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All reviews tend to list only the format the recording was reviewed on. Other formats may be available! Availability is from all good record shops unless otherwise listed. Addresses are all UK except where indicated. If you have difficulty finding something, get in touch, and I'll try and recommend a source. Lots of these are sufficiently old that they shouldn't really have been left in, but who cares? Please note that only up-to-date material will be reviewed in future issues, although reissues of old music might also be considered for inclusion.
Big Fist CD (KK Records KK 056)
As Able As Kane return with their first full length album, following on from the 1989 classic Buildingscapebeat on Scam Records (well worth seeking out). The sound here is more song-oriented, more commercial, and less inclined to run off into long rhythm drives for the sake of doing so, but it still retains the heavy rhythms that made their first release so enjoyable. Best tracks amongst some pretty fine electrobeat here include the vibrant and unstoppable Two Watching, the thunderous Concrete and Crash, upbeat and energetic. Some of the tracks are less successful, either due to attempts to sing properly (never a good idea) as on Train to the West, or just a general lack of togetherness, or an attempt to be too grandiose. It lacks the ferocious vigour of Buildingscapebeat, but remains a highly enjoyable hardbeat album.
Ottoman Violine cassette only (Mind Scan)
Mad French people (makes a change from mad Slavs or Italians, I suppose), mixing a whole load of instruments, mostly real winds, percussion, strings and synths, to create a blend of folk, rock and more experimental material. Amateurish in construction and professional in execution, if you understand what I mean. And also surprisingly refreshing, thanks to its willingness to mix the orthodox with the outre, and thanks to A Gethsemani's surefooted sense of rhythm, harmony and melody. Atmospheric, imaginative, peculiar, and highly recommended. Most unusually for Mind Scan, who usually do very scrappy photocopied inserts for their tapes, it even comes with a quite attractive printed inlay card. Whatever next? Unlikely to satisfy pure experimental noise fans, incidentally, especially when it occasionally reverts to quaint sub-Residents rock roots. [Available from Mind Scan, or contact A Gethsemani, 18 Rue du Dr Meugy, 08300 Rethel, France]
Spoiled Teeth and a Dozen of Prevarications cassette only (Remix Recordings RR10)
Abortive Gasp's music here combines some highly distorted vocals, regular rock drumming, hardcore guitar power and crazy synthesiser rambling. It varies from decidedly individual punk rock to a sort of Kraftwerk put through a mincing machine. Anarchic, electric, and very American. Some of it's a bit too deliberately chaotic to make easy listening, some of it is a very enticing blend of rhythmic electronics and wailing guitar voltage, and occasionally it's just a very attractive, very carefully formed little texture. Very far-off beam rock music essentially, with its bizarre electronics and chaotic structures. Mostly too unfocussed for me (although it certainly has its moments) but you may think otherwise. [Available from Remix Recordings, c/o Tim Pahl, Birkenweg 12, W-2000 Wedel, Germany]
Freeway Mustang cassette only (Remix Recordings RR 008)
Electronic rock-cum-dance with lots of synthesizers, samples and chugging percussion. Amateurish and uncomplimentary vocals in English in a German accent accompany the first track, Rodriguez Blue, and the tape continues in pretty much the same vein, sometimes minus the vocals. The music is actually pretty good, and there's also a healthy and humorous disrespect both for the technology and for, um, songs in general. Not for those who only like polished, well put together music, I expect, although some of it is surprisingly professional. [Available from Remix Recordings, c/o Tim Pahl, Birkenweg 12, W-2000 Wedel, Germany]
Another Headache / dROME
Cacophony Concerto / Father 7" only (Work in Progress WIP 001)
Buzzing electric noise, subtle undulating tones, and found voices (another loony Xtian) behind them make up dROME's side of this limited edition single release. Marginally better than most such noisy stuff, thanks to the more subtly waving pitches present, good choice of vocals, and a reasonable sense of restraint. Another Headache create a track full of oscillating frequencies, strange ambient noises, and a nicely understated sense of atmosphere. But all the music seems derivative, having been done many times before, and a single is just too short a space to really let either band show their stuff. [Limited edition of 500, available for £3 UK or $5 elsewhere, cash only, from Work in Progress, 210 Pitshanger Lane, Ealing, London W5 1QS; or contact Dave Bourgoin, 161A Western Ave., Acton, London W3 6RN]
Native Dystopean cassette only (Obsidian Tapes OBT02)
This cassette by Anthony Burnham mixes processed noise, found recordings, electronic rhythms and unidentifiable sounds to create a repetitive music which happily allows the abstract and the almost-real to journey alongside one another. Fragments of reality, in the form of voices and other recordings are collaged in with the distorted noise, and dragged along bodily by the cheap knocking and thumping mechanical rhythms. The texture created echoes the work of numerous other cassette-artists (I'm reminded of Big City Orchestra, for example), while remaining completely unlike most other music. Hints of a jazzy disco, terribly mutated, occasionally surface in the music's beat, and several short tracks offer a more subdued soundscape, characterised by low rumbling and droning. One, Saint of Sorrow, creates a very effective and beautiful feeling. Uncategorisable and intriguing. [Available from Obsidian Tapes, 70 Old Hinckley Road, Nuneaton, Warwickshire CV10 0AB]
Recollection 84-89 cassette/CD (Projekt PRO28)
For people who already know Attrition, I need only say that this is a compilation of sixteen tracks (at least on the cassette) from their long history, which is probably more Attrition than you could reasonably cope with at one sitting. For the rest of you, Coventry-based Attrition always resided at the edge of the electro-goth spectrum, making a music that was one part pop, one part goth, and one part inspired by electro/industrial pioneers. It's gloomy, dramatic, melodramatic, joyous, and highly individual stuff, with exotic and fey lyrics to match. Like much of the stranger pop this country has produced, for example, the Pink Dots or Bourbonese Qualk, Attrition were far more successful in Europe than here, and there certainly is a European sensibility in their music. Highlights in this compilation include My Friend is Golden, Beast of Burden, A'dam & Eva and Mind Drop. I must admit, I'm not a fan: I don't think their unique blend of influences produces anything really new out of the stew, despite its great character. A nice overview for newcomers, although it would have been nice to feature a few tracks from old compilations as well as the more readily available releases. [Available from Projekt, Box 1591, Garden Grove, CA 92642-1591, USA]
The Knife 12" only (Staalplaat SP 001)
Yes, there is more to Yugoslavia than Laibach and Borghesia, and this is another small part of it. Ominous growling bass male voice, soft mechanical rhythm, clanging metal, synth strings: the strange and atmospheric Does The Knife Cry When It Enters The Skin? occupies one side, whilst on the other, His Secret Sin jerks around metal, plastic and electricity, creating a tacky and unconvincing rhythmic piece. Maybe worth it for the first side though. [Available from Staalplaat]
Birth of Tragedy
Death Survives cassette only (Mind Scan)
The titles give you some idea of where Birth of Tragedy are coming from: Vatican Victims, Jonestown Overture and Fear Eats the Soul join the title track. If that's not enough to put you off then what would be? This is 1991 and people still haven't stopped being obsessed with the same old icons of death! On the first track, electric harmonies generate a menacing atmosphere over slow drumming. Overture is introduced by much abused recordings of Jonestown, followed by dark rumbling, atonal solo violin (?) and other hints of noise lurking behind this facade, gradually bubbling to the surface. It slightly fails to live up to the potential that it undoubtedly has, the violin being used both imaginatively and crassly, detracting from the rest of the sound. The title track combines aggressive metal-beating with a background of contaminated sonic undertones, snatches of violin, while Fear uses oscillating sounds as a base for a patchwork of strange pluckings, scrapings and bangings. A very interesting tape, and certainly a band worth watching. [Available from Mind Scan]
Black Tape for a Blue Girl
A Chaos of Desire cassette (Projekt PRO30)
I'd like to avoid comparing them to the Cocteau Twins (or maybe This Mortal Coil), but, umm, it's simply not possible. A Chaos of Desire opens with sensuous, billowing textures, violin, guitar, electronics and wordless female vocals courtesy of Julianna Towns. The title track itself mixes Mortal Coil with Dead Can Dance. Swimming in a sea of memory, sun flickering through dark branches, heart filled with a mixture of pain and joy. You know the feeling? If you don't then you may still enjoy Black Tape: it's nicely understated, and full of that sad 4AD enchantment. At times a bit too gothic for my taste: I prefer my beauty tinged with a touch less angst. [Available from Projekt, P.O. Box 1591, Garden Grove, CA 92642-1591, USA]
Bo'Qu LP (New International Recordings NIR 904)
This is a compilation of thirteen tracks from 1982-1990, recorded by one of many members of the music scene who have had a far better reception abroad than at home. For the most part it's distinctly exotic rock, with shuffling, alien rhythms and odd atmospherics. The opener, the previously unreleased Petit Mal is a slice of spectral beauty, wailing instrumental cries over the beat. Other highlights include the ominous Glass Works, the vibrant, pulsating Under the Influence (from the forthcoming Unpop LP), the processed clarinet and tight rhythm of Lukunzi, and the laid back and pretty Always There. A lot of the instrumentation sounds very dated now, and a few of the tracks are pretty tedious, but it remains fairly distinctive. There are a few echoes of the Cabs and people like Portion Control, but Bourbonese Qualk have their own definite character. Compared to many groups making experimental music, they're pretty middle-of-the-road, which I suspect accounts for their lack of fame in this part of the world - too strange for the indie fans, and too normal for the experimental fans. This compilation is, incidentally, considerably better than their last album, My Government is my Soul.
