Music Reviews

Warsnare: Warchestra

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Mar 04 2018
Artist: Warsnare
Title: Warchestra
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Infinite Machine
Described as having grown out of a personal grieving process from a death in his family, Daniel Potter has channeled his energy into a rich, cinematic and thickly emotionally-infused 45-minute album of epic electronica, putting strong and well-arranged string ensemble work alongside heavy EDM sounds and some cutting-edge production. Guest vocalists on most tracks extend the variety of flavours even further.

Opener “Intro” is true action-thriller-film-score material, while “Syndrome” flirts with a sort of dark broken-beat pop structure around Charlie Stark’s vocal that has hints of Coldcut’s “Sound Mirrors” about it.

Victoria Shilling contributes vocals to “Live Life”, in some ways a more conventional and lighter piece that initially sounds like it’s going to be house-pop, before taking a twist into post-dubstep heavy subbass tones when things really kick in. Her second appearance on “Beautiful Day” is less deceptive, building to a genuinely beautiful breakdown of semi-operatic vocal and strings. “Quanto Tempo”, with Laura Lopes, has an equally idyllic and more laidback feel.

Fans of Kate Tempest- of whom there’s a growing number- will appreciate her appearance on “Kairos”, although some may find it just a little bit too much of a conventional bit of introspective grime that could maybe have had a few more surprises up its sleeve than it actually has.

With the vocal-less tracks, “Cronos” is an opportunity taken to move things a little deeper, while “Tuner” is a slightly more regular bit of ornate melodic-versus-complex drum-and-bass with shades of old jungle.

The sheer ambition of it is properly fantastic and it’s remarkable how high-budget this all sounds. A really exemplary production that could well be one of the album highlights of the year. Although attention will probably be drawn to the Kate Tempest track, it’s probably the weakest track here- the whole thing is worth checking out.

zK: Last Night

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Mar 02 2018
Artist: zK
Title: Last Night
Format: LP
Label: Hallow Ground
Mark Godwin and Gareth Ormerod’s first full-length (albeit short) studio album as zK in five years makes reference to the act’s nearly 20-year history pushing boundaries under the umbrella of electronica, citing Autechre and the Skam label they previously released a single on, which has also been home to acts like Gescom and Boards Of Canada.

What they’ve offered up is still electronica, but truly experimental and mostly leaving the more familiar and explored structures behind. Sampled tones loop and re-pitch over layers of indecipherable, sometimes-repeating FM and AM radio dialogue, and washes of coloured noises. Aphex Twin-style repeating sequenced noise patterns sometimes provide the structure. Dubby production touches allow elements to delay and decay, giving everything quite a reverberant flavour.

Standout track “Fugitive II” centrepieces a slowly changing melodic piano pattern over glittering alien noises, a notably beautiful but abruptly curtailed arrangement leading into the emptier and more sinister “My Life Is Missing” (with its rather on-the-nose vocal sample reciting the title), while “Cognitive Dissonance” is one of the more easy-to-follow pieces, with a steady, super-minimal, faintly techno-ish rhythm pattern that gently underpins a rather unsettling interview with a lonely male talking about women.

Opener “Outside Broadcast” seems to be comprised almost completely of field recordings and sets the listener off in a slightly misleading direction. In a slightly similar vein, “Feral Confection” at times sounds like some of Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty’s earlier and more out-there sound layering, but with an electrical feedback layer that gives things a decidedly harsh edge. “Fleshpotting” (I’m too nervous to google that to find out what that means) wraps things up with a more open soundscape showcasing a slightly bizarre piecemeal operatic female wailing vocal over never-predictable pads.

It’s a well-formed mini-album of particularly experimental electronica that might not excessively surprise or delight in excessive quantities, but which has the quality and texture of a hearty sonic meal.

The Nightcrawlers: The Biophonic Boombox Recordings

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Mar 01 2018
Artist: The Nightcrawlers
Title: The Biophonic Boombox Recordings
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Anthology Editions
While the most famous musical Nightcrawlers is probably the Scottish ‘90s house act who did “Push The Feeling On”, this trio were much more prolific, forming in 1979, putting out an absurdly high number of cassette albums throughout the ‘80s and then dispanding in 1991. This is a compilation of over two and a half hours of selected highlights from that tape library.

This is prog-rock-influenced synthesizer space music that owes a great deal to Tangerine Dream, the first influence cited. Gently ebbing synth patterns chug away, working with super-sustained synth chord pads to create a slowly moving sonic bed onto which tiny extracts of melody and spontaneous beeps provide decoration. More than half the tracks run for over ten minutes, leading to Glass-like mesmerism (“Crystal Loop III” and “Modern Pre-Flight” being good examples). The repetition is well-handled, never devolving into indulgence or boredom.

