Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 144)

ASSEMBLAGE 23 Mourn

Consistency is a dangerous word to use when referring to music. Sadly for many in the current ‘scene’, the definition pertaining to porridge is the most appropriate, though I guess many of these bands ability to deliver stodgy fare over and over could also bring the other meaning into play.

One act that can’t be accused of dishing out plates of grey sludge is ASSEMBLAGE 23. Ostensibly, in the studio at least, a vehicle for singer and instrumentalist Tom Shear, A23 have delivered some of the best electronic music released over the last 20 plus years and the latest album ‘Mourn’ continues that trend.

Full disclosure… I am not only a fan of ASSEMBLAGE 23 but have also toured on a number of occasions with the band and count Tom and his band mates Paul Seegers and Michael Jenney as close friends, despite the number of restraining orders all parties have issued against one another. What this does mean is, I won’t sugar coat any views I have of them, they wouldn’t want that. It is however challenging not to sound ‘gushy’ when presented with material this strong.

The brooding intro to album opener ‘Epiphany’ sets the tone immediately. From the outset it’s clear this is an A23 release. One thing I am glad to report is the production on the vocals is carried over from the last album ‘Endure’, so is upfront and free from any unnecessary effects. This means the listener can quickly catch the lyrical punch many of the tracks carry. Like many of the cuts on the album, ‘Epiphany’ has a double meaning both as a commentary on, when written, current global events and on a more personal level.

This punch continues through to the next song ‘Factory’ which is a withering critique of how governments are manufacturing whole generations of broken ‘men’ both at home and also those returning from conflicts abroad.

It asks why those self-same leaders are surprised by the actions of these damaged souls. If you follow Shear on social media, you will know he isn’t shy when it comes to his politics and this is shown here and across the album.

‘Bloom’ is a dark piece of EBM that has its downbeat verses counterpointed by a hopeful, uplifting chorus. Following this is the most ‘traditional’ EBM/Industrial song on the album, ‘Anxiety’. This an driving insistent bass and drums and easily chantable chorus this will no doubt become a live favourite as and when live shows can begin again.

Anyone familiar with the history of the ASSEMBLAGE 23 project will know the catalyst for Tom starting the band was hearing a DJ spin various electronic tracks at a DEPECHE MODE show back in the later part of the 80s. He has never hidden his love of DM and this is shown on ‘Confession’. DM fans will find much here to love with its Wilder-esque arrangement and instrumentation but still retaining a very A23 sound. It is not hard however to imagine Gahan singing this lyric. Is it too early to start the campaign to get Shear to produce the next Depeche album…?

Next up is simply a blinding good pop song in ‘Dissonance’. Dripping with melody and driven by a thumping bass line, this is destined to become a club favourite.

As previously stated, Shear has no issue in pinning his political colours to the mast and ‘Welcome, Apocalypse’ doesn’t so much pin but nail gun them. A cataloguing of current events brought about by “narcissistic imbeciles” (I wonder who this could be…?), this is not just the centre piece of the album but the track that will I am sure become the biggest favourite amongst fans.

Good songwriting comes from the experiences of the artist and the final three tracks have a more more personal ring to them. ‘Could’ve’ takes on people who relish the problems of others to the detriment of friendship and without getting both sides of the story. We have all been there I am sure.

‘Tragedy’ wraps those questions that arise from the end of a relationship in yet another great pop song. Again there is melody aplenty: others should take note, this is how to write an engaging electronic song without it sounding like you are moaning that you aren’t getting beans for tea.

Closer ‘This House Is Empty’ builds from a sparse intro to end on a strangely upbeat feel despite the main lyrical hook extorting the burning down of said domicile.

As part of the excellent special edition, there is a disc of remixes from the likes of ALPHA QUADRANT, :SITD and KLACK alongside 2 further tracks ‘Crescendo’ and ‘Black Dog’. Don’t mistake these as mere throwaways as they could easily sit alongside the ‘main’ 10 tracks. ‘Black Dog’ especially is a thumping piece of modern danceable electronica.

