Things I Like: Unnecessarily convoluted song titles. Bands who don’t understand the term “generic boundaries”. Tongue in cheek lyrics. Silliness. Sultry beats. Sleazy grooves. Music with a larger than life personally. So the chances of me not loving the wonderfully named Fans of Jimmy Century was always going to be pretty slim indeed.
The term New Age music might conjure images of triple albums of whale noises or the sort of trippy folk music you hear playing in Glastonbury bookshops, but surely new age music can be seen as any music that is ahead of the curve for its moment in time. All creative break-throughs from rock’n’roll to hip-hop to punk to rave and beyond can be considered as heralding in a new musical age to some degree and in the field of electronic music you can easily label N.A.M. as doing the same.
Sitting somewhere between staccato dance music and ambient, and often off-beat, drum and bass, the track wanders through shifting dynamics that encapsulate trip-hop, psy-trance, quietly euphoric rave, if that is even possible and any number of synth led clubland styles. It is this musical restlessness, this chameleon-like desire to shift and shimmer before the listener that keeps things interesting, intriguing even. New Age music? Yes, why not?
If the worlds of EDM, dance and electro-pop have always been seen as a place where style over substance is the norm, where the shallow and shiny out ranks the deep and meaningful, where the quick fix is preferable to music which makes you think, then Of Codes Off Course is something that you need to listen to. Opening with an intense and industrial-electro reworking of Bowie’s Hallo Spaceboy might, to many, seem like a clever and revolutionary move, but in light of all that is to follow, this seems like one of the albums less astonishing moments, relatively speaking.
Face Different shows just how widely referencing and deeply thoughtful Sobolczyk’s music is, taking fragments of a letter from William Blake, a constant source of inspiration, and turning them into a strange musical theatre soundtrack for a futuristic avant-garde production complete with a small sampling of Kate Bush as the song draws to its conclusion. More literary references abound with T.S. Elliot being the starting point for Smitten Kitten and more contemporary samples littering the tracks, from John Lennon to Tim Burton and from Jake Shears to cult group Maanam.
Living By My Flow is a beguiling reinterpretation of Freddie Mercury’s Living on My Own and Adamski’s Killer and if you are going to head into the mash-up/re-work territory you might as well end up with something new and radically different to offer. And this is certainly that. But despite the re-works and references, the samples and source material, Of Codes Off Course is nothing if not highly original. From the growling grooves of Rebel Swine to the compelling and creative Codes of Victim Behaviour suite of songs, it is an album that is ever musically shifting, that is chameleon like it its nature that apart from fleeting points of comparison to early post-punk electronic pioneers, alternative classical composers and off the wall soundtrack creators, it is hard to easily sum the album using generic labels or soundbites.
But that has to be a good thing, right? Music that hard to pin down is moving everything forward, taking radical new ideas and running with them into uncharted territory of potential and creativity. It also means that if you really want to understand what is going on in this gloriously uncompromising music, then you will have to go and listen to the album. Something that you should do right now.
Musical pairings often seem like odd partnerships when you look at them a bit more closely. Take Days of Thunder, a green-fingered, eco-academic and musical avant-gardener and a creature of the night, rock and roller don’t seem to be the obvious collaborators but music is all about celebrating the common ground rather than worrying about the bits that fall outside the central part of the collective Venn Diagram.
If anything is being celebrated here, it is certainly the post-punk pioneering ethic, that adventurous and questing spirit that saw ex-punks and Blitz Kids ditch the trusty guitar and rewire keyboards to their will to create a new sound, a new style and new genre. But it is no mere pastiche of the past, no nostalgic, rose tinted spectacle moment, because it sounds very much of the here and now and also looks to the future.
Most interestingly though, is given the rock drama that often swirls around Billy Jon Bingham’s Ghosts of Machines and the experimentalism of Thomas Haynes’ Grasslands (though this is a lot closer to his work with No Side Effects) there is a real understatement at work here, a grandeur built from the atmosphere and anticipation which comes from allowing space to be one of the key components. As debut singles go….okay, you have definitely got my attention.
Imagine if jazz had evolved from the New Romantic synth experimentation of the late 70’s or that punk had been instigated after the invention of the affordable synthesiser or even that computers had been programmed to write acoustic pop songs. All unlikely scenarios for sure but each of those does say something about the three tracks that make up Butsenzeller’s latest collection of mercurial musical musings.
