Music Reviews

Mark Renner: Few Traces

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Mar 15 2018
Artist: Mark Renner
Title: Few Traces
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
The pitch of “Few Traces” seems to be a revisiting of the scant discography of Mark Renner, who has two LP’s to his name, both from the late 80’s, the most known of which is “Painter’s Joy”. This collection is a mixture of greatest hits and unreleased bits. 21 tracks, ranging from fully-fledged verse-chorus clangy-electric-guitar-pop songs (“Half A Heart” being a prime example) to short sketches that are more like unfinished song ideas than truly experimental pieces, the title track or “Princes Street” being examples of the latter.

Of the influences listed in the press release- Yellow Magic Orchestra, Skids, Cocteau Twins- the most apt are probably Big Country from a sound point of view, and Ultravox in terms of songwriting. Production-wise it couldn’t sound more 1980’s if it tried, with very bright mid-range but a warm fuzziness underneath.

There’s some very good, quite conventional but strong songwriting here- “More Or Less” being worth highlighting. Some of the tracks have a decidedly demo-level feel to them. “Autumn Knows You By Name” and “It Might Have Been” sound like instrumentals for which Renner never got around to recording the vocal, while I’m no guitarist but there are what sound like a few out-of-time strums in “The Wild House”…

“The Sun In His Head, A Storm In His Heart” is interesting but anachronistic- a more genuinely experimental and potentially ahead-of-its-time ambient piece layering up slow synth chord pads with a long recording of a passionate public reading of Scottish poem “Hush”..

People who remember Mark Renner’s music with fondness will be very pleased to hear some unearthed material, but otherwise it does feel like a somewhat indulgent release where the full extent of the source material and its historical relevance doesn’t necessarily merit the luxury anthology treatment.

Psy'Aviah: Lightflare

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Mar 04 2018
Artist: Psy'Aviah (@)
Title: Lightflare
Format: CD
Label: Alfa-Matrix (@)
Rated: *****
Belgian music producer/composer Yves Schlepe is back with a new Psy'Aviah album titled 'Lightflare,' in some ways similar to 2016's 'Seven Sorrows, Seven Stars,' and in other ways, not so much. The similarity is in the vocalists Yves uses this time around - 'SSSS' alumni Kyoko Baertsoen, David Chamberlin, Mari Kattman, Ellia Bisker, Fallon Nieves, and Addie Nicole are all back for another go-round. There are some new voices too but we'll get to them in time. The overwhelming impression I had of 'Seven Sorrows, Seven Stars' was a cornucopia of eclectic electronica. I can't say that's the case with 'Lightflare.' Schlepe calls the album his "testament to hope," but sometimes hope just
isn't enough. You've got to back it up with great songwriting, and often that's difficult to do. Too many tracks fall short in that department. Opening with "Lost At Sea" (Mari Kattman) on vocals we find a mid-tempo number that's totally dependent on Kattman's voice floating in the upper register for the chorus hook. It's an okay song, but nothing to write home about. Ellia Bisker is up next with the similarly paced "Aftermath," and the best thing about this song is the harmony vocals that follow the lead like an echo. I will admit the song has a bit more going for it melodically than the opening track, but it just isn't a "grabber". Perhaps the best song on "Lightflare" is "The Great Disconnect" sung by Psy'Aviah's live vocalist Marieke Lightband. This is a wonderful piece of modern moody trip hop with very cool melody, excellent contemporary lyrics, and Lightband's superb sultry vocals which really sell it. As good as Addie Nicole is on 'The Sound of the New" (and she's plenty good) the song sounds like a blatant attempt just to go mainstream commercial. Plenty of hook, and about as much substance as a can of Pringles. If you thought that might be pandering, "In the Sound" featuring MiXE1 is part DivaPop, part electro-rap. Maybe I'm getting old. Maybe this is what the kids want to hear nowadays, but it struck me as kind of crass. "For Myself" featuring Lofthill sounds like
Trent Reznor in a boy band. Mari Kattman is back on "Heavy Heart" and as good as she is, the song just wallows in misery without anything else that makes it compelling. "Reboot Reset Relay" sung by Fallon Nieves is a step up with its cyber-themed meme, and a strong dance vibe as well. David Chamberlin gives it his best soulful shot on "Ghost," which has a good dark electro groove but lacks any memorable hook. Phoebe Stone takes the vocal helm on "Lonely Soul" which kind of sounds as melancholy as its title but at least has a memorable hook. Kyoko Baertsoen executes "Plan B" and due mainly to her sublime vocals makes it the second best track on the album. MiXE1 is back with "Game Changer," and though I wouldn't call it a game-changer for the album, it's a lot better than "In the Sound." It has some edginess, which I suppose is just what's needed at this point. "Under the Rain" (vs. Koner) is an understated number that almost captures a little of the eclecticism of 'SSSS'. Final track "Mr Vanity" is a cheeky number with Fallon Nieves on vocals quite reminiscent of "Not What I Expected" off the previous album. The production is really good on 'Lightflare' and vocally everyone gives it their best, but the songwriting is uneven often leaving something to be desired. I understand that there is a deluxe version of this album with a 2nd remix CD, but I wasn't sent that one. (Don't think it would have made much of a difference anyway.) Instead, Yves sent me an Alpha Matrix label compilation CD with a Psy'Aviah cut on it. I'll be reviewing that sometime in the near future when I've has a chance to absorb it all.
Jan 21 2018
Artist: Aidan Casserly
Title: "Dirk Bogarde Suite" + "Winter Papers"
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: House Of Analogue
Rated: *****
Aidan Casserly is at his peak of creativity and this time he brings to his audience two new releases: the first one is an EP titled "Dirk Bogarde Suite" and the second one is a new album titled "Winter Papers". "Dirk Bogarde Suite" contains four tracks which are based on four key moments of the life of the English actor/writer named in the title. The titles "War Finds You Out", "Idol Of The Odeons", "Exile" and "A Forgotten Icon" are somehow self explanatory. I didn't know him, but the fact that his 1961 role, as an homosexual lawyer into the Basil Dearden movie "Victim", touched so deeply the audience who formed movements which forced the English parliament to change some laws about that matter, amazed me. An actor and a movie that can influence society. It would be a sort of dream nowadays. Musically, besides "Idol Of The Odeons", which is a nice upbeat song a la Marc Almond of the "Stories Of Johnny" period, the other three are inspired piano ballads ("Exile, is a little bit more "experimental" with its sax solo intermezzos that break in changing the atmosphere, though). "Winter Papers", contains songs where Aidan is using the poems of Monica Brito on ten out of eleven (Aidan wrote the lyrics for "The Lady"). Monica Brito is a Portuguese poet/artist based now in Canada which book titled like this album, containing her poems / illustrations, will be out sometimes in the year. A mutual friend on Facebook introduced them as her writing style is similar to Aidan's and he gladly got in contact. Most of the tracks are ballads based on piano and occasional strings parts. The ones that particularly catched my attention are "Silent Sounds" and "Pieces", as they are a bit different. The first one is a jazzy semi upbeat tune really minimal but able to create a great atmosphere and the second is a really good one where piano, distorted guitar chords, strings and drums create a nice mix of energetic crescendo and atmospheric moments. Also "The Lady", which is closing the album, is a really good one: it contains a mix of spoken word, piano and synth pads, thing that is creating a sort of cinematic effect I liked. I think that the minimalistic approach is due to the will to make the people focus on Brito's lyrics as a form of respect toward the feelings of the person he was collaborating with.

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.

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