Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 152)

BETAMAXX Sarajevo

Like FM ATTACK, as one of the more accomplished figures in synthwave,  BETAMAXX explored goth and new wave on his most album ‘Lost In A Dreamworld’.

The musical vehicle of Pittsburgh based Nick Morey, the first BETAMAXX long player ‘Lost Formats’ came out in 2012.

Featuring VANDAL MOON, GLITBITER and MECHA MAIKO, ‘Lost In A Dreamworld’ was anything but and a confident affair boasting a catchy poptronic template with crossover potential. However, the new BETAMAXX record ‘Sarajevo’ is more reflective with no vocals or vocoder.

An instrumental concept album inspired by the Bosnian city that hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics, it was the games that made household names of skaters Katarina Witt, Scott Hamilton, Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean. At time, Sarajevo was part of the former Yugoslavia and had a chequered history as the starting point of the First World War. And eight years later, it found itself at the heart of the Bosnian War which lasted from 1992 to 1995 and saw the city divided in the longest siege in modern history.

Inspired by artists such as BOARDS OF CANADA, Morey has crafted a moody listening experience that takes a time machine back to that winter of 1984. As only the second Olympics held behind the-then Iron Curtain, there was much excitement in the city as Sarajevo celebrated its cultural co-existence with a spectacular opening ceremony. “It pays homage to its people, the athletes that competed, and aesthetics and design of the XIV Winter Olympic Games” said Nick Morey.

The opening drift of ‘Olympic City’ accompanies the poignant chatter of united children while the breezy ‘Winter Games’ provides punchy beats augmented by some quite funky synthbass and bright brassy tones. ‘Alpine’ follows along a similar path but is more AIR-like and sedate as it steadily embarks on a climb. On the decent, ‘Downhill’ is a something of a highlight in its building rhythmic exhilaration laced with the tension of ‘Stranger Things’ and archive TV commentary to celebrate Bill Johnson’s victory as the first American to win gold at an Olympic downhill skiing event.

‘Enchantment’ provides some rich haunting ambience but the stark backdrop of ‘Igman’ with its chilled beats aurally illustrate the brutalist architecture of the hotel designed by Ahmed Džuvić that provides the image to the album’s artwork and post-war now stands abandoned and derelict.

Meanwhile after some cascading arpeggios, the ‘Sarajevo’ title track morphs into a slice of shuffling Balkan dub echoing SABRES OF PARADISE before the ringing calls of ‘Horizon’ sculpt a downtempo journey towards closedown. With beautiful hints of Arvo Pärt’s ‘Spiegel Im Spiegel’, ‘Ceremony’ is a slow waltz embroiled in a moving melancholy with the knowledge that despite the collective optimism from hosting the games, the tragedy of war was to come.

Harking back to an era when the Cold War would often be played out in the Olympics, ‘Sarajevo’ is like a soundtrack to a film yet to be made. With exquisite analogue sound design and an intuitive sense of atmosphere, ‘Sarajevo’ should open out opportunities into the film world for BETAMAXX.

‘Sarajevo’ uses the following synthesizers: Sequential Circuits Prophet 10, Sequential Circuits Prophet 6, Roland Juno-60, Roland Juno-106, Roland SH-2, ARP Odyssey, ASM Hydrasynth, Roland RE-501, Strymon Big Sky


‘Sarajevo’ is released by Perfect View Records in vinyl LP, cassette and digital variants, available from
https://betamaxxmusic.bandcamp.com/album/sarajevo

https://www.facebook.com/betamaxx80s/

https://twitter.com/betamaxx80s

https://www.instagram.com/betamaxx/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
5th May 2021

GLITBITER Glass & Steel

GLITBITER is the musical vehicle of Los Angeles-based musician and vocalist Florence Bullock.

Classically trained with a love of esteemed songwriter Jimmy Webb, she describes her style as “Dreamy synthwave for the dark soul”.

One of her forays into the North American synthwave scene included her contribution to BETAMAXX’s ‘Lost In A Dreamworld’ album on ‘Skyhigh’, with the song’s vibrato treated vocal stabs on the coda being a particular delight. There was also a cameo in the video for another BETAMAXX track ‘Never Sleep Again’ which was fronted by gothwavers VANDAL MOON.

