KEEF BAKER: Dry / Barren CD / DIGITAL DOWNLOAD Hymen Records
So we come to the end of the journey for Keef Baker releasing work under his own name, as he shifts his focus to other projects that have been making a mark. All the odds and sods that he hasn’t used over the years were passed to his label to compile a collection of songs that are a fitting departure to a remarkable journey. Released in the same format as his latest Nimon masterpiece; we have the main album in hardy copy format, backed up with a digital partner to give you more bang for your buck.
It is of no surprise that the majority of the CD ‘Dry’ harks back to Baker’s n5MD days musically. Opener ‘Stumpy’s Christmas Delight’ and ‘Soldeed’ wouldn’t have sat that out of place on his debut, ‘The Widnes Years’; with beats that fit well within much of the structures of his early work, accompanied by subtle harmonies and Keef’s well placed music theory that has served him so well on all his accomplishments.
The dry humour is as evident as it always was, with the ability to create some of the more evocative IDM out there, carrying the listener on a rocky emotional rollercoaster; only then to give it a tongue in cheek moniker to lift all seriousness out of the equation. It’s this ability to see life from both sides of the proverbial coin, that carries the listener on life’s ship of chartering the choppiest of seas, to the calmest of lakeside shores, that has elevated Baker into one of the scenes most respected underdogs.
From the situational aspects of the ludicrous ‘Jason Cheng and His Football Game’ (something I can relate to well), to the serious breakcore Venetian Snares nod of ‘Amenema’, and the soaring pads of ‘Moar Ambient pls Kthxbye’, as examples; we have here over the course of 35 tracks, an insight into all the tools at Bakers disposal. None of his other projects sound like the work he has done under his own banner, yet as always, all of this output is incredibly varied and of the highest standard.
It’s sad to see this chapter end, but then everything does have to have a conclusion, as everything in life is finite in one way or another. However, what better way to end a section of ones career by submitting a release of throwaway tracks, that have the ability to blow away many artists’ much prized main bodies of work; which surely underlines the credibility of Baker’s place in underground electronic music history.
THREE WINTERS: Chroma CD Termo Records
Harking back in retro fashion to the sound of 80’s synthesisers, blending a Coldwave wall of shaded synthpop sensibilities; Kim Sølve (Blitzkrieg Baby, K100), Anders B (Babyflesh, Mind & Flesh) and Lars Fredrik Frøislie (Wobbler, White Willow) bravely approach music in a way that a select few would sneer at, given the chance.
It could be easy upon first encounter to question the relevance of producing music in this fashion come 2014. However, this trio have taken the sounds of a bygone period in musical history and brought it leaps and bound into the 20’th century with a bang, with the appropriate production values to boot.
Much of the album has a soundtrack quality that harks back to the Betamax/VHS war; and ‘At the Centre of Dystopia’ wouldn’t be out of place on the John Carpenter flick, ‘Escape From New York’. Unusually unnerving, the sinister elements of this release are massaged with edgy, yet remarkably cute electronics that are as engaging as they are peculiar; and the overall result is satisfyingly warm and familiar (especially for someone of my age).
Occasional nods are evident across the spectrum of artists that have shone before, such as Kraftwerk and the darker elements of Ultravox (minus the vocals). Crawling under your skin, harmonious pads are scattered with spangling chimes and simplistic beat structures that allow the music to have its own voice; and there is a magic to ‘Chroma’ that engages the listener from start to finish. Crossbreeding music that doesn’t sit well enough to be played on the dance-floor yet lacks the complexities of ranging ambient music; Kim, Anders and Lars have still managed to construct an album that will please listeners of both stylistically speaking.
PAUL BARAN: The Other CD Fang Bomb
Baran lists many influences ranging from political feelings, and cultures as the source of the title to this album. What we do have are a collection of sound sources ands electro-acoustic atmospheres from this Glasgow based composer that delve into a varied path of obscurities.
‘Himmelstrasse’, the first proper track on this album, plucks out a degree of obscure sounds that are eventually met with a droll poetic drawl, accompanied by off kilter orchestration that knocks the sound off balance; bringing to mind the ramblings of a drunken individual staggering from lamp posts to slumping into the gutter on a damp miserable evening.
Along the way there are some interesting factors that come into play that lift the album from its plummeting lunacy. ‘Celebrity’, captures Dark Ambient sensibilities well, clawing a varied degree of abrasive sounds through a dense fog, whilst ‘The Zone’ tampers with glitch electronics and warped drones. It’s this area where I feel Baran works best and everything feels more cohesive.
‘The Other’, is a bitter pill that is overly sized and hard to swallow. Undoubtedly this album has taken a great degree of effort to create, given the amount of sources that Paul worked with to complete this in its entirety; and I have to give a nod of appreciation for all the effort contained within. However, the main achievement lies in a release that frustrates the listener as much as it pleases and whilst normally this would anger me, there is the overt feeling that this is what he set out to accomplish; and for that, I have to applaud what he has created, even if I didn’t overly enjoy the experience.
EXAUDI: Exposure CD HCR
Exaudi are a vocal ensemble and ‘Exposure’ is their sixth album release and not being exposed (excuse the pun) to them before, I was just a little unsure as what to expect; regardless of the press release.
