Music Reviews

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Artist: The Department
Title: Alpha
Format: CD
Label: Hard Cell Records
Rated: *****
The Department is a duo from London (Rob Green) and Gothenburg (Magnus Lindstrom). It is a relatively new band (2012) but the guys are clearly much more experienced than this. For instance Rob Green used to make progressive house in 90s and he worked as a DJ in several clubs. This is just to say that, although this is a debut, these guys are not inexperienced. And as a matter of fact the debut 'Alpha' is a well played album. But let's start from the beginning. The Department is a band clearly inspired by classical electro and new/dark wave. As Rob himself admits, they clearly stands on the shoulders of giants such as early Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Smiths, Soft Cell, New Order. However, they are a particularly interesting mix and they have plenty of peculiarities. These guys are incredibly good in arranging songs, they know how to choose a good bass or a good lead, to make a good lines and, moreover, they are very good in structuring songs. Finally, there are also songs with commercial potential, such as 'Not for you' and 'As if transformed'. Overall, I think that 'Alpha' is a damn good album, and we will hear about The Department very soon.
Artist: Günter Schickert / Pharoah Chromium (@)
Title: OXTLR
Format: 3 x 12" vinyl
Label: Grautag (@)
Rated: *****
The eighth ring on Nicolas Moulin's label Grautag comes from two brilliant sound artists of German musical scene. Gunter Schickert could be considered one of the men behind the curtains of German krautrock scene since late 60'ies and first 70ies: he was one of the first guitar player which played a style that got widely known as "echo guitar", mainly based on sort of loops of repeated notes and overdubs, which was extensively used by many krautrockers. Even if his technique and his style were not so different from the ones of Achim Reichel and Manuel Gottsching of Ash Ra Tempel, his two best solo recordings, "Samtvogel" and "Uberfallig" (recently re-released by Bureau B label), have been deservedly rediscovered during Internet age. He splits this record with German-Palestinian musician and performer Ghazi Barakat, another brilliant sound artist, whose Pharaoh Chromium project (named after a song of the band Chrome) draws inspiration from free jazz, ancient past and near future rituals, science fiction novels and radical architecture groups like Italian Superstudio and Archizoom as well as by the sonorities of the psychedelic avant-garde of the 70ies, the industrial bands of the early 80ies and middle-far east nuances that got performed by Ghazi, who usually wears a golden mask on live stage, by a wide set of ethnic flutes and electronic devices. They already met in the mid-eighties in West Berlin, but Barakat discovered the similarities of his style to Schickert's approach just after he listened to a re-release of the above-mentioned "Samtvogel" in 2010 so that many discussions about possible collaborative works followed. Then Barakat introduced Schickert to Nicolas Moulin in order to release some of his recent outputs as well as the first fruits of their collaboration an that's how this release was born and what should have been a douple lp became a triple lp featuring two very long bicephalous tracks. Most of the compotional ideas are quite simple, but both the iterations which dig into listener's psyche little by little, and the "ritual" halo of each track, which could infer many reviewers to label it as a dark-ambient release, require immersive listening sessions in order to enjoy them: the slow flutes, the sneaking circles of a synth-brass and the gradual electronic wrapping on the initial "Bamiyan", which last 22 minutes and 22 seconds, evoke the images of the "executed" statue of the Buddhas of Bamiyan that got dynamited by Taliban icnoclasm, while the sinister tolling and the oppressive echoed sonic entites of the following "Campfire" are the elements which get closer to the so-caled dark-ambient. The almost orchestral parade of heavy echoes, ghostly drones and resounding guitars on "A6" reaches the highest hypnotical peaks of the release by means of tonal stonewalls that seem to evaporate whenever they got erected and vaguely resound on the amniotic buoyancy of the entrancing "Katharsis", where some listener could perceive some resemblances with Starts of The Lid. Such a feeling of amniotic floatation keeps on wrap listener on the awesome space-walking of "Galaktik Debris" - the first collaborative track by Barakat and Schickert-, where your eardrums could meet many strange objects in the thich layer of stardust, including guitars which are in between U2-like intro and Eastern chords. Last but not least, the final collaborative track 'Music D'Ascenseur Pour L'Echafaud' where I guess Ghazi and Gunter made a really interesting imaginary score for Louis Malle's noir movie "Ascenseur pour l'echafaud"...not an easy task if you consider that the OST of the movie was an ad hoc jam session by Miles Davis...
Artist: Foils Quartet
Title: The Jersey Lily
Format: CD
Label: Creative Sources (@)
Rated: *****
This avalanche in the canyon of free jazz comes from a musical liaison between Germany and UK, the favourable meeting between the excellent wind Berlin-based duo by Frank Paul Schubert, whose empathy with his soprano saxophone and the other elements of the band has a dynamite shape on this record, and Matthias Muller on trombone, and John Edwards (bass) and Mark Sanders (a real octopus on drums!), two brilliant improvisers from the vibrant English scene. This fourtet gave rise to two impressive sessions of so instinctively head-banging and constantly spinning free-jazz that you might wonder what kind of power pill they swallowed to blast their musical energy: the two impressive sessions on "The Jersey lily" - "Eddie's Flower" and "Amaryllis Belladonna"...two clear references together with the title of this release to Lille Langtry, the most beatiful European woman according to Oscar Wilde's opinion which could be reasonably agreed by King Edward VII, maybe the most important and "earnest" (!) of her many suitors - sometimes sound like a proper battle between the two duets (Bass Vs Drums and Trombone Vs Soprano Saxophone!), which scrambled their instruments by means of an overwhelming roller coaster of sounds, techniques and musical scuffles for more than 75 incendiary minutes that got recorded live on April 2nd 2013 at The Lily Langtry Room, Lamp Tavern, Birmingham, UK by Christopher Trent.
Artist: Simon Kolle (@)
Title: Drakar och Demoner: Trudvang (OST)
Format: CD
Label: Waerloga Records (@)
Distributor: Waerloga Records
Rated: *****
Originally released for the Swedish Roleplay game Drakar och Demoner: Trudvang but also soundtrack to the pilot films inspired by the game.

