28 July 2017

Beats, Blasts and Beauty #2

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A collection of new and forthcoming releases that loosely contain an electronic element. Some will scare you, some will bring out the boogie and some may just seduce you. Read on for my thoughts on new releases by NINE INCH NAILS, RABBIT JUNK, AMELIA ARSENIC, OBSCURE FORMATS, HAVE DEMONS, PIG, THE DREAMING, VAST and DANIEL O’SULLIVAN.

NINE INCH NAILS – ADD VIOLENCE. A band that still induces such passion and loyalty from their followers and also divides opinion amongst the less devout, this is the second EP within a year. The first, NOT THE ACTUAL EVENTS wasn’t half bad, and in my opinion got stronger over the course of the five tracks on offer with the lead ‘single’ BURNING BRIGHT definitely the strongest on offer. This time, the lead track ‘LESS THAN’ opens proceedings rather than closes them. A superb strong chorus within an entirely likeable driving minor Nine Inch Nails classic. Elsewhere THIS IS NOT THE PLACE, simmers and seduces in a haunting manner, with a bluesy bass progression spat out by a fat sounding octave skipping synth bass and a slightly discordant piano progression that has Reznor all over it. NOT ANYMORE swaps smooth synths for raspy bass guitars and a much more raw sound. I especially like the the siren-esque synth within the chorus. The track rocks, certainly, but not in a particularly inventive way. It cuts immediately to final track THE BACKGROUND WORLD which is decent brooding track that builds tension before glitching it away over eight minutes or so of an intentionally imperfect and slowly degrading loop. The not yet mentioned track is the second on the EP, THE LOVERS which left me with very little impression. So, again, the release is not half bad, which literally means it is more winner than sinner. It will please the die hards and probably not bring the defectors back to the fold.

AMELIA ARSENIC has ushered forth her first non ANGELSPIT release, and the associated press makes no mention of the band which most of us will associate her with. The EP is titled CARBON BLACK, containing four original tracks and no remixes for a change. The musical component is heftily put together, speaker bothering kicks and drops, squelchy and sharp synths and in paces there are seriously barbed hooks too. The opening and title track thrives on sustained sub bass notes and a rather groovy shuffle of a drum section. Stylish and subtle but not the ear worm of the EP. Unlike CONCRETE HEART which has a delicious vocal/synth hook which works a treat by contrasting with the machine gun breaks and neatly programmed bass assaults. The highlight of the EP for me. ON THE ATTACK might be compared to some party rousing Die Antwoord material but it is undeniably enjoyable and again has a meaty hook. The EP closes with T.H.I.R.S.T.Y. Which likewise appears aimed firmly at the dance floor with a predominantly 4/4 approach with a few tricks to keep things interesting. While the vocals are lively enough, it is the filter swept synth builds and throbbing bass which drive this track home. On the whole, this is a stylish first release which combines some hard hitting beats and edgy synths with Amelia’s dynamically varied and undeniably engaging vocals. Dark sounding with light touches, making for good fun. https://ameliaarsenic.bandcamp.com/album/carbon-black

Ever hard working, RABBIT JUNK return with a remix EP of sorts, LIKE THE FLESH DOES THE KNIFE, which I imagine should be spoken with a Yoda voice. Seven mixes are offered up, of tracks lifted from previous releases going back as far as 2012. The first four are RABBIT JUNK remixing themselves, breathing a different kind of life into the songs. The other three are remixed by Glitchmode regular CYANOTIC along with AMNESTIC and STRNGR. For PRECIPICE, guitars cease to be in the driving seat, and the track is much more about the percussion and the meaty synth hooks, which do allow the anthemic vocal more room to soar. IDONTGIVEAFUCK has quite a rework, no longer a dubstep tinged fuzzed up guitar monster, the transformation features vocoders, a more direct rhythmic approach and re-imagined chord progressions, and an almost entirely new feeling track as a result. BEAST was formerly an industrial metal/dubstep monster, now it is a different beast, more assuredly aimed at a clubbier and funkier dance floor. While the rework is entirely likable, I suspect I prefer the original. The track makes another appearance at the end of the EP, chewed by by CYANOTIC and spat out as a frantic hybrid of the two aforementioned versions. BEAST is likewise toned down somewhat and is less monstrous, but again, this lets elements breath in the additional sonic space created, in particular the vocals. Amnestic then present their take on BUBBLE, I think the oldest track reworked here, which surgically removes the poppy and snappy elements of the original and steers the track in entirely darker directions, the result being that the track fits quite nicely along the Rabbit Junk reworks. This leaves another Glitchmode regular STRNGR who takes on BROKEN HIGHWAYS, keeping the emotive feel of the original while lacing it with wonderfully retro synthwave elements. This entry to the EP stands somewhat apart from the other reworks, having a rather different feel. Otherwise, considering the material is culled from a number of different releases, the EP sounds coherent and I imagine serves well to demonstrate where RABBIT JUNK want to be in 2017. https://rabbitjunk.bandcamp.com/album/like-the-flesh-does-the-knife

