Posts Tagged ‘Electropop’

Pretty Ugly Records – 13th March 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

So I stumbled over Sex Cells by practically sticking a pin in last year’s Live at Leeds programme, and it paid off. Ok, that’s not quite true: while surveying the schedule, they looked interesting and probably worth a punt, so I took a gamble it paid off, with the their tense industrial-edged electronica that reminded me of Pretty Hate Machine era Nine Inch Nails, only weirder and sleezier. Coupled with the duo’s slightly oddball, even vaguely awkward, presentation, it was compelling. The same has been true of their releases to date, which lead us to this, their debut album.

The album’s cover is a bizarre watercolour-style tableau of the pair, and on the one hand, it’s naff (and I’m being polite: the more you look at it, the more awful details reveal themselves. Like, is the cat really supposed to be licking her nipple? What’s that on his dick?), but on the other, it’s a perfect encapsulation of their perverse, quirky style. They don’t play by the rules. And if their name is a play on the adage and Soft Cell, then it’s entirely fitting. If it isn’t, it maybe ought to be.

The headline here should perhaps be that David M Allen is the lead producer here. Renowned for his work with The Human League, The Sisters of Mercy, The Mission, Depeche Mode, The Psychedelic Furs, Wire, The Associates, and The Chameleons, little more probably needs to be said here, beyond the fact that in terms of production, ‘That’s Life’ sounds like you’d probably expect.

‘That’s Life’ bridges the gap between The Human League and Nine Inch Nails, and doesn’t include any of their previous single releases apart from leader ‘Deranged’, which crashed in with a suitably salaciously shocking promo video in March, demonstrating their tenser, harder-edged side while at the same time nailing everything about the band into a box of two-and-a-half minutes.

Opening song, ‘Shimmer,’ is dominated by a low-slung oscillating bass and trudging drum machine that provides the backdrop to Matt Kilda’s monotone spoken word vocal and Willow Vincent’s lost, demented banshee shrillness that calls to mind Skeletal Family, early Siouxsie, and early Cranes.

‘We Are Still Breathing’ is a neatly-crafted reflective electropop tune. It’s got hooks, melody, and a dreamy quality. Things take a dark turn on the next song, ‘Human Costume’ a spiky post-punk electrogoth stomper that screams Hallowe’en and horror, with some pretty barbed lyrics that turn the mirror on society and the human psyche. And it still packs a killer chorus, too.

They go full death disco with ‘Cruel Design’, and Willow coms on all breathy and ice witch in the vocal department, bringing a contrast between the vibrant energy of the instrumentation and the cold detachment of the voice, in a role reversal between human and machine. It’s a complete contrast to the final song, ‘Hang the Flowers’, which is a sparse, folksy number that ripples dappled shade to fade.

The combination of shock tactics and neat dark-edged electropop is a well-established tradition that can probably be traced back as far as Suicide, but really became a thing in the 80s, and as such, Sex Cells should by rights be a yawn, their edginess predictable, their material laden with well-worn tropes, and the metaphorical shrug of a title does nothing to raise expectations. And yet they make it work, and make it exciting.

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30th August 2019 – Retratando Voces

Christopher Nosnibor

This split release, which pairs Leeds solo artist Black Ribbon with Nottingham duo Don’t Try, follows up on the former’s remix of Drahla’s single ‘Twelve Divisions of the Day’ and the latter’s 2018 single, ‘JWAFJ’, emerging on a German label. Mixed and mastered by Wayne Adams of Bear Bites Horse Studios, and featuring artwork by Hayden Menzies (METZ), this has got the lot behind it – and it delivers on all of its promise.

Listening to the dark, goth-tinged post-punk vibes that permeate both contributions, it makes sense: you get the impression that however much there’s been a sustained renaissance for all things goth-tinged and post-punk here in Britain (which, let’s face it, hasn’t been especially great of late), these are artists who will likely fare better on the mainland, especially in Germany.

Black Ribbon’s ‘Interception’ arrives in a squeal of feedback before clattering percussion and angular synth discord pave the way for a driving dark disco groove. It’s a magnificently mangled hybrid of DAF, Gary Numan, The Human League and early Foetus. Take away any one of the elements and it’s a different animal, but it’s the collision of all things at once that make it special. Done differently, it could be a straight-ahead electropop tune, albeit with an industrial production and early 80s vibe. But with incidentals exploding all over the place, while the vocals, heavily treated and low in the mix have a robotic tone and veer between blank monotone and rising desperation.

Transitioning through a series of passages with some expansive instrumental segments, it stretches out to build a masterfully epic listening experience. Fading out just shy of nine minutes, its end brings a disappointment that its not much, much longer.

The Big Black comparisons that have been hovering around Don’t Try are of merit in the context of ‘Melancholy Chapters’, the drum machine pounding relentlessly behind a gauze of guitars reminiscent very much of ‘Bad Houses’ from Big Black’s debut. Notably, this was Albini and Co’s attempt to sound like The Cure. And while it captured the claustrophobia of 17 Seconds, it did so with everything cranked up to eleven. Don’t Try bring the goth via Big Back loop full circle here with a pulverising six minutes of hard-hitting bleakness.

