Category Archives: Album reviews
Hello readers. If you can tear yourself away from TOTS and Bon’s excellent review, I’m back with another collection of electronic soundscapes, and another dose of tortured stream-of-consciousness purple review prose, with a few references to video games thrown in.
Having tripped over and enjoyed Mr Hauschildt while listening to a Brainwashed podcast, I was pleased to see that Kranky were releasing a new album from him in September, so I grabbed it when it came out.
It’s a beautiful album of lush synths and arpeggiated tones. There’s definitely shout-outs to your German pioneers here, so if your copy of ‘Phaedra’ was getting a bit worn, this will do you just fine. The tracks generally fall into one of two forms, the einatmen-ausatmen sweeping forms, and the sequenced synth workouts.
The opener, ‘Eyelids Gently Dreaming’, doesn’t grab you immediately, but sidles its way in with a gently persuasive sequence of strings. But it’s just a palette-cleanser before the following ‘Arpeggiare’. This is much more of a melodic piece, and it lives up to its name, with overlapping sparkles and trills of sound, reminiscent of Cauty and Weston’s ‘Space’, and a tuneful line that is almost hummable. Don’t get used to that, though.
The title of ‘In Spite of Time’s Disguise’ is reflected in the way the organ stabs summon a clock movement, but a digital one. No swinging pendulums here. Xylophone trills herald a delicate reverbed tune, which comes and goes until all that’s left is the pulse of the clock and a gentle string wash. A personal highlight.
Title track ‘Where All Is Fled’ starts with melancholy piano, and in between distant almost-voices, it forms the bulk of this track. Definite soundtrack material, very pretty indeed, but I think a little out of place – although the artist put it here, so it belongs here.
The sounds on some tracks do seem to act as messengers and guides, leading you on to some secret location before leaving you to wonder how to get home. For example, arpeggiated phrases introduce ‘Vicinities’, then claves and wood percussion add a bit of a rainforest feel. Bass swells, and the phrases start to resolve themselves. A certain urgency builds, the phrases simplify, and having made their point the group disappears through the trees.
Or this – I’ve had my share of hospital needles, and been under the knife a few times, and I can say that if they could have piped ‘Anesthesia’ in while I was drifting away, it would have been a much more relaxing glide into oblivion. I might even have met some of the folks “out there”, as they were attracted to what I was listening to.
I was caught out by ‘The World Is Too Much with Us’, starting as it did with what I thought was just more synth sweeps. Then suddenly I was tripped by sinuous driving running appegiated synth rills, and a voice chanting through the atmosphere. This is definitely my favorite track on the album. The lines build and blend, growing to a smooth rounded hilltop, before scattering to the winds to spread their message.
There are some IMHO filler tracks. ‘Edgewater Prelude’ is a short plinky-plonky piece, but nice nonetheless. ‘A Reflecting Pool’ is a stroll through a vaulted hall, droplets of tone reverberating randomly. ‘Sundialed’ brings together the chatter of a cellphone, the swell of an LFO-driven phaser, and a simple bassline, then trips you up with sudden skipping offsteps to keep you on your toes.
Whether it’s actual birdsong or a some form of robotic simulation matters not in the alien forest of ‘Aequus’. It reminds me of the music used (created?) in the game Proteus. With the bass and clicking muffled beat, it wouldn’t be out of place on an FSOL album. We return to this location later on in ‘Lifelike’, only this time it’s nighttime. Hooting cries, insect violinists, and pond dwellers mix with a quite urgent rhythmic pulse, reflecting the rush of nocturnal life.
What did I say about this album wearing its influences on its (mylar?) sleeve? It had to happen. After the rains and the climbing chimes of synth open ‘Caduceus’, a distinctly familiar octave-jumping bass takes us back to the mid 70s. Very nice indeed. The final track on the album, ‘Centrifuge’, sums up what we’ve learned on our journey (if not tourney, no, not tourney). As the name suggests, it takes all the parts and spins them, but instead of separating them, it combines them into a final curtain closer.
