Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 168)

POLYCHRON+ She’s Always Been There

POLYCHRON+ is the new electro-acoustic project by veteran Italian producer Gabriele Gai with songwriter, musician and vocalist Aurelio Menichi.

To say their debut album ‘She’s Always Been There’ is something a bit different and unusual would be an understatement.

Not only does it mix electronically derived Mediterranean dance music with Tuscan folk and classical forms, it has an impressive cast of guests including Anna Domino, Blaine L. Reininger and Luc Van Lieshout from TUXEDOMOON.

It is a cultured and sophisticated album that includes the synthetic torch cabaret of ‘Alaska Drive’ sung by NicoNote and the arty jazz-inflected Italo disco of ‘Twist The Knife’ featuring crooner Alex Spalck and Luc Van Lieshout on trumpet. Standing next to them is the brilliantly understated house of ‘Lighter Than The Blue’ which sees Blaine L. Reininger not only offer his pronounced Leonard Cohen-esque baritone but also bring a virtuoso violin performance to the party.

‘Yeh-Teh’ springs a surprise with some enjoyable avant garde rapping and a snarling sample from a BBC interview with John Lydon declares “I want everything in life to be transparent… let us as human beings determine our own journey in life!”

What is contained on ‘She’s Always Been There’ is nothing but diverse, with melancholic piano assisted instrumentals like ‘Morbid Love’ and the delicate Anna Domino voiced flutey guitar ballad ‘Pocketknife’ figuring. Meanwhile ‘Gum, Le Blue Jar’ could be a reggaefied YELLO while a cover of Italian post-punk band GAZNEVADA’s ‘Tij-U-Wan’ throws in spikey rock and the influence of DEVO halfway through!

Seeded by life, disappointments and grief with cinematic reference points to the Les Disques Du Crepuscule and Crammed Records catalogue as well as Italian New Wave, ‘She’s Always Been There’ will appeal to fans of the TUXEDOMOON axis with its refined electronic base embellished by a variety of traditional instrumentation.


‘She’s Always Been There’ is released in CD and digital formats by Totem Taboo and distributed by Materiali Sonori

https://www.facebook.com/polychronplus/

https://open.spotify.com/album/4FzDi2KbpvajkEmDZohmlL


Text by Chi Ming Lai
19th January 2022

BOY HARSHER The Runner

With the challenges of the past two years, it is perhaps unsurprising with the brooding menacing aura omnipresent in their music that BOY HARSHER have made a short horror movie and a soundtrack to go with it.

Entitled ‘The Runner’ and written, produced and directed by the duo, it is a classic slasher attached to a meta-style documentary about the BOY HARSHER recording process, so think ‘Scream’ or ‘Fight Club’ but with a music studio. The film will premiere on the horror streaming platform Shudder on January 16th with screening events planned across the globe.

The duo Augustus Muller and Jae Matthews see this project as an artistic exorcism rather than their fifth album. The chaos and uncertainty of the times provided the mood, but Matthews was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis with added anxieties closer to home. This provided inspiration for a sinister character, a woman running through the woods.

The soundtrack stands up as an album in its own right and is their most diverse collection yet, featuring their usual dark and danceable electronic pop with some special guests and alongside eerie instrumentals.

Opening track ‘Tower’ offers a slow gothic presence with an impending doom though Jae Matthews’ distraught vocals although this is offset as often or not with many BOY HARSHER tunes by Augustus Muller’s keyed brightness alongside the sombre bass and fierce percussive attack, combining desire with destruction. ‘Give Me A Reason’ is classic BOY HARSHER and could be from any of the more recent albums, dark but melodic and hooky,

But ‘Autonomy’ featuring Cooper B Handy from the band LUCY. The track is a surprise, not just vocally but when the pulsing sequences and optimistic synthetic string tones kick in alongside the simulated Hooky bass, it is more reminiscent of NEW ORDER after they ditched the raincoats and started wearing shorts!

By contrast with its foreboding rhythmic mantra, ‘The Ride Home’ is far gloomier and more expected for a horror soundtrack. Following on, ‘Escape’ is a midtempo song captures a nocturnal tension that sees Matthews declaring “What’s done is done, my old friend” with something of a fatalistic density having already optimistically suggested “Maybe, we can escape?”.

Sung in Spanish and English, ‘Machina’ with Ms. BOAN is aimed at the dancefloor, recalling the Latino electronic disco of Bobby Orlando, particularly PET SHOP BOYS ‘A Man Could Get Arrested’ with the vocal interplay between the vocodered phrases and Mariana Saldaña being particularly seductive

The wholly instrumental ‘Untitled (Piano)’ sees BOY HARSHER go ambient and it works brilliantly while ‘I Understand’ is cut from a similar cloth but with the addition of a resigned and heartbroken Matthews cocooned in a box for a disturbing claustrophobic effect.

