Music Reviews



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Artist: Bantou Mentale
Title: Bantou Mentale
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Glitterbeat
The debut release from new ensemble Bantou Mentale, self-described as “sonic groundbreakers”, is pitched as “the fulfillment of their long-held dream to create an African band with the weight and sensory attack of knife-edged rock and hot-wired club beats”.

And in a way, that’s overselling it- this isn’t nearly as raucous or knife-edged as I initially expected. Despite having the occasional gunfire FX and angry moments, energy-wise, and in many other ways as well, it’s got more in common with older dance-fusion acts like Transglobal Underground, Asian Dub Foundation or certain-era Dreadzone- solid, enthusiastic, festival-friendly crossover dance tunes with confidence and character, some distorted vocals and guitars here and there and the odd gutpuncher sound, but nothing that’s really going to rip you a new hole to a Slamboree degree. It starts off upbeat, but to an extent chills out quite extensively as it progresses, showing off its classy French underbelly.

But that’s no bad thing, not least because an hour of angry terror wouldn’t have the depth and variety that Bantou Mentale offer up across this hour-long 12-track collection. Here there’s the space for foot-tappingly infectious grooves like “Boko Haram”, or the soulful “Boloko” with its notable mashup of electro bass with a more organic soft rock arrangement. There’s strong vocal work across tracks like “Syria” and more experimental, bordering on jazzy pieces like “Bakoko”.

Although I compared it to a bunch of 90’s-era bands a minute ago- and tracks like “Yoka Chagrin” are absolutely a throwback to that vibe- it has to be said that generally the production is tight and spot-on. “Suabala” sounds like what comes out when Liam Howlett’s feeling funky rather than angry, while “Sango” introduces distorted samples into the prog-fusion core in interesting ways.

So it’s not the furious groundbreaking sonic assault that it’s being pitched as, but no matter, this is still a shining jewel of cross-cultural musical freedom with a fantastic depth and production quality to it. Hopefully it will take off enough to make it possible to justify it being toured live, as a live environment feels like where these songs would really thrive.
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Now That's What I Call Silence!
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Media
The brilliant title of this release is worth the price of admission on its own- but it also gives you a slightly misleading idea of what to expect here. In the natural world, real silence is non-existent, and in our modern day life, even more so. Here, seventeen different artists have offered up their very different interpretations of attempted, circumstantial or artificial silence- and some of them are very, very loud.

Some scenes, like X-Bax’s “Don’t Be So Cagey” or Baptizer’s “Whispers Of Rovinj”, are true representations of natural near-silence, with indistinct open atmospheres. In recordings that range from 30 seconds to just over 10 minutes, you are drawn in and encouraged to reflect on the base level of noise that exists in your life.

Other tracks however, in the words of clickbait, “will surprise you!”. Small Life Form’s “Empty Vessel” is a heavily driven noisy industrial drone, the kind of thing employees have to wear ear protectors and have special training for, and Remora and Konbanwa both offer up gritty mechanical-sounding flat sonic platforms. Ben Link Collin’s “The Concealed Surround” is conscious sound design full of hollow resonance, creating a haunting sci-fi soundscape that gradually becomes more animalistic as it evolves. Charles De Mar’s “Nap Time” seemingly twists the sound of soporific baby sleep.

And furthermore, other tracks seem to pay only passing service to the concept (or at least, to the concept as I understand it). Goddakk’s “North 7th” and Electric Bird Noise’s “A Walk Around The Neighborhood” are both dark bits of guitar strumming but decidedly musical, while Premature Burial’s “Signal To Noise To Signal” is thumping, musically industrial rhythm work. High Tunnels’ “Food Lion Meat Cooler” is a fascinating sort of hybrid between a complex electronica heartbeat rhythm and the sound of ice cracking, while the 30-second pieces are the oddest, almost comical parts.

The idea of the release is drawn from the 2000 “Blank Tapes” by Reynols- plus John Cage, naturally- but the noise of imperfect recording mediums is not a big player here. It does show up in the microphone peaking of Heavy For The Vintage’s “Attempted Baptism, Accidental Suicide”, for example.

It’s a really strong collection of tracks that shows off the broad range of sounds on the Silber label, but if you bought this release expecting ambient noise for nodding off too, you’re in for a shock.
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: On Corrosion
Format: Tape
Label: The Helen Scarsdale Agency
“On Corrosion” is an ambitious art project. It’s the Helen Scarsdale Agency’s 50th release and the theme is based on founder Jim Haynes’ work curating an art collection under the name “On Corrision”. Ten different established sound artists have contributed their own full-length albums inspired by, or in response to, that theme. Over the course of nearly seven hours, these works head off in a variety of different directions, with diverse and varying appeal (some more than others). It’s appropriate that each album has its own artwork and subtitle as well, since largely they would stand up as sound works in their own right even if disassociated from the overriding theme- yet as I work through each release, I find myself spotting commonalities between each, leading to over-use of the word “also” in introducing each in the context of the last.

