Tag: Zanias

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

JENNIFER TOUCH Behind The Wall

Jennifer Touch, the Dresden-born / Berlin-based producer and DJ makes her long-awaited album debut with ‘Behind The Wall’, having presented her first recordings in 2014.

Wearing a coat of many colours, Jennifer Touch is a developing talent who as happy with techno and industrial as she is with synthpop.

It has been over 30 years since the fall of The Berlin Wall and it is not surprising that she has looked back to her time growing up in Communist East Germany as the catalyst for this long player released on the Brighton independent label Fatcat Records.

The daughter of DDR flower-power children, she was introduced to synthpop and new wave via her father’s extensive record collection which included THE HUMAN LEAGUE and DURAN DURAN. The joyful image of ‘Deutschland 83’ agent hero Kolibri hearing ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ for the first time on a Sony Walkman is perhaps symbolic of how many young East Germans like her became enthralled and curious about life and culture on the other side of The Iron Curtain.

Taking in DAF, THE KLF and PJ Harvey along the way on the route to adulthood, this melting pot of tastes inspired her early music productions. The excellent ‘Chemistry’ was the track that launched it all to a wider listenership outside of club circles and it appears on ‘Behind The Wall’ in remixed form. Cleaner and tighter but still retaining the essence of the original, Touch conceived her baby while in a state of depression. “I knew I had the music inside me” she explained, “but it felt like I was stuck,”

But ‘Behind The Wall’ begins in a more abstract manner with ‘Imaginary Boys’, an art piece that acts as a building soundtrack to Touch’s commute through Berlin to the studio each day. While much of the city has been rebuilt, many aspects of its distinctive architecture remain and loom with a dark and powerful resonance.

The album’s emotional centre point is ‘Attic’, where stark electronics and metronomic beats echo EMIKA but built around a rigid if much colder foundation. A fight against a system of restricted surroundings, its feelings are relevant in the lockdown of today as they were more than three decades ago in Eastern Europe.

With a hypnotic DAF-like sequencer hook and a brooding metronomic mood, ‘Daria’ is sombre electro-punk, while the depressed aural symbolism of ‘The Wall’ sees Touch expressing her pain of confinement both physically or mentally.

The unsettling adrenaline rush ‘Teflon’ is a non-stick statement of resilience but also an adventure in industrial techno cabaret, with Touch’s role as a chanteuse veering between deadpan and distress also sharpening the Götterdämmerung austere.

The rhythmically dominant ‘I Love You, Let’s Go’ harbours thoughts of escape as the electronics throb and veer towards psychedelia, but ‘Iggy’s Slight’ does what it says on the tin and pays electro homage to Iggy Pop, in particular ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ via the retention in spirit of its iconic bassline.

Meanwhile, ‘Flatlands’ beautifully takes a leaf from the songbook of fellow Berlin resident ZANIAS aka Alison Lewis of LINEA ASPERA both vocally and musically with its immersive minimal darkwave to provide an album highlight. With a gritty gothic resonance, ‘Supersize’ is the least electronic number of the collection although this is offset by radio signal swoops and a percussive noise rattle.

However, the mantric ‘Your Dawn’ takes the record down ohne schlagzeug with drones encapsulating a stark subterranean atmosphere which Touch says is “A rescue boat I wrote for a very close friend who was experiencing some dark and sad times. It’s an invitation to dance with me, a lullaby, a consolation”.

While there are stand-out tracks, overall ‘Behind The Wall’ does not quite reach the heights of more recent releases by EMIKA and ZANIAS, enough promise is revealed to indicate that Jennifer Touch could join their ranks in a few years. Whether she decides to expand on her song-based vision or ventures back to the purer techno-oriented productions of 2019’s ‘Seven’ EP remains to be seen.


‘Behind The Wall’ is released by Fatcat Records on 5th June 2020 in CD, red vinyl LP and digital formats, available from https://jennifertouch.bandcamp.com/

http://www.jennifertouch.com/

https://www.facebook.com/touch.jennifer/

https://www.instagram.com/jennifertouch/

https://soundcloud.com/jennifertouch


Text by Chi Ming Lai
1st June 2020

ZANIAS Extinction + Harmaline EPs

Zoe Zanias, the solo alter-ego of Alison Lewis has released two EPs ‘Extinction’ and ‘Harmaline’, both written and produced in Berlin.

With influences as diverse as MADONNA and DEAD CAN DANCE, her solo work has been in more abstract territory compared to the minimal synth of LINEA ASPERA with which she made her name.

