Music Reviews

Artist: Low Technicians (@)
Title: Riga
Format: CD
Label: Diffusion Records (@)
Distributor: CD Baby
Rated: *****
This is the second of two CDs that came across my review desk recently (although the releases are not too recent, which is pretty typical in the Chain D.L.K. world) the first being Ctrl's 'Lost in Static'. There are enough similarities (although by no means does the music of the two bands sound the same) and they even share a key joint member (Brad McAllister - vocals, programming, keys) but also enough differences to warrant a comparative review. The commonality is a retro-80s synthpop sound, and although you can hear their influences, there is no one band in particular either one of them sound like. It is rather an amalgam of elements you know you've heard before. They also both happen to come from Austin, Texas.

While Ctrl has a more distinctive vocalist in Alex Virlios, the vocals by Brad McAllister, and other member Brian Pearson (guitar, bass, keys) are more varied and have an instantly likeable quality, like a comfortable pair of shoes. They aren't particularly unique, but the strength of the songwriting more than compensates. It might be prudent to note that Pearson is also the live guitarist for the group Iris.

It is the songwriting that is the chief difference between Low Technicians and Ctrl. Low Technicians have the knack of writing really good hooks, and putting them across with enough sonic variety so that no two songs sound the same. Pearson's guitar is a prominent factor in the sound too. The album is much more moody and subtle than the one by Ctrl. The first track, 'Miles Away' is a strong opener with a good hook, but it's the second track, 'Out There in Silence' that really grabs you. There is so much alternative crossover potential here that it is simply amazing. I can think of about a dozen groups playing major festivals this year that this band outclasses. They should be there.

'We Might Break' is another track with a great infectious hook and good potential on the dancefloor too. There is something so perfect about the construction of these tunes that sets this band well apart from many I have heard lately even without top-notch production. 'While 'Energy Inside' is far from the best track on the album, it keeps up momentum rhythmically, and is probably good dance floor fodder as well. Simple but effective with a filtered sawtooth synth groove. 'Endless' gets my vote for runner-up favorite track on the album. Begins with a cool stomping guitar chord progression and Numanesque atmos-synth in the background which serves as break between the verses. Another cool, effective hook. Almost ends too soon. 'There Was a Time' is an atmospheric track with a good bassline where the guitar is the focal point and the subdued vocals are nearly part of the atmosphere. No killer hooks here but none are needed. If I had to pick one track to sell a friend to sell on this band, it would be 'Otherside'. I love the hook, the synth ambience, the bassline, the rhythm and motion, and vocals and lyrics are pretty cool too. It's the longest track on the album (at only 4:58) and it could have even been longer and I would have been happy. In fact, my only gripe is that this album is just too short at 34:13. Last track, 'Choices' is a slow-moving piece of laconic atmos vaguely akin to the Doves on their more tranquil tracks. A nice way to usher the album out.

As I said before, my only gripe is that the album is too short. A little over 30 minutes is just not enough time to spend with the Low Technicians. Leaves me wanting more, which is a good thing, I guess. If I was an A&R guy from Whatever (major label) Records, and I had to choose between signing Ctrl and Low Technicians, I'd take the Low Technicians. Good songwriting is hard to find, and these guys have the goods to carry it off. Brad, you might just want to put more effort into this project. For me, it's the better bet.
Artist: Ctrl (@)
Title: lost in static
Format: CD
Label: Diffusion Records (@)
Distributor: CD Baby
Rated: *****
Two CDs came across my review desk recently (although the releases are not too recent, which is pretty typical in the Chain D.L.K. world) and although I don't usually do reviews this way, for something different, I'm doing a comparative review. There are enough similarities (although by no means does the music of the two bands sound the same) and they even share a key joint member (Brad McAllister - programming, synth, voice & guitar,) but also enough differences to warrant it. The commonality to the bands, Ctrl (reviewed here) and Low Technicians (reviewed after) is a retro-80s synthpop sound, and although you can hear their influences, there is no one band in particular either one of them sound like. It is rather an amalgam of elements you know you've heard before. They also both happen to come from Austin, Texas.

Of the two, Ctrl has the more distinctive vocalist in Alex Virlios. It's a strong, highly stylized voice the likes of which I know I've heard before but can't put my finger exactly on. Sort of like if you took the voices of Heaven 17's Glenn Gregory, Eskil Simonsson of Covenant and Tom Shear (Assemblage 23), distilled it and blended it into one. This is both a boon and a bane for Ctrl- on the plus side it gives them an instantly recognizable lead vocalist. On the minus side, there is very little variation in that voice. And if there isn't enough diversity in the songs on an album, it can get old quickly. Unfortunately, it does.

