Saturday, July 24, 2021
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Music Reviews

Johan Agebjörn and Mikael Ögren: Artefact

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Artist: Johan Agebjörn and Mikael Ögren (@)
Title: Artefact
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: * * * * *
'Artefact' is the second collaboration between Swedish electronic music artists Johan Agebjörn and Mikael Ögren after 'We Never Came To The White Sea.' They're calling this album "an unofficial soundtrack inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s classic novel Rendezvous with Rama, where the artists explore another wilderness: the unknowable vastness of space." You don't have to read Clarke's novel to appreciate this album though, but you will have to have a love of things "not of this earth." I don't always do this, but before we begin with the description/review, I thought you might want to know what equipment was used on this album. Here's the list: Access Virus Indigo II, Alesis Micron, Clavia Nord Lead 2, Kurzweil K2000, Novation Supernova, Propellerheads Reason II (with Korg MonoPoly), Roland DJ-70, Roland JD-800, Roland JP-8000, Thoraiz AS-1, Waldorf Blofeld, Yamaha AN1X. You'll notice that list includes a lot of analog gear, some of it rather old school. I think that's very cool. In spite of all the great gear, it don't mean a thing if the imagination and execution isn't there, but it is here, in abundance I might add. Also aboard for some of this outing are Stefan Strand (Between Interval) and Johan Emmoth (Le Prix), as well as guest vocals by Martina Björk on one track.

The album is twelve tracks and approximately 64 minutes in length, plenty of time for your galactic voyage, with track titles such as "Extravehicular Activity," "Static Air," "Octapod," "Interplanetary Threat," and "Space Travel," to remind you of where you're going. The first track is a brief atmospheric setup for the trip, which really begins on the next one, "Passing the Gates." The music is a balance between space ambient and space rock, never getting carried too far into either direction. The pacing is really great, and when the (mostly simple) melodies arrive, they're as welcome as an old friend you haven't seen in years. The synth sounds won't be unfamiliar, but they are used very effectively. Where there is a rhythm track (and they're used fairly often on this album) it tends to be understated, never dominating the proceedings, yet compellingly inducing momentum. The real star here though is the sequencer, or rather the sophisticated use of it. While the old Berlin School of electronic music relies heavily on it, the sequencing here isn't confined to that rudimentary trancey sort. There are times when multiple sequences are in play and you may not even notice it for the first few listens.

The melodicism on 'Artefact' is undoubtedly going to remind you of other electronic artists. For me, Patrick O'Hearn in particular comes to mind, but you can catch wisps of Jean Michel Jarre, Steve Roach, and similar artists. Similarities aside, this is an incredibly immersive listen that should not disappoint any space music enthusiast. While there is some inevitable NASA type space chatter, it's kept to a minimum.

Various different moods, styles and motifs are explored, ranging from the coldness and vastness of space thing, to funky passages, themes of grandeur, percolating rhythms, and even some proginess ("Octapod"). Over all though, balance seems to be the byword, the content not leaning too much toward the dark or the light; not too heavy nor too airy; not too simple nor too complex; and definitely not steeped in "New Age." In fact, I don't think you could call this a New Age album at all, unless you were describing the new age of space music, which would be absolutely fine. Highly recommended!

Hired.Life: Her Demoversion

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Artist: Hired.Life
Title: Her Demoversion
Format: CD + Download
Label: Advoxya Records (@)
Distributor: Poponaut
Rated: * * * * *
The Kaliningrad-based Russian trio of Hired.Life returns after several years back to the front of their homegrown scene and got recently picked-up the Hungarian-based Advoxya Records for the signing to this new release. As you may know, Hired.Life was established out of the ashes of the Russian Dark Electro project Denergized, which had made a massive impact out of the Advoxya roster from 2006 ongoing.

Hired.Life has been founded by band-leader Serge Vorobyov after the sudden and unexpected split with his former partner DS (aka Andrey Kuznetsov) in 2008. Under the Hired.Life moniker and with different co-musicians throughout the years, this project could release one full-length album entitled “End Of Line” on the Russian Gravitator label, a download-only sort of compilation named “We Don't Promise You A Rose Garden”, out on the now out-of-business Russian net-label Synthematik Records and also a few self-released, dowmload-only items available from their very own Bandcamp website (for example “Terminus” in 2015).

