Wednesday, August 12, 2020
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Music Reviews

Artist: Hunter Complex (@)
Title: Dead Calm and Zero Degrees
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Burning Witches Records (@)
Rated: *****
'Dead Calm and Zero Degrees' is the most recent album from synthesist/composer Lars Meijer, and I see that Hunter Complex has a new label - Burning Witches Records based in the U.K. If you're at all familiar with Hunter Complex, you might know to some degree what to expect- instrumental synths and drum machine, often in a sort of retro '80s synthpop vein with a fair amount of cinematic potential and a familiar romantic bent to it. The stand-alone stringish synth chords of opening track "Dead Calm" are enough to evoke some Tangerine Dream movie soundtrack (and God knows they did enough of them back then) but there are nods to so many others along the way - Giorgio Moroder, Vangelis, Kraftwerk (sans the man-machine sterility), and other similar artists. This is a perfect example of "Synthwave," a music genre that seems to have had a resurgent revival of late. While Hunter Complex's previous effort, 'Open Sea' was good, 'Dead Calm and Zero Degrees' is much better exhibiting a confidence and complexity I think was a bit lacking on the last album. The recording quality also seems to have been kicked up a notch which adds to the album's potency. There is also an unabashed charm that digs into the emotional core of the listening experience that will actually make you feel something. The majority of the compositions (ten in all, and nothing over 5 minutes) are uplifting, bright and hopeful, something sorely needed for these troubling times. I could easily hear some of these tracks used as part of a soundtrack (hey Netflix, are you reading me?) A worthy purchase especially on vinyl, but at the time of this writing, there aren’t many of the limited edition left.

A New Life: And Then

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Artist: A New Life
Title: And Then
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Der Klang Records

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After previous release “Heart To Heart” collected together some existing releases, And Then represents the first ‘proper’ album release from Maurizio Pustianaz’s A New Life alias. All the tracks were recorded between 2011 and 2015 though, so in that sense it’s not a ‘new’ album, but it’s all previously unreleased and new to the world.

It’s ten new pieces of synthpop that blends some very retro sounds with more up-to-date production touches. It’s not synthwave in the stereotypical sense though, as while in my experience synthwave tends to focus on the brighter and brasher side of the sound, these sounds feel like they are drawn more from the thinner, more fragile and introspective sounds of the era. There are shades of Ultravox or Japan here. Maurizio cites his divorce as an influence during that period, and emotion is certainly on display in and around the synths. Not just negative emotions though, for sure. The point behind the A New Life alias, it seems, was about looking forward, and you can hear positivity and optimism infused into tracks like “Set Me Up”, albeit sometimes in complex and less obvious ways.

The publicity material references The Human League’s League Unlimited Orchestra project and it’s an interesting comparison for trying to describe or pigeonhole the sounds of this album. At times this really does sound like instrumental or experimental remixes of early 80’s synthpop, particularly in tracks like “Neural Link 2”. Four of the songs have vocals, but several of those that don’t, have a space where the vocals could be- or in the case of “She Said” and “Another Day”, keyboard melodies that do sound a little like placeholders.

The vocals have a husky quality to them that sound like a young, less smoky Dave Gahan. Some interesting vocal layering effects in “All The Lies”, where backing vocals and lead vocals are seemingly mixed and matched, give a distinctive quality, though at times it’s guilty of muddying the lyrics somewhat.

Highlights include the very catchy “Lucky You”, with its singalong ‘disappointing’ chorus, and the interestingly off-kilter “Every Day We Die” where some interesting pronunciation and bouncy, wobbly melodies give a strange sort of abject cheeriness to the miserable subject matter, before a near-euphoric synth lead line arrives for something that’s like a hands-in-the-air moment, but sideways. A strong sense of melody is clear in tracks like “Another Day”.

Once you know the story behind it, there is the slight sense that this was an album 90% finished then abandoned, and which is still a vocal or two short of what might have been. Nevertheless, fans of synthpop old and new, looking for something expressive and fresh, should certainly check this out.

Jonathan Rippon: Feel The Fire

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Artist: Jonathan Rippon
Title: Feel The Fire
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Banoffeesound
As part of a Singles Club series with a new 2- or 3-track release coming out every month throughout 2020, Banoffeesound have reached release number 5. It’s an interesting piece of character-laden house-pop that blends Jonathan’s distinctive rich operatic vocal style with an absurdly catchy sax riff and a stepping, almost jazzy clapping house groove. It’s a well-polished bit of pop with dancefloor potential.

With just an edit, extended mix and instrumental included, remixes are sadly absent, though there’s promise of remixes to follow on later- and those have great potential, based on the source material.

After some deeper and darker tunes, Singles Club seems to have taken a turn for the cheery here, perhaps to lift up lockdown-trapped spirits, or maybe just because it’s feel-good fun.

