Music Reviews



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Artist: Syncopix (@)
Title: Benevolence
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Syncopix Records (@)
Rated: *****
The appetizer "I Miss You Too", which came just before the official launching of the whole album, mouthwatering many followers of the more "elastic" side of liquid drum'n'bass. Such a title could sound like a declaration of love as well as a statement and the preannounced beloved and highly-expected benevolent act by Roland Bogdahn, better known as Syncopix, got finally served on the heated plate of his imprint. Besides the appetizer mentioned above, Roland explored different styles of the genre over the last years, but it seems he was just preparing the ground for a clearer stylistic definition. The thirteen tracks of "Benevolence" can be reasonably considered the spurt of Syncopix's soul seeking. I wouldn't say he added something new to the genre and in places like the opening "Fast Life", some airy jazzy or almost Balearic tunes such as "Bey-Bey", "Yesterdays" or "Airways" or the almost romantic beat drops of "I Love Her" - superlative vocals, that could let you imagine Jim Morrison on the mic! -, he seems to pedal back (very quickly!) towards that way of rolling beats up by many guests and settles of Hospital Records. The whole tone of the album steps up nimbly through soulful rolling grooves, spongy lush synth-driven patterns and somehow melodic power sliding, that become really catchy when they become punchier and punchier ("Where One Is", "Who You Are" or the perfectly clipped cuts of "Peaceful Warrior", my favourite moment of the album)... An engaging bouncy journey till the cheerfully bright "Happy Ending"!
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Artist: Nik Bärtsch's Mobile
Title: Continuum
Format: CD
Label: ECM
Rated: *****

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Nik BÄrtsch's fifth record on ECM is his first with the "Mobile" ensemble, which is pretty much the acoustic version of his main band "Ronin" (which adds a bass player to the line up).
I have seen both Ronin and Mobile live and both are amazing experiences, engulfing you in a vortex of patterns and sounds, and from what I can hear on "Continuum" the CD experience is very much true to the live experience, save for the fact that the CD has some cuts with a string quintet as well.

BÄrtsch's composition and dexterity on (and most definitely also inside!) the piano are complemented by Sha's bass and contrabass clarinet and by the tuned percussions, drums and multiple bass drums with different tunings played by Kaspar Rast and Nicolas Stocker. The whole experience is a very rhythmic one, where even the clarinet, who one might expect might soar over everything else, in fact, quite to the contrary, becomes a very integral part of the rhythms itself, playing a bass part in a very percussive part way. The dynamic and tonal range of the percussions is comparable to that of the 88 keys of the piano, and stretches all the way from the low rumbles of the 32" concert bass drum to the piercing icicle sounds of the xylophone, which often blends in subtly with the upper register of the piano notes.

The music is so expansive, it makes you forget time, in spite of the fact that it is all about time and its subdivisions... Somebody is quite obviously doing a lot of counting. Plenty of odd meters to be had for all you math-musicians out there, but more importantly plenty of gorgeous and masterfully executed suites of trance-inducing soundscapes that definitely well understand and embrace the concept of tension and release, which is so important in music.

It's hard to imagine, let alone describe, a band like this, but suffice it say that it is some of the most creative use of variation enriched repetition I've heard in a long time, along with those of Philip Glass. And just like Glass' compositions, BÄrtsch's capture, engulf, fascinate and enchant, except they do so in a more assertive, almost endearingly aggressive way, if you will, that almost has an undercurrent of stealthy military-on-foot-like advance and proud royal samurai-like dedication (if you take a hint from the composer's kimono clothing and occasional Japanese-in-performance-like short-upper-throaty-screams it all makes sense) under the commandeering direction of its main composer and leader.

All I can say is, you've got to hear this for yourself. This is not your average ECM record. This is not your average record. These compositions are magical, transcending space, matter and most definitely time!
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Artist: Vlad Nedelin (@)
Title: Postante
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Jazz drummer and composer Vlad Nedelin was born in the former Soviet Union, lived for a spell in Israel, and is now a resident of Sockholm, Sweden. On 'Postante,' his debut solo release, Nedelin explores some very interesting terrain in the active-ambient mode. Not exactly what you'd expect from a jazz drummer (being that most of 'Postante is comprised of sythesizers and samplers) but his attention to rhythm is precisely what makes this album stand out. Over nine tracks that blend together with the continuity of a movie, Vlad takes you on a trip through an ambient-industrial landscape with noirish overtones and a sci-fi undertone. The comparisons to a modern Blade Runner are inevitable, being a prime example of what we have here, though (overused) dialogue samples from that flick (or any other) are gratefully not employed.

The listener gradually eases into the Postante world with "Totally Ripe," comprised of gentle drones, a hint of melody and little electronic tidbits until the mechanical rhythm builds up. It's a soft, down-tempo sort of industrial atmosphere, but ultimately a cohesive once when you get used to it. This gradually fades into "Nothing Disappears," where a beautiful, semi-melodic slow theme is developed, blending mystery with intrigue. It's Eno-esque, but even better. Swept away by white noise we head into "Post Meridiem" with its rain-like crackling, heavy drones and industrial foley effects. This is a full-on dark ambient track that cries out for visual accompaniment, but is left to your imagination. "Yet to Be Told" begins with some electronic sequences in the vein of Biosphere and gradually morphs into a fuller (march) rhythm with Eastern-inspired melody. Before you know it, you're on "An Isle" where dark and mysterious drones provide the base while foley activity (doors opening and closing, tapping, clanking, metal scraping, squeaks, etc.) provides the activity. Strange, but very cool. Now you can go "Through the Tunnel," a track with very animated rhythm that implies somne sort of urgency, perhaps an escape or chase. For respite, you can take up "Temporary Residence" in the shadow realm where ghostly voices hover over the windswept terrain. But all too soon it's time to move on into the subterranean realm of the "Ante Meridiem," a transitional track that takes you to "Untouched," where bells ring in dulcet and possibly baleful tones. Somehow it's raining again in this bleak environ, and there is an aura of sadness as you slip away from the 'Postante' world.

