Music Reviews



Memory Drawings: Phantom Lights

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Dec 26 2019
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Artist: Memory Drawings
Title: Phantom Lights
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence Records (@)
Rated: *****
“Memory Drawings is an Anglo/American collective led by Minneapolis-raised, Casablanca-based hammered dulcimer player Joel Hanson (Judgement Of Paris), alongside guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Richard Adams (Hood, The Declining Winter, Western Edges), violinist Sarah Kemp (Lanterns On The Lake, Brave Timbers), pianist Gareth S Brown (Hood) and multi-instrumentalist Chris Cole (Movietone, Manyfingers). Since 2012 they have released three albums and two EPs on labels such as Second Language, Hibernate Recordings, Zozaya Records and their own Signal Records. 'Phantom Lights,' originally self-released by the band last year as a very limited tour CD and now getting a wider release by Sound In Silence, is a short form album that moves on from the marvelous sweeping 'The Nearest Exit' album with a pick and mix example of what this band are good at.”

The previous is record label text, cut 'n' pasted as an introduction to the band. This is a very brief album with only six tracks at 24 minutes. Now you'd think with all the indie cred and the eclectic instrumentation that you'd be getting a WOW of an album in the 24 minutes they've allotted here. Not so much, unfortunately as it is rather low key depending more on atmosphere than captivating melodies. The opening piece "The Other Side" shows promise but never develops much beyond its wispy atmosphere. Title track "Phantom Lights" sounds like a rehearsal/jam session for working out a theme for a lightweight Netflix medieval fantasy romance (I'm sure they'll do one eventually) and is really too abstract and improvisational within its rigid arpeggiated confines to have much of an impact. "Two Rooms" begins with some promising ambience, and may be the best piece on this mini-album with simple lilting melodic content, but still comes off like incidental or outro music for the previously hinted-at romantic medieval series. My feeling on this has more to do with the hammered dulcimer which is played less adventurously (with simple arpeggios) than it could have been, just blending in with the other instruments and not taking much of the lead. I guess this is just Hanson's technique. Much of the rest of the album carries on the same way, excepting the final track, "Captivated," which departs from the instrumental format with Yvonne Brunner's vocals. This song really makes Memory Drawings sound like a band and Brunner's voice and the melody are very nice, but whatever delay/processing was used on the vocal was just wrong and distracting rather than enhancing. I don't know the circumstances surrounding this collaborative effort, but it just seems to fall short of being really good. Still, 'Phantom Lights' has its moments. Limited edition of 300.

Soft As Snow: Take Your Honey

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Dec 09 2019
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Artist: Soft As Snow
Title: Take Your Honey
Format: Tape
Label: Mansions and Millions
‘Soft’, ‘snow’, ‘honey’... gentle smooth ambient right? Wrong. Very wrong.

“Take Your Honey” is a single 22-minute live jam recording of voice and electronics from the Berlin-based duo. It’s a thorough and harsh disassembly of what might once have been a song- where the sparse lyrics come from. It’s now buried in distortion, grit, reverb, noise, sometimes anger, and vocal anguish (“I know it hurts” over, and over…). It sits somewhere between industrial electronica and pure noise.

It’s not constantly aggressive, thankfully. There are dips in energy, for example around the 10 minute mark, when things get a bit dubbier and more introspective, and that’s when some of the more interesting textures pop up. Some of the live ping-pong looping, pitch-shifting and repetition is genuinely clever stuff when you focus on some of the details.

Overall though this is raw and thoroughly emotive material that was probably absolutely captivating if you could have been there for the live performance. In a recording though there’s something a little alienating about it, a sense of being cut out of this expression, an antagonistic sonic cliqueyness that left me feeling slightly cold.

Funeral Souvenir: La Noche Del Anhídrido

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Nov 15 2019
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Artist: Funeral Souvenir
Title: La Noche Del Anhídrido
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Verlag System
This is the second re-release for “La noche del anhídrido”, a cassette originally published by Miguel Ángel Ruíz in 1987 (which now goes for serious money on Discogs), and first re-issued on CDR in 2009 on Ediciones Toracic (an edition which goes for less money but which is still rare and prized). It’s now been dusted off again, remastered and made available to a wider audience.

So now a wider audience can sample this curious piece of rough, thoroughly experimental lo-fi instrumental industrialism. It was made with a relatively modest selection of kit- Casio Sk1, SW Radio, Yamaha DX7, and drum patterns provided by software called Cheetah SpecDrum for the good old Sinclair ZX Spectrum- so the passage of time has made it sound marginally dated, home-made and ‘small’ compared to what might be possible with today’s home tech, but the scale of the ideas is not impinged.

Dark brooding drone sounds infuse tracks like “Miedo al cricket”, where phased drum delays offer up tense disorientation. The pull of percussive repetition against long drawn-out sinister and distorted chords plays out in accomplished fashion in tracks like “Gas de Abidjan”.

“Entre palidos muros” is a highlight and also quite a curious track, an off-kilter arpeggiated synth rolling over dark synth pads and syndrums that manage to sound both filmic and 8-bit at the same time.

