Say what you like about Jamit but you can’t fault the speed at which he turns out new material. It seems as if there is a new offering in the review pile every couple of weeks and who can blame him. In this short attention span world, it pays to keep your name ahead of the pack and the best way to do that is to do the work, keep your music flowing, offer new and intriguing sonic delights. It’s the shark analogy all over again, the idea that they have to keep moving all the time, well, musicians need to do the same.
Some music looks to the past, re-invents the wheel or perhaps merely polishes it in the hope that this new found sparkle will ensnare a new audience. Others follow fad and fashion, happy to piggyback on the current zeitgeist and try to slip through the doors that have been opened by other contemporary artists. And then there are artists like Mark James who are all about looking to the future. For although there is much that is familiar on his album, Miles Away, there is a definite feeling of moving everything forward, of striding confidently onto new horizons and leading rather than following the pack.
The only thing that you come to expect from Jamit is the unexpected. Yes, you know that the music is going to run along warped, experimental dance lines, though I’m sure one day I will find something from him in my review pile that throws even more of a curve ball and completely jumps the generic boundaries. But, apart from his broad signature strokes, his sort of sonic fingerprint, you have to just be content to go where he decides to take you musically. As always his subjects are the world around him, and the title alone informs you that this is inspired by the more fun and intimate aspects of life.
I have to confess that I don’t cover too much dance, hip-hop or rap music on this site. It isn’t that I have anything against such genres, it is just that most of the things that come my way from the grassroots of those scenes seem to follow the same mumbled, trap beat driven, self-aggrandising lines and when you have heard, dissected and written about one, you pretty much end up writing the same review in different ways over and over again for everything that follows.
I love music that refuses to sit in neat generic demarcations. I love music that is happy to exist in a multi-cultural sonic world. I love music that looks to the future rather than back at past glories. To find that all in one place is a rare and wonderfully satisfying thing but that is exactly what I found when giving Songs With Venissa a spin. I might not know exactly what Afro-Futurism, the description that producer Paul Edwards uses to indicate the nature of the music that he makes is, but when you come out the other side of this 6 track e.p. you realise that it is the perfect name for what him and Cuban-American jazz vocalist Venissa Santi create here.
And for all the dark, sultry beats and spacious electronica that the name implies, there is so much more going on here. My Schwinn blends the sound of that continent with more exotic India traditions and Lucky mixes heavy dub grooves and infectious pop with warped western classical outbursts. Heartbeat takes a turn into lazy late night jazz-hop and If I Could Write A Letter is so ahead of its time, so unlike anything you have heard so far that it might truly be the sound of the future.
The world is an ever shrinking place, certainly culturally speaking. Tools and traditions, sounds and styles which may never have crossed paths in the past are now creative bed fellows. As people mix so do their sounds and stories, their attitudes and ideas and the more that happens the more interesting and original those new blends of music become. Genres are dead, long live music.
Lusts, the recording pseudonym of brothers Andrew and James Stone, are returning with their brand new LP ‘call of the void’, out November 16th. Alongside they’ve shared their expansive new single ‘true romance’, a motoric and electric track with a danceable pace and gloriously infectious hook.
Of the track, they tell us “‘true romance’ takes influence from classic romantic literature, drawing a line between love affairs throughout the ages, and channeling them through our own gothic perspective. It’s a mixture of the intertwining stories of Cleopatra and Caesar, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, Clarence and Alabama, and “The Sun Also Rises” by Hemingway. We were also inspired by this quote from “Wide Sargasso Sea” – “Blot out the moon, Pull down the stars. Love in the dark, for we’re for the dark. So soon, so soon.” ‘true romance’ is about unrequited love, and all the unusual and intricate ways we express ourselves. We’re all different, we’re all strange, and that’s a beautiful thing.”
Their self-recorded and self-released LP has a diverse palette of sonics and themes, having been inﬂuenced by the endless motion of the city, otherworldly nights, and brutalist architecture. It’s a utopian and romantic record; Lusts are more interested in being part of a developed and progressive future than being caught in a dystopian mire. The album is hopeful rather than despairing, but there are also explorations of darker themes.
A strange title for a strange album. And I mean that in the nicest possible of ways. Strange is good, strange is interesting, strange is the opposite of safe, strange is unpredictable. Strange is often great and there are certainly many great aspects to this album. The first great thing is its approach towards genres…Matthew De Ver isn’t really concerned with such limitations and here he wanders between the ambient and the funky, the spacious and the groovesome, the beat driven and the transient, often within the space of one song.
What is also great about it is the analogous nature of the lyrics, which on the surface seem to be of a man setting himself against the challenges of the natural world, of climbing mountains, of taking on the elements, of being lost in the snow. Listen deeper and you find the real story and understand that these physical battles are metaphors for the loves, longings and losses of his own life.
