Music Reviews

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Title: You Thrashed My Mind
Format: CD
Label: Vertical Records
Distributor: PIAS / Groove Attack
Rated: *****
Ten years after the first edition of their debut album "Wake up", Kitbuilders are back with a new album titled YOU TRASHED MY MIND. Available on CD and double vinyl it will be released the next month on the Cologne duo personal label Vertical Records. The album contains fifteen tracks where they give life to electronic dance extravaganzas where disco, techno and electro play a big role. As a musical counterpart to the club oriented sounds you can also find different tunes influenced by 80s electronic music (see Chris And Cosey) and synth wave music ("Shoot you", "Bodies" or "Spellbound" recalled me of Pink Industry for the warm sound and the feeling of uneasiness). I'd like also to underline that Kitbuilders put a big effort into sound programming: by using mainly analog synthesizers they improved the roughness and the impact of of their music thanks to fat bass lines and warm oscillators. Obsessive arpeggios and fast hard beats find their nemesis into the passionate female vocals of Cordula, which alternate mysterious atmospheres to detached ones. If you are in the mood for dancing or in the mood for a good rich electronic album, YOU TRASHED MY MIND fits them both.
Artist: Tapage and Meander (@)
Title: Etched In Salt
Format: CD
Label: Tympanik Audio (@)
Distributor: Tympanik Audio
Rated: *****
Tapage and Meander is Tijs Ham and Conrad Hoyer (Ophidian) from the Netherlands. They released a couple of EPs previously but this Tympanik release is their first full album together. 'Etched in Salt' is a combination of IDM and soft ambient with glitch and industrial elements. The music ranges from being lightly ethereal to heavily hardcore electronic, often in the same piece! The juxtaposition of the light and heavy elements is perhaps the key to this collaborative effort which sometimes swells with brilliance and at other times falls resoundingly flat. One good example of when things work well together is 'Tolopea,' where cloudy ambient pads float atop a hard techo-ish rhythm. Aphex Twin style synth sequences propel the piece into the stratosphere and back again with palpable intensity. One example of where it doesn't work at all is on 'The Tide' ' where a beautifully angelic synth melody is sabotaged by a heavy snare-accented percussion pattern. The joyous waltzing melody in 6/8 sounds like a carousel band gone awry; as incongruous as setting Satie or Debussy to a marching band. The percussion completely overtakes everything here when present. When it's not, it's a relief.

Things work much better on the less defined 'Hydrostatic Skeleton' where much of the synthwork is more atmospheric and plays well off the percussion. Throughout most of the tracks the synthwork is light and airy while the rhythms are heavier. Another technique that works well is when the rhythm track ceases, to give the synth ambiences some breathing room, and visa versa. There are times when I wish the synths would get heavier to match the percussion, or the percussion would lighten up to be more compatible with the synths. I also think the rhythmic elements could take more time in the build-up, rather than just charging full speed ahead. The breaks are nice but they often seem like a respite from the barrage to take refuge in. One exception from this light/dark dichotomy is 'Oceanographic' where a bold and bassy sequence begins the track and the synthwork takes a more proactive role against the percussion. It is full of twisty, distorted sounds interspersed in the breaks with celestial ambient pads. It's a sophisticated melody that weaves through this complex sonic entanglement too, giving the track a lot more depth than you might realize on an initial listening.

'Osedax' is the closest thing to dark ambient, although not really dark, just a bit mysterious with underlying sustained bass lines, muted cosmic synth pads, and sparser percussion than any other track, and lightly haunting voices that come in towards the end. The transition into 'Abyssal Pain' is so seamless you won't even notice it. The percussion takes a little more active role, but still everything is downplayed. For me, this was one of the better segments on the album.

I liked a lot of elements on 'Etched in Salt' but overall I found it to be an uneven album. It shows the potential Ham and Hoyer have to fuse ambient, IDM and glitch-laced industrial together into a compatible entity, but that's not always such an easy trick.
Artist: Stephen Guaci / Kris Davis / Michael Bisio (@)
Title: Three
Format: CD
Label: clean feed records (@)
Rated: *****
We don't get much in the way of jazz here at Chain D.L.K., but trio SKM (Stephen Gauci- tenor saxophone; Kris Davis ' piano; Michael Bisio ' double bass) is a free jazz collaboration with some very noteworthy moments. All have impressive credentials in the field of jazz with numerous collaborations and recordings under their belts. The big difference on 'Three' is the lack of drums allowing for a much freer improvisational atmosphere. In fact, all tracks are improvised, except #6 ('Now') by Michael Bisio.

