Music Reviews

Fernando Olaya: Iguazú EP

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
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Jan 14 2020
Artist: Fernando Olaya
Title: Iguazú EP
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Univack
Colombian Fernando Olaya’s first release on the Univack label is a three-pack of rolling progressive house instrumentals with a familiar structure and a very silky quality. Stepping, confident, journeying light house grooves give a sense of steady motion over which are layered gentle, super-soft and mellow chord sequences. It’s an assured formula that doesn’t get stretched very far, but which is executed well.

The title track feels like old-school trance music for long train journeys, spaced out and thoughtful. “Tulum” rolls slightly harder with a slightly robotic arp loop that keeps things under control until the luscious chords start coming in after three minutes, while “Technicolor”, despite its name, is neither cinematic nor dramatic and keeps things pulsing along gently with an approach to melody that strongly recalls the better output of late 90’s trance.

The press release says this is pitched at the dancefloor but I would rather listen to it while staring out the window of a long drive or train ride. Quality material from the dreamier side of dance music.

Oibaf & Wallen: Hela EP

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
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Dec 20 2019
Artist: Oibaf & Wallen
Title: Hela EP
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Univack
The “Hela” EP has two original tracks from the Spanish duo, both of which are dreamy pieces of light and melodic instrumental techno which take you on leisurely eight-minute journeys. Gentle touch synth work and dancefloor-steadying beats are all very nicely balanced. Neither track holds any major surprises but as DJ-friendly synth-prog goes, it’s the strong execution of a tried and tested formula that leaves you with a smile on your face.

They’re quite similar as track pairs go. “Balder” has a shade more determination, while “Hela” is a touch more sorrowful initially with its more drawn-out minor synth pads, which feel like they become more optimistic as the sound opens up- a track just as (or maybe more) suited to long motorway driving as to dancefloors.

Arude’s remix of “Balder” is notable for inverting the normal process often found when progressive house gets remixed. It’s the groove and percussion stems that remain more intact, keeping the mood quite similar, while an unexpected and quite twangy new melodic layer is introduced. As remixes go, it works well and adds breadth. Similarly, Paul Angelo & Don Argento’s remix of “Hela” adds a bit more melodrama, with synth stabs and some slowly introduced pulses. It’s a bit of a shame that the melodic pads have been twisted and bathed in granular and lo-fi effects here, as the combination of drama and strong melody could’ve been the complete package- it makes me want to try playing both mixes at once just to see if the whole thing feels more complete!

There’s no “wow” or surprise factor built in here, but Univack have offered up a beautiful and dependable pack of melodic and progressive techno that has to be admired.

VV.AA.: Territories vol. 2

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Dec 12 2019
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Territories vol. 2
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Polaar
This is a six-pack of remixes (well, five remixes and one VIP version) of Polaar artists collaborating. It’s instrumental techno and electronica, broadly, with healthy doses of organic-sounding and sometimes tribal percussion generally placed at the core- but while it’s officially dance music, this is smart stuff. I don’t know of anyone who still uses the term IDM but if they did, this release would put the ‘intelligent’ into it- as exemplified by the sometimes 12/8 rhythms and regular mood changes of the opener, Flore’s remix of Only Now’s “Dirt”.

Keito’s take on Tim Karbon’s “Aziz Lumiere” is heavy and pounding, and deceptively simple at times, but it gets under your skin, before the remix circle completes with Only Now’s rework of Keito’s “Bougainvillea” offering up a fast, subbass-driven manic grime swagger that feels like it’s successfully juggling three tempos at once.

Nasty J “Réalité Alternativ” Tim Karbon Remix is a lighter recipe, still grumbling complex rhythm patterns but putting much more emphasis on almost-romantic synth pad chord patterns. SNKLS’s “Isandula VIP” is liquid drum-and-bass territory rhythms but painted with glitchy electronica sounds, yet more lusciously pure subbass work, and some very brooding atmospherics in the breakdown, before the Prettybwoy remix of “SkyBurial” by Mars89 ends on a brighter note, again returning to the warm synth pads and a rather strange percussive sound that seems to be somewhere between a parrot and a seagull- but not in a bad way, amazingly.