So what of the 2020 version of ASSEMBLAGE 23? It’s not unusual for an act that has been around as long as Tom Shear to start taking it easy but on the evidence of this and the work he has done in offshoot SURVEILLANCE and the excellent HELIX with partner Mari Kattman, this is clearly not the case.

This is yet another progression from his previous release. It’s appropriate that the album will be released on the September 11th, a day which America now looks back on with understandable sadness and loss. There is sadness and loss aplenty on ‘Mourn’ but also hope for the future.

We can all take comfort that hope is available to us all, no matter what the journey of late has been.


‘Mourn’ is released by Metropolis Records on 11th September 2020 in CD, deluxe 2CD, double vinyl LP and download variants, available at https://assemblage23.bigcartel.com/ or direct from https://assemblage23.bandcamp.com/

http://www.assemblage23.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Official-Assemblage-23/138651156153800

https://twitter.com/Assemblage_23


Text by Ian Ferguson
12th August 2020

ROBERT DEAN & MARTIN BIRKE Triptych+

A triptych is defined as “a set of three associated artistic, literary, or musical works intended to be appreciated together”.

Described as “An engaging mixture of dark atmospherics, pulsating electronics and imaginative textural guitar”, ‘Triptych+’ is the expanded mini-album from Robert Dean and Martin Birke.

Initially released on Bandcamp in 2019, its four tracks explore the more soundscape-inclined directions of notable guitarists like Manuel Göttsching, Michael Brook and in particular Robert Fripp.

Robert Dean is best known as having been a member of JAPAN who played guitar on all their albums up to ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ before moving on to work with Gary Numan and Sinead O’Connor. In a particularly rejuvenated return to music, this reissue of ‘Triptych+’ comes just a few months after the release of ‘Dimensions’, the debut long player from his more song-based project LIGHT OF DAY.

Meanwhile, Martin Birke is a former drummer turned electronic musician who as GENRE PEAK has worked with Dean’s former bandmates Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri and Mick Karn, as well as avant garde trumpeter Jon Hassell who collaborated with David Sylvian on ‘Brilliant Trees’ and ‘Words With The Shaman’.

Dean is a noted exponent of E-bow, a hand-held battery powered device patented in 1978 that opened up the possibilities of the electric guitar. By vibrating a string to create infinite sustain and high harmonics similar to feedback, the E-bow challenged players into introducing new techniques and inventive ideas while using the traditional six string.

‘Locust Storm’ captures its title with a flock of E-bowed echo locks over deep drones before steadily morphing into an understated percussive presence reminiscent of FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON ambient offshoot AMORPHOUS ANDROGYNOUS.

Continuing the use of repeats, ‘Amber Field’ is superb with the captivating soundscape reminiscent Robert Fripp’s work with  on 2004’s ‘The Equatorial Stars’ and its crisp minimalist structure also recalling ‘Drawn From Life’, Eno’s earlier collaboration with J Peter Schwalm.

Based around an electronic sequence, ‘Avigation’ is gently rhythmic with Dean’s virtuoso passages providing bite as Birke builds his patterns before a pulsing synth bass leads into a tense section which is all the more urgent in its realisation.

Over 11 minutes, ‘Guidance Is Internal’ is the addition to the original ‘Triptych’ that sees layers of infinite sustain over an icy plate of hypnotic shimmer that moves into an otherworldly drift suddenly woken by a synthetic noise mantra at its climax.

At around 31 minutes in length, ‘Triptych+’ is an intriguing set of aural sculptures and sound paintings. Fitting nicely into the catalogue of experimental instrumental adventures by former JAPAN members, it will find favour with listeners who enjoy an occasional trek into the world of imaginary spaces and environmental escapism.


‘Triptych+’ is released by Last Word Music 14th August 2020 and available initially on CD exclusively from Burning Shed at https://burningshed.com/store/lastwordmusic/robert-dean-and-martin-birke_triptych-plus_cd

https://www.facebook.com/lastwordmusiclabel


Text by Chi Ming Lai
10th August 2020

KID MOXIE & LUXXURY Love & Unity

When Los Angeles and Athens are your home bases, you cannot help but have a sunnier disposition.

