Tracks: May 28th, 2018

The run of exciting show announcements we’ve been detailing on the podcast just keeps on going, with the unveiling of a reprise of Clan of Xymox’s North American tour. Ten more dates are on the docket in the fall, focusing on the west coast and including Vancouver! Regardless of the ups and downs of the band’s latter era work, their early catalog remains an unimpeachable force in the ongoing history of darkwave, as we recently discussed in our commentary for Medusa. Despite our grizzled fossilgoth statuses, neither of us have ever caught Xymox live, and them passing through our city during what we’ve dubbed the Year of Darkwave is most fortuitous. On with this week’s Tracks!

Schwefelgelb
Schwefelgelb: Cumulously disruptive.

Caustic Grip, “Burn feat. Veronica Sawyer”
Tip of the hat to Michael from Chrome Corpse for the hot lead on new Australian electro-industrial act Caustic Grip, who just compiled several previously released tracks into a single release via Bandcamp. The project’s name certainly displays one of their major influences, but we’re getting some pretty serious 90s dark electro in the mix on these songs as well. We’re especially enjoying some of the choices in percussion sounds used on “Burn”, adding some interesting flavour to a track that built around space and mood.

Collide, “Winter Kills”
Did you ever check out our commentary on Collide’s classic 90s darkwave/triphop release Chasing the Ghost? One of the things we talked about on it was how perfectly kaRin and Statik can do torchy when they feel like it, and boy howdy did they feel like it when they decided to cover Yaz’s “Winter Kills” for new remix/b-sides/covers release Mind & Matter, the companion to last year’s Color of Nothing. Production and performance are on point as they always are with Collide, serving you a blast of frosty torchsong realness just in time for summer.

Daniel B. Prothese, “Hoheren ebene”
The new solo record from Daniel B shows just how far afield the interests of 242’s members lie. It’d be difficult to find something more removed from what’s come to be recognized as 242’s home turf than the bright and melodic fields of pastoral synths which make up this, the opening track on his new HollEKtroKraut​​/​​HellEctroKraut LP. While the “Kraut” in the title is certainly earned, with loving homages to Schulze and Neu! abounding, we’re not so sure about the “Holle” part; pieces like this one sound utterly heavenly.

Altstadt Echo, “Exhumed I.III”
Some dark and chilly techno from right out of Detroit courtesy of producer Altstadt Echo. With an equal amount of the funerary dust connoted by this EP’s graveside art and a light swing to the beats, the Exhumed Tapes release is present without ever becoming oppressive. Should appeal to fans of Lorn and mid-period Haujobb alike.

Schwefelgelb, “Fokus (SARIN Remix)”
Two of the shining lights of the current club-based EBM movement come together for a dancefloor slayer. The definitive element of Schwefelgelb’s recent productions has been the bounce they put into their rubbery bassline, which makes for a hell of a starting point for SARIN’s aggressive take on technofied EBM. Released on a 12″ by Khemia Records (the other side of the release is a track by Blind Delon remixed by HIV+), it’s another testament to two modern body acts that are on top of the proverbial game right now.

Donna Haringwey, “Lester’s Goodbye”
More great lo-fi electronics from Germany’s Smashing Tapes. British producer Toni Quiroga offers grimy, echoing, and mean tunes which draw upon minimal wave, EBM, and power electronics. We’re not entirely sure of the connection between a scraping blast of violence like this and the brilliant theorist from whom the project takes its name, but she can certainly add this to her CV in terms of cyberpunk cred alongside the Ghost In The Shell 2 shout-out. “Staying With The Trouble”, indeed.

Vandalaze, “Blab”

Vandalaze - Blab

Vandalaze
Blab
Slimetrax

The aesthetic of Cory You’s Vandalaze project, as communicated by album artwork and videos can make just as sharp a first impression as its music. While trying to describe to a friend the project’s style, channel-surfing across late 80s/early 90s kitsch, he asked if it fell into the vaporwave realm. “Yeah, but no,” I replied. “Less old Windows installations, more Rocko’s Modern Life“. The look and sound of Vandalaze’s latest once again rides the line between the exuberant and the grotesque, shuffling rubbery synths and jittery samples to a range of effects.

You’s deeply familiar with the history of post-industrial songwriting and production, as shown by the Covenant-style sequencing of “Icefade” and subtle but canny nods to early Puppy throughout Blab, but Vandalaze’s appeal lies in You’s ability to identify sounds and genres which have always been adjacent to that legacy, and bring them into a synth confluence which is far more open-ended. The bassline of “Fabrik Oblong” owes as much to Art of Noise as EBM, and the boisterous synth funk of “Omaha” comes across with wide-reaching technicolor appeal.

