Music Reviews

C.A.R.: Crossing Prior Street

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Mar 25 2020
Artist: C.A.R.
Title: Crossing Prior Street
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Ransom Note Records
Chloé Raunet’s previous album “Pinned” and its remix spin-offs “Pinned Up” and “Pinned Down” left a decent impression on me when I reviewed them a couple of years back, so “Crossing Prior Street”, her third album, was a welcome arrival on my desk. It continues the same vibe as the previous release, but evolves it somewhat, taking the slightly punky and lo-fi pop aesthetic and bringing in broader-sounding production values, but also a slightly more introspective and less aggressive attitude.

There’s still a poppy aesthetic thread running through the heart of it. The warm, danceable bass guitar line on “Sore Loser”, or the infectious robo-groove and strangely Grace Jones-like melody of “Steals The Dance”, are prime examples of alt-pop. It’s empowering, turns its awkwardness into a strength, and sounds not quite like anything else you’ve ever heard. The twisty analogue pads of “Flight And Pursuit” throw you straight back to the 80’s without being synthwave.

The darker and more experimental sections include “Pressure Drop”, a fairly affronting bit of beatless beat poetry set onto pitched vocal samples and noisy atmospherics. “Drop Out”’s quirky vocal treatments support the “so childish” lyric,

The press release for “Crossing Prior Street” paints a very bleak picture of Raunet’s lonely and barren transfer from Vancouver to London as a teenager, and while this and the leaping artwork might suggest you’re in for a shocking emotional ride, this never quite arrives- and frankly I’m a little grateful for that. In fact tracks like “Distraction” are, dare I say it, nothing short of cheerful.

It’s a personal affair, but not excessively so, and for anyone who likes their pop music punky, alternative and individualistic, this should be highly recommended.

Inaud1bl3: Doppelsterne E.P.

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Mar 23 2020
Artist: Inaud1bl3
Title: Doppelsterne E.P.
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: FarmersManual GT- Generate And Test
This short review is slightly late, as Austrian Christian Haudej’s inaud1bl3 monicker is putting out a new release every time there’s a Friday 13th. This results in a fairly prolific but inconsistent release schedule, with the next output due in November.

This EP offers up six fairly short songs, all with German vocals laid over a range of different brooding electronica layouts that throw in a variety of dramatic elements, and a very guitar slams, but which at times will also play things down, with gentle stepping and trap beats and some nice smooth bass rolls.

Highlights include the surprisingly powerful “Schweben”, where the guitar cuts through at just the right moments and feels oddly empowering, and the blissful noise-chaos that’s injected into “Dein Herz Klopft An (remix)” which takes things firmly in a Venetian Snares direction.

The musical production is a few steps ahead of the vocal quality though. There’s a lo-fi and somewhat single-take vibe about the vocal that makes these tracks feel like demos. Part of this is the sleepy and introspective singing style, but it’s more than that- and in some ways it’s just as simple as the vocal needing more volume and more care in the mix. Coupled with a slight lack of hooks or strong chorus melodies, it loses a bit of punch as a result. The title track is one of the weaker tracks as a result of this.

A curious alt-pop EP with a slightly home-made feel but some really strong production qualities and a lot of character.

Tresque: Ereignisse (part.1)

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
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Mar 28 2020
Artist: Tresque
Title: Ereignisse (part.1)
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: -OUS
“Ereignisse” is pitched as ‘a pure and self-contained form of techno’, and that’s true- the four-four adherence and synthetic sound sources are conventional, and mostly quite simple- yet the crucial difference on this three-track EP is that purism and simplicity don’t equate to a lack of originality. Tresque proves here that it’s still possible to infuse these sounds and structures with a bit of unique character.

“Enbas” does that using its rhythm patterns. Melodically it’s little more than a patterned drone, and there’s remarkably little progression in it, but the curious part-backwards, warm-clap groove is what wins you over. With “Innae” the emphasis switches to the rubbery bass note, a single note that bounces its way almost cheekily along spacehopper-style over a very simple rhythm pattern. Final track “Orage” is the warmest and brightest of the three, thanks to shaker sounds and a bright pad sound, and this time it’s the pulsing pad noise that takes its turn in the lead of another track that’s essentially just one five-minute-long groove loop, with just enough progression and evolution to keep things interesting.

Geneva-based Tresque (also known as D’Incise, or Laurent Peter to his family) has pulled off a neat trick here, making something that sounds both simple and fresh at the same time.

VV.AA.: Fragments

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
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Mar 27 2020
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Fragments
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Hivern Discs
“Fragments” is an ambitious compilation from the Hivern label, offering up 28 new and unreleased tracks, some from artists who’ve been with the label since it started in 2008, and others who are new arrivals. Available for a couple of months as a box set of six 12”s, and as staggered individual 12”s, it’s now available to download as well. It’s a generous bundle of over three hours of diverse electronica-and-sometimes-beyond for which the word ‘epic’, a word I would normally try to avoid, does seem really quite applicable.

Much of it skirts on the very edge of dancefloor work, with tracks like Cleveland’s “Via Sole” a gentle bit of low-key techno that skirts closely around labels like ‘progressive’ or ‘minimal’ and ploughs its own furrow instead. Simon Haydo’s “Bending Frameworks” is more purist in its techno structure, bending and squelching light industrial sounds into twisty ever-changing loops, and pairs nicely with the similar approach in C.P.I.’s “Miasma” (despite them being on adjacent 12”s). Inga Mauer’s “It’s Gone”, despite the two-word spoken refrain sounding like the word ‘disco’ instead of ‘it’s gone’, certainly isn’t disco, with a deep techno form that’s nicely executed.

