Music Reviews

Semiotics Department Of Heteronyms: s/t

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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May 24 2018
Artist: Semiotics Department Of Heteronyms
Title: s/t
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Avant! Records
When reviewing recent single “Tell Them”, I praised the 3-pack of slightly hard-edged synthwave-synthpop, saying “if an SDH album appears I will definitely check it out”. Now that the album’s here, my expectations are met, but perhaps not exceeded.

Here you get eight strong bits of synth songwriting, some pop-radio-edit length, others allowed to breathe a little more but never straying too far from conventional song structure. There’s a slightly lo-fi, proto-techno analogue feel to the warm analogue low end sounds and the sometimes rather echo-heavy vocal treatment that gives everything a gently raw flavour. Firmly rooted in the sonic values of the synth 80’s, it rolls along nicely but a little predictably at times, and by the time you reach “What Did I Come For”, you do begin to wonder whether more synth sounds might have been available.

The vocals are quite velvety and confident, but never really pushed very hard, tending towards whispered and even spoken-word vocal lines rather than anything bolder. The PR sheet’s comparison of the vocals to Dolores O’Riordan is a little ambitious, though you do hear the same celtic twang in “She Uncovers Before Me”.

Perhaps predictably for a first album there’s a feeling of defining a sound rather than pushing it here, epitomised by tracks like the strong “Guilty And Gifted”. “Mean” is the most ambitious track, a pulsing seven-minute affair with quite a cinematic feel.

A strong, relatively compact bit of dark synthpop with more than one foot facing to the past, SDH’s self-titled first full-length album is steady rather than amazing.

Reanimation: The Ghost of the Muse

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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May 13 2018
Artist: Reanimation (@)
Title: The Ghost of the Muse
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
You may recall Reanimation from the 'Under The Last Tree On Earth' album a few years back. It was a unclassifiable eclectic ear (rock) candy, and 'The Ghost of the Muse' is apparently set to eclipse it. While 'UTLTOE' was a moody, melancholic strange brew, 'The Ghost of the Muse' has a harder edge with more definition and less self-conscious introspection. Not to say the prior album didn't have its moments of punchiness (it certainly did), but there were a lot of aimless, passages that although atmospherically nice, seemed to lack focus. Some other things were just too repetitive. 'The Ghost of the Muse' opens strong with the rousingly psychedelic "Everything Is Not A Happy Ending," taking its time to build but by the time it gets to the chorus, it's smokin'. For some odd reason I'm reminded of Steve Hillage's work outside of Gong. The followup, "Tears Do Not Burn," is more straight-ahead, less obscured in purple-hazy guitar with a folksy harmonica sound on the riff and a post rock sensibility. Good track. "Silently Screaming" comes off like one of Brian Eno's softer (non-ambient) tracks, in a mellow melange of perfection, yet picks up steam as it goes along. Speaking of Eno, Michael Shanahan's (he who is Reanimation) vocals have never sounded more Enoesque than on this album. "Without You (Close Your Eyes)" has a repetitious chord backing throughout but never seems to get annoying. Shanahan seems to be becoming quite adept at writing these easygoing yet foreceful psychedelic numbers that in a fair and just world would be getting an awful lot of attention by now. But we all know we don't live in that kind of world, do we? "Plane Crash Smiles" is a frenetic psych trip that just soars over and above it all. Repetitive staccato piano chords are the backbone of "The Point of Collapse," and while not the best track on the album it has enough psychedelic fireworks to keep all but the most jaded interested. "Silently Screaming (Reprise)" ends the album, with acoustic guitar, and is a bit reminiscent of Pink Floyd. At 43 minutes this is kind of short for an album, but thankfully it's devoid of filler that many artists put in just to get an hours+ worth of material. The release is on (Limited Edition) vinyl, so maybe that has something to do with it. CD as well, for those of you lacking turntables. While the music (and vocals) on 'The Ghost of the Muse' is absolutely marvelous, there are some inherent problems; it sounds a bit too compressed and the vocals aren't as up-front as I'd prefer. According to the liner notes, "This album was recorded on a 16-track Korg MKII digital recorder. Each composition was improvised and layered one instrument at a time, often changing direction, until desired temperature and results were obtained." Maybe that had something to do with it, or perhaps the mastering, I don't know. An album like this really ought to POP in your ears. Still, it's a worthy purchase I'd recommend because I haven't heard a new psych album this good in a long time.

