Music Reviews

Kraz: Lonely

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Jan 11 2018
Artist: Kraz
Title: Lonely
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Basserk Records
Amsterdam-based band Kraz’s “Lonely EP” is a bold 4-track collection from the darker and more melancholic side of guitar-driven electro-synth-pop. Bright arpeggiating synth patterns and melodramatic drums underpin a pained, rocky male vocal.
The title track is the most radio-friendly, an expansive and quite filmic song conjoined to a slow post-dubsteppy groove with full-on production mixing, while the other three tracks dive a little deeper. “Here” is an interesting mish-mash of a surprisingly acid-house beat and squelchy bass with a quite Rob Dougan-esque pained and evocative top end- certainly the track with the greatest remix potential.
Longest track “Forced To Faith” has shades of Depeche Mode about it, with extra time to breathe both vocally and in the synth patterns that are allowed a little further exploration. “Make Him Disappear” has the most prominent guitars and a more raw and organic drum arrangement, and sounds like a rock band with a synth player rather than a synth band that happens to have a guitar, especially in the final third when things take a decided turn towards sounding like an electro-heavy version of The Doors.
The one thing missing from all four tracks is the infectious hook. Dark and brooding this may be, but ultimately it’s still pop music and it still feels like we’re heading towards choruses and crescendos that never quite arrive to fulfil the promise that the verses offer. Predictably it’s the title track that gets closest to a really memorable, singing-it-after-it’s-finished chorus. If that ingredient could have been sprinkled on top, what you’d have here is a very strong EP indeed.

Dicepeople/Moi Saint: Shallow Under Skin [EP]

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jan 09 2018
Artist: Dicepeople/Moi Saint (@)
Title: Shallow Under Skin [EP]
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Syndicol Music (@)
Rated: *****
I'm sure there are a good number of people out there who have heard of London, UK's dark electro project, Dicepeople, consisting of Matt Brock (music) and Rafael Filomeno (visuals). I've reviewed a couple of their previous releases in the not too distant past, and they usually have some interesting music to offer. They also tend to utilize female guest vocalists and that's where Moi Saint comes in. Apparently Matt's been busy running a label - Syndicol Music when I wasn't looking and has signed a bunch of artists to it, among them Absolute Zero, Starsha Lee and Moi Saint. Moi Saint is young lady from Liverpool, UK who makes her own brand of dark electro, a bit darker and more gothy than Dicepeople. From what I can tell she is relatively new to the scene and has an EP titled 'The New Moon' (download only) on the Syndicol label. You can hear it all on her Soundcloud page, which I did before previewing 'Shallow Under Skin,' which is more like a maxi-single than an EP. Obviously Moi Saint is a pseudonym or stage name and I can't tell you what her real name is because there's no info available on that, so I guess she wants to keep her identity mysterious for now. I can tell you that on her own material she seems to do it all- electronics, percussion, voice, and she does a great job of it. The music is atmospheric, the synth-work accomplished, and she has an entrancing soprano voice, somewhat like a cross between Collide's kaRIN and Elektra Dekker. Sounds like the perfect person to collaborate with Brock's Dicepeople. The title track "Shallow Under Skin" seems to highlight the strengths of both artists with a pretty hooky chorus that just might motivate 'em on dark dancefloors. Lyrically the chorus is a bit shallow, but effective. "Fallen Down," the second track (or b-side if you will) is good dark electro albeit with less panache than the first number. I wasn't wild about the percussion on this track though; it seemed a bit perfunctory. Both songs are much more pop than esoteric, a sure sign that Dicepeople are heading for a more commercial market. I'd say the tone of "Shallow Under Skin" is mock-sinister, while "Fallen Down" is sort of creepy-cute, along the lines of The Birthday Massacre (sans guitars, of course). The remixes of both tracks though are anything but commercial. The Deflexity Remix of "Fallen Down" is quite experimental stripping some of synths out of the music and adding others that have a dirtier, grittier sound, as well as some piano later. Vocals seem more lucid and there is a completely different, more schizoid feel to the song as a whole. As for Microchip Junky's Lack of Depth Mix of "Shallow Under Skin," it is also somewhat experimental replacing thick synth pads with grittier sounds and allowing the vocals to be heard clearly. Unfortunately it also exposes the song's inherent weakness and doesn't really do much to captivate the listener. I would have much preferred both of these tracks being remixed for the dancefloor which could have had added some oomph and gotten DJs behind this release. Be that as it may, the combo of Dicepeople and Moi Saint is an interesting one, fitting hand-in-glove with each other, and I hope they continue their musical partnership as the potential for something truly great is within the realm of possibility. Release date on the 'Shallow Under Skin' EP is January 22nd.

