Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Music Reviews

Artist: Ultramarine
Title: Folk
Format: 12" + Download
Label: Foam On A Wave
Ultramarine’s first album Folk gets an overdue reissue and remaster for its 30th anniversary (it was remastered in 1995 too but that doesn’t count). While Ultramarine became better known for tracks like “Kingdom” a few years later, it’s a welcome opportunity to revisit their first album output. It is an instantly recognisable and unique blend of folk, jazz and electronica that instantly says Ultramarine.

That said, the electronica aspects are a little more set back than on later tracks, leaving the ‘real’ instruments with more space to play, and as a result, landing it more firmly among the ham-fistedly labelled “world music explosion” that was going on around 1990, as musical diversity and the idea of fusion became in vogue for a bit. “Lobster” has shades of the word of David Sylvian and Robert Fripp from around the same period, while “Bronze Eye” brings to mind Edward II and the Red Hot Polkas, thanks largely to the accordion work.

A rolling, poppy, somewhat Madchester-ish beat crops up several times, in “Antiseptic”, in “Bastard Folk”, in “Softspot” and so on. For the most part it’s an instrumental album, with minor exceptions such as the spoken-word samples on “Lobster”, with “Softspot” the only track that offers up a sung melody line- and even then, literally just one line.

“Bullprong” has enjoyable dubby elements to it, while “Vulgar Streak” is anything but vulgar, with some utterly beautiful clarinet work that’s stepped a little modesty into the background. Final track “The Golden Target” adds a funk-like, almost sleazy swagger.

With 30 years’ distance since the original release, Folk is an album ahead of its time in some ways, and very much of its time in others- but for any fans of the band’s later work, or anyone with fond memories of the more optimistic and open-minded explosion of eclecticism around that period, it will go down an absolute treat.

Artist: Rhys Fulber
Title: Resolve EP
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: FR Records
To launch his own imprint FR Records, Rhys Fulber (of Front Line Assembly, Delerium, Conjure One et al) offers up an EP which is described as an “ambient detour”, devoid of his recent harsh rhythms. I wouldn’t call it ‘ambient’ though, as steady arpeggios and lighter rhythms still give this a firm electronica structure.

“Charleroi” opens, with big wide rolling rumbles and waves of low noise. The gradual introduction of Tangerine Dream-esque arpeggios, and then a decidedly synthwave-like top melody line, end up giving this track something of a introductory feel, as though it’s the tone-setter for a massive heavy EDM album that’s about to rock your ears- but it isn’t. This pattern is repeated surprisingly closely in third track “Meaningless Marker Of Mortality”, even down to the sudden drop at the end.

“Disused” is more experimental, with light industrial hammering sounds charting out a swaggering 12/8-ish rhythm, with another surprisingly perky melody following on later.

Final track “Monolithic Myriad Manifold” charts a course from dark to bright, again adopting rather synthwave-styled lead melodies over a brooding tuned drone.

There is an extent to which these four tracks feel a little like leftover experiments or diversions- but when Rhys Fulber is the artist in question, you know that even the off-cuts are going to be worth listening to- and such is the case here, a really intriguing EP that teases the prospect of longer works perhaps a little more than it satisfies within itself.

Artist: Nine Seconds (@)
Title: That Perfect Beat Will Tear Us Apart
Format: CD + Download
Label: Infacted Recordings (@)
Distributor: Bandcamp
Rated: *****
A new release of this talented Swiss-/German - Synthpop / EBM project which consists of prominent band members with Oliver Spring (vocals / lyrics), since the early-90s member of the swiss Dark Electro project Sleepwalk (until 2004) and currently also active with tEaR!doWn, and René Ebner and Thomas Kowalzik, both out of the founding fame of No Comment, a German EBM-/Sythpop - project ative since 1989.
This musically experienced trio started in 2012 their mututal path and could sign a deal with the Italian Space Race Records, the sublabel of EK Product. After two full-lengths albums in 2013 ("Poladroids") and 2014 ("Nothing To Confess") they went over to the German label giant Infacted Recordings to start a triumphant return with their album "Agent Provocateur" in 2017. Trapped and obstacled in this pandemic year, Nine Seconds started in 2020 a conceptual comeback with this new album "That Perfect Beat Will Tear Us Apart" and with two additional accompanying, download-only releases of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and " Slice Me Nice". Just in case if you can't figure out the idea behind it, it is their homage to their beloved classic, smashing hits of the 80s. The band members are praising their musically roots with all of these cover versions as well as they're removing actively dust particles on one or another of those tunes.

For all fans and supporters of the golden 80s sure a feast and must-buy but to operate on 80s stuff plus additionally on some classics which also made its impact in the Wave- / Synthpop- and Post Punk scene is as usually a two-sided sword and rather a matter of personal tastes. It is always a thin line to walk on by leaving the original recording recognizable but on the other hand also to have the right sense to integrate an own personal musically note.
Here I also tend to lay a focus on Oliver Spring's kind of vocals expression. As it can be heard in his long career he isn't at all that kind of a sweet and fluffy Synthpop-singer, he has never been. He is rather more a herb and rustic version of it.
This fits extremly well on "Ricky's Hand" or "Living On Video", but works lesser well on those comercially quite succesful tunes with extremely talented vocalists like on "Hit That Perfect Beat" (Bronkie Beat), or on Fancy's "Slice Me Nice". Musically I find it also courageous to cover Front 242's "No Shuffle". Yes, that might fit well on a possible tribute compilation but as for an Electronic music project for the most producing in a similar music direction, this ends often down the drain.
Much better compared to this I feel personally comfortable with the interpretation of Paul Hardcastle's "19". The voice samples are surely ringing in everones ears but to give this tune a decent EBM stomper outfit with excellent as well as authentic sounding female choruses sums it up perfectly. I was also to point out positively the cover of Depeche Mode's "Lie To Me" and the courage to add also original samples to the beginning of their interpretation. And then they added a remix of Austrias giants Mind.In.A.Box. If it would be kind of a contest, then Austria's appearance mathes the Swiss contribution completely out of the field as M.I.A.B.offer a perfect remix by adding different sounding vocals to the classic DM track, various layered pads and a quite bombastic sounding outfit.

