Posts Tagged ‘electro pop’

Cleopatra Records / Practical Records – 23rd June 2017

Interdisciplinary artist Rachel Mason has spent the best part of the last two decades carving out her own niche from within the hotbed of the NYC and LA scenes, with music being only one of the many strands of her creative explorations. In between making films, sculptures, and creating performance art pieces which range from the playful to the weird, she’s released quite a lot of albums. Her latest, Das Ram, is billed as ‘a full-blown modern pop-rock album of catchy songs with flamboyant flavor, dramatic vocals in between Siouxsie Sioux and SIA, captivating melodies and poignant lyrics’.

It’s not easy to focus on the lyrics, poignant or otherwise, when there’s so much going on. Das Ram is an album that’s very much geared toward delivering songs with groove and big energy. ‘Rosie’ kicks off with a delicate shoegazey pop verse that blossoms into a glorious chorus propelled by a super-frenetic drum machine with hectic hi-hats and a glistening, glittering energy shimmers.

Rachel Mason 2 - credit Kerwin Williamson

Das Ram is an eclectic set, and wildly varied. The dramatic orchestral strikes which jut and jar through ‘Heart Explodes’ provide a dramatic landscape for Mason to prowl through en route to a soaring chorus which indicates what Florence and the Machine could sound like if Flo Welch and her crew had any grasp on subtlety.

Single cut ‘Tigers in the Dark’ is a flamboyant gothic-hued disco cut that pulls together the danger of Siouxsie with the brooding electropop sensibilities of Ladytron or Goldfrapp. ‘Marry Me’ goes all Disintegration-era Cure in the mid-section, but Mason’s vaguely shrill and increasingly desperate-sounding imploring to form marital unity (part Kate Bush, part PJ Harvey) is actually quite scary. You’d probably agree just to avert the danger of being strangled in your sleep, although it would only be a temporary postponement).

‘Cancer’ is a wild, woozy ride, a blizzard of wibbling electronica and car horns and stammering programmed drum ‘n’ bass percussion providing the sonic terrain for lyrics that veer from the abrasive to the abstract. ‘The end stage is on!’ she squeals as a refrain before a gritty, funk-infused bass cuts in half way through.

Das Ram is good. Really good. It’s a pop album, and one which will evoke myriad comparisons. And it’ll touch them all favourably, because Rachel Mason assimilates her influences in a way which isn’t merely derivative, but innovative, and Das Ram is an album which wanders through infinite shades of weird, and bristles with tension and myriad shades of darkness.

Spiegelman/Rachel Mason

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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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