When wandering into more lyrical melody, the material is maybe not quite as strong- “Geisteblitz” being an example of a track that initially seems to aspire to Jean-Michel Jarre territory but can’t quite reach those melodic heights so settles back into more comfortable TD-territory by the end. But when everything comes together, it comes together very well indeed- “Sizzling Highs”, appropriately, being one of the outstanding, “how did I not hear of this band earlier?”-type tracks. And pieces like “Baba Yaga’s Flight” fly so close to the Tangerine Dream template that it would be very easy to believe this was an unearthed goldmine of late 70’s unreleased TD material.

At 24 minutes long, “Zeitgeber” is a notable miniature self-contained opus, given a little bit more breathing space for longer single-layer pad environments and jungle noises.

Nowadays remastering is so prevalent that it’s unusual to hear something that hasn’t been remastered- or, if there has been remastering done, it’s been the fight of a losing battle against the constant hiss of well-worn cassette. It’s not excessively muted or flattened, the character is still present, but it’s a shame that the hiss can’t be shaken, as it gives the whole release something of a demo or bootleg feel (not helped when bonus track “Awakening” sounds like somebody left a tape recorder running by accident while trying to work out a solo piano melody). Tracks like the excellent but slightly daftly-titled “Beckoning Beacon” would have sounded much more spectacular and expansive if hiss-free versions existed. Some of the tracks were recorded live and are even blessed with occasional audience coughs, but sound fairly decent under the circumstances.

It’s an injustice that The Nightcrawlers are now (or have always been) somewhat obscure, because there’s clearly a musical legacy here that, while not necessarily standing out as particularly unique in character (or band name), has a depth and quality that make this a really enjoyable best-part-of-three-hours. I just wish there were better quality recordings available.

Mahdyar: Seized

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Feb 27 2018
Artist: Mahdyar
Title: Seized
Format: LP
Label: Kowloon Records
From Iran and set against a backdrop of cultural repression comes a really fascinating debut album from Mahdyar, who’s jammed together Persian influences and instrumentation, experimental electronica elements and selected flavours of softer hip-hop into a short but varied mostly-instrumental LP that keeps you on your toes throughout.

Skipping between steady and off-kilter rhythm patterns, it’s busting at the seams with ideas, some of which are very shortlived. Almost all the tracks are under 4 minutes and yet within that short running time, many of them still find time for tempo changes or musical suffices. Slow swaggering grooves on tracks like “Hush” and field recordings of markets and street musicians on “Khakis” contrast against tense warping synth-string arrangements on “Iran Iraq” and the playful rhythmic weirdness of “Running From”. Finale “Twist The Facts” throws in a bit of everything.

The strange vocal and dark threat of “Timmy Might Bury Y’All”, leading into the initially light then militaristic “Vow”, is one of the most emotive and powerful sections. It’s not an overtly political release but, as the artwork suggests, one imbued with feelings of local tension and strong feelings.

It’s musically powerful stuff that fans of glitchy electronica should definitely pay some attention to.

Heal: Espace d’incertitude

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Feb 13 2018
Artist: Heal
Title: Espace d’incertitude
Format: LP
Label: Sound On Probation
Laurent Perrier has stepped away from his laptop synthesis and towards modular systems for this album of two halves, with each half focussed on a particular synth or brand of synths.

The first half is “the Buchla side”. Analogue loops, patterns and arpeggios cycle around, with gradual knob twiddling gradually tweaking the sound, sometimes purer and bleepier, at other times grimier with hints of acid bass. And that’s the whole of the first half- no extra layers, no pads, no percussion, just the self-driving bleepy synth patterns that unfold and evolve in nine relatively succinct packages, each around 4 minutes long. There’s not a whole lot to distinguish between these first five pieces, but to get a flavour, try opener “Post pesto”.

The second half, “the Mutable side”, switches to synthetic pads, with repeating solo chord patterns that keep your focus single-handedly for minutes on end, resulting in a more chilled-out affair. Slight key flourishes on “Hysterese” are quaint details that add depth to a mostly stripped-back affair, although “Poids d’evidence” builds to quite a swell of sound. Final track “Stridule” feels like the culmination of the whole affair, with shorter bleep patterns and pads finally blending into the one longest and more melodic arrangement which, despite still only being a couple of layers, ends up sounding practically symphonic compared to the sparseness that has preceded it.

It’s as much a synth showcase and a demo of what can be achieved with careful twiddling as it is a fully realised album, more like two short EP’s with the same concept and different synths stitched together, but nevertheless it’s a good example of what compelling sounds and patterns can be created from a very minimal brief.

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