YUM 1 & 2  –  S T F U (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a1556912115_16I 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.

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Scene and Heard – CCCXXVI : This Burning  –  Cream VIII (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

4a1a4cc531dd4b9ca4d3b5193024c89fNo matter what anyone tells you about current musical fashions, what the zeitgeist might happen to be blowing in from cooler taste making circles, what the papers say is the next big thing or any of that sort of rhetoric, one thing never changes. The underground, the outside, the left field, the other…call it what you will, is always a far more interesting place.

It eschews common consent, public opinion and the approval of the masses and just makes music for itself. How great is that? And proof of that can be found in Cream VIII’s (geddit?) arty, electro-punk disco dirge, This Burning. It recalls some of the greats of the outside curve, it updates Bauhaus, sits next to Nick Cave on the piano stool, squeezes the high drama and cliche out of The Sisters of Mercy and wanders the same sonic underworld as the likes of Depeche Mode, once they realised that pop was not where their future lay  and sold their souls and synths to a darker power.

Cream VIII, (formally Cream 8 but Roman numerals are more in keeping with the mystique of the band) released a string of  CD’s throughout the 90’s and early part of this century and seem to have kept active enough since to keep in the public eye, but a brand new video for the track This Burning is big news indeed.

And as a music and video combination the two fit together perfectly. A striking gothic goddess, sashaying and slinkily grooving her way through decaying urban wastelands and buildings in the process of being subsumed by nature put to industrial beats and clinical synth sounds. It’s a great combination, a vision of mystery and otherworldliness, dystopia and seduction juxtaposed with a sound that feels half-human, half-machine, desolate and dangerous.

Building on the futuristic sounds of those 80’s synth pioneers, This Burning is a slick blend of the cold, clinical, noir-ish musical drama of those originators and a modern darkwave, slow dance vibe. It grafts an electro-gothic undercurrent on to an almost industrial pop sensibility (is that even a thing? I guess it is now!) and the result is the perfect soundtrack to be emanating from our car stereo as we drive into that final sunrise of a dystopian future. The future has never sounded so wonderfully bleak or so horrifically beautiful.

We Are Fucked –  Flesh Eating Foundation (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

155120There are times on We Are Fucked, gotta love an album title that honest, that it sounds as if someone has built a machine and programmed it with just the vaguest outline of how to make music and let it just work out the rest for itself. Whilst it follows the basic laws of melody and rhythm, of songwriting and musicality, the sounds it choses to work with owe more to the car plant than the music studio.  Ever since that famous thought experiment where a violin was tied to a length of string and dragged down a gravel path, the argument about what music is, and more importantly what it can be, has been a heated place. Flesh Eating Foundation seem to prove that as long as you adhere to some of the most basic tenets, you can fill in the spaces between with anything you like. And if they chose to fill that space with fuzzed out guitars and glitchy electronica, crunching industrial noise and programmed beats, well, so much the better.

Following on from the uncompromising title, they run through a series of diatribes, observations and rants about the seedier and broken side of life. Punch Drunk is a sonic onslaught of searing psycho-synth and warped out interludes and the insightfully named Stand Up And Be Discounted sounds almost like Shakespearean textspeak put to dystopian pop music, possibly recorded using road repair tools rather than regular instruments. The End is a diabolic Vangelisian soundscape and the title track and opening salvo seems closer to synth-pop normality…but not much.

The album comes with some remixes of We Are Fucked and Having Fun which range from pushing the songs closer to the mainstream in the case of XSRY’s take on the former to speed fuelled industrial raves in the case of the Paresis lulz re-working of the latter. Bear in mind that here mainstream is a relative term and given the tricky and challenging ground that these songs start out in, mainstream here still might not be that close to the rest of the musical pack.

It’s a collection of songs which sit on the periphery and hold a mirror up to pop music. But, to be honest, it is a mirror that they have previously shattered, glued back together, sprayed with blotches of black paint and then shot with a Kalashnikov. But a mirror none the less.

