Music Reviews



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Artist: Sonic Area (@)
Title: Music for Ghosts
Format: CD
Label: Ant-Zen (@)
Rated: *****
Sonic Area is the project name of electronic-industrial music artist Arnaud Coëffic (aka Arco trauma) from France. Sonic Area has been active since 1997-98 with a number of previous releases I haven't been exposed to, mostly on the Audiotrauma label. (This one is a joint Ant-Zen and Audiotrauma release.) 'Music for Ghosts' isn't just music for any old ghosts, it is music for certain types of ghosts, those that seem to have some style and creativity, if the music (or the cover) is any indication. Beginning with a brief series of sound effects, the album moves quickly into a slow, unworldly theme, light and mysterious at first, then heavy and ominous as it moves along. The listener is then presented with some dialogue about spirit manifestation taken from the final Houdini séance.

'The Living Carousel' is demented calliope music dredged up from some long decayed and abandoned amusement park with touches of Danny Elfman fairy dust. 'The Infernal Clockwork' screams STEAMPUNK, but yet something more. 'The Endless Staircase' has a stuttering beat and melody and no matter how high you climb, you never reach the top, always back where you began. Real or illusion? Who can say? 'Eureka' has maniacal cartoony orchestration and we're back in Elfman territory again, maybe scoring for some Tim Burton animation. That's 5:37 of crazy intensity! After a brief interlude ('Dead Muse') that sounds like an old phonograph recording, the listener is thrust into the thick of the spirit world with 'Inframonde' ' lots of wordless voice choir, sequenced electronics and orchestral backing. Very dramatic. If you thought that was fun, just wait until 'The Haunted Hall Motel Ballade' which follows ' a stately, ghostly march, Ennio Morricone style!

More heavenly (or ghostly) choir with grand orchestration follows on the brief 'Those Eternal Seconds,' leading into 'The Magic Storyteller,' a pastiche of card-shuffling, disembodies strange voices, snake-charmer music, orchestral stabs and accents, broken themes, percussion and more over relentless sequencer loop. The basis for 'Once More into the Breach Dear Friends' is an unconventional concertina sequence built upon by strong percussion, bass and orchestration, and eventually, those ghostly voices. It sounds a lot heavier and more industrial than you'd imagine, yet there is a melodic theme woven throughout. 'Middle Night Ballet' could be some ghost plunking out some lost tune on the old piano in a cobweb filled room ending with (wood) creaking and echoes of a long gone vocalist and orchestra down the hall. Leading into final track 'Funeral March for an Empire' are vocoder vocal, a transmission from the spirit world. The 'Funeral March' itself although nicely done with harpsichord, strings, bass, percussion, and more elaborate orchestration and voices toward the end, was not as compelling as I'd hoped. It ends with a dialogue sample from 'The Twilight Zone' ('Walking Distance,' 1959).

There are parts of 'Music For Ghosts' that are absolutely stellar, and parts that are just okay, but taken as a whole (as it should be), this is one very engaging work. Not just for Halloween, but it wouldn't be out of place on October 31st.
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Artist: Mr. Kitty (@)
Title: Life
Format: CD
Label: Engraved Ritual (@)
Distributor: Bandcamp
Rated: *****
I have nothing against people loving cats. Actually I like cats too. But regarding Forrest Carney, the man (cat?) behind Mr. Kitty, I have the impression that he may tends to overtax his dedication if you check with his photo works in bio and web resources. I also do not see too many common things with cats related to his smooth, surprisingly catchy produced Synthpop/Electronica music generally, but however, what finally counts is his music itself. And here it starts with all further surprises surrounding this release. First to mention is the publishing label: Engraved Ritual is best known to be a full-scale resource releasing Harsh EBM / Hellectro music (just remember Bestias De Asalto or Say Just Words...) - this all new release by this Dallas-based Electronica-musician differs to anything you've discovered of this label so far. Second surprise is Mr. Kitty himself - although 'Life' stands for his fourth full-length already, I have to admit, that his music as well as his project is new and undiscovered so far to me. His further, previous releases are all available to the "Name your price"-procedure via his Bandcamp web resource - what a good chance to pick up nearly the complete discography of Mr. Kitty. But back to "Life" and its content. 15 tracks in all filled with a darker minded of form of Synthpop / New Wave music, which draws pretty much relations to classic, renowned music-projects like O.M.D., Heaven 17, Human League and of course the almighty influencing Depeche Mode for the Synthpop-related side of the project, but also The Cure or Joy Division as being the quells of the rather Post-Punk / New Wave-related outfit of Mr. Kitty. For a few critics surely another unnecessary reanimation of the 80s inspired nostalgia, but it needs to by said, that Forrest proves on all tracks his compositional skills and he services surely pretty well the needs of the elders of us. Of course his chosen sound outfit fits pretty much in this direction. Synthpop-/80s-nostalgic fans will be completely satisfied with such smooth tunes like the starter 'Insects', 'Heaven', or 'Scars'. Personally I enjoyed the darker sounding 'Sacrifice' and the usage of some well worked out vocoder effects on the vocals as being the best and most valuable point. Also the last track, 'Father' with its heart-felting content and the intention to provide a track with an alternative rhythm foundation has to be pointed out. This album brings back a lot of remembrances of the good old past and Mr. Kitty offers excellence to produce in this style. It is also an ideal soundtrack for the younger generation to pick up a glimpse of the colorful, artistical variety this era had to offer.

