Music Reviews

Artist: Teiji Ito
Title: Watermill
Format: CD
Label: Tzadik
Distributor: Amazon, iTunes, Tzadik
Rated: *****
Composer Teiji Ito is one of the most unique voices of the 20th century musical avant garde. Born in Tokyo, his family emigrated to New York where he would remain for the rest of his musical career. Growing up in the big apple from the age of 6, he soon became part of the NYC underground (later known as the Downtown scene), where he worked with some of the most legendary artists on the planet in music, film, dance and theatre.

His early work can be heard in the films of Maya Deren, whose films Ito would begin scoring at the age of 17. As the story goes, it was here that he acquired an appreciation for ceremonial and secular drumming techniques from traveling to Haiti, where he would later pass away in 1982.

A little background to this album: Ito grew up in a working theatrical family, and this influence is clear in his music. There are hints of Kibuki theatre, borrowing rhythms from here as well as taiko drumming. He works primarily from the pentatonic tonal system, but draws from all sources to add an almost sound design-y element to his music. Its wild in context, causing the spaces to shift unexpectedly time and again through the course of the album. The sound is somehow always fresh and light, despite the various terrains traversed through its course.

Watermill, denoting name of this album as well as the ensemble, was written by Ito in 1972. The instruments alone are a formidable presence. To name a few: shakuhachi, calimba, sho, voice, koto, bamboo sticks, ocarina, wratchets, flutes, gongs, the list goes on. As mentioned above, also flown in are sound effects like dogs barking, jet planes, and unidentified noise. Nevertheless, it's cohesive throughout.

At times meditative and at others nightmarish, Watermill covers a wide variety of spaces and places. Impeccable and virtuosic performances by the Watermill ensemble make this one of the most definitive performances that might ever come available. And what makes this version worth owning is the connections to Ito and the piece itself performer- Mara Purl was in the original ensemble that premiered this work. Teiji's daughter also performs on the piece, which (it would seem) provides some legitimacy and endorsement to such a timeless endeavor by this underappreciated composer. Either way, this disc deserves a standing ovation.

Watermill is a truly authentic presence in itself. Highly recommended.
Artist: In A Mindset
Title: Compartments
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Abstrakt Reflections (@)
Rated: *****
And another promising newcomer act, which installs cinematic Ambient-like synth arrangement combined with experimental and part-wise abrasive percussion elements. What surprises the most is surely the musically background of the German fellow Steven S., mastermind behind IN A MINDSET. I.A.M. has been started in 2009 and is therefore a relatively new project, but Steven has played previously in various Metal-bands (FTE, MORTHEIM) and he is still active in this genre with the project SERAPEUM. For hailing out of a relatively different music genre, he provides a really cleverly and matured kind of music work, which can be described as an Electronica/IDM-onslaught consisting of elements out of Dark Ambient and Neo-Classical influences combined with Industrial, Noise and Abstract rhythms. I tend to pick out again the often named US cult act GRIDLOCK as being a quell of inspiration, while I would too agree to name Steven's Neo-Classical influence with its bombastic tendencies ('Devastation P. 2' ' did I hear a real cello riff here???) as being the most remarkable difference. A quite good 5-track EP to hopefully soon more to be discovered stuff from this talented artist ' which fits quite well to the Abstrakt Reflection label-roster.

