Posts Tagged ‘synth’

Alrealon Musique – 19th February 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

In the past I’ve struggled a bit with Pas Musique. It’s not that I don’t think it’s music, despite the project’s moniker – far from it. It’s simply a matter of taste: their music has often felt a bit easy, a bit contrived, in its gloopy synthiness, to my ears. It’s easy to judge, of course, but then that is the function of the music critic. We trade in opinions, and if everything was entirely objective there would be none. And there would be no art. Because art exists to tap into the emotions, into the psyche, to stir a response – and a negative response is a greater feat than eliciting a sense of complete indifference. Art serves to reflect and articulate life experience and those innermost thoughts. If art doesn’t connect in some way to the human condition, then it is worthless. So what does Psychedelic Talismans have to say? How does it connect?

I’m not sure. But then, in casting that seed of uncertainty, it succeeds in provoking some kind of engagement. So far, so good, I suppose.

According to the liner notes, rather than being a collective effort, Psychedelic Talismans is actually a solo effort from project founder Robert L. Pepper, which was recorded during Covid-19 lockdown in Brooklyn, New York, and the music and drawings draw their inspiration from the Turkish archaeological site, Göbekli Tepe, which is said to be as old as 10,000 B.C. As such, there are deep currents running beneath the fabric of the album’s six compositions.

Opening the set, ‘Splash of Red Touch’ is gloopy, but also led by sparse, brittle, alien synth sound that sounds like it’s echoing down a long pipe, and as the layers build, there’s a low, almost subliminal thud of a beat and a guitar that sounds like twisted metal scraps. Then there’s twittering birdsong and disconnected voices and there’s a lot going on, and not all of the elements seem entirely complimentary or pinned to the tame time signature, creating a swimming, dizzying sensation, and it plunges onwards with ‘Collected Fictions Brightly’, by which time the style is becoming clearly set: insistent, urgent beats, thumping, monotonous, primitive in the Suicide sense, overlayed with wispy, experimentally-orientated Krautrock synth wibbles and drones.

The vibe is very much vintage here, and often the instrumental pieces, which by and large hover around the five-minute mark, are quite meandering, and despite the low-end density that dredges the depths at points, despite the tense guitar notes that emerge twisted and strangled on ‘In Likeness of Me’, and the impatient palpating beats, and an emerging sense of unease that surfaces in places, for the most part there’s a certain mellowness that permeates the album. Great sonic expenses unfurl in long-echoing reverberations, crackling snippets of sampled dialogue, and long, slow-turning drones.

‘Las Bas’ brings the curtain down in a haze of drones and drifts and with a dash of Eastern mysticism, trilling pipe notes which bounce off one another and turn and fade, and if the piece, and he album as a whole, seems to lack direction, then its points of interest all lie in the diversions, the distractions, the divergences. And when so little else is happening, those detours are most welcome. And finally, I feel I click with Pas Musique.

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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

22nd January 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Penned in 2018 as a reaction to the effects of constant touring and international travel, and the sense of groundlessness it brought, ‘Deepest Ocean’ is the third single to be lifted from The fin.’s upcoming album. It finds the Japanese duo, consisting of Yuto Uchino and Kaoru Nakazawa in a reflective mood, and immersing themselves in some deep retro synth tones that truckle and weave over a slow grooving bassline.

It’s got a kind of vaguely funky vibe that’s a bit prog, a bit electrop, a bit 80s and a bit lounge. And even a bit disco: the clean guitar that nags away, coupled with the soft-focus production reminds me for some reason I can’t entirely pinpoint of Imagination (specifically ‘Body Talk’) and I really can’t decide if this is a good thing or not.

I mean, it’s certainly got a hook, and a strangely sultry atmosphere that’s not so much sleazy as semi-soporific in a smoky, opiate way, but it’s also a bit soft and wet, a shade limp in its smooth slickness. So where does this leave us? Clean, vibrant synths run ascending and descending runs, and things layer up deep, and fast over a metronomic key stab and backed-off beat.

