Music Reviews



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Artist: John Zorn
Title: In Search of the Miraculous
Format: CD
Label: Tzadik
Distributor: Tzadik, Amazon, iTunes
Rated: *****
First off, I'm going to avoid the good/bad or thumbs up/down review format here. After spinning even the first few minutes of this disc, I immediately sense the departed sound that Zorn is working towards. This is not Naked City or yet another sax freakout. But by way of hypnotic rhythms, dramatic and sublime harmonies and lovely jazz textures, Zorn pulls a beautiful white dove out of a hat here. Or maybe it's a blue flamingo.

'In Search of the Miraculous' falls somewhere inside the realm of jazz and minimalist contemporary classical music. Performed by the Alhambra Trio with special guests Kenny Wolleen on vibes and Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz on bass, Zorn takes credit for composing, arranging, and conducting. The tunes are memorable and nigh catchy at times, not unlike a Vince Guaraldi tune, but with Reich inspired rhythms (!). Hymn for a New Millenium sounds optimistic and the melodies in Postlude: Prayers and Enchantment are almost hummable. Zorn, hummable? Why not?

One thing is for certain about Zorn and I think this is relevant to understanding this release. Zorn is an artist who can't be easily pegged because (as it would seem) even he doesn't know what his next few moves will be. Its like he wants to undermine even himself. So, to bring your Zorn-brand luggage to this musical occasion may not actually be beneficial as approaching it without any expectations.

And with such unpredictability, even Zorn's biggest fans have albums they deplore. While this may seem like an artistic shortcoming to some folks, i see this as a sign of artistic awareness - perhaps moreso on the part of the composer than with the listeners. After so many years on the downtown music circuit, he's done it all. So it's great to see an artist who continues to break his own mold time and again. That said, this is one album to just throw on, kick back and enjoy the musicianship.

I hear it often that Zorn is becoming more listener friendly, perhaps appealing to a larger crowd, albeit unintentionally. I can imagine folks - the diehard Zorn heads - are not going to find this one up their alley. Especially considering that at the end of the day and away from the program notes here, the music on 'In Search of the Miraculous' is far from mysterious as the label tagline states. But that said, it's as bright and promising as the horizon Zorn is dawning for new music as a whole. Recommended to the more daring and openminded Zorn listeners out there as well as any newcomers who are interested in joining the party.
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Artist: Tribal Machine (@)
Title: The Orwellian Night
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Distributor: Amazon
Rated: *****
Here I am with a brand new batch of CDs to review and first up is Tribal Machine from Victoria, British Columbia (Canada, for those who really suck at geography) with their new album 'The Orwellian Night'. I will give these guys extra credit for including an elaborate presskit even before reviewing the album. Like many artists I whose albums I get to review, I never heard of these guys before now. 'The Orwellian Night' is their 3rd album, and a concept album at that. As you may have guessed from the title, inspired by George Orwell's '1984' ' a dystopian future kind of thing, but instead of an Oligarchy, it's an oppressive Corporatocracy. Sound familiar? Yep, we're already heading in that direction.

The main man behind the music is Sever Bonny (vocals, keys, additional guitar), with support by Brian Hartlen (lead guitar); Brad Wutke (bass); Dustin Fleming (drums) and Paul Abrahamse (guitar intro on one song). Also, Sever tells us that Aslan (ex-Birthday Massacre bass player) has recently joined Tribal Machine. The album was mastered by Tom Baker whose credential include Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson'¦nice if you can afford it'¦guess that's why the sound quality is so good. But what about the music?

'The Orwellian Night' sounds like a hybrid of progressive and industrial rock, an interesting concept in itself that you don't hear a lot of groups attempting to this degree. Mr. Bonny's highly stylized and often theatrical vocals aren't what you'd expect from industrial rock but aren't far afield from progressive art-rock. It may take some getting used to, but overall is fairly rewarding. The music is an amalgam of many influences, both prog and industrial and to dissect them would be a disservice to Tribal Machine; although citing certain elements might be helpful to give an idea of what you can expect.

Before I do that though, I should say that I believe concept albums are terribly difficult to pull off from any kind of commercial standpoint. For every successful one, there are ten or more failures. Even the big names aren't immune (to wit, Nine Inch Nails' YEAR ZERO; Godley & Crème's CONSEQUENCES; Meatloaf's BAT OUT OF HELL II & III; Pete Townsend's IRON MAN and PSYCHODERELICT; ALICE COOPER GOES TO HELL, etc.). Concept albums that have been successful over the years like Pink Floyd's THE WALL and DARK SIDE OF THE MOON; The Who's TOMMY and QUADROPHENIA; Jethro Tull's THICK AS A BRICK; THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL by Nine Inch Nails; LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY by Genesis; Meatloaf's BAT OUT OF HELL; Green Day's AMERICAN IDIOT, Bowie's ZIGGY STARDUST among numerous others have had at least one great song on them (that commercial hit), and in some cases, more than one. Still, in order to make the 'concept' work, by necessity there have to be songs that are more important to maintaining the theme than contrived commercial 'hits'. Striking a balance is the tricky part; you don't want to end up with a 'Mr Roboto' on your hands.

