Max Vincent – The Future Has Designed Us (Discom, June 2015)

The most exciting record of the month for this writer is Discom’s highly anticipated release of Max Vincent’s previously unheard material, which brings to light some majestic additions to the Ex-Yu archive. Those familiar with the electronica that surfaced under Tito will already have encountered Max & Intro’s classic EP We Design the Future, released on Radio-Televizija Beograd in 1985. Those tracks are also reissued here in their (more interesting) demo versions, but apart from re-kindling everybody’s love for the anthem “Ostavi Sve” and for the duo’s beautifully celebratory ode to a girl from Belgrade, this record for the first time exposes the unrealeased material of Max Vincent aka Miša Mihajlović, and it’s interesting stuff.

Like many of his time and place, Vincent’s approach to electronic music was free and unformulaic, combining a variety of pop forms and aesthetics. “Never Say Never” and “Colours and Stars” are unexpected pieces – thick beats, anthemic synth progressions, heavily vocoded (in English!), similar to the known repertoire in sensibility but much more exploratory in form. The money’s on side B though, which reveals a romantic and noir Vincent the way we’ve never heard him: much more handsome in Serbian, oddly sleazy, brilliantly melodic and sometimes almost disco. The tracks on the second part of the record are imagistic, filmic things: Mihajlović drives through metropolitan landscapes, tropical landscapes, policier landscapes which for lovers of the genre are altogether irresistible. “Šta Je To Što Nam se Dešava” , “Torino and You” and “Odlazim” are curious and unforgettable: a dated, beige, dusty new wave made to sit in a bar watch the cars go by in the night.

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The Units – Digital Stimulation (Futurismo, June 105)

Bleepy chord progressions and obsessive love affairs, fast cars, fuchsia lipstick and the pains of the ‘modern’ everyday. Lovers of American synthpunk will be glad to see Futurismo reissue Digital Stimulation, the first album from Frisco act The Units, nicely cleaned up (the necessary rawness of their sound is preserved) and with its original post-dada artwork from 1980. Many long-term fans will welcome this record after a more curated archival release from 2009 on Community Library, but this reissue of Digital Stimulation is also a chance for the new listener of The Units to get a taste of a band whose output was generally more complex than it is usually given credit.

Less glamorous than Futurisk and much less insane than Group Xex, The Units might seem to be of a lesser substance. Re-hearing Digital Stimulation allows us to take stock of the sonic agenda of the band’s work which extends beyond their well-performed post-punk swagger: we get to appreciate the dreamier shores of the complicated and beautiful “Cowboy”, the haunting, thick, classic synths of “Passion or Patterns” and the hellish post-punk of the terribly sexy “Warm Moving Bodies”. Both “Go” and “Mission” are a sort of firework out of repression: ‘turn off the sentences / turn on the senses’. Go on then.

This is cheeky, turbocharged, youthful stuff, but 35 years later it’s worth a deeper listen. As someone wrote in Sounds Magazine at the time, “My one prayer is that they’re not given the kiss of death by the futurists. They deserve much more than to be chewed up and spat back out by a bunch of mindless clothes-horses”. Who are the futurists now? Isn’t it funny how risks persist?

Aminadav Aloni – Once (Dual Planet, June 2015)

A fabulous soundtrack for a very strange film garners its mystique by itself, but a fabulous soundtrack for a very strange film of which there are no surviving prints? Well… Dual Planet’s reissue of Aminadav Aloni’s soundtrack for Morton Heilig’s 1974 film Once is important, not merely faddish. It’s a very odd case, yes, but one we should pay some serious attention.

Once is Aminadav Aloni’s only LP – he worked as a teacher, as a classical pianist and as an arranger and composer of synagogue music –  but the sci-fi analogica of the tracks pressed here appears to have been a very fortunate one-off. Heilig, on the other hand, was a cinematographer-scientist-virtual-reality enthusiast who used to spend his time devising machines such as the Sensorama, a sort of sensual immersive apparatus which gave you the feeling of driving a motorbike through Brooklyn (you could even smell it!).

I say all of this because you can feel these elements in the record: Once is serious, haunted and paranoid Kosmische, oscillating all the time between ominous pulses and belly Moog-roars, spellbinding analogue comets and polyrhythmic hollow-sounding gallops. An album for immersion and contemplation, where you get to follow the folds of Aloni’s synthesisers through their geometries, through their lugubrious and black-lit mathematics. Once is a lovely record that opens your mind, a record for utopian thinking. And of course the best thing is that we get to make our own film inside our heads.