I suppose it’s a matter of taste, and I’m flapping to and fro like a fish out f water wondering if I’ll get sold or left to rot, caring not one iota if I’m a British fish or not. It’s proficient musically, and on all technical levels from the composition, arrangement., performance and production, ‘Deepest Ocean’ is genuinely impressive, and conveys a sense of fuzziness, of being at all sea. But ultimately I feel the unsettling emptiness of transient entertainment and instant gratification which lies at the heart of the song’s inspiration becomes something of a self-made outcome, and that its success is also its failure: in embodying the sensation it’s intended to convey, it recreates the experience of that emptiness, that sense of hollowness and an absence of soul.

23rd October 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from break_fold, the electro-semiambient project of former i concur front man Tim Hann. But life has a habit of getting on the way of creative endeavours, so it’s not entirely surprising. This is the third eponymous break_fold release, and it marks a clear continuation from its precedents, including the song titling, with the majority of tracks denoted as a date which this indicates when work started on the song. The two exceptions are ‘Gaps_in_the_Mesh_(Remix)’, a reworking of a track by ambient artist and collaborator, Ten, and ‘JP’, which is dedicated to a friend of Tim’s who unfortunately passed away in 2019.

That the first two tracks date back to 2018 give an indication of the length and laboriousness of the assembly of this third excursion. The previous release, 27_05_17 – 21_01_18 was a comparatively speedy work.

The first piece, ‘22_12_18_Pt1’ is soft, supple, floating mellifluous ambience that evolves from an elongated, ominous drone, into a cascading piano motif, while its counterpart brings the beats – soft, yet strong, clear, and propellent, it’s a cinematic electro groover, which radiates an uplifting vibe.

From this point, the album begins to develop a definite sense of having a forward trajectory. A dark, serrated hum blossoms into a multi-hued shimmer of radiance, pushed along by a solid danceable rhythm on ‘15_11_18’. There are some quite noodly synth details behind the broader sweeps. There are hints of Jan Hammer about some of this, and there are moments that stray into drivetime dance that’s kinda smooth, kinda accessible: the buoyant basslines are easy on the ear and there’s an undeniable bounce in the background. It feels rather escapist, and it’s rather nice: we all need somewhere to escape to at times, especially now, so immersion is good. And breathe…

‘29_04_18’ feels fully formed as ripple waves of gentle sound pulse across a flickering, understated dance beat – more one to nod along to than to get down t, but nevertheless, it’s unexpectedly uptempo, and while it does still evoke chin-stroking ponderousness, it equally creates a rich atmosphere in which to wander and ponder.

There is a lot off space to be explored on break_fold, a lot of texture and tone, and while it may largely favour the light and melodic and easy on the ear, it’s got range and ventures into shadowier realms in places. There are parts that evoke 80s film soundtracks, and others still more chillwave in their orientation.

The album ends with ‘JP’, and one can’t help but feel the abrupt ending is significant, a work truncated, unfinished and unresolved. But for all that, it feels like the work for this album is done, as though this particular creative cycle is complete. Where to go from here remains to be seen, but in the now this resonates majestically.

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Inside Out Music – 28th August 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Almost 30 years into their career, Sweden’s Pain of Salvation, led by multi-instrumentalist Daniel Gildenlöw land a new album with the ambition of demonstrating that ‘Ultimately, progress will not be stopped’. They go on to unravel the details that ‘Pain of Salvation have been firmly at the forefront of the progressive rock and metal scenes for nearly three decades now’, and that ‘the Swedish band have consistently demonstrated a sincere passion for moving their own extraordinary music forward, while always remaining lyrically enlightened and ferociously intelligent. As a result, the band’s return in 2020 could hardly be better timed’.

The press release makes a gargantuan leap from the band’s formation and crash-lands us with a ‘Fast forward to 2020 [when] the world is in a state of disarray’. It makes sense in a way: we’ve all landed where with absolutely no fucking clue how 2020 actually relates to or connects with anything: the past has dissolved in a haze of time eroded to desert and a future that seems impossible. Chronology is utterly screwed. I can barely remember last week, or even what I had for dinner last night.

This is one of those multi-layered, multi-textured, multi-genred and highly detailed albums that is simply impossible to digest on the first few cycles. I sat, a shade bewildered, a tad giddy, and not just on account of a couple of strong, hoppy American IPAs down on an evening after three hours sleep the night before. The album’s first track, ‘Accelerator’ collides myriad elements, twisting together contemporary prog with an electronic twist, some dancy synths and some chugging industrial guitar riffage that slams in and it all coalesces to a bewildering sonic whiplash that works well and hits hard.

