Monday, January 18, 2021

Music Reviews

Luz1e: Radical Optimism

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Artist: Luz1e
Title: Radical Optimism
Format: 12" + Download
Label: VOITAX (@)
The title of this release landed in my mailbox immediately surmised the one of a recent album by Lawrence English. If the optimism according to that title by the appreciated Australian producer was cruel, the optimism by this young techno-forger hailing from Frankfurt is radical. Getting influenced in her own words by her brother's records orbiting around the big planets of New York and Chicago House (she quotes Kerri Chandler and Larry Heard in particular) and the glorious culture of Detroit techno and all the other "electronic" extensions of house music, but I would also file under Luz1e's sources for inspiration and sonic influences by the interesting sonic entourage of Frankfurt, site of pretty famous venues like Sven Vath's Cocoon, pre and post Dorian Grey clubbing scenes, Andreas Thomalla's pollination, Robert Johnson, Tanzhaus West and many more as well as the electro techno bridging many more or less independent producers from Nortern Europe and Northern America (I could quote labels like Satamile, Planet Mu, Rotters Golf Club or producers like Andrew Weatherall, Alan O'Boyle or Larry McCormick, just to render a frame). After a careful listening to the four tracks of this EP (in particular the opener "Transition" and the harshest follow-up on the same side "Electronic Warfare"), I would say that its geometric electronic cuts, the robotic mumbling and the sudden storms of metallic clangours could be considered a revision of the perfectionist electro revival of another talented "frankfurter", Anthony Rother, in particular all the workouts that were like bricks of Psi49Net. On the B-side, she gets closer to the dynamics of legendary producers like Drexciya and Basic Channel by means of melodies, gradually hacked by electro basslines and funny breaks both on "Emotional Intelligence" and the title-track "Radical Optimism", lighter (or maybe just more daydreaming) face of the moody duality of this nice sonic trinket.

Eric Random: No-Go

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Artist: Eric Random
Title: No-Go
Format: CD
Label: Klanggalerie
Eric Random has a strong CV with Manchester and Sheffield connections, with connections to Cabaret Voltaire and the Buzzcocks, and a rich track record of releases, fairly prolific over the last few years. It’s Cabaret Voltaire that I would use as a starting point to describe the dark synthpop sound- light electronic beats, vocoded brooding vocals, crisp analogue synth bass with bleeps and beeps.

However despite the punk credentials, there’s surprisingly little attitude at play here. The production is generally quite lightweight, eschewing modern more-is-more mastering and EQ in favour of a more authentic, thinner, 80’s synthpop sound. Kraftwerk comparisons are obvious and inevitable but relevant in the sonic palette of tracks like “Fundamental Phenomena”.

It’s a genre that’s quite well stocked for new, old-sounding releases, and as with other releases, it’s elements such as songwriting strength that would make it stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately, while some of the songs here are catchy and nicely written, there’s a shortage of inspirational moments- earworm hooks, or lyrical wizardry- to elevate this release. Certainly much of it is not bad, but many of the melodies are a bit too one-note, and lyrics like “keep on running to the other side”, in “Compulsion”, do feel like songwriting-by-numbers.

“The Familiar” is one of the brighter-sounding tracks, and probably the track most likely to draw people in if it were to get playlisted. “Sinuous Seduction”, with its spoken word samples and more rubbery electro bass, also stands out as a highlight, as does “Acyetalene Dream Pt. II” which hints at what a more driving and industrial attitude would’ve infused into this release.

“I’m open to ideas” is a lyric in the track “Fundamental Phenomena”. Harshly, it does feel like ideas is what “No-Go” is a little short of, as though we’re going through the workmanlike process of churning out electronic tunes hoping that inspiration or uniqueness would magically appear, and for the most part it doesn’t. But that being said, there is still an undeniable quality to the production, and some strong tracks, and as dark synthpop to work to rather than idolise, this is worth a listen.

Skywild: Think About Me EP

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Artist: Skywild
Title: Think About Me EP
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Country Club Disco
Pushing the definition of an ‘EP’ in all senses, “Think About Me” is a pair of two radio-length house tunes. The title track, with its understated and faintly Timberlake-ish soul-pop vocal mantra and strong synthwave-ish bass, has a slightly retro feel about it but is very accessible.

Instrumental B-side “Lost” is less retro, and has a nice dynamic to it, languid in the groove but with some more energetic fills and builds that form a nice substitute verse-chorus structure, and a vocal noise that gives a nice character.

It’s a sweet little pair of radio-friendly tunes, gentle enough for daytime and clubbable too. More tracks or some extended mixes to make this release an *actual* EP would have been nice though.

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: