Tagged: pop music

Honky Tonk Medusa: an unassuming gem of dark and bittersweet folk pop

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Donovan Quinn, Honky Tonk Medusa, Northern-Spy Records, NSCD 019 (2012)

The title of this album, the third solo full-lengther from Donovan Quinn since he left The Skygreen Leopards, suggests this work is going to feature light and dark in equal amounts. Certainly the tone throughout hints at melancholy and a slight sense of foreboding on what would otherwise be sunny and bright folk pop songs. There may be a theme dwelling on aspects of modern life in a post-industrial world where the American Dream is proving to be more nightmare than dream and people must struggle just to keep sane coping with the pressures of daily living.

The songs all have quite a distinct flavour though I can detect the influence of Bob Dylan in Quinn’s style of singing. (I’m not familiar with the history of American folk music from the 1960s on so readers will have to forgive me for my sketchy knowledge.) “Night Shift” is an early highlight for its deep droning near-industrial rhythms and the use of spoken word recordings in the background that reference the busyness of modern urban life. “My Wife” is a dream-like wistful piece, forlorn and sounding a bit nostalgic in its mood, with a sinister darkness at its core. (The song references the Who song of the same name and David Lynch’s TV series “Twin Peaks”.) “Dying City” comes across as a gentle, sorrowful elegy. “Love in an Evil World” is the most poppy-sounding track with its catchy melodies, slow though they are, and its unexpected twists that capture perfectly a sense of uncertainty and passive acceptance of whatever hardships may come.

The music can be challenging in its ambiguity and its attitude of seeming resignation and observational distance. Although Quinn is a good song-writer, there is something lacking in these songs: they seem so introspective that they don’t reach out to their audience and the listener must try to find a way into Quinn’s world and concerns. Of course, whether Quinn is interested in making a direct emotional connection with his audience is another thing; he’d certainly sell more records and become famous but he may not want the attention, expectations and pressures that fame would bring. Honky Tonk Medusa is a very unassuming little gem of bittersweet quality that with time may gather its own small group of devoted fans.

Tribute Acts

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Home Body
In Real Life
USA FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR-102 LP (2013)

Bringing to bear a deft, understated lyricism that immediately recalls Pierre Menard’s rewriting of ‘Don Quixote’ in its inspired repetitions of its hitherto inimitable phrasings amid landscapes foreign, Home Body’s Hayley Morgan uses mantra to masterfully seduce the listener with polysemous couplets such as “I hustle bustle and I hustle bustle” proving particularly enticing. Careful listeners will observe the sly injection of Home Body’s initials in this novel recasting of two collocated, rhyming nouns into an energetic new verb. Elsewhere, she outdoes the Bard himself, with indelible epithets such as “I can’t live without you. I can’t sleep without you” and “Toodle-loo, I’m sorry but this has gone too far”. It’s as though Bjork, Kate Bush and Roisin Murphy were at once reborn as the same Tesco checkout girl with a penchant for quicksilver haiku, but delivered in a withering monotone that actively interrogates the very virtue of melodicism. Brilliant!

The duo pose in white overalls on the inlay sheet, standing robotically aloof of a riot of coloured fur that represents the contrivance and gaudiness of so much ‘industry sound’. The commentary is subtle, quite sublime, and probably all-too-easily overlooked. The music is a similarly sly bag of synthesized jingles, jangles, whoops born of Eric Hnatow‘s Korg collection; and on the ‘darker, weirder songs, like “Hunt It”’ – there’s a touch of hair-metal rock-out. It all shifts effortlessly underfoot, like rug pulled from underfoot the unwary intruder in this private world of playful linguistic and musical frippery. Essentially, it’s a first class send-up of the kind of bedwetting indie pop that gets Pitchfork readers frothy on a daily basis. In the group’s own words: “outside of time or style, these pieces hew to Home Body’s own standards of canonical pop re-imagination”. Amen.
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Ignatz
Can I Go Home Now?
FINLAND FONAL RECORDS FR-91 CD (2013)

