Music Reviews

VV.AA.: Musicity x Culture Mile

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
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Feb 21 2020
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Musicity x Culture Mile
Format: Tape
Label: Musicity Global
The concept behind this compilation is a ‘site-specific’ notion, recording found sounds in an ‘acoustic survey’ of the area of London that’s been rebranded as Culture Mile thanks to featuring the sites of the Museum Of London, the Barbican, the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, the London Symphony Orchestra and so on. Ten artists have taken these sounds and the accompanying inspiration and offered up pieces on the theme. These are predominantly downtempo electronica, dripping with arty cool.

As I write this, the Barbican is currently hosting an exhibition of Tangerine Dream photos and artefacts, so it seems appropriate that opening track “Running Out Of Limbs” is slightly T.D-esque, with steady changing arpeggios and a mellow, in-it-for-the-long-run vibe. This tone is reprised in Guidhall EMS’s “Eternal Descent” later on, in a good way.

“Running Out Of Limbs” doesn’t feature much by way of found sound however, although this begins to appear starting from the second track on. Some are as background textures only, such as on “A Synonym For Light” by Tania Nwachukwu and Bump Kin which foregrounds a full-length poem that dominates the consciousness, or on the theatrical mini-epic vocal playfulness of Alex Ho’s “Upon Brick”. Other pieces, like Mandhira da Saram’s scratchy and expressive “Anchor”, take the acoustic and incidental sounds and concentrate their focus on them.

The sonic environment elements do take something of a back seat sometimes, making this compilation feel less conceptually-driven and more like an old-fashioned compilation of ten random local artists. There’s no harm in that necessarily, as tracks like Fari B’s quality post-trip-hop calm “The Visitor Book” or Craig Richards’ soft electronica patterns in “Deep Slow” that make you want to Google more of their work (the hallmark of a good compilation).

An unexpected highlight is Kassia Flux’s “Rahere”, a really unusual piece that takes a beautiful and fairly purist, cathedral-toned choral work and treats it with reverence yet also chops it and twists it around the edges, melting it into a new frame.

So while people seeking out ambiences and found sounds may feel a tiny bit duped by the general pitch of this package, the musical quality and breadth of ideas that’s been offered up here more than makes up for it.

Lightphaser: New Tone

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
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Feb 05 2020
Artist: Lightphaser (@)
Title: New Tone
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
It's been a long times since we've heard from Hungarian electronic musician/composer Joseph Gogh and his Lightphaser project, about 10 years to be exact since the release of his 'Flashback' album, but he hasn't been idle in the interim. ‘New Tone’, a full length album containing 10 instrumental tracks was released in 2013 by Electro Arc but it was short-lived as the label just vanished soon thereafter without a trace. In 2016 Lightphaser released a digital-only 5 track EP with Timea Göghova (who also sang on ‘Flashback’) on vocals. In 2017 Lightphaser composed 5 tracks (based on some of the material on 'New Tone') for the soundtrack of a free arcade game called ‘Spacewolf’ on the Android platform. They were remixed in 2018 with an ambient/chillout touch for an album called 'Mix Tone'. In 2019 a soundtrack EP called ‘Eternity Time Warped’ was produced, featuring reworked and remastered tracks from the ‘Eternity’ EP. It is a collection of 7 looped music tracks in the Electro / IDM genre suitable for games as in-game / background music. It was followed up by a 2-track EP called "Follow Your Heart / Interweaved Destinies", featuring vocal samples of Timea Goghova. That brings us back to 'New Tone' again, remastered and re-released on the very same day it was originally released 6 years ago.

