Category: Reviews (Page 2 of 174)

DESIRE Escape

‘Escape’ is the long awaited follow-up to the acclaimed debut album by DESIRE which was released in 2009. One of its tracks ‘Under Your Spell’ notably featured in the synthwave-tinged soundtrack of 2011’s ‘Drive’ starring Ryan Gosling.

Originally from Montreal, vivacious latex-clad front woman Megan Louise hasn’t been idle, continually releasing singles, collaborating and becoming president of Italians Do It Better. Produced by IDIB head honcho and beau Johnny Jewel, ‘Escape’ was mixed by Vaughn Oliver. Inspired by Italian Giallo horror films, the record was constructed in Los Angeles and Palm Springs.

‘Escape’ is multilingual singing in English, French, and Korean while Megan Louise plays the role of vixen and villain, opening proceedings with ‘Black Latex’, a spoken word art piece in French and English inspired by Andy Warhol. With pizzicato interventions and glorious synth salvos, ‘Telling Me Lies’ does that alluring moonlit driving thing over a tom-laden drum machine backbone where “you can run but you can’t hide”.

“All out of trying, all out of tears” while swathed in layers of electronic sounds and a wash of emotions, ‘Liquid Dreams’ echoes one-time label mates CHROMATICS and is boosted by a great frequency tuning solo. But featuring current label mates MIRAGE, ‘Love Is A Crime’ begins with an enigmatic and semi-spoken verse which is countered by a vocodered chorus. There are dense filtered tapestries where the processed voice declares “there’s no-one left to hold you” before the nostalgic tones of dial-up internet ring.

The wonderful ‘Zeros’ which was first released in early 2021 remains gorgeously dreamy and seductive with its sunset noir cinematics burying the past and “adding up to zero every single day”. Short, sweet and sans batterie, more spoken word is presented on the sparsely vibe laden ‘Dark Age’.

With elegant airy movements in Korean from ETHER’s Soo Joo Park, the forlorn ‘Haenim’ is an electronically styled cover of the 1968 Kim Jung Mi folk song with its narrative about woman who carries a traumas from the past confirming that “some scars never heal”; the haunting synth noir reinterpretation could be considered akin to when MIRRORS covered ‘Something On Your Mind’ which was recorded by Karen Dalton.

“Fading slow” with a delightful burst of synthesized pop bliss, ‘Ghosts’ is not for when the room is quiet, especially during the blistering keyboard solos. Given a remix, the brilliantly naive escapist electronic disco of ‘Escape’ which imagined BANANARAMA fronting NEW ORDER doesn’t quite hit the spot in this new version which is a shame in its position as the title track; the original slice of pop perfection should have been the preferred inclusion

Based around Fender Rhodes, ‘The Young & The Restless’ sounds like a song from a lost French arthouse movie while 11. the absorbing nocturnal electro-disco ‘Days & Nights’ is a gorgeously enticing highlight that glistens as “stars are shining”. Preceded by the interlude ‘L’Amulette De Vie’, the GOLDFRAPP-like ‘Friends & Enemies’ utilises Mellotron flute tones to provide another sparse resigned ballad, concluding with a haunting chorus of children and a foreboding toll.

Featuring seven previously released singles and six new tracks, that’s slightly more than TEARS FOR FEARS ‘The Hurting’ which only featured four new tracks when it came out back in 1983. ‘Escape’ does as its title suggests, a synth-laden soap opera with an idealistic narrative to overcome the challenges that life brings. It has been a long wait but the second DESIRE album is finally here with moments to savour.

‘Escape’ uses the following instruments: MiniKorg 700s, Roland Jupiter 8, Roland TR909, Mellotron, Simmons Rhythm Modules, ARP Solina String Machine, Roland D-50, Fender Rhodes


‘Escape’ is released on 3rd May 2022 via Italians Do It Better, pre-order or pre-save the album via https://idib.ffm.to/desire-escape

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Text by Chi Ming Lai
30th April 2022

RÖYKSOPP Profound Mysteries

When RÖYKSOPP released their most recent long playing opus ‘The Inevitable End’ in 2014, it was said to be their final album. Featuring the voices of Susanne Sundfør, Robyn, Jamie Irrepressible and Ryan James, it made a fine farewell.

