Music Reviews



Dec 18 2012
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Artist: Sarth (@)
Title: The Book of Sarth
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: The Gralbum Collective
Distributor: Apple iTunes
Rated: *****
Brooklyn-based electronic musician/composer/improviser Sarth Calhoun a.k.a. Sarth has spent the last few months working on what at first sight looks like just any other iPhone/iPad app but actually has a lot more to it than that: it's a book, it's a story, it's an illustration, it's an album, it's a graphical album (hence the name "The Gralbum Collective")... and it might even, potentially, be a new way of distributing music all together!

The book is an easy 10-15 minute read of one-liners distributed across 8 short chaptes. It tells the tale of two children who find a device that generates transmissions which create mass hallucinations that the government wants to suppress. The story flows easily and is well augmented by the visuals. I have to say I am not sure I liked the ending though, which felt a bit inconclusive and open-ended (unless of course Sarth is setting it up for a sequel).

Graphic novels and comics are not my strong suit so I won't be commenting much on the visuals but I can tell you that there are several styles interacting to tell this story, almost as if it they came from different pens. You start with the Pixar-style cartoon type images with soft colors and round edges (think Toy Story) and you get to the more stylized, straight-lined and vectorial asian-inspired comics that in the app get filled with colors in stages and get various other photoshop-filter treatments. Reality then shifts once again and takes the shape of black and white pictures that have been treated to look like drawings. Then the black and white gets slowly colored in and eventually, by the Epilogue, you have pixellated, vectorized and almost art deco new modernist minimalistic paintings. The cool thing about all of this is that you can interact with these images by tapping, zooming, swiping and thus re-ordering the 80+ page animated novel with your touch.

Musically speaking, "The Book of Sarth" is an interesting album of experimental electronic music which draws from a number of inspirations... At times it sounds like Clock DVA, at times like Brian Eno, at times it reminded me of some '80s avantgarde electronica and kraut. The album is instrumental for the most part, but there are several tunes where vocals are pretty front and center... Sarth has a beautiful voice, especially when he does spoken word stuff in the lower register, and my only criticism is that having spoken word parts on top of music that is playing while you are reading a book that is also a graphic novel can be a bit distracting... Inevitably, when the words of the songs came in, my mind started listening to those and forgetting the words my eyes were reading... Unless Sarth is trying to create some kind of state of confusion on purpose, or unless the words in the music are supposed to somehow interact with the words on the screen (which, if they were, wasn't clear to me), I would have opted for some entirely instrumental music to go with this kind of release.

Design wise the app doesn't feel as polished as it could be (at least not when it comes to controls, buttons, scrolling etc)... As much as I am a fan of small text, I have to say I felt the text is a bit hard to read, especially when the unfortunate choice of colors makes it even harder (think light green font on light yellow background... seriously!?!?!). A black Sans-serif font instead of a colored Serif font would have way easier on the eyes, or even increasing the font size a little bit would help on the iPhone version (it almost feels like the app was programmed on/for iPad and then just downsized for the iPhone).
In my opinion, navigating the app is not very intuitive and could be re-designed a bit better, with function in mind. The good thing is that you can navigate the images and the story separately from the music. The bad thing is that if you want to listen to the music again after having read the book (which I found myself wanting to do) there is no way to do that with the app running in the background (if you quit the app or switch to another app, or even if you lock your screen, the music stops). Also the stop/play/skip/rewind button on my headphones (which by the way is highly recommend you wear to enjoy "The Book of Sarth") as well as on the Apple earbuds doesn't work with this app, which is a pity. Allegedly it's possible to download/extract the tracks from the app into iTunes so that you can listen to them while doing something else, however it is not sufficiently clear how that is supposed to be done and that too should be made more obvious/functional. Other than that the app works pretty well and except for one crash while swiping quickly to skip ahead it's been stable for me.

