Music Reviews

The Cascades: Phoenix

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Nov 12 2018
Artist: The Cascades (@)
Title: Phoenix
Format: CD + Download
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
Well here it is, finally - the new album by The Cascades. I've been touting this band for a while now, and their double album 'Diamonds & Rust' last year could only leave me and their fans wanting more, more more. True, 'D&R' did have a couple new tracks on it (most of it was a compilation of previously released and older, previously unreleased material) but that was hardly enough to satisfy our collective vampiric tastes. On 'Phoenix' as the title implies, the band rises from the ashes, spreads its wings and soars high. If for some strange reason you're still unfamiliar with The Cascades, they are old-school gothic rock updated into the modern age. Often have they been compared to Sisters of Mercy, partially due to M.W. Wild's dark baritone vocal similarity to Andrew Eldritch. Lately though, Wild's voice seems more baritone Bowie than strictly Sisters. On 'Phoenix' the band really comes into its own with a polished product, skilled songwriting, assiduous arrangements and perfect performance that any gothic rock band would envy. There is a track-to-track unity here that really solidifies the band's identity. The opener, "Avalanche" (subliminally named for SOM's Doktor Avalanche drum machine?) isn't the strongest track on the album but it does set the tone for what's to come. The melodic hooks flow like lava running down the mountainside, filling every crevice and emblazoning them indelibly in your psyche. Some of them might seem a little more subtle than you'd expect, but they'll settle deep in your subconscious all the more. There are so many great songs on 'Phoenix' that it's hard to rate one over another. Favorites of mine are "Blood is Thicker Than Blondes," "Dark Daughter's Diary," "Phase 4" (a more fully realized version then the one on 'Diamonds & Rust'), "Station No. E,," "Ihr Werdet Sein" (a superb uptempo rocker), and "Diane". The latter is a cover of a Hüsker Dü song about the murder of a West St. Paul waitress Diane Edwards by Joseph Ture in 1980. The Cascades version of the song is the best I've heard and they really make it their own. For some odd reason they put it on the CD twice (the second time as the untitled track 14) and I'm not sure why as there seems to be little difference in between the twotracks. Once again Canadian singer Esther K. Widmann guests on backing vocals and she really adds a lot of depth. Most everyone who has heard the album when I’ve played it in my shop has been impressed with it without me even asking or drawing attention to it, which is a very good sign. The team of M.W. Wild (vocals), Morientes daSilva (guitars), and Markus Muller (keyboards & programming) has much to be proud of with 'Phoenix' and I can only hope that this opens doors for the band in the U.S. that previously were only small windows.

Indifferent Dance Centre: Flight & Pursuit

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Nov 01 2018
Artist: Indifferent Dance Centre
Title: Flight & Pursuit
Format: 7"
Label: Outer Reaches
Though it’s hard to believe this was really “Chichester’s first homemade single” as the promo blurb claims, it does help to frame the decidedly lo-fi ‘messthetic’ re-release of Indifferent Dance Centre’s only release, which dates back to 1981 and which has now been dusted off to be a 7” again second time around.

Grungy guitars, lo-fi synth washes, half-buried melodica drone and raw, simply-recorded drums pound out the quite upbeat title track, over which the vocal meanders with almost wilful and name-appropriate indifference. The second track “Release” is more downtempo and atmospheric, exposing the recording quality more starkly but in other ways working more successfully with the sound sources.

The most worthy point of this release is the digital-only and brand-new C.A.R. remix of the title track, which reimagines the vocal into a brand new and brighter-sounding synthpop world that seems like a homage to two generation’s worth of electro.

An interesting little timepiece, but devoid of any sense of Indifferent Dance Centre’s musical context or consequence, it’s hard to see this as anything other than a nostalgia piece and a little bit of an oddity.

Heather Leigh: Throne

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Oct 23 2018
Artist: Heather Leigh
Title: Throne
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Editions Mego
“Throne” is an unusual and very personal blend of ingredients from Heather Leigh, that bakes together into a curious and very introspective sort-of-downtempo-indie-pop.

The most prominent element is her voice, sometimes working through nearly-conventional Americana ballads, at other points meandering more freely across beat poetry and individual floating ideas. Vocally it’s really quite Kate Bush-esque, but without slightly less dynamism and faintly more huskiness.

Underneath that sits Leigh’s own pedal steel performance, the sound of which remains loosely wedded to the Americana stereotype it’s associated with, but which thanks to delicate production manages to escape those shackles and sound fresh as a melodic and sometimes even drone element. It works well with some very distorted violin work from John Hannon and some quite straight underpinning electric bass from David Keenan to create a set-up that on a technicality might qualify as country music, but which has a totally different attitude at heart.