N-qia: Fantasica

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Dec 15 2017
Artist: N-qia
Title: Fantasica
Format: CD + Download
Label: Noble
I’ll be honest, perhaps embarrassingly Tokyo-based duo N-Qia were a new name to me, but as soon as I’d heard this, their third full-length album, I immediately Googled their previous two albums (“Popical” and the digital-only mini-album “Audio Illustrations”). It isn’t even necessarily my usual fayre, but there’s something about this particular blend of upbeat, lush, bright Japanese dream-pop that really strikes a chord.

Lots of organic sounds- pianos, some guitars and strings, clapping, and an airy, willowy vocal- are arranged in a gentle electronica space with chord pads and some subtle electronic ornamentation.

Every song runs very close to the 4-minute mark and if I were looking to criticise, I might say that there’s perhaps not quite enough variety between the 11 tracks, which do end up merging into one smooth sonic carpet. Notable tracks include “Time Leaper”, which brings an extra layer of Planet Mu-esque glitch to the rhythm programming without ever spoiling the flow, and final track “Neondrive” which skips effortlessly between soft J-pop, house and near-jazzy complex electronica patterns. The urgently-paced and nicely dynamic “Love Transmitter” is just crying out for some drum & bass remixes. The slightly rockier “Lost Kids” has hints of Lemon Jelly about it.

If asked to pick a weak spot, it would probably be “Lover’s Rock”, which feels a little uninspired and insipid compared to what precedes it.

It’s got a relaxed, feel-good and weirdly cleansing mood to it throughout, a real headspace-clearer. It’s one of those albums that will leave you thinking, “lovely”.

Gagarin: Corvid

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Nov 25 2017
Artist: Gagarin
Title: Corvid
Format: CD + Download
Label: Geo Records
Graham Dowdall, current member of Pere Ubu and with a collaboration list full of big names, offers up an instrumental electronica album that’s evolved out of five pieces that were responses to five hills in Surrey. Wild field recordings from these hills are an element- particularly on tracks like “Reynards” and the slightly Eno-esque “Winterfold”- but certainly not the focal point, which is mainly playful retro-sounding synthesizer work that feels very 1980’s in parts- long pads, soft drum programming, warm analogue melodic keys and a few bleeps and bloops for good measure.

After the lush unfolding opening of “Gibbet”, things take a sidestep to the weird side for “Thetan” with some improvised and oddly chorded synth squelches that are reminiscent of 70’s Radiophonic Workshop crew messing about with new synthesizers.

Tracks like “Alienist” and “Oromorphian” are more moderated affairs, subtle and spacious downtempo synth environments with occasional sub-bass dummmms and a ‘road movie through an alien desert’ sense of pace.

“Seekers After The Truth” stands out thanks to a central spoken word vocal sample, rapidly cut up and repeating as though stuttering on an old CD DJ deck, over a surprisingly hollow underscore. “Roadman” sounds like a bit of late 80’s proto-techno that’s fallen through a timewarp. Conversely the broader sound and extra emphasis on melody in “Autonomist” has just a shade of Jean-Michel Jarre about it.

It’s a strangely sweet piece of analogue synth work that manages to be very polished, yet it recalls the joy of discovery of prototype synth experimentation as well, making it oddly timeless.

Noisebrigade: Chasing Towers

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Nov 23 2017
Artist: Noisebrigade
Title: Chasing Towers
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
The on-off project Noisebrigade returns with a 5-track EP of instrumental synthwave that blends some decidedly retro synth sounds with some relatively complex programming and bright production.

After the electro-tinged synthpop of the title track, second track “Colliding Horizons” has shades of moombahton in the rhythm, underneath some very alien sliding synth work, while the surprisingly short “Exploding Stars” has a slightly more aggressive stepping attitude that seems to recall Cabaret Voltaire.

“Heirophant’s Nebula” reminds me of steady tension bed music from Sylvester McCoy-era Doctor Who, but definitely in a good way, and is perhaps the most retro-facing of the set, before “Uranus’ Rings” is more of a ballad, sounding though it’s in search of a soulful vocal (though with a title like “Uranus’ Rings” the lyric writer might be in for a bit of a challenge).

It’s a strong EP that finds a nice balance between looking backwards and offering something a little new. Without any vocals some listeners may find it doesn’t develop a unique selling point, but for people who can’t get enough of the synthwave revival that’s seemingly here to stay (for a few years at least), this should definitely be in their baskets.

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