The 'New Tone' album is ten tracks, all instrumental electronica, much of it falling into the melodic space techno realm. (No discernible vocals this time out.) I should mention that Gogh states this album was the first one to feature Korg instruments including the virtual/analog R3. The album opens with 'Fatal Coincidence," the briefest track on the album at only a little over three minutes. It's a bouncy little number with a hopping sort of melody. Title track "New Tone" takes us a little deeper into ambient space beginning with a somewhat minimal beat that expands a bit as the piece progresses. Sequencers bolster the rhythm and by the middle the track really takes flight. "Misunderstandings" is a good deal more hyper really cranking up the intensity several notches. "Remote Body Modificator" (now there's a nifty cyberpunk title if I ever heard one) begins with a classic techno arpeggio sequence, but it isn't long before it morphs into elsewhere; a tour-de-force ride through Kraftwerkian techno realms in space. The following track, "Inception" has to be the spaciest (and in my opinion, the best) track on 'New Tone.' The only thing that keeps this helium high from completely floating away into the nebula is the beat. The drumtrack employed isn't the type of rhythm I would have chosen to use on a piece of this nature, but it does the trick in anchoring the very spacey atmosphere. Big huge ambient space opens "Revelations" which becomes it's own cosmic train chugging steadily across the galaxy. I can't exactly put my finger on what it is about "Constant Change," but the track just sounded a tad New Agey to me. The oddly titled "You Owe Me an Apology" recalls some of the loopy sounds used on the 'Flashback' album. I did like the contrasting of the heavy tom percussion accents on this one. The vast swirling spacey ambience that dominates the beginning of "Inner Balance" gradually gives way to more conventional but still somewhat abstract melodicism underpinned by a subordinate rhythm track that only seems to serve as a mile-marker, and evaporates before the conclusion. The last track, "Free" seems to be a more joyous, uplifting melodic piece with an initially minimal beat, but I really didn't care for the sound used on the synth lead, so that kind of dampened my enthusiasm.

'New Tone' is available at most of the major digital music stores according to Mr. Gogh (I had to go to Spotify to preview it) so it should be easy enough to find. I liked 'Flashback' better, likely because of the vocals, but 'New Tone' is still pretty good melodic space techno.

Alexis Tyrell: From Cybertron With Love (Part 05)

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
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Feb 04 2020
Artist: Alexis Tyrell
Title: From Cybertron With Love (Part 05)
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Lessismore
“From Cyberton With Love” demonstrates the effective timelessness of spacey electronica. Although it’s badged as progressive techno, the original mix is almost closer to old-school, with a gentle, 5-bar-over-4 melody strongly reminiscent mid-90’s-era trance (the dreamy whacked-out stuff, not the Ibiza hands-in-the-air sugar frenzy that came shortly after). It’s certainly progressive though, slowly shifting levels and tone with casual effortlessness over a fairly conventional six-and-a-half-minute, DJ friendly structure. Existential “what is reality?” spoken word samples meander in slowly, then meander out, equally slowly. It’s all a bit “Space Manoeuvres”, but in a good way, and sounds fresh thanks to solid production.

The EP format feels nicely old-school too, with the original, a remix, and a dub version of each. The original is quite spacious already so a dub version is only a subtle change, marginally more stripped back, and nicely steady.

The Skylar Mills remix thickens things up just slightly, with an almost wooden kick sound, a little more urgency in the bass and more prominence given to the dialogue- but it’s a fairly subtle rework rather than a total genre shift. Unexpectedly the dub mix, instead of just being the same with a few tracks removed, goes further in that direction, substituting in a deeper kick drum and changing the structure for some proper, near-industrial techno action.

It’s a solid bit of light-edged progressive techno, unremarkable in some ways but nevertheless really endearing.

Yao Bobby & Simon Grab & Dhangsha: Live At Radio RaBe Bern

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Feb 03 2020
Artist: Yao Bobby & Simon Grab & Dhangsha
Title: Live At Radio RaBe Bern
Format: Tape
Label: Lavalava
This is a 55-minute live-in-the-radio-studio performance where Yao Bobby lays a mixture of rap lines and dialogue over Simon Grab’s thick, deliberately overdriven and distorted bass lines, while Dhangsha throws in all manner of percussive tricks and surprises that bring a variety of African-style rhythms firmly into the here and now.