But after various singles, archive releases and soundtrack commissions, Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland have returned with some ‘Profound Mysteries’; the duo said: “As human beings, what we don’t know vastly overshadows what we do know. As teenagers, we would discuss our own fascination and preoccupation with the infinite and the impossible – the most profound mysteries of life.”

As a result, ‘Profound Mysteries is an ambitious mix of music and conceptual art with all the tracks accompanied by bespoke visuals, each directed by a contemporary creative talent.

With solemn piano and stark strings, the ambient ‘(Nothing But) Ashes…’ begins the album with a noirish incidental theme. More immediate though is the following instrumental ‘The Ladder’ which swirls sedately while minimal guitar provides some melody before the arrangement builds into something more synthy and squelchy.

But ‘Profound Mysteries’ starts proper with the delicious ‘Impossible’ featuring Alison Goldfrapp, a mighty avant disco excursion that is both seductive and functional. As the uplifting high soprano middle eight leads into a drifting intergalactic twist, it can be rightly considered one of the songs of 2022.

Another lady boasting a high soprano, Beki Mari leads ‘This Time, This Place…’ from its militaristic beginnings to a propulsive if spikey club tune stretching to nearly eight minutes. Utilising the more contralto talents of Pixx, ‘How The Flowers Grow’ is much moodier and cerebral.

‘If You Want Me’ sees the return of Susanne Sundfør who very much became an intentional star on the back of her RÖYKSOPP collaborations which began with a cover of the DEPECHE MODE B-side ‘Ice Machine’. It is a glorious cinematic ballad centred around the magnificently emotive vocals of the Norwegian songstress and wouldn’t sound out of place in any Scandinavian love story. With another soprano salvo, it acts as a reminder as to why the rest of Europe fell in love with her when she released the ‘Ten Love Songs’ album in 2015.

Continuing that higher range vocal aesthetic, ‘There, Beyond The Trees’ makes use of a soprano vocal sample as well as RÖYKSOPP’s own voices with a stuttering percussive backbone to throw off the scent. Still stuttering but in a more punchy uptempo fashion, one-time Norwegian ‘Pop Idol’ contestant Astrid S brings an airy Scandipop flavour to ‘Breathe’. Meanwhile ‘The Mourning Sun’ with Susanne Sundfør can only be described as a haunting electronic requiem before a computer vox humana gives instructions to ‘Press «R»’ to continue.

With its focus on wondrous female vocals and particularly angelic ones, ‘Profound Mysteries’ evokes something of a profound elegiac quality.

Although quite different, it is a worthy successor to ‘The Inevitable End’ that will be savoured.


‘Profound Mysteries’ is available as a CD, cassette and digital formats

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Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photo by Stian Andersen
28th April 2022

I SPEAK MACHINE War

Adopting the dishevelled persona of a satanic Libertas, the new I SPEAK MACHINE long player ‘War’ captures the zeitgeist. Despite this, it is actually a more personal album dealing with the themes of addiction and mental illness.

I SPEAK MACHINE is the audio visual project of Tara Busch and Maf Lewis; their album ‘Zombies 1985’ produced by John Foxx collaborator Benge was a soundtrack to a short horror sci-fi film about a Zombie Apocalypse. One of the best albums of 2017, it was notable for Busch’s own restylings of singers as diverse as Doris Day, Alison Goldfrapp and Grace Jones.

Constructed remotely between Los Angeles and Sheffield over a three year period, ‘War’ has been co-produced by Dean Honer of I MONSTER, THE ECCENTRONIC RESEARCH COUNCIL and INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP fame. He has done a particularly good job with the jagged sound design. Meanwhile Busch has processed her voice as a central instrument, bending it through effects, vocoders and a Korg MS-20 as Will Gregory did with Alison Goldfrapp on the ‘Felt Mountain’ album.

Short and sweet with reminiscences of Gary Numan’s ‘Metal’, the screeching title song opener sets the scene and declares the album’s intentions with a rumbling backdrop. Embroiled in menace and some eerie flute, ‘Left For Dead’ cuts and bleeds and frightens while the progressive avant-funk of ‘Beat Down By Heaven’ is aided by sharper objects such as guitar, sub-bass and distorted claptraps.

