Monday, January 18, 2021

Music Reviews

Marva Von Theo: Ruins

More reviews by
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.

Siegmar Fricke: Funkwellen

More reviews by
Artist: Siegmar Fricke
Title: Funkwellen
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Klappstuhl Records (@)

Siegmar Fricke is a long-standing contributor to the experimental electronic / dance music world. The German producer (who also works as a visual artist) began releasing music in the mid 80s and has produced many albums across a variety of styles including industrial, techno and ambient.

Funkwellen (translated as “radio waves”) is described in the press release as “melodic based sequencer driven work with…futurist appeal”. The album itself has quite a history. Originally recorded in 1994 at Fricke’s Pharmakustik Studio, the work was not released until 2008 when it surfaced as a free download in a different form with a slightly different tracklist. It has now been reassembled and remastered by Fricke, and this “definitive edition” is available as a 24 bit high quality download.

The music itself is quite brilliant. The whole record has been approached with a rare attention to detail and subtlety. Its melodies, grooves and robotic loops owe much to house and techno, but it also contains an underlying and ever-present arty weirdness. This is not “hard” dance music, but it marches forward with enough intent and drive for it not to sit comfortably in the “ambient” category. The beats often seem to be right on the edge of climax, but instead they gracefully hold back. This has the effect of holding the listener on the edge of their seat, energised and alert. The synth sounds are expertly jigsawed together. Angular and disorientating sequenced arpeggios mesh with warm atmospheric pads. Repeated samples of single words or short disembodied phrases in German or English come in and out over the top. By its nature this music is repetitive, but Funkwellen artfully pulls off the trick of creating subtle and sometimes barely-perceptible variation bar-by-bar. New synth parts and samples rise up and fall away whilst filters, reverbs, delays and panning are constantly being controlled to generate dynamic motion.

Funkwellen is evocative. It paints an ever-shifting mood journey. There is hopeful excitement and there is cold bleakness. Sometimes these feelings coexist. The palette of sounds is familiar, but its application is idiosyncratic. It will energise you, it will stimulate deep thought, it will make you feel something, and it will hold your attention.

If you like to think as well as to dance, and if you enjoy having your expectations subverted, then Funkwellen by Siegmar Fricke is album you should hear.

Funkwellen is available now via Bandcamp.

Chiang Valley Liberators: And Then Everything Changed

More reviews by
Artist: Chiang Valley Liberators
Title: And Then Everything Changed
Format: 12" + Download
Label: Corrosive Growth Industries (@)
Distributor: Corrosive Growth Industries

Mystery surrounds the artist known as Chiang Valley Liberators, whose new album - And Then Everything Changed - is an experimental electronic affair encompassing the influences of noise, ambient, drone, and industrial music. There is little information about the person or people behind the project, the intentions of the work, or even about which part of the world it originates from. I listened with an open mind, not knowing what to expect and piecing together my impressions of this album.

The first track - “Lightning Stations” - runs at over 10 minutes and is centred around a compellingly dark drone. As mysterious as the origins of the project itself, this piece seems to immediately drop us on some unknown and bleak planet, or a desolate dystopian future. The tone and intensity of the deep and otherworldly soundscape subtly varies, and samples of various recognisable sounds gradually emerge in a series which includes old-fashioned army fanfares and talking dolls. It is captivating, evocative and filmic.

“Addiction”, the second track, again features a droning backdrop, but we are now in post-industrial territory and there is heavy dub influence in the electronic drums and effects. The leaden, grinding, and purposeful beat is augmented by samples of shouting men. The use of the stereo field is impressive, with futuristic beams of glassy synth noise and dub reverbs bouncing all over the place but never distracting from the drive of the sinister underlying beat. Again, the single-note drone is the only harmonic or melodic feature here, but the texture, dynamics and rhythmic emphasis are constantly moving so as to hold our attention.