Hypnosaurus – 1991-1992 (Porridge Bullet, July 2015)

Sometimes reissues deliver more or less what we expect, despite the fact they may be obscure and unheard. Ocassionally though, what emerges is something totally alien and this Hypnosaurus retrospective on the Estonian Porridge Bullet belongs in the latter category. 1991-1992 is deep, mindsweeping and intense, but I don’t even know how to hold it, how to classify it (and to be frank, I really don’t care). The compilation covers the early days of the Hypnosaurus duo formed of Aivar Tõnso and Railo Pals, who sealed their union by way of John Peel listening sessions but whose vision evidently stretched beyond anything they were hearing. The whole thing hinges on some drums, some effects and a Polivox, a powerful and highly ghosted nay downright uncontrollable Russian synth. By some strange coincidence, Peel actually saw one of the duo’s earliest gigs – have a look at this interview on Eastern Daze for more.

The Polivox is at the heart of this record, as the Porridge Bullet blurb reads: “feedback and glitches took over and the music developed into uncharted territory”. But maybe the Polivox was just a perfect, fortunate match for a musical imagination that was itself full of glitches and feedback, that ricocheted in a thousand directions, full of buzzy enthusiasm and fuzzy aesthetics – the best thing about this record is that there is never the shadow of a formula around, never a default, never a pre-trodden route. Highlights are “Peipsi Delfiinidele”, a sort of swarming drone with a jagged comet of a synthline escaping from its limits, “Päike Tõuseb idast” and “Langeb tähti sülle”, which perform a sort of brutal, ragged EBM, or the serpentine flutterings of “Laiküla uduvalgus’s”. All of it ideal for a small rave amongst friends in solitary working countryside.

 

Second Layer – World of Rubber (Dark Entries, July 2015)

Your country needs you, your country bleeds you dry. Drugs for the dying, meadows for the dead. Loyalty screaming on a blood-stained bed”. Adrian Borland formed Second Layer as The Sound were also forming, along with fellow Sound bassist Graham Bailey. While the outlook (and the insight) is similar to what was happening with the duo’s main project, Second Layer had a much colder allure, a more rigid sonic presence, a grave metallic beat (a drum machine is perhaps the greatest difference between the two bands), and not a trace of swagger or hipness. This is the first vinyl reissue on vinyl of World of Rubber, but perhaps even more importantly it’s expanded too, with a load of other material from Second Layer’s earlier efforts, State of Emergency and especially Flesh as Property.

I wonder if the reason this Second Layer record appears to have gotten quite a lot of attention over the past seven or eight years has something to do with a political, generational dissatisfaction. Because the record performs a series of juxtapositions we need but no longer seem to be good at: it’s raw but detached. Minimal, but heavy. Uncompromising, but melodic. Engaged, but totally alienated. Elegant, but rather brutal. And true: “Production – consumption – production – satisfaction – production – religion…

Various – Cold Waves of Color Vol. 2 (Color Tapes, July 2015)

Those out there who have chased limited editions of Color Tapes/Discs on Discogs will know how special the underground label was for the English 1980s, and how grateful we should be its founder Gary Ramon, who was also the mind behind some of the label’s bands. After the shockwave of the first Cold Waves of Color compilation, this second volume seems to pick at the label’s contours, selecting tracks that were perhaps less glaringly a manifesto but an equally important part of its work: here we get the rougher diamonds, the more sugary stuff, and more ‘difficult’ pieces.

Britishness is mentioned often in how these tracks are sold and talked about, but in a sense the glorious intuition of Color Tapes was to pick up some of the much more European undercurrents in British synth and connect them to other countries, scenes and situations. Listening to this record, you don’t hear what we know as the UK sound of synth, but a stranger and much more searching scene, unafraid of trying things out . The super-precious gems are the wonderful edit of WeR7’s “Masterful of Ceremonies”, the glorious and very long-sighted Purple Twilight Remix of the Space Brothers’ “Lodore” and the good old proper coldwave of “Experiment 1” and “2” by the excellent Lives of Angels. A cold, kitcheny, nocturnal kind of record, oppressive and dreamy in equal measures. Oh, and you get an A5 photocopied issue of the Purple Twilight fanzine from 1985!

Moggi – Omaggio ad Einstein (Dagored, July 2015)

The mind of Piero Umiliani is a thing of never-ending fascination. The man recorded hundreds of albums, from folk to military to bossanova, to ‘switched on’ compilations, to soundtracks for horror, thriller, giallo, romantic, drama, ‘science’ music, ‘background’ music, ‘cosmic’ easy-listening, orcherstral scores and pretty much any other epic music you can possibly imagine. He then worked under the mysterious aliases of Tusco, Rovi, Moggi, to pack in all the library, background and atmospheric music he couldn’t fit into his personal back-catalogue, film music for his own personal mind-films.

Umiliani made five albums as Moggi; the first of which is this very eccentric homage to Einstein. The liner notes tell us, “these tracks don’t go over one minute and half in running time because, as they are rarefied melodic fragments without compositional development, a longer duration would have provoked mere monotony,” whilst adding the “fact they don’t mutate in timbre or in atmosphere makes them more suited for background listening.” Really? Background? Whose background? Whose life? Something between Antonioni’s Red Desert and Godard’s Alphaville? The record variates between electronic washes of crunchy, crickety sounds, unbearably dark glittery chord progressions and broken, ever-twisting patterns. From hellish red to pale-blue tones, from rough and jittery to almost televisual melodic linearity, this is not an album for the background, it’s music that – in 2016, at least – demands to be paid attention to.

