Music Reviews



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Artist: Dead Voices On Air (@)
Title: Michael And The Angels Fought
Format: CD
Label: Lens Records (@)
Distributor: Lens Records
Rated: *****
I don't know why I've held off so long on reviewing this CD; maybe I just needed time to absorb it...then there was a period of about 2 weeks recently that my computer was down...but that's another story. Anyway, we're all familiar with Mark Spybey's DVOA to some degree or another, aren't we? If not, you certainly should be. DVOA has been a staple on the Industrial-Ambient music scene since 1993 or so, and before that Spybey was a member of Zoviet France. During his career Spybey has participated in numerous collaborations, remixes, tours, etc., but you can make your own connections there; this review is likely to be lengthy enough without the full back-story.

I admit that I'm not acquainted with the whole DVOA catalogue. I own a few of their CDs owing to a DVOA phase I went through a number of years ago, but lost touch after the 'Frankie Pett Presents The Happy Submarines...' album. I'm sure that many would lump the music of DVOA in the 'Ambient' category, but it really isn't ambient per se. I've always thought of it as more 'sound collage' utilizing many different elements, some of which inhabit the industrial and ambient realms, and others more experimental, improvisational, noise, electronic, and uncategorizable. So to get a better picture I spent a little time cruising iTunes track previews for the DVOA albums I hadn't heard (which turned out to be quite a few) just for some frame of reference for this review. It couldn't have been a more varied listening experience. There was plenty I liked, as well as things I didn't care for. When you're a leading edge experimenter though, you take chances and not everyone is going to love everything you do. Goes with the territory. Taste changes over time too, not only for the listener but the creator as well, always a factor in whether or not an artist's latest work is going to trip your trigger or not.

As far as 'Michael And The Angels Fought' is concerned, my trigger was definitely tripped. The album is more focused and not as diverse as some other DVOA releases, but I tend to think of that as refinement rather than reduction. The album features a supporting cast that includes contributions from American-Serbian singer Ivana Salipur; the British cellist Bela Emerson; Portland, Oregon throat-singer Soriah; the French auteur and high-wire artist Philippe Petit; Toronto based electronic musician, Michael Morton (Displacer); Massachusetts based guitarist Michael Page (Sky); Utah electronic keyboardist Lori Cole, and also Robin Storey (Rapoon), and Jared Louche (Chemlab). In a sense, 'Michael And The Angels Fought' is like no other DVOA album you have ever heard, although some sonic elements may be familiar at times.

The album consists of five tracks that clock in at one hour. It could be one of the most mesmerizing hours you've spent listening to music of late. Opening track 'Shadow' has classical overtones courtesy of Bela Emerson's cello weaving in and out of clouds of drone. It's a melancholy sort of tranquility, but cellos tend to foster the lachrymose. 'Voice' features the voice of Ivana Salipur, and a heavenly voice it is too. It's not wordless singing either; there are lyrics. Think of This Mortal Coil, or something that might belong on a Heavenly Voices compilation, or if you remember it, 'Celestial' by Heavenly Bodies (sure wish I still had that album), but perhaps even more gorgeous. The track is less ambient-oriented and more structured in a sense with a few simple repeated string-section chord phrases. No less ethereal though. I don't think there is a single DVOA track I've liked better than this one. Absolute perfection! You WILL think of angels when you listen to it.

'Pulse' opens with even more cello which morphs menacingly through some distortion processing before regaining its classical footing. Slow, long, sustained notes and an orchestral pillow of radiance propel the track. At the end, it almost sounds like a viking horn being blown in the distance across the fjords. 'Moon' is at first a dense, breathy track with more overly electronic elements than previously, rumbly bass, static, high timbre drones from Petit's electric psalterion, and eventually Soriah's throat-singing, which gives the piece a truly unearthly feel. The dynamics get very low-key in the middle of the track with hardly-there gentle layered drone supported by similar strings. This is the longest track on the album at 19:36. A bit further on there is an increase in the dynamics as a repetitive chordal phrase emerges, and then disappears as the whole is replaced by a sort of rhythmic loop akin to the sound of a muffled top-loading washing machine during the wash cycle, with an arrhythmic tapping of something made of plastic on a drinking glass, and celestial synth chorus. This culminates in a muffled explosion of chambered noise, but the voices carry on. There is a lot of subtlety to this track, and much more to it than I am describing here. It's one of those things you just have to hear. Especially toward the end, it becomes most typical DVOA, although it's hard to classify anything DVOA does as typical.

