Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 145)

RENARD Waking Up In A Different World

The tale of WOLFSHEIM will be known to any self-respecting lover of darker electronica, although relatively alien to English listeners, unless one had European connections or sought after more unusual sounds outside Britain in the last two decades of the 20th Century.

The Hamburg based duo with the superb voice of Peter Heppner and hit producing magician Markus Reinhardt released numerous gems such as ‘Once In A Lifetime’ or ‘The Sparrows & The Nightingales’, turning out superb albums, with ‘Spectators’ or ‘Casting Shadows’ to name just a couple.

But the good streak wasn’t to last, with the group disbanding into a monumental hiatus, seeing Heppner going solo or helping on other artist’s releases, with that ever haunting voice of his; Reinhardt stayed somewhat behind, only to return for what he calls “his reinvention”.

“The end of WOLFSHEIM motivated me to reinvent myself. A process that was urgently needed. With RENARD, I’m more with myself. My album combines the sound and mood of the 80s with the stylistic devices of today.”

Any sound manipulator needs a vocalist to showcase the uniqueness of their work and RENARD doesn’t settle on one. Why stick to the same voice when you are in a position to pick who you’d like to really bring variety and much needed diversity to your output?

‘Waking Up In A Different World’ is a debut, but it’s unlike any other debut, as in this case the debutant is not an inexperienced musician, promoting unknown vocalists.

So for the first single, Reinhardt chooses ‘Travel In Time’ with Pascal Finkenauer to take the reins of the vocals. A fellow German songwriter, guitarist and vocalist, Finkenauer’s melancholic voice sounds mistakenly like Heppner’s, bringing somewhat confusing connotations. In previous outings, Finkenauer can sound more or less like the original WOLFSHEIM boy, but one has to question the sense in this particular choice, especially with Reinhardt’s pledge to be more like himself on this record.

Nevertheless, this is a magnificent song, with a great dose of sorrow and longing. One cannot reject the obvious WOLFSHEIM connotations in the arrangement; it’s like the band have been resurrected for one tune. Well, if he can’t use the WOLFSHEIM name, then…

Joseh features on ‘Junkyards’, where guitar leads the SUEDE-esque intro, blossoming into an easy listening piece where the voice doesn’t sound like Heppner’s, but more natural and free flowing.

Joseh also guests on ‘The Meissen Figurine’, which combines a coalescence of modern elements with vintage components over a moderately unobtrusive tune, while Marietta Fafouti finds herself ‘Restless’. A prolific Greek composer, songwriter, and a well-known figure in her native land, Fafouti sings her soul away over a simplistic melody.

DUBSTAR’s Sarah Blackwood wrote the melody and lyrics to ‘Heresy’, which is commensurate with her own band’s output, both currently and back in the day. The song was written ten years ago and by Blackwood’s own admission containing words very personal to her. As always, it is superbly simplistic, cleverly put together and sung with the heart; the heart which “will have a speaking part, the first time in ages”.

Marian Gold of ALPHAVILLE joins the party on ‘Hotel’. With its NEW ORDER-like guitar presence, the song actually brings back the good old days when the German collective ruled with ‘Big In Japan’. Gold returns on ‘Damn Happy’ where he’s clearly “happy to be unhappy”, sadly in a quite forgettable manner.

Interestingly enough, the production nods towards SUEDE again it its execution, although the song itself is missing the vital ingredient to make it worth replaying.

Thankfully, Eliza Hiscox of ROYALCHORD leads with the magnificent ‘My Heart’s Still Shaking’ which is not just magic in its vocal delivery but also in the symbiosis of the instrumentation and her voice. The closing ‘Intelligent Design’ ushers in a heavy plucked bass synth, progressing gently over eight bars of pure joy with yodelled voices, sculpting the ending beautifully.

Although altogether the album is a rather mixed bag, RENARD really is ‘Waking Up In A Different World’, bringing this multi-faceted, emotion laden production into life in the current climate of uncertainty, fear and new reality. May he achieve similar success to Peter Heppner with his solo ventures.

