Monday, January 18, 2021
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Music Reviews

Jonas Meyer: Konfusion

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Artist: Jonas Meyer
Title: Konfusion
Format: CD
Label: Serein
Rated: * * * * *
This is my introduction to this German musician, and yours too, as this is his debut album. The label describes the album as "a collection of pulsing, shimmering electro-acoustic pieces. A multitude of sound sources, (including piano, percussion, synth and others I can't identify) are treated and layered up, often underpinned by a strong pulse. Sometimes the pieces sway heavily into the digital realm, with precise edits, clicks and cuts, other times the processing is more gentle and reserved."

The disc opens up with "Konfusion," which brings to mind a patchwork quilt of sound. There's a little bit of everything thrown into here. Bits of metal rattling together, someone pounding on wood, noisy synth washes, bits of synthesized voice. But like any good Patchwork quilt, it hangs together well. All of the pieces fit together in harmony. " Strömung" also takes a similar patchwork approach but has a different feel to it. Arpeggiated analog synth and static put together with kind of ethno-ambient with a beat that one would expect from a group like O Yuki Conjugate. Quite nice. If you ever wanted an auditory representation of what dizziness feels like, "Uppehåll" has you covered. Swirling synth gives a sense of motion and disorientation. "Verflechtung" is up next, and is all about the rhythm and heavy bass. It sounds like he's hitting wooden blocks, metal pipe, and whatever he can get his hands on. Throughout the track there's a heavy bass beat that keeps suddenly shifting with synth drone as the occasional sparse piano filter throughout. "Zwischen" begins with a resonant drum beat that goes through most of the track like a heartbeat over some sparse ambiance. Part way through, the track shifts into beautiful intense drone. This isn't smooth; it's got an edge from the sawtooth wave in the middle of it that gives it a little bit of dissonance. In the end it all goes back to the sparse feeling. Quite nice. Finally, "Sekundenschlaf" closes it off with a 10 minute track of spacey atmosphere and chimes that evokes the opening of "Time" by Pink Floyd. This goes on for a while until it starts becoming more and more intense with the drone. You can think of this as liquid condensing on the side of a glass until it becomes fully liquid and water vapor condensing until it becomes fully liquid and then dissipates again.

Overall, this is quite nice and well worth checking out if you like interesting atmospheres. This album weighs in at around 44 minutes.

Ambrose Seddon: Espaces éphémères

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Artist: Ambrose Seddon
Title: Espaces éphémères
Format: CD
Label: empreintes DIGITALes
“Espaces éphémères” is a collection of six standalone pieces from electroacoustic artist Ambrose Seddon, each with their own rationale and, according to the sleeve notes at least, without any overt linking theme or approach. Despite this, and despite the pieces dating from between 2005 and 2017, there is a sonic consistency here that makes it hang together nicely as a 73-minute listening experience.

With the sparse, gritty washes of “Traces Of Play”, pulling apart the percussive sounds and electronic bleeping of toys and wallowing in extremely deep and extensive reprocessing and sonic twisting, and the similar approach to reworking everyday ambience in “The Nowness Of Everything”, there’s a persistent sense of space and flow that makes you question your usual level of background sonic radiation. Very mild noises, gently glitched and stretched in time, stuttering like echoes from more energetic electronica, roll like textures in mostly very sparse atmospheric frames- none more so than 2005’s “Fouram”.

Despite its sombre accompanying notes, time seems to be treated somewhat more playfully in “10_35_70” with its gradual ramping and abrupt drops. While many of the pieces involve the expression of long, sea-like waves, “Fleeting Strands” is reportedly the only piece that’s overtly coastal, based on recordings of Norfolk and Devon. Of course it’s unlike any other audio postcard you’re likely to hear of the area, yet somehow the sense of holiday still persists, despite it also feeling like the tensest piece on this release thanks to some long metallic strung-out notes with subtle horror connotations.

It’s a sombre and at times glacially slow set of pieces, but with a nuanced texture that really draws the ear in and helps you to appreciate the small sounds and details. Though essentially a collection of old works, for many it may strike a chord with 2020 lockdown and the newfound senses of slow and distant that have been forced onto many of us. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s gently powerful.

Eric Random: No-Go

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Artist: Eric Random
Title: No-Go
Format: CD
Label: Klanggalerie
Eric Random has a strong CV with Manchester and Sheffield connections, with connections to Cabaret Voltaire and the Buzzcocks, and a rich track record of releases, fairly prolific over the last few years. It’s Cabaret Voltaire that I would use as a starting point to describe the dark synthpop sound- light electronic beats, vocoded brooding vocals, crisp analogue synth bass with bleeps and beeps.

However despite the punk credentials, there’s surprisingly little attitude at play here. The production is generally quite lightweight, eschewing modern more-is-more mastering and EQ in favour of a more authentic, thinner, 80’s synthpop sound. Kraftwerk comparisons are obvious and inevitable but relevant in the sonic palette of tracks like “Fundamental Phenomena”.

It’s a genre that’s quite well stocked for new, old-sounding releases, and as with other releases, it’s elements such as songwriting strength that would make it stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately, while some of the songs here are catchy and nicely written, there’s a shortage of inspirational moments- earworm hooks, or lyrical wizardry- to elevate this release. Certainly much of it is not bad, but many of the melodies are a bit too one-note, and lyrics like “keep on running to the other side”, in “Compulsion”, do feel like songwriting-by-numbers.

