The debut album from the unpronouncable IIITAIII is delivered on the vehemently analogue TruthTable label, and the release makes a point of highlighting that “no software was used for any sound generation on this album”- it’s just analogue modular synthesizers, and vocals, and nothing else. So whilst it’s tempting to call parts of this release ‘synthwave’, the band have taken the hard route towards making this dark synthpop album, and the effort seems to have paid off.
Every track was recorded as a performance, to avoid the temptation for endless post-production layering. This self-imposed restriction keeps the tracks cleaner, but it also contributes to a sense of retro.
After the cold intro and Gary Numan-like vocals of “Humanoid”, it’s second track “When It Rains” that really shows what this act is capable of- a sort of post-EDM with a catchy vocal hook and definite crossover potential. However this pop capability and accessibility isn’t fully maintained for the rest of the album.
There’s a certain leisureliness to most of the tracks, with the title track and “How Will It End” stepping an odd line where it’s neither downtempo nor uptempo, and walks along in a kind of smart casual format. This works better when the sounds being used are more expansive and are allowed to feel epic and fill the available space, such as in the nicely pained “Mindstare”, the tenser and more aggressive “Android Parade”, or the measured noisiness of “Voltage Vultures”. Although that being said, the downtempo “Up & Downgrades” does end up being another highlight.
A bit more drama and dynamic across the 36 minutes would’ve helped elevate this album into something spectacular, as it seems to sit in something of a comfort zone. But for a debut album it’s a good showpiece, with some strong musicianship and a lot of potential.
This is the first LP from Montreal-based Hamed Safi as SpeakOf, after a series of shorter releases. It’s from the most emotive and introspective side of melodic house, so that whilst technically it’s dance music, it is focussed far more on tugging your heartstrings than on moving your feet.
Tracks like “Disclosure” follow a relatively well-known progressive house formula- super-soft melancholy chords, very light beats, soft vocal snippets and light sparkly pieces. “Mantra” has the mesmerising step groove, and “Odyssey” even has the long sustained grand piano chords. But just because it’s a familiar format doesn’t lessen it, and this ends up being some of the strongest moody house I’ve heard in quite a while. A strong sense of melody in tracks like “Endless Love”- which teeters close to cliché but manages to avoid it- elevates the tone, and the calm never feels forced.
Four tracks are given an extra edge with vocals from fellow Canadian Kyla Millette. Generally these are the slowest tracks, and they are all highlights, particularly if you’re feeling sullen. Opener “Satellite” is very slow and pensive with post-dubstep shades, an introduction that slightly mis-sells the tone of the album but which certainly has power, but it’s the album’s title track that showcases the beautiful combination of silky vocals and soft electronica to the full. The somewhat Leftfield-like “Florida” is just as rich.
It has to be said that over the course of 64 minutes, there’s something of a chilled indistinct wash about this album at times, but other notable elements include the Public Service Broadcasting-style reportage sampling and unexpected guitar sounds in “Leap” (definitely a gateway track for bringing more middle-of-the-road tastes towards this album), and the more overtly synthwavey “Destiny”. The polished string sound and subtle rhythm changes of “World Inverted” are also a plus.
It’s laidback and unchallenging in many ways, but the unashamed emotion and bright production make this a really enjoyable hour of home-listening mood-house.
Siegmar Fricke is a long-standing contributor to the experimental electronic / dance music world. The German producer (who also works as a visual artist) began releasing music in the mid 80s and has produced many albums across a variety of styles including industrial, techno and ambient.
Funkwellen (translated as “radio waves”) is described in the press release as “melodic based sequencer driven work with…futurist appeal”. The album itself has quite a history. Originally recorded in 1994 at Fricke’s Pharmakustik Studio, the work was not released until 2008 when it surfaced as a free download in a different form with a slightly different tracklist. It has now been reassembled and remastered by Fricke, and this “definitive edition” is available as a 24 bit high quality download.
The music itself is quite brilliant. The whole record has been approached with a rare attention to detail and subtlety. Its melodies, grooves and robotic loops owe much to house and techno, but it also contains an underlying and ever-present arty weirdness. This is not “hard” dance music, but it marches forward with enough intent and drive for it not to sit comfortably in the “ambient” category. The beats often seem to be right on the edge of climax, but instead they gracefully hold back. This has the effect of holding the listener on the edge of their seat, energised and alert. The synth sounds are expertly jigsawed together. Angular and disorientating sequenced arpeggios mesh with warm atmospheric pads. Repeated samples of single words or short disembodied phrases in German or English come in and out over the top. By its nature this music is repetitive, but Funkwellen artfully pulls off the trick of creating subtle and sometimes barely-perceptible variation bar-by-bar. New synth parts and samples rise up and fall away whilst filters, reverbs, delays and panning are constantly being controlled to generate dynamic motion.
