Ʌ – Wire Migraine

01/10/2011 § Leave a comment

Up till 2011 witch house had been an incapable subgenre. A cripple, an invalid among the electronic underground. It was a scene built entirely on concept rather than content with hardly any talent in its halls. The fanbase, ironically, tended to agree. Witch house albums were generally badly rated even by supporters. It was clear what we all wanted: a cross between darkwave, dark ambient and the US chopped and screwed scene, the main problem was that no-one seemed to be any good at it. Most albums had ridiculous titles and imagery, and most witch house bands had strings of symbols for names. The whole thing was – quite literally – a joke. Highly-regarded bands like White Ring, Mater Susperior Vision, oOoOO and Salem got close to producing decent material but never went the distance. There was just no consistency, no heart in a music form whose genesis was construct rather than character.

Xavier Valentine seems to have seen these shortcomings and made a concerted effort to do something about it. Wire Migraine, the first full album from his Ʌ [Aarrcc] project, dispenses with the problems and prefabrications of the scene through staying firmly embedded in the soil of darkwave. It’s an album full of variety and flux but which never loses its own thread. It knows exactly what it wants and never wavers from its cause. It is a serious, palpable entity built on turmoil, trust and feeling, and it oozes quality from the opening notes. Throughout its twelve tracks we’re taken on a run of blissfully pained ambience; heavy, resonating EBM-like pulses; beautiful, melodious chillwave and dark gothic undertones all fronted by Xavier’s distorted vocal presence. And the whole thing never drops the ball for a moment. It is a monolith to the fabled consistency which the scene was so aridly gasping for previously.

Even though Wire Migraine consists of twelve songs, upon download you’ll find that the whole thing comes through as one track. This is doubtlessly intentional since the album is sinuously threaded together, each song bleeding and melting into the next. It is a work of wholesomeness and completion, its constituents are meant to stay uniform, not orphaned. And the segues are beautifully done, sometimes harshly and sometimes subtly. It can be the heavy bass drop into a faster number that will herald the change of track or sometimes just the humble drop into a new key from semitone to semitone. Wire Migraine is as much about achievement through subtlety as through excess.

Moments after hitting the play button it becomes apparent that we’re in for something special, that we are in the presence of a genuine artist rather than someone dubbing themselves as such for the notoriety. “Gunnell” opens the album with a staggeringly beautiful ambient track. No clichéd synths here, just echoing, gasped vocals swirling around a simple, minimalist piano track as single notes bounce us of from the distance, each one hitting with meaning and feeling. There is nothing incidental to this, we are already in a new realm, a dark underworld hollowed out through solace and lost essences. Things pick up for the excellent “Nothing” with it’s pounding, punctuating bassline and then rise to a disturbing crescendo at “Revenge City”, possibly the harshest track on the album with painfully distorted vocals. But even in these harsh moments, Valentine is able to retain an air of melody, an air of humanity, and as listeners we feel a natural empathy. These are not self-indulgent screams meant to affront us, but to communicate, to share and complete. In the varying emotions set out through the album it’s hard not to relate or to feel a familiarity with what’s on show.

“Hallowed House” in one of the album’s best moments comprising an ethereal, haunting ambient backing track with spoken vocals hammered into the foreground. Hearing a rap on a witch house album is almost as ridiculous as on a darkwave or goth one, but Valentine takes the chance here and it works astoundingly well. “Hallowed House” is, in a way, the album’s crowning moment: it shows Aarrcc as unafraid to take risks, certain of its own core and drive, pulling areas from other genres and moulding them beautifully to fit its own needs while giving us new perspectives and experiences. The album then ebbs into the harsher, more upbeat but melancholy Ambulance Muscle before dropping into the title track which serves as a wonderfully atmospheric finale.