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Artist: Superstrobe (@)
Title: Paradox EP
Format: 12"
Label: Praxxiz (@)
Rated: *****
After the reload, or I'd better say the re-boot, of Superstrobe project by means of the acclaimed release "Reboot" on Praxxiz, the well-respected label by Dr.Motte (most of you already know his importance for Berlin techno scene due to the fact he founded the notorious Berlin love Parade), Manuel Wrinkler, one of the most promising techno producer from the steaming scene of the German capital, slightly tweaks his sound on this EP towards less tense, but more hypnotical sonorities. Even if his sonic fingerprint is quite distinguishable, he shuffles sounds in a different way. Both tracks on this EP ignites on gummy bumps, but while "Hypnotize" veers towards headbanging minimal techno, which lies on "charred" laser beams, rising whooshes till a saturation point where the track comes full circle on a reprise of the initial bump which got partially mixed with the noise you hear when rub against a swollen balloon, I'd rather say that "Paradox" slides over more sci-fi oriented sonorities, maybe because the artificial chorused string Superstrobe adds in the pot look like a sample from Matrix main title soundtrack whereas the topic of the title seems to be somehow clarified by the sample of a falling aircraft. The fact that something which could thrill you by a sensation which could be associated to freedom, mastery or domination over gravitational attraction might turn into a fatal nightmare sounds paradoxical enough, doesn't it?
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Artist: Tomahawk (@)
Title: ”Oddfellows”
Format: CD
Label: Ipecac Recordings (@)
Rated: *****
WTF?? Look at this album cover (courtesy of cartoonist Ivan Brunetti) ' does that give you any idea what this latest release by Tomahawk sounds like? Hell no! But it's a hoot anyway. To be perfectly honest, I'd never heard (nor heard of) Tomahawk before this. I've heard of, and heard (a little) of a couple of Mike Patton's other bands ' Mr. Bungle and Faith No More, and can't say I'm a fan of either of them. With no proper basis of comparison, I began listening with more or less virgin ears.

Tomahawk now is Mike Patton- vocals/keys; Duane Denison- guitar; John Stanier- drums; Trevor Dunn ' bass. The latter, from Mr. Bungle, replace founding member Kevin Rutmanis. The guitar on opening and title track 'Oddfellows' sounds like latter-day King Crimson slowed down quite a bit. Patton's sinister wailing reminds me a bit of Swan's Michael Gira. It's a deliciously creepy vibe augmented with some wild-assed soloing by Denison toward the end. Great way to begin. Didn't care much for the next track, 'Stone Letter,' as it sounded like a pretty standard alt-rocker to me, except for the flanged gothy guitar break. 'I.O.U.' raises the bar a bit with its slow and simmering dark tension verse and rising, wailing chorus. Sort of minimalistic but really good! 'White Hats/Black Hat' is an absolutely brilliant rocker; a low-down, dirty, sexy, and dangerous burner, of the ilk I don't hear enough of nowadays. 'A Thousand Eyes' is a spooky little change-up. 'Rise Up Dirty Waters' has a really spiffy detective jazz motif that heats up on the chaotic jumpin' jive chorus. This is the track that really sold me on the album. I'm such a sucker for stuff like this! 'The Quiet Few' is anything but quiet, a real nightmarish raucousness on this one, right up to its manic conclusion. In 'I Can Almost See Them' I can almost see shades of Ennio Morricone. 'South Paw' sounds like one of those rockers that's more effective live than in the studio and reminded me too much of Faith No More. 'Choke Neck' on the other hand is a creepy downtempo number that is typical of what I am coming to expect from Tomahawk. 'Waratorium' sounded like filler, but at least it was well-done filler. 'Baby Let's Play__' is the closest thing to a love ballad on the album, but think of it as a Dexter-serial killer sort of love ballad. Final track 'Typhoon' is an uptempo hell-raiser I could imagine Iggy & the Stooges doing. Too short at 2:12 but always leave 'em wanting more I guess.

I made it a point after I finished this review to search out some of Tomahawk's earlier work and there is no doubt that a good deal of it was a lot more experimental and out there than this album. It's not that they sound like a completely different band (they don't) but they've managed to refine and focus their energy and trim some of the ragged edges. Song construction is generally better too. If you were a big fan of their previous work, you might be disappointed that there aren't extended excursions into weirdsville. However, if you truly appreciate the band's essence, you'll appreciate that 'Oddfellows' is a cohesive work with some absolutely stellar tracks.
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Artist: Niton Cage
Title: Cage
Format: 12"
Label: Seja Records (@)
Rated: *****
A new release for the stubborn Netherlands-based Seja Records, again strictly limited to 300 exemplars and pressed on golden old vinyl only. Yes, here is another must-have release which brings back the warm-sounding analogue touch in times of digital coldness. I had the German duo Traffic AM a while back with a remarkable debut for Seja Records and this Niton Decay-project somehow consists of the same musicians. Officially labelled as being Traffic AM's vocalist Stefan Gonzer's solo effort, his partner in crime, Michael Kissing, has produced this first 7-track album. By checking the first tracks on the A-side of this release I somehow thought on a musically darker sounding Alter Ego-project to Traffic AM, especially after the ominous, sample-driven introduction tune 'Strange And Silent'. Also 'Don't Mind' and 'Deny The Decay' aren't hymns to celebrate a kids' birthday on a sunny afternoon, but clever sounding Downtempo-like Dark Electronica tracks with a constant Wave influence inspired by the golden 80s. The b-side then brings generally in more pace and a bit more of their New Wave influence, it could be said, the 3 tracks are coming very near to the cleaner produced Traffic AM project. 'Cage' is another well produced effort by these German protagonists. The fact, that this release comes again out on good old vinyl just helps to integrate the analogue warmth so evident for this style of music and it sounds much more 'alive' and edgy than the usual plastic Pop chart music effort.
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