Saturday, November 28, 2020
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Music Reviews

Aperus: Archaic Signal

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Artist: Aperus (@)
Title: Archaic Signal
Format: CD + Download
Label: Geophonic Records (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Brian McWilliams is back again with another Aperus release, 'Archaic Signal,' his fifth album with this project following 'Lie Symmetry' which I reviewed back in 2018. Revisiting the review and the album (listening), I realize that it was even better than I thought it was at the time, so I urge you to get it. As for the album at hand, let's see what we're in for. McWilliams claim the title ('Archaic Signal') came to him while visiting a petroglyph site near his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. "It appeared as a mirage....the images felt like viable signals still holding a charge." The resonating signal also occurred again while listening to a birdsong outside his studio, so he recorded it to a handful of cassettes and experimented with compromising the tape by scraping, crumpling, pulling it apart, reassembling it and applying magnets to it. That certainly added a lot of grit, noise and analog color. McWilliams' use of shortwave radio on this album is another key factor (and one used by Aperus often in the past) and that comes up right away in the music.

"New Antenna" features twisty drones interspersed with the aforementioned shortwave samples (foreign voices, possibly Russian) and then some other odd sounds toward the end. For the casual listener, this kind of experimentalism may be off-putting, but give it a chance. The title track perks up one's ears with a whistling quality, beginning as small signals in space to gradually become huge as the noise subtly sweeps in, a spacious environment is formed. At its apex it is nearly overwhelming, but then something happens and it morphs into something...otherworldly. Voices from the past rise and fall, as well as other incidents you're barely aware of. The melodic melancholy of "Phase Shift" is a little reminiscent of some of 'Lie Symmetry,' and although brief at 2:33, it is still poignant. The oddly titled "Newspaper Rock" blends complex ambient drone with various discreet spoken word (possibly radio or shortwave radio) samples, and other electronic zips, zizzes, and miscellaneous sonic artifacts. The broken melody loop that heralds "Canopy of Stars" seems to fade and disappear but actually changes into something more formidable while an at first minimal tapping advances into a bold rhythm, then dissipates. Just when you thought it was all going away, it gradually comes back again, stronger than ever this time. Towards the end it resolves into only two chord changes, but then changes a bit again with subtle supplementary string-like pads. It seems obvious to me that a lot of work went into this piece. You may have been wording what happened to those abused and deconstructed birdsong tapes, so "Birdsong As Mantra" should give you a good idea. It's birdie-chirp with drones and this is the longest track on the album at nearly 17 minutes. Various subtle events come into play at various points in this lengthy piece, but the drones and birdsong are its constant. At the end the soft noise sounds like a vinyl record repeating the last groove in the runout.

I knew sooner or later Brian would bring in some bellish tones (there are lots of them on 'Lie Symmetry') and here they are on "Silver Birds." This may be one of the best bell-drone pieces in recent memory. "Archaeodreaming" has an awful lot going for it- mysterious echoing drone, strange little minimal rhythm, and other nuances. It could have gone on much longer than the nearly five minutes it was. "Afterglow" offers big, rich, complex chordal drone, and a little bird chirping returns as well. The piece ends on a very long fade.

While I can't say that 'Archaic Signal' was as fascinating to me as 'Lie Symmetry' was, it does have some very good things to offer. What puts this into the “must buy” category is the CD packaging. McWilliams is also a photographer, and for the album artwork he used the camera as a sampler and incorporated basic components from his petroglyph photos with visual abstractions (such as the birdsong displayed on the front cover) layered over other photos of weathered metal, tables, rocks, etc. to create a unique composite image. The CD packaging features a 5 x 7 cello sleeve with a striking double sided gatefold cover and five double sided photo cards (10 images) created from weathered surfaces, pictographs and found objects. I have to say it looks pretty cool and makes this a worthy collectible as well.

Droughtwerk: Glare EP

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Artist: Droughtwerk
Title: Glare EP
Format: 12" + Download
Label: self-released
“Glare” is a four-pack of thick techno with singular purpose. It’s dominated by heavy kick drums that are four-to-the-floor with bells on, that open both the title track and “Disintegrate”, before other acid and harsh-cut electronic loops gradually fade in, and then slowly out, keeping everything firmly flat and direct. Alarm-like tuned top end tones add to the sense of urgency. The occasional eight-bar drop-out of certain elements is the closest skirting with drama in an otherwise unbreakable wall of sonic attack.