Wire Migraine is an astounding achievement. It an album born fully from organic feeling and being. Nothing is forced. Everything about it, from it’s dripping, liquid ambient moments to its coarser, more disturbing clarion beats, is completely natural, convincing and lifelike. It is an album illustrated by an internal palette of pain, solace and sensuality, communicating each with beauty and honesty. Since the beginnings of witch house back in 2009, it’s sad that it took so long for the subgenre to come out with anything decent, but now that it has, it will take a while to top this. Wire Migraine should be seen as the hauling pin of the art form, one which other artists can look to for their own benchmark of quality. With a second album already in the works for release this Autumn, Aarrcc has his work cut out in binding this unstuck rabble.

Rating: 5/5

Sabi/Kiyo – 71:36

01/09/2011 § Leave a comment

This split release between Japanese ambient artists Sabi and IDM/glitch master Kiyo actually comes in at exactly 71:31, meaning you have an extra five phantom seconds all to yourself before, after or somewhere during this album to fill with what you choose. It’s most likely that you’ll want to use the space for some mode of contemplation which is, after all, what the sounds here are set to inspire. Sabi, known for his living, breathing ambient works, takes the first half of the album, filling it with a hollow, translucent, glistening feel of pure fluid ambience, utilising minimal piano and string samples to perfect effect, whereas Kiyo almost offsets the second half with a more upbeat, energised assortment of IDM and glitch. It’s a union which work on paper, but aurally it feels a little jarring.

71:36 is a re-release by Force Intel of the original 2008 album through Phaseworks, and sees newer and much improved artwork stamping its theme on the music. Force Intel describe the album as “a work of intricate natural beauty” which, for once, is a pretty accurate synopsis. There is something highly organic about this music, highly vibrant, Sabi’s work in particular carrying a unique cold purity, shimmering and pulsating with the life-breath of the natural realm. Kabi’s work in glitch has a slightly more convulsive feel, a rekindling of the agitation of the manufactured modern world from which Sabi has let us escape. In a way, Sabi exploits and explores the bare ethereal consciousness of nature, whereas Kabi forces us into the confused, hexing complexity of more contemporary pacing. It’s a shocking reminder, and an abrasive concept to gel with after the airy, cleansing sensations of Sabi’s work.

If anything, this is music concerning space. The space to move around, the space to move into, the space to exist, the space between events and the space that creates freedom, the mother of form. There is as much concentration on the effectiveness and importance of the microcosma between passages, between notes and between feelings as those feelings themselves, and how we can experience so much when doing so little. Space creates stillness after all, and most of the time in 71:36 the feeling of stillness is very much prevalent, whether it be transmitted by the repetitive but beautiful piano discords in “Howling Out With Tight Neons” and “Om” or the flowing, meandering orchestral minimalism of “Sleepy Emerald Vs. He Ostrich”. Sabi’s music does away with the fake humanism of the majority of modern ambience and replaces and regresses it with the song within nature, brought to the fore rightfully once again.

The transference into Kiyo’s second half of the album is subtly done. Kiyo mimics and respects the ambience of Sabi in “Tones on Tail” and gradually, playfully contorts them into his own. From here we see a quickening and a dividing of processes and ingredients and what was once a pure, linear musical trajectory becomes more outward, more scattered and disordered, running away with itself but not really knowing what it’s running to. It feels like controlled chaos, a pulled punch, a frustration, a half-truth. Kabi’s glitchwork is subtle at first, and as the album seasons we have lost all sense of the natural and are deeply lost in the synthetic. “Bear In. Warm-Noiz” is the best example of this, being a piecemeal pastiche of low-grade machine noise, seemingly random melodies and confused cadence. “Noor” refuses to pull us back, burying us deeply into a wayward, blustery electronic static before cutting itself dead.

