Music Reviews



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Artist: m1nk (@)
Title: m1nk = em one en kay
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Seja Records (@)
Rated: *****
Man, it's been a really long time since I've heard any good, new trip hop music, and while m1nk's debut album (the title of which is to get you to pronounce their name correctly, instead of calling them "mink") isn't exactly classic trip hop, it's still downtempo and noirish enough to be genre receptive, and remind you of the best things such as Portishead, Massive Attack, Anne Clark, Bowery Electric and the like. Erika Bach's voice slithers snake-like coiling in the darker recesses of your brain while Barry Snaith's instrumental Pandora's box unleashes all manner of strange in a soundscape you can't escape. There are times Erika's voice is just so Beth Gibbons, but her lost soul persona wanders in terrain far darker than Gibbons' milieu. One of the tracks on the album is titled "Psycho Erotic," (third track, actually) but that could be applied to the music on this album in general. Most of the music (instrumental portion) is more atmosphere than any traditionally defined music form, but that's what makes it work so well. You might be able to dance to some of it in a hipster, Audrey Horne, Twin Peaks roadhouse sort of way, but it's more conducive to an opioid stupor (not that I'm promoting that sort of thing; neither are they I imagine) than any potentially strenuous activity. Erika Bach (aka Lola Demo) is from Ithaca (Greece, not New York) and Barry Snaith is from Wakefield, UK, but they sound like they could be from anywhere...Soho NYC, Berlin, Paris, Slovenia, wherever, that has a passion for the underground. As slow as this stuff moves (and it is very downtempo and sloooowww) the ten tracks over 47 minutes go so fast you'll wonder where the time went. It is rare that a debut album is so deviously, perfectly delicious that it shoots to the top of my chart like a carnival high-striker, but 'm1nk = em one en kay' is such an animal.

UPDATE: When I originally posted this review I though the format was CD & download (likely because what they sent me was a CD, but it's actually Limited edition (300) VINYL (12") and download, with a bonus CD added with a vinyl purchase. This is sort of better in my estimation because vinyl definitely trumps CD, but you get the CD anyway. You just can't loose, and since this is as good as it is, I wouldn't expect stock to last very long.
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Artist: Massergy (@)
Title: Fire Opal
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
Massergy is the project name of Eric Jensen, based in Austin Texas, and 'Fire Opal' is his debut album on Spotted Peccary. This may be a case of the recording process being as interesting as the music, for Massergy produced this album entirely without the use of computers, sequencers or plug-ins, using hardware synths only and acoustic guitar (and maybe some electric as well), and not only that- recorded and mixed the entire album outdoors- at night no less! (Hmmm...floodlights or tiki torches I wonder...) How's that for melding electronic-ambient with nature! Jensen says he shares his recording environment with coyotes, owls, deer, and other creatures (of the night I guess), and not only that, it was recorded under whatever weather conditions prevailed. (I'm guessing downpours and Texas twisters were out for practical reasons.) The music over the 7 tracks totaling 70 minutes is predominantly new age ambient, but that's not a bad thing as Jensen manages to avoid the clichés the genre is often subject too. In spite of the flashiness of the title, the majority of the music on the album is placid and low key. It's languid, lazy and contemplative, and despite being played/recorded at night, it doesn't conjure strictly nocturnal images. It could well be a sunny or rainy afternoon, a cloudy dawn, or a majestic sunset. The opening piece "Vinesong" is the closest thing resembling a song with some structure by the acoustic guitar. "The Shepherdess' has seemingly sequenced/arpeggiated notes that you're going to have a hard time believing weren't programmed into a sequencer, but there is a more natural feel to them than if they were. That takes a good amount of skill and discipline. There is an improvisational feel, yet purposeful drive to Massergy's compositions and a light touch prevails throughout. Without straying too far afield Massergy provides just enough sonic diversity to keep your attention but not overwhelm you. The 17:17 title track is a bit darker and denser than the others and weaves an aura of mystery. The one thing most listeners should agree on though is that 'Fire Opal' is a very relaxing, tranquil and meditative album, perhaps just the thing needed after a stressful day in the real world. For a debut album, it's a wonder.

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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Bleeps, Beats & Bass 2
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Basserk
The second in the compilation series from constantly reliable Amsterdam label Basserk is another rich pack of almost-entirely-instrumental house, electro and danceable techno that stays just on the right side of wonky and looks out across the view.

There’s an intriguing music-as-product concept behind it, with QR codes linking to every track, meaning for example that you’ll be able to buy your favourite track as a sweatshirt. I can’t vouch for the quality of the shirt manufacture of course, but big chunks of this are serious dancing music, so a lighter, more breathable T-shirt may be required as well...

Musically, it’s a pack with no filler, stacked with potential DJ weapons. There’s the infectious bounce of Sjamsjoedin’s “Corners”, the bright alt-disco clapping of Heart Space’s “Move Aside”, or the breathy, semi-glitched groove of highly-regarded LHISPR’s little track “Closer” that bypasses your higher thought patterns and makes you dance like a robot.