The title track hits the listener’s consciousness, less like an opening musical salvo more like an oozing sonic life form, a dirge from the far reaches of space sounding like music which has fallen between the cracks, and indeed tracks, of a studio recording and that then gradually came together in a strange synchronicity to form a creeping doom jazz soundtrack. Miles Davis meets The Apocalypse.
The wonderfully named Voteshutupworkconsume says a lot about some of the underlying attitudes of Butsenzeller and is musically a call back to the industrial dance-noise-art-punk disco that we found on Seqs & Drums & Rockin’ Synths, a short sharp sonic shock and an infectious groover. The less expected inclusion here is Isabel, potentially just a rudimentary busking guitar tune but put through the blender, warped and weirded out, effected and affected and turned into something otherworldly, angular and only half-human.
As always Butsenzeller manages to surprise you with his music, even though you already knew that something surprising was going to happen and it is that ability to keep pulling the rug from under the listener’s feet that keeps things exciting, fresh and fantastically odd. Then again normality is a pretty overrated concept if you ask me.
Starting 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.
No 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 that it remains the case to this day is Mary and The Ram’s arty, electro-punk disco dirge, The Cross. 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 but wanders the same sonic underworld. The Dream takes things even further into the Murphy – Cave axis of blasted blues meets electronic-gothica, somehow feeling like a spoken word aria from their twisted, co-joined pens.
It is electronic rock dancing a sultry and sensual tango with industrial electro-pop across a shaded and empty dance floor, it is primal urges caressing modern technology, old school experimentation getting frisky with future possibilities. And when the bored kids sat around the edge of the club sarcastically shout, “get a room,” they do and this is the result!
Pop music gets a rough deal these days, mainly because there seem to be too many rules to follow regarding what pop is allowed to be and should be about. This means it either falls into the commercial, production line sound, or wanders too far outside the accepted parameters for modern popular consumption. Porcelain People are clever enough to know that there is a third way, one that ticks all the boxes of accessibility and infectiousness but also offers something away from the normal chart sound and Heart Thumping Like sits wonderfully between pop and a hard place.
It takes liberal helpings of chilled 70’s end of the night disco vibes, 80’s electro, slick 90’s dance grooves and modern innovations. It manages to revel in the past and look to the future, it is light and immediately loveable, blends funky guitars with techno beats, washes synths behind vibrant vocals, is joyous, euphoric and life affirming. And they do all of that in three and a half minutes!
It’s very easy to listen to electro-pop and try to draw a thread back to earlier post-punk pioneers. But choosing to wield synths as your musical weapons of choice doesn’t make you Depeche Mode, in the same way that painting a landscape doesn’t mean that you are just trying to be Constable. Stonerpop is certainly all about making synth driven alt-pop music for the here and now rather than any act of rose-tinted, backward glancing, nostalgia trips and Physical Business feels like a whole new chapter, the beginning of a new part of the story of contemporary music in its own right.
Just listen to Human Nature, a deft blend of sultry grooves, emotive soundscapes and cascading violins, a fantastic blend of modern, left field, slick EDM and timeless classical sweeps This song alone is enough to underline the bands forward thinking approach. The title track is a sunburst of brassy electronica over brooding low end bass and beat, gradually turning into a throbbing industrial beast as the song builds and Headglow is a pulsing platform of sound upon which the vocals wander between dense and dark deliveries and staccato stabs. In short, this is all new, this is all original, this is all great.
Yes, this is pop music, at least at its core but it winds so many jagged edges, such industrial weight, brooding and bruised beats around itself that the label seems slightly misleading. Then again, the bands name is as good a reference as any, it conveys something of the intensity, the down beat undercurrents and the dark heart that it beats with. Even at its most crystalline and chiming moments, such as Game Over (I Remember) it drips with otherness, ethereality and displays a very different mindset to anything that has gone before. It looks like electro-pop is back with a vengeance, but cast aside all images of the Day-Glo pop posing of the past and the frothy dance floor anthems of yesteryear, this time it seems to have a score to settle.
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that there were no second acts in American lives. He also said a bit about trombone players and jazz music. He also predicted that pop-punk has had its day. Maybe. He was wrong about a lot of it. Eleventyseven are not only back after a three year hiatus, with a new album, but Rad Science is their fifth to date and their first on their own label. This feels very much like a second act to me and pop-punk certainly isn’t dead, it just needed a bit of a polish, a re-tune and is ready for another spin round the block, leaving tyre tracks on the street and the smell of burning in the air and Eleventyseven have proven to be just the people for the job.