In spite of the dual aspects of 71:36, it still feels like a whole entity. Sabi’s and Kiyo’s musical styles flow into one another but they do not represent each other or even consolidate. Maybe this is not so much about space but the loss of space and the realisation that we can only see what we have wasted after it’s gone. It’s for this reason that Kiyo refuses to pull us back into the dreamlike trance of ambience through we we started: once some things are lost they are lost forever, not everything can be returned. Sabi’s and Kiyo’s endeavours aren’t a natural pairing so much as an arranged marriage, highlighting the need for true partnerships and disowning the import of force. 71:36′s message is more important than its execution – the beauty of living and the beauty of sound and space are naturally existent, not created. We can’t always improve things by manipulation.

Rating: 3.5/5

Compulsive Shopping Disorder – In The Cube

01/01/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Compulsive Shopping Disorder
Title: In The Cube
Label: Rage In Eden / War Office Propaganda
Genre: Industrial / Dark Electro

Track Listing:

01 Dreams
02 In Confidence
03 Trash
04 Mind-Soul
05 Attraction of Pain
06 Fall
07 In the Cube

RecentIy I came across a Jim Henson short entitled “The Cube”. This was a 1969 film about a man who finds himself inside a – you guessed it – cube-shaped white room. People from all areas of life walk in and out of the structure though he finds it hard to leave, always missing an opportunity to exit or being duped by one of his interlocutors. The Cube is a visual metaphor for life and its methods of entrapment: how we can believe we are progressing when in fact we are static, with people only ebbing in, out and around our personal space. Likewise, “In The Cube” by Polish industrial band Compulsive Shopping Disorder takes a very similar look at our existence, though through far more pessimistic eyes without any of the humour and lightheartedness of Henson’s film.

In The Cube is therefore quite a thought-provoking and personal piece of work. It doesn’t want to jar your ears with harsh noises or some of the electronic clatter you’d normally encounter in an industrial record, it’s more subtle than that, even going so far as to advise the listener to play it “at minimum volume” in the CD inlay. The rest of the artwork is understated and modest, depicting the empty interiors of dimly lit rooms with a single bright window leading to outside. Presumably CSD feel – or would like to give the impression – that their existences are bleak, claustrophobic ones and that to reach outside of them is nothing more than a futile hope. Lyrics such as “suffering and pleasure/happiness and despair/they all charm in the depressing room of life” and “pain and blindness wait behind the door of comprehension” further enforce the analogy and idea that this room doesn’t want them to escape from it.

Musically In The Cube is beautifully layered with melody, albeit quite dark. Apparently the band didn’t know anything about creating synth music before they got together, so to put forward something as accomplished as this within such a short time frame is an impressive feat. The music comes across as anything but amateurish and if it weren’t for their biography I’d have thought they were old hands in the industrial scene. Each song has its own feel and depth to it, such as Dreams with its flowing, enveloping synths, In Confidence with its accessible EBM-style melodies and subtle piano refrains, and Fall which features further catchy synth riffs and whispered vocals. The rest of the vocals on In The Cube are distorted, whispered or spoken and at no point do they not fit the music or come across as too much of an affront.

The band are clearly great admirers of artists such as Coil and Kirlian Camera, mentioning the latter in the text of the CD booklet, but there is also a heavy vibe of Velvet Acid Christ. For instance, the piano passages are quite reminiscent of mid 90s era VAC and some of them could have come straight from Fun With Drugs. However, sometimes the constant repetition of the same old riffs does get a little wearing, but then this is music made to create an atmosphere, which it does successfully with some parts even veering off into ambient territory. The song that falls most foul of such repetition is Attraction of Pain whose melody is a little too basic and uninspired but this is really the only weak point of the album, which then picks up fantastically for Fall and the title track. It would have also been good if the numbers each climaxed in some way since they do build beautifully and more than once I was expecting some kind of orgasmic crescendo in the closing staves – but CSD don’t want to produce dance-floor fillers, just dark, multi-layered compositions, and those are here in spades.

