Music Reviews



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Artist: Xander Harris
Title: Snow Crash
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Mishka NYC (@)
Rated: *****
This 6-track EP, available as a free download from Mishka NYC, is based upon the influential cyberpunk novel by Neal Stephenson. Snow Crash predicted the rise of the Internet, and the way it would shape our lives, as well as tripped-out musings on reality hacking, artificial intelligence, corporate warfare, and the building blocks of reality. At the time, it was merely cool gritty dystopian Sci Fi, but the themes the novel explored are becoming our daily lives. It is appropriate that Austin, TX electrician Xander Harris puts out this homage, in honor of the books 20th anniversary.

Cyberpunk always seemed antiquated and futuristic at the same time; the cities were all rusted and rundown, ancient tribal warriors would mingle with data hackers, under the glittering chrome and burning neon of the wasted cityscape. Xander Harris' retro-futurism emulates this sensation admirably. On previous albums, Harris explored neo-Vangelis kosmische synth etudes, the clinical image of white-suited inquiry. Pure radiophonic fury; but here Xander Harris has created a dancefloor miniature, full of rippling synth arpeggios and thudding kick drums, the better to help you get that pizza to its destination on time. Its like he's distilled every overhead driving scene made in the '80s, and mainlined the serum. The EP brings to mind the time when studios were full of tangled cables and flickering sequencers - a remarkable update on proto-industrial EBM. It is a fine ode to the dystopian, futurist '70s-'80s, an intimate emulation of analog grit. But there's no hiss, no fuzz, no linenoise; its a THX soundtrack, cleaned and polished, but i miss the grit. One main distinction, which is not a fault, is that the original purveyors of technological sounds had no way of knowing what they were doing was special, that it would go down for posterity. They were hacks and innovators, mad grandiose DIY wizards, trying out everything. There was a sense of wacky adventure, on all those private-press synth LPs and old Dr. Who episodes. Xander Harris, and the current era of recreationists, know what they like and know what works. Its a clean, polished, streamlined dancefloor mechanism, but you won't find a moment of stream-of-consciousness revelation.

The one thing that Xander got right, that he's always gotten right, is the attention to the SOUND, the TONE. The drums kick like DeLorean backfire, and the synths come straight out of Detroit, sparkling rich and robust. Like the recent movie Beyond The Black Rainbow, Xander Harris (and a whole generation of analog fetishists) show what is possible, selecting the bits of 80s culture that we love, and updating them with 30 years of additional technology and production wizardry. Say what you want about modern culture or music: we know how to make music sound good in 2013. Its such a valuable service, to have Xander Harris and ilk drawing attention to works of early sci fi innovation, showing it to a new generation in a way they can understand. Cyberpunk was daydreaming the future, before we fell into a decade of gothic decadence and decay. Now, perhaps, it may be time for Cyberpunk, early '80s hardware techno, and other lost genres, to rise like a skyscraper made of black glass, for all to see.

