EYE | Sabine (Knekelhuis 2016)

In a preview hosted earlier this summer on Juno Plus, Knekelhuis label boss Mark Van de Maat described Sabine as “a breeze and a blast at the same time”. Yes, the image fits: but both pass quickly while Laurène Exposito’s first full-length record might just remain for a long time. We knew a few things about EYE via a sequence of discreet releases on her own Waving Hands, a deeply DIY-indebted label inaugurated with her own band Prisma, of which she released a series of covers of underground synthwave classics – by Antena, Experimental Products, Turquoise Days, Elisa Waut – which made her historical affiliations crystal clear. Listeners might also remember, earlier this summer, a re-edition of the bizzare child-synth tape The Old Guard by Nicole Campau. She released Facit’s Måndag Mon Amour, discreet, elegant and functional like Swedish interiors; she also reissued Gust De Meyer’s Casioworks, punching a hole into our hearts, at least certainly into mine. And now, it turns out Exposito’s one of a host of contemporary women operating old machines with new expertise and heartfelt depth, of the likes of Marie Davidson or Heather H. Celeste. Women who, by referencing without mimicking, are able to freshly and unpretentiously reinterpret the message of that elusive thing called minimal synth – which, as Exposito’s record reminds us, thrives in the hands of women.

Sabine starts hard and softens as time goes on: it bangs out of its wax encasing with the nightmarish “There Is” and “Undress”, two hammering bursts of negative energy, the first in which something like the structure of an English lesson turns deeply existential (“There is no more secrets in your eyes / there are no more love and no more pain”), the second a science-fictional pulsating thing with girly screams and that repeated sentence “into the night” which is almost de rigeur for anything wanting to penetrate the kind of sonic lands EYE inhabits. Later in the record, the almost military melancholia of “Nachtwasser” and “Harvest Heart” show off an intelligent innocence, alternating toy organs, Bontempis and flurries of Juno and speaking back to a whole canon of Mitteleuropean solitary synth music, reinhabiting bedroom and basements of the past and of the present and demonstrating that, while certain sonic choices might have gone out of fashion, the sensibility behind those choices is very much alive. And while the title track “Sabine”, a haunted love song in the shape of a discreetly pop dance piece, might be the retro-tinged earworm of this record, EYE also offers some more contemporary efforts, such as the closing pieces “Pale Eyes” and “Soft Grey Moon”, both of which carry a much more 21st century taste for a fuzzy abstraction.

Sabine picks up the baton of 30 years of European electronic sadness and blows it like an icy wind into the future

EYE has made a touching album that in all of its candid and unpretentious freshness manages to pick up the baton of 30 years of European electronic sadness and blow it like an icy wind into the future. To those who say that minimal synth is a genre invented by ebay sellers, this is a good album to say, look what minimal synth was and continues to be: intelligent, sober music, as painful and as gleaming as a tear on Pierrot’s cheek. As someone once wrote as a closing line, oh deep sigh.

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Barnett + Coloccia | Weld (Blackest Ever Black 2015)

Even in the throes of the 21st Century’s so-called power ambient and it’s contemporary landscapes of really very interesting electronic despair, it’s quite rare to find an album that sounds inescapably present yet firmly engaged in a relationship with the past. Also rare is the album that comes shrouded in a crisp, glossy, HD electronica which still remembers sincerely the feeling of the epic. It’s uncommon to find a true sense of occasion these days, a certain formality, or people who know how to indulge things without self-indulging. After 2013’sRetrieval, a discreet, even shy glimpse into what were clearly going to be much bigger things, Barnett + Coloccia return to Blackest Ever Black for their second LP which delivers all of the above.

Washinton-based Faith Coloccia (Everlovely Lightningheart, Mammifer, co-founder of Sige Records) and Chicago resident Alex Barnett (Oakeater, Runawei, and a very active tape experimenter as a solo artist) seem to have conceived Weld as a kind of deep research. It’s evidently a philosophical beast too – press materials describe Weld as ‘searching for the sacred in the forgotten, listening for the pulse of the ancient, using technology to dream a folklore for a future age’. If this sounds a little academic, rest assured that the album is firm, unyielding, and dare I say, very entertaining.

It employs an extremely varied palette of sounds and tones, and a whole series of suggestions and influences, which feel inherited and never cited, nestled organically into the work. There’s something solid about this album, a knowingness, perhaps the result of some sort of cold sense of drama, a propension for theatricality which manages to not fall for itself, to not fall into vanity. It is also a patient record; as you listen you get a sense that you’re hearing the tip of an iceberg, the end of a road travelled, and not a rehearsal.

