Music Reviews

Low Technicians: Riga

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
 Edit (5860)
Jul 12 2010
Artist: Low Technicians (@)
Title: Riga
Format: CD
Label: Diffusion Records (@)
Distributor: CD Baby
Rated: *****
This is the second of two CDs that came across my review desk recently (although the releases are not too recent, which is pretty typical in the Chain D.L.K. world) the first being Ctrl's 'Lost in Static'. There are enough similarities (although by no means does the music of the two bands sound the same) and they even share a key joint member (Brad McAllister - vocals, programming, keys) but also enough differences to warrant a comparative review. The commonality is a retro-80s synthpop sound, and although you can hear their influences, there is no one band in particular either one of them sound like. It is rather an amalgam of elements you know you've heard before. They also both happen to come from Austin, Texas.

While Ctrl has a more distinctive vocalist in Alex Virlios, the vocals by Brad McAllister, and other member Brian Pearson (guitar, bass, keys) are more varied and have an instantly likeable quality, like a comfortable pair of shoes. They aren't particularly unique, but the strength of the songwriting more than compensates. It might be prudent to note that Pearson is also the live guitarist for the group Iris.

It is the songwriting that is the chief difference between Low Technicians and Ctrl. Low Technicians have the knack of writing really good hooks, and putting them across with enough sonic variety so that no two songs sound the same. Pearson's guitar is a prominent factor in the sound too. The album is much more moody and subtle than the one by Ctrl. The first track, 'Miles Away' is a strong opener with a good hook, but it's the second track, 'Out There in Silence' that really grabs you. There is so much alternative crossover potential here that it is simply amazing. I can think of about a dozen groups playing major festivals this year that this band outclasses. They should be there.

'We Might Break' is another track with a great infectious hook and good potential on the dancefloor too. There is something so perfect about the construction of these tunes that sets this band well apart from many I have heard lately even without top-notch production. 'While 'Energy Inside' is far from the best track on the album, it keeps up momentum rhythmically, and is probably good dance floor fodder as well. Simple but effective with a filtered sawtooth synth groove. 'Endless' gets my vote for runner-up favorite track on the album. Begins with a cool stomping guitar chord progression and Numanesque atmos-synth in the background which serves as break between the verses. Another cool, effective hook. Almost ends too soon. 'There Was a Time' is an atmospheric track with a good bassline where the guitar is the focal point and the subdued vocals are nearly part of the atmosphere. No killer hooks here but none are needed. If I had to pick one track to sell a friend to sell on this band, it would be 'Otherside'. I love the hook, the synth ambience, the bassline, the rhythm and motion, and vocals and lyrics are pretty cool too. It's the longest track on the album (at only 4:58) and it could have even been longer and I would have been happy. In fact, my only gripe is that this album is just too short at 34:13. Last track, 'Choices' is a slow-moving piece of laconic atmos vaguely akin to the Doves on their more tranquil tracks. A nice way to usher the album out.

As I said before, my only gripe is that the album is too short. A little over 30 minutes is just not enough time to spend with the Low Technicians. Leaves me wanting more, which is a good thing, I guess. If I was an A&R guy from Whatever (major label) Records, and I had to choose between signing Ctrl and Low Technicians, I'd take the Low Technicians. Good songwriting is hard to find, and these guys have the goods to carry it off. Brad, you might just want to put more effort into this project. For me, it's the better bet.

Ctrl: lost in static

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
 Edit (5859)
Jul 12 2010
Artist: Ctrl (@)
Title: lost in static
Format: CD
Label: Diffusion Records (@)
Distributor: CD Baby
Rated: *****
Two CDs came across my review desk recently (although the releases are not too recent, which is pretty typical in the Chain D.L.K. world) and although I don't usually do reviews this way, for something different, I'm doing a comparative review. There are enough similarities (although by no means does the music of the two bands sound the same) and they even share a key joint member (Brad McAllister - programming, synth, voice & guitar,) but also enough differences to warrant it. The commonality to the bands, Ctrl (reviewed here) and Low Technicians (reviewed after) is a retro-80s synthpop sound, and although you can hear their influences, there is no one band in particular either one of them sound like. It is rather an amalgam of elements you know you've heard before. They also both happen to come from Austin, Texas.

Of the two, Ctrl has the more distinctive vocalist in Alex Virlios. It's a strong, highly stylized voice the likes of which I know I've heard before but can't put my finger exactly on. Sort of like if you took the voices of Heaven 17's Glenn Gregory, Eskil Simonsson of Covenant and Tom Shear (Assemblage 23), distilled it and blended it into one. This is both a boon and a bane for Ctrl- on the plus side it gives them an instantly recognizable lead vocalist. On the minus side, there is very little variation in that voice. And if there isn't enough diversity in the songs on an album, it can get old quickly. Unfortunately, it does.

