Music Reviews

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Artist: Estrange (@)
Title: On The Wane
Format: CD
Label: Life Is Painful Records (@)
Distributor: Nova Media
Rated: *****
This Swedish Synthpop-project doesn't take it too seriously regarding release dates. 4 years has it taken until this follow-up album to 'Interim' has been ready produced. Remember, that also the release of 'Interim' took nearly a decade after their debut on the long gone Swedish October Records label. But it has been worth to wait, as the result once again satisfies all wishes, if you're looking for a quality Synth-/Futurepop release featuring a constant direction into Alternative music. Marcus Lilja and his additional band members impressing once again with their skillful kind to insert multiple and different instruments into a whole sound environment ' be it acoustic guitars, hand-made drums, or real bass play, all of these elements are finding naturally a slot in the globally Electronica-minded sound design, but all of this stands in the shadow of Marcus fine sounding timbre. Out of a million same-sounding Synthpop-vocalists, I would recognize his voice as being the most outstanding 'instrument' of the sound environment of ESTRANGE. With that in mind, 'On The Wane' picks almost up the smooth, bittersweet atmosphere of 'Interim' musically, maybe a bit more up pacing in comparison, but this album seems to be lyrically lesser drastic formulated than some tunes of its predecessor. There's still some dark content included, which can be related to a hidden Borderline-syndrome ('I Had It In Me', 'Loser'), and relative often some content rather questioning the essence of someone's life ('I Wish', 'Nothing Today'), often supported by religious/theological undertones. Marcus' lyrics, as well as his kind of composing, aren't that easy to pick-up, also his kind of composing turns to be out more demanding, than your usual sweet-as-honey-like song foundation. I would pick out 'If Only We Know How To Die' ('¦which can be discovered too as a video file at the bands' website'¦) and 'Holding On' as being the most catchiest tunes on here. As for the darker and more ballades-like moments, the already mentioned 'I Had It In Me' and the closing track 'Unchangeable' with a ' once again ' crystal-clear and brilliant vocal performance are reaching the top ranks of these total 11 tracks, from which none can be seen as a filler. 'On The Wane' celebrates a high composition standard of a tiny musically genius ' Marcus Lilja may will never reach the highest throne of success in the Synth-/Futurepop genres, but albums of ESTRANGE are always a result of dedication into the own musically abilities ' which are higher than the usual standard.

Artist: Lexincrypt (@)
Title: Scar Tissue
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Crunch Pod (@)
Rated: *****
Last year has been excellent for several bands and music projects to start a comeback and the return of LEXINCRYPT a.k.a. Justin Cameron, newly signed to Crunch Pod, has been one of the most remarkable ones. No doubt, one half of the too early gone cult-project SYMBIONT hasn't forget his amazing abilities, with which he could release two full-length albums on DSBP in collaboration with SLC's Backscatter Records. 'Scar Tissue' is a logical and pretty much business-related EP taken out of Justin's last years' album 'Of Unsound Mind', his comeback release on Crunch Pod. As usual for an EP, which is intended to offer alternative stuff for DJ's, promoters, etc., you'll get mostly stuff, which counts to the rather straight and danceable oriented compositions of Justin. The impression of his 3 full-length albums released throughout the years, which all offer their depth featured through an ominous, classic Dark Electro-like sound-design, flies a bit under the radar through such EP releases like this one. 10 tracks have received a slot on this opulent EP and all are remix contributions, for the most part provided by Justin's dear label comrades like SINSECT, MANGADRIVE, or the Crunch Pod-state-of-art-project, Mr. Ben Arp's C/A/T. Other important people and friends in Justin's career found a free slot too, LITTLE SAP DUNGEON (which offer contrary to the main direction a harsh, Downtempo-like interpretation of the title-track...), XIESCIVE (That is the new, follow-up project to BOUNDLESS, alias Trevor 'Xon' Weeks...), or such long unheard projects like C2 (the harsh Powernoise side-project of CONTROL.ORG), or FILAMENT 38 (between all of these rather Powernoise/TBM-inspired projects a nice variation through their inclusion of heavy guitar riffs...). It doesn't need to rate the winner of this remix 'contest' on here, as this turns rather into a matter of personal preferences. MANGADRIVE have received the opening crown on this EP and are providing the most assessable work on here, which should be able to flame the dancefloors, while LITTLE SAP DUNGEON may represent the nearest of the above mentioned ingredients normally discovered in LEXINCRYPT's compositions. It's a pity, that Justin himself doesn't offer anything originally composed for this EP, like an unreleased tune, so this may alters a bit the impression of a new and cheerful listener. However, this stuff still rules.