“SAND 7” has a more delicate, somewhat ethereal, touch and sounds like a tropical rainstorm on another planet heard from the shelter of a strange cave. The manipulation of noise and samples to create atmosphere is very impressive and highly effective.

“Summer in the Dark” features a steady four-to-the-floor kick drum beat but, again, everything is infused with an alien quality. Aggressive stamping sounds processed with a queasy reverb contrast with delicate ambient synth melodies. Yet again, a deep, enchanting and unrelenting drone flows underneath the whole affair. The calm and tranquil sounds are mixed and processed to feel close, while the tense and abrasive ones sound further away - a technique which makes this piece feel like a safe haven amidst chaos and destruction.

The album closes with “Devoted To You”. At nearly 15 minutes, this piece completes the construction of an album which opens and closes with its two epic-length pieces. As with the first track, percussion and strong rhythm is largely eschewed in favour of a soundscape approach. Again there are some samples of speech (I could make out “they gave me an electric shock and it destroyed my memory” amongst the largely unintelligible words). However, this track avoids the bleakness and tension of previous ones. It features a repeated rising two-chord synth pad pattern which seems to be designed to relax and soothe like a lulling dream. Although this pattern continues for the full duration, the piece maintains interest due to subtle and clever variations. This soft and comforting piece is a somewhat unexpected but very welcome way to close the record.

On a cerebral level, I suspect that some political or historical themes or at least cultural allusions of this album might have passed me by. Nevertheless, the emotional experience is highly engaging and the technical construction is expertly executed. If you enjoy dark and rich synth textures and if you like albums which take your mind somewhere else and need to be appreciated as a whole then you may well greatly appreciate And Then Everything Changed by Chiang Valley Liberators.

And Then Everything Changed is available now for download and streaming and will be released on vinyl on 27th August 2020 on Corrosive Growth Industries.

Flamongo: Erlöser

More reviews by
Artist: Flamongo (@)
Title: Erlöser
Format: 12" + Download
Label: self-released

The Erlöser EP is the latest release from Austria’s Flamongo, a solo project from visual artist (under the name Irrwisch) and musician Alexander Trinkl. Erlöser means “saviour” or “messiah”; in this case salvation takes the form of noisy and hypnotic electronic textures.

The EP clocks in at just 18 minutes and is available in physical format as a 12-inch vinyl record with one side containing the music and the other an individually hand-painted design. Trinkl also takes a painter’s approach to the music itself, with each of the five pieces having been constructed as a kind of soundscape as opposed to anything that could be called a “song” in the traditional sense. However, the tracks themselves are perhaps surprisingly easy to latch onto. There is terrifying distortion, dizzying atmospheric synth textures, and punishing industrial beats, but there is also an attention to form, dynamics, and sometimes even melody that lends the EP and the works within a satisfyingly structured musicality.

The music was composed using an improvisational stream-of-consciousness approach, and we follow the journey from “Einführung” (“Introduction”) to “Ausführung” (“Execution”) as Trinkl leads us through an exploration of various different feelings. There is tranquility and there is chaos; there is rhythm and there is ambience; there is electronica and there is industrial noise rock.

My only criticism would be that some of the more “natural” synthesised instruments, such as the drums in particular, could do having a little more attention paid to processing and mixing in order to sit a little more comfortably in the mix with the harsh and spacey synths. Having said that, “comfortably” is probably not how Trinkl would imagine the listener to be sitting whilst listening to this mind-bending work of experimentalism.

Unpredictability, experimentalism and cross-disciplinary approaches have always been cornerstones of genuinely exciting and intriguing art, and Flamongo’s Erlöser takes its place as a new exploration in this spirit. I for one will be waiting eagerly to see and hear what Flamongo’s next music / visual art crossover project will be and what new directions he decides to push this project in.

Erlöser is available for digital download or to pre-order on special hand-painted vinyl (to be shipped as of July 2020) from Flamongo’s Bandcamp page.

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.