Music Reviews

Artist: Psy'Aviah (@)
Title: Lightflare
Format: CD
Label: Alfa-Matrix (@)
Rated: *****
Belgian music producer/composer Yves Schlepe is back with a new Psy'Aviah album titled 'Lightflare,' in some ways similar to 2016's 'Seven Sorrows, Seven Stars,' and in other ways, not so much. The similarity is in the vocalists Yves uses this time around - 'SSSS' alumni Kyoko Baertsoen, David Chamberlin, Mari Kattman, Ellia Bisker, Fallon Nieves, and Addie Nicole are all back for another go-round. There are some new voices too but we'll get to them in time. The overwhelming impression I had of 'Seven Sorrows, Seven Stars' was a cornucopia of eclectic electronica. I can't say that's the case with 'Lightflare.' Schlepe calls the album his "testament to hope," but sometimes hope just
isn't enough. You've got to back it up with great songwriting, and often that's difficult to do. Too many tracks fall short in that department. Opening with "Lost At Sea" (Mari Kattman) on vocals we find a mid-tempo number that's totally dependent on Kattman's voice floating in the upper register for the chorus hook. It's an okay song, but nothing to write home about. Ellia Bisker is up next with the similarly paced "Aftermath," and the best thing about this song is the harmony vocals that follow the lead like an echo. I will admit the song has a bit more going for it melodically than the opening track, but it just isn't a "grabber". Perhaps the best song on "Lightflare" is "The Great Disconnect" sung by Psy'Aviah's live vocalist Marieke Lightband. This is a wonderful piece of modern moody trip hop with very cool melody, excellent contemporary lyrics, and Lightband's superb sultry vocals which really sell it. As good as Addie Nicole is on 'The Sound of the New" (and she's plenty good) the song sounds like a blatant attempt just to go mainstream commercial. Plenty of hook, and about as much substance as a can of Pringles. If you thought that might be pandering, "In the Sound" featuring MiXE1 is part DivaPop, part electro-rap. Maybe I'm getting old. Maybe this is what the kids want to hear nowadays, but it struck me as kind of crass. "For Myself" featuring Lofthill sounds like
Trent Reznor in a boy band. Mari Kattman is back on "Heavy Heart" and as good as she is, the song just wallows in misery without anything else that makes it compelling. "Reboot Reset Relay" sung by Fallon Nieves is a step up with its cyber-themed meme, and a strong dance vibe as well. David Chamberlin gives it his best soulful shot on "Ghost," which has a good dark electro groove but lacks any memorable hook. Phoebe Stone takes the vocal helm on "Lonely Soul" which kind of sounds as melancholy as its title but at least has a memorable hook. Kyoko Baertsoen executes "Plan B" and due mainly to her sublime vocals makes it the second best track on the album. MiXE1 is back with "Game Changer," and though I wouldn't call it a game-changer for the album, it's a lot better than "In the Sound." It has some edginess, which I suppose is just what's needed at this point. "Under the Rain" (vs. Koner) is an understated number that almost captures a little of the eclecticism of 'SSSS'. Final track "Mr Vanity" is a cheeky number with Fallon Nieves on vocals quite reminiscent of "Not What I Expected" off the previous album. The production is really good on 'Lightflare' and vocally everyone gives it their best, but the songwriting is uneven often leaving something to be desired. I understand that there is a deluxe version of this album with a 2nd remix CD, but I wasn't sent that one. (Don't think it would have made much of a difference anyway.) Instead, Yves sent me an Alpha Matrix label compilation CD with a Psy'Aviah cut on it. I'll be reviewing that sometime in the near future when I've has a chance to absorb it all.
Artist: Aaron Martin & Machinefabriek (@)
Title: Seeker
Format: CD
Label: Dronarivm (@)
Rated: *****
To celebrate his fiftieth release, Dronarivm releases a work conceived in 2013 for a dance piece by Iván Pérez called "Hide And Seek". As I believe that there's no need to introduce neither Aaron Martin nor Machinefabriek, I will go straight to the musical point: the interaction between the instruments, mostly cello, played by Martin and the electronics played by Zuydervelt. The music could be roughly classified as glitch or modern classical in respect to what is considered to be real center of interest or writing.
The canonical glitchy opening of "Wake" introduces the listener in a framework which is immediately reversed by "Wings in the Grass" rounding around a romantic cello melody. As "Arms Turn Slowly" develops there's a movement from abstraction to the song introducing a quiet piece as "Leaves Are Swimming" reminding the quietest moments of Machinefabriek's discography. "Hidden" is a minimal ambient interlude to the second part of this release. "Seeker" is an hook to the tradition of dance music with his evocative cello melodies while "A Small Crowd Points" and "Close to Dark" evolves around drones, focusing on sound details. The voice of Aaron Martin closes this release in "Buried Cloth" creating something similar to a sense of peace.
While it doesn't sound as a simple accompaniment for a ballet, it has a sense of completeness that doesn't need a visual counterpart. Perhaps this couldn't be exactly a virtue for a music conceived with a precise objective but it's surely best for the listener. Another example of clear talent.
Artist: Rafał Kołacki (@)
Title: Ā’zan. Hearing Ethiopia
Format: CD
Label: Zoharum (@)
Distributor: Alchembria
Rated: *****
As its previous "Hijra. Noise from the Jungle", this new release by this Polish artist is a set of field recordings; they were made in Addis Abeba and this city was chosen as there are many different languages and different forms of religious activity. So, there's again a cultural and political concept in this recording: the possibility of coexistence of different cultures in the same place.
As the first seconds of "’zan" are heard, the listener is immediately placed in Ethiopia, and there's an audio feeling of a postcard, as there's the sound of the environment, more precisely bird's singing, along with the recording of a song from the radio or tv. As the release develops, it's clear how there's any interest in documenting the musical scene of the place but to capture the sound of everyday life. While there are anyway tracks like "’gar" devoted to the music of this place, it's mostly, if not entirely, singing as if they were recorded from a religious rite. Instead, as in "R... 's", music emerges as a phenomenon as just another sound i.e., a clacson, and where is completely absent, as in "Ab", there's a perceptible evocation in the recordings. So, as the of voice of "Faras" end his chant, and the release, there's a sense of a journey's end.
Absolutely impressive in his ability to capture the soul of a place, it's completely different from the typical release of field recording more concerned with the precise audio details; so it's absolutely necessary.
Artist: Langham Research Centre
Title: Tape Works Vol. 1
Format: LP
Label: Nonclassical
Four-piece Langham Research Centre’s “Tape Works vol. 1” is an unashamed revelling in the classic sounds of 60’s and 70’s electronic experimental music. Analogue oscillating bleeps, tape stops, short detached vocal snippets and groans, classic everyday found sounds like creaking doors and old-fashioned telephone noises run through vari-speed effects and playful percussive sounds abound across 11 fairly quirky, but not actually out-and-out comic, audio fiddlings. They rightly credit the inspiration of Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram in an album that sounds like it could’ve been dusted down from a BBC vault unopened since 1971, instead of being a recent set of composition. Many of the tracks even have that soft cassette hiss underpinning them for extra authenticity.

