Music Reviews

Negative Response: Oblique Angles

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jul 20 2017
Artist: Negative Response
Title: Oblique Angles
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Medical Records
“Oblique Angles” gathers together selected tracks that Negative Response released on cassette between 1981 and 1983. This is lo-fi proto-electro-pop with live bass and slightly Joy Division-esque twang guitar over lightweight drum machine patterns and squelchy, playful, Eno-esque analogue electronic wobbliness. There are vocals, which are sometimes a little weak, both in performance terms and low in the mix.

The almost waltz-like rhythm of opener “A New Beginning” is strangely compulsive. “Citizen Europe” drops in some foreign-language radio broadcasts to good effect. “Calm Before The Storm” is a more conventional and structured bit of early synthpop writing that in a parallel universe could’ve been something from the first Depeche Mode album. “Touch” is in a similar vein but sounds rather laboured, but things end on a high with the longer track “Utopia” that places spaced-out echo-heavy vocals over a busy electro bassline and some thick, organic, loosely out-of-time tom slapping.

The audio tracks have been lifted from cassette and the overall quality is audibly a bit fuzzy despite some valiant mastering. Despite being a compilation, to people new to Negative Response it plays like a 35-minute, 9-track lost early 80’s lo-fi album. It’s not a lost classic, but fans of that early 80’s evolving sound will enjoy it enough to justify it being unearthed.

Xordox: Neospection

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jul 17 2017
Artist: Xordox
Title: Neospection
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Editions Mego
A man of many aliases, JG Thirlwell’s solo release under the Xordox monicker is a purist bit of instrumental synthwave that frequently sounds like a Jean-Michel Jarre album with the lead melodies removed. At times it’s also close to the stereotype of what background sci-fi game music sounds like. It’s purely synthetic, with warm repetitive analogue basslines stepping along while beepy arpeggios, analogue synth power chords and effects flounce melodramatically on top.

The album is spoilt for choice for opening numbers, with “Diamonds”, “Antidote” and “Alto Velocidad” all sounding like epic opening preludes, hinting at a heavy Pendulum-esque hands-in-the-air section that never arrives.

“Corridor” is notable for having the strong lead hook line that most of the other tracks lack, ending up only a remix away from being a hands-in-the-air trance hit. The quirky warbling synth line of “Deep Shelter” is also one of the stronger moments. The other memorable element is the spoken-word manta on “Destination: Infinity” (“destination… destiny… destination… infinity…”) which is so corny that I have to give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s tongue-in-cheek.

While the other tracks all come in roughly around the six minute mark, closing track “Asteroid Belt” is the exception- a nearly fifteen-minute deeper adventure into space and ambience, which starts off boldly start, although by the three minute mark steady bassline patterns begin to emerge and it returns to slightly more business-as-usual, but with an extra degree of measured patience compared to the rest, and an extra willingness to explore unusual tonal changes.

This album walks a well-trodden path, but it does it with a smooth earnestness that makes it an enjoyable listen anyway. Some extra ingredients would need to be added to make it stand out- vocals or samples maybe, or perhaps a slightly grittier edge. As it is, it’s a polished but just slightly forgettable bit of straight-laced synthwave.

BoyKingIslands: Pastels

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jun 27 2017
Artist: BoyKingIslands
Title: Pastels
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Youngbloods
I’ll openly admit to being unfamiliar with Boy King Island’s three proper albums, so is this “demos and rarities” collection one of those studio floor sweepings that unearths some amazing gems and works as a successful album in its own right, or is this a collection of leftovers and offcuts whose non-inclusion on their other works was totally justified? The answer is somewhere inbetween the two.

There are some well-rounded whole pieces in here, such as the mellow, faintly Lemon Jelly-ish quirky downtempo of “Finally Home”, or the faintly sultry “Blue In Black”. It’s been neatly segued together so that tracks like “Memory Loop” and “See Through Your Eyes”, less than a minute long each, feel like movements of a longer whole rather than isolated cul-de-sacs. Ideas like “Chords From Snow” could easily have been explored in much greater depth.

There are also some random and abortive musical dead-ends. “A Tear & A Smile” has the feel of a lazy strumming experiment that never really took life, and the guitar demo version of “Echoes” sounds like an indulgent teenager noodling with a new electric guitar effects pedal in his bedroom. The demo versions of tracks like “All Green & White” have that lo-fi, giving-less-than-100% feel that you get when the performer knows it’s only a demo.

At 36 minutes for 18 tracks, the result is a patchwork quilt of ideas, many of them half baked, but thanks to some careful sequencing it holds together well enough to make an interesting and somewhat random listen.