Following her moodier instrumental introspections for the soundtrack of the film ‘Not To Be Unpleasant, But We Need To Have A Serious Talk’ which also featured her great minimal cover of ALPHAVILLE’s ‘Big In Japan’, KID MOXIE ventures to the dancefloor for her new EP ‘Love & Unity’.

In collaboration with LUXXURY, the production moniker of LA based self-confessed disco fiend Blake Robin, Elena Charbila gets to showcase her dancier side as KID MOXIE.

It’s party like it’s 1999 as LUXXURY’s funked-up basslines and thumping beats combine with KID MOXIE’s indigenous Mediterranean moods on the title track and the modern day Sylvester meets THE BEE GEES groove of ‘Can You Feel It’ (not a cover of THE JACKSONS).

Meanwhile ‘All I Want’ cannot help but conjure up images of Ibiza sunsets as it recalls MOLOKO despite just the repeated title acting as the main vocal hook. But it’s not all full-on Nu-disco as ‘Paradise’ displays a much more dreamy restraint with a less frantic tempo and is all the better for it.

But ‘Saturn Returns To Disco’ is more filmic and possesses the exquisite continental allure that people love KID MOXIE for, especially with its reference to absent loved ones as Charbila laments “the distance between us and stars”. ‘All Day Long I Think Of You’ is angelic and vibey while still being dance-friendly, but like ‘All I Want’, it relies on a minimal repetitive lyrical topline.

If clubbing is still your thing, then ‘Love & Unity’ will appeal and with Kylie Minogue going ‘Disco’ again, maybe the time is right to hang the gliterball up again. But for long standing KID MOXIE fans, the wonderfully atmospheric depth of ‘Saturn Returns To Disco’ will be the main point of interest.


‘Love & Unity’ is released by West One Music Group, available via the usual digital platforms

http://www.facebook.com/kidmoxie

https://twitter.com/KIDMOXIEMUSIC

https://www.instagram.com/kid.moxie/

https://open.spotify.com/album/3Mj05wfvId0Tti1WHcEQlx


Text by Chi Ming Lai
27th July 2020

THE MIDNIGHT Monsters

Like many folk I know, I have a difficult relationship with the genre known as synthwave. When it’s done well, it’s very good but the drive by many of the scenes bands to recreate something that didn’t actually exist in the first place quickly becomes tiring.

Artists such as Michael Oakley produce music that has been bundled with synthwave but is superior in the songwriting and execution whilst a plethora of bands with names like LASER CAPRI 83 just regurgitate the tropes of the movement by buying a few sample packs and firing a neon logo on their artwork.

I have always found THE MIDNIGHT fall between these two stools. There is no denying that there are some good songs in their catalogue, you just need to listen to John Mitchell of IT BITES and FROST* fame’s rework of ‘Synthetic’ to hear that; but while THE MIDNIGHT’s execution is well produced, it’s still a bit meh…

Which brings us to their latest release ‘Monsters’; not the only album released this year with that title (so be careful if you just search on the name alone on your chosen platform to avoid disappointment and sore ears when it comes to production), this is a typical example of synthwave by numbers.

Opening with the sound of a computer booting and connecting to a dial-up modem (old technology checkbox ticked right out the gate), we then have the instrumental ‘America Online’ which has all the pointers you would expect… Fairlight vocal pads, Linn sampled drums and shakuhachi leads underpin a vocoded vocal. So far, so by the book…

‘Dance With Somebody’ would actually work better if it broke free of the constraints of the genre as the heavily effected vocals and sax distract from what could be a pleasantly straightforward pop song. ‘Seventeen’ works better and wears its influences more comfortably as does the next track ‘Dream Away’. When playing less forced tracks like these, THE MIDNIGHT are a pretty listenable band. Sadly it doesn’t last long.

‘The Search for Ecco’, with its Vangelis CS80 style brass and DX7 Rhodes piano starts, goes on a bit then finishes. To what end, I don’t really know.

