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Review: Optical Frameworks – Vertigo (2014)

Vertigo by Optical Frameworks is a quiet Dub Techno record that gives me the strangest feeling that it's been in my collection for 20 years. I don't know why I get this sense of familiarity and nostalgia when I play it; this isn't something I've experienced before. I love this strange sense it gives me every time I hear it. This is the work of one Martin Dlabaja, whose artist page lists the Czech Republic as his place of origin.

The sound of the album includes some Dark Ambient mixed in with varying amounts from track to track, resulting in a quiet, thoughtful, foggy sort of atmosphere. The opener, "I Will Wait for You", is beatless, with a few string instruments on top of what sounds like road noise with a lot of overlaid static. The slow-moving brooding of this track sets the tone for the rest of the album.

"B52 Rebuff" brings in a beat, though it's not super-heavy. A few quiet overheard vocal samples mill around in the background. In usual Du…

Review: DJ Storm – Kicks, Snares & Hi Hats, Vol. 01 (2016)

In the early 90s, I discovered that there were certain threads in the Hip Hop world that I liked. Eric B & Rakim, Ice T, Method Man (well, the first album anyway), and some others. As the genre drifted further into the mainstream, I found I liked less of it, and have been away from that universe for quite some time. Maybe my problem was just that I didn't know where to look. At any rate, DJ Storm has released a collection of tracks that recall that era in Hip Hop, while maintaining a more modern sound in terms of its recording engineering.

It features a large number of guest MCs who have a variety of styles ranging from more serious to very playful. I find myself actually laughing sometimes at funny lyrics delivered with good timing. The common thread among the tracks is Storm's attention to detail and flair for sticking firmly with a certain Golden-Era sensibility while keeping them all from sounding the same.

From the first track, "Back", we have a good sense o…

First Listen Impression: Bola – D.E.G (2017)

I finally got a quiet hour to listen to Bola's new album, D.E.G. As usual, Bola hits a very high level of sonic quality in both engineering and composition. Listeners familiar with his other work will recognize certain techniques he uses (glitch, juxtaposed harsh and gentle textures, unusual chord structures, etc); but D.E.G is both recognizable as Bola and very fresh at the same time. (Don't miss my interview with the artist)

Three of the tracks struck me on my first trip through the album. First was "Herzzatzz", which is considerably heavier than the opener. It has a sound reminiscent of tracks from Gnayse (2004), maintaining a heavy groove with haunting melodies above.

"Pelomen Vapour 2" is also quite heavy. I think my preference for intricate and heavy compositions may be showing, but I found this one really interesting. The bassline that appears around 3:00 has a great sound to it.

As is customary for a Bola album, it finishes with a poignant and thoug…

Review: Biosphere – Substrata (1996)

This article will be a two-parter. The first part is the story of how I came to buy and love Biosphere's Substrata, the first beatless ambient album I heard. The second part will be a review of that album. The break is clearly marked below, so readers can get at whichever parts interest them. This music is now just over twenty years old, but I find it as fresh now as when I first heard it sometime around 2005. There are two albums I use to introduce people to Ambient music with. This is one of them, and the other is Loscil's most excellent Coast / Range / Arc. Both are great starting points for the genre.

Note: the link to Substrata above includes the extra music released for the reprint; the original album is just the first 11 tracks, ending with "Silene".

The Story

Over the years, I have gotten into what I consider weirder and weirder music. First, back in about 1991, I had bought mostly stuff like Best of Blondie, a bunch (but not all yet) of the Moody Blues albums…

Review: Broken Muse (self-titled) (2017)

This week's article is a review of an Alt-Country album. It's not a genre I listen to very often, but this one warrants attention. The self-titled Broken Muse (available at bandcamp) is the debut release from this septet of friends. Led by singer/songwriter/guitarist Mark Goodwin, it combines a more traditional Country sound with rock elements and modern recording clarity. While it does contain some rock elements, the result doesn't sound like Contemporary Country which often sounds like rock/pop with a slide guitar and/or southern accent thrown in.

Just within the first three tracks we get a wide variety of sounds: All You Want sounds very traditional, Have It Your Way rocks out, and Holiday has a more loungy feel. Despite being so different, there is a cohesive sound to them and none of them feels out of place on the album.