Title: Sandro Codazzi
Format: CD
Label: Musica Di Un Certo Livello
Rated: *****
Sandro Codazzi is a guy who in the 90s played bass guitar into some dark wave bands. In 2004 formed the electronic duo Silicon Wafer and with them invented the "Electro blow job music". I can't tell how it sounded but this served good for his new self named project. Produced and mixed by Cristiano Santini (singer with Disciplinatha, Italian band active during the late 80s/early 90s) the first self named Sandro Codazzi album contains ten songs which sound in balance from electro, italo disco, new wave (the bass guitar on "Aftermath" recalled me the early New Order) and synthpop. Dedicated to the F1 pilot Elio De Angelis (check his photos taken by Bernard Asset's used here for the graphics), the songs refer to the racing iconography thanks to titles like "Uno turbo I E", "Sierra cosworth", "Android ritmo abarth" or "Sex in the Kadett". Using mostly vocoder filtered vocals Sandro Codazzi has as vocals guests Valentina Castellani (member of Der Feuerkreiner) on "F.I.A.L.A.S." and Valentina Gioiosa (member of House Of Light) on "Transitions" and "Automatic love songs". Talking about the music, most of the tracks are mid tempo/fast dancey instrumentals where you can dig fully great synth analog sounds (Codazzy also collects and repairs old synth keyboards) but there are also pop driven tracks like "Transitions" which can be an hit into the electro dance scene (if you like Digitalism, you can check also Codazzi). I can't name any band that sounds the same but if you love the French retro sound of bands of the likes of Kavinsky and Hypnolove or the retro electro wave of Neongrau, Keen K, Datafreq, DJ Gio MC-505 and Imiafan, be sure to check this cool album.
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Artist: Hot Club
Title: Straight outta Bagnolet
Format: 12"
Label: Monotype Records (@)
Distributor: Monotype Records
Rated: *****
I'm getting to the bottom of the pile of this batch of releases I had review, so Hot Club's 'Straight outta Begnolet' is better late than never, I suppose. This is French Avant-Garde at its Avant-Gardiest; a combination of spoken word, free instrumental improvisation and turntables (some playing of old records, some sound manipulation), in a way I suppose only the French can do, and get away with. Hot Club is comprised of Alexander Bellenger (turntables); Jac Berrocal (trumpet, voice); Francois Fuchs (bass) and Dan Warburton (violin).

There are only 3 tracks on this album ' 'Satan Sous La Pluie' (19:35); 'Lorsque Yvonne Descends' (4:31); and 'Danse Avec Les Poules' (23:21). How to describe? In a word- Weird, with a capital W. 'Satan Sous La Pluie' begins with some plucks and plinks while an old chanson plays in the background and then along comes some trumpet burbling, squeaky violin strings, stray percussion sounds, and bass rumblings. It sounds like an LSD inspired jam to a vintage music program on the radio circa 1920. A little past the half-way mark, Berrocal begins an impassioned free-form recitation in French (well, maybe it's free-form, maybe he's reading something, I don't know), as only a Frenchman can do. Like me, if you don't understand French, you'll be lost as far as comprehension goes, but it sounds'Ãæexotic and dramatic building to a climax of sorts; especially underscored by the violin and bass droning.

'Lorsque Yvonne Descends' employs the sound of a very old Japanese (?) pop record (maybe sung in French) slowed down with the addition of little bellish tones and plucked strings 'n things. Strange; just strange. 'Danse Avec Les Poules' is no less strange beginning with a cavalcade of curious, carnivalesque old jazz recordings with only sparse sonic interjections from other instruments. Things change approaching the 3 minute mark when the free improvisation takes over in a melancholy, eerie ambience, highlighted by mournful trumpet and underscored by a low, oscillating drone. It has the effect of an odyssey through a demented carnival sideshow, and then the recording of some 1970s French femme pop singer emerges, and I can only assume that's Berrocal attempting to sing along with it. Oh boy! It turns into this disco thing while the other musicians in Hot Club play around it eventually ending in a repeating loop which fades as the Hot Club improvisation continues with another record looping a rhythm in the background. Other chansons are introduced via turntable and still the improvisation continues. Berrocal's trumpet is a cross between a fly and an elephant; a combination of skittering annoyance and bellicose bellowing. Warburton's busy violin noises and Fuchs's furious bass turn up the heat in the kitchen. Who know what the hell is coming out of Bellenger's turntables by now. It's a madly insane dance to the finish; frenetic, bizarre, and out of control. Whew! That was really something else. I'm not sure I even know how to adequately describe this let alone rate it.