But enough of the tenuous car analogies. The band’s chosen moniker for their music is neon-punk and as journalistic labels go it is pretty much spot on capturing their blend of vibrant pop sensibility and punk energy, old-school guitar muscle and cutting edge electronic futurism and Rad Science is neat slice of sassy accessibility and clever genre-splicing.
Holding Out, the current single, leans heavily on the EDM side of their signature sound, weaving together dance vibes and big choruses, a surefire winner with the dancefloor set and compare this with the slick but visceral punk urges of opening salvo New Rock Bottom and you have an idea of the limits of the territory that the band work in. And these limits are wide enough to encompass Kicking The Habit’s futuristic electro-rock, Inside Out’s skittering pop, the hat tip to pop-punk past of New York Minute and the more balladic dance grooves of Microchip.
It’s safe to say that there is plenty going on here, but then again this is a band which has more than earned their stripes, know a thing or two about writing songs which are both commercial and immediate but which also appeal to a more discerning musical palette, and who are about to embark on a really exciting second act. F. Scott who?
It’s funny how the idea of a flat earth has become a major point of contention, a stand against academia, experts and scientific thought. I’m not really sure where these particular Flat Earth People stand, whether they are for, against or just being wilfully controversial, but to be honest it doesn’t really matter, it is just a hooky title for a hooky song, a song which comes on like a ambient dub jam for the back bedroom studio age.
Stripping dub and reggae down to its core essence and then blending it with hypnotic electronica, some subtle acoustic guitar motifs and a repetitive vocal trip. Chants would be a fine thing! And indeed they are and this mediative chant is the perfect chill out track, a gentle, late night come down, a mind altering mood inducer and dark and delicious background music all in one.
Some music is about grand statements, high drama and attention seeking, I’m Not Spinning is everything that isn’t, effortlessly cool, understated, restrained, intriguing and entrancing…electro-dub for a new age.
It always pays to know your place in musical history, knowing where you come from is just as important as knowing where you are going. It is something that Collegians seem to understand all too well as within the swirling depths of Black Mass you can here everything from the pulsing echoes of Depeche Mode as they dropped their pop identity and headed into darker realms, their guitar wielding electro-rock successors Muse and current sonic genre-splicers such as Suzerain.
It’s a realm where high drama and rock theatre prevail but for all that this Melbourne quartet steer just the right side of bombast and their musical weight seems texture and layered rather than merely thrown on. Beats are precise yet aggressive, basses pulse and guitars scythe, and all of this is swathed in trippy electronica and washes of futuristic synth. Fine lines are being walked here between the traditional rock stamping grounds and a heavy dance grove, between the sounds of opposing past musical approaches finding common ground and the potential of where that may take them. More than anything it is the sound of a band who have listened, learnt and adapted and along the way are at the fore-front of a new wave, a new approach to a new rock approach.
This is rock for a new generation, rock wearing a coat of many generic colours, rock realising that the tribalism and demarkations that have long kept the genre on a very straight and predictable path need to be abandoned, more than anything this is rock embracing the future, beginning a new chapter and having fun along the way. Why didn’t anyone think of this before?
Never judge a book by its cover but both the title of this album, the wordiness of the track names and even the name of the artist in all its lower case glory are clear sign posts that what follows is going to be something a bit left field, a bit special, totally unique. connect_icut makes music, if indeed it is music in the conventional sense, which aims to blur lines. Lines between instinct and intellect, chaos and order, organic and synthetic, analogue and digital and the result is something which pretty much is defined by what it is breaking away from. It is post-digital, post-electro, post-song even and though built of melodic threads it feels more like an art-piece, a sound installation, an acoustic experiment.
But then again who defines what music is, who gets to set the limits of where it can go, which boundaries are pushed? A four-four beat and some throw away lyrics might conform to a lot of peoples definition but out on the fringes new ideas are being explored, experiments in tonal music, fluid sound washes, structureless expressionism and glitchy distractions.
The opening brace of songs Uridium and Laureline brim with hypnotic subtleties, drawn out threads of sound and slow-burning intrigue and at the other extreme Haernwerthwr is a claustrophobic bundle of sparks and energy and pulsing electronica. But it is not an album that should be seen as a collection of tracks, in the same what that art is not just a collection of colours and shapes. Music For Granular Sythesizer is more about abstraction and texture but it is also about something much bigger, it is about exploring the edges of music, finding out what is beyond once you have pushed that boundary to its accepted limits, it is about music as art and about the total questioning of what music can even be. Now that is what I call thinking big.
