Music Reviews



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Artist: Pleasure Symbols
Title: Pleasure Symbols
Format: 12"
Label: Avant
This is the debut EP from the Australian duo of Phoebe Paradise and Jasmine Dunn. The tracks on the flip side, "Ultra Violence" and "Control", were released digitally in 2014, but technically it's still a debut.

It's pop music but not as most people would know it. While their promo photos suggest something a little more modern and alt-pop, sonically this owes a lot to 1980's alternative music- thick, cold guitar twangs channeling Joy Division, uber-simple drum patterns, distinctly analogue-ish synths and a raw, live feel to the use of reverb in the production. The lyrics are barely distinguishable and it's deeply sincere and straight-faced. It's "Control" that shows the greatest pop sensibility of the set and leaves you wondering what would happen if you pumped this band full of caffeine and let them loose.

It's not oozing in originality either in the sonic arrangement or the songwriting, but it's still a worthy, deeply chin-stroking lo-fi release full of angst and nihilism, for teenagers who've inherited their parents' genetic disposition towards post-punk rebellious goth-pop, regardless of whether their parents have admitted it to them yet or not.
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Artist: Large Unit
Title: Ana
Format: CD
Label: PNL (@)
Rated: *****
Maybe the cover artwork doesn't help in guessing the content of this interesting hybridization that Norwegian drummer Paul-Nilssen-Love and his Large Unit, a super-group of fourteen musicians - including two drummers, two saxophonists, one trombonist, a trumpet player, two percussionists, two tuba players, one guitarist, two (one electric, and one acoustic) basses and, last but not least, a guy on electronics -. It could look like the cover artwork of a techno album, but what this ensemble began to plan just some hours after a superb concert at the Oslo Jazz Festival in August of 2015 is one of the most striking crossbreeds of Western contemporary jazz and Brazilian music. It coincidentally occurred something that enhanced the listening of the whole album: just some minutes before pressing play, I watched to some clips, which documented the protest against the Olympic Games by some Brazilian people, who threw objects against torch-bearers surrounded by local police and some of the "skronkest" moments of this release, particularly the ones featuring the second part of the final "Circle In The Round", which could be the perfect soundtrack of those scenes. Besides this totally casual association, this fabulous suite, where an important stylistic and tonal dosage of Brazilian music came from Paulinho Bicolor (cuica, triangle, and tamborin) and Celio de Carvalho (congas, bongos, tamborin, pandeiro, berimbau, caxixi, and drums), as well as by the way by which some wind instruments performed, combined some astonishing polyrhythmic sessions, really eruptive electronic grasps, unexpected instrumental explosions, the bizarre dynamics of free jazz and some more or less energetic and joyful phrasing of different styles of Brazilian music (particularly the sonorities of Bahia). According to Nilssen-Love, the bridge between his musical searching and Brazilian music lies in the fact that both of them could be considered as "a celebration of life – a celebration that should be loud, rhythmic and intense" and such an intensity is vividly perceivable in the whole sonic stream that this enlarged team managed to render (superlative the 28 minutes of the main suite "Riofun"). It could deserve a place on the podium as one of the fuzziest free jazz outputs in recent times.
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Artist: VV.AA. (@)
Title: Now It's Dark - David Lynch Tribute
Format: CD
Label: kultFRONT/Zhelezobeton (@)
Rated: *****
'Now It's Dark' the David Lynch Tribute is an album of 11 tracks by 11 Russian artists who explore the darker side of Lynch's oeuvre. I readily admit I'm a Lynch fan, but not a fanatic. The release of this album caused me to visit David Lynch's filmography, and I came to realize that I was more of a dilettante than a connoisseur of the Lynchian world. Sure, I've seen Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Dune, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Industrial Symphony No. 1, Twin Peaks - Fire Walk with me, Twin Peaks TV Series, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, The Straight Story, and even Inland Empire (yeah, I sat through the whole three hours of it, plus the bonus material) but Lynch's body of work extends even beyond that. Here, the emphasis is on DARK, not absurd, surreal, quirky, or merely strange. For the most part, these pieces are dark ambient industrial, but there is some variety. You won't be hearing any Angelo Badalmenti style noir jazz or Julee Cruise warblings (which is sort of a shame) on this album, but nevertheless, there is some interesting music. Light Collapse kicks it off with "Homunculus of Henry Spencer" (Eraserhead), a piece that juxtaposes chaotic industrial noise with struck ringing bellish tones. Dvory contributes "Dark Eye" in which sustained, mournful trumpet notes float over gloomy dark ambient drones. "Prelost" by Povarovo features sparse reverberated and echoed piano notes and chords with breathy saw-like ambience. DMT's "Lynch2712" is a lengthy, rich, industrial dark ambient track with deep, shuddering drones that goes through a variety of permutations to keep it interesting. Wonderblock's "U-Turn to Lost Highway" is a spooky, muted dark ambient track punctuated by a low, dull, percussion loop. Great atmosphere. Skripp introduces "Lynch Law" which consists of a thick wall of medium to high industrial drone over pounding heartbeat low percussion. Sal Solaris's "Garmonbonzia 2.0" begins with a factory machine loop, then a bell ringing over seething low drones. More diversified factory ambience presents itself until the track's conclusion. Relic Radiation mines some "Arrakis Cinnamon" (don't know why they didn't opt for Melange) in this Dune homage, which is the spaciest track on the album with cosmic synths and sequencer, reminding me a lot of the psy-trance genre. Actually, this one is sort of my favorite track on the album. "Mind in Motion" by Kryptogen Rundfunk starts out as menacing dark ambient, then introduces a Lynch-load of staticy noise, a manipulated sample of the Mentat Mantra from Dune- "It is by will alone that I set my mind in motion..." and a lot of other sonic effluvia. Reutoff calms it down (at first) with the seemingly meditative "Blue Room with No Doors" that morphs into a rhythmic industrial piece with an abstract bellish melody. Nice. It all ends with "Eraserhead's neighbors" by Arcuation, which relies heavily on muscular feedback, along with discreet percussive elements. Overly long and unpleasant.

