Music Reviews

Artist: Antwood
Title: Sponsored Content
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Planet Mu
Canadian Antwood (not to be confused with Die Antwoord- or is that just me?)‘s second album is a 12-track, 42-minute collection of mostly instrumental ‘cyborg pop’ combining the energy and tight production of EDM and drum and bass with a cinematic and thoughtful aesthetic, and liberal doses of synthwave-style chords and thin melodies. Throughout there’s some bold and bizarre sample choices, built around the album’s concept of subliminal advertising explained in the interlude track “Sublingual”, that fill the whole release with character, a dash of politics and just a hint of tongue-in-cheek humour.

Opener “Disable Ad Blocker” is an epic opening that sets the tone boldly and it’s only one final crescendo and boom short of being the perfect four-minute album starter; “ICU” pulls a similar trick to open the second half. “The New Industry” is an odd dubstep versus hardcore hybrid of rapid gunfire-beats underpinned by a strangely tempered beat, with odd processed crying noises joining in halfway through to make things just a little weirder than they already are.

Things calm down substantially for tracks like “FIJI Water” and “Wait For Yengi”, which still have a rapid underlying data pulse rumbling inside them but which are dominated by purer, warmer chords and sparser moments. “The Hyper Individual” plays with the shock value of sharply interrupting these calmer times with gut-punching kicks.

“I’m Lovin’ I.T.” is an exercise in stop-start and double-speed rhythms with some quite chiptune-y flavours, while “Commodity Fetish Mode” and interlude “Derealization” are more laidback soporific bits of post-dubstep that give the second side of the LP a more sombre average than the first.

“Don’t Go” is a slightly daft self-contained mini-drama that starts with a monologue about teaching future generations to program computers and ends with an evil robot that decides it will wipe out humanity, before final track “Human” throws the kitchen sink into the production values with a frantic, multi-styled and quite enjoyably jazzy but of sharp glitch.

This is a fantastically polished, top-notch bit of cutting-edge electronica with barely an ounce of fat on it- sharp, focussed, dynamic, and sometimes hard to follow. It’s as striking and odd as the artwork suggests and it’s yet another hard-to-fault release from Planet Mu.
Artist: Kassel Jaeger
Title: Aster
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Editions Mego
“Aster” is an hour-long collection of dark, sonorous ambient alien soundscapes replete with flitting electronic waspy noises, strangely warm and glacially symphonic bass tones, throbs and washes.

While some tracks such as the title track are rich with noisy layers, much of the time, such as on second track “Tenebrae” or “Ner”, the drones and more frantic elements fade away for sustained periods, leaving just odd-sounding ambiences with a liquidy, organic feeling. Pieces like “Rose Poussière” and closer “L'étoile du matin” are mellower, more chilled-out affairs, with faintly glitched sine wave hums that morph into something akin to church organs. The scientifically inaccurately-named “Set the planet on fire, you'll get a star” is reminiscent of some of the musical settings that have been built around sonic interpretations of NASA’s deep space telescope data, to personify the emptiness of space. “Uminari”, by contrast, has a harsher, sawtooth-waved tone to its lead tones that’s positively uncomfortable.

It’s a diverse journey of an album with an above-average level of dynamics and twists, yet a firm rooting in texture rather than rhythm. With a slightly soporific aspect, this is mostly spaced-out chill-out with a lot of depth and just a dash of razor’s edge.
Artist: Greg Fox
Title: The Gradual Progression
Format: CD & Vinyl
The press release for “The Gradual Progression” makes some spectacular claims that the music can “activate spiritual states through physical means” as we hear percussionist Greg Fox “externalizing his polyrhythmic virtuosity into non-physical realms”.

Prosaically, what it is in practice is a 32-minute mini-album of heavyweight, percussion-driven bit of avantgarde post-jazz, where the drumming is the centerpiece, with guest appearances from instrumentation ranging from synth vibes, improvised-style vocal ahhhh sounds, warm saxophones and bass plucks.

After the opening title track seems to put us in relatively familiar-sounding jazz territory, second track “Earth Center Processing Stream” brings with it slightly more prominent electronica elements that wouldn’t sound out of place on Warp or Planet Mu. “By Virtue Of Emptiness” with its long drawn-out sax notes is among the more melancholy moments.

“Catching An L” is an anachronism, a shorter and much steadier piece built around a funky, 70’s flavoured bass groove with some energetic twinkling production touches that really work. It’s bookended by some unusual and quirky soundscaping that could perhaps have been explored more extensively.

After the manic and slightly playful “My House Of Equalizing Predecessors” ends with what feels like an album wrap-up, final track “OPB” feels a little unnecessary, as though it feels obligated to push the run time above 30 minutes to qualify as an album.

The album also uses a couple of unusual software approaches- Sensory Percussion by Tlacael Esparza, and unnamed software that translates output signals from biological sources into virtual instruments (though it’s unclear from the flowery press release whether the latter was only used on Fox’s previous album and not on this one). It’s difficult to ascribe any of the sounds you hear to being direct results of these unusual generative approaches, but as with a lot of freeform jazz, there’s an organically loose rhythmical feeling underpinning it which may, in this case, have been at least in part generated directly from the body to the instrument, bypassing the brain.