Modern Day Privateers (Remixes) – …And We All Die  (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

812143If you can tell the character of a person by the company that they keep, you can tell a lot about a band by who they ask to re-mix their music. With the likes of Daniel Ash, Assemblage 23, Rodney Anonymous, Mindless Faith and Gost Remix II all working their magic, or at least re-working it, on the band’s 2016 single it is obvious that …And We All Die move in some very rarefied circles.

It would be easy to be suspicious of a release which is effectively 10 remixes of the same song, but unlike the usual pop trend or commercial dance fad of giving a single a few pointless re-tweaks and changes of beat, and passing it off as a new incarnation, here the various collaborators bring much more to the table. They bring their own personality.

This is no mere make over, this is musical gene splicing, often the complete deconstruction and rebuild of the materials at hand to produce a chimeric facsimile of the original, a whole new sonic beast.  Ben Weinman’s take on the song is the perfect example of how far things are taken as he crashes glitchy industrial techno into strange dystopian symphonics and seemingly delivering the whole thing through a broken short-wave radio.

Daniel Ash casts a straighter, darker and brooding spell on the song, a mix of the terrifying and the groovesome, the danceable and the distressing. The Rain Within remix feels like the missing link between post-punk dreams and post-everything futuristic nightmares and Gost Remix II brings a strange mix of clubland vibrancy and synth-wave poise to these dark visions.

Considering this whole album is based around one song, it is amazing how varied, how eclectic  and how imaginative this is, but then I guess this is less a collection of remixes in the conventional sense and more in the style of variations on a theme of Modern Day Privateers. As a concept in its self it is destined to return some interesting results, but when you have the best in the game re-imagining, re-inventing and re-building the song, then the quality of the results were never in any doubt.

Mission –  Gonetcha (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Gonetcha__Mission__CoverStarting an album review of a band which, up until this point, you knew nothing about, is an interesting thing to undertake. You go into it without any preconceptions, any detailed back story and knowing that anything could greet you on the other side. Often you are met with the familiar and the predictable, something that is pretty much a new take on something you have not only heard before but heard many times already that week. But then there are albums such as Gonetcha’s Mission and you remember that this plunge into the unknown and the unexpected, and the occasional gems it rewards you with, is why you are not earning better money writing about what Dave Grohl’s favourite sandwich is, or what percentage of plastic Nicky Minaj is built from.

If someone like Nick Cave best typifies the dark, sweeping and majestic end point of the western blues derived musical experiment; Gonetcha is the flip side of that coin. Mission comes from a younger, angst ridden and intense place, one that has evolved out of the possibilities afforded by more recent technologies and more likely to tip its hat to Krautrock pioneers and New Romantic non-conformists than the more traditional canon.

Opening salvo Dawn Beat kicks off with some squalling guitars and brooding, industrial backgrounds but the album quickly settles down into a more electro alt-pop vibe. Rockist guitar moves are used to great effect to create the surface detail, meandering riffs and some wonderfully dexterous motifs, but this second album from them pulses with an electro-beat heart. The same heart which drove Kraftwerk’s motornik minimalism, the post-punk reinventions of The Blitz Kids the more commercial movement that they spawned and the alternative dance movements which have woven in and out of popular culture ever since.

Even songs such as Time Zone which seems at first listen to run along more regular rock guitar lines, has something more mechanical going on below, something slightly less man made, more digital than analogue, more computer than human. Submarine Wreck is a strange blend of funk bass and sinister spoken word, demented and dangerous yet infectious and mesmerising and What You Stole wanders down some brooding garage rock pathways.

But it is this balancing act between man and machine which creates the wonderful friction that lies at the heart of the album, able to explore its alt-rock, foot on the monitor, classic stance but also dripping in gothic techno edge and dark dance grooves. If you think that Electronic Dance Music has found its level, that maybe it has nowhere left to go, Gonetcha is your next lesson. I guess that there are a number of bands pushing the electro envelope at the moment, but how many of them are able to juggle dystopian disco, electro-rock, future dance, hi-tech cinematic film score, progressive pop and doom-dance…often in the space of one track. Gonetcha is a band on a mission indeed.

