Sunday, March 7, 2021

Music Reviews

Zer: Outatim

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Artist: Zer
Title: Outatim
Format: 12" + Download
Label: Opac Records
With a title “Outatim” and a blurb that references being inspired by film music, there are no prizes for guessing that there’s a “Back To The Future” reference in the first single from French artist Zer. But it’s not any of the themes, riffs or spoken word samples- it’s the sound of the converted electrified Delorean engine, used very sparingly as a wash and riser sound, with the faintest hint of the flux capacitor controller beeps in there.

Everything else about the track is fairly purist techno. The original opens with rich thumping kicks and immediate synth rumbles, a Tiesto-favoured technique from the 00’s, and the whole track remains fairly Tiesto-ish, with a fairly populist synth melody over a relentlessly hammering yet positive groove.

The AeFe remix falls in similar territory, again with thick kicks, but with a somewhat more rubbery synthbass that adds just the tiniest fraction of funk into proceedings. Personally I would’ve rather had the surprisingly catchy new bass pushed forward and the kicks pushed back, but that’s just me. The slightly grooved hi-hat patterns, kick and arpeggios all patch together into something that sounds very old school Hardfloor-ish, again pushing this release “out of time”- back to the 90’s.

If you’re expecting to be rocking the dancefloor with a techno cover of a Huey Lewis & The News track, think again!

Minusheart: The Dark Side Of The Sun

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Artist: Minusheart (@)
Title: The Dark Side Of The Sun
Format: CD + Download
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Here comes the second (and last) of the 2020 Echozone physical product albums I had left to review. Minusheart is a German electro project founded by Diver in 2007, now with several previous albums under their belt, mostly on the Echozone label. Diver handles the vocals, and there is also Chriss Rey on guitars, Robert Lee on E-drums, and Herr Hilter on synths. I haven't heard any previous material by Minusheart, but I can imagine it sounds pretty similar to what I'm hearing on 'The Dark Side Of The Sun'. Diver has a very distinctive style of speak-singing that will remind you of Dirk Ivens (Absolute Body Control, Dive, Klinik) and Nitzer Ebb, but maybe more of the former than the latter. According to Echozone's one-sheet, "Minusheart are mostly inspired by North America's industrial scene (What?? we have an industrial scene here? Where? please let me know!)...and have moved up to be one of the best industrial rock acts all over Germany.” Now that part I guess I can believe. The album has a very accomplished, professional sound. To me though, it sounds more EBM than Electro, but maybe that's just category quibbling.

On first listening, the songs on 'The Dark Side Of The Sun' might seem to sound too similar, in part due to Diver's distinctive punk industrial vocals. Subsequent plays though reveal that that isn't the case at all. The music is somewhat stripped down, edgy and the perfect foil to Diver's visceral lyrics in the dystopian world we all now live in. While most of the tracks on the album are really, really good, the one chink in the armor is "Ice Burns," the closest thing to a ballad in its slower tempo. Something about it just didn't sit well. Other than that though, the songs have plenty of chutzpah, verve, zest, whatever, with inventive arrangements and unexpected little touches that make 'The Dark Side Of The Sun' a real winner. I don't know if it will ever get better for Minusheart, but for now, it really doesn't matter. And how come these guys aren't playing Wave-Gotik-Treffen 2021? They really should be, as this is music that just screams crowd motivation.

Beat Noir Deluxe: Crash

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Artist: Beat Noir Deluxe (@)
Title: Crash
Format: CD + Download
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: * * * * *
This is the first of the last two Echozone physical product holdovers from 2020 I had yet to review. Beat Noir Deluxe is the electro-pop project of Sascha G. from Bolzano/Bozen, Italy. He performs on drums, keyboards and guitar as well as handling the vocals. According to the artist, Beat Noir Deluxe's music blends loneliness and defiance with melodic tunes and lyrics that are mostly introspective, sometimes provocative and always asking for tolerance. 'Crash' is BND's debut album, the title inspired by a serious auto accident in which Sascha nearly lost his life. The album consists of twelve tracks, eleven of which are originals. Most of the songs are sung in English, except "Allein," which is sung in German, and "Emma," in Italian. Sascha is supported by female vocalists Annika Borsetto, Doris Warasin, and Lisa Anesi on some tracks, and also guitarist Thomas Vareso on a couple tracks.

