Category Archives: Review

Beau Wanzer’s Power Outage 10″

Here’s a review I wrote for Juno Plus on Beau Wanzer’s Power Outage 10″…

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Beau Wanzer goes back to Traxx’s Nation imprint for his latest 10″ Power Outage. The Chicago native has stayed loyal to the Nation cause since his appearance on the 2008 Modern Electronic Element EP, gracing various follow up releases, as well as developing the Mutant Beat Dance project with Traxx. Power Outage is a release that offers the same kind of hefty analog rhythms and mechanical precision that might be expected from Wanzer, but this time with a more experimental edge than some of his (equally excellent) dance-ready cuts on L.I.E.S. and Russian Torrent Versions as well as his Streetwalker project.

The title track opener skilfully combines powerful palpitations with a dash of 70s Suicide nostalgia, as deranged vocals cloaked in reverb scatter throughout the desolate pulsations. The next track “Fabrics” is mesmeric in a totally different way, a swirling memory montage of the brain. Like a long lost 80s hardware experiment, synths form a spiders web of dreamlike frequencies, with the results a silky respite from the gruelling intensity of “Power Outage”.

“Lotraf” returns to strong rhythmical form, scurrying around an increasingly bizarre vocal appearance that is believed to be Wanzer as a boy. The track’s video confirms this speculation, featuring young Beau at his grandparent’s house hanging out with his dog and playing ball. The vocals reference Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, a TV programme running between the mid ’80s to ’90s that highlighted lavish lifestyles of “champagne wishes and caviar dreams.” Vocals are twisted to un-natural and creepily mechanic proportions, suspense-filled drum machine scuffles that lurk alongside sinister company.

“Thurston Moog” brings forth a melted guitar solo; Nation’s website calls it a “contorted synth jam” made from manipulating a variety of recordings. Harsh feedback closes the release in a somewhat jarring manner, another curve ball that distinguishes the evolution of Wanzer’s solo output. There is often a sense of playfulness in his releases; “Balls of Steel” on L.I.E.S. stands out as a bold example, or even “F. U. Klaxon,” from his aforementioned first appearance on Nation. Usually though, there is a more subtle flavour of oddball eccentricity flowing throughout his work. This 10″ sees Wanzer slightly move away from off-kilter dance territory, while maintaining his signature sound, with promise to push the boundaries of what we might expect next.

Weekend Review

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My latest review for Juno Plus on Blackest Ever Black’s Weekend Reissue…

First known for her role in the pioneering post-punk band Young Marble Giants, Alison Statton continued making music after the group dismantled, operating under the name Weekend. Teaming up with Spike Williams of Z Block Records and Reptile Ranch, as well as Simon Booth (later of Working Week) they signed to Rough Trade in 1981 and released one studio album, called La Variete, along with three EPs. Later discovered in the mid-90s, a collection of demos revisiting Weekend’s early days appeared on The ’81 Demos, a 1995 CD release by the Vinyl Japan label, while also emerging as bonus material in the 1992 Cherry Red reissue album of La Variete. The ’81 Demos now form the latest focus in Blackest Ever Black’s occasional dalliance with archival matters and offer Weekend listeners the first vinyl edition of these early recorded works.

Although each of these four tracks were originally released on Weekend’s debut cassette Le Variete, these demos offer different versions of the recordings, and are almost unrecognizable in some cases; comprised of jazz infused tracks, though less embellished than some of their previously released works. The rich earthy guitar tones of “Drumbeat” combine with Statton’s signature dreamy vocals, along with the occasional chiming of minimal percussion. “Red Planes” delicately unleashes its powerful hold on the listener, where violin penetrates stark drum machine beats. Through this track Statton’s vocals are resolute, yet jarringly detached in their delivery, eerily void of emotion over dub inspired patterns.

The echo filled backdrop and recorder wailings on “Nostalgia” show a true departure from some of Young Marble Giants grittier guitar tracks, with vocals that take on a distinctively reflective lyrical style. “Summerdays Instrumental” speeds up the tempo with a panicky pulse, but the main focus of this track is the expressive guitar tones that unfold, seemingly unrelated to the poppier vocal fuelled version of this track found on the original release of La Variete.

