Posts Tagged ‘Depeche Mode’

Buzzhowl Records – 12th July 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

‘Dingy’ as a descriptor isn’t to be taken as a negative here: and it’s a dingy mess or murk that opens Damn Teeth’s second album, with the intro to the first track, ‘You’ll Only Make It Worse’ manifesting as extraneous noise before the beats and the bass kick in to drive a snaking electrogoth behemoth. It’s Depeche Mode with the pained twist of Nine Inch Nails and the abrasion and detachment of the classic Wax Trax! sound. It’s a development from their 2016 debut, but make no mistake, they’ve not mellowed any, instead utilising the same elements to present something more focused and harder-edged.

And so Real Men pounds and grinds, at times bordering on the psychotic, as grinding Suicide-inspired synths provide the backdrop to vocals that veer wildly from snarling angst to clinical robotix. I could sling all the quintessential electro-based industrial acts in here by way of touchstones, but I’d only be filling space, because the chances are you already get the gist. Bu it’s also way, way more than that: the helium-falsetto on ‘MRA Soundsystem’ is unexpectedly more reminiscent of the late Billy MacKenzie of fellow Scots act The Associates (who also had tendency for ‘busy’ arrangements).

‘Dominant Muscle’ may be manic, even shrill and frenzied, but musically, it’s pretty lightweight and calls to mind Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s ‘Love Missile F1-11’ crossed with the first Foetus album, in that it combines a relentlessly driving synth rhythm backing track with extraneous noise and deranged vocals. And this is really the shape of things: jolting, jarring, jerking all over, Real Men is an album that doesn’t sit comfortably, instead revelling in layers of anguish, pain, discomfort, with a substantial dose of self-loathing in the mix. But as much as it’s got masochism in its soul, so the sonic pain inflicted on the listener is a wilful act of Sadism.

‘Deserving Pest’ comes on like NIN on ‘Reptile’ – all the sleaze, all the S&M, and I can’t help but be reminded of Marc Almond’s early output: it’s groove, but it’s also got a strong current of self-punishment. ‘Pink Pitbull’ pursues new levels of annihilistic torture, a hybrid between Dead Kennedys and a Swans album played at 45rpm. It’s fucking horrible, and so, so, disorientating, but simultaneously so magnificently punishing it’s positively addictive.

‘The People vs The Real Men’ feels kind flimsy with its throwaway synth groove that’s equally retro and low-budget, but it’s redeemed by the distorted vocal barks that provide a grit that cuts against the mechanoid backdrop, and it culminates in crescendous multitude of screaming, maniacal vocals that penetrate and remind us that lo-fi electronica doesn’t correspond with tame.

Closer ‘Coasting on Genetics’ feels a shade derivative, but that’s by technoindustrial standards, and even then, it packs a punch as it whips extraneous noise into a whorl of noise.

Real Men is a challenge, and it’s unquestionably niche. But it’s a work of twisted genius that will repel the majority, while those who dig it are going to go absolutely nuts for it. and yes I’m going completely nuts.

AA

Damn Teeth - Real Men

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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.

AA

Sex Cells

Ipecac Recordings – 23rd November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Planet B finds Justin Pearson – of Dead Cross, Retox, and more bands and projects than even he could probably name – pair up with hip-hop producer Luke Henshaw. The result is a gloriously mangled hybrid of punk and hip-hop that’s more in the vein of the crossover collaborations that featured on the Judgement Night soundtrack than anything thrown up subsequently by nu-metal or anything else that’s followed. No doubt this is something Ipecac head honcho Mike Patton considered when the album landed with the label, having delivered the belting ‘Another Body Murdered’ with Faith No More in collaboration with Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. back in ’93.