Artist: Onenine (@)
Title: 3 3 3
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Distributor: Bandcamp
Rated: *****
No need to assume an unsolved boring math riddle behind band name and album title during our pandemic days, because behind the moniker Onenine hides with Axel Kleintjes one of the most enigmatic personalities of the German Electro-/EBM scene in the mid-90s. Axel has made himself a good name as being one of the former members of Cyber Axis, Mindware and moreover Page 12, one of the best recognized institutions of the long out of business Celtic Circle Productions label.

Also with his latter established project Cycloon he could gain recognition as there has been a life and ongoing music career after the demise of CCP. He could sign with both, Page 12 and Cycloon, to the Dark Dimensions label group (Scanner) and especially with Cycloon and the decision to have every thinkable step in the production process under his very own responsibilty, has brought him success in a wider-than-EBM-field-related audience, as Cycloon offered various styles from Electronica, EBM up to Rhythmic Noise.

After some further intermezzos signed on labels like Error315 Records and Sequenced Sonic Interferences and releases with both projects Cycloon and Mindware, it has become silent around Axel after 2005. This belongs only to the fact that he hasn't brought out music professionally, but finally he hasn't stopped at all. Onenine therefore is a new project and has already released a first album entitled "Hirato" in spring of the last year.

"Things aren‘t different. Things are things". What sounds like a simple relativization of the things arounds Axel's new playground is at least a statement taken out of "Neuromancer" (also known as "Sprawl Series") of the awarded novel-writer William Ford Gibson - but has it any deeper meaning? It surely leaves out space for self-interpretation because information of Axel's new project and his motivation can be hardly discovered. Same counts surely for the cover artwork of both albums, "Hirato" and this new one "3 3 3". With detailed and highly augmented photos of insect bodies Axel surely impresses optically - but I highly doubt that he has become an entomologist during the last years.
So it finally counts only the music and it should be clear that with respect to his long-year lasting career you'll get a full professional designed release and even the audio material doesn't leave out expectations. Mastered by Krischan Wesenberg (Rotersand) Axel continues to walk generally on a comparable path which he has left with Cycloon 15 years before. The point on his music is that he is capable to produce Electronica music which can be seldom thrown into that one expected genre drawer. Diversity in his sound expression has been already a valid part with Cycloon during his Scanner- / Dark Dimensions era and with "3 3 3" this doesn't change.

After the introducing quite spacey sounding "In Circles" the second track "Wrong" pushes instantly the bpm to a breath-taking high level. To add a cover version of The Normal's classic hit "Warm Leatherette" is surely a clever idea for an Electronica-producing artist and only God knows how many cover versions of this track are actually existing - but this one by Onenine is to me the best I have heard in years. "Warm Leatherette" is also the only track which features real vocals although I guess no one can even imagine to leave them out (Guest vocals provided by Oliver Spring of tEaR!doWn / ex-Sleepwalk).
The EBM purists will be surely satisfied and entertained with the following tune "Jupiter" thanks to its bullying bass line sequences. Also "Down" should be able to bring the audience into movement.

If you're pedantic enough to watch out for the one and only loser trach then be assured you won't find it on here. Nevertheless there is a constant point of criticism: it needs at least 2 -3 additional tracks with a capable vocalist, if we point out the cover version of "Warm Leatherette". It is not to complain with instrumental music generally but the only listenable messages featured on this album can be discovered with a few vocal samples somewhere thrown into the tracks.

Here is a lot of potential in every of the 10 featured tracks musically, but this all wents down too easily under radar of a wider audience because of the lack of vocals. Surely a point to think on, even more if we look back on the Cycloon past, when Axel could already successfully cooperate with guest singers (i. e. Ned Kirby, Don Wege)e. Also not to be forgotten - this is the project of Axel Kleintjes, front man and vocalists of Page 12 - why not giving the golden "Decline" or "No Bitter Truth" days a fair form of reanimation?

The Search: Some Place Far Away

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Artist: The Search (@)
Title: Some Place Far Away
Format: CD + Download
Label: Aeanaos Records (@)
Rated: *****
The Search is Razmig Tekeyan from Uppsala, Sweden and 'Some Place Far Away' is The Search's tenth album. The band started back in 2003 as The Silverslut with several other members besides Razmig (Johan Zeitler, Jonathan Nilsson, Tina Bergström, Tomas Svahn, Joakim Jacobsson) but now it's just him. There also used to be guitars in the band, but 'Some Place Far Away' is pure synthpop now. The retro '80s feel is palpable throughout the 10 tracks on the album. Razmig says these songs were originally written on acoustic guitar anmd that some of them date back 20 years. (There are occasional synth sounds used that do sound guitarish.) So I listened to the album once through, then checked out The Search's earlier material. I have to say that although some of the earlier stuff was a little raw, it had a certain pizazz which 'Some Place Far Away' lacks. The ten track on the album are on the bright side with slick production and are melodically tuneful, but sound so similar that nothing particularly stands out. Vocals are in that kinda soft De/Vision style but the synthwork is nowhere near as bold as that band. In fact, many of the synth sounds used sound like familiar presets. The best this album may have to offer is recalling '80s synthpop as ersatz background music.


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