What a shame. It turns out I’ve just missed an Ignatz show, as he played a few UK dates in January. Bother. I rather wish I’d heard this a little earlier. It’s a fairly simple set of songs with a country/blues fanboy thing happening; not my usual cup of tea, but it should be a tidy enough offering by anyone’s estimation. Songs bounce along at a calm canter, notes flicked cleanly from flinty fingers, lyrics – apparently pertaining to the human condition – more or less indecipherable mumbling, and a rather contrived lo-fi sound reduction that sounds a little too clean to me to be attributable to tape corrosion. Though seemingly improvised in parts, it sounds to me like there’s a bit of overdubbing – either that or he DOES have lightning fingers; it’s perfectly plausible. Make no mistake: Ignatz offers no new twists or innovations in his designated style, nor any kind of cosmetic wizardry. However, his honest take on country blues is as devoted and unpretentious as the dog that adorns the cover. It’s a warm and inviting sound: that of a serendipitous evening in a nice venue on a dark January evening. At least, I imagine so.

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Hoofus
Several Wolves
UK EXOTIC PYLON EP21 CD (2013)

Dear Lord! What is this bent-circuit apocalypse you have seen fit to visit upon me? Hoofus is the nominated harbinger of this specific bout of frenzied audio paintballing: unleashing on environment and audience the rampaging bastard child of a bank of senile machines and sporting more colours than one finds in the visible spectrum. Supposedly inspired by the ‘restless feral yearning’ of ramshackle life in the rural wilds, one quickly discerns that this shag-haired ruffian’s governing mandate is a total aversion to structure – as evidenced by his rapid dismissal of the slightest hint of a drum beat – and the coercing of every whim to its logical limit. In live performances, he twiddles knobs with one hand, bangs a drumstick with the other and is presumably rather adept at clearing rooms with the resulting cacophony. Similar results might be expected here. Sounds range from skin-grazing blasts of guitar to more sentimental dulcimer-type dallying as favoured on occasion by Kid606, whose Tigerbeat6 label would have granted warm berth to this electronic pen pal of psychosis. Truth be told, the very same ‘enfant terrible’ of the noughties offers the best all-round audio comparison I can think of. Anyway, there’s an interesting piece that sounds like a blindfolded man stumbling around precariously inside a pinball machine, but I can’t seem to find it now. Oh well.

Modern Ghanaians: a compilation of fusion Ghanaian / Western pop music genres

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King Ayisoba, Modern Ghanaians, Netherlands, Makkum Records, CD MR8 (2013)

Apparently this album is a compilation made after 2006 of King Ayisoba’s most popular songs from other recordings released on the Pidgen Music label, which would explain why the music is relentlessly upbeat and doesn’t sound like anything out of the ordinary for me. This is very highly rhythmic music with a lot of call-and-response singing from a solo singer and a chorus, and it’s very light in its instrumentation. Several instruments may be playing at once but all are usually following the same melody and rhythms; they can hardly be said to be in harmony (European-style, anyway). The music lends itself easily to dancing; of course a lot of people would say, well, it’s Ghanaian pop music, it’s rhythmic, so it should be dance music, shouldn’t it? – but I have heard some (though not much) African pop music that is undanceable, so I never jump to conclusions about something simply because it comes from one particular region of the world.

The best tracks on the album are those that feature instruments unique to northern Ghana where King Ayisoba hails from: “Don’t joke to your father” features an acoustic stringed instrument (I think it’s called the kologo) which has a quality rather like a plucked violin that doesn’t resonate well but sounds a bit on the raw side – it lends itself to very intense emotive singing. On the next track, “Baaba poore”, the kologo again figures and there is another instrument providing some muted rhythm (it sounds as if someone is rubbing something to produce a sound like a muted barking dog). The singing on these songs verges on raucous but is usually restrained; it rarely breaks out into spontaneous chaotic celebration.