Listen Up With Cabaret Voltaire double LP/CD (Mute CABS 5)
This is part of Mute's attempt to reissue Cabaret Voltaire's back catalogue, in much the same way as they are responsible for keeping Throbbing Gristle, Can, Diamanda Galas, and soon Dome and the Hafler Trio widely available. Notable omissions from their reissue schedule include all the material issued on Some Bizarre / Virgin and Les Disques du Crepuscule, lots of solo work (although some of that is supposed to be on its way) and their early 1974-1976 cassette. Listen Up brings together sixteen tracks, seven unreleased and nine of which appeared on various compilations. Here the material ranges from the abstract electronics and distorted vocals of Baader Meinhof to the perverse electro of Don't Drive Fast, echoing their Code-era style. Fans will know what to expect. For the rest of you: distorted, paranoid electronics evoking everything from Philip K. Dick to an electric Kenneth Anger. Synthetic rhythms, heavily processed guitars and brass, danceable but barely so. The Cabs are credited with inspiring everything from wide use of vocal sampling to the cut-up video. Their significance has become increasingly mythologised, and it's nice to see their music made widely available to help demolish the legend a little. It sounds the way it does partly because of a lack of ability, partly because of cheap and unpolished technology, and mostly because the Cabs always lived in a special little world of their own, quite apart from the musical mainstream. My favourites here include the atmospheric Automotivation, and more recent material like Playing For Time and Don't Drive Fast.
Cat Rapes Dog
The Banzai Beats mini-LP/CD (KK Records KK 064)
The Swedish electrobeat merchants fit six new tracks onto this 25-minute release, and apart from the competent electronic sequencers and synths, it's mostly distinguished by the interesting contrast between Joel Rydström's nicotine growl and Annelie Bertilsson's sweet voice on two tracks. The music is mostly a mildly poppy electrobeat, although hardly Top 40 material, reminding me of Skinny Puppy with more friendly technology. The best tracks are Open Your Mind, very reminiscent of Front Line Assembly, and Me and My Remote Control, boasting nicely humorous lyrics amongst the rapid electronic shimmer. Cat Rapes Dog are competent, but competent just isn't enough, really. We want genius!
Cassemtex cassette (Chainsaw Cassettes CSC 012)
Inspired by Philip K. Dick's novel A Scanner Darkly, this cassette's 13 tracks mix industrial noise, mechanical rhythms, distorted voices, and atmospheres reminiscent of, well, a chemical plant. The lyrics on Surveillance are awful, and the voice insufficiently processed to make it fit in well with the music, and this is true of all the tracks containing lyrics. Some of the music is quite ambient, though still unpleasant, and the atmosphere is paranoid, disturbing, limited mainly by a slightly amateurish feel. I've had enough of tracks based on that cassette / computer data noise for example! But there are some great tracks, notably Genetic Fingerprinting's police-state found voices plus industrial noise. [Available from Chainsaw Cassettes]
A Chud Convention
Sorrow mini-LP (Circle Records 003)
This is a bit old now but still well worth reviewing. A collaboration between Ogre and Key of Skinny Puppy, and Evets and Seuqcaj of á;Grumh, this is 25 minutes of tortured throat music: growling, coughing, hissing, laboured breathing, whispers and vocal samples all processed with a variety of effects and layered into an extremely atmospheric piece of abstract music. Intense, if occasionally quite ridiculous in its attempts to sound horrifying, it's a very enjoyable listening experience. The second side, Silent Sorrow, is a slower, more ambient, but if anything more ominous track. Wonderful stuff.
Transitional Voices LP (Interfisch Records EFA 01718-08LP)
Live material from Bologna last year, Transitional Voices shows off more of ClockDVA's rippling electronic rhythms, hushed voices, and shimmering synthetic texture. Not especially impressive compared to the fun to be had with their last album Buried Dreams. Repetitive and lacking the polish that would help that repetition create a more trance-provoking music, although it certainly grows on you, improving as it goes on. Fans will like it; others should maybe try Buried Dreams first, which is a much smoother combination of pristine synthetic gloss, shamanistic ritual and diseased technophilia.
Love's Secret Domain LP (Torso Records 33181)
As unpredictable as ever! The dance influence is at times as prominent here as above, house rhythms and blippy keyboards being the order of the day. Teenage Lightning combines Latin rhythms with electronic voice; Windowpane has improved with further listening; Coil are clearly capable of creating a light, dreamy atmosphere but all the rawness and humanity that was present on earlier releases has gone in favour of this more trance-like, meditative feel. On the (significantly better) second side, Further Back and Faster has some dark electronics and distorted voice lurking in the background, but is dominated by a simple, tinny rhythm, and goes nowhere of any interest. Titan Arch is better, with shivering, screeching atmospherics, and Marc Almond's vocals creating a dangerous little mood. Chaostrophy is highly evocative, mixing fairly chaotic noise, ominous rumbling and emotive orchestration to good effect. The title track ends things off with some very strange rhythms, both drummed and synthesised, a swinging mood reminiscent of the first track, and a general feeling of a pop song gone completely off-beam. Coil appear to have found new musical interests, or new ways of exploring old interests. They're not stuck in a rut, but this album, although reasonably pleasant, remains a disappointment.
The Myth of Rock LP (Nettwerk W1-30045)
They've been described as a meeting between Front 242 and Public Enemy, and I'm not about to deny the obvious linkage. This is agitpop par excellence. Pulverising beats, superlative situationist and anti-capitalist rap, the spirit of an earthquake entrapped in humble vinyl. Whenever I listen to this revolution seem only a drumbeat away ... And there's enough of a sense of irony present so that their violent opposition to consumerism can survive even its packaging in record form ie. a consumer product. Excellent stuff! Despite trying a little too hard to be the white version of Public Enemy, they produce a powerful neo-situationist critique of the music industry, the role of the modern musician, and capitalism in general. Exhortations to their audience to stop listening to this crap and get up and take control of their lives are a bit too preachy, but show their versatility of approach, and ability to present their message in different forms to suit a broad audience. And the beats are simply immense. You've bought this already, haven't you?