Fossil Aerosol Mining Project’s “Hydration Equilibrium” is a series of disquieting found sounds constructed into occasional patterns and rhythms on a drone base. ‘Disintegrated media’ is a successful subtheme, drawing and dismantling recordings from old tapes into an extensive entropy of modern broadcast noise, and meaty final track “Only The Green, Blue and Black” is a highlight.

The corrosion in G Park’s “Nosode” is largely digital, heavy bit-crunching, phasing and thick shifting equalisation taking fairly ordinary sounds like dripping taps and breaking them down into evil-sounding and edgy sonic abstracts across two fairly flat but intriguing 17 minute textures.

Himukalt’s “Torn Asunder- The Half Girl” is an exercise in unrelenting fury. Passionate angry feedback and noise walls punch your ears repeatedly, heavily distorted spoken-word monologues are barely discernible, raw sexual noises are thrown in for added affrontery. It jumps between structureless assembly and infrequent more industrial pattern-based sections such as when a kick drum pops in and out of “Cruel By Most Estimations”. “Absent” is the most successful track but the whole thing feels like reading somebody else’s private diary about a relationship that’s broken down in violent fashion.

Alice Kemp’s “9 Dreams In Erotic Mourning” also feels like relationship breakdown channeled into sound, but very differently. The stereotypical British bottling up of emotion seems at play here, as lethargic synth-piano melodies take precedent and suppressed feelings creep in at the edges, in the form of electric hums, masturbatory and pained vocalisations, identifiable rustling, and the like. These feelings break through periodically, most notably in the screams of “Alles Ist Wie Es Ist”, but it remains an odd balancing act of repression and expression.

Kleistwahr’s “Winter” also juxtaposes long harmonious melodic pads with more impulsive and gritty injunctions, this time more guitar-like, but across these two twenty-minute pieces it’s a contrast that feels more assured, almost enjoyed. It’s a tourist’s journey through discord but it somehow feels safe and unchallenging. Even as the pitch steadily shifts up and up and up in “Rust Eats the Future”, it somehow never sounds stressful or tense- which is very curious considering the ingredients.

“A Collection Of Damaged Reel Tape Loops” by Francisco Meirino also makes awkward noise palatable. There is no melodic element here, but there are windy envelopes that stroll over the main meat of the production, which is unrecognisably distorted sonic blowout and feedback that comes round and round, in looped patterns, to create rhythm and structure seemingly by accident. What could possibly me old music hall recordings drift through into your consciousness vaguely as it progresses, a literal but powerful interpretation of the corrosion of recorded sound-history.

No-wave, anti-rock duo Neutral offer up “Lagliv” which feels faintly anachronistic in this set thanks to the dominance of heavy guitar thrashing. A cacophony of dramatic documentary sound and spoken-word elements ride atop thick noise work but it still feels like the album here which is closest to what it would sound like if performed live. Of the two eighteen-minute tracks here, it was “Ganska lagt / Ocksa” that felt more accessible to me thanks to its increased inclusion of electronic noise, since I’m an electronics kid at heart.

Pinkcourtesyphone’s reliably minimalist “Shouting At Naunce” is an entrancing but uneventful forty-nine minutes of light electronic pulses, long delays, and slowly fading and breathing hums that’s absolutely charming and eminently soporific. Second piece “Alternatory” is marginally more melodic, adding to the sense of lullaby. If anything my only criticism of this work is that, in view of the overriding theme of the collection, this work doesn’t sound corroded- if anything it sounds smoothed, like a glossy sonic pebble. It joins other Pinkcourtesyphone releases on my sleep playlists.

Relay For Death’s “Mutual Consuming” is also a pair of long ambient works with a wave approach and a soporific flavour, but quite a different tone- there’s something steadily metallic about the resonances here, never straying fully into nails-down-the-blackboard territory but sharp enough to give an underlying sense of tension. Unlike the previous album, this does build to something dramatic, with second piece “Terminal Ice Wind” stepping assuredly up in level until it earns some dramatic deep bangs and crashes, corrosion akin to hearing the rapid cracking of a huge ice sheet from the point of view of someone trapped in the ice.

Alice Kundalini, as She Spread Sorrow, offers up “Orchid Seeds”. It’s storytelling-driven, powered by a breathy spoken word narrative that’s frankly hard to follow and feels invasively and deliberately over-intimate. This works on top of a bed of dark sonic textures, primarily super-low bass rumbles on the border of reproducible sound and ordinary hearing, but also cut through by higher-pitched rapid pulses and some very high-pitched squealing sounds that add to the discomfort. Occasionally, kicks and sub-bass sounds borrowed from dubby deep trip-hop bring everything up a level, making tracks like “She Didn’t Care” more memorable. Despite being split into five pieces, it mostly plays as a single unit, with the track divisions feeling as much chapter-based as they are by sonic change. A word of warning about the distant relentless old-fashioned telephone ringing sound that sits in the background of “Queen Of Guilt”- it will make you think your phone’s ringing, even if it doesn’t sound anything like your ringtone.