Hired.Life in its current formation exists of Sergey Vorobyov (programming, vocals), Pavel Blagov (programming, guitars), and Darya Revizonskaya (programming, keyboards). “Her Demoversion” is their latest album and kind of a final statement to end the era of Denergized, it tells us stories about memories, edited memories and about living the whole life in memories. Finally without any happy emotions, it's rather sort of depressive sounding outfit. The beautifully designed 4-panel digipack-wallet with its rather Synthwave-/Outrun-music style looking cover art is stunning for sure, but musically Hired.Life have developed into other territories.

After the ominous and haunting start under Denergized, the music itself has turned forward into a kind of straight and linear produced Electro-Rock outfit with a constant Dark Wave influence.The addition of Pavel Blagov also integrated Rock-/Metal-like guitar insertions into the musically outfit of this trio. “Her Demoversion” and its tracks surprise with its generally straight direction and compositions following a classic verse-chorus-bridge scheme. Actually only Serge's voice reminds on earlier days but also the integration of the Russian language into one or another track is no longer a no-go. “Empty Cell” is a relic out of the Denergized days, here reinterpreted in two different versions to close this chapter. “13th” is a classy danceable tune with howling Rock guitars and well installed synth lines.

My rather electronic-minded heart in me misses a bit a more tricky outfit here and there in the synthesizer arrangements but that's just me. Hired.Life have opened themselves to reach a wider musically oriented audience and their album title sounds anything else than a demo version, although the lyrically message is still a twisting one.
Overall quite consumable darker-minded Electro-Rock music.

Thomas Köner: Nuuk

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Artist: Thomas Köner
Title: Nuuk
Format: CD
Label: Mille Plateaux (@)
Rated: * * * * *
It's pretty clear that the people of Mille Plateaux are aware that this release by composer and movie director Thomas Köner, inspired by his frequent travels in the Arctic, is a proper masterpiece if they decided to re-re-release it, as they re-released it in 2004 yet (even if that re-issue on MillePlateauxMedia included a DVD with the visual part of the project, which gained a Tiger Club Award at the 34th International Film Festival in Rotterdam in 2005). Listeners have only to set the first bricks of their imaginary travel and think a little bit of the glacial context, as the rest of the journey will be masterfully led by Thomas's impressive recording, melting digitally processed field recordings, extremely low undertones, and awesome aural textures. Named after the capital of Greenland, "Nuuk" was originally part of "Driftworks", a 4CDs compilation released in 1997 by Big Cat, also including an album by Nijiumu, Paul Schütze, and the guessed collaboration by Pauline Oliveros and Randi Raine-Reusch, but according to many audiophiles, the quality of the Mille Plateaux edition of 2004 was remarkably higher. Such feedback could be given for this output as well, as the mastering managed to highlight the vivid rendering of not only the physical entities that your eyes could meet in the Arctic but also the freezing, the emotional annihilation, the cold embrace of Arctic desolation, and the step-wise ride to the declension of nothingness via sonic entities whose abstract concreteness a few artists in ambient-drone scene managed to reach (maybe a similar level of quality got reached by artists like Robert Rich or Brian Lustmord in those same years). Unmissable, if you missed it before.

Allegory Chapel Ltd.: Modus Operandi

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Artist: Allegory Chapel Ltd.
Title: Modus Operandi
Format: CD
Label: Oxidation (@)
Rated: * * * * *
This one goes out to the old school industrial people. The main thing that I get out of this album is incredible sense of nostalgia. Not because I've heard this album before (because I haven't) but because this is exactly the kind of stuff I remember from late 90s to early 2000s experimental music. I remember seeing this band's releases on such labels as Charnel Records, but never picked up any of their stuff. Too many albums and too little money. Allegory Chapel Ltd. is the work of one Elden M, but otherwise I don't know much about this project, so let's dive in.