Friendly Fa$cism CD (Nettwerk NET 033CD)
Consolidated's second album is a stranger affair. The rap music is still there, as is the seismic hardbeat. The critical analysis of the music industry is as potent as ever, and Consolidated appear to be increasingly aware of the contradictions inherent in their position. This is intense, knockout, humorous music. Amongst the samples and beats are recordings from Consolidated's live audience participation sessions, providing a large number of moronic comments. The political agenda is more distinct too, with a shift of emphasis towards the rights of women and the rights of animals, including Meat Kills, a recital on the righteousness of vegetarianism. The sharp contrast between their preaching and their self-aware humour couldn't be more clear. Their willingness to ally themselves with what I find to be the more idiotic excesses of radical feminism may put some people off. This is clearly a result of their environment: the issues they approach and the ways they approach them are very American. Meanwhile, the music is a bit more laid-back than before, with nothing quite as scorching as the first album's Product, for example. Nonetheless, Consolidated remain possibly the most important rap group in the world. Buy this record, mindless consumer!
Changed Music 2 cassette only (Cold Spring CS 009)
Part of Cold Spring's reissue schedule, this tape somehow avoided being released first time round, so this is the first time it has been available. It is the 53rd release by Stefan Schwab as Context. Side one is a long ambient, droning work, various tones combining with each other to produce some interesting harmonics and a peculiar alien atmosphere. The development is subtle and minimal, and it's surprisingly effective given how little actually happens. The second side is similar. [Available from Cold Spring Records, 87 Gloucester Avenue, Delapre, Northampton, NN4 9PT]
i cassette only (Direction Music DMC17)
This is a thoroughly wonderful cassette from a band deserving much more fame than they currently possess. The
first side, I Just Am is a hydrochloric cloud of atmosphere, ambient yet corrosive. Abstract and strange, it
mixes slowly developing swathes of sound very well. Rumbles and birdchat add to the menacing feeling, and we're
left with a very beautiful piece of music. The second side has slightly less to recommend it, starting with a recital
over low gong tones, continuing with a piece for the multi-tracked voice of Mark Hamilton, which despite a slightly
child-like and out-of-tune feel gets surprisingly impressive as it develops, with some obvious similarities to the work
of Meredith Monk. Finally, the tape ends with another atmospheric instrumental, winds, jungle sounds, and slow
shades of tone filtering through. Excellent stuff. [Available from Direction Music]
This is an album compiling nine tracks from older albums, recorded between 1984 and 1988, most radically remixed, with one previously unreleased track, A Hollow Grave. It opens with Headcrack Part 1, a very pretty piece created with looped, layered and altered waves of shimmery guitar, and follows this up with the weird sonic swells, soars, and wordless vocals of Letters To The Life Cycle. It's beautiful music, atmospheric and powerful, while lacking the aggression of some of the group's other work. Vocal Chant N.1 is similar to Gregorian singing, while The Peacock is New Age guitar music, pure and simple. Sometimes beautifully serene, sometimes bland and New Agey, but certainly further proof of Controlled Bleeding's talent and versatility. [Materiali Sonori, 52027, San Giovanni Valdarno, Italy]
Trudge LP (WaxTrax WAX 90)
Rippling percussion, churning noise, pounding beat, and a distinct sense of grandeur make up this sound. The rhythms lie somewhere between Test Dept and conventional hardbeat, and the singing is infused with feelings of religious or military passion. Powerful stuff, and very individual, given the current state of the hardbeat market. Even within a single track, it can range from sweet singing over military drumming to growled vocals over guitar-driven rock without losing any coherence. Nearly an hour of great rhythm'n'noise. (Despite what the sleeve says there are ten tracks, not eight).
Tenebrae Vision LP (WaxTrax WAX118)
This was advertised in EAR magazine, inappropriately enough. With music by Skinny Puppy's Cevin Key and Rudolph Goettel and Front Line Assembly's Bill Leeb, you may already have a good idea as to what this sounds like. Strangely enough, the outer sleeve and record label credits Wilhelm Schroeder in place of Leeb, who only gets a look in on the inner sleeve. What happened here? The diseased, slowed-down electropulse from one group meets the harder beat of the second group. Unfortunately, the talents arrayed here don't always result in particularly inspired results, the dull The Road Kill which opens proceedings being one example. One track, Paradiessiets sees Neubauten's Blixa Bargeld join the crew, adding vocals, piano and production. It lacks the discipline of, say, Front 242, and also their ability to get to the point. The sound is less sharp, less hard, and the rhythms more prone to interruption or lethargy. When hardbeat gets as middle-of-the-road as this sometimes does, it's little better than an alternative version of pop or electronic rock. Fans of the above groups will probably enjoy this, but it's not as good as the individual work of F.L.A. or Skinny Puppy.
Syrophenikan LP (Dossier Records DLP 7563)
Delerium is another side project of Bill Leeb of Front Line Assembly. It consists of mostly instrumental material, electrobeat with the emphasis on atmosphere, and with a distinct middle eastern influence. Embodying, with its pounding drums, threatening low tones, and mock-Arabic melodies, could have been written as a theme for war in Kuwait. Shroud takes a less epic tack, with more tribal, less artificial instrumentation, and a more subtle mood. Mythos does something similar, while Fallen Idols uses more thumping rhythms to get its warning message across. The album's closer, Prophecy, is a brilliant slice of atmosphere, the instru ments providing a taut eastern wail as male vocals sing hauntingly. Great stuff.
Anne Dudley & Jaz Coleman
Songs From the Victorious City LP/CD/cassette (China Records 847098)
A strange combination if ever there was one: an ex-Art of Noise technohack, and Killing Joke's mystical main man. The music on this album is an individual cross-fertilisation of Western beats and technology with Egyptian rhythms, instruments and themes. It's all authentic stuff of course, using real Egyptian musicians, really recorded in Cairo, and based on some serious study of Egyptian music. Not some kind of imperialist musical exploitation, oh no sir, definitely not. The music varies between the Western-influenced and upbeat, like Endless Festival or Habebe, and more atmospheric pieces like The Awakening. To the untrained ear, a lot of the Egyptian instruments sound like a cartoon version of Egyptian music - but this may just be cultural bias, and there's no way for me to really tell how authentic it is. It certainly doesn't pretend to be ethnic music, acknowledging its dual influences openly. What's lost in purity of style is made up for in accessibility. So despite a few misgivings, a nice album.
Directions cassette only (Tears Compilations TEAR 311)
This tape opens with rough, belching noise, squealing and ripping its way through the microphone, apparently produced by the extreme distortion of voice and other instruments. Other strange and grumbly sounds speak to the mike, gasping and rattling, and taped voices are intercut, the content of which gives some clue as to the ideas being explored. The second side uses more ambient sounds, monk-like vocals, and has a sparser feel. The tape is mostly very primitive and lasts for an hour. I enjoyed the foil-and-clingfilm packaging more than the music. The second side is definitely worth hearing, but the first is more likely to induce an uncontrollable desire to hit the EJECT button. [Available from Tears Compilations, c/o SHA 261, 1 rue de la Croix, St Simon, Paris 75020, France; or try factor X]
New Funk 12"/CD Single (KK Records KK063)
Dutch duo Force Dimension have been unjustly neglected in the past, with the ability to brew up some storming hard electro-dance, but this single will lose them a few friends, being noticeably toned down for a more commercial sound. It's all perfectly danceable, but lacks anything that would allow it to stand out from the crowds of perfectly danceable singles around. Of the three versions, the Groovy Club Mix is the least insipid, thanks to some squat bass and jaunty bleeps, and the removal of the high-pitched vocals that let down the other two mixes. The bonus track Mockba is pretty awful too.
Speedhouse & Exoticore cassette only (IRRE-Tapes IT 036)
This tape, by no means representative of the wide variety of electronic music released by this German cassette artist, showcases ten tracks of covertly and overtly Kraftwerkian electropop homage. Day Off introduces the luscious and radiant bleeps and whirs so typical of Kraftwerk, and the three parts of Exoticore continue to explore that style of music. Lots of tinkling, shimmering, electronic synth which makes little attempt to hide its inspiration. The second side of the cassette is much more modern dance pop, still without singing, and varies from the distinctly uninspired to the brilliant buzzsaw bass and squittering f/x of Debutant. Well worth a listen for fans of Kraftwerk or their techno descendants. [Available from IRRE-Tapes]
Tyranny (For You) LP (RRE Records RRELP 11)
Ummm. Pulsating bass, shuddering beats, electro rhythms here we come! This is another great Front 242 album, to the extent that any Front 242 album is great. Unfortunately it's nothing more than that - it's nothing new. Some tracks, notably Moldavia, Trigger 2 and Soul Manager, hit a good hard groove, but the rest of it manages, paradoxically, to be both pretty good and completely unremarkable. Still nowhere near the edge, nowhere near as extreme as they hint at being. Mediocre, compared to what they promise.
