Thursday, May 28, 2020

Music Reviews

Artist: Jace Mek ft. Clarity
Title: Elevate
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Country Club Disco
Elevate is a squelchy bit of EDM with a lovely bounce and swagger. The original version, which has a somewhat radio-ready structure (but not radio-friendly lyrics), has a lovely balance between the rubbery bass and breathy spoken-word mantra (“I can’t think straight, think I’m ‘bout to elevate”) over a confident 126bpm groove, and covers a lot of ground across post-dubsteppy grooves and a surprisingly long melodic breakdown at the two minute mark.

Both the remixes take a more traditional DJ-friendly structured approach, with simpler straighter house rhythms. Curtiba keeps things super-steady, with a walking bassline and trustworthy clap groove (but DJ’s beware the promo has twenty seconds of silence at the end!). Lister UK also keeps things on well-trodden house ground, making nice use of the rolling chords, and throwing in a couple of extra synth lines, including a completely out-of-nowhere shortlived and one-off riff at 2:48 that constitutes the release’s only real surprise.

Steady, middle-ground house music with a slightly forced mantra, it’s workmanlike EDM and house that doesn’t feel particularly inspired but which will definitely keep things moving.

Artist: ED1999
Title: Original Sin
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Porpax
Original Sin is a 4-track techno EP with a gritty and direct industrial feel. Over staccato pulsing synth basslines and simple driving kicks and snares roll a relatively sparse collection of upper elements.

“Pandemonium” has the classic gravelly industrial shout-sung vocal on it, but washed in so much delay and looping that it becomes indistinct, more of a tone than a message. “Straight Outta Hell”’s repeated sinister chants of ‘we are ancient’ are initially clearer, over a faster and more aggressive beat, before opening up into a throat-smashing thrash metal-esque vocal.

“Evil Disorder” is a highlight for me as it feels like a throwback- in a good way- to the energetic trance-techno crossovers of the ‘90s, letting synth and acid high notes off the leash on a slow and sparse journey in the higher register whilst the drums pound hard underneath. It’s a technique that’s repeated in a more low-end-heavy way in final track “The Furnace”.

It’s formula stuff in one way, but it’s nicely executed and produced, and in the aspects where it seems retro, it manages to pull it off.

Artist: Marat Mode & The Look feat. Eleanora
Title: Endless
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Alpha Black
Endless is a deep house track built on a recipe that’s very familiar, but which still has power. The approach of drifty female vocals over steady, soft-synth-bassed house stepping has been done a hundred times, and examples like “My Head Is A Jungle” can’t be far from mind when listening. But, thanks to a emotive vocal performance and a fairly catchy melody, it does still work, and still feels relevant to the current lockdown ennui even though nobody will be dancing to it any time soon.

The extended mix sets the tone first, and the three remixes are fairly faithful to it, changing sounds and tweaking tones but generally keeping the song structure and overall casual vibe intact. The M.E.M.O. mix is based on slightly harder percussion and sharper, more acidic sounds, while the Odagled remix has a clappier, almost U.S. tribal house vibe to it and lets the chord atmospherics loop around a bit more freely. But frankly, more casual listeners might struggle to spot any key differences, and the two mixes would vie for the same spot in a DJ set.

Of the remix bundle, it’s the Juanjo Tur mix that works best for me- a slightly bouncier bassline and more stripped-back approach lets the melancholy of the chords cut through, playing nicely against a slightly crisper rhythm.

It’s a strong original track, with a nice mood to it, but a bit more remix variety and some changes in energy level would have given this a boost.

Artist: Ian Mason (@)
Title: Volans-1800
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: self-released

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Atmosphere is key on Volans-1800, the second album from Switzerland’s Ian Mason. At 18 years old, Mason’s musical palette already incorporates ambient, drone and noise music and elements of avant-garde classical, all fused together with what Mason calls a “punk rock attitude”.

The electronic soundscapes are bleak, dark, brooding and otherworldly. Samples of string instruments provide minimalist melodic or chordal interest and tension, and spacey sound effects creep in and out.

Mason has a very strong grasp of harmony that would put a lot of far more experienced noise / ambient producers to shame. His use of musical intervals to create tension and resolution is admirable and lends a journey-like quality to the music that can sometimes be lacking in works from this type of genre.

Through the five tracks of varying lengths - all titled simply Volans-1800 with a Suffix denoting the track number - the droning unease continues and follows peaks and troughs. There is a sense of chaos, mystery and even the reverence of contemporary classical music within the deep tones. There are some truly magical moments. “Volans-1800, Pt Four” features a descending drone section which made me want to either throw up or grab on to something for dear life.

On occasion Mason’s relative lack of experience shows. The intention of using the string samples is ambiguous. Are these meant to be electronic / “keyboard” sounds (in which case the sounds could be made to be more robotic or lo-fi) or are they meant to sound like real acoustic instruments (in which case actual string players or a much more fine-detailed approach to programming and effects could be employed)? They don’t quite sit in either category and this can jar a little.

Album closer “Volans-1800 Pt. Five” is very different. A drumless psychedelic Stooges-esque wig-out; here we get to witness Mason’s rock influences. As the song disappears I am left not entirely satisfied with this musical journey, but equally aware that this album shows a great deal of promise, talent and creative drive.

Ian Mason says “Volans-1800 is my sound”. It certainly captures a moment, and it lays bare Mason’s determination to create idiosyncratic and challenging music. Mason’s sound will no doubt continue to twist and change. He can go in any direction he wants to. And he probably will. Watch out for him.

Volans-1800 is out now on streaming platforms including Spotify and Bandcamp.

Ocoeur: Everything

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Artist: Ocoeur
Title: Everything
Format: CD & Vinyl & Digital Download
Label: n5md (@)
While it is true that most good IDM music has some element of melancholy to it, this reviewer has yet to experience one with this level of gloom. Calling Everything an IDM release might be a bit of a stretch, closer to melodic ambient and drone, there is one such track on this release. The impetus behind Everything’s darker side of the emotional spectrum is Ocoeur aka Frank Zaragoza’s contention that our society is increasingly consumed by mobile devices and attendant apps while oblivious to the world around. Therefore, Zaragoza wants the listener to not only tune in to his music, but the environs immediately outside devices, to absorb everything once more. Opening track, “Ascent” immediately instills a sense of gloominess with its subdued, bleak melodies and despite picking up mid way through, never leaves the dark cloud. Title track, Everything, follows almost dirge-like, keeping in gloomier territory and even the crunchy fragments of beats mid way through does not propel out of its overcast state. “Current” follows in gloominess, albeit briefly, while also maintaining a pensive and introspective side. Therefore it is a relief to immerse in the sole proper IDM, “Glow” with its more assertive scale-structure-like melody that builds in delicious tension before launching its defining steam-punk-robo-glockenspiel-angular-rhythms in tandem with said melody and both pair beautifully. “Glow” gradually unfurls throughout, both elegant and uplifting though still having overtones of melancholy, like most good IDM. Tracks, “Dawn” and “Dusk” are said to be companion pieces and could easily belong on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2 the way subdued, bleak yet seductive melody forms at the start of the track and then gradually strips down to ambient-textural-drone overtones, mere vestiges of its former self, like the decay of an old-school musical loop machine. “Dawn” and “Dusk” are your melodies on pharmaceuticals getting to work and gradually winning. For this writer, Ocoeur is among favoured artists and this time he challenges the listener to appreciate a different side of his art, even if we are to accompany him on the rainy side. The journey of Everything is well worth it, bring your galoshes.


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