As with its predecessor, Big Diner, if Blab does have a failing it lies in You’s vocals, which often reach beyond his grasp, often sounding more like demo takes than official release material. That’s a shame, because it’s clear that You’s trying to leverage his voice as a key aspect to Vandalaze’s quirky ethos. At times this works admirably – the drippy distortion the vocals are pushed through on “Measure Of Time” fit the song’s mood well – but more often their production and delivery suffer in comparison to the capable instrumentation and production, as on the Max Headroom-like approach to “Wrong Channel” and the Jourgensen-style road-trip raconteurship of “Omaha”.

In the case of a project as dedicated to pure weirdness as Vandlaze (I wasn’t kidding about Rocko’s Modern Life: check the Nickelodeon-style “boi-yoings” mixed in with orch hits on “Wrong Channel”), it’s tough to say whether a sharper vocal delivery could run the risk of fouling what does work about Vandalaze. That question gets to the heart of what I’ve found so interesting about Vandalaze over the past few years: the spirit of You’s work is instantly recognizable, yet almost wholly unique in the contemporary synth world, and I want it to find the strange overlap of melt movie and after school special fans it deserves.

Buy it.

We Have a Technical 209: His Name Is

Gridlock
The Mikes in Gridlock-step.

It’s a Q & A episode of We Have A Technical this week, with Patreon backers supplying questions both broad and specific. From drugs to Gridlock, from DJing to Trust Obey, we’re fielding queries dealing with all corners of Our Thing! You ask: we answer. Or at least use your queries as an opportunity to climb aboard some of our favourite hobby-horses. Also, comments on recent shows by Poptone (Tones On Tail, Love & Rockets) and Fever Ray! Don’t forget to rate and subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, or download directly or stream from Spotify or the widget down below.

Rhys Fulber, “Your Dystopia, My Utopia”

Rhys Fulber
Your Dystopia, My Utopia
Sonic Groove

As a member of Front Line Assembly (and its various off-shoots including successful world-beat/electronica act Delerium) during that project’s most well regarded and commercially successful era – not to mention his solo project Conjure One and studio work with Paradise Lost, Fear Factory and more recently Youth Code and Kanga – Rhys Fulber’s influence and profile amongst those who know can’t be overstated. Perhaps the most interesting thing then about his debut LP under his own name for Sonic Groove records is hearing the veteran artist/producer explore territory that hints at his broad catalogue of work without being specifically beholden to any one piece of it.

Broadly speaking the music on Your Dystopia, My Utopia falls into the rubric of industrialized-techno, although the album emphasizes texture and structure over dancefloor bangers. While rhythms and tempos are kept central to each composition, it’s Fulber’s sensibility as a programmer and articulate production style that define the record. “Limited Vision” has a straight 4/4 beat underneath most of it, but the essence of the track is in how grinding synths interact with the the vast, open reverbs that obscure the track’s sonic boundaries, hiding some sounds until they jump to the fore, and covering them as they retreat to the edges of the stereo spectrum again. Album highlight “My Church” invokes a technoid rhythm as its backbone before building a massive cathedral of organ and synth patches and portentous samples for a cinematic feel. Neither track feels like anything we’ve heard from Fulber before, but definitely bear his steady hand from the building blocks of sound design (some of which is contributed by Los Angeles synth guru Jeff Swearengin) through to final mix.

That’s not to say that the album suffers when it makes overt dancefloor bids though. Songs like “Truncheon” or “Anhedonia” have plenty of DJ appeal with their rapidly cycling basslines and tough, crunchy drums, but feature the same fine attention to detail as the rest of the record. The latter number is especially notable in how maximal it feels while working with a more limited structure, injecting a Gessafelstein-esque arrangement with a heft and coarseness that move it towards classic rhythmic noise.

Beyond the strong appeal it holds for simple repeat listening, Your Dystopia, My Utopia also acts as both evidence of Rhys Fulber’s technical proficiency, but also his oft overlooked skill as composer. For those who mostly know him via his extensive work as a remixer, collaborator or studio hand, it should go a ways to illuminating his auteurship; in presenting himself in a largely new way Fulber has made us appreciate him as an individual artist all the more. Recommended.

Buy it.

Tracks: May 22nd, 2018

You know, we keep saying to ourselves that some day we’ll make the trip to WGT, just to have the experience of seeing a bunch of Euro bands that never come to North America, and just to soak up the ambience of 10,000 goths in a city not much more populous than Edmonton. For now though we have to settle for scene reports from friends who made the trek including which bands got wreck (we hear Wulfband and ACTORS scored big unsurprisingly), and exactly how bananas the line-ups to get into the venues were. Were you there this year? Holler at us about what you saw that was good in the comments! On to Tracks!