I'm not an expert in this kind of music due to limited exposure to it. But I'll go out on a limb and say that the chord structures are varied…

Track Analysis: Orbital – Planet of the Shapes (1992)

I am going to try a new kind of article today... an in-depth single-track analysis. Some of the music I like appeals to me for very specific reasons. While I was watching the movie Amadeus, it occurred to me that I could probably appreciate opera music much more if I could think of it in the terms Salieri describes it with. So I will be doing some of these in the hope that it opens up some new musical doors for a few people.

For my first attempt, I will be doing Orbital's "Planet of the Shapes" from their 1992 self-titled album (the brown one... they have three self-titled albums of different colors). One of my all-time favorite pieces of music from any artist, this is a 10-minute Ambient Techno epic with some very interesting sonic texture choices. The mixture of hard techno drum sounds with floating flute and sitar is very interesting. However, I'll be focusing more on the track's rhythmic content.

Here's a link to Orbital's SoundCloud page with the tra…

Review: Plaster – Platforms (2011)

Plaster – Platforms (2011)

How I found this album is actually pretty funny. I was looking for the latest release on iTunes from Plaster, a Montreal electro-jazz band. Here's a sample of what they sound like; I love this track:

https://myspace.com/plasterfirstaidkit/music/song/square-wave-21881461-21682646

iTunes doesn't differentiate well between different bands with the same name, so Platforms came up in the search. It was released more recently, so I took a listen. This is what I found:

https://soundcloud.com/kvitnu/plaster-component

It's a completely different artist (obvious if you listen to the two tracks). This one sounds like some sort of hybrid between Nine Inch Nails and Monolake's Momentum. It was a great discovery; I since have gotten all of their released albums, and they're all good. But I have to say this one is still my favorite, which is why it's getting a review.

The sound engineering on this disc is amazing. Everything is crisp and well-placed o…

Review: Loscil – Coast/Range/Arc (2011)

Loscil – Coast/Range/Arc (2011)

This album exemplifies a minimal music genre, so I will spend some time explaining to readers how I came to appreciate music of this type. I do this in the hope that they might be interested in diving in after me if they haven't already.

The first real "favorite band" I ever had was The Moody Blues, starting in the late 80s. For about 10 years, I would describe them to people as being my favorite. During that time, my taste in music started to branch out as I gained exposure to more kinds of music. At one point in the late 90s when Internet Radio was just starting up, I found a channel called "Cryosleep - Zero Beats Guaranteed". I couldn't imagine why someone would want to listen to music without beats at the time. I thought of Classical music as a different animal, as it still had clear rhythmic structures, and is a showcase for the skills of orchestras in playing it and in conductors interpreting it. But if I was going to l…

Review: Ohrwert – The Ambex Project (2016)

Ohrwert has long produced both Dub Techno and beatless Ambient recordings (the latter under his real name, Arjen Schat). He's a master of both forms, with his Dub Techno varying between deep mysteriousness and upbeat jams, and his Ambient recording covering sequential compositions, Drone Ambient, and even the occasional step into Dark Ambient.

With his album Ambex Project (http://music.ohrwert.com/album/the-ambex-project), he blends the two styles into a seamless experience, by making a set of tracks that sit at varying locations on a continuum from being heavily rhythmic to a carefully constructed drone.

As usual for his work, the quality of the sound staging is impeccable. I recommend listening to this in a quiet room with either good headphones or a stereo with really good imaging. Formally, most of the tracks are quite sparse in terms of composition. But what they lack in density of elements they surely make up for with beautiful sonic texturing.

The opener starts us with a sp…

Interview: Bola

A little while ago, I asked Bola (Darrel Fitton) if he would kindly answer a text interview. He said he would, and another little while later, the following text file arrived. My questions are in italics, his answers follow. At the time of posting, he has a new album on the way, D.E.G! See his artist page at Skam Records here: Skam Records

On a personal note, I am so thrilled to have the honor of posting this. Bola is one of my favorite artists, and I am terribly grateful that he took the time to give us this interesting insight into his work.

How did you get started in music?
I've played piano from about the age of 7 and that's probably why I still have classical leanings, but I would say my first introduction to something resembling contemporary music would have been through my skateboarding buddies at about 14 years old. Those guys were all a bit more clued up in most things than me back then.. and I guess being part of that crew led me to being introduced to al…

Review: Zzzzra – Vive la Lenteur (2014)

When we think of Dub Techno, the names Deepchord, Basic Channel, and Andy Stott come to mind. Over the past several years, Zzzzra has been releasing great Dub Techno albums one after another, and in my opinion, he belongs on that list.

