Music Reviews



Saba Alizadeh: Scattered Memories

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 13 2019
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Artist: Saba Alizadeh
Title: Scattered Memories
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Karlrecords
Iranian Saba Alizadeh’s debut album is largely built around his work as a player of the kamancheh, or ‘spike fiddle’, and on first introduction appears that it is going to be a fairly traditional work, drawing heavily on his country’s rich musical culture. But this is also a broader and more ambitious work as well, with the well-travelled Alizadeh obviously influenced by a wide variety of more experimental electro-acoustic works and soft-touch electronics as well, resulting in something that’s a genuine fusion of traditional and brand new sounds.

Sometimes it’s more of the former, with pieces like “Scattered Drops” drawing on the mesmeric patterning and near-cliché, sitar-style string sounds to build a slowly shifting pattern, that’s explored in reasonable length and only book-ended by more abstract sounds at either end. Last track “Fluid” has an expansive, languid feel to it, evocative of hot open plains and emptiness.

On the other hand, pieces like “Ladan Dead End” are handled very differently, with the acoustic instrumentation clearly a starting point, but on tracks which have clearly travelled a long way in production terms, with thick blankets of atmospheres, pads, reverbs, electronic clicks and post sounds that do, at times, bring to mind some Future Sound Of London works- slightly alien-sounding, barren and flute-infused opener “Blood City” being a case in point.

It’s a respectful and thickly textured blend of old and new instrumentation that draws on some sources that could sound stereotypical, yet successfully sounds fresh and newsworthy, traversing a path that carefully avoids the various traps of novelty and cultural appropriation to bring you something that you’ll certainly enjoy if you’re interested in hearing modern Eastern sounds.

Standing Waves: The Wave

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Feb 11 2019
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Artist: Standing Waves
Title: The Wave
Format: CD + Download
Label: self-released
Staying fairly close to the comfort zone of ‘fusion music’, the exotic soundscapes of “The Wave” are a collection of bright instrumental performances that blend Eastern-sounding elements, particularly percussion and tabla, with more Western folksy and jazzy elements, in the piano and often prominent violin. It has an energetic, live, improvised ensemble feel to it for the most part, but later on, some more melancholy-infused pieces such as the two-part title track to give it a sincerity and depth.

The vocal work and ‘vocal overtoning’ showcased on the misleadingly titled “Frog Chorus” (there’s some actual frog ambience at the end, but not even a hint of Paul McCartney here) are quite intriguing, a-linguistic vocal exercises in melody and percussive mouth noises that at times borders on the territory of New Age Music (particularly in “Hildegard’s Dream”) but for the most part is a workable and refreshing substitute for conventional lyrical singing. It’s hard to tell sometimes what’s sampled and what’s original, with elements like the uncredited throat singing on “The Wave pt. 2” presumably a sample, but fused together with the real performance elements in a very convincing way.

It’s certainly a familiar-sounding approach to fusion, and a recipe that shouldn’t result in a platter that feels new. However it’s carried by the polished composition, performance and production that give it an undeniable richness, vibrancy and class. It also has potential as a stepping stone for listeners of more traditional music who are intrigued by something that’s just a shade more experimental without being challenging.

Belp: Crocodile

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jan 25 2019
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Artist: Belp
Title: Crocodile
Format: LP
Label: Jahmoni / SVS Records
“Crocodile” is a playful half-hour mini album spanned by ten short ideas that disassemble electronic dance music production elements- in particular hi-hats and snares, which are a focus- and more organic percussive sounds, pulling the rhythms apart and playing with bending and twisting them into something that sounds like it ought to be danceable, yet defies you to be able to do so.

It’s exemplified by “Endless Preparations For A Ceremony”, the conscious tripping-up of rhythmic patterns structured akin to avant garde jazz. The title track takes a similar rhythmic approach but with more use of atmospherics and heavily reverb-drenched vocal sounds to give it a moodier and more well-rounded feel, while “Strand”, despite being the longest track (at over three and a half minutes!) is a more stripped back and minimal affair.

“One And A Half Years Later” is an example of the more denser tracks, taking some spoken-word music documentary narration and layering it over a bendy and squelchy downtempo groove reminiscent of Wagon Christ, while final track “Catch” is a bold and punchy flourish of untraceable some-kind-of-tribal samples.

Overall it’s an unusual collection of exercises in unexpected rhythm programming, but at times it does feel a little bit under-baked, like a collection of incomplete musical sketches- certainly worth a listen though.

