Music Reviews

Newcleus: Jam On It

 Posted by Maurizio Pustianaz (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Dec 28 2019
Artist: Newcleus
Title: Jam On It
Format: 12"
Label: Ground Control
Rated: *****
When you decide to do a release based on remixes is always a risk and if the track is one of an electro funk legend, well, it’s a really tricky business. German retro-Electro label Ground Control knows very well the stuff they’re dealing with, because it’s a sub-label of Dominance Electricity, label that already released an EP of Newcleus' "Destination Earth" remixes years ago. On this 12” we have two classics written by Maurice Ben Cenac remixed by Jackal and Hyde (“Jam On It”) and by Phil Klein aka Bass Junkie and Simon Brown aka The Dexorcist new project, Gods of Technology (“Teknology”). Both the tracks have received a radical treatment and, as I previously told you, it’s a risky business. Luckily these gentlemen know what they are doing but also the label who organized the whole operation it’s like a seal of guaranty. “Jam on it” is the track I prefer, because Scott Weiser opted to keep the original upbeat tempo and changed the song by keeping mainly the vocals plus the bass line and added different catchy synths. He also divided the track into two different parts just to play a little more with the surprise effect. “Teknology” now sounds like a mix of Miami electro (you know that nightly atmosphere) and Kraftwerk of the “Technopop” era. Check them out, the release is available on black and clear blue vinyl. The digital download is available at the usual digital stores through Jam-On Productions.
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Note Lithuania: Experimental / Electronic 2019
Format: CD + Download
Label: MIC Lithuania
The Music Information Centre Lithuania might have a drab name, but their releases have reached the point now where seeing a new work from them in my inbox is a cause for excitement, and I’m happy to push them to the top of my queue. This compilation just squeezed in before Christmas, and is a 71 minute collection of selected experimental and ambient pieces from Lithuanian artists, mixing some previously unreleased material with recent album tracks.

What really pleases me about compilations like this is how breadth and consistency can be found simultaneously. On the one hand, it showcases a good range of sounds and tones, yet on the other hand, if you were played this release ‘blind’ and told it was a single-artist album, you could believe it. It’s predominantly full of acoustic and synthetic atmospheres, pads, drones, electronic effects, and occasional soft and crisp rhythms that build naturalistically from found sounds more often than from compositional structure.

Highlights include- but are not limited to- Patris ideleviius’ brooding and cinematic “Sonata ianileve”, a beautiful softness of melody in FUME’s “Strala”, and the truly romantic “Glimpses Of Dust” from Nortas. There’s a soporific thread that runs through several pieces that have a calming, sleepy vibe. Tracks like Skeldos’ “Tylos”, Daina Dieva’s crisp and icy “litis remias siena virpant vanden” eschew anything percussive in favour of either flat or slowly ebbing atmospherics that really draw you in.

For contrast, dark electronica that loosely borders on industrial and even techno can be found in Distorted Noise Architect’s compelling “Fictive Live”, and the journey towards Tiese’s “JM FM” is a descent into much more frustrated noise work, showing that it’s certainly not all happiness and light.

The compilation progresses in a nice considered way, and after the angrier noise comes ‘the synthwave section’. Unit 7’s “Methods Of Coercion” and Phil Von’s “Capsized Poetry” are both strong, perhaps lacking in distinctive character or melody that would make them really shine, serving more like gaming background music, but rich nonetheless. Proceedings are them calmed down nicely to close, with the Nortas track followed by the enchanting, broadly ethnic vocal, flute and string tones of Raguvos’ “Medziotojas” which gently nods towards the more folky side of MIC’s work.

If every country had an agency as strong as MIC Lithuania when it comes to finding and highlighting the quality electronic and experimental music coming from their scene, the world would be a very rich place indeed, sonically speaking.

Gintas K: Variations In A-Moll For A Granular Synthesis

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Dec 17 2019
Artist: Gintas K
Title: Variations In A-Moll For A Granular Synthesis
Format: CD + Download
Label: esc.rec.
Gintas Kraptaviius recorded this series of six fairly long live electronic improvisations during an art residency in Estonia in 2016. The reference to A-moll (or A minor), famously used by Beethoven and Chopin, suggests or at least implies traditional melodic experimentation- but this is very different and much more technical beast.

This is because the granular synthesis here is sharp, raw, and digital but sometimes lo-fi. It’s rapid-fire- there are no long notes here, but rather there are series of rapid bleeps and clicks at different tones. Over the course of six pieces, these rapid-fire digital patterns based on differing notes in the scale rise and fall in turn, sometimes jumping, sometimes ebbing, a series of digital waves of varying textures that never stand still. The sense of impulse and expression of the live human dial-control can clearly be felt- it’s not overly clinical.