As I said, this is a quite entertaining release with well produced EBM / Synthpop / Electronica music and a fair compiled homage to the golden 80s veterans and their smash hits of a musically atmosphere of departure.But in all - at least to me - it depends rather more on personal preferences instead of being a complete subjective kind of a review. Good stuff overall while I tend to enjoy some of their own compositions a bit more.

Blood Rhythms: Civil War

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Artist: Blood Rhythms
Title: Civil War
Format: LP
Label: No Part Of It (@)
Rated: *****
Blood Rhythms is the brainchild of Arvo Zylo, who is also the driving force behind No Part Of It. He has released a considerable amount of material, but this is my introduction to his work. First off, let’s talk about the packaging. The packaging is quite involved, with artwork of deer hearts and quotes by Carl Jung. There are a lot of people involved here, but my favorites are Dave Phillips on “balloons, electronics” and Daniel Burke on “Inevitability / Transformation.” The attention to detail is evident also in the record etchings (remember those?) with “There is a place where we go to die” on one side and “Your wound has created a pearl” on the other side. So let’s put this on and see what it sounds like.

The album begins with “(En) Closure (Heart’s On Fire),” which was not what I was expecting. Whispered vocals over grinding, squalling noise. Ends with a scream, then silence. Not bad. “Onism (Sick Skin)” is sparse, high pitched feedback noise with completely destroyed vocals. The lyrics are completely unintelligible. Not really my cup of tea though. “Locked Away” begins almost peacefully, with a simple synth line and just a hint of static. Nice building of anticipation as you wait for the track to completely let loose. Once the vocals kick in it becomes increasingly noisy, but the restraint on this track is remarkable and it never really disintegrates into noise like I expected it to. With lyrics like “Cut off your face” this isn't exactly feel-good music though. But you didn’t exactly pick up an album titled Civil War to get mellow, did you?

Flipping the record over, we have “Paris Window,” with an intro that sounds like an old time radio show soundtrack, but this quickly becomes enveloped by noise. Next up, if you were waiting for this to go full on power electronics, “The Face” has you covered. Grinding repetitive synth line with screamed vocals and interesting noisy interludes. “Alchemy & Grief (Part I & II)” closes it all off with a two-part track. Part 1 is a really good noisy track. The sounds of answering machine messages over clanging noise. Part 2 begins as really sparse noisy soundscapes under yelled vocals. The noise builds over time as the vocals become increasingly unhinged.

One of the issues that I have with a lot of power electronics stuff is that the underlying noise is just so boring. Blood Rhythms manages to avoid this trap by keeping the underlying compositions interesting. Indeed, the compositions are sometimes more interesting than the lyrics (when you can make them out – they aren’t in the booklet). There were times where I would have really liked them to completely let loose with the noise, but I can appreciate the work that Zylo is doing with variety and dynamics. If you like power electronics that takes the noise part seriously this is well worth checking out.

Artist: Vilhelm Bromander & Fredrik Rasten (@)
Title: ….For Some Reason That Escapes Us
Format: LP
Label: Differ Records
This is the work of Vilhelm Bromander on double bass and voice and Fredrik Rasten on bowed, plucked and e-bowed guitar, voice. The label describes this album this way: “the instrumental and vocal sounds entwine into a collective body of harmonics, interference and difference tones; a complex wherefrom a tangible sonic space arises and listening becomes tactile. The music echoes an imagined old music, inhabiting both melodic and textural entities in continual motion.” This album was created with the support of the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs.

The record starts off with “Harmony for two or more voices I,” which is a short track of slowly bowed strings with a nice resonance, but at just under 2 minutes long it is over a bit too quickly. Next up we have “A glimpse through a thousand examples,” which takes up the bulk of this side at almost 14 minutes. This is a nicely done track of heavy drones and lightly audible breathing. There are breaks in the composition, giving it the feel of separate tracks. There are bits of plucked strings and rubbing on the instruments that provide bits of contrast to the heavy drone. “Harmony for two or more voices II” closes out this side and could reasonably be viewed as a continuation of the first track, as it moves slowly with long pulls of bowed strings.

Flipping the record over, we start with “Gentle mountains / Toward,” which is more slowly bowed strings. It is kind of hypnotic, but it starts to get a bit dull. “Gentle mountains / With” was a bit more interesting, as it was continuous drone as opposed to dotted half notes of drone then quarter rest. “Gentle mountains / Onward” closes it off with pounding on the instruments with dull thuds and plucked strings. This was one of the more experimental pieces on the album.

Overall, this was pleasant listening, but I really would have liked to see them push the envelope a bit. It was peaceful and somewhat hypnotic, but it became repetitive over time and in the end didn't really seem to go anywhere. This record is limited to 200 copies.


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