Music Reviews



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Artist: Kane Ikin (@)
Title: Sublunar
Format: CD
Label: 12k (@)
Rated: *****
A set of imaginary wanderings in the outer space with many leaps over "moons" of our system with its load of emotional reverie, which has always inspired mankind seems to be the main theme of this entrancing debut full length album by Kane Ikin, who amalgamates a bunch of sonic tips and tricks and the charm of radio astronomy within his sound. The firsts mainly come with muffled strokes, distended puffs, a massive use of chorus and delay and proper percussive elements (chimes, bells, hang), which amplify the contemplative dimension of his sound, the latters through the retention of that noise, which sounds like tape hisses and echoes radio transmissions from outer space which many astronomers explain by attributing them to interferences of electromagnetic fields and cosmic powders. Kane Ikin doesn't scrub his sound from this noise particles and I'd say such a stylistical choice distintively marks his sound, which often manages to render the imaginary feeling of an astronaut while watching through the window of a starship. Many moments of the album could recall the sound of other sonic stargazers (Geir Jenssen's Biosphere or Pete Namlook), but Kane Ikin looks like percolating an high emotionality with its volatile vapours so that you could have the impression he recorded the album through the grabbing by a futuristic recorder on Planet Earth of many transmissions of one take sessions from the orbits of the satellites he mentions for the titles of Sublunar's tracks or you could just imagine that his sound equipment includes just two powerful radars, one header for cosmos and one headed for his inner universe. "Sublunar" could be considered as a musical essay on how celestial mechanics can influence inner gears.
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Artist: Maculatum
Title: The Nameless City
Format: CD
Label: Malignant Records (@)
Rated: *****
Are you ready for some Dark Ambient? I mean some real, heavy dark ambient, the kind that nightmares are born of. Well, here it is! Maculatum is the collaboration of Malignant Records artists Collapsar and Rasalhague (Thibaud Thaunay and Kerry Braud) and 'The Nameless City' is their first outing together, and hopefully not their last. The title of the album, 'The Nameless City' is taken from H. P. Lovecraft's 1921 short story by the same name, considered the first Cthulhu Mythos story. Being that Lovecraft and Dark Ambient go together like coffee and donuts, it's no wonder that Maculatum pay tribute to the master of cosmic horror with this ode to the abyss.

You begin by sliding slowly into the void, as uneasy sounds and presences drift by. Then, an expanse of vast proportions opens up, like some dreadful subterranean cavern. There are remnants of an ancient reptilian civilization in glowing hieroglyphs on the walls, and hints of its ineffable demonic glory as ritual percussion plays in your mind. (Plays with your mind is more like it.) Exploring further, a strange (slowed down and backwards) voice from an unseen presence introduces you to a world hitherto unknown, as the primal percussion lays down its totemic groove. And just when you thought you were beginning to sus this bizarre world within a world, the floor drops out and you find yourself floating in the birthing chamber of all that is abominable and contradictory to life as you know it.

Maculatum make use of huge chambered ambiences, and the chittering, slithering sounds that invade this sanctum are beyond creepy. When rhythms do emerge they are either tribally ritualistic or alien machine-like, with an inclination toward the horrific. Yet, it is all dream-like and surreal, as if the experience comes from hallucinating the collective subconscious of worshipers of some terrible elder gods. (Even the sampled movie dialogue towards the end of 'Part IV' didn't detract from this preternatural ambience.) The ritual percussion in 'Part V' is rather strange, having almost a Native American beat, but also other ethnic touches. The final track on 'The Nameless City,' 'Part VI' is pure dark ambient delight, and winds things down with delicious drones, huge reverberation, and doomful tones and the last gasps of an unfathomable ancient civilization scattered in the sand of the desert winds. It couldn't be more appropriate.

This release is limited to 500 copies so don't put off acquiring it figuring it will be around forever. It won't.
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Artist: Crisopa (@)
Title: Biodance
Format: CD
Label: n5MD (@)
Rated: *****
Here is another n5MD release, this one by Crisopa, a Madrid-based electronic composer, and 'Biodance' is my first exposure to his music. The album has a messy intro (obviously titled 'Intro') with an effluvia of all sorts of elements that didn't endear me to it at first, but the structure fell into place with the second track, 'Cosmos Wallclock,' with some nicely sustained belltones and measured percussion. Crisopa uses shoegazer elements but it never sounds quite like a shoegazer band. There is often a spacey fluidity to the music, and elements Crisopa incorporates, such as the angelic choir samples on 'Es Todo Mental' are a very nice touch. What really knocked me out was the uber-memorable, simple but engaging, repeated echoed electric piano figure that begins 'Que Nos Ataquen' in contrast to the hazy distorted guitar and ramshackle percussion that joins it. Could have used a bit more bass though; it was there but a little buried.

Crisopa's judicious use of percussion is inventive and enhances the music the music in often unexpected ways, and likewise with the voices he uses. Sometimes the percussion is controlled chaos, something you wouldn't think would work with such spacey atmospheres, ambiences and melodies, but somehow, it works just fine. There is a lot of repetition within tracks but there is a constant building as well, and often a break from the conventional. 'Ruled By Strange New Laws' is absolutely mind-blowing the way it swirls in your head under phones. In fact, there isn't much that isn't mind-expanding on 'Biodance' in some way or another.