VV.AA.: Monika Werkstatt

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
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Jun 19 2017
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Monika Werkstatt
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Monika Enterprise (@)
Legend of German underground music Gudrun Gut’s ambitious collaborative project takes a core of new and original mellow electronic dreampop material and shares it around among more than a dozen musicians who each spin things off in different directions, before the separate threads are re-woven together into a double LP that is somehow both an original album and a remix album at the same time.

The result is an accessible and gentle group of super-soft pop electronica. “Grow”, with B. Morgenstern, has hints of Goldfrapp at their most plaintive. “Green Rain”, including Gudrun Gut herself, has a slightly more driving electro beat that keeps things moving determinedly forward but also has echoes of 80’s new wave in its vocal refrains. “M.B.T.” is a deep techno number with lovely acid squelches melding into its ambience, the only disappointment of which is when it stops abruptly after three and a half minutes when it sounds like it’s warming up into a ten-minute deep techno classic.

Other sections are darker and less radio-friendly, although all the pieces tend to stay short. “Feuerland”, with Beate Bartel, is a beatless layering of whispers and breathing voices over subtle organ sounds with a ghostly effect. “Desert Fruit” is a sinister dream poem packed with distant bass tones and approaching alienating clicks. Longest piece “Witchcraft”, with Sonae, as a familiar but effective mellow glitched soundscape of sparking electrics and long cold synth chords.

More out-there offerings include the very 90’s-flavoured pop-dub of “Ikarus” with Danielle De Picciotto- a must-listen for fans of early 90’s The Orb. The surprisingly autotune-heavy “Repetition” is more playful, almost bordering on silly, while the squelchy funk sound of “Who’s Afraid Of Justin Biber” [sic] is great fun and very Spotify-friendly, while “Ninjaness” with AGF revels in awkward 8-bit processing.

Across the two LP’s you get 87 minutes of music, but with the single CD you’re shortchanged slightly with only 66 minutes of that, losing out on the fourth LP side that has mostly original non-collaborative material credited to Werkstatt as a whole. CD listeners miss out on some of the shorter and arguably less fully-formed techno pieces, such as the ominous “join us” vocal refrain of “Workshop” with Greie Gut Fraktion, the rumbling subbasses of “Schrei” and harsh electro sounds of “555minimal”. “Invisible” has a hint of Ursula Rucker’s style about it.

While all of the musicians involved under the Monika Werkstatt umbrella are female, that really isn’t important; this is not in any way a politically feminist work. At times it could be described as feminine, but then, so can a lot of gentle electronica with soft strung-out female vocals- without having the concept explained, you definitely wouldn’t listen to it and think “that’s a women-only album”, and that, I assume, is the point.

Overall it’s a big bag of really interesting cutting-edge electronica with a broad menu. It’s a really strong collection and while not every track’s a classic, and while some of the tracks feel underbaked or at the least simply too short, there are enough strong ideas in here to make it absolutely worth checking out.
Jun 18 2017
Artist: Snog
Title: Rich Kuntz
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Metropolis (@)
Rated: *****
When asked by magazine Cyclic Defrost which tracks of his album "Compliance" was proud of, Australian producer David Thrussel (the mind behind many genuinely irreverent projects that most of our readers should already know such as Black Lung, Soma - with Pieter Bourke -, Crisis Actor, The Enemy and Snog of course) quoted "Rick Kuntz", who got described by its author as "the theme song for a bunch of football hooligans home-invading the sea-side landed gentry in their beach villa". Last year Metropolis released a couple of digital remix-based (this one and "The Clockwork Man") followed by a larger collection ("The Clockwork Man (Non-Compliant Remixes In The Age Of Obedience)", available on CD as well as AAC, FLAC, MP3 and WAV), but I warmly suggest to check this one first for a set of reasons. First of all, the healthy scornful vision provided by the lyrical content of the song and its full adherence to the fierce aesthetics that David poured through his projects by using different stylistic registers. The second reason is the inclusion of some great remixes by VICMOD (a Promethean project to teach the masses how to build modular synthesizers) expertise Ross Healy: the venomous whiplashes of Ross' Austerity remix has also been included in the above-mentioned collection (as well as the "zombified" breakbeat of Hi Freq Dionysian RMX, sounding like a magmatic appendix of Black Lung's sonorities), but the likewise amazing infected disco of his Dogshit remix is an exclusive track of this output. Other exclusives on it are the moderately aggressive corroded breaks of Solypsis Crunchy Edition remix of "Compliance TM", the electric amniocentesis of "Rich Kuntz" and a sort of sci-fi theme derived from "Compliance TM" by Ross Healy's alter ego Cray.

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