Category: Reviews (Page 2 of 145)

YELLO Point

Switzerland’s YELLO have never been an act to over-expose themselves in relation to the product that they’ve released.

Previous album ‘Toy’ was released in 2016 and prior to that ‘Touch Yello’ came out in 2009; so after a four year gap we now have the duo’s latest work ‘Point’.

According to their label Universal, ‘Point’ takes the classic YELLO aesthetic of albums such as ‘Stella’, ‘One Second’ and ‘Flag’ and “twists it into something ultra-modern.” the sound “part spy film, part Dali-painting, part strobe lit dance floor, part 4D car chase and part deep space torch song. It’s YELLO, absolutely on point.”

Within the first 10 seconds of album opener ‘Waba Duba’, there is no mistaking that this IS YELLO; the track is based around a tribal Dieter Meier chant and punctuated with staccato horn stabs which recall their biggest hit ‘The Race’. Thankfully ‘Waba Duba’ doesn’t take itself too seriously with gibberish-style lyrics “Do you want me to do/Don’t take me for a fool/I’m only happy man/I jump out of the can”. All in all, ‘Waba Duba’ is a feelgood track with enough synth parts to satisfy fans of their more electronic work.

‘The Vanishing of Peter Stong’ starts like an EBM track with a menacing synth bassline, but the live drums and vocal narrative from Meier takes the piece into a completely different direction. Throughout the album comparisons could easily be made with THE ART OF NOISE, both acts are known for their sampling with Boris Blank having a huge sample collection (400,000+). ‘The Vanishing of Peter Strong’ features more rhythmic vocal sampling and the kind of production sheen that Trevor Horn and Stephen Lipson cultivated with their associated ZTT acts.

‘Way Down’ features an offbeat skanking backbeat and a welcome female vocal layer above Meier’s trademark talking growl. Beautifully produced again with an amazing clarity to the drum sound; cinematic horns and echoed synth arpeggios excel on a short three minute track that doesn’t outstay its welcome.

‘Out of Sight’ starts like a distant cousin to KRAFTWERK and ‘Boing Boom Tschak’ before being joined by a “dum dum” vocal bass line which again echoes THE ART OF NOISE. The vocal sampling and stuttering of LES RYTHMES DIGITALES’ ‘Jacques Your Body’ seems to be an influence too…

‘Arthur Spark’ is far more electronic in nature, with low-slung synth bass sequencer work and APOLLO 440-ish vocodered vocals. A KRAFTWERK-style drum pattern dips in out of the track and subtle guitar work features throughout. What is admirable here is that five tracks in and each track has its own atmosphere with original sounds and none of the tracks become overly repetitive or linger around for too long (actually none of the songs on ‘Point’ are in excess of four minutes in length).

‘Core Shift’ features a fantastic synth breakdown at its 38 second mark, again another stunningly mixed track; if one worked in a hi-fi shop ‘Point’ would make a great sonic fidelity demonstration album.

‘Rush for Joe’ is a cheeky John Barry-style spy theme-in-waiting with added Korg M1 organ bass sounds, whilst album closer ‘Siren Singing’ features the only guest vocalist on the album with an appearance from British based Chinese artist Fifi Rong. ‘Siren Singing’ is an ambient downtempo piece which draws ‘Point’ to a more introspective conclusion. The only track not to feature Meier’s vocals and without him, results in a piece which is pretty un-YELLO like.

The deal breaker with YELLO has always been Dieter Meier’s vocals, he’s always been a storyteller rather than a singing vocalist, and there is no deviation from that template here. Arguably ‘Point’ would function better with more guest vocalists, but he is part of the duo’s signature sound and as album closer ‘Siren Singing’ proves, his absence ends up being missed.

From a production point of view, ‘Point’ is stunning throughout and although there are no huge stand-out tracks here, the album is a concise re-affirmation of the YELLO sound and long term fans will adore it.


‘Point’ is released via Universal Music, available as a collector’s box, CD, deluxe CD, vinyl LP and digital download

http://yello.com

https://www.facebook.com/yello.ch/

https://www.instagram.com/yello_official/


Text by Paul Boddy
14th September 2020

AaRON Ultrarêve

Jean-Claude Van Damme, the self-styled “Muscles From Brussels” makes an unexpected appearance in the video to French duo AaRON’s new single ‘Ultrarêve’.

Translated as “ultra-dream”, it sees Van Damme indulging in some movement artistry while in a deserted Los Angeles car park before moving out into the Californian landscape and ends with him conducting the waves somewhere on the Pacific coastline.

The star of ‘Bloodsport’, ‘Double Impact’, ‘Universal Solider’ and ‘Street Fighter’ actually trained in ballet for five years and even gamely demonstrated his skills to Jonathan Ross in 1993 during a TV interview to promote ’Nowhere To Run’.

