Music Reviews



Chasms: The Mirage

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
 Edit (10828)
Feb 21 2019
cover
Artist: Chasms
Title: The Mirage
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Felte
“The Mirage” is an introspective bit of dubby dream pop that, despite clearly being fused with melancholy channeling problems and tragedies in Jess Labrador and Shannon Madden’s recent lives, comes out the other side as a charming and calming affair. Over light and confident electronic dub and synthpop beats and basslines run light echoing guitar melodies and soft, slow, feminine vocal tones.

The poppier moments include “Every Heaven In Between” which, save for a slightly more hollow and washed-out production quality (a deliberate one, rather than a criticism), might be reminiscent of early 90’s Electronic, or State Of Grace.

However for the most part it’s more wistful, slow affairs like “Gratuitously Cruel” which, despite its title, sonically doesn’t sound cruel at all. Adopting elements of electropop that are at times both modern, not that dissimilar to chart electropop ballad material, but also retro with shades of wave, there’s a steadiness and richness to them that justifies and easily fills each song’s generally six-to-seven-minutes-ish running time. The dubbier points, like opening track “Shadow” or the very endearing “Tears In The Morning Sun”, also have shades of the fusion of electronic and dub sometimes ploughed by The Orb and others, while “The Mirage” is a slightly more grimy and gothic affair which seems to have its sights set firmly backwards.

As expressions of grief go it’s rather measured and controlled, but the result is an accomplished three-quarters-of-an-hour sonic indulgence that will be appreciated by those who prefer their soul-searching and shoegazing to be a touch on the lighter side, but still very sincere.

Hunter Complex: Open Sea

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
 Edit (10824)
Feb 15 2019
cover
Artist: Hunter Complex (@)
Title: Open Sea
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Death Waltz Originals (@)
Rated: *****
How I came by this artist/album: A number of small labels email me promo material/artist news blurbs, etc., many of which don't even apply to the Chain D.L.K. audience/music genres, and I find myself deleting a good chunk of them. This one email I got from Lars and Death Waltz though was kind of intriguing. "The Long awaited new LP, Open Sea by Dutch artist Hunter Complex will be released on January 23 2019 on Death Waltz Originals, sublabel of Mondo Records and Death Waltz Recording Company. The LP was mastered by James Plotkin; the stunning artwork was created by Eric Adrian Lee." Of course, there was more, talking about "supreme synth goodness" and "a mix of warm analog and bright digital synths at a layer of complexity that most records in this genre can't manage to achieve." Well, that was enough for me. I contacted Lars and asked him to send me a copy. He responded by saying one was already on the way, and lo and behold, it seemed to arrive instantly! I suppose getting the (limited) vinyl edition would have been asking too much, but the CDr sent had all the music of the album I needed for the review, so no complaints.

Prior to this I was unfamiliar with Lars Meijer and his Hunter Complex project, but I understand he's a pretty well-known figure in the Dutch electronica underground, so this comes with a good amount of cred. He's been releasing music since 1991, is a member of Living Ornaments and Psychon, and 'Open Sea' is the third album under his Hunter Complex moniker. He is also the co-owner of the Dutch label, Narrowminded. Sorry to say I haven't heard any of his previous releases, but it's what's spinning now that counts. My first reaction to 'Open Sea' is that it sounds like the kind of stuff my '80s synthpop band Chemistry Set was doing for fun and creativity between rehearsals for live performances. We had a bunch of synthesizers and dammit, we were gonna use 'em to make imaginary instrumental soundtracks to movies that never existed. (Hey, you never know when a real scoring opportunity might arise, although it never did.) Most of those tapes fell by the wayside and were lost to time and tide, but this album brought it all back home.

Being completely instrumental, 'Open Sea' is like a soundtrack to an 1980s B movie. Less like Blade Runner, Miami Vice and Terminator, more like Thief, Escape From New York, The Running Man, American Gigolo, or more obscure ones like Trancers or Xtro. 'Open Sea' is not indicative of any kind of horror score though; more bright and punchy rather than dark and gloomy. The synths employed sound like the lower end Roland, Jupiter and Juno, Oberheim, Yamaha DX7 and Korg Poly 61 rather than the higher end PPG Wave, Synclaviers and Fairlights, which is fine by me. Lots of layering on the pads, generous use of sequencers and arpeggiators, plus those drum machine sounds that so defined 1980s music.

My one misgiving about this is the lack of defined melody. It is possible that was intentional, not attaching a specific melody to these pieces in order to evoke an overall feeling. I think that puts this album dangerously close to Stock Music Library terrain (you know, the generic tunes that are often royalty-free used in low-budget radio commercials and self-produced documentaries) but it is way better done than most of the music I've heard in that category. Still, it seems as though much more could have been done with this without sacrificing its stylized sound, perhaps veering off in more playful directions instead of treading predictable pathways.(Many of the musical tropes employed on 'Open Sea' are those you've heard many times before.) The fact that the album is a limited released on vinyl makes it more appealing for a physical copy than if it were just in CD format. It is already sold out in Europe, and likely the only reason it hasn't sold out in the U.S. is lack of recognition and publicity with American audiences. Get your copy before it disappears.