Wild Insane  –  Vandal Moon (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

377618They say never judge a book, or in indeed a record, my its cover, but occasionally it is exactly the right thing to do. Take the cover of Wild Insane where we see, presumably one of the duo, looking like Nick Cave striking an Andrew Eldritch pose through that visual balance of futuristic gloss and dystopian intrigue that Gary Numan revelled in. And that isn’t a bad place to start. It conjures a sense of digital modernity meeting dark post-punkery, something both emotive yet clinical, human yet…other. That is pretty much what Vandal Moon deliver, so books and covers…yeah, sometimes it works.

It is very easy when writing about such bands to constantly use the 80’s as a reference point, and whilst based on the sounds emanating from this album you could have a pretty good stab at what’s in the band’s record collection, this is no mere wistful backward glance. After the punks had kicked down the barriers they moved on, the rules were gone and people were looking to create a new musical future. Vandal Moon are the heirs to that vision, not slaves to its history.

Wild Insane is fiercely of its time, this time, and though it is easy to see where it comes from, where it is going is the real point here. It is wonderfully forward-facing, its glamorous sleek minimalism, pristine synths, alternative disco reclamation, shimmering and chiming riffs, and clinical beats all pointing to a new way of approaching dance music. The Bomb being the perfect blend of past, present and future, modern and brooding pop standing on the shoulders of giants and reaching for the digital stars and Computer Loves reminds Depeche Mode that life isn’t so dark after all..okay it is but maybe all the drugs and alcohol didn’t always help their cause.

Vandal Moon is the musical lingua franca for anyone trying to marry commercialism with creativity, past with future, darkness with euphoria. Contradictions are only a problem when they don’t sit well together, here the opposites attract and it all makes perfect sense.

Inertia –  We Are Parasols (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

We Are Parasols - Inertia (cover)If someone like Nick Cave best typifies the dark, sweeping and majestic end point of the western blues derived musical experiment; this is the flipside of that coin. Portland/Atlanta trio, We Are Parasols, makes music which comes from a younger, though similarly angst ridden, oddly sultry and intense place, but one that has evolved out of the possibilities afforded by more recent technologies and more likely to tip its hat to Krautrock pioneers and New Romantic non-conformists than the more traditional canon.

And whereas the likes of Cave and the dark hordes which imitate his moves often rely on angular collisions and jarring music to create their apocalyptic beauty, We Are Parasols are driven by a more simpatico heart, one that pulses with an industrial, sometimes motorik beat but one which is also swathed in sumptuous harmonies, delicate synth washes and distant chiming guitars. Even when they rough things up a bit on songs such as the slow building Scoptophilia or the explosive Recoil, their music seems to mesh into post-rock walls of sound and shoegazing, effect drenched noise cocoons, the overall effect crushing rather than cutting.

The music suggests something beyond human a sort of impossible blend of the primitive and ancient and the clinical and futuristic, a hybrid of animal and machine, primordial yet complex as eerie atmospherics and Stygian sounds vie for attention and the end result is a heavy, claustrophobic and nebulous musical collection.

Philly To Long Branch (part 2) – Untitled Art (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a3734845346_16Being a reviewer of pretty much any genre that comes at me, obviously there are strengths and weaknesses in my arsenal of scribbled thoughts. Particularly when I see those three little letters in close proximity, E, D and M, I automatically worry about how I am going to find something new and convincing to say about a wannabe DJ remixing the same tired and over-used bass burbles and glitchy beats, enough to fill the allotted space anyway.

Five seconds in to the strange and evocatively titled Philly To Long Branch (part 2) and I realise that I actually have the opposite problem, that EDM is just one small part of this heady, high-octane, electro rock hybrid and that trying to explore, capture and describe the music in mere words is not only going to be a longer job than I anticipated, it is going to be a hell of a lot of fun.

Philly… is built on a beat of fractious urgency, a frenzied, adrenaline fuelled headlong rush where the clinical cold synths of the dance floor are mixed with white hot rock muscle to create a blend of the futuristic and the primordial, the industrial and the elemental, the pre-determined and the organic. It also has a brooding presence, far from the euphoric and joyous nature of the uptown club, it feels as if it has been fashioned from the scattered musical trappings and attitudes that the punks, the goths and the garage rockers left behind after their bubbles burst and they either went underground or learnt to conform.

