Review of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop – 21 LP at Starburst Magazine

bbc 21
In terms of musicality, BBC Radiophonic Workshop - 21 isn’t likely to be the sort of thing one puts on for groovy background tunes at a party. Honestly, the 21 record is really more of a historical document than an album, featuring as it does a vaguely chronological collection of pieces from the first 21 years of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s history on the a-side. Given that the majority of the Workshop’s early work wasn’t so much musical as background effects, what you have here is far more experimental tones. It’s musique concrete, rather than concrete melodies.
Read the complete review of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop - 21 LP at Starburst Magazine. Published on 7/18/16

The Night Terrors, “Pavor Nocturnus” LP

cover - night terrors pavor nocurnusCombining the best of two worlds of classic cinema scores, the Night Terrors' Pavor Nocturnus is an absolute blast. Working in tandem as it does with sci-fi theremin and a huge pipe organ, all of this album sounds akin to modern rescore of something like Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires -- horror in space, essentially. Recorded on the largest pipe organ in the western hemisphere, which stands an astonishing 32 feet high and uses two motors to power the whole thing, one at 15 horsepower, and the other at 20. The sound this thing is far more powerful than any synthesizer could ever hope to be. There's just a deep resonance to Pavor Nocturnus I've not heard in a recording before. The grandiosity of the pipe organ actually allows for quite a study in contrasts. A very good case in point is "Megafauna," which has synths and the organ playing counterpoint melodies, and the difference in the thinness of the synths contrasting with rich fullness of the pipe organ really makes for a sonically dynamic track. "Blue Black" is the most masterful use of a theremin I think I've ever heard -- it took a solid minute of the song before I figured out it wasn't some oddly-modified violin. It's nicely complimented by the beats and drumming on "Gravissima," and that's what makes the Night Terrors so interesting on this album: there's a basic theme from which they work, but they diversify so much from that point, that you can't help but want to know what they'll come up with next. Frankly, the entirety of Pavor Nocturnus is that it almost out-Goblins Goblin. The Night Terrors work in that same sort of progressive rock meets abject fear vein, and their first two albums, Back to Zero and Spiral Vortex, I'd not really been able to get into, despite quite a bit of acclaim on the second. There's something about the addition of this pipe organ that lends the band a bit more gravitas than they'd previously been able to drum up, and makes their sound far more unique than the previous idol worship. This is the first release on Twisted Nerve, the new music imprint from Australia reissue label Dual Planet and Finder Keepers. I'm happy to see so many of these reissue labels branch out into releasing new music, and this is a very exciting start to Twisted Nerve. I can't wait to hear what comes next. [embed][/embed] More details on the Melbourne Town Hall pipe organ, where the album was recorded, can be found here. For more information on the Night Terrors' Pavor Nocturnus, or to purchase the album when it comes out on Halloween, you can visit the Dual Planet website.

Ray Creature, “Ray Creature” LP

cover - ray creatureRay Creature, the new project from Leg's John Booth, has an interesting record out now on Sister Cylinder. While I'm not really into the whole post-punk aesthetic, I've gotten a little further into the synthwave / darkwave / et cetera sets of bands because of my growing obsession with '80s horror flicks. However, while I really dig the synths on this record, the vocals turn me off. The whole demon Elvis croon pretty much peaked with Glenn Danzig, and everyone else is aping him. Find your own voice, folks. "Threat" and "Burning Alive" (especially the latter) are the only really egregious examples extant on Ray Creature's LP, but they're particularly glaring. I mean, the whole album is a mish-mash of styles and influences, which it flies pretty proudly. The instrumental work falls somewhere between Vangelis and Joy Division. "Motions Felt" has a wobbly, off-kilter feel that I really enjoyed, but more because it was where Booth's vocals were reigned in, and he wasn't belting the lyrics out like a Vegas lounge act. Ray Creature seems to be divided stylistically between the two sides. While neither A nor B can be said to be exactly "peppy," there's a much more upbeat feel to the A-side, while the B-side is downbeat and dark. "Long Caress," the track which closes the album, is especially quiet and brooding. It's in strong contrast to the cut which opens the album, "Don't Stop Talking," with its funky bassline and vocal interplay between Booth and Natascha Beuhnerkemper. It's kind of Blondie by way of Tom Tom Club. It comes on 180-gram black vinyl, and it sounds great. The tones of this album are at times very subtle, and the mastering job by Paul Mahern (yes, of the Zero Boys) is absolutely wonderful. It's a super-warm feel for as cold and dark as these songs are. It could've been a very sterile release, but the way "Long Caress" pulses out the speakers is particulalry impressive. [embed][/embed] Ray Creature's self-titled release is out now from Sister Cylinder, and available in their webs store.