However, something about ‘Melancholy Chapters’ calls to mind other acts, notably to my ear The Screaming Blue Messiahs, particularly in the sneering vocal delivery. It’s kinda punk, kinda something more sophisticated. That doesn’t mean it’s not direct, hard-hitting, heavy: if anything, this is denser and packs more impact than their previous releases, which have focused on primitivism and treble.

It may only contain two songs, but this feels like a massive release, a landmark of sorts, and something deserving of a lathe-cut clear vinyl 12”. It’s challenging and likely divisive, with both acts taking something that could be accessible and rendering it with degrees of difficulty. On a personal level, this is much of the appeal: I crave art that makes demands, and admire the makers of the art that does so. But it’s more than that: art that challenges probes into the soul and the psyche, it alerts the senses and makes you feel. Against a backdrop of sameness that induces a numb torpor, we need that jolt, that kick, that buzz to remind us we’re alive. And this does that.

Hayden Menzies Artwork

James Wells

And after weeks of torrential rain, temperatures so far below the seasonal average if feel more like a different season, we suddenly find ourselves not experiencing just warmer weather, but day one of a burning heatwave set to last for… two days.

Imbeciles may scoff about so-called ‘global warming’ because they fail to grasp the fact that in some places, like Britain, the melting of the ice caps doesn’t mean we can grow bananas, grapes and coffee beans in our window boxes, and that instead, tropical storms are going to batter us while the coastline shrinks beneath rising sea levels.

So, what do we know? Thanks to the press blurbage, we know that ‘HIN is the new ambient/electronic project of Jerome Alexander, best known as Message To Bears, along with his school friend Justin Lee Radford, also known as The Kids And The Cosmos’. We also know that the ‘Warmer Weather EP’ is HIN’s debut release.

The five songs on offer here are mellow to the max. The beats are so laid back they’re practically soporific, all the tones so soft-focus as to be tantamount to dissipating vapours in a clear blue sky on a hot summer’s day. Yes, this is definitely a hot summer’s day soundtrack. But it’s also completely smoothed out, depersonalised, chilled to the point of total blandness, the Mr Whippy of ice cream. What is there to say? Can I have sprinkles and a flake with that soft vanilla?

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HIN

Christopher Nosnibor

Leeds synth-led post-punk outfit FEHM have mellowed a fair bit since they first burst onto stages in and around their hometown three or four years ago. New single, ‘Scarborough Warning’ may lack the abrasive edges and wild, wide-eyed bass-driven gothy mania of early songs like ‘Sinking Sands’, but that isn’t to say this more commercial sound is without edge.

This means that while Paul Riddle’s frenzied holler has softened to a brooding croon, and the instrumentation sounds less like X-Mal Deutschland and more like early Human League with a hefty dash of The Cure in the mix, not to mention a lead guitar part that’s pure (early) New Order, there’s a dark, melancholy edge to this slice of disco-pop. It’s heavy on reverb and imbued with a nagging wistfulness, and it’s also still deeply rooted in the first half of the 1980s.

I dig.

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FEHM will also be playing a handful of dates in August support of the release:

2nd: The New Adelphi, Hull

3rd: The Brudenell Social Club, Leeds (With full supporting line up including Drahla)

9th:The Underground, Newcastle

10th: The Castle, Manchester

11th, The Shacklewell Arms, London

FEHM

Ventil Records V009 – 24th May 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

ƒauna’s style is billed as ‘dystopian avant pop’, and her second album is a magnificent mosaic of alienation. Vintage drum machine sounds click and pop out spartan rhythms, overwhich bibbling synths loop and ripple.

The press release emphasises the album’s dominant themes – facing down an uncertain future, dissecting new digital identities, the importance of political activism – and points to the fact that Infernum is very much an album of our times. But so much of the album’s intrigue lies in its juxtapositional positioning, its straddling of contemporary and retro. This also applies in absolution to the sonic makeup of the album.

The first track, ‘Primus’ has ƒauna outline – in a detached robotic voice – the circumstances surrounding the making of the album. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the album as a whole, a work of retro-futurism which may or may not be autobiographical. It’s a mistake to synthesis the artist and the art, and this of course connects with the issues of identity – in particular virtual and digital identities. Who is ever truly themselves on-line, in public, in company? In any context, identity is a construct, and ƒauna explores the layers of construction here.

Supposedly emerging from ‘a dark crossroads between conceptual pop, downtempo hip-hop, and the euphoria of the club’, these influences manifest primarily in sparse electro compositions which resonate with the kind of tape-looping experimentalism of the underground of the late 70s and early 80s. The structures and overall production are sparse, the compositions perversely disjointed, deliberately angular, with .

Then again, the rolling synth swell of ‘Death Fly’ and bouncy insistence of ‘Lonely at the Top’ are crisp pop, distilled down and refined to its purest, most immediate from, while elsewhere, ‘Went Home Got Lost’ pushes more overtly contemporary dance-orientated tropes to quirky but affecting effect.

It’s an analogue take on an analogous representation of postmodernism: the collision of past, present, and future, with no clear distinction between the boundaries. And watching those boundaries dissolve with every clipped, synthetic beat is fascinating, and in some strange way, quietly exhilarating.

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