The Climb is a funky opening salvo but largely the album is happier to deliver cooler and more considered sonics with Blood on The Snow being an intimate spoken word one on one conversation with the listener and Battle Alone a slow jazz infused trip-hop groove. Between these extremes songs such as Secret Keeper come on like Mercury Rev’s angelic soundscapes playing a dance card and Up To The Air is a looping and beguiling, alt-pop ballad.
It’s an album that reveals its greatness slowly, that rewards the listeners regular return, peels back its textures and layers through constant re-examination. If you are looking for a quick musical fix, this isn’t really the place but if you wan’t to make a new musical friend, and the best albums do come to feel like friends, this is certainly the start of a new beautiful musical relationship. How great is that?
Dance music, like most genres, is a redundant label. The common factors that you use to identify music that belongs within such a grouping… beat, groove, infectiousness, accessibility… are the same factors that you would use to describe most music across many genres. Dance music is dead. Long live music!
The Tower may just be the birth of the genre-less club anthem, adhering as it does to the things needed to get people on the dancefloor and moving but hardly the stuff of the mainstream pop-picker and party animal. It grooves, pops and zings in all the right places for sure but it also seems to be built of strange mutated genes, of warped electronica and industrial pulses, hardly the “go-to sound” of Saturday night. But as alien as it sounds in places, it is the perfect replacement for the saccharine dance-pop that currently fills the clubs and venues, instead offering a darker and more experimental way forward.
And proving that The Goodbad are pushing out in all directions, Aeon takes some of that strange, leftfield stance and melds it on to a more conventional beat, cleaner lines and driving energy, the otherness of their nature still apparent but buried deeper in the music, maybe so as not to frighten those more used to standard club anthems and production-line chart hits with their dystopian dance visions. Delve even further into the back catalogue and Illusion is different again, glitchy, clinical, futuristic and buoyant.
What makes The Goodbad’s music work so well is that it is like a Trojan horse in an assault on the mainstream. It feels like a celebration of the norm, it appeals to the masses, it uses familiarity to be let into the mainstream club consciousness but then, in the dark of night under the neon glare it begins to infiltrate the musical status quo with its new ideas and musical visions. Music doesn’t move on by trying to change the landscape from without, it moves on by unknowingly inviting mavericks and strange creatives to the party who slowly set about changing the party so that it conforms to their needs and desires. Welcome to the party, its about to get interesting.
As my “go to guy” for all things experimental dance coming out of the Far East, it’s always great when a new track by Jamit drops into the review pile. Not because past tracks have proven to conform to any style which is well within my comfort zones, but actually it is the opposite that I find intriguing about this thoughtful composer. Unpredictability is the name of the game and that is what is truly exciting.
Dance music, for all its good intentions, very easily gives up the search for cutting edge escapes and new paths to explore and most of the music that falls into such that genre can be as predictable as formulaic pop or cliche-ridden rock. What I love about Jamit’s creations is that whilst you know that they are going to be built along certain heavy and hypnotic grooves, from there on anything could happen.
Chicken is a perfect example of the way he thinks. It drives on energetic and intense waves, throws splintered electronica and disenfranchised spoken word fragments around and from there slowly builds towards even more claustrophobic and strange sonic heights. Dance music? Perhaps, but certainly not that of the mainstream club. This is the soundtrack to a basement club night that is so hard to find that it has reached cult status, a club peopled by the effortlessly cool and the naturally outsider. A club of near mythical status. You may think that you know all about dance music but you can only truly say that once you have experienced Jamit’s future musical predictions.
If ever proof were needed that music is a cyclical process, Sharp Divide is that wonderful blend of past and future combining to make something perfect for the present market. The album pulses with a post-punk heart beat and captures that musical innocence that existed back then, when those disillusioned punks took broken keyboards and newly available studio tricks and gimmickry and turned them to their new musical visions. Visions which became New Romantisicm, new wave, new pop, goth, indie-dance and shoegaze. But it also sounds like an album stood in the present day looking into the future of pop music. It’s all about perspective I guess, of where you are stood as the musical wheel turns.
It drips with wonderful dreamstate otherworldliness, it shimmers with indie majesty and crackles with pop energy, the title track itself being a lesson in laidback art-pop, of making music that is both brilliantly languid, effortlessly sultry yet compelling and cool. Bleed Me wanders into later Human League territory, when they were happy enough just to dance around their handbags on the nightclub floor and Losing Our Control is both the most cultish nod to the past and the most confident stride into a commercial future.
If you like dreamy indie music a la early Lush you will love the textures here, if you are a discerning pop picker you will fall for the spacious melodies and even dance fiends will fall for its chilled grace and groove. Perhaps if you go far enough into the future you find yourself arriving in the past and if you are going to try it, Sharp Divide is perhaps the best soundtrack that you can take along for the ride.
