Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Featured Reviews: Stellarium, Women Of The Night, Vancorvid, Simon Boswell, Translove Airwaves

Recorded works takes precedence over live concerts this month, as a number of high quality (and woefully under reported) creative types (musicians, filmmakers) reached out for analysis and recognition. As bloated internet sources tripped over each other posting the same repetitive paid for PR announcements (devoid of any actual thoughtful insight) freedom from those callous trappings allow this site to focus solely on the art. The question that haunts daily is this – is EVERYTHING for sale? Is financial commerce the ONLY motivating reason to care about anything? Quoting a rock journalist LEGEND who was never driven by that, Lester Bangs once said, “the only questions worth asking today are whether humans are going to have any emotions tomorrow, and what the quality of life will be if the answer is no.”

It's been a few years since the music of Stellarium was fully featured here on this site. Their self-titled debut album garnered a track-by-track breakdown at that time with an accompanying recap by yours truly over on The Deli Mag a few weeks after. The band now has a brand new seven track collection, delivering nearly a 40 minutes mix of alternately fiery and glowing sonics.

Leadoff track “Summer Bloodbath” teases 7 seconds of backward looping before moving into a fuller ambient cathedral wash. Open high-hat cymbals signal the rhythm section kicking in, as bass guitar and drums thunder underneath shimmering guitar chords. Its fast paced and rhythmic – a propulsive forward motion assault. Vocals emerge with varying degrees of FX masking, providing an ominous howl over the frenetic rhythm that continues to churn underneath. Despite the songs macabre title, a warm sensation is felt through the rushing guitar washes, rising single note melodies and counter-melody bass guitar figures. If this is truly about a “murderous bloodbath,” the accompanying soundtrack to it here adds a certain romantic beauty.

Paradox” comes on harder edged, with aggressive deeper toned guitars, rapid-fire drum roll bursts and high-pitched squeals creating a hyper-force rising swell. Vocals take on that unintelligible heavy-effects laden texture that serves more as another instrument, rather than any kind of actual storytelling vehicle. Whether a possible truth can ultimately be revealed by contradictory forces seems a moot point within the framework of this sonic exploration. Ferocious battering often engulfs segments of this track, as quick fluid bass patterns propel matching-speed drumming and rising guitar onslaught. The final minute has the tempo shifting down a gear for a raucous jam-out coda.

A live version of this can be heard here.

The pace is brought down somewhat on third track “Lo,” as dreamier elements are explored through chiming guitar textures and more inquisitive vocals. Fuller motion is once again provided by a busy rhythm section that employs free roaming bass guitar work. Not to be outdone, the percussion is locked on tight with precisely confident snare-shot accents. Longer note guitar melodies are woven in and throughout the course of this nearly 8 minute song. As one might expect from a track of this length, an ambient breakdown appears just past the halfway point, allowing for further auditory explorations.

The vigorous drive returns for “Still” which adds elements of “gothic-pop sonics” - rumbling, low-note Bauhaus-like bass – open note arpeggio Cure-like guitar figures – and a more clearly defined chord progression. While the (still) unintelligible psychedelic vocals also skewer toward romanticism, is it happiness or “the hanging garden” serving as ultimate final destination?

Returning to deep, trippy, ambient sensations, “You Die Inside” bathes the listener with engulfing aural washes before glimmering guitar chords emerge. A deliberate progression slowly takes shape before dream-like vocals appear. Well placed minor chords adds a sensual dimension to the overall proceedings. A final one-minute coda sees the band ultimately opening up for a dynamic finish.

Heavily fuzzed bass notes and audible squeals usher in “Space Candy.” Hard battering drums and wildly chugged guitars fuel this explosive rave-up, while the vocals continue to be applied with deep reverb and drawn-out enunciation. At 2:43, it serves as the shortest track in this collection.

