Music Reviews



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Artist: Goatvargr (@)
Title: Black Snow Epoch
Format: CD
Label: Cold Spring (@)
Rated: *****
One of the first human being speaking about the "black snow" was presumably Anaxagoras: this notorious Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher on the basis of the diaphaneity of the water mantained even snow was black as black colour is tantamount to the absence of all colours. Likewise if the premises originating a concept is wrong and there is nothing mistrusting the opposite premises on the logical path, it's possible to be wrong in obtaining some results. This concept has fascineted a lot of artists and could be the conceptual framework of this Black Snow Epoch, the second sonorous calving coming from the reproductive session (just musical one!) between Henrik "Nordvargr" Bjorkk, a Swedish sound adulterator - maybe some of you have already listened something signed under other pseudonyms such as MaschinenZimmer 412, Hydra Head 9, Folkstorm or Toroidh (my favorite one, maybe for some musical nuances close to Raison d'Etre releases) -, quite famous for his artistic fruitfulness in the so-called "grey area" for being one of the first sound-artists dealing with the so-called "black industrial" music (something which some reviewer names "dark ambient" as well nowadays), whose nickname means "northern wolf", and the American noise artist Andy O'Sullivan aka Goat, whose researches are more noise-oriented as well, giving to birth this freaky creature called Goatvargr - you can imagine some bestial character, whose body is half-goat and half-wolf... -, which musically could stand as a sort of alternative path towards the thick woods of power electronics, black metal and cinematic ritual drones.

If you already have listened to their self-titled debut album, you'll easily notice this time the noise sounds more "organized" - just some parts such as the deafening Wall of Wolf tread on noises in a cacophonic way - as whereas this two beasts don't pummel each other, the atmospheric grips intertwined with heavily dragged metallic marches have been preferred so that they finally emphasized the suggestions and somewhat sinister fascination of this gloomy record, alternating the feral gaits of those animals and the disquieting glacial silence with terrific buzzing or quartering through voices which sometimes sounds human, sometimes turn into more brutish timbres (have a listen to the initial Goatsbane/Scapewolf - nice wordy trick for a title! - for a thorough sample of such a transmutation...) and reaching the highest peak in the almost solemn final anthem of A Black Drum Droning. By rewording sleevenotes printed on the booklet (you can turn it into a poster with the drawing on front-cover by French), "during the black snow epoch, the true hunters will pursue"...
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Artist: Access to Arasaka (@)
Title: void()
Format: CD
Label: Tympanik Audio (@)
Distributor: Tympanik Audio
Rated: *****
Access to Arasaka is the project name of Rob Lioy, based in Rochester, New York. This is Access to Arasaka's second full release on Tympanik after 'Oppidan' in 2009. Taking his name from the 'Cyberpunk 2020'³ off-shoot card game 'Netrunner,' it's no surprise that ATA's William Gibson/'The Matrix' fueled 'void()' album is as cybercore as you can get, and more deserving of that genre label than most it has been ascribed too. What I initially imagined to be another awkward melding of glitch an ambient before I heard the CD has turned out to be something else indeed.

In listening to 'void()' one is struck with just how well everything is done. There is perfect integration and meshing of the rhythmic glitch elements with the synth-sonics. Much of it is very spacious too, and endlessly intriguing. In lot music along these lines that I've been exposed to, especially of late, there is a tendency toward repetition in one form or another leads to ennui. Not so here. Things are constantly morphing, shifting, changing. There is no bombast or pretentious electronic pyrotechnics. Subtle is the encrypted code of this milieu. Over the sixteen tracks on this album there is a rich variety of mood and flavor while remaining faithful to its theme. 'void()' is the dark, cold ambience of cyberspace pierced by the semi-random intrusions of thousands of hackers. To a great degree cinematic, this could easily be the soundtrack of a rather advanced, cerebral computer game. The only human element in the music is the brief vocal sample which surfaces occasionally as a transmission from afar.