Featuring backing vocals from Kendra Frost of KITE BASE and shaped by a dysfunctional analogue sequence, the wonderful Sci-Fi goth of ‘Santa Monica’ acts as an ironic love letter to Los Angeles, making use of Busch’s impressive vocal range from high soprano to deep contralto.

With a salvo of industrial Schaffel to shape a cover of American alt rockers CONCRETE BLONDE’s ‘Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)’, this is how GOLDFRAPP might sound if contributing to a Wes Craven movie. Sparser than the other tracks, ‘Dirty Soul’ weirdly echoes David Essex’s ‘Rock On’ while crossing paths with Patti Page on Venus. Then with a sense of foreboding in line with Gary Numan’s more recent work, ‘Ruined Me’ sees Busch point the finger at her dependency and how it has contaminated her aura.

Acting as a beautiful harp interlude, the soothing ‘I See You’ is counterpointed by a foreboding presence. But ramping up the pressure, as its title suggests, ‘The Metal of My Hell’ is a fierce aural assault of frantic heavy metal with synths and an aggressive rage as Busch decides to “burn the witch” and “burn the bitch” because “you had it coming for a long time!”.

A co-write with Kendra Frost, the ghostly ‘Push The Grease’ presents a stuttering percussive tension and another processed otherworldly vocal. Feisty and frantic, ‘Rats Rise’ is the final battle as the dirty rodents leave the sinking ship but with shades of ‘Clowns’ by GOLDFRAPP, the angelic ‘Until I Kill The Beast’ offers peace and tranquillity although the discordant metallic embellishments confirm that work is still to be done as “the devil sits with me until I kill the beast”.

There is cathartic joy in the discomforting exorcism that is the ‘War’ album; I SPEAK MACHINE’s bizarre mix of timbres and styles provide a severe but rather appealing and cerebral listening experience. If you are going to see Gary Numan on his European tour in May and June, arrive early because guess who is opening?


‘War’ is available as a double red vinyl LP and CD from https://ispeakmachine.bandcamp.com/

I SPEAK MACHINE will be opening for Gary Numan in May and June 2022 – for further information, please visit https://www.ispeakmachine.com

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https://open.spotify.com/album/2Dk8489XblJsoNBqXEOVIX


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photo by Maf Lewis
22nd April 2022

FADER Quartz

Having released the debut FADER album ‘First Light’ in 2017, Neil Arthur and Benge now present their third long player ‘Quartz’.

As with previous FADER works, Benge worked alone on the instrumentation at his Memetune Studios complex in Cornwall while Neil Arthur did his lyrics and vocals at his home studio. ‘Quartz’ is an understated artistic statement inspired by incidental atmospheric music used in vintage TV shows. With minimalistic structures started by manipulating and sampling sounds used on Benge’s past recordings, organic yet electronically derived textures provide a reflective and elegiac backdrop.

Benge had no titles for his compositions so sent them over to Arthur identified with names from various paint pots as he was also decorating his home. “I didn’t expect Neil to use them as the basis for the song lyrics” the producer said, “but he is so good at letting his imagination go and he came up with all these amazing lyrics as a result”. The end result is a series of vivid stories and fractured images from a partially obscured viewpoint to provide a dreamy aesthetic.

The icy waltz ‘Serpentine’ opens with its sparse keys like Gary Numan meeting Brian Eno and reminiscent of the former’s ‘Dance’ album from 1981. ‘Porcelain’ retains this stripped down approached but is more sinister, Arthur given a monolithic pulpit for his impassioned semon. But ‘Olympia’ recalls the filmic textures of Ryuichi Sakamoto as the cerebral setting hauntingly sucks the listener in.

Upping the tempo slightly, ‘Gargoyle’ adds shuffling drum machine reinforced by a synthbass squelch as spacey counterpoints and electronic pulses complement the vocal expression. The more gothic ‘Prussian’ snaps along over its spacey atmospherics with Arthur “observing the night” as “all the stars are out!”. A relative of ‘Olympia’, ‘Mondo’ continues the minimal stance while the funereal ‘Manilla’ cleverly uses the photocopying process as a metaphor for life, “A4, foolscap, manila…”.

Utilising a number of spiralling sequences, the ‘Quartz’ title song bursts with mechanised rhythm and icy string machine. Then with a subtle gallop, ‘Lazuli’ dramatically announces rather prophetically “There’s been a scene” with “all hell let loose” before “a final curtain” as the mournful closer ‘Poison’ poignantly confirms “we can’t go back” and must “never return to where we came from”.

