Thursday, June 17, 2021
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Music Reviews

The Green Kingdom: Solaria

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Artist: The Green Kingdom
Title: Solaria
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence Records (@)
Rated: * * * * *
This is my first experience with The Green Kingdom, although this project has plenty of previous releases. The Green Kingdom is Michael Cottone, a graphic designer and sound artist based in Michigan. Interested in creating compositions which blur the lines between soundscape and structure while keeping a sharp focus on melody, his pieces are crafted using a variety of instruments, electronic sources, sampled textures and field recordings.

'Solaria' is a nearly 40 minute album consisting of eight tracks with simple titles such as "Arc," "Geodesic," "Dome," etc., etc. It's kind of a structured ambient on most of these pieces with the synths/electronics providing the atmosphere/ambience and guitar and guitar-like sounds with the melodic content. The music is pleasant, cloudy but not too dark, sort of like an overcast day. Environments are rich and fully textured and where a rhythm track is employed it is generally discreet and minimal. Some passages have an oriental flavor, but there is no obvious Asian, or for that matter any particular ethnic influence easily discerned. Although much of the music comes at a languid pace, this is a deceptively quick album because you just won't realize the passage of time much while listening to it. It is almost as if the music has some mesmerizing effect, which is difficult to describe, but after you hear it, you're likely to agree.

This limited release comes in two physical versions – the typical Sound in Silence handmade and hand-numbered CD-r in light turquoise recycled cardboard envelope with the front cover image printed on a Polaroid style photo paper and an insert sheet containing tracklist and information printed on a 120 gsm cream recycled cardboard. It also comes bundled with a download code coupon and a Sound In Silence card. Then there is a deluxe limited edition of 100 handmade, hand-stamped and hand-numbered collectible copies. The disc of this edition includes three exclusive bonus tracks, not included in the other edition or the digital download. It is packaged in a lovely sewn fabric envelope, which includes a 4 panel insert sheet containing tracklist and information printed on a 250 gsm light turquoise recycled cardboard and the front cover image printed on a Polaroid style photo paper. It also comes bundled with a download code coupon and a Sound In Silence card. Of course if you don’t care about physical copies and want to cheap out you can download the album off the label’s Bandcamp site for about 7 Euros. Whichever you choose it’s a recommended purchase that you will likely enjoy many times over.

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.