It is difficult to appreciate and review an album if it doesn’t tick any boxes that you like; however there is a great degree of talent on display and in a lot of ways this compensates for the shortfalls that ‘Exposure’ presents.
Opener ‘ A Painter of Figures in Rooms’ does have the odd Diamanda Galas flair to it that appealed greatly (minus the demonic ranting); and I enjoyed strangely enough the ear piercing range displayed on ‘Nakedness’. However, once these tracks were out of the way I struggled to enjoy the rest of the release due to my tastes falling at the feet of albums that come with some instrumentation.
I commend greatly, the skills it takes to sing at such a high level and appreciate vocals when they’re part of something much larger. I do love the odd smattering of vocal work as sole performance, but only as an intermission; and for me, Exaudi have produced an album that is pure overkill, where any enjoyment is lost due to the sheer lack of actual music.
What I would love to see in the future is a collaboration with an actual orchestra, where the vocal ranges of these incredibly talented individuals are put to better use.
DEAD VOICES ON AIR: Did Digger Do Jehovah Ltd CD / DIGITAL DOWNLOAD Crime League
DVOA have been tripping the boards for ages now since Mark Spybey left Zoviet France; and after a lengthy back catalogue it’s quite odd to see him come up with such a limited release. His latest output starts off in fine form with simplistic electronics and airy ambient, with the aptly titled ‘The Skies Sent out a Sound’ coming across as an electronic signal across the ether.
Followed up with ‘I Was Under a Cavalry Cross’, the ever-so-slight shift in sound is a kaleidoscope of cascading colourful notes that spangle amongst a backdrop of breathing momentum, only to be enforced further with a trippy and hallucinogenic ‘As the Sand of the Sea’.
Where I feel Dead Voices On Air works best as a project is when he concentrates his efforts on ranging Dark Ambient. I do like chiming cutesy electronics and I do think they work well over his foundation material; however I am a sucker for bleak pads and appreciated the momentary stand-alone darkness of ‘Shall my Wrath Burn Like Fire?’ along with the n5md-ish ‘The East is From the West’ more than other works on this album.
Overall, ‘Did Digger do Jehovah’, is a peculiar yet solid mass of stable electronics that capture many a mood for a number of occasions. It’s good to see the project still in full flight and long may Spybey continue forwards.
ANKLEBITER: Weight of a Pronoun Ltd CD / DIGITAL DOWNLOAD Crime League
Tanner Volz is another of the Tympanik Audio refugees that has since moved shores to try his hand in other label avenues. Sometimes it’s a necessary, albeit frightening shift in circumstances; but usually pushes the artist out of their comfort zone.
With two full albums and a remix CD to add weight to his credentials, Volz has already built up a loyal fanbase that he should be proud of; and ‘Weight of a Pronoun’ will only add a few more to that headcount, along with the collaborative efforts of a few other artists that make an appearance on this disc.
Opener ‘Joey Gladstone’ makes its presence known with an ominous, brooding tone. A steady beat introduces the tracks and is steadily knitted together with harmonious electronics and ranging lead notes; and is followed up with the subtle free-fall that is ‘Self-Esteem is Killing America’, with its dropped bass and beautifully arranged poppy pads that erupt into blooming mass of colour as the track comes to its conclusion.
Along the way we are treated to what I term as classic IDM, compositionally speaking. ‘Tickle Monster’ and ‘Error Peak’ play with beats, well paced sci-fi harmonies and layered electronics that bind the tracks with a steadfast glue. Volume plays a key part on individual sections, pushing other elements to the edge of a collapse that never comes.
Reminiscent of previous works, ‘Weight of a Pronoun’ takes baby shoegazing steps forward rather than bringing an all round change. Cleverly in keeping with his back catalogue Volz proves that leaving the creature comforts of previous label backing is no bad thing; if anything it shows strength of character and this latest album is excellent from start to finish.
RENTIP: Daily Routines Ltd LP / DIGITAL DOWNLOAD Crime League
For me, when having to resort to releasing digital downloads, if there is to be a limited hard copy then this is the best way to do it; vinyl wins every time in these circumstances.
Futuristic electronics are the stable source of material for this act. Movie sampling, off-key pads and straightforward beat programming make ‘The Rules of Collision’ a more than effective opening gambit; punching holes in the stratosphere at every turn whilst twisting ravages of sound hinge on complex industrialisms.
Intricate IDM scatters breaks amongst clinical rhythm patterns on the jagged edged ‘Dodecahedron Strategy’, whilst the straightforward electro of ‘Perfectly Preserved’ carries a series of tuneful pad drops throughout; it’s at this point that you see just how deep the quality and variation runs on this release.
Vocals twist and turn through warped structures on the gliding insanity that is ‘Echoes’; another favourite of mine on the album, showing another of the strings on Rentip’s bow. It’s hard to pin the act down genre speaking, as he covers a great degree of styles. Imagine a cross amalgamation of the music of FLA and Skinny Puppy (minus the vocals), filtered through an IDM cheese grater, and you would be somewhat close.
With this being such a limited release, it’s almost criminal how this act may slip through the radar. With so many less worthy acts out there getting their moment in the limelight, Rentip should be right there in the mix; as ‘Daily Routines’ is a visceral complex album that deserves recognition from every self-respecting fan of Industrial music.