Music Reviews

Paul Handley: Midnight Zone

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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May 19 2018
Artist: Paul Handley
Title: Midnight Zone
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Paul Handley’s digital-only self-released “Midnight Zone” is a compact 34-minute, 9-track set of instrumental synth and electronica with a bright, sci-fi, soundtracky (or maybe library music-esque) feel to it. Perky beeps and optimistic-sounding chord pads wash over soft drum machine patterns and steady synthbass, creating something with the melody heavily at the forefront.

At its best there are shades of Jean-Michel Jarre in the melodic work, or maybe some of Tangerine Dream’s poppier 80’s material. Highlights include the broad scope of “Lost Horizon” and the nice use of slightly Delerium-esque vocal pads and ahhhs on “A Brighter Day”.

At its worst it’s just a bit forgettable. These sounds have all been done rather a lot before and it can just wash over you and be a bit disengaging. Tracks like “Eclipsed” are a touch nothing-y. At times it sounds like the underscore for some teutonic electropop band who haven’t got around to laying their sinister vocals on yet.

The homemade flavour that’s apparently in the (in my opinion amateurish) artwork is audible as well, but less so- just some hints of ‘soft’ mastering which make some of the punchier tracks, such as the title track, not quite as zingy as they might have been. Thankfully that’s a minor criticism though, it’s still a good sound.

A release worth checking out on Bandcamp for people looking for a bit more instrumental and sci-fi synthwave in their life.
May 18 2018
Artist: Sex Judas feat. Ricky
Title: Go Down Judas
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Optimo Music
Initial impressions of “Go Down Judas” are reminiscent of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers- cartoon counter-culture heroes accompanied by stoner, laid-back country Americana sounds and low smoke-infused ramblings. But it quickly transpires that this is all just a front, and what’s behind the curtain is a Norwegian-produced funky vocal house album using the comic branding as a novelty theme rather than being truly immersed in it.

So from the second track “The Sorrows Of Young Walter” onwards, what we’ve got here is steady, circa 110bpm lounge house chock quite full of funk-driven synth bass grooves, wahwah guitar, lovely subtle string arrangements, and occasional husky vocal work.

Other influences are sprinkled on top in moderation as well- gentle African-flavoured percussion and vocal noises on “Sidikis Jam”, some lovely late 80’s-style acid and Chicago house style noises on “Candy Darling”, and what I think might be a cheeky Star Trek sample in the squelchy “Let The Power Go”- all of which is slotted into the jigsaw with great care and skill.

After hints of a darker dronier electronica during the intro track, final track “Moving Glaciers” is an extensive atmospheric outro that wraps things up in slightly unusual fashion.

This is high-production-value house music with an almost stereotypical Nordic attention to atmosphere, quality and detail. While it may not have the hook-driven radio hit that would set your heart alight or get onto mainstream radio, if you like your funky house to be of any the finest premium quality and utterly chilled out, take a look beyond the faintly cheesy comic branding and you’ll find a very enjoyable album here.
May 18 2018
Artist: Moomin
Title: Yesterday's Tomorrows
Format: LP
Label: Wolf Music
Moomin’s third album is a collection of eight DJ-friendly tracks spread across two slices of vinyl. For the most part it’s laid-back and stripped-back house music, strolling along in the 120bpm region with simple patterns slowly shifting, rising and falling, jazzy laidback keys, soft and straightforward basslines and gentle beats with quite an organic feel to them. Opener “Daysdays” gives you a reasonable flavour of what to expect.

On the second side, “Shibuya Feelings” follows the same patterns but with the introduction of a much heavier kick that makes things feel much more post-sunset, before “Maybe Tomorrow” places more emphasis on crisp, higher-toned drum loops that bring the jazziness back in force.

In the second half, things start getting a bit more varied and take on a decidedly more retro ‘90s feel. On both sides, more jungle and drum & bass-flavoured tracks are paired up with trip-hoppy counterparts. “Move On God” uses some classic jungle drumloops under super-smooth pads for a lush, quite throwback-minded piece, before “949494” is a neat little slightly hip-hop workout. “Into The Woods” is a pretty sparse bit of jungle/drum & bass which lets the simple subbass shine with some very confident production touches, alongside the Rhodes-style chords that provide the sonic bridge between this and the earlier tracks, before “Fruits” rounds things off in a very smooth, quite Groove Armada-ish fashion.