Espectrostatic releases “Phantominom VGS” as benefit

phantoninom Good news: Hex Dispensers' Alex Cuervo has finally followed up his debut Espectrostatic LP on Trouble in Mind! Bad news: it's to benefit the medical expenses of the Hex Dispensers' Rebecca Whitley. She had to have a 23-pound ovarian cyst removed from her. You can see the VERY uncomfortable images of that here (not recommended if you're planning on eating anything involving tomatoes for the next few days). The cyst was benign, but medical bills are expensive, as anyone who's ever had to have a major medical procedure done can attest (Team Nuthouse featured a gallbladder removal and facial reconstruction surgery in one month that its still paying off almost 7 years later). So, you can get a brand-new Espectrostatic release, Phantominom VGS, available for the first time today, and help out Ms. Whitley. What is the Phantominom VGS, you ask? Well ... phantoninom vgs
Based on the urban legend of an '80s era video game console purchased at a garage sale that no-one had ever heard of, with mysterious electrical and television connectors that did not match any existing technology. The assumption being that this console was not from our world, but from a nearby parallel universe. The Phantominom VGS EP features 6 songs-- all constructed to the imagined/assumed audio specifications of the Phantominom VGS. Those specifications being 4 monophonic FM synthesizer channels with the luxurious addition (for it's time) of 3 PCM audio percussion channels. This is state of the art stuff circa 1988 (and slightly ahead of what was technologically available in OUR universe around that time).
Purchase Phantominom VGS and you get three new Espectrostatic songs, remixes of two songs from his debut LP, and a remix of the Hex Dispensers' "Parallel" that will rock socks, plus a photograph of the Phantominom VGS box art.

AL_X, “Shunt” CD

booklet [Converted]I really want to look at AL_X'sShunt as a solid work, akin to an imaginary film score or concept album. Enough of the tracks work well together -- "Takk (En Sens)" followed by "Into the Trees" followed by "Shunt (Part I)," especially -- but the vocal tracks, working in standard song structures, just lose me. It may be that I'm not particularly a fan of the Antony and the Johnsons school of falsetto, but frankly, the tracks that follow this pattern ("Too Late, Too Far," "Faux," et al) work like those really awful tracks that run over the end credits after the main title reprise or whatever has run, while they're listing the second unit key grips and catering providers. Initially, I wanted Shunt to work. It's ambitious and wide in scope, but at the end of it, what you essentially have here is two separate albums, interwoven and only slightly working together. The LP is one excellent 40-minute electronic album bolstered by 30 minutes of light dance-pop. Now, occasionally, something like "Screaming Across The Sky" will evoke senses of "I Become the Color" from Stoker -- a traditional song that manages to compliment the rest of the instrumental film score. However, for the most part, the songs just don't work as well as the instrumental pieces. Their structure seems to be a piano part dropped on top of already-existing electronic elements. This is to say nothing of the fact that the vocals are pretty weak. [embed][/embed] "Into the Trees" is pretty excellent soundtrack worship, really working well in the vein of Boards of Canada. It rocks a motorik rhythm, with electronic squibbles punctuating randomly. The drumbeat's slightly tribal, putting the song in some sort of quasi-futuristic, post-apocakyptic mood. Cuts like that and "Strond," which just give in to the Radiophonic Workshop influences wholeheartedly, are the pieces which work best and grab your interest most solidly. AL_X's Shunt is out now, and available on CD or download from the Fluttery Records store.

