Monday, March 8, 2021

Music Reviews

Beat Noir Deluxe: Crash

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Artist: Beat Noir Deluxe (@)
Title: Crash
Format: CD + Download
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: * * * * *
This is the first of the last two Echozone physical product holdovers from 2020 I had yet to review. Beat Noir Deluxe is the electro-pop project of Sascha G. from Bolzano/Bozen, Italy. He performs on drums, keyboards and guitar as well as handling the vocals. According to the artist, Beat Noir Deluxe's music blends loneliness and defiance with melodic tunes and lyrics that are mostly introspective, sometimes provocative and always asking for tolerance. 'Crash' is BND's debut album, the title inspired by a serious auto accident in which Sascha nearly lost his life. The album consists of twelve tracks, eleven of which are originals. Most of the songs are sung in English, except "Allein," which is sung in German, and "Emma," in Italian. Sascha is supported by female vocalists Annika Borsetto, Doris Warasin, and Lisa Anesi on some tracks, and also guitarist Thomas Vareso on a couple tracks.

Right from the get-go, there are problems. First, the cover- featuring a black & white Sascha holding a pair of drumsticks and cradling a guitar looks more like someone's grandfather. There are much better pictures of this guy inside this 5.5" x 7.5" 6-panel digipak, posing with some cute goth models no less, so why have a cover pic of somebody that looks like a sad old man? The album opens with the sounds of a nasty car crash, then a beeping hospital life monitor on "Morphine," where the only lyrics you are likely to remember are "The chemical slide is taking me high...hiiiighh..." Here you will get your first taste of Sascha's whiny, abrasive vocals. Uh-oh...and this is actually one of the better tracks on the album. Supplemented by Borsetto's vocals on this one, but as nice as they are, it doesn't help a lot. By the second track, "Velvet Morning," you come to know that this guy shouldn't be singing; flat, dull vocals that won't win any fans. A rather ordinary electropop song that just kind of plods along. "Bleeding" introduces spoke word vocal samples with Trump being most prominent, and that's about the last thing I want to hear after four years of that orange turd. 'Nuff said there about that one. At least "Allein" opens well with some neoclassical strings over heavenly vibraphone, but the Deutsche vocals can't save this electro-march. "New City" has a good strong beat, and that's about the most positive thing I can say about it. Annika's vocals on "Please Help Me" are the best thing about the song, and when Sascha's spoken word crept in, I thought that might be it, but NOoooo, he had to belt it out with emotive singing. Just imagine an average Joe Shmoe in a karaoke bar taking on a tune well beyond his ability, and that's what this sounds like. The tunefulness of the ladies only makes it seem more like a joke. Not just bad, but really, really bad. Laughably bad.

"Never Do What Cannot Be Undone" has a distinctly '80s pop groove, and even sort of sounds like Clan of Xymox, but without good vocals or memorable hooks. After that it becomes apparent that no amount of supporting female vocals are going to save this unless Sascha stops trying to sing, which of course, he doesn't. Beat Noir Deluxe saves the ultimate travesty for last though- a cover of Type O Neg's "Black No. 1," which should have Pete Steele turning in his grave. Now every Chain D.L.K. reader knows this song; it's an iconic goth tune. To do such an underwhelming, dull version of it...well, that's goth metal suicide now, isn't it? Not even any Munsters organ..not even the additional female vocals can save it. Ugh! After that, I just don't know what to say, except that maybe the title should have been 'Crash...and Burn.'

Foretaste: Happy End!

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Artist: Foretaste
Title: Happy End!
Format: CD
Label: Boredom Product
Rated: * * * * *
Tense. This is the first adjective that is coming to my mind while listening to the latest Foretaste's album "Happy End!". Their sixth album has been deeply influenced by the feelings the pandemic events raised in all of us. Most of the lyrics are dealing with a feeling of uncertainty and self-preservation. Since the cover which is showing two people holding hands while the worlds collide, one can think that Creature XX and Creature XY are trying to make the best out of the time left. Some examples? Here are some excerpts: "In this day I'm terrified. I'm feeling like I just can't hide", "Living fast but I'm not scared. Fighting soldiers in the air. Welcome to my dream. Welcome to my dream.", "I love the way you're not scared. Cause we don't need to hide again. We don't need to lie. Into the night." or "I don't even know your name. I'm a dead star, in a black world.". Musically I appreciated the rich rhythmic structure which is a good counterpart to the vocal parts which are approached in a way to create a sort of synthpop torch song (Jb Lacassagne a.k.a. Dekad helps singing on "Robotic Blues") where passion and detachment are battling while the synths paint a web made of minimal melodies. My preferred songs are the opening "Welcome", "Pure Madness" (on this one the melody is a bit more catchy), the instrumental "Bored To Death", "Dead Star" (which recalls me a bit Depeche Mode of the 80s) and the closing "Happy End!" (this one is almost a techno tune and I found it really intriguing and I'd like they would have played a bit more in this key just to give to the album a wider palette of sounds). A usual for Foretaste, the album needs more listenings to be fully appreciated

