Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Music Reviews

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.

Artist: Renaud-Gabriel Pion
Title: Hinterwelt In Silico
Format: CD + Download
Label: Audiotrauma
From the off, it’s clear that Renaud Gabriel Pion’s dual role as classically-trained pianist and electronic producer is going to make this an unusual release. Despite being the work of one man, the steady pull of the clarinet towards jazz while the electronic work pulls towards glitch and abstraction is at the core of the album’s friction. But it’s a friction that gives energy, rather than stress, as evidenced beautifully in the upbeat opener “Zeitgeist”.

At times the see-saw swings more to one side, sucha s in the beautiful layered second half of “Russian” which gives us a dubsteppy wub-wub sound playing deferentially quietly under multi-tracked rich clarinet tones. In return, there are points in pieces like “Lush” or the decidedly trip-hoppy “Katana 2” where the clarinet takes a breather (but not for long) to let the intricate and detailed click rhythms and synthetic pad work come to the fore.

“Radiance” features the soft, fragile vocals of Big Sir’s Lisa Papineau. It’s a standout track, not just for that reason but for the richness of expression throughout. Fans of Submotion Orchestra should absolutely connect with this, and I hope it has some broadcast success that draws people in to hear and appreciate the instrumental work.

It’s mostly fairly punchy stuff, bordering on frantic in the rhythm department occasionally, though there is a nicely timed mid-album lull in “Cyborg” where the sounds get a little darker and more expansive, before opening up to a new dawn in “Tala” and beyond. Examples from the international rhythm flavours in “Bunraku” to the electro bass of “Neo-Tokyo” emphasise the diversity of elements being called on.

Across thirteen fairly short pieces, the electronica here is not revolutionary or ground-breaking. But the fusion between the electronica and the earthy expressive tones of a clarinet (which as previously documented is an instrument I’ve got a serious soft spot for) is handled absolutely beautifully here, and it’s that richness that genuinely makes this one of the most striking and attention-grabbing albums I’ve heard this year so far.

Artist: Psychiceyeclix & Caecus Animi (@)
Title: Instrument Sleeve #1
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Doubledgescissor
Rated: *****

BUY from  HERE
Instrument Sleeve # 1 is the collaborative effort of Psychiceyeclix and Caecus Animi. Before I delve into my review of this album, I think it is important to first provide a little background about these artists. Psychiceyeclix is the anonymous multimedia (sound and visual) project of an electronic and mechanical engineer. The project has been around since 2001 and has produced a number of releases. Much of Psychiceyeclix’s music is made via modified or “circuit bent” synthesizers, toys, etc. You can purchase some of Psychiceyeclix’s modified equipment here:

Caecus Animi is a producer and electronic musician who has worked with a variety of artists through the years and has a residency with Aria, which is a collective that puts on various underground parties. Like Psychiceyeclix, he is known for using unconventional sounds.

With that background, let’s talk about this album. After first reviewing the various press materials for these two artists and the album itself, Instrument Sleeve # 1 was not the wild album I was expecting. Having anticipated erratic glitch beats complemented by abrasive and odd noises from an array of modified instruments, I instead heard a very smooth, polished, and structured collection of songs that can best be described as a cross between AFX, 8-bit video game music, Crystal Castles, and Bernard Favre’s more recent work.

As a whole, the album is rather downtempo. All of the tracks have roughly the same bpm. None are particularly fast paced. All of the songs have a steady base rhythm that is supplemented by the occasional glitchy overlay. It is not at all erratic or in constant flux like a lot of glitch and IDM. The synth parts and melodies are steady, but dynamic enough to keep you interested. The build ups and crescendos are gradual. What is nice about this album is that the music is comprised of simple parts that are thoughtfully layered. My favorite parts of the album are the interspersed blips, beeps, and glitches that reminded me of Joy Electric, if Ronnie Martin used 8-bit emulators. Some of my favorite tracks include 808 Game, Chinese Disco 8 Bit, Portersound, and Talking Teacher. Overall, I liked the album and found it was great to play while working. Specifically, I was doing some statistical analyses and it provided an excellent soundtrack. I like it more with each listen.

On a final note, the physical version of the album includes an “onboard noise box” that is attached to the sleeve, which you can fiddle with while listening to the album or use for your own creative endeavors. I’m not going to lie, that is pretty damn cool, and I hope to get a copy.

Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Josey Rebelle- Josey In Space
Format: CD & Vinyl & Digital Download
Label: Beats In Space
A well-curated, well-sequenced compilation can sometimes shine brighter than an artist album, if the quality, variety and energy from all the component acts trumps what a single artist work is normally capable of. To use the old DJ cliché, here Josey Rebelle ‘takes you on a journey’ which on the surface is just another eclectic mix CD- but it’s a very good one.

The travel starts in the darker side of house and the lighter side of techno, but goes in directions you can’t predict, bringing in all sorts of elements on the way. Automation’s “Electricity” jumps us back to the sound of rave 1990-style, complete with Planet Patrol sample. We get near-jazzy groove work and Robert Owens’ familiar and always welcome velvety vocal tones in Uschi Classen’s “Only In Your Eyes”, and the Frankie Knuckles-like house piano of Reggie Dokes’ “Piano Seduction”. The tension levels ebb and flow over time, with grittier and grimier tracks like Rum & Black’s “Zombies At Dawn” or Loraine James’ “Glitch Bitch” contrasting but also connecting with much mellower items like the long chord keys of Molinaro’s “Amber Beach”.

The mixing is exemplary. The transitions are sometimes completely invisible if you don’t know the tracks, and the more notable shifts, such as into Fotomachine’s energetic and acid-driven “BBoy”, flow completely naturally. Harder tracks like Brassfoot’s “Kingu’s Sceptre” work their way in gradually, shifting your attitude before you even realise. Some of the crosses are on the abrupt side- the entry into Nubian Mindz’ “Sunrise 777” for example- but demonstrates that just because a cross-mix is short, doesn’t mean it has to feel wrong.

It seems from a sample near the beginning that Josey Rebelle’s surname may be pronounced as the verb ‘rebel’ rather than the noun, as in “to rebel against the establishment”. There are slight shades of political feeling here, most notably in the monologue of the two bookend tracks from DJ Marcelle that start and finish the mix. But it’s not an overtly political or even attitude-driven release overall, and the main meat of the mix is instrumental music for dancing, working, walking, driving, or plenty inbetween.

At the time when dance music feels flooded with locked down producers churning out work-day tracks with no character, this is a really refreshing mix that helps make me believe in house music and all its variant forms once again. This could be one of the mix albums of the year.

Jihad: Retrospekt

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Artist: Jihad (@)
Title: Retrospekt
Format: CD + Download
Label: self-released
Distributor: Bandcamp
Rated: *****
It must have been in 1994 / 1995 when I discovered the duo of Jihad for the first time with an appearance entitled "Hands That Hide" on the legendary "There Is No Time" quadruple CD compilation presented by the then up and coming RAS DVA Records. This fine Milwaukee-based label founded by Ric Laciak (R.I.P.) once started as being the US Leaether Strip fan base G.A.W.M.U.S. and has always had a valuable contact to us young and unexperienced writers of the German Vertigo magazine. Under the moniker RAS DVA this label brought those iconic releases like the debuts of Kevorkian Death Cycle or the pre-Mentallo & The Fixer project Benestrophe to our attention. Also that cool "Dora Blue" compilation with new and/or unreleased stuff plus interviews by the Kevorkian Death Cycle / Benestrophe / Jihad dudes was kind of brillant to represent both, label and artists, and brought us new and unreleased Jihad-music. In 2007 the Mendez brothers finally released their debut album "A Prayer In The Night" and this was the last official release of RAS DVA.

Jihad has been initialized originally in 1988 by the brothers Rich and James Mendez but now consists of only James. It was Rich who has made his international recognized impact earlier as being the vocalist of the pre-Mentallo & The Fixer project Benestrophe in the San Antonio- / Texas-area. James rather acted in the background but through various first experiences in support to Benestrophe (live performances and band rehearsals), the inspiration behind Jihad was conceived. At this first period with Benestrophe and the up and coming rise of Mentallo & The Fixer, James has collaborated in several side-projects (for examples Fury & Fear with Robert Bustamante of Fektion Fekler, Primary Target, and Trial by Fire (with vocalist Jaime Chavez) and could use temporary the studio possibilities.
So here we are in Texas and here gets the story its punch line. There should be no need to introduce the Dassing brothers and their meaning internationally through their prominent Mentallo & The Fixer project at least with their signing to the famous German Zoth Ommog label. And so finally it shouldn't wonder anyone that the textbook of authentic and meticulously produced Dark Electro music formulated by the Dassings has also made its impact on the Mendez brothers too. Rumor has it that they played together in the sandbox in their youngest years. So eventually upcoming comparisons to the art and kind of the Jihad compositions as well as it belongs to structure and technical skills to the deads of the famous Dassing brothers are rather intended than happened by chance.

