Category: Reviews (Page 2 of 151)

CICERO Today

David Cicero’s ascent into the pop charts was swift. The first signing to Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s Spaghetti Records imprint, his 1991 PET SHOP BOYS produced single ‘Love Is Everywhere’ reached No19 in the UK charts.

The album ‘Future Boy’ followed in 1992 while he also contributed the song ‘Live For Today’ to the Oscar nominated film ‘The Crying Game’. But record company politics intervened at Spaghetti Records’ parent organisation Polydor and after the sad passing of his manager Peter Andreas, Cicero effectively left the mainstream music industry.

There were sporadic solo single releases over the next few decades, while he released several albums as THE EVENT and collaborated with dance DJs on a number of trance tracks. It was after a comeback charity concert in July 2019 in aid of MacMillan Cancer Support that Cicero started to put together his second album.

He had material from his Spaghetti Records days as well as his occasional singles, thus half the album was already written. So while reconfiguring his ‘Future Boy’ songs into a modern technological format for his live return, he would work on new material during breaks from programming. The Scot told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “it’s not ‘Future Boy 2’ but it’s still going to have that Cicero feel to it with a more up to date cutting edge sound”

Fast forward to 2021 and during the intervening period, Cicero tragically lost his mother and stepfather within a year. As a result, the album ‘Today’ is a very personal affair tinged with sadness but also full of hope.

Opening track ‘It’s Over’ is not too frantic a start and eases the listener back into the world of Cicero; using the voice treatments of now, it is that relatable tale of being in love with someone you can’t get on with… hey, we’ve all been there!

The hopeful euphoria of ‘Wish’ is undeniably a close relation to ‘Live For Today’ and features Amy Meave Baillie on vocals.

She ably deputises for Sylvia Mason-James in a manner that Neil Tennant used refer to as a “disco lungsmith” and perhaps unsurprisingly, it is a song from that bygone Spaghetti Records era.

Also led by soaring female vocals are the poignant ‘Face This World Alone’, a drum n bass excursion first issued as a single in 2015 and ‘Anyone But You’ which exudes further ripples of the breakbeat form, indicating the origins of both may have been from the same period. At the opposite end of the spectrum, ‘In the Rain (Children of Today)’ is a homely piano ballad featuring his daughter Holly calling for a better world and hoping that “happiness will come my way”.

A slice of heavenly spaghetti disco, ‘River of Lies’ is mighty with a strong PET SHOP BOYS influence. Out of all the tracks on ‘Today’, it is the one that, as his former mentor Neil Tennant used to say when he was Assistant Editor of Smash Hits, confirms Cicero is “Back-back-BACK!”. Also uptempo, the propulsive banger ‘Hide from Life Instead’ is wonderfully energetic and even features a few drops, all that’s missing are strobes!

A solemn heartfelt ballad, ‘This Way I Feel Inside’ encapsulates the very personal reflections that are omnipresent on ‘Today’. But the self-explanatory ‘Turned Around’ shows how the future boy has become a future man. A song about watching his daughter growing up, it is joyful tune that moves from ballad into Eurodance stomper after a minute and a half. It is also slightly reminiscent of Roger Sanchez’s TOTO sampling ‘Another Chance’ but with a considerably stronger lyrical focus.

Closing with ‘Broken’, a ballad concluding with a glorious piper’s lament and elegiac Vangelis inspired synth, Cicero heartbreakingly recalls in song of how he was unable to see his mother when she passed away.

‘Today’ is a mature midlife statement that touches on topics such as love, relationship breakdown, parenthood and bereavement which many will relate to. There are also some nostalgic nods to clubbing but let’s face it, while it is fun to go out and dance in your 50s, you wouldn’t want to do it every week now or even every month. It reflects the stage of life when the end is closer than the beginning, but there is still so much more to do and with that in mind, there can be a new found optimism.

It may have taken nearly 30 years for Cicero to follow-up his debut album, but it is time to rejoice that he is still able to produce good music, with some cracking tracks contained on ‘Today’.

Bentornato Cicero 🙂


‘Today’ is available via the usual digital platforms

https://www.davecicero.com/

https://www.facebook.com/cicero222/

https://twitter.com/Dave_Cicero

https://open.spotify.com/album/3XyjeCiUPloTomB387JH9e


Text by Chi Ming Lai
14th March 2021

MARK REEDER Subversiv-Dekadent

‘Subversiv-Dekadent’ was the East German Secret Police classification given to Berlin-based producer and remixer Mark Reeder in his STASI file.