Martial arts and dance have much in common; Bruce Lee was the 1958 Crown Colony Cha Cha dancing champion of Hong Kong while more recently, Jackie Chan who attended the China Drama Academy in his youth, took part in a Bollywood inspired sequence choreographed by Farah Khan to close his 2017 film ‘Kung Fu Yoga’.

The Belgian family Van Damme were among the team behind the simple but striking film, with his daughter Bianca directing and his son Kris operating one of the cameras.

AaRON’s debut album ‘Artificial Animals Riding On Neverland’ came out in 2007 and was popular in Europe. All three of their albums to date went Top10 in France. The union with Van Damme came about when he approached Simon Buret and Olivier Coursier about providing music to a film project he was working on.

It was during their discussions and exchanges which were then interupted by Covid Crisis that Buret and Coursier then pitched a visual concept to Van Damme for ‘Ultrarêve’, a song that he had taken a particular liking to from their new album ‘Anatomy Of Light’.

AaRON’s best known song is probably the piano driven ballad ‘U-Turn (Lili)’, partly thanks to its inclusion in the film ‘Je Vais Bien, Ne T’en Fais pas’ and the pair composed music for the soundtrack of the 2013’s ‘Les Yeux Fermés’ directed by Jessica Palud.

AARON have an inherent drama in their music as was demonstrated on their previous single ‘Le Rivières’ released earlier in the summer. But the rhythmic hypnotism of ‘Ultrarêve’ takes on a trancey electronic template more akin to ‘Blouson Noir’ which featured another Hollywood legend John Malkovich in its video.


‘Ultrarêve’ is from the album ‘Anatomy Of Light’ released by Birds In The Storm on 18th September 2020

AaRON play Paris Zénith on 21st November 2020

http://aaronofficial.com/

https://www.facebook.com/AaRONofficial

https://www.instagram.com/aarontheband/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
9th September 2020

LINEA ASPERA LP II

LINEA ASPERA released their self-titled debut album in 2012. A collection of dark but danceable electronic pop, before any new listeners had an opportunity to discover and savour them, the duo had already disbanded in 2013.

One of the nearest partnership comparisons from the past was Cosey Fanni Tutti and Chris Carter. But a bit like OMD, LINEA ASPERA produced clever electronic pop with scientific themes acting as symbolism for the less-savoury side of life. Counterpointing Alison Lewis’ telling of terrible things were the beautiful melodies and engaging rhythm construction of Ryan Ambridge.

The duo resurfaced in 2019 with the release of the ‘Preservation Bias’ compilation of EP tracks and rarities, leading to a reunion with live shows around Europe including a triumphant gig at Electrowerkz in London and the announcement of a second LINEA ASPERA album.

While under her ZANIAS moniker, Lewis has fully involved herself into instrumentation, programming and production, for ‘LP II’ she has left that all to Ambridge, with the two working remotely in different countries and using Dropbox for the three distinct stages of instrumental / vocals / mix.

Channelling her anxiety and anger, Lewis’ emotive and intense vocal delivery with the spectre of Lisa Gerrard looming uses words that intelligently relate the trials and tribulations of the human condition to aspects of physics and astronomy. Meanwhile Ambridge uses analogue production techniques with his synths and drum machines, so that they really do sound like they could have emerged from a bygone era.

The vocal and instrumental elements combine for a vintage minimal electronic pop sound, but with the twist of an accomplished singer as opposed to the off-key out-of-tune vocal efforts that have often spoiled music of this type in the past.

With a sparkling arpeggio in homage to THE KNIFE and their ‘Silent Shout’, the opening song ‘Solar Flare’ is glorious, with an almost gothic folk delivery over the quietly pumping backing to provide a unique resonance, using the science of the stars as a metaphor for the observation of pain and suffering.

Using a steadier paced octave shifting bassline and the ominous tones of a string machine, ‘Redshift’ uses another astronomy phenomenon for Lewis to bear her soul, declaring “I’d like to choose you to fill the void”.

‘Equilibrium’ combines HI-NRG with darkwave, recalling the American duo SOFT METALS with its looping techno hypnotism. The harrowing words “Take my flesh, take my bones, I don’t use them anymore” document more of Lewis’ existential woes over Ambridge’s mechanised setting .

But with building bursts of synth, the longest track on the album ‘Entanglement’ sees Lewis saying she is “not used to feeling good”. But despite her declaring “you couldn’t fascinate me more” and “this is the warmth”, is it all over as she asks herself “am I spinning back to earth?”.

Despite using a bright keyboard hook, ‘Entropy’ gets serious about the gradual decline into disorder in some parts of the world; with elements of classic SOFT CELL in Ambridge’s infectious electro backdrop, Lewis offers in her statement of resignation that “well it all falls apart, just like everything else does” in a manner which lyrically could be Marc Almond.

