Music Reviews



Undermathic: 10:10PM

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jan 01 2011
cover
Artist: Undermathic (@)
Title: 10:10PM
Format: CD
Label: Tympanik Audio (@)
Distributor: Tympanik Audio
Rated: *****
It seems like the Tympanik label has gone on a releasing spree, as I have many more CDs from to review this time around than any other label. One thing you can be sure of, whatever they release is going to be interesting in some way or another, and such is the case with Polish composer Maciej Paszkiewicz's Undermathic project. This is expansive cinematic ambient electronic/orchestral music with dense rhythms and a broad sound palette. Right from the opening track, 'Big City Nights,' you know you're in for a treat. There is quite a bit going on in its dense layering, that it make take a few listenings to fully grasp the subtleties. It is dark, modern noirish and delicious, foreshadowing what's to come.

There is a futuristic Blade Runner-esque ambience running through some of the tracks'¦an urban Sci-Fi environment without many of the clichés you might expect. As Vangelis realized with his Blade Runner score, the sound is huge and sprawling, yet intimate. There is so much attention to detail that one can't but help marvel at the composer's compositional and studio skills. The rhythms are inventive, compelling and well-used; the melodic content intricate and never overly repetitive; the instrumentation elaborate but never cluttered. It is dramatic to the max, and captivates your attention even when it seems as though there is little going on.

The sequencing, where used, is marvelous. You barely even notice that parts are sequenced, they so natural and blended within the structure of the tracks. The sonic palette of Undermathic is unbelievable too. Obviously a lot of money was invested in sound software, and it shows. This is beyond orchestral; this is something else! Composers like Steve Roach, Jean-Michel Jarre, and Hans Zimmer could learn a thing or two from Undermathic. No theme is beaten to death or wears out its welcome on '10:10PM' Everything is continually evolving and transforming. The integration and the flow from one piece to the next is virtually seamless. It's dramatic and emotionally stirring, and even romantic in places. Game designers and film producers would do well to seek out Undermathic as the music so conducive to visual enhancement and story.

I am in awe of this album, impressed all over again with every listening. I hear no flaws, and there is not one iota I would change or do differently. This is THE album of 2010. You would really be doing yourself a disservice not to own it.

Autoclav1.1: All Standing Room in the Goodnight Saloon

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jan 01 2011
cover
Artist: Autoclav1.1
Title: All Standing Room in the Goodnight Saloon
Format: CD
Label: Tympanik Audio (@)
Distributor: Tympanik Audio
Rated: *****
Never judge an album by its cover, or in this case, the photo of the musician inside the tri-fold CD digipack. Tony Young (who is Autoclav1.1) certainly looks like your typical goth-industrial musician with a bird-nest hairstyle atop his bald pate, mirror sunglasses, piercing under lower lip, tats (hidden by the long-sleeved shirt in this photo), stompin' workboots, predominantly dressed in black; but the music of Autoclav1.1 doesn't sound like your typical goth-industrial. Au contraire, mon frère; this ain't no EBM/electro-industrial terror-fest. 'All Standing Room in the Goodnight Saloon' is cinematic mood music, despite the participation of such scene luminaries as Leaether Strip's Claus Larsen; Emelie Verbieze of Riotmilloo; Attrition's Martin Bowes; Andreas Davids who is Xotox; Rachel Haywire aka, Experiment Haywire; and Don Hill of Millipede.

For those unfamiliar with U. K. based music producer Tony Young's background, he has a number of releases going back to 2005- EPs, albums, remixes, compilation appearances, collaborations, live performances, etc. With such a prolific output, I'm surprised I haven't heard his work previously, but you can't keep up with everyone. Be that as it may, what I'm hearing here on 'All Standing Room in the Goodnight Saloon' sounds compositionally mature and well-crafted. Right out of the gate, 'Waxing' builds atmospheric tension enhanced by an evocative piano melody, dramatic strings and dense rhythm. It sounds as if it could be the theme of a mystery or thriller. 'Sealed Envelope' continues along these lines with a different piano melody, and bit more elaborate orchestration atop dense percussion as we go deeper into the world of Autoclav1.1. There are more breaks and shifts in this track but a definite continuity between this one and the preceding.

The third track, 'Conquer This Perception,' makes use of the vocal talents of Emelie Verbieze and Claus Larsen, more as atmosphere than a lead vocal track. Emelie gives a brief spoken word intro, and Claus croaks spoken word like some demon conjured from the underworld. There is more sequenced synthwork in this track, yet still the piano melody, string-pads and dense rhythm as the previous tracks and the tempos are very similar. For me, this is the first down-side to the album; no tempo variation so far, and the similarity in the structure of the rhythms employed tends to make it sound predictable.

