fronted by the gorgeous Karolina Andrzejewska who has been with them since their previous (2005) album 'Niya'. One good reason why you (and I) may not heard of them before is Karolina sings mostly in Polish. (Well, to be fair, there is one song with English lyrics, and a version of one other song in English later in the album.) For me, this proves to be quite problematic; if I can't understand the songs without the translated lyrics, they're not going to resonate much with me. Be that as it may, Karolina has a beautiful voice (way better than their previous vocalist) and the band is also quite adept instrumentally.

Opening track "Bez Nas" ("Without Us") is a memorable one with a Spanish lilt to it. Second song, "Charlotte" seems to be the band's choice for a hit single, especially since tracks 12-14 are four different versions of it, and one version in English as I mentioned above. Funny though, as nice a melodic song as it is, I'm not getting "hit single melodic hook" out of this one, even in English; it's much too wordy for that. I'm not even getting a distinctive guitar part, or anything else that grabs the attention like a hit single should. Third song, "Miedzy Slowami" ("Between the Lines")seems to have more going for it, with a Fields of the Nephelim style guitar riff, strong verses and melodically memorable chorus. Good song for the dancefloor too. Throughout the album songs are done with dark romantic flavor, but I'm detecting a move away from traditional goth, and more towards a kind of progressive alt-metal sound. There is still a sort of gothy overtone, but not like they used to sound; steeped in it. On one level the songwriting seems to be getting better, but having found their niche, Batalion d'Amour seems to be heading for a more commercially accessible sound overall. Occasionally they do surprise though, as in the odd-timing instrumental break in "Zawroceni" ("The Way Back") and the acoustic "The Lost Diary" in English, a sentimental duet with John Porter. The song with Tomasz Grochola from Agressiva 69 adding some vocals with Karolina did nothing for me. On numerous occasions Karolina's voice is multi-tracked in harmonies, and although it's effective on the album, I'm not sure how that's going to translate live unless they add backing female vocalists. No doubt though that her lyrics are quite poetic; even in English (translated in the accompanying booklet) they have a certain charm to them. The band also adds some nice arrangement touches, especially in the keyboard department. As for the remixes of "Charlotte," the slowed-down acoustic version with violins is the best, and most different, and the English version is nice because it's in English. Pawel Penarski's remix clubs it up with a strong dance beat, but that's about it, and the "Radio Edit" is just superfluous.

'Fenix' could have been a lot better album if it was sung entirely in English, or perhaps two versions- one for the Poles and the other for the rest of us, because after all, English is the universal pop song medium, like it or not. Assuredly, there are those who would disagree, feeling that Karolina's words and voice are better, more expressive or even more exotic in her native language, but if you want to get anywhere in the world of popular music, English is a necessity. There are some few exceptions (Industrial in German for one, as it has that harsh guttural inflection and tone that conveys a certain sternness you can't get in any other language) but for what these folks are doing, the English language would serve them well. If they record their next album that way, I'll be all ears.
Artist: Electro Acoustic Ensamble
Title: Meditations in motion
Format: CD
Label: Manza Nera Label (@)
Rated: *****
The Electro Acoustic Ensamble is the project of Fred Casadei (double bass), Bruno Romani (alto sax), Francesco Manfrè (cello) and Daniele Onori (guitar) which is born after a fistful a jam sessions. The result is something in the vein of certain experiment between composed and improvised music as perhaps it's not exactly free jazz but has its flavor so almost all tracks are called "meditation" as they were part of a single composition.
After the first whistles of the string instrument the phrasing of the flute opens "Meditation number one" as a melodic element above the fragmented lines of the other instruments while the dialogue of "Saxophone at the mirror" is more equilibrated. The guitar accompanied by the cello and the double bass is the focus of "Meditation number three" while the cello is the main element of "Meditation number four". While the structure is closer to jazz when the sax is the main element, the string instruments moves the balance towards contemporary music and a track as "Meditation number five" is paradigmatic of this framwork and when Bruno Romani uses the flute, as in "Meditation number six", with relatively long tones or with slower phrases shifts the musical equilibrium towards a more cohesive one. The unstable setting of "Meditation number seven" with all the instruments not in an accompaniment role is balanced by the short duration and "Meditation number eight" is a quiet interlude to "Meditation number nine", practically a flute solo spectrally balanced by the cello. "Ligeti" sounds like an homage with his suspended tones and "Meditation number eleven" continues under this path with his use of extended techniques and "Meditation number twelve" is a partial return to jazz form that is completed in "Meditation number thirteen" which features percussions as the form is more rhythmically structured. "Meditation number fourteen" and "Meditation number fifteen" are almost a single track in two part as they share similar elements as quiet moments based on a single instrument at play. "Scratch and loose" is developed upon a suspension generated by the cello while "Meditation number seventeen" tries even some noisy moments with some use of dissonances while "Meditation number eighteen" is a return to form and "School out musicians" closes this release as a sort of divertissement.
While apparently is a cohesive release based on a canonical approach, the tension between the subtle differences that is generated by the double bass and the sax, rooted in a relatively traditional jazz language, and the string instruments, reminiscent of a more unstructured form, sometimes generates something close to a personal language. It's really worth a listening.
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