Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 151)

GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS A Figure In The Underpass

Formed in late 2012, the mysterious GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS released seven singles, one full length long player ‘Night Of The Living Electrical Appliances’ and a farewell mini-album ‘Transmissions From The Glass Factory’.

Utilising raw recording techniques, just about in-tune synths and a slightly off-key girly voice, they captured a wonderful sound that evoked memories of paraffin heaters beating the chill.

But with no band photographs or live appearances, before any pesky kids could unmask their true identities, GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS disbanded.

The new “Best Of” album ‘A Figure In The Underpass’ captures their intrigue in one handy place.

Opening the collection with 2015’s ‘The Shatterproof Man’, despite the John Foxx-esque title and the detuned synth backing, it still sparkles with pretty melodies like early OMD meeting THE RONETTES while following it on the compilation is the enjoyably squiggly unorthodox pop of ‘(It’s A) Warning Sign (Blue Lights)’.

Ultra-violence and JG Ballard were among the recurring dystopian influences in GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS, but the Farfisa-tinged ‘Hitting The Brick Wall’ managed to be quite bouncy despite its title, although ‘The Voices In The Walls’ captured the spectre of Big Brother and the surveillance society.

One of the band’s final recordings ‘Destination Yesterday’ exploited metallic sequencers, detuned synths and those characteristic nonchalant female vocals that gave the anonymous combo cult appeal and with that in mind, the feisty ‘Suburban Robot’ recalls the magic of early ‘604’ era LADYTRON while amusingly, ‘Bashed, Beaten And Broken (Trip The Switch)’ with its South Yorkshire lass twang sounds like THE HUMAN LEAGUE during their Fast Product era fronted by Susanne Sulley!

When GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS occasionally laid off the aural harshness to reveal a softer side, they could be eerily magical. With its beautiful atmospheric quality smothered in icy synth strings and grainy vox samples, the marvellous ‘No Longer Spellbound’ from 2014 imagined if ‘Twins Peaks’ set was in The Lake District.

Their most powerfully overt electronic pop single came with the sweet but sinister ‘Good Morning, Mr X’ as Sissy Space Echo, Warren Betamax, Charles Bronson Burner and Bruce LeeFax bid adieu in 2019. Meanwhile, ‘Forever Seems So Long’ was almost wasted as its B-side, featuring the sort of mighty swooping detuned synths that would make OMD proud. But around that same period, another single ‘Turn It Around Again’ transported the Wall Of Sound into the cold greyness of Northern England.

Reflecting being recorded in “a freezing cold structure in the middle of a timber yard”, 2013’s ‘Jessica 6’ remains GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS’ greatest moment; a tribute to the cult Sci-Fi favourite ‘Logan’s Run’ and the alluring character played by Jenny Agutter, the reverbed post-punk cacophony laced with icy Yamaha string machine still comes over like THE PIPETTES fronting an OMD assisted JOY DIVISION.

Despite being capable of melody, GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS couldn’t help their progressive mechanical desolation and their third single ‘(Here Come) The Catastrophe Machines’ is basically ‘Nag Nag Nag’ but more violent! As ‘(She Sits) In The Freezer’ captures further winter discontentment, ‘A Figure In The Underpass’ closes with the dysfunctional indie synthpop of ‘Driving Without Headlights (Once Again)’.

Superseding and improving on the earlier compilation ‘The Strange Little Lies That Humans Draw In the Dust’, ‘A Figure In The Underpass’ gathers twenty tracks on the CD. But although the download offers another five, a number of notable tracks are omitted with the superb cover of THE BLANCHE HUDSON WEEKEND’s ‘Noise & Fury’ being among the more immediate GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS recordings that are missed.

With a manifesto to “thrive on causing confusion with a mixture of pure synthpop and more experimental electronic sounds”, GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS certainly had fun with their DIY noise fest and they leave this enjoyable compilation which acts as an unintentional soundtrack for the frosty climate of the strange times that the world finds itself in.


‘A Figure In The Underpass’ is released as a CD and download by Next Phase : Normal Records, available direct from https://girloneandthegreaseguns.bandcamp.com/album/a-figure-in-the-underpass

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Girl-One-And-The-Grease-Guns/440754999339179


Text by Chi Ming Lai
5th April 2021

FORM This World Is Ours

‘This World Is Ours’ is the sophomore album from FORM, following up 2018’s debut offering ‘Defiance + Entropy’.

The trio comprise singer Mark Bebb of SHELTER, Keith Trigwell of DEPECHE MODE tribute band THE DEVOUT and producer Rob Dust, whose studio prowess can be heard on works by dark European electronic acts such as DE/VISION, MESH and TORUL.

With songs written by Trigwell and Bebb, ‘This World Is Ours’ uses the one word song title aesthetic like Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle’, COCTEAU TWINS ‘Treasure’ and ULTRAVOX’s ‘Brilliant’ did.