Aside from the fact that the title sounds a bit pompous and pretentious, I think calling it "The Book of Sarth" is almost a bit misleading, since I'd argue that it is more of an album and/or a graphical novel than it is a book. What I think is the most impressive and admirable part of this whole thing is that by delivering his music and his ideas in this way, Sarth has handed us (the general public) and the music industry at large an exciting and potentially lucrative new way of distributing words, music and images. With the music industry in a deep state of crisis, the publishing industry in an even deeper financial black hole and the creative industry always looking for new ways of being creative and deploying and distributing creativity on a large scale, the Gralbum could really be an amazing and entirely new way for artists to make a living. We've seen some isolated instances of artists releasing apps that contain their music or their videos, but the Gralbum, could be a platform for everyone to release albums with liner notes, lyrics, cover art work and so much more!! The Gralbum could be the album of the 22nd century! As a hardcore music fan who is deeply concerned for the future of music and unhappy with the current state of things, that is truly very exciting to me! My hat goes off to Sarth for having come up with this brilliant idea!

At $7.99 it might be seen as expensive when compared to the rest of the apps in the Apple ecosystem, but the price is right when you consider that you spend at least $9.99 for a new album from the iTunes store, which will be just music and no graphic content.

I give it 4 stars because I think the implementation deserves 3 stars, the content deserves 4 stars and the vision behind this entire project deserves 5 stars!
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Artist: ∆AIMON (@)
Title: Flatliner - expanded
Format: CD
Label: Artoffact (@)
Rated: *****
California-based duo 'AIMON has been considered as one of the most interesting emerging band from the fertile witch-house in reason since their first releases: foggy synth-pads, slow and solemn marches, mantra-like songs, occult mists and plasmatic and creepy atmospheres get blended together by means of a remarkable knowledge of recording studio techniques, whose result is so cinematic that you could imagine them while gathering around their hot cauldrons in the act of employing mysterious witchcrafts. Canadian label Artoffact sensed what many listeners suddenly perceived the stylistical ductility of their sound after listening the previous release on Bay-Area appreciated label Tundra Dubs, whose crossbreed could be considered a sort of vampiresque half-cast creature in the liminal region between dark industrial and witch-house, so that it summoned some artists from both those scenes in order to highlight their sonic findings by detaching their coalesced "souls". Their placement in the tracklist roughly seems to be based on a rising level of sophistication by different guest around their cauldron: it could sound paradoxical, but most interesting remixes come from industrial front, whose advantage could be explained by the fact they could exhibit an affine, but distinct stylistical territory, whereas witch-house bands had to preserve their own declension of the same language. I particularly enjoyed remixes of "Black Cross" by Dead When I Found Her (I'm pretty sure it's going to delight many dancehalls), cinematic and grave remixes of "Choke" by Chrysalide (a complementarity which was clear since 'AIMON remix of "I Do Not Divert Eyes") and "Flatliner" by Haujobb (one of the remix I liked most), while on the witch-house front, amazing Unison remix of "Current", "Flatliner" blending by Encephalon and the deconstruction of "Emptiness" by Textbeak have that extra oomph.

