Ultramarine’s first album Folk gets an overdue reissue and remaster for its 30th anniversary (it was remastered in 1995 too but that doesn’t count). While Ultramarine became better known for tracks like “Kingdom” a few years later, it’s a welcome opportunity to revisit their first album output. It is an instantly recognisable and unique blend of folk, jazz and electronica that instantly says Ultramarine.
That said, the electronica aspects are a little more set back than on later tracks, leaving the ‘real’ instruments with more space to play, and as a result, landing it more firmly among the ham-fistedly labelled “world music explosion” that was going on around 1990, as musical diversity and the idea of fusion became in vogue for a bit. “Lobster” has shades of the word of David Sylvian and Robert Fripp from around the same period, while “Bronze Eye” brings to mind Edward II and the Red Hot Polkas, thanks largely to the accordion work.
A rolling, poppy, somewhat Madchester-ish beat crops up several times, in “Antiseptic”, in “Bastard Folk”, in “Softspot” and so on. For the most part it’s an instrumental album, with minor exceptions such as the spoken-word samples on “Lobster”, with “Softspot” the only track that offers up a sung melody line- and even then, literally just one line.
“Bullprong” has enjoyable dubby elements to it, while “Vulgar Streak” is anything but vulgar, with some utterly beautiful clarinet work that’s stepped a little modesty into the background. Final track “The Golden Target” adds a funk-like, almost sleazy swagger.
With 30 years’ distance since the original release, Folk is an album ahead of its time in some ways, and very much of its time in others- but for any fans of the band’s later work, or anyone with fond memories of the more optimistic and open-minded explosion of eclecticism around that period, it will go down an absolute treat.
To launch his own imprint FR Records, Rhys Fulber (of Front Line Assembly, Delerium, Conjure One et al) offers up an EP which is described as an “ambient detour”, devoid of his recent harsh rhythms. I wouldn’t call it ‘ambient’ though, as steady arpeggios and lighter rhythms still give this a firm electronica structure.
“Charleroi” opens, with big wide rolling rumbles and waves of low noise. The gradual introduction of Tangerine Dream-esque arpeggios, and then a decidedly synthwave-like top melody line, end up giving this track something of a introductory feel, as though it’s the tone-setter for a massive heavy EDM album that’s about to rock your ears- but it isn’t. This pattern is repeated surprisingly closely in third track “Meaningless Marker Of Mortality”, even down to the sudden drop at the end.
“Disused” is more experimental, with light industrial hammering sounds charting out a swaggering 12/8-ish rhythm, with another surprisingly perky melody following on later.
Final track “Monolithic Myriad Manifold” charts a course from dark to bright, again adopting rather synthwave-styled lead melodies over a brooding tuned drone.
There is an extent to which these four tracks feel a little like leftover experiments or diversions- but when Rhys Fulber is the artist in question, you know that even the off-cuts are going to be worth listening to- and such is the case here, a really intriguing EP that teases the prospect of longer works perhaps a little more than it satisfies within itself.
A new release of this talented Swiss-/German - Synthpop / EBM project which consists of prominent band members with Oliver Spring (vocals / lyrics), since the early-90s member of the swiss Dark Electro project Sleepwalk (until 2004) and currently also active with tEaR!doWn, and René Ebner and Thomas Kowalzik, both out of the founding fame of No Comment, a German EBM-/Sythpop - project ative since 1989.
This musically experienced trio started in 2012 their mututal path and could sign a deal with the Italian Space Race Records, the sublabel of EK Product. After two full-lengths albums in 2013 ("Poladroids") and 2014 ("Nothing To Confess") they went over to the German label giant Infacted Recordings to start a triumphant return with their album "Agent Provocateur" in 2017. Trapped and obstacled in this pandemic year, Nine Seconds started in 2020 a conceptual comeback with this new album "That Perfect Beat Will Tear Us Apart" and with two additional accompanying, download-only releases of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and " Slice Me Nice". Just in case if you can't figure out the idea behind it, it is their homage to their beloved classic, smashing hits of the 80s. The band members are praising their musically roots with all of these cover versions as well as they're removing actively dust particles on one or another of those tunes.
For all fans and supporters of the golden 80s sure a feast and must-buy but to operate on 80s stuff plus additionally on some classics which also made its impact in the Wave- / Synthpop- and Post Punk scene is as usually a two-sided sword and rather a matter of personal tastes. It is always a thin line to walk on by leaving the original recording recognizable but on the other hand also to have the right sense to integrate an own personal musically note.