Beginning with a short but epic untitled gothic instrumental swathed in the spirit of Gary Numan, the album starts proper with the type of industrial Schaffel anthem done many times by MESH; ‘You’ is accomplished although it is unfortunate that Bebb sings of being “predictable”. Whatever, this template continues to be favoured by acts aspiring to join the Amphi circuit and will remain popular with their crowds for years to come.

The opening salvo is followed by a pair of sombre complex ballads in ‘Here’ and ‘Succumb’ which will need an appropriate frame of mind to digest. Meanwhile the brooding ‘Extinction’ does build steadily but could have done with gathering more momentum in its progress. But the rhythmic ‘Glitter’ utilises cracking glam claps and grabs the bull by the horns with an electronic pop tune that THE HUMAN LEAGUE used to be so good at; a fabulous whirring synth solo from Trigwell in the style of Billy Currie is also a nice touch.

‘Glitter’ is followed by another instrumental interlude that takes its cue from DEPECHE MODE before they became a tedious blues influenced pseudo-rock combo… but FORM, please give these things titles in future because it is extremely annoying for reviewers that these worthy pieces have no identity or point of reference!

Battening down the hatches in the face of adversity, ‘Protector’ is another ballad but in waltz time, while ‘Hazed’ plays on the propulsive Schaffel thing again with Bebb hitting falsetto as it attempts to emulate ‘Strict Machine’ by GOLDFRAPP. The speedy thrust of ‘Viva’ is like a goth ERASURE doing ‘I Feel Love’ and the closest the album gets towards the more sparkly template of SHELTER, but ‘Athenian’ deals with toxic relationships with some suitably sharp backing.

A four-to-the-floor dance anthem in ‘World’ closes the album on an optimistic note after all the intensity and could be considered FORM’s own electro take on the ethos of ‘I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing’. But has the album ended? No… and a final untitled instrumental sourced from the DEPECHE MODE B-side ‘Christmas Island’ sneaks in to present a reality check.

FORM have produced a worthy second album and if you enjoyed ‘Defiance + Entropy’, then ‘This World Is Ours’ is a natural progression that will also be appreciated. Followers of DE/VISION, MESH, TORUL, MACHINISTA and BEBORN BETON might find this musical statement on the fragility of the world up their dark alley as well.


‘This World Is Ours’ is released on 9th April 2021 by Infacted Recordings as a CD, pre-order from http://www.poponaut.de/form-this-world-ours-p-20193.html

Download available from https://infactedrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/this-world-is-ours

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Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photo by Andreas Lechleiter
2nd April 2021

STEVEN JONES & LOGAN SKY European Lovers

Steven Jones and Logan Sky were introduced to each other by their mutual friend Steve Strange.

The late VISAGE front man and Blitz Club figurehead had been working with Logan Sky in the rebooted version of that band which returned with the ‘Hearts & Knives’ album in 2013. As if born into the wrong era, Steven Jones’ neu romance lyrics with their slight dystopian edge have often been inspired by a fascination for international travel and the inherent history it uncovers. Having released their debut full length long player ‘Hans und Lieselotte’ in 2018, further albums ‘The Electric Eye’ and ‘Rotating Angels’ followed in quick succession.

And now the duo present their fourth in three years. As the title track, ‘European Lovers’ bookends the album, the opening variant pulsating the mood while sweetened by soothing sax from the ever dependable Gary Barnacle who himself played with VISAGE and SOFT CELL. Steven Jones ably delivers the fractured mannered baritone that could be seen to be deriving from anyone one of Scott Walker, David Bowie, Bryan Ferry or Midge Ure. Meanwhile the closing postscript provided a hypnotic arpeggio and Polymoog vox humana to accompanying a spoken word take on ‘European Lovers’.

Lost in the rainy streets of Mittel Europa, Jones ponders his ‘Survival’ over tinkling ivories like Ferry on ‘A Song For Europe’ where “the dream of dying is the dream of living”. But the album paces up with ‘When The Night Falls In’, an infectious syncopated electro set-piece accented by the occasional burst of synthetic toms.

Echoing ‘Fade To Grey’, Charlotte Condemine provides an alluring Gallic monologue to the wonderful ‘Sons of Hallucination’. Meanwhile Jones borrows some phrasing from ‘Wishing Well’, the 1987 hit by Terence Trent D’Arby which was produced by Martyn Ware of HEAVEN 17. It’s a curious mix that is ultimately satisfying for the headphones of any passing New Europeans. And when the soprano sax comes in, it all becomes reminiscent of BLACK if Colin Verncombe had into VISAGE.