Rock music has a tough time in the modern age. Gone are the days when it was enough to kick out a heavy blues, three chord jam, the modern audience wants more musical bang for its buck. So whilst some bands head off in search of new alt-rock horizons and others lighten the load and aim for rock-light commerciality, Lou Patty show us that there is still a way for modern bands to combine old school grit with modern age accessibility, traditional styles with forward thinking music.
Hostile is a wonderfully blend of classic rock guitars and electronica and if history has shown us that electro-rock experiments tend to be more electro than rock, more aimed at the dance set than the rock fraternity, then Lou Patty is just the band to put the record straight. The riffs are big and brutal, the bass and back beats drive perfectly but the breakdowns prove that the band understand dynamics and space, that they know that if they take the foot off the gas for a while the rush when things kick back in is even more delicious. This is rock not only for the modern age but rock that can lead the way into interesting new possibilities and potential for the genre.
And as a calling card for their latest e.p. it perfectly displays all of their musical interests and alongside this opening salvo you will find a broad range of musical styles being subsumed, adapted, warped and bent to their will. Kings and Servants indulges their straighter rock interests, Minute of Peace wraps glitchy guitars around staccato beats blending industrial intensity with dark dystopian vibes and Molly Ray comes on like a funky Prince number give a razor wire make over.
This is rock for a new generation, rock wearing a coat of many generic colours, rock realising that the tribalism and demarkations that have long kept the genre on a very straight and predictable path need to be abandoned, more than anything this is rock embracing the future, beginning a new chapter and having fun along the way. Why didn’t anyone think of this before?
Step into a swirling, warping re-imagining of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds constructed with analog synths, glitchy vocal effects, trip hop beats, and kitten samples… plentiful kitten samples.
I was a tad apprehensive about listening to a full LP re-interpretation of one of my favourite albums, but I’m not sure why, as I happily listen away to The Flamings Lips covering the entirety of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. I guess it is because YYY (multi-dimensional songwriter/producer Austin Carson) was an unknown to me, but why should such a thing dictate what my ears wish to listen to? It’s a good thing I don’t, really, as my ears love this!
I’m not sure how you pronounce YYY, so I’m going with saying ‘Y’ three times. You can say it how you like.
Starting life as a little musical experiment only one song was planned, but this soon beach balled (see what I did?) into a project that included many of Austin’s musical friends including rappers P.O.S and deM atlaS to dream pop duo Fort Wilson; who provide a beautiful set of harmonies for the technically-not-on-the-original-album-but-what-the-hell ‘Good Vibrations’. If you can imagine The Magic Numbers having a crack at this iconic Beach Boys track with Hot Chip providing the music, you wouldn’t be far off the mark.
This is the YYY’s first release and was recorded and produced in Austin’s home studio, ‘The Aqua Dungeon’. Found sounds are slotted and warped into all sorts of interesting places. I’ve heard some nice chilled waves and cats (quite a few cats) car horns and fireworks.
While Austin does a tremendous job at mimicking Brian Wilson’s melancholy cries, the album is illuminated by plenty of additional vocals. The female vocalists really do add something refreshing to this album, particularly on ‘Still Believe In Me’ ‘Don’t Talk’ and ‘I’m Waiting for the Day’.
‘Waiting for the Day’ also includes some glorious scream samples buried between the chorus and verses.
Also listen out for laughter, coughing fits and timing checks all distorted and slammed through various glitch machines.
‘Sloop John B’, one of my favourite songs, includes a slow throbbing synth bass, which gives way to a delicate acoustic guitar and closes with a max-fuzz guitar. Amazing!
Everyone’s favourite, recently destroyed by the BBC tune*, ‘God Only Knows’ kicks off with a question about cat sleeping tactics and shows plenty of reverence for the delicateness of the original, and draws out with a harmonica and acoustic guitar.
‘Hang On To Your Ego’ includes Caribbean drum samples and a deep bass wobbling around beneath the tender vocals.
Drums across the album include live sets and some nice drum machines and tasty trip hop beats (Just check out ‘Let’s Go Away for Awhile’ for some true trip hop beauty).
This is a very confident and entertaining re-interpretation of Pet Sounds, which is a lot of fun to listen to and sounds like it was even more fun to make and is a much more enjoyable listen than The Flaming Lips recent efforts at album covers.
I’m looking forward to hearing what Austin and his little cat army create next!
*I never once mentioned Dave Grohl sitting on a f**cking cloud!
