Music Reviews

DJ Marcelle / Another Nice Mess: For

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jun 19 2018
Artist: DJ Marcelle / Another Nice Mess
Title: For
Format: 10"
Label: Jahmoni Music
DJ Marcelle’s tribute to old friend Mark E. Smith is a wilfully punky bit of lo-fi electropop that chucks in sampled conversations from Smith, short snippets of John Peel, and out-of-time ringtone samples, and lays them loosely over a relentless drum machine pattern. Despite being called “For”, it’s six versions of the track “Two Walls” acting as a lead single for a forthcoming album.

The John Peel sample in particular gives proceedings a distinctly Cuban Boys feel, though where the Cuban Boys can be playful and poppy, this has a grumpier, punkier attitude and a much darker sense of fun, bordering on no fun at all.

The original nearly-five-minute track is padded out by five dub versions, all under three minutes long. The first two of these are 80’s style rough cut-and-paste style mixes that take all the original elements and reproduce them in a different order with some different effects but not necessarily any new ideas. The Problematic dub is notably thumpier thanks to delayed drums. The “Listen! BELP Dub” is more experimental, concentrating on the atmospherics and dubby sounds built out of backwards kicks, while the “Studio Door Dub” ups the found sound percussive effects over a quirky proto-industrial groove. The “Emerson Lake & Palmer Symphony Dub” is a deliberate bit of ironic naming, a squelchy acid sound and one particular ELP-referencing part of Smith’s dialogue forming something that seems deliberately intended just to weird out people who innocently search for the words “Emerson Lake & Palmer” on Spotify.

It’s a rough hewn track with a lo-fi aesthetic that Mark E. Smith fans are likely to find appropriate, though by modern standards it does seem a bit dated and done.

Kuhl: The Circus of Outrageous

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jun 12 2018
Artist: Kuhl (@)
Title: The Circus of Outrageous
Format: CD
Label: Ubertanz
Rated: *****
“Nothing living should ever be treated with contempt. Whatever it is that lives, a man, a tree, or a bird, should be touched gently, because the time is short". The medley of the thought-provoking track "Civilization", opening "Circus of Outrageous" (some sonorities could vaguely resemble another notorious circus by Death In Vegas) by Kuhl - an interesting musical idea by Cas Greenfield and Mikey Cooling -, quotes "Green Dolphin Street", an old movie by Saville, inspired by a novel of Elizabeth Goudge. In spite of the excessively lovey-dovey tone of some moments of this movie, the quotation seems to be a sort of manifesto for the aesthetic self-assigned mission by this band (later on, they sing "There is power in beauty in the songs we have bought/Bringing order to chaos, we create not destroy/We fight hatred with love/What we learn makes us strong/We crush the spirit in the rivers of blood"). Maybe they took themselves too seriously, but the fact we live at the peak of a really decadent age, where someone like Kuhl (maybe they're not that original) could invite to a violently delicate riot, is almost unquestionable. A delicate riot, we said, as the ones that some 80ies pop bands that could have inspired Kuhl's sound (Yello, Pet Shop Boys, Spandau Ballet) as well as some nostalgic contemporary actors (such as Blue States - check tracks like "Headrush" to feel some similarities with the very last outputs by that pleasing bath of British nostalgia - or other pushers of lazy space or contemporary folk grooves of the 90ies) were maybe dreaming. I wouldn't consider "Circus of Outrageous" a genial album, but it's a multifaceted emotional pack, where the meaningful moments prevail even when they intentionally explore seemingly kitsch or cliched styles ("Uber", Kashablankha" or "You, Me, The Start and Love" - one of those song where a featuring by Louie Austen could be perfect! -). The way of singing some songs like "Zsa Zsa" or "Space Cake" managed to resemble the style by Earl Zinger. Nicely eclectic stuff.