This is one hell of an album that sparks the imagination like a movie in the mind, one that you have to write and direct yourself. Cinematic? Certainly! Dark, but not overly oppressive. For a debut album Vlad Nedelin has composed an impressive and compelling soundscape which many seasoned electronic music composers could only dream about. Highly recommended!
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Artist: Elandor (@)
Title: Loveless Mind
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
This is the fourth full album from the Frankfurt, Germany band Elandor, and it should have been their breakout release, but somehow isn't, even though it has its moments. Elandor is fairly steeped in the 'Neue Deutsche HÄrte' genre, but it seems as though on 'Loveless Mind' some of the band wants to go in a different direction, perhaps a more progressive one. Take for example drummer Jan Ulzhöfer who seems to be the busiest percussionist I've ever heard in this genre. He's not only a power-player, but also all over the drumkit. Many prog-rock bands would dearly love to have a drummer like this. The interesting thing is that he also plays keyboards on this album as well, which are also integral to Elandor's progressive leanings. As for guitar, Daniel Hawranke seems to be firmly steeped in the metal aspect of the band. Vocalist Markus Kühnel with a potent baritone voice seems like he could go either way, but maybe a little more comfortable in the metal mode. Bassist Steffen Wust seems rather of the traditional school, and nothing really stands out with his playing. Now here's the weird part - the band added violinist Indra Suss, but doesn't utilze her the fullest. (She's does add a nice touch when you can hear her though.)

Usually albums from a band like this open strong putting their best material upfront and save the weaker tunes for later on. Not the case here though. The album opens with "The Unforgotten," a mood-setting instrumental of primarily piano and synthesizer backed by percussion. It's more noodling than powerful. Title song "Loveless Mind" has some nice synth work in it and a bit of drama but no good hook. The followup- "Ohne Dich," sung in German, is the first you hear of Indra's violin, is slower paced and has a good hook that German audiences might appreciate more than English ones, being the mono-linguist louts we tend to be. "Obscura" picks up the tempo and pricks up the ears as well, being very gothy and well-arranged. Where the hell is Indra's violin though? Nowhere to be found on this number. A pity. "Rising Fear" is typical goth-metal and Markus really kills on this one. Even Daniel cuts loose for a spell. The band seems to be getting into their better material now as Markus tells "Tales of Hearts" using the upper range of his voice, and keyboards become more prominent. Once again though, Indra seems to sit this one out.

At last, in the ballad "Her Song" (sung in German) we get to hear Indra's sweet violin, and quite a bit of it too. That's the most remarable thing about this song. "Desire" has some nice synth in it but otherwise seems fairly ordinary. Keyboard intros are becoming the norm for this band, so it is no surprise that "Withering Pureness" opens up with one. In fact, the keyboard work saves this song from just so-so. No Indra, even though there was opportunity. "Cold Funeral" is an emotion-fueled waltz that calls out for Indra's violin but alas, there is none that I detect. "Shattered Hope" is a frenetic prog-rock song in disguise, and a pretty good one at that. Don't hear any violin though. The snappy synth intro on "Redemption" once again find the band in proggy territory charging hard toward the finish line. Most of the band seems to be up to the task. Finally, we see "The Light," another proggy song that is largely Jan's work, but no violin, unless it's been buried in the mix.

So now I'm still wondering what the focus of this band is. It was produced by Markus, so I have to give him credit for all the good of it and blame for all the missed opportunites; the under-utiliztion of Indra Suss and the hesitation of not just blasting off into more progressive territory. When you have some really nice melodic content but can't come up with uber-memorable hooks, where else is there to go? This album really should have rated four stars (it's actually pretty good) but I'm taking it down half a notch because I don't think it lives up to its potential.
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Artist: Quentin Hiatus (@)
Title: Saiyan Spirit EP
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Free Love Digi
Rated: *****
After looking at the cover artwork and checking the title of this new tidbit on his own imprint Free Love Digi, I should ask to the appreciated producer Quentin Hiatus, one of the most forerunning at the moment in the scene of bass-driven music according to many ear responses, if he or his beloved son is a fan of well-known manga series and anime Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama. Well, he could even have some mysterious connection with some of the inhabitants of Nappa or maybe Vegeta - if you followed that manga, you should say what I'm referring to -, but what really matters to all the listeners, who are thirsting for new sonorities, are the secret weapons and the sonic spells he cast on the two track he included in this release. Named after a solitary and kind-hearted character appeared on Dragon Ball Z, wielding a magical sword and an ocarina, "Tapion" is the first set of chopped electronic beats, flashing bolts and brilliantly executed cuts and could be attached to a muted off vision of the above-mentioned series. The second track "Saiyan Spirit" moves towards more chilled, but likewise whimsical, directions over impressive knots of synth-chords, bumpy chaining and fluffy electronic reverberations. I would label it as a Kaio-ken imbued continuous Kamehameha of Qigong bullets, indeed! Hasshu-ken!
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