Aug 31 2010
Artist: XMH (@)
Title: State Of Mind
Format: CD
Label: Nilaihah Records / Danse Macabre (@)
Distributor: Alive!
Rated: *****
If you would like to introduce your music project effective to an international based audience, you have to invest more than ever before in promotional efforts to succeed. That means, there has to be more than the usual coarse of action like the usage of multiple accounts at those important communities like MySpace, Vampirefreaks, or at Facebook.
I like to describe those minor matters, because the release of the second album 'State Of Mind' of the Dutch-based trio XMH is a remarkable example, if multiple possible promotion channels got activated.
First, this album got released by the German label Danse Macabre Records around May 2010. The being of Benjamin Samson (vocals, programming), Isa Garcia (vocals, keyboards), and Pieter Sperling (keyboards, programming) at this renowned label offers the quite important fact, to get European distribution via Alive. To double this feature and to undersign the hope into the abilities of this act, this album got picked up by the newly installed German DJ- promotion agency M2C, which consists of Bruno Kramm (DAS ICH/Danse Macabre Records) and the female Hardbeat promotion-queen Jessica Schellberg. In short: this assures intense club play for XMH in Europe. And to match all of this: the US-label Nilaihah Records has worked out a license deal and takes care to service the North-American market. Asides the expected promotional onslaught to service all relevant North-American-based DJ's, magazines and online resources, this album at least should be available at every retailer like Metropolis, COP International, CDBaby, or Storming The Base for Canada. To sum that up, there are a lot of promotional activities and hopes of the responsible people behind this Dutch music project, which could help them to reach a lot of higher steps. Musically I don't have too much doubts, that this project won't reach a higher step in their career, as they are able to impress with some clever arranged synth loops and some programmed delicacies. They are talented in their kind and offer maybe one of the best works released during the last three months ' but what kind of music are they providing?
It is globally that kind of Harsh EBM/Dark Electro, which falls under that ugly moniker Hellectro. And seriously, I am disappointed in those parts, where XMH try too obviously to copy elements and synth arrangements, which have been discovered by thousands of other band projects during the last 6 years before ('Dictate', or the usage of dumb voice samples like in 'Komasaufen'). Massive DJ inserts may means to walk a relatively compatible path compared to the up and rising projects of the scene like SUICIDE COMMANDO, X-FUSION, or related. But XMH prove with some of their pearls available on here too ('Neon Venus', featuring Isa Garcia providing the lead vocals), that they are capable to offer a wider musically spectrum, than the usual repetitive stuff (check also out the accompanying guitar riffs in 'State Of Mind', or 'Tears In Rain').
A good and quality Harsh Electro album for sure, but with some tendencies to repeat some phrases, but after only a second full-length album, the complete sound dimension and abilities could be normally seldom pointed out. A Dutch band project, which still hasn't reached the end of the rope.
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Title: Conscriptum
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Cold Spring Records (@)
Rated: *****
Is reissue time for Von Thronsthal. Cold Spring the last year reissued "E Pluribus Unum" and "Imperium Internum", Trutzburg Thule has just printed a 2 CD deluxe edition of "Return Your Revolt Into Style" and Eternal Pride "Bellum, Sacrum Bellum!?". Into this flow of releases, Cold Spring issues CONSCRIPTUM, a double CD of hard to find, remixed, collaboration and unreleased tracks which didn't match the concept of any album. With a total of twenty eight tracks, the casual listener could have a good idea of the different sounds the band covered during these years as well as the fan could have into his hands a bunch of unreleased tracks and unfinished ones which could satisfy the curiosity of who would like to hear what a work in progress sounds like or a track that has been thrown away was. We could find martial classical tunes with powerful upfront choirs, neo-folk tunes with punk/electro influences (like the new "Deutsche passion", born from a collaboration with Spreu & Weizen), different versions of classic tunes (like the opening "Reisswolf", "Junges Europa" and "Domovino"), punk industrial folk songs that sounds like Dead Kennedy's "California uber alles" ("Zerstört Und Auferstanden"), collaborations ("Nem Nem Soha" is a dark martial industrial track born from a collaboration with Sturmast) and new tracks like "Patientin, 25 Jahre", "Götterdämmerung In Ruinen" or "Flut, Trance, Traum" which fortunately didn't get lost (I liked their dramatic touch where choirs, industrial percussions and melody blend). There's also a nice fast version of Death In June's "Runes & Men" (a sort of country folk song with guitars, flutes and tambourines), one of the Skid's "The Saints Are Coming" (an upbeat industrial goth version) and of Leonard Cohen's version of "The blind partisan". "Mars Macht Mobil III" sounds like a bit unfinished (it has an hip hop distorted rhythm with a synth line and different vocal lines) but you have 140 minutes of music to enjoy!
Artist: Andreas Gross (@)
Title: Stone Thrower
Format: CD EP
Label: Echozone (@)
Distributor: Masterpiece
Rated: *****
Since the very first notes of the new EP by Anders Gross and his ensemble ' both the masked and the unmasked! -, you'll maybe perceive a nostalgic and dreamy atmosphere: the sparkling sound pearls surrounding the ghostly and childish voice by Tabitha Anders, which looks like a crossbreed between the most depressed tones by Meriel Barham (the voice of the English alternative band Lush, launched by the glorious 4AD) and the entranced and tenuous ones by Slowdive's Rachel Goswell and the melodic steadiness of Anders' musical whirls in the introduction of this good example of 'oneiric shoegazing', giving the name to the whole EP. The preface of the following track, 1847, maybe is what could be considered closer to the unconvincing and partially improper classification of gothic trip-hop, used by someone to describe Anders Gross' music, even if the light distortion on the bass, reminding to me some treatments on the basslines Massive Attack used to spread, is soon replaced by a cradling folk-tinged movement. The only track with no voice, At The Edge, seems to be nothing but a puzzle of some sounds which deeply marked 80s ' I even recognized a reference to U2's With Or Without You'¦ -, but it's really well crafted! Tabitha's soft and feeble tone of voice stands out again in the hesitating False Prophets, a track whose programming is not exactly that kind of food sating the hardest-to-please listeners and even the techno-trance remix of this track by Phantoms of Paradise is nothing special, even if I've found quite funny to hear Tabitha's voice under disguise turning into a robotic creature, while I definitively don't understand the Avoid-a-void remix of Stone Thrower, maybe because the original track is good enough to be treated. The final track, Relief, could let you think someone has seated on the remote controller of your hi-fi system or you could even argue your neighbor is joking with you after buying a powerful universal remote controller'¦no prankster or heedless sitters indeed! Just a sweet pop ballad written by Tabitha, you'll appreciate anyway! There're maybe some slight flaws in this EP, but I couldn't say that I've not been positively impressed by the well balanced sound exhibited by Anders Gross on this occasion. Measured rhythms, lovely melodies, peaceful sound, intimate lyrics'¦ I feel that nemesis should sound out of place!
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