Music Reviews

Fret: Over Depth

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Oct 14 2017
Artist: Fret
Title: Over Depth
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Karlrecords
Mick Harris has a glittering CV (Napalm Death, Scorn, Painkiller) but this is his first full-length outing under new guise Fret. It’s a collection of ten mostly five-minute-long percussively hammering instrumental pieces of complex and broken Aphex Twin-ish thumping beats, dark rolling bass tones, sinister atmospheres and crunchy electronic glitches with the emphasis firmly on the lower end of the sonic register.

There’s very little progression within each track, and often very little to distinguish between many of the tracks, which all follow the same angry, attitude-laden format. Tracks like “Stuck In The Track At Salford Priors” are notable for a strangely ethnic sounding and ghostly soundscape that can just about be made out between the beats. The scratchy metallic string noises in “Lifford Res” are particularly tension-inducing, in a grating sort of way. With its more expansive sense of space, in relative terms closing track “No Rain” is milder, but that’s a little like saying that being slapped in the face is milder than being punched in the stomach.

It’s very polished and rich, for sure, with a variety of details that you only appreciate in a headphone listen. If you’re looking for an hour-long wash of neighbour-waking low-end breakbeat with a dark techno aesthetic to make yourself forget something, this is probably the wall of sound you’re looking for. But it does lack the variety or the distinctive elements that would make you really prize it as an album.

Ziúr: U Feel Anything?

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Oct 12 2017
Artist: Ziúr
Title: U Feel Anything?
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Planet Mu / Objects Limited
Ziúr is described as coming “out of the fringes of Berlin club music”, but this succinct debut full-length album goes towards the very edges of dance music and sometimes beyond. This is intelligent home-listening material, atmospheric and detailed.

After the beatless intro overture of “Human Life Is Not A Commodity” which hints at a more ambient and experimental album than the one you get, it’s the title track that sets out the album’s true stall. Complex rapidfire beats drop in and out sharply underneath glitchy unnatural electronic soundscapes, all of which hinges together thanks to steady and self-assured basslines. “Soaked” pits an oddly childish synth melody against attitude-laden kick drum programming.

Aïsha Devi’s vocal contributions on “Body Of Light” are autotuned and pitch-shifted rather unsympathetically in a manner that borders on the chipmunk sound, which feels like a missed opportunity. Zhala’s jazz-tinged vocal on “Laughing And Crying Are The Same Things” are slightly more respected, but there’s still a sonic disconnection between the vocal and the rest of the track, as though a found acapella has been pasted into a track it doesn’t really belong to.

Besides the couple of vocal tracks, we mostly here explore the world of retriggering glitchy drum patterns with the stuttering “Cipher”, the short-lived timestretch exercises of “Moonlight” and “Arise”, and the much darker-edged clap-sample-loop jittering “Rituals Of Passage” which sounds like a post-dubstep horror movie soundtrack on speed.

“Drawn”, later in the album, is one of the more successful blends of slow melodies and basslines with excited drums. The marginally more conventionally structured “Don’t Buy It” is a filmic hard EDM that feels like it ought to be soundtracking some insane fistfight between robots, similarly final track “Fractals” has teeny guitar snippets although this time with a more tongue-in-cheek touch.

The real strength of this 41-minute album is in the low ends. The melodic work may feel a bit loose and first-take-y but it’s in the bass and drum programming that it really shines. With a press release that talks about yin and yang, harshness and softness, here’s an album which is better at being harsh than it is at being soft.

Klein: Tommy

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Sep 28 2017
Artist: Klein
Title: Tommy
Format: 12"
Label: Hyperdub
“Tommy” is a very difficult to fathom 24-minute collection of 8 tracks which take vocal and lounge-music-ish tones that sound like downtempo trip-hop and stick them in a glitch blender to generate something genuinely strange even by Hyperdub standards, even by ChainDLK standards in fact. A deliberate aversion to steady rhythm and a willingness to jump spontaneously between sombre drone and cut-up mania, partnered with a playful willingness to pitch down and timestretch vocals to the point of being unrecognisable and beyond, gives you something that’s genuinely hard to get your head around.

“Cry Theme” is particularly disorientating, taking one vocal snippet (possibly singing “never cry”) and pitching and retriggering it over detuned and flanged piano in a piece that seems to first clamour for your attention and then seems to want rid of that attention before returning with a brief train-like rhythm pattern that is one of the few parts of this work that feels deliberately structured.