Fauna: Infernum

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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May 26 2018
Artist: Fauna
Title: Infernum
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Ventil Records
“This is my second album and it was recorded under dangerous circumstances”- so begins Rana Farahani’s second full-length, which unfolds into something sonically much more relaxed and casual than the prelude may suggest. This is gentle synth work, mostly very calm, sometimes bordering on slow old-school trance (“Exit”), sometimes wandering more closely to full-on synthpop (“Death Fly”, “Went Home Got Lost”), sometimes more stripped-back and rumbly with glitch and post-dubstep influences but still in perky synthpop soundspace (“Drive-By”, “Holle”), sometimes going deeper into rumblier industrial techno structures (“Unbehagen”) but never really going ‘hard’.

The bitterness is in the lyrics, often sparse and spoken-word affairs infused with a fair amount of cynicism and resentment that plays cleverly against some of the quite optimistic synth sounds running underneath. Apart from the expletive in the chorus, “Lonely At The Top” is a bright, perky, fairly radio-friendly bit of electropop

It’s got a healthy blend of variety and consistency in a compact 34-minute, 10-track dark synthpop album that never really shines extremely bright, but still draws you in with some deceptive complexity and authentic emotion that’s not writ so large as to be discouraging. Interesting stuff.
May 24 2018
Artist: Semiotics Department Of Heteronyms
Title: s/t
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Avant! Records
When reviewing recent single “Tell Them”, I praised the 3-pack of slightly hard-edged synthwave-synthpop, saying “if an SDH album appears I will definitely check it out”. Now that the album’s here, my expectations are met, but perhaps not exceeded.

Here you get eight strong bits of synth songwriting, some pop-radio-edit length, others allowed to breathe a little more but never straying too far from conventional song structure. There’s a slightly lo-fi, proto-techno analogue feel to the warm analogue low end sounds and the sometimes rather echo-heavy vocal treatment that gives everything a gently raw flavour. Firmly rooted in the sonic values of the synth 80’s, it rolls along nicely but a little predictably at times, and by the time you reach “What Did I Come For”, you do begin to wonder whether more synth sounds might have been available.

The vocals are quite velvety and confident, but never really pushed very hard, tending towards whispered and even spoken-word vocal lines rather than anything bolder. The PR sheet’s comparison of the vocals to Dolores O’Riordan is a little ambitious, though you do hear the same celtic twang in “She Uncovers Before Me”.

Perhaps predictably for a first album there’s a feeling of defining a sound rather than pushing it here, epitomised by tracks like the strong “Guilty And Gifted”. “Mean” is the most ambitious track, a pulsing seven-minute affair with quite a cinematic feel.

A strong, relatively compact bit of dark synthpop with more than one foot facing to the past, SDH’s self-titled first full-length album is steady rather than amazing.
Artist: Noisebrigade
Title: Selected Resistors
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Der Klang
A compilation of tracks from Maurizio Pustianaz’s Noisebrigade project from 2008 through to 2017, selected resistors is a thorough 76-minute pack of instrumental synthwave and synthpop sounds full of warm analogue synth sounds, pads and bleeps bent into making dark, cinematic and brooding music.

There’s a broad range of grooves spanning electro and a few different shades of techno, from the heavier Warp Records-esque breakbeat thumps of “I Robot” to the dystopian sci-fi drama of “Chemical Experiment”. There’s a consistency in how the pure, almost lullaby-like melodic tones play against

Text-to-speech vocals appear sparingly, such as on “Inside Trader” which has a decidedly Kraftwerk proto-electro flavour. The retro flavours are also prominent on “Hierophant’s Nebula”, which, perhaps due to my own nostalgic make-up, reminds me quite strongly of Keff McCulloch’s incidental Doctor Who music of the late 80’s- a perky and steady underscore at times.

There’s a generous helping of 7 tracks from the “Cathodic Dreams” album, and four completely unreleased tracks, with the rest picked from EP’s and various artist compilation exclusives. Despite the decidedly retro-facing general sonic make-up of it, it’s interesting to hear how the production values definitely evolve over time, with the later tracks sounding richer and pushing things a little further.

A very pleasant pack that will appeal to anyone with a fondness for analogue electro and synthwave.

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