Sunday, August 9, 2020
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Music Reviews

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.

Artist: Neuroactive (@)
Title: Minor Side-Effects
Format: CD + Download
Label: Alfa Matrix (@)
Distributor: Bandcamp
Rated: *****
The return of the Finland-based Synthpop-/Electronica-wizzard Jarkko Tuohimaa now newly signed to the Belgian Alfa Matrix label has been indeed one of the most interesting news for me personally. It must have been somewhere around 1993 during my early journalistic activities for the German Vertigo magazine, when we received a demo tape by this Finish project sent in by their label Cyberware Productions. Yes, this has happened during the days when bands had to record demo tapes and to sent them out by snail-mail to their fans or to gain a glimpse of recognition by labels.
So we had a few top-notch tape releases from the likes Chaingun Operate, [Active] Media Disease or just Neuroactive. First interviews had been conducted and the first CD releases of Cyberware Productions had been the logically consequence. "Freeze - Finnish Electro-Industrial Documentary Vol. 1" or the "Melt" compilation introduced us deeper to Finlands uprising dark music scene and the follow-up generation of what has once started with Advanced Art or the Goth-Rock pendant Two Witches.

Neuroactive themselves have been a constant part of the label and brought out their debut "Morphology" in 1994. This CD debut was rather meant to collect their older EBM-related influences of their early days, while the follow-up MCD "Neuron" and especially their second album "Phonic Trace" developed to a more smooth, but also very futuristic Techno-Pop kind of sound expression of this project. I see especially "Phonic Trace" as being their most visionary release, a timeless milestone of a sci-fi-related sound outfit to create the sound which has been later often misused as being Futurepop. It shouldn't wonder any listener that especially the bands' greatest hit track "Space Divider" with the original vocalist Vesa Rainne could be found on "Phonic Trace" - although I would praise this milestone of an album for various other other featured tracks on it.
Cyberware as being the label had meanwhile difficulties by searching for collaborations with other labels to gain a better and internationally distribution of their releases (Subtronic Records and at least Out Of Line).
Higher recognition Neuroactive could finally gain with their follow-up album "Fiber-Optic Rhythm" and the deal with the US-based Synthpop-institution A Different Drum. That album was indeed a true Synthpop pearl, although at least the beginning of a more and more ongoing orientation into this softer Dance-Pop oriented outfit. Both of the early former band members Vesa Raine and Ville Brusi have decided to leave Jarkko and so he had to hire a new main vocalist which he found in Kimmo Karjalainen of [Active] Media Disease. Tracks like "Parallel", ”Put Your Trust In Me” and ”Visualise” with its MCD releases on A Different Drum are still outstanding examples for both talents, music programming and vocalist.
From 1998 to 2014 Neuroactive has been a vital part in the A Different Drum stable. In this time the band has released 5 studio albums, a DCD compilation plus the licensing deal to add "Phonic Trace" on A Different Drum until its closure in 2014. Jarkko Tuohimaa was and is still the remaining driving force behind all musically decisions and he has operated with several guest vocalists through the years.

Now, after almost 30 years Jarkko has reunited the early band members including Vesa Raine, Ville Brusi plus Kimmo Karjalainen to record with "Minor Side-Effects" a new studio album. Musically it is also the return into the more thrilling path of that futuristic Techno-Pop-like sound design which has made "Phonic Trace" that elemental. At least not all of the fluffy Dance-Pop elements have been removed but with a fair look-back to what has made "Space Divider" or "Parallel" that appreciated this wasn't necessary.
What finally counts and what can be noted track by track on "Minor Side-Effects" is the inward looking on the own strengths and on the components that made Neuroactive to a trademark of Finlands Electronic music scene.

January has seen the first sign of their return with the teaser 2-track release of "Night Flights". Available in two different remix versions and with Kimmo providing the lead vocals, this track could be dropped down to the "Fiber-Optic Rhythm" track list and it wouldn't end in a lack of quality. Surely one of the suitable tunes to storm the dancefloors and so are "Dances" (feat. Kimmo) and "In Rust We Trust" (feat. Vesa).
Also the addition of another guest vocalist with John Peverieri of Halo Effect performing on 2 songs ("Forbidden Pleasures", "Your Smile Is Weeping") brings in more diversity. Highlights are nevertheless the both last tunes with Vesa Rainne behind the microphone, "Climate Is Changing" (nice robotic vocoder effects on the vocals) and "All Forces Integrate", as both awake the best remembrances to the "Phonic Trace" era and so the best moments of this band. This rating of course is based on my very own subjective point of view on the band career.

Congratulations Jarkko - asides the crystal-clear and meticulously produced synthesizer programmings of this beautiful new album it has made seldom before so much sense to reunite the both founding members including Kimmo Karjalainen to start this fulminant comeback. Not at all some "Minor Side-Effects - thi is rather a full-scale pleasantly listening experience for every fan of Synth-driven music.


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