Potpourri of Pearls, “We Went to Heaven”

cover - potpourri of pearls we went to heavenPotpourri of Pearls' We Went to Heaven has been playing down here in the basement, in the living room, at work, and various places over the past week. I've been trying to figure out if my initial impressions of it being amazing and weird have held up to repeated listens. Honestly, the first time I listened to We Went to Heaven, the whole '80s worship thing was a fun angle -- especially the fact they were lifting Erasure, making this a refreshing switch from bands who've been swiping New Order's sound for the better part of two decades. Repeated plays haven't really born out the opinions from the first listen. Frankly, with the exception of the last few tracks, the beats start to plod after a few tracks, and the repeated reliance on Autotune and various other bits of vocal pitch-shifting only demonstrate the unfortunate flatness in the vocals. For Potpourri of Pearls to work, these falsettos need to soar, and they barely achieve the heights of a baby bird taking its first tentative flaps out of the nest. However, when they embrace their limitations, and try something different -- when they get fucking weird -- the band clicks. "Under Every Ocean," with its extraordinarily uncomfortable juxtaposition of squeaky and super-deep pitch-shifted vocals, some beats that manage to do more than thud, and just being fucking freaky, works like crazy. Is it a dance number? Oh, hell no. People'd flee the dance floor like rats on a ship, but it's definitely far more interesting than anything that preceded it. Followed up as it by "Hang Me," a song that manages to work the weird in a much more listener-friendly way, with a flipping great hook and a groove that locks in and doesn't let go, you get the feeling that Potpourri of Pearls have it in them to embrace their inner SSION and make dance music that manages to be interesting. [embed][/embed] We Went to Heaven comes out February 11. Potpourri of Pearls will have a release party that night at Philadelphia's Kung Fu Necktie with operners Disco Hootenany. Details are viewable here.

Disparition’s Jon Bernstein on Welcome to Night Vale, his influences, and future plans

jon bernsteinThe name Jon Bernstein might not mean much to you, but his nom de musique, Disparition, is surely familiar to anyone who listens to the wildly-successful Welcome to Night Vale podcast. His compositions bookend each and every episode of the program, and his music can be found throughout, as well. However, many may not know that much of his music is composed independently of the program, and that he's been working for years making ambient soundscapes. Bernstein was kind enough to answer some questions in advance of Night Vale's next episode, which releases tomorrow. [embed][/embed] Your music has been part of the show since the beginning, but how did you come to be involved with Welcome to Night Vale? I met Joseph Fink a few years before Night Vale and he asked me if he could use my music for it when and Jeffrey came up with the idea. I played at a small live version of the show back in the early days, just keyboard and loops and kept it pretty basic, and then formed the live ensemble for the new bigger live shows this past October. Do you compose music specifically for the program, or do they take material from existing works? They take material from existing songs, with the exception of the cover i did of Eliezer's Waltz which Joseph asked me to do for The Sandstorm. For the live shows Disparition has performed at, I've rewritten several songs specifically for those shows. The elements of Disparition are pretty amazingly diverse. I hear elements of chiptune, Italo disco, lounge, industrial ... what are your primary influences? I try to have my influences constantly be changing, I listen to a lot of different kinds of music and I'm always looking