The stereo separation and individualisation is mostly quite extreme, making this quite disorientating when listening on headphones. At times this is glitch music, but in the programmer’s sense rather than the musician’s sense, with spontaneous and momentary impulses that feel almost like compression artefacting has been approached so as to draw the ‘art’ out of ‘artefact’.

With the choice of chord, there is a curious melodic synchronicity that shines through at times. The layered, differently-triggered notes sometimes fall into alignment, like a kind of melodic eclipse, creating arpeggios that now and again feel familiar and reminiscent of traditional music. It’s a curious effect, melody from statistics and probabilities rather than composition, but it’s an occurrence that’s frequent enough to be more than accident, and it works.

There’s not a great deal that distinguishes the character of any of the six numbered pieces compared to the others. For example, the central section of piece 3 is somewhat quieter and more bubbly or a while before introducing a notable bass pulse, while piece 5 feels slightly brighter, more optimistic and confident in its tone at times- but each of these is a temporary distinction. All but one of the pieces is over ten minutes long, which gives each a chance to have plenty of its own internal variation. This does make a 67-minute album something of a deep dive, and a difficult listen for anyone who will find the raw digital sounds too abrasive.

It’s a simple concept, in a way, but it’s executed with a strong sense of purpose and some very solid expression. If digital exploration in raw form appeals, then take a long ear-dive into this.
Dec 12 2019
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Territories vol. 2
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Polaar
This is a six-pack of remixes (well, five remixes and one VIP version) of Polaar artists collaborating. It’s instrumental techno and electronica, broadly, with healthy doses of organic-sounding and sometimes tribal percussion generally placed at the core- but while it’s officially dance music, this is smart stuff. I don’t know of anyone who still uses the term IDM but if they did, this release would put the ‘intelligent’ into it- as exemplified by the sometimes 12/8 rhythms and regular mood changes of the opener, Flore’s remix of Only Now’s “Dirt”.

Keito’s take on Tim Karbon’s “Aziz Lumiere” is heavy and pounding, and deceptively simple at times, but it gets under your skin, before the remix circle completes with Only Now’s rework of Keito’s “Bougainvillea” offering up a fast, subbass-driven manic grime swagger that feels like it’s successfully juggling three tempos at once.

Nasty J “Réalité Alternativ” Tim Karbon Remix is a lighter recipe, still grumbling complex rhythm patterns but putting much more emphasis on almost-romantic synth pad chord patterns. SNKLS’s “Isandula VIP” is liquid drum-and-bass territory rhythms but painted with glitchy electronica sounds, yet more lusciously pure subbass work, and some very brooding atmospherics in the breakdown, before the Prettybwoy remix of “SkyBurial” by Mars89 ends on a brighter note, again returning to the warm synth pads and a rather strange percussive sound that seems to be somewhere between a parrot and a seagull- but not in a bad way, amazingly.

This is the kind of dance music you would rather sit down and appreciate the details of, rather than waste time flapping your arms round to it. Rich, deep and complex, this stuff just oozes quality.

Bit-Tuner: Passage / Irisia

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Dec 11 2019
Artist: Bit-Tuner
Title: Passage / Irisia
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: -OUS
At two tracks and almost seven minutes, Bit-Tuner’s “Passage / Irisia” single passed under my radar when it was released in November, but it came around again and has piqued my interest as a sampler for Bit-Tuner’s forthcoming seventh album, out in January.

The main track passage is a cinematic bit of electronica built from expressive analogue synths and pads, mostly walking a steady and slow four-note rhythm that somehow feels more like an ending than a beginning, Found sounds such as industrial drills that have been softened and bathed in reverb to take the harsh edges away. The melodic pattern remains the same but different-sounding instrumentation gradually wanders into and out of aubibility, which is where the progression comes from- sometimes bell sounds, sometimes guitar-like noise, the change happens under your nose. Got some broody sci-fi end credits that need emoting over? Check this out.

B-side “Irisia” is only two minutes long and fades right in the middle of a change- a blatant and almost cheeky tease for the album I think. The melodic approach is not dissimilar but there’s a much greater rumbling bass here, a sinister tectonic grumbling that feels like a dramatic opener, making the two-track digital release feel slightly back-to-front.

I may be a tease but it’s certainly notable enough to put January’s album release onto my ‘items to check out’ list.

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