Pioneer Generation showed us just how uniquely Jamit thinks when it comes to modern dance music and MRT carries on down that same path, one that wanders well away from the mainstream and seems to travel parallel to film score, avant garde meanderings, video soundtrack and electronic experimentation.
MRT could stand for a lot of things but I’m guessing that Mass Rapid Transport is the reference here, given his Singapore location, the track seeming to mimic the industrial rumbling and hypnotic tribal groove of that famous urban rail system. I may be wrong but it works for me. But that is the joy of such tracks I guess, without the lyrics they allow the listener to decided what they mean and it is a definition that can change and evolve from person to person and from day to day.
Again Jamit not only thinks outside the box, but shows us just how small the box. As his song builds in intensity and repetition, as it conquers new sonic territory and explores new musical horizons, it is only when you look back you realise just how small that box is and how far he has come.
Marius Lauber AKA Roosevelt’s ambitious and breathtakingly modern follow-up to his self-titled debut is out next month. ‘Young Romance’ sees the German artist breaking free from the dance floor and stepping out into the light, effortlessly bridging that gap and asserting his place in the upper echelons of guitar and synth-pop royalty. Now less reliant on a four-to-the-floor kick drum as a rhythmic backbone, this sophomore record sees him embrace grooves of all shapes and sizes, and his first guest feature with the inimitable vocals of Ernest Green of Washed Out. Fusing chillwave and guitar-pop to sublime effect, the effortlessly breezy ‘Forgive’ combines guileless vocals with lush warm reverb and palpable bass frequencies. “I saw Ernest followed me on Instagram and I was so happy to find out he was a fan. He has always been a massive influence and this track was written around the vocal stems he sent back within days – a real collaborative effort,” says Lauber. It is out today.
‘Young Romance’ was written in his home town of Cologne and finished in Los Angeles, where it was also mixed by Chris Coady (Beach House/Grizzly Bear/Future Islands) at the legendary Sunset Sound Studios. Penned from self-reflective distance and brimming with fresh ideas and confidence, Lauber balances escapism and wistfulness in equal measure, documenting his own artistic transitions and personal experiences along the way. “I ended up processing a lot of emotions that I felt during my youth” he says, “faded relationships that haunted me for years, being on the road for what seemed like forever and the constant search for a place to call home.”
You turn your back for a few months and bands go and change their whole sound. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic but whilst there is a radical shift from the crazed alt-disco, warped synth-wave, vibe towards a much more rock driven sound, Siblings of Us approach towards music remains the same. For this is rock music in the same way that their previous endeavours were pop…in that it is anything but the usual approach. If Who Are We Anymore took synth driven dance pop music hostage, bundled it into the backseat of a car and went joyriding around the midnight streets with the lights off swigging a bottle of absinthe, then Gargantua pretty much does the same for rock music.
Thankfully Siblings of Us are one of those bands where you run out of generic labels, all the best bands do, pop-rock, alt-dance, electronic rock, all seem inadequate in the extreme for this is something much more madly and meticulously put together than those safe terms suggest. Pizza Lisa is what 60’s garage rock would have sounded like if the advent of the affordable synthesiser had happened a decade earlier and where as before Fonzy Armour’s high vocal register suggested a member of The Bee Gee’s having the most musical nervous break down in history, now the power of the music means that he gives any number of metal singers a run for their money. They won’t like that, I can tell you.
Chicago Glass Twins blends the staccato and the soaring and wanders between subtle drops and soaring crescendos that would give a lot of cinematic and symphonic rock bands reason to be jealous and Breed and Company is a manic clubland-metal anthem. And long before you get to A Gang Called Wonder’s perfect finish, its spoken word meets industrial pop meets dance intensity meets punk bombast meets….oh, just throw in your own made up generic descriptions…you realise that there is a brilliant by-product of their musical machinations. By creating heavy songs out of everything that is the very antithesis of cliched rock and by-the-book metal, Siblings of Us show it up for its safe and staid ways. There’s going to be a lot of unhappy people in patched denim jackets wandering around, I can tell you.
One of the great things about the modern musical world in which we find ourselves is that the tribal music lines, the generic demarcations that marked you as being musically one thing or another have largely been obliterated by a generation of artists and musicians who just couldn’t see the sense of such traditional, self-imposed limits. People in rock bands are finding new inspiration in dance music, folk players are breaking through indie boundaries, acoustic solo players have secondary career paths as DJ’s, it is a world of multiple roles, collaboration and exploration. Welcome to the post-genre world.
And ELYAZ is a typical example of how great such an approach is. Having inherited a passion for intricate, finger style guitar from his father, he went on to learn piano, sing, carve out a path as a DJ and is currently studying sound engineering. And the result of such a wide range of skills and influences can be heard all over his first self produced single, Break The Distance.