A break comes on track 4, 'The In Road,' with it's heavily strummed acoustic guitar intro, heavier rhythm track and predominant use of synthesizer, creating a somewhat Western theme. Nice wispy, wordless female backing vocals too. The (spoken) vocals of Martin Bowes are underplayed adding only ambience to the track. Finally, we get a tempo shift on the slower 'Saturday's Steps,' or at least starts out a bit slower. It begins with some neat ethereal ambience with those wispy femme voices again, but picks up tempo and we're back into the melodic piano and string overlays with the dense rhythm track. A vocal sample of a child repeating a short phrase adds a bit of nuance. 'Let Me Sleep (Somewhere)' sounds like a continuation of previous track, only heavier, with an insistent pumping bass and some guitar towards the end.

'There's No More Isolation' might be one of my favorite tracks on the album, for although it uses many of the previous elements employed by Autoclav1.1, it all seems to come together here like magic. Andy Davis had a hand in the (additional) beats and electronics on this one, but I can't tell where or how. Rachel Haywire's only contribution to 'This Town' is the opening vocal phrase, 'This is a fictional slumber.' I like the bold distorted line guitar l which carries part of the melody. I'm reminded of William Orbit here. 'Some Subtle Inebriation' is backed with woozy filtered synth pads (courtesy of Don Hill, no doubt) synth voices and dense strings, but once again there is that sequenced simple piano melody, which is getting a little old by now.

'Alleine In Der Dunkelheit' and 'This Is For Love' threaten to wander into New Age territory, mostly due to the piano. Especially the last track that has a somewhat generic commercial quality about it. (It would make perfect background music for a Prius commercial.) I think more sparing use of the ivories would have been prudent. Deleriumesque rhythms permeate nearly every track too. I would have like to have heard tracks that used much more spaciousness and ambience and were less reliant on the rhythmic element.

Still, 'All Standing Room in the Goodnight Saloon' isn't a bad album; there are some very nice tracks on it. Unfortunately, too many of the tracks have such similar orchestration and melodic content that I can't really call this an eclectic potpourri. But it does make good background music.

Parhelion: Midnight Sun

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Dec 22 2010
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Artist: Parhelion (@)
Title: Midnight Sun
Format: CD
Label: Cyclic Law (@)
Rated: *****
"Midnight Sun" is the debut album of this canadian band and it's a collection of sonic reflections on the natural geography and harsh climate of the arctic terrain. The result is a form of industrial drone made of guitars and found sounds.
"Tinturia (part II)" open this album with harsh drones of guitars and synths, "Forgotten Outpust" quite surprise because, when you expect another sonic assault after "Beneath", it opens to quite meditative soundscape made out of synth pads, "Solitude" is a balance of harsh and quiet lines of guitars and synts. The album continues on this tracks until "Echoes from a Restless Sea" with the environmental samples to constitue the sound web of the track. This short tune introduce the listener to the second and absolutely meditative second half of the album that reaches its peak with "The Transmission" where quiet harsh lines of guitar meet with synths and quiet arpeggios, a wonderful tune. "Atmospheric Reflection" close with heavy drones and synth pads.
This release is a good drone record, and perhaps better than recent outputs of more known, and well respected, bands. An album for invernal meditation.

High Watt Electrocutions: The Bermuda Triangle

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Dec 20 2010
cover
Artist: High Watt Electrocutions (@)
Title: The Bermuda Triangle
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Distributor: Introspection Records
Rated: *****
High Watt Electrocutions is a Canadian band spearheaded by Ryan Electrocution and they've been around for some time. Some of there previous stuff falls into the category of 'Stoner Rock,' heavy psychedelic fuzz-guitar oriented stuff, but 'The Bermuda Triangle' is quite different. Here, HWE are a lot more laid back, and while guitar dominates (both acoustic and electric), there are also some other elements- keyboards, and (programmed?) drums but used sparsely. The whole album (a little over 38 minutes on a single track) is primarily comprised of guitar motifs, chord progressions that are repeated quite a bit, although they change in different sections. Often the guitars are effected (phased, flanged, reverbed, tremolo, mild distortion to psych-fuzz, backwards, etc) which are nice touches but I still felt a certain ambivalence about what I was hearing.

To be perfectly honest, my initial review, which I trashed, also trashed this album as a cliché-ridden empty hull of a vessel sailing the sea of prog-rock cheese. The only 'Bermuda Triangle' I envisioned was the black hole it might disappear into in its cruise to oblivion. I imagined Spinal Tap's David St. Hubbins putting out a solo album called 'Songs with No Words.' 'No man, it's not an instrumental album,' I could hear him saying in an interview. "It's an album of songs'¦ with no lyrics. That way the listener can fill in their own.' And in this sense, the album actually works.

Shoegazer, Pink Floyd and some other progressive rock influences can obviously be heard in the style. The majority of it is fairly simplistic in form, almost minimal in a way. There is lots of atmosphere, but not much depth. One theme flows into another, and they sound like usable ideas that could have morphed into actual songs. I suppose it could be called 'New Impressionism' in its purest sense, where the familiar meets the oblique. I find it unusual that I kept coming back to listen to it again and again and each time find myself enjoying it more. I think it makes good background music, unobtrusive but enjoyable ambience. It would probably be excellent at a laid back party when the bong was being passed around.

