Posts Tagged ‘Retro’

Christopher Nosnibor

Lifted from their forthcoming double album Duel, scheduled for release in April, Deine Lakaien have unveiled their cover of The Cure’s 1983 classic pop tune ‘The Walk’.

The duo, comprising pianist Ernst Horn and vocalist Alexander Veljanov, have over the course of ten albums attained a significant status in their native Germany, but haven’t quite the same reach further afield, but there’s a strong change that this could change with Duel, which pairs an album of original compositions with an album of paired covers, ‘The Walk’ being one of them.

And it’s good. By which I mean, it’s an affectionate, even reverent cover that pays an overly sincere homage to the original – as it should, of course. Much of the appeal of the original is its rough edges, and the sound of those early 80s synths and drum machines, recorded to tape. Listening to it now, along with so many contemporaneous songs, reminds us for that for all we’ve gained with advancing technology in terms of fidelity and ease of recording, mixing, and so on, so much has been lost in terms of essence.

As Ernst Horn comments, “For an old-school synthesizer freak like me, ‘The Walk’ was of course a welcome opportunity to celebrate beautiful old sounds in simple tone sequences, although I really blunt my teeth on the hook… I guess I couldn’t get it to sound as dirty as in the original. ‘The Walk’ is really an acoustic advertisement for the original sound of a vintage synthesizer. The instrumental part was also a lot of fun, the increase to the last, ‘Take Me to the Walk‘, where I could let my equipment totally off the leash.”

It’s telling that the artist himself feels a certain sense of shortcoming, and in a way, it’s refreshing: instead of artistic ego, we get an insight into the anxiety of influence experienced by the influencee.

Horn’s comments demonstrate an unusual degree of self-awareness, and it’s true that Deine Lakaien’s efforts to recreate the spirit and sound of the original falls short: the playful exuberance is lost to a certain self-applied pressure to deliver, while the sound is close, but somehow artificial. But for all that, I’m not going to do this down one iota: it very much does capture the 80s vibe, especially wit the dominant crack of a processed snare sound that cuts through everything… everything… everything. The brooding, swampy break is nicely done and if for the most part it sounds like A-Ha covering The Cure, the play-out goes darker and sounds more like a post-First and Last and Always Sisters of Mercy demo. And from me, that’s a compliment, and this is a solid cover, for sure.

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Deine Lakaien by Jörg Grosse-Geldermann

31st December 2020

London-based alt-rock quartet Ben Wood & The Bad Ideas have certainly been keeping busy, and ‘Soho’, released on new years’ eve, is their twelfth – and understandably final – single release of 2020.

There have seen various debates as to the sagacity of releasing a single a month over an album with attendant singles, not least of all around the logistics of promotion (with many suggesting it’s easier to promote an ‘event’ like an album release and building up said release and marketing it with singles rather than the singles being the event in themselves, but 2020 has undoubtedly seen a shift in how music is consumed.

Attentions spans are different and while everyone needs something to look forward, the future always seems to be a distant horizon: in this context, a monthly delivery and a more frequent level of engagement feels ‘right’ somehow, fostering a much-needed sense of community and sustained contact.

With Wood and co inviting comparisons from across a broad range of touchstones spanning The Gaslight Anthem and Arctic Monkeys to Elvis Costello & The Attractions and The Associates, ‘Soho’ is a quintessential indie tune with jangling guitars pinned to a tight rhythm section. It’s not just a Smiths meets Wedding Present throwback stylistically, but a song that captures the essence of classic indie rock tunes of yesteryear, merging boy-meets-girl with kitchen sink drama while throwing in appreciative references to Marianne Faithful. It does very much call to mind the time when Morrissey was someone who wrote relatable songs, before he became quite explicitly an embarrassing racist bellend who rendered is entire back-catalogue unlistenable. More than we hate it when our friends become successful, we hate it when our heroes reveal themselves to be vile, obnoxious pricks.

Ben shows no such indications, thankfully, and ‘Soho’ is an accessible, melodic slice of clean indie pop. It’s accompanied by a video that sees Ben wandering the streets of London, and seeing them bereft of people is strange, unreal almost. There is traffic, busses and bicycles, but benches are empty and the Eye is static.

