Music Reviews



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Artist: Oren Ambarchi & Jim O'Rourke
Title: Behold
Format: 12"
Label: Editions Mego
Rated: *****
Even if the new collaborative release by Oren Ambarchi and Jim O'Rourke, who partially reprised some ideas that they developed on their previous collaborative album "Indeed", got splitted in two parts, one on each side, I would suggest to listen to "Behold" as a continuum. The resounding elements, which appears on the first half as if they emit signals from inside a dense and really impenetrable fog or from a long distance, become more and more distinguishable: the constant tapping on hi-hats by Ambarchi doesn't disentagle the flowing leakage of (sometimes screeching) sonic entities and isolated but unrecognisable field recording that fluctuates in disarray within the tarnishing cloud where even single bass-like thuds by Jim are somehow relevant on the first part, but it turns himself into a sort of enzyme of the reversed process of enlightenment on the second half, whose closeness to some old-fashioned Krautrock progressions and contemporary minimalism doesn't eclipse the amazing way these muscians find a certain complementarity. You could imagine the whole release as the rendering of some cognitive process, where the initial confusion, caused by the seemingly disorganized movement of blurred elements, turns into proper ecstacy when the observer manages to understand or even foreseem the inner rules of their perpetual flowing. A listening to behold.
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Artist: Hyperbubble (@)
Title: Dee Dee Rocks the Galaxy (Original Soundtrack)
Format: CD
Label: Pure Pop For Now People (@)
Rated: *****
You may recall Hyperbubble from the last review I did on them not too long ago when they released their soundtrack to an indie film called 'Attack of the Titans'. For those who didn't catch it, and don't know Hyperbubble, they are an international visual and performing arts electropop/synthpop duo from San Antonio, Texas consisting of Jeff and Jess DeCuir. So 'Dee Dee Rocks the Galaxy' is another soundtrack album to an indie short (very short, thankfully) film that's absolutely awful. The slim plot consists of this slacker girl who's life stinks because can't even sell (girl scout) cookies on earth, but through a mystical potion she ingests, she ends up in space and becomes a guitar goddess. The execution is, well...amateurish doesn't even begin to describe it. Why Hyperbubble persists in getting involved in these junior non-achievment film projects is beyond me. The band puts a lot more effort into the music than the people who make these visual atrocities. The music is mostly kitschy retro space-inspired synthpop and largely instrumental, but not always. A song such as "My Life Stinks" culls its vocal directly from the movie for its entirety - "My life stinks, I really need a change," patheticaly spoke-sung by Dee Dee (Elie Zinsmeister). It's this kind of thing that keeps the album from being listenable more than once or twice, which is too bad because they do come up with some nice quirky electronica instrumentals here. The track "Kingdom of Korg" is notably pretty cool with it's doomy homage to 50's sci-fi flicks, theremin and all. They even manage to come up with some strange, eerie alien atmosphere as on "Planet Theremin". Last track "Queen of the Universe" has a chorus of wordless female voices I really adore, and "Dee Dee's Theme" is a manic synthpunk tune with a neat vocal track that despite its tie to the movie, stands pretty well on its own. Still, I'm not sold; for me there was just too much "movie" in this album. They did win first place for musical score with this at the 2014 48 Hour Film Fest in San Antonio, Texas, but I'm guessing that the competition in the music department may not have been all that strong. The filmmakers are assigned a genre, a character, a prop, and a line of dialogue, and have 48 hours to create a short film containing those elements. I highly doubt Hyperbubble was constrained to that time limit to create the soundtrack. If they were, then this is a miracle. Still, I think the band would be better served if they went back to doing what they do best, namely making quirky, fun, addictive synthpop tunes.
