Tuesday, 6 June 2023

Fever Ray "Radical Romantics" (2023)


Either searching for the timeless nightly spell of Fever Ray, or listening with open ears for a new avenue, bar a few flashes of light, Radical Romantics plays like a reassembly of proven ideals. Lacking a distinctive spark, the music resemble the past, lacking a fresh feverish persuasion. On one hand I adore the blueprint, Karin Dreijer's unique, slightly quirky but madly primal voice, a transient experience among its oddity arrangements. Zany melodies, mysterious synth aesthetics and disjointed percussion converge on their frictions, birthing an atmosphere only this artist lays claim too.

That once mezmorizing soothing ethereal charm seems absent. In the lulls and quells, an atmosphere lurches distant and peculiar. An out of focus form in abstract forms. Karin's voice is often the unifying element, gluing the instrumental strangeness together with direction and expression. With its elements often on the minimal side, those moments between a human voice often feel lacking, as if awaiting her presence.

Kandy catches my ear with its tropical steel drums intersecting the peculiar nature with a beachy sunny warmth. Its the following Even It Out that excels. A tense bass synth and thumping kick drum creates the drive for warbling synths and her agitated repetitions to swell above. The breezy "woo-hoo"s a wild contrasting tension relief. So gratifying. Sadly the rest of the record lacks a spice to elevate beyond the expectant. A really enjoyable album for this fan but I felt it missed a mark so within its grasp.

Rating: 6/10

Saturday, 3 June 2023

Örnatorpet "Evigt Fr​ä​mmande, Evigt Fj​ä​rran" (2023)


A passing listen sparked limited curiosity. Another ruinous bout of mystic woes? Örnatorpet caught my ear in the past but this latest release doesn't quite distinguish itself. Wedged between an ensemble of broody eerie synths, mysterious murmurings, cryptic voices and rustling ambiguities toy, as soft touches of Berlin School emerge infrequently... a strong whiff of Old Sorcery influence is in the air perhaps.

Its a competent execution of ideals, atmospheres built through steadily layering simple melodies, instruments treated to carefully crafted sound design, imbuing scale and distance between more intimate imaginations. The chemistry slants from creepy shadows to fantastical weirdness as brighter compositions create curious settings.

Sadly, among its nine tracks, none were able to leap of the page. For all its interesting sound design and zany Dungeon Synth vibes, the whole project remained in the background, unable to command ones attention. Although mostly appealing and capable of conjuring the mystic moods I love, this latest effort was either too reminiscent of a genre I've explored extensively, or just rather average.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 31 May 2023

Jessie Ware "That! Feels Good" (2023)


Following up on the stunning What's Your Pleasure, singer-songwriter Jessie Ware leans even harder into this craft of love. Going beyond a revivalist sentiment, her passionate presence and luminous instrumentals play like a force of infection pulling one into a personal fantasy from a bygone era. These songs ooze with class, as a slick production steeped in attitude. A return to the glory of 70s Disco, Funk and Pop, steeped with a little 90s Dance pianos, House grooves and Daft Punk sensibilities.

The opening stretch has a groovy rhythmic persuasion. A beautiful balance is stuck, inspired words swoon over mighty bold melodies, full of upbeat jovial spirit, striving forth with a dance-able confidence. The theme of empowerment in pursuit of pleasure and indulgence is executed with warmth and compassion. A very humanist oriented energy emanates, painting vivid images of fun social parties and the nightlife bliss.

Past its first five songs, a few tracks hit a subtle difference in stride. It seems 70s cheese and less favorable cliches of that era get a keen focus. Raunchy "wink wink" lyrics, chirpy melodies and quirky hooks paint an interesting picture of bygone trends, reviving them with a lot of energy. Initially, these crude strides turned me off but repetition has worked its charm. I'm still not sold but I can't deny its a brilliant exercise in taking dated ideas and putting on polish, while clearly having fun in the process.

