Music Reviews

Swansea: Flaws

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Apr 26 2017
Artist: Swansea
Title: Flaws
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Self Group
Oregon trio Swansea’s album “Flaws” is a neat and tidy slab of ten electro-indie-guitar-pop songs with a no-nonsense approach. Verse-chorus structures, steady tempos, light synth patterns and songwriting and singing that plough their own path that’s somewhere between American indie and more quirky European flavours. The production is neither too crisp nor too muddy, with an overall sound that’s authentic if at times a little flat.

For what it matters, there’s an aspect of this release which is a little bit dated in pop terms. It draws comparisons to LCD Soundsystem, DFA, Soulwax, The Ting Tings etc. and a broad genre that had its zenith about a decade ago.

But it’s certainly a decent pop album in parts, with some good hooks. “This Time”’s twist from melancholy to extroversion is nicely pulled off. “Samurai” has a lovely bright groove that sounds like it’s only a quick remix away from appealing to Roisin Murphy or Goldfrapp fans.

The second side of the LP is more innovative than the first, with the energetic “No Power” and the vaguely prog rock “Cincinnati”. Final track “Be Brave” and digital bonus track “Blue Sky” both stretch out of the pop mould into more dreamy, languid and melancholic arrangements- the soft percussion on the latter being particularly interesting.

“Flaws” is pleasant enough and a perfectly good soundtrack for a quiet night in, but it’s lacking anything that will really make it stand out from the crowd.

d'Animal: d'Animal l'Ogic

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Mar 29 2017
Artist: d'Animal
Title: d'Animal l'Ogic
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Media (@)
It’s hard to pick a category for this release, so maybe take the category description above with a pinch of salt…

Surprisingly poppy by the usual drone and post-rock standards of Silber Records, “d’Animal l’Ogic” is a 14-track album of bright, vocal psychadelic pop with one foot in the 1960’s and the other in today, albeit the lo-fi alt-pop part of today.

Dan West is a one-man band I’m told, but it’s hard to believe from this release that d’Animal isn’t a full indie-rock band- guitars, bass, keys, guitars and vocals, everything’s there in the right amounts. The production is mostly faithful to the band structure but there are moments, such as towards the end of opening track “Hear It (Creeping Down The Alley)” where there are some genuine George Martin-esque moments with reversed tracks and found sounds. There’s clearly nothing precious about the target sound, as heard in the unashamed use of filtered house loops and scratch FX on tracks like “Comments”.

It’s also really strong song-writing. Vocally there’s a hint of They Might Be Giants about it, particularly in the harmonising. Lyrically it’s mostly a little more conventional than that, often concentrating on single lines or ideas rather than full-on four-verse-long stories. For example, “She Knows Someone”’s complete lyric is “she knows someone who knows someone”, yet it’s worked in different ways so that it’s both verse, chorus and bridge covered by six words. Conversely “Gemma & I” is a complete love story. If I was itching to criticise something, I might say that the vocal production does sound a little on the homegrown demo side compared to the rest of the sounds, but I’d be clutching at straws as to be honest it sounds fine.

There are plenty of highlights. “Retrofission” sounds like liquid drum’n’bass recreated using indiepop instruments, and it really works. “No Shame”, the only track to break the 5-minute barrier, has slight hints of Ben Folds about it, while “Pleasure Freak” has a Beck-like groove and some fun 8-bit flavours. Final track “Buena Vista” is mostly a Latin-tinged ballad, but with a bonkers and abrupt prog rock outro.

It’s packed with energy, a surprisingly successful 52-minute pop album that seems to have fallen backwards out of time but doesn’t seem to care. A total and very welcome surprise.

Assemblage 23: Endure

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Mar 25 2017
Artist: Assemblage 23
Title: Endure
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Metropolis (@)
Rated: *****
The guessed cover artwork for the return (more than four years after the previous album "Bruise") could bee matched to one of those surprising discoveries of frozen ancestors of homo sapiens in the cave of some forgotten mountain. Well, imagine this situation projected in the future: maybe some snooty anthropologist could find the well-preserved corpse of Thom Shear, the lad behind Assemblage 23, together with mysterious objects like a floppy disk, a Korg MS-20 or a Roland SH-101 in the coffin, to classify it in some undefined area of the evolutionary ladder. I wonder how they would label it... maybe futurepopithecus? Most of the ten tracks orbit around that amalgamation of EBM-synth lines, a dense wave imprint and that touch of Balearic house, a somehow baffling mixture of recipes that it's a little bit like an imaginary meal (I would never be so brave) where you eat the raw ovary of a female peacock to show some disputable gastronomical courage and find a strawberry-flavoured chewing gum inside. All kidding aside, despite the retrofuturistic aftertaste and the above-mentioned baffling stylistic choices, there are many easy "danceable" and enjoyable tracks if you miss that kind of EBM, wisely deranged to future-pop sonorities: thumbs up - particularly for the editing - for tracks like "Barren", "Call The Dawn", "Bravery" and "Salt The Earth" as well as for some remixes included on the bonus CD, if you opt for the deluxe edition (particularly the one of "Bravery" by Solitary Experiments and the one of "Salt The Earth" by Angeltheory. Besides any distinctions and stylistic consideration, I think that the way your ear got trained in the 90ies or just your likings will let you think A23's enduring sonorities deserve to get thawed at room temperature or put it back in a place for protective hibernation.

