Artist: Skeptical, DRS, Safire, Zed Bias, Morph
Title: With You / Set The Bar
Label: Plasma Audio
Plasma Audio keeps on being on the most active drum'n'bass labels that keeps on putting somehow unconventional and outstanding releases out of the oven, in spite of an apparent downhill of the genre waves due to the stop of many festivals and parties all over the world. Just two tracks, but the quality of the main one "With You", kneaded by six wise hands - the ones by Skeptical, Safire and Morph - with DRS vocals, is so high that someone can nominate this track as the best dnb output of 2020. There's something of those anxious moods in the foggy atmosphere of the track that could vaguely remind the one of the first outputs by The Upbeats, an almost maniacal way of chiselling any single sound, those deep bass punches and a prompt intertwine of all the elements as they were parts of an engine that cannot flood, which all together are distinguishing traits of many Melbourne-based label Plasma Audio outputs. Any artist who signed the track left its mark, even if my ear detects a stronger influence by Skeptical. If you feature a well drum'n'bass trained eardrum, have a check if you think my words are excessively laudatory. The other side of the red vinyl seems the grabbing of a more relaxed mood compared to the soulful tension of "With You", as "Set The Bar", forged by Safire and Zed Bias for the vocals of DRS, sounds more fitted for a chilling situation by means of its lovely Jazz&Soul recipes, mixed by a shaker rotating at a speed of 170-175 beats per minute.
The first thing you notice with this album, before you even put the disc in the player, is the packaging. As with other Oxidation discs, this one has some involved packaging. In this case, the CD case is glued to a wooden tile with a photo print and the opposite side has dried moss stuck to the wood. Nice. So on to the music itself. The label describes Internal Fusion as “one of the pioneering dark ambient artists with releases on Staalplaat, Désaccord Majeur, Kokeshidisk, and ta'lem.” Indeed, this French artist has put out some interesting work in the past, so I had high hopes for this one.
This disc consists of one 53 minute track, but you really can't think of it as one track. It is better to think of it as a series of interconnected compositions and there is a lot going on in this album. We begin with some stuttering spoken word that's heavily processed. Over time, there ends up being some noise built into it and someone bowing on a cello and rattling metal and chains. Before you know it, things have become quite noisy. This composition shifts gears constantly. At one point you're in noise and then the next thing you know you have synth lines similar to old Mortiis, which also then dissolves into noise. Slow plodding drum beats mixed with bits of piano tinkling and hissing noise. Everything is grist for the creative mill.
As I listened to this, I was reminded of a play I saw many years ago called La Ronde. The premise of the play is that the characters in it behave as if they're in a round dance. The play begins with two lovers. As one leaves, the story follows the one who leaves to meet up with a different lover. The next scene follows the second lover to a third lover and so on until the last lover is with the first one. This album seems to follow a similar trajectory and that's one of the things that I love about this album. Bits and pieces from the previous segment merge into a second segment which then follows through with a third and so on down the line until at the end we're back to - you guessed it - the distorted voices of the beginning. This is a wonderful album because it manages to keep things changing constantly while maintaining a sense of continuity.
Overall, this is incredibly well-crafted experimental and highly recommended. Get a copy while it is available. The moss edition is limited to 50 copies and the no moss edition is also limited to 50. This album weighs in at 53 minutes.