‘Quartz’ is FADER’s best album yet, shaped by the clockwork elegance of its title. With its subtlety in detail, it is strangely futuristic while projecting a distinctly timeless quality.


‘Quartz’ is released on 13th May 2022 by Blanc Check Records as a CD ad cassette, pre-order from https://fader.tmstor.es/

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Text by Chi Ming Lai
19th April 2022

H/P Programma

With cult French nouveau vague exponents such as MARTIN DUPONT, RUTH, MATHÉMATIQUES MODERNES, ELLI & JACNO, MODERNE, KAS PRODUCT, TAXI GIRL and DEUX all being re-evaluated of late, it is perhaps only natural that their 21st Century successors have been getting attention in their wake.

Once such act are Limoges-based H/P; formally known as HAPPINESS PROJECT, they independently released their first album ‘Remove Or Disable’ in 2008 and signed to local label BOREDOMproduct who issued their next two long players ‘9th Heaven’ and ‘Mutation’.

For ‘Programma’, not only have the trio shortened their moniker, they have forgone conventional identities in that CLIENT fashion and now appear as shadowy figures in their photos. But this is not merely cosmetic as F/T (lead vocals + synths), C/P (lead + backing vocals) and C/T (synths, string machine, piano, bass guitar + backing vocals) have adopted the minimal synth approach using the tactile controllability of analogue sequencers and the gritty snap of vintage drum machines.

This is a far cry from the denser austere of older songs such as ‘Poupée Mécanique’ and ‘Big Cities’. Now what remains as the trio put it is “Sober and sophisticated, a signature stripped of the superfluous: from now on this is h/p, simply” although their male / female vocal duality and lyrical gists on the human condition are still present and correct.

Shaped by charming girl-boy vocals, cold wave electronic effects and an array of synthesized melodies, ‘I Prefer Two’ is a delightfully odd but accessible opening statement. With a blippy Motorik drive, ‘The Alarmist’ is hauntingly glacial with a pretty array of synthetic strings amongst various intersecting lines while even the slightly off-key voicing is enjoyable.

Partly en Français, ‘Les Choses’ offers absorbing octave runs and spacey swoops, but much doomier in the vein of ‘Reproduction’ era HUMAN LEAGUE meeting THE CURE, ‘Hope In The Distance’ captures a downbeat mood augmented by solemn bass guitar.

Recalling ULTRAVOX, a chunky bass synth sequence acts as the backbone to ‘Black Tea’ which uplifts in a wonderful chorus with another girl-boy harmony following the goth rooted verse. This is all counterpointed by ring modulation while the middle eight presents some pitch bent texturing for one of the album’s highlights.

Female-led vocally at the start of each verse, ‘9 Mars’ is distinctly more minimal but displays a mechanical heart as it paces up. The filmic ‘Programma’ title song combines pulsing robopop with eerie synthetic whistles to further the mystery but ‘Behind’ presents drones and conversely, a piano laden structure.

Another highlight, the authentically synthtastic ‘Ultraviolin’ sounds as if it has been beamed from a past era, utilising stabbing and swirling keys over a precise rhythmic pattern. Meanwhile, acknowledging the debt of influence to MARTIN DUPONT, their bassist Alain Seghir guests on the glorious ‘Vicinities’; applying a looser construction compared with the other tracks on the album and a more complex spiral of delicate blips, enclosed is an emotional centre that recalls OMD for possibly the album’s stand-out song to close.

With an elegant retro-futuristic presence and a subtle melancholy, ‘Programma’ embraces a period when limitations and rules helped control the fun.

Despite these avant synth palettes being considered soulless and cold back in their day, four decades on, those vintage sounds have stood the test of time with souls and characters of their own as focussed emotive art. H/P have made that ethos relevant to the uncertainties of today.


‘Programma’ is released by BOREDOMproduct in vinyl LP, CD and digital formats, available from https://boredomproduct.bandcamp.com/album/programma-album

https://www.boredomproduct.fr/hp-programma/

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https://open.spotify.com/album/62vgmiuxY8y5WqpbLKx9AM


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th April 2022

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