Thursday, July 9, 2020

Music Reviews

Artist: Steve Roach (@)
Title: Bloom Ascension
Format: CD
Label: Projekt (@)
Rated: *****
Steve Roach is one of the few artists that I have followed for almost 30 years. In that time he's definitely evolved as a musician, which one would expect in such a wide ranging career. So let’s get something out of the way right off the bat. If you're expecting more of the traditional ethno-ambient that he has created in the past, you may be a little surprised. In some ways, this has more in common with techno-era Cabaret Voltaire than it does with some of his earlier stuff. On “The Beauty Relentless,” Roach is in fine form. Arpeggiated synth mixed with slow, shimmering synth washes to create a hypnotic sense of being. When the percussion comes in you almost don't even recognize it. The track slowly changes and evolves over time. “Motivating Factor” is an exercise in repetition as the main theme remains unchanged, but the underlying textures constantly shift.“Synesthete” reminds me of a sci-fi suspense movie soundtrack. You're floating in the void and your spaceship is inching away from you. The question is whether you'll ever return to Earth again. Bloom Ascension is another hypnotic, repetitive track, but with a more frantic feel than the other tracks until it all dissolves into lush drone. Overall this is a great album. There's a lot of complexity to the compositions that keeps it interesting. This album weighs in at around 41 minutes.

Artist: Timothy Clerkin
Title: The War Wolf E.P.
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Sprechen
Although “The War Wolf” EP is named and artworked as being ready for battle, sonically it feels more ready to party. While the circa 100bpm stepping beat does have a slight marching vibe, the squelchy acid bass, bright plucky synths, and the use of that old famous fluttering panpipe sample (which works better here than it ought to on paper), all have too much of a feelgood vibe about them on the title track to make it feel really fighty.

Second track “Acid Drive” does have a slightly more warrior feel, thanks to its 120bpm-ish tempo and distorted squelchy acid line, but it’s tempered again by bright keys and a spectacularly old-skool ravey breakdown that feels like it’s been sampled straight out of the best bits of 1992.

Timothy Clerkin’s remix- or rather his “remix reprise”- of Night Giant’s “Bleak House” is a bonus inclusion that’s treated like a bolt on, but which the EP may could’ve led with, as it has an epic unfolding opening that leads into an almost Jarre-ish (but on the simpler side) melody line. This would’ve been a heroic album opener.

Not nearly as violent as it may appear, this short EP (that’s barely an “extended play” at all, you might argue) is quality thinking-person’s-dancing-music, baked at a home-listening temperature and with a lot of endearing old school ingredients that will appeal to people of a certain age, myself included.

Artist: Boston 168
Title: Vax Of Love
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: BPitch
Italian duo Boston 168 have returned to BPitch with a three-pack package of industrial-tinged 303-led techno that doesn’t push any boundaries, but which revels in the sheer joy of a 303 sound that never seems to get old.

There’s a decided retro flavour here that feels like a throwback to the 1990’s. For “Kiss My Accent” the squeezed 303 sounds draw comparisons with Hardfloor at their angriest, while the slightly more measured and introspective “Mononucleacid” feels Josh Wink-ish, but with an absolutely lovely and strangely train-like whistling pad melody that’s really enchanting on top. The title track is a bit rave-ier, with a hint of breaks in the rhythm patterns, a slightly more aggressive groove and some breathy and indistinct female spoken word elements on top. With minimalism still seemingly the order of the day in techno, it’s nice to hear an unashamedly dramatic building church organ-style pad sound for once!

The production quality is top notch throughout and makes it a pleasure to wallow in a good old-fashioned acid bath.

Artist: Eric Shans & X Miss Ella
Title: Sexting With Strangers
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: 3Bridge
Whether it’s channeling widespread frustrations in lockdown, or whether it’s just naturally naughty, Eric Shans & X Miss Ella’s Sexting With Strangers channels plenty of sexiness into its chunky electro house. The spoken-word vocal has very strong shades of Miss Kittin and some electroclash classics, while the house production is in that world too, but with fresh, polished production and a certain US smooth vibe in it.

There’s an original and an acid mix of “Sex And Dinner”, and for me it’s the 303’s of the acid mix that win the day on this one. The vocals are a little clearer, and there’s a slightly more rave-like urgency to it that fits nicely with the slightly Lil Louis-ish gradual erotic build-up in the breakdown, which jolts back into steady house for the final couple of minutes.

Additional track “Sparkly Unicorn” is slightly quirkier, with a slightly more progressive house tip and some lovely arp. X Miss Ella sings on this one, a lovely languid la-la-la with an appropriately tripped out feel that’s just the right side of lazy, while the electronics roll nicely with some bright fills and a feel-good (but not radio-friendly) tone.

It’s another reliable pack of tracks from the 3Bridge label, whose consistency of DJ-friendly output throughout a lockdown period has to be appreciated, whether it’s through loyalty or stubbornness! It’s exclusive to Beatport on June 26th, and everywhere else two weeks later.

Artist: Droughtwerk
Title: Nerding EP
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: self-released
The second release of the Droughtwerk label is a stomping four-track techno EP with a very singular purpose, expressed from the word go by the title track. It’s not clever, but it sounds big- relentless throbbing synth arp and 303 lines pounding across the EQ range, certain elements letting up for a few bars occasionally but never approaching anything that could be described as a quiet breakdown.
“Ataria” has a deeper, slightly more 90’s techno vibe to it but still throbs along at around 140bpm, while both “Sentimental Thoughts” and “Controlled” leave a bit more space in the mix to allow single elements to play around and work across your consciousness for the allotted around-six-minutes running time. They’re almost structureless (but DJ friendly if you’re brave), so the tracks seem to stop more because your allotted dosage is up than because of any real conclusion.
It feels either workmanlike or angry depending, I think, on a reflection of the listener’s mood. Heavy techno with attitude.


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