Music Reviews

H.U.G.O.: Equilibrium

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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May 12 2009
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Artist: H.U.G.O.
Title: Equilibrium
Format: CD
Label: Fridge
Distributor: Goodfellas
Rated: *****
Equilibrium is sometimes like taking off your shoe in order to remove a pebble thrown unexpectedly inside of it and hurting feet while walking by a little spiteful brontosaurus. That could be just an interpretation of what this Italian band seems to suggest by the use of a nice shot for the green filtered cover artwork by Alessandro Della Savia (pay attention...there's a message under the leaves!) and inside and throughout the "rough" lines of an album which is only apparently just delightful and saturated with pleasurable grooves. Positive messages even if homemade and juicy tunes by the way! Let's state from now on that H.U.G.O. is just an acronym standing for Homemade (...and as many things with this distinctive quality, you could undoubtedly say it's greatly more genuine than any other musical prescription deriving from a widespread "serialism"! By the way... could you deny that fried noodles are healthier than Elvira Coot's delicious tidbits?!?) Unlimited Groove Opportunities and speaking generally you know there's nothing more concrete than opportunities (or could we speak about possibilities?!?). That's the reason why in my modest opinion, there's nothing particularly mystical or out-of-head in their music even if rich of references to some dreamy acts from Bristol music masters as well as ethereal "ambientalists" such as Boards Of Canada. But when the skilled voice by Daniela Zebra's uvula utterly flutterly sings, moans and (sometimes) whispers with total absence of fawning "life exists only in the absence of equilibrium", it seems that they enjoy being controversial and that's why they could not be defined a pop band! The lyrics are somewhat like memory pills as they even quote Herbert Marcuse's one-dimensional man, punks' believing, pagan principles based on the alternation of seasons and changes on human life, a bizarre female version of Stevenson's fictional character created to represent the splitting of personality (the famous '“ and not so '“ strange case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hide), with some provocative statements (for instance in Whacked you could listen to a sort of gentle invective full of praises against an imaginary starlet totally absorbed by a "fake" star system ideology... ), while the music seems to be a conglomerate assemblage of different influences well amalgamated by a groovy cheeky rhythmical pattern, often invading the fertile grounds of psychedelic electronic movements with that way of "ease-grabbing" distinguishing poppy tracks, chiming tones and well-crafted basslines. Even if in some episodes the compositional aspects lacks of homogeneity, you'll arguably appreciate their trembling and sibylline style and their refined alchemy.

THISQUIETARMY : unconquered

 Posted by Andrea Ferraris (@)   Industrial Music / Industrial Metal / Aggro Industrial / Electro Metal
Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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May 07 2009
Title: unconquered
Format: CD
Label: Foreshadow production (@)
Rated: *****
Hey, I’ve never been in Canada but many bands I love come from there, when I was a punk kid it meant Snfu, Nomeansno, D.o.a. and Voivod, later Godpeed You Black Emperor and Constellation and yes if you ask me I love what Aidan Baker, Nadja, Tim Haker, Alien8 and tons of other Canadian freaks are putting out these days. Thisquietarmy is no excerption and I incidentally discovered this guy’s touring with Nadja and they’re touching a place close to where I live so I’m really looking forward to tasting it all live. Beside touring together and the fact Aidan Baker is featured on this recording there’re other similarities that bring the music of Eric Quach close to Nadja and to other Baker’ solo releases, no copycat here, I simple think they’ve some similar influences and analogous stylistic approaches. Said that they’re not exactly the same thing, infact "Unconquered" has its heavy rock parts but is much more dilated and a bit less depressed, let’s say post-rock / slow core with heart, melody and muscles. If Nadja in many ways are really close to Swans (melodic-era) hybridized with Broadrick and shoegaze, Thisquietarmy is still influenced by British music but sounds more depressed-dreamy-pop (whatever it means)... am I exaggerating if I mention Slowdive, Ride and Bark Psychosis gone heavy?!. For what regards heaviness I’ve to add the term has to be taken with a grain of salt here since this cd overwhelms melody and emotion from the very first second of the cd, usually I tend to get bored quite immediately by the genre but that’s not the case (c’mon let’s say that Isis and similar bands are good, damn good... but overestimated!). Nothing exactly new if you’re looking for experimental music but the quality of the works is top notch, I’ve no doubt about it and I’ve been enjoying the music from the first listening since both the production and the recording helps the music to reach its full potential. Going back to Canada, I’m tented to comment it’s stile a fertile area and in general music coming from there a the moment is freaky, depressive/ed, post-wave/dark, classy and warm.