The result of this collaboration is a wide variety of expression from track to track where although the instrumentation is obviously the same, the form is not. On 'The End Must Always Come,' which opens the album, Davis take the lead with a wildly rhapsodic improv that spurs on Bisio's bass to counter from every angle. It's almost like sparring the way the instruments dance around each other and Guaci's sax doesn't even enter until the 2 ½ minute point, tentatively at first, then more definitively as the piece progresses. Davis seems to get temporarily stuck in this one repetitive musical figure that has the effect of propelling Guaci's sax all over the place. Davis later employs the same technique to actually soothe the sax and wind things down to its conclusion.

'Like a Phantom, a Dream' begins with a beautiful sax solo from Gauci and even when the piano and bass come in (and the sax drops out), seems almost melodically conventional. Lots of extended runs here move very quickly eventually rejoined by the sax. Davis drops out and the piece turns quite moody with just sax and bass. The moodiness is replaced by agitation for awhile, before it turns back to being moody at the end. I really kind of grooved on this one.

'Something From Nothing' proves that you don't need a drummer to carry a rhythm as piano, bass and sax provide muted percussion sounds. To a large degree, it seems like an exercise in creative restraint, and things only show any sign of busting loose when the 9:36 track is two-thirds over. Still, it never quite gets out of hand, and is interesting from start to finish.

'Groovin' for the Hell of It' is an oddly enigmatic piece that changes directions more times than a soccer ball on a football field. At one point when Davis starts pounding out these offbeat dissonant chords, it really seems to shake things up. It's hard to quantify this one; when Davis gets going on another one of her repetitive cycles toward the end, she is nearly alone in her own world.

'Still So Beautiful' is a lovely abstract ballad that may seem loose but the playing is tightly interconnected as the instruments weave an amazing braid around each other. Bisio's composition 'Now' is the most unusual piece on the album, with a mad arco technique that exhorts all manner of twisted sounds from is double bass. It hardly seemed as long as the 5:20 it is. 'No Reason To or Not To' is a sparse balladesque moody piece that finds Davis's piano plunking around percussively in the lower register to begin with, while Bisio's bass and Gauci's sax tentatively dance around each other to establish a motif. Bisio is the more active of the two even though he often plays off Gauci's sparse riffing. At this point things are rife with possibilities. It is well over three minutes before Kris's piano decides to enter with some counter-melody, and it gets into a pretty cool post-Bop groove, courtesy of Bisio's trad-jazz baseline. Gauci's sax work is smooth as silk, reminiscent of Ornette Coleman's more soulful and introspective work. Things really heat up and take off at half past six with in all directions divergent yet converges back together for the balladesque finale. 'Just To Be Heard' begins with sax and bass in a riffing race while Davis throws in the occasional chordal fragment or phrased accent. Bisio's running like a wildman possessed propelling Gauci's agitated sax into a region of mewling squeals and squalls while the piano keeps knocking at the door of this melee right up til the end.

The album is hard to describe in words. It has a lot more to do with musical feeling than anything purely technical or aesthetic. There are moments of absolute brilliance on it, and at other times you get the impression the musicians are searching for something not easily found. Through most of it Michael Bisio exedues an intuitive confidence and direction I've not often heard from a bassist (except maybe Charlie Haden) in this type of free jazz collaboration. Kudos to Kris Davis too for her willingness to take risks and skirt the fringe of the oblique. As for Gauci, I got the impression that at times he was holding back, perhaps for good reason to let the other players take a more dominant role. Still, there is no question that his work here is impressive when he wants to step out, and supportive when he deems it best to lay back. A challenging listen by any means, lovers of free jazz should find this quite engaging. I look forward to their next collaboration together.
Artist: Orgia Pravednikov (@)
Title: For Those Who See Dreams Vol. 1
Format: CD
Label: Electroshock Records (@)
Rated: *****
Truth be told, I almost entirely overlooked this album as it was packaged with another I received from Electroschock that I already reviewed a short while ago. When I popped this into the CD player, I couldn't believe my ears! WTF was this??? Surely this band couldn't be on the Electroshock roster. Everything I've ever heard on this label has either been avant-garde, ambient hybrid or cutting-edge electronic music. So, uh'¦what is a progressive art rock cum metal band doing on the Electroshock label? Frankly, I don't know. Maybe Orgia Pravednikov (Orgy of the Righteous) is very big in Russia and Electroshock needs a major rock act to bolster sales. However, this band isn't just your typical prog-metal band. Orgia Pravednikov are the most bizarrely pretentious band in the world that I know of, and that's why I'm even taking the time and space to give them a review, because this music is just too, too, weird to ignore.

