Music Reviews

Toshimaru Nakamura: Re-Verbed (No-Input Mixing Board 9)

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jul 08 2018
Artist: Toshimaru Nakamura
Title: Re-Verbed (No-Input Mixing Board 9)
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Room40
If like me you’re unfamiliar with Nakamura’s long-standing series of audio works derived purely from the sound of a mixing board containing no inputs, you might have expected emptiness, ambience and space- gentle feedback, electrical hum, and so on. What you actually get, as a clickbait writer could say, might surprise you.

This is raw, deep analogue electronica, built from patterns, tuned noise, distortion, feedback, decay and delay. Of the pieces, with no names only numbers from 51 to 58 inclusive, some are quite in-your-face, raw distorted oscillations firmly at the front- 55 being decidedly proto-techno in its structure, for example, and 57 being a particular harsh noise wall at times. Others are washier, more spacious affairs, like 53 and the oddly content-sounding final track 58.

There’s not a single drum sound to be heard, but some of the works feel like they’re itching to be remixed into heavy EBM or drum and bass- 51 has a strong rhythm and ingredients that could be baked into a serious dark dancefloor tune. Others, like 52, are more freeform and feel more akin to old Radiophonic Workshop experiments.

To a novice like me it’s unclear how the breadth of these sounds could all have been sourced from a single mixing board (“where does the sound come from?” sounds almost philosophical) and it certainly feels like there’s a lot of post-production and/or planning that’s gone into making some very interesting, unique-sounding and diverse electronica.

RP Boo: I'll Tell You What!

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jul 05 2018
Artist: RP Boo
Title: I'll Tell You What!
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Planet Mu
In a way this is a fairly typical Planet Mu release, if there is such a thing. Complex glitchy footwork rhythms, low sub-bass rumbles and decontextualized vocal and rap samples abound in a textbook collection of dark digital electronica. It’s familiar ground, but handled with energy and originality so you definitely know you’re listening to something new.

There’s a good variety of emotions and tones here. The swaggery, battle-ready opener “No Body” has the sweary soundclash attitude of grime, while other tracks are a little more introspective and soulful, such as “U Don’t No” or “Deep Blue”. The ‘we are at war in the street’ mantra of “At War” is a complex beast, managing somehow to be simultaneously a war cry and a melancholic response to loss, while “U Belong 2 Me” feels like a deeply veiled post-rave parody, yet it works.

But while there’s an emotional variety, of the course of 48 minutes you do begin to wish for a bit more sonic variety. By “Work The Flow” and “Bounty” the drum sounds and sub-bass noises begin to feel a little bit tired, and as the energy level doesn’t really drop, you do start hoping that the next track is going to have a few more surprises, which unfortunately don’t come. “Flight 1235”’s adjustment of airplane-related pings and announcements into rhythm elements is a nice touch but it could have been pushed much further. An honorable exceptions is “Wicked’Bu”’.

High quality, for sure, but perhaps overly safe ground for the Planet Mu label.

Ben Chatwin: Staccato Signals

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jul 03 2018
Artist: Ben Chatwin
Title: Staccato Signals
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Village Green Recordings
For his third album under his own name, Scotland-based Ben Chatwin wanted to ‘switch his brain off’ and play with analogue modular synthesizers, utilising their quirks to let melody and structure form naturally without too much premeditation. However, unsatisfied that he’d pushed himself hard enough, he then decided to add some ‘real’ perfomers into the mix- cornet and tenor horn, cello, and on some tracks, a four-piece string performance from the Pumpkinseeds.

And it’s clear right from the off that the result is something much more epic and grandiose than could have been achieved solo and just using synthesizers. The strings are crucial throughout, and particularly to the overture “Divers In The Water” and first full piece “Silver Pit”, setting out a stall that’s unabashedly cinematic and sets out to scale high. The analogue synths form the rumbling basses and gutpunching sounds in what sounds very much like a film prelude or trailer music.

Tracks like “Helix” drop the energy somewhat, setting off on steadier, more journeyman and atmospheric set-up of slow builds and soft drops that aren’t quite as punchy and which, at times, feel like they’re simply missing a lead line. Highlights include the brighter-sounding “Bow Shock” and the rougher-hewn textures of “Substrates”.