As other reviewers have suggested, this album (indeed this kind of music) would be well accompanied by one of the new breed of procedurally-generated space exploration games. It’s certainly worth listening to while exploring your own space, inner or otherwise. Buy it where you can, or from iTunes if you have to.
In the lead up to Hallowe’en, it seems apt to finally get round to reviewing this stunning EP/album by Ubre Blanca (out on the ever reliable Giallo Disco Records). If you don’t want to read any more of this review, then your take-home message is that this is a stonking slab of Goblin Carpentry with all the bravura dramatics and creeping atmospherics you could want, and then some. Go buy it.
‘The Sadist’ will be many people’s flagship tune from this release: sinister surveillance pervades the first half, replete with synth sweeps, power chord crashes and anxious drone builds, until it gives way to an upping of the tempo, as something intent on doing its hideous worst closes in on its prey. It’s ace. ‘The Quarry’ accentuates the VHS aesthetic with woozy pulses that succeed in scoring a sense of urgency across the skin and synapses, whilst Mellotrons tell of something supernatural in the air.
Some may baulk at the ominous glockenspiel-esque opening to ‘Fear of God’, but the sheer dramatism of the song as it erupts into life engenders a knowing smile and a desire for theatrical posturing. It’s a tune that reveals that Ubre Blanca know exactly what they are doing with The Sadist and are doing it with a knowing sense of origins and genre. ‘Saeta’ places Flamenco theatre and passion firmly in the horror soundscape and acts as brilliant prelude to the exquisite closing credits of ‘Invocation’ – all shards of ghostly choirs, tensed drums and grieving synths.
When The Sadist finishes it is difficult not to stand up, clap furiously and scream ‘Bravo! Bravo!’ in some cod posh accent befitting the realms of High Culture. Given that Ubre Blanca obviously found their inspiration in B-movie slashers and bucket-bin horror, you realise how far this release can take you. Problem is, you may never come back.
‘Fear of God’:
Sisters Julia and Maria Reis play guitar, drums and keyboard between them – and that’s it, just them. They set up their own label, Cafetra Records, in Lisbon five years ago and this is their second album, released here on the peerless Upset the Rhythm label. And in a sense they remind me of No Age – the set-up is similarly simple, but can be so flexible and creative, and there’s a mix of songs demonstrating pace and power on the one hand, and reflection on the other.
Opener ‘Braco de Ferro’ has what I think is the best-sounding riff since ‘Teenage Kicks’, and the vocals are perfect though I have no idea what they’re singing about.
Then we’re straight into ‘Branca’, with its cracking drumming and driving pace:
The short album does have more light and shade; ‘Es Tu, Ja Sei’ fades in and out, distorted like a Lisbon version of the Shop Assistants, ‘Amendoa Amarga’ drifts from lively verse-chorus dynamics into ragged noise and back again.
When you get to the end you just want to play the whole thing again.
Parts & Labor were, and remain, the greatest noise-rock band of this century thus far. Don’t agree? Well you’re wrong.
For his second solo outing on Thrill Jockey, Dan Friel, front man of now defunct said band, has coordinated his machines to reflect, ruminate on and represent his experiences of the birth of his son. Arguably then, this is his answer to Raymond Scott’s Soothing Sounds for Baby, but Life is often anything but comforting – it’s an album akin to a sweet tasting pacifier wrapped in sandpaper.
Off-axis opener ‘Lullaby (For Wolf) is the perfect woozy disjunctive for the mayhem ahead. ‘Cirrus’ at first listen is anything but little fluffy clouds with its sharpened bullet beats. Yet floating through it is the sugary, most airy, of melodies. And this is where Mr Friel has always excelled – simple lead lines that are equal parts uplifting and melancholic. One wonders what he’d achieve if he went all-out Pop. I’m convinced Chart domination would be guaranteed. Of course it ain’t gonna happen, but it’s an intriguing proposition.