On Mayday 1982, Mark Reeder paid a visit to the DDR part of the then-walled city and while he was taking photos of the grand parade, he was arrested by the STASI and taken in for interrogation.

He had been under surveillance as they suspected he was working for M16 and about to assassinate their esteemed leader Erich Honecker… either that or he going to corrupt the youth of East Germany with pop music!

Indeed, it was the latter; but for those who received Reeder’s smuggled-in cassettes of JOY DIVISION, NEW ORDER and the like, it was more like an education as fictionally documented when Mark Reeder lookalike Martin Rauch, HVA agent codename Kolibri, in ‘Deutschland 83’ lit up with joy on hearing DURAN DURAN for the first time on that prize symbol of capitalism, the Sony Walkman!

During those tense Cold War times of East versus West and The Iron Curtain, all the eternally optimistic Reeder wanted to do was to unite people through music. So when The Berlin Wall fell at the end of 1989 and the imminent threat of nuclear holocaust was lifted with the promise of a better, more open-minded world, he did his bit by establishing Masterminded For Success (MFS), a dance label that achieved great success across the European club scene.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and the world is struggling with narcissists despite a pandemic crisis, driven into conflict by power, corruption and lies by that age-old management and control technique of “divide and rule” which most citizens understand but ultimately fail to actually recognise.

A recognised internationalist, Mark Reeder is doing his bit again by issuing a double album named after his STASI classification of productions and remixes made by himself and his engineer Micha Adam.

Celebrating his cross-border artistic ethos, where the songs have been restyled, he has added guitar, bass and synths while he has also lent his spoken voice to his own solo productions.

‘Subversiv-Dekadent’ is bookended by Fifi Rong who Reeder first met at the Berlin Kraftwerk in 2016 when she was singing in concert with Swiss trailblazers YELLO. The first track ‘Figure of 8’ is a magical new collaboration between the two with a cinematic backdrop of sparse piano and glistening sequences over which the exquisite Chinese songstress adds her distinctive air of mystery to a more metronomic rhythm construction than perhaps heard on her own work.

Closing the collection, Reeder offers ‘The Present is a Gift Mix’ of Fifi Rong’s 2016 single ‘Future Never Comes’, an eerie and very Berlin-inspired concoction where Chinese musical theatre meets electro Weimer Cabaret via Synth Britannia for a haunting slice of initial after brilliance

YELLO themselves appear via the superb ‘Wet&Hard Remix’ of ‘Vicious Games’; tightened up and given a modern treatment without losing the essence of the 1985 original with the sexy vocals of Rush Winters given the spotlight.

The original ‘Vicious Games’ was an intricately woven patchwork of samples and Reeder even amusingly drops in an ‘I Feel Love’ sequence during the middle eight.

‘United’ by QUEEN OF HEARTS was one of the outstanding highlights from Reeder’s previous 2017 collection ‘Mauerstadt’ and making a welcome appearance on ‘Subversiv-Dekadent’ is the track that precipitated his union with frontfrau Liz Morphew; dressed with cooing vampishness, the ‘Electrically Excited Remix’ of ‘Neon’ is nearly 8 minutes of gently energetic Schaffel.

Both having also appeared on ‘Mauerstadt’, MFU return with a ‘Brexile Remix’ of ‘Law’ that is a blend of distorted guitars, synth pulses and post-punk Mancunian vocals while THE KVB have ‘White Walls’ remodelled as a ‘Stoner Remix’, which is actually a fairly good description despite the frantic arpeggio and claustrophobic string machine.

China’s STOLEN are considered by Reeder to be the most exciting band he’s seen since NEW ORDER and his ‘Sinner Remix’ of ‘The Loop Sin’ is another of his classic productions; full of heavy propulsive grit and live textural enhancements, this denser but more compact version applies an extra bounce on the bass and highlights why the Chengdu six-piece were chosen to open for NEW ORDER on their European tour on 2019.

Of course, Reeder is known for his close friendship with NEW ORDER and his remixes of ‘Singularity’, ‘Academic’ and ‘The Game’ were notable for improving on their initial guises from the ‘Music Complete’ album. His driving ‘Cheeky Devil Remix’ of their most recent single ‘Be A Rebel’ presents a more rigid staccato treatment before tripleting in the chorus while adding guitars that were actually absent from the original mix.