Other songs on the album are a mix of Western pop styles from different time periods which might be a bit disconcerting for those of us who think we’ve seen and heard everything there is to see and hear, and that old styles of popular music no longer hold much creative potential. Think again, folks: melodies and rhythms that might have sprung from the disco or reggae scenes a hundred years in the 1970s undergo sudden rejuvenation when juxtaposed with West African styles of singing and rhythms, and local instruments. The style of music featured is referred to as hip life which features hip hop and dancehall elements (and which should not be confused with hi-life which is an older style of pop music from West Africa). Lyrics are often in English (though delivered in Ghanaian accents) and refer to topics and social issues relevant to Ghanaians in their daily lives: for one, families pleading for the return of their fathers (“I want to see you my father”) who are enjoying themselves with mistresses at the expense of their children. Of these more Western-oriented songs, the best is “Don’t do the bad thing” which has a strong driving bass-heavy rhythm against which more delicate instruments such as flute and a stringed instrument flutter.

I must confess that after hearing Congolese bands like Konono No 1 with their blend of folk music traditions, electrified instruments made from scrap and junk materials and hypnotic beats and rhythms, this album does very little for me. I have the impression though that King Ayisoba’s music might be representative of an emerging style of music stripped right down to its basics to appeal to a wide urban Ghanaian audience whose origins are extremely mixed and who have particular needs and demands of popular music: a style of music drawing inspiration from traditional music forms and the latest overseas imports.

Endless Autumn

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Kilo
The Wildernis
EXPERIMENTAL STUDIO BRIGITTENAU EXB 002 CD + DVD (2012)

With exceptions, the few friends I have know me to have precious little time for ‘happy’ music, and – as is my wont – to disparage it with canyon-sized generalisations, finding it too distracted by its own joie de vivre to deliver substance. Indie pop? With a vocal spectrum that stretches from post-Beach Boy falsetto to wimpy whine? It animates me with an aggressive lust for hateful black metal.

Thus, to my great surprise, I find my apprehension melt away in earshot of the latest work of the laptop pop duo, Kilo (comprising Kompakt alumni Florian Bogner and Markus Urban), with the startling serendipity of an unpretentiously simple set of songs. It may just be that this crisp, sunny autumn day has engendered in me a feeling of false optimism, but this is exactly what I want to hear right now. Though lacking the sheen and budget that sold the summer to Daft Punk, Kilo’s songs smoulder with inner warmth, which is revealed by the layer to careful listeners. And the nondescript, monotone (even banal) vocals are my new fair-weather friend.

‘The Wildernis’ is a hazy hybrid of mildly glitch-gilded, GASeous pop sensibilities shot through with an array of distilled musical gestures from synthetic chamber to shoegaze, though the press release boasts of a more distinct and eclectic set of styles (including ‘rock, jazz, contemporary music and free improvisation’) than I am equipped to identify. In any event, such influences are atomised and wormholed into a dazed and distorted dimension of muted exuberance, casting the record in the same neverwhere light as that which illuminates Fennesz’ Endless Summer. Think of a brighter Tujiko Noriko, a less complex Cornelius or one of Kompakt’s ‘Pop Ambient’ stable and you’re in the ballpark.

Opener ‘For Those Who Go Away’ bounces along at a pace: cheery phrases ping from rubberised guitar strings while phantom syllables sweep the horizon. Maintaining a mightier clip, ‘Masken’ is all handclaps, kick drums and synth swells, marching like animated animals into an endless foreground (though its triumphant tone better befits an album closer). Another highlight in the haze, ‘Melody’ collects chromatic climbing and dispassionate harmonies, rubbery bass and tight (if swerving) kick-drum whooshed by red-arrow layers of neon synth; it is (im)pared-down electro-pop that stands firm, halfway in, undone by a lysergic, lilting flute and rebuilt from scratch amidst perpetual collapse. The harmonious blend of elements synthesized and acoustic, beneath a fuzzy blanket – if clumsy at times – renders the hapless song writing all the more endearing.