OBSCURE FORMATS – PRESSURE AND HEAT provides a very different tone and pace from the releases examined here so far, but that is what I like about blogging, you set your own rules huh? OBSCURE FORMATS are the ‘techno alias’ of another act I happened across relatively recently, SNOWBEASTS. This EP is geology, literally, with the title track joined by a track named after a geological process ‘Metamorphic’ and two others named after minerals resulting from said process. A neat concept. Musically, dark minimal techno is indeed the order of the day, insistent and dominant four four time signatures, dusted with acidic synths, while timeless cold and spectral synths and pads keep things interesting in the background. This is the perfect soundtrack to a warehouse event, large dark spaces and high volumes, where you can allow the sound to focus your synapses to the sole purpose of feeling the music and letting your body respond. https://componentrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/obscure-formats-pressure-heat

Staying in minimal waters, I have also been enjoying HAVE DEMONS who have dropped FIRE CONSUMES THIN AIR via Terranean Recordings. Four tracks of deep dub soundscapes not unlike some of Mick Harris’s SCORN material. These dark and heavy audio slabs are wonderfully crafted and amazing to listen to through a healthy sound system (nay, essential to). Dark hop structures laced with sound sounds and dub effects, this is eerie stuff. Comprising Portland’s Submerged, the originator of the legendary Ohm Resistance, alongside You Will Choose Fire bandmate, Montana beat maven and synth programmer nem0, and Luke Lund, the progenitor behind Finland’s Terranean net label, I will be keeping a close eye out for future works from HAVE DEMONS.

Returning to more direct and song based musical endeavors, a new PIG release dropped through my electronic letter box. PREY AND OBEY is a new six track EP, three songs and three alternative mixes. The title track is a huge in your face stomper that is as catchy as it is ferocious, perhaps due to the song being in effect a collaboration with CUBANATE kingpins Marc Heal and Phil Barry. Now I’m a long term appreciator of both Cubanate and Pig, so I’m happy to report that the song is a belter that has flavours of both acts. Second track ‘The Revelation’ sees Watts work with Ben Christo, guitarist from the Sisters of Mercy. Here Christo is perhaps allowed to indulge himself with the result being a guitar riff that will keep White Zombie and Rammstien fans salivating, a full on industrial rock assault that, while lacking the hook of the title track, would go down a storm at rock and industrial clubs alike. The third track ’The Cult Of Chaos’, written with former Combichrist member Z.Marr, is a more introspective track, a deliciously dark pop song, though you’ll have to wade through some lardy stink to grasp the ‘pop’ element. This track is a grower and in my opinion is as strong as the title track. Elsewhere the ever busy Claus Larsen of Leæther Strip gives his spin on the title track, giving the vocals more space to breath in an old school EBM feeling mix, Z Marr reappears to funk up ‘The Revelation’ transforming it into a damn good impression of a Die Krupps track and En Esch returns to the lard with a more subdued and stylish take on the title track, lending it a dark synth pop feel. A great and worthwhile EP that proves that PIG are alive and squealing. https://pigindustries.com https://www.metropolis-records.com/product/

Also from the Metropolis stable we have a remix album from THE DREAMING who impressed me with their last studio album. The remix release goes under the name of FROM THE ASHES and is intended as a companion piece to RISE AGAIN. The album saw The Dreaming recapture the essence of what originally enamored STABBING WESTWARD to listeners around the world, and the remix album certainly will not undo that work. Billed as remixes as reinterpretations, what we are presented with is an engaging listen, with more hots than misses. Largely, these versions preserve the still fantastic voice of Christopher Hall, and are generally more electronic leaning which will please those who enjoyed the more synth heavy moments of The Dreaming or Stabbing Westward. ‘Alone’ appears twice, both versions cementing the track as a classic, ‘Painkillers’ also appears twice. Another undeniably strong song, the ‘Gimme My Dope’ mix serves the song better. Some of Rise Again’s more restrained moments are reflected here too, with ‘In a Blink of an Eye’, ‘Afraid’ and ‘Throw it Away’ both sounding rather nice in their revised forms. Other highlights include the reworks of ‘Still Believe’, ‘Empty Promises’ and ‘Kisses Taste Like Death’ with the remaining entries offering less to the original material, at least to my ears. I would urge anyone who hasn’t discovered/rediscovered RISE AGAIN to start there first, as it is a truly great electronic rock album. This companion piece is flawed by comparison, though it does offer some great moments and is still a worthwhile acquisition. https://www.metropolis-records.com/product/