Between those numbers, the music looses some of that opening vibrancy. Perhaps the endless upbeat march is a little much for me. I loved how the previous record moved into theatrical strides with emotive beats, leaning to the melancholy alongside adorning string sections. This effort felt strictly settled on its Disco dance floor orientation. The moody shift of Lightning lacks a spark on the way out to provide that variance. Overall, That! Feels Good has some absolutely brilliant, infectious music but it waivers when leaning harder into its mightily enthused ideas over and over again.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 29 May 2023

Sleep Token "Take Me Back To Eden" (2023)


Currently catching a wave of attention within the Metal community, this anonymous collective known as Sleep Token have deployed their third effort, Take Me Back To Eden, like a stealth weapon to subvert fans of metallic abrasion into its soft and glossy gushings of watered down Ethereal Pop. Propped up by the remarkable voice of front-man "Vessel", his enigmatic voice stands in contrast to expectations. Learning routinely into his subtle vibrato tremble, this vulnerable voice emerges strong and self known, a firm assertion of individual expression, unafraid of ones own shadows.

This lengthy hour duration is held together by solely Vessel, the glue for a rather weak instrumental footing. His performance illuminates and engages, a delightful indulgence with a singer exploring their inner self through immense range and presentation that will delight over and over. Behind him a bland assemble of opposite ends of a spectrum. On its metallic side, the groaning slams of Djent guitar noise seem unable to escape the rhythmic shadow of Deftones and melodic oriented Fightstar.

That's actually a smaller component of the record. Instrumentation swings to its lighter side with most of this music. Soft airy synths routinely paint a warm Ethereal breeze for easy percussive beats and dreamy melodies to burgeon within its cloudy Pop design. On examination this is a rather dull and bland passing in comparison to similar Pop music of the day. Its grooves and tunes lack assertion and distinction, the ones that do, ie Are You Really Okay? have an uncanny resemblance of dejavu.

Some occasional interesting chemistries do blossom in this relationship between its two extremes, yet never do they appear entangled with any freshness. One is always an aesthetic compliment to the other, both are oriented in that textural direction. It becomes sterile with familiarity as its shallow blandness seems an extension of current Pop Metal temperaments. With little memorable on the instrumental front, Vessel gets in your mind like a true ear worm, propping its merits up. Despite having such a talent within the ranks, the hype seems oriented around exposure to ideas better explored elsewhere.

Rating: 5/10

Thursday, 25 May 2023

Little Simz "No Thank You" (2022)


Album number five, No Thank You, is a moment for pause, a frank examination of where Little Simz currently finds herself. The brisk London accent, a 90s cadence occasionally instrumentally aligning in tone and temperament, this was a keen fit for my tastes. Its strength however, is Simz' lyrical journey. Often rhymed simple and plain, among other topics she mostly grapples with the record industry, attacking the subject from many angles, never running out of steam in the thorough process.

Wording tales of industry woes, systemic issues and ill intended individuals, an unsurprising yet deeply engaging narrative of her struggles emerges. As the theme resurfaces, each iteration serves a new purpose. Personal distress, advice for fellow musicians, how its impacted family relations. Even turning the question on herself, Simz' questions her own motives and wants as a performer allured by the industry.

Toning down the instrumental theatrics heard boldly on Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, grandiose string sections, warm ruptures of infectious Gospel, shades of Funk and Jazz. They come subtly woven into an apt chemistry for rhyme and beat to house the subject at hand. Gorilla stands out as a fun throwback to the early nineties groove of The Low End Theory. She pivots to breezy rhymes and playful swagger in cheeky yet firm style. Its a lighter, fun track among a lot of serious, expressive topics.

 With every spin I've been locked in and invested. Peaking with the pained Broken, its ending somewhat fumbles. Sideways' instrumental a tad too minimal and obnoxious, followed by an odd dreamy synth stint Who Even Cares. Seems like a couple of cuts that didn't fit were squeezed in. Also interesting, the album didn't chart well. It went under my radar for a while too, hence why I'm late to this one. Given the subject matter explored here, it seems Simz moved label for more creative freedom. This effort definitely reflects a change in attitude. Doing it for oneself, with nothing to prove.

 Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 24 May 2023

Crag Forge "Hoardlegend" (2021)

One to slip straight into my "Dungeon Synth Focus" playlist, Hoardlegend revels in a deep rumbling mystery of epic stoic ambiguity. Lofty ambiences flood the foundations, a fog of unshakable presence murmuring from the depths below. From it arises distant smatterings of percussion, the thuds of doom drums echo upwards with a temporal sluggishness to rid it of any groove or tempo. Aligned with occasional strikes of cymbals and gongs, it outfits a rather simplistic set of ideas into a grandiose tension.

These eight chapters simmer in stature. Resting on a slow yet unmovable iceberg-like drift. Its as if one watches the space between heaven and hell from a empowered distance. Angels and demons at endless war among eternal clouds of the afterlife. Equally, ones imagination could venture on similar scales to a vast underground setting. Barbarian Mines clearly suggests a cavernous might of Dwarven proportions, its increased tempo and droning thuds certainly have a work-like rhythm about them.

The following Crystalline Flame ditches its low foreboding rumble for an airy shimmering excursion, a mysterious ascension devoid of destination, guided by an elongated flute melody and swelling synths. Its a rare moment of variety among steady temperament, fixated on a visualized settings, explored thoroughly in lengthy stays. Wonderful for conjuring a focused frame of mind with a Dungeon Synth tint.

On closer analysis, Hoardlegend is rather simplistic, lacking complexity with slow drawn out melodies, housed in chords that shift in a disconnected movement. Its brilliant at achieving an aesthetic experience, reveling in a Wagner-like militant tension, but one wont be taking away melodies from the experience. For all its mighty stature, no theater, event or progression is to be found. This is simply a collection of well built scenery sets for one to indulge in, if it happens to spark your imagination in the same way.

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, 23 May 2023

In The Woods... "Diversum" (2022)


Reveling in glum and stormy scenery, drizzly guitars moan and slumberous singing swoons to be routinely assailed by gleams of heathen melody. Diversum is another glorious gallop through the rainy seasons of Scandinavian inspiration. Now three albums deep into Anders Kobro's unlikely resurrection of a historic yet niche Black Metal outfit, five years pass for In The Woods to return with a familiar tone and theme.

Exploring the relationship between shrill guitar distortions and dreary acoustic melodies, burly melodic singing and howling screams, careful grooves and flurries of blast beats, its craft is a familiar one. Ancient story telling and natural scenery, elicited through dynamics as plunges of aggression and abrasion sway in torment of its tuneful appeal, always sullen and bordering on the bleak. It allows for many a gratifying moment as relief from key persuasions that arise from gloomy tensions.

Occasionally they delve into the metallic fray, focusing on a grizzly groove or mean scream. Otherwise its best comes from the melancholic wallow as its uplift feels locked in a wet naturalist hardship. Overall Diversum has the lighter composition, yet an aching moody temperament. Kobro's tamed voice soaring is a beacon shining through fog yet in his stride, a uncanny Mastodon resemblance often emerges.

Despite a welcoming duration and competent execution, this one somehow shies from greatness as the dreariness drowns out the catchy music wedged between its dynamics. It doesn't fire on all cylinders. For all the welcome familiarity for a band I'm fond of, the spins started strong but waned as familiar footing fumbled to dig in deep. An enjoyable experience in bursts, but one that lacked legs to go the full distance.