Simon Kolle is no stranger to us because of his work with Za Frumi and Musterion. Simon has composed a masterful set of cues that effortlessly blends Nordic Folk Music motifs with orchestral trademarks. Even though their blending is seamless, the combination of the two elements creates a very unique sound that is difficult to describe. Some tracks are more traditional, film music like orchestral cues, while others are heavily folk music oriented, using traditional Nordic chord progressions and instruments. The composer focuses on developing Nordic sensibilities within a standard orchestral format. The result is nothing less than breathtaking.

Drakar och Demoner was a smash hit in Sweden in the 80s and 90s and pawed the way for countless of other games and books. Drakar och Demoner is Dungeons and Dragons but with more of a Nordic take on it. The version called Trudvang is released by Riotminds and they seem to be taking their projects online with a unique and cool project called Riot Online. Right now it's only in Swedish but it's said it will be in English too.

The score of Drakar och Demoner: Trudvang is enormously strong, mature music that rivals the best orchestral works for film.

The 26 track CD has a lean running time of more than an hour. I doubt any material is missing. Track title translations exist and it's helpful.

All the lyrics (on a couple of cues) are in Icelandic and are sung by Susanne Cermenius and Lisa Gregorsson.

The main theme is superb, worthy of becoming known mainstream. It would have suited perfect for many films.
The best tracks on the album are the ones that blend powerful orchestral work with Nordic Folk Music. Many are the ethnic instruments heard on the album and sometimes you forget you are actually listening to music as you get so into it all. Many of these tracks could easily constitute the main theme for an entirely different score.

The Bonus Tracks are really good too and ending the album is a cue written for a bowyer (maker of bows) with mysterious Elven whispers.

This is a strong, expertly crafted score that never gets dull. It effortlessly combines Nordic Folk Music and Orchestral musical elements, creating a very unique and enjoyable listening experience.

Limited edition of 500 copies.
Artist: Glacial23 (@)
Title: s/t
Format: 12"
Label: Savage Quality Recordings (@)
Rated: *****
Glacial23 is Sam Harmon from Cleveland, Ohio, an electronic music producer, instrument builder, noise explorer, etc., and this self-titled 12" is his vinyl debut, although I think he's previously done other things with Glacial23. The record is five tracks - two on the A side, three on the B side. The digital download gives you an extra three tracks, but if you like what I'm going to tell you about the record, you'd better not hesitate because the website says there are only five copies left. This is an entirely instrumental work. The album starts off with "...the last evenings of summer", a mid-tempo number with a repetetive bass line and fairly straightforward drum machine. Light filtered synth chords permeate the mix that seem more for atmosphere than melody. Burbling sequenced synth is also in evidence. It's a Kraftwerkian type of minimalism employed throughout. Very Euro. "Warning Star" picks up the pace a bit and has a typical German techno vibe, with claps in the forefront. Overtly sequenced minimal synth and a strong beat, a club-worthy track. "White Cloud" keeps up the beat and employs lighter echoed sequenced synth, then a complementary lower mid-range sequence. Snare-play appears occasionally, and so far, this is the breakout from minimalism in terms of texture; it's still pretty minimal as far as form goes. "Cheval de Frise" starts with kicks, hats and claps, then sequenced filtered bass. Synth chords provide a hint of melody, and other synth sounds arise to fill in the gaps. For some reason I'm reminded of Marty Rev's (1/2 of Suicide) solo recordings, although it's been quite a while since I've heard them. Last track on the record, "Laminar Techno" is Acid Techno, pure and simple, and that's all there is to say about that. For those more interested in the digital download, I might as well cover those tracks. "Down" keeps true to the style and form of what came before but is a bit more eerie. "taperunner" is a little under 2 minutes of thick, low, growling filtered synth, no beat, no rhythm. "Down (alternate AB-Version)" is a remix of the previous "Down" obviously, sounding even more ominous than the original, and slower, and consequently longer too. It's somewhat noisy, and I found the claps really annoying this go-round, mixed up, while the spooky synth was submerged. In my estimation, the extra track were a bit superfluous. If you like minimal Acid Techno or Acid House, go for the vinyl. Personally, I prefer music that has a bit more substance, and to me, this sounds just so 25 years ago, but for those of you feeling nostalgic, you might want to check this out.
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