I am amazed at how quickly this album passed in time too; a little under an hour in length, it seemed like less than half that. Then again, maybe time is altered in cyberspace. This is one helluva great disc, with a high replay factor, and for those who prefer headphone or earbuds, it will surely blow your mind in a most sublime way. If you're looking for something beyond 'Blade Runner,' beyond 'Akira,' beyond 'The Matrix,' then thrust yourself into (the) 'void()'. It will surely swallow you up. Highly recommended.
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Artist: Seven That Spells (@)
Title: Future Retro Spasm
Format: CD
Label: Beta-lactam Ring Records (@)
Distributor: Beta-lactam Ring Records
Rated: *****
Seven That Spells is a Croatian Psychedelic Space-Rock band with elements of Math Rock and Avant-Garde jazz, at least on this album. Formed back in 2003 by guitarist/keyboardist Niko PotoÄnjak, aboard on this trip are: saxophonist Lovro ZlopaÅ¡a; drummer Stanislav MuÅ¡kinja; and Narantxa on bass. My first experience with STS was on the Beta-lactam Ring compilation 'Music For Personality Disorder' which I reviewed a little while ago. The track on the comp was 'Terminus Est' which is on this album as well. I described it thusly: 'Imagine latter day King Crimson, Gong, and John Zorn thrown in a blender and set to puree. Totally chaotic and dissonant. Fans of obscure outfits like Amalgam should love this.' Well that was an off-the-cuff description, accurate to some degree, but certainly not the whole picture of this album. In order to get a little musical background on the band, I went back through some of their tracks on previous albums and discovered that 'Future Retro Spasm' isn't a whole lot like some of the stuff they've done before. My general impression of their prior work was a less focused group, maybe in part due to the influence of Acid Mothers Temple's Kawabata Makoto. In any event, 'Future Retro Spasm' is an album that you can't just take blissfully lying back and expect it to waft over you. It will hit you on the head'¦HARD.

Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel's most famous amp may go to 11, but these guys' amps start at 11 and go to ??? 'Olympos' begins with Lorvo's frenetic sax riffing crazy arpeggios over an 'Astronomy Domine' style bass & drums until the Gong strikes'¦then a simple ascending motif begins and the band riffs off that on the improv. It is clearly Lorvo who is showcased here, although MuÅ¡kinja and Narantxa have their manic moments. Just when you thought it seemed like going to die down, it comes back FULL FORCE like an unstoppable freight train. Imagine LPD on STP and a totally freaked out Niels van Hoorn and you get some idea of what's going on.

'G' begins with a single repeating note anchor of guitar and sax before Muškinja and Narantxa strike up a tight Wetton-Bruford era King Crimsoid rhythm while the guitar holds down the single repeating note and the sax riffs off it all. It gets better when Niko abandons the annoyingly repetitious note and lays down a fast Fripp-like guitar pattern which the sax plays off of. There are some moments of magic here, and when Niko's guitar takes off into the stratosphere things really heat up. Absolutely wild in its semi-controlled chaos.

I've described 'Terminus Est' before but that description isn't entirely accurate. Sure, comparisons could be made to King Crimson and John Zorn (and his various offshoots), but there are also elements of Philip Glass and Steve Reich in the repetitive riff cycles employed on this track. It has the power and fury of a herd enraged charging elephants, as the sax squealing often gives the impression of the trumpeting cry of wild beasts. 'The Abandoned World of Automata' slows it down for a calmer psychedelic atmosphere, with repetitive heavily verbed guitar arpeggios as the bass moves in melodic lines. Eventually the sax sneaks in for a bit of laconic Eastern noodling, which goes on for a good while. And that's the problem with this track. At the halfway point of this 14 and a half minute opus, the guitar switches to an ascending 8 note scale patterns before taking off into cosmic territory. I suppose they were trying to build up into it, but it just took too long to get there. It is something else though in terms of psychedelic improvisation when they finally arrive. This track could have been shorter by a third, maybe even half.

