Sordid reviews - 5/02/03.
Various - Cryonica Tanz v2 (Cryonica)
Cryonica Records have done it again and compiled a truly vital collection of underground dance music, ranging from futurepop and synthpop to the harsher sounds of dancey EBM. Once again, their compilation stands head and shoulders above most other compilations around, with a perfect selection of diverse music that sits together brilliantly. It's opened by Massiv in Mensch feat. George Salatic with their self-titled techno monster, which takes the Germanic techno sound of the likes of E Nomine and adds a large chunk of EBM intensity to it. Then it's the great and the good of the alternative dancefloor, including a new track from the legendary Cubanate, the EBM sound of 'react to it' with a particularly powerful vocal. Others notables on CD1 include Nebula-H with 'twilight zone', Seabound's 'smoke (pain remix)', Flesh Field's mix of Gasr's 'new society', the 'club attack mix' of Inertia's 'bodynoise', the brilliant 'bombay bad boy' of The Nine's 'control' and the fabulous Implant with 'breezer'.
CD2 kicks off with the thumping beats of Neikka RPM's 'here's your revolution' and keeps the standard right up, though it does include Retrosic's 'ground zero', which I can't stand for some reason. But, that aside, it's got some great stuff like 'scarab' from Railgun, Stromkern's 'terrorist (Epsilon Minus mix)', Epsilon Minus themselves with 'antigravity (Implant mix)', the housey sound of 'i believe' by Kontinuum and the fabulous 'acid anger again (c-base mix)' from the Galan Pixs. Another band making their return on this compilation is Idiot Stare, who offer the brilliant 'ghost', a funky piece with a strong beat and an infectious melodic vocal. Fiction 8's remixed 'sister illusion' goes so far into the rave sound that it even includes a whistle sample at the beginning, which contrasts completely with the harsh intensity of Aghast View's 'copperhead (radio mix)'. Void Construct wrap it all up with a particularly bright and dancy mix of 'disconnected'. With this second installation of the Cryonica Tanz series, Cryonica have definitely established themselves as the label to watch for the best new dancey material.
Passion Play - Dreaming Spires (Perimeter)
The UK's Passion Play fall into broadly the same category as bands like The Last Dance, Gothic Rock based music with a lighter touch and something of an '80s pop feel. Passion Play's music is guitar driven, with strong vocals, live drums and a dark melodic strength that's as much new wave as it is Goth. There's not all that much to say about it, it's eminently listenable and considerably more accessible than much of the new Gothic music of the past, though fits nicely in with the burgeoning UK crossover scene alongside bands like Belisha.
Null Device - Sublimation (Nilaihah)
Sometimes the oddest comparisons come to mind when you're listening to new music. This CD is definitely a case in point. OK, it's synthpop with futurepop elements, at times it brings Depeche Mode to mind, all good. But when names like Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues and Prince pop up, you know this is something different. What makes Null Device stand out from the crowd isn't their musical sound, which, while good and diverse, isn't hugely innovative; it's the vocals. Unlike most synthpop bands, whose vocalists can make all the right noises but aren't particularly brilliant singers, this pair can sing, really sing. This is where the Justin Hayward comparison comes in, they really are that good at times, and when they go for harmonies, particularly on the fabulous 'If only for a while', wow! The Prince comparison, on the other hand, is easy to spot, 'Call of the rose' is 'When doves cry' given a funky techno sound and new lyrics, it just is. This also includes a bleepy synthpop version of 'There is a light', the Smiths track, that will probably have purists retching, but is a great take on the track if you like good synthpop. Null Device serve up a delicious slice of quality electronic music, with some of the best vocals I've heard from this kind of music, an eclectic mix of music taking elements from dance music and the more familiar synthpop and EBM styles, and do it all with style and sophistication. Great stuff.
