Various Artists – Album Roundup

This entire album is performed straight to tape (or whatever recording medium was used) on a Roland MC-505 groovebox; Cory Peak chose to use a particular set of simple, rounded timbres that gives it a distinct 8-bit vibe, although the machine is considerably more sophisticated, and a much more powerful synthesiser, than the devices that gave rise to that genre. The point is a similar one, as well: in an era of expanding technological possibilities, where the range of options available to electronic music producers on even the tightest budgets is dauntingly vast, defining a closely constrained set of creative …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

Cassette mushes everything up and squeezes it together; on top of the warm, lush distortions naturally imparted by magnetic tape, the whole stereo recording is crammed onto half of a tape less than four millimeters wide. It takes some clever mastering to get a really spacious, clearly separated soundfield, but if what you want is a totally integrated sound then the format does half the work for you. This, you may be thinking, says ‘punk’ in brackets after the title, so why am I not talking about the songs? Production and other technical matters are a means to an end at best where punk’s concerned…

Various Artists – Album Roundup

We’ve all seen some pretty rough justice in the wake of global capitalism’s recent crises, but Greece has suffered worse than any other part of the developed world. The Figures Of Enormous Grey And The Patterns Of Fraud appears to be a response to these circumstances, although it’s too complex an album to be pinned down quite so glibly. Choral voices are layered with a complex variety of rock textures, ranging from post-rock atmospherics, through mathy convolutions to heavy prog riffing. It’s the big epic sweep of things that tends to predominate, rather than the individual voice or the…

Various Artists – Album Roundup

You’ll hear a lot of familiar echoes in The Executioner’s Lover, but I can more or less promise that you haven’t heard anything quite like it. It opens with a song, ‘Half Life’, that is mainly arranged for ‘orchestral instruments’, but which also incorporates a rock rhythm section, which comes and goes at strategic moments; the song is a melodramatic number, which while it is not a ballad, has a narrative feel to it, like a piece from musical theatre or light opera. This is more or less the course followed by the album as a whole, but within those approximate bounds there is a huge diversity …

ZA! – Wanananai (experimental)

Post world-music is one term used to describe ZA! in their promotional materials; well, in the sense that such a term doesn’t rule out anything whatsoever, it’s not a bad characterisation! The music is experimental from start to finish, but it is the product of a process addressed directly to the business of music-making, in the same way that a completely conventional rock band or dance music producer would address themselves to it. Much experimental music emphasises the first term of that pair, which often produces interesting results, but could be criticised for placing the cart …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Opening with an extended skit inspired by John Carpenter’s Darkstar, it’s obvious from the start that this Strange Gibberish mixtape is going to be heavy on the humour. It’s also heavy on the creativity and experimentation, with some of the beats straying well into avant-garde territory. It’s far too diverse for me to sum it up here, but the quality is consistently high; this is independent music, in every sense of the term, and most of the producers take a pretty freewheeling, eclectic approach to beat-making, while the lyrical themes are varied and unfettered. Although it’s often …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Concept albums are something that are probably most often associated with complicated rock music and high-falutin lyrics dealing with such themes as the importance of dragons as a symbol of self-realisation. Well, this is very definitely a concept album, but the music it includes is not rock, not complicated, and not endowed with any kind of lyrical content. There is a brief explanation on the Bandcamp page: 4-zero-7 relates the experiences and reminiscences of the eponymous interceptor droid 4.0.7 as it lies on the operating table after sustaining combat damage; eventually the …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

What I know about Alun Vaughan is limited: I reviewed a very nice solo bass performance album of his, and an EP in a similar vein, and I gather he gets up to quite a lot of jazzy malarkey. This short EP bucks that trend just a little bit. The dominant sound is a raw, punky rhythm guitar, but it gets put to a fair old variety of uses. The opening (title) track is a brief hardcore thrash, punctuated by the ‘Clumpville Borstal Boys Choir’ shouting the title (the only vocals on the EP) and some entertaining instrumental breaks. ‘2013’ retains the instrumental timbres, but it’s much more of a modern prog/math rock affair, with tricksy rhythmic interstices, and plangent lead guitar melodies. ‘Heart Shaped Bruise’ opens with more lead guitar prettiness, against some upper register bass chords…

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Worlds collide in Dementio 13’s latest release, albeit without the biblical histrionics and cataclysmic consequences that usually dance attendance on such events in fiction. There has always been more to Dementio 13 than the electronica with which he has populated his records, and he has always been a musician of unusual erudition, drawing his language from a huge range of sources across a selection of decades (roughly the last four) which have witnessed an unprecedented frenzy of musical innovation and invention. Those that read his frequently updated and always interesting blog will be aware that distinctly electro-acoustic devices have been appearing in his studio of late, such as bass guitars (always a welcome presence to my…

Beattrix – Take It Back To Bring It Forward (hip-hop)

‘Our story of music begins in the dim distant past,’ announces the sample with which this album commences; it’s followed by a boom, and shortly thereafter, by a bap. This is twenty-first century music, today’s music, produced with today’s tools, with a sound that is distinctly located in the now, but it situates itself proudly in a tradition that will always be associated with the nineties. Everything about it is funky, bouncy and brash, and it roams freely over the last fifty years of popular music history like a wayward stylus. Coherence can be an elusive quality on hip-hop albums, especially when they feature a large cast; those that are produced by a small coterie on both the production and vocal side of the equation usually fare the best, but even…

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

There are ‘pieces’ that are undeniably rap, and definitely not poetry, such as The Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’, and there are others that are undeniably poetry, and definitely not rap, such as John Donne’s Elegy XIX: To His Mistress Going To Bed. This emphatic distinction is a matter of customary usage however, not of hard and fast definitions, and to look for the precise boundary between the two is to fall into an essentialist fallacy. Nevertheless, many assume the existence of such a defensible frontier, which can make for a strong reaction to its penetration, either of outrage or amazement. The Ruby Kid straddles that imaginary barrier without difficulty; the songs/poems/raps on Strange, Lively & Commonplace are both one …

Various Artists – Album Roundup

Sufficiently independent not to sound ‘indie’, yet aesthetically straightforward enough not to sound ‘experimental’, Neurotic Wreck’s schtick is a pretty accessible art-pop stew; a predominantly electronic production mashes up trip-hop, electro, shoegaze and other downbeat sources, into a melancholy and and carefully textured soundworld, freighted with nostalgia and regret. The album is all about its songs, which is to say it’s as much about lyrics and melody as it is about production, but the creative textures and arrangements are a central part of the utterance; it’s moderately avant-garde, but it’s also furnished with a pop sensibility, and very well put together. It’s not party music, but it’s very listenable, and indeed re-listenable.