“Blight” is a strobe in a rainforest: there’s something military about the alarm-like synthesizer, throbbing alone and monotonous in the insectoid soundscape

Weld opens on the menacing “Truth Teller”, definitely the ‘power’ in Barnett + Coloccia’s special breed of power ambient, and progresses into the intricate bangs and buzzes of “Dreamsnake”. This is the kind of industrial techno track that progresses through different ambiences impossible to keep control over as a listener; you have to trust, follow it through brutal beats and airy quiet moments, and stay with its complexity. And if you do, you reach yet another sonic world, the crashing waves of white noise and glassy pulses of “Healer” and then you’re in Weld, you inhabit the record, and the record inhabits you. “Blight” is something like a strobe in a rainforest; there’s something military about the alarm-like synthesizer, throbbing alone and monotonous in a soundscape of insectoid, lacy sounds that shiver through the severe pulse.

Paradoxically it’s these heavy switches in atmosphere over the course of the work that determine this record’s allure on the listener. Things stay interesting and sensorially encompassing, disparate sonic materials are treated coherently, leading you into a strangely rich state of trance. The Prophet 5 on “AM Horizon” sounds like Kraftwerk’s “Showroom Dummies” at 33rpm, like a kind of forlorn version of the legendary German act for the modern age, iconic and deeply felt. The track evolves into a suspended watchfulness, interrupted by a stark, thick beat.

Cold war feelings moving into the breezy, cold wind of the now, which blows also, and fascinatingly, into the final and equally mezmerising tracks on the LP. In “Rose Eye” a frightening iciness, given by Barnett’s piercing thin tones and Coloccia’s otherworldly broken howl, delivers something like an electroacoustic nightmare. “Agate Cross” is a harpsichordy, poised thing, and the stabs on “Ash Grove” show more concrète flair for horror and concentration, perfectly positioned as a closing piece.

Barnett + Coloccia have made a great record for today, a reason to keep searching for what matters. Weld is masterful, luscious and extremely generous, but it also has a tone that remains held; the sense of something ‘higher’, delivered sharply, seriously, without fads nor fluster.

Read at Juno Plus: http://www.junodownload.com/plus/2015/06/17/barnett-collocia-weld/

Tomo Akikawabaya | The Invitation of the Dead (Minimal Wave 2015)

I can’t remember where I read that the 1980s was the decade Japan had been ready for, aesthetically at least, for centuries; a country regarded as so postmodern we might as well call it non-modern. Whether we think it’s true or not, it’s interesting an interesting angle from which to hear the country’s minimal synth; as a genre so grounded in coupling melancholia and ideas of the future, it works particularly well where that future appears clearer somehow, whatever that future might be. While certainly not a societal record – it’s really very intimate and existential – Tomo Akikawabaya’s The Invitation of the Dead provides a profusion of future melancholia, completely unphased and unseduced by the technology at its disposal. Synthesisers sound almost natural to him, the obvious expression of a private despair which could be in the 1980s and could be anytime that ever was. Minimal Wave’s choice of title, as ever, proves apt.

As it happens, it was 1984 when Akikawabaya released his double 12” The Castle on his own Castle Records, the entirety of which is pressed here and accompanied, on side D, by the three tracks originally featured on his 1985 single Anju. That title is of course a reference to the model, photographer and face of an era extraordinaire, Rena Anju, who graces all but one of Akikawabaya’s covers – as well as Yellow Magic Orchestra’s film Propaganda, in which she’s involved in neuro-neo-surrealist scenes involving a horse, a room filled with water and a stiletto.

The cultural landscape is reassuringly uncanny – but the music is generally discreet, reserved. Unlike YMO, or acts he is sometimes associated with such as Shinobu Narita, and also unlike Minimal Wave’s previous Japanese adventure Sympathy Nervous, there’s a lonely opaqueness to this record. It is music that lacks any kind of performed eccentricity. In fact the most engaging trait of this record might be the fact that we hear Akikawabaya’s grandeur as well as this unassuming, almost meek private character. The oscillation between the two is very attractive.

The most engaging trait of this record is that we hear Akikawabaya’s grandeur as well as his almost meek private character. The oscillation between the two is very attractive

The record opens with “Rebirth”, 12 minutes of clangy soundscape and smooth chordy synths, a quasi goth ambient odyssey. So epic, windswept, mythical, painfully forlorn it is that the following dancey and delicious Mars comes as a complete surprise. The track is an absolute joy, and not only because of its placement: you’ll dance forever to its glossy trumpet-like synths, to its simplicity, to its square regular beat, and Akikawabaya gives an unforgettable performance as heartbroken torch singer, burning a hole into your heart.