A cathartic collection, the duo said on their social media that “BOY HARSHER fans are the clear waves that keep us afloat”; while the soundtrack of ‘The Runner’ not a traditional album in the vein of ‘Careful’, they will not be disappointed.


The official soundtrack of ‘The Runner’ is released on 21st January 2022 via Nude Club / City Slang in vinyl LP in various colours, CD, cassette and digital formats, pre-order available direct from https://boyharsher.bandcamp.com/album/the-runner-original-soundtrack

Information on independent screenings and streaming at https://therunner.film

https://boyharsher.com/

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http://instagram.com/boyharsher


Text by Chi Ming Lai
17th January 2022

THE WEEKND Less Than Zero

After ‘Blinding Lights’ and ‘Save Your Tears’, THE WEEKND have done it again and reminded the mainstream of the emotive beauty that can come from classic synthpop with ‘Less Than Zero’.

‘Less Than Zero’ has been co-produced and co-written by Swedes Max Martin and Oscar Holter; the ubiquitous Martin is the man behind hits by Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Britney Spears but Holter was formally a member of industrial act NECRO FACILITY. Studio hands from a darker electronic background getting involved in pop is not unusual with Dave “Rave” Olgilvie from SKINNY PUPPY having helmed the final mixes of Carly Rae Jepsen.

Taken off the new album ‘Dawn FM’, ‘Less Than Zero’ itself sounds not unlike Michael Jackson produced by Tony Mansfield. The cross of catchy hooks, glorious counter-melodies and acoustic strums are reminiscent of Mansfield’s own combo NEW MUSIK who had UK hits with ‘Living By Numbers’, ‘This World Of Water’ and ‘Sanctuary’ in 1980; Tony Mansfield himself later when on to produce most of A-HA’s debut album ‘Hunting High & Low’.

The lush tones of ‘Less Than Zero’ even recall Cliff Richard’s appealing Alan Tarney produced synth period and of course, Tarney also went on to work with A-HA on a number of their biggest hits including ‘Take On Me’, ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’, ‘Cry Wolf’ and ‘Stay On These Roads’.

Over pop history, mainstream acts going through a period of synthpop or at least doing a synth-driven song or two has been a rock ‘n’ roll rite of passage. While the likes of Cliff Richard, Robert Palmer, Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Leonard Cohen and even Neil Young have entered the mysterious world of electronics in the past, with the assistance of that renowned Nordic melancholy and folk tradition, Abel Tesfaye appears to be enjoying his synthpop adventures as THE WEEKND more than most.

In ‘Less Than Zero’, he has created more magnificent earworm magic that harks back to the tradition of A-HA and others who came before them. No kids, the synth was not invented by Ryan Gosling in 2011 for the film ‘Drive’ 😉


‘Less Than Zero’ is from the album ‘Dawn FM’ released by XO / Republic Records

https://www.theweeknd.com

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Text by Chi Ming Lai
15th January 2022

КЛЕТ 1984? No!

КЛЕТ is a music project of Bohemian-born composer and producer Michal Trávníček.

His debut album ‘Alconaut’ was undoubtedly the best instrumental synth release of 2021 and primarily celebrated the Soviet space programme with its impressive series of firsts, while also reflecting on how after the collapse of the union, in the fallout of the freedom now available with capitalism, life was not rosy for all. Less than half a year after the release of ‘Alconaut’ comes a musical appendix ‘1984? No!’. КЛЕТ rather poignantly dedicates to his new long player to “any individual mind that feels oppressed. My heart goes out to you!”

Thematically facing that past brave new world with relevance to today’s international political landscape, while 1984? No!’ could be considered a natural progression, opening track ‘Kaif’ displays a more uptempo and funkier template than was heard on ‘Alconaut’. Paying tribute to his birthplace, ‘Bohemia’ is also seeded from ‘Alconaut’ if less spacey. But ‘Piramida’ re-explores those atmospheres with an electro beat groove while ‘Hollywood Moon Landing’ is much floatier.

In honour of the first modular space station, the appropriately weightless ‘Mir’ provides another Sovietwave metaphor for the secrecy of the USSR progressing to more open international collaboration. ‘Horizon’ is more percussive and throws in tabla textures but while ‘Chukotka’ drifts along, ‘Dystopia’ comes over more threatening with chunky synthbass pulses if retaining atmospheric qualities.

Celebrating the first spacecraft to land successfully on the moon and return data, the celestial synthwave of ‘Luna 9’ wouldn’t have sounded out of place on ‘Alconaut’ while ‘Svoboda’ provides a pretty highlight. More stark and with partial distortion but remaining melodic is ‘Stolen Future’, continuing КЛЕТ’s assertion that the fall of The Iron Curtain was not necessarily a positive thing for some citizens in the former Eastern Bloc.