“The Familiar” is one of the brighter-sounding tracks, and probably the track most likely to draw people in if it were to get playlisted. “Sinuous Seduction”, with its spoken word samples and more rubbery electro bass, also stands out as a highlight, as does “Acyetalene Dream Pt. II” which hints at what a more driving and industrial attitude would’ve infused into this release.

“I’m open to ideas” is a lyric in the track “Fundamental Phenomena”. Harshly, it does feel like ideas is what “No-Go” is a little short of, as though we’re going through the workmanlike process of churning out electronic tunes hoping that inspiration or uniqueness would magically appear, and for the most part it doesn’t. But that being said, there is still an undeniable quality to the production, and some strong tracks, and as dark synthpop to work to rather than idolise, this is worth a listen.

Stillnox: Aten

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Artist: Stillnox (@)
Title: Aten
Format: CD + Download
Label: self-released
Rated: * * * * *
Wow! Two reviews of goth electro-darkwave projects in a row. Guess this makes up for all the ambient stuff I've been receiving to review lately. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) This time it's from Martin Seraphin's (Manchester, UK) Stillnox band, now augmented by La Toya - vocals, lyrics; and Greg Ros (Rain of Sorrow) - synths, programming, production and mastering. I reviewed Stillnox's previous album, 'Mercury' back in March 2019, and I have to say on first listen that 'Aten' is a whole lot better. One of the problems with the previous effort was Martin's voice. (He sang most of the lead vocals.) It was a bit wobbly and flat. There's some of that here, but he's adjusted his style and doesn't step beyond his ability much, utilizing a more forceful, direct speak-singing style which is fine for this type of music. Song-wise and instrumentally the game has been upped as well. The opener, "Fade Away," is strong track with dual vocals by Martin and La Toya with a good hook chorus. "Spellbound" has an interesting off-kilter instrumental opening before launching into the lyrical body of the song, a Wagnerian sort of rock duet. For some strange reason I can imagine Bjorn Ironside and Gunnhild (from the TV series 'Vikings') singing this together. I suppose you would have to have seen the show... The harmonies these folk use are very Eastern European...not surprising considering they're all from Poland.

The first song that really perked up my ears though was "War of the Worlds." It's a killer track with effective vocals by Seraphin, a strange chorus and oodles of dark dancefloor potential. "Broken Flowers" is a nice plaintive ballad with the vocal spotlight on La Toya. The real surprise was the next track, which I heard before looking at the name. The guitar in it immediately sounded like Duran Duran, and damn! if this isn't a cover of "Ordinary World," and a rather good one too. Not the easiest song to cover well, and Stillnox doesn't skimp on the arrangement. La Toya takes the main lead vocal while Martin handles the supplementary voice. (He sounds a bit like The Church's Steve Kilbey on this one.) These guys have definitely upped their game!

Back to the electro-goth on "When The Man Is Lost" which must have lyrics in Polish because all I could understand was the chorus "When The Man Is Lost" lyrics. No matter, still a good song. Title track "Aten" (did I mention this album has an Egyptian theme?) is a little overwrought, but still perfectly acceptable here. There is a bit of a bog on the next few tracks ("Noctnisa," "Awake," "Razor Blade") but the band bounces back nicely on "Amarna" and concludes majestically on "Nefertiti." This is an album worthy of your attention, and I think the band is ready for, and deserving of a label deal.

Les Anges De La Nuit: The Witch

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Artist: Les Anges De La Nuit (@)
Title: The Witch
Format: CD + Download
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: * * * * *
After 15 years in the project, four albums and one EP, Les Anges De La Nuit are back with their fifth electro-darkwave studio album, 'The Witch.' Where have they been all this time? Hiding out the pandemic in South Florida, I presume. The band consists of songwriter, producer and vocalist Richard Abdeni and keyboardist Anthony Stuart. If you didn't know better, they sound as if they could be from the Left Bank of Paris. For an American band, they sound very French, and sometimes Abdeni sings in his native française as well.

The album is 14 tracks with 2 remixes and 2 edits for a total of 55 minutes. The band opens with its strongest and title track, "The Witch," which begins with an appropriately witchy Halloween sound effect witch cackle before launching into a medium-pace dancefloor stomper, with strong vocal and campy lyrics from Abdeni- "She walks into the night and holds on to the light, She runs out of my sight and goes on for a fight with fear. She wanders through the rear and whispers to my ears, A sign across her eyes, she has to say goodbye with tears...Here comes the witch, Long live the witch, Here comes the Witch, Long Live the Witch..." Good goth! This is a real hoot. Love it!

Too bad the rest of the album isn't as good as this. The follow-up track, "Trois Points de Suture" (in French of course) almost sounds like a different band. The vocals are pushed way back, and it sounds like Richard is singing down the another room. Anthony Stuart's synths are right up front and on target though. The second-best song on the album, "Voyage" is next. Once again lyrics are in French and the vocal isn't buried this time. Quite a charming French darkwave song. Throughout the album the mood is very dancefloor darkwavey, but Abdeni's subdued baritone vocals aren't bold enough to sustain interest throughout 14 tracks, and while Anthony Stuart does his darnedest to keep things sounding interesting musically, the songs tend to sound too similar from the mid-point on.

With the exception of "The Witch," the songs in French tend to sound better than the ones in English. There are times when the album veers into EBM territory, and it makes me wonder what Signal Aout 42 are up to these days (yeah, Belgian I know, but close enough). Still, in spite of its shortcomings, 'The Witch' still has merit. How many good French electro-darkwave bands are there still around these days anyway, especially ones that happen to be tucked away in the Miami area.