With Lewis disillusioned again with love and announcing that the girl who doesn’t need anything is actually a fantasy, ‘Decoherence’ connects to more physics themes via a cosmic synth lattice leading to a metronomic backbone helped along by an enticing bassline triplet.

On the superb ‘Event Horizon’, the cutting synthesized hooks, disco drum box rhythms and supreme vocals confirm how LINEA ASPERA have become such a highly rated and beloved duo and why their magnificent melodic melancholy has been so missed over the past few years.

The solemn ‘Wave Function Collapse’ closes this second LINEA ASPERA album away from the uptempo nature occupying most of it with a moody quantum mechanics analogy. In distress, Lewis cannot help her venting her frustration, with the glaring admission that “I can’t do this anymore, I made the right choice this time and it’s making me ill…”

Science and electronic pop are natural bedfellows but despite the pain and anguish through this record, LINEA ASPERA have paradoxically made a very seductive one. Delightfully uncluttered with each part having its role, ‘LP II’ maintains a dark austere without being depressing. As well as being emotive, it is catchy too and highlights why LINEA ASPERA floor the competition. ‘LP II’ may be just eight tracks after eight years, but it is quality over quantity, so up yours Daniel Ek, the rather (he)artless CEO of Spotify.

LINEA ASPERA’s return of has been well worth the wait and with BOY HARSHER having gained much of the attention recently for their brooding style of electronic pop, while they are very good, LINEA ASPERA are even better.

Welcome back Alison Lewis and Ryan Ambridge, modern electronic pop is so much better with you both together as part of it.


‘LP II’ is released as a vinyl LP and download, available from https://lineaaspera.bandcamp.com/album/linea-aspera-lp-ii

https://www.facebook.com/lineaaspera

https://www.instagram.com/linea_aspera_/

https://soundcloud.com/linea-aspera/albums


Text by Chi Ming Lai
7th September 2020

MICHAEL ROTHER Dreaming

With a  50 year plus music career, Michael Rother is one of modern German music’s great trailblazers. A founder member of NEU! with Klaus Dinger, Rother helped to pioneer Kosmische Musik.

There was also the HARMONIA project with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius of CLUSTER which led to him becoming the original first choice of David Bowie to play guitar on ‘Heroes’, although that promising partnership never became reality. When NEU! split after three albums in 1975, Rother embarked on an acclaimed solo career which over nine albums gave him prestige as Germany’s answer to Mike Oldfield.

Although best known as a guitarist, Rother’s last album ‘Remember (The Great Adventure)’ released in 2004 was an all-electronic affair and saw him experimenting with vocals from Sophie Joiner née Williams and his now label boss Herbert Grönemeyer. It was Joiner who provided the lead vocals to the album’s best song ‘He Said’ while there was a duet between herself and Grönemeyer on ‘Morning After (Loneliness)’, one of the other highlights.

One of the reasons that it has taken Rother so long to record a new album has been the popular demand for him to play live, thanks to a renewed interest in NEU! initiated by their album reissue programme by Grönemeyer via his Grönland Records in 2001. But the worldwide lockdown left Rother alone at his home studio in Forst by the River Weser in Lower Saxony. Missing his Italian partner and unable to do shows, his need to express himself was channelled into a new record.

Much of what has now become the ‘Dreaming’ album actually dates back to a number of sketches originally made during the ‘Remember (The Great Adventure)’ sessions to which Sophie Joiner contributed her vocals to, but were not used or completed.

As a result, the voice of the now mother of four appears on seven of the nine tracks. Meanwhile Rother has focussed his time to add his guitar and other layers to flinish these electronically derived fragments.

The ‘Dreaming’ title track does as it suggests and affirms Rother’s intention to bring more guitars in as water shimmers in the background. Meanwhile Sophie Joiner repeats the phrase by way of a vocal hook before it is reversed and treated to a mind-bending effect.

The electronic pulsing of ‘Bitter Tang’ perhaps can be seen as a natural development of ‘Morning After (Loneliness)’ with the sparing six string delving into Rother’s past in a manner reminiscent of his classic Conny Plank produced album trilogy of ‘Flammende Herzen’, ‘Sterntaler’ and ‘Katzenmusik’.

Paradoxically “singing loud”, Sophie Joiner provides whispered and spoken passages to ‘Fierce Wind Blowing’ because “nothing matters” and the piece as a whole recalls ‘Sombre Reptiles’ from Brian Eno’s ‘Another Green World’, especially with its layers of sustained guitars and gentle but essential rhythm construction.

A wholly electronic instrumental, the hypnotic ‘Wopp-Wopp’ plays along with gentle percussive textures and lovely choral synths. Sophie Joiner’s vocals return on ‘Hey-Hey’ and have a solemn intense air which veers occasionally towards Björk as a deep ethnic mood is in place across eight minutes to compliment her using a hazy psychedelic template.

