Music Reviews

Artist: Anything Box
Title: Hope
Format: LP
Label: Other Voices Records
"Hope" was Anything Box's third album, though only the second that managed to get a public release due to issues with the Epic label. It was released in 1993, it's very much a product of its time. It sits very comfortably in the same pigeonhole as albums like OMD's "Liberator", Mesh's "Original 91-93", Erasure's "I Say I Say Say" or perhaps New Order's "Republic" without the guitars. The production is perhaps closest to Vince Clarke's early 90's work, the vocalist has just a slight touch of Marc Almond about his tone (but Marc Almond in a relaxed mood), while the songwriting is closer to Andy McCluskey's resolute optimism from the same period. I'm a child of that era and it's a winning formula for me- pure energetic songwriting that revels in 4-chord patterns and synthetic bleeps, and puts programming on a pedestal, but doesn't forget the importance of good verse-chorus songwriting.

The tongue-in-cheek mock live concert intro of "Entrance" isn't really followed through in the rest of the tunes. There's an unabashed non-ironic sincerity to the whole thing which, coupled with strong melodies, makes up for some of the slightly more mediocre production touches. Stand-out tunes include "Where Is Love And Happiness", "A Moment's Shifting", and the naive yet somehow quite profound closer "Life Is Fun". Ballad "Blue Little Rose" is arguably a weak point. The last three tracks on the album step away from the four-minute pop song structure and are a little more mellow and slightly indulgent, and while the hooks aren't as strong at this end of the album, I wouldn't call it filler.

Anything Box are still a recording and gigging entity. This may be a dated-sounding album now, twenty-three years on, but it's a time capsule of a slightly lesser-known album from some of electropop's golden years, and if it passed you by first time around, this re-release is a chance to catch up. I'm not convinced it has enough of a classic to warrant the luxuriant splatter vinyl re-release treatment it's getting through the Russia-based Other Voices Records, but nevertheless it's a very strong, solid 45-minute album, definitely worth a download if your CD's of early 90's OMD or Erasure albums are getting worn out.
Artist: Utroid
Title: The Movement
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Enfant Terrible (@)
This is a four-pack of thumping, relentless lo-fi acid techno numbers, so stark, simple and raw-edged that they're quite mesmerising. This is something that Hardfloor might knock up if they were very, very angry about a messy divorce- it has the same slow progressive structure and many of the same elements, but with the bounce replaced with bitterness.

Despite this, though, you really could still dance to it. "Death Disko" has a solid groove that you could lose yourself in for hours. "Vascular" has a deep reverberant echo to it that makes it sound like it could actually have been recorded from inside somebody's cardiovascular system, it sounds muddy for home listening but quite epic at high volumes- similarly, if slightly worryingly, "The Movement" sounds like it may have been recorded through somebody's bowels- though thankfully the melodic sustains that arrive later in the track are more harmonious than my bowels and, I'd presume, most other people's bowels too.

Overall, this is a solid if moderately disposable cluster of low frequency patterns and kicks.
Artist: Prostitutes (@)
Title: Ghost Detergent
Format: 12"
Label: Spectrum Spools
Rated: *****
The first thing that I do, I admit, when this release popped out of my box was humming the truthfully easygoing 80ies hit "We Are All Prostitutes" by The Pop Group. The humming induced me to check that song again, before mixing my nostalgic selection with the first song of this contemporary stuff (I have to say, that the matching between The Pop Group song and the opening track "Nerve and Gall" wonderfully works, DJs of this sad planet) and begin the listening journey inside the straightforward sonic journey offered by Cleveland-based producer James Donadio. The tune I just mentioned cannot be better titled as percussive rampages sound like having been well amalgamated into stinks of bile. Chiptunes (including that fake gamelan hits you could find in every Casio tone banks) got nicely mixed over amazing textures in the following tune "Chandeliers Sake" and keep on getting crumbled like sheetrock on "Government Wrecker", a track smelling like a possible hymn of improvised nerd league championship. Donadio - he is Prostitutes... I can't be considered offensive! - unveils his skills in dealing with textures on the offbeat chirps of the amazing "The Sting That Stung" before igniting the torture technoid machine on the slowly disturbing stomper "Pressure On The Haunted" - staging a bizarre interbreed between Bandulu-like trance and sadistic industrial inflections -. The other side of "Ghost Detergent" includes some of my favourite moments of the whole release: first of all the opening entrancing computational sneaking of "Skeptalepsy", but above all "Pregnant Toad" (another guessed title, that says something about the sound this guy masterfully assembled) and the following "Cheap Amplifiers", wisely described as a possible "Def Jam bonus beat with ripping, cough syrup slathered DMX snare sounds"! After the plasticised controlled detonation of a breakbeat tune of "Fake Hawaiian Suit", Prostitutes smears some residual beats over a muddy surface on the final "Served On The Floor". Excellent listening and I can keep on humming The Pop Group's tune... "Capitalism is the most barbaric of all religions/Department stores are our new cathedrals/Our cars are martyrs to the cause...".
Artist: Akathartos (@)
Title: First Nightmare
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Well, okay, sometimes things just slip through the cracks here at Chain D.L.K. as this was released just nearly a year ago, althjough I personally haven't had it that long, and when I get a pile of stuff to review, I review 'em when I can. Anyway, Akathartos is the project of Samuli Reivila, from Tuusala, Finland and 'First Nightmare' is Akathartos' debut release, a mini-album of six tracks, a little over 32 minutes. He describes it as Orchestral Electro-Industrial, and that's just about right, but I might modify it to Gothic Orchestral Electro-Industrial because it does have a very gothic tone to it. On this recording Reivila does it all, except for the female vocals provided by Satu Vaisanen, which are a nice touch. Akathartos cites its influences as Hans Zimmer, Suicide Commando, Wumpscut, Hocico (among others) and it shows in some ways. One of the most obvious is the processed, harsh distoro-vocals used by the latter three mentioned. I'm not really a big fan of that particular vocal style. In my opinion it works okay for EBM and some electro-industrial, but I think there's been a move away from that lately because it's been just so overdone. Fortunately that isn't the only type of vocals you'll hear on 'First Nightmare,' but still it plays a major part. Choral vocals play a big part in this work too, and in fact, that's the first thing you will hear. This helps to give Akathartos a huge sound, something much larger than you'd expect from a single person. The orchestral arrangements are heavy and gothic, nearly Wagnerian, or akin to some of the more morose Russian composers. Lots of drama and pathos in a neoclassical setting with an electro-industrial edge.

