Music Reviews

Artist: Federico Barabino (@)
Title: Can You Listen To the Silence Between the Notes?
Format: CD
Label: Public Eyesore Records (Eh?) (@)
Distributor: Public Eyesore Records
I have never heard of Argentinian electro-acoustic improvisational musician Federico Barabino prior to receiving this CD to review, and he apparently has a slew of releases going back to 2004, obviously none of which I am familiar with. On 'Can You Listen To the Silence Between the Notes?' Barabino utilizes only electric guitar and no input mixer for one 33:49 minute long track. It begins with some sparse electric guitar improvisation ' a few languid jazz guitar chords and riffs, and then'¦silence..for a while. Eventually a sound emerges that had me believing my tinnitus was coming back. It is fairly subtle and sustained without pitch variation. Soft lazy guitar notes and chordal figures are played over this sporadically, but the guitar ceases after a while. The sustained tone intermittently cuts in and out like a broken patch cord. Later it develops into the noisy hum of a really bad connection. It ends with the noise subsiding and more gentle, sparse guitar improvisation.

Okay, I'm not getting this at all. This is either beyond me, or I'm beyond it. It is not something I can even rate. I don't throw in the towel very often, but I cannot see the point of this. This kind of avant-garde music can be intellectualized and analyzed to the nth degree, but I have to ask- Did I enjoy it? Did it make me think or feel something? Did I have any clue as to what the artist was trying to accomplish? The answer to all three questions is a resounding NO, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.
Mar 25 2012
Artist: Impurfekt (@)
Title: Savior
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Impurfekt is the dark electronic music project of Aaron Russell, from somewhere in the U.S. (Seattle, or thereabouts, I think). Some of Impurfekt's influences are Velvet Acid Christ, In Strict Confidence, Massive Attack, Enigma, FSOL, Michael Kamen and Akira Yamaoka. Some of those influences can be heard in the music to a degree, but is always the way an artist chooses to incorporate these influences into the music that gives it a unique identity, for better or worse. We all hope for the better, but sometimes it doesn't always work out that way.

I see that Impurfekt has had several other releases going back to 2008 prior to this one, but I haven't heard them, so all I can conclude is that Russell isn't a 'newbie'. On 'Savior' Impurfekt presents a dichotomy of dystopian electro-industrial and moody trip-hopped ethereal dream pop. There is much more of the former than the latter, which is really too bad as this project's strength seems to lie in the opposite direction. This is due to a great extent to the dreamy vocals of Karra Russell (sister, I believe) and that Aaron gets everything right on the songs that feature her. But more on that later.

Aaron's strengths in Impurfekt lie in his use of quasi-classical elements (strings, orchestration), ambient elements and synthwork while his weaknesses are his vocals the lack of punch, power and inventivness in the percussion and drums, and sophmoric song lyrics. I'm impressed with Impurfekt's richness of sound and use of dark, brooding ambiences though. From the opening piano chord of 'Ashes' I had high hopes and the foreboding dark ambience that followed seemed to promise something truly chilling. The rapidly sawing basso ostinato strings promised even more'¦then the drums came in. Sounded like a drum machine'¦too bad. Aaaron's vocals are of the hoarsely whispered variety, common enough in electro-industrial music. Even VAC's Bryan Erikson doesn't have the greatest set of pipes, but somehow through processing power (and sheer malevolence) he manages to make it work. Aaron does use electronic processing on his voice but it still lacks the power needed to sell the song. Part of the problem is that his melodic ambitions seem to fall short of his vocal capabilities. This is evident on tracks such as 'The Brave One' and 'Stillborn' both laments which should be emotionally wrenching but just come across as rather wimpy. Vocally, he's much better on 'God Is The Devil' where the only lyrics are 'God is the devil'¦your god is evil'. This track is very much in the VAC vein in the synth department, although the percussive track lacks power. Maybe some of it is due to the mix, but I don't think Russell puts as much oomph into the rhythm programming as he does to the instrumental programming and orchestration. One case where the vocal processing is just too much is on 'Cyborg' where the vocoder is set to and not stun and nothing can be distinguished lyrically through the effect. To me that seems to take away from anything the song was trying to say.

