Music Reviews



Broken Ego: Avenue To Wonderland

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Dec 13 2018
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Artist: Broken Ego (@)
Title: Avenue To Wonderland
Format: CD + Download
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Broken Ego is a "glitter-pop" band from Vienna, Austria, led by the charismatic Chris Ego, and 'Avenue To Wonderland' is their debut full album after their 2011 EP, 'Love & Decay in 16 Bit.' While "Glitter Pop" might have American audiences thinking Lady Gaga, Katy Perry or something of that ilk, that's not the case here. Their focus is on the slick electro-pop of the early 1990s, with an emphasis on SLICK. This is miles beyond 'Love & Decay in 16 Bit' in production, execution and songwriting. From what I understand, they came from Goth-Industrial roots but shed that for a [more commercial] electro-pop sound combining synths and complimentary guitars into a dynamically appealing package. Right from the get-go on "Electric Girl" you'll know where this band is coming from, as it grabs your attention and infects your psyche with its well-produced ear candy. Ego's vocals aren't bold or forceful, but they fit the music hand-in-glove and are pleasing enough to keep your ears glued to it. Hooks are bountiful throughout, and lyrics carefully contrived for maximum pop effect. In fact, every bit of the music on 'Avenue To Wonderland' has been crafted with hit potential in mind. There's even a song titled "Everything is Perfect" (which is more about things going right in your life for a change) which may be the mantra of 'Avenue To Wonderland' because everything does sound perfect on it; maybe just a little too perfect. Usually when a band puts out an album of a dozen tracks there's at least one that blows the others away, and at least one that's kind of a dud. Not so much here really. Some of these tunes are a little catchier than others but nothing at all sub-par. Although he had help (Max Cor- bass; "Captain" Mani Strasser- guitar; Jo Marchari- drums; and Depeche Mode's drummer Christian Eigner on one track), Chris Ego is responsible for the bulk of the material on the album, and I guess the production as well, which is sparkly stellar, giving him the right to call this glitter-pop. Rather than compare this retro-wave outfit with bands of the past (the poppier aspects of the Buggles and Tears For Fears come to mind), the closest modern act I can come up with is the Swedish band Melody Club. I think Broken Ego are a little edgier, but if you're familiar with Melody Club you will know exactly what I'm talking about. For all of Broken Ego's excellence and top-of-the-synthpop potential though, there's something a little ephemeral about 'Avenue To Wonderland' in that it's great while it's playing, but when it's done, you're likely to forget most of it. Still, most will never even realize that because of the generally transient nature of modern pop music these days. Likely to become very big in short order.
Dec 11 2018
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Artist: Jacuzzi General
Title: Dreams Of The Tropics
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Paradise Palms
This is the first time I’ve reviewed a towel, and unsurprisingly, ChainDLK’s system doesn’t list “towel + download” as a known music format, but that’s what this is- a limited edition hand towel, where the download code has been printed onto the washing instructions. As a promo item I only received the MP3s, not the actual towel, so sadly while I would like to comment on the quality of its fabric, its absorbency and its resilience to frequent washing, unfortunately I can only comment on the music.

The music that’s reminiscent of towels. Specifically, large beach towels draped across sun loungers by a pool which you relax on while a DJ plays a steady and relaxing selection of steady, light electronic house which is kicky enough to dance to but melodic enough to wash over you if you prefer. “Dreams” epitomises this, even adding some birdsong for good measure, with a gentle hummable melody, while “Eurostar” is obviously intended to imply more of a travelling theme yet mood-wise it certainly leaves you inclined to sit back and let other people do the work.

“Pool Shark” refers to a different kind of pool, of course, with the EP’s only vocal sample, a spoken-word affair which is, like the track itself, slightly sleazier than the rest, while “Prelude” is just a touch more dramatic, with a nice building, synthwave-ish intro that will serve as a great set-opener for just a hint of the music-storytelling intro that the title suggests, without going too ostentatious.

A velvety sonic towel of gentle house, certainly not too musically threadbare.

Marlon Hoffstadt: Laws Of Attraction (Parts One And Two)

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Dec 10 2018
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Artist: Marlon Hoffstadt
Title: Laws Of Attraction (Parts One And Two)
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Midnight Themes
“Laws Of Attraction” is being released as two separate 12” 4-track EP’s, one blue labelled, one orange labelled, but I’m going to lump them together here as they work well as an 8-track package, practically an album, of fairly gentle instrumental house music with a serious business-like undercurrent.

The first EP has a slightly more leisurely feel to it. “The Overground”, with its US-style vocal ‘we are…’ loop, is rather plinky-plonky. “She Is My Hero” has a gentle, particularly Balearic afternoon feel to it, before “131 MPB” [sic] raises both the pulsing and the tempo to give a nice arpeggiated sense of purpose. “Child Of The Universe” takes things in a slightly more electro-synthwave direction with a toothy lead line that seems to border on tongue-in-cheek.

The second EP adopts a more driving tone, with “Digital Desire” and “Parallel Thoughts” both tracing fairly straightforward techno-light patterns with Underworld-esque long synth pads over light drum patterns, a mood which continues with the slightly rumblier “I Ride With The Stars”. “Into The Deeper Vibe” ends on a high, a simple series of trance-tastic minor chords that strike that simple but emotive balance between heart and head that has driven the feels in dance music for a few decades now.