Side B contains a triptych, “Fire”, “Dark” and “Dizziness”, which sound like steps in the same ladder, moving down towards a kind of sonic and personal bewilderment. “Fire” and “Dark” are almost variations on the same melody, the same lyrical arrangement, and “Dizziness”seems to drag the simple, clean, cloudy synths of the first two anguished ballads – gentle, systematic drum machines, synthesised strings, candid, pastel-tinged tunes – into a kind of sonic tumble, a distortion of the palette.

There’s anguish here, and “The Invitation of the Dead” proves it; a steely, slow, cinematic piece, dark as anything, incredibly seductive. “Chair” and “Sleeping Sickness” meander on in the same vein: vast, held smooth synths, padded, muted key changes, a non-stop plaintiveness, distant violins, the odd screaming electric guitar. This is a dark but very polished record. It’s also very samey, but every moment of that sameness is spot on.

In fact the tracks taken from Anju, which close the record on a lighter note, are final movements that make us think of Akikawabaya as essentially an underground New Romantic artist, which is maybe the best way to look at him. No he didn’t tear up the canon of electronic music, but he used his modern pained soul to deliver a minimal, sincere album without frills and with great seriousness. This is an afternoon record, one of those records you might end up playing a lot, perhaps surprising yourself. More than a record it’s like finding a friend. You don’t know what he’s saying, but you know there’s a kinship. And an angular, creeping dance.

Read at Juno Plus: http://www.junodownload.com/plus/2015/10/15/tomo-akikawabaya-the-invitation-of-the-dead/

The Frozen Autumn | Time Is Just a Memory (Dark Entries 2016)

Maybe it’s true, maybe time really is just a memory. Look at what time has done for The Frozen Autumn: the first album Pale Awakening, which came out on the German label Weisser Herbst, had a song on it billed as “This Time (80’s Song)”. I remember getting my hands on this circa 1999 (and personally, it’s been on my playlists ever since) and thinking, isn’t it all rather eighties-sounding? More than twenty years later, Dark Entries – largely devoted to unearthing the 1980s underground – presses The Frozen Autumn onto vinyl, just like all of the ‘80s songs’ it has mastered and committed to wax over the years. As Diego Merletto sings, an epiphanic twinkle in his voice: ‘shadows coming back!’

In fact Merletto and partner in crime Froxeanne have been delivering sombre temporal shadows and insistently banging their fingers on drum machines pretty much non stop since their début: they are wedded to a noble loyalty to the epic echelons of the frosty 1980s and are well-known to an un-hipsterised goth scene for whom looking back is for life, not just for Christmas. Ripping the Turinese outfit out of one underground and – in a sense – into another, Dark Entries has taken a rich back-catalogue and distilled it into an absolute best of six mighty tracks that show off The Frozen Autumn’s expert and inspired breed of inconsolable synth which in fact resonates significantly with some other notables in the San Franciscan label’s output: Clan of Xymox, Kirlian Camera, Victrola all cast more than a shadow on The Frozen Autumn’s stadium-ready yet woefully crepuscular, handsome and typically Italian darkwave.

Clan of Xymox, Kirlian Camera and Victrola all cast more than a shadow on The Frozen Autumn’s stadium-ready yet woefully crepuscular, handsome, and very Italian darkwave

 A delicious introduction to the band for the non-initiated, the record follows a narrative thread that goes from the more opaque stuff on Side A to the brighter, dancier material on Side B, all taken from the band’s early output. Minimalism ain’t what’s on offer here: rich patterns and textures – sampled choirs, bells, the whole show – are layered onto ever-so romantic voices, and twinkling melancholy synth-lines are chased by swarms of drum-machines and by that quick, silvery post-Marr guitar which got so elegantly stretched by the goth tradition. A high point is “There’s No Time To Recall”, which albeit its more-than-derivative affiliation to Xymox (“Stumble and Fall” revisited) remains one of the most satisfying apocalyptic ballads around. However it’s Side B that kills, displaying the seedier, EBM-infused side of the band’s material. “Silence is Talking”, a crazed nightmare with a glorious vocal performance by Arianna-Froxeanne who seems to luminously ‘lift’ the crime-wave soul of the song (if you want more of her also listen to their side project Static Movement), and the fatally plaintive “Wait for Nothing” will stay with you for a long time if you’ve ever loved any bent in Italian darkwave  from Carmody to L.A.S.’s Crime, or if you’re a fan of the likes of Martial Cantarel or Staccato Du Mal. The curtain falls on those anthemic ‘shadows coming back’ in “This Time”, which having lived through the CD and the rather unarchival 1990s, can circulate this time without that chain around its neck of being an ‘80s song’, and take its place amongst the most heartfelt, melodic and bittersweet goth-synth tracks of any time.

