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 Updated: 7/02/14 | © 1999 - 2014 Cool Bunny Media | Da Cool Bunny sez 'Spank that Plank, Baby!'
 

Neu Harmony

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Various Artists - Beyond Me (NH021)

Various Artists - Beyond MeCompilations albums aren't new, of course, but collaboration albums on such a scale are relatively unusual, and that is what Beyond Me is all about. Organiser Paul Ellis has got together with a number of other synth musicians who chat together on an internet newsgroup to produce an album based on a mutually agreed theme and set of principles. The opening track, by Paul Ellis, is Into The Liquid Unknown, and it is certainly an upbeat, fizzy sounding piece of synth and sequencers. This track is the blueprint for the rest of the album, each of the following musicians takes the theme and runs with it. The other musicians featured on the cd are Nemesis, Free System Projekt, Robert Carty, Rudy Adrian, Kubusschnitt, Dave Fulton, Synthetic Block, Paul Nagle, Arcane, John Christian and Ramp. Considering that all the tracks 'dovetail' together I'm loath to pick out a few musicians and their tracks over the rest for comment, but you can be assured that the music on this CD is of the highest quality, exploring every facet of the original template. The album works as a gestalt community and the music segues effortlessly from one to the other, offering a wide array of shades and tones. Beyond Me is an interesting, and successful, experiment in collaboration and sharing a musical vision. It works well and I hope will be repeated again sometime in the future.

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Otarion - Creator (NH025)

The new album by Otarion, Creator, begins with Places Without Traces: the sounds of a storm mixed with gentle keyboard washes that gradually morph into quite a catchy melody with a punchy beat. It would make a great single. Storm sound effects seem to be a recurring theme throughout this album as the next track, Select, begins with a burst of thunder before a slow intro moves things along - there's something filmic about this track, it sounds like an ideal piece for a slow-burn title sequence of a Hollywood blockbuster. First Mystery is next, cosmic voices sing wordlessly over flute and string synth lines, very dreamy until a crashing piano chord and plucked strings move it up a gear, harpsichord next, all very baroque. Chimes and a slight fairground or musicbox ambience opens Revival, gentle oboe-voice melody pushes another slow and airy tune along until the sequencer riffs kick in and we're rockin'. Elements kicks right in with uptempo synth and drum riffs and turns into a pretty good mid-tempo dance tune. The rest of the nine tracks on the album pretty much follow the same templates set by the above. Creator is a very commercial-sounding album, highly rhythmic [dare one say funky at times] without being overbearing, extremely melodic and a pleasure to listen to. Without wishing to sound elitist it's the sort of album to play to those who say they hate electronic music - it's upbeat nature and good humour should win them over.

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Syndromeda - In Touch With The Stars (NH022)

Syndromeda - In Touch With The StarsIn Touch With The Stars was, rather appropriately, recorded at a live performance at the Jodrell Bank Planetarium sometime in May 2001. It also seems appropriate that music this spacious was created in the keynote year of 2001. The album begins with So So Far Away, a near-eighteen minute epic of spacy ambience that gradually evolves into slow burn sequencer riff. The Last Influence follows, a slow, almost brooding sequencer riff resembling steel drums builds into an interweaving network of rhythms with a light melody line running through the middle. The next track, No Way Back, opens with some skipping rhythm loops bouncing between the speakers, followed by a ghostly melody line. Phaedron follows, keeping the haunted sound until five minutes in when a rumbling sequencer riff rumbles in with a shuffling beat. Slow Heat starts with a buzzing drone that shifts and moves continuously for the entire track. Conjunction Area, very X Files-ish, spooky choral effects, simple rhythm loops and a stylophone-sounding lead melody. What can it all mean? Final track, The End of the Circle, begins with drones, overtaken with rhythmic sequencer lead, the drones return with an Asiatic feel, abrupt end! All in all this is an excellent album with some fine music, and a great momento of the gig for those who attended.

