ORBITAL – In Sides (1996)

Review by: Charly Saenz
Album assigned by: Eric Pember

This album is pure Electronica, without major risks or surprises but lots of energy and a mission. Mostly instrumental, magnificent bass lines and decorating synths flourish here and there. It kicks off with “The Girl With The Sun In Her Head”, a title that already indicates one of the strong intentions of the album, that is Ecology. Yeah Greenpeace and all. 

“Petrol” with its birds effects is quite clear in its message too, the beat is heavily repeated but the song is slightly shorter. 

The piece that stands out in the album, is “The Box”, a multi-part song, with some welcome subtlety, will gradually grow on you with its pulsating bass and the little details here and there. Engaging electronica.
“Dŵr Budr” works on some effects that evoke water with some ominous sound that slightly grows and turns momentarily into a vocal theme. Another long song with a ritual dance bit in the middle, that becomes something else at about the 7 minute mark, loses a little focus but it’s a highlight in any case.

“Adnans”,  some sort of tale about robotic flower blossoming in terms of sound, has a background melody that should be more prominent. In the second part some ethereal harmonies take over, and were it not for the drone drums it could be a bit of Alan Parsons Project in the wild.

Not much to say about “Out There Somewhere”, a song that is perfect for a Sports Program intro. 

A good electronica album that won’t surely disappoint any fan of the genre.

JILL TRACY – Diabolical Streak (1999)

Review by: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Album assigned by: Alex Alex

The ambience is smoke-filled cabaret
And the cliches are all present.
The vocals: breathy, seductive — 
Yer typical sultry Femme Fatale —
Nightclub bass and cocktail piano,
All wrapped up in an indulgent hush.

Lucky Old Jill Tracy
Trapped forever in an old film noir 
I think I’ll pour myself a bourbon
And join her.

JOANNA NEWSOM – The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn
Album assigned by: Viudas Tormo

This music at first sounds like a mix between nu-folk by Bonnie Prince Billy and ECM chamber pop. Joanna is a classically trained harpist and it shows in the unconventional choices she makes. She also plays the piano, but on the whole this sounds a little less technically advanced.

Although the instrumentation and the melodies are rather sparse (and very light on percussion), the album is all over the place stylistically, so the album is more varied than you would think. But she’s also a singer, and there I have a problem. She sounds like Kate Bush (high almost soprano voice) mixed with Joni Mitchell (jazzy attitude, somewhat snarling delivery) both channeling their inner child. Or think Ricky Lee Jones on hydrogen. While I generally admire goofiness if coupled with obvious talent, this CD can only be enjoyed in small quantities at a time by me.

Most are in singer songwriter mode, but a nice song like This side of the blue I could easily imagine being sung as a ballad by Jon Anderson. Three little babies is very painful to the ears and had me laughing at the fact that it’s actually been released. In a gospel setting it would be great for Aretha, in the actual folk setting it would fit Fairport Convention, in a country setting Johnny Cash could make it sound great, but this version is horrendous.

All songs would improve immensely, to the point that the cd can actually be enjoyed, if they had been sung by a more natural, professional and pleasant voice like Norah Jones or Carly Simon. Of course, this would be less original, more middle of the road, and it could even show some other inadequacies in the music that now are drowned in the effect the voice has on the listener, but for me Joanna’s voice on this album (I have another album by her, Have one on me, where it seemed less prominent) seriously hurts its entertainment value.
Sometimes having an original voice is not just ‘not enough’, it’s too much. Being talented and daring must count for something however, so I would urge you to listen for yourself if perhaps YOU can overcome MY problems with this release…

FUSHITSUSHA – Fushitsusha (1989)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn
Album assigned by: Tristan Peterson

Never heard of them, and now I have, I’ll never forget them.
CD1, track 1 (Acchi, I think), A slow bluesy Neil Young / Crazy horse song. I hesitate to call their playing ridiculously bad or too sophisticated for my taste. The singing is pretty bad  though, and badly recorded as well. The song is way too long. Lukewarm interest to put it mildly: hmm, what have I done to deserve this?

CD1, track 2 (Ango), more of the same. Now I like my droney music, whether it’s of the krautrocky Faust/Can (or perhaps Magma?) variety of the 70’s or the more psychedelic droney music of the 00’s like Ozric tentacles, but this is going nowhere. The guitar player has a signature sound I guess, but the bass player and the drummer sound nothing special (and they are buried deep in the mix). What they lack in melody they sadly also lack in intensity: it may sound intense, and intensely focused, at first, but very soon you realise (or rather, it occurred to me) that this is a gimmick, exacerbated by the primitive recording technique.

CD1, track 3 (Suki ni Sureba li), has a nice poppy singalong chorus that makes you want to dance and . . .  oh no, who am I kidding? It’s more of the same, really. It’s a lot more quiet and less threatening. The beginning sounds like it could have been a King Crimson improv ca. 1974 (but with Belew vocalising, thereby strangely making it sound a little Pink Floydish), not bad at all. To be honest, if this was the first song, I would feel different about Fushitsusha; I like this song!

CD1, track 4 (Todokanai) Suki ni Sureba li 2.0, with added harmonica, or so it sounds. A little more up tempo drumming half way through, but this remains listenable.

CD2, track 1 Fuwafuwa: Very slow, but hiding underneath the noisy loud guitar there is actually an almost European pop song, melody-wise. Think Aphodite’s child, only with more guitar and less keyboards.