VV.AA.: This Is Frafra Power

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jan 25 2019
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: This Is Frafra Power
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Makkum Records
“This Is Frafra Power” a fascinating highlight thrown on a music scene many will be completely unaware of, but which will be well worth your time and money checking out if you like your electronica, hip-hop-light and complex African rhythms all melted up in one pot. Gathering together eight tracks from different artists, but all recorded in Francis Ayamnga’s studio in Northern Ghana, it’s a polished set of what we might coarsely label as “Afro-pop”, but with strong rap elements and deftly light electronic touches that give it more character than that label may suggest.

Despite an apparently small geographical scope and the self-imposed small pool to compile from, there’s a good deal of variety here. There’s a raw electro-grime edge to tracks like Matala Ligiri’s “Ragazeer” and more of a party vibe to Bororiga N Lobema’s “I Remember Yesterday” and the quite 80’s sounding “Awudu Messenger” by Seero. Some Western-ish pop styles are reconstructed and given unique flavours in tracks like Ndaana Eera Ymah’s “Linda Ayupuka” and the bold opener “Fausty Amoa Mabila” from Nosanayine.

For the sake of trying to compare it to known European music, at its most electronics-infused it does occasionally bring to mind Major Lazer (but without the subbass), old M.I.A. or Two Culture Clash, but pieces like Sugri’s “Sugri Hajia Zenabu” are more traditional-sounding group-vocal-driven affairs that feel less modernised.

The sound quality is generally good, but with some slightly lo-fi and compressed elements, particularly on some of the vocals, which leave a little unsure whether it’s a deliberate effect or a lo-fi consequence of overloaded microphones. The consistency of production between tracks, grown naturally from the single studio source, helps the compilation hang together as a proper listening album.

It’s a fascinating and quite leftfield collection of a region and modern musical culture I was completely unaware of, and for that reason alone you should check it out simply as an eye-opener. The fact it’s nicely produced and good authentic pop music is certainly a bonus of course.

Paal Nilssen-Love: New Brazilian Funk / New Japanese Noise

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jan 24 2019
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Artist: Paal Nilssen-Love
Title: New Brazilian Funk / New Japanese Noise
Format: CD + Download
Label: PNL Records
For the Roskilde festival in 2018 Paal Nilssen-Love constructed two musical ensembles, with four Brazilian musicians in one and four Japanese musicians in the other, with his own drum and percussion work and Kiko Dunucci’s electric guitar the common factors between the two. Although reading deeper into the cast list does seem to reveal that many of the musicians are labelled ‘Brazilian’ and ‘Japanese’ as honorary terms, their actual nationalities vary and generally they appear to be pals from Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit work. Consequently, if you are expecting an exercise in contrasts here- fire and ice, yin and yang between the two ensembles- you will be very disappointed.

Both ensembles were recorded live, doing 45-minute sets on consecutive days, and the two results are now been released in parallel. It sounds more like the set-up for some sort of TV music talent content (“who will win? Vote now!”) but in effect what you get is a pair of noisy, impulsive, experimental live avantgarde-jazz-recordings, two for the price of… erm… two.

With a recording quality that’s very decent for a festival but not fully studio-standard and some quite traditional electric instrument set-ups, it’s got a strong flavour of 70’s prog rock wig-out, with long mostly-instrumental tracks in which the performers riff off each other’s both gradual and sudden changes in tone, holding each other in suspense and almost goading each other towards the eventual crescendo of furious slamming, crescendo and discord that the path of each track leads to.

In the Brazilian set-up, the shorter piece “Rural Rides” is notable for having a vocal- Brazilian language I assume- which gives just a little bit more structure and serves as a kind of mid-set plateau of sorts. The finale “Pick A Time”, beginning with an astutely long squeaky solo impulse before crashing into the full-on band maximum, is certainly a crowd-pleaser as well.

The resulting difference in the Japanese set-up is fairly modest, but if anything it’s a touch more insular, with longer pieces and longer build sections that value complexity slightly more and attitude slightly less. The charmingly titled “Eats, Shites and Leaves” exhibits a quirky and marginally more electronic tone, before the zombie impressions of “The Bone People” that evolve into strained threatening Japanese screaming somehow manage to sound both sinister and fun simultaneously. The cacophonous finale of the ironically named “Birdsong” strongly parallels the finale of the sister release as well.

Fans of the original wave of 70’s prog rock and its more extreme, noisy and cutting-edge moments will certainly lap this up, but people looking for something a little more progressive (in the 21st century sense) or expecting interesting or informative results from the Brazilian / Japanese parallel concept may feel a bit short-changed.
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