Music Reviews



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Artist: Bantou Mentale
Title: Bantou Mentale
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Glitterbeat
The debut release from new ensemble Bantou Mentale, self-described as “sonic groundbreakers”, is pitched as “the fulfillment of their long-held dream to create an African band with the weight and sensory attack of knife-edged rock and hot-wired club beats”.

And in a way, that’s overselling it- this isn’t nearly as raucous or knife-edged as I initially expected. Despite having the occasional gunfire FX and angry moments, energy-wise, and in many other ways as well, it’s got more in common with older dance-fusion acts like Transglobal Underground, Asian Dub Foundation or certain-era Dreadzone- solid, enthusiastic, festival-friendly crossover dance tunes with confidence and character, some distorted vocals and guitars here and there and the odd gutpuncher sound, but nothing that’s really going to rip you a new hole to a Slamboree degree. It starts off upbeat, but to an extent chills out quite extensively as it progresses, showing off its classy French underbelly.

But that’s no bad thing, not least because an hour of angry terror wouldn’t have the depth and variety that Bantou Mentale offer up across this hour-long 12-track collection. Here there’s the space for foot-tappingly infectious grooves like “Boko Haram”, or the soulful “Boloko” with its notable mashup of electro bass with a more organic soft rock arrangement. There’s strong vocal work across tracks like “Syria” and more experimental, bordering on jazzy pieces like “Bakoko”.

Although I compared it to a bunch of 90’s-era bands a minute ago- and tracks like “Yoka Chagrin” are absolutely a throwback to that vibe- it has to be said that generally the production is tight and spot-on. “Suabala” sounds like what comes out when Liam Howlett’s feeling funky rather than angry, while “Sango” introduces distorted samples into the prog-fusion core in interesting ways.

So it’s not the furious groundbreaking sonic assault that it’s being pitched as, but no matter, this is still a shining jewel of cross-cultural musical freedom with a fantastic depth and production quality to it. Hopefully it will take off enough to make it possible to justify it being toured live, as a live environment feels like where these songs would really thrive.

DJ Spinn: Da Life E.P.

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Oct 16 2019
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Artist: DJ Spinn
Title: Da Life E.P.
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Hyperdub
Chicago footwork producer DJ Spinn’s return to Hyperdub comprises four tracks of a kind of lightweight tech speed trap, that walks its own path taking all sorts of influences up along with the way.

There’s both dirty and clean versions of “Knock A Patch Out” (the latter omitting the pussy references), a curious 160bpm monster that seems to be channeling the high-energy vibe of old happy hardcore but without the beef. “Sky Way” starts in sexier G Funk territory, opening like a seduction track but getting pulled in weirder directions by doubletime beats.

“Make Her Hot” is a percussion programming workout, taking a somewhat corny, possibly sample-CD sourced female ‘make me hot, oh’ vocal and setting it on some strong and unusual chords, but it’s the beat sequencing that shines here.

“U Ain’t Really ‘Bout That Life” feels like the most fleshed-out of the tracks, several lines of stuttered grime rap paying tribute to Teklife over more curious chord sequences and nicely wonkstepping beats, but there’s something about the swagger that feels off somehow.

It’s an odd 14-minute snapshot of the sound of footwork, it’s very natively at home on the open-minded and consistently high-quality Hyperdub label.
Oct 15 2019
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Artist: HXXS
Title: Year Of The Witch
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Captured Tracks
Recording “Year Of The Witch” was something of an adventure for the duo of Jeannie Colleene and Gavin Neves, who initially recorded it whilst living out of a van whilst on tour, having that hard drive stolen and having to re-record it from memory against the clock.

Perhaps that process helped them in trimming the fat off and offering up an 11-pack of tight, dense three-minute helpings of angry anti-pop built from semi-complex electronic rhythm patterns, sharp and sometimes discordant guitar stabbing, some esoteric acoustic loops, vocals that rapidly tip over from singing into shouting and lyrics oozing dissatisfaction with modern society and politics.