A more rubbery kick in “Vivid” gives it just a hint of happy hardcore flavour initially, but there’s no sense of fun or novelty here, and the tone of “Somber” is so consistent that on my first listen I didn’t even notice that we’d switched tracks.

I’d say it’s actually rare to hear a release that’s quite as direct as this one, both in terms of its sonics and also its determination that it has struck on a simple and successful formula and it intends to stick to it. It’s techno with a lot of front and it doesn’t try to be clever.

TC75: Popmusesick

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Artist: TC75 (@)
Title: Popmusesick
Format: CD + Download
Label: 9XO-Media / Razgrom Music (@)
Distributor: Bandcamp
Rated: * * * * *
It has become routine for Tino Claus to release a new TC75 album year by year. “Popmusesick” is already his 4th official full-length album, if we count only the official works since 2017 (“Tracks ”, “Tension”, and “Morphed”) which have seen the light of a professional CD release in support by the Russian label Razgrom Music. Before his signing to this Russian label, there have been three earlier, self-released CDR's available which can be still purchased via Tino's Bandcamp website (please check below).

A word of introduction to Tino as he is one half of the renowned German Dark Electro-duo Amnistia and can look back on a long career in the Electro-/Industrial-scene with additionally appearances in projects like MRDTC or lesser recognized with the old-school EBM pendant Neukampf. Also TC75 isn't a newcomer project as Tino started already in 2007 with this solo effort.

Due to the fact that I am not too familiar with his earlier works under the TC75 moniker, it was at first the intention to figure out the differences between Amnistia and TC75. Yes, both projects are without doubt deeply rooted into the European style of EBM / Dark Electro music genre but there are omnipresent differences between them. While Amnistia is pretty much based musically to pick up some Dark Electro traditions of Canadian veterans like Numb, Puppy or the FLA league mixed with straight European EBM elements, TC75 follows demonstrative the path and sound ideas of Belgians old school formula of EBM.
The glorious early years of The Klinik, Vomito Negro, early recordings of Insekt, Suicide Commando or at least the 242 camp – from all of these projects Tino has at least collected some musically ingredients to be discovered on this “Popmusesick” album.And there's especially the work of Dirk Ivens and his famous project Dive worth to mention: several tracks are available on here, which could be directly stolen out of the sound archive of this prominent and exceptional artist (“Desire”, “I Swear To God”, or “Back In The Place”).
The track “What You Don't Know” for instance plays pretty much with multiple percussion elements mixed precisely with icy sequencer lines and seems to be rather infiltrated with that typically Klinik-ally impact. The straighter tunes like “Save Face” for example maybe tend to remind to the Front 242 hall of fame.
However this all is meant and how much stereotyped-thinking I need to throw into this review, it needs to be clearly pointed out, that TC75 isn't at all a copy-cat of Belgian traditionalists. Tino picks up ideas and starts to experiment with these elements to bring out a refined form of straight EBM with “Popmusesick” under up-to-date recording possibilities. And the result is absolutely convincing.

We have here 10 original tracks all based between 2 and 3,5 minutes – not too long at least – plus a special 11th track entitled “Obituary”, which at least clocks up to more than 40 minutes of playing time.“Obituary” is massively different to any of the other tracks. It is a slow stalking collage, a multiple-artist-effort with sinister and dark layers and it is filled with ominous whispered vocal inserts Tino's music friends. The row of the artists involved looks like a list of the who is who in between the scene:

Andrea Morsero (In.Visible)
Martin Sane and Persephoniis Phoenix (Fïx8:Sëd8)
Lauro Guedes Junior (kFactor)
Patrik Lev (Depressive Disorder)
James Mendez (Jihad)
Jens Plesner (No Sleep By The Machine)
Sasha Rempel (thewalkingicon)
Javi Saez (Vein Cramp)
Emese Árvai-Illés (Black Nail Cabaret)
Sinan Jafan Schmoun (Pyrroline)
Sebmer (Wülf7)
Jan Dewulf (Mildreda)
Dirk Ivens (Dive)

Did I mention somewhere before that this 40-minutes ”Obituary” is only an edited version to be fitted on this album and to respect the length of a CD release? Well, indeed, the original version of this track stops after at least after more than 75 minutes!!!
“Obituary (Total Annihilation)“ is an exclusive Bandcamp release and can be seperately picked up there,

But asides of this, go ahead and pick up this wonderful, fluffy piece of finest „Popmusesick“.

