Music Reviews

Artist: Greg Fox
Title: The Gradual Progression
Format: CD & Vinyl
The press release for “The Gradual Progression” makes some spectacular claims that the music can “activate spiritual states through physical means” as we hear percussionist Greg Fox “externalizing his polyrhythmic virtuosity into non-physical realms”.

Prosaically, what it is in practice is a 32-minute mini-album of heavyweight, percussion-driven bit of avantgarde post-jazz, where the drumming is the centerpiece, with guest appearances from instrumentation ranging from synth vibes, improvised-style vocal ahhhh sounds, warm saxophones and bass plucks.

After the opening title track seems to put us in relatively familiar-sounding jazz territory, second track “Earth Center Processing Stream” brings with it slightly more prominent electronica elements that wouldn’t sound out of place on Warp or Planet Mu. “By Virtue Of Emptiness” with its long drawn-out sax notes is among the more melancholy moments.

“Catching An L” is an anachronism, a shorter and much steadier piece built around a funky, 70’s flavoured bass groove with some energetic twinkling production touches that really work. It’s bookended by some unusual and quirky soundscaping that could perhaps have been explored more extensively.

After the manic and slightly playful “My House Of Equalizing Predecessors” ends with what feels like an album wrap-up, final track “OPB” feels a little unnecessary, as though it feels obligated to push the run time above 30 minutes to qualify as an album.

The album also uses a couple of unusual software approaches- Sensory Percussion by Tlacael Esparza, and unnamed software that translates output signals from biological sources into virtual instruments (though it’s unclear from the flowery press release whether the latter was only used on Fox’s previous album and not on this one). It’s difficult to ascribe any of the sounds you hear to being direct results of these unusual generative approaches, but as with a lot of freeform jazz, there’s an organically loose rhythmical feeling underpinning it which may, in this case, have been at least in part generated directly from the body to the instrument, bypassing the brain.

It can’t live up to the pretensions of the accompanying press release- it’s doubtful any piece of audio ever could- but as a tightly-formed and unusual piece of post-jazz that drummers favouring complex patterns could pore over for many hours, it certainly has its merits.
Artist: Martin Küchen
Title: Lieber Heiland, laß uns sterben
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Sofamusic
The fact this album is inspired by a visit to a cathedral crypt, in which distant orchestral rehearsals and cityscape sounds could be heard, might lead you to expect a hollow, ethereal, reverberant soundscape- but what it offers up is closer and more challenging than that. It certainly has a degree of that, but mixed in with some more artificially layered drones and some elements that have been seconded from the most experimental edges of jazz.

After the relatively run-of-the-mill drones and crisp rustling noises of the title track, second track “Music To Silence Music” is a piece of extremely out-there jazz, with flutes, plucked bass and varied percussion all fed through a variety of crunchy lo-fi processes into something vaguely evocative of a jungle. This set-up is continued somewhat into the eleven-minute “Purcell in the Eternal Deir Yassin” which puts a saxophone at the forefront, practically solo save for a wavy and unnerving bed of bottle-like drones and whispers and what sounds like the sound of a distant operatic rehearsal.

“Ruf zu mir, Bezprizorni…” combines a relatively innocuous bit of piano playing with some very intimately recorded sounds of breathing and (I think) blowing up balloons, and/or deliberately blowing through pipes. Again the lo-fi edges are a touch unpleasant and are seemingly there to deliberately counterpoint the purity of the grand piano in a way that borders on sarcastic.

The final and longest track, with the longest name (in full: “Atmen Choir (I det stora nedrivna rummet med bortvaênda kvinnoansikten, skylda av veck; bortsparkat, ihopfoêst segel, krossat roêtt tyg stelnar i vinterkylan”) is a more staccato affair, with a relatively barren and silent bed on which is placed rhythmic and gradually shifting spontaneous blowing noises, like an ensemble of musicians playing leftover large plastic plumbing tubes in an echo chamber.

At 35 minutes this is a relatively brief collection of sonic experiments that manage to be both fractious and silly in almost equal measure. It has grandiose aspirations and while it perhaps lacks the power to back them up, it’s imbued with a strong character that’s worthy of attention.
Artist: Red This Ever (@)
Title: Attack!
Format: CD
Label: Nevitable Records (@)
Rated: *****
This Baltimore-based electropop band call themselves "synthrockers with shy angst and catchy hooks" but I think that kind of sells them short. Still, it's a catchphrase that comes in handy when more elaborate descriptions just make one's eyes glaze over when asked about what the band sounds like. Since their inception in 1997 they've released five previous albums making 'Attack!' their sixth. The band (on this disc anyway) is Roy Retrofit (vocals, synths, programming, stuff); Ada Retrofit (bass); Michael Waring (drums); with additional guitars by Gabe Perry. I'm kind of surprised that RTE hasn't gotten any press previously from Chain D.L.K. but we don't know, or know of, everything (yet). I was unfamiliar with the band's previous albums so I thought I'd take a few moments to check out some of their older tracks. What I heard was okay, but nothing quiet as compelling as 'Attack!'. This is a band that's heavily influenced by Brit synthpop bands, so much so that they sound like one now. Not a bad thing at all though, because back in the heyday, the best synthpop bands were British. (Some might disagree, but I can only say you're wrong, wrong, wrong.) If you took Gary Numan, New Order, The Cars (one Beantown band can't hurt), Depeche Mode, OMD, the Pet Shop Boys and the Human League, tossed them in a blender set to puree, you'd have Red This Ever. While some of their previous efforts sounded a bit derivative, the band has really come into its own on 'Attack!'.

