Music Reviews

Nechromancer: Monochrome Dystopia

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Oct 28 2019
Artist: Nechromancer (@)
Title: Monochrome Dystopia
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Man, it’s tough to catch a break in the music business these days, especially if you're doing it all yourself, and most definitely if you're in some sort of fringe genre, like the kinds we cover here. For every YouTube "overnight" sensation, there are thousands of talented artists that get hardly any notice at all. The music press (and unfortunately I have to count myself among them) is notoriously fickle, highly opinionated, biased and often cruel, and sometimes don't even bother reviewing half the stuff they get sent. So when an artist or a band works their ass off and really delivers the goods to minimal acclaim, it can be really demoralizing. All I can say is you better be prepared to play live a lot and hope you develop enough of a following to sustain some interest and make a few $$ to defray your expenses. That's where our friends Nechromancer come in. I can tell these people really want to succeed, and put in the work to get there.

Nechromancer is a group of four, and they all have band pseudonyms, which some might consider pretentious, but I find fairly amusing. There is Vile Heathen (Vilarya Marceline) - Vocals/Guitar/Lyrics; Wreythe (Aislynn Taber) - Keyboards; Johan (John Elwert) - Electronic Drums/Percussion; Vetica (Matthew Binginot) - Keyboards, Backing Vocals. The band is from Burlington, Vermont, not the first place that comes to mind for this type of music, which is EBM rooted in old school, with nods to acts such as Nitzer Ebb, Xymox, Leæther Strip, Front 242, etc., so you get the idea. This isn't usually the path that modern dark electronic acts follow these days, at least not here in the U.S. I find more bands leaning toward the harsher end of the spectrum- acts such as Combichrist, God Module, Hocico, etc. That wasn't always the case for Nechromancer. Their debut album, 'Intersect' (2017) was a harsher, rawer affair, with a good number of songs that are also on 'Monochrome Dystopia'.

Truth be told, 'Intersect' sounds like a so-so demo, although there is a glimmer of promise in some of the songwriting. Nechromancer cleaned up their sound on the greatly improved 'MD,' leaving behind what didn't work so well and adding some better material as well. Interestingly, three of the best tracks - "Unhallows Grieve," "Vampire Queen," and "Blood and Teeth" appear on both albums but the ones on 'DM' sound better. ("Unhallows Grieve" and "Vampire Queen" appear twice on this album, the regular versions and a remix of each which is fine; they're worth hearing again.) Other highlights on 'Monochrome Dystopia' are High Tech No Life" and the atmospheric "Punish Me." Vile's voice, which compares to Andrew Eldritch trying to imitate Type O- Neg's Pete Steele (or visa versa) on 'Intersect,' comes into its own on this album, but still in the gothy baritone vein. His strident guitar playing (a little too dominant and invasive on the debut) is effectively employed here lending a sharp metal edge to the electronic base. Synths/keyboards are well orchestrated and having a live drummer instead of just drum programming is a big plus. The two killers - "Unhallows" Grieve" and "Vampire Queen" should be guaranteed to motivate the dark dancefloor crowd with solid beatwork and great hooks. (Favorite line from "Unhallows" Grieve" - "Those awakening from this slumber speak to me in curse, and the inquisition of my disposition makes it")

‘Monochrome Dystopia’ sounds like the work of a seasoned band and not of a group that’s been kicking around only a few years. These folks look pretty young from their videos, and from what I understand they're already the big fish in the small pond of the Burlington, VT. If they can hook up on a national, or even international tour with a bigger fish, the exposure gained is likely to substantially enlarge their fanbase and maybe prompt some good dark music label to sign them. Meanwhile, you can revel that you heard about them here first when you turn your friends on to Nechromancer.
Artist: Hermetic Brotherhood of Lux-Or
Title: Sex and Dead Cities
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Boring Machines
This eighth album from the duo of Laura Dem and MSMiroslaw is more ‘Dead Cities’ than it is ‘Sex’. Predominantly it’s a rich hybrid of thick atmospheric rumbles and drones with muted and distant-sounding reverb-laden slow percussive rhythms, a mixture of acoustic and synthetic that’s so thoroughly effect-washed that origination starts becoming irrelevant. Rather than the sound of a dead city, it’s generally quite busy, with these soundscapes throbbing to sounds of distant machinery and conversation.

After a mostly ambient humming opener “To Die In A Decayed Country”, the sex of the title appears suddenly in “River Flows From Incinerator”, a plaintive slow pulsing drone spontaneously interrupted by orgy sounds that disappear as quickly as they arrive, resulting in one of the strangest breakdowns I’ve ever heard.

At times this release even recalls the Future Sound Of London track “Dead Cities” as well, but darker- most notably in “Ruins And Shell Casings”, but also throughout.

“Seven Minutes Of Nausea” is not unfairly named, but it’s also not unbearable. It brings in woozier tonal shifts and more rapid fluctuations onto the established patterns in order to raise the discomfort level towards, but not over, the edge of bearability. It’s quite discombobulating. As it fades, it leaves just looped thumping industrial hits behind, which follow nicely into repetitive and angsty final track “Fear Of The Living” which feels like a call to arms- or a clarion call for zombies.

It’s a strong, tightly packed 34 minute package of post-industrial darkness and contemplative wallowing, a thick aural body scrub that’s oddly refreshing.

Meemo Comma: Sleepmoss

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Oct 25 2019
Artist: Meemo Comma
Title: Sleepmoss
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Planet Mu
Meemo Comma is the solo alias for Lara Rix-Martin, the other half of the duo Heterotic alongside Planet Mu boss Mike Paradinas. Whilst not wholly leaving the electronica behind, the tilt of the alias is heavily towards ambient and soundscaping. “Sleepmoss” is an expression of how we ought to listen to the sounds of nature in alternative ways- taking heavily processed field recordings (in the most literal sense, recordings in fields) and combining them with hums, drones and electronic elements to create atmospheres that are science-fiction or alternative-dimension reinterpretations of sounds we take for granted.

Structure comes in the form of tracks like “Murmur”, with its stripped-back flute-like melody imitating birdsong whilst being accompanied by it, “Winter Sun” with its gentle looped melodic chord pad patterns, or “Lichen” with its initially quite optimistic-sounding synth arpeggios that gradually get washed away by mildly abrasive waves. “Amethyst Deceiver” rolls darker bass waves and bell tone echoes into something a little more menacing, while “Firn” puts us deep in undergrowth that can make us feel lost yet not threatened.

The title track is something of an anachronism, featuring rapidly flowing synth-string arpeggios that pull against longer melodic notes to give a soundtrack-like sense of downpour that carries an urgency not reflected in the rest of the work.

It’s an impressive accomplishment to produce a soft-electronica album so rich and textured that manages to side-step the clichés and familiar sounds of a fairly crowded genre, fusing the sense of nature with a feeling of meeting something sonically new. It’s quite understated, in its way, but for those willing to focus on the details, it’s a really rewarding listen.
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
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.

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