Cybereign: Dangerous Mind

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
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Mar 21 2017
Artist: Cybereign
Title: Dangerous Mind
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Battery Park Studio (@)
From the sound to the name to the artwork, Cybereign’s “Dangerous Mind” is old-school electro through-and-through- a clipped programmed breakbeat, catchy stabbed bassline, thoroughly digital synthwave pads and a deep spoken word faintly Bambaataa-ish slow and sinister vocal. All the ingredients are present and correct in such a way that it’s practically a walking cliché, but at the same time it’s got a confident sense of minimalism and space about it that means it still works. It’s lacking a major hook or unique selling point to really get your attention, but retro electro fans won’t skip this one.

All five of the remixes are stylistically pretty close to the original, so much so that as a listening EP, you do wish there had been a remixer or two willing to spread their wings a little further. The Nessbeth mix pares things down, with a fun rubbery bassline and liberal use of delay.

The Dez Williams remix uses many of the stems practically unchanged, with only a more abrupt and staccato bassline and rhythm to distinguish itself, while the Coherer remix pulls in the other direction and makes things a bit brighter, heading (slightly) in a more funky, party-electro direction.

TechControl steps up the Kraftwerk-y groove. N-Ter’s version- probably the best of the mixes- is still pretty faithful, with a bit more urgency, more gating and more acid squelch, and is most notable for the reprocessed (possibly even re-recorded) vocal.

A fun bit of old school electro, but a broader and more ambitious remix package would have helped.

Lee Simeone: Best Seat in the Dream

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
 Edit (9682)
Mar 19 2017
Artist: Lee Simeone (@)
Title: Best Seat in the Dream
Format: CD EP
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
One thing I can count on as a reviewer here is always getting interesting and unusual releases, often by artists I've never heard of with associations with other musicians, bands and projects that I have heard of. Such is the case with London's Lee Simeone. Lee released his first album, 'The Dream Weaver' in 2009 on the indie Le Coq Musique label. (Ex-Adam and the Ants bass player Kevin Mooney played on one of the tracks.) Haven't heard it but it was said to get pretty good reviews. Simeone also worked with a number of other artists including Karel Fialka, Paul Reynolds (ex-Flock Of Seagulls), Gary Asquith (Renegade Soundwave), Alan Rear (Tony Mansfield, Miguel Bosé), and Ex- original Cockney Rebel bandmate Milton-Reame James. He also did production/remastering work on Men At Work's 2014 'Still Life,' vinyl reissue, and co-produced a documentary film on the band titled "You Better Taske Cover". Okay, so Lee has a lot of cred, and a wealth of studio experience. So why then does 'Best Seat in the Dream' sound like an amateur recording at best? A somewhat interesting amateur recording, but one that doesn't quite sound ready for prime-time.

Although Simeone puts forth a big sound, there is a lack of clarity in the mix, and direction in the song structure. It all begins with the swell of synths in "Sky Blue Tattoo," the instrumental opener that starts a nice theme that somehow gets lost in the sauce the longer it progresses. The soaring guitar that should have been riding over the top just isn't, and the latter part of the track with just (heavily strummed) guitar chords and an innocuous lead line goes nowhere. "Channeling Affection" sounds like My Bloody Valentine rehearsing with a drum machine back in 1983. Vocals are buried and the song seems aimless giving it little characteristic other than a shoegazey feel. "Dromsally Rise" has more pop song character, and Simeone's voice is a bit Lennonesque. Yet it still veers into odd, atmospheric places abandoning its pop beginning after a verse and chorus, and wanders into ambient space. The swathed in reverb ballad "Yours Nocturnally" sounds nice but suffers from vocals mostly buried in the mix. "Vertigo Romeo" has cool rhythm and flow but its semi-psych vocal and instrumental parts seem to meander too much to allow for anything to latch onto. "Star Lane" has a Legendary Pink Dots quality about it but once again, the vocals are too far back to make an impact. There are some really good ideas on 'Best Seat in the Dream' but none of them reach their potential and sound more like rough demos than anything else. If this is really the best seat in the dream, maybe it's time to wake up and smell the coffee.

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