It’s presented as a 10-cassette set in a wooden box, but I only have the digital files to review so I can’t comment on the physical aspects of it. The packshot photo certainly makes it look like a thing of retro beauty though.

Sonically, it’s certainly a work of art. The way in which ten different artists have tackled the overarching theme, drawing parallels between themselves but also setting off in ten tangibly different directions. Everyone will have different favourites- I’d probably single out Pinkcourtesyphone and Francisco Meirino as mine- but people with a lot of time (and presumably money- I don’t know the asking price) to invest in dark electrosonic arts will find a lot that’s worthwhile in this nearly seven-hour-long collection.
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Artist: John Chantler
Title: Tomorrow Is Too Late
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Room40
John Chantler predominantly works with electronics and synthesizers, building abstract instrumental soundscapes out of tones, harmonics, hums, and a variety of frequency shapes, some more toothy and industrial than others. But while those ingredients often lend themselves to relatively static and ambient works, the two pieces in Chantler’s fifth album “Tomorrow Is Too Late” are imbued with a lot of dynamic change. There’s a constant sense of either current or imminent shift, never allowing itself to properly settle.

The title track sometimes showcases electronic pulses that offer a sense of tempo that’s unpredictable, but never low. Despite being built as two nineteen-minute works, each drops into silence at certain points, returning with different arrangements and giving us distinct unlabelled chapters. The result is akin to scenes in an old sci-fi movie at times.

Second piece “We’re Always At The End” is a shade more glitchy in its impulsiveness, opening with rising and fallng metallic sounds that are abruptly cut in and out in a manner that becomes machine talking. This leads to a bright-sounding mid-point that wallows in the richness of the possible sounds, before dropping into a sparser and more ghostly conclusion.

From relatively simple and familiar sonic building blocks, John Chantler has created a couple of extremely expressive works that really milk a lot of emotion out of the electronics. The result is a surprisingly diverse journey that keeps you on your toes, and it’s certainly worth following.

And at least a passing mention has to be made to the strange sepia artwork of what seems to be a cow’s bottom and some dung- one of the least appropriate or sensible pieces of album art I’ve seen in a long time.
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Artist: Fermion
Title: We Are Nowhere
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Fermion is a new alias for a duo consisting of Eric Shans of Phenotract, and Augustine Backer. After sketching some tracks out at a New York City producers meet-up a few years previously, in 2019 they have finally finished up, polished off and released a six-track EP that grew from there. Whether this is a one off collaboration or the beginning of something new remains to be seen, but on the evidence of this, I hope there’s more.

This EP comes from the dark side of synthpop, with six fairly lengthy and evolving synth-electronica instrumentals that feel like they are channeling OMD’s broodier moments, particularly their earlier and more prototype-like works, and bleepy grooves that are Vince Clarke-like at times, coupled with early-New-Order-ish fragile chords. The vocal also evokes comparisons with OMD as well- and crucially, there’s a decent helping of Andy McCluskey’s songwriting ability to back it up, with some strong chorus hooks on tracks like “Ever Know” and “Echoes Reverse”.

After wistful and atmospheric opener “Nowhere” (an unusually long intro track for a 27-minute EP), the songwriting- and the kick drums and arpeggiators- start properly on “Abstract Shadows”. “Ever Know” is the ballad, of sorts, while the gritty gutpuncher sounds and heavily effected samples that fuel mostly-instrumental-odd-power-ballad “Bubble Chamber” are thoroughly modern and make it clear this is a 2019 release not solely a work of audio retro.

The driving synthbass of “Echoes Reverse” is so ubiquitous that it almost qualifies as traditional music now, but it still feels great when done well, and it works here, while the lullaby-like music box sounds of final track “Light Voyagers” firmly point towards a more ambitious and cinematic sound that leaves you wanting more.

If there’s a weak point on this EP, unfortunately it’s that the vocal could do with a tiny bit of work. There are a couple of suspicious notes in there, but the problem seems more production based- perhaps through lack of vocal confidence, there’s excess reverb and EQ that serve to make the vocal sound weaker rather than helping it. A bit more work or vocal overdubs might’ve helped I think.

Fans of serious synthpop will absolutely appreciate this. Eschewing the stereotypical American full-on-noise approach to EDM and offering up a more introspective and delicate set of tunes, this is clearly a good match-up between the two producers and hopefully it will lead to more.
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