It is difficult to really pin down where the song fits into the bigger scheme of things, but given what I have just said you would hardly expect that to be the case. It is built on a strong dance beat and driving synth riffs and is the perfect blend of groove, drive and euphoria to keep the dance floor full at the busiest point of the night. Where it stands out from the pack is that as it builds to these glorious crescendos, it employs some deft and delicate musical trappings.
Between the more obvious musical thrust there are graceful acoustic guitars and shimmering electronica adding texture and tasteful layering before it goes into clubland overdrive. And it is this range of clever depth and attention to detail that is so refreshing, it may pass by the average dance floor party goer but when you listen to the song with a more critical ear you realise just how much thought and work has gone into it.
Break The Distance proves that dance music doesn’t have to be simple, that it can be elegant, musically eloquent rather than merely pumping and functional. And it is that desire to go the extra mile that will stand ELYAZ in good stead as he launches his career.
Since forming in 2015, London 4-piece band Indigo Face have made their mark on the live music circuit with their unique sound, drawing influence from the likes of pop, funk, EDM and synth pop. On 13th July, the group are set to launch their new single ‘The Seed’, which taps into the complexities of family life, with a refreshing funk-infused melody to provide the soundtrack to the summer.
“We wanted to write a song about family, a delicate matter that defines the lives of all of us, but we also wanted to make people dance and let go. “
‘The Seed’ follows up the success of their previous critically-acclaimed releases ‘Animal’ and ‘Can We Make It?’, which garnered support from BBC Introducing in London, Music Week, Music Times and more. Born out of late night jam sessions, conversations about parallel universes and a wealth of experience gigging on the London Pop scene, Mary, Max, Ray and Andre are pioneering their own approach to modern pop music. With members from Switzerland, Italy and France, the band are passionately eclectic in their sound, bringing numerous influences and soundscapes to the nuanced, indie-pop sound.
The band have gone from strength to strength over the last 12 months, recently winning the ‘1MEurope’ competition, as well as performing at the prestigious Primo Maggio Festival in Rome in front of 65,000 music lovers. Citing the likes of Bjork, Annie Lennox and Bon Iver as some of their biggest influences, the 4-piece bring an energy and a freshness which has captured the imagination at their live shows all over Europe.
I tend to use the word soundscape a lot in reviews because when put together right, when suitably structured, when layered with intricate textures, when music moves beyond the familiar, it has the ability to build new worlds. They may be sonic worlds but they can be as beguiling, as varied, as wondrous as anything you find in the physical realm. Dean Garcia and Preston Maddox, back under the moniker of S T F U, do indeed fall into such a category.
But unlike the more ambient creations of Garcia as SPC ECO or the cinematic electronica of Maddox’s Bloody Knives, instead S T F U fashion more intense, claustrophobic, angular and alien musical worlds. They pile layer upon layer to build crushing weight, shoegaze on cavernous drone, darkwave on art-punk, noise rock on sinister psychedelia and all the while industrial beats and invisible digital forces seem to toil endlessly to push the whole intricate collection forward.
The Same Way is mechanical in its nature, hypnotic factory rhythms meeting barely human vocals in the perfect synthesis of man and machine and The Liar is a blend of scuzzy electro-rock and android pop, a mix of hot oil and cold metal, or perhaps vice versa.
YUM 2 is a collection of remixes mirroring the first album but taking the songs into even more strange places. Secrets We Keep becomes a glitchy and almost arabesque industrial pop piece, Choloro is washed out even further into hazy space noise whilst Blind proves to be even more intense and brooding.
This is dance music built from the detritus found scattered across an industrial wasteland, all sharp edges and jagged design and driven by a relentless powerhouse of bruising beats and searing sparks. It is the white-hot groove of factory noise being rendered onto the night club floor, but not the night club that just anyone can find. This one is probably in a decaying warehouse or dead car plant miles away from civilisation and possibly even in some sort of parallel universe, and as the clock strikes thirteen this is the sound which hits the sky for probably the last party before the apocalypse.
Those of a certain age, myself included, remember a time when the first wave of bands emerged wielding the newly accessible synthesiser rather than the more expected guitar and the death of music was heralded in certain quarters. But what those rock classicists and pop purists couldn’t have predicted was that far from burying music, the new technologies saved it, to a point now where whole sub-genres in their own right and pop music in a more general sense sound they way they do today largely due to this change. How boring would the state of the music world be if we still thought that guitar rhythms and full kit drums were the only option. The world would be a much emptier place, for a start we wouldn’t have Temporary Hero’s deft and dulcet tones to revel in.
Firstly, it is worth pointing out that Jonah Bell, the man behind the moniker, is as much an eclectic warrior as he is an electric one, releasing everything from high octane dance hits to tribute albums to the likes of Bing Crosby and Chet Baker in his own inimitable way. To Bell there is no underground or mainstream, no generic demarcations, no tribal music affiliations, nowhere that is off limits for him to explore. There is just music to be made, music to be celebrated.