Marva Von Theo: Ruins

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Artist: Marva Von Theo (@)
Title: Ruins
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Wave Records / Shades of Sound (@)
Rated: * * * * *

Marva Von Theo is a collaboration between two musicians with classical and jazz backgrounds, singer Marva Voulgari and composer Theo Foinidis. When Voulgari relocated from Vienna to Athens (where Foinidis was based) their creative efforts intensified and they released their debut album, Dream Within a Dream, in 2018. Eschewing any obvious reference to their classical and jazz roots, the pair create dark electronic pop music. Their second album, Afterglow, will be released in February 2021 and “Ruins” is the third single to be released in advance of the full-length record.

According to Voulgari, “Ruins” is about the idea that “however far one may try to run, he will always have to face the same old mistakes, the same ‘ruins’.” The mood of the piece is fittingly melancholic and introspective for the theme, replete with an ominous synth bass groove and brooding pads and washes. The song is very strong and the catchy chorus with its harmony backing vocals recalls classic 80s dark pop such as The Eurhythmics and Kate Bush. Voulgari’s voice is gracefully delicate as it soars effortlessly across the contours of the track. The arrangement and production (handled by Foinidis) are exemplary. Each subtle synth part is timed perfectly to interweave with and build upon the previous parts so that each section rises and falls just as it needs to in order to support the song’s progression. The mix is absolutely pristine, with everything afforded the space and clarity it needs. Of particular note is the synth drum beat which, in spite of using a driving four-to-the-floor rhythm complete with 80s-style synth handclaps, still manages to convey a subdued restraint befitting the seriousness of the song. Although there is nothing obviously classical about this arrangement, the attention to detail and expert use of harmony and texture undoubtedly stem from the band members’ training and musical mastery.

“Ruins” is accompanied by a music video directed by John Karabelas and featuring the band and four dancers in a dark, minimalistic and claustrophobic setting. Blue-grey tones are punctured occasionally by flashing strobes as the dancers move in dynamic but sombre formations. Voulgari is the focus of most of the shots, moving sensually in various extravagant costumes as she sings directly to the camera. It’s a captivating piece that fittingly complements the song.

With “Ruins” Marva Von Theo show us a peak behind the door into the world of what Afterglow will offer. Those who enjoy serious, moody, danceable, dark pop music will greatly appreciate this single and, no doubt, the album to follow next year.

“Ruins” is available now via Shades of Sound / Wave Records and can be streamed or downloaded from most major platforms.

Joana Guerra: Chão Vermelho

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Artist: Joana Guerra
Title: Chão Vermelho
Format: 12"
Label: Miasmah
Cellist and singer Joana Guerra’s “Chão Vermelho” (“red floor”) is a series of laments about the increasingly dry ground in the area of South Portugal where Guerra lives. It is part folksy, part tribalistic, part experimental, but in every case it wears its emotions on its sleeve- predominantly sorrow, but with elements of love and hope. Regeneration is the hope.Guerra herself, as well as cello and voice (mostly Portuguese, but English on “White Animal”), also plays Portuguese guitar, prepared electric guitar and keyboard, and is joined by friends contributing violin, percussion, “objects”, bass, and additional voice. The length of this list suggests a busy sound, or a party, but it is nothing of the sort. Most of the pieces are limited to only two or three performers at most, concentrating on one instrument each and with a focus on the space between the notes. Unnecessary virtuosity or complexity has been stripped back to concentrate on the texture and expressiveness of single notes and plucks- though there does seem to be at least a slight sense of enjoyment of the sound-bending process, exhibited for example in the rubbery bass tones of “Lume”.There’s either a discordant edge or an attitude to the bowing in pieces like “Onna-bugeisha”, and a strong theatrical sense that comes through in pieces like “Oasis”. It’s an unusual blend of somewhat longer pieces, five or six minutes, contrasted against tiny sketches such as the 26-second-long “Entropicar” or the frantic scratchy solo cello work of “Reducao”.There’s both a bleakness and an intimacy at play in “Chão Vermelho” that is at times uncomfortable, but there is a power behind it that makes it a very engaging and mood-changing listening experience.