Lightphaser: Sacred Journey of Heart

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Artist: Lightphaser (@)
Title: Sacred Journey of Heart
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Rated: * * * * *
'Sacred Journey of Heart' combines Lightphaser's last three two-song EPs ('Instincts of Future, ''Serenade,' and 'Stay With Me'), plus extra tracks into a 12-track album. It relies heavily on the Hatsune Miku vocaloid software program (which sounds as cute as the Manga cover images created by ALYCESON for these Lightphaser releases) which some people can't get enough of (as evidenced by Hatsune Miku's huge online fanbase), and others really can't stand. Most Hatsune Miku content you'll find on YouTube consists of huge live events with glowstick waving audiences in the rock and dance pop vein with song lyrics primarily in an Asian language. Lightphaser shows the softer side of Hatsune Miku (in English, thankfully); more dreamy space pop (I guess space pop is a genre now, since Echozone thinks so) than anything else. Two of the tracks I've heard and reviewed previously ("Play With Me" and "Serenade"), but the rest is newer material. Although the other shorter (EP) songs ("Stay With Me," "Brighter Than The Sun," "What I Have Been Looking For," "Beautiful") are nice enough, the real magic here is smack dab in the middle, with a couple of longer tracks ("Dream," Heartbeat") which uses wordless Hatsune Miuku vocals over extended synth instrumentals. Not only does this keep Hatsune from wearing out her welcome, but it adds an extra dimension to the album as a whole. The one thing you may notice about the vocaloid program is that the words aren't always easy to understand unless they're very simple phrases.

The last couple of tracks are more varied and interesting as well. "Final Determination" is a bit longer than Lightphaser's average Hatsune Miku track with lyrics, at over six minutes, with a more serious tone and somewhat progressive. The closer, "Wish," is sort of melancholic, but a fitting end to 'Sacred Journey of Heart.' Joseph Gogh may well carve out his own Hatsune Miku niche with what Lighphaser has been doing lately, but I wonder if it won't eventually become clichéd. Still, very enjoyable in the here and now.

Chorea Minor: Black White Moon

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Artist: Chorea Minor (@)
Title: Black White Moon
Format: CDx2 (double CD)
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: * * * * *
In the age of continuing Covid I really haven't felt much like reviewing new music, so I'm a little behind on some things. In this case, a whole year behind, misreading this album's release date as Feb. 20, 2021 when it was actually released Feb. 20, 2020. Oh well...sorry about that. It doesn't change the fact that I'm still a little on the fence about it, but we'll get to that later. This seems to be the first (solo) release from Chorea Minor who had a couple of albums back in the '90s with a band called Hekate back in the '90s on the German Krokodil Records label. Haven't heard them, as they're pretty obscure and scarce now. The man behind Chorea Minor also calls himself Chorea Minor which I'm sure isn't his real name. (Chorea Minor is another name for the neurologic disorder, St. Vitus Dance, which I certainly hope he does not have.) 'Black White Moon' is a double CD album with the "Black" half having more vocals than the "White" half. As for the music, Echozone categorizes it as "Space Pop," but I think that's just a genre recently made up. A good chunk of this album sounds more along the lines of Futurepop, which is a recognized genre. Just don't get your hope up that Chorea Minor is going to sound anything like VNV Nation, Covenant or Apoptygma Berzerk.

Beginning with the Black disc, the six songs on it are carried out spritely, with spoken and sung vocals. The sung vocals are definitely understated, which isn't really a good thing and contributes to the overall generic tone. To some degree it compares to Kraftwerk, but Kraftwerk's beat intensity is much more pronounced that what we have here. The music is good but unexceptional and nothing stayed with me even after multiple plays. The last thing you really want your music described as is electro wallpaper, but that's how it came off.

Moving on to Disc 2, the White CD which is also 6 tracks (clocking in at about 32 minutes as opposed to Black's 30 minutes), you'll notice the difference right away with the heavier, more organic drum sounds (as opposed to Black's standard electro programmed drum machine sounds), giving more of a tribal vibe with richer, more evocative synthwork. The vocals are well in line with this too, even though they still seem to be in the background. The novelty continues with "A New Daylight" with forcefully bowed strings and a relentless rhythm track. Vocals are wordless but effective; the cinematic impression I got was one of primitives running through the jungle, but you can let your imagination run wild. The pace is kept up with the title track ("Black White Moon") which reverts back a little to electro but doesn't sacrifice any urgency. Things are more relaxed on "Another Kind," which offers a bit of a breather as the vocals in it cross into a dreamy kind of World Music. "Question Mark" heads back to '80's style electro terrain, albeit more modernized. Once again vocals seem to swirl around in the ambience (and some female vocals as well I believe), with some spoken word as well which seemed superfluous. Musically, "Health" is a apt closer in its wind-down spirit, although it's the least interesting composition on the White Disc.

Perhaps the reason for the disparity between the two album halves is that there was a different producer for each disc- the BLACK-CD by Krischan J. E. Wesenberg (Rotesand) and the WHITE CD by Patrick Damiani (ex-Rome). Considering what I thought was the failure of the Black portion and the success of the White portion, I could offer Chorea Minor some advice: get a really good vocalist and cut out (or at least drastically cut down on) the spoken word bits. Your synth skills are good but you really need to work on some catchy hooks that will make your music memorable. Maybe put a real band together and benefit from the input of your members. There are just too many people out there trying to make it in this genre, and merely good just isn't good enough anymore. On the positive side, the package for this release is attractive, and it's a limited edition (500), hand-signed and had-numbered by Chorea Minor. I'd be curious to hear what this project has to offer in the future.

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.