for new sounds to get into. I also focus on different influences from project to project. But there are some artists who are always a constant influence because of the impact they've made on me- Brian Eno, Coil, Bill Laswell, Derrick May welcome to night valeHow has Night Vale affected people's response to your music? Do they expect a certain something when they come to your site or iTunes, and end up surprised at the wide array of sounds in which you work? I think maybe people are surprised to discover that some things they hear on WTNV are small parts of what are actually rather long pieces with various different parts, so other parts of songs they know well from the show are less familiar with them. Which probably makes it a bit harder for people to find what they are looking for, but I've started to put out notes about which songs are used in episodes, and someone on tumblr has started listing the music from the old episodes. Is the work you do with your concept albums different than your work with sound design, or do the two work toward a similar goal, in terms of evoking emotional response and telling a story? Yes, in both cases I'm trying to evoke an emotional response, create a specific atmosphere, and in some cases to tell a story. The difference is that on my concept albums I come up with the structure and ideas I'm trying to convey, whereas in most cases as a sound designer I'm part of a team, following a writer's story and structure, working to create a director's vision, and making sure I fit in well with what the lighting designer and set designer etc are up to. [embed][/embed] What was the inspiration for "Taran Wanderer and the High King"? It seems like Lloyd Alexander isn't as popular as he once was, so it's an interesting choice. I went on vacation to Wales last spring, that's where I finished work on Madoc. I had read the Lloyd Alexander books as a kid so naturally I had him in mind when traveling in Wales because that landscape is what inspired Alexander to write those books - he was American but became fascinated with Welsh legends while serving in the army there. While in the mountains in North Wales I shot some video with my phone while my girlfriend was driving in Snowdonia - the roads are very intense in that area - and then composed the song "Taran Wanderer" to a segment of that video. I thought it was a one-off thing but after I was finished with it, a couple days later the music just kept continuing in my head, so that's where The High King came from, it was just the natural musical sequel. Do you perform your music live, or is it strictly a studio project? It's been a strictly studio project for years with a few brief exceptions, but for recent WTNV shows I put together a live ensemble including guitar and a string trio. I'd like to add some live percussion into that and start doing some shows in Brooklyn this year. welcome to night vale liveWhat can folks expect from you in the upcoming year? I have two albums that I plan to release this year. The first is called Granica and it's going to be the most song oriented project I've done, working with several vocalists. That will come out most likely in mid-March. The second is called Farbenlieder and is intended for people to listen to while writing, drawing, coding, meditating, or for ritual use. It's based on color theory and influenced by William Blake. And will possibly have an app version as well as an album version. That will come out most likely in the late summer or fall. Additionally I'm composing music for a play called Wake, directed by Mei Ann Teo, which will run at the Connelly Theater here in NYC in early March. And I'll do a few smaller releases here a there and hopefully more live shows as well. More information about Disparition can be found at the Disparition website You can subscribe to the Welcome to Night Vale podcast at Commonplace Books.