‘Waking Up In A Different World’ is released by Metropolis Records in CD, vinyl LP and digital formats on 9th October 2020, pre-order from

Text by Monika Izabela Trigwell
28th September 2020


‘The Secret Lives’ is the overdue union of two German cult legends, Mani Neumeier and Zeus B Held.

The pair met in 1973 at a festival in Frankfurt; Mani Neumeier was there as the drummer and leader of kosmische trailblazers GURU GURU while Zeus B Held was a newcomer joining progressive rockers BIRTH CONTROL on keyboards. They each went on to establish notable careers.

Zeus B Held moved on to becoming a solo artist and producer, with his breakthrough coming from working with GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 when the single ‘No GDM’ became an underground club favourite.

As a result, he worked with the likes of FASHION, DEAD OR ALIVE, DIE KRUPPS, ALPHAVILLE, SIMPLE MINDS and TRANSVISION VAMP as well as John Foxx and Gary Numan. Later, Held moved into jazz and World Music while more recently, he formed DREAM CONTROL with Steve Schroyder, a former member of TANGERINE DREAM.

Mani Neumeier has maintained a 50 year career in GURU GURU with over 30 albums while working on various side-projects with his notable German contemporaries. He was the drummer on the second HARMONIA album ‘Deluxe’ while his popularity in Japan, which led to working with acts like psychedelic rock ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE, saw a figure of him being made for a Tokyo waxwork museum.

Up there with CAN’s Jaki Liebezeit in technique, his drumming was so tight on ‘Speed Display’, a collaboration with Conny Plank and Dieter Moebius for the one-off long player ‘Zero Set’ in 1983, that observers cited the mad hyperactive collage of drums, bubbling electronics and treated robotic vocals as an example of proto-techno!

Spontaneous, colourful, lively and oddball, much of the recording of ‘The Secret Lives’ was done at the SynxsS-Studio in Offenbach with its distinguished proprietor Bernd-Michael Land contributing analogue sequencing from the vast array of modular equipment within his complex.

Tracks began with Neumeier tapping percussive moods on the Haken Continuum Fingerboard or using electronic drum pads while Held built chord structures and sequences before Neumeier overdubbed his acoustic drum kit at Freiburg KG Beat Studio. Opener ‘Fox Nr. 7’ is a good example of this approach with stark electronic keys offset by freeform percussion, punctuated with jabs of organ and a hallucinogenic monologue about foxes…

Meanwhile with a deep sequence of synth, ‘Drei Tage Funk’ sees Neumeier go on rhythmic bender augmented by Luigi Archetti on sustained guitar while Held does his Chick Corea impression. With chattering rimshot and syncopated keys, ‘Pfeif Drau’ takes an unusual cosmic ska influence…

There are more abstract adventures too with the collage of mind bending discordant noise forming ’The Secret Lives of Der Lurch’ being more sound sculpture than song, while ‘Ghost Ritual’ is a gong experiment. Then ‘Back 2 Nature’ recalls CLUSTER in its Morgenspaziergang ambience although the klanky guitar dressing adds some menace to the journey.

‘Volcano Dance’ uses an improvised jazz approach with all manner of instruments hovering simultaneously… all that’s missing is a Miles Davis trumpet. The self-explanatory ‘Sex Mit Siri’ though utilises passages of treated percussion with some amazing electronic sounds with one particularly whirring away via a Kaossilator like a dysfunctional Stylophone!

‘Threesome Railway’ is more spacey with drums used as much for colour as well as structure, but a vocoder is dug out for the moody PINK FLOYD inspired closer ‘Wish I Was There’ which also throws in some exotic tablas before some beautiful E-bow to end.

This is the sound of two veterans having rather a lot of fun. At times indulgent, occasionally quirky but with musicianship that cannot be faulted, ‘The Secret Lives’ won’t be for everyone.

But if you are into the idea of a couple of German septuagenarians jamming with a bit of wild jazz thrown into a kosmische and electronic amalgam, then this might just be for you.

