Tuesday, August 11, 2020
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Music Reviews

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Artist: Shome
Title: 1989
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Redlight Music
This single might be called 1989 but the original version is a form of melodic progressive house that really grew in the late 90’s and never really went out of fashion since. A semi-euphoric chord pattern that steadily repeats on a grand piano sound while other synths arpeggiate happily away around it, stepping in and out in a steady, journeying fashion, it’s got all the right bits of the formula, nicely applied. It’s DJ-friendly too, with an ending that’s more melody than beat.

The most surprising thing about the release is the genre-hop of the Paper Street Soul remix on the flip. Though it’s faithful in a way, especially in the breakdown, the groove is a complete shift, with funky slapbass sounds and disco string stabs that sound like they’ve come straight from the first Justice album. It even adds a new guitar-sound melody that gives a brand new hands-in-the-air moment just before the five minute mark. It’s rare to hear such a thoughtful re-shift of a track in this kind of genre, and it’s no real surprise that the radio edit provided in the package is of the remix rather than the original.

It’s quality stuff from the Redlight label, not liable to raise any eyebrows but top of the class for production quality.


Lightphaser: Serenade (EP)

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Artist: Lightphaser (@)
Title: Serenade (EP)
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
I don't know about you, but this Covid-19 pandemic is really wearing me down. Now that I don't have a brick & mortar store (3 months of having to be closed without any $$ for rent or utilities will do that) it's hard to get motivated to do anything, let alone reviews. Besides, not much physical product seems to come my way these days, and I've never been a fan of "digital only" releases. Seems too cheap and easy as any yahoo can put up music online. There are exceptions though, and this is one of them. Hungarian electronic musician/composer Joseph "Lightphaser" Gogh is back again with a new EP (release date July 31st) with something really different this time. The anime cover art is a dead giveaway, and if you're virtual J-Pop savvy, you may even recognize (a version of) Hatsune Miku who does the vocals on this EP.

If you don't know who Hatsune Miku is, suffice to say that she's the biggest "virtual" pop star coming out of Japan today. The key word here is virtual, because as a living person Hatsune Miku doesn't exist. ( Her source voice is provided by the Japanese voice actress Saki Fujita.) What Hatsune Miku really is, is Vocaloid software voice-bank developed by Crypton Future Media and its official moe anthropomorph, a teenage girl with long, turquoise twin-tails. This creation is SO very popular that it has sold out many virtual (holographic) live concerts in the J-Pop and EDM genres. You can find literally TONS of Hatsune Miku content on YouTube, usually with plenty of anime. It comes across as happy spectacle more than anything else, especially when accompanied by huge crowds of glowstick waving fan-atics. The music though seems like it has more "teen appeal" than anything else, and often the vocals are in Japanese.
Not so here; Miku with Lightphaser actually sounds very different. Without all the bombastic music and over the top visuals Hatsune Miku sounds like a gitlish pixie through a vocoder. (Certain people might be able to imitate it inhaling helium and singing, but not for long.) Because the voice still sounds a bit computer generated, all the lyrics don't seem crystal clear on first listening. The way Gogh uses the Vocaloid program within the context of the songs though is quite nice. "Serenade" is a space love song ballad, for lack of a better description. Although the Vocaloid is front and center, it is definitely enhanced by the other worldly synths, and combines into something magical. "Play With Me" is ultra cute synthpop with a strong hook that jumps at you right off the bat. Third and final track is the instrumental version of "Serenade." Stripped of the Vocaloid program it sounds like Gary Numan meets Kraftwerk in Vangelis's Blade Runner theme park.

Joseph told me via email that 'Serenade' is the second EP of Lightphaser's using the Miku program, and the "Instincts of Future" EP was the first release with it. There is a third EP planned for September, but what happens after that is still up in the air. It should be interesting to see if Hatsune Miku fans take to this different aspect of the girl's performance. I know I like it a lot more than the typical applications that have exploded across the Internet.

There is a kind of silly but amusing little video made for the "Serenade song, and you can check it out with this link.



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Artist: Zoe Polanski
Title: Violent Flowers
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Youngbloods
Established Israeli singer-songwriter and film composer Zoe Polanski, with help from producer Aviad Zinemanas, offers up a very lush nine-pack of leisurely dream pop with a shoegazey but generally optimistic feel. Slow instrumental patterns blending synths and acoustics roll quietly along, while Polanski’s reverb-laden vocal wafts like a cloud over the top. “There’s nothing violent about these musical flowers”, as a proper music journalist might say.

Though the term ‘ambient’ is referenced a few times, most pieces have a relatively conventional pop structure, like the folky radio-friendly “Pharoah’s Island”, the more synthpop-leaned “The Willows”, or the bright and almost naive-sounding lullaby-like “Ya’ar Bein Olamot (Forest Between Worlds)”. Even the more ‘out there’ pieces, like the nicely Tangerine Dream-like arpeggios and slow build of interlude piece “Humdolbt Current”, always have a rhythm at their heart, even if it’s a very mild one.

Highlights include the nicely infectious “Closer”- which, thanks to the slightly heavier percussion and faster tempo, is rather upbeat by this album’s standards- and by contrast, the more mesmerising simple patterns of “Slopes”. The purposeful synth chords of “Bubbles” hint at a little more attitude, but it’s a mood that seems to pass quickly.

I do have a sense that I would probably connect to the emotive vocals a little more if I could more confidently make out what the lyrics were. The treatment is so dreamy, so effect-laden and stuff, that sometimes vocally it feels like a string of loose vowels or Enya-style wordless vocalisations. Anyone who wants to really connect emotionally to the story side of this release might need a lyric sheet.

Polanski has been a supporting act for acts like Swans, Tame Impala and Alessandro Cortini, and you can see why that arrangement would work well. Lacking the cut-through melody, distinctive character or hooks that would make her steal the show, Polanski’s music is liable to remain the warm-up act, though musically it might be more appropriate to call it the cool-down act. But what a beautifully measured and refined output it is.


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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.


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Artist: Eric Shans & X Miss Ella
Title: Sexting With Strangers
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: 3Bridge
Whether it’s channeling widespread frustrations in lockdown, or whether it’s just naturally naughty, Eric Shans & X Miss Ella’s Sexting With Strangers channels plenty of sexiness into its chunky electro house. The spoken-word vocal has very strong shades of Miss Kittin and some electroclash classics, while the house production is in that world too, but with fresh, polished production and a certain US smooth vibe in it.

There’s an original and an acid mix of “Sex And Dinner”, and for me it’s the 303’s of the acid mix that win the day on this one. The vocals are a little clearer, and there’s a slightly more rave-like urgency to it that fits nicely with the slightly Lil Louis-ish gradual erotic build-up in the breakdown, which jolts back into steady house for the final couple of minutes.

Additional track “Sparkly Unicorn” is slightly quirkier, with a slightly more progressive house tip and some lovely arp. X Miss Ella sings on this one, a lovely languid la-la-la with an appropriately tripped out feel that’s just the right side of lazy, while the electronics roll nicely with some bright fills and a feel-good (but not radio-friendly) tone.

It’s another reliable pack of tracks from the 3Bridge label, whose consistency of DJ-friendly output throughout a lockdown period has to be appreciated, whether it’s through loyalty or stubbornness! It’s exclusive to Beatport on June 26th, and everywhere else two weeks later.



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