Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Music Reviews

VV.AA.: The Spirit Of The Age Vol.1

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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: The Spirit Of The Age Vol.1
Format: 12" + Download
Label: Details Sound (@)
Distributor: One Eye Witness

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This 4 track compilation EP actually holds what the title promises. I was really sceptical at first not knowing what to make of 'The Spirit Of The Age' but it get's better and better with each listen. A melancholic blade runner mood captures the loneliness of lockdown and keeping on for the sake of it.

Anotalian Weapons starts with "A Series Of Changes", a great dubby leftfield track, powerful steady rhythms and a looped voice accompany a drift through the current times. Then A Hand dives even more into the loneliness of the androids with continuous hynotic sequences driving 'Modern Cages' into the outer spheres. Gamma Intel adds a decent hypnotic acid touch to his brand of electro to brighten things up a little in "A Note To My Love" before London based Vactrol Park end with a seemingly endless atmospheric dark downtempo track, accordingly named "Dense And Ragged".

A remarkable well curated attempt by this Turin based label to catch the moments and changes we live through since more than a year now.
(Scheduled for release on April 16th.)

Zer: Outatim

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Artist: Zer
Title: Outatim
Format: 12" + Download
Label: Opac Records
With a title “Outatim” and a blurb that references being inspired by film music, there are no prizes for guessing that there’s a “Back To The Future” reference in the first single from French artist Zer. But it’s not any of the themes, riffs or spoken word samples- it’s the sound of the converted electrified Delorean engine, used very sparingly as a wash and riser sound, with the faintest hint of the flux capacitor controller beeps in there.

Everything else about the track is fairly purist techno. The original opens with rich thumping kicks and immediate synth rumbles, a Tiesto-favoured technique from the 00’s, and the whole track remains fairly Tiesto-ish, with a fairly populist synth melody over a relentlessly hammering yet positive groove.

The AeFe remix falls in similar territory, again with thick kicks, but with a somewhat more rubbery synthbass that adds just the tiniest fraction of funk into proceedings. Personally I would’ve rather had the surprisingly catchy new bass pushed forward and the kicks pushed back, but that’s just me. The slightly grooved hi-hat patterns, kick and arpeggios all patch together into something that sounds very old school Hardfloor-ish, again pushing this release “out of time”- back to the 90’s.

If you’re expecting to be rocking the dancefloor with a techno cover of a Huey Lewis & The News track, think again!

Laughing Ears: Blood

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Artist: Laughing Ears
Title: Blood
Format: 12" + Download
Label: Infinite Machine
The second album from Shanghai-based “Blood” is rather quirky- a set of ten succinct and surprisingly bright-sounding electronica instrumentals, packed with slightly off-centre rhythms, simple melodic loops formed from sometimes marginally silly synth sounds, and plenty of pure-sounding, speaker-wobbling sub-bass.

Like its accompanying artwork, it is both dark and strange, but it is a little stranger than it is dark. It’s generally all very tempered, and the measured pace of tracks like “Untouched Places” help emphasise the drama, for example when the aggressive distortion kicks in in the title track, or the more overt thumping techno of slightly Underworld-ish “Murderous Means”. As such it’s a solid fit for the Infinite Machine label, which has a very strong track record in this field.

There’ve been footwork-ish releases not too dissimilar to this where I’ve suggested that they sound like an incomplete grime album, with a big space in the middle where a rap, other vocal or lead instrument could go. There’s very little of that space here, in a good way. Tracks like “Night Wisps” fill it quite gently, with careful use of textured synth washes and plenty of atmospherics, while “Buona Fortuna” fills it very differently, with barking chanting sounds. It’s got plenty of international flavour, with Eastern influences poking through in the melody and percussion in tracks like “Potcheen”, but in a thoroughly modern way.

There is a case for saying this release lacks the USP to push it to the top of anyone’s 2021 lists. However it’s a release that charts its own course, taking some fairly familiar fundamentals but blending them together in a way that feels like it is bulging with ideas, and it’s well worth a listen.

Integral Bread: Collage EP

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Artist: Integral Bread
Title: Collage EP
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Univack
Good progressive house is sometimes like a smooth road- when the quality is good, the journey is so smooth that you don’t even think about it. And that’s the approach taken on the “Collage” EP, a collection of three original tracks and two remixes, all of them steady seven-minute-ish instrumental progressive tracks full of the usual ingredients- steady soft kicks, even softer single-note synthbass, gentle melody loops, slow risers and so on. It’s a familiar set-up, but in this genre that’s not a bad thing.

“The Blacksmith” uses a spoken single-word sample in lieu of a cymbal sound to good success. The title track “Collage” has just a hint more purposefulness to it, and ominousness in the bass, but is still ultimately rather sweet. The track already has such a classic Bedrock feel to it that it seems something of a no-brainer to draft in the legendary Nick Muir for a remix of it, but it’s the Nick Muir mix that deviates from the tone the most, which isn’t saying much, thanks to rockier drums, a more driving, almost Moroder-ish synth line and a remarkably glam, almost over-the-top breakdown.

The unique detail in the fairly bubbly “Tahiche” is a slight off-step in the kick drum on the last bar of each phrase, which may sound tiny but in an EP defined by straight 4-4, it could qualify as the EP’s only surprise element. The Morttagua remix dwells more on the string pads and feels a little more cinematic.

The promo blurb for this release suggests that this is a genre mash-up mixing techno, trance, and deep house, and that’s not untrue, but it does it by sitting cross-legged and steady right in the middle of them, rather than crashing any of their more disparate sounds together. But if rock bands are allowed to stick to the boring guitars, bass and drums formula for so long, why shouldn’t progressive house get the same liberty? If high quality releases like this keep coming, then there’s absolutely no reason why not.

VV.AA.: Inside The Univack, Vol. 6

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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Inside The Univack, Vol. 6
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Univack
The sixth six-pack compilation from the Univack label is half made up of the winners from a competition called “Progressive En España”, where a jury selected their favourite progressive house tracks from submissions. So in a genre where to be steadily unnoticeable is not always a criticism, there must have been something the jury heard in these tracks to impress, and if I had to guess I’d say it was production quality rather than originality.

Not Demure’s “Hang In There” ticks along until a nice toothy, decidedly synthwave drop, while Daniel Camarillo & Noil’s “Caresess” features a range of vocal snippets and effects that make it feel like a dub version that ought to have a full vocal version floating around somewhere. Orgymu5ik’s “Space” has large doses of ‘90’s progressive, adding a little urgency and then plenty of sci-fi atmospherics and reverb in the drop.

The three competition tracks fit in well with the other three tracks in the release. High On Mars’ “The Dark Bedlam” isn’t bedlam but it’s dark, with an entertainingly ravey stab lead melody arriving just before the three minute mark. Despite its name, “Symphonic” from Nasser Tawfik and Messier is quite unambitious and feels a bit routine.

Whosane! & Essio’s “Flying Spaced Tipsy Stoned” is the anachronism of the pack, thanks mainly to spoken-sung vocals from Eva layered thickly across the whole track. It’s got much more of a party vibe but it’s interesting to hear that get melded with moodier prog house elements.

It’s a very strong pack of tracks- unsurprisingly, since half of it was chosen by a jury- with an undeniable production quality. Only one of the six tracks seems to want to stand out, but as a DJ friendly reliable bundle it packs a lot of quality.