‘Prom Night’ sounds exactly like you would expect, with an unimaginative arrangement and the usual sound sets accompanying a trite lyric and some chorused guitar. This continues with ‘Fire In The Sky’. To tell the truth by this point, I was starting to lose interest but the ever professional I am, I forged on.

Title cut ‘Monsters’ is a pleasant enough collaboration with JUPITER WINTER (urgggggghhh that name!) with a totally unnecessary effected vocal sting on the title. ‘Helvetica’ is just outright annoying; the CS80 is replaced with a Jupiter sample and the start stop / sped up / slow down arrangement probably seemed clever but just serves to make the track outstay its welcome even more.

The remaining tracks all meld into one, with all the usual tricks and turns on display. ‘Deep Blue’ is probably the best of the tracks both here and on the album itself with some genuinely good vocals and programming. It could do without the sax though. And after an hour or so it finishes. Like many modern albums, it’s 15 minutes too long.

As I said above, I struggle with this band. They are undoubtedly talented, there are some real flashes of that here but I can’t help feel if they stepped outside of the pigeonhole they find themselves in, they would be able to present the songs in a more flattering light.

That said, if you buy one album titled ‘Monsters’ this year, make it this one.


‘Monsters’ is released by Counter Records in a variety of formats including CD, double vinyl LP and cassette

https://www.themidnightofficial.com/

https://www.facebook.com/TheMidnightOfficial/

https://twitter.com/TheMidnightLA

https://www.instagram.com/themidnightofficial/


Text by Ian Ferguson
21st July 2020

JESSIE FRYE Kiss Me In The Rain

Dallas based Jessie Frye started releasing and performing music in 2008.

A classically trained pianist and vocal coach, she chose the vintage pop sounds to showcase her musical talents and since her beginnings, has gathered a decent following of fans from synthwave by blending a nostalgic outlook with modern production techniques.

Having shared stages with well-known acts of the genre like COM TRUISE or PHANTOGRAM, she has also performed alongside Beck and Pat Benatar.

Frye’s songs are “the stories of her heart and life experience” with the highlight of her career being performing for thousands during Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2016. Produced by Matt Aslanian, her new album ‘Kiss Me In The Rain’ on NewRetroWave Records comes in at the right moment to try and raise spirits beaten by the difficult first part of 2020.

An American version of NINA, Frye opens up with a ballad to celebrate the release of her long player; ‘Fantasy’ is uncomplicated and cleverly served over the familiar synthwave elements, leading into equally demure ‘Angel’.

FM-84 singer Ollie Wride joins Frye on ‘Malibu Broken’, lending his voice on this fast tempo number, while Stock, Aitken and Waterman could have easily backed ‘The One’ with its fast paced danceable qualities where Jessie’s vocal attempts to marry the voice of Amy Lee of EVANESCENCE and Sinitta.

‘Faded Memory’ is what Frye hopes not to be, supported this time by TIMECOP1983. This mega synthy number is reminiscent of the superb achievements of Dana Jean Phoenix, but the bombshell descends with ‘No Sleep’ where somewhat rocky elements are introduced into the mix.

‘Ocean’ injects a further dose of sunny synth, while ‘High’ sees Frye collaborating with Robert Parker on this glistening easy listening track. ‘Eighteen’ slows the tempo again to lead to the closing ‘Wild In My Eyes’ which is a quintessential synthwave positivity loaded track.

If you’re in need of a pick me up this summer, parts of this album will do just this. Being a synthwave undertaking, it is just it at most parts.

However, at times Frye’s voice is dying to branch out and it would come as no surprise if she switched genres in the future.


‘Kiss Me In The Rain’ is released by New Retro Wave and available in CD, vinyl LP, Minidisc and digital formats from https://newretrowave.bandcamp.com/album/kiss-me-in-the-rain

https://www.jessiefrye.com/

https://www.facebook.com/jessiefryeband

https://twitter.com/jessiefrye

https://www.instagram.com/jessiefryemusic/

https://newretrowave.com/2020/04/09/catching-up-with-jessie-frye/


Text by Monika Izabela Trigwell
Photos by Jamie Maldonado
17th July 2020

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