Music Reviews

Severe Illusion: Infidelity To Ritual

 Posted by Marc Tater (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Industrial Noise / Power Noise / Harsh Noise
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Jun 29 2010
Artist: Severe Illusion
Title: Infidelity To Ritual
Format: CD EP
Label: MedCon
Distributor: DSBP
Rated: *****
Sweden's well-known lo-fi-terrorists return with a new and strictly limited MCD (100 numbered exemplars), produced and released completely on their own, by their MedCon label. You'll get 5 new tracks plus an additional live recording of the new track 'With Regrets' from this duo, from which 'Lost' and the mentioned 'With Regrets' are seemingly the tunes, which shall help to invade the dancefloors again. Especially 'Lost' follows their self-produced tradition of classics like 'Human Rites' or 'Trust', although their new compositions offer some changes. They could invest a bit into a better fx-processing on Fredrik's vocal performance, their monstrous distortion effects on the vocals seem to be a relic of the past. As I was about to rate something similary on the music too, I finally had to realize, that SEVERE ILLUSION vary more in their kind of expression. It is still an attractive form of minimal constructed EBM bass lines, accompanied with dozens of noises and effect ' but all arranged in more matured kind. 'You've Been Lied To' with its steady SYNAPSCAPE-like drum patterns is a hot favorite and unites the best elements out of the both main world of the SEVERE ILLUSION sound-dimension, noise and minimal hook lines. A well-done return into their own manifested niche of pummeling old-school Electro/EBM, which they have left too long before.

Jun 26 2010
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Title: Baustelle
Format: CD
Label: Monika Enterprise
Born from an AGF/Gudrun Gut collaboration, the project Greie Gut Fraktion reflects exactly the mix of the music they produce respectively. Antye Greie is active as AGF the poetess and her music is a mix of electronic and poetry (what else...) and Gudrun Gut, after the Malaria! experience, her participation to early Einsturzende Neubauten and her actual experience as Monika Enterprise boss, three years ago produced her first solo album titled "I put a record on", where she was de-constructing and reassembling electronic, r'n'r and folk music. BAUSTELLE is focused on minimal electronic loops where rhythmical samples help building a solid background for tiny readings: the voice repeats phrases almost whispering them and sometimes singing them (like on "Make it work" or "Grossbrungebesitzer"). The result is in balance from industrial ("Whithe oak" could fit an Einsturzende Neubauten record) and electronic experimentation with some incursion into minimal techno. Noisy but on tiptoe...

Level 2.0: Armageddon

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jun 20 2010
Artist: Level 2.0 (@)
Title: Armageddon
Format: CD
Label: Nilaihah Records (@)
Rated: *****
Level 2.0 are a Long Island, New York EBM/electro-industrial band consisting of Mike Hoffman (vocals) and Matt Clennan (synth/programming). They've been around for about five years, released a couple of full albums and an EP, all of which I haven't heard. I would assume their latest, 'Armageddon,' is their best since it was strong enough for Nilaihah to release. I find myself feeling really ambivalent about this album. On the one hand, the programming is solid, the songs are mostly pretty good and the vocals are intelligible, which is often a rarity in this type of music. On the other hand, there seemed to be something lacking that I couldn't put my finger on at first but became clearer the more I listened to 'Armageddon'. To begin with, Hoffman isn't that strong of a vocalist; for the most part, the quality of his voice just doesn't seem to measure up to the drama and power of the material overall. There are moments, but I'm not hearing enough of them.

The most noticeable evidence of this is on the choruses. Hoffman's snakey voice works fine for the verses, but is not enough to push the payoff of the choruses on a number of the songs. This is something that could have been solved in production. Let me use another band in comparison ' Front Line Assembly. Bill Leeb has never been known as an outstanding vocalist, yet the vocals always manage to have certain strength to them. When it comes to the choruses of FLA's music, the vocals are like a wall of sound; they punch through in a dramatic way that rockets the track into the stratosphere. (And Front Line Assembly is a band where the vocals support the programming, and not visa versa.). That is largely production technique, multitracking, some harmonizing and effects. It could have been done here by Level 2.0, but if it was, it wasn't enough. The consequence of this is that on tracks with potentially strong hooks like 'Rising,' 'Invincible,' 'Closer,' and 'Darkness' there is a lack of presence and power that doesn't effectively sell the songs. One exception is the title track, 'Armageddon'. The tasteful addition of vocoder helps make this the strongest track on the album. Still, I think it could have been more.

As for the electronic and rhythm programming, Matt Clennan provides a solid and serviceable, although not particularly innovative skillset for this type of music. 'Armageddon' still posseses a fair amount of power and drama in the music as well as aggressive beats; club-potential abounds throughout many of the tracks. One misstep though is on 'Stolen Kiss,' a downtempo number where Hoffman is vocally emoting his heart out and the mood is sabotaged by a 4-on-the-floor beat and rigidly programmed hat rhythm that gives the song sound a plodding tap-dance feel. On the plus side, dialogue samples (you know how I loathe them generally) are mostly kept to a minimum throughout, even subdued in places.