Using harp-like approximations and a steadfast metronomic beat, ‘Chillout’ does what it says on the tin before ‘Propyat’ closes the album with a beautiful sustained piano work that is embellished by the odd choral effect.

The impressive ‘Alconaut’ was always going to be a hard act to follow and in comparison, ‘1984? No!’ does come over as less immediate. The celebration and sadness of its predecessor is also felt on this worthwhile follow-up, even though it is pointing in a more ‘Don’t Look Up’ direction.


‘1984? No!’ is available on the usual online platforms including https://claat.bandcamp.com/

https://twitter.com/aestheticKLET

https://www.instagram.com/kletwave/

https://soundcloud.com/aestheticclaat

https://open.spotify.com/album/6ilnqjtkvEXLQ7I8US4Qbs


Text by Chi Ming Lai
4th January 2022

BLAINE L REININGER Wounds & Blessings

Colorado-born Blaine L Reininger is best known as a member of TUXEDOMOON, a classically trained musician who embraced the European avant-garde and now lives in Greece.

Exponents of “cabaret no-wave”, TUXEDOMOON’s second album ‘Desire’ released in 1981 was co-produced by Gareth Jones after the band were impressed by his engineering skills on John Foxx’s ‘Metamatic’. Blaine L Reininger had a parallel solo career and continuing to work with Gareth Jones, released the acclaimed 1984 album ‘Night Air’ which featured the TB303 driven cinematic synthpop of ‘Mystery & Confusion’.

‘Wounds & Blessings’ is Reininger’s new studio double album featuring 28 new tracks organised into 4 themed suites of Songs, Bricolage, Sourced and Serene. Featuring TUXEDOMOON bandmates Steven Brown, Luc van Lieshout and Paul Zahl as well as Greek guitarist Tile-machos Moussas, Reininger additionally utilises computer plug-ins, samplers and AI-assisted lyrics alongside his trusty violin and guitar. The end result ranges from purely orchestral to entirely electronic compositions with everything in between.

With the world’s current state of flux, the subject of mortality heavily colours ‘Wounds & Blessings’. With an infectious electronic bass squelch, ringing keyboard signatures and a cacophony of swooping guitars, the Bowie-esque ‘100 Sad Fingers’ sees Reininger adopt baritone alongside an across a striking range of backing vocals. The art rock thrust of ‘I Inhabit The Dunes’ sounds like it could have come off ‘The Next Day’ or ‘Lodger’ for that matter while ‘Je Retournerai’ is more reminiscent of Iggy Pop.

Taking the pace down, ‘Chemise Grise’ is sung partly in French and recalls Leonard Cohen but ‘Trials & Tribulations’ springs a surprise at the start with dance beats and vocoder.

‘Roll Off The Edge’ is a crazy combination of tablas, jazz, funk, post-punk, chants and bursts of organ while ‘Occult Simplicities’ though could be best described as art school Lalo Schifrin!

The second half displays more of the considered classical and soundtrack styled compositions as featured on the ‘Commissions’ series with jazz inflections over drum loops as on ‘Newbs Descending A Staircase’ and the moodier instrumental territory of ‘Die Ferne Klang’ where Reininger’s sombre violin moods come to fore alongside percolating electronic vibes. ‘Sun Package’ combines rootsy slide guitar with a widescreen synthetic backdrop while the eerie ‘Unbirthday’ provides some nocturnal reflection. As the album progresses onto its home straight, the more traditional ‘Cahiers Noirs’ rings with the sadness of real and virtual violins before ‘Push’ presents sections of discordant ivory passages to close.

Blaine L Reininger is nothing but diverse and stylistically, he has never been able to be placed in a genre box. Fans will again relish the variation on offer with this ambitious work. Requiring more than a passing listen to be appreciated, casual observers may only find a quarter of the ‘Wounds & Blessings’ immediately appealing but that is already 3 or 4 tracks more than most albums offer on the quality front these days anyway.


‘Wounds & Blessings’ is released by Les Disques du Crépuscule as a 2CD set and download, available now from https://www.lesdisquesducrepuscule.com/wounds_and_blessings_twi1255.html and https://burningshed.com/store/les-disques-du-crepuscule_store/blaine-l-reininger_wounds-and-blessings_2cd

https://mundoblaineo.org/

https://www.facebook.com/Blaine-L-Reininger-157948817590987/

https://twitter.com/BlaineReininger

https://open.spotify.com/album/3smUBkXFkK6ZfgEbdVebKe


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by George Geranios
2nd January 2021

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