Even in this day where cover versions, sampling and reworking of classic songs is the norm, there are some artists, to me anyway, whose music you plunder at your peril. Do not touch the Leonard Cohen collection unless you are going to find something new to bring out of his dark, sensual visions. Open up the back catalogue of Tom Waits for no man (geddit?) unable to match his wacky majesty. And don’t go near The Beach Boys, after all, who in their right mind is arrogant enough to think that they could improve on their masterful musical creations? But then again I have been wrong so many times before. That’s the problem with creativity, what might seem like a disaster on paper can turn out to be genius in actuality.
So who is up for a warped, electro-drone version of the Brian Wilson penned classic Wouldn’t It Be Nice complete with tribal Glitter Band drums, 80’s synth washes and crazy Kosmische overtones? No, well, I now what you mean but you should try it some time. YYY’s vision is ambitious to say the least and is so wonderfully avant-garde that you forget that Austin Carson has just put a beloved musical icon through the blender. Separate this version from the original and you have a bone fide piece of exploratory futuristic retro music. If you are unable to separate this from the original then you might see it more as a plundering of the crown jewels, broken down to make a strange musical montage. And if that’s the way you see things then you probably want to have the man behind it tarred and feathered and run out of town. It just depends on how rose-tinted your glasses are and just how sacred your musical cows. Music is like that, its a funny old game.
The debut Hologram Teen album certainly arrives with all the right credentials in place as it is the solo project of none other than Morgane Lhote, the long-term avante-guardian of the keyboards for seminal indie adventurers Stereolab during what many consider to be their creative high water mark. And as someone long associated with such mercurial and adventurous music, you would expect her to present you with something which carries on that challanging and creative spark. And you wouldn’t be wrong as Between The Funk and The Fear is as brilliant as it is strange.
Hologram Teen builds a kalidoscopic world from Day-Glo techno, psychedelic electronica, progressive structures, motorik beats and warped disco flavours. But the inherent strangeness comes from the addition of cinematic motiffs, dark trippiness, found sounds and audio library eclectica, not to mention the wonderful musical collisions that take place along the way. One listen to the albums swan song and lead single, Escape From Paris, and you quickly realise that musical conventions are out of the window and this could actually be the soundtrack to a space opera horror video game, such is its pent up energy and feeling of impending dread.
Elsewhere things feel a bit more accessible, God(d) of Thunder vs. Sukia is a slow, soul-tech groove, a battle between jazz cool and spaced out electronica, sweeping classical touches and the sound of the universe breathing and Brooklyn’s Broken! You Caught Me! is a minimalist doom disco put to a toy solider drum beat.
Never has a collection of music bubbled with so many ideas, pushed in so many directions and fused so many genres to its will, yet sounded so bright, accesible, intriguing and most of all fun. Sometimes the most enjoyment you can have is when you stop trying to understand what is going on around you and just embrace it. Between The Funk and The Fear certainly confuses the hell out of me but somehow I just can’t stop listening to it. It is good to feel so lost yet so nurtured at the same time and Hologram Teen does just that.
Future predictions rarely hold true, if they did we would all have personal jet packs, be living on the moon or in the dark dystopian city scapes envisioned in Blade Runner. But predicting the future is just what we love to do, in print, in film, in fact, fiction and fashion, and of course in music. The Blitz Kids, punk futurists who embraced Bowie-esque dreams took to rewiring broken keyboards and bending them to their will and then as New Romantics they painted new sonic versions of the future and maybe that is one prediction which came true. Music made by humans manipulating computers into robotic part man, part machine sounds, which in turn spawned new technology and new options and if the guitar band didn’t become obsolete, there were now definitely alternate paths to take.
And if those pioneering bands planted the seed of a digital music revolution, the fact that such an approach to making music is not only still alive but part of mainstream practice shows that they knew at least what they wanted the future to look and sound like. A Million Machines are part of that future vision, referencing just enough of past sonic explorers such as Depeche Mode, OMD and John Foxx but pushing that sound forward at the same time.
Their’s is a clean and layered sound built of vibrant beats, pulsing electronica and modular synth building materials all kept in check wonderfully by the slightly deadpan vocals and often dark subject matter of Fate Fatal’s lyrical deliveries. And if that sounds like we have heard it all before, it is what they bring to the party that keeps things moving forward, the punky, electro-clash of Tech Support, Vitality and its brooding, booming bass line underpinning cinematic, widescreen synths and Come Tonight is futuristic electro-pop at its finest.