Weekend were short lived, but in their time they managed to produce some truly great works and are often cited as musical influencers. Their work can now be appreciated more fully by fans and newcomers alike thanks to Blackest Ever Black’s archival endeavours.

Hard Corps Review

Here is a review I did for Juno Plus a few months ago on Hard Corp’s Rarities release.

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There seems to be no end to the flood of synth reissues over the past few years, labels like Dark Entries, Medical and Mannequin are among current record labels digging deep, committed to unearthing forgotten rarities from often unsuspecting musicians. At the very centre of this movement is digger extraordinaire, Veronica Vasicka, who coined the Minimal Wave genre back in 2005. After releasing Clean Tables Have to Be Burnt by Hard Corps in 2012, Vasicka brings forth the Rarities LP, a collection of out-takes and demos issued in dedication to frontwoman Regine Fetet who passed away in 2003.

This Brixton-based band developed a devoted cult following throughout the mid 80s, as well as getting a reputation for their killer live performances. Things started looking up when Hard Corps were featured on John Peel’s radio show, and subsequently signed with Polydor in 1985, getting a chance to work with renowned producers like Martin Rushent and Daniel Miller, as well as touring with Depeche Mode and The Cure. But this promising period only resulted in one single, the undoubtedly brilliant Je Suis Passée. Although this track was a hit throughout underground dancefloors, the band’s work failed to break through to the general public, and their Polydor time proved to be less fruitful than many had expected.

Regine Fetet’s vocals are distinctively haunting throughout the release, cutting through harsh industrial textures. Regine came from a background of exotic dance, which perhaps influenced her evocative live performances; for instance, it was not uncommon for her to strip down during the gigs. Hailing from France, she was not a trained vocalist, and initially struggled with timing and enunciation, but this background perhaps made her vocal deliverance all the more interesting.

The ghostly quality of “Bravo” stands out in this LP of unreleased cuts, driven by a punchy bassline that feels razor sharp against warm ethereal synths, drenched in reverb. Following suit, the rigid drum sequences of “Killing Fields” are treated with effects that brighten harsh mechanics behind the track, accentuating warm, lush analog electronics found throughout the release. There’s an undeniably groovy bassline on “Desire” that is topped by silky vocals, with gleaming synths that flow throughout track.

The Hard Corps canon is rougher than some of their glossier synth-pop counterparts of the time, with music that embraced a gritty lo-fi approach through their carefully constructed tracks. Even so, there is undeniably an element of warmth that ties together this LP, an organic intensity that emanates from Regine’s vocals to the buzzing of analog hardware, enveloped in a dreamy haze of reverb. These tracks form an absorbing collection of out-takes and demos that emerge from obscurity after collecting dust for many years and can finally be appreciated thanks to the Minimal Wave label,.

Patrick Cowley Review

I recently wrote a piece for Juno Plus on the amazing Patrick Cowley LP that came out in October.

Patrick Cowley’s School Daze is brought to us by the joint efforts of San Francisco label Dark Entries and the city’s long running club night Honey Soundsystem, and draws from an enlightening cache of compositions that the producer licensed to gay porn films. Cowley is most known as a pioneering disco and Hi-NRG producer, with hits such as “Menergy” and “Megatron Man,” along with collaborations like “Do Ya Wanna Funk” and “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” with disco icon Sylvester. This release focuses on the weirder, more experimental side of Cowley’s work that is perhaps over-shadowed by his undoubted disco legacy. These eleven tracks were taken from the scores to Muscle Up and School Daze, from the Fox Studio archives; porn film soundtracks that that expose a shadier side of San Francisco in the 70s and early 80s.

Although Cowley is known for his disco productions, he showed an interest in electronic experimentation from a young age, studying music at the City College of San Francisco where he developed his synthesizer skills, and founded the Electronic Music Lab. It is the early music from Cowley’s college days that make up this release, which was then adjusted by the Fox Studio owner John Coletti, using a variable speed oscillator to synchronize the music to the scenes of the films.

