The Hai – In & Out

Review of their previous album, Pop Songs, here.

Just recapitulating, The Hai is a sort of internet music supergroup, a handful of people from all over the world who met by posting their music on the Internet and being some of the very best at it. It’s unfortunate that I can’t review their output as fast as they can release it. After this album there has already been another one called Temperatures, and that’s not talking about the individual albums that keep coming up. The always wonderful A Problem Like Maria has just released Saudade, a very touching album, some of the best music I have listened from her. Before that, Mattir, The Flying Batteries, Water Gun Water Gun Sky Attack (reviewed here) and other members of the group have all come out with interesting albums that I can’t recommend enough. It’s all in their website.

Now let’s start the proper review.

The theme of this album is sex. As usual, it doesn’t mean that every track will be straightforward about it, specially the EDM tracks. Something has to be said about the track order selection in both albums I have reviewed though, it is optimal in balancing out the different styles of the musicians, in such a way that even if the EDM tracks don’t clearly deal with the overall theme, they always sound like an intercession, they just fit nicely in the overall progression. Perhaps this is one of the most subtle qualities of the group’s output: how can all these different people from these different places come up with something that feels whole and balanced? It can’t be a simple affair. And that’s not dealing with the same happening in the tracks themselves, carved by multiple sets of hands apart from each other.

These guys are bursting with creativity and they keep it in a tight leash of perfectionist music-making practices, every synth that comes and goes is perfectly tailored, specially in the EDM tracks. It all sounds anything but home-made. StratosFear’s Approaching Summer is a shining example,  as well as Rekapper’s When and MaximiliaN’s chilling track, adorned with equally chilling vocals by A Problem Like Maria. I was also impressed by her own track, Slow. It’s about sex alright.

Meanwhile, every single one of the straightforward songs has a satisfying feeling of inspired, well-made mainstream music. Somnitone’s closing track might be the winning song this time around, I figure it’s absolutely radio ready. Musically, there’s no reason why these people couldn’t take over the world. Everything is so fucked up in music though, who knows what will happen. If these times were like up to the early 90’s, they would be selling millions by now. It’s already good enough to be released by a regular label, that’s for sure.

-Carpeaux

Almost Technicolor & A Problem Like Maria – Europa

A Problem Like Maria is a singer and songwriter, internet radio DJ, and hip-hop MC who’s music ranges from trip-hop style synth pop, to hip-hop, and pretty much everything else. She is part of the musical collective, The Hai and has worked with the likes of Water Gun Water Gun Sky Attack and Radio Wire Empire, with this release seeing her team up with producer Almost Technicolor. A Problem Like Maria’s sound is hard to pin down, it’s not like her music is genre transcending or overtly experimental but that it combines a multitude of genres together in subtle ways to where you’re getting an even blend of sounds from a diverse range of musical styles which I think is most apparent on her collaborative effort with Radio Wire Empire. Almost Technicolor is the solo electronic project of Aaron Dawson, a musician from Rochester, MN who’s solo album, ‘Planet Altech’ was release last year which saw him infusing genres such as industrial, classical, and hip-hop with the glossy shine of contemporary music. ‘Europa’ is a remastered compilation of singles from 2011 featuring a collaboration between the aforementioned artists.

The first track ‘Deliberate Existence’ started off the EP on a negative note for me. The main downer for me were the vocals, Maria’s style of rapping is poetic and lyrically entertaining but her flow, the way the words come out felt clumsy. The appeal is there but its definitely going to be specific to certain people while it will isolate others. I was impressed with the beats that Almost Technicolor provides on this collaboration, particularly on the title track. The production features plenty of bass, some bold beats, synth and spacey background noises that pulls it all together nicely. There is a lot of depth and textures that help envelop the listener in the music. Maria comes through with some great singing, although I will say I could do without some of the vocal effects on her voice. It became more distracting for me than it was enforcing and at some points they just seemed to be thrown in without reason. The last track is a remix of ‘Never Sleep’ by Nights of Rizal. This track actually happened to be my favorite on the EP. The production style is very simple, at times glitchy with this shimmering synth coupled with Maria’s expressive vocals that makes for a flavorful track.

