Music Reviews

Oval: Popp

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Oct 04 2016
Artist: Oval
Title: Popp
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Uovooo
Distributor: Anost
This is a stupendously busy album, not a second goes by without a stutter, a glitch or a keyframe. The initial volley of “ai” (all the tracks have two-letter names) threatens a relentless assault bordering on Venetian Snares territory, but things settle down fairly quickly, and by the time you reach “ku”, your heartbeat has adapted to running at 60bpm, 120bpm and 240bpm all at the same time and the atmosphere, vibes and mood of the arrangements start to shine through.

“Sa” is the ingredients of a moody, Delerium-esque ballad diced through a musical blender and then tastefully arranged in a nouveau cuisine arrangement. It’s successor “Lo” takes on a more aggressive, driving rhythm and defies you to call this a chill-out glitch album. “My” manages to sound very fresh yet feel like a tribute to Todd Edwards’ remixes at the same time.

Ultimately though, these eleven tracks are very consistent- too consistent. The same patterns, the same tempos, the same ingredients crop up on every track, only the quantities seem to change, and despite only being 43 minutes long in total, you do get left with a slight feeling that the original ideas have been stretched too thinly across this work.

Oh and I can’t stand the cover, which is a hammer in a plastic bag- I assumed it was a razor but had to be corrected- except that from a distance it looks much more like a used condom in a plastic bag. It isn’t. The artwork’s both ugly and a very poor fit for the music.

Krakaur: Krakaur

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Sep 26 2016
Artist: Krakaur
Title: Krakaur
Format: Tape
Label: Youngbloods
This is a smooth and confident work, docked in the safe and familiar harbour of moody post-dubstep IDM. Slow, light chords and reverberance are underpinned by ebbing and flowing rhythms that wander both in and out and from minimalism to glitch.

At 32 minutes for the entire work, with some tracks broken into parts and several tracks clocking in under two minutes, there’s a slight sense that this is a collection of incomplete or under-realised sketches and experiments rather than a fully completed album listening experience. I would’ve welcomed a longer journey.

“Neighbor”, featuring rap from ENxVE, is a highlight. The interplay of rhythms works well, with a relatively conventional rhyme form playing in parallel with carefully and unexpectedly placed beats. “Acre II”, with the pained, faintly Robert Fripp-like guitar work on top, is another stand-out, and “Soul II”’s subbass needs to be appreciated on very large speakers or tight headphones.

As well as limited edition cassette, the album will also be available as a pay-what-you-want digital download.

T.e.s.o.: over a neutral landscape

 Posted by Ibrahim Khider (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jul 25 2016
with image
Artist: T.e.s.o. (@)
Title: over a neutral landscape
Format: CDS (CD Single)
Label: self-released
At once evocative of mid-to-late 90’s era Autechre with nods to Alec Empire and Apex Twin among other artists such as Arovane and Phonem, but countered with more ambient-abstract textural palettes for a dynamic listen. T. E. S. O. are a Milan-Italy based duo Matteo and Jacopo who mostly self-release digital files, cassette tapes, and CD-R’s of their abstract electro-acoustic atmospheric excursions, melded with construction-site-grade beats. However, they also have releases on Fat Cat, who put out music by exemplary artists. Over A Neutral Landscape tends to alternate between darker ambient atmospheric and frenetic IDM from track to track, but when the two styles blend, the result is marvelous. Case in point is the opening track, ‘Jaz’ which is akin to a robot or machine going into system malfunction and circuit overload whereas “Parte Prima” is an eerie bit with creepy audio samples, perhaps culled from a horror film with intermittent aortic beats. However, “Matin” is a standout track and easily my favorite; a melodic piece with intricate beats haunted with the ghosts of Burial-style dubstep and lovely keyboard hooks. That one goes for inspires repeated listens. In the following ‘Catalogue’, we are taken into subterranean passages through winding, dusty tunnels and sustained horror movie soundtrack tension. Still further yet the following “Pgm-Tik...” and “Akrp...” we are in pure abstract malfunctioning IDM beat territory with frenetic robots and unmaintained machines. Occasionally there are moments of melodic overtone as in the following track “Lezione su nastro”, but around this time we are more into Confield-era Autechre. The final track ‘K’, starts off ambient but over the course of nearly the next twenty minutes, gets noisier and gradually dissolves into madness. Over a Neutral Landscape is a CD-R release with handmade packaging, but that in no way diminishes the album, which is excellent. I look forward to listening to more fine material by T.E.S.O. who are clearly a talented duo bringing new things to the IDM genre.