Final (and epic) track “Dynasty” closes everything out with the longest contribution here at over eight and a half minutes. A deep percussive beat anchors doom-laden riffs as violent guitar layers thrash over top. Vocals come in that deeply muffled manner that a band like A Place To Bury Strangers frequently exploits. In fact the pacing and overall sense of foreboding on this track pays a certain homage (whether intentional or not) to Mr. Ackermann's finest work. Halfway in the brutal pummeling gives way to an ambient plateau where the clearly audible vocal question is put forth: “how does it feel when everything is you know gone?” With only seconds to ponder that, the answer comes via more frenzied instrumental aggression.

While waiting for all this new material to fully emerge as streams and downloads, you can check out all of the bands previous work at their Bandcamp.

Additional DaveCromwellWrites features on Stellarium can be found here:

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There's a retro mid-70's punky garage rock feel to Women Of The Night's latest release “Moscow Mansions.” It's slow-burn two-chord groove and rough-hewn city street vocals feels like a lost track off the original Live At CBGB's album. One could picture this primal groove rooted in 50's style strolling blues and gritty urban lyrics fitting seamlessly between The Tuff Darts and Mink DeVille on that seminal record. While those artist drew inspiration from legends like Van Morrison, modern touches emerge throughout this current track.

With the resolving hook centering around how “she” (then “he”) is “gonna catch them stars” and “ain't coming down again,” a ghostly keyboard melody line is added on the second pass through. Leading into a longer than anticipated instrumental segment imbues the track with a subtle psychedelic quality. Arriving at a dramatic pause, subsequent background vocals and final descending melody adds one more distinctive touch. “It's getting harder every day - I ain't gonna let you go by” is declared while tasty guitar riffing bubbles up inside of those ending lyrics.

Opening with the chord progression strummed out cleanly on an unadorned guitar, second track “Be Careful What You Wish For” sees heavier single notes quickly entering the mix for dramatic effect. Shuffling drums and bass are joined by an alternating keyboard melody as the lyrical story unfolds. Channeling elements of early (Freewheelin') Bob Dylan and all those who followed that conversational songwriting style (from Lou Reed through Nick Cave and the hordes of others), compelling imagery set to melody and rhythm takes hold. “5:30 as the city empties out - I wish I could just be a part of your well oiled machine - conversations the persuasions as the business men do business - they try their luck - and they dance around the streets and bars - as they proposition underage girls.”

The chorus moves things closer to pop hooks however, with the catchy refrain: “I've got you on repeat - girl be careful what you wish for - you've got me on speed dial -you only call me when you need to.” An unexpected level of pathos shines through via some well-placed (and haunting) slide guitar work. Ultimately this clever story concludes with a reckless (yet life affirming) denouement: “I just love the thought that sometimes betting with your heart you can surely win.”

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Sharon Victoria Courtney is an Irish musician based out of Toronto, Canada making original music under the name Vancorvid.  It is a unique and intoxicating sound that blends classical instruments, modern electronics and mysterious spoken word prose.  Her latest release "Summon" sees her original composition (initially mixed and championed by Martin Bowes of Attrition) expanded upon through a Precious Child remix and accompanied by its strikingly cinematic video.

Opening with visuals of hands fluttering like wings, four distinct chordal chimes are struck before it all goes temporarily quiet. The image (and sound) of plucked harp strings is presented before a fuller, driving, percussive rhythm takes over, accompanying quick-cut moving pictures of frames, yarn, nails and scissors. Extended note reverberated voices float over the mix that includes a fluctuating 4 note melody pattern and piercing violin. Another quick pause ushers in a pulsing electronic pattern and the spoken word narration, providing the thematic core of this composition.

 “Summon your courage. Your fake beliefs that you barely hold to and come to me. Summon your voice to speak.” A dream-like quality envelops the viewer with quick-cut images of the artists face next to elements of nature.

 Blending violin textures with whispered voices, a steady throbbing beat creates motion until the next dramatic pause. Vocals re-emerge more fully sung, yet bathed in gossamer qualities as clouds float through horizontal faces.

 The overall sensation is that of a psychedelic experience (of which dreams often resemble). Rich violins, humming voices and the return of those fluttering hands imagery pulls everything full circle.

