Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Music Reviews

Laughter: The Dark Wave

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Artist: Laughter (@)
Title: The Dark Wave
Format: CD EP
Label: self-released
Rated: * * * * *
Laughter is the duo of Christian "Chriz" Dietrich (lyrics, vocals, programming) and Sven "S.K." Klarovskis (producer, guitars, programming) from Wuppertal, Germany founded initially in 2002 as a synthpop project by Chriz, but over the years morphed into more of an EBM/Darkwave kind of thing when much later Chriz met S.K. through Facebook and the duo was solidified. The name Laughter is kind of ironic as there is barely a chuckle heard in their music, with themes of death and dying, pain and tears, hate and fear, and betrayal in relationships. Why war, famine, pestilence and plague weren't covered I don't know, but after all, this is just an EP, and I'm sure they need to save some misery for the next album.

Stylistically, Laughter sounds like old school dancefloor suitable EBM; kinda scratchy (but not really too harsh) vocals, semi-minimal synths with a basic but strong beat, and a lot of riff-heavy repetition. This is obviously nothing new, but it can be engaging when done well, and most of it is. Four songs are presented here - "Dark Wave" (death, dying, and a repeated "Here Comes the Dark Wave" chorus); "Flashback" (recalling pain and tears of the past); "Everything is Fine" (no, not really, just pretending it is); and "Break A Man." While the first three are fine, it's the last one I have a problem with. The song is obviously about a bad relationship but lyrically, the song comes off as misogynistic with lines such as "Embraced, disgraced, this hate goes to the core, Regret and forget, the love of a worthless whore..." Okay, I get it. She done him wrong. Love can be painful but venting with spiteful sexism is only going to get you attention from the wrong crowd. (Any Incels listening?) I might have rated this a little higher, but the last track just rubbed me the wrong way. Oh, and BTW, nice package guys but you should include your email and website.

Augustine: Proserpine

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Artist: Augustine
Title: Proserpine
Format: CD + Download
Label: I Dischi de Minollo (@)
Rated: * * * * *
This one came out of the blue so to speak, and I'm glad it did. Augustine is the performing name of Italian singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Sara Baggini, who also appears on the highly stylized cover photo of the album. 'Proserpine' is her third release after 'One Thin Line' (2010) and 'Grief and Desire' (2018). Although she does most of the heavy lifting (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards and synths, drum machine, percussion) herself, she is assisted by Fabio Ripannuci (guitars, keyboards, drum machine, percussion); Daniele Rotella (bass, percussion); Massimo Margaritelli (bass); Niccolo Franchi (drums); and Francesco Federici (toms) on some tracks. Even with all that, 'Proserpine' is kind of minimal instrumentally, definitely uncluttered but exquisitely arranged. The artist and label calls it Dark Folk, but I think that genre tag falls a bit short. Still, it's kind of Gothy and Dark Wavy, and a little dream poppy too.

Proserpine, or Proserpina was the Roman goddess of the Underworld, and the concept of this album revolves around her. As Augustine put is - "It was born from an idea of inexorability, of reclusion, of self exile; of a life lived watching the world from behind a window." The songs reflect an introspective journey, a symbolic fall into Hades, a psychological death with its little rebirths. Also, 'Proserpine' is autobiographical, with many deeply personal aspects of Augustine's life explored in every song- hopes, fears, desires, etc. Fortunately all the song lyrics (sung in English) are printed on the six-panel CD slipcase for easy reference. Every song is crafted with care, and Augustine's soprano voice is divinely avian (somewhat reminiscent of Kate Bush), swooping and gliding over 13 delightful tracks covering a variety of moods and subjects from financially worry ("Response of the Oracle") to "Moments of Pleasure and Joy" to Cutting ("How To Cut Your Veins Correctly") to being badly hurt emotionally ("Deep, So Deep") and much more. While it sounds like nothing was done with the intention of being a pop hit, "Adonis" comes really close to being "it" with a very memorable hook. In a world where real talent was respected and rewarded, this song would be given massive radio play. I think if you heard it, you'd agree.

