Tuesday, September 29, 2020
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Music Reviews

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Artist: Nine Seconds (@)
Title: That Perfect Beat Will Tear Us Apart
Format: CD + Download
Label: Infacted Recordings (@)
Distributor: Bandcamp
Rated: *****
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.



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Artist: Italo Brutalo
Title: Knight Fever
Format: 12" + Download
Label: Bungalo Disco
Although it’s not the overt tribute to the Pontiac Trans Am or the Stuart Phillips theme of “Knight Rider”, the Knight Fever EP is a more open-ended slice of retro. It’s instrumental italo-electro-disco style material with a thoroughly 80’s make-up, but with modern production values and a genre-open approach that allows the inclusion of acid squelches and other elements of varying levels of anachronism. And yes, it’s kind of synthwave, sort of.

The bright infectious riff of “Taniacid” is unashamedly feel-good and is a highlight. When “Trust Doesn’t Rust” takes a similar attitude but over a lazier groove, it doesn’t quite shine as brightly. “Knightmares” is also at more of a walking pace, but its more aggressive throbbing light-industrial bassline and nicely quirky melody carries it through- but when “Not A Drop To Drink” sets off at the same tempo, with another old school simple Italian-ish bassline, in a few ways it does start to feel like it is a single musical idea that has been stretched and filled out somewhat even just to fill a 4-track EP.

It’s strong synthwavey production with some really strong melodic elements, but it doesn’t constantly sparkle.


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Artist: Shome
Title: 1989
Format: 12" + 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" + 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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