Right from the get-go, there are problems. First, the cover- featuring a black & white Sascha holding a pair of drumsticks and cradling a guitar looks more like someone's grandfather. There are much better pictures of this guy inside this 5.5" x 7.5" 6-panel digipak, posing with some cute goth models no less, so why have a cover pic of somebody that looks like a sad old man? The album opens with the sounds of a nasty car crash, then a beeping hospital life monitor on "Morphine," where the only lyrics you are likely to remember are "The chemical slide is taking me high...hiiiighh..." Here you will get your first taste of Sascha's whiny, abrasive vocals. Uh-oh...and this is actually one of the better tracks on the album. Supplemented by Borsetto's vocals on this one, but as nice as they are, it doesn't help a lot. By the second track, "Velvet Morning," you come to know that this guy shouldn't be singing; flat, dull vocals that won't win any fans. A rather ordinary electropop song that just kind of plods along. "Bleeding" introduces spoke word vocal samples with Trump being most prominent, and that's about the last thing I want to hear after four years of that orange turd. 'Nuff said there about that one. At least "Allein" opens well with some neoclassical strings over heavenly vibraphone, but the Deutsche vocals can't save this electro-march. "New City" has a good strong beat, and that's about the most positive thing I can say about it. Annika's vocals on "Please Help Me" are the best thing about the song, and when Sascha's spoken word crept in, I thought that might be it, but NOoooo, he had to belt it out with emotive singing. Just imagine an average Joe Shmoe in a karaoke bar taking on a tune well beyond his ability, and that's what this sounds like. The tunefulness of the ladies only makes it seem more like a joke. Not just bad, but really, really bad. Laughably bad.

"Never Do What Cannot Be Undone" has a distinctly '80s pop groove, and even sort of sounds like Clan of Xymox, but without good vocals or memorable hooks. After that it becomes apparent that no amount of supporting female vocals are going to save this unless Sascha stops trying to sing, which of course, he doesn't. Beat Noir Deluxe saves the ultimate travesty for last though- a cover of Type O Neg's "Black No. 1," which should have Pete Steele turning in his grave. Now every Chain D.L.K. reader knows this song; it's an iconic goth tune. To do such an underwhelming, dull version of it...well, that's goth metal suicide now, isn't it? Not even any Munsters organ..not even the additional female vocals can save it. Ugh! After that, I just don't know what to say, except that maybe the title should have been 'Crash...and Burn.'

Laughing Ears: Blood

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Artist: Laughing Ears
Title: Blood
Format: 12" + Download
Label: Infinite Machine
The second album from Shanghai-based “Blood” is rather quirky- a set of ten succinct and surprisingly bright-sounding electronica instrumentals, packed with slightly off-centre rhythms, simple melodic loops formed from sometimes marginally silly synth sounds, and plenty of pure-sounding, speaker-wobbling sub-bass.

Like its accompanying artwork, it is both dark and strange, but it is a little stranger than it is dark. It’s generally all very tempered, and the measured pace of tracks like “Untouched Places” help emphasise the drama, for example when the aggressive distortion kicks in in the title track, or the more overt thumping techno of slightly Underworld-ish “Murderous Means”. As such it’s a solid fit for the Infinite Machine label, which has a very strong track record in this field.

There’ve been footwork-ish releases not too dissimilar to this where I’ve suggested that they sound like an incomplete grime album, with a big space in the middle where a rap, other vocal or lead instrument could go. There’s very little of that space here, in a good way. Tracks like “Night Wisps” fill it quite gently, with careful use of textured synth washes and plenty of atmospherics, while “Buona Fortuna” fills it very differently, with barking chanting sounds. It’s got plenty of international flavour, with Eastern influences poking through in the melody and percussion in tracks like “Potcheen”, but in a thoroughly modern way.

There is a case for saying this release lacks the USP to push it to the top of anyone’s 2021 lists. However it’s a release that charts its own course, taking some fairly familiar fundamentals but blending them together in a way that feels like it is bulging with ideas, and it’s well worth a listen.

Foretaste: Happy End!

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Artist: Foretaste
Title: Happy End!
Format: CD
Label: Boredom Product
Rated: * * * * *
Tense. This is the first adjective that is coming to my mind while listening to the latest Foretaste's album "Happy End!". Their sixth album has been deeply influenced by the feelings the pandemic events raised in all of us. Most of the lyrics are dealing with a feeling of uncertainty and self-preservation. Since the cover which is showing two people holding hands while the worlds collide, one can think that Creature XX and Creature XY are trying to make the best out of the time left. Some examples? Here are some excerpts: "In this day I'm terrified. I'm feeling like I just can't hide", "Living fast but I'm not scared. Fighting soldiers in the air. Welcome to my dream. Welcome to my dream.", "I love the way you're not scared. Cause we don't need to hide again. We don't need to lie. Into the night." or "I don't even know your name. I'm a dead star, in a black world.". Musically I appreciated the rich rhythmic structure which is a good counterpart to the vocal parts which are approached in a way to create a sort of synthpop torch song (Jb Lacassagne a.k.a. Dekad helps singing on "Robotic Blues") where passion and detachment are battling while the synths paint a web made of minimal melodies. My preferred songs are the opening "Welcome", "Pure Madness" (on this one the melody is a bit more catchy), the instrumental "Bored To Death", "Dead Star" (which recalls me a bit Depeche Mode of the 80s) and the closing "Happy End!" (this one is almost a techno tune and I found it really intriguing and I'd like they would have played a bit more in this key just to give to the album a wider palette of sounds). A usual for Foretaste, the album needs more listenings to be fully appreciated