Plague Mass CD (Mute CDSTUMM 83)
These ten tracks (totalling 74 minutes) were excerpted from a live performance given by Galas in October 1990, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. (Two additional tracks are included on other formats). It is a culmination of her Masque of the Red Death project, performed throughout the late eighties, a response to AIDS and a response to popular reaction to AIDS sufferers. It is unashamedly blasphemous, a harrowing scream of horror at the treatment of so many, at the denial of their rights, and at the apocalypse awaiting if the epidemic continues. Galas mixes her own narrative with texts from the Bible and quotes from various other sources, and stirring them up into a stunning, chaotic, cacophonous storm of sound. Her voice recites, sings, and babbles glossolalia. It's difficult to listen to, and genuinely frightening. As a cry of rage it is extremely powerful. Highlights include This Is The Law Of The Plague, Galas trilling and octave-leaping voice lent additional impact by cataclysmic percussion, and the thumping pandemonium of Let Us Praise The Masters Of Slow Death. A superb work, easily one of the highlights of the year.
Gen Ken Montgomery
Endogeny cassette only (Direction Music DMC11)
Rising star of the American experimental scene and ex-force behind the experimental music shop and performance space Generator, Ken Montgomery makes some very attractive music. Gattertor starts with tinkling, careful bell-like sounds, apparently brass pipes, and rumbling noises made by scraping a drum skin. Ambient and atmospheric, but it's far from being an imitation of anything else. Threatening and spacious, it develops gradually getting louder and more intense, and is definitely enjoyable. The other track, Father Demo Swears, uses processed electronics, violin, voice and live recordings to create an apprehensive atmosphere, with tinkling and rippling noises combined with drones, clatters etc in a very interesting long instrumental landscape. Starts quietly and should definitely be allowed to get extremely loud. Still more evidence of the talent to be found out there in the cassette underground. [Available from Direction Music]
Insiding LP (Mute Records STUMM 71)
The Wire guitarist's third solo LP compiles two soundtracks for dance performances from 1989 and 1990. The first,Bloodlines, starts with a repetitive, cycling soundscape of chiggering percussion and strange tones. This then breaks off into a languorous series of metallic bell tones and synth washes, and continues to shift and change in this manner. It's fine abstract instrumental music, though a bit hard to imagine anyone dancing to (it's a ballet, apparently). The title track, Insiding, is more rhythmic and percussive but otherwise similar. Both tracks are more atmospheric, sometimes a lot more laid back, much less coherent than the previous albums, The Shivering Man and This Way, and consequently not as immediately listenable or impressive.
The Glass Bead Game
The Asylum Tapes Vol. 1 cassette only (Flux Recordings FX001)
Previously active as the band Chimaera, producing an occasionally muddy gothic electrobeat, Colin Fraser and Dave Cooper have regrouped under a new name. Time has matured the music, but it remains a very enjoyable mix of the strange and accessible, with upbeat but not particularly hard electronics and a variety of weird and dark atmospheres. Similarities to Eurobeat are inevitable, but this music has much more personality than a lot of artists working in that genre. Well produced and great value for money (90 minutes for £2.50), it's mainly let down by disappointing vocals: punk legitimised an inability to sing and hardbeat seems to have taken the idea up with a vengeance. Otherwise very highly recommended. [Available from TGBG, 65 Withermoor Road, Winton, Bournemouth BH9 4NU]
Harrison & Chappelle
Know Control cassette only (Poison Plant)
The first side opens with distorted organ sounds, into which comes a man humming, more off-key synthesis, and various other fuzzy and discordant tones. Not pleasant listening. Variations on a Theme by Eustachio Romano #1 also begins with a synthetic assault on harmony, the various found sounds and synthesizers combining to create an alien atmosphere. The second side contains shorter pieces, all different in style but still perversely anti-musical. The lack of conventional melody and harmony makes it difficult to listen to, and I alternated been thinking that it was either pretty good avant-garde work, or the pretty awful result of some very cheap production techniques. Poor sound sources combined with deliberately nasty editing and processing, seemingly random. Only you can decide whether these ten tracks are simply too far ahead of their time for us to understand, or a complete pile of crap. [Available from Poison Plant]
The Triumph of Death cassette only (Direction Music DMC014)
Unclassifiable stuff this, which is another way of saying that I'm hopelessly lost. As on previous releases, Nigel Hills combines an offbeat way of looking at music with avant-garde and more conventional structures to produce what can only be described as a conceptual album. A lot of the instrumentation here sounds very metallic or very plastic, but also highly individual. The rhythms tend to borrow from various sources: rock and world music for example (often with a noticeably oriental feel). What results shares some of the left-field sensibility of the Residents whilst somehow remaining fairly serious music. Baffling and very adventurous, it leaps from theme to theme with panache, but frequently manages to confuse the listener, and can be quite hard to follow. It still manages to dance from the sweet and tonal to the harsh and discordant without losing its thread. Compared to his excellent earlier albums, a lot of this cassette seems empty and artificial, but it's still evidence of a highly unique creative muse. [Available from Direction Music]
H.N.A.S. / Vox Populi!
Face to Face Volume 2 LP (Odd Size Records OS 06)
The second album in this French label's series brings together German soundscapers Hirsche Nicht Aufs Sofa, and French musicians Vox Populi! H.N.A.S.'s side, Im Tal Der Möhre, uses a mixture of collage and various instruments to produce weird, atmospheric and disturbing music. Their French counterparts create moody landscapes of sound using a variety of processed instruments and impressionistic, understated voices. Homme, Femme, Autruche au Radiator is excellent, unclassifiable stuff, changing from almost psychedelic rhythms to ominous scratchings without much difficulty. Both groups occasionally rely too much on traditional rock drums and guitars, but for the most part escape this horrible tendency and put their imagination to good use. [Available from Odd Size Records]
A Thin Drone Silence cassette only (Poison Plant)
This is beautiful, serene ambience. Synthetic drones and washes float through the ether, subtle timbres and harmonies slowly sliding back and forth. It's very, very simple, and very, very effective. Accusations of it being a bland, New Age soundtrack would be quite unfair, as this is imaginative and refreshing stuff. Just what a reviewer needs after a hard day's listening to body-pumping Eurobeat and headache-inducing noise music. The feelings conjured by A Thin Drone Silence vary from the uniformly mellow and pleasant through various shades of more ambiguous contemplation: it's certainly not all sweetness and light. [Available from Poison Plant]
Stressed 12" (KK Records KK 059)
Another Belgian band, another hardbeat record. Insekt have some of the most unintelligible growled and distorted vocals I've ever heard, plus a pounding beat, and a dense, dark sound. Stressed itself has some wonderfully low bass, along with distortion and some relaxed, slow rhythms. Pretty good, although I prefer something harder and faster.
Scratch Attack 12" (KK Records KK 058)
Energetic and confident hard dance music by the San Francisco-based Kode IV, with a hammer beat, loads of powerful and vibrant electronics and some rather inconsequential scratching in the background. Tremendous stuff! Oh yes, and lots of samples too. (And I hate 12"s which play at 33rpm without telling you!)
A Measured Response 12" (Nettwerk Europe NET 029)
Great electrobeat dance music, with the title track plus two versions of Running Mad, both taken from their latest album Voice of World Control. Hard, fast, vibrant, electrifying stuff, and some fun Arab chanting on A Measured Response. The presence of a Desert Shield Mix seems to indicate some sort of Gulf war connection, but unless you're psychic you'll have a hard time figuring out what it is. It's not too distinguishable from the rest of the electronic body music axis, but sufficiently well done that it doesn't matter. Nice line in vocal samples too.
