Music Reviews

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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: The (Almost) Insanely Happy EP
Format: 7"
Label: EE Tapes (@)
Rated: *****
Boss of the Insane Music label, member of many bands such as Cortex, Human Dance, Human Flesh, I Scream, Japanese Genius, Ornament & Crime Arkhestra, Pseudo Code, Sic, Subject, etc, Alain Neffe during all the 80s has been damn busy and EE Tapes is keeping on reissuing his music digging into the archives to bring us classic and unreleased tracks. THE ( ALMOST) INSANELY HAPPY EP is the second 7" EP compilation dedicated to Insane Music and it contains three tracks by Subject and three by Human Dance of which three are unreleased. Subject were in balance from pop intuitions, wave atmospheres and minimal approaches to sound where bass guitar, guitar and a rhythm box were the core of the sound which on the dreamy dramatic "L'ultima storia" sees Mirella Brunello joining Alain Neffe and Daniel Malempre to sing in Italian a lyric about a lost love. Human Dance were less wave and a bit more ironic. Their "Jethro, C'Est Trop !!" has a flute part recalling the Jethro Tull and "Magikal Hystery Sour (The Beatles Were Not So Bad, After All !!)" sounds like a minimal pop soundtrack with clean guitars, organ and drum machine in evidence. "The Desert Call" experiment a little with middle eastern atmospheres and reverbs. This is a nice EP available in 250 copies of which the first 85 are hand-numbered and have two extra photographs, from a series of nine.
Artist: Versailles (@)
Title: Sacrifice
Format: CD EP
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Nearly all-girl band Versailles (not to be confused with other bands named Versailles, of which there are a few) from Los Angeles consists of Dianna St. Hilaire- Vocals, Keytar, Programming; Stephanie Rose- Bass; Marie Ilene- Drums, with Shaun Richards on Guitar. From the nice color photo they sent with the one-sheet, these gals look like your typical goth-clubbers and the music on 'Sacrifice' doesn't deny that. It wasn't always that way for Versailles; from the sound of their previous albums, singer Dianna was labeled a "Gothic Tori Amos" and that's not far off the mark, as both 'Believe' and 'Broken Dolls' sound much more commercial and somewhat more polished than 'Sacrifice'. (There is good deal more piano on those albums too.) They've toured the U.S. with Ego Likeness, Voltaire, New Model Army, Bella Morte, etc., and maybe they'll be coming to a goth club near you someday soon.

What Versailles have done on their 4-track EP 'Sacrifice' is step back in time to the 90's (maybe even the 80's) with a more retro gothy synthpop sound. Gee'¦this sounds familiar'¦maybe a bit too familiar'¦in fact, this sounds a lot like'¦THE BIRTHDAY MASSACRE, a female-fronted retro synth-poppy band from Toronto. But it's Birthday Massacre light. (Those folks can get loud and heavy more often than not.) While Dianna is no Chibi she still has a very pleasing melodic voice. The synth and bass are pretty minimal, and the drums, well, that sounds like a drum machine to me, and that's pretty minimal too. Guitar is consistent with early 90's goth.

While the songs are convincing on 'Sacrifice' I don't really hear any big hits. 'Take My Life' is probably the closest to what the Birthday Massacre have done (in concept if not execution), but my favorite off the EP was 'Game'. The song seemed to epitomize the sound of an era to me in its disaffected way. I could even imagine it on some indie film soundtrack. I'm a bit ambivalent about the production on 'Sacrifice'; on one hand it is very retro-sounding, but on the other, quite bass-heavy and seems to be lacking in power and dynamics. Still, at 6 bucks, if you're a sucker for gothy (mostly) female synthpop bands as I am, it's not a bad purchase. On future endeavors, I'd like to hear Versailles put a little more oomph and drama into their sound and write a hit song or two. (They're undoubtedly capable of it.) It's worth a trip to their website just to check out their photos (corset, ripped stockings, buckled platform boots, OH MY!). I think it's harder for bands from L.A. to make it than anywhere else as there is just so much competition there. Persevere, ladies, persevere!

Artist: Fabio Selvafiorita & Valerio Tricoli
Title: Death By Water
Format: CD
Label: Die Schachtel (@)
Distributor: CD Universe
Rated: *****
'Death by Water' is a 41 minute long four-hand musique concrète piece by Italian composers Fabio Selvafiorita and Valerio Tricoli, conceived and realized between Milan and the Giudecca Island, in Venice. 'Death by Water' is inspired by the fourth movement of T. S. Eliot's poem 'The Waste Land'. I'm not really into T.S. Eliot's writings (yes, I've read the 1922 poem) so I can only give you my impressions as it relates to my ears.

The music is largely composed of field recordings and reel to reel tape manipulations. This is a very curious and unusual work, at times sounding minimally ambient, at others typically musique concrète, and at other times chaotic noise. The water theme is often present with liquidy and surf sounds that ebb and flow. I would have to say this work is much more active than passive, certainly not anything you might consider meditative, but nonetheless interesting. At times there is an undeniable sonic intensity that might test your patience. For me, it was more of an intellectual than emotional music experience but you may not feel that way; these abstract recordings tend to affect listeners differently. In relation to the T.S. Eliot poem, the piece is supposed to evoke a theme of renewal and regeneration, but I found that rather amorphous.