While LINEA ASPERA have reunited following a seven year hiatus, in between Lewis was a member of KELUAR and running her label Fleisch Records. But more recently, Zanias has been her main focus with the debut album ‘Into The All’ coming out in 2018.

Generally working alone from her home studio and only collaborating via Dropbox, Alison Lewis is very much an independent artist, deeply immersed in her thought and creative process, driven by her interest and studies in anthropology and archaeology. And with these two particular EPs, Lewis has undoubtedly stepped up a gear.

The proximity of their release appears to make ‘Extinction’ and ‘Harmaline’ companion EPs, but both differ considerably in concept as bodies of work. While ‘Harmaline’ comprises of introspective songs focussing on personal relationships, the dystopian ‘Extinction’ looks at the scary prospect of environmental catastrophe caused by climate change.

Composed in Berlin but mixed in Queensland, Australia as the bushfires were burning, ‘Extinction’ is a dark, hard hitting statement capturing Lewis’ anxiety and anger at the human race’s arrogance towards life on earth.

“I channeled in ‘Extinction’ this ambivalent mixture of hope and despair that I feel towards our species that is growing day by day.” she said on her Facebook page.

The thundering title track does not mask Lewis’ pain and despair, in a bout of atmospheric body music which is both highly emotive and thought provoking.

Telling home truths and using sections of Greta Thunberg’s notable “How dare you?” speech, ‘Carbon’ is a ferocious techno attack on billionaires and corporations selfishly putting greed first, while bursts of screeching frogs act as aural symbolism that surely the survival of the earth is more important than capitalism.

‘Endling’ carries a mighty EBM flavour, capturing a hypnotic gothique and Lewis in a forlorn anguish that is simultaneously unsettling and beautiful, the shattering percussion in the company of piercing processed samples of an Eastern Whipbird, an insectivorous passerine native of Australia.

Beginning with a spacey rumbling squelch and countered by eerie angelic falsettos over a four-to-the-floor beat, ‘(There Is No) Mothership’ is a dense instrumental statement which Lewis says is “a wordless reflection on our vulnerability as inhabitants of a single planet with no current means of escape”; the message is certainly in the music, uncomfortable but strangely captivating.

After the haunting spectre of ‘Extinction’, ‘Harmaline’ is no more cheery, inspired by a psychedelic-induced ego death and painful personal relationships; but what the two EPs have in common is existential uncertainty. Using more minimal instrumentation in a manner more akin to LINEA ASPERA, it sees Lewis using her music as her own therapy.

The melodic darkwave of the ‘Harmaline’ title song sweeps over danceable metronomic beats, while the solemn ‘Limerence’ sees the howl of a chopping violin penetrating the house derived rhythms in a song about unrequited love.

Pained in the aura of Lisa Gerrard, ‘Excision’ recalls elements of THE XX and plays with analogue drum machine snaps and the harsh graphic viewpoint that failed love can be compared to a tumour that needs removing.

A drowning drone acts as an unconventional intro to ‘Ameliorate’ which then unexpectedly morphs into Vangelis with its sweeping overtones. But as the noise percussion kicks in unison with a pulsating synthetic bassline, it moves round in a three chord structure like THE STOOGES ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ while Lewis admits “I can’t resist it. This is going to hurt”.

Equalling her work with LINEA ASPERA, ‘Extinction’ captures the world’s looming catastrophe if warnings are not heeded, while ‘Harmaline’ highlights the tensions of isolation and deterioration within what is supposed to be the confines of a loving union.

This is all heavy stuff but it makes for outstanding thought-provoking art. With Lewis’ two cathartic creations, her own conscience is now clear.


‘Extinction’ + ‘Harmaline’ are both available as downloads direct from https://zanias.bandcamp.com/

https://www.zanias.co/

https://www.facebook.com/zoe.zanias/

https://www.instagram.com/zoe_zanias/

https://www.patreon.com/zanias

https://open.spotify.com/artist/6ouPbOWchZ9U2ojCpMF9Vv


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Simon Helm
18th April 2020

LINEA ASPERA + WITCH OF THE VALE Live at Electrowerkz

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.

As with another great lost synth act MIRRORS, much of the affection for LINEA ASPERA has come retrospectively.

But although Alison Lewis and Ryan Ambridge continued with other projects, with Lewis notably in KELUAR and most recently solo as ZANIAS, the seemingly unfinished business of LINEA ASPERA was greater than its sum of parts.

