Music Reviews



The Nightcrawlers: The Biophonic Boombox Recordings

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Mar 01 2018
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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
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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
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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.

Palmbomen II: Memories Of Cindy

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Feb 12 2018
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Artist: Palmbomen II
Title: Memories Of Cindy
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Beats In Space Records
The concept behind this release from Kai Hugo is an unusual one, both centrepiecing and eulogizing a woman called Cindy who may or may not exist, circling around themes that are on one level romantic but on another more sinister and bordering on obsessive.

Musically though things are much more straightforward- this is downtempo melodic house, a big collection of mostly-instrumental house made up of straight 4/4 drum machine patterns underpinning layers of synth arpeggios and pads, coupled with TB-303 style acid bass notes in a very refined and moderated form. Most of the tracks are little more than grooves, structured in fairly conventional DJ-friendly ways with predictable breakdowns. For some tracks, imagine Hardfloor tracks but slower with more dreaminess and less attitude.

What vocals there are, such as the word “Seventeen” sung on loop during the track of the same name, are generally quite ethereal and complimentary but they never step out far enough to really be described as songs. “Dreams Always Come Thru” is one of the best examples.

More notable production points include the unusual tape wobble melody effects of “RTL Unifeeder”, and “IAO Industries” which is a little harder and more raw-edged and slightly more intriguing for it.

At 22 tracks and 88 minutes, it’s a little self-indulgent and it could certainly have been tightened up into a single CD release (I’d have to single out “Dancing & Crying” as particularly flat). It’s a smoothly made and consistent musical vision but it perhaps lacks some of the twists and turns it maybe needed to make it really stand out- though given their YouTube activities, maybe Palmbomen II are more interested in adding visual character.

VV.AA.: Sounds From The Matrix Vol. 19

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Feb 11 2018
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Sounds From The Matrix Vol. 19
Format: CD + Download
Label: Alfa-Matrix (@)
Rated: *****
A great way to discover new music and bands (or maybe some bands you already know but haven't kept up with) is through label compilation CDs. For the electro/industrial/synthpop genres, few do it better than the Alfa-Matrix label. This is their 19th label compilation, and that has to count for something. Alfa-Matrix comps can also be collector's items after they go out of print, so it's worth getting the physical CD. I can't say I've been lucky enough to own many of them (I think I acquired
one years ago, but can't remember where it is now) so I can't compare this one to others, but there is plenty of really cool stuff on it. Twenty tracks by twenty different artists, and I can only give a thumbnail description of each. Begins with ElektroklÄnge doing "Heimkonsole" (Mehrsprachige Version), a retro Kraftwerkian number with vocoder German vocals, steady kick for the beat, and bubbly synths. Low key but effective. Metroland offers "Man in a Frame," with spoken male & female vocals in the same mid-tempo rhythm as the previous track. Nice noirish synthwork. AD:KEY picks up the pace with "Reanimator"(Phoenix Version), more German vocals (male & female), in monochromatic melody, and the enhanced rhythm makes for good dance fodder. ELM's "Wapenrustning" (Hard-Mix) begins with the vocal chorus - "Know your place in the food chain" so you'll know right off the bat what this song is about. Carried off with a basic beat and nice bass synth groove, but not much more than that. Mildreda's "Neon Eon" starts out with a jarring vocal sample - "I said your fucking baby's gonna burn" and the music is full of plenty of industrial samples and sounds amidst the synths with
vocals that border on hellectro. It's kind of a mish-mosh but still pretty cool. Then you get "Blowback" from Psychic Force and this is a monster of a dancefloor stomper. The hook is in the instrumental synth break, and although the melody sounds like something I've heard before, it still carries some weight. Vocals sort of along the lines of early Front Line Assembly. Star Industry's "Shiver" (Aesthetische Cold Mix) sounds like John Foxx gone electro-industrial. So far this is the best realized track on the CD, with really good hit potential. "Anathema" by Crytek offers both raspy and clean vocals, but it's the clean vocals that have the grabbing hook. Mondtraume shows you "All You Cannot See" (Crytek Mix) and though the vocals are kind of "meh" it has a good driving beat. Kant Kino's "Wrong" sounds right to me with a really good chorus hook and brief amusing sampled phrases. Junksista featuring Essence of Mind disses "Monday" (everybody hates you), and sort of sounds like two different songs, but is memorable enough. I'ce already reviewed Psy'Aviah's "Game Changer" on the "Lightflare" album review, but it fits in well enough with the other tracks on this comp. "Kamikaze
Angel" comes courtesy of Helalyn Flowers, and it's the kind of track that makes you want to hear more from this band. Powerful female vocalist sounding like Pat Benatar gone electro-industrial. Outstanding, and another highlight from this comp. "Dead Sea" by Lovelorn Dolls didn't impress me nearly as much; sort of came off like Bel Canto gone metal. Sin.Sin featuring Helalyn Flowers has a moody groove, but wasn't nearly as good as Helalyn Flowers' "Kamikaze Angel." Imjudas is the dark
electro project of maXX from Helalyn Flowers (that band seems to have their prints all over this comp) and "Tulpa" sounds like Duran Duran gone dark electro. If nothing else, Komo Kommando will likely be remembered for their catchy "Music is My Religion"; just one of those songs that invades your brain and won't let go. Now here's a blast from the past - Mentallo & the Fixer with "Methodical Damage." Every lesson these guys ever learned from Skinny Puppy is packed solidly into this
instrumental track. Not likely to get much radio or club play but it's still loads of industrial fun. Implant's "The Phone Call" (Implant RMX) is strange and experimental for sure. Weird techno meets performance art. Final track by Schwarzblut is indeed an interesting one. Classical meets EBM, sung in German and I wouldn't have it any other way with these folks. Light and dark, heavy and floaty, totally eclectic, poetic and wonderful. I was actually stunned when it ended and left wanting more more more!

So as you can see there's plenty of good stuff on this Alfa-Matrix comp, and it can be yours for absolutely free- with a purchase of one of their physical products from the Alfa-Matrix store (CD, DVD or vinyl). Or, you can listen to it streaming from their Bandcamp site for free! If you'd prefer a digital copy, you can get that there as well for about 9 Euros. Go buy something- support the label, support the band, support the music!


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