In The Cube took two years to put together and was given multiple reworkings until the band came up with something that they were happy with. It’s obvious that the album is a labour of love – of the pained variety maybe – and it comes across as a highly professional and cleverly-crafted piece of work. It may not be too original but it doesn’t need to be: it takes influences from many areas of the electro scene and pulls them into one entrancing aural adventure – albeit in an enclosed space. If the band can come up with this kind of quality so early on I’m intrigued to see what they can come up with next, though with such a high-calibre debut it should certainly be worth the wait.

Desdemona – Version 3.0

14/10/2004 § Leave a comment

CD Info
Metal Mind Productions
12 Tracks
English lyrics

Version 3.0 runs for 62 minutes from start to finish. The total amount of playtime I have given this album is 62 minutes. I can’t believe that I waited so long for Desdemona’s next oeuvre in their repertoire only to be presented with this dreary dodectet. So what does it have to say for itself within one hour? Well, not much at all. 3.0 is not so much of an inspiring oration than an ugly, cacophonic pastiche of electronic clatter, bad lyrics and pretentious sound bites.

However, surprising though it may seem, I don’t want to be too negative about Desdemona since I have a lot of respect for them. The Polish metal scene is coming on in leaps and bounds and Metal Mind have been putting out a lot of good material recently with high-quality DVDs and CDs being produced at a rate of knots, so it’s unfortunate that there’s a bad apple in the bunch at all, but I suppose MM can’t keep up their red hot, full tilt pace forever. As well as that, Supernova was such a brutally brilliant album that I thought this band could do no wrong. Well, I don’t know what’s been going on in their heads over the last year, maybe they’ve been listening to too much Radiohead, but they’ve decided to lurch into the glorious and varied world of electronica.

Now, electronica is one of my favourite genres. It’s quite hard to make bad electronica. You just have to be able to have a good beat, a good chorus, some sampling thrown in, and you’ll have a track that will impress and please a lot of fans. Whereas metal generally either rock or flops, 99% of electronica will appeal to someone somewhere. That other elusive 1% is hard to find and you really have to make an effort to fall into its black hole, and Desdemona have done it beautifully unceremoniously, plunging themselves head-first into the chasm of musical bleakness. So what’s wrong with it all? 3.0 takes us through twelve tracks of Desdemona’s new direction, but one thing’s clear from the moment you first put this on – its not a direction they should be going in. Not only that, some of the songs are so bad that it’s like they’ve made a concerted effort to shoot themselves in the foot having completely lost respect for their own music.

The album starts off badly, really badly, with Zombie, which has some awfully harsh metallic chord punches with Agata singing “I had heart, I had soul” over and over again in a simple jostly little tune done with the vigour and maturity of a childish playground taunt. It doesn’t get better from there either, The Sinner starts with the line “They call me the Satan’s whore” before some thunderingly ugly keyboards pummel your ears for the rest of the track and which actually made me feel sick. And that’s basically the way the whole album goes from there, staying on a steady theme of awfulness, with Eternal Flame [no, not a Bangles cover] and Midion being the only two saving graces, not because they’re that good, but just because they’re not as atrocious as the rest of the album.

3.0 is a marvel in bad music. I really don’t understand the band’s motivation behind making this. Even power noise and some of the harsh nightmarish dins produced by bands like Dysmorphia have something going for them in an aesthetic way, whereas 3.0 has nothing. If there were some regulatory body that filtered out the good from the bad music before it hit the markets, 3.0 would have been tossed on the reject pile in seconds, not only because it’s bad, but because music at this level of hideousness should only be played to people with seriously unhealthy masochistic tendencies or jaded audiophiles who think they’ve heard everything. It is a thoroughly ghastly, unsettling album. I really can’t recommend this to anyone.