Inhalt in their natural habitat

Body Break, “four”
Ask a Canadian of a certain age about Body Break and they’ll probably say something about Participaction or namedrop Hal Johnson or Joanne McLeod at you. We have no doubt that those TV ads served as the inspiration for the name of the new project from Wire Spine/Weird Candle’s Robert Katerwol and Robert Recluse of Void Mirror, which sits nicely in the new beat/italo/EBM pocket. Word is that these demos will be developed a bit more with some guest vocalists and then compiled into a full release at a later date, so here’s your chance to get ahead of the curve.

Rhys Fulber, “Limited Vision”
Few people native to Our Thing have as many decades of studio experience in as many genres as Rhys Fulber. While the man himself needs no introduction, the notion of him tossing his hat into the techno/industrial ring (with a release on no less notable a label than Sonic Groove, to boot) merits some extra consideration. Having had a large hand in forging the sort of sounds and textures many contemporary producers are currently reaching for, it’s likely that his Your Dystopia, My Utopia record will offer a new perspective on that oh-so happening nexus. Expect a full review on this site shortly, and notice the slowly unfolding cinematic pads Fulber uses to add grandeur to this track’s core tension.

Agent Side Grinder, “In From the Cold”
The second taste of the new incarnation of Agent Side Grinder is suiting us just fine, thanks for asking. When the video for “Doppelgänger” dropped last month we commended AGS for going in a new direction that seemed commensurate with the new line-up, leaner and more tense and hypnotic. “In From the Cold” isn’t quite so rangy but does make good use of angular sequencing and a pleasingly melodic chorus to compliment the cold war samples that adorn it. We’re ready to hear what these good Swedish cats have in store for their first full-length in the new configuration.

Roya, “Away”
Here’s some gauzy work which rides the border between darkwave and synthpop with plenty of personality. Hailing from – where else? – Sweden, Roya’s tracks are full to the brim with atmosphere, and despite using some rather left-field instrumentation choices, presents her work with sharp senses of timing and songcraft. Worth digging into at greater length, we think.

Inhalt, “Alles”
Why, just the other day we were having a conversation about San Francisco’s Inhalt, with the question being when we would next hear new material from them. Turns out that the next release Content will be coming direct from Dark Entries, and consist of four new tracks and their instrumental versions. Hard to tell what direction the act has gone in although from the instrumental version of “Alles” linked below they haven’t abandoned their knack for retro-synth, with some added body music and komische flavour. Very keen to hear the rest of the EP, as we’ve noted before the fact that Inhalt have garnered so many fans on the basis of such a small catalogue is a testament to just how good their stuff is.

Dame Area, “Sfingi”
Lastly, from Barcelona come Dame Area, a duo who cite Coil and TG alongside Italian pop auteur Franco Battiato as influences. The pair trade in what might be most easily recognizable as minimal wave, but often offset with metallic percussion and a flair for the dramatic which isn’t often found in a genre commonly taken to be recalcitrant. Murky yet strident, it’s an interesting spin on some familiar styles.

Observer: Makeup And Vanity Set & Webdriver Torso


Makeup And Vanity Set
Pris
self-released

Matthew Pusti’s work as Makeup And Vanity Set has favoured a cinematic sound, forgoing some of the neon markers of his synthwave peers to ply soundtrack-inspired compositions that owe a debt to pioneers like Tangerine Dream and Vangelis. The latter influence hangs heavily over new EP Pris, which as you can probably surmise from the title draws a great deal of inspiration from Vangelis’ legendary score for Blade Runner. Tributes that particular landmark in electronic music are plentiful, but Pusti can be commended for digging into some of its more interesting rhythmic and structural components. “Lover(s)” invokes both the film’s “Love Theme” and “Like Tears in Rain”, finding some commonality between the smooth and smokey jazz and the mournful synth strings that define each track. “Last Shuttle Home” digs deep into the use of arpeggiation, shifting the range of notes from bright and melodic to dark and bassy, and altering the shape of the envelope to suggest different moods a la Blade Runner‘s end titles theme. The most original track, “Crush”, departs from broad homage in its use of rubbery bass and wavering pads, speaking to some of Makeup and Vanity Set’s own previous work in soundtracks both real and imaginary, and in the project’s capacity for classic synth composition that doesn’t begin and end with retro sound design.