But since we talk nowaddays on the second Jihad-album released 23 years after the debut, there's still the question: what has happened in between that to bring out a new album has taken that long? Beginning in 2006 by sharing friendship via social media to some international reowned Dark Electro musicians (mainly the German acts out of the Fïx8:Sëd8, Object, Pyrroline, MC1R camp...), the search for clues finally leads us to Bratislava, capital city of Slovakia, and into the year 2015 when James made a live performance at "Dark EBM Souls". This 2-days taking festival featured a prominent set list asides Jihad with ISH, Terminal State, KIFOTH, Fïx8:Sëd8 and MC1R. This all of course doesn't explain completely the long-years absence of James and his Jihad-project, but at least this festival and moreover the acquirement of new and helpful friends has made it finally possible, that James could settle the course for this new album.

Excellently mastered close to perfection by Vincent Uhlig of 2nd Face and with the helping hand and support of Martin Sane of Fïx8:Sëd8 regarding shipping and European contact, this new Jihad-album and the moral of the story behind stands representatively of a phenomenon which is recognizeable since a few years. Bands and projects especially out of this classic and veteran-influenced Dark Electro- and EBM scene in which the members have aged over decades, are acting like a huge FAMILY. So are the bands and their members, and so are acting their supporters and fans. They help each other out and one part grants the other one totally success without envy and selfishness. A remarkable and exemplary development of a music scene.

So now we have in hands this new album and actually I had to repeat it several times. No skipping at all to any of the featured tracks available on "Retrospekt", no, not at all, but regarding to be confronted with the meticulously produced arrangements, it was just the upcoming perplexity growing in me. The deep and so densely produced synth layers, all the multiple pads are producing a quite familiar, but still fascinating impression to the listener and also in me. The comparison to the Dassing brothers may still exists in the mutual sense to produce richly layered Dark Electro music - but that's it. Jihad differs enormously already with the choosen sounds and it's design. The whole "Retrospekt" avoids it to fall too much into the Puppy-an structure regarding brutality because the arrangements offer warmth and a nearly smooth and calming impression. I tend to call James' work as being Dark Electronic Ambience and it is throughout the album quite helpful that almost all tracks have been produced in mid-tempo. This fact separates "Retrospekt" from any thinkable companion release, at least also from the ones out of the German playground.

What also separates James from any other related project is his kind to express his vocals. I have to admit that I am not completely impressed of his rather grouted kind (for instance noticed on the opener "(I Can't) Let Go"), here and it sounds a bit too strenuous. This special kind of vocal performance has been already discovered with some Benestrophe releases as well as on "A Prayer In The Night" (yes, normally Rich has provided the vocals, but somehow the Mendez brothers flock together...). If there's actually space for further developement, then here would be a point. But to be fair enough this has developed a lot and comes to a quite better result nowaddays on "Retrospekt" in comparison. Best tracks, which to me both throne a bit above of any other track, are the magically arranged "Degree Of (Im)morality" as well as the instrumental, Blade-Runner-memorial tune "Origins". Well, I'm down on my knees and praise to the sound-god of brilliancy which currently (once again...) creeps out of my home entertainment! The finger taps on the repeat button but I finally refuse it until I reach the end of a musically highly impressive course of an epic produced Dark Electro album.

I wouldn't go so far to call "Retrospekt" a class of its own but it is nevertheless one of outstanding releases for this specific genre of this year so far. Purest entertainment from the first to the last track and not so "angst-driven and dark" as one or another would have expected. Congrats to James and all people involved for this musically highlight. Let's keep the fingers crossed that the release of a follow-up album won't take another 23 years. More live performances internationally to support this album should be in the planning process as soon as we all can get out after the current Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.


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