Crisopa's 'Biodance' seems to be a whole new take on cinematic ambient soundscape; one that challenges the listener at nearly every turn, while providing a sufficient amount of blissed-out cosmicness. Even the glitchy vocals of 'Last Membrane' [Adapt Remix] couldn't sink this Titanic, but the [Kit De Crein Remix] of 'North Left' that ends the album had me wondering what the original might have sounded like as the rhythm got into this off-kilter groove that left me feeling a bit uneasy as it was the final track. It did find its footing though, so all's well that ends well. 'Biodance' is Crisopa's debut, and while a very worthy start, I'm looking forward to hearing what he'll come up with next.

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Artist: Lights Out Asia (@)
Title: Hy-Brasil
Format: CD
Label: n5MD (@)
Rated: *****
Lights Out Asia is the duo (formerly trio) of Mike Ystad (electronics) and Chris Schafer (guitar, vox) from Milwaukee. 'Hy-Brasil' is their 5th, release and latest on the n5MD label, and they've also appeared on several compilations. This album is my first exposure to Lights Out Asia. 'Hy-Brasil' takes its name from a mythical phantom island off the west coast of Ireland, appearing in Brigadoonish fashion only once every seven years. (Well, Brigadoon was once every hundred years, but who's counting.) There's a bit more to the mythology than that (comparisons to Atlantis), so it could be viewed as a concept album, but you'd have to be pretty deep into it to get the concept.

I spent a long time listening to the album prior to the review just to make sure it was digested properly, and I keep coming up with the same conclusions. There is some achingly beautiful blissed-out material on 'Hy-Brasil', like a mix of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis with your favorite gauzy shoegazer (take your pick; Robin Guthrie comes to mind). Multilayered, cinematic and ethereal; dreamy, languorous melodies, and the occasional wall of guitar distortion that keeps things from getting too new-agey. From the opening track, 'The Eye of All Storms' I have to admit I was impressed...almost. Schafer's voice (on the tracks with vocals) is often a soprano that floats over the music like a gossamer canopy, or an angel in passing. Not up-front, but mixed in with the music like another instrument. His vocals are full of passion and emotion, giving an impetus to the music that blends well with the huge sound created by this duo here.

There are plenty of ambient elements too, from birds, to background voices, to little electronic touches that sound nearly organic. The music ebbs and flows, and sometimes roils like the sea, tranquil to stormy, sometimes lonesome and melancholy, sometime gloriously powerful, and often within the same track. It is this dichotomy of shadow and light that gives LOA its unique sound. There are plenty of passages that are percussionless, but sooner or later a rhythm track emerges (but not always), and here is where there sometimes is a problem. It is most evident on 'Ghost Identifer' where the main rhythm programming sounds like an old 80's drum machine for a good portion of the track. Granted, that wasn't enough to sour me on such a magnificent work as this, but it did detract a bit.

All-in-all though, 'Hy-Brasil' is a gorgeously melodic excursion into the stratosphere that will keep your head in the clouds throughout the album's 1:11:05 time through 12 tracks, and thankfully, there are no remixes. I find myself wondering if Lights Out Asia perform live. If they do, I think they'd need a huge concert hall, arena or stadium to put across the expansiveness of their sound.
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Artist: Chemical Ally & Lady Flava/Fade
Title: Imagination of Yourself (Spirit remix)/Insider
Format: 12"
Label: Rooted Recordings (@)
Rated: *****
Just like new buildings need solid foundations, Rooted Recordings, the newborn label by veteran Welsh producer and dj Chemical Ally, opts for a massive appetizer as a way of presenting itself to a scene, which cannot be but ready enough to similar stuff. According to Chemical Ally's words, he founded Rooted not only with the intent of producing sonic stuff he likes to spread out, but he's also taking account of it as a possible launching pad for his music, which you can taste on this release through "Imagination Of Yourself", a roaring track he co-signed with Lady Flava, long-time lasting fellow dj on Rude FM; they both got inspiration from the style of the evergreen and prolific Duncan Busto aka Spirit, a sort of miliar stone for tech-oriented and dancehall-igniting drum'n'bass, so that they immediately took the opportunity to give him the track for further retouch when they learnt about sich a chance. The final result perfectly suits recent dancehall tastes, which seems to turn darker and darker without dropping the possibility to jump, by means of eerie sounds, high speeds (they also included a sample of a racing car, which spins across catchy rhythmical patterns, distorted brasses and infective basses). On B side, there's a track, "Insider", by the young Ukranian prodigy Fade, which sounds quite simple and mannered, but highly effective, while digital release comes with a very catchy tune by Saint-Petersburg-based duo 2Sides (Jack Ivanov and Ivan Evdokimov), whose "True Skull" sound like combining some of the grimest influences by Upbeats-like "esoteric" dnb and highly energetic trancey breakbeat. Definitively a good way to be welcomed by many dnb djs and supporters!
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