Friday, November 27, 2020

Music Reviews

PlanetDamage: Relapse Protocol

More reviews by
Artist: PlanetDamage
Title: Relapse Protocol
Format: CD + Download
Label: self-released
Most of Planetdamage’s debut album “Relapse Protocol” follows an electro-cyberpunk formula that is, on the surface at least, very familiar. Pulsing synth lines and drum patterns are the bed on which are laid angsty, semi-shouted, mildly distorted monologues about politics and the state of the world, infused with frustration and determination. It’s the lyrics that are placed centre stage, while the electronics are mostly there to provide a frame and a sense of urgency.

“Kompromat”’’s assertion that ‘history is deepfaked’, and “So Is Europe”’s talk of ‘sandbox fuckery’ (I think) and the remarkably understated side question, ‘what about the US?’. “Hi Rez Lo Life” turns its attention to online and social media, talking about pays per clicks and demanding “got no need for engagement” (always a difficult claim for musicians trying to promote themselves online), while “Vex” resorts to naming a selection of multinational companies to be viewed with suspicion. “The Mark” resorts to the chant of ‘question authority!’, which I have to suspect is a message that will only reach those who already do. Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with any of it, it does feel somewhat mansplained at times.

Unfortunately, despite being relatively short (40 minutes), it ends up being a little bit undramatic and one-note. The fact that the tracks are segued together seamlessly, sometimes a really interesting musical move, in this case unfortunately only serves to highlight the excessive similarities in tone and pace between each of the tracks. The vocal delivery is the same throughout all the tracks, which under-sells the message it’s trying to convey at times. There’s a decided lack of drama in the delivery, both lyrically and musically- the synths are mildly aggressive but never really given teeth, and fills and drops are sparse, curt and simple. The opening of “Regret Gunner” shows dramatic promise, then flattens out. And while not trying to bow to mainstream popular culture, a few stronger hooks or riffs would not have gone amiss.

There is some great techno work under there- “Firewalls” into the light acid tones of “The Mark” was a highlight area for me musically- but in the social-media driven industry that the lyrics complain about, I don’t think there’s enough distinct character, nor lyrical insightfulness, for this to really gain traction.

Swans: Children of God/Feel Good Now

More reviews by
Artist: Swans (@)
Title: Children of God/Feel Good Now
Format: CD & 12" & Download
Label: Young God Records (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Well, here we go again, another Swans remastered re-release, this time of their classic 1987 opus, 'Children of God,' coupled with their lesser-known live album of their 1987 European tour made by the band's sound engineer on a Sony Walkman. While 'Children of God' got its first reissue in 1997 combined with 'World of Skin' (that's the one that I have), 'Feel Good Now' was only released in the UK (vinyl and CD) back in '87, but a remastered version showed up in the U.S. in 2002. In comparison to their prior work, Swans' 'Children of God' was nearly a new direction for them. Jarboe had only just surfaced on their previous album ('Greed') and certainly has a larger role on this album. Their previous brutal no wave approach had been tempered and Mr. Gira moved into more subtle realms of nihilism. That's not to say Swans abandoned their sturm und drang; there was still plenty of that to go 'round. Most Swans fans probably already own 'Children of God' in one form or another, but if you want an original 1987 copy on vinyl, that's gonna cost you plenty. As for the remaster, I've listened to both the original and the remaster several times, and I didn't hear a lot of difference; maybe a little brighter on the remaster, but not so much that I'd be compelled to buy it unless I wanted vinyl. For some, that ought to be enough.

So that leaves us with 'Feel Good Now,' certainly a title appropriate to these times even if it is 33 years old. For something recorded originally on a Sony Walkman (Pro), it sounds pretty good. I never heard the original, so I can't say how much the sound was cleaned up. Gira himself says, "The lineup of Gira / Kizys / Westberg / Jarboe / Parsons was a really good version of the band - one of the best live versions of Swans ever – actually much more intense and visceral in performance than in the nuanced takes of the songs on these recordings." Intense is really the byword here; it doesn't get more intense than Swans live. They do most every song on 'Children of God,' (but not in the same order) and it’s a good deal more forceful than the studio album. Not perfect, but still a worthy document.

Here's the thing though about the 'Feel Good Now' portion of the reissue- for the vinyl version of 'Children of God' you get a (digital) download card for the live album, and the CD version gets you an extra CD. What??? No double-LP? Nope. Sorry. Guess Young God wanted to keep the cost down. Too bad. A vinyl version of the live album would have been most welcome. For those that don't already have these though, this might be the best way to go.

