Music Reviews



Toby Tobias: Second Stimulus / Synchro Surfer

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Apr 04 2018
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Artist: Toby Tobias
Title: Second Stimulus / Synchro Surfer
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: ESP Institute
“These songs may have you arrested for public nuisance”, says the label on this 12”, but don’t let that mislead you. My washing machine makes louder harsher grittier noises than this. It’s an odd mis-branding of what’s actually a very smooth and laidback pair of super-light electronica instrumentals laying up a slightly quirky selection of melodic sounds over neat, lightweight 808 breakbeat patterns and simple bassline patterns.

“Second Stimulus” keeps things interesting across its nine minute span by throwing in new sounds at intervals, including some almost-cheesy panpipe-like noises and a very familiar old drum loop. “Synchro Surfer” is a slightly deeper affair, with somewhat more off-kilter beat patterns and a slowly tweaking pad.

A touch acid house at the edges, with shades of 90’s trance (the good, Trance Europe Express-style trance), it’s an interesting mix-up of sounds. It’s neither revolutionary nor neighbour-disturbing but there’s enough detail in here and enough control over the progression to make this an engaging 12” to listen to.

The Third Eye Foundation: Wake The Dead

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Apr 03 2018
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Artist: The Third Eye Foundation
Title: Wake The Dead
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Ici d'ailleurs
The press release for this 40-minute album mainly produced by Matt Elliott does it a serious disservice. Describing it as “throbbing, hypersensitive dubstep”, which is a massive oversimplification, and getting knotted up in hyperbole about concepts of human openness and environment, led to pretty low expectations of what “Wake The Dead” was going to sound like- which is a shame because it is, in fact, really very good indeed, almost bordering on brilliant.

It’s a thick fusion of organic, complex drum patterns, with pure sine subbasses from the world of drum & bass, with melancholic cello lines playing against raw hip-hoppy samples, scratches and glitches, lumped in with some dub production values. It’s got some of the atmospherics of dubstep but none of the clichés. If forced to try and sum it up in two words I’d plump for modern-day trip-hop (taking advantage of hyphens, otherwise that’s four words) but it really isn’t that simple.

What really steps this album up above some of its electronica peers is the presence of high-quality real drums (Raphaël Séguinier) and cello (Gaspar Claus), plus David Chalmin (on “additional keyboards and voices, drum machine, manipulations, effects”), all of which produces a breadth of tone and ideas that is often not found in truly one-man-project albums.

13-minute opener “Wake The Dead” gets off to a relatively low-key start but unfolds into a remarkable large-scape atmosphere with operatic female vocal tones by the end. This choral feel runs into the rather cinematic “Procession For Eric”, but things get a little bit less bombastic for “The Blasted Tower”.

The second half is a little bit rougher-edged, starting with the noisier layering of “Controlled Demolition”. There’s an angry brutality in “That’s Why” that leads it into being a weak point towards the end of the album, made up for somewhat by the sparser, dubbier tones of closer “Do The Crawl”.

A real positive surprise of an album, perhaps unfairly let down by its own branding, this is a real gem and a highlight of 2018 so far.

Moon Gangs: Earth Loop

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Mar 28 2018
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Artist: Moon Gangs
Title: Earth Loop
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Village Green Recordings
Though pitched as the work of a classically trained pianist toying with analogue synths, “Earth Loop” is a fully fledged soundtrack-like instrumental electronica album that owes a lot to Tangerine Dream and Vangelis, and sounds like what TD could have sounded like in this century if their releases had had a bit more vigour and enthusiasm behind them. Bright analogue bleep patterns dance over bold, bright, super-keen synth and string-synth pads, while sparse dramatic percussive hits give everything a sense of importance and wonder.

“Second Run” has a slightly synthwave edge to it, like the opening overture to an 80’s sci-fi movie, but not in a kitsch way which is to its credit. “The Start” and “The End”, a deliberate musical book-ending, add hints of a male vocal sample that add a little extra nuance as well.

At points it could be accused of being a one-trick pony- every track feels a little like an attempt to synthesize the feeling of a bright new sunset, with tracks like “The Terminal” and “Tempel 1” not adding quite as much variety as they might. But with a running time of only 37 minutes, attention never gets over-stretched.

Overall it’s lovely synth-electronica with a hint of retro that leaves you with a genuinely warm feeling.

Mary Yalex: River

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Mar 23 2018
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Artist: Mary Yalex
Title: River
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: KANN
“River” is a 5-track electronica EP full of contrasts, as sounds from downtempo light instrumental techno chug alongside bleepier, more melodic elements.

Opener “Metalic Elements has a groove which is born out of crisp steady house rhythms but with ahead-of-the-beat layers adding a sense of urgency that plays against the mellow, near-chill-out synth lines wandering about above them. “Night Bus” offers a more easy-to-follow glitch-laden pattern arrangement before “July (Part 2)” (I don’t know where Part 1 went) delves further into Rhodes-keys-like meditation noises, only really given any edge by the slight crispness in the glittering decorative synth noises.

The energy levels pick up again with strong and more conventional techo track “River” where the pads have a slightly more sun-kissed flavour, but “Stairway To The Stars” takes us back to the chillout room again to finish.

What might have projected tracks like “Night Bus” into stellar territory is strong melodies- instead, for me the weak point throughout the EP is that the synth pads sound like half-hearted live improvisations searching for good elements, rather than the filtered outcome of those experiments.

Sonically it’s quite a familiar set of sounds that’s been arranged here, not really pushing the envelope particularly hard, but nevertheless it’s an accomplished mixed bag of techno and electronica instrumentals on the intelligent side of dance music.

Yair Etziony: Deliverance

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Mar 12 2018
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Artist: Yair Etziony
Title: Deliverance
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: False Industries
Yair Etziony’s sixth album is an array of drama-laden electronic soundscaping full of dark symphonic chords, echoey rumbles and percussive hits, subbass groans and slow synthetic washes abound. Sounds familiar to the darkest of minimal techno production are repurposed into these sometimes-arhythmic arrangements that seem purpose-built to create a sense of dread.

After the full-on overture of “Justice”, “Am aller Ecke” is a more hollow affair that aims for the lower end of the register, before “Gesundbrunnen Ghosts” with its bottle-like melodic noises initially offers something a little more lightweight before distempered scratching sounds bring back the sense of fear.

The second half is more rhythmic. “Unterwelt” introduces a steady pulsing element that reconnects to Etziony’s techno roots and gives a different flavour of tension, while “Unheimlich”’s connection to techno is exhibited through the rasping bass synth note that ebbs and pans aggressively during the slow and ominous arrival of hard-to-place workmanlike hit sounds. By the time a TB-303-esque acid note arrives halfway through we realise we’ve wondered back into super-slow techno almost without noticing. Final track “Deliverance”, rather than being the culmination of what’s preceded it, tilts things in a different direction, focussing on a calm organic pattern of natural hand drumming over which the electronic weirdness is sprinkled more sparingly.

In a good way, it’s as though this album is the score to a sinister and immersive horror game- always tense and disquieting, but never sudden enough to really distract. The gradual progression from ambience into rhythm throughout the 40 minute span is well handled and forms a very interesting journey that plays things a touch safe at times but is still very engaging.


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