‘Lungs’ wheezes and pants its way into your chest cavity, before upping the rattling noise and breaths per minute. ‘Sleep Deprivation’ is wonky synthesised mosquito whines. ‘Life (Pt. 1)’ sees our maestro place melody at centre stage once again and results in an overwhelming sadness for the demise of Parts & Labor. On ‘Bender’ that curious Celtic lilt to Friel’s work returns.
Friel’s makes his machines perform the most brilliant arcade crunchstep; this is 8-bit stomping beyond any hipstered discovery of SID chip aesthetics. And once again he’s triumphed.
Life is out on Friday 16th of October. Buy it here
The first hurdle with this new EP by XAM, (AKA Matthew Benn, bassist in the the acclaimed Hookworms), is not a musical problem. It’s how to actually pronounce the name. Zam? Sham? Exam? X A M?
I’m none the wiser.
Anyway, pronunciation issues aside, this three track EP (clocking in at over 40 minutes) has plenty on offer for fans of kosmische, krautrock and skewed electronica.
It all kicks off with Werk and Play, underpinned by a pervasive motoric propelled beat and a simple arpeggiated synth progression that gets gradually more and more hypnotic during the length of the 8 and a half minutes you’re alone with this track.
Coke Float has much more urgency to it than the opening track. Again, the motorik beat is in attendance, but this track has a grittier feel than the opener, chirping and bubbling effects breaking through in the background behind the synth foundation.
Side two sees EP highlight Lifer – it’s 22 minutes in duration, and if you know me then you’ll also know I appreciate a long song. It’s all glorious drone for the first four or so minutes before a bright, coiling synth line comes into view. It’s a track that rewards you if you immerse yourself in it, headphones on. Eschewing the beats of the tracks from side one, here you can glide gently on glittering analogue noises. But Lifer isn’t content just to drift, oh no, there is real progression in this track, especially so when it gets into the last few minutes where the the drone takes a slightly darker turn, and subtle explosion noises and electronic pulses take over.
Tone Systems is available for digital download or on Vinyl (if there are any left…) from Bandcamp.
Tanzwuth Recordings, the Cardiff-based label which appears to be the home of one prolific artist with various pseudonyms, has released a new longplayer from Diebenkorn. Magnox is a collection of ten tracks which float around in the area of noodly electronics, simple phrasing and chord sequences, glitchy beats, and weird processed vocal snatches.
Opener Class of 83 sets the stage with a simple piano phrase, before opening up the drums and drifting on until the school bell rings. Mini-highlight Whistling Trees repeats the formula minus the drums, with a hint of the Vangelises about it (not a negative thing at all). Headshake also has some 70’s Greek touches, which are joined by some vocoding.
My favourite Rural Idyll could do with being about four (or fourteen) minutes longer, but in its short length it channels both Orbital and BBO faves Advisory Circle. Similarly, Metrotech could be stretched into a good early Goldfrapp tune.
The title track (another highlight) brings the drums to the fore, before the swirling noise and forceful distorted synths make their point very clearly. Detektor and 4 O’Clock also apply the drum technique, the latter with a nice chord sequence which could really be extended.
The party starts on I Really Don’t Know. Squiggles lead into a playful break to get your toes tapping, backed with an almost mournful flute. It gets a bit fruity up in there, breaks it down, then the bass is left to keep you busy while the atmosphere builds, morphs and fades – a bit of a missed bass drop op.
Final 10-minute corker Infoscan brings all these ideas together, starting with meaty drums, throbbing bass, swirling atmospherics, then bringing in the synth chords and arpeggios, before letting the throb find closure.
A nice collection, with some good ideas worth exploring and extending. Check it out, it’s great for driving the Sheikh Khalifa Highway on cruise control in your white Corolla.