Deadrow77: Dark Waves for Little Greys

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jul 24 2016
Artist: Deadrow77
Title: Dark Waves for Little Greys
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Facthedral's Hall (@)
Rated: *****
Deadrow77 is Fabien Della Roma, a farmer who grows organic saffron in the Oriental Pyrenees mountains. And no, the album was not made exclusively using farm implements, but exclusively using a MiniLab 25 Arturia synthesizer. This is the second release by Deadrow77, the first going all the way back to 2005, called 'Mi-Figue/Mi-Raisin'. Man, that was a long time ago. I haven't heard that one, so I can only tell you about 'Dark Waves for Little Greys'. It's a double album (2 CDs) comprised of 29 instrumental pieces. Don't let that doggie on the cover fool you; I can't find any connection with the animal and the music. The label, Facthedral's Hall, describes the music as "a mix of of electro-ambient, electronica, dark, cosmic, psychedelic, tribal, medieval..." In places that may be true to some extent, but overall, that seems like a stretch. What you're really getting is simple, quirky, melodic synthesizer pieces, with a slightly dark tone. Now the impressive thing is that the majority of these spontaneous improvisations were recorded in a single take. When you consider that, it makes a big, big difference. The CDs are ordered 2013 (CD1) and 2014 (CD2), which I would assume to reference when they were composed. Some of the track titles pay up the whimsical quirkiness as well - "My First Caroussel," "Blind Tightrope Walker," "Pariah's Groove," "Knockin' D. Lynch's Door," "Psychic Bleeding," "Sabatik Salsa," "Birthnight Today," "Carbon Circus," and others. As for what it sounds like, well, imagine if you will, a instrumental collaboration between Tonto's Expanding Headband (Malcolm Cecil & Robert Margouleff) and The Residents. It might sound something like this. The melody and structure is ultra-simple, but there is a wide variety of sounds employed. Often there is rhythm but it is electronic rather than any conventional drums or drum machine. Some of these melodies sound very serious, while others are sort of goofy. Circus fantasy, carnival, medieval, klezmer, Kraftwerk, and numerous other influences are at work here. To some extent, certain forms hearken back to the electronic experimentalism of the 70's and 80's. There is one track ("TechNoLogic Future") that utilizes a similar rhythmic impetus as Wall of Voodoo's "Ring of Fire." Occasionally some of the electronic sounds employed resemble real instruments, but mostly it does not stray from its synthetic origins. Undoubtedly the listener will find some compositions more interesting than others. Due to their completely improvised nature, some tracks sound more like ideas for songs (demos) rather than completely fleshed-out songs. Still, it might serve well as background music for mimes or other non-verbal theatrical pieces, maybe even animation. It's possible that the album could have been distilled down to a single CD's worth of the best stuff, but the buyer who's looking for the most bang for the buck should be amply rewarded. If you're into peculiar melodic synthesizer compositions, then Deadrow77's 'Dark Waves for Little Greys' is for you. Limited to 500 copies.