Read at Juno Plus: http://www.junodownload.com/plus/2016/02/23/the-frozen-autumn-time-is-just-a-memory/

Savant – Artificial Dance (RVNG Intl. 2015)

RVNG Intl. has found in Kerry Leimer the gift that keeps on giving, and they’re not quite done with him yet. After the critically acclaimed release of the K. Leimer retrospective ‘A Period of Review’ last year, here comes the artist’s less fluttery, less romantic production, less Music for Films, or indeed Airports, and more My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. The Eno comparisons seem to continuously abound in what regards the man’s work, but this LP is actually more controlled, much cleaner and less epic than that particular Eno/Byrne collaboration. In fact despite Leimer’s fame as king of Seattle underground ambient, it’s probably the jittery American neuroticism that Byrne brought to that album which resonates most powerfully in Leimer’s work as Savant.

This double Artificial Dance LP recompiles tracks put out as Savant between 1981 and 1983 on Leimer’s own Palace of Lights label, which served as an output channel for a number of friends and collaborators, many of whom also worked on these recordings: a small but captivating scene. There are also bits and pieces which see the light on this RVNG Intl. edition for the first time. The general landscape is a sort of intensely ‘80s beachy ambient, which very artfully conjugates a whole range of disparate suggestions: minimalist tingles alternate with funk impressions, paranoid political spiels sit side by side with sumptuous tribal rhythms, a quasi-academic research sits happily with a feeling for the vast. This is a very 1980s virtue, and it’s something that fell out of fashion at one point, or we lost our appetite, or we forgot how to do it, or we got less curious about the world, I don’t know. In any event, the record conjures up a world of electric blue rooms, Texan billboards, blue jeans and Persian carpets: it’s dated, a dated imagination, dated images. But that’s probably exactly why it’s worth paying attention to it, because it reminds us of a kind of short-lived sensibility which might just be resurfacing in our little contemporary hearts.

The record conjures up a world of electric blue rooms, Texan billboards, blue jeans and Persian carpets: dated images that reminds us of a short-lived sensibility 

The 14-track journey guides the listener through a variety of landscapes, as eclectic in atmosphere as Leimer’s clearly eclectic personality. The first tracks, ‘Using Words’ and ‘Indifference’ are beautifully concentrated, minimal-tropical pieces, swirling bass and crystalline open soundscapes; the record progresses onto a number of variations on similar themes – ‘Heart of Stillness’, ‘The Shining Hour’ and ‘Shadow in Deceit’ show a Leimer interested in modifying sound, in creating a million micro-variations in texture, rhythm, density. On an almost serial pattern, in which structures are repeated, fast-fowarded and rewound, a number of glassy, insectoid elements, a number of multi-scented pitter-patters seem to flutter into the foreground and fall back out again, in a kind of uneven sonic flow perfectly balanced between organic and inorganic, betweed woodiness and synthesis. Then, there’s a more sombre side to the work, and a more electric side – the funky-but-frozen ‘Stationary Dance’ and the starker ‘Sensible Music’, released as a 12’’ in 1981, attest to another kind of dark, sharp intelligence, and are highlights along with the slow, dusky, and very sensual shores of ‘Falling at Two Speeds’, ’Fault Index’ the ‘The Radio’, in which what sound like found recordings about radio-love and barking dogs are filtered and deformed over swarms of big, metallic sounds and rigorous thin little beats. ‘The Neo-Realist’ is a jagged tape-piece with the story of a crazed Christian redemption group told over it, where ‘they played the Jesus-equivalent of muzak’. And if you’re into that kind of thing, it totally seals the deal on a record which is enamoured and ironic, a record whose value lies in managing – crazily – to stay very still yet continuously move around, a record whose value lies in searching, and in staying out-of-step.

Read at Juno Plus: http://www.junodownload.com/plus/2015/09/03/savant-artificial-dance/

Peter Scion | Through My Ghost (Huntleys + Palmers 2015)

Music for love, music for oneself, music for exorcism. When ultra-productive-yet-almost-alone Swedish musician Peter Scion was still cloistered in the internet underground of his blog – publishing all his many albums online having noted the interest of those usual heroic suspects, Mutant Sounds et al – he wrote an entry to his 2000 album Through My Ghost in which he described the record’s emotional environment thus: ‘I was a bit like a ghost to myself, and the album is the sound of that ghost performing.’

The meander through Peter Scion’s ghost is uneasy, shifting, delicate. You tread on autumn leaves and you race through cosmic landscapes. There’s violence and there’s warmth. Listening through this ghost is also an experience that’s agitated, restless though discreet, and it is probably the album’s restlessness which draws Huntleys + Palmers to reissue it, taking a very sharp departure from its usual activities. It was the third track pressed here, ‘The Devilish Mother’ that first pricked up H+P boss Andrew Thomson’s ears: described aptly as a kind of ‘synth-folk’, Thomson found the track on a coldwave mix assembled by Clement Meyer in 2011 and found himself hooked and obsessed.

