Wednesday, October 21, 2020
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Music Reviews

Sparkle Division: To Feel Embraced

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Artist: Sparkle Division
Title: To Feel Embraced
Format: CD & 12"
Label: Temporary Residence
In the electronica boom of the late ‘90’s, genre-smashing was everywhere, sampling was ubiquitous, and with the boom in popularity of the remix, every corner of labels’ back catalogues were mined. This led to some fascinating, and often quite underrated, remix compilations- “Electro Lounge”, “Motown Remixed”, the “Verve Remixed” series, and of course electro swing which blew up into a genre that’s still going strong (divisively) to this day.

In their debut album as a duo, ambient tape loop experimenter William Basinski and his former-assistant-now-collaborator Preston Wendel have managed to create their own original compositions that feel like one of those remixed compilations. Basinski’s saxophone offers up the centrepiece for the jazz and lounge side, supplemented by extra jazz samples and the occasional guest.

Meanwhile on the electronica side, it’s often a fairly familiar array of light beats, simple acoustic-sounding bass tones and a few appropriate digital sparkles. A few choice glitches and loops offer up referential interference, breaking up the jazz sounds in mostly non-invasive ways on tracks like “To The Stars Major Tom” (which given that the album was recorded in 2016, is presumably a Bowie tribute in its title, though there’s nothing musically to indicate it).

It knits together very nicely, many times. The soft, almost belearic loungey long sax notes of “For Gato” play nicely against a slightly stuttering light rhythm. Odd time signatures nibble at the edges of the spectacularly named “10 Mmmmkayy I'm Goin' Out Now and I Don't Want Any Trouble From You!”. Final piece “No Exit” is also a highlight.

It’s not all fun and games, far from it. It lacks the playfulness and cheekiness of some of the aforementioned remix albums- it seems the novelty has worn off, as it were. Tracks like “Oh, Henry!”, with upright bass and violin from Henry Grimes, is evocative noir, with the more urgent rhythm pulling in interesting ways against the late-night seedy jazz vibe. There are definite playful moments though- Leonora Russo’s bizarre scat singing on “Queenie Got Her Blues” being one.

Longest track “To Feel” is notable as a decidedly ambient piece that adds a substantial hiatus in the middle of the album, and which leads on to the husky title track, with Xeli Grana on sparse vocals.

It’s a really interesting fresh take on “jazztronica” (if I’m allowed to use that word), with the emphasis more on the jazz part. It’s rich in quality and has an authentic feel that blends the retro and the modern, and it’s an album with a lot of character.


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Artist: James Rushford
Title: Música Callada / See the Welter
Format: CDx2 (double CD)
Label: Unseen Worlds
James Rushford offers up a solo piano performance of Catalan composer Federico Mompou’s four-part work “Música Callada” (“Silent music” or “Voices of silence”) put side-by-side with an original composition and ‘companion piece’ to the Mompou work, named “See The Welter”.

“Música Callada” comprises four books, originally published several years apart between 1959 and 1967, with each book split into individual movements and phrases, almost all of which are under three minutes long. This succinctness and frequent stopping gives something of a vignetted feel, with individual chord and arpeggiated explorations allowed to unfold loosely and individually. It’s undeniably sweet, and Rushford’s playing is light and romantic, though at times there’s a slight shortage of the sense of a larger structure at work- it can feel more like a series of thoughtful interludes in sequence. Book I has something of the post-war reclusion into traditional romanticism about it, while Book III was a form of reluctant calm and a touch more avantgardeism. Dynamic moments do appear, such as in Book II’s jumpy “Allegretto”, but often it feels like a musical diary- individual bite-sized introspective chunks of expressive musical mood, with no planned overriding narrative.