If anything, 'The Orwellian Night' definitely has its memorable parts while remaining faithful to its theme. There is 'The Infiltrator,' with its alternately frenetic, then measured pacing, distinctive vocal line and lyrics, and chaotic industrial interludes; The Arrest' with its 60's garage-rock meets Flying Lizards verses and contrasting Gary Numanesque chorus; the buzzer-beat beginning and woozy-bluesy fatalism of 'Across the Land' with its salient chorus; the beat-heavy 'Eye Spy' and appropriately manic and demented vocals; the from a whispery ballad to bombastic lunacy of 'Mr. Corporation,' ever so much like Roger Waters; the NIN-like power riff and bassline of 'Indoctrination'; 'Burn' ' with a galloping pace reminiscent of early Genesis; the poignant sadness and drama of 'The Factory,' and the Eastern tinged instrumental 'The Journey'.

This is an album that takes time to get into. You may not even like it at first. (It took me about five listenings to really appreciate it.) While I don't hear any big hits (probably not what Tribal Machine intended anyway), and there are some things on it I still don't care for, there is enough good material on 'The Orwellian Night' to make it worth checking out. The lyrics seem a bit awkward in spots, a few songs lack some pizzazz, but overall this is a pretty good album. Only the music buying public can determine whether this album will be an underground classic or fade into obscurity. For Tribal Machine's sake, I hope it is the former rather than the later, as adventurous albums like this don't come along all that often.
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Artist: Transparent Illusion
Title: Still Human
Format: CD
Label: Anna Logue Records (@)
Rated: *****
This release reissues a collector gem which took to Jochen Lange, more than two years of hard researches to be able to track down the mysterious Roy Young. This guy, one day in 1980 entered the Octopus Studios with a Korg MS10 monophonic synth and a drum machine to give form to his visions about those times: Margaret Thatcher and police repression were the main influences and the big brother didn't wait 1984 to be alive and kicking. Guy, helped by studio's engineer Dave Hoser, recorded twelve tracks that he released on an album (and two of them also on a following 7") for his own label Vex Records. Few copies circulated and after that Transparent Illusion and STILL HUMAN became almost a legend. Anna Logue Records proudly reissue those recordings adding two demo versions of "Concepts" and "Vortex" and people can choose from CD format and clear, black or orange vinyl (this edition along with the sticker and the postcard has also a DIN A2 poster). Now, that we can listen to the music we can tell if this was really a gem and I can say that... yes it is. On Roy's songs you can hear the passion and the disillusion of a young guy who, inspired by punk and by the first electronic bands (sometimes I hear echoes of Tubeway Army/Gary Numan), decided to record those songs even if he could use only a synth and a drum machine. I don't know if that was a stylistic choice but I doubt that. Using Dave Hoser studio skills into multi track recording and into synth programming (MS10 as far as I know has no midi), Transparent Illusion delivered to history minimal electronic pop songs which sound nervous and futuristic, where a young guy sung lyrics like: "Someone stood behind me / I could feel their mind inside me / They are always searching / They love to see me burning".
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Scontrum Act IX
Format: CD
Label: War Office Propaganda (@)
Rated: *****
SCONTRUM ACT IX will be the last release of this series and it will be the last War Office Propaganda release also. The ninth chapter, as usual, sees three bands contributing with three exclusive tracks and this time we have Eldar (from Spain they have released different albums which have already been reissued and lately they did an album for Cold Meat Industry), Liyr (from France they have recently released on Rage In Eden their debut album which I have already reviewed) and Der Arbeiter (also from Spain, they just released their second album on Ur Muzik and you can find the review here on CHAIN D.L.K.). Eldar's tracks are in balance from ritual atmospheres and martial industrial sounds and are quite convincing. Liyr, following the style you can find on their album "Fragments of dust", bring in three bombastic neo classical tunes which sound dramatic and passionate. Der Arbeiter is a multifaceted project so, following the same path, present different styles: electronic wave with post punk rhythms, militaristic marches with ambient inserts and a martial/orchestral cover of Amon Duul's "Deutsch nepal". I can't say if this is the best chapter of the lot but for sure is a nice one.
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Artist: Quartersized
Title: Bingowings
Format: CD EP
Label: MOMT (@)
Rated: *****
After questioning himself about politics in the previous EP, Ian, with his project Quartersized this time for his fifth release with a bit of irony take a serious problem like fat as theme, packing four tracks which thanks to sonic bass frequencies will destroy fat cells. Mixing the chants of Abelam of Papua Niugini with hip-hop beats on "Getto", covering Throbbing Gristle's "Discipline" making it turns into a dub upbeat tune, using vocals of an unknown preacher on the electronic closing "This earthly frame" and mixing acid bass lines with break beat drums and samples on the opening "Bingowings", Quartersized is playing with sounds and rhythms succeeding into sounding funny but credible at the same time. The release is available as CDr and digital download.
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