Those who insist on labels might like terms like Stygian dance music, industrial groove, darkwave, techno-goth, well goth, always a misunderstood term, was very much built on dance grooves and whilst the term now seems to have been re-appropriated into just another sub-genre of metal by a generation who want to live in the Sunnydale of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, this gloriously grim groove manages to pull referential strands from the older, darker heart of the punk-gothique and industrial genres. Knowing where you come from has always been as important as knowing where you are going. But the more you listen to the music, the more labels it manages to conjure, thus reminding you of the limitations of such attempts at pigeon-holing.

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 nightclub floor, but not the nightclub that just anyone can find. This one is probably in a decaying warehouse or dead car plant miles away from civilization 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.

We are continually told that “rock music is dead” but maybe, like everything else subject to evolution, it has merely changed and is no longer recognisable to those who still think it is all about long hair and a guitar riff. If we ignore what you actually use to make the music and what you happen to wear whilst you are doing so, then Philly…actually ticks more rock boxes than you might think in terms of power, drive, intensity, groove, ferocity, weight and sensibility. AC/DC it obviously isn’t but in many ways a new form of rock music it certainly makes an argument for being.

I like music that I can’t just hang a sound bite or label on, can’t kick into a well defined generic drawer, music that I didn’t see coming. Well, I didn’t see this coming. I feel like I have been run over by demon-possessed truck, experimented on by extra-terrestrials, battled with denizens of the night, have stood on the edge of the end of the universe itself, been attacked by cyborgs and had a music shop collapse on me. What a way to spend a morning. And the weird part is…I can’t wait to do it all again.

Crow Swan Wolf – They Called Him Zone (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

 

tchz-crow-swan-wolf-cover-artWhether a conscious decision or not, Crow Swan Wolf may just be the perfect sound track to the world we find ourselves going into. Yes, the dystopian vibe is certainly obvious right from the start but there is also a texture and subtlety in the music that seems to reflect the intricate machinations of the world today.

Musically they are children of an unlikely post-punk coupling, where the 4AD ethic hooked up with clinical, urban goth chic, where the razor wire guitars of the latter cut through the romantic and bucolic washes of the former, where night fell on that hazy dreamscape. And if that seems as if it has all been done before, the trick here is that rather than pander to the windswept, crushed velvet urges of its parents, TCHZ, like all dutiful children, rebel against expectations and instead get their kicks running amok through the detritus of the modern world.

Theirs 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 brutal 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.

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 about the world they find themselves in and comment on where it may be heading is all you can ask of them.

Soft Ledges – Soft Ledges (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

7948f9_24c8141dfae742cdafe463750be9ea2bmv2There is a fine line to be walked when making music in the dark, atmospheric realms that Soft Ledges inhabit. Step too far into the gloom and the music enters the po-faced, theatrical world of goth, too far the other way and the sunlight starts to burn away the shamanic cloak of shadows that acts as your guide. Thankfully Soft Ledges are fully aware of this and travel sure-footed through this twilight musical world.

Whilst there is something very Nick Cave about the brooding minimalism of the open salvo, La Nina, like the antipodean Prince of Darkness, Soft Ledges are a tricky beast and if that is the tempting morsel they use to entice you into their world, you soon find that it is a multi-faceted one and very much fashioned to their own design. Contrasts and contradictions begin immediately with Tear Me Down, a song built on heavy bass grooves and skittering drum shuffles but with the same approach to space and emotional tone. The guitar is bravely pushed to the back of the song punching a void where you expect the musical pay-off to be.

And so they continue down a this twisting path, thwarting expectation both in style and structure, delivering piano ballads and torch songs, undertaking post-punk experiments, building soaring post-rock sonic cathedrals, mixing ethereality with aggression, lush soundscaping with wanton destruction.

The clouds clear briefly for Long Way to The Ground, a more conventional alt-rock interlude that sits somewhere between wistful ballad and reflective soul search and acts as a perfect showcase for the positivity that underpins their music but is often lost in the voluminous and distorted music trappings they draw around themselves.