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Mike Andrews - Time & Science (NH027)

Mike Andrews - Time & ScienceMusician Mike Andrews makes a point in his sleeve notes to stress that his new album Time & Science is a tribute to electronic music pioneers Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre, and I have to say that there are very strong influences of their work to be heard here. You only have to start the first track Tides of Time (Intro) for that first fix of Vangelis - close your eyes and you could be immersed in the world of the Blade Runner as those familiar haunting brass synths echo across the speakers. Thankfully Mike Andrews isn't too blatant with the influences to the point of pedantry, and he skillfully weaves in the signature sounds of Jarre, Vangelis and Tangerine Dream [too] into his own soundscapes, creating something rather special. Of the fourteen tracks, nine of them comprise the complete Tides of Time sequence [and the main homage], which are interspersed by the remaining tracks - these seem to be performed with Mike Andrews own musical voice. As all or most of the tracks run into each other it's rather difficult to select individual tracks for comment, the standard is extremely high all the way through. This is a very commercial sounding album that pleases the ear and then the brain.

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Andy Pickford & Paul Nagle: S.T.D.M. - Ramayana (NH028)

First of all, don't ask me what the "S.T.D.M." mean - I don't know. Secondly, this album is a recording of a gig Andy Pickford and Paul Nagle performed last year [2002] at the Jodrell Bank Planetarium and is quite possibly one of the finest live electronica albums you can hear.

Both of the artists here are established solo acts in the electronica world so it is doubly interesting and challenging to see [and hear, of course] how their music and personal performing styles interact together. Essentially they compliment each other very well, playing to each others' strengths and producing music that is both muscular and timeless. In other words, out of the light and shade this music produces it rocks like hell on the loud bits and is sublimely celestrial on the quiet passages.

The album consists of three distinct tracks, each made up of four sections [two on the final track]: Disinformatsiya, Ramayana and Latementrager. As these sections and tracks all seemlessly play as a complete sequence it is difficult to pick out the best bits of the best bits [if you follow me] - I can tell you that there is a mildly 'eastern' feel to many of the quiet passages [and even a little tasty Spanish guitar], and the layered samples of voices and other weird stuff make for strong atmospherics. But it is when the musicians are flying, when the sequencers are riffing like mad, and the synths are rocking that that you sit up and know you are listening to something special. One of the very best albums Neu Harmony have released so far!

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Syndromeda - Creatures From The Inner (NH030)

Syndromeda - Creatures From The InnerThis double CD is the latest from Syndro meda, which [or whom] I think is based in Belgium - not sure if this is a single artist or a group, but it is nice to think that Belgium is famous for something other than 'Herge's Adventures of Tin Tin' and Hercule Peirot!

Creatures From The Inner acts as something like a masterclass in electronic music, the eight tracks adroitly covering many moods and styles of EM. The opening track of CD1, Dub Statement, is a slow burning [24 minutes!] and broody piece of work, full of cyclical sequences, jaunty loops and plenty of bleeps and bloops before the rhythm sequences crash in and turn it into something much more muscular. Echoing Heights begins with what sounds like rolling waves followed by a series of ominous sounding pads and a lone melody line - it's all very symbolic of a man on a clifftop looking out to the stormy ocean [or perhaps looking up at the stars] and waiting... certainly got an air of mystery around it. Track three, The Dream Within, starts with some glacial ringing tones and spacey-sounding sequences, so its cosmic adventure time. Martial drum loops boom in and take over. Very much in your face! Out Of The Dark begins with a different set of slow cosmic tones that slowly build up into the howl of a storm, perhaps a little more interstellar this time. Around seven minutes in a series of low frequency sequences fade in [and out] repeatedly, bringing an impending sense of menace.

And that ends CD1, I think I'll leave you to discover CD2 for yourself... Creatures From The Inner won't appeal to the ears used to the more dance-orientated EM, this is much more atmospheric and adventurous. The music here is chilled out to the point of being arctic, the soundscape pictures pointing more to Solaris than Star Wars.

