Category: Reviews (Page 2 of 159)

JOON Dream Again

JOON is the artist formally known as YEWS and the musical vehicle of Maltese producer Yasmin Kuymizakis.

In a similar epiphany that Brian Eno had with ambient music, Kuymizakis was involved in a car accident and while recuperating, she appreciated how precious life was and decided to make music her vocation.

She opted for synths as her tools of self-expression, buying a Stylophone, Moog Sub Phatty and a Korg Poly800 while also teaching herself how to use recording software and VSTs, with the Novation MiniNova being the most recent addition to her armoury.

Without any electronic music role models locally to look up to, Kuymizakis co-founded the Malta Sound Women Network with composer and academic Jess Rymer in 2017 to bring like-minded women together on the island.

This brought focus to JOON and the attracted the attention of Italians Do It Better, home to CHROMATICS, DESIRE and GLÜME. While there was a considered approach to her music, Kuymizakis also had a sense of fun as exemplified by her NEW ORDER meets MARSHEAUX styled cover of BANANARAMA’s ‘Cruel Summer’.

So the debut JOON long player ‘Dream Again’ arrives after a 10 year musical journey, capturing a shimmering stream of consciousness towards escape and self-fulfilment with a template of mostly angelic vocals and otherworldly auras.

With many voices in her head, the blippy avant pop ‘ET’ comes over like an oddball variant on Berlin-based Nordic duo ULTRAFLEX; with wonderfully eerie Theremin tones that make the concoction creepy yet fun, this inviting lo-fi number was used in a digital fashion show for the Nintendo simulation game ‘Animal Crossing’, adding to its aural surrealism.

The electro-funky ‘Watch The Sky’ is a bouncy club tune inspired by Róisín Murphy and its ending kicks courtesy of a wonderful distorted synth solo accompanied by a burst of cowbells. However, while JOON’s sense of fun and escapism comes over in a girly cover of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’, apart from putting more cash into the bank account of Vince Clarke, it seems an unnecessary inclusion on ‘Dream Again’ when she has quality material of her own.

There’s a charming innocence to ‘Good Times’ with a wonderful Mediterranean take on Japanese city pop about more carefree pre-pandemic times with fewer responsibilities, but with a gentle canter, ‘Whisper’ is classic Italians Do It Better and has the vulnerable air of label mate GLÜME looming on this wonderfully atmospheric set piece with a hypnotic arpeggio.

Built around a waltzing church organ, the Bjork-like ‘Meaningful Life’ provides the Gospel of St Joon but featuring almost screaming monologues with our heroine sounding rather cocooned, ‘Wait’ captures an uneasy tension, although relief is provided by the sung chorus for a hybrid of shade and light.

‘Home’ recalls Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’ being dropped into The Bang Bang Bar from ‘Twin Peaks’, while sung in Maltese and meaning “sleep”, the gentle lullaby of ‘Orqod’ is gorgeous and reflects on the need to let go but just as the ethereal mood is about induce near sleep, the darker consciousness acts as a reminder of harsh realities.

A quirky rhythmic percolation shapes the instrumental ‘I.You’, showing JOON’s diverse musicality with gliding portamento hooks and drones provide a suitably gothic soundtrack that could easily work in film.

The nautical jaunt of ‘Me & My Sea’ comes with an artful allure but then takes an unsettling turn with layers of pitch shifted vocals in the manner of FEVER RAY as seagulls swoop by. Closing with the blurry Julee Cruise inspired ‘Feathers’, a wispy falsetto and crystalline textures capture a South East Asian winter rather than a Mediterranean summer.

Melancholic but ultimately positive with a mix of upbeat tracks and more personal songs, JOON looks hopefully forward without forgetting the lessons of the past. ‘Dream Again’ is an optimistic dose of inspiration and a universal message for everyone as to how to overcome. As Yasmin Kuymizakis herself says “Even if I’m sad or heartbroken, I remain optimistic. I want to grow old with no regrets”

Yes, the time is now right to be able to ‘Dream Again’.