If you're familiar with Swedish neoclassical band Arcana, imagine them fused with say, Wumpscut, Hocico or Front Line Assembly, and you'll get an idea of the overall sound of this project. There are some places on 'First Nightmare' where this combo works really well together, and others where it sounds like two distinctly different entities. Satu's vocals add a beautiful dimension to the music, and although I wouldn't say she has a stong voice, she does have a pretty one. As for Samuli's voice, during the more neoclassical passages, he employs a less harsh type of vocal processing, and when the beat becomes more electro-industrial, the vocals get harsher. One problem though is the production, and maybe even the mastering. There is a lack of clarity and sharpness that is a hallmark of home production. Limited budgets and limited studio experience tend to give these kind of results. Here I wouldn't necessarily categorize it as bad, but with great studio and mastering skill, it could have been so much more. It sort of comes across as a live recording, and if this is actually what the project sounded like live, Akathartos would have no trouble selling out shows.

For a first outing, 'First Nightmare' shows just what this talented Finnish composer is capable of, and that's something that a few more-seasoned artists working in Neoclassical Darkwave or Electro-Industrial genres that I've reviewed here have yet been able to prove- something engaging and compelling that doesn't just sound like everybody else working in the same field. Akathartos is defintely one to watch for in the future, and enjoy in the now.
Artist: Plus Instruments (@)
Title: Signal Through The Waves
Format: CD
Label: Blowpipe Records (@)
Rated: *****
My last encounter with Plus Instruments was the 'Trancesonics' album from 2013, and since then, Truus de Groot has been kinda busy, sneaking by a limited vinyl release ('Exile in Paradise') that I wasn't even aware of prior to this one. Whereas on 'Trancesonics' Truus had only a little help from a single musician (Jimmy Virani on theremin and moog), here she employs additional musicians Paulo Bento (synths, bass, guitar) from Anvil FX and James Sclavunos (drums) from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Grinderman. The result is something a lot less raw and a lot more controllled than 'Trancesonics,' yet still with that kind of "synth electronics as synth electronics" (as opposed to synths trying to emulate real instruments) ethic that seems integral to de Groot's music. Here Plus Instruments sounds a lot more like a real band than a solo artist with a lot of synths as on 'Trancesonics'.

Truus's vocal stylings have changed too; less experimental, less New Waveish, a lot more melodic, and somewhat jazzy and slightly soulful. Imagine Anette Peacock meets Amy Winehouse with someone else I've heard but can't remember her name. Plus Instruments tackles a variety of themes over the ten tracks on this album - a strange supernatural encounter ("Ghost"); passion ("This Fire Burns"); romantic breakup ("It's Over"); seduction ("Come Closer"). Some of the songs that work the best though can't be pigeon-holed to a specific theme, such as the title track "Signal Through the Waves". This little gem relies heavily on a distinctive sample & hold synth riff, a ring modulated chordal descending chordal progression and Sclavunos's snazzy drumming. Truus's voice is at her most appealing on this track, and the lyrics are great too. This track alone makes the disc a worthy purchase. Another great track is "Bad Mood" (rather self-explanatory) where drudgy broom-swept synths and plodding drums and bass back Truus's misery-tinged bluesy vocals. "You and Me" is as close as Plus Instruments gets to some of the chaotic 80's style experimentation so prevalent on 'Trancesonics'. But the most atypical song on 'Signal Through The Waves' is the last- "Your Mind" with guitar as the main instrument, and seething synths in the background. The poetic nature of this number is comparable to Patti Smith at the height of her powers.

'Signal Through The Waves' shows just how much de Groot has grown as an artist, and the songs are worth revisiting over and over again. While these tracks are more acessible, don't mistake accessibility for commerciality. This ain't mainstream, and we can be very thankful for that.
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