Music Reviews



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Artist: Fauna
Title: Infernum
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Ventil Records
“This is my second album and it was recorded under dangerous circumstances”- so begins Rana Farahani’s second full-length, which unfolds into something sonically much more relaxed and casual than the prelude may suggest. This is gentle synth work, mostly very calm, sometimes bordering on slow old-school trance (“Exit”), sometimes wandering more closely to full-on synthpop (“Death Fly”, “Went Home Got Lost”), sometimes more stripped-back and rumbly with glitch and post-dubstep influences but still in perky synthpop soundspace (“Drive-By”, “Holle”), sometimes going deeper into rumblier industrial techno structures (“Unbehagen”) but never really going ‘hard’.

The bitterness is in the lyrics, often sparse and spoken-word affairs infused with a fair amount of cynicism and resentment that plays cleverly against some of the quite optimistic synth sounds running underneath. Apart from the expletive in the chorus, “Lonely At The Top” is a bright, perky, fairly radio-friendly bit of electropop

It’s got a healthy blend of variety and consistency in a compact 34-minute, 10-track dark synthpop album that never really shines extremely bright, but still draws you in with some deceptive complexity and authentic emotion that’s not writ so large as to be discouraging. Interesting stuff.
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Artist: Tantric Doctors
Title: Karesansui
Format: CD + Download
Label: Focused Silence
“Karesansui” is Sheffield (UK)-based electronic and jazz musician Adam Woolf’s single-track, 45-minute improvised work inspired by Japanese stone gardens. Through a process of overdubbing, he lays up freeform clarinet, alto sax and soprano sax lines over electronic pulses, impromptu and often patternless glitches and lumps of low analogue synth noise.

The jazz elements are cold and largely shapeless, and on their own, might become ingratiating over the course of three quarters of an hour. It’s the electronic underbelly of this release, counterpointing the jazz elements and shifting them into an alienating environment full of unexpected punches and whirrs, that keeps things ticking along and keeps you engaged for the most part. Even so, the seeming lack of progression, form or chapterisation across the work does begin to get tiring towards the end. Like sitting in a relaxing garden for a long time, the environment itself is only half the experience of being there.

It’s intricate in parts but something of a listening commitment- though I don’t mean that as harshly as it might sound. It’s an unabashed bit of experimental avantgarde jazz coupled with strong electronic sounds, unashamed to be solely what it is, or to be targeted at people already predisposed to appreciating it. It’s unlikely to find a broad audience, but hopefully it will reach enough people who will revel in it.
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Artist: Semiotics Department Of Heteronyms
Title: s/t
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Avant! Records
When reviewing recent single “Tell Them”, I praised the 3-pack of slightly hard-edged synthwave-synthpop, saying “if an SDH album appears I will definitely check it out”. Now that the album’s here, my expectations are met, but perhaps not exceeded.

Here you get eight strong bits of synth songwriting, some pop-radio-edit length, others allowed to breathe a little more but never straying too far from conventional song structure. There’s a slightly lo-fi, proto-techno analogue feel to the warm analogue low end sounds and the sometimes rather echo-heavy vocal treatment that gives everything a gently raw flavour. Firmly rooted in the sonic values of the synth 80’s, it rolls along nicely but a little predictably at times, and by the time you reach “What Did I Come For”, you do begin to wonder whether more synth sounds might have been available.

The vocals are quite velvety and confident, but never really pushed very hard, tending towards whispered and even spoken-word vocal lines rather than anything bolder. The PR sheet’s comparison of the vocals to Dolores O’Riordan is a little ambitious, though you do hear the same celtic twang in “She Uncovers Before Me”.

Perhaps predictably for a first album there’s a feeling of defining a sound rather than pushing it here, epitomised by tracks like the strong “Guilty And Gifted”. “Mean” is the most ambitious track, a pulsing seven-minute affair with quite a cinematic feel.

A strong, relatively compact bit of dark synthpop with more than one foot facing to the past, SDH’s self-titled first full-length album is steady rather than amazing.
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Artist: Glyn Bigga Bush
Title: Sunken Foal Stories
Format: LP
Label: Schamoni Musik / Lion Head Rec.
Glyn Bush’s long CV includes Rockers Hi Fi and Original Rockers, but for a release under his own name, he’s gone for something a bit bolder and more introspective, concentrating on a very raw and broad-stroked approach to sampling spoken-word broadcast material and musical snippets and building and layering them into short sonic vignettes and brief jazzy grooves.

In a way it’s like jumping back to the late 80’s or early 90’s when wholesale sampling was still a novelty, recalling Negativland works or the interludes in Art Of Noise albums. This is reinforced by details like the speak-and-spell voice on “Theme from The Tincleton Now” and the analogue tape-like quality of some of the spoken word sources.

The strongest tracks include “Teahead Of Time”, the TV-sync-friendly “Carnaby Street Caper” and the slightly more conventional electronica formed around string samples in “Speltre Flecks”.

The abruptness and edgy construction of these pieces lead to a bit of a patchy experience overall, a release that never really ‘gets going’ as a half-hour listening experience but which has an endearing energy that will be enjoyed by people with fond memories of those simpler sampling times.
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Artist: Strafe F.R.
Title: The Bird Was Stolen
Format: CD + Download
Label: Touch
Strafe F.R.’s second album since returning from a 20-year hiatus is an exercise in contradictions. Truly experimental, it provides us with 14 unique and hard-to-read environments of metallic noises, heavy filters and tape effects, heavily gated guitar and guitar-like noises, pulses and processing- then crashes into them to various degrees with percussive surprises that are sometimes harsh and unpleasant, sometimes quirky bordering on comical. Even the press release skips from talking about vanilla fudge in coconut trees and finding Liszt sleeping inside a piano to the devoured liver of Prometheus. It’s one of those “really don’t know what’s going to happen next” releases, exemplified by the sudden appearance of heavily processed vocal on “Aconite” with a lyric in which the album title is found.

But among the wilful surprises, there’s a rich depth to be found here as well. Though constructed from unorthodox parts, “Prepper’s Home” is a fascinating bit of electronica with a truly emotive undercurrent that suddenly breaks into almost Krupa-esque jazz rhythms in its second half. “Pianosmoke”, built from an experiment in playing bass and guitar sounds through a loudspeaker inside a piano in order to stimulate the resonance of the piano, ends up being a very coherent and melodic work that with the right electronica remixes would have a lot of crossover appeal, while other pieces like “Flare”, though built of similar stock, have a darker layout and a more spontaneous and theatrical flavour. “Violet Sun” is a good example of a sparser approach, in which the processed guitar evokes feelings of some sort of alien road movie, while final track “Towton” throws furthest back towards the band’s 80’s roots with some very analogue, fuzzy tape flavours and Nina Hagen-ish vocal wails, right down to its abrupt halting end.

It’s an unpredictable, fresh-sounding and rich hour-long release which never drops the interest levels, and it’s certainly worthy of attention.
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