Music Reviews



Jul 23 2019
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Artist: Antwood
Title: Delphi
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Planet Mu
Tristan Douglas’ third album as Antwood is a curious hybrid, with an ambitious underlying concept. Delphi is the name ascribed to a fictional character, and ostensibly this is an album of expressions of modern life and modern relationships through Delphi’s eyes; but Delphi is also a reference to the ancient Greek sanctuary and there are elements of the fantastical or mythological thrown into the mix as well.

How this manifests itself musically is also a hybrid, but perhaps easier to pin down. This is energetic electronica, bursting with ideas and mostly with optimism, jamming together classic Planet Mu approaches to rhythm and structure with bright and sometimes lo-fi synth work and some fun samples. The title track sums most of the album up quite nicely in a single package, even down to the angry breakdown three minutes in, but there’s also breadth of ideas demonstrated in tracks like the downtempo, quasi-sleazy “Queasy”, the nicely cinematic, romantic “Healing Labyrinth” or the remarkably purist short piano ballad of “Delphi’s Song”.

Almost half of the thirteen tracks are just sketches or interludes, with snippets of spoken word narrative making tiny little snapshots of the title character’s narrative, with “Skype Ghost” acting as a prelude and “A Hostile Message” speaking volumes in under a minute and sounding like it ought to be the opening line of a chapter in a novel.

Musically though it’s tracks like the dark and frantic chiptune vibe and epic multi-part structure of “Portal” and the epic violin-sound-driven narrative of “Ecstatic Dance” are the meat of the release and keep the experience from getting too skittish. The soft strings and vocal pads of “Cave Moth” have an intriguing beauty as well.

The Delphi concept is a novel one but doesn’t really blaze through the heart of this release. However it’s still an exceptionally solid and listenable electronica album that maintains the label’s unbelievably high standard of output.
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Artist: DJ Lag & Okzharp
Title: Steam Rooms
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Hyperdub
A collaborative EP between Durban’s DJ Lag and London’s Okzharp paces the mutual territory between gqom and Hyperdub’s more familiar bass adventures.

“Now What” has a slightly grime-like sense of threat to it. “Steam One” is the brightest-sounding track, with a simple yet catchy steel drum riff that wants to have fun with the almost-cheesy synth stabs while the broken kick drum pattern underneath oozes a darker attitude. “Nyusa” adopts a similar approach with a more chanted rhythm and the melody shifted onto a sawtoothy keyboard synth. “Sambe” is an exception in that there’s a clear 4/4 kick rhythm underpinning it, that give things a deep house flavour which melds nicely with the African-sounding percussion elements.

It’s a richly flavoured 4-track pack and a collaboration which yields very strong results, and leaves you wanting more.
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Artist: zeitkratzer
Title: zeitkratzer performs songs from the albums „Kraftwerk 2“ and „Kraftwerk“
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Karlrecords
When this release first landed on my desk, my initial reaction was, “didn’t I already review that a couple of years ago?”. Sure enough, a collection of Zeitkratzer’s cover versions of tracks from the albums “Kraftwerk” and “Kraftwerk 2” was released in 2017, and this release is volume 2, with almost identical artwork save for the colours. This is Zeitkratzker going back and filling in the gaps, covering literally all of the tracks from those two albums which they didn’t include on volume 1 on 2017. Logically, there can be no volume 3. In fact in my playlists I’m tempted to reassemble the tracks into the order Kraftwerk released them, but that’s for another day.

What I said about the first album is still so applicable here that I will shamelessly copy and paste one paragraph from it: “Focussing only on the earlier Kraftwerk albums which had a thinner and arguably more abrasive tone, the ensemble of woodwind, strings, a couple of brass instruments, piano and drums faithfully recreates the barren soundscape that was originally electronic, in an almost exclusively acoustic way. It’s admirable for its attention to detail and an excellent tribute.”

“Harmonika”, the short finale track from “Kraftwerk 2”, is the opening prelude number here, a mostly shapeless drone. Initially the segue into “Stratovarius” is very smooth because both parts are relatively flat, sedate and abstract- but the second track breaks out of that eventually, with some impulsive jumps in energy and sudden twists into chaos that, eventually, almost ten minutes into the album, finally turn into a discernible rhythm and form which a listener will recognise as an acoustic ensemble interpretation of that classic Kraftwerk groove. In its more settled moments, it’s more than a little reminiscent of the Cinematic Orchestra in its tone. Across its twelve minute span “Stratovarius” has many sections and covers a broad range of styles, making it come across like a theatrical soundtrack almost.