One notable new inclusion to the Mark Reeder portfolio is BIRMINGHAM ELECTRIC led by Dutch-based American Andrew Evans whose previous singles ‘Light of the World’ and ‘Moving Target’ featured long-time OMD drummer Malcolm Holmes; The ‘Crying Remix’ of ‘How Do We End Up Here?’ is a rather good vibey tune with vocoder treatments like a disco lento AIR.

‘Subversiv-Dekadent’ is not just about remixes and Reeder gets to fly solo as well. The percussive ‘21st Century Girl’ sees him quoting from cult TV show ‘The Prisoner’ as his soundtrack penetrates with its almost industrial demeanour, augmented by a guitar lick reprise from his own Save Yourself Mix of ‘Manifesto’ by BLANK & JONES and a cheeky burst of T-REX’s ‘20th Century Boy’,

Described by Reeder himself as “a Wet&Hard trilogy”, the three part ‘You Can Touch Me’ starts in a moody mantric fashion with groans and synth sweeps, before pacing up with a growly bass. It all seems a bit superfluous at first but it sets the scene and gets progressively hypnotic, segueing into a propulsive rumbling section that adds more menace to an already sinister track. As Reeder impassively asks “do you want to touch me?”, it eventually slows down after a frenzy of frenetic rhythmic clatter. This is fine provocative dance music if a little too long, but when it hits the spot during the majority of its 13 minutes, it is mighty!

‘Children Of Nature’ was Reeder’s fine 2019 long player with Alanas Chosnau, best known as one of Lithuania’s biggest singing stars with his penchant for DEPECHE MODE. In an ‘Unpredictable Remix’, ‘Love Of My Life’ mutates into something more minimal but harder compared with the original mix. Meanwhile, in collaboration with Mr Sam and Rani Kamal, ‘I Surrender’ is soulful pop given a shadier new wave treatment with the incongruity adding more tension.

‘Dead Souls’ from Hong Kong domiciled Mexicans DEER Mx is not the JOY DIVISION song but a fit of snarling aggression and strident gothic drama to electronic screeches not heard since ‘Crazy Horses’ by THE OSMONDS. Ending with sampled blasts of mariachi trumpets in the background, it is delightfully odd. However, the heavy deadpan resonance of LIARS and ‘Staring at Zero’ will not be for everybody although their eccentric frontman Angus Andrew has declared Reeder’s ‘Two Thousand Yards Stare Remix’ as his favourite of his own work.

Already rock focussed, ‘Coked Up Biker Anthem’ from New York-based Zachery Allan Starkey sees Reeder realise some of his mad axeman fantasies with his guitar enhanced ‘Leather & Beers’ rework by taking the dystopian metal original into even more speedy Alice Cooper territory. But with an icy build, CEMETERY SEX FAIRIES’ ‘Tanz Allein’ sees a move away from Reeder’s usual four-on-the-floor template and maintains an enjoyably creepy quality with the scary German Grimm tales vocal.

While many purchasers will be NEW ORDER and YELLO completists after the exclusive remixes on ‘Subversiv-Dekadent’, this Mark Reeder collector has so much more to offer. As well for presenting his sometimes lesser-lauded abilities as a composer, it also provides a platform for emergent acts from all around the world to be discovered.

Despite being regarded as ‘Subversiv-Dekadent’, through music Mark Reeder has unified more people than any politician has. In this modern online environment, the influence of music is more international than ever. It makes people connect, love, dance, escape and protest. This diverse collection does that, and isn’t that what music is all about.


‘Subversiv-Dekadent’ is released by MFS as a download double album, available from https://markreedermfs1.bandcamp.com/album/subversiv-dekadent

https://mfsberlin.com/

https://www.facebook.com/mfsberlin

https://www.facebook.com/markreedermusic/

https://twitter.com/markreedermfs

https://www.instagram.com/markreeder.mfs/

https://open.spotify.com/album/0XRaQMRD4ILpdRetyRvBo6


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th March 2021

NITE RISK Finale

Denton-based NITE RISK describe themselves as two pale brunettes from the distant past, One hailed from the piney East, the other from the concrete-clad West. Their paths merged and their voices became one in the morbid heart of Tornado Alley.”

Taking the lead from the British new wave of alternative bands like THE CURE, SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, THE SISTERS OF MERCY, THE MISSION, GENE LOVES JEZEBEL and FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM that found a huge following in unexpected quarters of the US, NITE RISK recreate that template using synthesizers and drum machines on their debut album ‘Finale’.