May 05 2009
Title: lapis lazuli
Format: CD
Label: Karlrecords (@)
Rated: *****
So they call it illbient, but beyond the classificatory idea I’ll try to help you figure out this new brilliant release on Karlrecords. Prince Charming hailing from Hollywood California has several releases out on Wordsound Label and Lovecraft Technologies, he’s back with this new full-length that shows how good taste, irony and elegant music can coexist on the same cd. Judging the book by the cover when I first gave it a look at the layout I thought this could have been one of those "burn the house down" releases meant just to dance till you drop, sure it displays a danceable edge but on the other hand the atmosphere is much more oniric than that the cover may suggest. Illbient, ok, but there’s a good amount of dub, of good old remix-attitude, an ounce of the glorious Warp catalogue from back in the days and an overexposure to movie soundtracks that here and there appears in the blink of an eye to immediately disappear a second later. While as I’ve said the music has that ironic edge that may remind Plaid, Nightmare on Wax, Plone or even Black Dog, the style is not absolutely retro and presents an incredible range of influences thus you’ll find a quasi post-rock guitar floating ashore on a dub soundtrack (Pomegranate Of Vice), there’s a squared electronic rhythm on a nightly Red Snapperesque melody (Uvarovite And Demantoid Blues). You’ll be astonished by some Piazzolla alike harmonies, trumpets, simil electronic funky rhythms. While being danceable and really easy even if at the very first listening some combinations could seem hazardous, "lapis lazuli" has an overall night feel: not exactly something for the chill-out zone but without any doubt something you can relax at while still dancing. Please don’t emphasize the fact I’ve said this’ an ironic cd, there’s class and elegance overwhelming from the first to the last episode of this work: thumbs up.

orchestramaxfieldparrish presents ÆRA: To The Last Man / Index Of Dreaming

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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May 03 2009
Artist: orchestramaxfieldparrish presents ÆRA
Title: To The Last Man / Index Of Dreaming
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Faith Strange Recordings (@)
Distributor: CD Baby
Rated: *****
This double-CD seemed promising in both the name and the packaging. Having no prior knowledge of what I was about to hear (and not bothering to be pre-conditioned by the accompanying pesky one sheet’) I dove in heard first figuring something called orchestramaxfieldparrish would be colorful and fanciful, just like the artist, right? (The b&w CD cover should have been a clue) Well, no. Nothing Maxfield Parrish-like about this at all, except that it is kind of arty. Now if I HAD read the one-sheet before listening to this work, I might have had a better frame of reference, although I think it would have prejudiced the review somewhat.

Without getting into the esoteric of whys of the "presents ÆRA" portion of the orchestramaxfieldparrish project name (apparently that tag was just for this 2 CD project), orchestramaxfieldparrish is a guy named Mike Fazio who has had a few releases under that name, and also Gods of Electricity, a collaborative project with a few other people. I think the latter project is more multi-faceted than orchestramaxfieldparrish, but never having heard it I’ll make no further comment. Suffice to say, this isn’t Fazio’s first release, and he’s obviously an artist who has developed over several albums worth of material.

I can’t say I was awed or overwhelmed by the first couple of tracks on the first CD - To The Last Man. The opener- "Elegæa," presents a series of strong, low, sustained orchestral string tones mixed with some synthetic drones. Perhaps it was supposed to be dramatic, but it left me flat. I could imagine a collaboration between Edgar Froese and Klaus Schulze where they got together and smoked too much hash. A lot of sonority but not much substance. The following track, "To Touch the Sky" loses the bass in favor of chittering and ringing tones, still with a basic drone feel. The most annoying thing about this track was the vinyl simulation of subtle clicks and ticks throughout. Pointless, in my estimation. The beauty of the digital format is the elimination of sonic distraction in ambient audio. To me, once a record picks up those annoying imperfections, it’s ruined as far as my listening experience goes for subtle music like this. That’s’ a good reason why a portion of my record collection never gets played anymore.