The first 7 tracks were mastered by Ted Phelps of Imperative Reaction, and the other 5 by Nemesys Music and Jason Barbero, and it shows. Ted's mastering generally sounds stronger. Actually, by the time I get to the 8th track, I am already ear-weary. It just isn't compelling enough, or as compelling as it could be.

The way I see it, 'Armageddon' is an album that is ripe for remixing. There is lots that could be done with it ' beef up the choruses; add more vocals; change up the beats and insert industrial loops, beatbeats, and other interesting percussive elements; replace some of the standard synth sounds with a more adventurous sound palette; and totally replace that rhythm track in 'Stolen Kiss' with something more free and less obtrusive to allow it to breathe and give it the atmosphere it really needs to come alive. This wouldn't be a case of remixing just to streamline the songs and make them more dance-addictive (as so often happens on remix projects); it would be a matter of turbo-charging what is a good album and making it a GREAT album. I believe Level 2.0 have a lot of potential, but it is not fully realized on 'Armageddon'.
Jun 19 2010
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Artist: Laurie Anderson
Title: Homeland
Format: CD + DVD
Label: Nonesuch
Rated: *****
Full disclosure: I have worked with Laurie and have worked on this record as well, so I am partial to her music and it'd be hard, if not impossible, for me to say anything negative about such an amazing person and artist. I will however attempt to give you just the facts so you can make an informed decision about whether to purchase this CD or not (spoiler alert: you most definitely should!).

Laurie Anderson needs no introduction: a visionary, a pioneer, a true and complete artist whose approach to art encompasses music, story-telling, visual arts, sculptures and more. Her previous studio album "Life on a String" came out in 2001 and she's been busy touring, writing new material while on the road, releasing a book, creating videos, installations, pieces for museums and being actively involved in a number of other artistic and political events.
If you've been a fan of her work, the long wait for a new studio album is about to pay off. "Homeland" is possibly one of the most versatile, complete, personal and mature records in her discography. It is also possibly one of the most political ones. This might come as no surprise if you consider that her previous release was the 2002 double CD "Live in New York" recorded less than 10 days after 9/11 at Town Hall in New York; and that while she was writing new material for this album she's obviously been heavily affected and inspired by those events and the unfolding of the follow-up war and the "W" parade/tyranny.

On every one of her albums, Laurie Anderson takes you on complex journey through her visions and her ideas. Listeners become the privileged travelers who get to take a peak inside her beautiful mind. This album is no different, with all its great story telling, inspiring words and unmistakable truths.
With true poets and musical story tellers of our times (people like Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson and others) I always feel sad for the non-english speaking people who can't really fully appreciate such great records until they find a good translation of the lyrics. But especially so with Laurie, even if you don't speak any english and you were to never look for a translation (which would be a shameful mistake on your part, especially since they do exist!), strictly musically speaking "Homeland" is so gorgeous that you'd probably still end up taking this record to your deserted island.

Its ethereal atmospheres, organic textures, synthetic pads, sub-sonic pulses, orchestral arrangements and worldly influences create a beautiful, timeless and incredibly heterogeneous record. When you look at who's played on the album, that too should come as no surprise. For the most part the core band on tour and on the record consisted of Laurie playing all electronics and violin accompanied by Eyvind Kang on viola, Peter Scherer on keyboards and Skuli Sverisson on bass; but several songs feature Rob Burger and Kieran Hebden on keys, Shahzad Ismaily on percussions and bass, Omar Hakim, Ben Wittman and Joey Baron on drums and even three mongolian throat singers and igil players. So many musicians have leant their incredible talents to the making of this record in its various and many permutations, that the resulting equation of Laurie's creative mind enhanced by all these people's musical inputs rubbing off on her and shaping these pieces really produced a genius' masterwork. And on top of all of that, other very special guests also leant their talents: Antony on vocals, John Zorn on sax, of course Lou Reed (who also produced this record together with Roma Baran) on guitar and percussions and even Lou an Laurie's dog Lolabelle on piano!

"Homeland" comes as a CD+DVD. 12 gorgeous audio tracks plus a DVD disc that includes a 41 minute long sort of "making-of" video (featuring interviews with Laurie, the producers and some of the musicians) and a 7 minute long interview with Laurie about her violin.
If you haven't gotten the point of all of the above yet, the gist of it is: go out and buy this record if it were to become the last record you buy before the music industry completely crumbles!

nonnon: The Entitlement Generation

 Posted by John Gore   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
 Edit (5817)
Jun 14 2010
Artist: nonnon
Title: The Entitlement Generation
Format: Tape
Label: Automation Records (@)
Rated: *****
Nonnon is Dave Madden of Salt Lake City. I usually don't like hip-hop based music but this I like for some reason. It's probably the kitchen-sink attitude Dave uses to bring about his highly experimental beat based songs. It is well in the realms of hip-hop rhythm-wise but hanging out on the edge so far that he's liable to fall off. The music is not dangerous, in an aggressive way, but it there is aggression here. Subtle but still present. Demanding that you listen, not knowing what's coming next. Definitely worth a listen for that at least.

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