Scion describes the record’s emotional environment thus: ‘I was a bit like a ghost to myself, and the album is the sound of that ghost performing.’

Though the body of the album pivots entirely on this explicit ‘ghostliness’, Through My Ghost is a kaleidoscopic beast sonically – atmospherically consistent, it nevertheless shifts heavily through various sonorities. The record quite literally launches on ‘Sounds of the Space Age’, a complex, Raymond Scott-esque montage of space race reports, broken at times by isolated beeps and quick washes of noise, the whole thing resting on a little march-like synthline, slightly ominous, hovering in the background. From this preface of sorts, the album moves straight into the lo-fi buzz of the titletrack, where a slow, muffled electric organ pierced here and there by strings and high-pitched tones sustains Scion’s confessional poetry, leading the show even more starkly in the following, haunting ‘The Devilish Mother’. Here acoustic chords twinkle in the distance, reverberating, metallic, and Scion’s voice appears filtered, rendered alien, transformed into a bark or a growl or a rumble. The elegant anguish cracks like breaking glass on ‘Warning!’, a filthy, screaming distorted electric guitar piece (got me thinking that the word ‘warning’ contains the word ‘war’), and then again proceeds into the most subdued folky languor. ‘Farthermost Shore’ and ‘Glad For You’ are angst-ridden but resigned quiet organic pieces – no banging, no noise, no clutter. A funereal composure, a gentle acoustic guitar, the odd pause, the odd bleep, the odd fracture.

Scion’s ‘peculiar sounds’, as the man himself refers to them, seem to exist somewhere in between classic neo-folk, with its mixture of tenderness and horror (think Current 93’s quieter works, or a more minimal Death in June) and a much starker, less intricately gothic landscape. There’s also something oddly churchy about his work, and something almost adolescently satanic. If that sounds like a strange and fuzzy panorama, that’s because this album is strange and fuzzy, truly like some kind of exorcism. Despite its general cleanliness, this album contains something like a scream in a jar, made as if gasping for air.

Read at Juno Plus: http://www.junodownload.com/plus/2015/12/22/peter-scion-through-my-ghost/

Various Artists | Pas De Deux (Domestica 2015)

After various efforts dedicated to unearthing the weird and the wonderful of the Iberian decade of anxiety, Barcelona-based Domestica Records play a strange, and quite seductive mirror game: they reissue a compilation made in Spain, grouping artists not from Spain, and throw it right back out to the world outside. A famous compilation, it has to be said, one that has been circulating undercover for the past thirty years surrounded by a cloud of angular, avantgarde allure. 500 copies then, 500 copies now. Once more, with feeling.

Pas De Deux is a product of Granada-based primitive techno pioneers Ani Zinc and Javier Marin, the powerhouse behind Diseño Corbusier and Neo Zelanda and also behind the extremely bright star of the Auxilio De Cientos label, which apart from releasing Zinc and Marin’s own work also served as a home for various other notable artists – we have them to thank for, say, first putting out Twilight Ritual’s Rituals or The Klinik’s Walking With Shadows. Alongside these many activities, Auxilio De Cientos worked on a number of aggregative and pretty damn visionary compilations between 1985 and 1986, all committedly international and gloriously off-kilter. There’s Femirama, brilliant tribute to the minimal industrialist women of the era, there are the two promised lands of Terra Incognita I & II, assembling the likes of Ptôse and Muslimgauze alongside lesser known but really quite radical formations, and then there’s this little gem here, Pas De Deux. Probably the most curious of the bunch, the invitation for this one was open to couples, or to pairs, comprising of a man and a woman. The rest, as Domestica’s boss Jordi Serrano would have it, is aesthetics. All of these groups share a DIY set of methods which leak, sonically, into the music they make: the bones of these songs are obsessive loops and adventurous voices, asymmetrical rhythms, bangs, clangs, breaths in the night. I remember once reading on a blog a description of one of these compilations that went something like ‘abundant quality and sidereal orgasms’. It’s a very accurate illustration.