CD2 track 2 Nattan janai. Well, if you think Arc by Neil Young is loud and distorted guitar, try this! I think you can best compare it with a compilation of all the power chords at the end of all the Who songs played live in 1970 by Pete Townshend, just before he ruined his amplifier.

CD2,track 3 Maigo. During the song the tension builds up nicely until it all ends in a noise fest. If we stretch the definition of the word ‘technical’ to its utter limits, we could call the guitar playing on this track a little more technical, but a doubt remains: is this guitar playing the way of the future, or is it a three year old?

CD2, track 4, Koko starts like some of the long live tunes by Ween in their earlier days, but without the musicality. Not the brown boognish, but bland Metal Machine Music-like. Seven minutes in, it gets quieter, somewhat of a relief, getting back to that 1969 Pink Floyd vibe. I like this part immensely, but mostly because of what I had to endure before. When it gets louder, after 12 minutes or so, I still like it, he has a nice guitar sound going on there. Way too long, but ultimately the best song on the album.

What to make of it? It’s certainly different, quite challenging if you’re willing to listen with an open mind. My main problem is that it’s too intense to use as background music, and at the same time too monotonous to listen to in concentration.

2 8 1 4 – 新しい日の誕生 (Birth of a New Day) (2015)

Review by: Nina A
Album assigned by: Syd Spence

“A collaboration between Vaporwave producers Hong Kong Express and t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者, 2814 is a project that creates cyberpunk-esque, dystopian yet psychedelic and relaxing ambient soundscapes. Drifting off into a daydream is hard to avoid as each track flawlessly flows into another, each with its own unique atmosphere.” says a description of this record on youtube. Yeah, well…
… Well, let’s look at what we have here. “Birth of a New Day” may be a vapourwave cyberwhatever something but to the untrained ear it basically contains about three varieties of soundscapes. The opening track, Recovery, is more hustly-bustly than most of the others, and I’d go as far as guess that this is not yet the birth of a new day but the conclusion of the old day. And if visions of a late-night timelapse of a busy Asian city play in my mind, it is mostly because this is what is vaguely advertised on the cover. Oh and because of the sirens and traffic noises. Obviously.
The second track is called “Distant Lovers” but it more reminds me of that background music they play in a planetarium while a someone with a pleasant voice and excellent diction asks rhetorically whether we are alone in the universe. So what kind of distance are we talking about here? Is this a metaphor? Are aliens our distant lovers? I don’t know. I also don’t know whether I have accidentally started listening to F♯ A♯ ∞, so this is your second type of soundscape – a F♯ A♯ ∞ urban dreamscape soundalike, possibly with some public transport samples thrown in for good measure.
And already the following track “Shinjuku Golden Street” displays the third type of soundscape we have on this album, which I have decided to call “the sophisticated urban teahouse / art shop background music”. Seriously, the samples are the same. And the percussion. I’ve heard this thing in a fancy teahouse in Sofia around 2005, I am sure of it. Well, okay, maybe the dreamy psychedelic and relaxing ambient soundscape was slightly less layered and therefore less psychedelic but the essence is surely the same.
Halfway through the album I start thinking of a quote from one of Isaac Asimov’s apparently lesser known novels – “The End of Eternity” – in which Noÿs adjusts “the controls of a musical instrument that played soft and complicated strains out of its own creative bowels by striking notes and chords in a random manner: the randomness weighted in favor of pleasant combinations by intricate mathematical formulae. The music could no more repeat itself than could snowflakes, and could no more fail of beauty.” Now obviously this sounds like a bit of an overreach even if we assume that the advanced science of the future can make it possible but it does outline what I feel about the music on this record here: I am sure that this beauty has been arrived at by meticulously planning out and expertly timing sounds and samples, in other words, a considerable artistic effort. But why then is a fleeting moment of human warmth ultimately destroyed in my mind by the following rote sampled sound?
But let me quote another thought I found in the youtube comments (by someone writing as timeparadox888): “The night train back from work. You look at the passengers around you. A man covered head to toe in mechanical body modifications sits to your left, fiddling with a display set into the flesh on his forearm. To your right, an anxious extraterrestrial, its antennae curled back in discomfort at the heavy scent of humanity filling the air. Across the aisle, a wide-eyed child of indeterminate gender watches intensely as the sleek blue android next to them polishes its own detached leg. And holding the child’s hand, an old woman, modestly dressed with an unaltered figure, appearing, in general, out of place in her surroundings. She peers straight ahead at nothing in particular, her face fixed in an expression of longing. You put on your headphones.”
So apparently this music is capable of inducing tumblr-feels in some people. You know how I know? Well, this person used a descriptive sentence without a verb, a ton of superfluous but evocative adjectives, some annoyingly overused keywords, and decided to address some unspecified “you”. I personally give up on any implication that futuristic would have to mean bodies with machine implants and extraterrestrials with antennae.
Meanwhile, the three types of soundscape that I’ve outlined above have flawlessly flowed into each other more than once and we’re back to a hustle-bustlier sound for the birth of a new day, that seems to in this case get born as gradually and in as a gracefully uneventful fashion as the way in which the sun makes its ascent into the sky each morning.
And the reason I quoted other people so much in this review is that I have nothing in particular to say about this predictably pleasant and pleasantly predictable electrofest. Apart from the fact that letterspacing latin lowercase characters and numbers is kinda pretentious.