A ghostly sense of summer days and nights, idealised and invented, veins every track, including more downbeat numbers such as ‘Shivering’, with its world-weary entreaty to ‘feel my body shivering’ over a slurred, string-weltered backdrop. Its transition into a more crepuscular climate marks an emotional sea change for the album, while eroding the first few tracks’ sense of purpose, to no overall detriment albeit. Woozy instrumental interludes such as ‘Integrals’, ‘Wildernis’ and ‘Langdeep’ perpetuate the directional indifference – possibly to the loss of more impatient listeners – though enhancing the sense of scrapbook scrawl, captured well by the near-ubiquitous, sudden stop/start structure, as one halcyon moment after another gets hastily Prit-stuck for posterity. This approach is expounded upon in the nine-minute ‘Dickicht’ which descends like a cryogenic coma, haunted by the ghost of 1970s Miles Davis: a ponderous Fender Rhodes heaves over 4/4 drum machine and low, melodic mumbles – all elements exercising their right to capricious entrances and exits.

Often ambiguous and ambivalent, over time these deceptively simple songs reveal moods and textures that capture the emotional complexity of autumn mornings and other transitional times. ‘The Wildernis’ is a refreshing and disarming collection of songs, worth the time it takes to befriend.

In addition, the CD is complimented by a DVD, which contains visual analogues of all of the songs, in case the images in your head prove to be insufficient; special mention going to Adnan Popovic’s psychedelic Sesame Street visualisation of ‘Melody’. The films – many topographical in content – are well coordinated with the music, and would serve well as a backdrop to a live AV show, or to the home playback should a projector be available.

The Lost Entrance of the Just: soft and pretty black metal pop with an ominous, brooding edge

Official sleeve image from handmadebirds.com
Official sleeve image from handmadebirds.com

Circle of Ouroborus, The Lost Entrance of the Just, Handmade Birds Records, HB-020 (vinyl release 2012, CD release 2013)

Originally released on vinyl in 2012, this was one of two full-length recordings put out that year by the idiosyncratic Finnish black metal / post-rock / shoegazer pop duo. These guys can always be relied on to deliver something, usually a few EPs and one or two albums, each year and 2012 was no exception. Compared with previous recordings of theirs that I’ve heard, this album seems softer and fuzzier, and the lyrics seem less melancholy, even appearing to aspire to hope and positive emotion. The feeling that CoO may have mellowed and adopted a more settled, more accepting and less angry attitude is never far away.

Opening track “Cast in Clay” suggests this new outlook with its softened though slightly ominous clouds of guitar blur through which lazy percussion and Antti Klemi’s vocals emerge and proceed at a loping pace. “Black Hole Womb” might just be a return to the CoO of old with its sharp, arch sound and mood and an extended section with angry spoken word against a backdrop of rising and falling sea-waves. But there’s a jauntiness in the music that suggests a relaxed attitude of going with the flow of the universe, absorbing what it offers or deals out, treating everything as part of one’s journey through life and beyond.

Throughout the album there are a lot of very pretty tunes and even Klemi’s famously individual style of awkward, seemingly off-key singing and occasional shouty declamations doesn’t detract from the warm glow that emanates from the muddied melodies and easy-going drumming. The music serves as a vehicle for the lyrics and to create a highly immersive atmosphere so it tends towards minimalism and loose structure. Melodies and riffs exist in an almost formless way and slower songs like “Mirror Universe” are on the verge of falling apart from drunkenness. The album ends with the only Finnish-language track “Toivosta Syntynyt” (roughly translating as “Hope born” – I hope, I’m only using Google Translate!), a darkly edgy piece with an air of wariness whose meaning and place as closing track must be wondered at.

This is a poppy album with good if not distinct melodies, riffs and rhythms though with a dark and sometimes menacing atmosphere. The music is not one of the band’s best but makes up for the lack of aggression and energy by being a heavy, almost formless and brooding presence. The emphasis on repetition and monotony has a trance-like effect on listeners. This is the kind of recording that grows on listeners over time.