Meanwhile, when PARALLELS celebrated the 10 year anniversary of their debut album ‘Visionaries’ with some specially commissioned remixes, GLITBITER’s sparking rework of the song ‘Vienna’ was the best of the bunch. More recently, she joined DEAD ASTRONAUTS for the recently released ‘Silhouettes’ album with ‘Thorns’ being one of the highlights.

Having issued a promising three track EP ‘Short Stories’ in 2017, GLITBITER has taken the next step with a six song mini-album called ‘Glass & Steel’. This title is an appropriate pointer to its contents and the first thing instantly noticeable is the leap in sonic progression compared with her earlier work.

The melancholic folk-laden opener ‘Out of the Wasteland’ adopts a slow swing template and recalls Scotland’s WITCH OF THE VALE or Sweden’s Karin My but enhanced by speedy arpeggios and prominent synthbass drones. More four-to-the-floor with a driving bass triplet, ‘Turn’ gallops into the sunset with a rich display of vocal prowess.

Featuring a soaring sweeping synth solo that is a total delight, ‘Blade’ reveals an angelic crystalline quality to a more archetypical synthwave template although GLITERBITER puts her own stamp on the form, learning lessons from her association with BETAMAXX.

Much more ringy in tone, ‘Girl In A Storm’ applies an interesting use of stuttering rhythm at its start before embarking on its syncopated journey while swathed in folky overtones.

With a meaty rhythmic construction that doesn’t overbear, ‘Follower’ pulsates wonderfully while also providing space to breathe for the gloriously emotive vocals. ‘Glass & Steel’ ends with ‘Fights & Fears’, a lush set piece that includes bright and bent synth passages to take the listener into another zone.

With all the songs written, produced, performed and primarily mixed by GLITBITER except for ‘Turn’ and ‘Follower’ by Mike Balboa, ‘Glass & Steel’ is an impressive debut long form release that avoids most of the synthwave clichés to showcase GLITBITER as an electronic talent for the future.

Dark without being doomy and eschewing the shoegaze distortion or tune aversion that mars the majority of dreampop, ‘Glass & Steel’ provides an appealing feminine air to the synth form with a few traditional elements for that crucial facet of musicality.


‘Glass & Steel’ is available as a download via the usual digital platforms including
https://glitbiter.bandcamp.com/album/glass-steel

https://www.facebook.com/glitbiter

https://twitter.com/glitbiter

https://www.instagram.com/glitbiter/

https://open.spotify.com/album/3zormHJrj6eZdjAFE7ljZs


Text by Chi Ming Lai
3rd May 2021

GLÜME The Internet

Described as “black lodge music for the blue youth of the internet age”, GLÜME is the Los Angeles-born “Walmart Marilyn Monroe”.

Like a tattooed Norma Jeane Mortenson dropped into Twin Peaks, having been a child actress and studies music before being diagnosed with a serious heart condition, GLÜME often reflects on her fragile hold onto life and how it keeps her detached from the real world in which she has live in.

But while her music often projects a tragic heartfelt quality, it is also strangely engaging and delightful.

Beginning with the forlorn Marilyn homage ‘Arthur Miller’, the afflicted drama accompanied by electric piano, organ, solemn strings and music box signals the forgotten yesterday mood that colours her first long player ‘The Internet’. Meanwhile ‘What Is A Feeling’ places GLÜME into a synthwave backdrop of sombre staccato bassline sand melancholic counter melodies. Highlight her own insecure emotions with the world are “my undoing”, this contrast of Norman Jean meeting ‘Drive’ only makes the scenario even more otherworldly and engaging.

The indie synth anxiety of ‘Nervous Breakdown’ dials largely down the Marilyn coos for some appealing melancholic pop while more off-kilter and detuned is ‘Crushed Velvet’ which recalls Nordic artists such as FARAO and GRETA.

Constructed around a distorted synth arpeggio, the haunting ‘Body’ reflects on illness with an emotive resigned acceptance with further tension provided by electric guitar. But things get glorious for the brilliant roller coaster of ‘Get Low’, the combination of rumbling synthbass and electronic stabs musically not that far off an experimental OMD B-side or LADYTRON!