It’s not difficult to imagine ‘Architects’ being played by a goth rock band but piercing synths are prominent. The baritone is doomy although not as foreboding as an Andrew Eldritch or anthemic as Wayne Hussey, but use of the vocoder is an interesting twist to proceedings

‘Revolving Door’ is the sound of THE SISTERS OF MERCY gone electro while ‘Life Dreams’ cuts a similar black cloth. Meanwhile, ‘Déjà vu’ and ‘Your Name Goes Here’ both adopt a more steadfast droning pace. Although maintaining a dark austere, album highlight ‘Sign Of The Times’ is more distinctly synthpop in construction and even throws in some prog with the surprise of cosmic keyboard swirls.

‘Ghost Girl’ is brooding but ‘Salad Days’ is distinctively darkwave with its chilling synthetic strings. Free of drum machine, ‘Darkness Hides’ allows for some impassioned doomy drama while album closer ‘Beneath the Green’ adds a stark moody rhythm to that funereal template.

‘Finale’ is not quite as accomplished as the appealing gothwave of VANDAL MOON and their breakthrough long player ’Black Kiss’, but for those who prefer their synth to be shadier and have a penchant for THE SISTERS OF MERCY, then this Texan take of friendship, struggle and survival may appeal.


‘Finale’ is released by Fellowshipwreck as a download album available as a “name your price” offer from https://niterisk.bandcamp.com/

http://www.niterisk.com/

https://www.facebook.com/niteriskband

https://twitter.com/niteriskband


Text by Chi Ming Lai
10th March 2021

NORTHERN LITE Ich Fürchte Nein

Flashback to 1991 and the British BBC TV topical sketch comedy show ‘The Mary Whitehouse Experience’.

Featuring young comedians David Baddiel, Rob Newman, Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis, one of the regular skits was a parody of THE CURE, with Rob Newman playing Robert Smith, performing a cheerful song or nursery rhyme in a forboding gothic rock style.

In the amusing video for ‘Ich Fürchte Nein’, the new single from German electronic duo NORTHERN LITE, it looks like Hugh Dennis is in the role of Robert Smith. Translating as “I don‘t think so…”, vocalist Andreas Kubat amusingly sends up THE CURE frontman to a tee, embracing the enforced isolation while exercising and marginally staying sane.

In a chorus that can be roughly interpreted: “You can‘t be happy and by liked by everyone at the same time”, ‘Ich Fürchte Nein’ itself is a delightfully catchy synthpop tune that has a bright and jolly melodic section contrasted by a vocal of a more anxious disposition.

The project of Andreas Kubat and Sebastian Bohn, NORTHERN LITE’s 2001 single ‘Treat Me Better’ was a cult favourite on the electroclash scene, as was their remix of LADYTRON’s ‘Playgirl’. There has always been a guitar-driven goth techno hybrid aspect to NORTHERN LITE as exemplified by 2005’s ‘Go With The Flow’.

However, a more purely electronic template existed on songs such as ‘Right Now’ off the ‘Hollywood Girl’ EP from 2017 which also included a cover of DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’. After the ‘Piano Sessions’ reworks of 2020 and following up the recent melancholic single ‘Bin Ich Nun’, ‘Ich Fürchte Nein’ is possibly their most pop-oriented offering yet of their two decade career.


‘Ich Fürchte Nein’ is released as a digital single by UnaMusic

https://www.northernlite.de/

https://www.facebook.com/NorthernLiteBand

https://www.instagram.com/northernlite_official/


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Volker Maass
8th March 2021

KARIN MY Silence Amygdala

While Karin My has been providing backing vocals or playing cello for acts such as TWICE A MAN, CARBON BASED LIFEFORMS, FAKE MOSS and MACHINISTA over the last ten years, it was only in 2019 that she stepped out to the front to showcase her traditionally derived electronic songs with the haunting spectre of ‘The Silence’.

Although coming from a more traditional music background, her first experience of electronic music came when a friend of her mother gave her the five imperial phase KRAFTWERK albums.

The Swedish chanteuse and self-taught musician’s interest in electronic music broadened as the snowball effect rolled on and she met a variety of personalities from the Swedish scene. As a result, her own folk-laden compositions slowly evolved as beautiful synth sounds and technologically modelled approximations of more organic textures like harp and flute complimented their inherent melancholy.