I really do like the cover art by Dinamo Milano, which was what drew me to bump up this CD on the review roster of the incredible backlog of CDs I have to review. What sort of perplexed me was the lack of info on the artists and their websites. I'm not sure if Vimeo is even their regular website, or if they even have one, so an email address for the artists just doesn't seem available. The Die Schachtel label is another matter, being very well known in Europe, and the distribution and net exposure the CD has is widespread. (Google the names of the artists and the CD, and you'll find them all over the place.) It seems like you can get the CD just about anywhere if you want it, so I just picked CD Universe at random from the many that have it. As for 'Death By Water' I'm sort of ambivalent; conceptionally compositionally it is a worthy, thoughtful project, but I don't think I'll find myself listening to it very much.

Artist: Grindlestone (@)
Title: tone
Format: CD
Label: Noh Poetry Records (@)
Distributor: CD Baby
Rated: *****
Grindlestone is a collaborative project between Douglas Erickson and Don Falcone. You may recall the name Don Falcone from the old San Francisco Silent Records label, and his involvement in projects such as Thessalonians and Spice Barons, and his solo project, Spaceship Eyes. Don heads a space-rock collective called Spirits Burning which has been around about a decade and includes such luminaries as Gong's Daevid Allen and members of Hawkwind. Erickson has attended Robert Fripp's Guitarcraft workshops, performed with a couple of California Guitar circles, and also Spaceship Eyes and Spirits Burning.

The music on 'tone' is kind of an ambient-electronic soundscape punctuated with bits of noise and sequenced noise, LFO manipulations, etc.. There are 9 tracks but although there is space between them they seem to flow together into a complete work or soundscape. Not to say that there isn't variation from track-to-track (there most certainly is), but there is an unworldly similarity throughout. Actually, a good deal of 'tone' is downright spooky, eerie, and sounds as if it could have been made by ghosts. In spite of Doug Erickson's guitar background, I didn't hear anything that resembled normal guitar. (If he is playing any, it's been processed out of recognition, maybe Frippertronically so.) There is not much in the way of rhythmic elements, keeping the music in the cosmic ambient realm. I suppose you could consider much of it dark too, although dark ambient seems to imply a certain malevolence which is not present throughout. While not entirely minimal, much of the album is based on drone tones and dronish soundscapes but there are elements introduced throughout the various pieces that remove it from the realm of minimalism. Some of the ambiences could even be considered 'Enoesque'. While much of the album is placid to some degree (at least not violent) there are exceptions such as the rumbling eruption that begins 'The Niche It Carves' where it sounds like some huge spaceship has just invaded the galaxy as if it was piloted by Lustmord.

Interestingly enough, this album was mastered by Robert Rich, a name you should be very familiar with. Overall, 'tone' is great stuff for enthusiasts of cosmic and dark ambience, and beatless space music.
Oct 03 2011
Artist: Sys2matik Ovrl0ad (@)
Title: s/t
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Toil Records (@)
Distributor: iTunes
Rated: *****
Philly-based band Sys2matik Ovrl0ad is an Industrial, EBM, Electronic project started by singer and songwriter Michael Sky with John Ruszin, formerly of Carfax Abbey, heading up all the production on their self-titled debut album. Truth be told, I was never much a fan of Carfax Abbey; maybe it was the singer, maybe they sounded too much like Stabbing Westward to me, but I'm not holding that against Ruszin; he left the band in 2005 I believe. Anyway Sys2matik Ovrl0ad is something completely different- an electro-industrial EBM band with the emphasis on EBM.

A quote from their website states: "Many DJ's in the Industrial clubs have noted the music as being a new fresh sound". Well guys, I wouldn't exactly say that'¦are DJs nowadays too young to remember Leæther Strip, Wumpscut, X-Marks the Pedwalk, et al? Maybe it just seems fresh because old school EBM has morphed into something less basic over time. What Sys2matik Ovrl0ad is doing on this album is going 'back to the roots' with some of the most old school EBM I have heard in quite a long while. Eh, well, when done properly, that's not a bad thing. I'm happy to report that Sys2matik Ovrl0ad does it properly.

This is not harsh EBM (no screaming, scratchy, raspy vocals), and Michael Sky's voice is well-suited to the material, with just the right aura of menace. It also happens to be very well produced in my estimation. Almost every song has a killer beat and there is plenty of power behind the songs. (Whatever you do, don't watch those horrible live YouTube videos of the band shot at the Copacabana'¦the sound is atrocious and the camera work sucks too.) Most of the songs are catchy with plenty of hooks for a first outing, and the synth programming is on-target. In fact, just about any track on this album should fit comfortably in any dark dancefloor set.

The only problem is that it sounds very derivative. Then again, it's hard not to when you're doing old school EBM. There really isn't a track on the album that didn't remind me of something I've heard before. Thankfully there aren't really any dialogue/spoken word samples, a cliché of so many electro-industrial bands these days. Standout tracks in my estimation are 'Acid Rain,' 'Just Begun,' 'Lies,' and '722,' the last being slightly atypical and anthemic but could very well be the best track on the album.

For a debut album this is a pretty good one. Mr. Sky and company are taking the show on the road (at least in the Philadelphia/New York area) and that should make some noise because you can't get build much of fan base without touring. [Note to band: If you book a gig The Haunt in Ithaca, NY, I'd get off my lazy ass and come out and see ya.] Sys2matik Ovrl0ad would probably be a big hit at Wave-Gotik Treffen, but it's a long road to the Euro market, and I suppose they'll have to make a splash here first before they can jump in that pool.
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