Sordid reviews - 30/05/02.
Elusive - Destination Zero (Pandaimonium)
It must be a life full of disappointments. You turn on the radio and get all excited, "they're playing one of our songs", then realising they're not, it's the Sisters of Mercy. OK, not very realistic (when was the last time you heard Uncle Andy and co. on the radio?), but Elusive do really sound like SoM. To give them their due, they do a really good impression, concentrating on the guitar-based "Vision Thing" sound, but why? They'd be more popular and make more money as a Sisters cover band, at least then you could sing along.
The Shroud - In the Garden (Magpie)
After quite a while away, old Sordid faves The Shroud return with a sound that appeals to new Sordid. Cool! And don't run away if you think this means they've followed The Azoic into the realms of techno, "In the Garden" is a much more subtle and fitting progression into what could only be called trip hop. It's moody and atmospheric with a tasty sharp electronic edge, topped with the familiar sultry vocals of Lydia Fortner. This isn't as inventive as Massive Attack, but it does provide an alternative to the more depressed sound of Portishead. Angelo Badalamenti's work with David Lynch is an obvious influence and much of this would no seem out of place on one of those soundtracks. It's not all downbeat, the vaguely industrial drive of 'Vision' provides a perfectly placed contrast. This is followed by a great pared down electro track based somewhat on the Irish traditional song, 'Black is the colour'. All in all, the Shroud's return is to be welcomed as they bravely create their own path forward.
black tape for a blue girl - the scavenger bride (Projekt)
The eighth release from Projekt's premier band is a major leap forward from the heavily This Mortal Coil influence "One aflame…". This is a much rawer and individual release, with a much looser production, giving the music a more organic feel. This lifts the music out of a purely atmospheric sphere. The powerful 'all my lovers', with some amazing vocals from Elysabeth Grant, refuses to remain in the background and demands full attention. Their version of Sonic Youth's 'shadow of a doubt' is more in the Gitane Demone/Jarboe sphere. 'a livery of bachelors' sees Athan Maroulis (Spahn Ranch) continue his recent spate of leaps into unfamiliar territory, this time mixing Brendan Perry with David Bowie to nice effect on the somewhat Dead Can Dance-ish track, contrasting with his softer and more familiar vocal style on the preceding track, 'floats in the updrafts'.
Audra's Bret Helm's almost growling vocals gives infectious 'the lie which refuses to die' a harsh edge that suits the morbid lyrics. Attrition's Martin Bowes pops in too provide the spoken word opening sequence of the three-part title track. That's a good start, but the track goes on to long in the final instrumental part. Bret returns for the heavily Gothic sound of 'like a dog', but the latter half of the song, 'shelter to brod', is another overlong instrumental break. The last two tracks feature the return of Elysabeth as the album fades somewhat disappointingly into the background. The black tape sound is on that's constantly evolving, still standing proud as the wind disperses from the sails of ethereal music.
A murder of angels - in the air (Middle Pillar)
A new atmospheric CD from the pairing of Derek Rush and Bryin Dall is really the acid test of this style of music for me. A few short years ago, I would have been delighted with a new release from the masters of the style, this time is was with some trepidation that I opened it. I was afraid I wouldn't like it and, alas, my fears were well founded, but it's not all down to my changing tastes. "in the air" simply is not a patch on its intense and imaginative predecessor. "while you sleep" literally had the power to chill, this couldn't even keep my attention. It's clunky, repetitive and when it's not just bland, it's cliché. It really is a pity, but this does sound a death knell for a style that's got nothing left to give.