This is a free download, available here (http://mishkanyc.bandcamp.com/album/snow-crash). If you like dance music, synth exploration, sci-fi literature, or supporting new and interesting music, there's no reason not to hear this. Get back to the Metaverse!
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Artist: DVA (@)
Title: Fly Juice EP
Format: 2 x 12"
Label: Hyperdub
Rated: *****
Leon Smart aka Scratcha DVA already demonstrated his fine approach to sound as it were a true gourmet in his acclaimed debut album "Pretty Ugly" (such a title could let you surmise he probably assimilated the rules of British understatement!). That's the reason why Hyperdub always gave him carte blanche with the only restriction of avoiding to prepare mid-tempo dubstep stuff as they maybe noticed that shelves in the supermarket are full enough. The culinary metaphor is not so casual as the modified clap Scratcha DVA often uses could remind the sound of the knife on a wooden cutting board. Moreover his way of cutting samples before putting them in the frying pan reminded some Japanese samurai whose sonic katanas got famous since the end of 90ies such as Boom Boom Satellites, Tatsuya Oe, Ken Ishii as well as some stuff released on David Moufang's Source Records, but DVA's paraphernalia seasons the sound with tasty spices such as hypnotic Detroit techno chords and similar tricks ("Long Street", "Walk It Out"), delicious garage-house nibbles and jazz-funk Rhodes organ appetizer ("Fly Juice"), dogged shuffling drums ("Do It"). All those listener who will opt for digital edition will be delighted by double portion as they could grab four more tracks, including the smoky dub knocking remix of "Ganja" by French Fries, the amazing swooshing garage-dub feast of "Rumors" which features "drunken" delicate vocal guest Inga copeland (Hype Williams), and the catchy "Shook", whose funny lolloping tastes like a sort Mr.Oizo in aspic. Why am I feeling peckish now?
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Artist: Blitzkrieg Baby
Title: Porcus Norvegicus
Format: CD
Label: Neuropa Records
Rated: *****
"Porcus Norvegicus" is the first album by Blitzkrieg Baby, project headed by Kim Solve, guy active on the scene since 1999 thanks to his design studio (Trine + Kim Design Studio - www.trineogkim.no). He started playing in 1992 but he didn't release nothing since his first 2008 album "The Silver Hour" with the Swarms and "XXX" by Pronounced "sex" the same year (this was a one-off collaboration with his close friend, mutual Black Metal veteran and noise artist Zweizz). In 2010 he released on Neuropa Records, his first solo album "The Vault Of Apparitions" under the K100 moniker (then K100 has been signed by Cyclic Law). Now it was time for a new project and Blitzkrieg Baby born. Kim started to work on the thirteen tracks of "Porcus Norvegicus" twelve years ago, really, without the intention of releasing them. Born as a outfit for all the destructive things that he had inside, Blitzkrieg Baby has it's like a solo project where Kim release his personal instincts like a wounded wolf who wanders through the city like a condemnation. Even if he's responsible of most all the sounds, Kim was helped by some friends that contributed with vocals, instruments, etc. They were: Anders B. (from Mind & Flesh, Three Winters) who did vocals on "Pig Boy" and "Children In Uniform", Petter Berntsen (formerly of Virus) played bass on "Viva La Morte", Bjeima (of Virus, Alfa Obscura ++) did some drums and synthesizer and his friend Alan did vocals on "Fuck Me Like You Hate Me" and "Sperm Crawling Back Into Its hole". Musically we have a perfect thirty years sum of Wagnerian industrialism plus a good amount of irony and great arrangements. The press infos name NON, early Laibach and SPK as main references but Blitzkrieg Baby sound goes beyond these names, even if I doubt it would exist without those people. Most of the tracks have fine dissonant orchestration coupled with powerful drumming and noises with the add of declamations (like on "Pig Boy", "Fuck Me Like You Hate Me" or "Children In Uniform"), atmospheric moments ("Viva La Morte" sounds like a perfect track for a thriller movie) and black humor (check titles like "Disneyfied, Delirius And HIV" or "Sperm Crawling Back Into Its Hole"). What amazed me is the quality of the sounds and the richness of the arrangements and if you own "Children Of The Black Sun" by Non, you can understand what I mean but, mind you, "Porcus Norvegicus", sounds even more varied and rich compared to that great Boyd Rice's album. I really suggest you to check this out! P.s. Stay tuned for the upcoming tape that will be released for Belaten, the label run by Thomas of Trepaneringsritualen/Dead Letters Spell Dead Words.
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Artist: Piano Interrupted (@)
Title: Two by Four
Format: CD
Label: Days of Being Wild (@)
Rated: *****
This release by Piano Interrupted, project of London-based pianist and composer Tom Hodge and French electronic producer Franz Kirmann with the addition of Greg Hall on the cello and Eric Young on percussion, springs out like an awe-inspiring hidden planet. On the initial "You Don't Love Me Yet", an inspiring cello instils a sort of murmur in the listener' heart before the piano leaps in an harrowing and heated milonga with sudden spurts and tonal fits of madness. In spite of their different stlistical background as Franz dealt with electronica, pop and techno while Tom's more confident with jazz, classical music and minimalism, their reciprocal understanding sounds quite clear over the listening of this debut, which retraces their musical path from a studio project to a live band as some tracks have already been appeared on previous releases. For instance, three tracks ("Hedi", "Hobi" and "Bulbus") belong to a commissioned score of "Papa Hedi", a biographic documentary film about Hedi Jouni, the so-called Frank Sinatra of Tunisia, as recalled by his grand-daughter, who gave the possibility to these guys to access Hedi Jouni's original recordings in order to grab some samples which have been used as a starting point for the compositional process, while the graceful "Etude", where the ghost of Satie seems to lay hold of Piano Interrupted's sound machines, and the plush "London Waltz" with his funny samples (including creaking doors, music box and ping-pong hard sessions!) reflect their overjoyed early days when electronic arrangment and uncommon time signatures got spilled on the score. All the other tracks, carefully mastered with Nils Frahm in Berlin, show a remarkable maturity and technical skills, but every track immediately manages to bubble elegant cinematic gears, fragile broken melodies and many sonic pills for dreamlike states over. They cast a spell on listeners which is going to make them wish to listen to their music again and again.
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Artist: VV.AA. (@)
Title: Gravity's Drop Out
Format: CD
Label: Alrealon Musique (@)
Rated: *****
'It's hard to explain with words. Some explanations should be left to experience. The meanings of life are not verbal, they are felt. To express deep meaning I must communicate with visuals and sound without language. I must make a film. Colours and audio vibration, to entrap the viewer in mood, in feeling. The viewer exits after experiencing the screen with understanding and not with words. If words are used they are abstractedly used for their vibrations of sound adding to the experience of art, of presentation. I leave to you 'me,' in vision and in sound. I leave to you a film of my soul. Alan Watts once mentioned that people once experienced things and then made words to describe them, now they make words before experiencing them. Let's avoid words, let's have pure experience of sound and vision.' - Robert L. Pepper (PAS), from the liner notes