Sometimes the raps and music structure feel tightly pre-planned and pre-written, like on the well-rounded “Panafrica”, while at others such as “Camp de réfugiés” there’s a confident and seemingly improvised looseness that oozes attitude, giving a real sense that the message trumps the musicality (which is not to say that the musicality isn’t there, of course).

Some of the grooves are more regular, free-stepping and predictable beats, like the lovely swagger of “L'Afrique enchantée” which evolves very slightly but lets the lyrics take the spotlight, while pieces like “Gapopo Yamea” push the electronics rather more.

“Diamonds” is a highlight, with its catchy sampled hook and somewhat lo-fi Prodigy-esque sub-bass drives, while “Ahodje” reminds me of the thicker edge of mid-00’s electroclash, perfect for people still listening to their old T.Raumschmiere albums.

I can’t pretend to understand the lyrics- I’m not even confident that they’re all French- so I can only hope that it doesn’t get trapped in the over-familiar circle of rappers whose only ability is to rap about how good they are at rapping. Given the atmosphere, it does feel like Yao Bobby has something more interesting to say, though I do detect a fair bit of self-name-checking. I hope there’s lyrical quality in here, as the music certainly warrants it.

This is ‘real’ grime music, if you like, live and raw yet complex and intelligent, and a lot of Western rappers should listen to this and realise how unambitious they’re being by comparison. It really deserves to escape the ‘ethnic’ pigeonhole and get a wide audience.

VV.AA.: Five Years

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jan 30 2020
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Five Years
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Youngbloods
As you’ll already have guessed from the title, the Youngbloods label is celebrating five years of activity with a compilation, with tracks from 15 out of the no fewer than 70 artists they’ve worked with over that time. Each track fits broadly with the “grow fast age slow” catchphrase of the label, offering up generally chilled out electronica with above-average dosages of acoustic instrumentation. The artists are generally all on the same page and the result is a little over an hour of smooth, laidback, downtempo melody work, sometimes bordering on ambient.

Highlights include “Alex The Spacecat” from Stu Pender (not the Lancashire Hotpots one), with Natalia Ice’s supremely languid and measured vocal work (which is also highlighted on Dan Krakaur’s quirky slow jam “Ur Way”). Time Wharp’s nicely understated gated warm keys in “Rhodes Noel” is nicely mesmerising, while Foamek’s perky and optimistic plucky synths on “Marvelous Persona” are just the right kind of sweet. The always reliable Kratos Himself’s “Clappers” is a lovely fusion of pseudo-ethnic sounds into a slightly Matthew Herbert-style bit of independent instrumental alt-pop.

Other notable pieces include Yoh’s “Old Leopard Paws”, with its almost folky instrumentation that feels like it harks back to the softer side of 60’s and 70’s prog rock but fused with electronic ambience. Lucy Roleff’s “In The Doorway” goes a step further and offers up a pure acoustic guitar-and-vocal ballad, the simplistic beauty of which compliments well denser and more modern-sounding pieces like The Josh Craig’s “All Dogs Don’t Go To Heaven”.

Notable for a less positive reason is Suplington’s final track “Guiding Hand”, which centres around a male vocal about going back to sleep that is set in a soporific setting, but which is so gently twisted and off-key that it ends up being reminiscent of the songs in the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, sitting in that uncanny position where gentle and malign rub against each other.

Although some of it does border ever so gently on being twee- Sontag Shogun’s piano work “Unfinished Idea 004” feels ripped straight from the separation scene of some moody 90’s romantic movie, with railway field recordings rather prosaically layered on top- generally it’s an extremely beautiful collection of tracks which really showcases the lush velvety tone and very high quality threshold that the Youngbloods label has established. This is absolutely worth grabbing, and listening to at the end of any long day.

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