Music Reviews



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Artist: CNSNNT
Title: T (T)
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Banoffeesound
Multi-layering field recordings of various European train and tram journeys and then effecting, twisting and reverbing them for 77 minutes, combined with very subtle deep synthetic tones on the very edge of audibility, gives an unusual take on the found sound and ambient genres. It’s mellow- you can certainly fall asleep to it- but there’s enough going on in the exposed resonances and the slowly adjusting rumbles to keep things interesting for more attentive listeners.

Electric hums and the familiar clackety-wheel sound at times build into an accidental near-electronica arrangement at times, whilst at others, the sonic scape is rather emptier, cold and hollow. As it progresses, you realise gradually that different recordings are fading in and out almost absurdly slowly.

It’s a relatively simple idea and whether it really sustains 77 minutes is certainly debatable, but as an ambient work it’s not without its merit. It’s an unusual follow-up from CNSNNT whose album “Chng S Th Nly Cnsnnt” (hmmm) from last year was rough-edged discordant techno.
Mar 02 2018
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Artist: zK
Title: Last Night
Format: LP
Label: Hallow Ground
Mark Godwin and Gareth Ormerod’s first full-length (albeit short) studio album as zK in five years makes reference to the act’s nearly 20-year history pushing boundaries under the umbrella of electronica, citing Autechre and the Skam label they previously released a single on, which has also been home to acts like Gescom and Boards Of Canada.

What they’ve offered up is still electronica, but truly experimental and mostly leaving the more familiar and explored structures behind. Sampled tones loop and re-pitch over layers of indecipherable, sometimes-repeating FM and AM radio dialogue, and washes of coloured noises. Aphex Twin-style repeating sequenced noise patterns sometimes provide the structure. Dubby production touches allow elements to delay and decay, giving everything quite a reverberant flavour.

Standout track “Fugitive II” centrepieces a slowly changing melodic piano pattern over glittering alien noises, a notably beautiful but abruptly curtailed arrangement leading into the emptier and more sinister “My Life Is Missing” (with its rather on-the-nose vocal sample reciting the title), while “Cognitive Dissonance” is one of the more easy-to-follow pieces, with a steady, super-minimal, faintly techno-ish rhythm pattern that gently underpins a rather unsettling interview with a lonely male talking about women.

Opener “Outside Broadcast” seems to be comprised almost completely of field recordings and sets the listener off in a slightly misleading direction. In a slightly similar vein, “Feral Confection” at times sounds like some of Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty’s earlier and more out-there sound layering, but with an electrical feedback layer that gives things a decidedly harsh edge. “Fleshpotting” (I’m too nervous to google that to find out what that means) wraps things up with a more open soundscape showcasing a slightly bizarre piecemeal operatic female wailing vocal over never-predictable pads.

It’s a well-formed mini-album of particularly experimental electronica that might not excessively surprise or delight in excessive quantities, but which has the quality and texture of a hearty sonic meal.
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Artist: Émanton
Title: Post Tenebras Lux
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Medical Records
The 4 tracks of “Post Tenebras Lux” have the structure and format of hard, flat techno- 4/4 rhythms, DJ-friendly arrangements, progressive switching in and out of layers, it’s all well-trodden stuff. But what makes this EP so different is the sonic quality, the choice of instrumentation and sounds used, which gives it a decidedly different twist.

“Breathe Outside De Box” [sic] is fascinatingly dark. What ought to be bass is actually sub-bass, what ought to be simple synth pads is distorted and squealing noise. “Circleofliez” has a slightly more recognisable EQ, channeling some more 80’s Cabaret Voltaire-like harsh electro and industrial noises over a deceptively soft kick. This links well with the title track, which is a bit more attitude-laden with its Peter Rauhofer kick, two-note-switch bassline and impetuous acid bleeping. Final track “Room For One Soul” (in a shorter version than the one plugged on XLR8R last year) is more paired down in terms of layers, playing with the counter-rhythms of a bass pattern running a different length to the kick pattern, fading in and out as an infectious experiment.

