Music Reviews

Oct 15 2019
Artist: HXXS
Title: Year Of The Witch
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Captured Tracks
Recording “Year Of The Witch” was something of an adventure for the duo of Jeannie Colleene and Gavin Neves, who initially recorded it whilst living out of a van whilst on tour, having that hard drive stolen and having to re-record it from memory against the clock.

Perhaps that process helped them in trimming the fat off and offering up an 11-pack of tight, dense three-minute helpings of angry anti-pop built from semi-complex electronic rhythm patterns, sharp and sometimes discordant guitar stabbing, some esoteric acoustic loops, vocals that rapidly tip over from singing into shouting and lyrics oozing dissatisfaction with modern society and politics.

Highlights include “Double Down” with its distinctive assembly of a kind of industrial glam rock, and “Their Satanic Majesty’s 3rd Request” featuring Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio adding a strangely Neil Hannon flavour vocally. “Full Health” is an eye-opening hybrid of gutpunching proto-techno drum production played against the angry indie-guitar side of things, while bouncy “Build A Fire” ends the album with a shade of fun.

At times I can’t make out the lyrics, but otherwise I’d call the production polished, playful and inventive. As it often the case in bands like this, the intros and outros of the songs exhibit some of the most experimental work, like the curious anticipation that opens “Hail Mary”. A deliberate weediness at times might get some tracks labelled as lo-fi, but that wouldn’t be entirely fair.

There’s a beat poetry meets theatrical performance aspect to tracks like “This Loss Of Blood Has Me Feeling Some Type Of Way” which would undoubtedly be powerful live. The reliance on repeating lyrics into mantras is often powerful, but not always- “Hard To Tell” feels like a bit of a mis-fire.

It’s strong independent electro-anti-pop with a strong voice, and if you enjoy hearing frustrations vented over enjoyably awkward sounds, this is a half hour worth checking out.

Flaub: Stratocode From Nowhere

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Oct 11 2019
Artist: Flaub
Title: Stratocode From Nowhere
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Electronic experimentalist Flaub is internationally well-travelled, taking his one-man analogue sound performances all over the world. “Stratosphere From Nowhere” is an album that has something of a live improvised feel about it at times, recalling some of Tangerine Dream’s more freeform live work but with more impulsiveness and less structure.

Layers of squeaks, bleeps, sine waves, pulses and crisp-edged rumbles ebb and fade, painting textured landscapes- sometimes quite thick, like in the opening title track, or sometimes sparser, such as in the gradual builds of “Ignis Fatuus”. There are strong shades of retro analogue tone that recalls 60’s avantgarde or Radiophonic work- especially in the bubbly and squelchy “Warbling Static”, which breaks into multiple chapters like a sci-fi soundtrack suite. But to a lesser extent it also has that modern, sharp-edged arhythmic glitchy and digital tone at times.

The track that really held my attention was “Stationary waves”, thanks to a high level of dynamism, with the volume of the whole piece fading and rising, sometimes quite sharply, while the pulses also rise and fall- waves upon waves, sometimes tense, sometimes more relaxed, with added percussive echoes and low industrial tones to boot. It’s the track with the most character of the set.

It’s a strong piece of modular experimentation, and while it does feel like it revels in the past rather than pushing anything forward, it’s still a very worthwhile 40-minute listen for any lovers of dark freeform electronics.

Only Now: Captivity

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Oct 08 2019
Artist: Only Now
Title: Captivity
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: SOUK Records
For this five-track, 27-minute EP, Kush Arora as Only Now fuses together a variety of genres into an energetic statement of musical intent. There’s the sonics and techniques of EDM, most obviously the gutpunchers and subbasses that begin the album, and a familiar palette of drones, kicks and glitches. But into the mix also go synth and guitar melodic loops, ethnic-sounding percussion patterns, field recordings and other sources of diversity. It’s EDM in a fashion, but the structures are unpredictable, the breakdown sections are longer and darker, the distortion and rumbling is harder and more evil.