Post Tangent is a charity compilation supporting CalAid, a group of volunteers collecting for the Calais refugee camps. The compilation seems to have been set up by some of the bands playing the ArcTangent festival in Bristol last month, so it’s essentially 32 tracks of post-, math-, noise-, glitch- and drone-rock.* BBO favourites Deerhoof are as full of beans as ever on ‘Kuma Kita’:
And the last track, the more contemplative ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,’ comes from the brilliantly named He Was Eaten By Owls (who were new to me but are well worth investigating):
I don’t know anything more about this compilation beyond what’s on Deerhoof’s facebook page, but it’s definitely worth buying – excellent music for a very good cause. The Bandcamp page is here and it’s £4 or more. You could always donate to CalAid too, here.
* do you like that hyphenated rock?
The Imitation Archive is an album produced solely from field recordings at the UK’s National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park, where Matt Parker spent 2 months as the artist in residence in early 2015.
And it’s magnificent.
It’s an album made up of 10 mostly quite short tracks, opening with “WITCH” – a track that sets the tone for the whole album, introducing the clacking and clicking of the Harwell Dekatron Computer, before leading into the blissful drone of “The Bold and The Beautiful”.
It just gets better and better from there, “Test Patterns” is all scratching hiss building to a static crescendo in just 44 glorious seconds. “Terminal” continues the static hiss, combining it with dark foreboding percussion and is one of the absolute highlights of the album.
One of my favourite things about the album is the way Parker has delved way back to some of the earliest examples of British computing such as the WITCH and Colossus (and the ‘Bombe’ – the decryption device designed by Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, the calming whirring and buzzing drone of which can be heard on “Bombes of Bletchley”). This ensures the album is far removed from the 1980s style chiptunes that some people associate with the sounds of retro computers.
Get the Imitation Archive from Bandcamp – if you’re into experimental noise and drone then it’s an essential purchase
Kieran Mahon returns with a new EP, which continues with the cosmos theme of his album from earlier in the year, Radio Astronomy. There’s 4 tracks of beautifully droning soundscapes which really do convey a feeling of outer space.
‘Leonov’, named after the first cosmonaut to do a spacewalk, is the short opening ambient track. A steady drone floats in the background while over the top of this oscillator sweeps evoke the vastness of space, and just how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things.
Track two, ‘The Men went to the Moon’, starts with samples from NASAs recently released archive of sounds, and if you shut your eyes (that’s it, squeeze them tightly closed) you can imagine the inertia of lifting up from the earth’s surface in a rocket, headed for the stars, then the strange calmness of orbiting the planet.
‘The Eagle Has Wings’ is another shorter track, building up from calming static to what sounds like a space choir, which sets us up nicely ‘16 Orbits per Day’, the ten minute long EP closer. It’s an epic drone worth the price of admission alone.
Space is the Place can be picked up from Bandcamp, where you can name your price. Do it.
Hailing from East Rome, Heroin in Tahiti are a duo that have produced one of the most rewarding albums of the year with Sun and Violence. And they’ve seemingly invented their own genre, best summed as sun-scorched psyche Radiophonica. That may need work, so let’s go with their own tag of Spaghetti Wasteland. Much better.
There’s so much of interest here, so much that demands your attention, I barely know where to start. One thing that stands out is the brilliant use of field recordings – muezzin wale with intensity, birdsong and call is warped and coils in on itself, radio voices plead and spook, fragments of chants loop and animated rants become cadences.
Tracks erupt with rumbling ritual intensity or build to sudden ends. Drones haze the room and crystallise into diamond facets. Rhythms mass into tribal funks or drip with erotica. Synths wobble, float, and score lines across your vision. Guitars trace fragments of full riffs. Organs appease. Put it this way: I love this so much I even forgave them the use of sitars at the end of the epic ‘Continuous Movement’.
If Goat dropped all the spirituality nonsense and some of the somewhat tiresome posturing, and went a bit more pleasingly ‘out there’, you’d be almost arrive at the place Heroin in Tahiti inhabit. It’s a strange, third-eye coagulating, claustrophobically intense place, located somewhere beyond the visible horizon in an exotic land. I wanna go.
This is a brilliant album. I’d strongly consider buying it if you know your shit. BUY.