Music Reviews



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Artist: Alexander Vatagin (@)
Title: Serza
Format: CD
Label: Valeot Records (@)
Rated: *****
Austria-based Alexander Vatagin is a busy man. In addition to running Valeot Records, he has also played with acts such as Port-Royal, Tupolev, Quarz and several other projects. And then there is his solo work, of which this is his third release. According to the label, Serza features 'a huge spectrum of common as well as unusual instruments, it takes you on a thirty minute trip full of delicate melodies, pushing drums, gentle noise, swirling celli, warm vibraphone chimes and sweet piano tunes.' I found this to be a strange mix of This Mortal Coil-like orchestrations mixed with noisy elements. It never gets too in your face with the noise ' just noisy. We have here a nice blend of calm, peaceful music and dissonance coexisting nicely together. Nice work. This album weighs in at around 30 minutes.
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Artist: Total Normal (@)
Title: Tales of the Expected
Format: CD
Label: Momental Records
Rated: *****
I always read the press sheets to get a sense of what the artist thinks that their music is supposed to be. Sometimes I read it before, sometimes after. This time I read it before, and had to call BS on this line when I heard the album: 'his composition methods under Total Normal can be considered acousmatic. Sampling is used for a found sound's intrinsic qualities, as an objet sonore, and not for its anecdotal or referential value.' Um.... yeah. That's why you lifted large parts of Bill Cosby's 'Junior Barnes' routine. Don't get me wrong ' it's a great sketch, but between that and the heavy sampling of Mr. Sandman (on the appropriately titled song) and more Bill Cosby with 'Froofie the Dog,' I could almost hear the cease and desist letters being written. Of course you're using it for its referential value. Plunderphonics is fine on its own merits without trying to sanitize it. That's what makes Negativland so brilliant ' they repurpose that referential value. So now with that rant out of the way, let's get to the music. Total Normal is the work of Paris-based Thierry Vaudor. As you may have figured, sampling plays a big part here. The press sheet describes the album as 'on the fringe of experimental, electroacoustic, post-rock, psychedelic, exotica and spoken word.' There are several different styles here, but all of it has a kind of retro feel to it. The opening track sounds like a modern day Henry Mancini, which then in the next few tracks adds a touch of Meat Beat Manifesto. 'The Trip to the Moon' has a lounge feel with a touch of acid jazz, while others ('Better Tell Me John' and 'Soft Cage') go for a more exotic feel. 'L'orfeo' takes us on a weird pitch bent and reversed trip. Overall, this wasn't bad, but didn't really blow me away. If you wish that Negativland was more retro, this could be up your alley. This album weighs in at around 61 minutes.
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Artist: Djam Karet (@)
Title: The Trip
Format: CD
Label: HC Productions
Rated: *****
You have to love a band who draws inspiration from 1970s 'stoner albums.' Djam Karet has been around for 30 years now, providing their take on the jam band. On this album, the press sheet states that 'The Trip' 'takes listeners on a psychedelic journey through the mind's eye. The unique offering is literally the soundtrack of a journey to places both familiar and otherworldly.' This is one 47 minute track of everything you would imagine. Improv jazz, mellow guitar, space age bachelor pad music with some electronic bleeps and bloops thrown in, and some prog rock guitar solos thrown in for good measure. About a quarter of the way through we kick into a pretty rockin' section. To paraphrase an old commercial, 'You got your prog rock in my jazz!' 'No, you got your jazz in my prog rock!' But like the aforementioned commercial, this is two great tastes that taste great together. This is a fun ride and it hangs well together. I can't help but think that this would be even better live. This album weighs in at around 47 minutes.
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Artist: Franz Rosati & Francesco Saguto (@)
Title: Gridshape
Format: CD
Label: Nephogram (@)
Rated: *****
The label describes this as 'an intersection of heavily distorted violent sounds with points of kinetic aural quietness through the interaction between digital electronics and guitars.' If you're thinking that this is going to be harsh guitar-based noise music, however, you will be somewhat disappointed. We start off with acoustic guitar arpeggios that become increasingly chaotic with background noise. 'Progression Through Transmutation' continues this formula. 'In A Liminal State' changes it up though with a rambling and clattering noisy track with bursts of feedback and pounding. But then, as soon as we found noise, we're back to a minimal piece; 'Progression Through Reposition' sounds like listening to someone tune a guitar for two minutes. Not terribly engaging. 'Shifting Threshold" brings us back to the acoustic guitar meets distorted electric guitar formula, but with a twist. Toward the end it starts to sound as if the disc is skipping because of the way that they are played. This was quite well done and interesting. 'In A Post-Liminal State' brings it back to guitars that start off mellow and get increasingly crunchy and distorted. Overall, I really wanted this to unload with both barrels, but I felt like they kept holding back. For me, it began to sound too formulaic. Well done, but didn't really seem to break any new ground. This album weighs in at around 32 minutes.
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Artist: Grouse (@)
Title: Heads
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
The post it note on the press sheet said to file under 'downtempo electronica.' Grouse is the work of Dublin-based artist Ronan Carroll. This is his second album, but this is the first I had heard of him. The press sheet calls it 'abstract, cinematic and almost entirely instrumental.' At first this seemed far too minimal, sparse, and repetitive. However, I gave it another listen with headphones to drown out the noises around me and it was a whole different experience. It's still a bit on the repetitive side, but the compositions are delicate, as if they are houses made of flowers that could be blown away by the wind at any moment. Think a really stripped down Alpha, and you're getting close to what Grouse is throwing down here. 'Arm the Harmless' was a break from this, where it sounds like he's channeling a Mediterranean folk song. Really quiet, mellow stuff overall. This album weighs in at around 46 minutes.
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