If you like your house music light, vaguely synthwave-y, clean and positive, these 12”s will definitely appeal.

!distain: Farewell To The Past

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Nov 25 2018
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Artist: !distain (@)
Title: Farewell To The Past
Format: CD + Download
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Here's a German synthpop band that began in the early '90s, has released seven albums previously, and also a slew of singles and EPs, have had plenty of (Euro) chart-topping singles, have played many live shows including the prestigious Wave-Gotik-Treffen, and I've never heard of them before. I'd venture to say that neither have most Americans. To me, this only emphasizes just how different the American and Euro music scenes are, and it's kind of sad that good bands like !distain just don't get the attention in the United States that they deserve. !distain has gone through several members since their inception but now are the duo of Alexander Braun and Manfred Thomaser. I didn't have time to listen to all of the band's discography in order to get an idea how they've evolved, but I did listen to their 'Rainbow Skies At Night' (2015) album that preceded this one. There are similarities as well as differences, but no radical departures. The major difference between 'Rainbow Skies At Night' and 'Farewell To The Past' is depth, which the latter has more of. Not that there aren't good songs on 'RSAN,' there certainly are some little gems, but as a whole, !distain's latest shows the band has put some effort into making an album that isn't just an attempt to crank out the hits, so to speak.

I didn't think that was the case at first; the opening track "The Cosmic Revolution" (feat. Seyhan) relies on a single word hook - "Universe" in order grab your psyche melodically, and of course it works like a charm. So I am now thinking these boys are just another act along the lines of Depeche Mode, De/Vision, Wolfsheim, etc., and to an extent they are. But there's something about !distain on this album that transcends the usual suspects. It begins easily and subconsciously with the balladish "Maid of Freedom," mixing German and English lyrics. Then, in "Synthpop Boy" we hear something almost nobody sings about- the actual love of synthpop across EBM, industrial, hardcore and similar genres. This is a big difference between American and Euro music. Here, most regard synthpop as music of a bygone era. There it is a common thread between many styles of music. Granted the song itself is a little bit of a melodic throwaway, but it does get under your skin. "Der Hirtenmann,' the song that follows obviously in Deutsche, has a harder, darker, more dramatic edge that I haven't heard from this band before. I don't care if I don't understand the lyrics, it's a GREAT song and I'll just use my imagination. The instrumental that follows, "No Aces Left" is a medium paced moody piece oozing with cinematic possibilities. "Wake Me Up" is a love song that cuts deep emotionally, and is as close to perfection as any of the great ones I've ever heard. (If you can bring a tear to these cynical eyes, man, you've really touched on something.) Back to the German for "Wer im Kreise geht" (Who Goes in Circles), a nice melodic tune with dark overtones on the verses, but an uplifting chorus. "Waiting For A Song" somehow reminded me a bit of Tears For Fears in its moodiness and execution. Not common synthpop by any means. The next song, "Letter To Myself" contains the album title lyrically (a clever move) and is another emotion-grabber. "Targets" was the only song on the album that I thought was merely okay, but for many (other) bands a song like this might be as good as it gets. The most unusual track though is the last one - "The Guest House" (Featuring noted dj/producer/remixer Oren Amram), a 9:44 excursion into a mystery from 1679 that is part spoken recitation and part melodic vocals with atmospheric music throughout. Even on a third of fourth listen it is still an enigmatic piece. Not your usual fare for a synthpop band. Perhaps now you can see why 'Farewell To The Past' has some real depth to it. Not only does this album hold up with repeated play, but it actually gets better. What I thought was just going to be another one of those Euro synthpop outfits has turned out to be a whole lot more. Excellent!

Shohei Amimori: PataMusic

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Nov 19 2018
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Artist: Shohei Amimori
Title: PataMusic
Format: CD + Download
Label: Noble
Tokyo-based Shohei Amimori’s “PataMusic” is a bright and often bonkers hour of twisted, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink weird-pop. It channels all sorts of influences, from the energy of J-pop, the quirky Matthew Herbert or Art Of Noise-esque joys of found sound as instrumentation, and the glitchy and unpredictable experimental edges of- well, it’s hard to say where they’re from.

At times, it feels like we’re enjoying regularly structured synthpop, with the intro to “Now Forever” sounding initially like straight-laced lounge music that gradually gets more manic. “Fence Of Bats” has some English-language lyrics, but I still won’t pretend to have the vaguest clue what it’s about.

It’s not all crazy. Amimori’s academic compositional background is on display in the cultured small string ensemble piece “ReCircle” and the quirky, almost rom-com waltz of “ajabollamente”, which serve as a real palette-shifting mood changer after the album’s initial energetic flurry.

But once you’ve settled into expectations of traditional form and structure, along comes tracks like “Climb Downhill 2”, a weird acid squelch workout and an unfiltered revelry in squeaky sonics to shake everything back up again. “Washer” is also notable for its experimental electronics, the love of gradual pitch change that’s exhibited on several tracks playing out nicely here.

The album proceeds in this manner throughout, always throwing curveballs to keep you on your toes, clearly enjoying the capability of its own breadth and diversity- yet thankfully, as most of the tracks are above five minutes, it’s rather satisfying too, with most of the ideas explored up to the right length for their natural conclusion.

It’s odd, and arguably a little bit like showing off at times, but it’s also rather endearing and works well as an off-kilter and idiosyncratic offering from the very edge of what could be called pop.


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