The Burning Protest cassette only (Mind Scan)
Maylin Pact is Robert Maycock, who runs Mind Scan tapes. The Burning Protest mixes shattering metal bashing reminiscent of Einstürzende Neubauten with occasional distorted noise and voice. A particular highlight is Destiny of Collapsed Perfection, extremely energetic and resonant rhythmic pounding creating an effectively powerful atmosphere. Life's Cries uses a backing of random demolition with huge smashes of noise up front, something like an industrial equivalent of heavy metal power chords, and this more or less sums up the range of music featured here, although at times it takes a look at a much more ambient industrial atmosphere too. Generally noisy and nasty. At times the sound breaks up (presumably deliberately) too much to make it enjoyable listening, the noise is sometimes too dulled and undifferentiated, and the rhythmic ability doesn't quite meet up to Test Dept standards, but this tape certainly has its moments. Recommended to metal-bashing fans. [Available from Mind Scan]
Book of Days LP (ECM 1399)
Just possibly the best album reviewed in this issue, Book of Days consists of music for an avant-garde film directed by Monk, who also wrote all the soundtrack and took part in most of the performance. Almost entirely made up of abstract lyricless female vocals, the recording that results is a piece of sublime beauty. Strange, mystical and thoroughly enchanting. Several voices combine to create subtle, intricate, sonorous patterns. Hints of chorale and liturgical singing mix amongst impressionistic chattering. The lack of instruments, and the lack of lyrics, result in something far purer and more timeless than, say, Dead Can Dance would do, and correspondingly more delicious. Absolutely exquisite!
Stromatolites cassette only (Direction Music DMC19)
This tape from outstanding Welsh label Direction Music presents a 49 minutes made up of two side-long tracks. This is music that, like a lot of the material covered in E.S.T., does its best to defy description. Abstract instrumental music is really about as close as it ever gets. Here there are strange synthesisers, scraping, percussive tinklings, drones and so on, and it's very nice spacious stuff. At times its fairly unstructured nature produces a set of sounds that simply don't match, but otherwise it's reasonably successful. Reminds me of water flowing and echoing through spiky and radioactive underground caverns, if that's of any help. The texture varies quite a bit whilst still remaining consistent. Some of the noise is quite industrial, some of it less so. [Available from Direction Music]
Frequency Response LP (Antler-Subway AS 5029)
This is a collaboration between Marc Verhaegen of The Klinik and Bill Leeb of Front Line Assembly. Fast, frantic rhythm races off the record, electric beeps and plastic percussion. I haven't heard The Klinik, so I don't know exactly what Marc Verhaegen's influence here is, but all I can hear is a less grungy F.L.A. Forgotten Realm is an unusual, spacious track, rebounding rhythm traversing an empty domain. Most of the tracks are pleasant electrobeat, but otherwise unremarkable, the sum of the two collaborators lacking the verve and daring that each has alone. However, In Vain, which opens the second side, is an energetic and electrifying whirl of noise, and Homage is a fast and enjoyable journey through stranger sound textures. And then there are the throbbing, pulsating energies of Agitate. Not bad, but not great either.
Nostalgie Eternelle / Treble King
Let Me Out cassette only (Mind Scan)
These two bands, from Germany and the USA respectively, each have one side of this tape to themselves. Nostalgie Eternelle create a synthetic, rhythmic, instrumental music. Some of it works, combining mechanical, propulsive rhythms with murmuring drones, and some of it doesn't, most notably the sub-Ultravox synth and anti-singing of Naked Life. Treble King open with similarly tinny rhythms and proud synth bursts - just as unimpressive. But some of what they do is better, combining found voices and imaginative tape loops with rhythms slightly less simplistic than NE's and with a better idea of how to use those atmospheric drones. Not as good as his solo cassette however. [Available from Mind Scan]
Nouvelles Lectures Cosmopolites
Lost Sand Divinities CD only (Permis de Construire PER 022 / ETCD 01)
Rhythmic and atmospheric music, mostly synthetic as far as I can tell. Echoes, for me at least, of Coil. Very emotive and well done. NLC claim various psychic and magical benefits from the vibrations in this music. If it works for you, then that's great, but like most occult-influenced music, the effects and significance it has for the originators rarely translate well for their uninformed audience, who are much better off creating their own music so that they can individually tailor its effects. Taken just as music on its own merits, LSD is very pleasant ambient/instrumental stuff, with a nice edge of the bizarre. [Available from Permis de Construire, B.P. 256, 54005 Nancy Cedex, France]
1000 Homo DJs
Supernaut 12" (Wax Trax WAX 133)
Al Jourgensen (sorry, Buck Satan) and pals cover a paean to the joys of chemical hallucination by Black Sabbath. Gargantuan guitars and swollen drums are the order of the day. A bit lacking in variety but, just, like, totally, total, y'know? Backed by Hey Asshole, which clatters along in an even more unvaried and powerful way.
Narcosis cassette only (PBK Recordings)
Packed with a hand-painted cloth inlay, this latest release by PBK continues his exploration of, ummm, noise. Flowing, churning, developing abstract noise textures. I've no idea how they were created or manipulated: they possess an authentic identity of their own somewhere between electronic, mechanical and environmental noise. PBK's aim is to use this unpromising material to reeducate our ears, show us that noise really is nice. His music has ranged in the past from the musical to the unlistenable, but this cassette is neither: it really does stand on its own merits, as a new listening experience. Post-apocalypse ambient atmospheres. [Available from PBK, 115 W. 33rd, San Bernardino, CA 92405-2505, USA]
Inward Collapse LP (Dirter Promotions DPROMLP2)
This is the appearance on record of an album previously available on cassette from Mind Scan. It consists of twelve tracks of nightmare noise, brooding, malevolent atmospheres. They are made out of a melding of synthetic and acoustic sounds, heavily processed and distorted. One or two, like Malfunction, are more rhythmic, slices of cheap drum machine and dirty noise not unlike much of what was produced in the early eighties by any number of industrial or post-industrial bands. Little of it is particularly exciting, noisy or imaginative, and the atmosphere is distinctly detracted from by the amateurism. It falls between two stools of being unlistenable and apocalyptic, or listenable and atmospheric. Despite a few good moments, I found it disappointing. [Available from Dirter Promotions, P.O. Box 61, Herne Bay, Kent CT6 5QP]
The Last Rites cassette only (Mind Scan)
On this tape, Pessary provide us with a series of atmospheric, ominous sound sketches. Drum machine is used, reasonably sparingly, as are numerous synthetic drones and occasional bashing and clanking of metal. Some of it is extremely effective, mostly the material that avoids the rather limited drum machine. However, as I said, these are really only sound sketches, and consequently tend to have little in the way of internal development, which can let down otherwise worthwhile material. Pessary have yet to really realise their potential, but the potential is very clearly there. [Available from Mind Scan]
Gub LP/CD (Anagram Records GRAM 47)
Pigface is a collaboration between some of the best known names at the cutting edge of hardcore dance music, that is Ministry, Revolting Cocks, KMFDM, Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy. The line up drawn from these bands includes Martin Atkins, Paul Barker, Chris Connelly, William Rieflin, Ogre, En Esch, Trent Reznor, Matt Schultz, Wilian Tucker and David Yow. Of course the major exclusion is Al Jourgensen, and his production (not to mention) musical artistry is replaced by the talents of Steve Albini.