Dark Runner - Unknown master save us - they are evil (CAPP)
This is, quite honestly, odd. Dark Runner seem to find excessive distortion and weird effects appealing. After the wall of distortion opening, 'Master save us' has something of a futurepop feel about it, but it's buried under so much distortion and crackling, it's hard to tell. It's following by the completely different and fairly boring atmospheric piece 'Aheron-Hades' and then switches again to the crunchy industrial beats fest of ' From beyond, part I', which goes on forever. 'Awaken all myths' is another distortion filled piece, this one built around a sample of the riff from the Sisters' 'Dr Jeep'. Then it's more boring atmospherics and beats for eight minutes, before we have something approaching a relatively decent track, the driving EBM sound of 'Some soft words for her love'. It wraps up with another boring slice of atmospherics and then it's thankfully over. A load of self-indulgent toss, if you ask me.
Own Kernel "OK" (CAPP)
If you're one of those people who doesn't like bleepy music, look away now. The first track on "OK", 'my little alien loves me in Toronto' (yes, Own Kernel are from the Frank Zappa/Butthole Surfers school of song titles) is bleep on overdrive. It's an instrumental, so all there really is are bleeps and beats, but it's a nice bright bouncy bleepfest. 'Birds sitting on the rocks near Chile', in contrast, is harsher and more techno/EBM influenced, a crunching, tearing dance track. 'New York's reasonable hard tits on the run' goes for a full on rave sound, hand in the air and glow sticks required. And on it goes, mixing up a variety of electronic dance styles, all instrumental, all groovy, but incredibly varied - a beat for every occasion. This is definitely one for the DJ bag.
Dr Kevorkian & the Suicide Machine - The Ironman (Darkcell Digital)
The good doctor and his machine are firmly in the darkwave sound, mixing slow clunky machine noises and acoustic instrumentation with spoken word and ethereal vocals. It's downbeat and melodic, but it lacks punch. Compared to acts like Attrition, who have a malevolent power to their sound, this tends to be, well, nice. It's got an inoffensive sound, perfectly pleasant on the ear, but at the end of the day, it has minimal impact. I found myself listening to this a few times and not really remembering what it sounded like afterwards. If I were to pick a favourite song, it would have to be 'The keening song', which is the least darkwavey song on this, the simple acoustic guitar backing and the beautifully celtic style vocals bring Dead Can Dance to mind and stand strong in comparison. At the end of the day, there's nothing particularly wrong with this CD, it's fairly nice to listen to when you're doing something else, but it's just missing the power and intensity that makes this kind of music brilliant.
Midnight Syndicate - Vampyre (Entity Productions)
I have a distinct memory of writing a review of Midnight Syndicate's last album, "Gates of Delerium", but I can't find it. It seems I neglected to ever type it or put it online. If I remember correctly, I wasn't that impressed after really enjoying "Realm of Shadows", but it's probably just as well, because it means Midnight Syndicate have a clean sweep of good reviews. "Vampyre" is great stuff, a big atmospheric monster that's so full of clichés it's just fantastic. Really, if you're going to do a big bad album of Hammer Horror style music about crypts and vampires and all that, there's no point in being original. You just take the elements that everyone knows and, if you're good, put them together in a way that's appealing. And boy have Midnight Syndicate done that! This is wonderfully atmospheric, ethereal and spooky, it's haunted house music and it's unsurprising that the band's music is used in theme parks across the US. While it may not be the exactly the kind of thing you'll listen to every day, it will definitely make a great soundtrack for parties next Halloween.
Collide - chasing the ghost (Darkcell/Noiseplus)
Now this I really like, Collide have taken a large amount of Curve's sound and really run with it. The electronics are sharp and edgy, the vocals soft and seductive, sometimes reminiscent of Toni Halliday, other times Julianne Regan is brought to mind (as on 'wings of steel'), the songs perfectly put together, with something of an eastern thread running through the whole album. This is dark pop music at its finest, I could easily image seeing Collide crop up on CD:UK, particularly a track as lush as 'dreamsleep' or 'ocean', which is vaguely reminiscent of Holly Valance's 'Kiss kiss', but absolutely stomps all over it. Other sounds, like the thumping intensity of 'monochrome', are very much not for general consumption, being far too harsh for your average pop fan. The one let down is their cover of Jefferson Airplane's classic 'White Rabbit'. They're not the first band to attempt a "dark" version of the track, Mephisto Waltz did it a few years ago, but it's an acid song and Collide's version is a bad trip, man. That aside, though, this is a great album, varied, powerful and simply brilliant.