‘Dream Again’ is released by Italians Do It Better on the usual online platforms

Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Maria Galea
16th July 2021


The recent emergence of post-post-punk internationally have seen acts such as Belarus’ MOLCHAT DOMA, JAKUZI from Turkey and Canadian band ACTORS take the haunting legacy of JOY DIVISION into the 21st Century.

Although primarily guitar driven, post-post-punk is often distinguished by its bed of icy synths and mutated disco rhythms. And from ACTORS comes their keyboardist Shannon Hemmett with her more synth focussed solo project LEATHERS. However, it is not completely divorced from the ACTORS family as frontman Jason Corbett acts as producer on her debut EP ‘Reckless’.

With a blend of pop melodies and the gloomier overtones of DEPECHE MODE, COCTEAU TWINS and BAUHAUS, Hemmett brings her mysterious air and voice from the background of her day job to become a confident lead, contrasting lightness with darkness, femininity with masculinity, fantasy with reality and creation with destruction, all in one plot.

The undoubted highlight is the title song itself. It’s a rather lovely slice of synthpop in that classic melancholic vein with an infectious steadfast motorik beat, showing that Canada is again leading the way in the modern version of the form. Resigned and accepting, Hemmett is alluring in her voicing despite the heartbreak of her love being so cruel and dangerous.

Exuding a darker spectre, ‘Phantom Heart’ is fiercer and perhaps not that far removed from ACTORS with Hemmett being more contralto to suit, while ‘Day For Night’ is an introspective synth-laden ballad with the occasional six and four string intervention that allies it to the moody atmospheres of CHROMATICS and structurally comes over like a dreampop version of MAZZY STAR. But for those who want something more like a female fronted take on THE CURE, ‘Missing Scene’ goes the full post-post-punk hog and rocks with a cavernous gothique to close the EP.

The ‘Reckless’ song is worth the purchase price alone and as LEATHERS, Shannon Hemmett has demonstrated she can pursue a career outside of ACTORS that has the authenticity to appeal to a purer synth inclined audience if she so desires.

‘Reckless’ is released by Artoffact Records and available on the usual online platforms including

Text by Chi Ming Lai
14th July 2021


Following the acclaim for his accomplished and acclaimed third album ‘Infinity Mirror’, Ryan A James returns as MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY with his latest long form release ‘Bloods, Side A’.

MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY has been held in such high regard that Ryan A James has worked with notable artists such as RÖYKSOPP and IONNALEE. Having become a father, James’ perspective has changed and while shoegaze may have been an element to MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY in the past, the synthwave overtures of acts across the Atlantic like COM TRUISE, FM ATTACK and BETAMAXX have caught his attention.

But also having released a cover of Phil Collins’ ‘Another Day In Paradise’ in 2020, the MTV era of decades past has also figured. From ‘Infinity Mirror’, the song ‘Beta Blocker’ was a sign of his future musical direction, featuring a meaty programmed electronic bassline of the type adopted by PROPAGANDA and FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD.

Beginning with ’Pilot’ and accompanied by subtle stuttering beats, this is a short delightful instrumental that showcases the influence of both FM ATTACK and BETAMAXX. But the excellent ’Savannah’ springs a total surprise with a dreamier take on the sort of rhythmic new wave pop that adorned many a John Hughes or Jerry Bruckheimer movie montage and at times, it sounds as though it might morph into a track by expat Scot popwave exponent Michael Oakley.

Drawing from COM TRUISE, the moodier ’Gardener In A War’ features a great self-deprecating line about how “I’ll wash the petri dish for you”. Although it is more typically MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY in its introspective outlook and presentation, as its intensity is enhanced by a hypnotic cacophony of electronics, there are also unexpected Shakuhachi samples and programmed bass patterns with shades of Howard Jones.

Short but sweet, despite being less than a minute and a quarter, ’Our Silences’ gives room for a fabulous freeform synth solo before ’Ultra-Nightmare’ closes the A Side and sees the return of the Shakuhachi while the driving pulse journeys onto an expansive synthwave adventure with a sinister manipulated voice creeping back and forth to provoke a sense of unease.

