Music Reviews



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Artist: Hanno Leichtmann
Title: Nouvelle Aventure
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Karlrecords
Some of the biggest names in ‘new music’ are associated with the Darmstadt school- Stockhausen, Cage, Boulez, Ligeti, Messiaen and many more. The school’s Summer Courses for New Music have a recorded archive stretching back 70 years, and in true ‘new’ fashion, instead of drily reissuing archival recordings ‘as is’ and making them seem stuffy and no longer avantgarde by context, instead Hanno Leichtmann has been let loose on the recordings in order to not collate them but sample them, twist them, create homages to them and generally freshen them up into a work that’s both old and new.

Sometimes we revel not in the lectures but in the music itself. The theatrics and bold tape manipulations of the 1960’s are most notably on display in tracks like “Substanzsuche”, with pieces like “Klangfigur (fur Klavier, Stimmen und Regler” openly melodic. There are elements of spoken word recordings dropped in, as short snippets or as elements looping into abstraction, in a manner that strangely recalls the Monkees movie “Head” (a reference that may seem obtuse but which will become apparent to people who’ve listened to both), especially when the accents are American.

At other times, pieces like “Einheit von Maß und Zahl” are more faithful to the lecture format, inserting a large chunk of spoken word explanation about feeding a music score into a computer and underpinning it with drone and spontaneous percussion in a manner reminiscent of Johann Johannson’s “IBM 1401”.

It’s a very refreshing way to revisit and rework an archive. A movement of artists whose core work involved challenging preconceptions would, I presume, be generally satisfied that their work has been reappropriated in such a manner. What we have here, in effect, is an intriguing and high-quality bit of music history that’s also brand new.
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Artist: Monty Adkins
Title: Still Juniper Snow
Format: CD + Download
Label: Huddersfield Contemporary Records
In this short concept piece, Monty Adkins “paints over” acoustic pieces performed by Sarah-Jane Summers and the Bozzini Quartet. The original performance was inspired by Norwegian landscapes, and Scottish and Norwegian folk traditions. Adkins has stripped away the performance elements, smothering them in processing and reverb, stretching and washing them until only the atmospheres and broad tones remain.

After “Hollow” and “Distant Waters”, two pieces of slightly more generic cold-yet-positive drone from which the origins would be very hard to guess, it’s in third piece “Spiral Paths” that more of the original source material is exposed and the unique reworking approach really clicks. The plaintive violin work rolling across the melodic slow bass drone in a much more cinematic fashion.

It’s a curious concept piece that feels like it’s not given enough time to really breathe as a drone work, and in “Spiral Paths”, just hints at what award-winning soundtrack album could be conceived if this area was delved into more deeply.
Nov 25 2018
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Artist: Mirexxx
Title: Vault
Format: CD + Download
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Belgian (Bruxelles) EBM/electro-industrial band Mirexxx is the duo of vocalist Stijn S. and synthesist/programmer Posse, and 'Vault' is their Echozone debut album after their 2017 EP, 'Inside You', and a couple of previously self-released mini-albums. This is old, old school stuff after outfits such as Klinik and Suicide Commando, just not nearly as good. Stijn rasps his way through ten tracks on 'Vault' with little variation. The synthwork seemed as if it was going the same route (little variation in sound and sequencing) but changed a bit in the later innings during and after the instrumental "Distraction," a welcome change of pace. Drum are all rinky-dinky computer generated sounds so I found nothing really compelling about the rhythm. One of the only things Mirexxx has going for them is that there aren't many artists doing this strictly minimal style of EBM these days, so there isn't much in the way of competition. Still, it's a long way from moving a cluster of black-clads in a dark club to getting people excited about your album, especially if the album gets kinda boring after a few songs. Misanthropic, dystopian lyrics included for those who don't grok rasp.
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Artist: !distain (@)
Title: Farewell To The Past
Format: CD + Download
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Here's a German synthpop band that began in the early '90s, has released seven albums previously, and also a slew of singles and EPs, have had plenty of (Euro) chart-topping singles, have played many live shows including the prestigious Wave-Gotik-Treffen, and I've never heard of them before. I'd venture to say that neither have most Americans. To me, this only emphasizes just how different the American and Euro music scenes are, and it's kind of sad that good bands like !distain just don't get the attention in the United States that they deserve. !distain has gone through several members since their inception but now are the duo of Alexander Braun and Manfred Thomaser. I didn't have time to listen to all of the band's discography in order to get an idea how they've evolved, but I did listen to their 'Rainbow Skies At Night' (2015) album that preceded this one. There are similarities as well as differences, but no radical departures. The major difference between 'Rainbow Skies At Night' and 'Farewell To The Past' is depth, which the latter has more of. Not that there aren't good songs on 'RSAN,' there certainly are some little gems, but as a whole, !distain's latest shows the band has put some effort into making an album that isn't just an attempt to crank out the hits, so to speak.