The dawn to this particular musical event horizon was ushered in by a bunch of punks who wanted to destroy the status quo and indeed Status Quo and whilst they might have kicked down the musical barricades it was the disenfranchised kids in make-up clutching keyboards who embraced the future and it is a future which is still being discussed sonically and digitally by bands such as A Million Machines.
Who indeed. Perhaps the sort of people who wilfully mix warped Bee Gees doing hard-disco with Vangelis-esque cinematic electronica? Maybe they are those sort of people who love the synth-pop of the post-punk period and wish to see it given a new lease of life for a whole new generation of ears. Certainly they are people who are happy to title their latest e.p. with a question and then deliberately leave off the question mark. Nothing good can ever come of that I can tell you.
But Synth Wave, New Wave Retro, Future Synth, call it what you will, might have its roots in the experiments of ex-punks bored with blues-based guitar possibilities who rewired broken keyboards and bent them to their will, but it has had a whole life of its own since then. Affordable equipment, digital developments and home studios have meant that the possibilities for such music are endless and far from looking back at the formative years, Siblings of Us find themselves very much at the front of a musical charge into the harsh halogen light of a new musical day.
Neon Lungs bursts with confidence and muscle, it is anthemic and stadium ready, euphoric and brilliantly dynamic and acts as the perfect centre-piece for this mercurial collection. Opening salvo, Iocaine, not only reveals their love of iconic fantasy films but acts as a great calling card for what is to follow and Saints on Break is a sort of electro-pop-soul number…if electro-pop-soul was made by renegade car plant robots, in the far future using a strange blend of hypnotic industrial grooves and otherworldly vocals.
We The British American seems the closest Siblings come to being in the here and now rather than their usual predilections for predicting the sound of the future or reviving the sound of the past, being more grounded…but it’s all relative and it may be a while before they replace the likes of Beyonce as mainstream club floor fare…more’s the pity.
If you think that Electronic Dance Music has found its level, that maybe it has nowhere left to go, Siblings of Us are 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 disco, electro-rock, future dance, cinematic film score, progressive pop, futuristic Broadway bombast and heady stadium-dance…often in the space of one track. Who could do all of that? Who Indeed.
Recently signed to Manchester’s Eromeda Records, They Called Him Zone continues its mission of building beguiling electronic landscapes. If the previous encounter with Crow Swan Wolf had something of dystopia about it, suggesting decaying urban vistas and shattered industrial wastelands, Just Fall conjures a whole different scene. This time out there is something of a less desolate about its vision for the future, something more complete, shiny and sleek but perhaps no less visceral.
Hypnotic electronica and clinical beats construct a platform for the vocals to rest on, alien and weary, human, yet somehow not quite human as well, gently building and almost disarmingly soothing before razor sharp guitars cut through to gloriously unnerving effect. It is the sound of the future yet you can hear the past there too, the experimentalion of a whole load of Sheffield punks and musically disenfranchised Bowie devotees rewiring keyboards, playing with tape effects and ushering in New Romanticism and that brief, glorious window of opportunity before cash and commerciality seduced its great and good.
This is perhaps the sound of that movement had it stayed the course, cold, hard, hypnotic, unforgiving and wonderful.
As any album proudly bearing labels such as relaxation and meditation hoves into view, I have a tendency to brace for a salvo of head shop, whale noise nonsense and wind chime cacophony. But if more people working in such a broad and often misrepresented genre made music like Christopher Rapkin’s Release, then there would be nothing to worry about. It is an album which goes beyond the mere label of mood music and wanders through more exciting musical territory, well if exciting is not quite the right word…maybe worthy, clever and unique are better fits. It skirts the realms of minimal, Vangelis soundscapes, of progressive rock interludes, of futuristic dreams and galactic visions. But the purpose here is not the outward journey that some of the track titles might suggest, but an inner voyage, one built of meditation, calmness and introspection.
And again, unlike many working in similar fields, this record goes beyond a collection of pleasing sounds or creative expression, though it obviously encapsulates that as well, but instead is composed of carefully selected sonics, of precise combinations of rhythm and musical vibration to create this Zen bubble that the music is helping you to attain. And even coming, as I do, from a more cynical place, away from such transcendental arguments, it is still quite simply a beautiful collection of music. Perfect for repeat play at low volume throughout the house or as the back drop to a chilled gathering or late supper. And even by admitting as much I guess that is the argument won on the behalf of the artist, even without delving too knowingly into the neurological reasoning behind the music I’m happy to admit that it enhances the room, chills the atmosphere and calms the soul. Damnit, I was determined to stay detached and just review, well, that’s the power of music I guess…who knew? Well, Mr Rapkin for one!
