Music Reviews



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Artist: Inabile Caos
Title: 1.0
Format: CD + Download
Label: Essentia Mundi (@)
Rated: *****
1.0 by Inabile Caos is the project of Davide Denvito and this debut release, 1.0, is fucking fantastic. A unique sounding endeavor covering a lot of sonic ground but I was immediately hit with the same great vibes I get when listening to bands like Earth, Bohren and der Club of Gore, The Dale Cooper Quartet, Godflesh and other great acts pounding out chill drones and metal textures and cascades. If reading any of those band names perks an eyebrow… then grab this record immediately. It’s hitting all the right places. Stand out tracks: 1.4.1 really surges from heavy heavy to super sparse and chill. It’s a good journey. 1.5 is probably my favorite. The Twang of western flavored guitars drifting around in lost in time landscapes while the man with no name is dodging bullet snares and rimshots.
Feb 13 2020
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Artist: MHYSA
Title: Nevaeh
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Hyperdub
“Neveah” (heaven backwards) is New York-based Mhysa’s second album, and her first for Hyperdub. It’s a good fit for the label sonically, with its combination of glitchy, complex electronica beat work, quirky sounds, downtempo attitude and slight swagger feeling right at home. It’s been labelled as R&B, but that’s a bit of a stretch, and lyrically there’s some validity in that but this is much more ‘out there’, on the outer boundaries of post-dubstep.

Tracks typical of this sound include a fascinatingly edgy resonance of “Sad Slutty Baby Wants More For The World”, a deep atmospheric electronica piece which almost overwhelms itself with feedback. “Breaker Of Chains” sounds like trip-hop that’s been stripped back to barely an acapella and some found sounds, while “Sanaa Lathan” is a more fully-rounded lo-fi rap vibe compared to the less-is-more approach of most of the other tracks. Incidentally “Sanaa Lathan” and “Brand Nu” play back-to-back in a single YouTube video that embodies well the flavour of sexuality and attitude of these tracks.

It’s in the more vocal-heavy and lyric-heavy tracks that the challenge lies. Mhysa’s expression here lays everything on the line, her passions and insecurities, with very little filter (and plenty of swears and sexual references). Although vocally strong on some tracks, like the seemingly frustrated “W Me”, there’s a fragility and full-on weakness in tracks like “Before The World Ends” which isn’t going to win any singing competitions but will grab a lot of attention for its honesty that borders on vulnerability.

There are 18 tracks but many of these are skits or thirty-second sketches that border on genuinely random, ranging from an unexpected acapella of “When The Saints Go Marching In” that preludes the more complete version at the end, to the downright odd “Na Na Drift”. Instrumental items like the two minutes of “Honey, Sweetie, Baby” hint at a whole other, deeper more extensive electronica album that might be inside Mhysa itching to get out.

It’s a refreshingly experimental and personal work that really speaks volumes of Mhysa’s character and vibe, complemented by measured and sympathetic electronica work. The odder aspects and unusual album structure will be off-putting to more casual listeners, but if you’re looking for a bold musical expression of wallowing in isolation and insecurity- particularly around the Valentines’ Day release date- then this is both an unusual and very deep dive in that direction.
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Artist: SDH (Semiotics Department of Heteronyms)
Title: Against Strong Thinking
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Avant!
In this 6-track mini-album, SDH’s synthpop sound is maturing nicely, with the classic combination of introspective female vocals, layered synthlines and drum machines offered up in a way that isn’t especially original or ground-breaking, but which is executed confidently and with a lot of success.

After the introspective and fairly lightweight, proper-synthpop-ballad opener of “Suffer”, the driving industrial techno beats appear and the melodies disappear for first single “No Miracles” with its brooding and sinister synth lines and effects complementing the attitude-laden spoken words. A slightly more lo-fi tone is adopted in “Your Next Story”.

In the press release the duo’s names have been studiously avoided, so I mean no disrespect by just referring to ‘the singer’ here- but spoken word tracks feel like playing safe, as though the singer lacks confidence. However first track on the second side “Four Arms” shows that confidence really should not be lacking- the strength and sorrowful vocal quality really sparkles, and the combination of that with distinctly Vangelis-style chords and authentic synthwave makes this a standout track worthy of very wide attention.

“You Pt. 12” is a re-recording of the band’s first release with a better sound quality, before “Poem Against Strong Thinking” ends the release in strong fashion, with a thoughtful, motorway driving groove and some of the strongest and huskiest vocal work.