'Proserpine' is a worthy album you should definitely seek out. It seems as though we don't get enough music of this caliber these days. I only wish that the label or artist had provided Augustine's email address so I could tell her personally, but it seems like most artists these days prefer Bandcamp or Facebook messaging, which I'm really not into.

Elektra: Frequency

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Artist: Elektra (@)
Title: Frequency
Format: CD & 12" & Download
Label: Blowpipe Records (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Lately, I haven't really wanted to delve into new music. Nostalgia seems pretty comfortable to me, and the old tunes just seem to hit the spot. Leave it to Elektra to shake me out of my complacency. It's been some time since I've heard from this uber-talented lady; 2016 I believe, and although she has an incredible backstory and catalogue of works, I'm not going to reiterate it here. Suffice to say her musical oeuvre ranges from pop to the avant garde with a lot of stops in-between. Her latest, 'Frequency' is 10 tracks of mind-blowing electro in 42 minutes. Sometimes seductive, sometimes disturbing, sometimes humorous, and sometimes angry, Elektra covers a lot of ground, and she did most of it (vocals, compositions, instruments, recording, arrangements, production, mixing, and artwork) herself, only with a little help from Niels van der Weiden with additional drums, programming, bass and keyboards on some tracks.

According to Elektra, 'Frequency' is based on a series of dreams she had been having while living on the grounds of a heavily haunted monastery. An otherworldly being would visit her every night for many months telling her the story of her life. How she used to be human, and how she made some wrong choices, and now she wanted her story to be heard. She moved Elektra till the depth of her soul, and she also made an effort to summarize her entire story in words, not just in words set on music. Perhaps that's why the album sounds so haunted, and now we know there really is a ghost in the machine!

From the infectious opening rhythmic sequence in "Take Your Time" your ears are likely to tingle with an anticipation you just can't put your finger on. Elektra's voice has never sounded better, and what starts out as an angelic vision of unconditional love turns into a fatal attraction scenario by the end. Yowza! "I don't need your love...I got my own" is the opening line of the techno-tronic "Electromagnetic Pulse" with a little reverse voyeurism ("I like watching you when they're watching me...") thrown in for good measure. Can't help but think about the Red Light District women of Amsterdam, and what might be on their minds any given night. Perhaps the obvious choice for the 'hot hit' from this album is the delightfully delicious "Fat, Sugar & Cream," which is repeated constantly throughout the song. It's also heavily dubstep influenced with lots of synth sweeps too. This is one fuck of a killer track that should be picked up by every alternative radio station in Europe and the UK. (Won't get played here in teenage wasteland excepting maybe a handful of college stations, and only after midnight.)

The other track that's likely to garner some airplay is the next one, "Soldier" with its haunting melody. By the time we get to the title track I'm reminded a little of Jarboe (wondering what she's been doing lately), especially on "Freedom Train," an unusual sort of melodic recitation with explicit sexual references, and a crying baby, which I found fairly disturbing. (The infant, not the sex.) If you found that weird, the industrialized "Darebedoll" pushes the envelope even further. Gotta love the line "...I'll be your fucking dog, and no more Iggy Pop, enough of ripping off, I'm saying hey, hey hey, I want you Darebedoll..." Absolutely twisted, but in a good way.

Three more tracks I will leave without comment, not because they don't merit it (they do) but I should save something to be surprised by. Just a teaser though- one of them seems to be a nod to Portishead, musically. This is a great album worthy of many lofty accolades reviewers more talented than moi are bound to heap upon it. Every aspect (vocals, synths, programming, songwriting) is incredible. If I didn't already know Elektra, I would be on a mad search to find out everything about her after listening to this. As is, once again, she's set the bar high…really high. Available on CD (limited) and download now, vinyl (also limited) coming in September. Wouldn't mind having a vinyl copy myself...