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Syndromeda - The Alien Abduction Phenomenon
(NH017 and Groove UnLimited GRO55)

Syndromeda - The Alien Abduction PhenomenonThe Alien Abduction Phenomenon, as the title suggests, is something of a concept album and should appeal to fans of the X Files - indeed this music wouldn't be out of place on the tv show itself. The opening track The Chosen One is an almost tribal affair, with synth drum pads building up an intricate multi-layered loop of pounding drum beats that continually shift and mutate over its five minute duration. It's a track that certainly makes you sit up and take notice that this is something special. Track two, No More Fear, opens with some ambient synth washes and a distant church bell tolling - a warning of alien invaders perhaps? This is an epic track, nearly twenty minutes long, extremely brooding and yes, menacing for all the right reasons. It finally opens out into a rhythmic sequencer battle that fills the final ten minutes.

Another lengthy track, Mystic Cave, follows: again a slow start, alien sounding ambient sounds insinuate into your consciousness, creeping ever closer until... After The Abduction, even more brooding, ethereal alien sounds - the sound of being inside the UFO, perhaps? But the music has a benign, gentle feel to it - so no invasive probes, no stress or fear. Just calm. A New Start - the ship slowly gathers itself to leave the Earth, it's mission [whatever it was] a success. Again you feel a timelessness to the early section of this track: more alien sounds that gradually morph into a terrific sequencer section that depicts the launch back into orbit. And that leads to the final track Wavegames, a much more uptempo piece where the UFO is heading out into the cold depths of space with its valuable cargo.

This album certainly triggers the imagination and you can run all sorts of sci-fi scenarios in your head. The sound quality is exceptionally clear, and some sections have a bass sound that many dance producers would envy. Syndromeda is, I think, an alias for a single composer/musician based in Belgium and you can check out his website at http://www.syndromeda.bewoner.antwerpen.be

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Paul Nagle - Red Book/Blue Book (NH018)

Paul Nagle - Red Book/Blue BookRed Book/Blue Book is a double cd package for the price of a single cd, so excellent value from Paul Nagle and Neu Harmony. The music on Red Book was inspired by a trip to China that Paul Nagle took last year [2000], and amongst the music are many location recordings made during the trek through the country. Musically - well, location sounds apart I can't say that the music has much of an oriental feel to it - opening track Multitude is a rather drum 'n' bass heavy number with the beats slowed right down. Tomb in Darkness starts quietly with street sounds and a languid melody line that morphs into a quickfire sequencer line that I guess could bring scurrying rickshaws to mind. Sack of Money, Buddah, begins with a tape loop of what sounds like Buddhist priests chanting and ringing bells, overlaid with some more delicate melody lines until some more pounding drum 'n' bass rhythms kick in until everything fades away at the end of the track. And so the rest of the album continues, mixing tracks of gentle ambient music and driving sequencer riffs, all with authentic sounds of China mixed in with them. However, it is a shame that a few oriental instruments weren't added to the mix just to give a little more flavour to the music.

Blue Book is a more conventional electronica album containing six tracks of mostly upbeat synth music that should please any fan of EM. Power Haus is a lengthy sequencer workout with a driving beat and an almost 'Miami Vice' feel to it. Wassernixe opens with a distant thunderstorm and wind-like synth washes [with the odd ghostly creak included], followed by a short but lovely piano interlude before an industrial sounds sequence takes us into track 4. Xyzzy mixes a chugging synth line with piano and atmospherics, a later section with a horn line brings back memories of Blade Runner for some reason, but a great track - very atmospheric. Fügsamkeit reminds me of Kraftwerk - it even seems to paraphrase Trans Europe Express, so I liked it immediately! Abstimmen starts with industrial sounds before some bass heavy sequencer riffs and cosmic-lead lines start to push it forward into late 70's Tangerine Dream country. This morphs straight into the final track, Erfrierung, still with TD influence [perhaps Tangram?]. Taken together these final two tracks are superbly atmospheric and melodic.

