Music Reviews



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Artist: Okada
Title: Life Is But An Empty Dream
Format: CD + Download
Label: n5MD (@)
Life Is But An Empty Dream here and not in the Zen sense either, Okada aka Greg Pappas’, EP/album exudes ambient atmosphere on some parts and downtempo on others. A cheerfully titled four track EP, or album, as the tracks are pretty long, up to twenty minutes each, with equally sunny track titles aimed to brighten your overcast days. Opening with “Fucked Up Inside” coupled with the album cover photo, both belong on a motivational poster. The song itself is comprised of a dirge like piano with slabs of distant distortion, cymbals shimmer into thunderclaps and sparse drums punctuate while a chorus of desolate vocals hover like ghosts of children over a genocide site – all culminate towards crescendo, then dissolve into a sparse piano and string arrangements. Though somewhat discordant, there is a slight emotional uplift towards the end that suggests release from Earthly despair. Next track, “The Right To Destroy Myself” returns with ambient atmospheric chorus and more sparse piano and slowed- down processed crying. Midway, the melody picks up to beats and rhythmically panned synth tones that accompany the atmospheric crying that reminds of the stylings of BVDUB, but in the first quarter, dissipates into sparse piano, ghostly atmospherics. The productively titled, “Killing Myself For Your Love” brings back the mournful chorus, this time accentuated with well-crafted beat programming that too dissolves two thirds of the way through and makes a nice cinematic ambient bit—reaffirming the pain and ‘ultimate release’ motif. Final track, “I Still Wake Up...” is actually beautiful and probably the more optimistic one-- slightly washed out like a faded photograph exposed to much sunlight, comprised of layers set to downtempo beats and gentle guitar. For all the bleak titles, the final track feels somehow sunnier, Okada affirms that every silver lining has a dark beloved cloud. Dramatic, angsty, deeply sad ambient with very brief sunny breaks with occasional demonstrations of crafty beat science. Listen, listen, listen to Okada’s album hardcopy or digital stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but an empty dream...
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Artist: Still Und Dunkel
Title: Abandoned
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Hallow Ground
There’s a persistent and broad human fascination with abandoned human-made spaces, presumably tying in psychologically with the appeal of post-apocalyptic stories. I don’t understand why it’s appealing but I’m certainly one of many who are drawn to and fascinated by these images and ideas of failure and decay. Unsurprisingly then it’s a concept that I’ve heard expressed in experimental music several times now. Most typically it’s ripe conceptual material for pure ambient work, or for drone soundscaping.

This Still Und Dunkel release takes an approach that’s slightly different, but not excessively so. Certainly it’s long dark and atmospheric, but there’s a strong cinematic tension and electronic pulsing that crosses drone with the darkest aspects of techno. There’s found sound from abandoned places included in the recipe, but never really foregrounded. It’s slow and deeply moody, but there’s a latent sense of energy underneath it that’s somewhat at odds with the ambient emptiness normally used to portray abandonment in sound.

Opening piece “Lure” is an epic 18 minute work that initially brings bass rumbling and extra tense sounds before gradually settling, of sorts, into a slower-breathing series of dark washes. This sets a tone which is generally maintained throughout the rest of the lengthy work. “Seagull Night” takes the waves idea and brings a crisp, non-abrasive, lo-fi distortion aspect to it, that gradually gets drawn out, time-stretched and stuttered into woodpecker-like rhythms that transform somehow into gunfire- a fascinating experimental success, and a highlight. For pure atmospherics, other notable tracks include “Colossus”, and the strange sense of journeying, possibly commuting, that fills final track “Transient”.

“Hallway”, with its steady ticking, relentless two-note bass pattern and impenetrable spoken-word noise wall is one of the most industrial moments, a near-gothic ear-scrub that’s refreshing and immersive- really strong work, albeit not in any sense evocative of abandonment at all in my opinion. It plays nicely against tracks like “Flicker” which take a similar sonic palette in a more abstract direction.