“See The Welter” is structurally quite different, comprising seven long ‘pages’, averaging over ten minutes each. Instead of the compact chapters of the Mompou work, this is more meandering, long sustained-note melodic wanderings that are allowed to breathe and roam freely- especially as most pages roll directly into the next, with reverb inbetween, so almost no pauses at all. There’s a definite commonality though, which is found in the mood and tone- that same sense of introspection and space. It isn’t the traditional melancholy that sparse solo piano works sometimes adopt as a kind of default- there’s a certain positivity threaded through it too.

It’s a sweet bit of piano portraiture and Rushford has done an excellent job of presenting and replying to Mompou’s original works. The result is an indulgent two and a half hours of captivatingly small, space-driven solo piano that is very much worth losing yourself in.


Angelspit: The Ignorance Cartel

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Artist: Angelspit
Title: The Ignorance Cartel
Format: CD
Label: Black Pill Red Pill
Long-established industrial and cyberpunk band’s ninth album is the second in a planned “Hexe Trilogy”, after “Bang Operative” which was reviewed here last year. Despite lyrically being written prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, there’s clearly still plenty for the Chicago-based act to get angry about, because even compared to their previous output, this is a fast, hard, aggressive album centred around seething frustrated lyrics full of non-specific politics, fury and imperative.

“Eat The Children”’s lyrics aiming “fuck you”s at various targets and with lines like “it’s my right to breathe so get my hands off my throat”, which if it was written before George Floyd’s death, was horribly prescient. There are somewhat more generalised and cyberpunk-familiar themes of social control, defiance against submission to “the system” and so on. Besides a fairly liberal use of the word “hate” and swearing, there are more metaphor-driven lyrics encompassing The Woodsman and Vikings and some interestingly oblique references to fairy tales and monsters. Although I imagine it was tempting, individual politicians or incidents are generally not cited- but it’s not hard to imagine that many of these tracks are responses to certain events. Social commentary is the dominant theme, but there are a couple of exceptions- such as the more sinister and sexual “Hot Machine”.

This is all set over fourteen rigid cyberpunk tracks full of distorted drums, angry biting bass noises, and glitched guitar-like noises. It’s a familiar formula for the band, and for the most part it doesn’t throw up many surprises, but there are some little treats and production touches in there to give at least a little variety. Examples include the interesting throwback to early Prodigy-esque rave noises in “Happy Little Coma” and “Someone Else”. Like later Prodigy albums though, an entire album listen can be quite a tiring experience due to a lack of variety or interlude in tone. There are some slightly softer moments, such as the decidedly Depeche Mode-ish “Easy” and the darker final track “All Puppet No Master”, but for the most part it’s a fitting reflection of modern times and modern listening styles where these tracks are more likely to turn up as individual items on a playlist than as a whole album, with the typical song length of four minutes quite generous in the expectations of modern listeners’ attention spans.

A few of the counter-culture tropes do feel a little bit threadbare due to overuse now- for example I can’t comment on the uncensored never-on-YouTube videos created for each track and only available as a VHS tape direct from the band. But nevertheless this is still high quality cyber- and electro-punk with a strong heart and high production values. Roll on the third part of the trilogy. Given the state of the world at the time it must be getting written in, I sense it might end up being even more angry than this.