The vinyl issue run is already sold out – CoO fans are nothing if not loyal.

Zombie Skin: black metal kiddie pop debut on mainstream talent television show

Aaralyn and Izzy, Zombie Skin, America’s Got Talent auditions (Season 8, Episode 4), New York, recorded 25 June 2013

Waaal, blow me down, for once that TV show “America’s Got Talent” lived up to its name and featured some real talent! Brother-sister duo Aaralyn (aged 6 years) and Izzy (aged 9 years) performed their sweet little track “Zombie Skin” before the four judges at the show’s New York audtions. While Izzy provided steady support with his drum-work, Aaralyn, togged out in black top, a monochrome polka-dot skirt and pink stockings, and with a solemn expression on her innocent wide-eyed angel face, belted out a shrieky tirade in full grim black metal vocal style. All four judges were blown away – though it has to be said two were blown in the opposite direction from the other two – and the audience (in particular the ladies) jumped to their feet, whistled, made horned-devil signs with their fingers and cheered on the little girl.

Admittedly the song was nothing out of the ordinary but Aaralyn roared into the microphone as if her life depended on it, all the while standing motionless as though bolted to the floor and her face expressionless throughout the song while it lasted.

Unfortunately the performance was cut short by one of the judges who feared for the little one’s throat, though she did assure him that screaming didn’t hurt her tonsils at all. Mel Brown aka Scary Spice admitted to being scared for once in her life and the other female judge Heidi Klum seemed unsure as to what to do. The two male judges Howard Stern and Howie Mandel loved the performance and immediately voted to send the kids on to Las Vegas. Klum also voted in favour of the children wowing the punters in that multi-casino parlour if only because she was curious to hear more of the youngsters’ material, in particular “Lullaby Crash”. Gotta wonder what Klum expects from that song: a hit-and-run collision between “Rock-a-bye Baby” and David Bowie’s “Always Crashing in the Same Car”?

Proud Dad, aw-shucks bashful and surprised at the overwhelming reactions of the audience and the judges, was brought out of the wings onto the stage to acknowledge Stern’s fulsome praise. It sure says a lot about how our society has progressed that in the past, children were nurtured in mischievous forms of social rebellion by their uncles (usually the younger, more wayward black-sheep-of-the-family brothers of their strait-laced fathers); these days it’s the dads themselves who bond with their offspring in this way. Needless to say, Mom was nowhere to be found.

The future of USBM is looking good in the capable hands and voices of America’s young generation with children like Aaralyn and Izzy.

Catch Aaralyn and Izzy’s performance on Youtube at this link.

Grievous Bodily Charm: a patchwork of hooky tunes that manage to be dull

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Mr Vast, Grievous Bodily Charm, Spezialmaterial Records, CD (2013)

A kooky retro-Eighties Eurodisco lounge lizard recording this promised to be to my nonplussed eardrums. The cover art is reminiscent of old DIY-punk cut-n-paste and the symbols on the back cover suggest old advertising motifs for a long-forgotten computer brand. The music starts briskly with a ditty of faux Cockney ska-lite tunes and mock David Bowie vocals in parts and the pace doesn’t falter over the entire album. Our tour travels through synth-pop clunk, some laid-back blues (“Atlantis”) and electrified country pop (“Teflon Country”) among others but overall the recording is much like a homage to a period in the 1980s when Casio and Fairlight synthesisers became the rage and “I’m the operator of my pocket calculator” was a Kraftwerk anthem; people then vaguely remembered how to write proper and occasionally (or accidentally) witty lyrics that actually made sense though they might not all have been politically correct. Mr Vast makes an ill-advised foray into lite low-fat metal and tongue-in-cheek sexist lyrical guff (“Henry the 8th”) and as the album progresses the music and the playboy theme get sillier and plough deeper into increasingly tired and stereotyped music territory.