This release is limited to 250 LPs (30 with T-shirt & Badge, if you're interested) and I don't know about CD or digital download; I tend to think not. Unless you can get your friendly local underground Record Shop to order it for you, you'll have go through a European distributor. I find it strange that Hot Club seems not to have a website. The closest I could find was Jac Berrocal's MySpace site, so that will have to suffice. You are probably better off visiting the Monotype records site for samples of the music though, which I would recommend, for the truly adventurous only.
Artist: Donovan Tate (@)
Title: Scrapbook
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
From Birmingham Alabama comes self-styled electronic music producer Donovan Tate, not to be confused with the minor league baseball player or a couple of club DJs by the same name, or actor Tate Donovan. Apparently he's had a few projects or bands over the years including Donovan 2525, Echoes in the Dark, Code Bleu, Dawn Chorus, Wave Nouveau and currently, Xi-Vox. Unfortunately, none of them seem to have had much exposure outside of the odd message board posting, or the occasional submission reviewed here at Chain D. L. K. over the years. Tate's 'Scrapbook' is an album of 23 tracks of his aforementioned projects with some new tracks mixed in as well. Tate handles all the synth/keyboard work, sampling, and drum programming, as well as lyrics and vocals with occasional vocals from Carolyn Reid. His litany of influences reads like an English/Euro electro-pop record/CD collection straight out of the 1980s/ early 1990s ' Depeche Mode, Human League, Flock of Seagulls, Bananrama, Alphaville, Culture Club, Propaganda, New Order, OMD, etc. etc. you get the picture. Tate's 'Sheffield Sound' obsession seems to permeate a goodly portion of 'Scrapbook'; retro in nearly every way. This wouldn't be a bad thing if there was enough quality to back it up, but unfortunately, there isn't.

First track 'London,' feigns English hipness ala Human League/Heaven 17 and St. Etienne. Beginning with a British Airways voiceover and jet-sonics over a clubby beat, with a Berlin ' 'Sex (I'm a )' synth string pad, and a generic synth riff with pizzicato counter-melody, Carolyn Reid coos 'Ooooh, baby, we (or word that rhymes with it) maybe, you can go to London,' while Tate interjects a spoken 'London' for emphasis. A tad jejune, but passable retro synth pop, except the hazy production diminishes the song's potential. As a harbinger of what's to come, you quickly realize Donovan Tate loves to use a lot of echo and reverb, a common mistake of amateur music producers.

The slower second track, 'Tonya' features processed vocals over minimal synth and drum machine, but even with the vocal processing you realize that Tate has a problem; his singing isn't very good. Third track, 'Evermore' confirms this as he attempts a soulful-turned-mournful piano-based ballad that goes on way, way too long. It's a clichéd progression that in spite of bringing in other instrumental elements gets tiring quickly. The odd 'E=MC2' shows a bit of experimental flair but the repetition intended to be hypnotic comes off as irritating. The vocals swathed in reverb and echo (yet again) just don't sound very compelling. Nowhere are the vocals more painful than on 'Strange,' a minimal Tuxedo Moon style track. Winston Tong's voice may be suited for this overwrought emotional style, but Donovan Tate's pipes surely are not.

There are way too many tracks on this album to keep commenting on individually, and many of them are guilty of the same flaws of the aforementioned. As for electronica diversity, Donovan employs an 'everything but the kitchen sink,' aw fuck-it, let's throw in the kitchen sink too' approach, so some things are momentarily amusing, but nothing particularly compelling. By track #11 ('Wake Up!') he's sounding like a lo-fi Kid606 but getting that far in the CD is an endurance test. Tracks that follow are scattershot hodge-podge collage of feats of sampling, wacky rhythms, semi-realized ideas, and unfocused and under-developed sonic meanderings. His version of the 'Dr. Who Theme' which closes the album is symptomatic of all that's gone before; steeped in the past, and not taken to the future very well.

I really hate to come down hard on virtually unknown indie artists because they're the ones who need nurturing and encouragement the most. Sometime though, tough-love is called for if an artist is ever going to improve. It's really a shame too because I can tell this guy has some talent; it's just a bad mistake to not distill the best of what one is capable of into a few well-composed and well-recorded tracks, and leave the rest on the cutting-room floor. Few are going to want to turn all the pages of this 'Scrapbook'. It may be time to get a new 'Playbook'.
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