Officer!: Yes Yes No No Yes No Yes

More reviews by
Artist: Officer!
Title: Yes Yes No No Yes No Yes
Format: CD + Download
Label: Klanggalerie
The second album from Mick Hobbs’ Officer! (the punctuation’s part of the name) was released on vinyl in 1988. It’s been dusted off- or “remastered from the original reel-to-reel tapes” to give it the proper term- and released on CD by KlangGalerie with five bonus unreleased instrumental tracks from around the same time, as part of a rather prolific output.

It’s very 1988, in many ways- a lo-fi guitar-pop with a quirky, folky attitude and the occasional tilt towards the weird, backed up with a pleasant richness of guest string and wind instruments. The sound quality would have felt low-budget even then, and a bit of remastering doesn’t disguise the generally grungy feel. What carries it above that slight sonic problem is the fact it has a very strong ear for a catchy hook and a catchy riff, with elements like the chorus of “Coma” or the infectious opening riff of “Simone” undeniably strong pieces of song-writing.

Certain parts, like the Jethro Tull-ish flute of delightfully odd “r Tune” (a Simon Bates-sampling tune that Bates would never have played), feel both more eccentric and slightly older, harking back to a more experimental 60’s studio feel. “Remove Your Hat”’s first part has that barking mad avantgarde spaciousness, before the second part develops into a song that’s halfway to Madchester, while the Beatles-ripping riff of “Bright Star” seems like a more overt throwback.

“r Tune” is also an example of the unusual lyrical approach, which sits somewhere between straight-faced, wacky and ironic, without ever settling into overt comedy. “Simone, she leaves me accident prone, so I’d better leave her alone [...], keeping her body in tone, with food that’s organically grown” is poetry. The introverted but sweet love song parts, such as “(I’ve Got A) Nice Girlfriend”, never quite reaches Jilted John territory, but it’s not far off, while the simple and innocent approach stretches into wilful ironic pretend-dumbness in songs like “Hid It (‘Cos I Wanted You To Find It)”.

As quite a contrast, the five previously unreleased instrumental bonus tracks, rather than being the sparse pop-demo sound that I might have anticipated, are rich experimental pieces with analogue synths and complex time signatures that hint at a very different but equally interesting compositional approach. “Distal Interphalangeal”’s mesmerising counter-play of repeating plinky bell sounds with spontaneous growls is a particular highlight.

It’s oddly endearing from start to finish, and while the clanginess and sonic quality of the guitar does start grating over the course of an hour, it’s an interesting way to get introduced to Hobbs as an off-beat songwriter with some great tunes.

Thrillsville: Lockdown

More reviews by
Artist: Thrillsville (@)
Title: Lockdown
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: No Comment Records (USA)
Distributor: The Orchard

BUY from BUY NOW from AMAZON ( or BUY from BUY NOW from iTunes (
Try as we might, there is no escaping the fact that the current global pandemic has caused a lot of people to have to miss out on many of the things that normally keep them sane. Dancing to grinding and hypnotic music at excessive volumes is an outlet which allows many to transmute rage and frustration into something more positive. This escapism is not currently available.

Thrillsville is a darkwave / industrial solo project from LA-based composer and producer Rani Sharone, who has worked with such luminaries as Marilyn Manson and Puscifer, as well as running his own dark cabaret project Stolen Babies. The newly-released track “Lockdown” is a “Dark dance club song inspired by the unrelenting restlessness of being ‘stuck on lockdown’”, and it does indeed bring the listener immediately into the bleakly energising world of industrial club culture.

Sharone seems to have used Lockdown as a vessel in which to pour anxieties and suffering. “Tightness in my chest / Anxious and distressed” is one of the first lines, growled in a bitter whisper over a punishingly harsh beat. “That nervous twitch wasn’t there before” croons Sharone as blasts of all-powerfully huge metal guitars stamp over everything in their path. The groove is also sensual in a way that brings to mind “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails, and the lyrics of the chorus reflect this: “I should be driving to your house / We should be under the lights / Instead of stuck here on lockdown / Losing my fucking mind / This is not a test”. As that last line is repeated the music soars to an enraged crescendo of turmoil. The whole thing is has an empowering energy which will undoubtedly inspire many to don the white makeup and dig out the glow-sticks. If they flash the living room lights on and off and allow Lockdown’s ultra-tight kick drum and pulsating synths to embody them they might even momentarily believe that they are right there in the grime and beauty, moving “under the lights” with hundreds of others.