Stream Slack Armada’s self-titled EP

slack armada Sitting in my inbox this morning was this lovely gem of an EP from Chiacgo's Slack Armada. This project from James Hrabak shows a lot of potential. It manages to cover a lot of cinematic-inspired territory in its four songs -- it flows from quiet introspection to stunningly loud -- but does so naturally and fluidly. That said, dial your volume down when "Looper" pops up, because that guitar will damn near blow your head off. If you like what you hear, it's a name-your-price download on Bandcamp. Personally, I like the first two cuts, which stick more towards the Boards of Canada / Four Tet side of things, as opposed to the latter two, which veer toward Nine Inch Nails / My Bloddy Valentine. but there's really something for all instrumental electronic tastes.

The Hex Dispensers’ Alex Cuervo on his electronic project, Espectrostatic

alex cuervoAlex Cuervo is best known as the frontman and guitarist for Austin's fine purveyors of garage rock 'n' roll, the Hex Dispensers. However, his new project might throw you for a loop. Espectrostatic's self-titled LP, out today through Trouble in Mind, is 13 tracks of Carpenter-inspired electronic creepiness. I enjoyed the preview on Bloody Disgusting so much that I bought all three of Trouble in Mind's newest releases to get the limited color version of Cuervo's album. Cuervo (legal name: Alex Sargent) spoke with us via e-mail about the difference between Espectrostatic and the Hex Dispensers, and why it's not as much of a change as you might think. cover - hex dispensers winchesterEven in the Hex Dispensers, your work is tinged with horror -- the witch stirring the pot on the cover of the "Lose My Cool" single, the lyrics and artwork of Winchester Mystery House -- so Espectrostatic ought not come as a thematic surprise to your fans. However, the music itself is a pretty drastic departure. What was the impetus? My day job is writing music for advertising, online promos, and music libraries. Nothing incredibly sexy -- I mean it's fun work, but it's still work, you know? My real ambition however is to score feature films for a living, specifically unconventional indie horror and science fiction movies. TV and video games too of course -- I'm crazy about all that stuff. Espectrostatic was initially just a way for me to practice using the tools of media music trade (sample libraries, synthesizers, etc.) in a fun, exploratory way. Eventually it kind of grew to live in the space between the Hex Dispensers and the underscore/functional music I've been working on. [embed][/embed] It says in your bio you only learned to play the piano a couple of years back. How have you come so far in such a short time? Well, I play every day. I'm still not a very good pianist, but I'm agile enough to work out melodic and harmonic ideas on the keyboard and then edit them on the computer. I took piano lessons from a good friend for about a year while I was devouring composition and music theory. It was all kind of a crash course, but I've dumped an insane amount of time into it. Horror movie soundtracks are only just now starting to get reconsidered as legitimate music. Yeah, it's really taken off lately hasn't it? I guess it's gonna be like surf rock was in the '90s (but that's seeing a revival now too ... funny how that all works). What's been your perception of the work of John Carpenter and your other influences over the years -- how did you come to this music, specifically? Well, I'm 42, so a lot of it was attached to the films I was obsessed with when I was a kid. John Carpenter and Alan Howarth's stuff is way up on top of the pile for me personally. I love Frizzi, Goblin, Tangerine Dream -- all that stuff, but Carpenter is just the sweet spot for me. I would be lying if I didn't admit that Umberto really rekindled my love for this kind of music. I'm a huge fan of his stuff. [embed][/embed] Your influences are one thing, but what do you watch regularly -- for instance, what movie do you throw on and just let run in the background when push comes to shove? It varies, but I do this a lot. Sometimes I'll fire up a movie with the sound off when I'm writing just to soak up it's vibes, pace and colors. I did this a lot when working on this LP. I also keep a tumblr of images that feed into the range of aesthetics I'm trying to touch on. I usually have that open on a second monitor while I'm working. I'll just scroll through all the images when I'm listening to playback of a musical idea and sometimes a weird pseudo-narrative materializes and I build off of that. Is it strictly films, or are there other things from which you take inspiration? I know you're a pretty big gamer. Yeah, I love video games. I'm drawn to all kinds of visual stuff. Books, comics, TV shows -- I'm constantly devouring visual stimulation. My wife and I collect toys, oddball antiques and art; our home is a fun, cozy little fort of spookiness. cover - espectrostaticWhat was the process for recording this album? Were you looking to score particular scene you had in your head or paying homage to certain stylistic sources? Well, more than wanting to do the usual "soundtrack for a movie that doesn't exist" kind of thing that's cohesive and self-referential (the way an actual film score would be), I wanted to touch on and explore a variety of things that interest me. The guiding principle was to make an "occult science fiction" sort of thing, but it kind of ricocheted all over the place stylistically and I just went with that. Is this strictly a studio project, or do you have plans to take it out at some point? Initially it was just going to be a studio thing, but Alyse (my wife, who plays drums in the Hex Dispensers) and I are plotting ways we could pull it off live so that it's not just another dude sitting at a laptop kind of affair. Plans are in motion -- but it remains to be seen if we can pull it off or not. I know you've released quite a bit of material through Trouble in Mind, both Hex Dispensers and solo work, but this is such a step away from anything the label's done that it came as quite a surprise. How did Espectrostatic end up on this label best known for garage and power pop? They've really been exploring a lot of avenues lately. That Verma LP is unlike anything they'd done before and it's just killer. I love that album. Montibus Communitas too. They're really stretching the boundaries of what their label is and I think it's awesome. Bill and Lisa are just ravenous music nerds. They freak out about such a diverse range of styles. Lisa is a krautrock maniac and Bill is secretly goth. I agree that this Espectrostatic album is a little bit of a stretch, but when you consider the droney/atmospheric/psychedelic components of it, I guess it sort of makes sense. I'm just thrilled they wanted to release it because I think it's such a great label. Alex Cuervo's Espectrostatic project releases its first LP today. You can buy it from Trouble in Mind and find more information about Cuervo at his website.