Let's move on to the tracks I really liked. 'Shadow' is an excellent moody downtempo ballad with a nice repeating guitar (sound) line, a moving bassline and spacey string ambience. It's Karra's vocal that makes this track work wonderfully though. She appears again on 'The Day The Earth Stood Still,' another downtempo track with angelic synth voices, piano, lazy ambience and excellent orchestration. Karra's wispy voice drifts through the clouds of the music like an angel. This is what I wanted to hear more of.

As I see it, Aaron has a choice with Impurfekt; figure out a way to improve his vocals and pump up the rhythm if he wants to stay in the electro-industrial milieu, or scotch that side of the project in favor of going the downtempo route with Karra. I see from the website that Impurfekt has an instrumental EP out called 'In Loving Memory' which I previewed a little of, finding it quite different from 'Savior'. It's somewhat minimal but rather interesting. Reminds me of Eno's 'Music For Films' series. On the website Aaron hints at his involvement in a new project fronted by Karra, and this could be something to definitely look forward to. As for Impurfekt's 'Savior', it is definitely imperfect, but worth a listen (you can check it out on Impurfekt's website) for Aaron's instrumental abilities and Karra's voice. Aaron's artwork for the 'Savior' CD is rather nice too, with an appropriately bleak post apocalyptic cityscape.
Artist: Belbury Poly
Title: The Belbury Tales
Format: CD
Label: Ghost Box (@)
Rated: *****
The new album from Belbury Poly; the alchemical organ by which Jim Jupp, head of Ghost Box Records, releases his distinctive brand of pastoral weirdness. The music of Belbury Poly is at times joyous and naive and at times shot through with terror or supernatural wonder, Jim Jupp is striving to create the idea world of his childhood, an Interzone that exists everywhere and nowhere, located somewhere in the vicinity of 1953 and 1978.

'The Belbury Tales finds Belbury Poly expanding their palette of harpsichords and Chappell Records samples, even going so far as to collaborate for the first time, like on the italian prog journey, 'The Pilgrim's Path'; this record seems far looser and more organic, more 'jammy' than the previous, 'From An Ancient Star'. It seems like Jim Jupp is getting into Italian soundtracks and 70s groove compilations, maybe he's been hanging out with Johnny Trunk more often. Its seems less fussy, funkier; Its still got the classic Ghost Box fanatical obsession with detailed re-creation, the rinky-dink roller rink are tight and crisp, and although eccentric, Jupp's dancey trancey synths are really quite catchy, its actually quite good electronic music, but rather than trying to sound 'of the moment', rave's usual pre-occupation with the present and the future, Jim Jupp is only interested in investigating the sounds that he likes, which involve Radiophonic music, musty children's soundtracks, and apparently now, prog rock and Bollywood boot sale tapes. He is resurrecting the lost, the forgotten; a true crate digger, Belbury Poly is digging the past, refining the strengths, creating a better yesterday.

'The Belbury Tales' design is impeccable, with artwork by in-house graphic designer and Ghost Box's co-founder Juian House, from The Focus Group. Ghost Box is all about the details, the presentation; from the production, like the way that Jim Jupp baked the backing tapes on the track 'Goat Foot' to give more of an authentic Turkish psychedelic quality, to Julian House's signature style, which has been recognizable and fully-realized from Ghost Box's first release. 'The Belbury Tales' is available on CD, on scrumptious vinyl, and digitally, and comes with a short story by Rob Young, author of 'Electric Eden', printed on nice paper in the booklet.

Ghost Box have created a whole world, a sub-continent, that never was and always will be. Their music makes the world a stranger, more adventuresome place, and 'The Belbury Tales' has something for the long-term Ghost Box devotee, and for somebody stumbling on to their late-night transmissions for the first time. Jim Jupp is continually refining his meticulous, archaeological re-creation, but 'The Belbury Tales', is unlocking new revolving doors and showing a glimpse of the future, proving, yet again, that Belbury Poly, and the whole Ghost Box roster, are not a two trick slowpony, but rather, an abundant fountain of some of the most interesting sounds, ideas, and aesthetic, that are happening right now.