At times it sounds distinctly like Hybrid, without the beats, which in my view is certainly a compliment, though on tracks like “Fossils” and the slightly Vangelis-ish “Knots” there’s a slightly more synthwave flavour that peeks through.

It exudes quality in its production, and if it were coupled with that magic ingredient of memorable or heart-wrenching melody, it would be nothing short of amazing as a piece of cinematic electronica.
Jul 02 2018
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Electro Bass Development (phase II)
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Subsonic Device
Rated: *****
OK, first of all, I’m late reviewing this one but luckily quality doesn’t expire and on „Electro Bass Development (phase II)“, we have the presence of classic names that helped to define the electro bass genre as a plus. I'm talking about names of the likes of Debonaire (Italian dj relocated in Miami and active already in the 80s), Bass Junkie and Dynamix II (which were already active in the 90s) or Darxid (who came soon after), plus names which are in activity since ten years or so already, like DJ Xed, Dark Vektor, John Robie. The youngest one is the project of a Spanish guy called Roberto Rey who started Negocius Man in 2013 or so. The compilation has been issued by Subsonic Device, Darxid’s label, on double vinyl and it’s still available for you to purchase, but only in this format. No digital files to purchase or download. We have eight tracks/projects as Dynamix II and John Robie are teaming up for „They’re Coming“. If you are already a fan of the genre, for sure you are owning at least some releases by most of them. Probably the surprise of the lot is Otto Von Schirach, because I reviewed his 2004 album „Global Speaker Fisting“ and it wasn’t sounding electro at all, if I remember well. Maybe the last one I had the occasion to check ten years ago titled „Oozing Bass Spasms“, had some electro influences, but in this case, „Bass Low (Down Pitch Out Mix)“, mixes synth stabs and am 80s electro hip hop approach with digital distorted bass lines. The effect is sounding like nice a mutant electro funk tune. Tracks like Bass Junckie’s „Galactic Combat“, DJ Xed’s „Spectral Subspace (Subsonic Mix)“, Dark Vektor’s „No More (Sóc Un Frik Sóc Un Tècnic)“ or Dynamix II vs. John Robie’s „They're Coming“ are sure sounding true to the classic sound of the genre. Darxid with „Hungry“ mix powerful bass and vocals distorted lines with syncopated beats creating a song that sounds fresh and it’s able to stick to your memory immediately. Debonaire’s „Electro Novocaine (Injectable Beats)“ sounds cinematic, menacing and powerful. As approach it seems that Claudio Barrella is remixing himself and this created a nice effect. Good compilation which grows with the listenings. You can check some tracks on YouTube.
Jun 23 2018
Artist: Christopher Chaplin
Title: Paradise Lost
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Fabrique Records
Christopher Chaplin’s second album is a truly curious beast, and probably the oddest setting of John Milton’s poem that you’ll have ever heard.

As the artwork suggests this is a properly theatrical work, merging sparse bits of English-language opera singing (Nathan Vale on the first and last tracks), beat poetry (Leslie Winer on the second track), sporadic and often very ominous-sounding string and woodwind orchestrations with some experimental percussive performance elements and an occasional smattering of modern electronica, drones and synth twiddling.

Sometimes meandering into abstract soundscaping, and at other times feeling more like an overtly staged performance piece, it seems to revel in the defiance of expectations on each level- including lyrically, being difficult to follow and inviting you to try and interpret that which may not actually be interpretable.

Personally I am more intrigued by the Nathan Vale-featuring “I Dread”, which has a greater sense of dynamic, than the sultry, smoky squidginess of Leslie Winer’s rambling lines on “Dave The Shoe”, on the grounds that the latter feels less distinctive. The shorter final operatic piece “Of This New World” feels somehow more conventionally vocally, but the offset of plaintive melancholic tenor singing against glitchy electronics is still a winning combination.

Although this work feels like it ought to make more sense in a live performance setting than on an album, it’s a properly unusual work that commands attention.

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