Next up, ‘Unfuture’ steps up the weight, slugging hard some industrial country with menace that’s a melange of Alice in Chains and Nine Inch Nails and it’s both brooding and heavy. And it’s clear that on Panther, PoS have hit their stride with optimum, riffage and a weight that achieves critical mass when it matters.

It’s not all good: the title track is a cringeworthy and incredibly dated-sounding stab at a hip-hop nu-metal crossover that doesn’t sit comfortably anywhere in 2020, let alone with the rest of the album, and when placed alongside contemporary grunge-tinged prog efforts like ‘Species’ – which comes on like Pearl Jam crossed with Amplifier – it just sounds odd.

Then again, songs like ‘Species’ bring full-blooded riffs and some solid overdrive, and the thirteen-minute finale, ‘Icon’, is the album’s ultimate pinnacle, as a snaking, picked lead guitar line rattles against its cage to twist around a gritty, thick-chorded riff. It yields to moments of folksy levity, but they’re gloriously crushed by the weight of big, grinding chuggery, not to mention a pyrotechnical guitar solo around the eight-minute mark. Miraculously, it actually works without sounding like indulgent wank, and that’s no small feat.

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7th June 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

I suppose I’m fortunate to move in the circles I do. In both the real and virtual world, I’m surrounded by some remarkably talented creatives, working in all fields. Many seem to have found new outlets for their creative leanings under lockdown, in many cases probably for the sake of their sanity.

The emergence of a brand new act, VVolves, proved as welcome as is was unexpected, because the duo’s debut, a blend of shoegaze and cool synth pop, is a belter.

‘Momentum’ is a brilliantly kinetic, driving tune that kicks in solidly after a gentle, spacious intro. I’m a sucker for a song that locks into a groove and feels like it’s surging forwards because of, not despite, the repetition, and ‘Momentum’ absolutely does that: a repetitive chord motif, overlaid with chilly synth stabs and a propulsive drum track which contrasts with the ethereal vocal delivery. In combination, it’s an exhilarating rush.

We need more of this, please.

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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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Nahal Recordings – 10th April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Because detail is important, let’s begin with the parenthesis. The label’s press release announces ‘We teamed up with the extraordinary French ondist Christine Ott to create an unprecedented album entirely made with Ondes Martenot, one of the very first monophonic and experimental synthesizers in history’, resulting in ‘a cosmic journey of layered waves of sound’.

Maurice Martenot’s invention may not have acquired the popular status of the theremin, but Christine Ott’s instrument of choice is nevertheless significant in the evolution of sound generation as one of the very first monophonic and experimental synthesizers in history back in 1920.

Chimères begins with a pause, at least metaphorically: ‘Comma’ is six minutes of instrumental hauntology, as the notes trail, taper and quaver into still air and silence. As the album’s title suggests, this is a curious hybrid work, and while perhaps less monstrous than all that, the Ondes Martenot conjures strange, otherworldly sounds that are, at times, quite unsettling as they yawn, quiver, and squelch into seas of reverb. At times resembling analogue synth sounds, and at others approximating strings and even woodwind, the

‘Todeslied’ is the sound of disembodied spirits flittering around in the physical world, a phantasmagorical freakshow of sonic ectoplasm which gradually bubbles its way through a succession of bursts and plumes via something semi-industrial into a tranquil sunlit meadow of sound. Meanwhile ‘Sirius’ brings some deep ambience, while the eight-minute ‘Eclipse’ brings swirl of darkness that’s more of a sucking black hole than a fleeting dimming of light, building to a whupping rotary sound and blizzard of bleeps in the final minute.

It’s a lot to take in, and closer ‘Burning’ is a magnificent if slightly disorientating combination of slow-glooping electronica and orchestral chamber music. It isn’t easy to assimilate, but it is wonderfully executed, and once you can overcome the unfamiliarity of the form, there are some magical moments to be discovered.

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27th April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Ghost Moon Ritual follows its predecessor, Night Tides, after three years in the making. It’s easy to forget that most musicians have actual day-jobs, and things like families and normal lives to operate, too. It’s not easy to pack in creative activity alongside normal life.