Then Sophie Joiner rather fatalistically states “this could be the end”, a surprise comes with ‘Lovely Mess’. Driven by an understated bongo mantra as part of a dub treated soundtrack, it is something that the late Andrew Weatherall would have been proud to construct for ONE DOVE.

With more minimal guitar and recalling Rother’s less lauded Fairlight period which included the ‘Lust’, ‘Süssherz Und Tiefenschärfe’ and ‘Traumreisen’ albums, ‘Out In The Rain’ sees Sophie Joiner almost turn into Suzanne Vega. Cautiously joyous, she waxes lyrical about how “everyone else is crazy” and that she enjoys staying in to sing loud.

Another wholly electronic instrumental piece, ‘Gravitas’ is almost ambient but its enchanting textures build and repeat like a mantra until it becomes like a cascade of church bells. But closing with the wistfully serene ‘Quiet Dancing’, Sophie Joiner’s wonderfully airy delivery is sweetened with Rother’s maestro E-bow and delicate single note six string over a gentle backbone that would sound great on ‘Twin Peaks’.

Those who have enjoyed the recent virtuoso live performances of Michael Rother with Hans Lampe and Franz Bargmann in recent years should be aware that as with his previous solo albums since ‘Lust’, ‘Dreaming’ is very much a sedate listening experience unlike those energetic gigs.

With the idea that dreams are what the brain generates at night to cleanse the mind of stress by connecting to positive emotions, this album has captured a guarded optimism as a reaction to the melancholic isolation has undoubtedly affected everyone.

In difficult times, ‘Dreaming’ is comforting with its hints of hope, romance, escapism and nostalgia all in one musical package.


‘Dreaming’ is released by Grönland Records in vinyl LP and digital formats

The album is also available as part of the 7CD boxed set ‘Solo II’ also released by Grönland Records

http://www.michaelrother.de/en/

https://www.facebook.com/michaelrother.neu.harmonia/

https://twitter.com/_MichaelRother_

https://www.instagram.com/michaelrother.neu.harmonia/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Rick Burger
6th September 2020

MATT BELLAMY Behold, The Glove

MUSE’s use of glowing artwork by Kyle Lambert of ‘Stranger Things’ fame on their eighth album ‘Simulation Theory’ in 2018 sent sections of the Synthwave community into meltdown.

There were cries that they had “stolen the aesthetics and concept” and how “it’s not relevant to their sound”! But WHAM! had Peter Saville designed sleeves and never sounded like NEW ORDER or OMD. However, their touch paper is likely to be lit even further with the video to ‘Behold, The Glove’, an enjoyable solo synth instrumental by front man Matt Bellamy in the vein of Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre.

The video directed by Lance Drake is part of MUSE’s lavish ‘Simulation Theory’ film which “follows a team of scientists as they investigate the source of a paranormal anomaly appearing around the world. Blurring the lines between narrative and concert film, virtual and reality”.

Reminiscent of the closing scene from the 1968 film ‘Planet Of The Apes’ directed by Franklin J Schaffner, Bellamy is seen crawling around a desolate landscape when he finds what looks like a Nintendo power glove in the sand. Upon wearing it, it allows him to master the rather obscure and expensive Schmidt 8 Voice Polyphonic synth, a snip at 20,000 Euros!

One could be mistaken for thinking this is from ‘Live at the Necropolis: Lords of Synth’, the affectionate synth duel parody of Vangelis, Giorgio Moroder and Wendy Carlos. While MUSE are known for their pomp-laden stadium rock, there has always been a synthesizer enthusiast within Bellamy’s psyche.

While a Roland Juno 60 has been there since the band’s first album ‘Showbiz’, a Buchla 200e modular synthesizer was part of the armoury for the 2006 album ‘Black Holes & Revelations’ which featured ‘Map Of The Problematique’, a song quite clearly influenced by DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’. More recently,

ERASURE’s lawyers were probably knocking on the door of their tour bus for the similarities between ‘Something Human’ and ‘A Little Respect’. But the synth-friendly combo who have been most key to the sound of MUSE has been ULTRAVOX. It’s not difficult to imagine Midge Ure singing ‘Starlight’ while ‘Vienna’ has been borrowed not once but twice, first on ‘Apocalypse Please’ where the middle eight bass synth section was more or less lifted note-for-note and the second time was more obviously with the drum intro to ‘Guiding Light’.


‘Behold, The Glove’ is available now on the usual digital platforms

The ‘Simulation Theory’ film is available digitally from http://muse.mu/film

https://www.facebook.com/muse

https://twitter.com/MattBellamy


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Peter Fitzpatrick
4th September 2020

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