Having spent what seems like forever criticising people for becoming fogeys prematurely and becoming locked in an era that corresponds with their late teens / early twenties and bemoaning the fact that there’s no new music that’s any good, I’ll confess with no small disappointment that just typing that gave me a major pang of nostalgia, and that I haven’t listened to any mainstream or chart music in about eight years now, and I really don’t know who’s who or what the kidz are listening to now (and although I have been subjected to ‘What Does the Fox Say?’, Pingfong’s ‘Baby Shark Dance’ and ‘Skibidi’ by Little Big, I’m not sure how representative these are of anything). But the notion that there’s no new music that’s any good is patent bollocks. The fact of the matter is there’s more good new music emerging now than ever before – it’s just a matter of taste and knowing where to find it. Ipecac, it has to be said, are pretty consistent as a source of things both noisy and strange, and while the styles and forms may not be entirely predictable, the quality usually is. Planet B’s eponymous debut is illustrative, and while it’s new music with roots in older music, it still doesn’t sound quite like anything else current.

Political and pissed off, Planet B is an album with attack, taking not the mellowed out doped-up end of hip-hop but presents a fiery force-for-change antagonism that’s more Body Count or Beastie Boys at their best. As one would reasonably expect from an act featuring Justin Pearson, the result isn’t pretty, but it is pretty intense, and ‘Crustfund’ makes for a strong start: deep, pounding hip-hop beats and snarling synths provide the backdrop to an uncompromising and aggressive vocal courtesy of Kool Keith, (one of a roll-call of inspired guests featured on the album).

Things take a turn for the more direct and driving with the fast-paced pulsating groove of ‘Join a Cult’ – the backing sounds like Sigue Sigue Sputnik, while the vocals are a pure punk whooping holler, brimming with anger and nihilism. ‘Manure Rally’ and ‘Come Bogeyman’ are also thunderous stompers reminiscent of Ministry (the latter featuring the percussive talents of Martin Atkins), and big mid-tempo beats and dense, looping low-end are one of the defining features of the album as a whole. This certainly contributes to providing Planet B with a sense of cohesion – which is much-needed given its eclecticism.

Like many, I’m wary of covers of songs I really, really like, and am often heart howling in despair ‘Sacrilege! How could they do that?’ or, conversely, ‘why did they bother? It doesn’t do anything different.’ The cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Never Let Me Down’ is unexpected – slowed down, stripped down, it’s brutal and ugly – and quite outstanding.

Although the production is significantly cleaner and the overall, and the vibe altogether less violent, Planet B shares shouty, sneering, snotty common ground with Uniform’s The Long Walk. And as The Long Walk is one of my favourite albums of the year (despite its relentless fury and clanging noise invariably leaving me physically and emotionally drained and with a headache), it’s a big thumbs up for Planet B.

AA

469426

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.

AA

Ulver – Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Metropolis Records – 13th October 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

I’ve lost count of how many bands and songs I’ve encountered that reference ‘dream machine.’ The first was perhaps back in maybe 1992, aged seventeen, on purchasing Scenes from the Second Story by The God Machine. Although I had read Naked Lunch, Junky, and Queer (which was the limit of William Burroughs material available in my local Waterstones), I had yet to discover the weirder and more wonderful, experimental side of Burroughs, let alone his accomplice Brion Gysin, who was as responsible for the advent of the cut-ups as Burroughs himself. It was electronics technician, computer programmer, and peripheral Beat Generation associate, Ian Sommerville who invented the stroboscopic device know as the Dream Machine in 1960. I do sometimes wonder how many of those references to Dream Machines are aware of its origin and history, but given Burroughs’ popularity in industrial / related circles, the chances are probably fairly high. Which then leads to the question – just how much is this about trip, and how much about hip?

Inertia have been kicking out technoindustrial tunage for almost two and a half decades now. Over that time, they’ve acquired a respectable fanbase and released a slew of albums. As is always the case with the ‘goth’ scene, it’s all happened more or less invisibly, underground, and internationally rather than domestically.

Dream Machine is very much an album which follows established templates: insistent, bubbling synths heave and grind over thumping sequenced beats with a toppy edge and hard dancefloor edge. It’s solid, and it has tunes. It’s got the right balance of attack and melody, edge and groove. In fact, it’s pretty much back-to-back tracks you could get down to on the dancefloor at a goth night, and steel toe caps would be recommended.