'Death Star Narcolepsy' is sheer, uncompromising manic freneticism with a Middle Eastern bent, and it's well over five minutes they keep it up before there's a break. When it does come, it turns into a mad dervish dance ending in the inevitable chaos that follows. Last track, 'Quetzalcoatl' is the shortest on the album but in a certain sense the most varied, and a definite melding of Zorn and Crimson on amphetamines. Yikes!

I'm kind of ambivalent about 'Future Retro Spasm'; what Seven That Spells lacks in finesse they try and make up for in exuberance. It's that lack of finesse that bothers me though, as it seems that control (and structured songwriting) isn't this band's strong suit and the music often comes across as heavy handed, with little in the way of subtlety. As far as the improvisation goes, there are many passages of absolute brilliance, and incredible musicianship, and if that's ultimately what you're looking for, you just may find it on 'Future Retro Spasm'.
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anymore
Artist: INTELLIGENCE DEPT.
Title: Sleeping City
Format: CD
Label: Anna Logue Records (@)
Distributor: Mannequin
Rated: *****
Formed in 1982 in Ferrara, Italy, Intelligence Dept released only two demos ("Sleeping city" 1984 and "The big trouble" 1985) and participated in 1984 to an LP compilation titled "A white chance", along with Go Flamingo! (I still dig a lot their song "Come closer") and Plastic Trash. Intelligence Dept included three tracks picked up from their first demo: "Anger", "Too late to love" and "Sleeping city". One of the main characteristics of their music was to mix a bouncing wave bass guitar, synth pads and leads, drum machine beats, sax solos and the female voice of Susanna Zaghi. No guitars involved. Their choice to use instruments producing low/mid frequencies affected their sound making it sound smooth and sometimes sensual, Deeply influenced by new wave and with a good dose of pop melodies (I don't know why but listening to their tracks I thought about Altered Images, even if the latter were so pop) The four original tracks of their first demo (the fifth was a nice version of Psychedelic Furs' "Sister Europe", track that originally already a sax solo line which fit really well the band's sound) are capable to show a band in balance from sunny pop wave with dancey attitude (like the main track) to synth wave upbeat tempos with mysterious atmospheres (like "Anger). Their second demo tape showed a band that changed a bit their sound, shifting toward a kind of electro wave that sometimes recalls me of Propaganda (like on "Chains" and "Where are you"). Intelligence Dept played live mostly on their region if I'm not wrong and here (on the CD) you can check four live tracks recorded live in 1985 from the mixing board at the Arena Nuovo, Ferrara. Along with "Too late to love" and "Sleeping city" you can check two unreleased songs, "Nine faces" (an atmospheric mid tempo) and "Black widow" (an upbeat synth wave song with funk bass lines). These are nice songs for fans but I'd stick more on their first demo which is really deserving a proper distribution, even 27 years later. Thanks to Anna Logue Records and to Mannequin, now this is possible and you can choose the format that fits you best from CD and vinyl.
Jan 31 2011
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anymore
Artist: TESLA BOY
Title: Rebecca
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Mullet Records (@)
Distributor: Juno Download
Rated: *****
Take a pinch of a ballad, a good spoonful of dance funk rhythm and then mix with a sensual vocal and you'll have "Rebecca" by Tesla Boy. The new remix EP released by Mullet Records is celebrating this great track with a radio edit and three new remixes. The first remix is by Satin Jackets and it's a surprise, because they enhanced the sensual atmospheres by turning it into a dance mid tempo with strings pad, atmospheric piano chords and fat funk synth bass lines. The result is so good that Justin, Mullet Records' boss, decided to include also the instrumental version. Solila, instead, beats hard with a 4/4 tempo, increasing the beats per minute and alternating synth bells, arpeggios, pads and catchy lead melodies. Estate did a bold enterprise by changing the vocal melodies, you know, "Rebecca" has a catchy vocal passage with a pitch down melody and Estate removed it and decided to bet on its dance quality with bouncing rhythms, synth chords and funk bass lines. They did a great job but I still miss that passage... Great tune and good remixes, so check this out!
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