Sumerland - Sivo (Middle Pillar)
The percussion that bursts out of the opening track instantly removes Sumerland from the dying genre of ethereal that was Middle Pillar's forte. The powerhouse drums with soaring instrumentals are absolutely seductive. The deeply harmonious vocals of Dorian Campbell on 'Glorious', a soaring piece of mythical imagery, puts them into their own sphere. It brings Dead Can Dance to mind, but only because of the similarity of styles, not because Sumerland sound like DCD. What they do share with them is the power to make you close your eyes and just listen to the music as it washes over you. Unfortunately, they follow this with a dive into the morass of atmospheric/ambient type stuff, that's not a patch on the previous tracks. The vocals thankfully return in full for 'Exalted city', lifting the sound up, though not quite to the heights of 'Glorious'. 'Morpheus (Repraise)' takes a different tack with a ritualistic tribal sound that's low-key, but enjoyable. 'Mother Earth' is another nicely percussion filled instrumental with the crash of cymbals in an almost liquid stream, flowing into the ritualistic 'Elaphim' and then the vocal powerhouse 'Circle dance'. It all wraps up with the moody and evocative pagan ballad, 'Crimson tree', which, while powerful, is a bit of a downbeat number with which to end. All in all, Sumerland prove themselves to be a band to be reckoned with and the few low points are minor blips on a great album.
Various Artists - Projekt 2002.1 (Projekt)
Sam Rosenthal's label's first sampler of the year kicks off unsurprisingly with Sam Rosenthal's band black tape for a blue girl. No problem there, as the band is the main one on the label and 'all my lovers' is a great track. The decision to follow it with the less powerful 'floats in the updrafts', also from "the scavenger bride", is somewhat more questionable as there are stronger tracks on the album. audra's contribution is a somewhat trad Goth piece, lots of bass, tribal drums, screeching guitars, deep vocals - OK it is trad Goth, but it's stylish and melodic enough to put up with! lycia's usual floaty trippy sound is the same as usual on 'blue heron', very Cranes/Cochteaus/early Lush, if that's your thing.
It's followed by a blast from the past, this ascension's rocky Latin worded 'mysterium' from the re-released "sever", featuring Dru's powerhouse vocal performance. Something new sometime soon please? soul whirling somewhere's 'in on' is a seriously retro shoegazer - downbeat as hell (though not quite at Red House Painters' level) and melodic, not bad, but it does go on a bit at over eight minutes. Steve Roach wraps things up with a fairly bland instrumental piece that doesn't really do anything or go anywhere. All in all, this year's Projekt sampler is much like those of past years and a good representation of what's on the main label of Gothic atmospherics, except… where's Voltaire? He's got a new album coming out, but no taster here, which is a major let down as he's my favourite Projekt act.
KMFDM - Attak (Metropolis)
They're back! OK, En Esch is missing (and pissed off about it too, it seems), but Sascha and Tim have again recruited such well-known names as Bill Rieflin and Raymond Watts and brought recent Sascha collaborator, Lucia Cifarelli, on board for the requisite female vox, to produce an album more than worthy of the name. There's the usual mix of dancey electro and industrial type stuff, some hard and heavy, like 'dirty', others are funkey, like 'urban monkey warfare', with others slower and emotive like 'save me', while others still are full-on dance tracks, like the 160bpm breakbeats on 'superhero'. Phew! Lyrically there's the same mix of humour, self-referencing and radicalism, especially on 'risen', which is both a response to those who might criticise their return and a call to revolt (echoed in the fabulous Brute picture on the sleeve of a very Soviet looking worker wielding a hammer against riot police at the head of an anti-capitalist march). This album shows that there's a magic about KMFDM that never seems to come about under any other name and "Attak" proves that KMFDM are the best band producing this kind of music. "Attak" is essential, full stop.
Apoptygma Berzerk - Harmonizer (WEA)
OK, so Apop are the band to hate these days, their attempts at commercial sounds and heavy doses of bubblegum pop dance music are to be condemned. It's a bit rubbish really, because, whether you like it or not, Apop are very good at what they try to do. Stephan Groth's path is his own; he's not aiming to compete with KMFDM or Skinny Puppy in terms of intensity. "Harmonizer" is largely what I expected it to be, lightweight, accessible electro-dance pop music. As the dance scene leaps from the uplifting sounds of progressive trance to the uber-retro krautrock sounds of electroclash, Apop's futurepop sound is a nice mix of the two, the drive and movement of trance, with the vocal strength and personality of electro. Stand out tracks have got to be the chart-worthy 'Rollergirl', which, with the right push, could be a mainstream dancefloor hit, the Yello-influenced ten minute (give or take) techno workout, 'OK amp - let me out', the thumping bassline of 'Spin Dizzy' or the superior synthpop sound of the poppy 'Something I should know' with a synth riff to die for. There is, of course, some rubbish, the seven or so minutes of monotonous beats and samples of a ticket tout that is 'Detroit tickets' is total nonsense, as is the 2-minute piece of distorted quirkiness 'Photoshop sucks'. If you thought "Welcome to Earth" was too poppy, you'll hate this, but if you're partial to a bit of dancey stuff with a large dose of electro and if a bubblegum feel puts a smile on your face, this is your man.