Cold Colors: Regrets

 Posted by Maurizio Pustianaz (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
 Edit (7335)
Dec 05 2012
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Artist: Cold Colors
Title: Regrets
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Romance Moderne
Rated: *****
Coming from Bordeaux, France and formed by Frederick Barbe (who's also member of the band Plastic Machine), Cold Colors is the newest artist to join the roster of the Belgian label Romance Moderne. Cold Colors have previously released two tracks on the compilations "Bordeaux Electro" (2009) and "Modernes Et Electroniques" (2010 Falco Invernale Records) and now they release "Regrets". Their debut EP brings to the lovers of electronic cold wave five great songs. In balance from melancholic atmospheres (check the opening instrumentals "Interlude" and the following "When The Summer Ends"), 4/4 upbeat rhythms with detached French vocals (like on "Regrets" and the closing "Tout Oblier") and dreamy dance atmospheres (check the beautiful "Eleven" and its in-levare bass lines), Frederick composed fresh sounding tunes which refers to the past without turning their back to the future. You can judge by yourselves by checking all the tracks at the Romance Moderne's Bandcamp page here http://romancemoderne.bandcamp.com/album/regrets-2. I think that you'll agree with me...
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Juggernaut Services presents: Calming Cyclones Vol. 2
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Juggernaut Services (@)
Distributor: Bandcamp
Rated: *****
This is the second chapter and companion releases to the 'Moving Mountains' compilation of the British Juggernaut Services. The title already announces it, this one is the more song-oriented, rather calm selection of the clients represented by Nick Quarm. With the Italian duo XP8 another prominent project has joined forces with Nick and they are opening and closing this compilation with two tracks. The opener 'Burning Down' is the title-track of their current EP release. It mixes the styles between Futurepop and Harsh EBM/Hellectro and gives the impression, that both genres are closer related than expected. 'Burning Down' starts as a boring 08/15-standard Hellectro-tune, while the refrain itself offers more melodic maturity. Maybe I repeat it once again, but this project still suffers a lot from the absence of a good vocalist. No complains to the second track 'Trip', a fast-forward driving tune with robotic-like vocoder-vocals and fast 'n' furious sequencer lines. This one got remixed by the Russian project Cutoff:Sky. The British Static Distortion-recording artist MIXE1 offers an interesting genre-mutation with tendencies to Trip-Hop/Alternative styles. Very tasteful arranged as well as the emotional vocals are fitting perfectly on both tracks. Things are getting darker with the US-based project Pittersplatter. Vampire-, monster- and horror-genres itself seem to have an impact on both lyrical and musically expression, 'Necrotech' as well as 'Mummies and Music Boxes' are proving this. Cortex Defect is proud enough to have Mr. Nick Quarm as full member involved. Also this project represents a rather calm and melodic oriented Electronica sound-outfit on their both tracks with tendencies into Goth-Rock/Wave and/or Alternative genres. Well done and consumable stuff. Kaltherzig lately could receive a lot of exposure through the German glossy print-magazines like Zillo. But seriously, I find their Goth-/New Wave-sound relative repetitive and uninspired. Already this compilation holds much more promising projects deserving the same the same exposure. Retrogramme for instance have a great talent in the Electropop/Futurepop genre. Their track '911 For Locals' combines attacking rhythm patterns with a clear male vocal performance plus a convincing melodic aspect. Congrats also to the very good second track by them entitled 'Heaven Is Closer Than You Think', which includes mighty guitar loops to support the clear vocal performance in the refrain. A project definitely to follow! Nevertheless the crown for providing the best and most outstanding tune goes this time to Australia and the male/female duo Revenant Cult. Maybe we have here a tiny, more electrified version of a prominent project like The Birthday Massacre, but their track 'Spectral Heresy' is a well balanced Futurepop-related Electronica-track filled with high-end programming skills as well as tasteful arranged synthesizer layers. But best content of their sound is the compelling female vocal performance. Seriously, this is the most emotional and best female vocalists I have heard in years! Keep an eye on this duo; they are going to be HUGE! Revenant Cult then add a remix contribution of them on a track of the Hellectro-act Psykke into the ring - well done, but not comparable with the possible top-notch class of an own composition. Two further guests have finally found a slot on this compilation: Plastic Noose and Tactical Module, both already featured on the companion release 'Moving Mountains'. Plastic Noose once again convinces me with their fat and noisy bass-lines and the energetic vocals - although the lyrics, well, do not let me sweat! Tactical Module offer again 'Dead Zone', but this time remixed by Cortex Defect. The problem remains the same: I can't stand the quality of the vocals, which are still drowning deep and plain into the mix.
It isn't a secret if I tell you, that I play this second chapter a bit more often than the first installment. Maybe I get old, but I enjoy Electronica music with attitude and own ideas. If it then provides a good composition and not only a harder-than-hard attitude I am mostly on board. 'Calming Cyclones' offers some valuable participants with stylistically interesting ideas, so let's see and hear how and in which direction some of them will develop.