What You Wanted, the latest from his very busy release schedule, is an album of chilled dance creations and indie-pop wandering between sharp clubland sounds and spacious ambient vibes. At one end of the sonic spectrum there are songs filled with sultry grooves such as opening salvo Suitcase, the dynamics and dance floor hustle of I Didn’t know What I Was Doing and even some rock riffs blending with the late night chill of Consequences. What You Wanted even collects some sassy jazz-soul sounds and puts them to a compelling and minimalist beat. Elsewhere songs such as Sacrifice are built on more brooding tones wandering between slick beats and dark reflection and Fear is an intimate and emotive torch song built on vocals and a plaintive piano before heading towards a restrained crescendo…if there is even such a thing.
What You Wanted proves that the broad field of pop music has room to accommodate many different styles, that it isn’t always about obvious dance floor instant hits, although this album has its fair share of those. But the charm of the album, for me at least, is what is happening between those more obvious musical outings. The use of space, the dynamic twists and turns, the gentle merging of styles, both from within the dance world and beyond. It also reminds us that electronic music is a technique rather than a genre, a tool rather than the finished artefact and you can use those same technologies to explore any and every corner of the music spectrum, that confining yourself to the traditions and heritage of clubland is a step backwards. What You Wanted is not that, this is definitely a bold forward step. It is the path pop could have made if it had decided to explore more serious territory, it is indie music that doesn’t merely follow the latest fashion. It is indie-pop music in the truest sense of the word. It is exploratory, generically shifting, dynamically clever, mercurial and unexpected.
In fact if one track sums up the album as a whole it is, perhaps unexpectedly, Natural. Musically it is chilled yet groovesome, full of space and restraint, it seems to hang just out of earshot, distant music coming from somewhere just out of reach. Lyrically it is beautifully romantic, a far cry from the clumsy lyricism, if it can even be called that, which passes for pop-dance lyrics these days.
Dance music for the future? Alt-pop for the underground? Mainstream music for the discerning listener? Stylistically shifting tunes for the post-genre word? Yes, yes, yes and yes, it is all that and more.
Time spent in Jim Johnston’s mercurial and beguiling musical world is never time wasted. We know by now that genres and other such journalistic short cuts aren’t really going to cut it, you could make a point that his music sits in a left-field, indie-rock world but as the songs move between dance beats, strange electronica, pop infectiousness, prog and so much more, even that becomes less easy to defend. And talking of lazy journalistic labels, let me get this out of the way now, let me say that there is indeed something Bowie-esque in the way that he cuts up sounds and genres, styles and ideas and weaves them through his own core sound. It’s a moniker that every blogger under the sun is currently applying to everything that doesn’t fit into the rigid conformities of the modern musical climate, but here it seems more deserved than most.
Chemical Time wanders between grating, scuzzy guitars and swaggering Madchester grooves, Avon Gorge plays with futuristic, spacious and skittering clubland vibes but connects those dots in ways that would confound even the most off the wall, seasoned dance head. (Is there such a thing as ambient rave? Maybe there should be.) Gamblers throws some industrial textures, rock muscle and hypnotic club culture into the same mixing pot and Your 100th Rock Bottom drives the album briefly though New Order’s early sonic territory.
The fact that I could have picked parallels from almost every contemporary musical era from Ministry and Caberet Voltaire up to modern industrial dance torch bearers such as Multiple Man, shows how unattached to genre or era this album is. It is an album that is both futuristic and primal, detached yet tribal, dance-fuelled but swaggers with rock and indie moves, it is progressive yet familiar, focused yet constantly shifting. It’s tantamount to Jim Johnston’s ability to really give you something to think about that, having started the review saying that genres and labels are no good to us here, I have don’t nothing but draw comparisons. There fact that it takes so many conflicting ones to even begin to set the scene should tell you everything that you need to know.
Kingkween is a band who skirt the fringes of many different genres, deftly dancing around the borders of established sonic demarcations but never fully committing to any one, instead preferring to take a bit of everything that they find and use those various threads to weave wonderfully original music from. Genres are out of fashion anyway and such a magpie approach has got to be much more fun than merely sticking to the rules and following in the footsteps of what has gone before.
Right from the first notes, the chiming introduction which slowly warps and buckles, the band signals that this is more about strangeness and non-conformity than doing as you are told. It then proceeds to mix cinematic synth washes with dance beats, shimmering electronica with just enough rock urgency to take this beyond the usual expectations of the dance fraternity but neither does it pander to the rigidity of the alt-rock scene or the play the indie game. Fluidity is the name of the game.
This is music on the fringes, music that is on nodding terms with many genres but which is happier inventing its own labels, or better still doing away with such old school journalistic notions altogether. If ever there was a time to stop analysing the music and just letting it get under your skin, that time is now. Or, if you will allow me just one obvious cliche…shut up and dance!