When the last track has played out, all that has made an impression is a patch-work of hooky tunes delivered in a mass assembly dream factory way that drains any life out of the original style the music draws inspiration from. Probably the only decent song to be found in “Ecstatic Caravan” which for once is a sympathetic treatment of madness and the lack of connection and alienation felt by those so cursed (or maybe blessed). The Cockney and other English accents that may feature fail to rescue the songs from a mechanical and ersatz retro-Eighties hell that apes the style and obsessions of the period but ignores the context from which such concerns bled into the popular culture of the time. Possibly there is an element of satire that I’ve missed. The 1980s are racking up as a period which, more than the preceding decade of fatuous and over-hyped Zeppelin wannabe stadium-rock, culture and good sense forgot and were replaced by superficiality and a kind of cunning and predatory streetwise mind-set.

Contact: Mr Vast, Spezialmaterial Records

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Stereo Space: ruminating on modern life and how it breaks people

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Pilesar, Stereo Space, self-released CD (2012)

Piloted in the main by Jason Mullinax, responsible for vocals, keyboards, programmed percussion, most guitars and electronics effects on “Stereo Space”, Pilesar is a band of shifting personnel who create alternative mainstream melodic pop electronica of a sort that brings out the Devo fan in people of a certain generation. The songs featured here are short sweet affairs ruminating on aspects of modern life, particularly its disappointments and how small it can make people feel.

Early highlights include the reggae-tinged “Everywhere is Beauty” and the slightly dark, angsty “Wifestink”, both of which contain some unexpected but very unassuming gems in their rhythms, manipulations and subtle effects that suggest slight anxiety. From then on, the music sweeps by rather too briskly as though Mullinax insists on packing as much complaint into the space of 54 minutes as possible. A brief pause with an admission of emotional vulnerability appears in “Pinky Swear” but the song still feels hurried along, and a connection between song and listener only goes so deep (which is not much at all).

The mid-album sag inevitably arrives with songs notable more for fussiness or having that quality of you the listener having been there and heard that so let’s move right along to the next track. After doing time out in filler wilderness the album perks up with the instrumental “Things Break” which has some interesting texture effects snuck into the background. Final track “Are We Happy Next?” restores some semblance of the bright eccentricity and whimsy encountered at the album’s beginning but with that familiar air of being older, wiser and more guarded about the ups and downs that life always throws at you.

The album will be sure to pick up fans among its target audience of 20 – 30 years of age: the kind of people who enter the world factory bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with heads filled with ambition and wanting to change everything for the better but who come out of the sausage-making machines with dimmed spirit and perhaps bitter about what they’ve been through, railing at life’s injustices and never really questioning why the mass assembly line had to be there in the first place. But the paths “Stereo Space” treads though have already been heavily travelled by other pop acts, many of whom have done a far better and deeper investigation of the territory of emotions, relationships and disappointments experienced along the way.

Contact: Pilesar

Kuopio: cool electronic minimalism gets a nervy beat-driven treatment

Vladislav Delay, Kuopio, Raster Noton, CD R-N 144 (2012)

I only hope our man Sasu Ripatti knows what he’s doing naming his Vladislav Delay project’s albums after various Finnish towns; looking at a map of Finland, I see he has his work cut out for the next several decades. I’d happily listen to albums named after towns like Alavus, Kaskinen, Orimattila and Savonlinna though, as long as they’re not factory towns where the main industry involves pumping strange-smelling coloured smoke into the air or equally strange-smelling coloured water into the river. As if VD would do such a thing!

As always, these recordings have a beautiful if (almost classically so) cool minimalist style, a wonderful ambience that’s hard to describe but which to me seems warm and a little stand-offish all at once, and those 3D sounds that peel off the disc in sculpted curves or flubby little blobs. On “Kuopio”, the music acquires a new sense of urgency: the tracks are jittery and nervy even though the nudges of sound appear smooth and reassuring. The tracks are repetitive with constant looping providing the only structure to the music. “Hetkonen” is a highly varied piece with a pleasingly jagged and scrapey edge at times when the music sometimes threatens to smooth over to the point of banality. On the other hand the maddeningly repetitive “Avanne” isn’t much to talk about other than for me to observe the relief I have when the track fades out quickly.