This, of course, is the world in which we find ourselves, and in counterpointing a song which very much centres around the ordinary, the everyday, with the extraordinary times of the now, Ben Wood presents a striking statement that’s very much a summary of 2020.

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Ben Wood _ The Bad Ideas - Soho Cover

Klanggalerie – 18th December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s no questioning Eric Random’s pedigree, having begun his musical career with The Tiller Boys with Pete Shelley and Francis Cookso before becoming part of the post-punk and experimental milieus of both Manchester and Sheffield, recording his first solo works at Cabaret Voltaire’s studio, and later fronting Nico’s band until her death in 1988. But while many artists dine out on their former glories – and it’s true that since the majority fail to scale to any great heights, a brimming resumé is something to celebrate, there’s equally a certain truth in the belief you’re only as good as your latest work.

No-Go is his fourth album since his return in 2014 following a lengthy time out. Pitched as a step further into an electronic dance direction, and inviting comparisons to Wrangler and Kraftwerk, No-Go is brimming with 80s stylisations, and all the 808 and Akai snare cracks and robotix vocals you could imagine are crammed into these eleven tracks.

A jittery stammer runs through the entirety of the opener, ‘Synergy’, while all over, multiple other synth sounds swipe and bleep over the ultra-retro groove, and all over, Random recaptures not just the sound of the late 70s and early 80s scene in which he was so deeply immersed in, but also the feel of the period. It’s easy to forget just how vibrant the energised spirit of newness was around that time, with the rapidly evolving – and ever-cheaper – technology opening new doors to seemingly infinite possibilities. This was music that sounded like the future in every sense, and while a lot of it may sound dated now, the fact there appears to have been some kind of revival or renaissance under way for the best part of the last 30 years speaks volumes. Of course, where Random differs from the oceans of retro revivalists is that he’s not attempting to reconstruct a fantasy version of a bygone era: he was there, at the cutting edge, doing precisely this.

‘Compulsion’ is a bleak wheezy cut with tinny marching drums and vocal that are oddly reminiscent of early New Order in their flat, distanced delivery. It’d Depeche Mode that spring to mind in the opening bars of the buoyant yet bleak ‘Is the Sun Up’, but then

‘Sinuous Seduction’ leaps out on account of the sample of William S. Burroughs narrating a segment of Naked Lunch, and while one of the numerous passages about giant black centipedes may not be revelatory or even particularly inventive, it does serve as a reminder of Burroughs’ vast influence on music, in particular acts like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, who swiftly recognised the analogy between the cut-up and the sample, something Burroughs himself had initiated with the experiments he conducted with tape in the late 1950s and early 1960s with Ian Sommerville. But then, equally, there’s just something about Burroughs’ creaking, dry-as-sticks monotone that is just unbelievably cool, and also sends a unique shover down the spine, distinctive to the point of being immediately recognisable, and also really not of this world, that detached, flat intonation about stuff that’s plain weird is perfectly suited to the music of the early years of the electronic age. The track itself is sparse, monotonous, robotic, and while it’s as much an example of doomy Eurodisco in the vein of The Sisterhood’s Gift, it’s not a million miles away from The Pet Shop Boys circa Disco – and that’s by no means a criticism.

Sandwiched between this and the blustery hard-edged disco of ‘No Show’, the ‘It’s come again’ offers some welcome respite with its more loungy leanings. Things get lively to the point of dizzying with the last few tracks, which are uptempo an mega-layered with bewilderingly busy arrangements, and it’s a tense climax to an album that shudders and judders, bubbles, foams, and fizzes with electronic energy.

In going back to his roots, Random has really hit the zone and delivered some old-school stompers in the process.

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Weeping Prophet Records – 31st July 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

The facts and the pitch are that Fuse Box City is a new London based band. They combine indie and electronic with noise and melody; the intricate layering of which produces a rich sound that provides a platform for Rachel Kenedy’s fragile yet mellifluous vocals to sit on top. Talking about the stuff that matters all in the same breath.