The drum pattern at the start of ‘Only Law’ is a near-lift of the intro to ‘Burn’ by The Sisters of Mercy, before it all goes Music for the Masses Depeche Mode. It’s not just the insistent synths and jittery sequenced bass, or the hard-edged beats, but the soulful, melodic, backing vocals. Elsewhere, ‘Thorns’ goes Ministry circa Twitch. But for the most part, as is so often the case with longstanding technoindustrial acts, I hear Depeche Mode, with a dash of early Nine Inch Nails. I’m by no means averse to the sound, the style, or the influences: in fact, I’m a huge fan of both DM and NIN and have more Wax Trax! 12” than I could play in a week.

So where’s the beef? It’s all a bit samey. I feel like I’ve been listening to the same hardfloor techno-driven industrial-strength electro grooves for more than twenty-five years. Cybergoth, Darkwave, EBM, Aggrotech, Industrial Dance Music… the terminologies matter not. Some came, some went, but musically, it’s much of a muchness and I’m not up for debating the semantics of microgenre aesthetics.

Dream Machine is ok. It’s got some decent tunes. And it sounds like countess albums I’ve heard before.

AAA

Intertia - Dream Machine

Hallowground – HG1607 – 28th October 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Danny Hyde is probably best known for his work producing and remixing Nine Inch Nails and Coil, Depeche Mode and Psychic TV, amongst others, although he also remixed Adamski’s ‘Killer’ and has co-produced Pop Will Eat Itself. A varied career, and no mistake, but one which has always leaned toward the darker side of the musical spectrum. He’s also operated a handful of his own musical projects, and Electric Sewer Age is his outlet for creating ‘contemplative mood inducing’ music, as he phrases it on his website. Bad White Corpuscle is the second album under the Electric Sewer Age banner, and is being re-released on vinyl and as a download (with different cover art) after being discreetly released by Italian label Old Europa Café on CD only in 2014. Its predecessor, Moon’s Milk in Finale Phase featured the late Peter Christopherson of Coil, and perhaps not entirely surprisingly, it’s being hailed as a continuation of his work with Coil or even as evoking the spirit of a ‘lost Coil album’. But regardless of associations, Bad White Corpuscle is a strong – and extremely dark – album which stands on its own merit.

The cover art is, however you look at it, pretty grim, in a ‘what the hell is that?’ sort of a way, and the music it houses is equally sinister and inhuman. Chthonic voices whisper and growl blindly in the darkness. Occasionally spiralling out into gravity-free galactic drift, with twinkling synths providing minuscule points of light on ‘Corpuscular Corpuscles’. The ‘Amber Corpuscle’ turns slowly in suspension, insect flickers echo before the ‘Rising Corpuscle’ brings forth booming bass frequencies and nagging, rippling. I find I’m beginning to feel quite spaced out and nauseous: no, I’m not hungover: the frequencies are low, and the sound possesses an uncomfortable, gut-rumbling density which resonates mentally and physically. The experience is sinister and vaguely terrifying.

There’s no escaping the album’s theme as rendered explicit through the track titles. What is Hyde’s obsession with blood? Specifically, the notion of a ‘bad white corpuscle’? The white blood cell is the cell of the immune system: what can be bad about a blood cell which defends the body from invaders? I’m drawn to the idea of the mutant and he virus, perhaps the deficient white corpuscle which fails to fulfil its duty as sentry, or otherwise the virus in disguise, the bad guy dressed as a good guy or the mutating virus which sustains itself while sapping the host undetected. I’m speculating, of course, while the dark sounds drag me down… down.

The soundscapes are simultaneously vast and microcosmic, evoking cellular shapes from a microscopic perspective; traversing the corpuscles, the listener becomes the cosmonaut of inner space. The mangled digital vocals on the alien synthpop incantations of the title track float, disembodied through an analogue circuitscape of liquid metal.