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A dovetailing of two like-minded forces has developed through a mutual fascination with and passion for the psychedelic state of mind. Award winning over 30 year career film composer Simon Boswell and alternative conscious film-maker Matt Levin are seeking to push the boundaries of their individual crafts through collaborative and individual projects.

While Mr. Boswell continues to simultaneously celebrate and rework his decades long soundtracks to many of the most innovative alternative films of our times, Mr. Levin has chronicled this recent activity through his Translove Airwaves outlet.  Reaching out beyond the recording studio, Simon Boswell and his band The And have been performing live over the last few years. They brought their multi-media live show to The Mercury Lounge on October 3rd, 2018 and Translove Airwaves captured featured segments of that performance on film. Shared here is Mr. Boswell and his band performing a segment of his composition from the cult-classic film “Hackers.”

While that particular film was critically panned, but loved by audiences (as it's 32% and 68% rating on Rotten Tomatoes would confirm) - and spawned a budding romance between a very young Jonny Lee Miller (Sick Boy in "Trainspotting" and Sherlock on TV's "Elementary) and Angelina Jolie (very well known) Simon's use of synthesizers on its film score reflected that eras fascination over emerging cyberpunk culture.

Mr. Boswell has recently stated that he and director Iain Softley are working on the definitive soundtrack release of this film on vinyl.  Included with the original score there will be featured tracks by The Prodigy, Underworld, Orbital, Leftfield, Carl Cox, Stereo MCs and the composer himself.

As one might expect of an artist who's career has spanned three decades and continues on today, there is no shortage of material to draw upon.  Providing soundtracks for a who's who of groundbreaking film-makers,  the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky ("Santa Sangre"), Dario Argento ("Phenomena"), Michael Hoffman ("A Midsummer Night's Dream"), Danny Boyle ("Shallow Grave") and Richard Stanley ("Hardware," "Dust Devil") have all been scored by Mr. Boswell.

Having earned the freedom to rework his original film score material (where he was always beholden to the directors final choices), the live show now features visuals from the movies remixed to fit his music.  What he refers to as "revenge of the film composer." Directors Jodorowsky, Argento and Richard Stanley all appear as virtual video spoken word artists.

In addition to his film score work, Simon also distinguished himself as a record producer and remixer.  Achieving huge successes in the Italian market, he went on to work with world class artists like Elton John, Marianne Faithful, Dolly Parton and Andrea Bocelli.  His unique style combines electronic and orchestral instruments, acoustic and slide guitar and synthesizers.

The recent live show at Mercury Lounge shows Simon introducing his “Hackers” music with a story about how like-minded psych artist (and VR specialist) James Edward Marks introduced him to computer programmers who coded under the influence of psychedelics. As the digital code imagery running behind the musicians blended with the sounds being produced, visual trails are recreated to represent one aspect of that mental state. It's a wonderfully immersive experience that expands further with powerful live electric guitar. Mood altering tempo shifts are combined with detailed footage from the film (a seriously intense Jonny Lee with equations flying around his head) while Simon unleashes precise guitar solos like Edgar Froese in 1970's era Tangerine Dream.  Percussion thunders away underneath as the images of baby face Angelina Jolie speaking into a land-line phone enhance the visuals.

Sharing a similar attraction to and devotion for the connections that broad spectrum psychedelic thinking offers, film-maker Matt Levin works through his Translove Airwaves platform as a consciousness raising force.  Combing his love for music and film school training, Matt explores psychedelia as a natural component of our complex brain interactions, moving beyond simple drugs-only applications.  Choosing instead to focus on the unlimited scope that everything in this life has to offer - be it art, music, technology and positive healing lifestyle choices - all contribute to a higher level of cognitive awareness.  View the Translove Airwaves trailer below:

Translove Airwaves | Official Trailer. from Translove Airwaves on Vimeo.

Matt owes a debt of gratitude to psychedelic film-makers like Alejandro Jodorosky, as well as individuals who continue to provide guidance to this day.  In particular, management/production guru Dave Newton and animation artist Batuhan Bintas.

Links to everyone mentioned here have been provided at the first instance of each of their names.

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