Since lockdown, everyone seems to have delivered a new release, and, bizarrely, and most unexpectedly, a world without live shows is suddenly a world brimming with new music not so much ins spite of, but because of circumstance.

All of our circumstances are different, of course. Balancing dayjob, parenting, and an all-consuming state of anxiety, I’ve found less time and energy than ever available to review more material than I’ve ever received in over a decade of doing this.

Ghost Moon Ritual is pitched as ‘a song-cycle influenced by redemption, hope, failure and endurance’, and while the creative contexts isn’t immediately apparent, the attention to detail, not least of all atmosphere, is.

As the band write, ‘During the three years of writing and recording the album, several people close to the band passed away bringing a heavy mood to the proceedings. During this time, two beautiful children were born as well, bringing with them a reminder of the joy that still exists and is always enduring. Realizing that all there is now and that the outside world at large seemed to be teetering more and more on the edge of a cliff Work moved slowly, tuning this out and retreating into the studio with heavy hearts, the duo worked to channel the grief and hope and joy into what has become Ghost Moon Ritual.’

While Night Tides contained six songs, Ghost Moon Ritual contains thirteen, and as such is an altogether more substantial document. It’s also a document which renders with crystal clarity the way in which Lunar Twin’s work is built on contrasts: specifically, Bryce Boudreau’s baritone vocals that call to mind Leonard Cohen, and as such belong to a rock / folk world, while Christopher Murphy conjures sonic drifts that meld dreamwave and sparse folk with a laid-back, rippling dance vibe.

The album’s first song, ‘Drunken Sky’ is a slow, swaying semi-comatose crawl of drum machine and synth bass, and calls to mind some of the doomy, reverby-but-claustrophobic material on The Jesus And Mary Chain’s Barbed Wire Kisses. The drums burst into D’n’B near the end, which is unexpected, but then there’s a lot that’s unexpected about this set.

All of the Mark Lanegan comparisons are entirely justified: ‘Leaves’, and, indeed, several other cuts, could easily pass as outtakes from recent Lanegan albums, with Bryce Boudreau’s world-weary gravel-heavy croon laying breathy over sparse backing, picked guitar and spectral synths drifting over minimal percussion. ‘Neon Room’ is subtle, combining chilled dance grooves with a deep-carved rock growl: the result is quite unexpectedly affecting.

As a collection it’s sparse, dolorous, dark. It’s also gentle in its bleakness, but bleak it is, as well as understated and graceful, and as such, it reaches all the parts.

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Panurus Productions – 21st June 2019

Inspector Fogg is Newcastle filmmaker Wayne Lancaster, and his eponymous album threatens ‘ten tracks of warm synth-based stuff.’ For some reason, this makes me think about pissing down my own leg.

The slow, soft wash of sound that marks the album’s arrival in the form of ‘Fuyu’ isn’t nearly as embarrassing or as uncomfortable, the drones swelling and rising in and out of step to forge fluidly fluctuating rhythmic ebbs and flows. Although very much of the album is ambient to the point that structures are lost in the drift, each composition has a distinct identity and mood.

‘The View Across the River’ begins as a delicate strum before yielding to polyrthymic bleepery, while ‘Strange Tales’ is dark and vaguely sinister. If ‘ominous’ sounds like a similar descriptor, it’s different enough to mark the subtle shift in atmosphere as ‘A Year From Now’ casts reflective shadows between held breaths.

There’s more substance to ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’, an insistent beat and pulsating synth behind a rolling piano creating a groove that evokes an action sequence in a film. But its erratic stops and starts are jarring, and it’s almost an act of self-sabotage as the one piece that seems to be going somewhere is simply gone in just over two minutes.

The pieces become shorter and seemingly less evolved towards the end of the album, with ‘Oil on the Road’ and ‘Case Closed’ being sketches of around a minute each. The former is driven by a grimy, buzzing synth bass overlaid with 80s-sounding electronic keys that threatens to go all Harold Faltermeyer before an abrupt ending, while the latter is a piano-based outline that has infinite scope for expansion.

Assuming this gradual diminishment of development is all part of a plan of sorts, the logical analysis would be to attempt to unravel its purpose or meaning. But this is art, and art so often defies logic. And while the snippety pieces are vaguely frustrating, the album as a whole is satisfying in its balance of variety and cohesion, and its infinitely preferable to pissing down your own leg.

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