It’s very easy to judge books by covers, or in this case bands by titles and upon seeing both the name of the band and the album, I have to confess that thoughts of some sort of dreadlocked, hippie-esque, stoner alt-dance did immediately set off warning bells in my brain. And whilst they do occasionally work some wonderfully heavy and pulsating, psi-trance style electronica through the middle of their songs, there is so much more going on here.
Defining the band really depends on which aspect of their sound catches your ear first. Their music is capable of driving like rock music, grooving like a dance floor classic, blending slick, wonderfully restrained and soulful guitars, has pop infectiousness in spades and is delivered with the effortless cool of an indie band. Genres? Who needs them, this is the perfect post-genre band for a world peopled by discerning music buyers who have no truck with the old music allegiances, demarcations or tribal divisions.
Woman in Black shimmers with psychedelia echoes whilst growling with heavy electronica, spins by on funky yet minimal guitar licks and throws some deft spoken word lyrics at the listener whilst Hugo of Bath warps a pop-rock song into a strange alternative dimension, bristling and brooding but still musically elegant and eloquent. Ships Ahoy sees the band referencing some old school indie, a sort of post punk vibe but one brought bang up to date with its strange eclectic mash up that sees sweet jazz-blues guitar lines compete with funky drumming and pristine pop vocals and Sangfroid is pure prime time, dance floor filler.
In short, its great, and it is great because although Shaman Elect enjoy explore many musical threads and laying down intricate and full musical textures in each song, they are the masters of the art of editing and production. This means that although there may seem to be a lot going on in their music, each element, each instrument, each idea, has enough room to breath. It is complimentary rather than competitive and is both free of rules enough to bring something wonderfully fresh and unique to the table but is still wonderfully familiar and accessible. I’m not sure how they do it…I’m just glad that they do.
Cyborg Asylum has always been great at blending a sort of clinical, cold war, drama with a slightly apocalyptic musical vision. Their great art has always lain in their skill for looking at the political machinations and social choices being made today and extrapolating their views of where those decisions might takes us. And to be fair there is no shortage of blatant, sweeping and impactful policies being forced upon an ever more helpless or uninformed (or perhaps wilfully ignorant) population. They may not provide us with answers but it is enough to ask the questions, instigate a conversation and raise concerns.
And what better way to make your voice heard than wrap those worries in slick and cool post-punk infused, industrial dance music? They revel in robust electronica, the sort which replicates the grind and grunt of rock music but which uses the synth palette of electronic glitches and riffs, programmed beats and washes to create their dystopian dance sound. It is Depeche Mode heading into the dark places of their later career, it is Nine Inch Nails gone dance, it is a file sharing, long distance, collaborative process which reflects the times that we live in. With previous release My Metallic Dream having already laid out a stall for their beautiful and bleak sound and a full album Never Finished, Only Abandoned now available it is the perfect time for you aquatinted yourself with the Asylum. You’d be mad not to.
Imagine if Frank Zappa was still with us and carving out a career for himself in the underground fringes of the alt-pop, synth-pop, industrial dance, EDM scene. Imagine that instead of offering up a warped, jarring and majestic end point of the western blues derived musical experiment, he instead drove the whole rock band ethic headfirst into a digital technology, fuelled dance leviathan coming the other way. The New Occupants embody the sound that was echoing out as the survivors crawled from the wreckage. One part rock muscle, one part clubland chaos and more than a few parts eclecticism and eccentricity, shock and awe.
Featuring the mercurial Mr Mooq narrating the song, a tongue-in-cheek TED talk about the trials and tribulations of music consumption, again very Zappa-esque, the result is dance music on steroids, a rock song with underground grooves, a post-genre mash up. There isn’t much new under the musical sun but Be Careful What You Listen To is the sound of the familiar being swept away, or at least being twisted into fascinating new sonic architecture. Marvellous.
Somewhere near the point where 80’s soft, focus pop meets modern synth-driven indie, where swirling dream-pop meets ambient, late night dance, you find Astronomique and Losing Our Control, a seamless blend of commerciality and cultish cool, of past pop peaks and indie future potential. It is music that both grooves and shimmers in equal measure, which is not an easy trick to pull off, but the confident back beats and pulsing bass combined with the staccato guitars, hazy vocals and electronic wash of ambient atmospherics balance these two opposite sonic worlds to perfection.
This is a tantalising glance at what chilled dance music can be, what pop is capable of if it stopped chasing the dollar and started chasing perfection. It may sound as if I am over selling the case somewhat but give it a few years when everyone is trying to emulate the musical eloquence of Astronomique and I will just copyright the phrase “ I told you so” and retire comfortably on the proceeds.
Right from the off, as that first resonant riff drops into place, Pekkanini nails his musical colours to the sonic mast and sails this creative ship through some very noirish, retro-infused sonic waters. As the title suggests we are in the realms of film and TV soundtrack, a 60’s thriller, a 70’s cop show even a Bond movie, and as is often his way, and in the cyclical nature of music, his backward referencing cultish, sound scoring seems to meet the underground and alt-dance club scene coming the other way. The result, much like Diamond Bullet before it, is a unique blend of then and now, the commercial and the cultish, the familiar and the unique.
