Music Reviews

Randall Dunn: Beloved

 Posted by Marc Urselli   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Mar 29 2019
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Artist: Randall Dunn
Title: Beloved
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Figure Eight (@)
Rated: *****

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Randall Dunn is a fantastic producer, best known for his work with Sunn O))), Anna Von Hausswolf, Tim Hecker and many others. This is his debut as a solo artist and, as you can imagine, it comes loaded with years of his experience as a producer and as a connoisseur of all things analog and all things synth. Reading the credits of the album is like reading the history of analog synthesis (PPG Wave, Minimoog, Elka, Arp QUadra, Juno 60, Ems Synthi 100, OB8, OBX, Buchla, Roland system 700 etc), something Randall went looking for, exploring and recording all over the world, like in the South Tirol area of Italy bordering with Austria, in El Paso Texas and Brooklyn New York, where Randall lives and where his record label Figure Eight has the Figure8 recording studio owned and operated by label founder Shahzad Ismaily (who also played some bass on this record).

The seven cuts on the vinyl are dark and atmospheric, droney and melodic, melancholic and anguished, perfect for fans of Vangelis and Johann Johannsson. I can't help to think that it also reminds me (especially tracks like "Mexico City") of the latest BladeRunner soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch (which coincidentally was initially going to be done by Johannsson, and that Dunn was working on himself).

Some of my favorite cuts are the ones where organic old school synths are joined in by acoustic instruments, such as cello and bass clarinet (like in the fantastic "Lava Rock & Amber", where Jeremiah Cymerman plays the reeds and Will Smith plays the cello), although such pairings of instruments happen on almost every one of the songs on the record. There are almost no beats in the whole record, except for a subtle electronic heart beat in "Something About That Night" (which also features vocals by Frank Fisher of Algiers) and a pulsating EMU Emulator pattern in "A True Home" (featuring guests vocalist Zola Jesus). Other notable players are Eyvind Kang on viola, John McCowen on contrabass clarinet, Justin Morris on flanger boss, Ulfur Hansson on guitar and Buchla and Timm Mason on various synths.

Although you can listen to this record on Bandcamp, I would highly recommend getting the 180 gram vinyl album, which, other than obviously sounding better than digital, also features photography by Lauren Rodriguez and Una Blue, cover art work design by Stephen O'Malley of Sunn O))) and a zen poem by Gesshu Soko which he wrote close to death and became the lyrics that Frank Fisher sings.

Fred Und Luna: Im Tanzrausch

 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 22 2019
Artist: Fred Und Luna
Title: Im Tanzrausch
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Compost Records
Acting as a sort of companion piece or footnote to their full-length album “Im Tiefenrausch”, “Im Tanzrausch”, from the still relatively new but profilic mysterious figures of Fred und Luna, is a dancefloor-friendly pack of 4 deep house tunes (“elektrakraut/krautelecktro” if you go by the press release) with an optimistic and bright synth top layers that make them very likeable.

The undoubted highlight is “Compostonikum”, which foregrounds some laidback chanting over warm chords and a bunch of lower rubbery squelches in the bass area, into a result that’s genuinely entrancing. “People Mambo” adopts a similar approach with similar-ish vocal samples but a more laidback attitude and that’s truly effective as well.

Opener “Der Elektrolektor” is a purposeful and driven bit of light electro-house with some nice percussive touches, but without a hook to really set it alight. Third track “Es Ist Heiß” is the weak spot, a somewhat cheeser-sounding affair with a spoken-word German vocal that ends up sounding faintly Yello-ish but a touch on the corny side, lacking the thoughtfulness of the tracks around it.

Leisurely toe-tapping stuff with a definite broad appeal.

Bartellow San Ground San: Amanogawa

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Mar 08 2019
Artist: Bartellow San Ground San
Title: Amanogawa
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: SVS Records
Bartellow & Ground’s second limited edition EP is a nicely casual fusion of light-footed house and synth-electronica with more organic percussion and atmospheric elements. It’s lovely, steady-walking music with a nicely feel-good tone.

The cut-up retimed sung elements on “Holy Water” are a distinct bit of texturing that make it a highlight, whilst the title track is a more exotic and sultry affair with feminine vocals and a lovely rubbery bass sound.

But ultimately there is a slightly ‘nothingy’ aspect to some of the structuring that makes some of the tracks outstay their welcome a little bit and not quite manage to justify their eight-minutes-and-up running lengths. Fourth track “Orto Vision”, at only a minute and a half and a more abstract drumapella of sorts, is of course excepted. Is this release possibly just a degree or two too laid back?

Helado Negro: This Is How You Smile

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 05 2019
Artist: Helado Negro
Title: This Is How You Smile
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: RVNG Intl.
New York-based Roberto Carlos Lange’s sixth album is predominantly Latin-textured melancholy acoustic pop, with elements of soul ballads and even lounge. Though introduced as being aimed at topics of politics and race, it’s got an introspective tone that makes it all feel like heartfelt and romantic love songs, even though the lyrics (some English, some Spanish) are sometimes fatigued world-weary assessments of the difficulties of life. If you don’t pay attention to this, you can mellow out to this, no problem.

While a lot of acoustic guitar music is now revered in production terms, as though adding any non-acoustic elements would be some kind of sacrilege, that mistake is not made here. The production touches are gentle, but beneficial- a few drum sounds here, a bit of synth bass there, nice use of delay on “Todo lo que me falta”, all small doses but effective. Little sonic skits like “Echo For Camperdown Curio” and “November 7” are where the most unusual stuff happens, little bursts of analogue synths and found sound and tape-style edits that belie a studio playfulness.

Highlights include “Seen My Aura”, a gently funky walking number that has pop crossover and radio potential. “Sabana De Luz” which is the closest we get to a party atmosphere, but we’re clearly still inside Lange’s head. If looking for one track that channels the full sound of the album, try “Fantas”, and not the overly intimate and slightly unrepresentative opener “Please Won’t Please”.

The title, while not overtly ironic, could certainly be misleading, and if you’re expecting a feel-good party album, think again. If however you’re in the mood for a rich and heartfelt bit of relaxing acoustic pop (I’ve resisted mentioning Seu Jorge until now), with just hints of lyrical edge and modern production, this may catch your ear.

Eric Maltz: Dream Journal

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
 Edit (10829)
Feb 22 2019
Artist: Eric Maltz
Title: Dream Journal
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Flower Myth
Eric Maltz’s latest 12” is made up of two tracks, both of which stretch leisurely instrumental jazzy synth-house grooves out to around 11 minutes each.

Although the title track ticks along at a very steady 120bpm, somehow it feels much slower, with its laidback bassline the key reason. Beginning with some cliché bongos, as it unfolds new elements arrive in slow procession, hihats filling it out somewhat, and three minutes in, a small, slightly Frankie Knuckles-ish piano riff arrives to tell us we’re on a long and very reliable little self-contained journey. Brighter synth chords around the 7 minute mark feel less like a breakdown and more like a shift into a different atmosphere, but it’s a false alarm, and before we know it we’re back to the original groove, which then spends the next three minutes gradually spacing out and meandering into dub echo on its way out.

B-side “Subliminal Virgo” has just slightly more vigour, rolling at 125bpm with a steady but soft kick groove and more emphasis on the twinkling synths arpeggios that dance around at the top. The overall structure’s very similar and they make a very pleasant pair.

While not necessarily as dreamy as you may be expecting, it’s a strangely soft and adorable pair of tracks that have a shade of throwback to the long indulgent house journeys of the 90’s, whilst still sounding fairly fresh.

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