Final track, 'Sudden' is perhaps the closest thing to Dark Ambient on the album, although even that categorization could be construed as a misnomer. It has a darker, more ominous tone at first, utilizing swells of phased processed noise in conjunction with Lustmord-style deep drone on the low end. In a sense, it has more of an industrial quality to it, confirmed by the eruption at about midway (7 minutes) through the track. Things get loud and cacophonous for a brief while, suddenly ending in a very different subterranean environment which is eventually transformed into something more brilliant and beautiful (perhaps even hopeful?) courtesy of the sustained strings. We are also treated to some esoteric DVOA sound looping and eerie but intriguing higher timbre sonics. Jared Louche throws in a few words towards the end that is more or less a cameo on his part.

As a whole, this is the most ambient-esque album I've ever heard from DVOA. To me, it also seemed to be the most rewarding. There is undeniable genius at work here and not one iota I didn't care for. If for some reason you've lost touch with DVOA, this is an album you must own to reacquaint yourself with the project. Spybey has created something special with 'Michael And The Angels Fought' and you owe it to yourself to experience it in its entirety. Even if you're not familiar with DVOA (it hardly matters as far as this release is concerned) I recommend this without hesitation, because I have no doubt you'll be thanking me that I did.
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Artist: Simon Scott (@)
Title: Below Sea Level
Format: CD
Label: 12k (@)
Rated: *****
Cambridge-based drummer and "electronic" musician Simon Scott, whose name and musical skills emblazoned a number of remarkable post-rock, shoegaze and post-minimalism emanations (he replaced Adrian Sell in Slowdive and collaborated with Rafael Anton Irisarri and his band The Sight Below as well as with Machinefabriek, Lowgold, Klimek and many other), looks like taking listener by the arms in order to let him discover the wonderful marshy region of Fenland in East Anglia by means of natural sounds of that former wetland, grabbed with hydrophones and self-built recording devices, and his music, whose emotional charge and sonic chromaticism sound emphasized by the filter of nostalgia, as the so-called Fens and its controversial environment were the places where he spent some moments during his childhood. "Below Sea Level" - the title can be explained with the fact the Fens host the lowest land points in United Kingdom due to drainage and higher grounds are so rare that it's maybe one of the few places in the world were occasional hills are called "islands"! - immediately gets listener inside the environment (both natural and emotional) and every musical ingredient (mainly processed guitars, waves, synth horns and other sonic sketches deriving from digital signal processing) seems to look for a symbiosis with natural auditory inputs, so that it seems a sort of osmosis between acousmatic pastorale and lively natural elements occurs track by track till the moment when such an amalgamation has been accompished in the final entrancing track. This release is just a part of a wider project - there should be a limited edition of it as well -, which include a 68-page-color journal with snapshots, Scott's entries in his travel diary over a period of two years when he explored the Fens and essay entitled "An Exploration of the Subterranean Fenland Environment", which could help the listener in understanding the creative process behind it.
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Artist: Cyberpunkers
Title: EPIC - The Remixes
Format: 12"
Label: Freakz Me Out! (@)
Distributor: Groove Attack
Rated: *****
The issue of the second act of Cyberpunkers'EP trilogie Epic suits the astonishing success of their worldtour - feedbacks from their first European stages have been enthusiastic as Cyberpunkers themselves reported while describing crowd's reaction by using meaningful adjectives like wonderful, exalting and rich of funny episodes such as the loss of mask from one of them, which was instantly returned by fans - to the ground by an attendant selection of four remixes. All the hothead followers of this duo of Italian masked gladiators of the beat box, made up of djs and producers Massi Arena and Fabio Liuzzi, will be delighted likewise by proposed treatments as they mainly keep the energy of what these guys consider as the next evolutionary step of the so-called Moombahton (an hybrid of house music and reggaeton, whose paternity should belong to Washington DC-based Dave Nada) they called it Moombahpunk. I particularly enjoyed remix of "Dungeon" by Oli Cash aka Far Too Loud - an authentic uplifter with nice slapping beats, funky spots, housey chords, sudden accelerations and brakings as well as some rhythmical and sonic tricks taken from the glorious tradition