Rating: 6/10

Monday, 22 May 2023

Boston Manor "Datura" (2022)

Datura, a brief twenty six minute strive housing four tracks on the bleeding edge of Pop Metal. Embracing Djent guitar tones and the Linkin Park method, Bring Me The Horizon have undoubtedly ushered in an era yet to be named with fresh acts reveling in their shadow. Fellow Brits Boston Manor caught my ear among the noise. At the core, catchy lyrical lines and guitar hooks sell the songs. The arrangement felt inspired, with depth, as Floodlights, Foxglove, Passanger and Crocus rope one in.
Each has distinct explorations of this sound's borders. Starting off with siren-like guitar wails and mammoth riffs on restraint, the airy atmosphere toys with intensity dynamics as singer Cox delivers teh best of his soaring presence. Foxglove deploys a simple kick snare dance beat. Chunks of low end guitar mesh this dance-floor sensibility with competent groove. It all shimmers in the lead guitars ambiguous effects pedal flange.

Passanger's leans into Cox's appeal as he soars again above a snappy snare kick groove and distanced shoegazing guitar chords. It reaches for an epic, which dispels into subdued nightclub kicks and thunderous drums, building to climax again. Crocus is the darker display, its guitars reveling in distant distortions as stabs of angular riffs penetrates the groove. Its tone reminds me of Cane Hill's acoustic Grunge moment.

The rest of this record is fluffed with instrumental electronic sound design, failing to resonate. The musical core however, was a strong show of craft as its instrumental contributions toyed with texture and intensity in a woven mesh of familiarity and depth. As one gazes on its particulars, the simplistic appeals of riffs and drum beats become awash in its textural design which melds between these musicians just wonderfully. One to keep an eye on moving forward! Their prior efforts not so appealing on a brief listen.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 17 May 2023

Narrow Head "12th House Rock" (2020)


Wedged between two fine outings, their sophomore effort 12th House Rock fits awkwardly, an anomaly drifted off a fine trajectory. Narrow Head embark on another bash of Grunge revival, shedding the shades of Groove and Nu Metal that perhaps steered them to greatness. With groans and gristle they lean into the textural oddities adjacent to the 90s scene. Reveling in hazy guitar overdrive and other fuzzy distortion effects, both guitars and vocals get a variety of tweaks over a thirteen track course.

On review, this aesthetic dwell is an unsurprising focal point. With their vocal hooks and guitar riffs lacking a spark heard before and after, many songs fall flat on arrival. It leaves ones attention attuned to its many off kilter flaws. On a handful of songs this textural rebellion is its main character, leaving a bitter taste as much fails to resonate.

The potential success of a lacking originality simmers. This revivalist pursuit wears its influences like wounds on occasion, cutting bold and obvious, jarring when a lack of gravitas persists. Hard To Swallow thumps hard, reeking of Helmet syncopation yet Night Tryst sparkles bright, despite utilizing a blatant Smashing Pumpkins blueprint.

For all its nostalgic tint, when components don't quite click, whats left is an infuriating fumble of forms. Enjoyable but barely engrossing, the ideas sought after became more audible than the music itself. Narrow Head didn't sell me on this, thus falling short on many fronts. Not awful but I couldn't get pasts the rotating cast of 90s pitfalls.

Rating: 5/10

Monday, 15 May 2023

VNV Nation "Electric Sun" (2023)


A five year gap between Noire and Electric Sun has elapsed, the largest among VNV's twelve records. Evidently a veteran of ones own identity, this re-emergence offers next to nothing new. Its steady stream of melancholic warmth resonates on familiar footing. Harris' soft fatherly voice words lyrics steeped in compassion, introspection and wisdom. The message of victory not vengeance persists, navigating humanist struggles and emotive pains through grandiose metaphors. An easily digested balance of darkly Club synthesizers and thumping Dance percussion whirls up energy. Slick Neo-classical instrumentation ushers itself in, fanning emotive flames with soothing pianos, completing a glossy aesthetic housing both softness and edge.

Its a bright, thoughtfully crafted execution of a familiar blueprint. Its glittery melodies, grand stings and pulsing dance floor drums are left dulled by their lack of surprise. Having acquainted with and grown fond of an unshaken sound so many moons ago, its left this listener with little to love beyond its pleasantries. Both aesthetic and thematically resolute, even Electric Sun's structure felt archetypal. The same rotation of gleaming astral interludes and a dark banger, Artifice, rolled out with familiar feeling. Its a fine record but perhaps not something I was in the mood for. I'm sure these songs would find themselves home on rotation in a VNV Nation playlist.