The inlay card suggest that we choose which of these albums we prefer and alter the sleeve layout to reflect that, but I think Red Book/Blue Book is a superb double set offering much variety and excellent music. If I have to choose I think I prefer Blue Book but there really isn't much between them - and at this special price can one really be that picky? Buy with confidence and enjoy a couple of hours of great music.

Paul Nagle has a web site at www.softroom.co.uk

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Airsculpture - Quark Soup (NH019)

Airsculpture - Quark SoupNo, this is nothing to do with the Ferengi barkeeper Quark from Deep Space Nine but it is the latest live album [and a double one at that!] from from one of the best synth bands around. Airsculpture have released several live CDs over the years, but where for most rock bands this shows a lack of creative powers Airsculpture positively thrive on playing live. And that means that each of their live albums is a unique and stimulating event.

Quark Soup contains two concerts: Disc One was recorded at the E-Live festival in The Netherlands during 1999, while Disc Two was recorded at Jodrell Bank Planetarium during May 2000. Disc One tracks are Bock, Dubbel, Tripel and Shoarma. Disc Two's tracks are Moments In Lowell and Settee.

Normally I would be offering a description of each individual track, but with Airsculpture a literal description tends to cover almost all of their tracks: slow start with cosmic atmospherics, slow fade up of rhythmic sequencer lines, crescendo to pounding sequencers and synths rocking the joint, and finally a slow fade to where we started. And simplistically that is what Airsculpture do, but you can't take that at face value as each track is indeed unique in so many unquantifiable ways that I don't think there is the language to describe it. So I'm gonna cop out and say that you really have to hear this album to fall for its not inconsiderable magic and charms.

In relation to the rest of the Airsculpture catalogue Quark Soup ranks very high indeed. And that isn't so very surprising - the three guys and their computers seem to share a symbiotic relationship that bears rich fruit every time they plug in. As Quark Soup is rich in invention and priced as a single CD I can recommend this album to anyone wanting to do a bit of aural exploration. And I didn't mention Tangerine Dream once!

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Kubusschnitt - The Singularity (MH020)

Kubusschnitt - The SingularityThe music of Kubusschnitt is firmly based in what now seems to be called Retro Electronica or the Berlin School, but to my untutored ears means that their point of reference is the sound and style of Tangerine Dream, from their most influential period of the late 70s/early 80s. The Singularity starts with a short intro named after the album, some ambient harmonics that quickly edge you in Bicubic, a slow burning series sequencer strands that weave in and out of each other melodically. Three Oaks begins with a high drone sound but a fast [and bouncy] sequencer line quickly takes the focus onwards, mixing with acoustic piano and a percussion line, into a pounding climax and a very nice guitar solo. This segues into Square, a three minute slice of ambience, again with lots of strange sounds echoing throughout. Next is the epic Elemental, it opens in the vast wasteland of space, weird harmonics echo between the stars, one drifts for four minutes until a percussive sequencer riff kicks in, followed by a soaring guitar solo - definitely one of the most impressive tracks on the album. Track Six: Gate returns to deep space, then Samurai, another lengthy track, with a brooding ambience, deeply atmospheric. Achtung is a virtual smorgasboard of synth lines, sequencers, and percussion lasting fifteen minutes - another tour-de-force! Finally, Almost X, more ambient spacey sounds for a couple of minutes before a familiar sequence riff and challenging guitar solo re-appear for another bout before fading into oblivion, only to be replaced with a haunting section of sampled whalesong and a lilting synth that ends the album on a whistful note. This is a wonderful album containing many highs and no lows, it hasn't been off my cd deck over the whole of the Christmas holidays. I think that says it all.