Cheiron’s “Land After Life” changes key at every round like some sort of devastating nursery rhyme, as José van Waveren slowly sings the world out of existence

Difference is key here. Differences between rhythms, between timbres, between fascinations. Artists from across the pond take up half of Side A, with the chiming guitars and deadpan super-American spoken word of Algebra Suicide’s Gist and Waiting for Delmore, and the cheeky, squeaky swing of the Psyclones’ The Drugstore gracing the first 20-minutes or so with a kind of humour and airiness unusual in most European products of this sort. Still, the bookends sort of dominate – and dare I say unsurprisingly, given what they are. Bene Gesserit’s impossibly irregular rhythms and super-echoed, super-crazed vocal delivery on “You Can Dance if You Want”, which opens the record, loom over the rest of the first half, a tinny splice of a million neurotic conversations, an incredibly busy, messy track which nevertheless stays strangely affable, delicate. Part one closes on “Confucius” by Influenza Prods., Italian ‘home-wave’, as they used to call themselves. Theirs is a beautiful, meditative piece, a sort of stargazing fabric of silvery, almost childish synth sounds, woven across with filtered yells, distant sopranos and robotic chanting.

On the second part of the record things get more interesting from everyone, not only from the usual suspects. Side B opens on quite an astonishing track from proto-techno Swedes Enhänta Bödlar, who continuously pierce through a looped swoosh with repeated cuts of dialogue, the clang of what sounds like cutlery, and the odd haunting, and slightly orientalist melody soaking the background. Diseño Corbusier themselves contribute one of their most magnificent pieces, “Ritmo 21”, evoking a minimal, clean, steely landscape before the heavier, organic rustiness of the quasi-martial “On the Rate Line” by Lied And Die Freude. Fittingly, Pas De Deux closes this show of dazzling experiments on a track from the tragically under-productive duo Cheiron, whose Lex Grauwen’s then went on to form cult melancholy act Tranquil Eyes. Their “Land After Life”, which later enjoyed subterranean flexipop fame, is bursts of white noise and squelchy pulses on a bed of multiple hammering drum machines, changing key at every round like some sort of devastating nursery rhyme, as José van Waveren slowly sings the world out of existence: ‘no skyscrapers / clouds burst open / no rain / no snow / no sunshine / no life / finally in heaven / finally no more world at all!’ And the kind of innocent joy with which she sings such a grave line really is a kind of manifesto for the kind of music this compilation so lovingly chronicles, for how it was made, for how it feels: Pas de Deux is a really good photograph of a certain current of what I can only describe as soft industrial, apocalyptic at heart yet fuzzy, tender, elegant in manner. It’s sonically inspiring but also emotionally inspiring, somehow – and Domestica release it because Zinc and Marin’s work was inspiring to them, so that’s quite a lot of inspiration packed into this pas de deux, which proves that two’s definitely enough of a party.

Read at Juno Plus: http://www.junodownload.com/plus/2015/05/21/various-artists-pas-de-deux/

Paki-Visnadi | Imaginary Choreography (Antinote 2015)

The press release for Paki-Visnadi’s Imaginary Choreography, out on the eclectically elegant Antinote, alerts us to the mythical discovery of these recordings that seems to hail from the years when markets still yielded jewels. Filmmaker Johanna Heather Anselmo, partner to Antinote’s Iueke and a cultured hand at rummaging through boxes of old tapes, found a BASF tape in a Parisian flea market, but instead of it containing some yé-yé rehearsal of upper class teenagers it was something really quite exceptional.

The tape Anselmo found was an extremely compelling yet utterly bizarre one-off by Paki Zennaro and Gianni Visnadi. Compelling, because this is sophisticated, refined, virtuoso stuff and bizarre because it marks a special moment in two musicians’ very mixed and protean careers. By illuminating that special moment, Imaginary Choreography sheds light onto an aspect of Italian music in the 1980s. A complex panorama that managed to shift naturally and artfully between cultivated music and music for entertainment, between rigour and sense of melody, between the art of making art and the art of making money.

Composed as a tape to be used in dance schools, Imaginary Choreography conjugates a serious, knowledgeable musical craft with a self-assuredly playful minimalism. Paki Zennaro, who still composes for contemporary dance companies, had played – as Zennato – on René Aubry’s compositions for American maestra Carolyn Carson, who was at the apex of her career as resident choreographer between Venice’s prestigious La Fenice theatre and Théâtre de la Ville in Paris. Gianni Visnadi, who has released both a wealth of warm, luscious ambient works as well as a lot of deep house since, was working on developing his vocabulary alongside Italo productions and collaborations as John Vysnady and other such Italo aliases.

Don’t be fooled by the Italo connection: whatever dance school Paki & Visnadi had in mind, we’re talking high-end aesthetics here, not kids in leotards

Together, the duo crafted the crystalline, rarefied perfection of Imaginary Choreography around the same time as writing melancholy Italo anthem De-De-Mo’s “Cause I Need You ‘Cause I Love You” (reissued recently on Bordello a Parigi) and working on the sensual downtempo disco of Ottomix’s “Sahara Sands”. We’re in the presence of people who know what they’re doing, and you can hear that. As a record made for contemporary dance, it conjugates the minimalist canon à la Reich or à la Glass not only with an Aubry-indebted Mediterranean warmth, but also with dashes of futurism, cosmic suggestions, atmospheric disco sunsets.