I like hybridity and eclecticism, and have developed an increasing appreciation of some of the 80s samplist / looping acts that broke through in the late 80s. It wasn’t immediately apparent at the time, but this wasn’t about simply making dance music and turntable scratching and drum machines: this was utilising emerging technology to create a soundtrack to our ever-faster, ever more fragmented experience of life.

Revisiting the spirit of then makes sense to an extent: we’re witnessing even less comprehensible times, even faster, more fragmentary lives, and even niftier tech while in a position to cast an eye back over recent history.

But sometimes blending lo-fi indie and experimental electronica and throwing in bits of prog and 80s hip-hop means the elements don’t always gel especially well, and ‘Shine On’ makes for a shaky, somewhat chaotic and disjointed start.

Maybe it’s a matter of adjustment, or maybe the band really do find their groove better as the album progresses, and it’s when they slow things down a bit as they do first on ‘Pub Licker’ and then on ‘Crossing Swords’ that things begin to feel rather more cohesive, and find FBC explore a territory that sounds like a trip-hop reimagining of Young Marble Giants.

The album’s closer marks another departure: the thirteen-minute ‘Bendy One’ starts out a low, slow semi-ambient work with a murky beat stuttering away like a fibrillating heart, and low in the mix before slowly taking form: the beat becomes ore solid, regular, insistent, and comes to dominate a vague wash of a droning backdrop which stretches and yawns and swells behind Kenedy’s soaring choral vocal. Somewhere along the way it emerges as a new ag stomper with a thumping tribal beat and some squirming electronics that bubble away in the background of some approximation of a celebratory sunset incantation.

The end product seems to be that of a band who are ideas-rich and unafraid to experiment, while still finding their feet and sense of direction. Despite its messier moments, which often boil down to execution as much as concept, it’s a bold debut, and never uninteresting or uninspired.

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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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Argonaut offshoot Videostore self-release another li-fi DIY digital single in the form of ‘Sleep Complete’. A slice of dreamy, DIY, no-fi indie, it boasts a breezy, easy tune. And that’s what it’s all about:

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Videostore - Sleep

Gusstaff Records – 2nd September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

It may have bene groundbreaking and have acquired a legendary status, but I have to confess to being unfamiliar with Mapa’s previous album, Fudo, released some nineteen years ago. That said, No Automato is billed as being quite an evolution and reveals a newfound simplicity and sense of minimalism.

Not that you could exactly call any of the album’s nine compositions simple or minimal, because there’s a lot going on, but there is a directness and energy which emanates from the music. Stylistically, it’s all in the mix, incorporating elements of punk, avant-garde jazz, instrumental hip-hop and experimental electronica.

There’s a playfulness about the way they forge juxtapositions: slow, ritual percussion booms and rattles tribalistically as if marking the pace of a funeral march deep in the jungle. In contrast, warping bass tones and flickering, glitchy electro whirs and bleepy scrapes shape the sound: this is ‘MPA Jazz’, and this is how Mapa introduce themselves on No Automatu, and it’s clear that working with Marcin Dymiter brings out a different side of Paul Wirkus.

The mad, lo-fi disco of ‘Burnt Tragiczny’ transitions into the world of the weird as the juddering retro beats slip their sprockets, and the rapid-fire retro snare explosions which pin the woozy bass undulations of ‘Heute Tanz A’ in place evoke a bygone era of experimental electro recordings. ‘Heute Tanz B’ juxtaposes surging waves of analogue synth with a beat lifted almost directly from Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Nag Nag Nag’, and it’s the primitive drum machine sounds that define the album’s sound throughout.

‘Rudyment’ may be instrumental, but its sparse plod is harrowing and oppressive, and it’s clear that Mapa are abundantly capable of forging an atmosphere more or less out of nowhere and pulsing throbs build the backdrop of the infinite layers that build on top. The title track is the album’s closer, and it’s a dense, relentless attack built around motoric drums and woozy, abrasive synth-bass.

Mapa are all about the clatter and clang, and No Automatu is a curious album whichever angle you care to view it from. Messy, noisy, unpredictable, the range of atmospheres and vibes packed into the album keeps it moving at pace, and means it’s never less than fascinating.

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