It might not be as barren or empty as the concept may suggest, but if dark electronic atmospherics are welcome, then take a deep dive into this- it’s certainly worth it. Not every track is a winner- for example “Rise” feels a bit over-familiar, and 78 minutes makes this a release that perhaps overstays its welcome just a little, but there’s plenty to enjoy here, especially with your eyes closed and your ears open.
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Artist: Vivien Le Fay
Title: Ecolalia
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Boring Machines
Vivien Le Fay brings a diverse toolkit of experience to her debut album, citing sociology, guitar technician work for noise bands, and working on local radio as influence. The result is very focussed though, lands firmly in the realm of electronica- a brooding and dark layering of atmospherics, soundscaping, pulsing arpeggiators that feel analogue and warm, and sometimes melancholic vocal affirmations.

It has a strong feeling of soundtrack about it, particularly on tracks like the tense and driving, slightly synthwave-ish “Ex Self”. Opening track “Eve” and final track “Elim” are the only tracks to feature a real vocal, the former more melancholic in a faintly diva-ish way, and the latter a disturbing exercise in shapeless gothic heavy breathing, although the title track adopts the old ‘speak-and-spell’ approach, expressing aggressive eco-poetry through text-to-speech.

The steady patterns of “Each Point” or the workmanlike throbs of the title track both feel like they’re calling out for some sympathetic techno remixes- very little work would need to be done to bring this to the attention of a more dancefloor-minded genre- whereas pieces like the strangely synth-ethnic “Ecchymosis” are more ‘out there’, bordering on sci-fi-ambient for several minutes before a chatty, almost bouncy synth rhythm pops up.

It’s entirely a solo work apart from Sergio Albano’s contribution of aluminium guitar on half the tracks- most notably for its rotating-note pluck pattern on “Elim” that brings something quite old-fashioned and almost John Barry-like to proceedings, like the darkest and weirdest James Bond scene you’ve never seen.

It’s rich and expressive dark electronica that maintains the very high quality threshold of the Boring Machines label.
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Artist: Susanne Skog
Title: Siberia / Sirens
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Fylkingen Records
“Siberia” and “Sirens” are two long works that Swedish sonic soundscaper Susanne Skog has built from extensive field recordings. At times the overlapping and transitioning is so subtle that it blurs the line between conscious composition and simply found sound, whereas at others there’s a more overt artificial layering and post-production at play.

“Siberia” is an abridged sonic account of a 205 hour train journey from Moscow to Vladivostok, as heard in a dampened interior. The rumbling wheel noise, initially distant and calm, is gradually replaced with tenser mechanical drones that become gradually less and less comfortable, as the sense of claustrophobia and human freight increases. Yet despite this, the disempowering sense of passive travel is still present, and it becomes possible to relax and bathe in the noise.

“Sirens” is a collection of different siren recording sounds, which on paper sounds like a potentially agonising twenty-minute listen. But in fact it’s far, far mellower than that, and instead offers up a series of rumbling steady mechanical sounds that, were it labelled differently, you could easily believe was a journey akin to “Siberia” but on a subtly different train. Occasional high pitched tones squeak through, gently, and there are cameo appearances from some electronic pulses and warning sounds- most notably in the final quarter of the piece- but this is a long, long way from the sound you would associate with sirens.

It’s a pair of lengthy and immersive soundscapes that aren’t nearly as different as you might first assume. They’re soporific and detailed, filled with a curiosity, and a strong result of many hours of dedicated field recording work.
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Artist: Circuit3 (@)
Title: The Price of Nothing & The Value of Everything
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
It's been awhile since we've heard from Circuit3, but it's good to know that Irish electronic musician Peter Fitzpatrick is still alive and well and turning out good stuff. 'The Price of Nothing & The Value of Everything' is his 3rd album under the Circuit3 moniker, and essentially, a very good one. Fitzpatrick's electronic music pedigree goes back to the '80s, and parts of this album sounds steeped in those times. In the 10 tracks that comprise this album I can hear influences of Gary Numan, Ultravox, John Foxx, Human League, Visage, and of course, Depeche Mode. Fitzpatrick's voice is well-suited to the material, appealing enough, perhaps even more than some of the Euro vocalists I've heard of late. As for the songs, there's just the right amount of melancholy without the compositions sounding dreary. While there aren't any "barn-burners" on 'TPON&TVOE,' there's lots of great melodic content and plenty of hooks. It's kind of a moody album that might be best listened to at night. Of course, the first track, "Safe To Sleep" is the likely hit single, but not the one that's going to move 'em on the dancefloor. We're still waiting for that one. A worthy album maybe best purchased in the numbered, limited edition coloured vinyl version because that's just too cool.
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