No doubt this compilation has its highs and lows, and what appeals most to me may not to you, but it has some merit in its differences. As a David Lynch tribute though, I didn't find it completely satisfying, and thought it could have used some more traditionally musical, but equally dark contributions. It may however, bring to light darkside Russian artists who might not otherwise have gotten the exposure due to Lynch fans seeking out anything to do with him. The cover by the way is a fragment of a painting by Chris Mars titled "Special Agent Gordon Cole". Limited edition of 200 copies in a glossy six-panel digipak.
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Artist: Jib Kidder (@)
Title: New Works for Realistic Mixer
Format: 12"
Label: Care of Editions (@)
Rated: *****
'New Works for Realistic Mixer' is artist Jib Kidder's (Sean Schuster-Craig) eighteenth release since 2006 not counting compilations, mixtapes, and other mixes, in a variety of formats including cassette, digital download, vinyl, CD and CD-R. This one is available on 12" vinyl or digital download, but my review copy is a CD-R, probably because it's too expensive for very small labels to send vinyl from a European country (Germany) although Jib is from the U.S., bouncing between California and New York, but I have no idea where he is now. Haven't heard any of his other stuff previously, but just for shits and giggles I checked a couple of his tracks on YouTube. They were along the indie avant-pop lines, songs with instruments, drums, vocals. Nothing like this at all. What this is, is no-input mixer sequenced with drum machine. What does it sound like? Well, electronics with drum machine is the simple answer. Forget the song format though, this ain't pop; this is electronic experimentalism. Nothing warm and fuzzy about it either and track titles like "01 VT2005058", "09 w1118 (isoCJ1)", "08 fmn;+", and "10 KC-gain" bear that out. The electronics are generally minimal and primitive, utilizing a lot of sample & hold and planned random noises. While the label and/or artist describes this as "an uncanny dance LP..." it is much closer to IDM, which I've rarely found to be danceable. Just about anyone can generate electronic sounds from a no-input mixer by following a YouTube tutorial (and having a mixer, of course), but it takes a bit of skill and practice to make something interesting out of it, and 'New Works' indicates that Kidder has put the time into it to make it interesting. That's not to say it's all-golden. The first few tracks are cute-but-clunky downtempo rhytmic IDM pieces that sound like an 80's arcade game soundtrack. Further on down the line ("08 fmn+") things get a bit more chaotic, and even head into experimental noise territory. Jib does come yup with some groovy looped sequences, as on "07 KC-abp", that could serve as a soundtrack segment in an indie sci-fi film. There is definitely a mechanical (or is that mechanized?) aspect to the music on 'New Works' partially due to the repetition, and also due to the sounds employed. There are surprises as well- was that a baby crying, a yowling cat, or just some creative electronic sound I heard on track 9, "02 PPL-ab" ? For the experimental electronics aficionado 'New Works for Realistic Mixer' is likely to be an engaging listen, but if your tastes are entrenched in more traditional formats, the creativity here is likely to be lost on you.

A note about the label- Berlin, Germany-based Care of Editions uses a negative-money format, using their profits from selling vinyl to pay people for downloading the same music. The amount one receives in dollars is equal to the download edition number. As records sell, more downloads become available. Interesting concept.
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Artist: Norman Westberg (@)
Title: MRI
Format: CD
Label: Room40 (@)
Rated: *****
The devotional love of Swans'fans for Michael Gira as a lyricist didn't eclipse the likewise stronger one for another forerunning element of the band. I'm referring to the brilliant American guitarist and composer Norman Westberg of course, whose style of guitar playing in an unstable, but totally amazing, balance between harmonic minimalism and pure brutalism could be considered an out-and-out textbook case. Besides Swans, he was highly active in New York City underground scene and feature many important artistic experiences such as the appearances in many film works related to the so-called Cinema Of Transgression. This output on Lawrence English's excellent imprint derived by what can be considered a tragedy for a musician, the gradual loss of functional hearing ability, but Norman admirably turned it into a source of inspiration! "I started to notice a loss of hearing in my right ear" Westberg explained, "and decided that it was high time that I had it checked out by a professional. The audiologist confirmed the uneven hearing loss and recommended an MRI. The purpose of the MRI was to make sure that there was not something other than my own aural misadventures causing the uneven loss.". Inspired by his encountering with Magnetic Resonance Imaging, he recorded "MRI", a long-lasting track where a reduced number of guitar chords, that resembles some of the best moment of American minimalism, got melted into aural effects and entrancing whispers that could vaguely resemble the internal noises that someone who is going to lose hearing abilities can perceive, and the final result is a little masterpiece. The following track, "410 Stairs", where likewise minimal guitar chords seems to reach an artificial heaven before gradually landing (...and the way by which he rendered such a descent is as emotional and wise as the ascensional movement, propelled by blissful chiming guitar harmonies!), maybe refers to a particular method of MRI scanning and non-invasive imaging, but besides any possible reference, your ears will be delighted for its whole length (more than 20 minutes). "Lost Mine", the third track of this sonic jewel, was recorded in 2015 (the first dating back 2012) and seems to reprise many moments of the first two tracks, but its resonance could let you imagine it derived by the grabbing of the vapour getting out of the previously store refrigerated tracks in the deeper recesses of Norman's memory. Swans' devotional love for Mr.Westberg will rise higher after the listening of this record.
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