Music Reviews



Angel-Ho: Death Becomes Her

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Feb 27 2019
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Artist: Angel-Ho
Title: Death Becomes Her
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Hyperdub
Angel-Ho regards this as her ‘proper’ debut, after a limited edition 2017 LP on the NON label she co-founded. Now supported by Hyperdub, it’s a 14-track pack of short tracks, mostly 3 minutes, for which Hyperdub is a natural home.

Instrumentally, it’s really strong. “Drama” is a prime example of the thick, grime-subbass-heavy blend of broken beats, ragga-ish rhythms and electronic tweakery that Hyperdub have a world-beating track record in, and last track “Parachute” is a strong example of a more experimental, glitchy twist on that form, done well. This also translates well into poppier landscapes like the catchy “Like A Girl”, which would have great radio potential if it weren’t for the lyrics.

And it’s the lyrics where the problems lie. Despite the fresh prospect of transposing the themes in the context of a trans identity, it’s a missed opportunity that gives us the usual unstretched vocabulary of self-aggrandisement, sex talk, trash talk, and endless ‘shit’s and ‘bitch’es that continues to be grime music’s biggest turn-off.

The strangely glam rock costume on the cover, by the way, is a complete mis-sell and if you’re expecting some sort of Showaddywaddy tribute act here, think *very* differently...

The edgier, more experimental stuff like off-the-wall “Good Friday Daddy” and the more cinematic moments like “Destify” are certainly worth checking out, but it’s a little lacking in coherence, and if there were an instrumental version, I’d rather listen to that.

Munchies On Flowers: Munchies On Flowers

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Feb 20 2019
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Artist: Munchies On Flowers
Title: Munchies On Flowers
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Switch Music Recordings
Riccardo Gorone’s solo project, named after voiceover heard in a BBC documentary about flowers, claims to see musical genres as flowers that it flits between impulsively. At its core it’s electronica, mostly downtempo atmospheric and thoughtful, a collection of seven pieces that sometimes border on the playful but which, within each track, adopt a fairly serious and focussed attitude. It’s in the unique details adopted in individual tracks, like the harmonica on “Azazel Boogie” or the spoken word snippets on “Camouflage” that the experimental aspect is nested.

The mellow soft near-ambient pads of opener “Cantatrice Chauve” find themselves, halfway through the track, suddenly cut through by odd discordant lo-fi sawtooth wave noises, before second track “Encore Aujourd'hui” really exemplifies the album’s tone, with complex but light-footed rhythm patterns that constantly chug and shift in parallel with strange and awkward-sounding atmospheric chords and sci-fi noises.

The low rumbles and steady midday techno of “White Rabbit Of Calypso” are a highlight, a slow and steady nine-minute build of electronic bubbling and clicks that seems to recall the best of dubby underground early 90’s trance aesthetics. This runs nicely into the final track “Ocean In One Drop” which is a touch more 8-bit but in the same ballpark.

It’s mostly coherent, and an interesting exercise in electronica which understands that less can sometimes be more. Not every experiment is a winner but over the course of 45 minutes it draws you in to a small-sounding but curiously detailed little world of electronic sonics.
Feb 19 2019
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Powder In Space
Format: CD + Download
Label: Beats In Space
It’s unusual to get sent DJ-mixed compilation albums here. Focussing on art music, experimental sound and the more thoughtful and esoteric sides of noise normally means a purist approach to the integrity of the work, so an 18-track mix of different artist’s work blended together into one 74-minute mix is something of a novelty. But, like some of the best mixed compilation albums of the past, the result, compiled by Momoko Goto a.k.a. Powder, is a utterly coherent sonic journey that definitely stands up as a worthy piece of art in its own right.

Predominantly this is feather-light electronic house music, that borders variously on chill-out, semi-ambient and lounge but carefully so, and without ever delving into corny territory.

The opening tracks are especially mellow, bordering on full ambient, with elements that bring back strong and pleasant memories of the 90’s, both in tone and sonic quality. This is bookended well with the latter sections too, with the smooth leisurely hum of Lord Of The Isles’ “Your Smile” taking it down multiple notches, before a quite 80’s-ish finale in Cos/Mes’s “Forever”.