I think you know what the music sounds like already! The CD contains 16 tracks including the 4 remixes from the Spoon Breakfast EP. It bears a remarkable likeness to Wiseblood's Dirtdish LP, ranging from the slow, sleazy, drunken grind that is Suck to the massive tribal rhythm patterns of The Bushmaster and Bushmaster Bushmaster Remix. The vocal contributions come from many sources: Ogre, Yow, Reznor, Connelly and En Esch (who sounds just like Blixa Bargeld). A supergroup for the nineties and beyond, with the music to match; aggressive doesn't do it justice. As Trent Reznor exclaims: Jesus Christ on Ecstasy!! [Review by Matthew Riley]
Plant Bach Ofnus
Symudiad Ymddangosol y Lleuad cassette only (Direction Music DMC 10)
Welsh band Plant Bach Ofnus seem to alternate between innovative and experimental music, as on this release, and more commercial dance fodder, as featured on a couple of 12"s and Peel Sessions. This cassette has four tracks, each representing a phase of the moon. Full moon comes first, opening with enveloping tones, gentle guitar, and soft percussion. First half moon combines natural-sounding cries with a very quiet drone, pluckings and a low rhythm, making a very open mood. New moon echoes the Cocteau Twins in its drumming, synth and guitars, echoing and moody. Second half moon fills the second side, abstract, billowing, ambient - lots of music deserves these adjectives, but as ever this is because music like this is hard to describe. This stuff is distinguished by its spacey, cosmic sounds. Faint voices float in the mix, and the mood becomes noticeably less serene and more chilling. [Available from Direction Music]
Psychick Warriors ov Gaia
Exit 23 12" (KK Records KK 055)
Rumbling, pulsing dance music that asks us to return to the source. Very competent, but when hundreds of similarly competent singles are being released every week it needs a bit more than that. The Warriors have connections with Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth and the Katharos Foundation (a similar/smaller Dutch organisation) but it's hard to find anything very esoteric in the music itself. There's a ritualistic sort of feel in bits, and it begs your body to sway all over the place, but ... one song and a not-very-different remix is not a great deal, is it?
Direction ov Travel CD (Temple Records TOPY 059CD)
This album is mostly a collaboration between Psychic TV's Genesis P-Orridge, and avant-garde percussionist Z'Ev. Gen plays the Tibetan bells, Z'Ev the Tibetan bowls plus drums, and they all help mix it all together. Opening with an empty little piece of bell-tinkling, further tracks are given their texture mostly through the use of sound processing treatments, which is in some ways a pity because it doesn't really let character of the instruments themselves shine through. Needless to say, the instigators of this album would probably claim all sorts of mystical significance for it. However doubtful that must be, what remains is a nice, albeit unadventurous, album of subdued atmospheric ambience, shimmering and droning sound textures, with ritual percussion giving it a very occasional propulsive assist. Very good for what it is, but it never really travels anywhere particularly interesting. Too somnolent to ever really get going, too undeveloped to engage your concentration.
Ravi Shankar & Philip Glass
Passages LP (Private Music 210947)
Glass, probably the best known of the so-called Minimalist composers, teams up here with Indian maestro Ravi Shankar, one of the early sources of inspiration for his music when they first met in 1965. The music here is a serene, flowing blend of the Indian and Minimalist elements, opening with the beautiful Offering, sax raga over a typical Glass theme. The next track, Sadhanipa is less interesting, with the two talents failing to integrate, and uses of some very clichéd material. Similarly, the Glass solo composition Channels and Winds echoing some of his earlier material (eg Koyaanisqatsi) lacks clarity and impact. The joint Ragas in Minor Scale, with its vibrant plucked strings, and tripping progress, is much more enjoyable. A lot of the Glass elements on this recording harken back to his earlier days, and the only thing that seems to be keeping his music alive is the more authentic ethnic feel. Sometimes this album gels, sometime it doesn't, and it's never as satisfying as it could have been.
Asylum LP (Eyas Media EYAS 013)
Brooding synth washes introduce the first track Gift, an effectively contemplative and dignified atmosphere. Patrick O'Kill narrates the lyrics over steadily more apocalyptic synths, and the lyrics are as gothic / romantic as ever. Great fun if you can get into a suitably weighty and profound frame of mind. I find it difficult, I must say. Red Cloak, Red Hat marries a regular beat to similar lyrics and strange background noise. It's certainly successful, if you can cope with the overwrought singing and general portentousness. Birth of the Seven is the only track which really reaches away from song territory, combining trance drumming with shrieking and howling to create a nice ritual mood. It's all full of a grand ambience, and certainly with a very special character of its own: I can't think of anyone else making music quite like this. At times it balances strangely between the accessible and the left-field, with elements of both combining with interesting results. [Available from Sixth Comm, BCM Cenaz, London WC1N 3XX]
Morthogenesis mini-LP (Eyas Media EYAS 059)
Hardly new music despite Sixth Comm's reputation for standing outside the mainstream. This compilation of five tracks from 1985 to 1987 presents unremarkable but adventurous indie rock music, written by Patrick L. O'Kill. It is energetic, grand, gothic and completely unafraid of going over the top. Crashing percussion, emotive strings, and vocals frequently narrated rather than sung. Too much angst! The singing might as well be Frank Sinatra or Tom Jones as far as I'm concerned - too self-consciously soulful, and as a result, too plastic. If you're the kind of person continually caught in an obsessive, passionate, existential crisis, then you may feel differently ... [Available from Sixth Comm, BCM Cenaz, London WC1N 3XX]
Seething LP (Cenaz 156)
A special limited edition release, Seething is inspired by SEIDR magic and the Serpent Mysteries, ecstatic shamanic rituals with their roots in Norse Runic magic. Patrick O'Kill and partner Amodali attempt here to document their sexual magic and create music exploring it further. I found it a lot more enjoyable than the other Sixth Comm reviewed above. It's just as dramatic, if not more so, but Amodali's venomous voice is a very effective tool added to the blend of random and rhythmic percussion, strings and other noises found here. Amodali's singing is a lot rawer than Patrick's, and the music here is refreshingly dark and dangerous. The highlight is The Birth of the Seven, on this outing a shriekingly powerful track, with whispering vocals leading into tremendous tribal drumming. Most of the remainder is equally effective, even if the lyrics are occasionally a mite cliched. A very enjoyable record. [Available from Sixth Comm, BCM Cenaz, London WC1N 3XX]
Outdoor Expressions cassette only (IRRE-Tapes IT 039)
Gothic electropop reminiscent passingly of Legendary Pink Dots and especially Attrition. Opening with The Wolf Song, with depressed female vocals amidst sullen synthesizers, a bit like Macbeth's witches on a very bad day, it struggles to lift itself out of wristslitting mode. Most of the vocals sound like Siouxsie, and as well as the bands already mentioned, some of the music echoes Portion Control and other early eighties types. Highlights include Ethnological Hazard II, with echoing, bouncing rhythms and slightly more expressive singing, and The Algorhythm Dream, atmospheric and entrancing vibrant electric rhythms. The rest alternates between the dismal (in both senses of the word) and the quite interesting. [Available from IRRE-Tapes]
Stereo Taxic Device
Lostland CD Single / 12" (KK Records KK062)
Good value for money this, what with four different tracks rather than two versions of one, as is so often the case. Lostland is grandiose electropop with soaring synths and an upright rock rhythm. Stereotaxic Device (equipment used to monitor the brain by animal experimenters) employs a low and threatening rhythm & bass line, over which dulled vocals growl viciously. The pretty good Cloud CFC enters similar territory, mixing the rumbling beat with more yearning synth, and Slash and Burn again has those trademark hardbeat vocals, over more spartan percussion and a less convincing sound. On the whole, nice stuff, especially for, say, fans of Skinny Puppy, who are one obvious reference point. A Los Angeles band, Stereo Taxic Device are due to tour Europe in September with AAAK.
Ticket to Everywhere cassette only (Chainsaw CSC 011)
Somewhere in here there's some good music struggling to escape, but it doesn't always manage it. At times I'd call it rock with a healthy influence of neo-psychedelia and experimental music, not always very well performed and not particularly well recorded. At most other times, for example on the impressive Days Without, it's a lot more interesting, combining samples, acoustic and electronic instruments to create strange and dark feelings. Some of it's extremely atmospheric, like the beautiful You Must Pay, some of it quite powerful despite a certain primitivism. Loads of music for your money too. [Available from Chainsaw Cassettes]
Materia Prima LP/CD (Jungle DEPT 1)
These recordings were produced originally as a limited release as part of Test Dept's ongoing campaign to raise money, pay off debts, and fund other projects. Consisting mostly of excerpts from shows performed in 1988/89, these are instrumental slices of atmosphere, with none of the percussive racket that characterises Test Dept's more familiar sound. Landrites for example, combines didgeridoo, distant metallic clangs, synthetic thunder and ghostly female voices to create a barren, dark soundscape. Pipes and Didgeridoo is exactly what it says, an astonishingly beautiful meeting of Scottish and Australian influences. Apocalypse presents more ambient, post-collapse atmosphere, alien voices chattering around a ruined landscape. Finally, Funeral matches piano with various other instruments to create a spartan little dirge, simple and effective, and also a very unlikely piece for Test Dept. The other two tracks, both retreads of old ideas from The Unacceptable Face of Freedom, are both much less successful. Otherwise, a surprising album, and a good one.