We’re into the second half of the album: “Osottava” leads off with a deadened percussion-like rhythm that recalls Ripatti’s first career as a drummer. “Kulkee” is uncharacteristically heavy-handed in treatment and leaden-footed in pace and beat; at least it still holds its head high. “Marsila” would be equally monotonous if there weren’t that little scraping loop in the background and that other loop of high-pitched rounded tone dollop melody; the track eventually develops a happy skipping routine with some interesting little effects here and there, all crunchy, tinny and shlubby. “Hitto” has a deranged air and veers close to madness, disorientation and chaos.

This beats-driven album with the spastic rhythms and choppy tunes may sometimes drive a listener up the wall  over the maddening monotony. It might be saying something about Ripatti’s mood or whatever was happening in his life at the time of recording; it certainly doesn’t sound as if he was relaxed or happy when he made it. I know he has had health and other problems in the past and sometimes when I play his albums I find myself fretting that he’s running himself into the ground. “Kuopio” is sure to satisfy a crowd eager for more techno-oriented dance rhythms; I on the other hand would have preferred something more flowing, mysterious and with varied, shifting moods.

Contact: Raster Noton, Vladislav Delay

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Discipline: an efficient electronic pop machine lacking in soul and originality

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Electric Electric, Discipline, Herzfeld H26 CD (2012)

French trio Electric Electric plays a highly rhythmic and dance-oriented electronic art-punk style of music inspired in equal parts by post-punk /new wave, techno-industrial, ritual and tribal folk genres. “Discipline” is as the band says it is: relentless and repetitive looping electro-pop tunes atop insistent and quite complex tribal polyrhythms that force you to dance, and dance for as long as the music determines you will! There are some very pleasant little melodies played on what seem at first to be folk-oriented instruments but are actually synthesised approximations of the originals. The tracks run with a regimented order all their own and the overall impression I have is an efficient machine in which everything is well co-ordinated and running smoothly, and it hums producing sounds and noises in preplanned combinations and patterns to order. Several pieces start at medium-fast pace and quickly progress to frantic hither-and-thither as though the musicians were being pursued by sinister android police or hostile warriors of a long-lost tribe. The songs give an impression of disorder yet if you listen closely enough even the apparent chaos has all been programmed in advance.

Most songs are quite enjoyable although after about two or three minutes they become soulless automatons allowed to run riot in their own little ruts. Any singing present is located back in the mix and seems drained of all life. The title track is not too bad but after four minutes of mad dashing about in a labyrinth of narrow street alleys, dead-end bazaars and passages of shut wooden doors in a distant city in the Orient, it settles in a boring groove of ever-more frantic to-ing and fro-ing. The gamelan novelty that is “Exotica Today” is briefly bewitching but the repetition is overdone.

At this point I start feeling that my occasional predilection for the traditional folk musics of faraway lands is being not so much exploited for commercial gain as continuously ground and steamrolled to death by the sheer weight of repetition and lack of subtlety and wit on the musicians’ part. I don’t want to hear constant Keystone Cops chases either; I saw enough of those in the Indiana Jones films. If indeed exotic cultures are on the mind, they’re likely to be those of clubs in tourist-oriented beach strips where Westerners hang out all night long binge-drinking, snorting strange substances and dancing to tired disco music of 30-plus years ago after all-day shopping and surfing. Also having to hear snippets of different styles of folk music from places around the world thrown into an electronic pop meat-grinder with no apparent thought given to what they have in common and completely out of their original cultural context, resulting in something that sounds false and lightweight a lot of the time, tends to bring the red mist down before my eyes and before I know it, I’ve done serious damage to an innocent disc.

Contact: Herzfeld