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.
Chloé Raunet’s previous album “Pinned” and its remix spin-offs “Pinned Up” and “Pinned Down” left a decent impression on me when I reviewed them a couple of years back, so Crossing Prior Street, her third album, was a welcome arrival on my desk. It continues the same vibe as the previous release, but evolves it somewhat, taking the slightly punky and lo-fi pop aesthetic and bringing in broader-sounding production values, but also a slightly more introspective and less aggressive attitude.
There’s still a poppy aesthetic thread running through the heart of it. The warm, danceable bass guitar line on “Sore Loser”, or the infectious robo-groove and strangely Grace Jones-like melody of “Steals The Dance”, are prime examples of alt-pop. It’s empowering, turns its awkwardness into a strength, and sounds not quite like anything else you’ve ever heard. The twisty analogue pads of “Flight And Pursuit” throw you straight back to the 80’s without being synthwave.
The darker and more experimental sections include “Pressure Drop”, a fairly affronting bit of beatless beat poetry set onto pitched vocal samples and noisy atmospherics. “Drop Out”’s quirky vocal treatments support the “so childish” lyric,
The press release for Crossing Prior Street paints a very bleak picture of Raunet’s lonely and barren transfer from Vancouver to London as a teenager, and while this and the leaping artwork might suggest you’re in for a shocking emotional ride, this never quite arrives- and frankly I’m a little grateful for that. In fact tracks like “Distraction” are, dare I say it, nothing short of cheerful.
It’s a personal affair, but not excessively so, and for anyone who likes their pop music punky, alternative and individualistic, this should be highly recommended.
This short review is slightly late, as Austrian Christian Haudej’s inaud1bl3 monicker is putting out a new release every time there’s a Friday 13th. This results in a fairly prolific but inconsistent release schedule, with the next output due in November.
This EP offers up six fairly short songs, all with German vocals laid over a range of different brooding electronica layouts that throw in a variety of dramatic elements, and a very guitar slams, but which at times will also play things down, with gentle stepping and trap beats and some nice smooth bass rolls.
Highlights include the surprisingly powerful “Schweben”, where the guitar cuts through at just the right moments and feels oddly empowering, and the blissful noise-chaos that’s injected into “Dein Herz Klopft An (remix)” which takes things firmly in a Venetian Snares direction.
The musical production is a few steps ahead of the vocal quality though. There’s a lo-fi and somewhat single-take vibe about the vocal that makes these tracks feel like demos. Part of this is the sleepy and introspective singing style, but it’s more than that- and in some ways it’s just as simple as the vocal needing more volume and more care in the mix. Coupled with a slight lack of hooks or strong chorus melodies, it loses a bit of punch as a result. The title track is one of the weaker tracks as a result of this.
A curious alt-pop EP with a slightly home-made feel but some really strong production qualities and a lot of character.
“Ereignisse” is pitched as ‘a pure and self-contained form of techno’, and that’s true- the four-four adherence and synthetic sound sources are conventional, and mostly quite simple- yet the crucial difference on this three-track EP is that purism and simplicity don’t equate to a lack of originality. Tresque proves here that it’s still possible to infuse these sounds and structures with a bit of unique character.
“Enbas” does that using its rhythm patterns. Melodically it’s little more than a patterned drone, and there’s remarkably little progression in it, but the curious part-backwards, warm-clap groove is what wins you over. With “Innae” the emphasis switches to the rubbery bass note, a single note that bounces its way almost cheekily along spacehopper-style over a very simple rhythm pattern. Final track “Orage” is the warmest and brightest of the three, thanks to shaker sounds and a bright pad sound, and this time it’s the pulsing pad noise that takes its turn in the lead of another track that’s essentially just one five-minute-long groove loop, with just enough progression and evolution to keep things interesting.
Geneva-based Tresque (also known as D’Incise, or Laurent Peter to his family) has pulled off a neat trick here, making something that sounds both simple and fresh at the same time.
Fragments is an ambitious compilation from the Hivern label, offering up 28 new and unreleased tracks, some from artists who’ve been with the label since it started in 2008, and others who are new arrivals. Available for a couple of months as a box set of six 12”s, and as staggered individual 12”s, it’s now available to download as well. It’s a generous bundle of over three hours of diverse electronica-and-sometimes-beyond for which the word ‘epic’, a word I would normally try to avoid, does seem really quite applicable.
Much of it skirts on the very edge of dancefloor work, with tracks like Cleveland’s “Via Sole” a gentle bit of low-key techno that skirts closely around labels like ‘progressive’ or ‘minimal’ and ploughs its own furrow instead. Simon Haydo’s “Bending Frameworks” is more purist in its techno structure, bending and squelching light industrial sounds into twisty ever-changing loops, and pairs nicely with the similar approach in C.P.I.’s “Miasma” (despite them being on adjacent 12”s). Inga Mauer’s “It’s Gone”, despite the two-word spoken refrain sounding like the word ‘disco’ instead of ‘it’s gone’, certainly isn’t disco, with a deep techno form that’s nicely executed.
There’s diversity, for sure. Tracks like Walden’s “Guerreros Del Lago” head in the direction of trip-hop, with rich acoustic bass sounds and a tentative, cautious feel that paints complex pictures and puts you on edge in the gentlest of ways. Steve Pepe’s “Tribalone” fuses intriguingly cross-continental percussion with a steel guitar-ish lazy melody for something that’s got a distinctive and inventive character, without ever pushing it too much in your face. Beesmunt Soundsystem’s “Hypno” rolls a more purposeful but still downtempo groove with a journeyman feel, and Velmondo’s “Transubstitution” also takes things slow, pulling a gentle crisp walking beat against glitchy urgent-sounding synths and sirens so your mood doesn’t know which way to turn. Nadia D'Alò’s “Ten-High Straight” stands out thanks to its slightly husky vocal work.
There are quite a few tracks here that throw up fond memories of early 90’s trance and the early days of IDM or whatever you want to call it. It’s a form of synthwave, if you like, but pointed fondly at the memories of Trance Europe Express compilations and dubby albums from System 7 and Global Communication. Benedikt Frey’s “Cali Stroll”, a simple groove taking ‘that PM Dawn beat’ and rolling it into a three minute groove that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the first Woob album, and the same could also be said for the gentle acid stroll of John Talbot’s “Hivernoid”. Marc Piñol’s “Vil de Not” is old-school acid electro and proud of it, while Samo DJ’s “Waterfall” tackles the more balearic and tropical side of the sound.
Parple’s “El Día Oscuro” stands out a little for being more overtly synthwave-ish, a collection of synth arps that brings early Vince Clarke noises into a long, subdued progressive format, feeling like it’s retro finger is pointing a few years earlier than the tracks around it- although the synths in Cooper Saver’s “Tell” and the synth slapbass in Mioclono’s “Center Of Things” do give it some support in that regard.
The trancey sonic throwbacks are very welcome with me, leaving me quite smitten with details like the soft and simple four-chord pattern in Shame On Us’s “Fingers Crossed”. Overall it’s a mostly relaxed and somewhat heartwarming set of predominantly instrumental tunes that feel like they’ve been dropped in from simpler times. An exceptionally high-quality and well-presented package.