There were some good sounds but I did have some trouble coming back to the EP. There wasn’t any particular song that I really disliked, the EP as a whole just did not capture my interest as much.  The content  was rather linear leaving little room for the music to really grab your attention and it often felt like the music was clashing with Maria’s singing style as though she was just singing over the beats as oppose to singing with them. Although not a completely engaging series of songs, this EP showcases A Problem Like Maria expanding on her vocal abilities and Almost technicolor working with both conventional beats as well as experimental.

Overall rating: 6.4

Favorite Track: ‘Never Sleep (Nigts of Rizal)’

Recommended: Beat lovers will feel at place here while those looking for a bit more will find a home as well.

Released: 14 February 2012

Links:

A Problem Like Maria: Check out APLM on Bandcamp

Almost Technicolor: Visit the Bandcamp page

Redntoothnclaw

Heavy Strife – Synthétiseur

Synthétiseur is unfortunately an incredibly short release, but one that manages to do so much in its 25 minute run time. Although it is primarily a synthpop album, Heavy Strife goes beyond this label by incorporating elements of shoegaze along with an often moody undertone. Vocals have a particularly noticeable shoegaze influence. They are generally hazy and drawn into the background if they are even present at all – some songs are completely instrumental. The vocals appear to act as more of an addition to the music, rather than an aspect that takes centre stage, as with most artists. This is no bad thing though, as it lets you truly experience the excellent synth work that Heavy Strife has to offer. As you might guess, it is the synth that really shines through on Synthétiseur. Whilst it may not have any of the intricate complexity of more renowned synthpop outfits, as an independent artist Heavy Strife works brilliantly with what he’s got.

Synths on Synthétiseur range from shining and cerebral melodies, to deeper and thicker effects that seem to almost completely fill your head (if you are taking advantage of listening through headphones, that is). Each track brings something new to the table, such as the dark, spaced out sound of Pursuit, or the more upbeat, whistling Damask Beat. In addition to synths, you can expect to hear some well placed guitar here and there. Whilst the guitar is sometimes surprisingly placed, it is always for the better and really adds a more substantial edge to some of the tracks. Even from the opening track, the guitar works perfectly with the brooding atmosphere that is present. Particularly great, however, is the almost tropical melody that can be heard on the track Silver Din, alongside high organ sounds, fuzzy synth and sparkling effects. This sort of variability is not uncommon either, as most tracks have a range of interspersing sounds and effects, creating a surprising amount to keep you interested in such a short release. All in all, a tightly constructed and enjoyable release.

Standout tracks: Damask Beat, Silver Din, Ringtail

-Arran

Adam Vs The Machine – The Flying Batteries

Synth Rock mostly, with a post-punk feel – specially from the tone and style of the vocals. Most of this stuff just screams 80’s influence, not only from post-punk, like the sort of innocence in the use of synths to make up pretty danceable tracks, probably a footprint of the “snescore” they used to categorize their sound on bandcamp.

It’s not all like that though. The 80’s feel, this time leaning towards serious Bono on serious U2 moments, is there in the first part of “A Place to Hide”, for example. This track comes up in the album in just the perfect moment, just after the first three tracks which aim to be hits – and with a pretty good aim. The first track on this is so catchy, vibrant, feel good, danceable, I can’t figure out why this isn’t on MTV or at least making people dance somewhere. If you are just here for the ride, seriously go listen at least to that first track, it’s golden, and A Place to Hide would be the perfect, “serious moment now” second single.

I wouldn’t be surprised to start seeing fillers at this point, but even though the immediate satisfaction of the radio-ready first track is still in some sense the best moment of the album, the album doesn’t go down in breath or energy. But they do allow themselves a cool, always-changing instrumental track , “Adam”, which is really enjoyable and samples Final Fantasy 6. The second part of “A Place to Hide” also comes up, but it doesn’t have the same feel as the first part.

Great stuff, first track is a potential hit, I hope these guys the best of luck with this stuff.