There’s a strong sense of tragedy throughout, as though a melancholy is competing with a furious sense of injustice behind a mixing desk without either coming out the winner. The title track, a two-minute layering of off-kilter piano and busy café noises, is quite unrepresentative of the whole. The last two pieces, “B2k” and “Farewell Sorry”, are slightly more low-key affairs, although the latter started patterning up in a way that almost begins to evolve into rave music if you squint with your ears.

It’s entertainingly weird- and I mean that without a single negative connotation- and rather raw in parts, a bold mini-album of expressive and personal electronica that will inspire some people, and confuse the hell out of others.

Dream Control: Zeitgeber

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Sep 27 2017
Artist: Dream Control
Title: Zeitgeber
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Medical Records
This debut collaboration between Zeus B. Held and ex-Tangerine Dream Steve Schroyder is a sharp, super-polished bit of sci-fi synthpop. Across six mostly “extended mix”-length tracks you get the full works of driving pulsing synth basslines, effected vocals, guitar snippets, glitter energy and drama.

Like synthwave it delves into 1980’s era sonics with aplomb, and also pushes one step further and borrows organ sounds and early vocoder tones from the 1970’s prog rock palette, but there’s also a bright and undoubtedly modern aspect to the production that can’t be ignored.

After the glittery upfront disco feel of “Gamma Ray”, things get a little gentler and more progressive with “Time Out”, a track that seems to explore how the DNA of electronic dance music runs through both old and new. “Kant Can Dance” showcases the ‘techno throat singing’ of Kolja Simon and Felix Mönnich as ‘AlienVoices’, regular collaborators here, set to an even more Tangerine Dream-esque setting mainly thanks to the synth harpsichord sounds. When not being heavily effected, the vocal has a hint of Dieter Meier’s warmth and accent about it.

The second half also starts at pace, with the more attitude-laden “To Tomoro” with a lush full-on sci-fi-rocket-launch intro and some NASA-esque vocal samples thrown in for good measure, albeit with a vocal that doesn’t quite cut through enough. “Go Forward” is an oddity, a radio-edit-length sparse number which feels a little too much like an underproduced demo in some ways but which does provide an extra bit of breadth. The final track is the electro-symphony of “Doors Of Perception”, taking somewhat Jean-Michel Jarre-like noises and building a ten minute evolving bit of synth majesty out of it that’s masterfully balanced, a masterclass in electronic music progression.

I’m not going to play it cool, I love this and it puts a smile on my face. Not every track is a classic but it’s an energetic and unabashed electro-disco-synthpop melee with an exemplary production standard, and fans of any aspect of the broad genre will find something to enjoy in it.

Antiquark: Adama

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Sep 26 2017
Artist: Antiquark
Title: Adama
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Released six months ago but only sent to me as a promo last week, “Adama” is a release I missed earlier this year, but I’m glad it swung round again and I got a second chance to hear it.

An EP consisting of two original tracks and four remixes, it’s a thick-stirred melting pot of a wide variety of genres. The instrumentation has that ethno-electronica sound of acts like Asian Dub Foundation, but the song structures are more electro-pop, yet the male vocal feels like it’s been lifted from something more rocky and gothic.

After the solid and fairly radio-friendly title track that serves as a good indicator, “Adelita” is a stranger affair, with a darker groove and a strange form of beat-poetry structure including a whole bunch of esoteric choral and spoken-word samples.

In the remix bundle, Getriebe Analogique bring a nicely understated funk to “Medavog” with a lovely bit of bass guitar work and the result is a strong slice of synthpop. Rudy Seery’s take on “La Fine” results ups the Eastern flavours with drone tones that are somewhere between throat singing and didgeridoo over a laidback trip-hoppy rhythm that evolves into something more complex as it progresses.

The final two remixes have a broader scope and feel less coherent within the package. In a jolt of styles, Prosthesis Unit’s version of “Medavog” is a thumping but slightly over-familiar bit of gothic techno-pop with a hint of electro breaks. Milkmud’s long ‘Factory Steel’ mix of “Laika” is an edgier offering, with a heavy rhythmic industrial thump underpinning distorted samples, randomised bleeps and oscillated squeals that works in its own right but lands us a whole world away from where we began.

It’s a bright, poppy collection of tunes that will strongly appeal to fans of Afro Celt Sound System, Dr. Didg and so on, and I make no apology for the deliberate use of 1990’s references in these comparisons as there’s something quite rooted in that era production-wise about this release as well.

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