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Artist: Basilisk (@)
Title: Traumland
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
More Teutonic dark metal from in the form of Basilisk, from Southern Germany, who have been around since the late 90's with a few prior releases. They shouldn't be confused with other bands by the same name in the Black Metal genre as I know there are a few of them out there. This band isn't Black Metal, but some kind of dark, progressive, sorta gothic at times metal. Basilisk's lineup consists of Rudy- guitar & vocals; Tommy- keyboards & vocals; Frank - bass & vocals, and Ry- drums. Songs are in English and German, and you can almost figure out which is which from the track titles before you even listen. One of these guys sings melodically, and the other in that gruff and growly death metal voice. Interesting contrast. The guitar is typical metal, but the keyboards add a nice prog-gothy touch. In places I'm getting shades of Deep Purple (especially on "Schattenreich"), obviously due to the keyboard work. In fact, it's Tommy's keys that save this from being just another dark metal band. Calling the album by its English translation, 'Dreamland', I find the the dreams of Basilisk are pretty dark and doomy, even when the guy with the melodic voice is singing. The band comes on strong with "My Dying World", and although the opener is a bit of a mess musically, they manage to get your attention, if for nothing else but thinking "what metal genre does this really fall into?" They do manage to get it together for the kitchy-spooky "Schattenreich", a rabid rocker that would play well on Halloween with its doomy chimes and gothy keyboard parts. "A Man's Last Stand" has a hint of Black Sabbath to it, starting out strong but then meanders before it gets its groove back on the chorus near the end. By now it's time for the obligatory power ballad, which is the title track "Traumland" and I feel like I'm listening to the German equivalent of Spinal Tap. Oh boy. I'm almost glad the lyrics aren't in English, and you might just want to hit the skip button on this one. "Verstanden" sounds like several different songs wandering in aimless directions, getting by more on atmosphere than content. "Ships Under Black Flag" (the pirate number) has nary a yo-ho-ho or arrggh matey in it and the lack of much memorable except the keyboard riff sends it straight to Davey Jones' Locker. "Die Zeit" is mostly sturm und drang fury signifying...not much. "Love Hates Me" sounded promising from the intricate instrumental opening but mediocre songwriting sabotages this one in spite of the excellent musicianship. "Delirium" delves into the goth-industrial with chopped staccato guitar and those growly vocals really work here, but it would have worked better with a more martial rather than rock beat. The chorus with the clear vocals just doesn't make it at all. "Dreary Angels" is of similar ilk, except with glockenspiel over the top. The chorus is slightly better than the preceding track, but not by much. It does have a nifty Middle Eastern inspired keyboard break though. By this time a pattern is starting to emerge - put forth a great idea to start, then blow it on the chorus. For the life of me, I can't figure out why. Accept the first thing that comes along? I dunno. The next track, "Illusions of Myself" suffers similarly. Perhaps the best idea Basilisk had was to cover Falco's "Out of the Dark". This could easily be the top song on the album, and given the metal treatment while remaining somewhat faithful to the original, the song gets the power it really deserves. Gee, if only the band could have written more material themselves on this level, they'd have had a great album. Closing with "Der Pakt", a medieval-themed number still in metal mode, it at least makes you feel like you got your money's worth in the variety department. While not a bad album, 'Traumland' has enough issues in the songwriting to keep it from becoming a really good album. Still, a worthwhile listen for a few tracks, and maybe that's all you can hope for in a German metal band of any stripe these days.