Technophobia: Flicker Out

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jul 17 2016
Artist: Technophobia (@)
Title: Flicker Out
Format: 12"
Label: Working Order Records (@)
Rated: *****
Technophobia is a dark electronic band from Washington, D.C. comprised of Katie Petix (vocals) and Stephen Petix (analogue synths, drum machines and programming). They began in 2013 I believe, playing live and sharing the stage with such acts as Skinny Puppy, Laibach, Douglas McCarthy (Nitzer Ebb) and others. 'Flicker Out' is their first full-length release. This is actually one of the few reviews that I've been able to post timed with the release date (July 17), since I'm always getting backed up here and much of the product sent to Chain D.L.K. central that's handed off to me arrives well after it's been released. (They sent this to me direct, which helps speed things up.) Anyway, prior to the album, a 12" single of the track "Negative Space" was released, and I also received that, but the record arrived BROKEN. Not to worry, I was still able to check it out on the band's site, but we'll leave that to later and go straight to the album.

Opening robustly with "Shame," Katie proves to be a stong and capable vocalist with a very good melodic voice. There are nice harmonies and a ballsy beat with a decent hook. Synthwork is oldschool, and that's reflected throughout the album. There's definitely an EBM vibe here in the music as it becomes more evident in "The Principle," with a copious amount of sequencing and synth sounds you've heard a million times before, but good melody lines and harmonies keep it from heading into clicheville. The instrumental titled "Siroccos" is a sort of dark ambient mood piece with a simple synth line. Very effective. As we move further into the album, I'm noticing one thing I really like about the songs on 'Flicker Out' is the lyrics. They're poetic and meaningful without being pretentious, and a cut above what you usually find in a lot of dark electronic music today. They were written by Kristy Lupejkis and Katie Petix. The songs on the A side of the record were pretty good. Let's turn it over on the B side.

First up is "Negative Space," the song that was released as the first single. I'm getting a strong Depeche Mode vibe on this one, but in a good way. There's this dialogue sample they use in this song from Jean-Paul Sartre's 'No Exit' - "you can't throttle thoughts with hands". (It took me a while to find the source.) Although "Hands" figures prominently in the song lyrics, I'm not a big fan of movie dialogue samples in music. The band uses them in other places on the album, but so far it hasn't really worked against them. (It will, soon.) Still, the song is about the best so far, and the obvious choice for a single. "Trapped" will carry you back the the 80's. Speaking of the 80's and dialogue samples, "Factory 1981" begins by bludgeoning the listener with the (manipulated) dialogue sample "1981 began with the spectre of violence..." and carries on with an apocalyptic theme. Enuff is enough though with the dialogue samples. The kicker on the album though is the revival of an old song by The Cure from their 'Pornography' album - "One Hundred Years". I never really thought much of the song, figuring it to be rather minor in the band's ouevre, but somehow Technophobia manage to inject a new vitality into it and make it theirs; a powerful version and an outstanding track on the album.

So now let's take a look at that "Negative Space" 12" single. First you get the album version which we've already discussed. Then there is the hERETICS iN tHE lAB Meaning Nothing Remix which gives the song a more industrial edge. The Void Vison Remix is full of distorted beats, echoes up the vocal and strips away most of the music replacing it with some high-pitched synth sound in places. Garbage. Hated it. The Alter Der Ruine Remix keeps the vocals and uses minimal beat and minimal synths to begin with, then just changes it into this sequecner-heavy mess. Didn't care much for that either. Final track is a different song altogether called "Passing People". It has a nice groove, but the only vocals are dialogue samples. Overall, I'd pass on this unless you're a rabid collector of colored vinyl. BTW, I forgot to mention that 'Flicker Out' comes on soda bottle green vinyl. Now that I'd recommend buying. Your money will go to a good cause too because this altruistic band is donating 100% of the proceeds to their charity project, Life Pieces to Masterpieces, an arts-based, youth development, and mentoring organization for African American males ages 3 to 25.

Some final thoughts - Technophobia is a band with a lot of potential. I think if they lean heavily on their strengths (melodicism, good lyrics, powerful vocals and harmonies), cut down or eliminate the dialogue samples and rely a lot less on the 1/16 note synth sequencer they could be a force to be reckoned with. As is, 'Flicker Out' is a pretty good album with more ups than downs and has the potential to grow on you.

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