Music Reviews



VV.AA.: Bleeps, Beats & Bass 2

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Apr 12 2019
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Bleeps, Beats & Bass 2
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Basserk
The second in the compilation series from constantly reliable Amsterdam label Basserk is another rich pack of almost-entirely-instrumental house, electro and danceable techno that stays just on the right side of wonky and looks out across the view.

There’s an intriguing music-as-product concept behind it, with QR codes linking to every track, meaning for example that you’ll be able to buy your favourite track as a sweatshirt. I can’t vouch for the quality of the shirt manufacture of course, but big chunks of this are serious dancing music, so a lighter, more breathable T-shirt may be required as well...

Musically, it’s a pack with no filler, stacked with potential DJ weapons. There’s the infectious bounce of Sjamsjoedin’s “Corners”, the bright alt-disco clapping of Heart Space’s “Move Aside”, or the breathy, semi-glitched groove of highly-regarded LHISPR’s little track “Closer” that bypasses your higher thought patterns and makes you dance like a robot.

It’s bookended by “Passw123” by Full Monty at one end and “Modderpoel” by Maanwagen at the other, both breezy stepping grooves reminiscent of Luke Vibert tracks, that cheekily imply they’re about to break out into full-verse rap tracks but never do. The former is a definite highlight that’s earned its pole position on the compilation, that one’s getting repeat plays here for sure.

There are also broodier and more introspective pieces for headphone-centric listening. Xyloglotte’s “McKlatchey”- a track you’ll never be able to verbally ask Siri or Alexa to play- rumbles with a gentle kick-led broken beat under counterplaying layers of squeaky synths, while Radio Parkplatz’s “Wormshop” brings a bit of urgency through relentless synth bass notes and gliding siren-like arpeggios that slightly recall a Juhl Krøse track or two.

HuSo’s “Tome” is one of those 150bpm-ish tracks with dubbier, half-speed top layers where your body can be shuffling frantically to the slightly jungle-ish beats at 150 while your head chills out at 75.

Kraz’s “Shelter” stands out, not solely for the fact it has a full sung verse-and-chorus vocal on it- with a gravelly, Jan Burton, Rob Dougan-ish affair over a slow beat and synths that seem to want to be guitars, it definitely draws the attention. Baptist’s “Nothing Left” leading into Tholyson’s “Fou Amoureux”- the latter with an extremely OMD-ish synth lead line- form ‘the synthwave section’ towards the tail of the release.

It’s hard to argue with the title of this release. High-quality bleeps, variety in the beats and a tastebud-wetting variety of squelchy bass sounds are on offer. It’s a strong pack with just the right amount of twist.

Pang: Pang

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Apr 05 2019
cover
Artist: Pang
Title: Pang
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: oqko
With an artist name and title “Pang” and track names that range from “Pang Pang” to “Pang Pang Pang” to “Pang Pang Pang Pang” to “Pang Pang Pang Pang Pang” to “Pang Pang Pang Pang Pang Pang” to “Pang Pang Pang Pang Pang Pang Pang”, this is a release that could be a music writer’s nightmare or their dream depending on whether they are worried about clarity, and whether they’re getting paid by the word- which I’m not, so here we go…

It’s a title and a singular branding that, to me showing my age, brings to mind “Poing” by Rotterdam Termination Source- and with it, ideas of hard-edged, brutally rough-edged bouncy techno. But what you get is much more ornate and detailed electronica than that- a small but well-formed and naunced half-hour package of glitchy instrumental smart-electronica built from familiar synthetic elements arranged with above-average complexity. Rhythms impart urgently but in broken, keep-you-on-your-toes fashion as if defying you to dance, ready to catch you by surprise at any moment.

It’s got industrial attitude infused into its mix for sure, with the third track a prime example of it. Track 4 does exhibit more of that raw techno brutality I was initially expecting, driven by a heavily distorted and hard-to-predict kick sound that’s more than a little bit Aphex Twin-ish.

The second track is an example of where it all goes a little bit more grime-infused, and it doesn’t stretch the imagination too much to picture a grime rapper- one of the more eloquent and light-toed ones- leaping onto this as a background for some dark narrative. Final track “Pang Pang Pang Pang Pang Pang Pang” opens as though it will be the album’s mellow, thoughtful finale before breaking into the album’s most aggressive and difficult moments, ending with a bang (or a ‘pang’) rather than a gentle whimper.

Nicely packaged, short and sweet, this is thoughtful electronica that ends up being slightly under-sold by the brash and tongue-in-cheek branding.

Kalabrese: Let Me Be Your Princess

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Apr 02 2019
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Artist: Kalabrese
Title: Let Me Be Your Princess
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Zukunft Recordings
Zurich-based veteran producer Kalabrese is back with another assured three-track EP taking a fairly familiar but reliable formula. Essentially deep house structures, grooves stripped down and laid out with a confident flatness, are decorated with somewhat indie-ish male vocals (that put me in mind of Chris Rea for some reason), and some squelchy acid bleeps for decoration.

First track “Let Me Be Your Princess” is a steady complete journey that in one way seems to throw back to the classic early days of the extended mix, knowing full well that the right groove and very gradual change is sometimes all you need. With a gender-relaxed lyric which I’m fairly sure is saying “let me be your Santa” quite a lot, I guess it could also qualify as a Christmas record…?