My reaction on first listening to 'For Those Who See Dreams' ranged from puzzlement to jaw-dropping incredulity as this outlandish odyssey unfolded. I have to admit that although I've heard the many influences of what's going on here before, I've never heard anything that even remotely resembles Orgia Pravednikov's 'For Those Who See Dreams'. To begin with, the entire album is sung entirely in Russian by Sergey Kalugin, who I assume is the leader of this outfit. I suppose that would be normal for a Russian rock band whose market must be primarily Russian, but Sergey's baritone vocals are so overtly ostentatious and melodramatic that Rammstein and Laibach combined would be hard pressed to compete with them in their sheer audacity. Yet, unlike the consistently dark and heavy music of those two bands, Orgia Pravednikov employs a progressive rock style that harkens back to Jethro Tull, Queen, Marillion, Styx, and bands of that ilk, with florid arrangements that often include baroque brass sections, flutes, strings, acoustic guitars, etc.

In order to really understand what's going on here, some context is in order. Generally speaking, in contrast to Western rock, Russian rock often is characterized by different rhythms, instruments and more involved lyrics. Considering its poetic roots of Russian literature and bard music, it is not surprising that lyrics play a far larger role in Russian rock than Western rock, and there is a pervasive Russian classical music influence as well. If you've ever heard Russian bands artists such as Aria, Aquarium, Splean, Pytor Nalitch, Alisa, Kipelov, etc. you know there is an element of overwrought romanticism and touch of sadness to the music. If you consider how long these people have been oppressed and downtrodden throughout history, it makes sense. Orgia Pravednikov take their Russian heritage very seriously. Many songs come off sounding like fiercely patriotic anthems, while others sound like modified drinking songs and folk dances. In fact, on their MySpace site, they even have a track titled 'Our Motherland is USSR!' (Not on this album.)

I will give the band credit for their musicianship, which is impressive to say the least. I will even give them credit for preserving their (Russian) music heritage. However, there is no doubt that the bulk of the material on For Those Who See Dreams' comes across as cringingly pretentious, at least to these Western ears. One possible exception is track 9 (with a title in Russian that might be untranslatable) based on the 'Song of Solomon' from the Bible. The sorrowful solo cello opening is quite a contrast to what follows. Band member Artemiy Bondarenko (bass, keyboard, guitar, etc.) contributes deep demonic lead vocals over a nearly Black Metal musical backdrop, while the cello weaves melodically throughout. It is all very proggy and frenetically paced, and even Sergey's rapid recitation that begins mid-tune seems appropriate. Unfortunately, this atypical track is the only one on the album along these lines.

Maybe, just maybe if you have deep Russian roots, this album could grow on you. I'm still not exactly sure what the album concept is about, even after reading the translated lyrics a couple of times. It seems a bit like a personal quest'¦truth, love beauty'¦that sort of thing. Don't let my low rating put you off from checking them out though. You just might find this music so odd, that you'll be compelled to share it with your friends. A fifth of vodka might not hurt either.
Artist: Aardia
Title: Conquest of The Ancient Halls
Format: CD
Label: Waerloga Records (@)
Distributor: Waerloga Records
Rated: *****
Aardia is a Swedish trio that started creating music together as soon as 1999, making music to underground horror films (mostly in the Zombie genre) and creating demos, have songs on compilations and more. 2008 they joined Waerloga Records, a label that releases Za Frumi and other dark fantasy inspired groups, and now in the early parts of 2011 the debut album is released.

According to Waerloga Records the process has been very slow and demanding but really worth the while. Not many albums like "Conquest of The Ancient Halls" reach me but when they do I get really happy.

The music is bombastic at times and more moody at others. Arcana, Za Frumi, Erdenstern and film music to fantasy movies comes to mind when listening. One thing that strike my right away and that's the great sound of the album. Simon Kolle of Za Frumi have both mixed and mastered the album and that was a great move by Aardia for sure!
Another thing that I really like is the way the music feels so well done. The music is neo classical at times, but does not resemble classical music as much as music for the movies.

The album is clearly made with inspiration taken from dark fantasy and I think this is the best Waerloga release in a while. A friend of mine visited me while listening to the album and she asked me from which new computer game the music was from and first I took that as an insult but she did not meant it that way. Music to computer games now a days is made by really good composers and some of the games sell in millions.

Conquest of The Ancient Halls got no bad song and one hit in the bombastic and action packed piece called The Conquest. Great work, I am impressed and will listen to Aardia a lot this spring.

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