The LP opens on “Migration”, a piece that would be equally at home in American new dance or on old educational TV. Neutral, hushed, it alternates between childish melodies and complex rhythms, with sequencers ping-ponging between each other like a particularly elegant videogame before opening onto “Parallel Waves”, an opulent, guitar-led piece, with a heady but controlled in-the-round structure which goes in and out of phase with itself. The track obliges you to think choreographically: you find yourself repeating gestures as you listen, rewinding and fast-forwarding the same movements over and over again. The belly of the record is a score of delicate, complex, measured pulses. “In a Dark Run” treats us to glassy beats and ever-shifting drum patterns, and in the bare and tense “Mollusk Dance” a deep, wooden-sounding beat opens up onto sweeps of starry synthesisers which get dirtier and rougher as the track goes on – it’s an ode to texture.

Waterlight”, perhaps the most typically choreographic number on the record, proceeds through glistening soundscapes – something like a summery and very glamorous take on Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. On “eMigration”, at the end of the record, the classic crispiness of the TR808 takes centre-stage amongst watery drones, like a languid Balearic sunrise but in 1980s Venice. Don’t be fooled by the record’s story, nor by the Italo-connection: whatever dance school Paki & Visnadi had in mind, it wasn’t any old school – we’re talking high-end aesthetics here, not kids in leotards.

Imaginary Choreography is a timeless and very physical listening experience, immaculately clean yet insistently sensual. It’s also a special record for the archive because of the multiplicity of talents to which it attests. But especially it is, indeed, an album to make imaginary choreographies to, and therein lies perhaps its deepest pleasure: in the movements, the images, the colours it makes you imagine – which are unusual, smart, surprising. Now that Antinote have gifted us such a diamond, I’m looking forward to seeing who will make those imaginary choreographies real.

Read at Juno Plus: http://www.junodownload.com/plus/2015/04/27/paki-visnadi-imaginary-choreography/

Miss Kittin & The Hacker | Lost Tracks Vol 1 (Dark Entries 2015)

Ok, so I’m back at a Mediterranean pool party in a miniskirt made out of a binbag having an incoherent conversation about how awful it is to work in the fashion industry when none of us ever worked in the fashion industry. Bravo, Dark Entries, for putting out records that are interesting nevermind how brutal the memories they conjure might be. Odd decision, to reissue Miss Kittin and The Hacker’s offcuts, but interesting – and following Josh Cheon’s mantra “if I like it, I’ll put it out”, as he told Richard Brophy here on Juno Plus, there’s a certain logic to the move as well. I remember buying a CD compilation years ago in a record store in Athens – This is not the 80s out in INCredible in 2002, which featured a number of Kittin and co. tracks – and thinking mmm, yes well, this is not the 80s but it undoubtedly descends from there. And Miss Kittin and the Hacker themselves had cemented their filiation to the more mainstream shores of new wave in their own “1982” a few years before then – it’s not the ‘80s, but it’s a cocaine-tinged, MTV-gorged, EU-disillusioned and much more cynical kind of ‘80s, which might just retain some of its magnetism.

The world of the Hervé-Amato duo was a world of trashy, inky European paranoia, a world which recited pointless mantras in automatic pilot, a world which pushed buttons on a synthesizer not in search of interesting sounds but as the most authentic form of fakeness one could possibly hark back to. This EP of ‘lost tracks’ – recorded between 1997 and 1999 – reminds the listener of all of that, and it’s rather illuminating. For one thing, because that time is over, but also because the rawness of these tracks, the fact that they’re demos and they feel like demos, as yet lacking that last coat of rubber-red varnish, shows them to us in a certain innocence, gets us into the plastic without the mask.

With their naive mix of transgression and bewilderment, they were making music about difference, about fucked-upness, and that’s worth defending

“Leather Forever”, for example, belongs in a kind of dreamy electroclash rather dissimilar to anything they actually released at the time: there’s an intensely heard-before drum machine, starry whirling disco synths, but unlike any of the finished products, there’s something languidly idle about it – a strange mixture of two moods, the duo’s classic nocturama with a lazy diurnal pinkish feel which makes the whole thing much odder, and actually more fun-lovingly perverse (‘screaming I love you with a belt around my neck’). “Nightlife” feels like an early prototype for the 2004 “Masterplan”, a track which was almost unexpectedly majestic at the time – and this track is more mysterious than the S&M anthem that precedes it, more unsettling, and almost unnervingly subdued. Caroline Hervé displays her signature style for delivering what might or might not be proto-political reflections (‘sexy nightlife in Berlin: East? Or West? Or in between? ) in a cheeky playground tone, with the added plus of sounding like she’s talking from underneath a car seat, a whole range of impressions which nobody’s quite been able to match. On “Miss Crazy Bullshit” she’s so filtered she sounds gagged, classic bit of late ‘90s erotic production choices, in a stream of ribbons of synth staircases and dirty, squelchy pulses reminiscent of I-f’s Space Invaders are Smoking Grass or of the slower shores of Dopplereffekt’s early, odder pieces. “Loving the Alien” closes the show, updating a sci-fi dream with great allure, marrying an alien to escape the horrors of human behaviour.