Here I also tend to lay a focus on Oliver Spring's kind of vocals expression. As it can be heard in his long career he isn't at all that kind of a sweet and fluffy Synthpop-singer, he has never been. He is rather more a herb and rustic version of it.
This fits extremly well on "Ricky's Hand" or "Living On Video", but works lesser well on those comercially quite succesful tunes with extremely talented vocalists like on "Hit That Perfect Beat" (Bronkie Beat), or on Fancy's "Slice Me Nice". Musically I find it also courageous to cover Front 242's "No Shuffle". Yes, that might fit well on a possible tribute compilation but as for an Electronic music project for the most producing in a similar music direction, this ends often down the drain.
Much better compared to this I feel personally comfortable with the interpretation of Paul Hardcastle's "19". The voice samples are surely ringing in everones ears but to give this tune a decent EBM stomper outfit with excellent as well as authentic sounding female choruses sums it up perfectly. I was also to point out positively the cover of Depeche Mode's "Lie To Me" and the courage to add also original samples to the beginning of their interpretation. And then they added a remix of Austrias giants Mind.In.A.Box. If it would be kind of a contest, then Austria's appearance mathes the Swiss contribution completely out of the field as M.I.A.B.offer a perfect remix by adding different sounding vocals to the classic DM track, various layered pads and a quite bombastic sounding outfit.
As I said, this is a quite entertaining release with well produced EBM / Synthpop / Electronica music and a fair compiled homage to the golden 80s veterans and their smash hits of a musically atmosphere of departure.But in all - at least to me - it depends rather more on personal preferences instead of being a complete subjective kind of a review. Good stuff overall while I tend to enjoy some of their own compositions a bit more.
The reliable 3Bridge Records have offered up another 4-track EP from the mellower, more progressive side of house- and this one is gentle and laidback even by their standards, with New York-based Sleepy & Boo offering up a nostalgic sound of afternoon beach house.
Perception is quite loungey thanks mostly to its key sounds. “Expectation” starts off with thicker kicks and more of a sense of purpose, but before too long gets to a breakdown full of long Balearic vocal pads and a soft wistful two-note melody- but it’s a well crafted blend and a highlight once the beat comes back.
“Impressions” is nicely bright and optimistic and “Notion” has a flatter, more journeying tone, but essentially they’re all built from the same recipe of crisp house beat, layered pads and plinky synth arpeggios, and a structure that makes the chord sequence the star, in the absence of any vocal or other top line that would normally take that accolade.
For circumstances where house music being forgettable isn’t a problem- gentle afternoons, office work or slower workouts, dare I say it even ‘muzak’- this package has got all the quality in the right places, without anything to make it stand out.
Yair Etziony normally works in the spheres of ambient and drone, and I’ve positively reviewed at least one of Etziony’s releases here before. As a consequence of lockdown experimentation, this is something different, that certainly warranted a new artist name. This jumps genres quite resolutely and lands in dark electronica and EDM. Rolling long synth basslines run over cut-up breakbeats, drumloops and drum patterns that are part drum-and-bass, but sometimes with the half-speed swagger that grew from dubstep.
“Hand Disinfection” sets a tone that initially feels almost retro- like synthwave but for the darker underbelly of the 90’s d&b world, emphasised by a vocal sample made familiar by Primal Scream. “Lockdown” has a slower, more hand-made programmed break to it that’s a touch lazier, while “Metropolis” has a distinctly brighter and more positive tone with a bright synth arpeggio and upbeat break.
“A Place Where There Is No Darkness” is the most overtly post-dubstep-ish thanks to its crisp groove, and when we reach “The New Normal” there is a certain sense of narrative to the fact that the more unsettled and distorted tones have been replaced by a slightly more positive but still sorrow-infused atmosphere. “Umwelt”, with its ‘everyone wanted a place where they could be alone’ sample, feels less like a finale and more like a creeping acceptance of the new status quo.
Between some of these tracks are more ambient interlude pieces more akin to the previous works I’ve heard from Etziony. “Dead Skin” and “Stay Safe” are soft arhythmic padded pieces with a calm to them that seems quite fitting for the lockdown theme, socially distancing the beat tracks, while State Of Exception is a longer broodier rumble with a distinctly sci-fi theme.
As an expression of lockdown mood and experience, it’s not especially diverse or unique in its tone. However it’s a well-presented 50 minute journey through soft but broody electronica that does seem to strike a chord.