‘Awaken From The Dream’ utilises an electric piano for a short intermission while the exquisite synth tones of ‘The Girl On The 8.45’ captures an inevitably doomed romance in a tale of unrequited love for a beautiful stranger on the daily commute.

With an ear for obscure jewels, a tense offbeat squelch shapes ‘Cafe Europe’, an excellent cover of a song by FATAL CHARM who supported ULTRAVOX and OMD back in 1980; the cult Nottingham duo too had a fascination inter-continental travel and their Midge Ure-produced single ‘Paris’ captured the days before The Channel Tunnel.

Both projecting a stark austere, the bubbling melancholy of ‘Lovers & Losers’ and spy drama chill of ‘All Her Things Are Gone’ mine an era of long overcoats when The Third Man could walk in at any moment. And although ‘Like A Ghost’ uses a largely similar drumless template to ‘All Her Things Are Gone’, its subtle congas provide an atmospheric backbone alongside the virtual muted guitar loop. As the penultimate statement to the main act, the mournful piano ballad ‘Past & Future Lives’ recalls CULT WITH NO NAME.

For those who opt for the CD, there are three bonus tracks and assorted remixes of ‘Lovers & Losers’ including a brooding one from American gothwavers VANDAL MOON. ‘The Shape Of Darkness’ does what it says on the tin as another electric piano spoken word piece accompanied by an eerie falsetto backing vocal, while ‘Politics & Gesture’ is a rather sombre observation on the state of the nation.

Meanwhile ‘Another Hallucination’ exhibits a threatening throb at the start of a darker alternate take of ‘Sons Of Hallucination’ that allows more room for Gary Barnacle’s soprano sax, with Jones offering another spoken interpretation alongside the feminine prose en Français.

‘European Lovers’ is exactly as it suggests and harks back to a Europe after the rain, conjuring up images of mysterious shadows and enigmatic romances.

An authentic accomplished collection, it contains some terrific moments, although its emphasis on monochromatic mood is perhaps a challenge over so many tracks.

However, what Steven Jones and Logan Sky have is a genuine understated passion for the heritage of their influences, very much the antithesis to the genre hopping style over substance posing of HURTS and la faux sincérité of other duos that could be mentioned.


‘European Lovers’ is released by Etrangersmusique on 2nd April 2021 as a CD or download from https://etrangersmusique.bandcamp.com/album/european-lovers

https://www.etrangersmusique.com

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http://www.logansky.co.uk/

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Text by Chi Ming Lai
31st March 2021

ROBERT SCHROEDER Pyroclast

Robert Schroeder could be considered one of the forgotten heroes of the ‘classic’ era of what is now referred to as the Berlin School of electronica.

Whereas contemporaries such as TANGERINE DREAM and ASHRA are constantly cited and revered, former electrical engineer Schroeder has become somewhat of a footnote within the genre.

This despite releasing a series of critically acclaimed albums between 1979 to 1982 including ‘Harmonic Ascendant’, ‘Floating Music’, ‘Mosaique’ and ‘Galaxie Cygnus A’.

In 1978, Schroeder named his second son after Klaus Schulze and this event, which featured some self-composed music used at the christening placed him on the cosmic synth maestro’s radar, eventually resulting in him being signed to Schulze’s Innovative Communication label later that year.

What differentiated Schroeder from some of the artists of his era was his willingness to build custom-built electronic instruments including his own step sequencer and a less experimental more pastoral melodic approach with guitar textures as well as synthetic ones.

2021 sees the emergence of a new album ‘Pyroclast’ by Schroeder who has constantly released new works as well as revisiting some of his older pieces since his imperial phase. Album opener ‘Pressure’ is a hypnotic piece with analogue drum machine and guitar loops modulating up and down in key through its ten minute length; reversed guitar textures and a 4/4 kick are interspersed with Mellotron choirs and sporadic bursts of live percussion throughout.

‘Plasma’ starts off as a far more ambient proposition, almost like THE ORB with snippets of distant voices and phased strings; at the five minute mark analogue-generated kick, snares and open hats fade in with added Mellotron choir textures.

‘Tephra’ is a delicate piano piece with a time-stretched child’s voice and subtle underpinning strings. Shorter in conception than most of the tracks on ‘Pyroclast’, it features more classic era pad sounds but suffers due to the over repetitive piano figure which is repeated all the way through.

‘Eruption’ is more string-based in nature with pulsing cello and skittering acoustic tambourine loops; the track is pleasant enough and functions well as switch-off chill-out fare. ‘Fertile Soil’ with its monk choral samples recalls a more ambient-sounding ENIGMA; a Minimoog-style solo, live-sounding drums and triplet delayed percussion sample provide an intriguing mix of textures throughout.