It’s amazing the power of music suggestion, the ability that the first five notes of that opening riff to set the scene so brilliantly, conjuring furtive glances between fedora and raincoat clad men, of chases through night time streets, of intrigue and danger. And if soundtracks seek to underline and emphasise the action and emotion taking place on screen, then The Dancin’ Spy belongs in the company of a tense and intense film noir or a slow burning atmospheric horror movie. It is just that the film hasn’t been written yet. Maybe this suggests a new approach to the art, write the score first and imagine the film from the sounds and emotions, action and story that it suggests. No? Just a thought. And as conformity goes out of the window a blend of dance beats and staccato keyboards form a platform for layers of riff and melody, gently pulsing bass lines, synth washes, guitar hooks are ushered in and all manner of affected sounds and of course his signature instrument, the Theramin become the norm.
The Theramin gets a bad press, long associated with 60’s sci-fi themes, the original Star Trek TV series along must have been responsible for a massive sales spike, it crops up mainly as a punchline to jokes about geekiness. But geekiness is next to Godliness and let us not forget that this much conflicted instrument is also the opening riff to The Beach Boy’s Good Vibrations, wanders through the middle distance of The Stone’s Please Don’t Go Home and has been employed by everyone from Rush and Led Zeppelin to The Pixies and, unsurprisingly, The Flaming Lips. Great company indeed.
What these songs in general and Pekkanini’s deft musical creations in particular prove is that The Theramin needs its day in the sun, a chance for a reappraisal, and tracks like The Dancin’ Spy show that not only can it hold its own as a lead instrument and core sound to a track but bring something, new, slick, strange, beguiling, retro-cool and ultra-modern to the musical table.
The role of creativity is many and varied, to inform, to entertain, to reassure, to challenge, to confound, to frighten. If you find some of your preferences in the second half of that list then the wonderfully named Silent Disco Sex are probably for you. They come from a dark musical place, one that draws from eerie and edgy electronica, slow, shuffling and doom-laden dance beats, strange swirling synth riffs, heady atmospheres and heavy spoken word top lines. Throw in a video which looks like it was spawned by the Saw franchise and you have something well outside the usual range of pop gloss and dance dross.
Their’s is a playground of dystopian hi-jinks, of night times on the decaying streets, of subversion and protest, of industrial wastelands and underground nightclubs, of shadows and neon, light and shade taken to it’s extremes. It is the collision point of the sound of distant, industrial machinations and transient, clinical digital languages, the distant humming of the modern world and the poetry of decay. It is a distant, disembodied opera, which echoes from our technology reflecting the detachment and unease of the world around us.
They are fellow sonic travellers of the likes of Nine Inch Nails, reminiscent of a mutant coupling of Depeche Mode and Tool, a blend of gothic claustrophobia, industrial bleakness and dark, dance drama. It is easy to see where they come from, where some of their references lie, but the ability to shape those influences into new statements, musically speaking, about the world they find themselves in and comment on where it may be heading is all you can ask of them.
The Kunig, to paraphrase Forrest Gump’s mother, is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. (You just read that in the requisite slow, southern drawl didn’t you?) Anyway, I say this because the recent album Kunigunda was a wide-ranging, musically exploratory and sonically eclectic bundle of joy which took in everything that took in everything from hazy dream-prog to slick and soulful west-coast jazz-pop to straight down the line clubland bangers…as I believe the kids say.
The Birthday Party plays into the latter musical territory, but delivers a groover rather than the aforementioned full on banger. It is full of dance floor rhythms and easy accessibility but falls more towards the early hours, wind down delivery, the shifting of gear as the club, party or soiree heads into chill-out mode. As such it ticks all the boxes, vocals that wander between pitch perfect pop, sultry allure and lush ethereality sit over the swaggering beat and swelling electronic washes. And it delivers the goods via restraint and understatement, leaving the middle ground between beat and vocal spacious enough that it is largely atmosphere and anticipation which fill the void rather than sound and studio machinations. That in itself is a brave thing to do, knowing what to leave out is a much more difficult art form than knowing what to put in.
I would say that this is a great calling card for Kunig and the recent album Kunigunda, but being that the music made under this name wanders so far across the spectrum with no regard for genre or style, era or ethos, I can only say that this is just one example of what you will find when you open the door. It’s a case of come for the chilled dance tune, stay for the mind-blowing eclecticism. Now there’s a slogan!
For someone who lists a whole lot of grunge and alt-rock bands as influences, I Want You To Die sounds a lot like a band that you would have found touring with Depeche Mode in the late eighties. That same stark sound, dark sonic heart and pulsing electronica, the same mix of sleekness and sleaze, like the music you might find playing in a futuristic brothel! And I mean that in a good way, better the soundtrack to a futuristic brothel than the lift music and unadventurous conformity that has become the norm today.