It isn’t until Seven Stories appears majestically before me that the other reference point I have been struggling for looms large. The street rock urges, the hypnotic riff, the staccato vocals – when they head down a more melodic road they remind me of that most underated band Concrete Blonde, not the 90’s MTV version of the band but the voodoo groove and similarly mercurial mix of intelligence, depth, sophistication and aggression that they played with so tantalisingly the previous decade.

To follow a thread I began earlier the term gothic now seems to have been re-appropriated into just another sub-genre of metal by a generation who want to live in the Sunnydale of Buffy The Vampire Slayer but this album manages to pull referential strands from the older, darker heart of the punk-gothique and industrial genres. The Bells and You Beneath is a wash of darkwave patterns that Bauhaus would have sold their soul for, if indeed one could have been found, and around this understated and challenging centrepiece they build their dark-art.

At their most minimal they are happy to merely build delicate musical structures around the atmospheres already present in their nighttime world rather than try to fashion new ones own. The spaces in between the notes, the pauses between the words, all add something, expectation and attentiveness…even entrancement. But at their most driven they are nothing short of glorious. They can take tribal rock beats, power on growling bass lines and willfully savage razor cuts of guitar and between defined musical structures conjure eerie atmospherics and Stygian sounds and the end result is a claustrophobic and nebulous musical collection And just when you think you have them pegged they are still able to throw in a wonderful curve ball such as Don’t Wait which has all the hall marks of a late night, soulful, r’n’b cry against the anguish of loneliness. Well, they are from Chicago; it’s a sound that is probably in their DNA anyway.

Few do it better, it unites the dark hearted followers of earlier musical ages with todays children of a colder, more clinical night and this atramentous crusade has not only had me turning to the thesaurus for suitable descriptive words but is nothing short of a fantastic set of songs that will act as a rallying call to those looking for an alternative to both the mainstream and those wishing for a dark musical resurgence.

 

 

 

Void – Amit Buium (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

a1880712961_16Some music is about impact and immediacy, the quick hit that fires you up for a Friday night out on the town, some is good time, throw-away music, a fast fix to be used to fire you up and then be cast off. Void is the antithesis of all of that. Amongst its dreaming sonic spires and meandering song lines you find subtler, deeper attachments, music that seeps into the soul via osmosis rather than any conscious ingestion.

These wonderful soundscapes are just one possible conclusion on a line that runs back through Chvrches, Zola Jesus, My Bloody Valentine, The Cure, The Cocteau Twins and Berlin era Bowie. But more than just another contemporary musician looking to hang their hat on the shoegaze revival, this is far harder to pin down. Some songs, or parts of them at least, are rooted in solid structures but the shifting nature of the music means that at any given point the song could float off like the smoke from a dying candle to be replaced by different textures, stranger motifs or head off on a different musical tangent althogether.

These long opuses to intangibility and delicacy capture everything I find endearing, from their unpredictable post-everything nature to their dark, organic and often claustrophobic qualities. This is music made without any existing template in mind; it’s Sigur Ros on a chill pill; it’s the soundtrack to a fitful sleep; it may suggest so many influences but it isn’t quite like any of them. It is quite possibly the darkest dream-pop I have heard in a long time and I love it everything about it.

 

Listen to Void

Lips – Plastique (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

PR_photoAbout 6 months ago Plastique’s electro-noise, darkwave groove and razor wire guitars ripped through Dancing Towers with the appropriately titled Quake and the place has never been the same since. So how do you follow up a single that caused such a shift in perceptions, so much destruction of generic boundaries, so much devastation? You just do the same again, only bigger, that’s how. This time around the pulsing electronic heart beat is joined by industrial strength pneumatic guitar lines, the intensity is dialled up to breaking point and Anelise Kunz  vocal performance runs from dark and brooding to demented and frankly quite worrying.

At Quake’s release they were cited as “the band Garbage wanted to be” and whilst that may have been slightly wishful thing then, it is certainly true now. It is hard rock meets an insane club scene, pop music fashioned from angle grinders and earth moving machinery, the death of rock, the saviour of dance or maybe the other way around. Time will tell.

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