Sunday, November 22, 2020

Music Reviews

Marva Von Theo: Ruins

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Artist: Marva Von Theo (@)
Title: Ruins
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Wave Records / Shades of Sound (@)
Rated: * * * * *

Marva Von Theo is a collaboration between two musicians with classical and jazz backgrounds, singer Marva Voulgari and composer Theo Foinidis. When Voulgari relocated from Vienna to Athens (where Foinidis was based) their creative efforts intensified and they released their debut album, Dream Within a Dream, in 2018. Eschewing any obvious reference to their classical and jazz roots, the pair create dark electronic pop music. Their second album, Afterglow, will be released in February 2021 and “Ruins” is the third single to be released in advance of the full-length record.

According to Voulgari, “Ruins” is about the idea that “however far one may try to run, he will always have to face the same old mistakes, the same ‘ruins’.” The mood of the piece is fittingly melancholic and introspective for the theme, replete with an ominous synth bass groove and brooding pads and washes. The song is very strong and the catchy chorus with its harmony backing vocals recalls classic 80s dark pop such as The Eurhythmics and Kate Bush. Voulgari’s voice is gracefully delicate as it soars effortlessly across the contours of the track. The arrangement and production (handled by Foinidis) are exemplary. Each subtle synth part is timed perfectly to interweave with and build upon the previous parts so that each section rises and falls just as it needs to in order to support the song’s progression. The mix is absolutely pristine, with everything afforded the space and clarity it needs. Of particular note is the synth drum beat which, in spite of using a driving four-to-the-floor rhythm complete with 80s-style synth handclaps, still manages to convey a subdued restraint befitting the seriousness of the song. Although there is nothing obviously classical about this arrangement, the attention to detail and expert use of harmony and texture undoubtedly stem from the band members’ training and musical mastery.

“Ruins” is accompanied by a music video directed by John Karabelas and featuring the band and four dancers in a dark, minimalistic and claustrophobic setting. Blue-grey tones are punctured occasionally by flashing strobes as the dancers move in dynamic but sombre formations. Voulgari is the focus of most of the shots, moving sensually in various extravagant costumes as she sings directly to the camera. It’s a captivating piece that fittingly complements the song.

With “Ruins” Marva Von Theo show us a peak behind the door into the world of what Afterglow will offer. Those who enjoy serious, moody, danceable, dark pop music will greatly appreciate this single and, no doubt, the album to follow next year.

“Ruins” is available now via Shades of Sound / Wave Records and can be streamed or downloaded from most major platforms.