Another singer who’s voice I have always had a soft spot for is John Crosby, better known as VAST.. In recent years Crosby has continued to be prolific though not much of his output had the electronic edge that steered the first few Vast albums into many a CD collection. Now there is a new EP, THEY ONLY LOVE YOU WHEN YOU DIE which presents us with three new Vast songs plus an additional three mixes. The title track is classic Crosby, heartfelt and soulful vocals that are once combined with a stronger electronic element to create a mid tempo earworm of a song. The other new tracks comes in the form of ‘She is Murder’ and ‘She Must Have Loved Me’. The former is a restrained song driven by a funk laced synth bass and snappy percussive loop. The vocal is as smooth as ever that builds nicely though lack of melodic variety in the bass and drums leave the track struggling to bed itself into my memory. ‘She Must Have Loved Me’ is more memorable, a softer number with a warm and clever bass progression layered with lush strings and a reflective vocal delivery. The title track gets two mixes with the ‘Hard Edge Version’ somewhat misleading in title and the ‘JC Beat’ mix only really offering subtle variations on the original. The ‘Dub Sax’ variant of ‘She is Murder’ has a little variation but doesn’t really alter the original substantially. In all, the three new tracks are enough to whet my appetite to the prospect of a new Vast album. I suspect we will not see a full return to the edgy electronica of the self titled debut or the electro rock anthems of ‘Music for People’. However, this EP does suggest that synths and programmed elements are a bigger part of Crosby’s arsenal than they have been for a little while and in my humble opinion I think that his material is strongest when using a wider sonic palette that electronics allow. Watch this space. https://www.realvast.com

Taking another about turn, my ears have been treated to the new DANIEL O’SULLIVAN album VELD which a purchased on double transparent green vinyl. I am an avid consumer of his work, whether it be as part of Mothlite, Miracle, Grumbling Fur or any of this other myriad projects. On VELD, his penchant for luscious sounding dark pop is allowed further room to blossom. ‘Pendulum’ lowers us straight into murky yet gorgeous waters with sumptuous synths and ethereal voices, with an almost Badalamenti vibe. The album then makes more strident steps towards structured and traditional songs though the shimmering and angelic synths are still a strong feature along with O’Sullivan’s layered vocal lamentations. ‘Scorpio Rising Blues’ ‘The Swimmer’ are prime examples, sounding quite akin to his work with Zombi’s Steve Moore for the MIRACLE project. ‘The Many We Are’ and ‘HC Svnt Dracones’ are further delightfully sombre toned songs interjected with chiefly guitar based and lovely interlude ‘Doe a Dear’. ‘Apocryphonium’ mingles a deep male narrative voice over a Carpenter-eque pulsing bass while other synth textures layer up and build to hearty swell. ‘Luminous Fibres’ and ‘Sabotage Devices’ sail the first half of VELD home with two more wondrous dark pop moments, with the former being an album highlight. Side three begins with ‘Be Honour You’, filled with the mystery and atmosphere that purveys the entire album. ‘The Projector’ recruits hypnotic percussion to nail down the vocal motif, developing this ethereal aspect of the album further. The guitar only ‘Preludium’ has it’s own beauty before plunging us back into a both watery and heavenly feeling realm with ‘Plutonians’, a wonderfully mysterious track that is another of the albums highlights, managing to be dark and uplifting both at the same time. It is then time for the 17 minutes movement of ‘Plants I – VII’ that is side four, a stunning piece of synth and organ lushness that to these ears would perfectly suit the weirdness of Twin Peaks. This opus never feels repetitive or tired, only engaging and dreamy. VELD is quite an expansive album at around 70 minutes duration and shifting in pace and style over its course, but I love it and VELD is entirely a journey worth committing to. https://www.facebook.com/mothlite/