Top shelf. Must hear.
Artist: Diodati (@)
Title: Diem supremum obire
Format: CD
Label: Koerperschall Records/Echozone (@)
Distributor: Masterpiece
Rated: *****
Such a title - "Diem supremum obire" is a Latin sentence literally meaning "go round the last day" - let easily guess the conceptual framework of this release (co-produced by Echozone and Korperschall Records) focuses on the theme of death and this worthwhile Bavarian gothic/wave ensemble properly chooses an austere composure to flay this delicate matter so that Diodati musically depth any aspect of death by embracing gothic half-lights without renouncing a certain compositional zing: so it happens that recognisable classical arias gradually turn into a sort of bolero in "Lady Medusa of Suffer", tackling the theme of mother's death, it occurs that the track about the death of culture (I admit I don't know what the Sanskrit word they used to give a title to it means) sounds like a mixture between a Schubert's Lied and a sped piano part of some Brahms' requiem or that dark folk songs such as 'Hinnen Fuor Der Sun Ze Helle' (around the death of faith) or the lovely "Taim sinte ar do thuama" (taken from an anonymous 17th century Irish poem, which was played even by Dead Can Dance some years ago) get inflamed with a mystical ardor. Diodati's above-mentioned compositional austerity doesn't mean their music lacks of ornaments as showed by the vocal polyphonies when Anja haunting voice melts or duets with Gwydion Enbarr's one, being this element the real third instrument beside Elias Wonka's piano and Max Sellmeier's cello for its impressive versatility, whose intense baritone lends itself to the general atmosphere of the record and dramatic tension. Edgar Allan Poe's quote from his "Romance" printed on the artwork, saying "I could not love except where Death / Was mingling his with Beauty's breath", describes quite well "Diem supremum obire"'s absorbing inebriated moodiness.
Artist: Ericm & Michael Doneda (@)
Title: Razine
Format: CD
Label: Monotype Records (@)
Rated: *****
Velmir Khlebnikov was a famous Russian Futurist poet, active at the beginning of the twentieth century; Razine by electronic manipulator Ericm and saxophonist Michel Doneda calls upon the spirit of zaum, Khlebnikov's transrational language, which sought to 'liberate words, of parts of words, letters and sounds from their accepted meaning, so that they could take on new meanings within a higher system of logic that literally transcends reason. Where Khlebnikov sought to liberate the poem, splashing words and letters across the page, Ericm and Doneda liberate the sound of a saxophone, via live electronic manipulation and sampling, creating grainy delays and sheets of sound, like Coltrane getting together with Keith Rowe, to listen in-between radio stations.

I am always somewhat surprised when i actually like a free-jazz fire skronk electroacoustic improv record; i mean, i LIKE Albert Ayler and Don Cherry, i own a couple Otomo Yoshiide albums - but this music is FIERCE, clawing up and down the side of yr skull. Noise music and free-jazz work best when they're sort of aggressive, not too polite, pandering to the crowds, its a little militant. The three tracks on Razine sound like they took place in some white-walled gallery someplace (actually the Journees Electroniques in March of 2009), perhaps with snacks and discussion afterwards. However, the music is not so easily caged - i feel like proper avant garde-ists only need the slightest provocation to freak the fuck out. Just give 'em some time and a place to do it in, and they will exorcise their demons, for all to see.

Razine whiffs of the art gallery or the lecture hall, but it also has an after-scent of the vaudeville, or cabaret; sweat and booze and greasepaint. There's a hint of the carnival-esque, reminiscent of Mingus' bump-and-grind, in Michel Doneda's sax playing. These two don't take themselves too seriously, but they make some pretty serious music. 2 of the tracks on Razine are over 20 minutes long, the second one, 'Rain', had me up and boxing in the basement, this is fire jazz, with minimal onkyo textures, crackles and hums. The intimacy of a duo, how quickly and fluidly they can respond and play off of each other, matched with their combined skill and deft wit, makes for a quicksilver sparring match, between two adept improvisers.

If you don't like skronk jazz exploration, stay the hell away from this record, but if you dig adventuresome leftfield improvisations, look no further. Ericm and Michel Doneda are breaking new ground in electroacoustic improvisation, they are bring worlds together, the conceptual worlds of theory and performance art, with the hot-blooded burlesque of jazz. Packaged in an attractive flat-black digipack, slick presentation on the part of Monotype Records, and Razine is a document worth checking out and spending some time with.
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