Music Reviews

Zoë McPherson: String Figures

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Mar 10 2018
Artist: Zoë McPherson
Title: String Figures
Format: LP
Label: SVS Records
Zoë McPherson offers up a 7-track (sorry, 7 “chapter”) mini-album that blends together moody digital electronica with organic found-sound elements, emotive vocalisations and multilingual whispered spoken word layers, rumbles and atmospherics. A variety of natural-sounding and geographically broad percussive rhythms (mostly contributed by Falk Schrauwen), occasionally underpinned by soft techno patterns, quietly keep things ticking along without ever wandering to the forefront.

Throat singing has arguably become one of the clichés of experimental music in the same way birdsong has become synonymous with ambient, so when the press release opened with a description of the field recordings of Inuit throat singing, I feared it would be entering that cliché space- but it doesn’t at all. The throat singing is just one element, often used as a substitute for dark electronic bass almost, and certainly not the general highlighted feature.

Longer pieces like opening track “Sabotage Story” have their own internal unfolding progressions, as layers come and go, sometimes purely atmospherics, sometimes harder and more percussive. In the latter half of the album shorter tracks are more single-idea affairs like the gentle pseudo-harmonica (or possibly actual harmonica) of “Hardingfele.”

It’s richly-toned, introspective, sombre electronica with a few quirky twists that don’t break the sincerity. It maybe falls between several stools in terms of purpose and effect to the listener but it’s undoubtedly an interesting listen.

Creta: Creta

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Mar 06 2018
Artist: Creta
Title: Creta
Format: LP
Label: Karl
Creta is a collaboration between established musicians Massimo Pupillo, Luciano Lamanna and Roberto Zanisi, who approach this from different backgrounds and unsurprisingly have concocted a release that is very hard to pigeonhole.

Four minutes into opening track “...And Everything That Shines” it’s easy to think you already have the measure of it- dark drones, distant processed string noises, and a barren soundscape. But suddenly we meet a superslow bouncing techno kick sound, and moments later, a Spanish-influenced bit of acoustic guitar noodling. After a while this opens up and the beat fades away into something calmer, almost jazzy with vibe sounds, but never losing the deep rumbling experimental undercurrent.

“Babe In The Egg Of Blue” opens with a slightly increased sense of urgency, with a constantly ebbing bass note that threatens something explosive for several minutes before the slightly playful guitar playing settles us into accepting that this strange arrangement is our new normal, like getting used to a choppy ferry ride.

Final track “Future Humans In Form Of Aur” again opens quite cinematically before settling into another plaintive but complex atmosphere, this time highlighting the violin work alongside the plucked, this time faintly Americana guitar. Of the three tracks, this is perhaps the one that sounds somewhat dragged out, fading away in the midpoint very slowly without surprises once its initial arrangement has been established, with a solo guitar section tacked on somewhat awkwardly to finish.

At 31 minutes it’s a mini album in which the collaborators behind Creta have built something that sounds fresh and distinctive. It’s sonically self-indulgent in some ways, but intriguing and full of character.

Braconidae: Magnetic Reel

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Mar 04 2018
Artist: Braconidae
Title: Magnetic Reel
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Swiss Dark Nights EXP
This is a discombobulating four-track electronica EP from Emiliana Voltarel, twisting and warping synth noises and deep found sounds into a bizarre and sometimes uncomfortable eulogy of insects.

The title track, pitched as a manifesto, sets dark beat poetry (cut, mushed and retriggered) over a thick wall of wrangled noises- rattles, rumbles and scrapes, both digital and real (if you see what I mean). Glass-ish organ arpeggios run low in the mix to give a distinct feel of suspense.

“Deathwatch Beetle” offers something thinner and more cavernous, glitching a short spoken word snippet over slow ominous percussive sounds that gradually meld into a dark techno that stops abruptly just as it feels like a structure has been accomplished.

“Bullet Ant” focuses on deep and distorted long synth bass notes, that again attract an increasing array of percussive sounds that are forming a proto-techno that stops before it has truly begun. Final tracks “Scrapes”, the odd one out in that it’s not dedicated to insects, is named rather literally after the collage of scraping sounds that are compiled here- most prominently what sounds like metal across piano strings. A light rhythm formed of coin-like noises and a low bass rumble keep things in keeping with the rest of the EP.

The title track is the most fully fleshed-out track on this release, making it feel more like an old-fashioned single with 3 instrumental B-sides. It’s thick and feels very personal and is certainly an attention-drawing statement of intent.

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.

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