Posts Tagged ‘80s’

12th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from Cyborg Amok’s eponymous debut. Sure, there’s the press release, and no, it’s not lazy journalism to take cribs and pointers from press releases. This one forewarns that Cyborg Amok ‘resides somewhere between the brilliance of twilight and the apocalyptic darkness. Their gothic infused synth-rock sound delivers the listener to a panorama of synthetic waves, twisted organic tones and a slightly pop crust … the language angels speak in the darkness.’

I don’t entirely compute the implications of this, can’t even really unravel them, not least of all because I can’t always grasp what passes for ‘gothic’ these days having lost the thread some time in the mid to late 90s with the emergence of cybergoth, which sounded just like so much bad techno to me, and a million miles from the post-punk origins of the genre, and the subsequent ‘waves’ of goth which coincided with myriad hybrid mutant strains. Perhaps I am something of a pursuit in my personal tastes, but as a critic, I try to be more accommodating. But sometimes, you just have to accept that music is music and it’s either good or bad, because your audience are unlikely to share your prejudicial quirks.

Cyborg Amok is Greg Bullock (formerly the keyboardist with RealEyes and Shamen) and drummer Brydon Bullock (no relation as far as is obvious), and their debut album is in fact bringing together their first two (now deleted) EPs, so, if I’m being picky it’s not really a debut album but a compilation (which is also true of The March Violets’ Natural History among others. Not that it detracts from the force of these seven songs pulled together in one place. Oh no. Cyborg Amok kicks.

‘Burden Away’ brings bulldozing bass and stuttering mechanised drums. The rhythm guitar trudges and grinds, while Greg’s brooding baritone vocals registers in the ribcage – but while it’s so much industrial grind, the lead guitars are warped country, and there’s a twangy inflection in the vocals to match. It’s solid, but if you’re looking for a pigeonhole, you’re going to struggle. Things get even more complicated with ‘Still Too Far Out’, which straddles Nightbreed-flavoured second/third wave goth with its organ synth sounds evoking sepulchral gloom against guitars that fizz in a swathe of chorus and flange… and then there’s a fuck-off keyboard solo that’s B-Movie and Ultravox and it may be incongruous by 2020s standards, but perfectly in place in context of those precursors.

With its space-themed title and snarling, bulbous, electronics, ‘Dancing on the Floor of the Sea of Tranquillity’ provides more of the vibes the moniker and title perhaps evoke, and if it suggests extravagant prog enormity, it’s no criticism to say that after its dark, stark intro, it slips towards 80s electropop in the vein of A-Ha.

There are some Cure-esque moments scattered about the album, too, but then this is an album, that assimilated huge swathes of 80s that’s not exactly band-specific, but the zeitgeist.

There’s some overblown prog guitar that’s Yngwie Malmsteen overdone, but once they’re done with the moments of indulgence (‘Choice Not Taken’ is perhaps the greatest showcase of guilt), they deliver some impressive musical moments, where the ambition is equalled by the ability.

They’re at their best when they keep it minimal, sparse, nailed down: last track ‘Another Turn’ bears solid – and favourable – comparisons to Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, with its steely beats and grey, steely guitars backing a gruff, ragged vocal delivery. It’s a style that works well, and while this compilation must provide a point at which to assess the trajectory of their career, the evidence here is that they’re doing everything right and need to forge ahead and capitalise on their work so far, because this is a strong dark album.

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29th January 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I have a hunch that the ethereal, bohemian songstress may not have been born Gabrielle Ornate, but it’s certainly fitting for the kind of light, decorative, yet expansive and kaleidoscopic electropop showcased on her debut single, ‘The March of the Caterpillars’.

Yes, it has that quintessentially 80s vibe, but then that in itself has become something that’s grown beyond its origins to become a genre unto itself, meaning that this single is both of a time and timeless. Propelled by a solid beat and buoyant bassline, it balances elements of both rock and pop, it’s a perfect vehicle for Gabrielle’s vocal, which switches from quiet and contemplative to full and bold in the choruses.

Lyrically, it’s about evolution and ‘respecting one’s roots’, but said lyrics are largely oblique and poetical, spinning together a succession of thoughts and images to form a semi-abstract flow, which works nicely.

It’s a strong debut, and Gabrielle seems to have emerged in full-fluttering glory.

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22nd April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Argonaut offshoot and Aural Aggro favourites Videostore have certainly been keeping busy during lockdown: just days after unleashing the lightning strike blast of the 54-second ode to redevelopment, ‘Building Breaking’, with the inclusion of three more previous singles, they’ve delivered a full ten-song album. Better still, the speed of its creation imbues every second with an urgency and immediacy that grabs the listener and keeps a solid grip right to the end.

It’s pitched as the soundtrack to an imaginary 1980s Brat Pack movie set in a Videostore. The songs provide a background for the small-town, the journey and the relationship. Please insert your own characters, plot twists and angst!’

‘Building Breaking’ kicks it off in a flurry of fizzy guitars, and keeping it front-loaded, the dreamy showgazer that is ‘Every Town’, and for all the buzzsaw bangers, there are some beautifully melancholic moments to be found here. They evoke not only a (recent and modern) bygone era, but also conjure a sense of the downbeat and the run-down.