The current global situation is so huge and all-encompassing that it can’t be entirely avoided by artists in their work. There is an ongoing debate about how directly the situation should be referred to in creative works, and I don’t have a correct answer to that. What I am sure of is that Rani Sharone, through Thrillsville’s Lockdown, tells his own truth and delivers it in catchy hook form atop an undeniably powerful blast of fury which will be of great appeal to fans of dark electronic and industrial music.

Lockdown by Thrillsville is available now from major digital outlets.

Liar, Flower: Geiger Counter

More reviews by
Artist: Liar, Flower (@)
Title: Geiger Counter
Format: CD & 12" & Download
Label: One Little Indian Records (@)
Rated: * * * * *
If you remember British alt-rock glitter punk band Daisy Chainsaw, then you know KatieJane Garside, one-half of Liar, Flower. If you followed her career after Daisy Chainsaw, you may even know that she collaborated with the industrial band Test Department in 1995 on their album 'Totality.' After a couple years break from music and a move to England's bohemian Rigg Beck in the Lake District, she reunited with Daisy Chainsaw founder and guitarist Crispin Gray to form Queenadreena, an even heavier noise-rock band than Daisy Chainsaw. After four albums garnering plenty of critical acclaim but unspectacular commercial sales and charting action, KatieJane left to form Ruby Throat with guitarist Chris Whittingham. That project was nearly the polar opposite of Garside's previous efforts; a complete turnabout from the screaming riot-grrrl vocals she had been known for. Now her voice was soft, sylphlike and ethereal. If you haven't heard her, maybe you remember The Cranes' Alison Shaw as that's sort of a close comparison.

Liar, Flower is Garside and Whittingham bringing everything to the table from previous endeavors, then pulling off the tablecloth with contents in tow, and sweeping up the rubble melancholically to the dustbin. Okay, well what does all this have to do with the music we cover here you might ask. Punk, alternative noise-rock and even ethereal (without being goth or darkwave) aren't staple categories of Chain D.L.K. 'Geiger Counter' is just so weird, so impossible to categorize that it makes more sense to review it here than perhaps anyplace else in the mainstream. The album careens like a pinball in a demonic arcade machine from the moment the plunger is pulled - calm to chaotic, banging bumpers, heading down unexpected paths, kicked into holes by noisy flippers and scoring enough points along the way to guarantee a replay. Beginning with the elfin "I Am Sundress" (She of Infinite Flowers) with Katiejane singing alone (in Italian at first) sweetly and innocently in her little girl voice accompanied mostly by an autoharp, you'd think this was recorded in fairy tale forest. When she slides into "My Brain is Lit Like an Airport" (best song title on the album) you know you've got the old wild-child KatieJane back again. There's a muscular malevolence at work on this track that intentionally tears down any "nice girl" illusions you may have had previously going into 'Geiger Counter.' If that wasn't strange enough, there is the ambientesque "9N-AFE" where KatieJane's wordless vocals mix with processed guitar and electronics in a surreal stew of oblique dimensions. "Mud Stars" bubbles and boils in a hot mess of down and dirty bluesy, noisy filth. Back on cloud 9, KatieJane and her autoharp step sweetly into "Broken Light" which has one of the best lyric lines I've heard in a while - "i was in a band called where's my fucking phone, stranded on a hillside of spectacular bodies ..." It's almost expected you'd be diving back into the mosh pit with "Even The Darkest Clouds" that follows. And so the album continues vacillating from the quiet and contemplative to the belligerently boisterous with not a whiff of self-consciousness to spare. Sometimes both sides of KatieJane's vocal split personality emerge at once, such as her Banshee howling in the otherwise kind of placid "Baby Teeth." It all ends enigmatically enough with the instrumental "Doors Locked, Oven's Off" a little guitar and autoharp duet that sounds like a Pink Floyd acoustic outtake from their Umma Gumma days.

While often fascinating and inventively engaging, 'Geiger Counter' isn't a perfect album by any means. Opening track "I Am Sundress" is too long by at least half; the quieter moments of KatieJane singing with her autoharp tend to be too similar; and the self-indulgence is palpable. Be those things as they may, this is certainly unusual enough to warrant some serious attention, which I'm pretty sure it's getting. For serious collectors the album will be available on limited edition (500 copies) double 12" vinyl (with bonus songs) that includes two 12”x12” frameable prints (cover print signed) and a limited edition CD in glassine envelope with a pressed flower in glassine. For us mere mortals who can't afford half-a-hundred British pounds, there is always the digital download at substantially less.