It’s bookended by “Passw123” by Full Monty at one end and “Modderpoel” by Maanwagen at the other, both breezy stepping grooves reminiscent of Luke Vibert tracks, that cheekily imply they’re about to break out into full-verse rap tracks but never do. The former is a definite highlight that’s earned its pole position on the compilation, that one’s getting repeat plays here for sure.

There are also broodier and more introspective pieces for headphone-centric listening. Xyloglotte’s “McKlatchey”- a track you’ll never be able to verbally ask Siri or Alexa to play- rumbles with a gentle kick-led broken beat under counterplaying layers of squeaky synths, while Radio Parkplatz’s “Wormshop” brings a bit of urgency through relentless synth bass notes and gliding siren-like arpeggios that slightly recall a Juhl Krøse track or two.

HuSo’s “Tome” is one of those 150bpm-ish tracks with dubbier, half-speed top layers where your body can be shuffling frantically to the slightly jungle-ish beats at 150 while your head chills out at 75.

Kraz’s “Shelter” stands out, not solely for the fact it has a full sung verse-and-chorus vocal on it- with a gravelly, Jan Burton, Rob Dougan-ish affair over a slow beat and synths that seem to want to be guitars, it definitely draws the attention. Baptist’s “Nothing Left” leading into Tholyson’s “Fou Amoureux”- the latter with an extremely OMD-ish synth lead line- form ‘the synthwave section’ towards the tail of the release.

It’s hard to argue with the title of this release. High-quality bleeps, variety in the beats and a tastebud-wetting variety of squelchy bass sounds are on offer. It’s a strong pack with just the right amount of twist.
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Artist: Luc Ferrari
Title: Music Promenade / Unheimlich Schön
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Recollection GRM
Recollection GRM’s admirable polishing-up-and-reissuing mission continues strongly here, with the return to availability of two Luc Ferrari works, from 1970 and 1971 respectively, which have been remastered and cleaned up to the extent that while the works bear all the hallmarks of the 60’s and 70’s evolution of tape recording and found sound, the sonic quality sounds bright and practically modern.

“Music Promenade” is the overlapping of a variety of field recordings of human life in the late 60’s. It’s an abstract documentary of the sounds of then-modern life, snippets of overheard conversation, the sounds of both work and laughter, and more than a smattering of ‘needledrop’-style musical excerpt plopped in as obtusely as on the Monkees “Head” soundtrack. Originally described as “whilst walking, a man is struck by the violence of his surroundings”, it’s perhaps telling that with the exception of a couple of clearly violent arguments, most of this twenty-minute piece sounds rather sedate by the standards of city life today. In terms of musical history it sits contemporary to Ferrari’s “Presque rien No. 1” as a notable keyframe in the evolution of tape music and the dissolution of the boundaries between found and composed sound and art.

“Unheimlich Schön” is a much simpler work, focussed on intimately recorded sounds of a woman breathing and talking. Tape loops and delays create a primitive sense of isolation and abstraction. Over the course of sixteen minutes, you are drawn into a very personal-sounding environment that’s so raw that it is likely to cause some listeners discomfort due to its potential invasiveness- but which other listeners might well find sexy. It’s a striking piece that really gets you thinking about your own reactions to it.
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Artist: Stereo Hypnosis & Christopher Chaplin
Title: Bjarmi
Format: CD + Download
Label: Fabrique Records
“Bjarmi” is a 40-minute live studio recording, recorded in Hvammstangi in Northern Iceland. The track titles are derived from place names in the nearby Heggstaðanes peninsula, and the tone of the sound is what you may also consider as stereotypically Icelandic- cold, barren sonic landscapes littered with glacial electronic sounds and some rugged rough-hewn textures, resulting in a beautiful sense of complex emptiness.

Established experimental trio Stereo Hypnosis are at the core, with Thorkell Atlasson’s guitar work laying delicately over the synthetic elements and field recordings. At time the purer melodic tones develop shades of Tangerine Dream or 70’s prog rock at its most relaxed, but it’s only a loose comparison. Other trio members Óskar and Pan Thorarensen (father and son) are founders of the Extreme Chill festival and it’s not unreasonable to imagine this release being targeted for performances there. However guest Christopher Chaplin is not just an also-ran here, contributing melodic elements with a slightly more conventional contemporary music tone that give proceedings a stamp of quality as well.

Mostly arhythmic, it’s worth singling out final track “Tangi” for its slow clicking rhythm that, with minimal effort, generates a structure that’s mostly not felt in the other pieces, except perhaps in the breathing and heartbeat patterns of opener “Klif”- a neat piece of bookending with more rhythmic sections that’s an unusual structure for a mostly ambient work like this.

In four ten-minute live pieces (a couple of which perhaps fade too abruptly), it’s a very consistent piece of chill out (or ‘Extreme Chill’) music that doesn’t challenge any established conventions of the genre, but it’s handled with such deftness and such attention to detail that it’s pretty much impossible not to like.
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