Music Reviews



Jun 23 2018
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Artist: Christopher Chaplin
Title: Paradise Lost
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Fabrique Records
Christopher Chaplin’s second album is a truly curious beast, and probably the oddest setting of John Milton’s poem that you’ll have ever heard.

As the artwork suggests this is a properly theatrical work, merging sparse bits of English-language opera singing (Nathan Vale on the first and last tracks), beat poetry (Leslie Winer on the second track), sporadic and often very ominous-sounding string and woodwind orchestrations with some experimental percussive performance elements and an occasional smattering of modern electronica, drones and synth twiddling.

Sometimes meandering into abstract soundscaping, and at other times feeling more like an overtly staged performance piece, it seems to revel in the defiance of expectations on each level- including lyrically, being difficult to follow and inviting you to try and interpret that which may not actually be interpretable.

Personally I am more intrigued by the Nathan Vale-featuring “I Dread”, which has a greater sense of dynamic, than the sultry, smoky squidginess of Leslie Winer’s rambling lines on “Dave The Shoe”, on the grounds that the latter feels less distinctive. The shorter final operatic piece “Of This New World” feels somehow more conventionally vocally, but the offset of plaintive melancholic tenor singing against glitchy electronics is still a winning combination.

Although this work feels like it ought to make more sense in a live performance setting than on an album, it’s a properly unusual work that commands attention.

BELP: Hippopotamus

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jun 16 2018
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Artist: BELP
Title: Hippopotamus
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: SVS Records / Jahmoni
“Hippopotamus” is a compact 34-minute album of mostly relaxed, dubby, sub-bass heavy beats in complex, dancehall-like patterns, built with low-end sonics reminscent of Leftfield or releases on labels like Hyperdub, over which relatively simple synth chord progressions and digital atmospherics roll steadily and confidently.

Sebastian Schnitzenbaumer (BELP) was born and now lives in Munich but partially grew up on the Seychelles islands, and there are dual European and African influences on show here, as there are the dual influence of classical music training and an obvious love of deep dub and beats.

It’s almost entirely instrumental, with minor exceptions, such as the spoken word material on the opening track. Ending the first side with one minute of pure opera in “By Beauteous Softness” is a confident and effective touch.

Highlights include the rubber-bassed weirdness of “Clinging To A Cloud”, the sci-fi-dancehall crossover of unimaginatively titled “Space Dub”, and the atmospheric jazzy tones of “Time And Again”.

It’s a really well-formed release that doesn’t outstay any welcome. Certainly a release worth appreciating in an environment where you can really enjoy the bass, people who like their electronica dubby and deep should put this right at the top of their wishlists.

Ammar 808: Maghreb United

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jun 15 2018
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Artist: Ammar 808
Title: Maghreb United
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Glitterbeat Records
An overt fusion between Northwest African traditional sounds and rhythms and sci-fi synth production, Sofyann Ben Youssef’s album as Ammar 808 is a bold bit of confident sample-driven electronica with a fresh-sounding and enjoyable vibe.

The time signatures are a blend as well. Some tracks, like “El bidha wel samra”, follow traditional 3 / 4 and less DJ-friendly patterns, and I’m not even sure what time “Layli” is in. Others, like “Alech Taadini”, have a 4 / 4 arrangement that would allow them to place easily in a broad-minded mix.

“Kahl el inin” is a prime example of the album’s harder-edged moments, that really justifies the use of the 808 in the name- thick, pure, subbass rumbling in a sort of ethno-techno- while by contrast tracks like “Boganga & sandia” have a more celebratory tone that is inherited from the vocal source material which, as far as I can tell, is treated with reverence and left structurally intact while the beats are built around it.

Over ten tracks, almost all under four minutes, it’s a tightly-packed collection of energetic dance numbers that doesn’t outstay its welcome. While it’s not going to win any awards for clever musical fusion, it’s easily carried by a feel-good factor and a deserved confidence in its own quality that definitely deserves a thumbs-up.

Tom Hall: Spectra

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jun 14 2018
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Artist: Tom Hall
Title: Spectra
Format: CD
Label: Elli Records
Describing himself as an audio-visual artist, Tom Hall’s instrumental album “Spectra” sits somewhere between conventional synth-electronica- with hints of symphonic synthwave- and more experimental and drone tones, but with a reverent attitude to tonality and melody that prevents any of the pieces from stepping too extensively into the latter category. Hall openly references a broad set of influences from musique concrete to ‘quasi-pop’ and it’s an interesting melting pot that produces results that, while not revolutionary, certainly have a quality taste.

The release doesn’t retain the energy it begins with when opener “One Fell Swoop” starts, settling down into more atmospheric territory over time, but it’s not without its energetic elements- “Remain”, for example, has strong hints of the rapid-cut granular synthesis heard on BT releases like “This Binary Universe”.

The ‘one track to listen to on Spotify to see if you’ll like the album’ track would probably be “Intersect”, which gives you a strong idea of what’s going on here. The organ drone of “Ebb” could pass as the experimental final track on an EBM album, with some parts sounding like an early Chemical Brothers release with the beats taken off- last track “Last Retreat” reminds me, rightly or wrongly, of a beatless “The Private Psychedelic Reel”. “Flow” runs on similar lines but with some more unusual, ethnic-sounding bowed elements that give it a more distinctive profile.

Working with digital synth sounds commonly found in synthwave and pushing them into slightly more improvised, soundtrack-like and experimental directions, without losing track of their primary associations, “Spectra” is pretty successful without being eye-opening.

David Newlyn: Collected Fictions

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Jun 13 2018
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Artist: David Newlyn
Title: Collected Fictions
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Sound In Silence
Though he’s described as an ‘ambient producer’, this initially isn’t ambient music. It’s slightly lo-fi downtempo acoustic-cored electronica that takes relatively conventional instrumental set-ups of piano, guitar, bass and drum machine with long waves of synth pads, and stretches them into slow, melancholy numbers built around steady road-movie grooves.

Tracks like “Hymn To Bleachgreen” do open up with sparser, barren-sounding pads, but “Travelling For A Living”, after a slow plaintive electronica intro, brings the soft drums back in and returns itself a steady step in the direction of electronica MOR. Deliberately low-quality production touches on “Ashes” doesn’t wholly disguise the fact it’s just three minutes of meandering solo piano sorrow.

It’s obviously quite heartfelt at times but there was something about “Collected Fictions” that I just failed to warm to. Somehow it just felt that shade too effortless- and not in a good way- and with a diversity that seemed to come from inconsistency rather than real breadth or inspiration.


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