It’s a dynamic expression of frustration that catches you by surprise, such as in the sudden dropped beats in “Mutants” or the spontaneous switch in “Slaughter” from angry industrial beats to a long wistful bit of guitar plucking that you might think of as a break, but which you gradually realise is a permanent change. Underlying grooves in tracks like “Bound 2” offer up a semblance of structure that’s nicely spread across the mini-album, and final track “Clock Lust” is an atmospheric ambient offering that takes the approach in a slightly different direction.

Pulling mellower sounds against distorted rhythms is not exactly a new trick, but there’s a vigour to the way this is assembled that gives this real merit. If you like your EDM seriously dark and introspective, this is sure to appeal.

Franz Kirmann: Madrapour

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Oct 02 2019
Artist: Franz Kirmann
Title: Madrapour
Format: Tape
Label: Bytes
After getting tied up with soundtrack work alongside his music partner Tom Hodge and other collaborators, Franz Kirmann describes himself as having had writers’ block, unsure which direction to go in for his solo works. He broke out of his computer- and soundbank-centric funk by buying himself a modular system, the Make Noise Shared System, and training himself on it whilst experimenting. “Madrapour” is the result, but rather than sounding like a man experimenting with new instruments, it comes across as confident and assured.

It’s an eleven-pack of gentle instrumental electronica with soft rhythms and a fairly cinematic vision. Acoustic-sounding percussion elements generally keep a steady sense of time, while melodic pads and drones gently roll and fall above. Tenser pulses and grumbles in tracks like “A Vision” contrast with lighter and more laidback tracks like the playful counter-rhythms of “Angled”, or the soft ambient “Battersea” (reminiscent of some of The Orb’s more recent minimal Kompakt offerings, not least because of the Battersea connection). “Rave Ikon”, whilst misleadingly titled, is a strong example of the glitchier elements at play, while “Mysted” is a more lackadaisical bit of melodic meandering.

Highlights include the nicely unfolding and oddly signatured “Salem”, which at different times sounds vaguely trip-hoppy but then strongly Tangerine Dream-esque. “Slow Snow” has gentle shades of synthwave about it. The sporadic and emotive plucked sounds in “Distant” are engagingly expressive.

Coming across as a soundtrack to a non-existent experimental film, this is an interesting series of cinematic soundscaping and noodling that isn’t imbued with a strong sense of direction, yet is pleasantly consistent. Brooding electronica for the win.

VV.AA.: Filigran X

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Sep 30 2019
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Filigran X
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Filigran
“X” is a compilation to mark Filigran’s tenth anniversary as a label, offering up twelve new tracks from the label’s artist roster and reasonably well representing the label’s fairly open-minded approach to mostly-instrumental electronica, house, and the lighter side of techno and music for dancing.

4/4 beats are the order of the day, naturally. Diaspora Unit’s groove “Apollo” epitomises the steady groove, a bouncy electro bass running cheerily under bleepy arpeggios in an assured and feel-good manner. Highlights include the bright, filtered deep house of “Composure” from Lionne, which feels reliable and just the right amount of 90’s retro flavour, mainly thanks to the catchy “I wrote to you a Dear John letter” vocal sample that feels like it might get heard on dancefloors a fair bit.

Sonic diversity comes in the form of more curious tracks like “Acid Lee Hooker” from Mara, a truly atmospheric bit of cinematic Americana revolving around endearing guitar which transforms in front of your eyes, the drum sounds gradually structuring and layering up, adding Gene Krupa style more urgent rhythms until it’s almost entirely changed tone. A definite highlight. The quirky clockwork groove and thick vocal pad sounds of Oaks’ “Astera” and a juxtaposition of pulse-driven rhythm and jazzy keys in Philipp Stoya’s “Nastifui” are also notable.

However, some tracks are maybe a little lacking in energy for their own good. Filterwolf’s “Flash” feels like library or underscore music, on the borderline between chilled out and just a little lazy, while Mellowfelx’s “Goias” does at one point start sounding like deep house by numbers. Pixel82’s “Untitled Love” feels a bit flat structurally, but is rescued by some delicious synth and brass stab sounds.

It’s a strong compilation that sets out Filigran’s stall very nicely, and offers up over an hour’s worth of subdued and interesting beats.

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