Syntoma – Syntoma (EM, July 2015)

Who would have guessed it would have taken a figurative trip all the way to Osaka to finally shine a well-deserved torch on one of Mexico’s most idiosyncratic synthpop outfits? But in fact it’s the Japanese label EM Records that picks up the gauntlet of re-diffusing Syntoma’s gems from the 1981-1984. Irresistibly playful in the freshest, most fizzy of ways, Syntoma was the brainchild of Alex Eisenring, formerly of prog-jazz band El Queso Sagrado, who then went on to militate in influential Mexican bands such as Decibel and Escuadrón del Ritmo. The latter band and Syntoma were what was then defined as ‘techno’ or ‘techno-pop’ projects, guided by an unorthodox but knowledgeable use of synthesisers and drum machines, and performing songs about computers and robots.

Syntoma was enriched further by the technically knowing and vocally absurdist presence of Synthia Napalm, and this mesh of Napalm and Eisenring makes for quite a special listen. On “Mi Robot”, perhaps the sweetest performance on the record, the melancholy KR-55, Napalm’s unhinged female voice, and the grave male voice worrying about a robot’s health all combine for perfect futurist domestic melodrama. This release takes tracks from Syntoma’s only LP No Me Puedo Controlar and from their two 7″s, the material is beautifully remastered and reorganised over two sides, one for instrumentals (perhaps where most joy is to be found) and one for vocal tracks. Essential for anyone whose heart beats for absurdist Hispanic synth.

Pekka Airaksinen – Buddhas of Golden Light (Arc Light Editions, August 2015)

From Italian nutters to Finnish ones, it’s a very different feel. Arc Light Editions present their fourth offering: a bizarre, intense, delicate, difficult-but-not-that-difficult synth-jazz feast from one of the members of 1960s scandalous experimentalist collective The Sperm. A saxophonist by trade, Airaksinen couples his evident virtuosity with his instrument with an equally dexterous but especially inspired use of a Roland 808 and of Yamaha DX7 to self-produce and release a record dedicated to the 999 buddhas (he’s apparently about 100-buddhas in now) which has been gathering wide-eyed enthusiasm since its publication in 1984.

Clearly the result of a solitary, quasi-religious cosmic improvisation, the record is a luminous, busy thing of brilliance, in which corners are turned and entire oceans of new aesthetics appear: though it has the laboriousness and bravura of a free jazz record, the work is toned down by its electronic curiosity, which makes for an oblique, odd record. Complex psychedelic interventions (“Sukirti”) give way to much more concentrated, almost domestic pieces; the handsome bass and modern landscapes of “Ratnasikhinas”, which almost forget about the record’s mystic intent, move into the full-flung futurism of “Kandrasuryapradipa”, epic and epic beyond jazz, psychedelia or space music. Not really a jazz record, and certainly not a new age record, this is one of those pieces of unfiltered electronic joy; a mysterious one-off which will appeal to many appetites, and might even mature with each listen.

M.B. (Maurizio Bianchi) – Symphony for a Genocide (EEs’T Records, August 2015)

Maurizio Bianchi self-reissues 10 of his 1980s works on CD (again), which you can buy either singularly or as a Mectpyo (read Mestruo) ‘Box’. Not knowing where to start, I’ve chosen the cream: Symphony for a Genocide is a monument, and if you haven’t gone to pray – or cry – at that altar then maybe now is the time. Bianchi’s famed LP initially put out by Nocturnal Emissions’s Sterile Records in 1981 is a brutal, desolate, awful meander through tracks named after Nazi extermination camps. Plunging the listener in an excruciating sadness, Bianchi masterfully joins the dots between the organic and the synthesised without having to demonstrate anything other than what he can honestly bring as an artist – and in retrospect, he brought a lot.

The record moves between rough, buzzing lo-fi textures and steely electronic coughs, with a slowness, a sternness, which is horrifying and extremely moving – moments of white fuzz alternate with moments of excruciating industrial bleeps twisted, deformed and deforming. Sometimes, through the valleys of pulsating noise something like a melody emerges, always in the form of a downwards whimper. Other times, the metallic swarm is interrupted by rattling power electronics, which seem to unravel, like some sort of breaking machine coming apart behind the trembling drones. Voices are muffled, mnemonic disembodied voices through the iron-hard hiss. It’s distressing and powerful, but it’s also a few other things: Symphony for a Genocide is a record without cruelty, carried only a disarming and desolate pain. You could even call it a ‘quiet’ noise record: it gathers its harshness not through violence but through a frozen sadness, and its effect is that of an anaesthetic.