Rating : 5/10

Saturday, 13 May 2023

Frank Klepacki "Rocktronic" (2004)


Following on from Morphscape, It seems Frank was left in the lurch, a period of sweet stagnation for this fan. With C&C Generals, the shift to 3D left me behind, as did Frank's involvement in the games music. Released two years on, Ive found this dusty Rocktronic album firmly resting on the Red Alert 2 mindset. Its production a shade more robust, the janky assembly of Electronic-Industrial and Metal guitars comes mostly consistent with punchy, unabashed charges of gittery melodies and snappy grooves. These songs play with restless energy as its instruments know no subtlety.

Two tracks, Take Me and Bring The Fight, take a distinct turn, ditching the drum machines and electronics, they take on a rock band aesthetic clearly reveling in Rage Against The Machine inspiration with Tom Morello guitar riffs front to back. The change in tonality is jarring, the lack of originality leaves it a stale footnote among an otherwise decent collection of C&C style hits. In The Tunnel resurrects soft atmospheric touches reminiscent of the first Red Alert, yet forces in some clashing obnoxious elements too. Rocktronic is a fair listen, unsurprising but fun for this fan.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, 10 May 2023

Siebzehn "Starship Signals" (2016)


 Following up on The Ocean Palace, we have another spacey Pysbient record, interestingly created the same year. Once again its another expectant occurrence in terms of meditative mood and focusing ambience. Like the latter it had an allure of mediocrity that landed it square in the middle of the spectrum. Siebzehn's defining characteristics are built within its busy instrumental nature. Soft rattling synth stabs oscillate alongside aimless percussive noises, held by a steady groove as one is locked in this slice of time. Bass lines brood below with a synthetic textural intensity. With this blueprint, a fair range of astral inspired temperaments are explored.

Under The Radar strikes as a resonant assembly of the spacey tonality heard so far. Illusive melodies strike a sense of momentum frozen in time. Its pulsing bass loops its brief notation as airy occurrences of alien noise drift in and out of focus around it.

Tektoniks is another highlight. Again, lead by a bass line slowly pulsing with a touch of sub, were guided through unease and tension. Observed with a sense of detachment, percussion waivers in and out of focus alongside the sounds of deep space.

Starship Signals has its flavor and as the title suggests its sense of space is woven with mechanical, technological constructs of a future mankind. This is greatly emphasized by its slightly industrial approach to the drums which have a busy roll despite the relaxing nature of the music. I could hear this as a keen soundtrack to a video game, with the right space adventure inspired theming of course.

Rating: 5/10

Monday, 8 May 2023

Enter Shikari "A Kiss For The Whole World" (2023)


Two decades have passed since Enter Shikari made waves playing in our local music scene. With an unwavering resilience, they retain a relevancy that took me by surprise, having grown comfortable in the silent interval between records. Re-arranging their youthful character once again, Shikari still have the bite to hook, line and sink one into their party-like carnival Rock-Electronic realm again. With fond familiarity and spicy seasoning, A Kiss For The Whole World blazes by this listener in a whirl of engrossing charisma. Topically flourishing, their restless offerings come woven with compassion and hope, matured out of once angered social political lyrics.

This positivity emanates instrumentally, made starkly apparent by Rou Reynolds' passionate pleas, warm wisdoms and mellow metaphors. Practically every song has an infectious hook, his catchy wordings deliver hope and uplift, arriving on a flush of creativity. Its fun, engaging, refreshing and keeps once locked in with its nimble stride as these apt thirty three minutes sprint by with every moment revealing its purpose.

Their pop sensibilities have matured to a level of class, leveraging the appeal of popular musics most gratifying structures against the rampant creativity of their eclectic musical pallet. Echo's from the web of early 90s electronica still loom boldly, most keenly The Prodigy. Some moments just cant escape their legacy. Shikari are further forging their signature sound, yet not exactly advancing on new territory.

