Attrition - "The Jeopardy Maze" (Matrix Cube)
Martin Bowes has been at this for a long time, his career stretches right back to the beginning of Goth in the early '80s. In contrast to many of the bigger names, Attrition has largely avoided the pressures of massive success. They have mutated and changed underground and now they have produced an ugly, perverse, but completely compelling flower. "The Jeopardy Maze" is an uncomfortable album. Martin Bowes' parts, on their own, would be very dark Darkwave, sparse Germanic electro, with an evil-sounding snarling, spitting vocal on top - imagine a mix of Leonard Cohen at his most depressed, Tom Waits at his craziest and Robbie Robertson on 'Crazy River' - and you're getting close to describing it.
But what makes Attrition special is the other elements - the viola and the operatic vocals of Julia Waller. These add a lonely, desolate sound to the music, evoking, in my mind at least, the barren landscape of Philip K. Dick's "Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep" (and to a lesser extent, the film version, "Bladerunner"). 'Dream Time Collector', in particular, brings to mind the part of the book where the opera singing replicant is retired, with its sharp electro sound, the disconnected operatic singing and the malevolent undercurrent of Bowes' vocals.
There's a perverse stalking, hunting feel to this CD, an atmosphere of good being consumed by malice. Listening to it is like watching the stalker, being aware of what's happening, but being unable, or unwilling, to stop it. Scariest of all, though, is the fairly straightforward version of 'God Save the Queen' at the end. Why? This is utterly compelling and manages to create a complete and all-consuming atmosphere, something many bands have tried to do, but few have succeeded so well.
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Dif Juz - "Soundpool" (4AD)
This is a blast from the distant and murky past - 1981, when punk was dying and Goth was emerging from the wreckage. Bands like Bauhaus, Killing Joke, Joy Division and Devo were playing around with the very idea of what music was, creating sparse, technological soundscapes that laid some of the groundwork for many of the alternative styles that followed, including Goth and industrial.
From that era comes this compilation - 9 rare tracks from Dif Juz, taken from their first two EPs and a 4AD compilation. All 9 tracks are instrumental, mixing dub rhythms and a guitar sound characteristic of the post-punk sound. The tracks are full of clean lines and crisp beats, incredibly sparse waves of sound and rhythms, reminiscent of the instrumental breaks in the music of their contemporaries. They're similar to what 'Bela Lugosi's Dead' (Bauhaus) or 'Turn to Red' (Killing Joke) would sound like without the vocals.
These days, the dub thing has largely been done to death, with every second act releasing a dub mix of their latest release, but Dif Juz weren't doing remixes, dub is what they were about and for that reason, the music has a much more concentrated and deliberate feel. This isn't likely to have anyone jumping around the floor, but for a mellow chill-out listen, it's perfect. The last track, 'No Motion', from the "Lonely Is an Eyesore" compilation, was produced by Robin Guthrie and definitely has the characteristic Cochteau Twins stamp all over it. Classic.
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The Hope Blister - "Underarms" (4AD)
If the first Hope Blister album was This Mortal Coil distilled and reduced to a relatively narrow sound, this is "Smiles OK" distilled even further, Ivo Watts-Russell's little project reduced to brass tracks. Everything is stripped away - the song structures, the singing, the individual instrumentation. The tracks here are synthesizer soundscapes and noise mixes, which create an ambient wash of sounds that are all Ivo.
This is only available direct from 4AD and is described as a "companion release" to "Smile's OK" rather than a stand-alone work. That's very understandable, as this really screams of self-indulgence. These sounds add a lot to the lush music of the Hope Blister, but on their own they never really go anywhere. Minimalism may be very artistic, but it doesn't do anything. This is background music taken to extreme limits, and ambient at its most pointless. It's really for devoted Ivo fans only, you have been warned.
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Inertia - "Negative Prime" (Nightbreed)
Gothic Acid-House - interesting concept, but one you'd assume wouldn't work. Well, you'd be wrong. Inertia play Goth and Acid-House and virtually every other style between the two. It all kicks off with 'Angel (in the Psychiatrist's Chair)', a seemingly ordinary electro-goff track, until the ultra-dancey chorus boots you in the ass. 'Believer' is straightforward Aphex Twin style ambient, while 'Defender' is full on Gothic-Industrial.
After that warm-up, 'Harlequin' takes the dance element to another level. The track is pure Acid-House - loops, beats, samples and all, with a growling Goth vocal on top. It's brilliant! And so on it goes, throwing elements of every style of techno/electro music together and holding it all together with a dark vibe and Gothic sensibilities. The only conceivable comparison is latter-day Killing Joke for another band that combines these styles so seamlessly. One for the dark disco in hell!
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Andrea Parker - "Kiss My Arp" (Mo Wax)
In the last year or two, the music originally dubbed "trip-hop" has undergone a metamorphosis. All three bands who brought the music to the world's attention - Tricky, Portishead and Massive Attack - have sampled a little of the dark side, adding dark, edgy elements to their sound. They've used figures from the dark side of music to help them achieve that, Liz Fraser guested on "Mezzanine", while Sean from Whores of Babylon was on "Portishead". In fact, they've been so successful that a new term, "Goth-hop", was coined by many a sarcastic music critic.
Andrea Parker's debut release takes things a step further. It's on Mo Wax, so of course, the press release calls it "complex, leftfield dance music", but that just goes to show how ridiculous such genre descriptions have become. If this were on 4AD it would probably be "ethereal, atmospheric dance-influenced music", while on Projekt, it'd be "powerful, emotive darkwave".
In truth, it's all of them. Andrea Parker mixes her original electro and ethereal influences, particularly prevalent in her vocal style, with her experience as a techno artist and adds some cello playing for good measure. There are shades of Lush, Curve, and the Cochteaus in the vocals, DJ Shadow or Aphex Twin in the music and, well, cello in the cello. This is nice, floaty ethereal dance music that will probably go down well in chill-out rooms all over. However, for anyone aware of the direction alternative dark techno has been taking, there' nothing particularly new here. It's a nice listen, though.
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