For there is nothing at all conformist about I Want You To Die, even the title is all up in your face, and lined up behind that are raw-edged electro pulses, bleats and beats that sound like the product of a keyboard that has been wired up wrong or an amplifier about to blow. It seems to saunter rather than drive, drips with sultry groove rather than dance floor moves, is confident enough to run at its own half-pace and is all the better for it.
As the third track off of the band’s album Circus of Hell it makes for a great calling card, it is wonderfully out of keeping with modern fashion and reminds us that the music industry might thrive on people following the rules and pandering to expectation but music itself evolves because of people not playing by those rules. Welcome to Hatchatorium’s very own future apocalyptic, doom disco.
This latest 10 track slice of chilled loveliness from The Kunig comes from a very interesting place, one where psychedelic and progressive experiments of the likes of Tangerine Dream still float in the air above the more modern and mellow electronic dance vibes that form the album’s backbone. And like the mercurial nature of those early electronic pioneers, The Kunig is happy to wilfully genre hop to create its core sounds and sonically side step expectations to break new and unexpected musical ground.
Songs like Cut Up sound especially retro, but only in that same way that those bands of the past were using music to create the future…future-retro music, is that even possible, do the laws of time and physics allow for such a concept. Well, they may not but the laws of music do and that is all that matters here. Loser wanders some cutting edge dance floor territory, Morphine is a strange psychedelic rush which blends wonky guitars with slick world music, part a strange kind of blues, part globe-trotting soundscaping, but that’s drugs for you, and Chantilly sounds like a long lost Steely Dan track, and you can’t get better than that.
If you like music to fall in line with the neat and organised world of pigeon-holes and genres, labels and musical demarcations then this isn’t for you and to be honest you probably need to stick to your Rolling Stones albums. But for anyone with a broad mind and love of musical tangents, then form a queue right here.
Heptapod exists at a point where pop falls into a dark abyss, where electronica starts to become self aware, where gothic music finds its way from the dark basement venues and onto the neon glare of the clubland dance floors. Apocalyptic disco? Doom pop? Gothtronica? Take your pick, they all work. Imagine if Depeche Mode and Zola Jesus had a couple of strange children (how could they be anything other than strange from such a union) or if Nine Inch Nails went into the commercial pop business.
Because for all its mercurial ways there is something wonderfully commercial about Heptapod, not as in chart hit, TV advert, mainstream radio playlist type commercial but there is an army of movers and shakers, discerning pop pickers and tastemakers who will dig its otherness, its ability to wander down the same streets as the regular folk, to walk hand in hand with the conformists of the music industry machine but still retain their weird and beguiling musical persona. You don’t have to try and change them, you don’t even have to try to understand them, but you do have to admire them.
If Cruel World saw Phoenix O’Neill opening up her soul in a cathartic and confessional way, a slice of from the heart, honest emotion, I Need You navigates some more expected pop waters. This track from the same debut e.p. Out of the Ashes, is the perfect balance to the more considered and understated strains of the aforementioned track, riding on a more obvious commercial pop ticket but still blending her now trademark mix of tried and tested commercial elements with cutting edge and cultish approaches.
On the surface it is an infectious and accessible number one that is going to charm the pop audience, wow the indie kids and with its confident back beats and solid grooves will be a firm favourite with the more dance audience set of clubland. But as this is Phoenix O’Neill you can guarantee that the song is cleverer than it first appears. It’s main trick is out in the open, an inspired use of dynamic. It accelerates and slows in staccato bursts moving from strident drives to brooding lulls, from spiralling crescendos to sultry lows at a turn. The result is a song which at first keeps you guessing but once you have your ear tuned you can just revel in its rich tapestry of textures and tones.
It temptingly holds back when you expect it to run wild, breaks free when you thought you had it under control. It builds big sounds without swamping the song with too much instrumentation and the depth and texture it carries is the result of creating enough space to let the songs individual components breath and flow, to have time and room to let the listener become beguiled by its heady mix of restraint and drive. It also weaves subtle piano, electronic washes, delicate musical motifs and supple musical detail around the songs main sonic trust.
It hooks, it zings, it pops and it certainly grooves, it is infectious and accessible but it is also cleverly put together, sassy, soulful and groovesome, and it adds an unexpected lyrical astuteness to this often misunderstood genre, so much so that the end result is nothing less than deep and meaningful pop. In short it is pop in an evening dress, okay maybe not an evening dress but in the classy attire of an up-scale clubber, pop with an eye on the long game, pop reaching its full potential. Pop with a PhD? On first listen you may think that it is just another throwaway pop song, but before very long you will realise that its a throwaway pop song that you will want to keep forever! Whatever will they think of next?