With guitar seemingly absent, ‘Bloods, Side A’ acts as a fine pointer as to how MAN WITHOUT COUNTRY has evolved. While the sound remains melodic and reflective, Ryan A James has headed West and is now even more electronic than before; ‘Side B’ is now eagerly awaited to complete the set.

‘Bloods, Side A’ is released on 16th July 2021 as a CD and download, pre-order from

Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th July 2021


Filmic dreamwave duo POLYCHROME are back with a new single ‘UltraViolet’ that comes with a force of aggression not heard before compared to their 2018 self-titled debut album.

Several songs found favour with TV producers and advertising agencies around the world. But with ‘Ultraviolet’, an overdriven digital rimshot, as used by the likes of Prince in the past, makes a dynamic rhythmic statement. Meanwhile the rich haze of a malfuctioning Yamaha DX7 and understated bass warbles from multi-instrumentalist Olly Price provide the backdrop for the angelic treated vocals of Vicky Harrison.

A blend of ELECTRIC YOUTH, CHROMATICS and CHVRCHES, Vicky Harrison said of ‘UltraViolet’: “It’s quite driving with a faster tempo and I think it leans more towards synthpop, but there was no particular conscious choice. We made a series of electronic vibes and picked what we liked and started sculpting those. We might do that in a few sessions on one song, but the main body is there by the time we get to the end.”

While the computer animated video does feature an abundance of clichéd synthwave imagery including grids, sunsets, palm trees, sports cars and shades of magenta, there is a twist with Harrison’s lips making an eerie appearance…

The dystopian resonance of ‘UltraViolet’ reflects the darkness of a year where many have suffered and lost. It was no different for POLYCHROME and what began as a song about relationship break-up mutated into a narrative comprising of a post-Covid world where that last few people alive on a dying earth struggle to survive and are forced to live in a computer simulation! Despite the subject matter, there is a strange beauty to ‘UltraViolet’.

Olly Price caught Covid hard at the start of the pandemic and its effects still loom; “This Virus is a f*cker…” he said, “So many people have had it way worse than us so this is our tribute to everyone who has had a crap year”

‘UltraViolet’ is released by Hilo Lohi records, available on the usual online platforms and direct from

Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photo by Héloïse Faure
10th July 2021


Following her acclaimed 2019 debut album ‘Polarlichter’ which was released on Happy Robots Records and gained the support of Lauren Laverne, Steve Lamacq and Gideon Coe from BBC 6Music, synth earth mother Alice Hubble will issue its follow up ‘Hexentanzplatz’ this Autumn.

Named after a Harz mountain located just over 70km south west of Magbeburg, Hexentanzplatz literally means “Witches’ Dance Floor” in German and accurately captures the mystic air of the old Saxon cult site where legend has it, ancient fertility rites were practiced and sacrifices took place.

However, the second single from the album ‘My Dear Friend’ is more optimistically romantic having been inspired by the discovery of a collection of love letters written by Alice Hubble’s mother to her father around the time that they first met. “My mother passed away when I was in my teens” she said, “these letters gave me a real insight into who she was as a person, her ‘newly in love’ giddiness jumping off the page”.

The hazy kaleidoscopic black and white video for ‘My Dear Friend’ directed by Alice Hubble herself captures an immersive hazy feeling while the song itself, with its combination of understated drums from Matt Kelly and a whirring cacophony of varyingly tuned synths, recalls the electro-organic pagan ritual of LADYTON’s ‘Mirage’ from the ‘Gravity The Seducer’ long player which is now 10 years old.

While the already premiered ‘Power Play’ with its important statement on the #MeToo movement reflects Alice Hubble’s embracement of collective digital activism and serves as her protest song, one of the glistening highlights on ‘Hexentanzplatz’ comes with the rousing indie synthpop of ‘Projections’.

‘My Dear Friend’ is available via Happy Robots Records on the usual online platforms including

‘Hexentanzplatz’ will be available in vinyl LP, CD and digital formats on 10th September 2021, pre-order from

Alice Hubble 2021 live dates include: London Folklore (7th October), Nottingham Old Cold Store (8th October), Leeds Wharf Chambers (15th October)

Text by Chi Ming Lai
8th July 2021

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