Now that I’ve gotten what I didn’t like out of the way, let’s move on to what I DID like, which was just about everything else. Track the third, "Ennoæ," immediately reminded me of Steve Roach. It is the only track on the entire 2-CD album that has any rhythmic impetus, and actually came as a refreshing change of pace. I was beginning to get a feel for Fazio’s brand of ambient drone, and could hear parallels with artists like La Monte Young, Robert Rich, Phil Niblock, Klaus Schulze, the spacier elements of vintage Tangerine Dream and to a lesser extent, Brian Eno. Four more tracks round out the first CD, running the gamut from natural environmental to the outer regions of space to cozmic awe. My only misgiving was the simulated vinyl ticks that kept reappearing every now and then.

The second CD, Index Of Dreaming is where things really come together for orchestramaxfieldparrish. Instead of names, the tracks are numbered – 1/1, 2/1, 1/ 2, 2/2, 1/3. They flow together so well that it seems like an entire work, rather than separate pieces. All of the spacey, dreamlike musical textures Fazio has in his arsenal are employed to make this one hell of a cosmic trip. Quality soundscapes of the first order. Where the first CD might have been somewhat of an experiment, the second is masterpiece in restrained sonic layering that never breaks the mood, or jars the listener. (And thankfully, no clicks and pops.) While seemingly minimal, there is a deceptive complexity about the ambience that should hold up well to repeated listenings. If you close your eyes, you easily imagine being in a floatation tank without the tank!

Now that I’ve absorbed what orchestramaxfieldparrish has to offer, I learned from the one-sheet that the first 50 copies of this CD included a 3rd CD titled, "Pæan No. 1 - The Paradise Syndrome". Damn! I never get those limited specials. I can still be content with To The Last Man / Index Of Dreaming though, because most of it is very appealing to someone who enjoys ambient/space/drone music as much as I do.

Benfay: Replay Life

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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May 03 2009
Artist: Benfay (@)
Title: Replay Life
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: Everestrecords (@)
Distributor: Godbrain/Finetunes
Rated: *****
Out of the baker’s dozen of CDs that I have just received for review, Benfay is lucky number one on the dissecting table. I visually scanned all entries including the accompanying one-sheets’ and decided Benfay would make easy pickings based on the music description. I should know by now that reading one-sheets for anything else but titles, discography, web addresses, distribution and biographical/factual info on the artist is a mistake. Also, failing to consider the strange humor of the Swiss (Swiss artist, Swiss label) and already knowing Swiss people with musical inclinations similar to mine, I completely let my guard down. The convoluted description of the work summed up in a quote by the artist (in an interview given to his cat, no less!) – "Replay Life is the reliving of myself in my own music" led me to believe I was in for an unparalleled session of repetitiveness and monotony. Such was not the case. I should have known by the track titles, like "The Partygoers Yelled", and "Tonight the Police Got an Anonymous Hint" that there was a little tongue sticking in the cheek.

Song titles aside (I think only Benfay can reconcile them with the music), what the listener is in for here is an interesting experience in the instrumental electronic IDM, often in the semi-glitch vein. It was described as abstract hip hop’ back on the one-sheet, but I don’t see it that way. Benfay likes to play with off-kilter beats and rhythms, so there tends to be less conspicuous repetition. Also, the compositions on Replay Life are held together with enough melodic sonic glue to make them appealing. Just when it skirts dangerously close to New Age mellowness, Benfay changes it up with dirty beats and a dark jazzy tonal placement. There is generous use of old school plinks and plunks, but somehow Benfay manages to make something new in the mélange.

Some tracks, like "Universal Time" add a heightened sense of drama, while others like "Befuddled Floorshow" have a laconic minimalism. There are tracks buzzing with busy notes, and others with riff ideas that don’t seem fully realized. Replay Life is a very mixed back. Not unpleasant though, and certainly never boring. I think this might be one of those odd little gems you can go back and listen to a year later and discover something else about that you didn’t appreciate at the time. In spite of coming across as a sketch-pad of musical ideas, it still has merit. I’ve heard the work of a lot of other artists in a similar vein who didn’t do nearly as well. Available on 12" vinyl and mp3 download only. Interesting... and sometimes intriguing.

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