There’s one thing the band haven’t cracked yet, and that’s endings. Each track seems to lose steam and stop, as though they couldn’t decide whether to write a proper ending or just do a fade, and ended up doing neither. Well, nobody’s perfect…

It’s a really worthwhile 25-minute short album that should appeal greatly to the synthwave and synthpop crowds, but the strength of most of the songwriting has the potential to get it a wider audience, if it can catch the right wave or placement.
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Artist: Gnostic Trio
Title: John Zorn - Masada Book 3 - The Book Beri'ah Vol. 7: Gnostic Trio - Netzach
Format: CD
Label: Tzadik
The Book Beri’ah Vol. 7: Gnostic Trio - Netzach

This is the fourth album recorded by Gnostic Trio, made up of harpist Carol Emanuel, guitarist Bill Frisell and Kenny Wollesen on vibraphone and bells. At this point, the trio sounds like they’ve been a unit for decades, whereas in reality, they do not play together all that often. It is a testament to the skill of the players, the quality of the compositions and the skill of the recording engineer that the performances are so seamless and riveting.
Many of the pieces are arranged in such a way that the harp and the vibraphone keep a cyclical rhythm going, which build or stay relatively the same, while the guitar is out front following the theme laid out by the vibes and harp but also throwing in melody at angles and introducing tension through bits of atonality. Yet there are also some pieces in which the guitar is keeping the rhythm while Wollesen on vibraphone and Emanuel on harp provide the lead lines. Frisell on guitar nevertheless can usually be heard getting some time in the spotlight, and I can only guess that the reason for this may be due to Zorn understanding that the guitar has the greatest breadth and depth of tone and sonic possibility.
The album has an overall ethereally haunting, somewhat somber quality, due to both the harp and the general guitar tone throughout. The vibraphone certainly adds to this through choice of notes. Whether or not Zorn had these pieces in mind for this trio I can’t say, but it seems as though they were written specifically for these three. I think it’s more likely that he wrote the pieces with an open framework, more so than some of the other Book of Beri’ah compositions, and the three players were able to develop these arrangements through their own study of the music and each other.
With Marc Urselli once again at the controls, capturing the performances, there is at once both an intimacy as well as an openness to the sound. Certainly, at this point Urselli knows exactly what Zorn is hoping for from a recording of this trio and he has certain microphones, pieces of gear and parameters within that gear that will ensure he gets what he wants. It’s obvious that he hears, in his head, what he wants the finished recording to sound like and makes the necessary preparations in order to capture it. The mastering work by Scott Hull has given the past 15 to 20 years of Zorn’s output (and more of Tzadik’s offering beyond Zorn) a level of consistency and even familiarity that I think would be hard to match.
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Artist: Philippe Petit
Title: Do Humans Dream Of Electronic Ships
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Opa Loka Records
Right from the title, “Do Humans Dream Of Electronic Ships” is 100% sci-fi. It’s a double album, only a little under two hours long, that seems to embody a 1970’s era of sci-fi soundtracking, where the raw experimental analogue and art electric sounds akin to the Radiophonic Workshop were just beginning to be complemented and supplemented by more recognisable keyboard-shaped synthesizers that would evolve in the direction of prog rock- several of which, Buchlas, Moogs and Arps, can be heard here in full effect.

It’s often more drama than it is music, as heard in the manic and chaotic opening of “Encounters of the 6th Kind” for example. So much so in fact that it’s hard to believe there is no underlying story that this drama is intended to accompany. Two minutes into “A Night With Three Moons” there’s a series of monkey-like noises that certainly ape (terrible pun intended) the early scenes of “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

But across its 110 minute expanse, there is also plenty of calm and melody. The sombre piano in the first half of “Return To Tomorrow” is a case in point, a more traditionally composed soundtrack-like work with plenty of emotion- though it has to be said that the pitch-shifting vocalisations that follow it do sound more like the Clangers. That piece also briefly includes a rare sighting of a regular rhythm that, fleetingly, hints at proto-techno- and a shockingly rough ‘record scratch’ ending that’s one of the boldest ways I’ve recently heard of admitting to not knowing how to finish a track.

The second disc is dominated by “Laika In Space”, which is a 52-minute live performance on a Buchla Easel. As such it’s sparser, and less layered, and coupled with its meandering variously towards the very high and low frequencies at times, it is naturally just a bit more of a difficult listen. There’s some strong expression in there, and some interesting ideas- as well as some bravely long silences- but fifty-two minutes really does seem a bit over-indulgent, and a good half hour would’ve covered it, especially with a harsh and scratchy “Why Do Birds” pushing the idea on for a further ten minutes afterwards.

Some of the titular references are arguably on the obvious side- Twilight Zone, Philip K. Dick etc.- but this is a deeper dive into experimental sci-fi, rather than sci-fi’s greatest hits. It’s one of the best soundtracks you’ve ever heard for an old sci-fi movie that was never made, and but for a generally very polished sound quality, it would be easy to believe that it has fallen through a wormhole from around fifty years in the past.
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