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Artist: Amandas Nadel (@)
Title: Sticht
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
If you follow the German/Austrian dark and heavy alt-rock scene, you may be familiar with the name Amandas Nadel from his work in Roterfeld and Lolita Komplex. Here, the guitarist/vocalist strikes out on his own for the first time with his debut album, 'Sticht' with bassist Thomas Pfaller. Being somewhat unfamiliar with the current NDH genre (Neue Deutsche Härte or New German Hardness - think Oomph!, Rammstein, Stahlhammer, Megaherz, etc.) I had no idea what I was in for on 'Sticht'. Judging by the cover (which Nadel created by the way) I thought it might be a black-metal death-noise kind of thing. Definitely not that though. What we have here is German (or Austrian, if you want to be precise) melodic metal with a little bit of darkness woven in for an edge. Nadel's vocals are definitely melodic and not gruff, often harmonizing with himself. A couple of different drummers are employed on this album on different tracks - Alex Kerbl and Stefan Niklas, and they're both well up to the task. As with many albums (and especially debut albums), the best tracks come first. "Grinsekatze" ("Cheshire Cat") opens with a memorable guitar riff, a bit dark and mysterious on the verses, but on the chorus, very commercial sounding. Nadel's intense soloing ups the ante a notch, something that saves later so-so tracks from being ho-hum. "Vampir" begins with a little gothic organ, and then a guitar groove not dissimilar to Sister's of Mercy's "Vision Thing". It's a smokin' number that really grabs you even if you don't understand the lyrics (which if you don't know German, you won't). Nadel's harmonies are particularly good on this track. Things simmer down on "Mein Herz Sagt" ("My Heart Says"), a power ballad of sorts, beginning with a woman's voice saying "Blah, blah, blah, blah..., and that's exactly what I thought of this kind of power ballad. I suppose you have to change it up a little but a rather weak track in my estimation. We're back in regular rock mode for "Hei, Danke!", a song with a good hook and commercial sound, and of course Nadel's intense soloing which keeps this song from sounding ordinary. You know, it's not part of the NDH ethic to sing in English, but if this one had English lyrics, it could have American hit potential. "Die Warheit" ("The Truth") begins the descent into the ordinary, sounding like any other rock band, just in German. "Von Ewigkeit Zu Ewigkeit" ("Forever and Ever") doesn't impress much, and Amandas seems to be recycling some of his guitar chords on this one. "Männertränen" ("Tears of Men") seems like one of those songs that you really have to understand German to appreciate. "Der Schwarze Mann" is uptempo rocker but nothing special in the songwriting department, and ironically, the least dark thing on the album. "Sensucht" ("Longing") closes the album prior to the remixes, and might just be the heaviest thing on 'Sticht', or at least most of it.

Now we get to the remixes, both done by Nadel and labeled "Dance Remix; first "Vampir" then "Der Schwarze Mann". "Vampir" is given the burbling sequenced synth and programmed beats treatment and it works to a degree, but it won't eclipse the original. Might make its way into selected dance clubs though, with an open-minded dj. "Der Schwarze Mann" takes a similar path, albeit more experimental. I sort of liked this one better than the original just because it's kind of odd. Last track is "Fritz, der Maus", a kind of silly number that must have been done tongue-in-cheek. It's light on the verses and much heavier on the choruses. I'm sure that Deutsche-speaking folks probably find the song a hoot, but I'm just left scratching my head.

In conclusion, Amandas Nadel's 'Sticht' only barely squeaks by satisfying Chain D.L.K. genre requirements for review; it isn't necessarily gothic or industrial, but just dark enough to garner interest of our readers, and those familiar with Nadel's involvement in other projects more in line with what we cover might want to check it out. My advice to Herr Nadel- write darker songs and sing in English. I don't think your German fans will be put out, and you'll be likely to gain many more American ones
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Artist: Synth Bard
Title: Gold Box Renditions
Format: Tape
Label: Ephem Aural (@)
Rated: *****
Synth Bard 'Gold Box Renditions' is a super cool collection of renditions of SSI's Dungeons and Dragons DOS games (released in the nineties) made on analog synthesizers. The weapons of choice used by Synth Bard are the mighty Korg MS-20, the always good Dave Smith's instruments Mopho and the Waldorf Rocket, which is a small portable analog synthesizer. An assortment of guitar pedals was used to make it sound 100% analog. It introduces a bit of background noise but the overall recording is fairly clean. The tunes here are epic, catchy and melodic. This is the good stuff, a true geek wet dream! The tape itself is a work of art for any self-respected nerds: the sleeve reproduce the artwork of the original SSI's games, the tape has a strange brownish color and it comes with a Dungeons & Dragons character record sheet! The quality of the tracks is consistent, there is no fillers or boring tunes. There isn't much more to ad, it's simple and good. Plus, all the proceeds are donated to SOS Children's Village. Highly recommended!
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