It can’t live up to the pretensions of the accompanying press release- it’s doubtful any piece of audio ever could- but as a tightly-formed and unusual piece of post-jazz that drummers favouring complex patterns could pore over for many hours, it certainly has its merits.
Artist: Martin Küchen
Title: Lieber Heiland, laß uns sterben
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Sofamusic
The fact this album is inspired by a visit to a cathedral crypt, in which distant orchestral rehearsals and cityscape sounds could be heard, might lead you to expect a hollow, ethereal, reverberant soundscape- but what it offers up is closer and more challenging than that. It certainly has a degree of that, but mixed in with some more artificially layered drones and some elements that have been seconded from the most experimental edges of jazz.

After the relatively run-of-the-mill drones and crisp rustling noises of the title track, second track “Music To Silence Music” is a piece of extremely out-there jazz, with flutes, plucked bass and varied percussion all fed through a variety of crunchy lo-fi processes into something vaguely evocative of a jungle. This set-up is continued somewhat into the eleven-minute “Purcell in the Eternal Deir Yassin” which puts a saxophone at the forefront, practically solo save for a wavy and unnerving bed of bottle-like drones and whispers and what sounds like the sound of a distant operatic rehearsal.

“Ruf zu mir, Bezprizorni…” combines a relatively innocuous bit of piano playing with some very intimately recorded sounds of breathing and (I think) blowing up balloons, and/or deliberately blowing through pipes. Again the lo-fi edges are a touch unpleasant and are seemingly there to deliberately counterpoint the purity of the grand piano in a way that borders on sarcastic.

The final and longest track, with the longest name (in full: “Atmen Choir (I det stora nedrivna rummet med bortvaênda kvinnoansikten, skylda av veck; bortsparkat, ihopfoêst segel, krossat roêtt tyg stelnar i vinterkylan”) is a more staccato affair, with a relatively barren and silent bed on which is placed rhythmic and gradually shifting spontaneous blowing noises, like an ensemble of musicians playing leftover large plastic plumbing tubes in an echo chamber.

At 35 minutes this is a relatively brief collection of sonic experiments that manage to be both fractious and silly in almost equal measure. It has grandiose aspirations and while it perhaps lacks the power to back them up, it’s imbued with a strong character that’s worthy of attention.
Artist: Red This Ever (@)
Title: Attack!
Format: CD
Label: Nevitable Records (@)
Rated: *****
This Baltimore-based electropop band call themselves "synthrockers with shy angst and catchy hooks" but I think that kind of sells them short. Still, it's a catchphrase that comes in handy when more elaborate descriptions just make one's eyes glaze over when asked about what the band sounds like. Since their inception in 1997 they've released five previous albums making 'Attack!' their sixth. The band (on this disc anyway) is Roy Retrofit (vocals, synths, programming, stuff); Ada Retrofit (bass); Michael Waring (drums); with additional guitars by Gabe Perry. I'm kind of surprised that RTE hasn't gotten any press previously from Chain D.L.K. but we don't know, or know of, everything (yet). I was unfamiliar with the band's previous albums so I thought I'd take a few moments to check out some of their older tracks. What I heard was okay, but nothing quiet as compelling as 'Attack!'. This is a band that's heavily influenced by Brit synthpop bands, so much so that they sound like one now. Not a bad thing at all though, because back in the heyday, the best synthpop bands were British. (Some might disagree, but I can only say you're wrong, wrong, wrong.) If you took Gary Numan, New Order, The Cars (one Beantown band can't hurt), Depeche Mode, OMD, the Pet Shop Boys and the Human League, tossed them in a blender set to puree, you'd have Red This Ever. While some of their previous efforts sounded a bit derivative, the band has really come into its own on 'Attack!'.

The first impression you're going to get with this album is the band's sardonic sense of humor on the album cover - a great white shark chomping on a human victim with legs flailing outside. After a brief dark and moody instrumental intro ("Demagogues of Fear") RTE launches into the title track. Roy's vocals sound more confident and stylized, the music is bouncy and bold, and the hook is killer. Great arrangement too. The good stuff keeps on coming- the tongue-in-cheeky lyrics of "Negative Nine" are palpable, as is the resistance-themed "Man Up Now." The hooks keep coming fast and furious and the lyrics are clever as ever. The synthwork is pretty damn good as well, and the rhythm section is solid and foreceful. One song that ironically comes right in the middle of the album- "Thank You For Enjoying the Show" has such a Cars bent to it you could almost imagine Rick Ocasek covering it ("Thank you for enjoying the show-uh-o-uh-o"). This is big, bodacious, balls of brass synthpop that isn't afraid to put it all on the line, get in your face and tell you how they think it is. And dance-worthy to boot. Roy glibly turns more phrases than a hustling hooker turns tricks on a Saturday night. You've got a love a line like - "...true story, and it can get really gorey, I set my pants on fire, it doesn't mean I'm a liar, it just means that I'm not boring..." ("True Story"). There are so many gems like that sewn throughout 'Attack!' it will make your head spin. It will also keep you feet moving. There isn't one bad song on this album, not even a mediocre one. Nothing that makes me say "meh" or something of the sort. Sure, some are more captivating than others, but in total Red This Ever has dished up one heaping helping of electropop excellence that deserves to be heard and enjoyed. If you love synthpop, you'd be a fool not to buy this.
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