Friday, September 25, 2020

Music Reviews

Artist: Sleepy & Boo
Title: Perception
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: 3Bridge
The reliable 3Bridge Records have offered up another 4-track EP from the mellower, more progressive side of house- and this one is gentle and laidback even by their standards, with New York-based Sleepy & Boo offering up a nostalgic sound of afternoon beach house.

Perception is quite loungey thanks mostly to its key sounds. “Expectation” starts off with thicker kicks and more of a sense of purpose, but before too long gets to a breakdown full of long Balearic vocal pads and a soft wistful two-note melody- but it’s a well crafted blend and a highlight once the beat comes back.

“Impressions” is nicely bright and optimistic and “Notion” has a flatter, more journeying tone, but essentially they’re all built from the same recipe of crisp house beat, layered pads and plinky synth arpeggios, and a structure that makes the chord sequence the star, in the absence of any vocal or other top line that would normally take that accolade.

For circumstances where house music being forgettable isn’t a problem- gentle afternoons, office work or slower workouts, dare I say it even ‘muzak’- this package has got all the quality in the right places, without anything to make it stand out.

TMUX: State Of Exception

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Artist: TMUX
Title: State Of Exception
Format: CD
Label: False Industries
Yair Etziony normally works in the spheres of ambient and drone, and I’ve positively reviewed at least one of Etziony’s releases here before. As a consequence of lockdown experimentation, this is something different, that certainly warranted a new artist name. This jumps genres quite resolutely and lands in dark electronica and EDM. Rolling long synth basslines run over cut-up breakbeats, drumloops and drum patterns that are part drum-and-bass, but sometimes with the half-speed swagger that grew from dubstep.

“Hand Disinfection” sets a tone that initially feels almost retro- like synthwave but for the darker underbelly of the 90’s d&b world, emphasised by a vocal sample made familiar by Primal Scream. “Lockdown” has a slower, more hand-made programmed break to it that’s a touch lazier, while “Metropolis” has a distinctly brighter and more positive tone with a bright synth arpeggio and upbeat break.

“A Place Where There Is No Darkness” is the most overtly post-dubstep-ish thanks to its crisp groove, and when we reach “The New Normal” there is a certain sense of narrative to the fact that the more unsettled and distorted tones have been replaced by a slightly more positive but still sorrow-infused atmosphere. “Umwelt”, with its ‘everyone wanted a place where they could be alone’ sample, feels less like a finale and more like a creeping acceptance of the new status quo.

Between some of these tracks are more ambient interlude pieces more akin to the previous works I’ve heard from Etziony. “Dead Skin” and “Stay Safe” are soft arhythmic padded pieces with a calm to them that seems quite fitting for the lockdown theme, socially distancing the beat tracks, while State Of Exception is a longer broodier rumble with a distinctly sci-fi theme.

As an expression of lockdown mood and experience, it’s not especially diverse or unique in its tone. However it’s a well-presented 50 minute journey through soft but broody electronica that does seem to strike a chord.

Artist: Italo Brutalo
Title: Knight Fever
Format: 12" + Download
Label: Bungalo Disco
Although it’s not the overt tribute to the Pontiac Trans Am or the Stuart Phillips theme of “Knight Rider”, the Knight Fever EP is a more open-ended slice of retro. It’s instrumental italo-electro-disco style material with a thoroughly 80’s make-up, but with modern production values and a genre-open approach that allows the inclusion of acid squelches and other elements of varying levels of anachronism. And yes, it’s kind of synthwave, sort of.

The bright infectious riff of “Taniacid” is unashamedly feel-good and is a highlight. When “Trust Doesn’t Rust” takes a similar attitude but over a lazier groove, it doesn’t quite shine as brightly. “Knightmares” is also at more of a walking pace, but its more aggressive throbbing light-industrial bassline and nicely quirky melody carries it through- but when “Not A Drop To Drink” sets off at the same tempo, with another old school simple Italian-ish bassline, in a few ways it does start to feel like it is a single musical idea that has been stretched and filled out somewhat even just to fill a 4-track EP.

It’s strong synthwavey production with some really strong melodic elements, but it doesn’t constantly sparkle.

Artist: Etrusca 3D (Spencer Clark & Francesco Cavaliere)
Title: Etrusca 3D
Format: 12" + Download
Label: Pacific City Discs / Discrepant
There’s a curious concept behind Etrusca 3D, where Cavaliere recites the names of various deities from the ancient Italian civilisation, at various intensities, and then the two loop them and use them as the core of electronica compositions that attempt to add further instrumental narrative to the chanting.

The result, however, isn’t nearly as reverential or ethereal as it is pitched as. Instead, it has to be described as playful. Pitching the voices up and down in a sampler has an old-school, 1980’s, ‘joy of sampling’ feel to it and in pieces like “Il Demone Blu” it feels like it’s channelling the early work of JJ Jeczalik more than it’s channelling any ancient Gods. This is reinforced by the analogue synths used for some of the melody lines in tracks like “Tuchulcha”, and the somewhat lo-fi treatment of the vocal sounds at times.

When it’s at its weirdest, such as in the lengthy textured dialogue of “Velathri”, is actually when it’s at its least successful, but when it gets a bit of a groove on, such as in “Vanth”, or lets the instrumental music meander in the foreground a little more such as in “Fulmini”, it’s a very enjoyable, almost foot-tapping listen.

So in terms of its conceptual target, it does seem like something of a mis-fire, but as a short (37-minute) playful album of light electronica, it still has a lot of merit.

Artist: Hologram Teen
Title: Pizza Conspiracy
Format: CD & 12"
Label: Ransom Note
The second album from Hologram Teen, aka Morgan Lhote, is genuinely eclectic. Eclectic is an overused term nowadays, and here it doesn’t just mean a few esoteric samples, it means a collection of hip-hop and disco-funk tracks with a truly international and expansive range of international sources. It’s jazzy, quirky, multi-lingual and it has a bit of a sense of humour too. The closest comparison I can think of is the Avalanches’ earlier stuff, but Pizza Conspiracy, despite the paranoid title, has a unique character of its own that’s more laidback and it treads with a light step. As well as plenty of African- and South American-sounding patterns, it also brings in other influences less frequently heard in this context- including an interesting bent towards prog rock and wig-out electronica.

Very few of these tracks top the three minute mark, and as a result some leave you wanting plenty more, or Googling for the extended remix. Highlights include the punchy opener “Élixir Trémolo” the dubby samplitude of “Cosmogatto”, and the wilfully genre-antagonising African-loungecore-meets-70’s-cop-show-love-theme of “Bongos Over Dyke Slope”.

At times this feels like an instrumental version of an unreleased early De La Soul album, with steady concise positivity-infused grooves like “Rock Eagle Rock” feeling like they’re tailor-made for Plug One and Plug Two to roll their lyrics over. Backing this up is the sense of skit tracks, several sub-two-minute pieces that feel like shorter-baked half-ideas, adding to the general sense of montage.

A 39-minute ‘beat tape’ mixes together all the tracks into a continuous flow, and it’s in this mix that the tracks feel more at home, strangely, a bit more homogenised but an easier background listen.

There’s no crossover hit here that will garner massive attention as a single- first single “Dalston Wizardzz” is sweet but a little forgettable and sync-music-ish, though the perkiness of the bonus Al Kent remix gives it a nice lift. But as a true exercise in jazzy eclecticism and successful crate-digging with a properly feel-good attitude, it’s impossible not to like.


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