Michel Amato gives into his most Italo-tinged, cosmic dreams, alternating obsessive rhythms with squeeking eerie modulations. It might be naive, but it’s a song about transgression and bewilderment, and hammers home how these two were up to some sumptuous stuff in a dance scene which, after all, they weren’t completely in line with: they were maintaining strange balances of old and new, elegant and vulgar, vain and introspective and as much have they might have crashed into the mirror of their own consciously-performed superficiality (especially Kittin, whose later stuff really didn’t rise to the challange), they were making music about difference, about fucked-upness, and that’s worth defending. Unlike some of their peers, the glistening Miss Kittin and the Hacker duo might just avoid aging badly, and end up brilliantly crystallised, frozen in time.

Read at Juno Plus: http://www.junodownload.com/plus/2015/08/20/miss-kittin-the-hacker-lost-tracks-vol-1/

Michal Turtle | Phantoms of Dreamland (Music from Memory 2016)

Another summer, another impeccable interpretation of summer from the increasingly masterful and ever-more distinct Music from Memory. The auteur this time is Michal Turtle, a Croydon-born musician and producer who spent the heart of the 1980s making subtle, enlightened music.

After overtly piquing our expectations by unleashing his Are you Psychic? earlier this year (don’t know about you, but that ‘do bright lights bother you?’ whispered in a spooked-out domestic daze has stayed with me ever since), here comes MEM with a full retrospective of his 1980s tracks which really does sound fresh. Once again, we have an artist who had lived in relative obscurity: after a lovely but ultra-rare mini-album entitled Music from the Living Room, released by Shout (responsible for the first Shoc Corridor record, just to paint this picture) Turtle moved to Switzerland for ever after, producing and arranging a myriad artists while apparently neglecting his knack for penning his own impressive improvisational electronics.

A jazz sensibility and funky playfulness sustained by an almost electroacoustic attention to detail dart through a very personal, breezy proto-Balearic

Turtle blends a series of influences to achieve something like a futuristic chill-out: moments of jazz sensibility and loosely funky playfulness, sustained by an almost electroacoustic attention to the detail of sounds dart through a very personal, breezy proto-Balearic. The tracks featured here pour into one another in an airy, feathery fashion although Turtle moves around a fair bit in his construction of atmospheres. On the first record we’re introduced to a mindful exotica where slap-basses sustain glitzy, televisual synth lines (“Ball of Fire”), looped tribal voices and percussions simmer alongside watery soundscapes (“Village Voice”) and autobahn-meets-favela in sinister post-new age electronic apocalypses (“El Teb”). Things get more intense on the second LP of the retrospective: they get darker at times, heightened, and further away from any kind of genre or formula. Highlights are the softly neurotic “Phil #5” which sounds like at least three tracks at once (bubbling voices over strumming guitars, stabbed by a driving bass-synth, mourned by a never-ending silvery drum pattern) and the concave mirror-dancing provided by the relentless pitch-bending of “End of an Era”, a Turtle closer to the one we had previously met on both “Are you Psychic?” and “Astral Decoy”. The 8-minute title-track, “Phantoms of Dreamland” is probably the one you should listen to if nothing else: a voyage into downbeat modulations and doomsday meditations, a monologue of tinnily-delivered psycho-spiritual ending on the sentence “am I wrong?” feels like it might be dispensing some form of 4 AM truth.

Whatever Turtle was up to in his parents’ living room, he was in the throes of a great inspiration, and maybe of some kind of prophecy too, at least about the future of electronic music. And like other artists featured on the Amsterdam label throughout its brief but bright existence, the music on this double LP – while rather timeless – sounds ostensibly not of its own time. Similarly to collections we’ve previously reviewed here on Juno Plus, such as Vito Ricci’s I Was Crossing a Bridge or Napoleon Cherry’s Walk Alone, this is the retrospective of an outsider, of somebody rarefying a number of trends of his generation and distilling them into something else: a prophetic alchemy, perhaps? It’s music that glitters, flutters, does things its own way.

Read at Juno Plus: http://www.junodownload.com/plus/2016/07/14/michal-turtle-phantoms-of-dreamland/