Being 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.
The mercurially named I, Symptom continue their singular quest to explore the point of impact between dystopian electronica and trashy post-punk forms. But whereas last time around Triple Exclamation Mark was a blend of urgent warped rock and driven, dance orientated sounds, this time they offer up a slow burning, trippy meander through the solar system and beyond, hypnotic and transcendent. It is built on the use of restraint and anticipation, woven from clinical modernity and old-school musicianship.
As always there is intelligent observation and poignant thought at the heart of the music, here wrestling with the idea that the physicality of leaving earth for space exploration may be the easy bit and it is that emotional attachment which is going to be the hard part to deal with.
This is the continuation of the Major Tom discussion which Bowie began with Space Oddity and which the likes of Elton John cheaply appropriated with Rocket Man as so many others have also tried to do. This is man against the vastness of space, Isaac Asimov as a modern day electro-symphony this is also the meeting of musical worlds, something I, Symptom does very well.
The mysterious and mercurial Hefe Heetroc is an interesting proposition. The music sits somewhere beyond conventional rap, past the point where glitchy electro starts to unravel into something more like the death throes of a misfiring super computer or half heard deep space noise. It is almost a deconstruction of the genre, or at least a strange musical anagram where nothing is where you expect it to be. Musical curve balls are the name of the game here.
Listening to the album is a weird counterpoint of annoyance at how it seems just on the edge of falling into chaos, and a hypnotic attraction as you try to predict where things will go next. Try but fail. But what ever you think of the music on purely aesthetic grounds, it is clear that something important here. In the same way that as hip-hop spawned rap it was seen as a lesser being, as punk dumbed down the rock and roll template it was seen as a step too far, The Shadow Cabal… will be seen as a revolutionary move and an evolutionary step. Its power may not come from commercial numbers or mainstream exposure but in many years time it will be seen as radical turn down a new musical pathway.
It may not make sense now, it doesn’t have to, its job is to sink into the underground consciousness, infect and subvert perceived wisdom and suggest new musical forms. Trailblazers are rarely seen for the visionaries they are until many years later but one day Hefe Heetroc will be the coolest name to drop as an avant garde music reference.
Chilled beats from the chilly north! That in a nutshell is what Santos Noyakuk is all about. If you associate classic EDM sounds with the warm west coast, azure blue washed Mediterranean or ultra-chic underground German basement clubs, Noyakuk’s shimmering northern sound will remind you that dance music is no longer driven by the limits of culture and geography. It is everywhere you look, the modern expression of the primal urge to dance, to break free, and to express yourself just for the sake of it.
Caballero is built on a mixture of chilled, sultry grooves and high-octane dance beats, the journey from one to the other often being the structure that the track is built on. It wanders between the now and the near future, both recognisable and exploratory, sometimes opting for the slick dance floor sound of today, sometimes pushing the electronic boundaries into fascinating new forward thinking techno-concoctions.
And that is always the place that EDM has to sit, constantly tumbling forward into new possibilities, never staying still long enough to sound dated or retro, a punk ethic in a digital age. The genre is nothing if not an endless quest for a new vision of itself, thankfully Santos Novakuk is at the front of this trail blazing expedition.
They say that you can tell a lot about a person by the company that they keep. Similarly you can tell a lot about a musician by looking at who has accompanied them on their musical journey thus far. Making your way in any original and creative field is full of interesting and often unexpected twists, opportunities and collaborations and all this creates an imprint, a cross between a fingerprint, a musical DNA and a family tree. Examine that and you can learn a lot about an artist before you even meet them.
With heroes including Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream, time spent as a post rock explorer, sharing stages with the likes of Low, Pan American and Spectrum, writing film score music and a move into the improvisational world of free jazz, you get a feel for the scope and exploratory nature of Nathan Yeager’s mind.
And of those early references and years served before the mast, the two areas which seem to inform The Last Lighthouse most heavily are those hours spent ingesting the progressive electro-experiments of Tangerine Dream and the musical mind set towards composing music suited as much to a film score as a live performance.