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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Juggernaut Services presents: Moving Mountains Vol. 1
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Juggernaut Services (@)
Distributor: Bandcamp
Rated: *****
We at the Chain D.L.K. are welcoming and sending congratulations to our colleague Nick Quarm and his new activity under Juggernaut Services. Nick has made himself a quite good name as reviewer/interviewer for the Swedish Brutal Resonance webzine. He has established with Juggernaut Services a promotional tool to interested underground artists to extract more exposure out of Nick's experience and world-wide based contacts. In the first instance Nick works with his clients to gain attention by the international press, promoters, online-bloggers and other resources. His website introduces widely this promotional agency, so I leave it for now and start to concentrate on the music content of this first compilation compiled to introduce the most important content of the whole concept, the artist. 'Moving Mountains', which is available via the Bandcamp website of Juggernaut Services, represents the rather hard side of his clients and it is filled with driving beats and harsh distorted vocals. Some ideal stuff to invade the dancefloors of the darkest clubs is pretty much available here. The COP-recording project nolongerhuman opens and also closes this compilation and this one already counts to the more prominent clients of Nick's agency. 'One For You, One For Me 2010' as being the opener already sets the standard on a very high level and if I listen to the used synthesizer pads, song structure and vocal processing, I feel myself pretty much remembered to Suicide Commando's 'Axis Of Evil' album. Also the closing track 'Transcend Humanity' impresses with a straight but melodic sound-design and it is quite clear that this project can be hardly topped by the further participants. Next one is the UK-based project Tactical Module with 'Dead Zone' the title track of their latest, freely available same-titled EP (http://tacticalmodule.bandcamp.com/). Straight-forward produced beats and sequencer lines supported by dark Metal-like guitar-riffs, but unfortunately with a very poor sounding vocal performance are the leading elements of this appearance. Cease2xist are one of the British hopes to storm on top of the Harsh EBM genre, but compared to the crystal-clear quality of nolongerhuman they are suffering a bit on the fact not to have the best studio possibilities available. Like most of the invited projects on this 15 track-compilation, also Cease2xist present us two tunes. 'Teenage America' is a great composition with a well recognized socio-critical content, but also 'Tonight' convinces. San Diego's duo RetConStruct comes up next, also they could enter two slots on this compilation. They are to me pretty much gifted with talent, but at times they are dwelling a bit to much in obscurity. 'All Gone Awry' provides a strange and out-of-range-sounding vocal performance which actually ruins a good track, while their straight produced second appearance 'The Maelstrom' is the much better done track. With the Poland-based project Controlled Collapse and their two appearances 'Halloween' and 'This Nightmare' you'll get another relative prominent contributor to this compilation and it does good to hear Mr. Wojciech leaving the field of Harsh EBM/Hellectro to the other kids. This band has grown and reached maturity, the arrangements are pretty much filled with details, while I sometimes dislike the deep, a bit monotonous sounding vocals. However, musically on a quite recommendable course, keep it on. Warsickle hails, as far what I know, out of the Czech Republic. Their first track 'Help From Outer Space' is a well-done Dark Electro instrumental tune, while the second 'Call For Help' suffers again under a not convincing vocal performance. It gets heavier and to me hard to bite with the Australian quartet of Eschaton Hive - that is hard and raging Metal-Industrial music, which is in the first instance louder produced than bombs - while this doesn't make it any better. And please don't ask me what kind of poem you can extract out of a title like 'Zombie Attack Plan', phhh. We have two additional one-track appearances with the rhythmic Powernoise-project Tapewyrm - actually a good and unique sounding addition to this genre - and the Scotland-based Industrial project Plastic Noose. Their 'Zu Allen' features energetic male vocals - actually good and natural sounding vocals - in a rusty Electro/Industrial/Coldwave-like sound environment, which reminds me somehow on a classic project like Carbon 12 (... who remembers them?). Nice to hear a project to break a bit with conventions, this one is recommendable - through the darkness we will hear!
All in all a first nice overview of the musically harder-minded projects presented through Juggernaut Services - it has highs and depths, but I guess this was to expect. This compilation as well as the follow-up contender 'Calming Cyclones' is currently available as downloads via the Juggernaut Bandcamp website, but there are plans to release the best participants out of both as a real pressed CD. It belongs a bit on your will to support the Electro/Industrial underground. So you can be a part of it by donating via IndieGoGo here: http://www.indiegogo.com/juggernautcd. The advantages for you can be told: you'll be the first in the world to own the releases, and some of the Juggernaut acts have put personal gifts in the pot to say thanks. In recent news, the track listing for the CD release is in development. To top all this, the release will have unreleased and exclusive tracks by God Destruction and Rein[Forced]. So let's get in and join the forces of the Juggernaut Services and its attractive roster.


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