Wars - Culture Wars EP (culturewars.bandcamp.com)
I'm trying to think of ways to explain Austin-based trio Culture
Wars, aside from describing their competent but blatant mash-up
known as "dance rock." A couple phrases pop into
my mind as these songs rumble from the speakers: Radio-ready.
Arena jams. Crowd pleasers. Car commercial music. I can't
conjure up anything that sounds less pre-packaged than that.
However, if this type of music is up your alley anyway, the
band offers some nice tunage, even if it feels like it was
ordered off the combo menu.
One good thing about this self-titled self-release is
that while the music is a blend of electro pop and bleacher-stomping
rock, neither genre is sacrificed for the other. The synth
lines are prominent, the beats are solid and dancable, and
the guitars get their licks in too. "Bones" throws
it all against the wall, rewarding listeners with a "whoa-oh-oh"
chorus that will have the kids involuntarily chanting and
putting their hands over their heads. It's a winning move,
but they pull the same manuever with "Hideaway"
leaving one wondering if they ran out of ideas on a 5-song
EP. The last of the cuts, "Money (Gimme Gimme)"
puts all their tricks into overdrive. The vocals are snarly,
the guitar hook is classic rawk, and the beat is heavy and
throbbing. It seems like the band has all their ducks in
a row if they want to sell a sporty sedan or open for Twenty
One Pilots. I'm walking over to another pond.
Magnetic Pets - Deluxe Debris (Happy Robots)
Here we have an interesting amalgamation of sounds, eras,
and geography. Tiny Magnetic Pets (a reference to a cute little
Japanse toy) take cues from 70s Germany krautrock and 80s
French electro-pop, and guides them through a filter of turn-of-the-century
indie electronica (think Darla Records at their most bleep-boopiest).
And where does this band hail from? Ireland, of course!
The mixture of precise, set-my-clock-to-it rhythms mixes
surprisingly well with the warm synth underpinnings, and
the soft, lovely vocals of Paula Gilmer add another layer
as well. The authenticty of sound is undeniable. It's the
inexplicable feeling while you're soaking it in - that notion
of "Yeah, they got it right."
If the music is the gold star on Deluxe Debris,
then the sequencing is the one demerit. The opener "I
Lost My Guiding Light" is ho-hum, and while I think
the epic motorik-meets-dream pop "Semaphore" is
a standout track, at 11 minutes long you're asking for a
lot of patience right off the bat. "Radio On",
featuring ex-Kraftwerk member Wolgang Flur, is the hit we're
all looking for, and it's followed by some choice cuts in
the form of the bubbling "All Tomorrow's Yesterdays"
and the dreamy, floaty, "Cloud Sequence." Unfortunately,
sandwiched inbetween is "Here Comes The Noise",
a track the band thought was so nice, they played it twice
(in two parts, or two different remixes - regardless, it's
too much). "Never Alone" caps off the album, a
nice tune that goes down smooth now that the appetite has
been thoroughly whetted.
The band mixes together influences like Jean-Michel Jarre,
Berlin-era Bowie, and the Pet Shop Boys. They've also gained
fans like Michael Rother of Neu! and Andy McClusky of OMD.
Freaking Kraftwerk veteran Wolfgang Flur guests on the album!
That's a lot of names to drop in my audio book, and this
chapter sounds pretty good.
– Fresh Air (Bureau B)
One barely raises an eyebrow these days when they hear
“70’s krautrock staple Faust have a new album
out.” So many bands reform and continue to create
these days, it’s hardly anything novel. These German
“art-errorists” being as they are, however,
never make it that simple. Fresh Air was recorded
in the US over the course of their 2016 tour. So not only
do we get new material, we also get live takes, guest stars,
and field recordings.
The opening epic, recorded live at WFMU in Jersey City,
is where you’ll get your classic Faust fill. The title
track’s slow, haunting, undulating sounds draw you
in, while vocals and voices juuust under the mix have your
ears peering into that eerie darkness. Violin from Ysanne
Spevack adds to the layers, while the drums and guitar sneak
in so gradually before you know the track is already pummeling
you with noise.
The middle section of the album takes you through Austin
and Los Angeles, where a warped array of vignettes and fully-realized
songs are ushered along with the help of the illustrious
Barbara Manning. The best of the bunch is “La Poulie”,
a tumbling, cranky motortik-on-overdrive tune with Jurgen
Engler of Die Krupps lending a hand.