The eerie chill of ‘Blossom’ outlines American suburban wifey aspirations like a ‘Twin Peaks’ song that Lana Del Rey wouldn’t shy away from and as the dream decays, GLÜME asks “which god do you prey to?” before stating “you can be really mean?”. 

The vibey ‘Don’t @ Me’ is a metronomic spoken word piece with echoes of JOY DIVISION’s ‘Decades’ in its repeated riff while utilising real strings blended with sparkles of synth, the finger-clicking album title song confronts online trolls and stalkers with references to a “worldwide bitch”.

A burst of a brass ensemble punctuates the film noir atmosphere of ‘Heatwave’ with some frantic if understated guitar work to accompany GLÜME’s Lana-like delivery albeit without the rasp. ‘Porcelain’ offers Trans-Atlantic trip-hop, before the orchestrated ballad ‘Chemicals’ closes ‘The Internet’ with the frustrations of medication and wanting them to “play nice”.

While it does not include her marvellous chilling cover of THE FLEETWOODS’ ‘Come Softly To Me’, ‘The Internet’ will satisfy anyone intrigued by GLÜME’s singles. With a variation of atmospheres and tempos plus an aura of charming vulnerability, featuring one of the best songs of the year in ‘Get Low’, the album is more than consistent with the Italians Do It Better brand identity and showcases GLÜME as their shimmering new star.


‘The Internet’ is released by Italians Do It Better on 30th April 2021

https://italiansdoitbetter.com/glume/

https://www.facebook.com/babyglume

https://twitter.com/babyglume

https://www.instagram.com/babyglume/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
29th April 2021

PAGE Fakta För Alla Göteborg DVD

An observer in a music documentary once stated “Oh God, from Sweden? Pop? How can that work?”

But the Scandinavians are having the last laugh these days, having produced some of the best electronic pop of the last decade or more and certainly surpassing much of the derivative fare emerging from the UK and Germany, two nations who were the trailblazers but have since been left behind.

However, this pop domination would not have been possible without those Swedish acts inspired by the likes of Messrs Hütter, Schneider, Bartos, Flür, Numan, Foxx, Marsh, Ware, McCluskey, Humphreys and Clarke. One of those was acts was PAGE; the classic incarnation of Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko released their first single ‘Dansande Man’ in 1983.

In October 2019, they performed at Gothenburg’s Sticky Fingers venue for their first concert video presentation ‘Fakta För Alla Göteborg’. Produced by Swedish friendly media and culture platform Cold War Night Life, ‘Fakta För Alla Göteborg’ comprises of footage captured by a combination of professional camera operators and audience members, coupled to a supremely fine-tuned and well recorded live sound.

More recently Bengtsson has been re-exploring the post-punk synth innovations of TUBEWAY ARMY and this ethos to “Numanize” the sound of PAGE is reflected in a setlist drawn primarily from material released since their 2010 reunion. The ‘Fakta för alla’, ‘Det är ingen vacker värld men det råkar vara så det ser ut’ and ‘Nu’ albums are represented although only one song from the 2014 long player ‘Hemma’ is present.

In a sea of vertical neon tubes, strobes and a misty mauve tinge to the stage lighting, Bengtsson and Schiptjenko come armed with a Little Phatty and Sub 37 respectively to indulge in a delightful battle of the Moogs with oscillators set to stun.

The ‘Fakta för alla’ song and ‘Kloner’ see Bengtsson enthusiastically getting into the Moog with his soloing while the ‘Tracks’ inspired ‘Start’ from the 2018 EP of the same name showcases one of the best adaptations of the machine music era of Gary Numan for the 21st Century. Meanwhile, the stark heart murmur of ‘Blöder du?’ adds a touch of mood to the Moog but the more Vince Clarke derived ‘Som ett skal’ provides some respite from the Numan mining, as does the delightfully catchy ‘Kom så andas vi’, the latter  from the 2010 comeback album ‘Nu’.

The pacey ‘Lägger av’ makes the most of Bengtsson expressive stage persona in his engagement with the crowd, while ‘Ett SOS’ provides some glam Schaffel relief, showcasing another of PAGE’s musical influences. Having only played 21st Century material, the duo finally concede with something from their dim and distant past in the encore with the chanty ‘Förlåt’ from 1995’s ‘Glad’, supplemented by another album favourite ‘Står i din väg’.