I didn't think that was the case at first; the opening track "The Cosmic Revolution" (feat. Seyhan) relies on a single word hook - "Universe" in order grab your psyche melodically, and of course it works like a charm. So I am now thinking these boys are just another act along the lines of Depeche Mode, De/Vision, Wolfsheim, etc., and to an extent they are. But there's something about !distain on this album that transcends the usual suspects. It begins easily and subconsciously with the balladish "Maid of Freedom," mixing German and English lyrics. Then, in "Synthpop Boy" we hear something almost nobody sings about- the actual love of synthpop across EBM, industrial, hardcore and similar genres. This is a big difference between American and Euro music. Here, most regard synthpop as music of a bygone era. There it is a common thread between many styles of music. Granted the song itself is a little bit of a melodic throwaway, but it does get under your skin. "Der Hirtenmann,' the song that follows obviously in Deutsche, has a harder, darker, more dramatic edge that I haven't heard from this band before. I don't care if I don't understand the lyrics, it's a GREAT song and I'll just use my imagination. The instrumental that follows, "No Aces Left" is a medium paced moody piece oozing with cinematic possibilities. "Wake Me Up" is a love song that cuts deep emotionally, and is as close to perfection as any of the great ones I've ever heard. (If you can bring a tear to these cynical eyes, man, you've really touched on something.) Back to the German for "Wer im Kreise geht" (Who Goes in Circles), a nice melodic tune with dark overtones on the verses, but an uplifting chorus. "Waiting For A Song" somehow reminded me a bit of Tears For Fears in its moodiness and execution. Not common synthpop by any means. The next song, "Letter To Myself" contains the album title lyrically (a clever move) and is another emotion-grabber. "Targets" was the only song on the album that I thought was merely okay, but for many (other) bands a song like this might be as good as it gets. The most unusual track though is the last one - "The Guest House" (Featuring noted dj/producer/remixer Oren Amram), a 9:44 excursion into a mystery from 1679 that is part spoken recitation and part melodic vocals with atmospheric music throughout. Even on a third of fourth listen it is still an enigmatic piece. Not your usual fare for a synthpop band. Perhaps now you can see why 'Farewell To The Past' has some real depth to it. Not only does this album hold up with repeated play, but it actually gets better. What I thought was just going to be another one of those Euro synthpop outfits has turned out to be a whole lot more. Excellent!
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Artist: Bow Gamelan Ensemble
Title: Great Noises That Fill The Air
Format: CD
Label: Cold Spring (@)
Rated: *****
Bow Gamelan Ensemble was an unfortunately little known group formed in 1983 by Richard Wilson with Paul Burwell and Anne Bean which tried to adapt gamelan music to the industrial scene which was establishing in those times. So, they used instruments made by metal or motors or common domestic objects. They aimed to adapt the music to the environment where they performed and they challenged, inspired perhaps by canonical avant-garde, the notion of musical instruments.
So, a track ad "Snappits/Hooter" creates music from the elements that make noise in everyday car traffic while "Horse/Bells/Hubcaps" is hypnotic in its use of metallic sounds and treat percussion as an element of musical language instead of something that beat the time. "Take III" shows how they use wind instruments to achieve sonic nuances uncommon in a period where this kind of music was challenging the listener with physicality while they take this path in a track like "Thundersheets/Sirens/Baths" of impressive sonic mass. However, the next track, "Pyrophones", is a sequence of subtle and meditative low volume tones.
For the quality of the music and the originality of the musical opus, this reissue is a a way to remind than the music scene is filled by great project that never had the spotlight but their opus hasn't aged a bit instead of most group which are on the magazines' cover in this times of retromania. Almost essential.
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