The album opens up well enough with 'Dark Lords of Insomnia' heralded by bubbly analogue synth. It's a retro potpourri of sound and rhythm preened and groomed for the dancefloor. Like a well-oiled machine everything is aligned; synths, guitar, rhythm, not a hair out of place. It's a strong start but there is one thing lacking'¦a good solid hook, Next track ('Your Secrets') continues chugging along these lines, with a bit more upfront guitar. Sounds not much different than the track before it, which I think is due to Alex's vocal phrasing. There's a bit more of a hook, but a weak melody bogs it down. If there is one thing good synthpop really needs, it's the 'killer hook'. The next track 'Groove' lyrically contains sentiments about some one-popular, now has-been band- 'I stopped going to your shows'¦.I stopped buying all your records in the nineteen-nineties, no more listening to your prose, no more jungle shit for me, I just want to tear you down until there's nothing left for me'¦' not too virulent, eh? Wonder who they were talking about'¦

Next song ('Head On') has a loping bass synth groove reminiscent of 'Blue Monday'. Fortunately, it doesn't sound like New Order. Unfortunately, it sounds a lot like the previous tracks (due to Alex's vocals) in spite of more diversity in the synth programming and guitar. Not getting any good hooks here either. Finally, on the title track ('Lost in Static') we get a really good hook. This is easily the best track on the album. Very memorable and well done. Classic stuff. Even Alex's unvarying vocal phrasing works for it. 'No Answer' which follows reminds me somewhat of OMD. Guitar is more predominant and Alex's voice is more melodic and his stylized phrasing less dominant. One small gripe; when they had an opportunity to modulate the key up (a third?) for a big finale, they passed on it. Too bad. Next track 'I Can't Keep' has a pretty good hook. 'My Guest' has synth programming right out of Martin Ware's playbook, and guitar out of Will Seargeant's fakebook. Not a bad combo at all. 'We Are All Lost' is another track with a decent hook. So far, Ctrl is batting about 400. Any major league hitter would be happy with that stat. Last track 'The Underground Rain' is a mish-mosh of echoed industrial synth sounds with some atmospheric guitar, set to a slow freight train rhythm loop. Alex's vocals are brief and somewhat subdued. For me, this was just throwaway space filler.

I think most of the tracks on this album probably work better live than as a listening experience. The rhythm is definitely geared to the dancefloor; basic stuff. Don't get me wrong though, I like the band. I just think they need more material on a par with 'Lost in Static' and 'No Answer'. These guys have been around for ten years or more. I think it's about time to get crackin'. Next, we'll see how their counterpart, Low Technicians fare. I think you'll be surprised.

DEASTRO: Mind Altar

 Posted by Maurizio Pustianaz (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
 Edit (5849)
Jul 03 2010
Title: Mind Altar
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Ghostly International
Rated: *****
Previously released on cassette through Deastro's blog the eight tracks of MIND ALTAR and the three (that you always find into this release) of "Orange Swimmer Red Summer" have been remastered and gathered into a release available as digital download and print and download (a new format for Ghostly International, the PDL is a 10" x 10" open-edition print, which comes with a digital download of the album. All prints are made using archival quality ink on cotton rag paper and come with an artist-signed certificate of authenticity). The eleven tracks E.P. opens with "Mind altar", a song that gathers melodies that recall me John Foxx of "The golden section" (along with "Mowgli the lynx") the period but packed into a multi layered structure of reverbs and distortion that could recall My Bloody Valentine. Still in his twenties Randolph Chabot isn't afraid to experiment new ways of writing "pop" songs playing with sounds and structures. We pass from the psychedelic wave of distortions of "Genesis weapon" to the "organ/bass and hard beats" assault of the following "Pastor kid redux edition", the chaotic reverbs of "The concept of land ownership" and the distorted pop wave of "Divali" (anyone remember Ultravivid Scene?) and "Get frostied". Pop, experimentation (check the melodic but also chaotic "World of shadow") and new wave influences are the core of this release and if you were a fan of 4AD in the late 80s, I suggest you to check this out.