If nostalgia has painted the 80s as an era of shininess, newness, and the dawn of the new consumerism, Vincent’s Picks reminds us that there has always been deprivation, worn-down backstreets and downtrodden folks living mundane lives. The people who rarely feature in big-budget movies. Vincent’s Picks is not about car chases and explosions, espionage and cold-war action. There’s grit and grain, and accessible lo-fi alt-pop in the form of ‘Math Club’. Elsewhere, ‘Aloner’ goes all-out on the big anthem, and they absolutely nail it: what it needs is a montage to accompany it, and lots of shots of rain-soaked brooding.

The opening lines of ‘Not Alone’ have a timeless universality about them, although resonate deep at this moment in time, as Nathan sings in a low, cracked voice that contrasts with Lorna’s clean candyfloss tone, ‘Would you like a cigarette / would you like a cup of tea? / I’m sorry you’re alone… Would you like another drink? / Would you like to watch TV?’. Around the world, there are so many who would pretty much kill to have a drink or cup of tea with another human being. It breaks into a monster guitar break and mess of overloading distortion that’s like Dinosaur Jr gone industrial.

The Pixies-esque ‘My Back’ is an absolute scorcher, and the cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Never Let Me Down Again’ is unexpected, and really rather good: Lorna takes the lead vocals and it’s a kinds Cure meets Strawberry Switchblade that does justice to a classic. You can almost imagine a reworking of the video inbuilt into the imaginary movie, before ‘Sleep Complete’ brings things to an uplifting resolution.

Vincent’s Picks isn’t an overtly or explicitly concept or soundtrack album, but it does set itself up to present a kind of narrative flow, and it works well. More importantly, there isn’t a duff song on it, which makes it one of my picks, too.

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Pretty Ugly Records – 24th May 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The London synth duo follow up on last year’s debut double A-side ‘Are You Ready’ / ‘Hell Is Where the Heart Is’ with ‘Modern Witchcraft’, which according to the press release ‘sees the band explore Britain’s lost highways in their darkly psychedelic animation’.

Having spent the last few months holed up with Dave M. Allen (The Cure, Sisters Of Mercy, Yassasin), Matt Kilda and Willow Vincent have been experimenting hard, and this singe is the first fruits to be revealed from the forthcoming ‘Cheer Up The Apocalypse Is Here’ EP.

Instead of lamenting the absent comma, I shall instead concentrate on focusing my energies on celebrating the taut goth-hued electropop of ‘Modern Witchcraft’. It mines a supremely retro seam of 80s bleakness, pulling together Gary Numan, The Human League, and Depeche Mode, with the warmth of analogue condensing against a chilly atmosphere and brittle, stripped-back production to evoke a sense of desolation, of isolation.

Whichever fan review suggested Sex Cells are ‘helping define the anxiety and utter dread of late-stage Capitalism’ was on the money: if it’s the sound of the 80s intensified for the post-millennial world, it’s fitting, given that the parallels between then and ow are clear – only then, we only had one clear enemy and cause of social division, and less CCTV.

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Sex Cells

House Of Mythology – 7th December 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Having unveiled the Sic Transit Gloria Mundi EP via their Bandcamp page last November – and subsequently on all of the usual digital platforms, Ulver are finally giving the EP a physical release. The initial release was somewhat hurried as the band were about to embark on a lengthy tour to support the album The Assassination of Julius Caesar – so now, in addition to the three studio tracks (two originals which had lain dormant, incomplete for a time, and a cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘The Power of Love’) – they’re giving fans four live tracks recoded on the aforementioned tour as an added bonus.

The studio material – offcuts from The Assassination of Julius Caesar – continue the band’s pop-orientated evolution, and as with the material from album which spawned them, there’s a very mid-80s synth-rock style in evidence. Now, some aspects of 80s revivalism make sense: the dark times in which we find ourselves seems to demand bleak post-punk inspired sounds. But is there anything that can truly justify the revisitation and recreation of radio-friendly pop-rock, the overproduced sound of mullets, hair gel and rolled jacket sleeves? Ulver have fully made the transition into purveyors of sleek, slick and ultimately overtly commercial. I’ve no objection to pop per se, but let’s not pretend that sonically or lyrically, Ulver 2018 are any more challenging than Bastille. Then again, there are shades of darkness in a lot of 80s chart music that are often overlooked, and Ulver still brood, with hints of Depeche Mode and Disintegration-era Cure in the many-layered mix. And the cover – a song that feels somewhat underrated in the FGTH discography – is done justice with an extremely faithful rendition.

The live tracks are, as one would expect, pristine in both performance and production. It’s perhaps easier to marvel at the fidelity and the quality than it is the dynamics and the passion, and there’s nothing that connects the silent scream of pain of Francis Bacon’s ‘Study After Velasquez’ used on the cover art, but music where synths are dominant tends to sound a lot cleaner and more polished live anyway.

The Assassination of Julius Caesar opener, ‘Nemoralia’, is presented here in extended form, its dreamy disco on sedatives groove stretching past the six-minute mark, and ‘Rolling Stone’ is allowed to breathe in all its epic glory. ‘Southern Gothic’ (which does bring some atmosphere and emotion to the partly) ‘Transverberation’, both recorded at Labirinto Della Masone, Fontanellato showcase the band’s stadium-filling, reverb-soaked sound to optimal effect. And the fact of the matter is, I can’t fault it. I’m just not really feeling it, either.

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Ulver – Sic Transit Gloria Mundi