Finally, we close out with another 10+ minute opus back
at WFMU, filled with Jean-Herve Peron’s tuneful ranting
and ethereal jamming reminiscent of Dead Can Dance. There’s
some really interesting stuff going on with this release,
and I’d suggest that it’s as good as place as
any to start if you want to know what Faust is all about.
That being said, only those looking for a challenge to begin
with need apply.
PLAN – Unkapitulierbar (Bureau B)
One of the pioneering acts of the Neue Deutsche Well (New
German Wave) is back! Yes, the line-up has fluctuated over
the years, and yes what was once their trademark experimental
industrial/synth pop barely registers on the strange-o-meter
these days, but nevertheless the band turns in a very solid
effort. After 35+ years (with some lengthy hiatuses) of
music making, Der Plan’s Moritz R has a bag overflowing
with tricks, and he uses all of them to great effect. Plinky
beats, pulsating bass lines, and synth hooks permeate most
tracks, with a healthy dose of sound waves, vocoder effects,
and an intriguing production that I can only describe as
While top-notch execution is respected, and strong songwriting
is always welcome, two more facets of Unkapitulierbar push
the record toward the recommended pile: diversity and brevity.
There are moments that sound fairly modern – the near-glitchy
opener “Wie der wind weht,” and some that are
yeesh-evoking 80s pap – the whispery “wowowow”
of “Grundrecht” in particular. There’s
one song sung in English (and it’s great, with a guest
female vocalist), and there’s a tune that reminds
me of Welsh-pop act Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. “Der
Herbst” is an obvious homage to Fun Boy Three’s
“The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum.” There’s
even a reggae song. Yes, reggae through a German synth pop
filter. Not kidding. It’s quite impressive how much
they cram into 39 minutes. The longest song here is four
minutes long. By comparison, four minutes is the length
of the shortest song on Kraftwerk’s Autobhan record.
Each song has a job to do, and once the task is complete,
the clock is punched. No wasted space, no bloated drone-fests.
German efficiency saves the day!
LVRS – Electric Dread (Hz Castle/Big Bldg)
Coming in at three songs shorter, but 13 minutes longer
than Der Plan’s album, this darkwave disc takes a
while longer to sink into. Every song unfolds at a slow
pace, but that’s not to say each one is without surprises.
There’s a 1980s soundtrack vibe throughout, but tracks
vary between Bowie-lite male singing and echo-y female vocals,
gloomy city-scapes and majestic climaxes, and the oddball
inclusion of various instruments. You’ll hear skronky
sax in “I Am Almost Perfectly Awake”, impenetrable
mic effects in “Voyeurs!”, and Casio-esque handclaps
on “Lost To The Max.” The unraveling of the
record is so slow-motion, the rumbling bass, back beat,
and shouting of “Rich Man” is like a bolt from
the (dark) blue.
There’s great production here, their vision is clear,
and the band knows their way around a pair of headphones
– the sound is quite immersive. As I toured through
Electric Dread I enjoyed the experience, but any distinct
memories have since faded in the rear view. The bottom line
is they have a big, shadowy, urban playground that does
absolutely nothing, other than provide you with a place
to get lost in.
– Conduit (Imaginator)
Post-weird, no wave, improv-fusion outsider pop? I know,
at first pass I too almost turned my head away in confusion
and/or disgust. “Oh great, another attempt at being…
creative.” On subsequent listens, I’m acknowledging
they succeeding in this endeavor, and almost ready to admit
that they nearly made it accessible, too.
The blending of electronic and organic sounds is seamless,
and when they can’t get the sound they want from an
instrument, they invent a new one (see also Bradford Reed’s
electric board zither and his work with King Missile). Deep,
syncopated rhythms entrance the listener, while the layers
of creepy guitar and horns will have you checking under
the bed. The fact that these recording sessions were live
and spontaneous means the rotating cast of players (featuring
session workers who’ve spent time with Blue Man Group,
Yo La Tengo, and Swans, among others) were probably kept
on their toes too. All the sounds being filtered through
a modular synth is what gels this into a cohesive sound,
so no matter what path you take, all roads lead to Reed’s
palace of bizarre.
The final element in Conduit is Jane LeCroy’s poetry.
Her words are occasionally beat, sometimes dreamy, and always
adding to the notion that this is music made by and for
those outside the typical musical boundaries. Ohmslice is
not everyone’s cup of tea, but just coming up with
this new and different flavor at all is a remarkable accomplishment.
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