Highlights include “Double Down” with its distinctive assembly of a kind of industrial glam rock, and “Their Satanic Majesty’s 3rd Request” featuring Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio adding a strangely Neil Hannon flavour vocally. “Full Health” is an eye-opening hybrid of gutpunching proto-techno drum production played against the angry indie-guitar side of things, while bouncy “Build A Fire” ends the album with a shade of fun.

At times I can’t make out the lyrics, but otherwise I’d call the production polished, playful and inventive. As it often the case in bands like this, the intros and outros of the songs exhibit some of the most experimental work, like the curious anticipation that opens “Hail Mary”. A deliberate weediness at times might get some tracks labelled as lo-fi, but that wouldn’t be entirely fair.

There’s a beat poetry meets theatrical performance aspect to tracks like “This Loss Of Blood Has Me Feeling Some Type Of Way” which would undoubtedly be powerful live. The reliance on repeating lyrics into mantras is often powerful, but not always- “Hard To Tell” feels like a bit of a mis-fire.

It’s strong independent electro-anti-pop with a strong voice, and if you enjoy hearing frustrations vented over enjoyably awkward sounds, this is a half hour worth checking out.

Flaub: Stratocode From Nowhere

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Oct 11 2019
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Artist: Flaub
Title: Stratocode From Nowhere
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Electronic experimentalist Flaub is internationally well-travelled, taking his one-man analogue sound performances all over the world. “Stratosphere From Nowhere” is an album that has something of a live improvised feel about it at times, recalling some of Tangerine Dream’s more freeform live work but with more impulsiveness and less structure.

Layers of squeaks, bleeps, sine waves, pulses and crisp-edged rumbles ebb and fade, painting textured landscapes- sometimes quite thick, like in the opening title track, or sometimes sparser, such as in the gradual builds of “Ignis Fatuus”. There are strong shades of retro analogue tone that recalls 60’s avantgarde or Radiophonic work- especially in the bubbly and squelchy “Warbling Static”, which breaks into multiple chapters like a sci-fi soundtrack suite. But to a lesser extent it also has that modern, sharp-edged arhythmic glitchy and digital tone at times.

The track that really held my attention was “Stationary waves”, thanks to a high level of dynamism, with the volume of the whole piece fading and rising, sometimes quite sharply, while the pulses also rise and fall- waves upon waves, sometimes tense, sometimes more relaxed, with added percussive echoes and low industrial tones to boot. It’s the track with the most character of the set.

It’s a strong piece of modular experimentation, and while it does feel like it revels in the past rather than pushing anything forward, it’s still a very worthwhile 40-minute listen for any lovers of dark freeform electronics.

Only Now: Captivity

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Oct 08 2019
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Artist: Only Now
Title: Captivity
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: SOUK Records
For this five-track, 27-minute EP, Kush Arora as Only Now fuses together a variety of genres into an energetic statement of musical intent. There’s the sonics and techniques of EDM, most obviously the gutpunchers and subbasses that begin the album, and a familiar palette of drones, kicks and glitches. But into the mix also go synth and guitar melodic loops, ethnic-sounding percussion patterns, field recordings and other sources of diversity. It’s EDM in a fashion, but the structures are unpredictable, the breakdown sections are longer and darker, the distortion and rumbling is harder and more evil.

It’s a dynamic expression of frustration that catches you by surprise, such as in the sudden dropped beats in “Mutants” or the spontaneous switch in “Slaughter” from angry industrial beats to a long wistful bit of guitar plucking that you might think of as a break, but which you gradually realise is a permanent change. Underlying grooves in tracks like “Bound 2” offer up a semblance of structure that’s nicely spread across the mini-album, and final track “Clock Lust” is an atmospheric ambient offering that takes the approach in a slightly different direction.

Pulling mellower sounds against distorted rhythms is not exactly a new trick, but there’s a vigour to the way this is assembled that gives this real merit. If you like your EDM seriously dark and introspective, this is sure to appeal.


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