Highlights include the surprisingly catchy twang of “Days Without You”, and the folksier, almost FLK-like tones of “Scorpio And Androzani” (which surely can’t be a Doctor Who reference?). Opener “Prelude To Goddess” is a good way to get a strong impression of the album’s stall in four minutes.

To be critical, it’s a little short of variety across its 42-minute running time. Six quite languid songs, some four minutes long but with “Gold Teeth” almost hitting seventeen minutes, all share quite a similar melancholic approach that never feels like it’s evolving or even progressing. This is music for lying still and wallowing, for when you’re not in the mood for surprises.

Nicely unusual, husky and pleasantly indulgent, it’s an unusual little album that defies categorisation.

Golden Oriole: Golden Oriole II

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Oct 08 2018
Artist: Golden Oriole
Title: Golden Oriole II
Format: LP
An energetic, backwards-looking stab at recreating edgy, experimental instrumental 1970’s psychadelic prog rock, Golden Oriole’s second release hits its apparent target. Often manic guitar-led meanderings are bolted together with analogue effects and twiddles bounce off against rigid, sometimes tribal-tinged drum work that has the consistency and sometimes tone of a drum machine, but sometimes the complexity of a complete wig-out.

It’s made of two tracks, though each track has fairly distinct parts so this seems a little arbitrary. “The Waxwing Slain”, after a particularly aggressive opening, evolves into a longer more mesmeric shifting pattern in two parts. Three minutes before the end of the seventeen minute piece it drops out completely, to introduce a high-pitched tinnitus-tickling electronic screech to either brainwash or punish the loyal listeners.

Second track “Az Prijde Kocour” kicks off with similar punchiness, which this time takes longer to abate. When it finally settles it works itself into a strangely funk-channeling stepping-groove affair, as though aimed at the world’s twistiest dancefloor.

It’s a punchy and very focussed LP that will appeal to anyone who fondly remembers (even if they’re not old enough to remember) some of the experimental-guitar excesses of the 70’s.
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Notes from the Underground. Experimental Sounds Behind the Iron Curtain, 1968–1989
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Edition Iron Curtain Radio
Experimentation and progress doesn’t happen in a vacuum and it would be wrong to assume- as we maybe have- that while the West were experiencing an explosion of experimental composition, particularly electronic composition, that ‘behind the iron curtain’ remained a cut-off world still stuck in accordions, oompah brass bands and folk dancing. Of course nothing could be further from the truth, as this 2LP collection, consolidating no fewer than four different collation projects gathering together experimental music from the USSR, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia and East Germany demonstrates.

There’s a broad variety of styles here, all with electronic elements but sometimes only serving as bit players in more traditional band set-ups. There’s raw wave music with angry shouted vocals, courtesy of Der Demokratische Konsum. The track from Vágtázó Halottkémek has more than a shade of prog rock about it, while the catchy vocal proto-pop hook in A. E. Bizottság’s “Pek-Pek” is a proper earworm. Kilhet’s “Extract Of Concert Number 4” has the abstract soundworking, splicing and tape effect energy that sits it nicely alongside 60’s Radiophonic Workshop-style performance sonic mangling, while the short-but-sweet “Live in Petfi Csarnok” from Vágtázó Halottkémek is a bold and theatrical percussive workshop.

But the overriding mood for most of the tracks seems to be frustration, bubbling into genuine anger. In keeping with the underground, subversive nature of the music in its context, a lot of it feels decidedly punky in its make-up (though the notable exception of AG. Geige’s weird-kids-TV-music “Elektrische Banane” has to be mentioned).

Perhaps fittingly then, some of the sound quality is understandably lo-fi. “Krebs ohne Stuhl” and “Untitled” are examples of tracks with a decidedly tape-sourced sonic quality that no amount of high-quality mastering will completely remove.

Other tracks worth making a note of include the deep and sinister rumbling flows of Ziemia Mindel Würm’s ”Untitled” (the one track were sound quality really is a hindrance to overall effect). The industrial-pop of New Composers’ “Max-Industry” stands up well as one of the brighter moments, as does the quite forward-thinking (if oddly named) final track, Ornament & Verbrechen’s ”Der lÄchelnde Chinese”.

To be fair, it’s not without its weak moments too- Praffdata’s “Live in Remont, Warsaw” being an example of a track that perhaps didn’t warrant being exhumed.

It’s a fascinating collection and a great insight- more than a glimpse, a positive 86 minute extravaganza- into experimental sounds with strong connections yet also profound differences to what we Westerners might think of as a experimental music history.

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