Its a daunting proposition, reviewing the second in the series of PAS-curated compilations for Alrealon Musique, after reading such an admonition. It also strikes an icy dagger in the postmodern heart of criticism: what is the role of a critic, at this juncture? We are all starless voyagers, navigating a seamless sea of technology. We are all curious investigators, who need to understand an endless array of non-Pop musicks, to make any sense of what our ears are hearing. On 'Gravity's Drop Out', Robert Pepper introduces us to Thorsten Saltau who acts as Virgil to the jewelled underworld of his own label, m.m record. This record is an excellent microcosm of contemporary experimental music. Sound collage meets loopy free-jazz, while mingling with 20th century difficult-listening classical music.

PAS opens the show with 'To Understand Colour': a 7-minute wash of gelatinous soundscapes of questionable origins. It embraces you, like an acid washed paisley blanket, wrapping yr ears in hypnotic stereo effects, as reverberations of mangled samples pop up like snippets of last night's dreams. 'To Understand Colour' is like walking through a Mark Rothko exhibit, if that particular gallery happened to extend 4 miles, and you were lost, hungry, and afraid for 3 weeks.

Margitt Holzt's contribution, 'Bears Head', is the lengthiest offering, and a most perplexing movie, indeed. Its a ten-minute voyage from relatively unprocessed academic jazz, an incoherent music box alarm clock that will not let you sleep, which is then pulled into deep space; abyss of radio voices and solar winds. Transmissions from 1954, rapidly approaching the Andromeda galaxy, eagerly devoured by alien ears. The atonal, non-repetitive nature of the sound sources make 'Bears Head' rather abrasive at first, the juxtaposition of squeaky avant-jazz a harsh contrast to the soothing somnolence of PAS' chapter, but it is a rewarding journey that can expand yr sonic palette. Don't stop here! Don't turn back!

'The Drig Bift Transition' by Herr Penschuck is the subtlest construction. Miniature machine hums, like a laundromat late at night, are split by distant foghorns, while sleepy voices murmur in the hallway. This one is a travelogue, for sure; it sounds like going for a stroll in a galactic shopping mall, while you are waiting for your dry cleaning. You come upon an organ grinder, who tears yr heart with his nostalgic reminiscence, before stepping out to a dark and lonely cab stand, beside the turquoise sea, to catch some air and a quick smoke.

Ebinger's ethnographic, radiophonic jazz is the most easily accessible track, probably because it has a beat. Scratchy middle-eastern fiddle meets mechanical Table; this is yr grandfather's Klezmer, remixed. Those that have enjoyed the plunderphonics of Oh No or S3cond Class Citizen, add this to yr walking around playlist. The beats are flawless and masterfully executed, and the antiquated grit of the samples sound lovely, meshed with the modern dance.

'Jousan' by Nika Son, bears the most striking resemblance to classic tape music. It's subtle and evolving, with rainbow-like quaver tones \ occasionally interrupted by disembodied knocks and snippets of song. It utilizes, to brilliant effect, the ability of sound collage to simulate the patterns of thought. The narrative \ebbs and flows, \unexpectedly disintegrated by invading Daleks, before returning you to Earth, in the middle of a pedestrian mall. Delightfully contradictory, but only for those that can handle the shock.

The final chapter in this edition of the PAS-curated series is a collaboration between Herr Penschuck and Thorsten Soltau, 'Screening: Delfter Blau Simultan & Urmutter/Hohlspiegelgondolier'. It bears the strongest resemblance to 20th century classicists like Messiaen, Stockhausen, or Xenakis, the ones who were integrating electronics and pre-recorded tape into the established canon. Here, P & S integrate strings and percussion with layers of vocal samples, speaking auf deutsch, and electronic squawks, echoes, and feedback. It sounds like the soundtrack to a decrepit Soviet science fiction film, an existential narrative over sharp black-and-white celluloid. 'Screening' gives a sense of tradition and classical mastery to end this dream.

Alrealon Musique is allowing listeners an overview of the many prismatic hues of modern experimental/electronic music, and a context for them to understand. Many avant-garde movements gestated in a broiling melting pot of visual artists, writers, and musicians of every conceivable style. Punk bands opened up for country/rockabilly-sequined acts, but we lost that wide-angle diversity, over the last 30 years. Now that everybody hears everything, we are all together. And that is why it is so special for people like Robert Pepper, and the folks at Alrealon Musique, to make interesting documents like 'Gravity's Drop Out', to introduce people to new sounds, to help ease familiarity, and to help us acclimate to the global ears we now find ourselves sporting.
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