The first track, It’s Been a Hell of a Year, is less an opening salvo but more just drifts into the listeners consciousness, a sonorous dreamscape which brings to mind the celestial music of The Enid or the more recent elegantly gossamer creations of SPC ECO. By the time we have got to the wonderfully named March of The Tortoise new elements have been added to this chilled template. The tracks become more confident, more structured, beat driven and brilliantly glitchy and compelling in their oddness. At times, as these two worlds of pastoral charm and clinical futurism clash, it sounds as if you have accidently pressed play on two very different albums yet you can’t quite pull yourself away from the hypnotic result.
Sonoluminescence is a weave of drama and drive and Last Night in Pine Bush NY seems elemental, music built from the primal sounds of nature; otherworldly, ancient and organic. The album’s swan song, Theme From The Last Lighthouse, is a mercurial blend of Vangelis sound tracking, mood music, and beats and noises seemingly being picked up via some sort of deep space monitoring.
You could see these pieces, as Nathan surely does, as a series of sound tacks to short films but an interesting creative twist would be if someone would make the films based on listening to the music. I’m not sure what those would look like but I know I would be at the front of the queue for tickets.
I’ve been reading some of the writing by those music bloggers they have now days. You know the ones, with their skinny lattes, even skinnier jeans and complicated hair. It seems that the current trend is all about juxtapositions and I was thinking just how they might approach Pattern Language’s intriguing sound in one of those achingly hip publications. They may try to suggest that this is Vangelis’s Dusseldorf years or Jean Michel Jarre getting a dance grove on, use terms such as indietronica or reference the Krautrock motorik sound. It all looks good on paper but I’m not sure it gets to the heart of the matter.
Sure, there is a heavy debt being paid to those Germanic sonic explorers of the 70’s but there is also a lightness of touch to these instrumentals which references what came through the door that they kindly left open. Thomas Dolby’s eclectic electronica, the pre-pop sensation years of The Human League and the dreamy retro-futurism of Air to name a few.
But it is a lot more than an exercise in cherry picking past glories, the instrumentals found on Total Squaresville are nothing if not contemplating the future, sometimes the far future and Blade Runner-esque cityscapes and Isaac Asimov book covers seem to be intrinsically linked to the music. And for all its grandiose imagery and often-clinical qualities the music is also somehow surprisingly romantic and overwhelmingly beautiful. It is the stuff of atonal music boxes and digital fugues, of escapism and longing and for all its conjuring of space vistas and alien encounters it never seems anything less than rooted in the now and locked on to a human heart and soul.
It’s very easy to package all sample and synth driven music into one genre, one all encompassing dance package, but to do so would be like saying all rock music is the same or all classical music belongs in the same pigeon-hole. The delivery system might have common ground, the rock guitar, the classical orchestration but beyond that each player, producer and composer follows their own path. And so it is with electronic dance music.
Here Sabiani blends the sounds that make up his latest EP, Expanse into a continuous live flow of music, one that takes in beat driven dance floor vibes and more chilled grooves, mesmerising cycles and slow-burning builds. There is beauty in the hypnotic minimalism, the alien sounds which often run behind the more familiar dance beats and the fact that his music somehow sounds chilled and soothing yet energetic and structured is the secret of its success.
Whilst there is more than a nod to the new wave, funky-punk of Talking Heads running through the track, it is what else they bring to the table that stops this being a mere pastiche or homage to past times. The groove is timeless, disco meets upbeat funk-soul but they dress these iconic sounds in upscale, modern electronica that is so slick, so now, so cool, that it hurts.
But even playing with such recognisable threads and ultra hip, urban trappings it still refuses to come quietly and brave dynamic breakdowns shoot holes in the smooth groove that it created. Disco may very well be back and this time its not playing by the rules.
How many bands does it take make a movement? Maybe two is enough, it is certainly enough for a pincer movement so for now let’s consider this less a gathering of the like-minded clans and more a two-pronged attack on complacency. Alongside their fellow West Country art-noise pedlars, Diagonal People, Martyrials raison d’etre seems simple – to rouse the musical proletariat from their somnambulistic stagger. Both bands seem to use music like a Rubik’s cube, spinning the squares into weird random patterns and occasionally finding the answer, but if you are more interested in the answer than the question then their music is not for you.
The colours on Martyrials cube represent punk and industrial dance, electro-clash, krautrock and scuzzy garage creations, they look like they hang out with The Doors, if The Doors had carried on long enough into the seventies to have a bleak, experimental Berlin period and they sing in satirical sound-bites and poke avant-garde sticks at the bear of conformity. If we hadn’t lost track of this sort of revolutionary way of thinking we’d still be defending Guernica from Franco! Or something…