-Carpeaux

Radio Wire Empire – Color & Colour EP

Overall: 4/5

Genre: electronic synth-poppy bullshit with sick hip hop beats and dubstep influences

Released: April 18th 2011

Radio Wire Empire is some dude in michigan making electronic music for shits and giggles or something. altogether, he has put out several releases out of his bandcamp, most prominently his full length album Threadbare, in which he demonstrated both his ability to create lush, diverse sonic soundscapes with complex melodies, and then sing over them like a little girl(im not sure how he does this, he has a pretty dope beard and stuff).

At 30 minutes, this is a pretty long EP, but that’s a good thing, because this is some of the best synth pop i’ve heard since i’ve been comfortable with my sexuality. The soundscapes are there, but they’re toned down a bit. I wouldnt say sparse, (they’re pretty full of sounds) but definitely not as effects heavy(deceptively not effects heavy).

First off I’m gonna mention the drums and the synth basslines and how groundshakingly good they are. He could have made this whole album with just those and I still could have gotten down like a motherfucker. The drum sounds are intentionally fake in the best way possible(the liner notes on the download site says he borrowed a drum machine, GOOD FUCKING MOVE). These beats have a hip hop swagger with white boy charm only a white boy from michigan can have, and are more delicious than any other metaphors I could come up with. The basslines are simple but have a computerized warmth and fullness of sound that just fills out the low end really hard. This is a good thing.

His tones and arrangements are well thought out and mixed to buttfucking perfection. Sometimes I felt like I was listening to an orchestra of synthesizers while dropping acid, but upon closer inspection, there was nothing more than a synth bass, a drumbeat, and a whimsical lead over the top while I was dropping acid(it’s worth it, trust me). As far as song structure, there’s not really any standard pop chorus verse chorus type deals going on here, just several verses, each one as catchy as any chorus an inferior musician could make. Though I was halucinating maybe so there might be stuff in there I missed.

The real beauty of this EP is the melodies. RWE shows his enviable ear for complexly catchy melodies obscured in plain sight. For example, on Corpus of Qoholeth, what was assumed to just be a pretty, cute arpeggio in the intro expands itself flawlessly later on in the song into a fully formed simplistic melody whose beauty is maybe comparable to like a great work of art or something(it’s about maybe 5am, I’m running out of metaphors).

I would have to say that one of the only downsides to this album are the singer’s flashy-girly voice that seems to have either an orgasm or an emotional breakdown every couple words. Ironically, the most powerful and moving vocal passages are the ones he sings with no flair, just straight falsetto. His vocal arrangements are interesting though, he’lll go as far as having several overdubs singing at different octaves with different amounts of flash, and it makes for an interesting sound to say the least. also autotune? When was that ever a good idea?

Lyrically, it’s pretty standard lovey dovey shit(im not too big on lyrics tbh, not unless they really strike me) I havent taken the time to analyze them fully but I heard some verses mentioning “mounting pressure on our hips” and “tomorrow wont be so bad” but if that gives you pause, please remember that this is a fucking synth pop album. One of the songs is called “young and naked” if you didnt take the hint now, you’ll never get it, like ever.

Overall this is a well put together set of songs that flow surprisingly well, and while it lacks the cool factor of the punkrawk music and the hippity hop, it’s definitely enjoyable as fuck to listen to.

Definitely a guilty pleasure if you care that people will think you’re gay/emo

Pros: Delicious Beats, Delicious bass, Delicious melody

Cons: Icky vocal flashiness(blargh), Pretentious song titles

Best track: The Insistence of Dawn or the Battle of Backs and their Beast

Coincedentally the most pretentiously named track is my favorite. It’s a perfect combo of simple bass, delay soaking synth blurbs, and probably my favorite vocal work on the album

Worst track: Young and Naked

It’s not bad, I’m just so used to hearing some delicious melody or hook by now, but nothing stands out for me atm. Just a solid track

Grower: Corpus of Qoholeth. That is just a fucking PERFECT melody, I didn’t even notice it the first time around

Surprise! Brostep in your face!: Amaranthine wall

-Love Doctor