After last year’s 6-track EP “We Are Nowhere”, the duo of Eric Shans and Augustine Backer have returned with a full 10-track album that continues the journey through some of the more introspective sides of synthpop.
Instrumentally the format is for the most part familiar- drum machine, pulsing synthbass, skippy arpeggios, and warm pad sounds, with a homely analogue feel. But in a genre that somehow never manages to sound tired, so no problem there. Now and again there are some other details to give variety, like the twangy and faintly Depeche Mode-ish guitar that opens “Vanishing Point”, the funkier wobbly bass of “Polyhedron”, or the higher-energy urgency underpinning the unexpected lyrics of final track “Splatter”.
While the production is reliably bright and polished, it’s tracks like “Colors Monochrome” that demonstrate a strong feel for a catchy melody, which are the make-or-break element. The vocal isn’t particularly punchy, and seems to make nervousness part of its idiom, but luckily this is in keeping with the mood of the lyrics. Unexpectedly, the vocal tone of it at several times of the Pet Shop Boys-produced Cicero album from the early ‘90s- an obscure reference, certainly, but a fairly strong one. It’s not always totally successful- the sustained multi-tracked melody of “Diode Glow” doesn’t quite scale the heights it thinks it does- but it’s predominantly strong, as demonstrated in more understated tracks like “Flipping Stones”. The tracks all sit very close to the five minute mark, allowing for extended instrumental breaks and intros, so it’s far from wall-to-wall lyrics.
Most experimental moments come in tracks like “Eigenvector”, with its spoken word core and tense, rustling percussive sounds and horror-movie-ish synth strings, or the early OMD-ish slow, quirky drum patterns and theatricality of “White Dust”.
Synthpop is still alive and well and still has its serious face on, and Elegaic is a well-above-average example of the health of the genre.
This is already the fourth ambient dub collision of Cousin Silas (Guitar, Keyboards, Ambience) and The Glove Of Bones (Beats, Samples, etc.). They teamed up at first in 2016 and since have nearly annually released an album worth of near unique and original material besides their own solo works.
This one is heavy underlaid with a concept to fit art and music: "Kafou In Avalonia imagines a world where the landmass if Avalonia (an early microcontinent which got torn apart) remained connected and civilisation took a more integrated path." Well. Kafou is a manifestation of Papa Legba, of the Hawaiian Pantheon of Voodoo Loas. Legba facilitates communication, speech, and understanding. Today the parts of Avalonia are spread between England, Wales, Northern Europe and the eastern coast of North America (….).
So. Many thoughts and time have been finding the way into this album, visually implanted in black and white voodoo associated graphics for each track and the limited edition tape version including gris-gris charms, wax sealed and covered in a Juju bag.
Musicwise the African chanting, the solid rhythms and the carefully arranged loops, samples and noises work as one continued maelstrom, permanently evolving and mutating. A continuation but also a development of their last album with a storyline and a structure feat. shorter interludes ('Rituals') to underline the impressions and moods. Still this soundscapes takes no prisoners, it’s brooding and melting heavy psychedelic Dub. If a reference is needed - it can be reminiscent of African Head Charge at their heights while adding the spiritual freedom of The Grateful Dead.
Stand out tracks include the utterly rhythmic 'Segue Drum Ritual' and the equally powerful 'Xangô Marchin', the long-form tracks 'Oxalá of the White Sky' and 'Nzambi Meridian' and the final track‚ 'Ezili Dantor Awake' which features prominent psychedelic spaghetti –western desert island guitar work which rounds this off perfectly.
Mastered by the label’s owner himself there has no effort been avoided to make this as good as it can be, playing this loud works equally well as per headphones. A diverse experience with a coherent flow which allows the listener to keep aware and not getting lost or distracted.
Escapism would be something different, this is mere a step in an alternative Universe.
Loophole is a four-track EP that sees Berlin-based pianist Roman Rofalski supposedly channel his love for 90’s underground techno into a piano work- though let’s say from the start that the results are not techno, either piano-techno or otherwise. It’s a fusion that’s been melded before- it draws a lot of comparison to some of Christian Prommer’s works- but while Prommer and other artists have composed fairly purist techno-inspired but traditional pieces, Rofalski instead has adopted a more editing-heavy and processing-heavy approach.
On “Alpha”, the chopping up of the improvised acoustic piano sounds has an abruptness and punchiness that gives it a lot of energy, and it really feels like it has been composed after it was performed. “Sea”, by contrast, is initially a more ambient work, setting sparse individual high notes over a drone and effects bed derived but long detached from the low note sounds, before a gradual and decidedly soundtrack-like tension build-up in the second half, where we’re joined rather unexpectedly by cut-up drum sounds that give everything a more avantgarde jazz feel.
