Music Reviews

Kalab: Ank

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Nov 09 2016
Artist: Kalab
Title: Ank
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Noland
This relatively short album is an instrumental tale of industry, sounding like a small army of mostly content automatons frantically building and bleeping in a style that I could describe as ‘glitch’, yet actually sounds like the supremely methodical, but definitely not 4/4-rhythmed, complex programs of a busy assembly line. Complex patternless fast-repeated hits and beats jump around, clearly with much work to be done. As the album progresses, hints of dissent and discord encroach, but the production line never stops.

With the exception of “meta1” and “meta2”, all of the tracks are named using a numeric keypad only, “12”, “78”, and the closing track “+”, keeping well in tune with the mechanical theme and making you wonder whether you’re supposed to be listening to this album, or doing arithmetic with it. The numbers are, I'm told, associated with the underlying rhythms, but not in an obvious way, and "+" really is an additive remix of the whole album.

A video for the track “4”, set to visuals from Eric Erre, is certainly worth checking out. It’s not quite a typical track from the album- it has stronger 8-bit synth influences than most of the rest- but it gives you a reasonable flavour of it, coupled with some fascinating CG work.

The “meta” tracks are different pieces, respite from the building and quite incongruous in the context of the album- “meta1” distant, violin-like daydreaming loose melodies floating around in nothingness, “meta2” a padding, lo-bit spontaneous rhythm, both acting as short interludes from the main work.

The track “69” is the most noticeable shift of tone, adding a sinister edge with building discordant pulses and processed snare stabs implying trouble at the mill. “+” is the most complete standalone piece, a growing cacophony of metallic clangs and echoes that drops away into a more traditional-sounding and spacious experimental percussion piece, before a short build to a last (just slightly underwhelming) crescendo.

In fifty years, this is what the inside of a solar-powered car factory will sound like when something is going slightly wrong...

Recondite: Corvus EP

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Nov 08 2016
Artist: Recondite
Title: Corvus EP
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Ghostly International
“Melancholic doesn’t necessarily mean dark”, says Recondite of this latest EP, and the parallels between plaintive reverberant sustained-chord ambiences and simple, steady, light house rhythms are explored in interesting ways on this 5-track EP. Opening track “Capable” walks along the balancing line with care, setting the tone for the whole EP with its calming yet also disquieting take on sparse instrumental house music.

Second track “Kauz” follows the same format but with deeper bass patterns, while third track “Corvus” has busier bell (or possibly xylophone) patterns and found sound recordings of members of the crow family that give everything a sinister, lonely edge.

“Huibu” mellows things out somewhat, with slightly more complex rhythm programming, a slower pace and more emphasis on the melodic loop.

Ricardo Donoso’s version of “Capable” is not a regular remix but more akin to a soundtrack re-arrangement, a slow building tension migrating into urgency. Rather than being filler, as remix tracks at the end of EP’s sometimes are, it ends up being the richest, deepest track of the release. If this were an extract from a film or game score, I’d be checking out the whole release immediately.

This EP is a super-polished half-hour-long journey of lonely space travel, on a spaceship powered by a steady electric 4/4 beat.

Psycho & Plastic: Spacebus

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Nov 03 2016
Artist: Psycho & Plastic (@)
Title: Spacebus
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: GiveUsYourGOLD (@)
Distributor: Finetunes
The core of “Spacebus” is a simple, infectious, bouncing acid bassline that could pass as Hardfloor. Over it are layered some twinkly synth arpeggios and glitzy effects, plus the rather abstract, mostly-spoken-slightly-sung Hezza Fezza vocal. The radio edit of the track gets straight to the point (and straight to the bassline), but the nine-minute long original mix has the stronger, more progressive structure.

Unfortunately the vocal is the sole weak link here. Perhaps aiming for an airy and spacious feel, instead it feels a little bit improvised and under-cooked, as though it’s been phoned in somewhat. Clips of tracks on Hezza Fezza’s own website briefly show that Ms Fezza is capable of more than what’s on display here.

With the strong acid house vibe of “Spacebus” harking back to the late 1990’s yet nicely fresh at the same time, I expected B-side “Zvezdolet Lokomov” to be a straightforward, house B-side affair, but in fact it’s an utterly different beast- a curious three-minute downtempo soundtrack-esque piece based around slow synth-accordion-like chord progressions, and many layers of sound effects and ambiences. Again the spoken word vocal halfway through is something I could easily have lived without, but it certainly shows that Psycho & Plastic clearly have broad sonic ambitions, which should make their debut album, due 2017, an interesting listen.

