Music Reviews

Phonophani: Animal Imagination

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jun 09 2017
Artist: Phonophani
Title: Animal Imagination
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Hubro Music
“Animal Imagination” is a rough-hewn collection of thinly diced found sounds and electronic sounds blended into an alien and sometimes cacophonous melee of sincere oddness that does a major in experimental and a minor in electronica. The source palette is broad but frequently used ingredients include softened white noise and close-sounding, percussive organic noises, all muddied up with processing that gives the whole thing an unusually intimate, almost smothering feel.

The synth washes and more stable windy drones that are barely audible in opener “Life’s White Machine” get their chance to shine in “Deep Learning”, a deep alt-techno affair with utterly lovely mesmerising subbass tones and odd time signatures that feels like it might belong on a different album. Another piece that sounds faintly out of place is “A Dark, Sharp, Heartless” with its brief foray into more guitar-shoegaze territory.

The twisted yoik-like vocal of Mari Kvien Brunvoll brings an unusual flavour to “Untime Me” (and possibly uncredited to “I Have No Subconscious”?) that make all-too-brief highlights, before the extensive title track takes what sounds like bowed instruments being manhandled and glitches them into chaos with a result that makes you feel like you’re trapped inside a creaky wooden pirate ship that’s somehow ended up in the Tron universe- a feeling that briefly returns on album closer “Sirma, 1997”.

Longest track “End Of All Things III” is the exemplifier of an album that’s thickly layered, complex and at times challenging. It’s a clear labour of love with a lot of energy and a definite shine.

The Knob, The Finger & The It: Astro Camping

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jun 02 2017
Artist: The Knob, The Finger & The It
Title: Astro Camping
Format: LP
Label: Makiphon (@)
Hailing from the playful side of lo-fi electronics, the three piece The Knob, The Finger & The It (it’s unclear whether one of them is the Knob) offer up a short album of bouncy homemade grooves featuring steady percussive patterns over which electronic squeaks and oscillations bounce and glide. It’s extremely accessible, poppy stuff, especially on tracks like “Come To Ping As Ra” which has a feel-good vibe that’s a little too rare in more experimental music.

The second side is a little more sombre. The title track is surprisingly the most sincere-sounding piece, a mesmeric loop of light, xylophone-esque percussive clicks with Clangers-like electronic vocalising and slight string strums above. Longest track “When Pluto Was A Planet” is arguably the most indulgent bit, a steady smile-inducing bassline initially keeping things ticking over nicely before it descends into a chaos that’s the album’s moodiest section.

Originally conceived as an outdoor ambient project, this album is a studio production, with the exception of the last track on each side of the vinyl, which are authentic outdoor live recordings. The difference is relatively minor- the deep rumbling soundscape sounds almost as artificial as the other elements, while the other elements are stripped back to give way somewhat.

It’s a very accomplished set of tracks with a sound that manages to be both distinctive and familiar at the same time, a bubbly but not jokey set of electronics that are bordering on the timeless.

Mike Luck: Kama

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jun 01 2017
Artist: Mike Luck
Title: Kama
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Basserk (@)
“Karma” is a strong two-track offering from Mike Luck, with large-scale symphonic production brought carefully into an EDM space. Synth chords come in waves over relatively light percussion. “Clash” sounds like the underscore for preparations to battle, with a subtle breakbeat that sounds like it’s itching to break into d&b (and which has caused Beatport to totally mis-report the BPM). “You” is more subdued, again keeping things percussively interesting and allowing bass tones to gradually stretch and distort, with interesting subtle use of vocal samples floating on the edge of audibility.

The only problem with these two tracks is that they’re both too short. At four minutes each, they’ve been bonsaied into a radio-edit structure that doesn’t really do them justice. “Clash” in particular feels like it stops before it’s done. Something this ambitious in its scale ought to be fleshed out to an album, as a 2-track release feels a little too much like a taster promo than a complete work.

Romain Iannone: Nocturne Works

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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May 30 2017
Artist: Romain Iannone
Title: Nocturne Works
Format: Tape
Label: Oqko
“Nocturne Works” is a collection of mostly very short twisted lullabies, comprising organ-like synth noodling fed through surprisingly harsh lo-fi filters, on a bed of soft electronic ambience. The press release assertively states that “a particular bound [sic] exists between the cassette tape, the nocturne moon and the seeds of the Ipomoea alba (moonflower)”, but musically there’s nothing here that really backs that up.

There are some very pleasant moments. Longest track “Gibrilla The Woodcutter” is nicely evocative, with reedy chords and nicely counterpointing rhythms allowed to cycle round and evolve. “Lake_03” is also strong- extra time clearly brings out the best in the chord explorations. Some of the shorter tracks, such as “Petite Limace”, sound like unfinished ideas that should have either been explored further or abandoned.

There are some more innovative nuggets in there as well- “Tape Loop” is rather different, more synthwave-like with good use of the central cassette motif. The faintly cheeky “Morricone Samples”, while not sounding like the title implies, has a slightly different character.

But the processing is simply too heavy. The whole thing has been fed through a filter to make it sound more 8-bit than 16-bit and it is far too much, to the extent I had to check whether there was something wrong with the preview files. That one simple act of washing it strips it of any sonic purity and regularly grates. The drunken oscillations of tracks like “FEV_01”, as though designed to imitate tape warble before the album’s even been put onto tape, frankly don’t help either.

If the lo-fi processing and distortion had been edged back and if the pieces had been allowed to breath for more than the under-two-minutes that most of them get, then potentially this could have been a very pretty, if somewhat cliché, mellow soundscapey outing. As it is, it has too much of a half-baked demo quality to it and it somehow fails to justify its own awkwardness.

Christopher Chaplin: Deconstructed (Remix EP)

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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May 26 2017
Artist: Christopher Chaplin
Title: Deconstructed (Remix EP)
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Fabrique Records
This is an EP of reworkings of tracks from Chaplin’s debut solo album “Je Suis Le Ténébreux” released last year. For those who still think ‘remix’ only means dance music, this release should set you straight. Four guest artists take elements from Chaplin’s work and build new environments out of it.

Jama Irmert’s take on “Aelia Laelia” is a multi-stage piece full of dramatic shifts, with all sorts of elements flying in and out- choral notes, distorted guitars, drones and deep electronic bubbles. It’s generally a little more abrasive than the material on Irmert’s own debut “End Of Absence”.

Tim Story brings his ‘electronic chamber music’ aesthetic to the title track from the album, creating something with a slow, slightly jazzy live feel of piano, drums and deep plucked bass, with retriggering electronic glitch-percussive noises and serious sounding radio-like vocal snippets sprinkled very liberally on top.

Peter Zirbs’ take on “Lucius Agatho” consists of long guitar-esque drone tones, melded with a rapid tip-tapping of crisp electronic processing. It evolves smoothly and fairly quickly, fitting into a six minute slot but leaving the impression that it could have easily sustained twice as long.

The remix of “Aelia Laelia” is sadly missing from the promo so I can’t comment on that, but from the first three tracks of the four track EP, it’s a lovely little collaborative package that works well as a sampler both of Chaplin’s and all the remixers’ work.

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