Webdriver Torso - Listen_Die_EP
Webdriver Torso
Listen_Die_EP
self-released

It’s not unusual for a contemporary act to be drawing from the legacy of 90s industrial. But when that act has one foot in contemporary underground darkwave and another in the most garish examples of 90s crossover acts, well, interesting things happen. Seattle’s up and coming Webdriver Torso proudly cite their generational markers (“Chris & Cosey raised on Marilyn Manson”), and even if their debut EP isn’t quite at schismatic as that pairing might suggest, it does a nice job of bringing some day-glo excess to today’s more dour stylings. Croaks and growls hang about the background of “Web_006″‘s wistful croon before seizing the controls and kicking the next number through pinball-machine rubbery kicks and screwball synths. Despite being relatively lo-fi, enough consideration’s been given to the shape and sound of the EP’s elements to keep things interesting, and the pitch and presentation of Webdriver Torso’s material doesn’t overshadow the actual tunes themselves. Regardless of the eras of their influences or differences in their style, the duo are able to bring them to heel when it comes time to put themselves forward.

We Have a Technical 208: Brother Hero

Anna-Varney
Anna-Varney points the bone at you.

This episode of We Have A Technical doubles down on ur-goth realness with discussion of early records by Alien Sex Fiend and Sopor Æternus and the Ensemble of Shadows. What are the roots of goth’s connections to rockabilly? How has Anna-Varney Cantodea gathered such a web of mystery to herself? In addition, we’ve got takes on the new Nine Inch Nails track and a recent live performance from Merzbow, plus all the horsing around you’ve come to expect from the official IDieYouDie.com podcast! Don’t forget to rate and subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, or download directly or stream from Spotify or the widget down below.

Ash Code, “Perspektive”

Ash Code - Perspektive

Ash Code
Perspektive
Swiss Dark Nights

For a band so heavy on atmospherics (and whose name hints at being smudged and indistinct), Ash Code come across as clear as day on their third LP, Perspektive. Partially that’s a function of their often blunt and repeated lyrical declarations (“Give me my life back”, “There’s no mercy anymore”). But it’s also due to a canny sense for arrangement and production which delivers driving, full-impact post-punk instrumentation just as well as it does coldwave drama. The end result is as good a marker as any of how different sub-genres of dark music are intersecting in 2018.

Make no mistake, Perspektive is a dark and gloomy record, but the Italian trio behind it are able to bring to bear an unblinking and strident style of songwriting, buoyed by a knack for putting each piece’s weightiest passage front and center. Check the opening of “Disease”, with magisterial yet mournful synths set atop a foundation of alternately mechanical and echoing percussion. It’s the sort of synth tour de force one might expect from Ultravox at the height of their powers, yet Alessandro Belluccio’s tortured vocals quickly brush off external comparisons. The slinkier “Betrayed” isn’t nearly as portentous, but it pings a light synthpop melody off a trad post-punk bassline right off the bat to set up the structure Ash Code build upon for its remainder.

Despite the clarion punch of so many of Perspektive‘s highlights, it’s also a record full of the odd restraint and labyrinthine compositions which makes classic 80s coldwave so beguiling and inscrutable. The skittering beat of the title track draws in the listener but never settles into dancefloor simplicity, making the chiming refrains of Claudia Nottebella’s vocals all the more mocking and haunting. It’s catchy, it’s insistent, it’s a complete earworm, but it retains the sense of mystery that is central to music of this ilk.

Coldwave hasn’t sounded this rich and full-bodied since Die Selektion recently upped the ante (it’s perhaps no accident that Die Selektion’s Luca Gillian appears on the title track to offer backing vocals), and like that record Perspektive has the core songwriting and gothic drama to justify its ambitious production style. Highly recommended.

Buy it.

Celldöd, “Fragmenterade Minnen”

Celldöd
Fragmenterade Minnen
DKA Records

In a recent interview with Bandcamp daily, Anders Karlsson noted that “I [Karlsson] like the sound of cheap hardware that many people would never use. I like bad-sounding digital effects, old spring reverbs that have a sound of their own, and semi-functional gear.” That preference has been pretty apparent to followers of his solo-project Celldöd, a name that has stood for rough, DIY-EBM since it first emerged in 2014. At the outset that emphasis on grittiness seemed like a reaction to the smoother direction his previous band The Pain Machinery had taken to body music on its final release, but with 2018’s Fragmenterade Minnen Celldöd sounds more fully realized as its own entity, complete with a distinct and recognizable production aesthetic.