Hvmble: Textures 1/4

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
 Edit (10819)
Feb 12 2019
cover
Artist: Hvmble
Title: Textures 1/4
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Hvmble
The first in a four-part “Textures” series offers up two steady six-minute super-light and atmospheric house grooves where a super-polite combination of kick and soft bassline chug along nicely and it’s the high-end patterns and atmospherics where the interesting stuff is going on.

With shades of dubby production, “Moeraki” is both the busier and the lighter-sounding of the pair. Processed noise that sounds like a babbling brook fused with digital insects comes and goes in waves, as does a slightly more sawtooth-edged synth pattern that takes things in turns with a much more mellow and 90’s ambient house high line. It also has a surprisingly DJ-friendly fade outro, look out for that one.

“Plitvicer” has more of an earnest kick to it, focussing solely on the rhythm for almost two minutes before rolling out an assembly of soft bass notes, synth stabs and claps that got 80’s influence written through it like a stick of rock. This one fades too, but leaving the stabs behind in a way that makes cross-fading nice and smooth.

A steady if unremarkable pair of tracks with a smooth and feel-good simplicity to them.

Silk Road Assassins: State Of Ruin

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
 Edit (10813)
Feb 08 2019
cover
Artist: Silk Road Assassins
Title: State Of Ruin
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Planet Mu
A collaboration between three producers whose day jobs are in production music for films and games, “State Of Ruin” certainly has a soundtrack-style lean to it. From the opening gutpunches of “Overgrown” to the synth-atmospherics of “Split Matter”, it’s a very Planet Mu-appropriate work of intelligent instrumental electronica that you can certain picture accompanying visuals, cut scenes or gameplay (and a couple of choice spoken-word samples certainly reinforces this)- but it also works in its own right as a 43-minute listening album. The only real issue against it is the way that, like a lot of library music, none of the tracks top the four minute mark so they play as short ideas rather than longer or deeper experiments.

Tracks like “Shadow Realm”, featuring WWWINGS, bring the noise and the bullet-percussion and excel with a great dynamic and tension that commands your attention, whereas “Pulling The String”, nice though it is, does feel like a bit of unused incidental underscore. There’s something faintly Eastern-sounding about “Saint” that gives it a more notable flavour.

The naming of “Taste Of Metal (Instrumental)” is perhaps telling as it definitely comes across as an instrumental version of a track that would be completed by a grime-ish rap or an introspective vocal. “Bloom” gives off a similar vibe.

“Vessel” is a highlight for me, the arpeggiating synths and slow build, gentle drop arrangement forming a really nice bit of rich synthwave, with “Bowman” also notable for a similarly successful switch-up of pseudo-orchestral pacifist moments against punchier and spontaneous crisp percussion work.

Overall it lacks the distinctive character or twist that I might have normally expected from a Planet Mu release, but nevertheless it’s a strong piece of digital synth-electronica that keeps things nicely steady.

VV.AA.: This Is Frafra Power

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
 Edit (10797)
Jan 25 2019
cover
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: This Is Frafra Power
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Makkum Records
“This Is Frafra Power” a fascinating highlight thrown on a music scene many will be completely unaware of, but which will be well worth your time and money checking out if you like your electronica, hip-hop-light and complex African rhythms all melted up in one pot. Gathering together eight tracks from different artists, but all recorded in Francis Ayamnga’s studio in Northern Ghana, it’s a polished set of what we might coarsely label as “Afro-pop”, but with strong rap elements and deftly light electronic touches that give it more character than that label may suggest.

Despite an apparently small geographical scope and the self-imposed small pool to compile from, there’s a good deal of variety here. There’s a raw electro-grime edge to tracks like Matala Ligiri’s “Ragazeer” and more of a party vibe to Bororiga N Lobema’s “I Remember Yesterday” and the quite 80’s sounding “Awudu Messenger” by Seero. Some Western-ish pop styles are reconstructed and given unique flavours in tracks like Ndaana Eera Ymah’s “Linda Ayupuka” and the bold opener “Fausty Amoa Mabila” from Nosanayine.

For the sake of trying to compare it to known European music, at its most electronics-infused it does occasionally bring to mind Major Lazer (but without the subbass), old M.I.A. or Two Culture Clash, but pieces like Sugri’s “Sugri Hajia Zenabu” are more traditional-sounding group-vocal-driven affairs that feel less modernised.

The sound quality is generally good, but with some slightly lo-fi and compressed elements, particularly on some of the vocals, which leave a little unsure whether it’s a deliberate effect or a lo-fi consequence of overloaded microphones. The consistency of production between tracks, grown naturally from the single studio source, helps the compilation hang together as a proper listening album.

It’s a fascinating and quite leftfield collection of a region and modern musical culture I was completely unaware of, and for that reason alone you should check it out simply as an eye-opener. The fact it’s nicely produced and good authentic pop music is certainly a bonus of course.


Search All Reviews:
[ Advanced Search ]

Chain D.L.K. design by Marc Urselli
Suffusion WordPress theme by Sayontan Sinha