Giallo Disco’s label heads talk horror, their influences, and upcoming plans

logo - giallo disco The scads of reissue labels which have appeared over the last few years all seem to have their focus -- Death Waltz has a John Carpenter / Fabio Frizzi thing going on, focusing on grimy, creepy things; One Way Static is tackling Wes Craven's exploitation years; and Waxwork appears to have the '80s splatter genre tied up. Giallo Disco might be the only label putting out music that fits that soundtrack niche, yet it differs in one notable aspect -- these albums aren't soundtracking anything other than a great dance party. Situated out of Berlin and Vienna, and respectively ran by Anton Maiof and Gianni Vercetti Balopitas (aka Vercetti Technicolor), Giallo Disco rocks your socks with creepy, yet totally danceable tracks that hearken back to late '70s and early '80s analog synth soundtracks. There's heaps of Moroder here, but everything is still unique. Maiof and Balopitas were both kind enough to answer questions via e-mail about the label and its future plans. It seems like almost all the labels which have sprung up in the last couple years are focused on putting out soundtracks. You're doing a different take on that. What was the inspiration? Anton Maiof: So for me the story goes like this: There used to be this sub label of Kompakt called Fright, who were a little more EBM focussed (that's Electronic Body Music, kids) but were into the whole horror aesthetic, worshiping at the altar of the holy trilogy of Goblin, Frizzi and Carpenter and most importantly putting stuff out on vinyl. In fact they put out my first ever 12". Mysteriously, they put out just three releases before closing their doors. You had Minimal Rome, Crème Org, Bunker and others but they put out other kinds of music than just 'Horror' Themed. So essentially if no one else was going to do a dedicated horror 12" label, I guess we figured we'd have to do it. Vercetti Technicolor: I was into Fulci/Frizzi combinations and generally Zombie movies more than Giallo stuff to be honest but I always liked Giallo scores. There are many similarities between them, especially when composers used electronic instruments. AM: Basically I've got a higher tolerance level for very bad movies it seems. VT: It's not because we think it's the hot thing at the moment but we thought there is no label dedicated to Horror, soundtrack or not. This is the reason we started Giallo Disco. It's definitely not an 80s thing only and I never like when people tag this particular genre like that these days. The machines used might be old ... but the music is timeless. [embed][/embed] Was it just a desire to put out your own material? AM: We both had problems with labels, requesting stuff and then rejecting it sometimes with very bad communication. It was first and intention to have a platform to release some music that we thought was great and that we had been sitting on for some reason and also to curate and collect as much of this sound as possible. Since starting the label we've realised we're not alone ... and never were. How did the two of you come together to start this label? VT: I met Anton in Athens back in 2010 when we shared the decks at a really nice party. His words "You walk like a Cop" marked me ever since. Who designed the very simple, yet very effective logo, and what was its inception? VT: Eric Adrian Lee, a friend of ours from America designed our logo. We wanted something iconic from the Giallo genre so choosing the razor blade was the perfect thing. Thus far, everything that's been released on the label has been your work. Are there any plans in the works for other artists, or is it just too soon to tell? AM: Yes, definitely, in fact the next five releases will be producers other than ourselves. cover - vercetti technicolor bay of bloodAll three releases thus far seem to have an influence from which they take off: Goblin with the first release, the Black Gloves EP. I'm guessing John Carpenter for Stockholm Synthdrone and Frizzi for Bay of Blood? AM: I'd actually never thought of it like that. Stockholm Synthdrone was loosely stolen from a friend's Facebook status update. Also "Darkroom" is lyrically about siding with your killer, plus it's funny. Also if you're going to do a first release on a horror inspired label, it would clearly be called Black Gloves. For the record, the Bay Of Blood EP has nothing to do with the movie Bay Of Blood. Gianni is from a Greek Island. VT: I chose a part from the Anthropophagus movie poster as the sound of my Bay Of Blood EP is more zombie oriented plus it shows a bit of sea so you instantly have the "Bay" from the title. The title refers only to an image rather than the Mario Bava film. Where will the label go next -- something more symphonic? AM: We have a ton of great artists set up for release, most of which have never had a 12" out before or haven't for almost a decade. I'm going to keep appearing on the genre film festival circuit as those are ace and like an extended family now. Soon we'll be doing semi-regular parties in Madrid and Vienna. Sound wise, that is up to our artists. More information about Giallo Disco Records can be found at their Facebook and Bandcamp pages.