Operations of transplant of a genre into a completely different one often smells like an attempt of flirting to a different market, and this grasp of some of the most known KMFDM songs into dub grounds could be too condescendingly labelled in this way. Finding points of contact between industrial/rock and dub/reggae is not that easy, even there were some interesting attempts of melting together some elements of these two styles were done by bands like Meat Beat Manifesto, Swamp Terrorists or Pressure Drop (to mention just a few), particularly in the 90ies. In a recent interview, Sascha Konietzko, the lead of this punky industrial-rock band, that got famous for a style that never adheres to a purist definition of industrial music, besides the awesome covert artworks by Aidan "Brute!" Hughes (fostering his inspiration by means of Italian futurists, Russian constructivists and Golden Age comics), said he was remarkably influenced by dub and reggae while moving the very first steps in productions. Furthermore, he considered punk and reggae as strictly connected, not only for the common criticism against society in respective ages, but also for some technical aspects. Besides his words, the clearer evidence of some connections with dub (besides some tracks within the huge discography over more than 35 years of activism) is maybe their last album "Paradise", whose opening track "K-M-F", featuring Andrew "Ocelot" Lindsley, has been reshuffled and inserted in the tracklist of "In Dub" (...and that 'Bing Bing Bong Bong' vocal excerpt perfectly fits to the new dub-reggae suite!) together with a nice dub version of the title-track "Paradise", re-titled "Para Dub", and "No God", which didn't need any particular retouching as it was a proper dub song with an industrial-rock injection in the middle. Any possible doubts on the meaning of such an operation of conversion of KMFDM song files into a dub format will definitely fade away after the awesome level fo quality of some of these conversions: my favourite ones are songs mostly driven by the voice of Sascha's partner in art and life Lucia Cifarelli, that are "Amnesia" and "Superhero", while the dub version of songs like "Real Thing", renamed "Real Dub Thing", as well as the remake of "Bumaye" where both Sascha and Lucia used to shout on the mic, sound excessively sweetened to me, if compared against their sources, while the pretty surprising dub versions got out from songs that I couldn't imagine that would work in a dub shape such as "A Drug Against War" (retitled "A Dub Against War").
Italy's Cristiano Deison is a musician active since the mid 90's in the noise / experimental / ambient realms. Many of his releases are collaborative works among them quite known names like John Duncan, K.K. Null or Maurizio Bianchi. This EP is part 28 of the ongoing Substantia Innominata series by Drone Records.
Substrata features three new atmospheric compositions based on prepared tapes, metals, strings, wires and electronics recorded on different locations assembled and processed afterwards. "Terra Firma (Pt. 1 & 2)" is a 16 Minute exploration of organic development, split in two parts. A soft, soothing ambience develops slowly until clear, crystalline sounds evolve and together with calm pulsating deeper sounds which shape together the picture of an acoustic stalagmite cave. With "Prima Materia" he tries to describe "the primitive formless base of all matter similar to chaos, the quintessence or aether." A bold aspiration which leads to an more diverse soundscape but bearing the same smooth tranquillity. Starting with the same crystalline sounds embedded in a mysterious distant rhythm it shifts into soft ambient paired with distorted everyday noises. A collage which equally occupies the senses as "Terra Firma" and passes faster than the track length suggests. Side B closes with an short afterthought, "In Vacuo Momentum", which plays with channels and sounds leaving the impressions of passing whales deep down in the Ocean.
Deison's compositions have an very organic feel to it, illustrated on the cover with what could be a spiderweb on a rusty fence hit by raindrops. The green, transparent Vinyl of this edition of 300 supports the artistic vision appropriately.
Nairobi-based KMRU (aka Joseph Kamaru) has joined up with Editions Mego to offer up a blend of electronics and Kenyan field recordings that is predominantly ambient. Contrasts run deep, as the colder-sounding electronic pads and drones blend with warmer, thicker textures, but the overall tone is stretched and slowed and minimised (with exceptions) into something both abstract and mesmeric.
Across six long pieces, totalling 76 minutes, a trusted format is followed. Different tones and notes are used, but each one is essentially a variant on the same velvety bed of fixed melody, with more organic elements sounding like they’re happening outside. “Well” is somewhat closer and tighter-sounding, while “Solace”, unsurprisingly from the title, feels more barren and melancholic, with a faintly breathing pulse under.
An exception to the generally minimalist tone is “Klang”, a much more room-filling arrangement with an endless feeling of building and waking that never seems to climax. It’s like an orchestra warming up, but an orchestra made of synths and city life, and it feels quite overwhelming after being lulled into the calm that preceded it. “Insubstantial” restores the calm after and offers the album’s most melodic loop pattern, albeit a faint one.
The title track is the last and longest piece, a slightly cleaner-sounding 23-minute slow progression around a two-chord pattern that pretty much sums up the whole release.
It’s not as adventurous or diverse as some might hope, nor does it have the ‘ethnic identity’ that Europeans or Americans might stereotypically expect from African music, but as a richly textured calm piece of ambient, it’s like a high quality quilt.