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Artist: Humans Can't Reboot (@)
Title: Lost Soul
Format: CD + Download
Label: self-released
Distributor: Bandcamp
Rated: *****
This is a new music project under the roof of the UK-based artist and DJ Simon Carter, who is known amongst others for his various collaborations fusing numerous electronic dance music genres or for his synthwave project SD-KRTR. Just check for example with his highly recognized discography brought to us by the Belgian Alfa Matrix label ("Studio-X vs. Simon Carter" series). He is an international renowned force for his modern dancefloor electronics which touch nearly all thinkable styles between Synth- and Futurepop, Trance, House, Techno up to the harder genres. Also his remixing abilities are widely recognized and often requested, just check the Alfa Matrix compilation series "Matrix:Reb00ted" on which he could already present his talent on different artists out of the label roster.
As for the vocal part of this new project he could hire with Amy Hannam a thoroughly capable lady and teamed up together they offer you their full range of "Unique, Stylish, Futuristic Synthpop", as their info sheet announces it. So the music of "Lost Soul" is kind of a fresh breathe in the above mentioned styles, not too much retro-infused though. Technically from the production and mixing it fulfills highest expectations and so criticism is rather to be included due to personal preferences.
As for the music I could ramble on some of the chosen bass line sounds and that they sound in my ears not originally enough ("Starlight" - is that a tuba doing this job?), while on the other hand I need to spend fair applause for the changes of float and mood between the tracks. The title track is a heart-touching piano-driven ballad and also Ms. Hannam provides here her best moments.
I enjoyed also the slightly New Wave-understones in a track like "Fading" through the descreet acoustic guitar sounds integrated. "Fallen Angel" is another track on which Simon slows down the tempo and adds musically depth with his dense piano insertions. But compared to "Lost Soul" this one is to me the weaker one out of both, too much I feel reminded on a parrot when it comes to check with Amy's repetitive vocal presentation on here.
I was also about to praise the original drum pattern programming of "iDO" (okay, I praise it...) but unfortunately on this one Amy offers her weakest part on this album. For whatever reason her vocals are sounding nasally and somehow she looses a bit track on the highs and the tempo - it misses intensity and emotionally dedication to me. A compareable characteristic can be noticed on "You Stand By Me" with its rather minimal produced synth arrangements and it shows the listener that Amy's timbre works at best when it got well balanced into richly placed pad and lead sounds.
Finally another true pearl on this album needs a mention too and this the album closer "Reality". I would never-ever reduce the success formula of this album on this very one tune, but hey, with its great piano drops, nicely installed synth harmonies and Amy's nearly perfect sounding timbre, you've got one track flying a bit under the radar asides the tracks which have been already previously released as downloadable singles like "Fading", "Fallen Angel" or the title track "Lost Soul" itself.
The full-length album "Lost Soul" offers indeed a wide array of multiple synthetic music styles and everyone should be able to figure out own favorites. Nice work show of the musically dimension of Mr. Simon Carter, flawlessly produced of course, but don't stop listening before you reach the final track.

As for further information taken out of the info sheet, Simon Carter likes his music to tell stories and two of the tracks on this album are based directly from his short stories of the same name ("iDO" and "Reboot"). You will find a copy of both of these stories as a part of the digital download in Ebook and PDF format. For more short sci-fi stories from Simon, please visit: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/sdacarter




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Artist: A Lily
Title: Sleep Through The Storm
Format: Tape & Digital Download
Label: Bytes
The fifth album from James Vella’s alias A Lily is a collection of eight warm analogue looping electronica. Soft-stepping melodies and pulses, gradually rising and falling mid-tones, the odd arpeggiation or two and a few higher-pitched sparkles meander around in short rhythmic circles over equally warm and rich bass notes.

On paper, that sounds like nothing new, and to an extent that’s true, this is not an album of boundary-pushing or surprises. But appreciating it as a well-balanced piece of composition, like a warm mug of caffeine free tea at the end of a long day, there is still plenty here to make you go “ahhhhh”.

Slightly more unusual tones do sneak through at times, such as the faintly guitar-solo-ish lead melody in the second half of “Do Not Dash Your Feet Upon The Stone”, or the more skittish, time-wrestling notes that open “Endless Jasmine”. There’s a sense of analogue history too- it’s hard to avoid citing Tangerine Dream when talking about tracks like “Colour The Senses” or “A Softly Glitching Reality”, and the flute noise on “Kalimba Heart” has just a hint of the prog rock about it.

“Slipped At The Edge Of The Pool” seemed a little ‘off’ to me somehow, in ways that are difficult to put a finger on.

It’s an indulgent blanket of cosy synth sounds, unchallenging without being completely ambient or textureless, and it’s very enjoyable if you’re in the mood to settle.



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