Music Reviews

Artist: Moderat
Title: II
Format: CDS (CD Single)
Label: Mute Records (@)
Rated: *****
Moderat, the brilliant combination of Berlin electronic artists Apparat (aka Sascha Ring) and Modeselektor (aka Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary), have teamed up for an incredibly atmospheric, well-polished, and aptly-titled second album, II.

Any stand-alone Apparat or Modeselektor release is a treat. As forerunners in the contemporary and eclectic electronic music scene in Berlin, as well as former mainstays signed to the influential label BPitch Control, the acts have run the gamut of genres from IDM, glitch, hip-hop, electro house, minimal techno, to everything in between.

Apparat's solo releases and approach to songwriting, most noteably 2011's stunning The Devil's Walk, have tended to fall into moody terrain, particularly with longing vocals and lyrics, minimalist off-beats, and atmospheric vibes, all of which are cleverly and clearly demonstrated throughout II. Modeselektor have tended to focus their experimental techno more in mirth and fun, particular on the early (and very exclamatory) releases Hello Mom! and Happy Birthday! The combination of the two creates a nearly inexplicable, complex, and headphones-recommended experience.

While vocals on Apparat releases have typically only been those of Sascha Ring's and vocals on Modeselektor's tunes, when present, are largely attributed to a slew of special guests including Otto von Schirach, TTC, Puppetmastaz, and even Radiohead's Thom York, II contains several tracks that are either instrumental or contain chopped up, sampled vocals, yet never lacking in melody and addictive hooks. The tracks in which Ring soulfully sings are just as appealing ('Bad Kingdom' and 'Gita'). 'Let In The Light' reminds us that dubstep, despite numerous criticisms and stigma in recent times, can still be done while sounding new and refreshing.

A hybrid of a large number of experimental techno subgenres, II is the newest wave of Berlin's ' and beyond ' electronic music scene.
Artist: John Puchiele Ensemble (@)
Title: Life Cycle
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Composer John Puchiele has been active for several decades doing live synthesizer-based performance scores for theatrical productions, film scores, recordings and ensemble performances. He was also a composer and performer with the Glass Orchestra. 'Life Cycle' seems to be the first recording by the John Puchiele Ensemble, an ambient orchestral sound allegory of the life cycle. Funny, I can't find the names of any other members of this ensemble nor can I find a website for the group's label ' Antediluvian Records, so I assume this CD is self-released and other member of the ensemble (if any) are anonymous. Over thirteen tracks the music is somewhat varied with ambient being a common thread but not the sole form of expression in 'Life Cycle'. 'from there to here' is reminiscent of an Eno-Harold Budd collaboration with smooth sustained drone strings and a lightly played minimal piano theme. 'first step' is all spacey strings in the sky which seems transitional. 'foundations' is a heavily chambered piano piece that conjures a certain emotional wistfulness. 'the big sky' is more elongated sky strings, like watching clouds drift by. 'thinking' employs multilayered sustained voices in chordal patterns, soothing, contemplative. 'second step' is another brief string-based piece with chord clusters billowing and colliding with some dissonance like a storm brewing. 'life gets busy I' starts out placidly enough with light string chords, then the strings spring to life with marcato technique in two-note base that is elaborated on and accented by the other string instruments. As more sections join in this becomes complex, with more parts being added. It's minimal/maximal ala the Philip Glass/Steve Reich school of classical composition. Taken by itself, the piece is really wonderful and spellbinding the way it grows and swells, but ambient purists may balk at being woken from their reverie. 'life gets busy II' has a similar take with lively piano(s) playing simple repeated phrases that grow more complex as parts are added. Another nice composition but hardly ambient, just very frenetic until it comes to a dead stop. 'third step' has lofty, airy sounds with a lot of harmonic resonance. 'climbing.' features sustained bowed strings that seem to drift but have a certain heaviness to them. 'N.D.E.' begins with low, sustained string chords joined in time by (wordless) heavenly choir that sneaks into the background, then a single bowed string saws through the clouds accompanied by the timbre of a higher instrument, and more and more lower and mid bowed strings, until only the higher registers remain ushered out on a cosmic wind. Muted, heavily reverbed smooth drones of different frequencies comprise 'the edge of infinity,' the most spaced-out section of 'Life Cycle'. 'from there to here' seems filled with both sadness and hope with a slow three-chord theme played on strings and a synth voice until it fades away.