Inbetween those points, once it gets going, the remix of Daphne’s “When You Love Someone” epitomises the sunkissed dancing-on-the-beach vibe that dominates the central section. Vedagor’s “Untitled II” utilises the ubiquitous and overused ‘deep spoken word vocal talking about house music’ technique for engagement, a perhaps slightly unwelcome narrative interruption to what’s mostly a very smooth instrumental journey. A sense of bright optimism pervades, with Powder’s own track “Gift” and Vertigo Inc’s “The Water Margin” exuding unashamed feel-good vibes.

There are slightly quirkier moments here too, but nothing to shake you off your stride. Tiago’s “Roy Brooks” works around an infectious jazz loop. K-Line’s “Saxopetu” is a squelchy number with a bouncy acid bassline and a keyboard-choir-sound melody that borders on daft, with Jules Etienne’s “Cuban Omelette” is not as silly as its title suggests, with its decidedly retro light techno vibe.

It’s pitched in high artistic terms as an exploration of “the properties of time” and “genre, movement, schedule, and societal convention to rebel”, and while I’m not wholly convinced that its credentials would hold up to excessive scholarly scrutiny, nevertheless the bottom line is that this is a great mix. Relaxing, detailed, well-pitched and positive, it’s a release I’ll be returning to for pleasure for sure.
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Artist: Marlon Hoffstadt
Title: Simple Communication
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Midnight Themes
Marlon Hoffstadt continues to be prolific, with this sixth release in the Midnight Themes series coming fairly hot on the heels of the previous ones. It’s a reliable and steady output that’s also predictable, for better or worse- in this case, perhaps the better, as it’s a trustworthy three-pack of semi-deep house that you can rely on not to surprise you.

There are shades of acid at times, strongly reminiscent of old Josh Wink tracks, including one that adds an extra element into the second half of “Take A Moment” which serves as a good substitute for any other musical progression that’s lacking. Second A-side track “Action And Reaction” is a shade harder, with tougher kicks and assured use of effects to bounce simple synth pads around. For people of a certain age the title “Simple Communication” can’t help but scan with the near-identical metre as Slam’s “Positive Education”, a release that these tracks aren’t completely unlike, save for the iconic vocal of course.

The B-side is devoted to “Open Focus” which gives us the best of both worlds, an 11-minute journey that certainly pays tribute to the softer side of classic acid house with its steady claps and slowly unpeeling 303 noises, but which reminds us that these are elements of dance music that somehow never end up sounding old, or which nostalgia will never let us recognise as old. The eleven minute voyage is very expertly mapped out to keep things interesting with a fairly minimal set of ingredients.

Another ‘safe pair of hands’ release from an artist whose fairly frequent appearances in my inbox are always welcome.
Feb 13 2019
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Artist: Saba Alizadeh
Title: Scattered Memories
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Karlrecords
Iranian Saba Alizadeh’s debut album is largely built around his work as a player of the kamancheh, or ‘spike fiddle’, and on first introduction appears that it is going to be a fairly traditional work, drawing heavily on his country’s rich musical culture. But this is also a broader and more ambitious work as well, with the well-travelled Alizadeh obviously influenced by a wide variety of more experimental electro-acoustic works and soft-touch electronics as well, resulting in something that’s a genuine fusion of traditional and brand new sounds.

Sometimes it’s more of the former, with pieces like “Scattered Drops” drawing on the mesmeric patterning and near-cliché, sitar-style string sounds to build a slowly shifting pattern, that’s explored in reasonable length and only book-ended by more abstract sounds at either end. Last track “Fluid” has an expansive, languid feel to it, evocative of hot open plains and emptiness.

On the other hand, pieces like “Ladan Dead End” are handled very differently, with the acoustic instrumentation clearly a starting point, but on tracks which have clearly travelled a long way in production terms, with thick blankets of atmospheres, pads, reverbs, electronic clicks and post sounds that do, at times, bring to mind some Future Sound Of London works- slightly alien-sounding, barren and flute-infused opener “Blood City” being a case in point.

It’s a respectful and thickly textured blend of old and new instrumentation that draws on some sources that could sound stereotypical, yet successfully sounds fresh and newsworthy, traversing a path that carefully avoids the various traps of novelty and cultural appropriation to bring you something that you’ll certainly enjoy if you’re interested in hearing modern Eastern sounds.


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