The disc opens with "Caverns," which is an almost peaceful track that sounds like heavily reverbed water dripping in a cave. Over time, grinding drone and heavy bass take this in a more ominous direction. My kids enjoyed it when we listen to it in the car though. However, if "Caverns" is the track that leads you into a false sense of security, "Fertilizer Truck Diaries" is the one that drags you into an alley, clubs you over the head, and steals your wallet. This track features heavy amounts of high pitched hiss, a ton of analog filter noise, and is generally a nice, punishing wall of noise. There's a lot going on this track and it has a lot of complexity, which I enjoy. The channels are constantly shifting, and parts ut out, only to come back again in another direction. "Distributed Organs, Flesh Feedback [Instrumental]" has a nice heavily arpeggiated analog synth line with an old school drum machine beat. This track reminds me of late 80s industrial like Esplendor Geometrico or an even more sterile Front 242. This sound will feature heavily throughout the rest of the album. "Modus Operandi" is noisy drone with ground noise feedback, like there's a faulty mic in the system, and siren-like wails that gives you the feeling of a 1960 sci-fi movie soundtrack. "Come Forth" is an interesting track with a pulsing bassline and repetitive drum beat over some yelled vocals that sound like some kind of religious ritual. The repetitive drumbeat contributes to the incantation feel the track. You can't really get a sense of what is said, but you definitely get a feel for what's being done. "Cthulhu Rising [Omega Mix]" keeps the incantatory vocals, bassline, and drum machine going for more of that old-school industrial action. "ICBM" is a collaboration with Monte Cazazza that keeps the beat going with a pounding bass beat and arpeggiated analog synth. This would have been right at home in the clubs back in the 80s. Finally, we have "Love Will [Live On KXLU]," which changes things up with snippets of looped voice and sparse noise over heavy drone. Towards the end, the drone cuts out completely and we are left with layers of ethereal vocals that would be right at home on an old Projekt Records release (think Love Spirals Downwards vocals).

The bottom line? This was a fun trip down memory lane, and if you enjoy old school industrial, this is definitely worth one picking up and a good introduction to this artist. There's also a limited edition that comes with a metal triskelion, so if you want one of those, you should act quickly.

Straight Panic: Flagging: First Four Albums

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Artist: Straight Panic
Title: Flagging: First Four Albums
Format: CD
Label: Oxidation (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Queer Power Electronics. This is not the kind of word order that one would generally expect for power electronics, but that did not stop Thomas Boettner from making it happen. First off, there is an essay by Isaac Tyler in the liner notes that really frames the whole thing. It is worth reading, unlike some liner notes. I was immediately reminded of Bob Ostertag's collaboration with Kronos Quartet entitled “All The Rage.” Indeed, one could consider each album to be fellow travelers, but while Ostertag and Kronos Quartet would be traveling in first class on an airplane, Straight Panic is driving on back roads at 100 miles per hour in a 1992 Astro van, stopping at dive bars along the way. This is angrier, grittier, and lo-fi as hell, with seemingly no desire to make this palatable to the masses. This was my introduction to this artist, so let’s get into it. Since this collects the first four cassettes by Straight Panic, I’ll break up the review by tape.

“Manifesto” opens it up with a movie sample about homophobic violence toward a man and then gun blasts. The music itself features garbled vocals and interesting noise compositions. The overall feel is reminiscent of Slogun, but more in emotion than execution. “Propaganda” features a woman speaking, buried under a wall of static and whining noise. It is hard to get a sense of what it is, but it sounds vaguely religious. This track was not quite as powerful or unhinged as other track, but still interesting.

“Rough Trade” brings us another sample at the beginning with a lot of really high-pitched and more of that Slogun / Genocide Organ feel with distorted vocals. “Trick” begins with a sample that states, "life on earth is evil." This track features analog / shortwave squalls over a pummeling noise wall. This is relentless and a nice ride.

“Cruise” opens with another homophobic sample and some droney noise. This was not as crunchy and jagged as the previous tracks and sounded almost like someone messing around with analog synth filters. It’s definitely on the experimental side, but not really my cup of tea until it dramatically changed directions during the last 20 seconds. “Vice Squad” is a short track that opens with another sample about "lifestyles." This is incredibly harsh noise with more high pitched squeals and unhinged vocals. Short, but intense, and a definite counterpoint to the previous track.

“Balance” is kind of odd, in that it sounds like carnival music distorted and mangled. Imagine if the Residents were remixed by Masonna. “Fun” is not a descriptor I often use in describing power electronics, but here we are. It only sort of fits, but who cares? It's a good time. “Fuse” brings back the looped noise with yelled vocals buried in the mix. This doesn't have the same quality as the previous ones, but it is interesting, if a bit repetitive. “Cruise (Return)” brings the disc to a close. This is a lot darker than the other tracks. Low base drone and scratchy static over the top of it all gives it an ominous feel. I really liked this track, and for me this was the best track on the disc. At 14:54, it is a hefty track that really works with the time, slowly evolving and shifting. There are voices that have been processed beyond recognition, but they end up serving more as atmosphere. Really well done.

These kinds of anthologies are interesting in that you get to see the progression of the artist over time, and this is no different. While I appreciate the rawness of the early tracks, the later tracks seem much more well-constructed and varied to me. But as with any review, your mileage may vary. This disc is limited to 200 copies and comes with a postcard detailing what color of handkerchief one should use to signal a desire for various acts (the first 60 copies come wrapped in a handkerchief).