Music Reviews

Peter Kirn: Bellona, USA

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Nov 05 2017
Artist: Peter Kirn
Title: Bellona, USA
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Establishment
The Establishment label’s head honcho Peter Kirn’s second album is a musical interpretation of the fictional city of Bellona, inspired by the post-apocalyptic sci-fi “Dhalgren” by Samuel Delany. Like a soundtrack to a movie that appears to exist only inside Kirn’s head, it’s a collection of moody, slowly evolving instrumental techno and electronica with a variety of tones.

Tracks like “Prism Mirror Lens” are a complex techno made up of lightweight and semi-complex drum programming and long, evolving pads and atmospheres. “This Circle In All”, by comparison, is a harder and more straightforward affair with a touch of acid, while “The Ax” is an earnest exploration of a slightly industrial-sounding polyrhythm stretched out to mesmeric length.

“Stripped Skies” is a brighter affair with a very 90’s flavour and some clever constantly-rising bleep tones. “Vicious Looking Thing” isn’t quite so smart and perhaps represents the point at which the release begins to run out of steam. “Creatures Of Light And Darkness” has a curious, eerie, faintly prog rock intro, but loops around to more 4/4 kick and harsh hi-hats which don’t live up to the promise of that introduction.

“Prelude”, “Interlude” and “Postlude” are a trio of lush and cinematic beatless sonic blanket that could feasibly have been explored further into a dark ambient album in their own right.

This release will be going on tour with an “all new AV show” in 2018, and if the visuals are as rich as the sounds, it should be very interesting to catch- so long as the visuals add extra variety which the sounds do fall just marginally short on.

Lee Gamble: Mnestic Pressure

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Oct 20 2017
Artist: Lee Gamble
Title: Mnestic Pressure
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Hyperdub
Lee Gamble joins Hyperdub with “Mnestic Pleasure”, a 13-track, 43-minute collection of quirky yet still fairly purist short glitchy electronica pieces that feel like they’ve found a natural home. Odd percussive hits, plops and bleeps dance around in relatively sparse rhythmic structures along the jagged faultline between danceable electronic music and experimental noises. Synth pads step and wave along over the top.

It’s rather gentle at points, with tracks like “Quadripoints”, a rather sweet plucked randomised arpeggio affair, and the gently stuttering and melodically odd “A Tergo Real”. However a hardness is more apparent in tracks like “East Sedducke” with its pounding, broken-drum-and-bass beat contrasting conventionally against smooth synthetic chord pads. “23 Bay Flips” and “Ignition Lockoff”, meanwhile, give a bit of extra swagger to the rhythm with shades of the weird side of hip-hop. Longest track “Swerva” also has gentle chiptuney, 8-bit influences without properly stepping into that world, while “Ghost” has a lovely old school drum and bass vibe and not purely through the surprise inclusion of a loop that may or may not be the Amen break in tiny pieces.

“You Hedonic” and final track “Deja Mode” forego most of the rhythm in favour of more ambient and dubby flavours that could have potentially been explored at greater length, but the former chooses instead to work as a prelude to the thick drum programming of “UE8”. These tracks are clearly the sound of an artist trying out new things, within a release where it’s impossible to pick one track and say ‘listen to this and you’ll know what the whole album sounds like’.

It’s a skittish three quarters of an hour, sometimes smooth, sometimes jittery, never predictable yet never attention-grabbing. The barriers of experimental electronic music no longer exist and this release will fit in as easily in your kitchen as in a performance space.

Angelspit: Black Dog Bite

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Oct 19 2017
Artist: Angelspit
Title: Black Dog Bite
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: self-released
Angelspit’s seventh album is a set of twelve tightly-produced, relentless and noisy slices of electro-EDM-rock full of glitched guitars, thumping drum machines, dirty sharp fills, gutpuncher kicks and distorted shouty vocals. It’s a fairly familiar set-up that will appeal to fans of Blue Stahli, Celldweller and the like.

While much of the vocal is one-note stuff (“V Is For Voltage” a prime example), there’s also an underlying strong sense of melody that shows through in tracks like “Sexy Tragic Muse”. “Post Truth Wonderland” acts as though it’s ashamed to be almost synthpop.

The lyrics are also mostly a notch above the stereotypes of the genre, breaking out of the insular and angry into wider themes of politics, social media and so on, some but not all of the time. Unusually clear vocal treatment, avoiding the deliberate muddiness other acts prefer, let the lyrics shine through and they’ve been thought through. Some tracks, like achingly obvious anti-capitalist rant “Great Bank In The Sky” (“make money, and then you die”) and the on-the-nose anti-Trump “Dead Man Talking”, take this one step further in a way that you begin to suspect might be both furious and slightly tongue-in-cheek at the same time.

The surprisingly funky “Bang Bang Bang” is a good example of the high production values at play- playful and energetic and carefully mapped out. Seven albums in, Angelspit clearly know what they’re doing in production terms.

This is a way-above-average example of electro-metal done well and is absolutely worth the price of admission. If you also happen to be feeling impotent fury at international politics, then this may strike a chord on other levels too.

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.

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