VV.AA.: Synthematika One

 Posted by Marc Tater (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
 Edit (5842)
Jun 29 2010
image not
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Synthematika One
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Synthematik (@)
Rated: *****
Netlabels come and go, and even, if I tend to repeat this phrase over and over again, this new Russian based label has some remarkable stuff available in the roster. To start with a compilation of 31 participants is surely a nice initiative, but besides this, this compilation offers a fine overview of the current Russian, and a lot out of the ex-Russian federation states, accommodated underground scene. In between you'll get also some international guests, projects like PROJECT ROTTEN, SUPERVILLAIN (both out of Sweden), California's CYSTEM CEX, or the relatively known Argentinean project LASTRAX, as they all could enter a free slot on this uprising compilation. If you would decide to burn this compilation as audio, you would receive a remarkable 2CD collection, which strictly separates between the rather calm and melodic Synthpop-driven part on CD1, and the harsh and EBM/Industrial- formulating CD2. As to write on all participants would hurt my fingers, as well as the review would turn out too huge, I prefer to name the few outstanding tunes. Part/CD 1 starts with ALPHA POINT and their track 'Things I Do' ' to me the very first act I could discover originally hailing out of Moldavia. It seems that this act has listened and understood the kind how MESH would produce a quality song ' as this project reaches nearly a comparable quality! Russian quintet MEZZAMO we had on here with their latest release and 'Without You' proves their catchy abilities once again. The surprise of this imaginary CD 1 has to be named with RU.ARE, a to me undiscovered Russian talent with a track called 'Halo' ' catchy refrain with smooth male vocals providing convincing English lyrics, all placed in a well-done composition under tasteful arranged synth patterns ' well, this seems to be a must-to-check-them-out soon. Generally nothing bad got featured on this first part, but also the second part of this remarkable compilation buries out some fine talents. We've reached the harder and more EBM-driven part of this compilation, and most likely those bands turning a bit away from the mass-consumed, repetitive Hellectro-rush can reach the best results. That of course doesn't mean, you'd find only dumb and horrific bad contributors out of the Hellectro boot-camp ' not at all, just check CYSTEM CEX and the Belarusian talent DIVERSAND 13 for example ' but if bands try to figure out a somewhat own and authentic sounding stuff, I'll normally go for them. Moscow's SPIN PROVIDER have been quite often invited guests, when it comes to review another Eastern European-based efforts. Their rhythmically well arranged tune sets a first standard. Finest Dark Electro rather following a classic, DECODED FEEDBACK-related sound outfit, you'll get presented by DREAMER IX, a Russian project, which could recently release a debut album via the Hungarian Advoxya label. Although I know, that our online system may does not print the Cyrillic letters in a comfortable manner; I'll give it once again a try (and sorry, if I wouldn't be able to figure out a possible English translation'¦). A lot of new names and talents to discover, so download this one (it is free), and you'll surely find some pearls to keep an eye on. Congratulations also to the responsible people behind the Synthematik netlabel for bringing out a promising overview on the Eastern European and mostly Russian-related Electro/Industrial scene.

01Alpha Point - Things I Do
02СпекÑÑÑм - ÐÑÑÑÑ ÐÑÐ´ÐµÑ Ð¢Ð°Ðº (Revisited)
03Supervillain - Heroes
04Systema Synthetica - Tower
05Ecstatic Mood - Face The Facts
06LastraX - Big City Lights (Synthematika Edit)
07Fashion Suicide - A Guiding Light
08RU.ARE - Halo
09Kosmodromm - ÐÑÑÑой ÐоÑод (1.0 Version)
10Mezzamo - Without You
11ЭлекÑÑонное Ðблако - ÐеÑÑаÑÐµÐ»Ñ (Reworked)
12SynthetiXXX - Un Jour Que J'attends
13Technomancer - Emulator (Synthematika Edit)
14Ladder, The - 3rd Sin
15Carved Souls - Waveform (Extended Mix)

16Alien2064 - 20-07-69
17Infektline - Dance All Night Away
18Project Rotten - Confessions Of A Killer (Reworked & Remastered)
19Cystem Cex - Homicide
20De:Source - Wake And Scream
21Hypno[Revil] - Letzte Wache
22Zweifelhaft - Reborn (Synthematika Edit)
23Spin Provider - УÑÑо (Synthematika Edit)
24Whitar - New World
25Nexothex - Cellar D00r
26Dreamer IX - Only You
27Diversant:13 - No Fear
28Delithium - Going To War
29Sturmreaktor - Fallout
30T_error 404 - Passed World
31Ginger Snap5 - Synthema Song

TESLA BOY: Thinking Of You

 Posted by Maurizio Pustianaz (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
 Edit (5825)
Jun 19 2010
Title: Thinking Of You
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Mullet Records (@)
Rated: *****
Coming from Russia, Tesla Boy are a band that is able to compose the finest dance pop wave around. Being heavily influenced by 80's dance music (which was still carrying the echoes of the late seventies funk music) Tesla Boy mix past and present into an energetic formula that you have to check to believe my words (their debut album has been just released by Mullet Records on CD and that is the label's first release to gain that format). Coming from "Modern thrills", THINKING OF YOU is here presented into four different versions: we have the "Radio edit" (it lasts four minutes instead of the seven of the album version) where the Russian trio mix a bouncing bass line along with catchy synth spatial leads and heavy drum beats. All this to support the great vocal melodies of Anton Sevidov (try to imagine a male Donna Summer meeting Simon Le Bon). Along with the original edit we have three mixes: Casio Social Club (the project of Mullet Records' boss Justin Winks) kept the original flavor but doubling bass line and drum rhythms and switching real drums with a blasting bass drum/snare drum 4/4 and bass guitar with a fat synth bass. Perfect to start the dances... Baxter kept the spatial sounds and the bass line upfront, making a great dance tune with the song's structure intact. Mam, made of it a funky electro song that is able to compete with Daft Punk but he played a little more with stops and go and repetitions. We have only one song but each version is a valuable one... Check it at Juno, iTunes, etc.

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