There’s an almost nostalgic feel to this release in parts, but carried thanks to a lot of production polish and a consistent vision of Moomin’s sound. It’s not going to set dancefloors alright or set your heart ablaze, but it’s got a quite plush flavour that feels somehow quite premium- like sticking your bare feet on a super-soft carpet.
Artist: Ketan Bhatti & Ensemble Adapter
Title: Nodding Terms
Format: CD + Download
Label: col legno
“Nodding Terms” is an energetic attempt to bridge a gap between percussive experimental modern classical music and electronica / club / dance / pop / house / whatever. The result has the sonic qualities of avant garde classical thanks to four-piece Ensemble Adapter, but musical structures that are a bit more accessible and more inclined towards the growing familiarity and accessibility of repeating patterns. However, the bottom line is that it’s still on the former side of the fence- you won’t be hearing this in your local nightclub any time soon.

Some tracks are purely the Ensemble, dominated by cello, bass clarinet and organic live percussion, but others, like “Modul 5”, introduce more prominent electronic lines into the mix.

Bhatti himself has an established history working on music for theatre and dance, and that’s self-evident here- there are some short, off-kilter-tempo’ed and dramatic pieces like “Funkstoff” here that seem absolutely tailor made for contemporary dance and audition pieces. The suspense inherent in “Hast Hussle” and “Kords” feel more aimed at unusual film soundtracks.

Odd time signatures, the use of flute and slightly folkier elements in pieces like “Umziehaktion” make it sound like a sort of modern day instrumental prog rock, in the nicest possible way. As it proceeds, later pieces like “Modul 4” see the theatricality of it return to the fore.

Remixes from two thirds of Brandt Brauer Frick are woven into the core of the album, with the mesmerising original version of “Ferntendez” immediately followed by a Paul Frick remix that delves a little deeper with long pads and staccato cutting. This really works, creating in effect a ‘part one’ and ‘part two’ to that particular work. Other tracks, such as “Laughter Leading”, are also reminiscent of Brandt Brauer Frick productions, and fans of BBF looking for something with a chin-stroking perspective are pretty much guaranteed to appreciate this.

Generally it’s bright, fresh and full of energy that ends up being quite infectious- whether it’s meant to be a feel-good piece thematically is a little unclear, but like it or not, the end result does feel like it was manufactured with a sense of fun attached. But that’s not to take anything away from it- it’s a truly enjoyable listen but also has a lot of merit, and potentially a very useful gateway album for electronica fans peering into the world of avant garde classical.

VV.AA.: Family Horror X

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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May 16 2018
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Family Horror X
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: KANN
To celebrate their tenth birthday, the KANN label have put together fifteen original unmixed tracks into a bundle of the best part of two hours’ worth of mostly-mellow house and electronica.

Unusually, the promo for this release doesn’t include a tracklist- perhaps not to draw too much attention to the relatively small roster of artists who’ve contributed multiple tracks each, I’m honestly not sure- so I’m not sure who to attribute some of the tracks to. But I do know there are contributions from Innere Tueren and Eau Thermale, Art Alfie & Axel Boman, Underspreche and Perm, Mary Yalex and Philipp Matalla.

Sometimes it’s on the soft side, with gentle kicks and long drawn-out chord pads. “Malekula”, with its combination of 90’s-style breakbeat with more tribal patterning all laid out as a soft pad to some very expansive chord waves, is a prime sampler. “Thank U Again” is a lovely bright melodic number.

Sometimes though things get a little bit beefier, with “Against (Dub)”’s edgier kick and scream noises used as fills providing a warm embracing thump, and “Clean Bus” quite a Leftfield-esque arrangement of slow kick and swaggering bass. “Sequence” is quite a joyous dancefloor-friendly rumble.

“HEDGL” has a truly old-school trance flavour which, when followed by the decidedly Future Sound Of London-like “Island Jam”, makes you wonder whether these tracks have been unearthed from the halcyon days of the 90’s rather than made for this 2018 compilation.

As a back-to-back listen it shows how dedicated the KANN label is to a relatively narrow range of music- these tracks may be different recipes but they’re all the same style of cooking- so for home listening you might find yourself wishing for a bit more variation as you lose interest through “Cany”, or just dipping in rather than sitting down to the whole pack. As a DJ pack though this is a great bundle of dancefloor tools- in fact for some it might be a whole set’s worth if you’re feeling very cheeky- and for that environment this is a very strong birthday bundle.

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