There’s diversity, for sure. Tracks like Walden’s “Guerreros Del Lago” head in the direction of trip-hop, with rich acoustic bass sounds and a tentative, cautious feel that paints complex pictures and puts you on edge in the gentlest of ways. Steve Pepe’s “Tribalone” fuses intriguingly cross-continental percussion with a steel guitar-ish lazy melody for something that’s got a distinctive and inventive character, without ever pushing it too much in your face. Beesmunt Soundsystem’s “Hypno” rolls a more purposeful but still downtempo groove with a journeyman feel, and Velmondo’s “Transubstitution” also takes things slow, pulling a gentle crisp walking beat against glitchy urgent-sounding synths and sirens so your mood doesn’t know which way to turn. Nadia D'Alò’s “Ten-High Straight” stands out thanks to its slightly husky vocal work.

There are quite a few tracks here that throw up fond memories of early 90’s trance and the early days of IDM or whatever you want to call it. It’s a form of synthwave, if you like, but pointed fondly at the memories of Trance Europe Express compilations and dubby albums from System 7 and Global Communication. Benedikt Frey’s “Cali Stroll”, a simple groove taking ‘that PM Dawn beat’ and rolling it into a three minute groove that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the first Woob album, and the same could also be said for the gentle acid stroll of John Talbot’s “Hivernoid”. Marc Piñol’s “Vil de Not” is old-school acid electro and proud of it, while Samo DJ’s “Waterfall” tackles the more balearic and tropical side of the sound.

Parple’s “El Día Oscuro” stands out a little for being more overtly synthwave-ish, a collection of synth arps that brings early Vince Clarke noises into a long, subdued progressive format, feeling like it’s retro finger is pointing a few years earlier than the tracks around it- although the synths in Cooper Saver’s “Tell” and the synth slapbass in Mioclono’s “Center Of Things” do give it some support in that regard.

The trancey sonic throwbacks are very welcome with me, leaving me quite smitten with details like the soft and simple four-chord pattern in Shame On Us’s “Fingers Crossed”. Overall it’s a mostly relaxed and somewhat heartwarming set of predominantly instrumental tunes that feel like they’ve been dropped in from simpler times. An exceptionally high-quality and well-presented package.

Confrontational: Under Cover of Darkness

 Posted by Marc Tater (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Mar 18 2020
Artist: Confrontational (@)
Title: Under Cover of Darkness
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Synthstorm Records (@)
Distributor: Bandcamp
Rated: *****
Confrontational is the musically outfit for Massimo Usai (vocals, guitars, synthesizers, programming) and his partner Juan Zurdo (Simmons drums, live percussions) and it hails from Cagliari, Sardinia / Italy. Founded in 2014 this project could already gain some attention with live performances at famous venues (WGT Germany in 2018 or at Frantic Fest in Francavilla al Mare, Italy, in August of last year). Also their various cooperations with some well discovered guest vocalists out of the Synthwave-/Outrun-genre like Cody Carpenter (Ludrium / John Carpenter), Tying Tiffany, Tobias Bernstrup, Trevor William Church (Beastmaker / Haunt), Hélène De Thoury (Hante) or Tony Kim (Dance with the Dead) this project has gained internationally reputation. "Under Cover of Darkness" is already the fourth full-length album and has been already digitally self-released by this band project at the end of October 2019. So the reason for this review is the celebration of the consequently release on vinyl and CD via the label Synthstorm Records, also hailing from Italy.
This album is sort of a conceptual release and you'll get a satisfying explanation with the information around this album: "There is a thick red line that binds together the worlds of darkness and disco - a line that can be traced through some of the tracks that unsuspectingly topped international charts between 1975 and 1987, going straight from Goblin's "Deep Red" to Sabrina Salerno's "Boys." A story originated on the dance floor through lyrics that, when read through a certain peculiar angle, attest to a number of severe implications. A wild ride into the night, ripe with possibilities, fear and excitement".
Therefore Controntational have decided to release rather a tribute just to praise some of the instigators, who could unite the classic, slightly depressive 80s life-style and emotion with the then up and coming Italo Disco genre, which has seemingly left a lot of impact on the producing musicians. Guest vocalists have been again hired with Cody Carpenter, Adrien Grousset (Carpenter Brut), Tobias Bernstrup and Amedeo. As the chosen guest vocalists are mostly based out of the Synthwave- / Outrun genre, it shouldn't wonder too much, that also Confrontational's music expression rather picks up compareable ideas. There can be also named Dark Wave, Synthpop or even EBM with a slightly Crossover touch as musically references to describe their background.
It even brings a smile to the listener to hear that cheesy "Boys" - here simply re-named "Summertime Love" - originally sung by the busty sensation Sabrina Salerno back in 1987, but here with Tobias Bernstrup to replace her performance. Musically it is a haunting tune with furious guitar riffs thrown into the mix - but the right one to animate the audience to sing along the chorus line. Also the Bohlen composition of Modern Talking's classic "You're my Heart, You're my Soul" (Here simplified into "You're my Heart") receives its roughly produced transmutation into a biting synth smasher with screaming guitars and Amedeo's vocals. Also Den Harrow's top-hit "Future Brain (feat. Cody Carpenter)" or Yazoo's classic "Don't Go" reveive a tastefull refreshment in those darker and gritty styles. It's difficult to point out THE hit track of this album because all of these reinterpretations have it own advantages.
Confrontational and in person of Massimo is capable to provide purest 80s infiltrated Pop- and Wave-art, although he seems to have a darker and more ominous sounding view on this era. That is in no way to blame, it's rather the opposite because some of these mentioned top hits have lost through endless repetitions via radio its magic in those days. Therefore this new, darker and more biting reinterpretations are a welcomed alternative. Get it while can and to purchase this goody on vinyl seems to be a must-have for all retro lovers.

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