So my initial impression of this work has changed quite a bit over time. This album tends to grow on you, and you pay less attention to the structure of the individual components than the overall mood and ambience. One caveat- if you don't like Pink Floyd type prog 'rock (especially something like 'The Narrow Way' on 'Umma Gumma'), you're probably not going to like this. Yet, 'The Bermuda Triangle' might have appeal for those that aren't looking for anything too defined.

VV.AA.: Music For Personality Disorder

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Dec 20 2010
cover
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Music For Personality Disorder
Format: CD
Label: Beta-lactam Ring Records (@)
Distributor: Beta-lactam Ring Records
Rated: *****
Beta-lactam Ring's Summer/Fall 2010 Sampler of 16 tracks by twelve different artists, is quite an eclectic potpourri. First up ' Sand Snowman's 'Hemlock Garden' from their 'Nostalgia Ever After' album. Gentle, pleasantly harmonious vocals over acoustic guitar and a progressive rhythm section. Nice atmospheric changes with some adventurous instrumentation. Think Brit psych-folk, along the line of the Art Bears or Henry Cow but somewhat more restrained. Pepe Wismeer's 'A Lie in Heckless' from 'Between Sheep and Pigs' is a Pink Dots-esque ballad steeped in the ambience of the dark faerie wood. Aidan Baker's 'Feed Me Your Kiss' from 'Songs Of Flowers & Skin' just didn't grab me. Nice whispery vocals but the song's chord progression was far too repetitive and monotonous and much too bassy in the mix. Maybe his other stuff is better.

Moving on, we have Earthmonkey's 'New Cheese' off of 'Alms of Morpheus'. This is a reworking of the Mothers of Invention's 'Duke of Prunes' from their 'Absolutely Free' album. It's as if the Boards of Canada were covering the song on ludes. If Zappa were still around he'd probably approve (of the song, not the ludes) as long as he got his royalty check. Speaking of Pink Dots as I mentioned in a comparison in the previous paragraph, here's Edward Ka-Spel's 'The Beast With Six Fingers'(edit) from his 'The Minus Touch' album. Typical Ka-Spel, and nobody does it better. I love the line in the song, 'So jerks like me can rant and rave, and call it art.' You tell 'em Eddie! Any LPD fan will undoubtedly already have this album.

Sand Snowman are back with 'Wide Awake' from their 'Seekers Hide & Seek' album. More mildly adventurous stuff in the same vein as the song that led off this album but with some added piano. Perhaps just a wee bit more avant-jazz-rock, and although not a bad track, I liked their first one better. Pepe Wismeer returns with Devilame,' (edit) again from 'Between Sheep and Pigs.' Again it's Dots influenced with stabs of industrial. Ka-Spel returns too with 'Lines' (edit) from his latest, 'Chyekk, China Doll' with some help from Steve Stapleton and Patrick Wright. Since Brian Eno isn't making good albums anymore (don't get me started) this will fill the void. I want this album, and you should too. Last of the reprises is Earthmonkey with 'Ahmet Another,' an unreleased track from 'Alms of Morpheus.' It's a piece of psychedelic garbage that should stay that way; unreleased.

Seven That Spells offers 'Terminus Est' from their 'Future Retro Spasm' album. Imagine latter day King Crimson, Gong, and John Zorn thrown in a blender and set to puree. Totally chaotic and dissonant. Fans of obscure outfits like Amalgam should love this. Ilitch presents 'La Quantique des Cantiques' from 'La Maieutique de la Quantique.' Psych-stoner guitar and drums with electronic washes and analog synth effluvia...that's about it here. No song structure, just improvisation. Nadja contributes 'Skywriting' (edit) from the 'Transmit Acoustique Abstraction One' album. The piece is somewhat ambient guitar drone electronics; sort of reminds me of Frippertonics. Subdued drums are introduced in the latter third of the track here. There was sort of a muffled quality about it that made it sound rather lo-fi. Expo '70's 'The Gathering' from 'Sonic Messenger' could have fit right in with the previous track. More experimental droning and electronics. Best thing about it is that is was brief.

Anyone really familiar with the Legendary Pink Dots knows The Silverman (Phil Knight), and he presents an excerpt from his 'Time On Thin Ice' album with 'This Side of the Door' (edit). It's dark atmospherics with a gloomy monologue by Ka-Spel. Sounds like he's trapped in a sinister asylum. Very eerie. Tecumseh contribute 'Apophis' (edit) from 'Return to Everything,' another slow-moving droney guitar-driven piece. It's really pretty boring with little variation. And last we have Else Teicher with 'Near Dead Pachycephalosaurid on I-75' (edit) from her 'Whored' album. This is experimental electronic drone of a different sort. I found it kind of annoying. So did my wife, who told me to 'TURN THAT $#!+ off !!!' so I did.

Overall, this comp has a lot of merit even though there are things I didn't like on it. The fact that BLR's giving it away for a penny should make you want to grab a copy before it disappears. And with the money you save on this, you should probably buy something else from them while you're at it.


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