Bart Hawkins: Vision of Eden

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Artist: Bart Hawkins (@)
Title: Vision of Eden
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: * * * * *
'Vision of Eden' is electronic music producer Bart Hawkins' second release on the Spotted Peccary label. This time Bart's album concept is based on the book of Genesis (the bible, not the band) with creation, paradise, and man's downfall in the Garden of Eden as the focus. Comprised of five tracks in about 54 minutes, Hawkins takes the listener on a very active ambient trip that is more focused and less experimental/abstract than his prior album, '21 Pulse Eclipse' which I reviewed back in 2019. I should mention that the album was done nearly entirely on modular synthesizers (no keyboards) and also guitar.

Eschewing the primordial ooze of Earth's beginning in favor of a more lush utopia, "Garden of Grace" begins reminiscently similar to the intro of Yes's "Close to the Edge" before the band kicks in. Stretching well beyond the horizon, the piece expresses vastness and variety in its encompassing vista. "Orbital Eccentricity" sounds more like the creation process than watching the planet rotate through space. There is a lot of activity, some subtle, some not so subtle, engaged in processes that shape and form things. "Sidewinder" alludes to the 'Serpent in the Garden of Eden' and begins with noise drones and one-handed guitar trills. It lends an ominous, serpentine aura before the dulled percussion kicks in. Thereafter, a sort of rattling and a variety of ambient guitar techniques employed by Hawkins throw seductive shade over the verdant terrain. Hawkins draws on his Berlin School roots for the underlying power sequencer that moves the piece through its second half.

You just know that everything's not coming up roses in "Descent Into The Forbidden Fruit." After a rumbling, ominous opening, the piece manifests its true form- the power and glory of creation and destruction, like and death, spiritual energy and nuclear energy, the uncontrollable force of nature that humankind has been deluded into thinking it has the power to control. Awesome and terrible in its potential, this genie will not go back willingly into its bottle. The piercing drone employed here may be more than you bargained for!
A return to nature, calmness and tranquility is the raison d'être of "Dragonfly Speaks." Although far from being minimalistic, there is a Zen mien about it that allows the listener to cool down and chill out after the heat and intensity of the previous track. It's the perfect ending to the 'Vision of Eden' us earthbound creatures can only imagine.

Joey Largent: Below Diorite Waters

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Artist: Joey Largent (@)
Title: Below Diorite Waters
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Dragon's Eye (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Recently released by Yann Novak's awesome imprint Dragon's Eye, this output by sound artist Joey Largent can be also considered an output of the sites where he recorded the two long-lasting site-specific recordings he made in an isolated lava tube of the Falls Creek Cave system nearby that indigenous Cowlitz people called Lawetlat'la, an active stratovolcano in Skamania County, Washington State, also known as Mount St.Helens. Geological sites like this one stimulated the fantasy and inspired the technical efforts of many sound artists - I could mention many releases that were strongly related to an area with distinctive geological features such as Geir Jenssen's "Stromboli" -, but this one combines the exploit of the specific features of the environment with a system of percussions based on mallets and seven close-microphoned cymbals almost acting as an aural instrument to detect the activity within the caves. The layers of harmonics generated from cymbals, that evokes a claustrophobic space without overwhelming the voice of the cave (a perpetual drip of cave water) in "Below Diorite Waters", seems to get more turbulent in the second session "Wind from Inside Me", where some puffs of air join the chorus that Joey already assembled for the first session, whose sonic strategy seems to have taken inspiration from C.C.Hennix and Henry Flint's Hallucinatory Ecstatic Sound Environment genre as well as from an extensive reinterpretation La Monte Young (one of Joey's masters and guides together with Rose Okada and Michael Harrison) and Marian Zazeela's concept of the Dream House - even if the final result could also surmise some cymbal-driven works by Z'ev -. Definitely deserving a listen.