Butterfly Messiah – Eternal

14/06/2004 § Leave a comment

CD Info
Fossil Dungeon
12 tracks
English lyrics

Butterfly Messiah first came onto the Gothic scene proper in 2002 with Priestess, an album that was neither here nor there as far as electro went. It was a gesturing stab at the genre from people who obviously knew where they wanted to go, but hadn’t even started packing the car up yet. Butterfly Messiah have a cult following as one of the up and coming acts from the Gothic Industrial genre. No metal here, but dark, sometimes dancey electro beats with synths and ethereal, soaring female vocals. So those of you who pride yourselves on being the most open-minded of people because every so often you might mix in the odd Gothica CD with your metal purchases to be really kooky, well, you can now go further and take a few strides in a different direction.

After hearing Priestess, which was surprisingly lauded by the Gothic press in spite of its banality, I wasn’t too sure about how this band would fare on their next release. However, maybe Butterfly Messiah were the victims of First Album Syndrome because this time round they’ve come up with something a lot better. The sound on Eternal is more rounded, mature, and actually has a direction whereby Priestess was a lost child in the Industrial realm, wandering round and hardly knowing what to do with itself. Eternal is more grounded, the songs are more self-assured, and carry a certain belief and confidence that the numbers in Priestess couldn’t brag about.

The strength of this album lies in the assured heaviness of the synths and how they generate a dark, sometimes sinister, yet energetic feeling throughout the songs. This is shown nowhere better than on It’s Time, one of the best Industrial tracks I have ever heard, Shannon’s vocals elevating what could otherwise be quite a black and trenchant number. But this is what Butterfly Messiah seem to do so much better than other bands. So often with these kinds of electro songs, the murky, grim mix of keyboard slush ends up bogging down the entire musical edifice and we’re all left feeling depressed and rather sickly. I’ve had enough of power noise making me feel like I’ve eaten twelve black forest gateaux. Shannon, however, has the ability to lift up a song no matter what the instrumentation seems to be doing, so the band has the power to have a field day with the grittier, darker side of electronica. The only problem with It’s Time is that its best features are its worst features – it’s so good and popular that the band could well get sick of it if they aren’t already, and the fact that it stands out above the other tracks on Eternal like a goth in a Ku Klux Klan meeting means that nothing else really touches it. This is clearly the territory that BM need to visit more often, unless they end up turning against It’s Time for fear of not being recognised for their other tracks, and doggedly biting the hand that has fed them, bought their albums and sold their tickets at random rivethead club nights in Florida.

It all still good, though. On the rest of the album, not only are we served up a dish comprising of rather dark growling synths, but there are some nice EBM sounds in there as well, vis-à-vis the title track and Ascension. There’s also some quiet repose in Believe [probably only jammed in for the sake of giving the album some variety], the harsh, abrasive mechanical chords of The Circle and the beautiful two-toned and bubbly Falling Stars. Butterfly Messiah lay the foundations for their sound in eerie, mysterious Industrial, but are also not closed off to throwing in different elements. Surprising then, that in spite of this, each track on Eternal does not come across as being particularly dissimilar from the one before it. Musically it’s unclear what the aim of the album is, whether it’s to relax you, uplift you or want you to go mad on the dance floor. My only guess is that it attempts to be an all-rounder, keeping one finger in every pie that it can, but failing to do anything particularly clever with ethereal music, which is unusual since When Autumn To Winter Resigns was the only good track on Priestess.
Still, I get the impression that BM are a band who are well aware of the importance of developing their sound and I’m sure that Eternal is just one step on a long road of self-discovery for them. Like metal, the Industrial genre is dominated by male vocalists, so though Epsilon Minus, Ayria, The Azoic and Icon Of Coil all have their place in femme-fronted Industrial, no other band apart from BM has the ability to exploit the darker and richer sides of the electro scene with such bravado. The only shortcoming of the band is where they try too hard to do things which are actually outside their scope, as in With Roses, which is an embarrassingly disappointing experiment in spite of the lyrics which are rather good. Nevertheless, Eternal is a beautiful and unignorable rush of darkwave Industrial beauty, and one that many of you would do well to open your minds and wallets to. I get the impression that this lot will be around for a long time, and each step will bring new elements and new improvements. A very welcome credit to the genre.

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