While Celldöd’s hardware-based compositions – made via an array of classic drum machines and synths alongside cheap and salvaged gear – have always sounded somewhat lo-fi, the key to their success has been in how immediately Karlsson pinpoints a groove and then squeezes every ounce of energy out of it. Nearly every track on Fragmenterade Minnen introduces its bassline within seconds and then rides it out, ornamenting the framework with reverbs, delays and layers of recording dirt. Whether a down the pipe EBM number like “Vrider”, a double-time synthpunk workout like “Alla Har Fel” or a deliberately awkward minimalist composition like “Hotet Från Underjorden (Dub)”, it’s always the arrangement of synth bass and noisy hats and kicks that make up the body of the song. Karlsson knows how far to push each composition, and when to cut them off as their energy and momentum begins to flag, never letting anything become exhausted or played out.

The biggest departure apparent on the LP is the emphasis on Karlsson as vocalist. We know from his previous work that he’s more than a capable singer, but here he shrouds himself in effects and goes guttural with his delivery, grunting and yelping his way through each song. It’s a fitting style for him to take on for the material, and one that places his voice in the same category as the various acid squeaks and squelches and washes of static that make their way through the audio spectrum, a textural element rather than a melodic one. It speaks to Karlsson’s philosophy as a producer; as he slowly expands the palette of sounds available to Celldöd, he also takes care not to betray the sound he’s cultivated, aligning his new tools with his proven approach.

Buy it.

Tracks: May 14th, 2018

The spate of shows rolling through our neck of the woods continues, with a bit of an emphasis on old legends recontextualizing their work. Peter Hook brought his band through town to play through both Joy Division and New Order’s Substance comps, but we were both too bushed to go (ask us sometime about dancing onstage to one of Hooky’s DJ sets years ago). And this coming weekend, after a couple of cancellations and reschedulings, Kevin Haskins and Daniel Ash will be bringing their Poptone project to the stage. We’re keen to hear how the classic (yet always somehow obscure and underrated) Tones On Tail catalog sounds in this new incarnation. On with this week’s tracks!

Second Still
Second Still

Front Line Assembly, “Mechvirus”
The new track from Front Line Assembly is notable for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s a taste of the follow-up to Airmech, FLA’s lauded soundtrack to the game of the same name, which showed the project’s capacity for atmospherics as expressed through ultra-modern production. Secondly, it’s the first new music we’ve heard from the band since the untimely passing of Jeremy Inkel, and his influence as a writer, designer and arranger (along with Sasha Keevill, with whom he collaborated on recent Front Line material) is all over this. It’s a great track and a testament to Bill Leeb and company’s continued relevance in electronic music some 30 plus years since the band was founded.

Imperial Black Unit, “The White Rose”
Australia’s Imperial Black Unit just finished up some dates in their own backyard with Youth Code, and it’s through the latter that we were tipped off to this hotness. Their debut release on a + w, State Of Pressure, still doesn’t have a release date, but until then check out this hypnotic gem that owes more than a little to A Split Second but feels wholly fresh. Not sure if the title’s meant to honour die Weiße Rose or not, but it’s a nice thought.

Kollaps, “Heartworm”
Fellow Aussies Kollaps are also making waves beyond their home continent, though of a far more harsh variety. A new compilation tape from Italy’s excellent Infidel Bodies label finds Kollaps dishing out deep and gashed death industrial noise which makes an art out of procedural levels of distortion, but offsets things with some interestingly blunted drum programming. Nasty stuff to be sure.

Glass Apple Bonzai, “Fire in the Sky”
Your friend and ours Daniel X Belasco is back with a new single from Glass Apple Bonzai, Canada’s champions of charming neon retro-synthpop. As with many of GAB’s material this taps into the intersection of retro-futurism and good old pop music longing, hella melancholy while not being gloomy or turgid. And hey, the single also features a remix from likeminded artist Andy Deane’s The Rain Within and a wild-ass Jesus Jones-esque slice of sampledelia called “What’s Your Vector Victor”, so you’ll want to be picking that ASAP.

Second Still, “Ashes”
LA post-punk trio Second Still have a new EP out hot on the heels of their new Part Time Punks session being released. A quick first pass at Equals suggests that it contains the same lo-fi swagger that made their self-titled LP from last year one we felt stupid for having missed at its release. Some of the lighter points on the EP hint at Roxy or 10cc archness, but this churning number just grinds darkly.

Panic Priest, “Gaffer”
Chicago-based darkwavers Panic Priest are new signees to Negative Gain Productions, bringing some new American gloom to the label’s already impressive roster of dark music artists. Not much to go on yet beyond the tracks available on the Bandcamp pre-order, but we’re getting some hints of classic darkwave, some nice male vocal harmonies and a bit of the synthrock energy ported over from Jack Armando’s other project My Gold Mask. Good promising stuff, and only a few days ’til we get to hear the whole thing.