Argentinian Émanton is a thereminist (among other things) and this is on display with some of the live, organic, improvised feel that can be heard in some of the melodies and spontaneous sounds that ride above the steady 4/4s. That little dash of organic influence, coupled with the truly unusual choice of sound palettes for what would otherwise be very conventional techno, makes this a really distinctive release.
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Artist: The Nightcrawlers
Title: The Biophonic Boombox Recordings
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Anthology Editions
While the most famous musical Nightcrawlers is probably the Scottish ‘90s house act who did “Push The Feeling On”, this trio were much more prolific, forming in 1979, putting out an absurdly high number of cassette albums throughout the ‘80s and then dispanding in 1991. This is a compilation of over two and a half hours of selected highlights from that tape library.

This is prog-rock-influenced synthesizer space music that owes a great deal to Tangerine Dream, the first influence cited. Gently ebbing synth patterns chug away, working with super-sustained synth chord pads to create a slowly moving sonic bed onto which tiny extracts of melody and spontaneous beeps provide decoration. More than half the tracks run for over ten minutes, leading to Glass-like mesmerism (“Crystal Loop III” and “Modern Pre-Flight” being good examples). The repetition is well-handled, never devolving into indulgence or boredom.

When wandering into more lyrical melody, the material is maybe not quite as strong- “Geisteblitz” being an example of a track that initially seems to aspire to Jean-Michel Jarre territory but can’t quite reach those melodic heights so settles back into more comfortable TD-territory by the end. But when everything comes together, it comes together very well indeed- “Sizzling Highs”, appropriately, being one of the outstanding, “how did I not hear of this band earlier?”-type tracks. And pieces like “Baba Yaga’s Flight” fly so close to the Tangerine Dream template that it would be very easy to believe this was an unearthed goldmine of late 70’s unreleased TD material.

At 24 minutes long, “Zeitgeber” is a notable miniature self-contained opus, given a little bit more breathing space for longer single-layer pad environments and jungle noises.

Nowadays remastering is so prevalent that it’s unusual to hear something that hasn’t been remastered- or, if there has been remastering done, it’s been the fight of a losing battle against the constant hiss of well-worn cassette. It’s not excessively muted or flattened, the character is still present, but it’s a shame that the hiss can’t be shaken, as it gives the whole release something of a demo or bootleg feel (not helped when bonus track “Awakening” sounds like somebody left a tape recorder running by accident while trying to work out a solo piano melody). Tracks like the excellent but slightly daftly-titled “Beckoning Beacon” would have sounded much more spectacular and expansive if hiss-free versions existed. Some of the tracks were recorded live and are even blessed with occasional audience coughs, but sound fairly decent under the circumstances.

It’s an injustice that The Nightcrawlers are now (or have always been) somewhat obscure, because there’s clearly a musical legacy here that, while not necessarily standing out as particularly unique in character (or band name), has a depth and quality that make this a really enjoyable best-part-of-three-hours. I just wish there were better quality recordings available.
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Artist: Maurizio Abate
Title: Standing Waters
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Boring Machines
Maurizio Abate offers up a 5-track album which hybridises folksy acoustic guitar instrumentals, with a more mesmeric looping pattern approach that Philip Glass or Wim Mertens have applied to strings (most notable on opening track “Odonata”). Subtle extra string work broadens the arrangements but this is still essentially a near-solo folk guitar instrumental album, with final track “Standing/Crumbling” the most expansive-sounding of the set thanks to the enhancements of string and piano.

At times, such as on “Shaping The Mud”, this sounds like folk-pop that’s just missing its vocal- there’s a slow but definitely present sense of a verse-chorus structure at play. “Nymphs Dance”, after a sparser opening, also heads this way, meanders off into slightly more angsty plucking, works its way back into singer-songwriter territory before a dramatic finale, all in the space of just over ten minutes.

It’s an assertive and focussed work from an established session guitarist and producer branching out with his own identity. It is perhaps a little bit ‘safe’ and folksy at times but it’s a very rich and warm listen. It’s sweetly presented in a gatefold CD sleeve too.
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