I realize all I have done is describe the mechanics of 'Life Cycle' and ultimately how it resonates with the listener is its true test of merit. Some may find it achingly beautiful, others uneven and often melancholy. To me, it conveyed a variety of moods and emotions, some of which I couldn't help but be affected by. The 'New Classical' repetitive structures of the middle pieces are bound to raise some hackles on those who like their ambient music smooth and drifty, but such is life. Everyone needs a break from placidity. Sometimes you just have to mix things up a bit.
Artist: Autogen (@)
Title: Mutagen
Format: CD
Label: 4iB Records / Sturm (@)
Distributor: 4iB Records
Rated: *****
I know that I should have written this review months before, but unfortunately I lost track in between, so this one comes out late. The debut release of Autogen out of Latvia promised to be one of the outstanding releases during the last months for the Dark Electro/Post-modern Ambient/IDM genre. It is an experimental Electronica project by Kaspars Kalnins, also known under his pseudonym Kaps. He is maybe better known for his involvement in the Electro/Industrial project Rosewater or as being the founder of the Latvian cult label Sturm. Kaps is surely one of leading forces behind any activity of underground-related music in this small Eastern European country. This debut album is a collaboration release between Sturm and the new Singapore-based 4iB Records, which concentrates to present Ambient / Noise / Martial-Industrial styles. Autogen has been firstly discovered with an appearance on the latest Sturm compilation 'Stürmer 4' DCD set ('Par Veelu'), 'Mutagen' now collects all tracks written in between 2008 - 2012. Ever since the establishing of Autogen, this project has been often active with rude live performances and has visited numerous industrial and fetish clubs in Latvia, Finland, Belarus, Hungary, Denmark, Lithuania, Estonia and also Bangkok in March 2012. The shows of Autogen are for parental usage only, they often display cruel scenarios of blood, gore and fetishism. The musically direction of this debut tends clearly into the field of demanding Dark Electro music. Projects like The Klinik, Mortal Constraint, or Disharmony have to be named to throw in possible quells of inspiration, although this album in its presented quality would also well fitting side by side with some highly praised signed to the US-based Tympanik Audio label. And so this album explores a wide range of dark and cold sounding Electronica styles and leaves out warmer and smooth sounding ingredients. The work of Mortal Constraint or Ingo Lindmeier's Polygon-project in its early recordings is surely witness for tracks 'Nevajag', 'Trakumá', or 'Súrums' in its existence. Massive applause for the rather deep drowning, stone-cold Modern-Ambient-like tune 'Vél Né', one of my personal favorites. That this album is also able to scratch some inner nerves can be discovered in 'Nederings', the ideal and raw soundtrack for your next dentists visit. 'Mutagen' is a brilliant collection of tracks full of creative sound-design with matured programming skill. No pseudo-aggressive Techno kick-and-snare-bawling on here, 'Mutagen' is rather designed to freeze your brain. A nice, cinematic, but also ice-cold sound-trip not to be missed. Get it!
Artist: Revenant Cult (@)
Title: Spectral Heresy
Format: CD EP
Label: self-released
Distributor: Bandcamp
Rated: *****
What a nice initiative: Revenant Cult's bombastic track 'Spectral Heresy' has seemingly turned out to be a permanent recognized floor filler and has received good reactions of both press and listeners. So this 5-track CD EP is kind of a reward for their loyal fans and compiles several versions of the most matured track by the Australian duo Jess and Julian Nichols composed so far. Strictly limited to only 36 numbered and autographed exemplars means that all collectors including me (Thank you, Nick) can be proud of to hold this extremely limited item in their hands. The physical CD release is of course completely sold out now, while the digital download can be still purchased via their Bandcamp web resource. The long, uncut version of 'Spectral Heresy' is to me unbeatable, no matter how prominent the names of the foreign remix contributors are. Listening to this fine worked-out Futurepop-tune with its compelling female vocals of Jess Nichols after their highly praised appearance on the Juggernaut compilation 'Calming Cyclones' is still purest entertainment. That counts also for the music of this straight and pretty dancefloor-oriented tune with its well chosen sound-design including the orchestral synth pads. As for the remixes you'll get some remarkable appearances: Tom Shear's omni-present project Assemblage 23 convinces with different bass lines and more dancefloor-compatibility than the original already offers, while the Blast Radius 'Scarlet Light Remix' celebrates depth with huge hall reverb-effects. Studio-X offer a remix in their Industrial-Trance style, while the Aeon Club-Mix compresses this great tune to an ideal length for radio airplay. Half of an hour the same track and it never gets boring. The problem now for this Australian duo is, that they have to manage hard to satisfy my increasing expectations with their hopefully soon to be released album.
Artist: Break/Fields, Hydro, Mako & Villem
Title: Music Is Better/Celestine
Format: 12"
Label: Symmetry Recordings (@)
Rated: *****
This summer pill from Symmetry Records follows on the heels of last Break's shot "Steamtrain" with a couple of fresh courses. Label boss Break adds his own sonic ingredients and his heavyweight imprint into "Music Is Better", a summer cocktail of uplifting soulful vocals, mellow funk chord progression and sparkling sonorities whose refrigerating freshness got counterbalanced by incandescent weft of dirty bass and blazing drums, which usually spew from Break's machines for an amazing elange of slush, spume, grenades and grenadine, while on the flipside, the cocktail is merely stylistical as eight hands knead beats and sounds on an awesome and pressing roller, "Celestine", where you'll easily recognize the contribution of each artist: charming atmospheres by Hydro and cristal clear snapping slaps by Villem got cemented by dogged funk and heavy bass chains by Fields and Mako.
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