“Dance Yourself Clean” ups the indie flavour, still maintaining the groove but in a more definite song structure with more of a live funk feel, and while the same elements are all still there in similar measure, somehow the result feels more dated. Both this and final track “Ligestuetz”, which foregrounds Lara Stoll’s spoken German tones, wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a mid-noughties ‘indie rocks’ compilation alongside Soulwax or DFA.

The title track is certainly the standout but it’s a confident and fairly satisfying release that falls quite far into the old “dance music for indie kids that don’t like dance music” territory.

Randall Dunn: Beloved

 Posted by Marc Urselli   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Mar 29 2019
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Artist: Randall Dunn
Title: Beloved
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Figure Eight (@)
Rated: *****

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Randall Dunn is a fantastic producer, best known for his work with Sunn O))), Anna Von Hausswolf, Tim Hecker and many others. This is his debut as a solo artist and, as you can imagine, it comes loaded with years of his experience as a producer and as a connoisseur of all things analog and all things synth. Reading the credits of the album is like reading the history of analog synthesis (PPG Wave, Minimoog, Elka, Arp QUadra, Juno 60, Ems Synthi 100, OB8, OBX, Buchla, Roland system 700 etc), something Randall went looking for, exploring and recording all over the world, like in the South Tirol area of Italy bordering with Austria, in El Paso Texas and Brooklyn New York, where Randall lives and where his record label Figure Eight has the Figure8 recording studio owned and operated by label founder Shahzad Ismaily (who also played some bass on this record).

The seven cuts on the vinyl are dark and atmospheric, droney and melodic, melancholic and anguished, perfect for fans of Vangelis and Johann Johannsson. I can't help to think that it also reminds me (especially tracks like "Mexico City") of the latest BladeRunner soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch (which coincidentally was initially going to be done by Johannsson, and that Dunn was working on himself).

Some of my favorite cuts are the ones where organic old school synths are joined in by acoustic instruments, such as cello and bass clarinet (like in the fantastic "Lava Rock & Amber", where Jeremiah Cymerman plays the reeds and Will Smith plays the cello), although such pairings of instruments happen on almost every one of the songs on the record. There are almost no beats in the whole record, except for a subtle electronic heart beat in "Something About That Night" (which also features vocals by Frank Fisher of Algiers) and a pulsating EMU Emulator pattern in "A True Home" (featuring guests vocalist Zola Jesus). Other notable players are Eyvind Kang on viola, John McCowen on contrabass clarinet, Justin Morris on flanger boss, Ulfur Hansson on guitar and Buchla and Timm Mason on various synths.

Although you can listen to this record on Bandcamp, I would highly recommend getting the 180 gram vinyl album, which, other than obviously sounding better than digital, also features photography by Lauren Rodriguez and Una Blue, cover art work design by Stephen O'Malley of Sunn O))) and a zen poem by Gesshu Soko which he wrote close to death and became the lyrics that Frank Fisher sings.

Ben Chatwin: Altered Signals

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Mar 29 2019
cover
Artist: Ben Chatwin
Title: Altered Signals
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Village Green Recordings
After last year’s excellent original album “Stoccato Signals” and its companion/rework “Drone Signals”, the release of remix album “Altered Signals” could be accused of over-milking the source material. Such suggestions are quickly put to bed once you start listening though, because far from squeezing the last life from the ideas, this is an example of remix compilations at their best- taking excellent source material, sharing it around carefully selected and like-minded individuals who breathe new ideas into it, and curating it into 49 minutes of supremely high quality cinematic electronica.

Sevendeaths’ remix of “Castle” opens proceedings and gives shades of synthwave which are perhaps a slight mis-sell to an album which goes deeper and more atmospheric and doesn’t maintain the retro synth sound.

Visionist’s remix of “Fossils” or From The Mouth Of The Sun’s “Substrates” exemplify the album better- bringing the acoustic string and piano elements more to the fore in looser, more laidback environments that wear their hearts on their sleeves. The electronic elements are frequently just decorative icing, but worked sympathetically in.

Ital Tek’s take on “Silver Pit” is absolutely esquisite, revelling in Chatwin’s string sounds and playing them confidently alongside a piercing and dominating synth bass for a layout that’s unorthodox but captivating. Steve Hauschildt’s version of “Helix” with its rubbery speed shifting squeaks, and Konx-om-Pax’s “Claws” with its slow dubby synth stabs, are both a little reminiscent of some of the Orb’s more recent and more overtly digital work. The latter also gradually brings in an acid 303 pattern which is an inexplicable direct line to happiness for people with fond memories of early 90’s proper trance- people who’ll probably respond well to the perkier sounds of the Vessels version of “Hound Point”.

Pye Corner Audio’s remix of “Knots” feels like it may have been pushed to the back of the pile as it stands out slightly, with a synth-electro make-up and heavier kick that’s very strong, but feels like it’s the beginning of a different style of remix album.

Apart from the last track though, the sonic quality is generally so consistent- and so consistently high- that you could readily believe this was an artist album, all creatively drawn from the same source, and for the genre in question that’s a compliment.

Ben Chatwin’s managed to generate three high-quality albums for the price of one here, in a manner of speaking. It’s another mesmerising release that deserves broad attention.


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