Music Reviews

Alina Kalancea: The 5th Apple

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Dec 21 2018
Artist: Alina Kalancea
Title: The 5th Apple
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Störung
Alina Kalancea’s debut album is a rich collection of analogue synth and electronica layering, a brooding collection of slow pulses, artificial heartbeats and atmospherics that is certainly not a new recipe in itself, but which is well prepared and confidently produced so that it will certainly draw you in.

Built in waves, both micro (as in sine waves or sawtooth waves rather than literally microwaves, that would be terrible), and macro, as layers and elements meander in and out of presence with an assured languidity. In pieces like “Fears” you can practically feel the gradual knob-turning as you wallow in a rich sound, with plenty of long slow bass and subbass tones that wash over you in a strangely luxuriant fashion. The title track is the most coarse of the collection, but textured rather than sharp.

As the release progresses, it starts getting both wider and colder. “Poisonous Girl” raises the bar and is a definite highlight, bringing in sparse and perfectly measured string orchestration and a sorrowful sung vocal. The result is powerful and has a cinematic breadth. The string sounds fold back nicely into the established synth elements nicely in “Behind The Curtains” before the sinister lullaby notes of “Limbo” offer up another texture of soundtrack-style work. “Devil’s Lullaby”, despite the title, is a rather calm and natural conclusion.

The whole release is pitched as electronics framing a spoken word core, but in actuality many of the pieces are at least partly if not wholly instrumental. For me personally the whispered, sleepy text readings may be the weakest link here, with shades of a half-asleep Yoko Ono but not, unfortunately, in a good way. The poetry of opener “Imbalance” almost mis-introduces the album, while the “listen… shhh…” layer in “Poisonous Girl” feels faintly unnecessary and “Insider” an interlude which wasn’t necessarily required.

For a debut it’s very assured, and with good reason. While it would be a stretch to call it innovative, it’s got a polished and clear sonic vision to it that deftly draws you to repeat listens.

Marvin & Guy: Solar Warriors

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Dec 17 2018
Artist: Marvin & Guy
Title: Solar Warriors
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Life And Death
The artwork on this release may recall 80’s gaming and lead you to expect synthwave, but in fact the 90’s seems to be more of an influence on this thoughtful 3-pack of gentle old-school instrumental house and trance built out of long pads, slow progressive house structuring, and the odd spoken-word sample to imitate context. It’s not entirely un-synthwavey though.

The gentle, softer-than-house piano chords on “Notte” are so reminiscent of “Swansang D’Amour” by Utah Saints that I’m tempted to try and cross-fade them just to see what would happen. Certainly they share an emotive simplicity that’s really quite appealing.

“Idra” blends a nice rolling synth bassline and slightly more tribal-sounding house percussion with some gentle German spoken-word narration to nice effect, before “Stige (9 am mix)” offers up the spaciest-sounding track most befitting of the artwork, with echoey bleeps and long Space Maneouvres-ish pad sounds over a light but unrelenting 4/4 kick.

It’s a smooth pack of synth instrumentals with an appealing spaced-out laziness to it at the top end, but steady DJ-friendly house beats underneath. Sweet.

Kratos Himself: Solstice / Part I

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Dec 14 2018
Artist: Kratos Himself
Title: Solstice / Part I
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Youngbloods
The first half of a downtempo vocal electronica concept work marking the division of the seasons, the 23 minutes of “Solstice Part I” focus on the transition between winter and spring, and it’s a fairly on-the-nose treatment, blending elements such as glacial melodic synth tones and birdsong in a manner that’s more prosaically representative than metaphorical.

Though describing itself as ‘ancestral soundscapes’ it’s a more danceable release than that may imply, with steady grooves and basses rolling throughout. The nicely off-step rhythm patterns of “Hibernal” are quite poppy and could potentially be a crossover track, as could the gentle soft-glitch and simple but catchy bassline work of “Luna”, where the quirky vocal sampling and fairly dramatic melodic reveals exude a refreshing confidence. The jazziness of “Lonely Ride VII” is rather sweet too and would make good quality library music.

For electronica that’s unusually seasonal- and by that, thankfully I really don’t mean “Christmas music”- this is an interesting and well-crafted little offering.

Cæcilie Overgaard: There Is A Home

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Dec 07 2018
Artist: Cæcilie Overgaard
Title: There Is A Home
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Clang
Danish composer Overgaard’s second album is a gentle collection of homely, warm electronica.

After the ambient opener “Mic Test One”, it’s the title track that really sets the tone. Soft, crisp, super-light percussive patterns and digital atmospherics combine with some mellow, freeform trumpet work from Tim Ewé to create something that’s richly familiar, but in a good way.

That gently beautiful tone persists for the remainder of this short (33 minute) release- a gentle retriggering piano giving “A Simple Mind” a very faint edge, Mathias Hammerstrøm’s very sparse vocal on “Skyggeplet” adding an extra layer of humanity, but generally sticking to the script of coldly pretty downtempo electronic chill-out, and being none the worse for it.

The press release draws attention to the unusual sampling approaches adopted here- with supermarket plastic bag hits being reworked as snare drums, modulating an engine sound to emulate a marimba, and so on- but the effect of this is remarkably mild, with the result sounding generally synthesized and coherent, and certainly not the cacophony of Art Of Noise-style raw found sound that may have been suggested.

An excellent release to settle things down to, comforting enough to firm up your mood like a warm hot chocolate but intricate and detailed enough to hold your attention as well. It’s very Winter-friendly.
Dec 06 2018
Artist: Andreas O. Hirsch
Title: Early Carbophonics
Format: 10"
Label: Makiphon
The Carbophone is Hirsch’s own invention and the first one was only constructed in 2015, so there’s a tongue-in-cheek aspect to the name “Early Carbophonics”- but despite being an acoustic instrument built with a wooden base and carbon rods, the tone of the instrument, and of this 26-minute mini-album as a whole, is so close to the playful weirdness of 1960’s experimental electronics that it really does sound like a throwback to what might get labelled early electronic music.

In terms of intention, it references the African Kalimba or Mbira, and the layered rhythms in pieces like “Octopus Promenade” do have shades of traditional African music, while others like “Balfolk” sound more like Eastern European folk instrumentation reworked into mesmeric repetition that borders on analogue techno. “Castle Moat Robot” would not sound out of place in a Radiophonic Workshop retrospective, while “Full Moon Hula Hoop” sounds like an attempt to construct a more modern, faintly glitch-steppy piece but solely using a wood-toned instrument.

Will the Carbophone reinvent music and invite retrospective compilations fifty years from now? I very much doubt it. But is it a pleasant and strangely nostalgic attempt to build something solid and new that rekindles the spirit of musical experimentation? Yes, it is that. And does it work? In a rather sweet way, it does.

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