Noisebrigade: Selected Resistors

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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May 11 2018
Artist: Noisebrigade
Title: Selected Resistors
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Der Klang
A compilation of tracks from Maurizio Pustianaz’s Noisebrigade project from 2008 through to 2017, selected resistors is a thorough 76-minute pack of instrumental synthwave and synthpop sounds full of warm analogue synth sounds, pads and bleeps bent into making dark, cinematic and brooding music.

There’s a broad range of grooves spanning electro and a few different shades of techno, from the heavier Warp Records-esque breakbeat thumps of “I Robot” to the dystopian sci-fi drama of “Chemical Experiment”. There’s a consistency in how the pure, almost lullaby-like melodic tones play against

Text-to-speech vocals appear sparingly, such as on “Inside Trader” which has a decidedly Kraftwerk proto-electro flavour. The retro flavours are also prominent on “Hierophant’s Nebula”, which, perhaps due to my own nostalgic make-up, reminds me quite strongly of Keff McCulloch’s incidental Doctor Who music of the late 80’s- a perky and steady underscore at times.

There’s a generous helping of 7 tracks from the “Cathodic Dreams” album, and four completely unreleased tracks, with the rest picked from EP’s and various artist compilation exclusives. Despite the decidedly retro-facing general sonic make-up of it, it’s interesting to hear how the production values definitely evolve over time, with the later tracks sounding richer and pushing things a little further.

A very pleasant pack that will appeal to anyone with a fondness for analogue electro and synthwave.

VV.AA.: Wave Earplug No. 2

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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May 08 2018
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Wave Earplug No. 2
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: 4mg Records
A ten-track collection of pan-European synthwave music, the second volume of “Wave Earplug” is a worthy sampler of a variety of dark-edged alt-synthpop you may not have already encountered. For the most part it’s a variety of artists revelling in old-school analogue synths and some quite lo-fi and industrial production values, as though the 90’s and beyond had never happened, but it’s none the worse for it. Tightly-constructed under-four-minute pop songs of vocoded vocals and bright melodies over simple proto-techno grooves pervade.

Strong tracks include Staatseinde’s driving and squelchy “Repa” (particularly the surprisingly operatic finale), the heavier-kicked rumbles of ImiAFan’s “Sekundenzeiger” and the early-Depeche-Mode-like “Moonlighting” from Arsenic Of Jabir. Noisebrigade’s “X-Rays” wraps things up with a nicely dark twist.

A couple of tracks, like Machinepop’s “Integrated Circuit”, perhaps have too much of a homegrown bedroom demo feel to their production.

It’s well curated in that there’s a lot of consistency- save for the vocals it would be easy to believe that most if not all of these tracks had been produced from one source- but it’s perhaps lacking in real standout highlights that would make you reach for this compilation for frequent repeats. For wave fans though, this is a healthy dose of new material and could well open your door to some new artists worth further inspection.

Sweet William: The Early Days 1986-1988

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Apr 08 2018
Artist: Sweet William (@)
Title: The Early Days 1986-1988
Format: CD
Label: D-Monic Records (@)
Rated: *****
Sweet William are back with something new that's old, or something old that's new. These are songs from the band's earliest days (1986-1988) when they were more post punk than goth, and certainly sound like it too. Unfortunately there were no good studio recordings of the band's songs from this time so they did the next best thing- went into the studio (2016-17) and recorded them. No jazzed-up, modernized production here- Sweet William wanted to make these tracks sound like their late '80s album that never was, and to their credit, they succeeded. Maybe the band is more polished now than they were back then, after all, being together for so long will do that. Still, the songs speak for themselves, short (for the most part) simple and to the point. There are shades of Joy Division, Wire, The Birthday Party, The Chameleons, Killing Joke, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, and perhaps most notably- Bauhaus. Although I'm sure Oliver Heuer and the band had other influences (such as Dylan on "An Impression of Life," and the Stooges elsewhere) but vocally if you took equal parts of Nick Cave, Peter Murphy and Ian Curtis, with a slight dash of post-Japan David Sylvian it might sound something like this. The eleven songs on this album are as good as anything those aforementioned bands were producing in their early days, perhaps with the exception of their most iconic song(s), but it took a decade of hard work and evolution for Sweet William to achieve a decent measure of success. While this album is more or less a time capsule, I believe it stands on its own as a remarkable achievement. If it was released in 1988 and I had heard it at the time, I definitely would have bought it, and likely played it a lot. There is plenty of atmosphere and attitude here, and you can tell where this band would eventually be heading. Interestingly, there is only one song sung in German ("Gelb Und Grun") and that's pretty short. Fine by me though, as it adds a bit of 'tude. It was certainly a worthwhile endeavor for Sweet William to reproduce these songs without bastardizing them as some groups might have been tempted to do. Recommended!

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