Music Reviews



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Artist: Lahka Muza (@)
Title: Byt Tvojim Zrkadlom (To Be Your Mirror)
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Slovakian darkwave band Ľahká Múza has been around a long, long time, going all the way back to 1984, and releases as far back 1989. 'Byť Tvojím Zrkadlom' ('To Be Your Mirror') is now their 8th album, this one self-released on their own EXcentriX Records label. If you're American, you probably never heard, or heard of them. If you're from Europe, chances are you have, and know what an iconic group this is. The core of Ľahká Múza is Gudrun Snake (vocals) and 677 (guitars). Their sound could be described as a cross between earliest Dead Can Dance and Siouxsie & the Banshees, though sounding specifically like neither. Gudrun has the power of Lisa Gerrard's vocals, but with a more shamanistic, witchy twist, and 677 makes use of that Banshee signature flanged guitar sound, alternately with heavy sustained fuzzy distortion. This became the hallmark sound of many '90's goth groups in this vein, but Ľahká Múza has it down to a tee. There is nothing 'pop' about the music of Ľahká Múza; it is dark, ritualistic, mysterious and oh so foreign to Western ears, yet somehow familiar. All songs are sung by Gudrun in the Slovak language, and sometimes just sounds more than words. This has a very dramatic effect, even if you don't know what she's singing about, which for those unfamiliar with the language (most of us) can be very compelling. (Hey, Gerrard's vocals in DCD often weren't decipherable, but no less compelling.)
Although there are drums and percussion, 'To Be Your Mirror' isn't in any way typical dark dance floor fodder. For one, the percussion (presumably drum machine) often carries a martial beat in one form or another. Reverb swathes the vocals and guitar, and there is an often present bass drone in the background. Gudrun's voice often has an operatic quality; in fact, at times she sounds like two different singers ' the operatic diva, and the witchy evil sorceress. Her vocals soar to uncanny heights, then swoop down low like a raptor after its prey. The music is heavy and thick with atmosphere, and though you may swear you've heard something like this before, you really haven't. 'To Be Your Mirror' maintains its austerity throughout, never deviating from the unworldly aura it presents. Quite uncompromising is Ľahká Múza, and live Gudrun presents herself as a stark fetish figure, the dominatrix supreme. This isn't what I call casual listening; it literally demands your attention. There are some keyboards here and there (most notably on final track 'Symmetry') but the music is primarily guitar-based, and none the worse for it. Definitely worth seeking out, 'To Be Your Mirror' seems as a refinement of the band's previous musical efforts. (You'd probably have to order the CD directly from Ľahká Múza on their website because I don't think their distribution extends to the U.S. yet.) Gudrun and 667 also have a side project called Hieros Gamos (please, please send me the CD to review), the main difference being that the music is more keyboard/synth and fetish oriented, but no less austere. (A little like Die Form in a way.) I only wish they could perform in the U.S., for if they did they would certainly enthrall the lovers of dark music among us.
Apr 15 2014
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Artist: Nahtaivel (@)
Title: Pon Farr
Format: CD
Label: Wave Records (@)
Rated: *****
Scary dude from Brazil Fernando Vicente basically IS Nahtaivel, and 'Pon Farr' appears to be Nahtaivel's fourth album, the earliest going back to 2002. It's a dark electro-industrial kind of thing, not far removed from the likes of Suicide Commando, Combichrist, Diverje, etc., but possibly with a little more diversity. Speaking of Diverje, Tommy T Rapisardi guests on vocals for the opening track, 'Hate', and also bonus track 'Murder in My Eyes' which is more of less a remix of 'Hate'. Rapisardi is also responsible for the lyrics on these. If you're a Diverje fan you have a good idea what you're in for. 'Pon Farr' is has its fair share of dark dancefloor stompers, well done with squinky and muscular sequenced synths, four-on-the-floor beats, and processed to the hilt vocals, often employing vocoder. Some of the things I really like about this album include the spooky theremin synth sound used on 'The Invention of Lying' and 'Be Productive'; the extra added percussive sounds in 'The Wildflower/The Fly'; the atypical and somewhat progressive 'The Short Story of Asami ' The Gravure Idol'; and the even more atypical instrumental 'Christie's Dream' with anthemic synth horns. You'll also find the obligatory movie dialogue samples interspersed throughout, but mercifully they are not overused and fit the music. The physical CD also contains 3 bonus tracks ' two remixes of 'The Invention of Lying', one Old School, and the other Club Mix with guest spoken vocals by Apostle Niwt of Pecadores. I don't think this song needed two remixes, but'¦whatever. Over all, it's a pretty good effort with interesting interplay in the synth sounds/programming. Nahtaivel has a new album coming out in May ('Epicus Doomicus Electronicus') which promises to be very different from this release, available on digital only, due to budgetary constraints. I'd pick up the physical 'Pon Farr' CD if I were you; the last of a dying breed, and also you get the extra tracks.