‘Exothermic Energy’ is less ambient then the preceding tracks on ‘Pyroclast’ and this upping of pace is welcome. The first five minutes are centred around a two chord sequencer part and laid-back 4/4 drum part with interspersed drum flourishes, whilst the conclusion of the track takes it into ‘Oxygène’ territory with lush pads and echoed synth parts. Closer ‘Pyroclastic Flows’ is arguably one of the strongest pieces on ‘Pyroclast’, again very hypnotic with vocal samples, guitar soloing and a Mellotron choir outro which ends the album in the mood that fits in with much of the ambient aesthetic of the album.

A pyroclast and a tephra are elements of volcanic material which are spewed out by volcanic activity and those approaching this album expecting a similarly ‘wild’ and untamed musical direction will find something which is almost the polar opposite.

If ‘Pyroclast’ has its place, then it is definitely as music for zoning out to and aiding relaxation; fans of THE ORB and the ambient genre will certainly enjoy much of the works here; but those seeking tracks which function as stand-alone listening will probably struggle with the ‘background’ nature of the album.

‘Pyroclast’ suits its demographic perfectly and from that perspective is a success, but just lacks that ‘X Factor’ which would convince new listeners to delve into repeated listening.


‘Pyroclast’ is released by Spheric Music on 1st April 2021, available as a CD direct from http://www.sphericmusic.de/

https://www.news-music.de/index_e.html

https://www.facebook.com/EM.Robert.Schroeder/


Text by Paul Boddy
24th March 2021

DANZ CM The Absurdity of Human Existence

‘The Absurdity of Human Existence’ is the first album by DANZ CM, formally known as COMPUTER MAGIC.

New York based Danz Johnson is the synth girl behind both vehicles with a passion for the development of the electronic music.

Having started the ‘Synth History’ online platform which has to date interviewed Gary Numan, Vince Clarke, Rick Wakeman, Dave Smith, Suzanne Ciani, Pete Townsend and James Murphy amongst others, she also produced an acclaimed podcast on the career of electronic music pioneer Wendy Carlos.

Her first COMPUTER MAGIC album proper ‘Davos’ came out in 2015, but her most recent long playing offering ‘Danz’ released in 2018 was much darker than the enjoyably escapist ‘Obscure But Visible’ EP and its utterly charming highlight ‘Lonely Like We Are’ from 2016. So a compromise adaptation of her moniker was almost inevitable to reflect her artistic maturity.

Capturing a sombre disposition reflecting the album’s title, the enjoyable opening song and first single ‘Idea of You’ is a stark statement that she’s “Gotta step back to put things in perspective”. ‘Domino’ continues in the vein, Johnson’s afflicted vocals cascading while backed by a range of sweeping timbres over vintage drum machine as everything topples around her; “I wish that my love was enough” she despairs.

With schizophrenic overtones, ‘My Other Self’ is spacey and has and exudes a stark vulnerability while ‘Low’ makes good use of deep synth bass for a burst of hi-hat driven avant pop. Pacier with synth triggers concocting a kaleidoscopic sound, ‘Don’t Stop’ sees Danz wanting to take action and coming over like a girly John Grant as her f***ing mind is blown.

‘Breaking Point’ uses an icy variation on the ‘Stranger Things’ arpeggio with Johnson coming over rather forlorn, but far more boisterous and almost indie rock is ‘Something More although it does amusingly see Johnson exclaim “it doesn’t f***ing suit you”!

‘I Don’t Need a Hero’ is a homage to THE CURE’s ‘Fascination Street’ with added throbbing electronics and blistering stabs of synth while ‘Not Gonna Stand By’ takes a curveball and lightens the mood with disco bass and brass, but her honest vocal offsets any apparent cheerfulness although this contrast is precisely the song’s harm.

However, the best is saved until last with the total melancholic brilliance of ‘Human Existence’, a glorious string synth laden set piece in the manner of OMD meeting CHROMATICS where Johnson declares “you can’t save me, I can’t save you”.

“I outgrew COMPUTER MAGIC. I outgrew the shy bedroom pop girl a long time ago” said Danz Johnson when she announced the birth of DANZ CM and certainly the innocence of her previous work is certainly absent on ‘The Absurdity of Human Existence’.

What is in its place is a more intense presence and a wider ambition exploring different music styles and timbres while still remaining at its core, the creation of a talented woman who has overcome her shyness and had the courage to engage with and learn from some of the biggest names in synth.


‘The Absurdity Of Human Existence’ released by Channel 9 Records in cloudy blue vinyl LP and digital formats, available from https://channel9records.com/collections/absurdity-collection

https://www.zdanz.com/

https://www.facebook.com/zdanz

https://twitter.com/danz_cm

https://www.instagram.com/danz_cm/

https://www.synthhistory.com/

https://open.spotify.com/album/1oqWGdeaLx3Y6YgI4ibku4


Text by Chi Ming Lai
16th March 2021

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