“Nagging” has a tense, unsafe feel thanks to its high string-scratching tones, before final piece “Redemption” is the track that comes closest to the EP’s techno-inspired pitch, with a more rhythmic approach and a nicely constructed repeated pattern of low bass notes and sharp-cut percussion- ultimately it still feels more like modern jazz than techno, but it’s very accessible, with crossover audience potential.
At times, the glitchy cut-up processing is a little reminiscent of Brian Transeau, and if you like his more mature soundtrack work, this will appeal in a similar way. If this were the soundtrack to a short film- and it sounds like it ought to be- I’d watch it.
Non Toxique Lost have been plying their industrial and political electronic attitude-driven music for over three decades now. After the tragic loss of long-time member Steffen Schütze in 2017 they’re now a duo of Gerd Neumann aka Sea Wanton and Cem Oral aka Jammin’ Unit. While their older cassette-only works are being reissued on vinyl and CD, this is a brand new studio recording. It’s based on a “surprisingly dancy” live set that they performed for the Klanggalerie label’s 25 anniversary. Although it was videoed, and parts of the performance are available on YouTube, nobody recorded good quality audio on the night, so the band went into their studio and recorded it- so it’s studio quality, but with an energetic, live feel. It’s a masterful journey through the deeper darker side of electronica, with industrial tones that never really get too heavy. Sweeping effects, backwards percussion, squelchy bass arpeggios and various stretched-out noises create atmospheres that feel like an inverted mirror image of dance music. After the screaming German introduction of “Bewegen Wir Uns Noch”, the advanced restraint of the music is on display in the nearly-sinister “Dulce Et Decorum Est”, with its super-gradual build and unfold. The contrasting tensions are clear on tracks like “I.N.T.A.S.B.T.L.A.S.S.”, where the dubby understated electronic groove (reminiscent of some recent Orb tracks) is unmoved by the angry shouting that’s initially stamped on it. “Schwarze Mamba” is absolutely mesmeric, and a highlight. It’s got the long, patient building patterns of Tangerine Dream, but with a carefully exposed backbone of attitude, and (eventually) a vocal that’s oddly reminiscent of The Doors’ “Rebel Woman”. A similar atmospheric build also makes a joy of the catchily titled “Buchenwald (Case No. 000-50-9. 31 Pleas: NG!)”. People who like their industrial electronic more urgent and relentless will be more drawn to tracks like “Untergang”, a war-like call to arms where the pulsing bass pattern doesn’t let up or pretend to be clever, or the more aggressive snares and beat poetry-ish vocals of “Buchenwald”. “Ich BIn Nicht Sisyphos” exposes the band’s 80’s industrial roots. The promotional material is right to pitch Non Toxique Lost as an underrated band, and in some ways they’re quite understated too, showing their musical teeth in moderation and with a lot of maturity. Despite being supposedly quite raw, as a representation of a live set, nevertheless this is an extremely strong industrial electronica album that ought to garner a lot of attention.
Spime.Im- as far as I can tell it’s pronounced as a collision between “space” and “time”, which then rhymes with “I’m”- are a four piece of Davide Tomat, Gabriele Ottino, Stefano Maccarelli and Marco Casolati. It seems Tomat and Ottino are mostly responsible for the music, though Maccarelli’s ‘creative coding’ certainly could have come into play sonically. I’d only encountered one of Tomat’s albums before- the utterly excellent “01-06 June”- so it was a name I was happy to see again.
Zero is a compact and frantic 4-track EP which just explodes with glitchy electronic energy. After the Aphex Twin-ish deliberate false leads and sudden rhythm jumps of “Zero19”, “Zero4” is three minutes of unadulterated mania- the artistic and electronica equivalent of happy hardcore. “Zero8” is somewhat more atmospheric, letting hollow-sounding tones run slightly longer but still with plenty of noise work flitting around on top, and “Zero9” equally pulls between breathing space and the border with insanity.
Apparently the Spime.Im project is as much about immersive audio-video experiences and 3D art as it is about the sonic result. The present day lockdown surely clips their wings somewhat at the moment, but concentrating on the sounds alone, it’s a packed and very likeable 16 minutes that feels like the equivalent of giving your ears an invigorating shower, complete with abrasive scrub. Parts of it ought to be painful but overall it’s very satisfying.