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Various Artists - Okefenokee Dreams 2001
(NH023/QCD0232)

Various Artists - Okefenokee Dreams 2001Okefenokee Dreams is an album recorded deep in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, USA, during April 2001. The musicians involved include Marcel Engels [Free System Projeck], John Christian and Peter Ruczynski [Airsculpture], Dave Brewer and Bill Fox. I'm not sure exactly why one would want to hump a truckload of synths into the humidity of a bug [and snake] infested swamp, but musicians are crazy - you know! The common point of reference for all of these musicians [apart from bug bites] is a passion for the music of Tangerine Dream, and one of that band's celebrated most tracks is inspired by the same region.

This album begins with a track called Wildlife at the Okefenokee, and the track starts with what can only be described as an alligator with severe snoring problems - at least I think it's an alligator, perhaps someone stuck a microphone up one of the musicians' nostrils. As the various loops, samples and sequencer riffs kick in this track reminds more of The Orb and their offbeat take on things. After some spoken word loops the track explodes into a fuzzy guitar and synth duel. Track two, Five Sisters, starts with some broody sequencer riffs, the sound becomes more bass heavy as it proceeds until it suddenly vanishes to be replaced by flute-like melodies. All extremely powerful and lovely. Swamp Impasse follows: radio bleeps morph into cosmic winds and ghostly melodies and then into classic 70's TD sequencer riffing - one can almost imagine this sound weaving through the mangrove trees late at night. Road To Nowhere slowly fades into existence, ambient washes and delicate lead lines picture that swamp again, perhaps this time at sunset as darkness falls and the animals quieten down - it's a short track but highly atmospheric. Tannic Tonic is much more cosmic, high whistles and bursts of sound - the sort of thing you might hear soundtracking one of the X Files's ufo episodes. The final music track is Southern Sunset, a ten minute soundscape: echo-laden percussion, clicks, synth explosions, organ lead lines, all mixed into a swirling miasma of swamp fever. Final track, Feedback, is just some off-air chat picked up on the mixing desk. Okefenokee Dreams 2001 is a highly entertaining and atmospheric album aided by a picturesque location.

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The Glimmer Room - Tomorrow's Tuesday
(NH024)

The Glimmer Room - Tomorrow's TuesdayThe Glimmer Room is fundamentally composer/musician Andy C, helped on various tracks by collaborators. The fourteen track album opens with Every Day I Die For Your Body, which sounds like one of Gary Numan's old titles but is quite a funky, bass-heavy tune with looped vocal chorus. I rather liked this track, it has a brooding grandeur that works very well at setting an atmosphesre. Lake Song continues in the same vein: heavy bass synth lines with a glass piano-style melody over the top - not quite as good as the first track. Last Deep Breath begins with what sounds like a sample of a boy laughing, around which is framed low key melody that loops and slowly shifts. As The Crow Flies begins with a near-shuffle beat from the rhythm boxes, while the tune drifts along nicely. Terminal Individuality follows, synthesized birdsong over a slow beat and echo-drenched lead lines - quite a reflective feel to this tune, one of the best on the album. Waterline is next, a more upbeat track than the previous one, though not by much - once again Andy C shows a talent for putting together low-key funky rhythm tracks to melody lines that are both harmonious and infectious. And this is pretty much the way of things throughout the rest of the album - the tempos are always less than the over-frenetic cacophony you get in contemporary dance music, yet they always keep the music pushing along, while the synths and sequencers provide memorable tune after memorable tune. This album is more upbeat than many on Neu Harmony and deserves to be a success.

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Max Von Richter - Resurrection (NH026)

Max Von Richter - ResurrectionIt's interesting to note how few albums have an interesting story attached to them nowadays. Once upon a time a rock album would have enough drunken binges and orgies attached to its making to drain a brewery, but now everything is so regimented and conveyor-belt led that the merest whiff of scandal will have Max Clifford hot on the phone. So to have an album which has one of the weirdest stories attached to it, something that even Mulder and Sculley would call an X File is downright intriguing.