This strong dynamic continues through “Vom Himmel Hoch”, a bold exercise in experimental string work that bends tones and traces a broad variety of escalations and impacts at various speeds, including a fair dosage of frantic, especially in the middle.

Final piece “Wellenlange” is mostly more sedate, with a twangy guitar sound that unexpectedly transforms it into a brooding bit of ambient-country-Americana. Through the slow introduction of repetition this gradually becomes more recognisable and formed, but it remains one of the most unusual interpretations of a Kraftwerk track you’re likely to hear.

It’s satisfying and rewarding that Zeitkratzer have gone back and filled in the gaps, taking on the challenge of the ‘missing tracks’ from the early Kraftwerk material. It was certainly worth completing, and far from being any kind of cash-in or novelty item to trade on the Kraftwerk name, the result is a second volume of fascinating acoustic works that stand up in their own right, very strongly indeed.
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Artist: Kontrabassduo Studer-Frey with Jürg Frey and Alfred Zimmerlin
Title: Zeit
Format: CD + Download
Label: Leo Records
Daniel Studer and Peter Frey have been working together as a double bass duo for two decades. On their pieces as a duo on this release, here is a comfortable, confident and assured musical relationship that allows them to speak as though with one voice, charting avantgarde jazz moods and tones ranging from leisurely to tense with the greatest of ease. Opener “Praeludium” is engagingly downbeat and sultry, while “Interludium” is scratchy, digital and sinister. In “Excursio” this sinister tone adopts a rhythm and gathers a tense momentum.

Alternated with these home recordings is something rather different- numbered excerpts from a concert in Zurich in 2004 where Studer and Frey are joined by Jurg Frey on clarinet and Alfred Zimmerlin on violoncello. These four performers were put in different rooms where they could not hear each other, and microphones and speakers pumped this sound into a fifth room where the respectful and quiet audience was, and from where the recording was made. A detailed plan was made in advance and distributed among the performers, but the set-up allowed for no call-and-response, no collective tempo monitoring and so on. And yet it’s hard to believe in pieces like the stop-start-impulsive “Pars Prima” or the meaty “Pars Secunda” (14 minutes in its own right) that they couldn’t hear each other, as the synchronicity is very strong. Or perhaps these performers were already so comfortable and experienced in each others’ company back in 2004 that they already didn’t need to even listen to each other at all.

These two theoretically disparate sets of pieces are tightly segued into each other to form one near-continuous 51-minute work that oozes character- a fascinating explanation of working with acoustic double basses in truly experimental fashion to form an outlier on the most extreme outskirts of jazz.
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Artist: Tralala Blip
Title: Eat My Codes If Your Light Falls
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Someone Good
It’s almost a shame that the promotion for Tralala Blip’s first full album in over five years still puts so much emphasis on the five band members’ status as differently abled individuals, as it takes attention away from an end product which is worthy of attention regardless of how it was created. The fact there were additional challenges in its creation makes it more impressive, and no disrespect is intended, but it’s an album that deserves repeat listens regardless of the individuals behind it.

It’s a short 8-track collection of quirky alt-pop with a healthy dose of both modern-sounding and more synthwavey electronica elements. Bright synth pads, drum machine and clap rhythms, verse-chorus vocals and generally upbeat vibes are the core, with other details coming and going on demand. That said, there’s a modesty and a laptop-staring introspection at times that make it feel more honest and unique, especially in a group setting with multiple vocalists where vibes are sometimes more inclined to turn to party sounds.

Tracks like “Voodoo Pins” are relatively conventional, almost rock-like, with cheery 80’s stabs and chants that make it decidedly radio-friendly. “Voltage Flowers” makes me think of Ninthwave Records, while “Nightmare Land Welcomes You To” has a songwriting quality to it that reminds me of fellow Australians Infusion at their broodiest, whilst also having shades of M83 in the more droney production elements. I may be overdoing it here but “Dear Formless”, another highlight, recalls Midnight Juggernauts- coincidentally another Australian band.

There are odder moments too. Opener “Pub Talk” is a glitchy downtempo affair that would sound at home on Planet Mu. Ballad-like “Star Of Hope”’s heavily effected vocal takes on an Eastern-sounding mantra-like quality. “The Canyon” is a nicely atmospheric winding-down conclusion, an album-closer in a classic style.

If I could change one thing about this release, I’d tweak the mixes to make the vocals more prominent and clear. If I could change a second thing, I’d make it all last longer- it’s only 30 minutes in total- because apart from those two details it’s one of the freshest-sounding pop albums I’ve heard in ages and it leaves me very much wanting more.
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