Posts Tagged ‘Synths’

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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Village Green – 13th January 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

For those who aren’t down with technospeak, a ‘soft error’ is computer language for a faulty occurrence in a digital memory system that changes an instruction in a program or a data value. And so it is that the duo – known simply as Tim and Rupert, both of whom have musical backgrounds in dance music/DJ culture and composition for film, theatre and TV respectively – who make up Soft Error, strove to evoke the idea of happenstance and serendipity in the naming of their collective output.

I’ll not squander space scoffing at the middle-class connotations of a hipster electro duo called Tim and Rupert, and shall instead concentrate on the fact that Mechanism is very much an album born out of experimentalism and improvisation, and balances organisation with random, contemporary with vintage as it folds together modern electronica with classic Krautrock.

While delicate piano notes hang in the air to create a serious, ponderous air at the start of the albums first track, ‘Silberblik’, the introduction of cinematic synths, with tightly modulated oscillations and soaring sweeping expansive notes spreading to forge a richly-coloured panorama, the tone soon changes.

Mechanism demonstrates a preoccupation with contrast and evolution. Gloopy synths bibble and bubble in looping motifs to create a muzzy atmosphere. Synthetic strings sweep and slide over the busy electronic sequences, and it’s this juxtaposition of the (ersaz) organic and mechanical which defines the album’s sound. But Soft Error are by no means content to tie themselves to any one genre. Propelled by a classically 80s drum machine beat, and as such a much sturdier, straight- ahead groove than the album’s other tracks, ‘You Caught Up’ is a post-punk electro stormer with gothy shadows around the corners.

‘Turncoat’ brings some sturdy beats against a monotonous, undulating bass groove, and contrasts with the hypnotic sway of the desert electronica of ‘Motorbath’, which has a smooth spaceyness about it.

Surging, swelling synth abound, building rich layers of sound over interlooping, shivering shimmering rhythmic backdrops, but the tracks ae neatly clipped, trimmed and pinned back to exist within remarkably concise time-frames. And this is good: when a track locks into a grove, sometimes it’s fun to get carried away, but often, it can become tiresome. Soft Error don’t flog a groove indefinitely or push it past the six-minute mark and there’s never a sense that they’re looking to simply fill air here.

That doesn’t mean every track’s a gem: the closer, ‘Everybody Run’s is a bit of a standard, smug analogue-tweaker Krautrock dance effort, but that’s more a criticism of the soft-edged sounds used to render an accessible and rather hipsterish looping motif than the overall shape of the tune. And across the album, Soft Error show they’ve got a knack for decent tunes, as well as for textures and subtle melodies. Smarter than your average, and a whole lot less indulgent.

 

Soft Error