With BOY HARSHER gaining a wider public breakthrough during 2019, that LINEA ASPERA have reunited is timely as the starker underground mode of electro asserts its place in an increasingly dystopian world. Fans were treated to ‘Preservation Bias’, a collection of archive material and rarities, with the additional announcement of a 2020 European tour and new material.

A sell-out crowd and the usual bar breakout area in Electrowerkz closed off due to a wedding reception meant a good turnout for the opening act WITCH OF THE VALE.

A technical hitch delayed the start but once ‘Crash’ began, the enigmatic married couple of Erin and Ryan Hawthorne got into their stride to impress the attentive crowd like they had done on the Friday afternoon of Infest 2019.

‘Trust The Pain’ drew on its haunting folk influences courtesy of Mrs Hawthorne’s finely-tuned soprano, while new songs ‘Death Dream’ and ‘The Sky & The Sea’ maintained the brooding mood. Aided by blocks of deep red light and smoke, the music box hypnotism of ‘The Way This Will End’ from their debut EP of the same name maintained their electronic pagan stance. But WITCH OF THE VALE’s cover of Lana Del Rey’s expletive laden ‘Gods & Monsters’ provided some percussive tension, before ending their set with the mantric rumble of ‘Fever’.

By the time LINEA ASPERA were ready to take the stage, Electrowerkz was rammed, such was the anticipation for their return. With the sultry but enigmatic Alison Lewis next to the stoic presence of Ryan Ambridge on his Roland SH09 and his minimal electronic programming, the pair combined for a magical lesson in captivating outsider pop.

Opening with the downcast ‘Preservation Bias’, the motorik pulse of ‘Eviction’ soon penetrated the mind as “to love is to lose” while driving the mutant dance. In line with Lewis’ previous academic studies, if anthropology was a type of music, then it would be like LINEA ASPERA.

Throughout the show, the tonal counterpoints between Lewis’ elegant gothique and Ambridge’s comparative brightness made for an enticing dynamic.

‘Syncretism’ with its frantic anxiety and elegance highlighted why LINEA ASPERA’s inventive arrangements of dark synthesized pop have been missed over the last few years. The cold stare of ‘Hinterland’ reflected its title, but as Lewis seductively murmured of how “we would never suffer again”, her desire for isolation and solitude was clear, communicating her discontent and anger without resorting to shouting.

Named after a major city of the Maya civilization in Belize and reflecting Lewis’ passion for archaeology, ‘Lamanai’ offered more Motorik moods with the bonus of some screeches and squelches from Ambridge. As per their sound, the stage show was minimal with smoke machines on overdrive and misty shades of blue light, but it provided an effective backdrop.

A new song ‘Equilibrium’ recalled American duo SOFT METALS with its looping techno hypnotism and may well become a LINEA ASPERA favourite of the future.

Meanwhile another new number with piercing arpeggios and a quietly pumping house backbone paid homage to THE KNIFE’s ‘Silent Shout’.

Welcomed home like a long lost friend, the brilliant ‘Synapse’ reminded the audience of Lewis’ interest in biology and the human condition, all to Ambridge’s metronomic beats and deliciously high register synths. Detached and alluringly nonchalant, the Australian singer paradoxically snarled “Don’t look at me” as she drew in the crowd.

With the appropriately titled ‘Reunion’ to close, with the lines “It was never revenge, it was self defense” … I swear it’s just a reflex, leaving bones in splinters all over your face” reflecting the sombre intensity of Lewis’ deep mind.

What LINEA ASPERA have successfully pulled off is to retain their cool mystique while widening their audience. It’s a lesson to the electronic music scene, because here less really has meant more.

It really is great to have Alison Lewis and Ryan Ambridge back together again.


LINEA ASPERA 2020 live dates:

Paris Tech Noire 3rd Anniversary (31st January), Den Haag Grauzone Festival (7th February), Rüsselsheim Kalte Sterne Festival 2020 (11th April), Oberhausen Kalte Sterne Festival (12th April), Malmö Inkonst (15th May), Copenhagen Spillestedet Stengade (16th May)

‘Linea Aspera’ and ‘Preservation Bias’ available from https://lineaaspera.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/lineaaspera

https://soundcloud.com/linea-aspera

https://www.zanias.co/

https://www.instagram.com/zoe_zanias/

WITCH OF THE VALE play Glasgow Audio on 18th April

‘The Way This Will End’ and ‘Trust The Pain’ available from https://witchofthevale.bandcamp.com/

http://www.witchofthevale.com/

https://www.facebook.com/witchofthevale/

https://twitter.com/WitchOfTheVale

https://www.instagram.com/witch_of_the_vale/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Simon Helm
20th January 2020