eo ipso - Nachrichtensperre
OK then! This starts off with a truly odd mix of crunching atonal industrial beats and the theme from "Superman", each part fading in and out. It's interesting, but I couldn't really say it's particularly enjoyable and it seems to go on forever. 'Schlagstockeinsatz' then explodes with possibly the heaviest thumping beat I've heard, this is three in the morning, five Es type music. And on it goes, more intense and aggressive beats, mixed up with varied and generally intense and aggressive samples, some more listenable than others, like '1, 2 Rettungsschuss' which has something of a synthpop vibe going on with full-on thumping industrial dance beats. Really, it's not the kind of album that you can sit down and listen to, but it does have quite a few pieces that would fit well into a DJ set and virtually lift the roof off the place. Which is a good thing in itself, this is dance music of a very different kind to what most people think dance music is. I might drop some of it into a set at some point myself.
Fields of the Nephilim - Fallen (Jungle)
Fans of the Nephs are unlikely to be unaware of the controversy surrounding this album. Jungle released it, Carl McCoy disowned it, Jungle replied saying it's his fault for not fulfilling his contract, etc. Anyway, it's still a new Fields of the Nephilim album (well, Carl McCoy and Tony Pettitt as The Nephilim with the former Nephs as guests) and, with nothing new from any of the members in years, it's just what the fans want, no? Well, really, it's not a classic Nephs album, it suffers miserably in comparison to the classic old stuff, particularly when Carl goes all out on the growly metal vocals. However, when compared to the Nefilim or Rubicon or most of the acts doing this kind of Gothic Rock stuff these days, it's not that bad. Most people would probably have preferred if they hadn't gone and redone classics like 'Darkcell AD' or 'Trees come down AD' (here as 'One more nightmare'), but the driving intensity of 'Subsanity' comes close to their good stuff. There's probably two main attitudes among Neph fans in relation to this, those who'd rather an inferior album hadn't been released to sully the legend, and those who treat this the same as they'd treat collections of demos and alternate versions, it's not the best they've recorded, but it's still the Nephs. In my case, I'm probably in the latter camp, even though I'm not particularly into Goff Rock these days. It's not brilliant, but it's better than nothing and better than most of the alternatives.
Psyche - Endangered Species (Accession/Art of Fact)
According to Darrin Huss, this album of remixes and a couple of new tracks will pretty much be the end of Psyche's futurepop sound as they move onto musical pastures new like many of their contemporaries. As a last hurrah, though, it's great stuff, as well as something of a pointer to directions they may yet head. Psyche reinvented themselves brilliantly a couple of years ago and drew out a whole new level of energy. This kicks off with 'The Beyond', a classic slice of the strong melodic vocals and thumping dance beats that has characterised their last album. 'Damaged Soul' is less full-on, it's darker and moodier, with an almost malevolent vocal performance, while 'Memento' has a tasty strong EBM sound and 'Eleven' is a slower, ambient style track with a spoken word vocal and a nice slice of piano that develops into a funky slice of electro. Most of the rest is a collection of remixes (slightly different depending on which label), with a funky hard techno mix of 'The Hiding Place' from Massiv in Mensch, a dirty electro 'radio mix' of 'Damaged Soul' from Sixty Winters, another thumping techno mix, this time 'Renegades' by "Remi.X', and Sushiboy's funky electro take on 'Goodbye horses'. Sixty Winters' slower, vaguely old school trance mix of 'Memento' is fairly boring, though, while, in contrast, Elektrohandel's '2 dirty 4 U' mix of 'Renegades' is a stomping electroclash take on the track. Beyond that, it depends on which version of the CD you get, Accession Records' version has a stomping Negative Format futurepop style mix of 'Sanctuary', all thumping beats and electro/trance sounds, and Psyche's own trance mix of 'Looking glass', which has more than a little of an electro feel about it. The Art of Fact version has Sixty Winters' 'extended club mix' of 'Damaged soul', which is really just a longer version of the 'radio mix', and a blast from the past in the shape of the band's own '87's 'intoxicated mix' of 'Prisoner to desire', which, ironically, probably sounds the most current of the lot as, if it was recorded now, it'd be called electroclash! This is a great collection of stuff, with some great new tracks and a nicely diverse collection of remixes.