As I understand it, Max Von Richter was a musician with serious emotional problems and he was also extremely reclusive, when not recording with his band Arcane he would record solo sessions. At some point in the recent past his body was found charred and burnt to the bone, a victim of Spontaneous Human Combustion. A cache of studio tapes were discovered in a hidden cupboard by the new owner of Von Richter's house - these provide the main body of this album. Further tapes appeared at Neu Harmony HQ from an anonymous source, unmistakenly the work and style of Von Richter but apparently performed on synthesisers not developed at the time of his death. As I say, a true ongoing X File that gives this album of all those tapes a mystique and mythology all of its own.

And so to the music. Well, I have been playing this album at least once on a daily basis since I received it - it has to be one of the most melodic, ear-friendly collections of electronic music I have heard in a long time. The seven tracks have an epic, near symphonic style that sound anything but pretentious. Opening track Resurrection opens quietly, but soon kicks into one of those classic Tangerine Dream-style 80's grand themes. Von Richter is/was both a superb composer and musician, and over the scope of the entire album he stamps his own musical signature over all seven tracks. The bottom line is that this is a superb album of synth music, approachable to anyone, not just the electronica cogniscenti. One of my albums of the year, if not THE album of the year!

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Under The Dome - Bellerophon (NH029)

Under The Dome - BellerophonIt isn't often that you find an album dedicated to a 1950's sci-fi classic movie, but the music on Bellerophon has its roots in Forbidden Planet - yes, that's the one with Robbie the Robot and Leslie Neilson before he discovered fart gags. Whether this is a concept album or just a homage doesn't really matter, with track titles such as Launch, Sun Dome, Liquid Sky, Nightfall, C-57D, Altair IV, Solar Gravity and of course Bellerophon itself, we are definitely following in the footsteps of that classic movie.

Under the Dome are Grant MIddleton and Colin Anderson on a whole raft of synths and all things electronic and techie. They have pretty much created a space-synth classic here, and they've even borrowed a classic Tangerine Dream riff on Track Two: Launch, and made it their own. As you would expect, like the movie itself, the music here is dramatic, with pounding synths and sequencers on some tracks and reflective, almost ambient settings on others. And, as if to confirm that link with the movie, Track Eleven: Altair IV recreates the original electronic tonalities that were used to soundtrack the movie and bring the alien civilisation alive. Those huge Krell caverns full of unimaginable technologies fill the mind once again. Under the Dome should visit a few science fiction conventions and play this music to the fans - the sales would rocket up! The best sci-fi album I've heard in a long while.

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Syndromeda - Metaphysical Experiences (NH035)

Belgium is seldom renowned for much in the way of artistic merit: Hercule Poirot, Herge's Adventures of Tin Tin, and chocolate sex. But one more can be added to that small but illustrious list, the Belgian composer and synth wizard Syndromeda. His new album, Metaphysical Experiences, continues the lineage of brooding synthscapes of his previous albums - perhaps with a much harder edge this time, some of his previous albums have been a little too 'new agey' for my tastes.

However, the opening track From Here To... begins slowly but soon builds up momentum, with a bassline of deep edginess - it speeds up both in volume and serious beats at the six minute mark and then gently coasts to its conclusion a further eight minutes on. New Energy, the following track, lives up to its title with a buzzy synthline and a vigorous workout on the drum pads - the man is rocking here! Mondo Bizarro is a great title for a track [even better for an album!] and is next, this starts in a very chill[y] and cosmic manner, extra-terrestrial synths twitter and burble before those hard edged synth stabs and distorted sounds return. There are three remaining tracks but I don't propose to describe them here - if the above hasn't wetted your curiosity then I'm not sure what will. This is one of Syndromeda's finest albums: very cosmic, rocking in places, dreamy in others, but full of attitude and power. Another great album from Neu Harmony!

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