Humans Can't Reboot: Lost Soul

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Artist: Humans Can't Reboot (@)
Title: Lost Soul
Format: CD + Download
Label: self-released
Distributor: Bandcamp
Rated: * * * * *
This is a new music project under the roof of the UK-based artist and DJ Simon Carter, who is known amongst others for his various collaborations fusing numerous electronic dance music genres or for his synthwave project SD-KRTR. Just check for example with his highly recognized discography brought to us by the Belgian Alfa Matrix label ("Studio-X vs. Simon Carter" series). He is an international renowned force for his modern dancefloor electronics which touch nearly all thinkable styles between Synth- and Futurepop, Trance, House, Techno up to the harder genres. Also his remixing abilities are widely recognized and often requested, just check the Alfa Matrix compilation series "Matrix:Reb00ted" on which he could already present his talent on different artists out of the label roster.
As for the vocal part of this new project he could hire with Amy Hannam a thoroughly capable lady and teamed up together they offer you their full range of "Unique, Stylish, Futuristic Synthpop", as their info sheet announces it. So the music of "Lost Soul" is kind of a fresh breathe in the above mentioned styles, not too much retro-infused though. Technically from the production and mixing it fulfills highest expectations and so criticism is rather to be included due to personal preferences.
As for the music I could ramble on some of the chosen bass line sounds and that they sound in my ears not originally enough ("Starlight" - is that a tuba doing this job?), while on the other hand I need to spend fair applause for the changes of float and mood between the tracks. The title track is a heart-touching piano-driven ballad and also Ms. Hannam provides here her best moments.
I enjoyed also the slightly New Wave-understones in a track like "Fading" through the descreet acoustic guitar sounds integrated. "Fallen Angel" is another track on which Simon slows down the tempo and adds musically depth with his dense piano insertions. But compared to "Lost Soul" this one is to me the weaker one out of both, too much I feel reminded on a parrot when it comes to check with Amy's repetitive vocal presentation on here.
I was also about to praise the original drum pattern programming of "iDO" (okay, I praise it...) but unfortunately on this one Amy offers her weakest part on this album. For whatever reason her vocals are sounding nasally and somehow she looses a bit track on the highs and the tempo - it misses intensity and emotionally dedication to me. A compareable characteristic can be noticed on "You Stand By Me" with its rather minimal produced synth arrangements and it shows the listener that Amy's timbre works at best when it got well balanced into richly placed pad and lead sounds.
Finally another true pearl on this album needs a mention too and this the album closer "Reality". I would never-ever reduce the success formula of this album on this very one tune, but hey, with its great piano drops, nicely installed synth harmonies and Amy's nearly perfect sounding timbre, you've got one track flying a bit under the radar asides the tracks which have been already previously released as downloadable singles like "Fading", "Fallen Angel" or the title track "Lost Soul" itself.
The full-length album "Lost Soul" offers indeed a wide array of multiple synthetic music styles and everyone should be able to figure out own favorites. Nice work show of the musically dimension of Mr. Simon Carter, flawlessly produced of course, but don't stop listening before you reach the final track.

As for further information taken out of the info sheet, Simon Carter likes his music to tell stories and two of the tracks on this album are based directly from his short stories of the same name ("iDO" and "Reboot"). You will find a copy of both of these stories as a part of the digital download in Ebook and PDF format. For more short sci-fi stories from Simon, please visit:

Legowelt: Unconditional Contours

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Artist: Legowelt
Title: Unconditional Contours
Format: 12" + Download
Label: -OUS
For “Unconditional Contours”, Legowelt was granted rare hands-on access to the 5000 synths, organs, drum machines and effects units of the Swiss Museum for Electronic Music Instruments (SMEM)- but before you get excited, I’m afraid such access is only available to their artists-in-residence. The result that came out is a series of ten fairly short experimental tracks that showcase different synths, often citing them by name in the track titles, but which also for the most part hangs together as an album in its own right.

There’s an inevitable Tangerine Dream-iness about tracks like “Unconditional Contours Memory Moog” and “Swiss Fairytales”, although with the longest track only just over four minutes, there’s a certain staticness- each piece feels like a sonic vignette of a particular arrangement of knobs and dials, and none of them are allowed to truly evolve and progress at any length. The track “Evolution EVS-1 ProMars and Prophet 5” is an absolutely lovely melody, but it’s barely longer than its own title.

It’s certainly influenced by dance music as well as dream music though. Drum machines are brought into play in tracks like “Chateaux Dans Le Ciel Farfisfa Synthorchestra”, which goes quite Underworld-esque towards the end, and where the lo-fi and weedy aspects of old synth sounds seems to be enjoyed rather than avoided. The unexpected spoken word element in “Prophet Vector Synth Dazzling in the Sun”, with its talk of crystal cascades, vectors and forgotten paths, feels like a throwback to early ‘90s trance, but played out with early ‘80s synths, while the glammier beat of “SMEM23 Digital Clap Trap Promars Prophet” brings to mind T.Raumschmiere.

It’s mostly rather on the serious side, but playfulness does pop out very slightly in elements such as the rubbery bass tones of “Roxannes Magic Watch”.

It sits somewhere between a ‘proper’ analogue electronica album and a series of equipment demo tracks, but manages to provide enough of the former to be coherent. A bit more experimentation and ambition might have pushed the envelopes a little further, but it’s certainly got merit as a listening album for fans of the old synth sounds. Plenty of analogue synth enthusiasts will be feeling jealous over this one.

Nine Seconds: That Perfect Beat Will Tear Us Apart

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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.

Italo Brutalo: Knight Fever

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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.