of some Dutch tech-house acts - and the one of "Are You Ready" by Belzebass, focused on a bizarre intertwining of different steps - from dubstep to traditional breakbeat and phat electro -, but trance-oriented version of the same track by The Boomzers and the fire-starting remix of "Epic" by The S - a remarkable and straightforward electro anthem with the addiction of military snares and some melodic italo-house allures - are smashing anyway. While on the waiting line for the final chapter of the trilogie, enjoy this one, also available on live format (maybe it's the best format!) by intercepting them during their globetrottering on various stages. Cyberpunkers have already announced they will take part to a number of forthcoming summer festivals such as Beatpatrol, Arenal, Nature One, Creamfields and many others, sharing their stage with important names of the scene such as Steve Aoki, Crookers, Digitalism and so on. Check it out!
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Artist: Wastelanders (@)
Title: Cosmic Despair
Format: CD
Label: Basses Frequences (@)
Rated: *****
When men stare at the ineffable sight of Milky Way in a conveniently dark point of observation from Planet Earth, they could be overwhelmed by that feeling of solipsistic littleness combined with that somewhat controversial astonishment or ecstatic ravishment. An insignificant creature who can even make a fool of itself in the frantic attempt of framing such an infinity through intellect, but who cannot close the doors of perception in spite of the awareness and the acknowledge of its limitations. This one seems to be the conceptual launching pad of this second act of Wastelanders, side-project by Dean Costello, member of Michel Spiegel's Chicago-based metal band Harpoon, who looks like suggesting cosmic wandering where the above-mentioned inevitable frustration collides the wonder of constant discovery and travel, which cannot be but powered by music. "Cosmic Despair" mainly rests on introspections and contemplations aided by dilutions of guitar loops and moulding of analogue synth organs, which could recall some similar stuff by Christian Fennesz, Sunn O))) or Oren Ambarchi. The first three tracks sound like a mental tuning, based on lingering drones and the title track, "Cosmic Despair", is the most remarkable of them for its inspirational and hypnotic hooks, while "Expanding Mental Universe" and "The Crossing" are more guitar-driven mystical journeys, the first focused on crystalline sparks evoking a mesmeric cosmic roaming, the latter - and my favorite track as well - sounds closer to an ambient (then getting more rhythmical) translation of Indian raga-inspired enlightment. "Cosmic Despair" is also available on digital format through Hewhocorrupts and on tape (!) through Space Idea (check spaceideatapes.bigcartel.com). Just keep on wandering!
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Artist: Florian Hecker
Title: 2/8 Bregman 4/8 Deutsch 7/8 Hecker 1/8 Holler
Format: 2 x 10" vinyl
Label: Presto!? (@)
Rated: *****
Some listeners who already approached stuff by Florian Hecker are aware about the fact that behind his baffling look which could fit a trade unionist coming from some guild of electrical engineers or a nerdy clerk who's too interested in developing circuits, getting through uncountable pieces of work or settling infinite matters to choose a new pair of sunglasses, there's a really skittish musician and this bizarre sound compilation on double 10", made with the contribution by Carsten Holler, whose funny title enlists its theoretical, sonic and conceptual ingredients, confirms such an attitude at late. At first blush, many unlearned people could think he's trying to cheat them by undergoing trials of sap sounds without understanding what he's able to cheat is mainly their auditory perception so that for instance you could have the illusion he's practicing some scale whereas he's just playing with pitch modulation or sound intensity or other gimmicks some sound engineers should know and in order to make his intentions clearer (no, he's not trying to use you as guinea-pig for elegant instruments of sonic torture, which can be purpose-built to exhaust or move away unsymphatetic neighbours...), he suggests some readings which could be useful to go into details of psychoacoustics and better appreciate such a release. If you don't have the time to consult Albert S.Bregman treatises on auditory scene analyses, Rudolf Arnheim's interviews, Brian C.J.Moore's lessons on the "Psychology of Hearing" and so on, consider them as pure auditory games - my favorite ones are those dealing with voices as they recalls similar experiments (check the bizarre "Sometimes behave so strangely" for instance!)by Diana Deutsch, a quite famous cognitive psychologist who made a plenty of researches on auditory illusions, mentioned in the title -.
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