The first impression you're going to get with this album is the band's sardonic sense of humor on the album cover - a great white shark chomping on a human victim with legs flailing outside. After a brief dark and moody instrumental intro ("Demagogues of Fear") RTE launches into the title track. Roy's vocals sound more confident and stylized, the music is bouncy and bold, and the hook is killer. Great arrangement too. The good stuff keeps on coming- the tongue-in-cheeky lyrics of "Negative Nine" are palpable, as is the resistance-themed "Man Up Now." The hooks keep coming fast and furious and the lyrics are clever as ever. The synthwork is pretty damn good as well, and the rhythm section is solid and foreceful. One song that ironically comes right in the middle of the album- "Thank You For Enjoying the Show" has such a Cars bent to it you could almost imagine Rick Ocasek covering it ("Thank you for enjoying the show-uh-o-uh-o"). This is big, bodacious, balls of brass synthpop that isn't afraid to put it all on the line, get in your face and tell you how they think it is. And dance-worthy to boot. Roy glibly turns more phrases than a hustling hooker turns tricks on a Saturday night. You've got a love a line like - "...true story, and it can get really gorey, I set my pants on fire, it doesn't mean I'm a liar, it just means that I'm not boring..." ("True Story"). There are so many gems like that sewn throughout 'Attack!' it will make your head spin. It will also keep you feet moving. There isn't one bad song on this album, not even a mediocre one. Nothing that makes me say "meh" or something of the sort. Sure, some are more captivating than others, but in total Red This Ever has dished up one heaping helping of electropop excellence that deserves to be heard and enjoyed. If you love synthpop, you'd be a fool not to buy this.
Artist: Gene Loves Jezebel (@)
Title: Dance Underwater
Format: CD
Label: Westworld Recordings (@)
Rated: *****
Here's a band whose name should be instantly recognizable to elder goths; a band with a convoluted history who have managed to sustain themselves since the earliest '80s in one form or another. Without going into a lot of detail, Gene Loves Jezebel revolved around the identical twin Aston brothers, Jay and Michael. Back when they were together, Michael was the lead singer and Jay the singer/guitarist. After their 1987 'House of Dolls' album, Michael split going solo while Jay continued the band. After reunions, breakups and a lawsuit over the use of the name, there are now two Gene Loves Jezebels. Michael, who stayed in the U.S. gets to call his band Gene Loves Jezebel when performing in the United States, but in the U.K. has to call it Michael Aston's Gene Loves Jezebel in the U.K.. With Jay, the opposite is true. So then, whose band is this album? Well, being released in the U.K., it's Jay's band, as he gets to use the name without having to prefix his own name. It's the first new Gene Loves Jezebel release in 14 years. Starting out as a semi-punky goth-glam band that to me sounded a bit like The Cure with more energy and less depression, over time GLJ became less gothy and more alternative rock. By the time Michael left, most of the musical goth aspect of the band left as well, although I'm not saying he took the goth with him. Be that as it may, how does this new effort fare? Well, to be truthful, it's not a goth album, although it does touch on some of the old GLJ magic. Not surprising since Jay was the band's main songwriter anyway, and he and his brother had similar vocal characteristics. Along with old GLJ bandmates Pete Rizzo (bass), James Stevenson (guitar) and Chris Bell (drums) Jay puts across a credible effort of polished songs that in a fair world would garner a good amount of airplay on college and alt-rock radio stations, if in fact there are any of the latter left. The opener, "Charmed Life" is an inspirational number about "never giving up..never giving in". It sounds quite different than what you might associate with the GLJ style. "Summertime" sounds like the perfect song to play for an outdoor cocktail party. Yet I'm not getting that signature GLJ vibe until "IZITME" and while it won't burn down the house, it does bring back some of the band's old magic. "Cry 4 U" is another tune that hearkens back to the band's earlier days. "Flying (The Beautiful Blue)" is a nicely constructed number, although rather lightweight for GLJ. If you're looking for a rocker in the band's classic style, look no further than "World Gone Crazy." Well done, and you can still hear those trademark Aston cries and wails now and then. As for the rest of the album, it sounds like polished alt-rock, but that's not our specialty here, so 'nuff said about that. For older GLJ fans, you can expect a few echoes of the glorious past, but Jay has grown and matured now, and the Goth aspect seemed to have been more or less a passing phase. I wouldn't write this off completely, but don't expect to be blown away by it.
Artist: Phurpa
Title: Rituals of Bön II
Format: 12"
Label: Zoharum (@)
Distributor: Alchembria
The exploration of the the traditions of Bön, a Tibetan religion antecedent to Buddhism, done by Phurpa is presented in this sequel to last year's previous excellent 12". Once again, their cultural relevance is the idea of music not as something with an aesthetic or economic value but as a central part of religious ritual. In this conception, music has to facilitate and induce mystical trance and introspection, so it's not something to consume or evaluate at an intellectual level.
In "Yan-Drub II", After the first part based on a chant, the suspension generated by the silence and the sparse beat of the bells and their resonances is breath taking and mystical and introduces another part based of the deep drones, generated by the chant and traditional instrument, that are even moving instead of being still and pauses indicating a sort of prosody.
In "Long Life II", the first part part sounds as something between a drone and a chant and it's something as simple to hear in theory as difficult to hear to catch all the small modification of the sound in practice until someone simply decide to use the music for what it was conceived: as an abject of contemplation and an aid to meditation; the second part is based on aerophones and could be seen as a pure droning part and the final one is a short return to the beginning of this side.
Once again this release is unratable as it manifests the side of the project so connected to a complete different listening habits that could be irksome to someone used to see music as pure art. Otherwise all others, with a proper attitude, will play this music until the vinyl is consumed.
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