‘The Secret Lives’ is released by Bellerophon Records, available from

Text by Chi Ming Lai
26th September 2020


TRAIN TO SPAIN released their debut album ‘What It’s All About’ in 2015 and showcased their appealing Lana Del Rey fronting YAZOO template with catchy songs like ‘Passion’.

It’s been just over two years since the Swedish duo of singer Helena Wigeborn and producer Jonas Rasmusson presented their second album ‘A Journey’. The new five-track EP ‘¿Amor?’ is the first part of a digital EP trilogy to be released in six month intervals.

While ‘A Journey’ was not too radical a departure, one of its highlights was the explosive stomper ‘Monsters’, a track with the sort of chunky triplets that filled German discos once upon a time.

Indeed, ‘Monsters’ was reissued as a remix for the summer dancefloors to herald the return of TRAIN TO SPAIN. The EP opener ‘Living Now’ turns up that Eurodance wick to 11 and parties like its 1994! Meanwhile, the elastic ‘Everyday Nightmare’ is no less frantic as the rhythm pounds like a dancer.

‘Something’s Missing In My Heart’ eases the mood and is reminiscent of their Danish neighbours SOFTWAVE who stole something of a march by nabbing the OMD support slot of their Scandinavian tour. But TRAIN TO SPAIN show they are equal of such an accolade being offered to them in the future with a tune that has a great vocal and some enticing crystalline synth hooks. ‘Tsunami’ comes from a similar midtempo cloth although Wigeborn’s vocals take on more of a detached snarl on a piece that exudes a more Germanic feel.

To conclude, the bonus remix of ‘Living Now’ by Nórdika plays with a trancey Schaffel structure but while it is different, it is not a patch on the original.

‘¿Amor?’ does the job of leaving the listener wanting more but if there is a criticism of this short and sharp EP, it’s that the overall sound across the four main songs is a bit on the cloudy side and could do with more dynamic clarity.

However, this doesn’t detract that this is a very immediate and enjoyable body of work. With the 40th Anniversary of THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’ looming, it is fitting that it is time to take that TRAIN TO SPAIN again.

‘¿Amor?’ is released by pbhmedia / Blyh Media on 25th September 2020 and available via the usual digital outlets including

Text by Chi Ming Lai
25th September 2020


Them SMASHING PUMPKINS have now added a “THE” to prefix their name and surprised many with a splendid synth friendly single entitled ‘Cyr’.

Not only does it have synths but ‘Cyr’ is also quite pop in an almost DURAN DURAN vein!

So THE SMASHING PUMPKINS go synthpop? Well, not quite because the conventional format of guitars and drums is still there, although the hooks are very much of an electronic bent, particularly the synthetic bass. There’s even some delicious backing vocals from Katie Cole and Sierra Swan to act as a counterpoint.

But despite all this, Billy Corgan and Co have not compromised; the music maintains a gothic austere and still sounds like a band, but no doubt computers have been at work. Meanwhile the front man still sounds like he could do with going outside to play some Frisbee with his bandmates as he declares that “Fragments form the mind, shadows hold the mist, fractured as this wish, shattered I resign, we’re on the verge”!

The hooks are very reminiscent of ‘Enjoy The Silence’ and with this point of familiar reference, the magnificence of ‘Cyr’ only highlights the hopelessness of the more recent material from DEPECHE MODE. ‘Cyr’ is the sort of song that Martin Gore is more than capable of writing if he put his mind to it… but he can’t be bothered, hence the lazy dire results of ‘Spirit’ and its “this will do” attitude. And when THE SMASHING PUMPKINS are making better DEPECHE MODE records than DEPECHE MODE, well…

Could THE SMASHING PUMPKINS be about to release their most accessible album in their history? The new material so far from the forthcoming double album has exhibited much more of a classic British post-punk sensibility but then again, Billy Corgan has always been a fan of bands such as DEPECHE MODE, NEW ORDER and THE CURE; ‘The Colour Of Love’, the single prior to ‘Cyr’ was a highly effective borrowing and reworking of ‘A Forest’.