The album opens up well enough with 'Dark Lords of Insomnia' heralded by bubbly analogue synth. It's a retro potpourri of sound and rhythm preened and groomed for the dancefloor. Like a well-oiled machine everything is aligned; synths, guitar, rhythm, not a hair out of place. It's a strong start but there is one thing lacking'¦a good solid hook, Next track ('Your Secrets') continues chugging along these lines, with a bit more upfront guitar. Sounds not much different than the track before it, which I think is due to Alex's vocal phrasing. There's a bit more of a hook, but a weak melody bogs it down. If there is one thing good synthpop really needs, it's the 'killer hook'. The next track 'Groove' lyrically contains sentiments about some one-popular, now has-been band- 'I stopped going to your shows'¦.I stopped buying all your records in the nineteen-nineties, no more listening to your prose, no more jungle shit for me, I just want to tear you down until there's nothing left for me'¦' not too virulent, eh? Wonder who they were talking about'¦

Next song ('Head On') has a loping bass synth groove reminiscent of 'Blue Monday'. Fortunately, it doesn't sound like New Order. Unfortunately, it sounds a lot like the previous tracks (due to Alex's vocals) in spite of more diversity in the synth programming and guitar. Not getting any good hooks here either. Finally, on the title track ('Lost in Static') we get a really good hook. This is easily the best track on the album. Very memorable and well done. Classic stuff. Even Alex's unvarying vocal phrasing works for it. 'No Answer' which follows reminds me somewhat of OMD. Guitar is more predominant and Alex's voice is more melodic and his stylized phrasing less dominant. One small gripe; when they had an opportunity to modulate the key up (a third?) for a big finale, they passed on it. Too bad. Next track 'I Can't Keep' has a pretty good hook. 'My Guest' has synth programming right out of Martin Ware's playbook, and guitar out of Will Seargeant's fakebook. Not a bad combo at all. 'We Are All Lost' is another track with a decent hook. So far, Ctrl is batting about 400. Any major league hitter would be happy with that stat. Last track 'The Underground Rain' is a mish-mosh of echoed industrial synth sounds with some atmospheric guitar, set to a slow freight train rhythm loop. Alex's vocals are brief and somewhat subdued. For me, this was just throwaway space filler.

I think most of the tracks on this album probably work better live than as a listening experience. The rhythm is definitely geared to the dancefloor; basic stuff. Don't get me wrong though, I like the band. I just think they need more material on a par with 'Lost in Static' and 'No Answer'. These guys have been around for ten years or more. I think it's about time to get crackin'. Next, we'll see how their counterpart, Low Technicians fare. I think you'll be surprised.
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Title: S.P.Q.R.
Format: 10"
Label: HauRuck! S.P.Q.R. (@)
Rated: *****
After his recent collaborations with Malato, Circus Joy, Silent Pistols and The Sentinels, the ex Ain Soph's member Claudio Giammarini is back with a 10" recorded under the monicker Claudedi E Nemici (ideally giving in this way his tribute to a record he loves recorded by Boyd Rice And Friends). Produced and recorded by Ain Soph's member Marcello Fraioli and with the collaborations of Ain Soph live members GP Cioni ( P38Punk ) e Steve Stroll (Malato), Claudio split the two sides of the record giving to the lovers of minimal folk'n'roll three original songs "L'inizio di una nuova fine", "Immobile sul freddo marmo" and "Lacrime e santi" (song he composed originally for Ain Soph and released in a limited CD-r given free at one concert they did in Rome back in 2002). Mostly played with acoustic guitars and a bass drum/snare drum set, the three tracks aren't focused on musical virtuosity (deep in his heart Claudio has always been a punk rebel) but are able to talk to the heart. On side B you'll find two covers of Italian music legends: Decibel (band that recorded only two albums of which the first has been one of the first punk records) and Faust'o (Roman songwriter, Fausto Rossi gave life to great songs based on true life lyrics like the ones of "Benvenuti Tra I Rifiuti" or "Suicidio"). "Lsd flash" is a punk song picked up from the debut Decibel album and "Il lungo addio" is a new wave electronic originally recorded in 1979 and played by Claudedi E Nemici keeping true its original arrangement. Nice!
Artist: Saints of Ruin
Title: Nightmare
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Distributor: Masterpiece
Rated: *****
This release is the debut album from a californian goth/glam rock band. Just to be clear: they sounds good, probably they are a good live act, but they lacks songwriting. Goth rock is not a simple matter these days, or there's some original ideas so there's something important or, simply, there's great songs. This album is a collection of rock songs without a production able to emphasize the quality of the band, sometimes it sound like a good demo. It sounds cold, digital while they needed a more warm analog, live sound.
This is a good record only for collectors of the genre.
Artist: Hoarfrost & Inner Vision Laboratory (@)
Title: Decline
Format: CD
Label: Zoharum (@)
Rated: *****
The collaboration between the two industrial/dark ambient polish projects is a mesmerizing production of sorrow. The album is inspired by two poems: 'Madman' and 'Modern Icarus', aiming to tale the descending into the pits of madness of a man. However the result is not so strongly conceptual and linear and, honestly, sounds more like the descending into despair and the self-consciousness of it; but the technical level of the production is amazing and the album sounds good.
The album starts with "mind infinite" and his bass drone and some noise coloring the darkness. "Do you see them too" begins to show the structure of the work: there's a dark ambient drone and some field recordings inserts that create the atmosphere. The result could well stay in a movie due to the cinematic effect. "last waltz" is a love song for dead people with his romantic line of piano. Then the voices: "It's a suicide ... a complicated situation" in the track "boundless oblivion", this track is the peak of the album: bells samples, noise, field recordings tell the story of someone trying to understands what happens in someone else mind. "A clear fuse" close the album with some sort of irony with the carillon like line of piano.
The album sounds well and show that it's conceived as a concept, this is not a innovative release, the composition is full of all the typical trademarks of the genre, but is a record of substance and really well produced.
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