Music Reviews



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Artist: Pram
Title: Helium
Format: 12"
Label: Medical Records
Distributor: Bandcamp
My better-late-than-never journey into the discography of Pram continues with their second reissue on Medical Records: 1994's Helium. This time around, the deluxe reissue is on yellow wax. Like the previous reissue (The Stars Are So Big, The Earth Is So Small, Stay As You Are) there has been no remaster. Again as before, it's a welcome decision, for music exuding a similarly dynamic, low-fi mixture of mild aloofness, humour and instrumental experimentation.

'Gravity' seems to begin the album in a similar vein to The Stars Are So Big..., with a tense atmosphere somewhat analogous to that of its opener 'Loco'. There's clearer audio this time, which brings out and bumps up across the spectrum the rapid drumming and dramatic, quick motifs of the keys. Between them wavers a similarly climactic, fraught cello line that eventually descends into pulsing lows and upper squeals.

But with the second number, 'Dancing on a Star', the band find a much more satisfying balance between accessible songwriting and odd, exploratory experimentation. The strange, rather improbable mix of sounds makes plausible the idea of many different potential versions of the song; of a kind of arbitrariness. Yet at the same time, these individual elements really complement one another surprisingly well. The thin bubbles of the ascending bassline, the bold and varied synth play ranging from Radiophonic Workshop-esque spacey wobbles and bloops (an MS-20 perhaps? I'm no expert) to the stop-start tinkling of miniature bells; the characteristically restless drumming; Rosie Cuckson's usual bashful, dreamy vocals. Overall, it's bewildering, but also captivatingly energetic and warm. The other outstanding songs are 'My Father the Clown', with its uneasy waltz and smokey, beatless, instrumental final section; the handsome, protracted, jazzy "Blue" and the closer "Shadows", which blends verses of synthesised traditional folk with a fidgeting, instrumental chorus of metallic rhythms, brass and synth.

In the liner notes to the vinyl reissue of The Stars Are So Big, Cuckson recalls that the music of the band was "democratic" in the sense of representing every member's individual interests to the point of compromise, with nobody completely satisfied at the end. This explanation undoubtedly applies to Helium as well. It's the sound of multiple interpretations and interests wrestling over the songs' themes. The result is ambiguity; like the kind associated with shoegaze, only expressed in complex, ineffable, proggy nuance rather than an arresting overload of output. The fabulously queasy 'Little Angel, Little Monkey', which resembles some demented, speedy descendant of lounge lizard music, is the most impressive example of this.

In spite of all the supposed tension, there's something about the predominantly gentle, wry messiness of this unpredictable, ambitious and lovely music that convinces me the band were probably having a great deal of fun.
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Artist: Koban
Title: Abject Obsession
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Avant! Records
Rated: *****
The Art to make Music and to make it interesting is a job that Avant! Records knows very well. This music work of the post-punk due from Vancouver gives a perfect demonstration of the cure and skill of this label. The music of KOBAN is an hidden black pearl in the memories of the audience which still is yearning for punk-wave soundscapes. Smoothly ready to be a sound track for SM acts Abject Obsession flows in the stream of an eternal memento of vinyl and distorted guitar, pulsing bass and weird french voices seized and flogged by harsh synths. What is amazing for a terminal wave-lover like me is how this proposal so traditional and sadistically observant of the punk-wave rules is never boring and it thrives perfectly in its eerie garden.
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Artist: Matter (@)
Title: Paroxysmal
Format: CD
Label: Kvitnu (@)
Rated: *****
A paroxysm got defined as an uncontrollable outburst, but also as the acme of a pathological process. In the (dim) light of such a definition, the twelve tracks of the third album by Italian producer Fabrizio Matrone aka Matter for the Ukranian imprint Kvitnu, which keeps on moving towards more and more interesting sonic directions under the baton of Kotra and Zavoloka, sounds paroxysmal. Whether a track focuses on viscerally industrial-driven mechanical pulsations ("Depth", "Pressure", "Column", "Surge") or gets wisely channeled towards more abstract territories and beatless movements ("Exsolution", "Stone" or the final "Ash", which sounds like the logical end of a series of repeated combustions), each moment of "Paroxysmal" enucleates a moment or a sound which seems to exacerbate both the electric dispersion of rhythmical patterns and the gradual annihilation of the collapsing buildings, laying on smashed frequencies and deranged tones. Even though it could be considered logically related to his previous act "Biorhexistasy", "Paroxysmal" could reasonably be considered a further step in the explorations of harsh atonal territories by Matter, who wisely digs them by shattered swarms, noisy resonances, piercing beats and other sonic strategies. Some of them could vaguely resemble stuff like Celluloid Mata, Synapscape or Klangstabil, but speaking, in general, they manage to amplify the bipolarity between a constant aural tension and an astounding attention to detail, which makes it sound less rough than you could expect.
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Artist: Red Storm (@)
Title: Alert
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Polish band Red Storm is predominantly Agnieszka Lesna, along with cohorts Szymon Swierczynski, Jaroslaw Malicki, Hubert Heyn, and Dario Chiereghin. (Only Szymon, Jaroslaw and Dario on this album.) 'Alert' is their debut album, but if the name Agnieszka sounds familiar, perhaps that's because she was (and perhaps still is) the lead vocalist of the goth-metal band Desdemona. I hadn't heard Desdemona previously so I checked out a couple of their tracks, and they were pretty good. On 'Alert' though, Agnieszka absolutely KILLS! From start to finish this is one fuck of an album full of fantastic dark pop goodness in the goth-electro vein with hooks galore, stellar arrangement and production, and that certain something that makes the cream rise to the top. Over these ten tracks 'Alert' proves that Red Storm is a force to be reckoned with.