Ministry - Sphinctour (Mayan/Sanctuary)
If, like me, the idea of a post-"Dark side of the spoon" live CD doesn't have you jumping for joy, take note: the Sphinctour recorded on this CD thankfully took place after "Filth pig" and is equally divided between tracks from that album and its groundbreaking predecessor, with 'Thieves' thrown in for good measure. This is more than worth buying for the live versions of 'Psalm 69', 'Just one fix', 'NWO', 'Hero' and 'Scarecrow', genuine classics that had such an immense effect on industrial music back in the early '90s. And, while "Filth pig", the album, was nowhere near the seminal album "Psalm 69" was, some of the tracks have adapted well to the live setting. The grungier sounds of 'Crumbs', 'Reload' and 'Fall' don't stand out as much as the live sound is much rawer across the board. However, 'Filth pig' is still a fairly boring track and 'Lava' is a mess of sounds without much structure. But that's just two tracks out of 11. One of the great things about this is how easily you can make out the lyrics, especially on 'Psalm 69' and finally find out what the hell they're on about! It will be interesting to see if hearing this stuff again sparks some kind of revival of creativity in Al and Paul or will their next release be one to avoid as much as "Dark side…".
Project 12:01 - time for a taste
It's releases like this that make genre distinctions difficult. If you take floaty female voiced ethereal music an give it a slow techno backing, it's ambient, right? Well, not exactly, 'Lucid' and 'Bluish jewel' do musically sound similar to the Orb or Orbital, but there is still something distinctly ethereal Gothic about them. The mix is particularly tasty and Melissa London's voice is deliciously seductive. 'Taste' is easier to pin down, with an industrial techno backing and stronger, more urgent vocals. 'Shut the door' is a fairly boring foray into dark ambient, while 'Love' has a lighter touch, but is largely without substance. 'This heaven', on the other hand, is a timely retro piece of trance (non-progressive) that's reminiscent of classic stuff by One Dove or St Etienne. 'Spill' is a rather flat electro-Goth piece, but the breathlessly Gallic-flavoured 'Beyond the streets' is wonderfully sexually charged and almost worthy of Serge Gainsberg. Project 12:01 offer a taste here with varying flavours, but one that promises delicious feasts in the future.
This Midnight Stream - Cinematic (Sound Vortex)
Nashville's This Midnight Stream are an odd pair. First time I put on this CD, I thought I had the wrong one, either that or this crowd are as crazy as Texans Paris by Night when they call themselves Goth and patently aren't. Why? Because 'Fallen angel' is a country song. Not dark fucked up country like Johnny Cash or the Handsome Family, no, it's Emmy-Lou Harris country! It's a really nice track, but what the hell am I doing trying to review it? Then 'Black and blue' growls its way out of the speakers and it all becomes clear, these people are insane. 'Black and blue' is Gothic like Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen, truly dark and oppressive.
This album is the most bizarrely varied one I think I've ever heard, with indie folk music, 'Esther', atmospheric trad Goth, 'Midnight Stream' and a really cracking pop Goth number, 'Down to the bone', in the mix. Truly weird is their uber-Goff take on 'She's in parties', which is ridiculously overdone with a growling male/angelic female type vocal split. Going from the surreal to the ridiculous is the rather good dance mix of 'Midnight Stream'! This is, without a doubt, the most schizophrenic CD ever and the most bizarre thing about it is that it almost works. Robb Earls' vocals can, at times, be too harsh and clash irritatingly with the instrumental sounds, but, other than that, it does hang together pretty well and is an enjoyably unpredictable ride. Madness can be cool.