This record signifies a peak in the assembly of Metal tinged Rock, echoing Hardcore. Club music, Drum & Bass weave their aesthetics and components dynamically. Splashes of classic instrumens align with a keen cheek and cheer. Playing a role for narrative and direction to blossom. In short, everything they have done before, successfully re-emerging on a creative high for fans new and old to be taken away by. With each of my many spins I wonder if the cracks will appear. Despite having favorites among the crowd, it plays wonderfully as a complete experience.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, 5 May 2023

One Arc Degree "The Ocean Palace" (2016)


Lately, I've been on an ambience oriented, cosmic themed, spacey vibe Pysbient kick. Whatever fancy words I throw at it, their is a niche in me for this temporal, meditative music that's been difficult to satisfy. The crossover territory of Psychedelia and Ambient in an astral setting slices like a blade, either immensely satisfying or rather dull. This is one of two recently discovered albums that fall precariously in the middle, leaving me unable to make up my mind. No doubt however, this one will make my "temporal focus" playlist for when in need of a restful yet channeled mind.

The Ocean Palace has a sense of stillness on arrival, as if the astral activity is elsewhere. One observes from a desolate planet, as the stars and skies above bustle with activity. This feeling evaporates as its tracks steadily bloom. Thumping bass percussion builds, each track running a similar trajectory with increasing intensity.

With Kraken Mare the record pivots to its textural offerings, different flavors of dense airy ambience and complimenting illusive melodies. Every songs feels tangled in a web of noise work, quirk sounds and details rumbling in and out of focus on mechanical rotations. It creates a sense of alien activity, not understood but observed. With Hydrogen Times Pi, a strong sense of influence emerges, the echos of pioneers Carbon Based Lifeforms brews as its lead melodies take on a similar character.

As I mentioned, this well fell in the middle, not quite as captivating but certainly not bad. Saturn Rising felt like its defining song and the ambience was pressured by a slamming sub bass drum and rapid clicky noises. Quite the contrast, that birthed an interesting atmosphere. I won't go deeper with this artist but the search is still on!

Rating: 5/10

Saturday, 29 April 2023

Frank Klepacki "Morphscape" (2002)

Frank Klepacki, creator of the timeless Command & Conquer soundtracks that have obsessed me since playing the classic Westwood Studios games in my youth. His debut solo release Morphscape is no unknown entity. Yet despite discovering it many moons ago, it seems this musical gem never really registered. Released after Red Alert 2 and Yuri's Revenge, this is clearly a collection of leftovers from those sessions.
The unabashed aesthetics and niche stylistic framework remains intact. A jiving fusion of Industrial grit, futuristic Electronic, Funk bass grooves and on occasion, a slab of Metal through distortion guitars. These elements meet on bold ground, punching stiff melodies and rhythms into the fold. Controlled chaos emerges as layers of crowded sound compete for dominance, a familiar yet strange charm resonates again.

On its surface much of Frank's compositions seem tacky and unhinged. Despite its crude union of snappy instruments, immersion emerges through the various pivots that signal intention and direction. Best are the plastic sweeping synths, often arriving unexpected, manipulating a lively adventure with a soft passing emotional depth.

Quality is reasonably varied, as are the particular styles explored. Although I enjoyed all but one of these cuts, only a couple felt they could have offered the original soundtracks something extra. The other songs bore much resemblance to originals, with similar ideas, arrangements and aesthetics being spun with less magnetism.

That leaves us with one song, Gonna Rock Yo Body. Clearly his passion project, Frank pays tribute to legend Afrika Bambaataa and the Planet Rock musical blueprint. It illuminates some vague Hip Hop related influences lurking elsewhere on the record. On first listen, a comical, quirky take. With repeated listens its stark unapologetic nature becomes tiresome. An odd blemish among a fine collection of C&C songs.
Rating: 6/10