Alexis Tyrel: Rebecca Loos

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Nov 01 2016
Artist: Alexis Tyrel
Title: Rebecca Loos
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: LessIsMore
This is a re-release of a 12” issued in 2006 on the Weave label, with both the original and the Gui Boratto remix both being 2006 vintage (coincidentally the same year I ended up working on a farm with Rebecca Loos herself, but that’s a different story). Only the “New Chapter” mix is newly added to the package, but it is a chance for the two older tracks to get a digital outing, which is welcome. Obviously there’ll be a public demand for the Gui Boratto remix, but the original mix is also worth checking out- a bouncy, sedate house affair with a lot of delicate piano work over a perky lightweight groove and rubbery bassline. The progressions are slow, the general attitude is smooth and rather mesmerising.

The New Chapter remix is smoother and benefits from ten-years-later production values, but it isn’t a complete re-imagining. There’s an extra feeling of floating in space, with the vocal sample more distant. The rubbery bass pattern has been transposed into a bouncy synth and it’s all a little sci-fi, and a little short on progression in parts.

The Gui Boratto remix from 2006 is rather timeless thanks to its simplicity- a super-tidy house groove, and simple gradual layering of twinkling loops, dropping at the two-minute mark to a rich, expertly simple sustained bass notes. The interview sample is used less frequently and only as a fill, which is a sensible move.

This is at least the third outing for “Rebecca Loos”- there was another remix package in 2010 on the Grayarea label, including a Gideon remix and extra variants on the original mix, but none of those appear here.

The track is named after pseudo-celebrity Rebecca Loos because of the short repeated interview sample of Ms Loos describing some of the sordid details of her affair with David Beckham, which at the time of the 2006 release would still have been quite topical. The breathy delivery and sexy but non-explicit sample gives the whole thing a gently soft-porn, “Fifty Shades Of Grey” flavour that has been a mainstay cliché of mainroom trance music for many years. I expected that the LessIsMore label might have been classier than that; it seems like a bit of an obvious PR move rather than a really well-chosen sample from a musical point of view. But despite seeming like a bit of an excuse to re-milk the old Gui Boratto remix for a third time, it’s still worth checking out.

VV.AA.: Okqo - Form_1

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Nov 01 2016
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Okqo - Form_1
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Okqo
Despite being the Oqko label’s first compilation, “Form_1” is one of those collections that’s so well curated and consistent in its sound that you might easily believe that it was one musical artist releasing an album under eleven different monickers. Like-minded individuals have all offered up different recipes from similar ingredients, melting together techno rhythms, glitch techniques, melodies borrowed from ambient, and large doses of experimental electro-punk attitude.

Smog’s “Tesla” is a strong opener, setting off with a heavy tribal electronic beat that gradually makes space for a rich ambience before coming back apace. Rodrigo Sigal’s “Brain In Pulse” is a similar but darker concoction of sub-bass and glitchy flashes of melody.

It’s not all bang bang bang bang of course. Khan Of Finland’s catchily-titled “endlosrille_st012” is a more pondering, downbeat affair, and Astvaldur’s “For Now” is a more melancholic affair with seemingly improvised synth leads. “Tender Tone” by Lvis Mejia is a super-steady slab of measured, near-beatless techno with fleeting romantic violin lines.

There are also some more formless and experimental numbers. Bugaev’s “Raw” is a rich drone layered with glittering microseconds of white noise. José Gallardo’s “Sinfonia para un hombre solo en su casa” is an angry bombast of square waves and thumping steeped in distortions and delays.

The review promo didn’t include a physical product, but only photos of it, and it’s deeply unusual-looking. It’s not even a music product per se, there’s no disc or tape involved. You get one printed transparency for each of the tracks on the compilation, housed in a large anti-static bag. Each track has been represented as a rectangle of black-and-white binary data, with the most prominent musical changes visible as changes in patterns within the rectangle. Printed on transparencies, you can then layer any or all of them against each other to create new patterns. It’s an innovative idea and one I’d have been interested to play with.

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