The limitations and thoroughly 1980’s low-ish-budget production values aren’t always compositionally hidden though, and in pieces like the rough-edged “Schlamm”, despite some nicely unpredictable radio feedback work, the EQ tonal quality of it really does throw you back to listening to obscure tapes late at night and hoping they wouldn’t mangle in the player.

The original six tracks from the tape have been supplemented by four bonus tracks previously only found on contemporary compilations (or two of them on the 2009 CDR edition). They’re consistent enough to form part of the album as a 49-minute whole. Of these, highlights include the dub-reverb laden gunfire and reportage sounds of “La noche del rail (Jovenes en el Horno)”, and the consciously noisier “Segunda noche del anhidrido (Feria del Flanger)”.

It’s got to be said that the artwork is extremely misleading. I’ve rarely seen cover artwork which represents the music inside as little as the artwork here! The new artwork is a polished and colour variation of the original 1987 release which used the same photo, and the choice of it, like some of the music, feels deliberately subversive, and intended to defy expectations.

There’s a form of sonic nostalgia here in the time and the attitude of the experimentation, but it’s also packed with enough interesting acerbic sonic texturing to make it a worthwhile listen in its own right as well.

Hermetic Brotherhood of Lux-Or: Sex and Dead Cities

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Oct 28 2019
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Artist: Hermetic Brotherhood of Lux-Or
Title: Sex and Dead Cities
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Boring Machines
This eighth album from the duo of Laura Dem and MSMiroslaw is more ‘Dead Cities’ than it is ‘Sex’. Predominantly it’s a rich hybrid of thick atmospheric rumbles and drones with muted and distant-sounding reverb-laden slow percussive rhythms, a mixture of acoustic and synthetic that’s so thoroughly effect-washed that origination starts becoming irrelevant. Rather than the sound of a dead city, it’s generally quite busy, with these soundscapes throbbing to sounds of distant machinery and conversation.

After a mostly ambient humming opener “To Die In A Decayed Country”, the sex of the title appears suddenly in “River Flows From Incinerator”, a plaintive slow pulsing drone spontaneously interrupted by orgy sounds that disappear as quickly as they arrive, resulting in one of the strangest breakdowns I’ve ever heard.

At times this release even recalls the Future Sound Of London track “Dead Cities” as well, but darker- most notably in “Ruins And Shell Casings”, but also throughout.

“Seven Minutes Of Nausea” is not unfairly named, but it’s also not unbearable. It brings in woozier tonal shifts and more rapid fluctuations onto the established patterns in order to raise the discomfort level towards, but not over, the edge of bearability. It’s quite discombobulating. As it fades, it leaves just looped thumping industrial hits behind, which follow nicely into repetitive and angsty final track “Fear Of The Living” which feels like a call to arms- or a clarion call for zombies.

It’s a strong, tightly packed 34 minute package of post-industrial darkness and contemplative wallowing, a thick aural body scrub that’s oddly refreshing.

VV.AA.: Now That's What I Call Silence!

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Oct 23 2019
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Now That's What I Call Silence!
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Media
The brilliant title of this release is worth the price of admission on its own- but it also gives you a slightly misleading idea of what to expect here. In the natural world, real silence is non-existent, and in our modern day life, even more so. Here, seventeen different artists have offered up their very different interpretations of attempted, circumstantial or artificial silence- and some of them are very, very loud.

Some scenes, like X-Bax’s “Don’t Be So Cagey” or Baptizer’s “Whispers Of Rovinj”, are true representations of natural near-silence, with indistinct open atmospheres. In recordings that range from 30 seconds to just over 10 minutes, you are drawn in and encouraged to reflect on the base level of noise that exists in your life.

Other tracks however, in the words of clickbait, “will surprise you!”. Small Life Form’s “Empty Vessel” is a heavily driven noisy industrial drone, the kind of thing employees have to wear ear protectors and have special training for, and Remora and Konbanwa both offer up gritty mechanical-sounding flat sonic platforms. Ben Link Collin’s “The Concealed Surround” is conscious sound design full of hollow resonance, creating a haunting sci-fi soundscape that gradually becomes more animalistic as it evolves. Charles De Mar’s “Nap Time” seemingly twists the sound of soporific baby sleep.

And furthermore, other tracks seem to pay only passing service to the concept (or at least, to the concept as I understand it). Goddakk’s “North 7th” and Electric Bird Noise’s “A Walk Around The Neighborhood” are both dark bits of guitar strumming but decidedly musical, while Premature Burial’s “Signal To Noise To Signal” is thumping, musically industrial rhythm work. High Tunnels’ “Food Lion Meat Cooler” is a fascinating sort of hybrid between a complex electronica heartbeat rhythm and the sound of ice cracking, while the 30-second pieces are the oddest, almost comical parts.

The idea of the release is drawn from the 2000 “Blank Tapes” by Reynols- plus John Cage, naturally- but the noise of imperfect recording mediums is not a big player here. It does show up in the microphone peaking of Heavy For The Vintage’s “Attempted Baptism, Accidental Suicide”, for example.

It’s a really strong collection of tracks that shows off the broad range of sounds on the Silber label, but if you bought this release expecting ambient noise for nodding off too, you’re in for a shock.


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