Pax Americana & New World Order 12"s (Ministry of Power / Jungle MOP 5T & MOP 7T)
Another shortage of money, another attempt to break into the dance scene. Pax Americana chants We love Saddam Hussein - you cynical bunch of cash-in merchants! Actually, it's not at all bad, even if it's certainly not Test Dept as we know and love them. A synthesised, funky dance tune with vaguely middle-eastern overtones, pulsing bass, and mock-ethnic percussion. Only the growling ranting of Yeats' poem The Second Coming really sounds like the Testies, and it doesn't fit well with the music. New World Order steps into more convincingly danceable territory, but is otherwise unremarkable. The artificial percussion still retains some vague echo of Test Dept's more familiar sound, and the George Bush samples remind us what it's all about, but ... Buy it because they deserve your money? Hmmm.
Pax Brittanica CD (Ministry of Power / Jungle MOP 6CD)
A bit of a change for the boys from Brixton. In keeping with their growing acceptance by the art world, Pax Brittanica sees Test Dept joining forces with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, of all people, for a new version of their current stage show. Live, this is raw, aggressive, intensely exciting stuff, combining massed drums with numerous other instruments and some wonderfully angry ranting. Here, a lot of the rawness has been stripped out and replaced by orchestral grandeur. For old fans, it takes a bit of getting used to, but it's worth persevering, representing probably the group's most consistent and powerful statement on record. It's a powerful condemnation of British imperialism, complete with samples of Thatcher, Churchill and others in amongst the strings and percussion. A culmination of several years work, this is an excellent album. Go see it live too, because although this is impressive and moving, it's not as thrilling or uplifting as seeing it in flesh. And of course, your speakers may find it a little different to duplicate the sheer exhilarating noise of the live performance.
King Size cassette only (Mind Scan)
Treble King is an American, Mark E Brooks, using tapes, radio, samples, loops, effects and voice to create, on this outing, a simple but extremely effective atmospheric music. My Home and Feet sets things going with its shimmering, undulating patterns, a kind of rhythmic ambient music looping minimal sources to create a very attractive sound. Sunshine loops distorted sounds and voice to sound something like a rash-covered Residents. Other tracks focus on a harsh and distorted rhythm rather than the gently swaying wash of sound colour, but it's all well done. It's imaginative, and definitely recommended. [Available from Mind Scan]
Triptic of a Pastel Fern
2nd Jefferson Blythe cassette only (Poison Plant)
Emphasis Crelm (not an untypical track title) leads off the seventeen tracks here with a fast-paced rhythm and soaring, wailing electronics, echoes of psychedelic rock and cosmic music fuelling a strange, buzzy feel. This sets the style for the first side: shimmering electronic textures over careful, rapid rhythms, not always especially imaginative, but still effectively done. You can sway to it, maybe even jump about, or lie back and let the music carry you off into some far away space. Some of it's pretty inane, especially the more humorous second side, without the saving grace of true self parody. But generally, energetic and weird, with a sense of humour that wouldn't hurt most of the new music reviewed in E.S.T. Most likely to appeal to Residents fans, although the first side of the cassette is a lot less self-indulgent and more musical. [Available from Poison Plant]
Acqua LP (Musica Maxima Magnetica eee 04)
Japanese musicians on an Italian label, understandably hard to find here in Britain. It's an album of ritualistic music, occasionally ambient, frequently pretty energetic, but always based around complex rhythmic percussion. Unlike some, none of the percussion is synthetic, and the natural sound that results is very refreshing. Ambient vocals and nice rhythmically plucked strings introduce the studio side. Awakening gives us ominous ethnic percussion, growing in intensity, while Photongnoul is slower, more mournful. Taksim II provides energetic, rolling, thundering drumming, and the side ends with Fangs and Claws, returning to a more relaxed sound, running water and undulating synth tones setting the very beautiful mood, breaking into a powerful rhythm at the end, closing the side perfectly. The live side opens with waves of synthetic energy, sliding into a strange rhythmic drive. The drums are occasionally more rocky, and as a result it's a lot less enchanting. Still beats the pants of most music around nowadays though! It all has a Japanese feel without it being Japanese music. [Available from M.M.M.]
Antithesis Song 12" (Antler-Subway AS5044)
This second release from the Dutch duo, Arno Peeters and Tibor Fulop will appeal to just about anyone who can dance. Although the title track borrows its main pulses from many a house tune, 808 State's In Yer Face is a good example, it is interpreted in an altogether threatening way, sounding as if a nail is being drawn across the bonnet of a car! This is set to a back-beat of intense percussion and industrial effects, complimented by a female voice which actually works for a change and doesn't detract from the product. The B-side reminds me of Ministry's Twitch epoch, with its reliance on drum patterns at the forefront of the track, grungy guitars behind. I feel that this is primarily an experimental piece and Hardclub 92 devotees will undoubtedly love it. I shall look forward to an LP release scheduled for the autumn. [Review by Matthew Riley]
Basie V Webster
Head of Nails cassette (Mind Scan)
An hour of music by still more people who I've never heard of. It starts with One Underneath, something like a more synthetic and more restrained Cocteau Twins. Light, floating female vocals across a cheap synthipop bed. It only really gets going on the second side, exploring everything from a powerful mechanical assault to impressionistic and atmospheric synth / piano combinations. Pleasant, well executed, and pretty undemanding. Enjoyable stuff, and unusual for Mind Scan! [Available from Mind Scan]
The Young Gods
Play Kurt Weill LP (Play it Again Sam BIAS 188)
The Swiss masters of sonic superdrama cover eight songs by Weill on this album, including well known items like Mackie Messer and the Alabama Song. Weill, the German composer best known for creating The Threepenny Opera along with Bertold Brecht, would probably have approved. Mackie Messer is passionate and venomous, constantly ready to erupt into heavy metal fury, but all the more effective while it manages to retain its restraint. When it loses it, the passion is eclipsed by the clumsy musical cliches. Speak Low has potential with its rolling drums and riffing bass, and Franz's voice is really too classically beautiful for my taste, but Alabama Song is better, full of electric energy and windy angst, set off against a cheap cycling accordion. Seeräuber Jenny sees a meeting between the Residents and Einstürzende Neubauten, if such a thing is imaginable. Reference points? Ummm ... only Neubauten's Haus der Lüge springs to mind, although that's a far less conventional and more powerful album. The Young Gods are simply too compromised on this album by the rock milieu they have chosen to work in. Could have transcended, but, ummm, it didn't.