Previously there was the cover of ‘Never Let Me Down Again’ for the DEPECHE MODE tribute album ‘For The Masses’ in 1998 while Corgan also duetted with NEW ORDER on ‘Turn My Way’, a song from the 2001 album ‘Get Ready’ while acting as a guest musician with Manchester’s finest on their US tour that same year.

More details of THE SMASHING PUMPKINS’ new album are still to be revealed but the website has a clock counting down the days and a button asking fans to “explore the ritual”. Looking like a computer game designed by Tim Burton, the plot thickens.

‘Cyr’ is released by Sumerian Records / Warner Music Group and available now via digital platforms, the double album of the same name is released on 27th November 2020

Text by Chi Ming Lai
23rd September 2020


Behind FEMMEPOP is the Irish singer and musician Margaret O’ Sullivan. She released her debut album ‘From A Girl Who Never Sleeps’ in 2014 while she followed it up with ‘Dancing With Myself’ in 2017.

But 2018 could be seen as the breakthrough year of FEMMEPOP; there were collaborations with Robert Parker and Hayley Stewart aka MECHA MAIKO while the ‘CYM’ EP which saw O’Sullivan develop her synth sound further for her best work yet.

2019’s ‘London’ EP surprised as an instrumental affair, but for her new single, FEMMEPOP has returned to songs but with a folk twist.

Margaret O’ Sullivan told The Electricity Club: ”I live alone so lockdown was really hard. I was thinking of old songs I used to hear as a child and I remembered a song my Aunt used to sing ‘Tom Dooley’. I used to imitate my Aunt singing this song, as she used to sing it a lot. So I copied her and even at the age of 4 or 5, I loved the dark story within the lyrics.”

‘Tom Dooley’ is a ballad about the 1866 murder of a woman named Laura Foster in Wilkes County. It was allegedly committed by Tom Dula ; a local poet named Thomas Land wrote a song about the tragedy, titled ‘Tom Dooley’ shortly after Dula (which was pronounced “Dooley”) went to the gallows.

“I decided to do a cover and see what I would come up with” said O’Sullivan, “I was drawn to darkness of the song, the line ‘met her on the mountain stabbed her with my knife’ especially interested me as it’s just so stark and poignant.”

The recording of ‘Tom Dooley’ also saw a new side to FEMMEPOP. “Production wise, this song has the most tracks I have ever used on a song” said O’Sullivan remembered, “It contains 28 tracks. I used a lot of ideas for this, I wanted a rich sounding orchestral sound. There’s viola, piano, guitar, and strings on there as well as about 4 different drum tracks and 5 vocal tracks. Getting the drums right was the hardest part. That took quite a while. There are 5 verses in the song and I wanted to bring in the drums at the right point.”

One of the unexpected was the rhythmic climax: “I wanted to keep the softness of the ballad at the beginning then surprise people with the marching drums that come in and then slowly build to a crescendo at the end, along with the strings and piano. My vocals too emphasise this towards the end as I sing ‘ To die, to die, lay down, lay down.’ This song means a lot to me as it reminds me of my childhood but I have brought it into the year 2020 and I don’t think there is another version out there quite like this.”

The video put FEMMEPOP into a forlorn setting with another eerie twist: “It was shot in Cork city in August, outside an old, closed down, mental institution called St Kevins. So there was a very dark and eerie feeling about the place. It was directed and shot by a very talented film maker called Zoe Kavanagh from Dublin who has won several awards for her horror based films. The video was shot in one day and had me climbing through brambles and bushes on a boiling day in a dress and fishnet stockings!”

With ‘Tom Dooley’, FEMMEPOP makes a statement on several artistic levels, capturing the human condition’s challenges in coping with current world events.

‘Tom Dooley’ is released as a download single on 25th September 2020, available direct from

Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Margaret O’ Sullivan
21st September 2020

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