A track title like “LOL” seems anachronistic then, on perhaps the weirdest piece were monkey laughter is looped and layered into something very tripped out. “Sink Speeds” and “Executive Balls” stand out as notably different sonically due to the much heavier use of old documentary narration and car adverts with rough cutting which results in something much more akin to the raw collation of 80’s Negativland releases.

Several of the tracks are much more conventional in their layout though, with “Roadside Picnic”, despite its title, an example of an interesting take on putting spontaneous metal and percussive noises through a mangler to create something dynamic and awkward that you just can’t help but want to follow. The prosaically-named creaky sound of “Doors”, wobble-heavy “Nudge” and longest piece “Quaser Melodics” delve into deeper, sparser territory, with some of the atmospheres allowed to breathe a little further and more consistently.

There’s a definite sense that it was fun to take it seriously when evolving this release. But for the haircuts even the artwork wants in on the retro feel that’s very well realised here. If you’ve played your old Radiophonic Workshop LP’s to death then here’s a sound-alike you’ll definitely appreciate.
Artist: Troum (@)
Title: Da-Pu-Ri-To-Jo
Format: CD
Label: Black Mara (@)
Rated: *****
This new release by Troum is a a collection of 7" vinyl release, from 2004 to 2016, and it's introduced by a short script by the band where the overall concept is that this release could work as a description of the project. Their music could be roughly described as dark ambient but this release shows how they are able to wander across all variations of the genre.
While "Aerugo" is an open space ambient track, "Aetas Vetus" closes the listener into a noisy and oppressive territory. As "Agnus Dei" has certain level of solemnity, "Betonwolke" rework this musical elements towards almost post-industrial shores. The heavy and atmospheric basses of "Das Air" are balanced by the uncomfortable drones of "Gruoen". The long and filtered musical lines of "Nargis" and "Saiws" are as dark in the first one as bright in the second. As
"Segeler" is a crescendo of quiet drones, "Un / Mahts" is an almost monolithic mass of noises but with a movement. The last two track are from a digital only release and are the newest tracks: "Victoria" and "Unreleased Theme For River Endscene" reveals an idea of dark ambient where the drone is just a background for certain musical element to emerge.
As a release from a band classified as dark ambient, or post-industrial, this release reveals a band who search a musical way to express their ideas rather than repeat a formula on every track. Recommended.
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