And that final pair of songs highlights that if there is a fault with ‘Fakta För Alla Göteborg’, it’s the lack of earlier material and hits with ‘Dansande Man’ being the most noticeable absentee. Also with the emphasis on promoting ‘Fakta för alla’, the Numan-esque buzzes and whirs do at times get tiresome.

But synth hooks galore, Schiptjenko’s wonderful smile, Bengtsson’s animated delivery and a variety of camera angels, the energy of a show is projected in successfully bursts if confined by the limitations of the small screen.

As with most concert videos, you have to have been there or one before to truly appreciate the spectacle, as an independent synth duo on a small stage can only do so much despite the number of cameras of various capabilities on hand. Saying that, as a document to remind us all why concerts are very special events, ‘Fakta För Alla Göteborg’ does a fine job and will be greatly appreciated by PAGE aficionados.


‘Fakta För Alla Göteborg’ is released through Cold War Night Life as a limited edition bundle that combines a Vimeo streaming licence with a physical package comprising a DVD with extra features; a numbered photo book; and a unique Polaroid photograph of the band; it will be available for pre-order from https://hotstuff.se/page/x-7640

The unlimited streaming licence on Vimeo is available from 30th April 2021 at https://vimeo.com/ondemand/faktaforallagoteborg

The ‘Fakta För Alla Göteborg’ online launch party featuring a live-streamed interactive Q&A with Marina Schiptjenko and Eddie Bengtsson plus clips of the film takes place on 30th April 2021 at 1900 UK time via Facebook, details at https://www.facebook.com/events/1975621612578647

https://www.facebook.com/PageElektroniskPop

https://www.instagram.com/page_svensk_pop/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
24th April 2021

VILE ELECTRODES The Vanished Past

The breathtaking new video by VILE ELECTRODES for their 2016 song ‘The Vanished Past’ highlights that despite having not released an album in five years, they are still one of the best independent synth acts in the UK.

Their most recent album ‘In The Shadows Of Monuments’ was a bleak affair containing just under an hour of unnerving electronica and it closed with the potent cinematic drama of ‘The Vanished Past’.

With a mighty militaristic drum climax to end the seven minutes cinematic epic, alongside the haunting forlorn vocal of Anais Neon after the fifth minute is the familiar but ghostly voice of Andy McCluskey. The avant pop approach of VILE ELECTRODES is reminiscent of early OMD and it was McCluskey’s love of ‘Deep Red’ which closed their debut long player ‘The future through a lens’ that led to the duo being invited to support the German leg of the ‘English Electric’ tour in 2013.

“Not everything is as it seems” and returning to the scene of the ‘Deep Red’ video of 2010, the fitting visual accompaniment for ‘The Vanished Past’ took advantage of a low tide calm sunrise on the picturesque South English coastline at St Leonards near Hastings.

“It really was a gorgeous morning!” said Anais Neon, “I wish we’d taken a tripod and planned some of the shots a bit more, but it was pretty spur of the moment, so we just kind of winged it, wandered and waded!”. On the spiritual and aesthetic connection with ‘Deep Red’, she added “It was closer on our first album and has a video on the same beach at sunset, so a sunrise video for the second album closer seemed fitting!”

While VILE ELECTRODES have continued to maintain a discrete live presence, opening for Nordic acts APOPTYGMA BERZERK and LAU NAU, new material from Anais Neon and Martin Swan is still eagerly awaited and while a third album is in the works with songs such as ‘Drive’, ‘We Are A Prism’ and ‘The Kill The Cure’ already premiered in a concert setting, no release date has yet been confirmed.


‘The Vanished Past’ is from the album ‘In The Shadows Of Monuments’, available as a single CD or special double CD editions via http://vileelectrodes.bigcartel.com/

The download version of the album is available from http://vileelectrodes.bandcamp.com/album/in-the-shadows-of-monuments

http://www.vileelectrodes.com/

http://www.facebook.com/vileelectrodes

http://vileelectrodes.blogspot.com/

https://twitter.com/vileelectrodes

https://www.instagram.com/vileelectrodes/

https://open.spotify.com/album/1Bbn9XPxGx4akSPJbdQIOF


Text by Chi Ming Lai
22nd April 2021

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