Greenhaus - the unmistakable sound of sloth (Phuture Recordings)
Greenhaus are well known on the London live scene, cropping up on a regular basis at major festivals and such, so there's few around here that are unaware of their largely instrumental sound. The band mixes elements of electronica, psychedelia and, particularly, the electronic/psychedelic crossover stuff the likes of Spiritualised and Primal Scream have done. This kicks off with a more electronic based track, which is more of a warm-up than anything special, before exploding with the brilliant 'Stoned', which features a voice sample from Jim Morrison and a slow and spacious sound behind it. 'Nova' takes a darker turn after that, while 'particle acceleration' goes for a very old style, almost Krautrock, electro boogie sound. 'Dioxide' fits more into the atmospheric oeuvre, with a slightly militaristic feel about it, while spacey version of Joy Division's 'transmission' is well done, retaining some of the power of the original and adding a dancey electronic vibe, with a robotic style vocal. 'last minute' takes the pace down again, it's a lush neo-classical type piece with some nice piano sounds and atmospheric synths, if a little short at under a minute. 'more life' is a dancier bleepfest, while it all wraps up with 'concept of disillusion', which opens with a Psychic TV-esque Tim Leary sample and bursts into a piece of acid house. Greenhaus have their fingers in a number of different styles and mix them together very nicely, echoing some of the masters of electronic music of the past. It will be interesting to hear how their sound develops now that they're adding in vocals on the new album.
Various - Fields of Fire (Miisc)
Miisc get instant kudos for releasing this compilation on lovely black vinyl. It's a varied compilation, kicking off with the straightforward and not particularly interesting atmospherics of Metamorphose' 'Stonehenge' and following it with the messy and unfocussed eruption of noise that is 'Spoon-fed' by Combat Astronomy. V-drick "treat" us to a rumbling collection of noises called 'Mecaniques de Masse', a dark ambient type piece that's completely pointless. Thankfully, Cerebral's IDM sound on 'Neener's little planet' is a bright spark - chaotic beats, quirky vocals and weird noises all throw together in a way that surprisingly works and works well. Alas, it doesn't remain and Suspicion Breeds Confidence return to the pointless dark ambient style with 'Intim und Nichtsdestotrotx Taub'. Side 2, god I love vinyl, kicks off nicely with the breakbeats of Ativ's 'Trace'. 011001's 'Nerve' is a strange one, it sounds like the intro to a great track, strong beats, interesting sounds, but never really gets anywhere; the whole song sounds like the intro. Cordell Klier's '004' sounds like someone chopping down trees in a forest, no really, it's the most pointless piece of "music" I've heard in a long time. Disappointingly, the Fear of Dolls track doesn't make it any better, there isn't actually anything approaching music here, just some voice tapes played backwards and forwards and the odd whirring noise. Last, but very much not least, Tarmvred prove that you can fuck around and experiment without losing the plot completely with 'Run/stop restore', with some of the sounds favoured by the electroclash set topped with mismatching breakbeats and noises. It shouldn't work, but it does. All in all a very patchy release, but it's on vinyl and the few good tracks make up for the rest.
The Sepia - sampler
This four-track sampler from UK electronic fusion outfit kicks off with 'Stutter', a nice slice of hard-edged futurepop, strong melodic vocals and a techno influence back with some thumping EBM beats and some harsh noises. 'Blade' has a stronger, more intense sound, closer to Pitchshifter than the likes of VNV, a sound that continues with 'Polaris D', which has a funky industrial-dance vibe going on. Finally, 'The Shallows' takes it down a few notches to a slower, more atmospheric sound, I suppose that's what they mean by 'Industrio-Ambient'. The Sepia have a refreshingly mixed sound, unafraid to mix different sounds and styles together, retaining the dancey sound of futurepop, but mixing in some of the harsher sounds of the '90s scene.