The vinyl-only track, ‘Redocine (Death of the Corpuscle)’ does mark something of a departure with the introduction of more readily identifiable moments of melody – countered by extraneous noise and echoed, distorted robotix voices – propelled by some powerful, stop/start beats and building a deep, dislocated groove. Beneath the shine, the synaptic explosions and dark rumbling vibrations are symptomatic of cellular collapse.

Bad White Corpuscle mines a deep, dark sonic seam, and does so with a real feeling for unsettling sonic terrains. There’s certainly no inoculation against the effects of this album.

 

Electric Sewer Age

Hide & Seek Records – 18th March 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

I’ve been less than complimentary about Department M in the past. They’re a band I feel I ought to like, and, truth be told, really want to like. I very much get – and like – so many of their reference points and influences. I like their sound, overall, and in terms of the component parts. I kinda think their highly stylised image – specifically that of Owen Brinley – is cool, in a way. That doesn’t mean I don’t think the mac and headphones getup is a tad affected – it’s a chronic affectation, in fact, but there’s a sense that Brinley’s homage to the 80s is sincere and very closely studied in its affection.

But for all that, they’ve always felt somehow lacking, the music too controlled, the look too much of a contrivance, the sounds too preoccupied with recreating the vintage. Style, yes, but substance?

As is standard for department M (stylised with a lower case ‘d’ in the latest round of promo), Deep Control has a lot going in its favour, at least on paper, featuring as it does Owen Brinley (ex-Grammatics) and Tommy Davidson (Pulled Apart By Horses), while having been produced by long-term friend James Kenosha, who has a staggering resumé. Again, that’s a fact. It was also mastered by Tom Woodhead, formerly of Forward Russia, at Hippocratic studios, and it looks good. A decent album cover matters, and this works, although it is an unashamed reconstruction of many things 80s.

And I would love to froth at the mouth with enthusiasm for this release, or at least be forced to reconsider my stance. I actually wanted to be wrong, to declare the error of my previous perceptions of the band. But sadly, Deep Control only reinforces everything I find troublesome with department M.

But while their eponymous debut showed clear promise and a bit of edge, Deep Control is the sound of a band slipping into its comfort zone. The album’s tile and many of the tracks imply antagonism and frustration which simply don’t translate in the delivery.

It’s ironic, given the circumstances of the album’s creation. As the press release explains, ‘the lyrical undertow of the album is a discourse on coming to terms with disorders such as Anxiety and OCD whilst living in the sometimes harsh modern worlds of work and play in a Northern city. After years spent in the spin of these facets, there’s the essence of time escaping at speed – you can only sit back and watch the years whirl by.’ Again, I can relate: every landmark birthday I approach is prefaced by abject terror in the face of the ageing process, and I have a handle on stress, anxiety, panic. Despite all of this, Deep Control fails to speak to me.

The album as a whole simply lacks bite. It feels, and sounds, simply too insular to communicate any kind of message. And yet there’s no real sense of inner turmoil either.

The songs are wet, as is their delivery. There’s an eternal threat of breaking out, cutting loose, giving it some nuts, that remains unfulfilled. There’s a moment where the final bars of ‘Bad Formulae’ turn dark, and a shuddering cybergoth groove kicks in that suggests that – it being only the second track – things are going to take a turn for the intense on album number two.

But sadly, it never happens: the Depeche Mode (I very much doubt the band’s initials could be accidental) meets Howard Jones stylings lack any real meat, or sense of direction, and it transpired that Deep Control is tame in comparison to its predecessor.

‘Stress Class’ sounds like an outtake from Black Celebration, and there’s no doubt it’s better than the stuff they played before the start and during the break in the stress class I attended, but then I never dug Norah Jones or Coldplay.

Brinley’s vocals strive toward soul, but lack any guts or character – which pretty much sums up Deep Control as a product.

 

 

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