Vive la Lenteur is a double-disc set of tracks released on Brian Grainger’s Recycled Plastics label, and it’s another great set. There’s a single-disc edition of this release, but it’s a combined group of tracks from both parts of the double; I’ll be writing about the double.

Last.FM (I’m almo2001 there) tells me that as I listen to the opening track, “Il N’y A Pas De Fin”, that I have heard it at least 34 times. I’m hearing things I have not heard before. This means that while the music is fairly minimalist as Dub Techno usually is, that it has a lot of layers and subtlety to it. It has a warm and calming sound, but there’s subtle distortion on some parts of it that give it an edge. On a personal note, I find that there is gentle music that I find lack…

Review: Low Orbit Satellite – Disposal Orbit (2014)

Recently, I came across a really interesting Techno album. Someone bought some music I recommended on Bandcamp, so I looked at what else they liked, and found it there. I was attracted initially by the name of the artist and the stark image of Sputnik on the cover. I was hoping for some spacy Techno.

It starts right in with a raw Roland 303 bassline, on a track aptly-named “303 Walk With Me”. Within a minute as the atmospherics kicked in, I was thinking, “Yup, spacy Techno!”

Through the rest of its 50-minute running time, I was not disappointed with anything I heard. Compositionally, it sounds like Techno from the early to mid 1990s, but sonically it’s very up-to-date.

While being quite consistent in its sound, there is variety to be had. Unsyncc brings in dubby elements and a bouncier sound, to great effect. Immediately after, we get Wiredbx which has a heavy and oppressive vibe. Then Libration Point lightens up again. Near the end we get Dumbells, which sounds more like Acid Techno.…

Review: Monolake – Ghosts (2012)

I have been going through Monolake’s back catalog since discovering the excellent Reminiscence from 2003’s Momentum release in the summer of 2011. After getting started in a style closer to Dub Techno on the venerable Chain Reaction label, they subsequently have gone through some different styles. After the transitional Interstate followed a set of four LPs (Gravity, Cinemascope, Momentum and Polygon_Cities) which showed a minimalist approach to Ambient Techno with dubby elements. These four LPs show a steady move toward darker atmospheres, leading to the phase Monolake now occupies, which consists of Silence and the recently-released Ghosts.

We are told that Silence and Ghosts are the first two of a trilogy of works. Ghosts shares with Silence a focus on quality of sound rather than composition. Not that there is no composition at work, just that it seems subservient to the sounds themselves.

The eleven tracks are all shorter than 6 minutes, with the exceptions of Phenomenon (at exactl…

Review: Rod Modell Plays Michael Mantra (2007)

This is a very unusual work, with two 30-minute tracks, each of which has a 2-bar melody that repeats all the way through. Does this work? First, let me describe how AM radio works.

There is a carrier radio wave, at a certain frequency. The number of the station refers to its carrier-wave frequency. So if you tune your radio to AM 830, that’s a station with a carrier signal at 830 kHz. Your radio generates a wave at this frequency, and some circuitry detects the difference between that and the incoming signal. The signal coming in has sound information encoded in it, on top of the carrier wave.

So the carrier wave functions as a zero point, and the sounds are generated by differences between the signal and the original carrier wave. This album seems to function in this way. The repeating melodies are the carrier wave, and should fade from focus in your consciousness. That sets the mood and atmosphere, and the things that change around it are where the music is.

So to answer the questi…

Review: Autechre – Tri Repetae (1995)

I came to know of Tri Repetae rather late. I only started listening to electronic music in earnest around 1995 when a friend sent me a tape of Orbital’s Snivilization. I started going through the Autechre catalog one at a time somewhere around 2009, and came to Tri Repetae in 2010. By then, it was 15-year old music, but it did not fail to impress me; electronic music was moving fast in the 90s, so this alone says something about it.

I had given both Incunabula and Amber (the two preceding albums) plenty of time to understand them, since I was aware from my readings that Tri Repetae was a significant leap beyond them, and I wanted to feel that. These are both solid works, and I recommend them in their own right.

There are some albums that you know are special within five or ten seconds; this is one of them. As soon as the opening bass pulse of Dael finishes a cycle or two, you think you’re in for something different. Fortunately, the album does not fail to deliver on its first promise.

Th…