This is the kind of dance music you would rather sit down and appreciate the details of, rather than waste time flapping your arms round to it. Rich, deep and complex, this stuff just oozes quality.

Anma: Batch 0012

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Dec 10 2019
Artist: Anma
Title: Batch 0012
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: SM-LL
The bold branding- if you can call it branding- of the SM-LL label is getting progressively more homogeneous as it evolves. Already establishing a rule where all the artwork is plain black (yes that’s not a technical error in the thumbnail above), and with releases that are numbered rather than named, their press releases now consist solely of alphabetised hashtags. They’ve also announced that from next year, they will no longer even be including artist names on their releases- the entire thing will be anonymous, unless an artist breaks ranks and takes credit for any of it.

At times it feels like this affords the artists freedom, to experiment or express sonics without any word association or accompanying imagery. At other times it feels like a disservice, robbing each release from grabbing your attention or drawing you in with its own identity.

So in the third paragraph I finally get to talk about the music. This is a series of eight (or just six if you buy the vinyl) out-of-sequence-numbered layered sets of analogue oscillation and arpeggiation meanders. Bubbly bleeps and off-count repeating patterns are the order of the day. Around this, higher pitched atmospherics and electronic glitter provide a gentle, less-is-more approach to decoration. Curt sub-bass thrubs and throbs sometimes gently imitate techno kicks without ever pushing into that genre. It’s rough-hewn at times, littered with clicks, but this seems to add to the warmth.

“Harm Osc 5” is an example of one of the steadier tracks, a gentle walking pace number whose flatness is its virtue, while “Harm Osc 6” is an example of one of the more off-kilter, time-unpredictable arrangements that keeps things firmly cerebral rather than foot-tapping.

Favourites for me included the slightly more uptempo alt-techno of “Harm Osc 8”, and the gloriously awkward “Harm Osc 9” with its counting-challenge pulsing and tinnitus squeal. The soft, theremin-like melodic expression that crops up in final track “Harm Osc 2” is a curious sonic salve and an endearing way to wrap up.

This is a form of analogue proto-techno that goes simple and goes deep, very deep indeed. But if you’re prepared for a deep dive into a thinking person’s bass noise, turn this up loud.

Venetian Snares: Greg Hates Car Culture (20th Anniversary Edition)

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
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Dec 05 2019
Artist: Venetian Snares
Title: Greg Hates Car Culture (20th Anniversary Edition)
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Timesig
This is an expanded 20th anniversary re-issue of the first ever Venetian Snares vinyl release. Predominantly it’s the frantic and complex affront of snares and subbass thumps that will be happily familiar to Aaron Funk fans, and will bring as much joy as a brand new Venetian Snares album to those that haven’t heard it before.

Not to say that Venetian Snares has really mellowed as a brand, but there’s something especially raw and angry at play here. The “Stranger In The Ass” track, unsurprisingly, seems to bubble under with fury that’s being pumped wholesale into the drum programming. “Point Blank” makes everything Aphex Twin has ever done sound like a pop ballad. “Boiled Angel”, with its gentle experimental bubbling noises that get completely trampled by kicks, is the happy hardcore it’s OK to like.

This certainly isn’t all just rage and drums though. Opening track “Personal Discourse” is beautifully layered, while the squelchy near-funk bass of “Aqap” is a smile-inducing dancefloor destroyer that stretches its ambitions beyond the four-minute-limit of most of the tracks into something with more progression and internal evolution.

This release was all brand-new to me but even die-hard fans get to hear rare old tracks. Though apparently Funk transitioned from Amiga to PC during this period, there’s no distinct characteristic change in the sound. “Milk” is genuinely daft, sampling wholesale a stand-up routine about being over-exposed to milk (whilst leaving out the punchline). “Eating America With Pointed Dentures” uses horror movie screaming as a top-layer over a surprisingly simple yet relentless kick pattern, while “Punk Kids” has a more 8-bit approach and takes you into some unplayably hard old Amiga game.

It’s a sonic joy, as well as an interesting insight into the early days of Venetian Snares- a distinctive musical output that, on this evidence, seems to have been born fully formed and ready to fight your ears.

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