Look Into Me LP+12"/CD (Charrm LP 14)
Zoviet France are one of Newcastle's two best known experimental groups, the other being Nocturnal Emissions. On this album they cycle and recycle abstract noises into a constantly changing texture, composed of sonorous drones, grindings, scrapings, squeakings and so on. It's atmospheric without conjuring up any obvious imagery at all, thanks to the unreality of most of the sounds used. Occasionally, the overtly machine-like nature of some sounds has a familiar feel. The LP consists of the spacious and disjointed side-long Cair Camouflet, backed by ten other tracks, and the 45rpm companion record provides another three. Enjoyable and imaginative. [Available from Charrm]
Assemblage 1990 cassette only (PBK Recordings)
An hour of music compiled by American noise-artist PBK. Nine artists are featured, of whom the best include Asmus Tietchens, whose Im Netzwerk consists of metallic, reverberating percussion overlaid with abstract sound effects; PBK's purposeful mixture of mechanical abstraction, a crescendo of increasingly distorted and noisy clamour; rumbling, droning clouds of sulphurous noise from Illusion of Safety; Art Simon's strange and intense sound collage; and the very predictable but pleasant steely ambience of Vidna Obmana's All Glanced in Mind, from Belgium. Also featured are Sound Theater, Hands To, Joseph Nechvatal, and Jim O'Rourke, most of whom produce interesting abstract compositions, with only a couple of duds. [Available from PBK, 115 W. 33rd, San Bernardino, CA 92405-2505, USA]
A Bead To A Small Mouth LP (Barooni BAR 001)
This compilation gathers together some of the best known talents of the post-industrial sound collage scene. Avant-garde surrealists Nurse With Wound open with a found text, a strange narrative recited over a variety of strange harmonies, a sense of ambient mysterious electricity. Pleasant but hardly startling. Graeme Revell (ex-S.P.K.) and Anthony Mannix do something similar, with a sparser, hollower feel to it. The texts are subtle, poetic and atmospheric, but how many times can you listen to them? The second side contains pieces by Mother Tongue (a collaboration between Andrew McKenzie of the Hafler Trio, metal percussionist Z'Ev and linguist Doro Franck), consisting of unlistenable chopped up noise and vocals (which is playing while Top of the Pops is on my TV, making an interesting combination), and Zoviet France, who create an empty, bleak textured soundscape, which although still pretty dull remains the best track on the album. [Available from Ultima Thule]
A Joyful Noise cassette only (Sterile Records SRC 10)
A 90-minute compilation of experimental and strange music from around the world. The most well-known contributors include Nocturnal Emissions, Front Line Assembly and those Christian industrialists Blackhouse, and there are another 17 here. A completely different selection from those on the Auricle tape (below), showing just how much breadth and diversity there is in the experimental music scene. Sue Ann Harkey's Koto Tuning is almost beautiful, but not quite. Xaliman and the Orchestrange do nice things with strings, bowed and plucked, a jungle atmosphere, while Plant Bach Ofnus's offering is not up to their usual standard. Blackhouse turn the tables upon satanic subliminals, subverting Stairway to Heaven hilariously. No track times, and so it's frequently hard to tell who's who. The music ranges from difficult experimental material to more commercial sub-hardbeat stuff, and since it's a lot more upbeat than Escape From the Cage, it's much easier to get into. Recommended. [Available from Earthly Delights]
Escape From the Cage Vol. 2 cassette only (Auricle AMC 041)
A 90-minute compilation of experimental and strange music from around the world. The most well-known contributors include Arcane Device, Peter Frohmader and Asmus Tietchens, but there are another 11 here. Most of the pieces are atmospheric, weird, abstract soundscapes, recorded with mixtures of tape collage, electronics, conventional instruments, and sampled sounds. At its most accessible it remains very difficult listening! Highlights include Les Jungles Apocryphes by Sleaze Art, with its shimmering, groaning, painful basses, Frohmader's contribution, and Michael Winnerholt's strange and understated Yuko. Other contributors: Jack Tamul, Alto Stratus, Clothearz, Limpe Fuchs, Morphogenesis, Context, Biomechanoid, Frame Advance, N.R. Hills. [Available from Ultima Thule]
INRI cassette (Cold Spring CS 001)
The compilation that launched Justin Mitchell's label, and still the most prominent feature on his current reissue schedule. The seller is undoubtedly Psychic TV live, as raw, emotive and lethargic as ever, but more interesting are tracks by Bruise, Religion (Anderson Mix), a numb, diseased electro-rock pustule; Psychopath's extremely brutally pounding WhoreHammer; and Thee Grey Wolves' Psychick Rising, excellent throbbing rhythm and ominous drones. Five other contributions come from both the rock and industrial fields, and are less impressive. [Available from Cold Spring Records, 87 Gloucester Avenue, Delapre, Northampton NN4 9PT]
In the Shadow of the Cross Vol. 1 cassette only (Mind Scan)
This compilation brings together three artists: Nostalgie Eternelle, Dave Kirby, and Information Aggression. NE provide four tracks of throbbing, pulsating, electro-mechanical rhythms, into which shuddering, clanging and twanging noises jump in and out, along with found radio voices. None are particularly great, but of these, the energetic View Round is most successful. Dave Kirby has three tracks, atmospheric soundscapes. Striving for a Perfect Balance sets off ambient tinklings and synthetic tones, developing very prettily, a very enjoyable track, reminiscent of Kitaro. Ambient electronic drones, interesting harmonies, shimmering alien electricity and harsh vibrations characterise his other two pieces, both of which are excellent. Information Aggression create a billowing, dulled, subdued feel, with voices talking about a stripsearch dimly heard in the background. This is very badly recorded, hissy, but this possibly only adds to the oppressive feeling. [Available from Mind Scan]
Mouvements CD only (La Legende des Voix LDV 003)
This limited edition of 1000 features a variety of artists working in the post-industrial, abstract atmospheric area, and marks out La Legende des Voix as a label well worth watching. Un Drame Musical Instantane open with ten minutes of very strange sound collage, weird sonic bursts enhanced by occasional singing and unidentifiable noises; Brume's Red Shift Infiltration is similar, underpinned with a regular bass rhythm, and creating a pleasant mix of the melancholy and industrial; Philip J. gives an ambient, billowing, alien landscape - all subtle tones and colours sliding past each other; Zoviet France's long piece varies from the ambient to the poundingly noisy with consummate skill, abstract noises manipulated god knows how; Desaccord Majeur give a nicely understated rhythmic piece too. Others featured include Muslimgauze, Cranioclast, Vrischika, Asmus Tietchens and De Fabriek. Extremely enjoyable and challenging. [Available from La Legende des Voix, c/o 21 Rue du 8 Mai 1945, 37270 Montlouis, France]
Music Electronic 1989 cassette only (Poison Plant)
This one hour compilation features George Fox, Jack Hurwitz, Todd Fletcher, Rob Lippert, Triptic of a Pastel Fern and Dan Joseph. Triptic tracks include a couple of good instrumentals with very individual synth on top of insistent rhythms, using sounds varying from Synergy-like harmonies to what evoke the feel of electric wires. Except for Pink Dots fans, their song included will be a lot less fun. Fletcher's soundtrack-like pieces sounded to my ears too lifeless and atmospheric, but Lippert's track, while initially sounding similar, has a lot more personality to it. Fox's Strange Visitation is ambient and pleasant but little more, while his other track explores a stranger, more abstract atmosphere. Hurwitz's tracks are nowhere near as impressive as those on A Thin Drone Silence. Joseph's contribution is most interesting and enjoyable, with great metallic swashes of noise shuddering around in the air, and a variety of other ambient tones. Definitely worth a listen, although occasionally it isn't quite up to scratch. [Available from Poison Plant]
UK Electronics Volume 2 cassette only (Mind Scan)
Another Headache, Headmen and Empty Heads are amongst the bands on this compilation. Some kind of a pattern? Maybe. Empty Heads start things off with Jesus Freak, rhythm box, vocals and synths reminiscent of early to mid eighties Legendary Pink Dots. This is the template for the rest of side one: rhythm and synth, with and without vocals, nice if you like that sort of thing, but with a very unremarkable amateur feel. Side two is introduced by Another Headache's The Cacophony Continues. A low rhythm drives the swirling sounds along, but it doesn't go anywhere, like all the Headmen's contributions, more electronic rhythms and synth warblings. Another Headache's other contribution, Factory Floor, ambient and unclassifiable sounds floating and chugging around, is far more enjoyable, as is Random's gurgling Journey Through an Oesophagus. Amoeba's cover of Gary Numan's Are Friends Electric is like an instrumental version of that track with Julian Clary talking over the top. Musical value somewhere less than zero: personal jokes rarely translate well into public ones. Opportunities knocked, I'm afraid. [Available from Mind Scan]
(C) Brian Duguid 1995 except where otherwise noted