Perhapas the reason why the production is so great has to do with the album being co-produced by the Chilean Ivan Muñoz (singer of Chile's electro-industrial group Vigilante, and also working with Die Krupps, Atari Teenage Riot, Hani Elias and others) and John Fryer (co-founder of This Mortal Coil, and previously working with Depeche Mode, Cocteau Twins, Peter Murphy, Nine Inch Nails, and many others) along with Agnieszka. DJ Bactee also contributed loops to a few songs. Right from the opening track "Control", Agnieszka indeed takes control and draws you in, and there is no escaping for as long as you are her audience. Potential hits come fast and furious, one after another as Agnie lets you know that "Love is Pain", perhaps because she's suffered a bit on the road to becoming "Famous", because "Everything" they told you is a lie. Is she "The One" you've been looking for? Probably. On "Mood" and "Anymore" Red Storm reminds me a bit of Alice in Videoland meets Garbage. The energy doesn't lag on "High" or "Red Storm" either. While not steeped in goth, there are plenty of gothy touches on 'Alert', such as the operatic chorus samples and orchestral instrumentation on "Everything" and the dark Depeche Modey synthwork on the last track, "Lovely". Speaking of synthwork, it's pretty damn good throughout. Oh, and of course most everything here with its infectious rhythms would work really well on the dancefloor.

I don't usually do this but I peeked at a couple of other reviews and was quite perplexed that these likely jaded reviewers weren't totally bown away by this album. Even my wife loved it and she's the harshest music critic EVER! I truly believe Red Storm has a chance to make it well beyond the confines of the genre with 'Alert', and I don't see that happening very often with bands we review on Chain D. L. K. If you disdain any kind of pop music then Red Storm is not for you, but all others should seek this out and immediately buy it, because it's just that damn good.
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Artist: Mammoth Ulthana (@)
Title: Particular Factors
Format: CD
Label: Zoharum (@)
Distributor: Alchembria
Rated: *****
After the well-reviewed debut album, the duo of Jacek Doroszenko and Rafal Koacki returns with another release where their sound is enriched and multifaceted. While, according to the liner notes, this released aims to "compose a story about an ancient community that uses the phenomenon of sound as a medium to express a deep connection with nature" the result is a little more complex. While Koacki, using ethnic instruments as animal horns or rattles, pulls the release towards world music territories, Doroszenko, using electronics or prepared piano, pulls towards contemporary or EAI territories so the album is based upon a constant tension between the two path which conquers the listener's attention.
The pulsations of "Antiphase" open this release dialoguing with the metallic drumming and the pipes to construct something between ethnic and ambient music; to further enhance this setup, the second part of this release is based on gongs and piano. Apart from the use of the rattles, "Throat" is more oriented on a meditate sound based on the resonances of the instruments. The soundscape of "UV Garden" is almost perfectly juxtaposed by gongs and bells while "Basilisk" is almost an interlude for pipes and percussions. "Carbon" returns to path where the timbres of the instruments are meditatively explored while "Sove" is almost aggressive as it explores the noisy properties of their sound. "Saurr" is an interlude starting as an abstract track evolving into a percussive one. "Baldr" is based upon the dialectic between slow sounds and fast ones so it sequences meditative moments to complex and fast ones resulting in the more fascinating track of this release. "Tombs" is divided into a meditative first part and a second one based on rattles and gongs. "Estate" is a noisy interlude so the percussions of "Ratatosk" introduce the final drones which close this release slowly ending in silence.
The complex writing of this release is at the base of a release which for one side it sounds as an evocative oriented release and from the other it sound as a contemporary release focused on the exploration of sound. Recommended for curious ears.
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