There’s a forlorn abandonment in the captivating voice of Karin My and it is not difficult to imagine her singing alone out in the habit of the Scandinavian landscape. ‘Silence Amygdala’ is her debut solo long player, a part concept album with a narrative based on a long-forgotten diary and poems contained within it. While reading the diary re-exposes the pains of the past, it soon becomes time to burn it and move on.

Assisting Karin My realise her story in music is D. Kaufeldt, a producer from a more surprising industrial metal background, but who shared with her, a common love of folk and dark synthpop. While machines such as the Korg Mono/Poly, Roland SH09, Roland RS09 and Korg PS3200 form the backbone, the stark presence of a kantele from the Baltic box zither family provides an authentic twist.

Harking back to the days when writing on paper was the norm rather than using Messenger via smart phone, opening song ‘Letter’ is heartfelt and lonesome, although subtle backing vocals are provided by Dan Söderqvist of TWICE A MAN. But the track takes an unexpected diversion when a prominent four-to-the-floor rhythm enters the room and while this is not EBM by any imagination, this is quite boisterous for anyone familiar with Karin My’s recent run of solo singles. Despite the uptempo template, the construction is not incongruous but it is a slight red herring for the rest of the album.

Despite the melancholic chill, ‘Winter Tree’ has a gorgeous sparkle with glimmers of hope, although Karin My’s eerie delivery is reinforced with an extra ghostly atmosphere courtesy of D. Kaufeldt’s profound responses.

Despite dealing with imminent loss, the previously released ‘Time To Go’ has many melodic points of access in the tradition of ABBA and a heartfelt middle eight vocal ad-lib. Touching on the aftermath, the ‘Games Of Thrones’ fantasy drama air of ‘Autumn’ sees Karin My emotively “disappearing on a cold empty floor” while looking for the sun in layers with orchestration and subtle metallic percussion.

A steadfast drum machine propels ‘Loop’ while sweeping symphonic melodies in the vein of ULTRAVOX accompany the despairing resignation. The addition of a sombre computer generated female speech at its close with exclamations such as “identification- procedure – quote – hyphen – perform – display – go to – loop – full stop – execute” adds to the unsettlement.

Beginning with a music box and kantele, ‘The Silence’ remains beautifully sad, evoking abandonment as a cold spectre of darkness looms. Meanwhile, the dramatic waltz of ‘Stray From The Path’ shows an affinity with Scotland’s WITCH OF THE VALE in its use of traditional pagan modes and melodies, accentuated by drones.

On the Olympian ‘World From Orbit’, the Vangelis-inspired overtures soundtrack Karin My’s silent wishes to exist far from the harsh realities of life. Indeed, it is a number that floats like heaven in the manner of a Nordic Enya.

A sprightly piece compared with the other tracks on the album, the appropriately titled ‘Coming Up For Air’ surprises with a heavier if steadfast beat while there are synthetic choir stabs to back up the crystalline pulses and sweeping moods.

But a surprise comes with a largely acoustic cover of VNV NATION’s ‘Homeward’ which completely flips its original futurepop vision on its head. Although it sees Karin My return to folkie busker roots, it somehow fits in with the album’s aesthetic and narrative like an interlude before the finale. And that comes with the building tension of the ‘Silence Amygdala’ title song. Captured as a funereal waltz, strings, synths and percussion blend for a solemn but cathartic conclusion with reflections of space, heaven and a last breath…

‘Silence Amygdala’ is a melancholic affair embroiled in sadness that also uses silence as a tool to penetrate the noise. An unusual sound in synth with the nearest comparison possibly being Susanne Sundfør, there is also a Vangelis meets Stina Nordenstam quality reminiscent of when that esteemed pair worked together on ‘Ask The Mountains’.

These eleven songs are like dark fairy tales yet manage to be immensely accessible and enjoyable. ‘Silence Amygdala’ may require a certain mood and mindset to appreciate, but as a body of work, it is ultimately timeless.


‘Silence Amygdala’ is released by Ad Inexplorata on 12th March 2021 in CD, limited edition cassette and digital formats, pre-order options at https://www.explorata.net/km/sa.php

http://www.karinmy.net/

https://www.instagram.com/karinmymusic/

https://open.spotify.com/artist/76KssjMMxBwzbECkBdANwO


Text by Chi Ming Lai
5th March 2020

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