“Zygote” starts with full force, in the same spirit as some of Cowley’s famous Hi-NRG disco workouts, but instead of setting the pace for the album, the track stands alone and is followed by a number of incredibly bizarre and far-out recordings. From the onset, synths are rich and earthy in quality, with bright cosmic tones that flicker above bellowing bass. “Nightcrawler” is as dark and mischievous as its name suggests, as tiptoeing synths meet oddball electronics.

“Seven Sacred Pools” is a stunning piece of music; patterns of repetition are topped with rugged bass, unexpectedly falling into a Tangerine Dream-like trance. “Primordial Landscape” brings forth synth reflections of murky trip-like quality, with sounds that are so strange, it feels like they must have been drug induced, whereas “Tides of Man” closes the album with carefully strung arpeggios that propel the track forth with rigorous strength…

Read the rest of the review HERE

Pangaea Ultima

I reviewed Steve Moore’s excellent new LP for Juno Plus, here’s an excerpt…
Steve Moore’s debut release on Spectrum Spools goes by the name Pangaea Ultima, and refers to a potential super-continent formation, occurring sometime in the next 250 million years. This mighty fusion of land-mass is part of an ongoing cycle that saw the formation of Pangaea, 300 million years ago.
If anyone is up to the task of providing the music for this epic formation, it’s Steve Moore. No stranger to analogue electronics, he is perhaps first known for his role in Zombi, which formed in the early 2000s, taking influence from the likes of Goblin and John Carpenter, at a time when few bands were citing horror soundtracks as inspiration.
Since then, Moore has built a healthy solo career, with some of his releases even spilling over into the dance floor. Despite this, Moore does not come from a dance music background, nor did he start out DJing, or have any intention of making dance tracks; he came from a noisy post-punk/no-wave/metal background that saw him through his involvement with the band Microwaves back in 2001.
Pangaea Ultima starts with “Endless Caverns”, a track that steers the listener into a dazed abyss of electronics; momentum gathers with expanding synths, oozing into a steady stream of hallucinations. Decisively warm tones alight “Planetwalk”, providing structure over looming uneasiness. “Deep Time” is a highlight of the album, with a stark rigid introduction that prickles the spine, emerging into a skewed dance track that feels slightly ill-boding…
Read the rest of the review HERE

Mind Over Mirrors Review

I recently reviewed Jaime Fennelly’s Mind Over Mirrors album for Juno Plus…

It seems somewhat fitting that Jaime Fennelly created much of his work as Mind Over Mirrors on a remote Washington island in the Salish Sea. When The Rest Are Up At Four is the fourth Mind Over Mirrors album in three years from Fennelly, his first for the Chicago label Immune, and feels strangely distant, while also rooted in the organic sounds of surrounding nature. As a founding member of Peeesseye, which formed in 2002, Fennelly lived in Bushwick, New York until he decided to relocate to island life in 2007. The move was a shift that coincided with his development as a solo artist, work that was created under more isolated conditions.

The distinct aesthetic of the Mind Over Mirrors project is especially apparent through the artwork that Fennelly and his partner Serena Lander have made for all the releases, often in the way of leafy green album covers, glorifying the wild foliage of the Pacific Northwest. The Mind Over Mirrors releases have all featured the Indian pedal harmonium, playing a crucial role in the overall sound. This latest album is no exception, where oscillators, tape delays and synths are combined with these rich harmonium overtones. But instead of serving as a focal point of the album (as can be seen in past releases) it glues the tracks together without taking centre stage.
When The Rest Are Up At Four starts with the sensory overload of blissful electronics that is “Storing The Winter” which remains the standout track of the album. Almost like a cross between 70s German band Harmonia and the pure ecstatic frequencies of Iasos, this track started as a collaboration with Miguel Gutierrez, a choreographer Fennelly has worked and performed with on many occasions. Sweeping harmonies unravel with ease throughout the track, rippling over the steady backbone of the harmonium…
Read the rest of the article HERE