Funkwellen is evocative. It paints an ever-shifting mood journey. There is hopeful excitement and there is cold bleakness. Sometimes these feelings coexist. The palette of sounds is familiar, but its application is idiosyncratic. It will energise you, it will stimulate deep thought, it will make you feel something, and it will hold your attention.
If you like to think as well as to dance, and if you enjoy having your expectations subverted, then Funkwellen by Siegmar Fricke is album you should hear.
Funkwellen is available now via Bandcamp.
“Field Works: Ultrasonic” is the work of Stuart Hyatt, but with guest contributors on every track, it almost steps across into being a various artists compilation. Hyatt’s musical tone persists throughout however, giving a consistent backbone, which is primarily warm pads and drones with subtle atmospherics, as exemplified by the track “Torpor” with Ben Lukas Boysen. The result is a chilled out work where the guests bring the breadth.
This is normally a fairly straightforward fusion. Mary Lattimore’s harp on “Silver Secrets” or Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s piano (I think) on “Night Swimming” are given centre stage and allowed to play out, sometimes in loose and abstract fashion, sometimes in gently repeating and evolving patterns, with gentle reverb easing their tone into conjunction with the pads underneath.
Some pieces have a little more energy, such as “Sodalis” with Kelly Moran which adds a gently rolling bass pattern, or the surprisingly EDM-like pulsing synth of “A Place Both Wonderful And Strange” with Noveller. But for the most part, this is relaxation music.
It’s also a concept album about bats, incidentally, and claims that it could be “perhaps the first-ever album to use the echolocations of bats as compositional source material”. For the most part you wouldn’t notice this, and while there’s certainly a sense of nocturnal calm, there’s not a lot of audible connection with what you’d conventionally think of as bat sounds, save for a few book-ends that briefly open or close pieces, and the unexpected spoken-word poetry of final piece “Between The Hawthorn And Extinction” which gently explains why bats are a cause, without proselytizing.
“Echo Affinity” with Taylor Deupree is a notable exception, the soft clicking sounds playing well against romantic piano, and their appearance at the start of “Music For A Room With Vaulted Ceiling” with Christina Vantzou is strongly reminiscent of the Alex Paterson style of ambient, in a very good way. “Night Vision It Touched My Neck”, with Felicia Atkinson, is perhaps the only truly ‘bat-centric’ piece, a curious call-and-response between bat sounds and light piano noises- though the tinnitus-tickling high-pitched tones of “Indiana Blindfold” might in fact be an album *for* bats, rather than about them...
It’s a sonic comfort blanket, soft and thick and large, but with enough detail and eventfulness to keep a more active listener’s attention as well. It’s even suitable for people who are scared of bats! It’s been available digitally for a couple of months already, but physical copies are available from July 26th.
Void In, from Blush Response (sometimes “Blush_Response”) is described as a “crafted sound sculpture” of a “deep atmospheric liquid metal world”. It’s hyperbole as usual but it’s a fairly fitting way to sum up this ten-track pack of very dark, gritty electronica and techno. What it maybe doesn’t fully indicate is just how aggressive and noise-driven some of it is. Tracks like “Slamhound” are full-on battle noise, driving broken kick patterns regimenting thick layers of distorted synths, glitches, granular noises, all blended together with heavy doses of reverb.
The relentlessness of some tracks become their main feature, such as with the pervasive and oddly anger-inducing “Loa”, the violent impulses of “Gene Stealer”, or the rapid double-hammering (and weirdly glam-rock-ish in a way) “The Second Aethyr”. Other tracks like “Morphic Polymer” are more abstract, looser experiments of noise and sawtoothed tones skittishly jumping up and down the register.
“Chiralium” is an unusual twist in that it brings a calmer and almost house vibe, without losing its identity in the middle of the album, while in the opposite direction “Waves Of Silver” takes what feels like an artificially generated melody pattern and meanders around with it in an enjoyably weird and experimental way. It’s predictable but welcome that last track “Timefall” edges the energy levels well down into near-ambient, like a kind of audio warm-down.
The palette of sounds being used across the 55 minutes is just a touch on the limited side, but the breadth of ideas and the willingness to change up the mood keeps the listener’s attention nicely. It’s on the right side of inaccessible and well worth bathing your ears in.