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Artist: Pierre Alexandre Tremblay (@)
Title: La marée
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: empreintes DIGITALes (@)
Rated: *****
According to the words by Professor Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, "La maree" could be considered as a sort of collection of challenges between five different soloists and their antagonist, the loudspeaker, which trascends its possible reciprocity: "this uneven relationship is reminiscent of the fragility of sandcastles and other human constructions with their daily facing of the patience of the elements. Are these ephemeral joys many revenges over the ineluctable?". Right after you will have listened to the impressive dynamics of this "dialogues" between instrument and loudspeaker, you'll think Tremblay's one is just a rethorical question as the perpetual metamorphosis within each track could easily mirror the impetuosity of any kind of event, both "spiritual" or emotional and physical or natural, where the flair for real-time processing by Tremblay, who manages to move heaven and earth by quick and sometimes unpredictable sequences of dissonances and consonances, stillness and excitement, chaos and order, makes each composition really intense. The bass clarinet (played by Heather Roche) on "La Rupture Ineluctable", the opening track of the first of the two cds, let me think about some stuff by Colin Stetson, Wade Matthews or Joao Pedro Viegas before the strife against loudspeakers gradually escalates over awesome electric interferences and resonant discharges, and some similaraties with other electroacoustic experiments can be perceived in the last piece of the second cd, "Un Clou, Son Marteau, Et Le Beton', where piano tones got mingled with electric glops for an intense emotional soup by moving from vertiginous tumbles to suspenseful stagnations. The engaging soprano voice by Peyee Chen on the funny "Still, Again", which performs many great stunts and a sort of artistic manifesto about the controversial concept of "okeyness" amidst bouncing balls, plastique-like noises, malleable piano tones, electronic strokes and noise interferences, could be mirrored by some precedent in the wide field of experimental music, but Tremblay's explosive creativity culminates on the other two tracks where he also test two invented instruments: the most fascinating integration is maybe Baschet-Malbos piano, which was extensively used on the occasion of a number of celebrative performances for John Cage centennial in 2012. This fascinating instrument and its flower-like head of stainless steel and polycarbonate cones has been played by Sarah Nicolls on the highly cinematic "Le Tombeau Des Fondeurs", while Jean-Francois Laporte's Babel table elicits the labyrinthine vibrations on the tidal waves of "Mono No Aware".
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Artist: Machinefabriek (@)
Title: Dubbeltjes
Format: CD
Label: Zoharum (@)
Rated: *****
This album from Machinefabriek is a collection of tracks released in small editions or in compilations so they were, in some sense, collector's items. As he write in the press notes the "short playing time formats [...] are great to work with" as he can "experiment with and to create really focused, cristalised pieces". In fact, rather to be a classic compilation, full 3-inch cdr or 7" are entirely included as they are constructed as a single piece developed in movements; however they are not constructed with a complex structure but with an almost ascetic economy of means so they sound like complex pop songs.
The gentle guitar notes of "Huiswerk1" introduce the listener in a sonic world where electronic is not a synonym for coldness while "Huiswerk2" is subtler in his use of sparse noises. "Hilary" and "Jeffery" are focused on the manipulation of trombone's recordings but, while the first is more drone oriented, the second depicts a quiet soundscape. "Ontrafelde Tonen 1", "Ontrafelde Tonen 2" and "Ontrafelde Tonen 3" are mainly focused on voice and field recordings and they reveals a parallel between tones of the voices and the resonances of the recordings. "My Funny Valentine" and "Oh Doctor Jesus" are reinterpretation of jazz classic done with an almost romantic mood. "Ax" and "Eeuw" are soundscapes developed from loops and sparse notes. "Danse Des Loops" closes this release, as the title suggests, with rhythmic knits constructed by the loops and colored by samples.
An adjective as romantic is not usual to apply to work of this genre but one of the peculiar quality of Rutger Zuydervelt is to write abstract pieces that almost sound like songs. An enjoyable record for everyone.
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Artist: Anne Chris Bakker (@)
Title: Tussenlicht
Format: CDS (CD Single)
Label: Somehow Recordings
Rated: *****
Released in September 2013 Tussenlicht is Anne Chris Bakker's second solo recording (Weerzien, 2012), which I haven't heard so judging progression of sound or technique is not possible. Let me say first off that I was surprised that this CD played on what seemed to be the label side of the disk. It's just a black surface on one side and the silver surface on the other. Logic would demand playing the silver side but actually you play the black side. Freaky! Anyway, as far as the music is concerned this is an enjoyable example of Brian Eno inspired minimalistic ambience (even if she doesn't think she's copying him. These complicated webs of influence happen all the time in music). Music in a dream-state, consonant tones playing over a sound bed of droney electronic (I'm guessing here) loops. But this isn't as static in tonality as Eno's stuff is. There's the added dimension of location recordings to put the music in the real world, giving it a sense that there's a living, breathing person behind it all. If the music had been in a minor key it would have been sad and creepy, but it isn't. Just a bit of "slice of life," like staring out your window while the music is playing in the room behind you, the sounds of the neighborhood and the music reaching the ears at the same time. Something to listen to at the end of a long day to wind down, or on a quiet Sunday afternoon, sitting in a comfortable chair with your eyes closed. Nothing earth-shatteringly new (is that even possible anymore?) but I liked it.
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