Music Reviews



Apr 27 2018
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Artist: Doon Kanda
Title: Luna
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Hyperdub
Information is relatively sparse about Doon Kanda’s second Hyperdub release, save for an Instagram link pointing to a wealth (if wealth is the word) of sculptures and CG modelling of globulus and ugly alien body shapes, one of which is seen as this release’s artwork.

Thankfully the music here is not as ugly as the modelling, though it is almost as weird. Purely instrumental, it’s a blend of steady, faintly glitchy downtempo electronica grooves with some decidedly off-kilter and quirky synth melody work which feels a little bit like an exercise in finding the weirdest high-pitched noises available on your synthesizer and then messing about playing melodies with them in a relaxed but not completely unstructured way.

At its best- maybe opener “Bloodlet”- it sounds like early 90’s Tangerine Dream leftovers with a mildly dark twist. “Crinoline” has a faintly baroque feel reminiscent of some lighter tracks from µ-Ziq. “Luna” and final track “Lamina” are quite endearingly poppy, while “Molting” is a notable bit of heavier, almost grimy production.

At 7 short tracks clocking in at under 20 minutes overall, it’s either a long EP or a very mini mini-album depending on how you look at it. It’s a curious release, not as misshapen as the visuals that accompany it but still definitely lopsided, perhaps a bit too much so.
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Artist: Off Land (@)
Title: On Earth
Format: CD
Label: Stasis Recordings (@)
Ambient soundscapist, Tim Dwyer alias Off Land offers another chapter of lush cinematic scores with On Earth where the din of children playing and echoing voices utter indecipherable phrases, fleeting fragments of field recordings are set to marmalade-paced rhythms and dreamy melodies amidst billowing layers of synth notes. One does not listen to an Off Land album so much as immerse, and this release is no different. Opening, “Euclase” washes over with layer cakes of synth lines and vestiges of melody with wistful overtones of longing followed by “Nepheline” which has more assertive rhythms and melodies and moody yet powerful, low-end tones that will tingle your spine. The following, “Amethyst” is more subdued, deep-ambient that does not wash-in so much as floats while, metronome-like rhythms manifest and dissolve in the aether while “Osmium” pulses with the more mechanical rhythms that propel an otherwise lush down-tempo ambient-dream track. “Spinel” resumes field recordings, birds chirp while melodies and counter melodies interplay to evenly paced beats that dissolve to lush ambient. “Aegirine” follows with gentle bass melodies and a kick-drum pulse with whispers and droning melodies and fragments of notes and is among the more upbeat. “Nighter” concludes the chapter on a somewhat tense, brooding note, perhaps setting the listener up for a sequel. Dwyer consistently delivers the goods with ranges of moods from pensive to tense to yearning to sublime; delivered in lush arboretums of cinematic-ambient soundscapes. File under ‘cinema of the mind’.
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Artist: Furtherset
Title: To Alter And Effect
Format: Tape
Label: -OUS
“To Alter And Effect” is a 6-pack mini-album (25 minutes-ish) of amped-up synth instrumentals with the sonic qualities of angry distorted synthwave and the drama-inclined arrangements of sci-fi soundtracks, all teetering on the edge of electronica, or bombastic EBM without the beats.

“This Eternal Vanishing” is a bold way to open, full of dramatic hits and squeaks over panted vocal rhythms, and sets the stall out nicely, before the energy levels drop down a few notches for “The Arc Of Imaginary”, one of the mini-album’s more sedate moments, relatively speaking. “Self Unfinished” lays up rapid arpeggios like a kind of Philip Glass raving with a broken Juno.

The title track is the closest skirting of this release to synthpop territory- you can imagine there being an angst-ridden vocal on here- before “Ask Your Existential Core” returns to the panting and deep rumbling distortion. Final track “Drawing Of Desire And Hate” is a highlight, a thick wash of synth noise which unfolds into a epic sci-fi symphony of synths and pulses that then devolves into bit-crushed percussive hits and noisy drones to finish.

Though packaged more as art music than it actually is (including the obligatory pretentious cassette release), this is rich home-listening synth-electronica and quite strong for it. Synthwave fans looking for something a bit more soundtrack-y, and kick-drum-free, should appreciate it.
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Artist: Graintable
Title: Herons
Format: Tape
Label: Ransom Note Records
James Cooke’s debut album as Graintable is a sifted collection of ten late-night one-take synth experiments, made up of slow single-chord pads and drones mixed with analogue pulsing and bass thrumming that owes a lot, by Cooke’s own admission, to a Roland Juno 106. From a producer with a background in house and hip-hop, this is an interesting sideways move into more mellow and ambient territory, but at points it does sound like somebody new to the genre, revelling in long atmospherics for the first time, rather than the work of somebody who’s been waist-deep in these sound for a long time.

At its best, this is strong, semi-symphonic slow synthwave soundtracking (alliteration not intended), moody and expansive. The opening track is strong and the arpeggios on “Odysseus” recall Tangerine Dream circa the 90’s, while of the mellower tracks, “39” is strong thanks to its simple but determined melodic loop.

At its worst, it sounds like somebody who’s discovered that keeping keys pressed down on his Juno results in long wavy New Age-y noises and that it’s easy to make ambient music that way. “610” is on the wrong side of the fence between ambient and aimlessness while “Lighthouse” sounds like an attempt to mimic one of Brian Eno’s classic ambient works without quite enough of either inspiration or perspiration.

Overall though there are more positives than negatives, and across its 67 minute span it’s consistent and measured enough to be quite engrossing. It doesn’t push any envelopes, but if your collection of sombre moody synthwave is feeling a bit overplayed, this will give you another option.
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Artist: Felix Blume
Title: Death in Haiti: Funeral Brass Bands & Sounds from Port au Prince
Format: LP
Label: Discrepant
Funerals and memorials in Haiti are certainly handled in a very different way to how I’m used to as a Brit. Every emotion is clearly worn more openly on the sleeve- both the grieving and the happy memories- and a collection of layered field recordings from a variety of Haitian funeral processions, services and wakes is an extremely emotive experience, but not all of it sad.

The album is built around six live recordings of brass band processions- some of them bright and celebratory, others more conventionally funereal, some quite jazzy. In keeping with the idea that Haitians put more effort into making a remembrance service a more jovial event, some of it is actually good fun.

But it has to be pointed out that there’s lengthy agonised and uncontrolled screaming and wailing here, and some of it is quite rightly difficult to listen to. There are elements more recognisable to Western Europeans- hymnal chanting and spoken-word eulogy snippets. A carnival album, this is not, and the layering up of some of the brass band performances with the gut-wrenching howling of mourning family members is truly macabre and unsettling to my stoic traditions.

The sound recording quality is fantastic- everything has the atmosphere of a crowd underpinning it, but the sonic quality of some of the solo saxophone work is studio-quality and very impressive. It’s a well-produced and nicely constructed work. But unless you’re actively seeking the sound of genuine bitter-sweet grief, whether for entertainment or your own personal catharsis, I’m not sure you’re going to enjoy it, nor should you.
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