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Neu Harmony

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Arcane - 33-1/3 (NH034)

Arcane are one of the many bands on Neu Harmony that hide behind anonymity and self-imposed mythology to add weight to their appeal. And, to be honest, a little mystery does add to the value of the music. 33-1/3 is supposedly an album in the 'Berlin School' of electronic music, which basically means it is in the style of late-70s/early-80s Tangerine Dream. The title referring, I assume, to the playing speed of vinyl albums from that period.

In practice this means lengthy tracks of classy ambient sequences that occasionally rack up the beats and become substantially meatier. The first two tracks [33-1/3 Side One and Side Two] more than ably live up to this, forty minutes of melodic cosmic dreaming, slow sequences that fade in and out throughout the tracks, ethereal flute sounds, mellotron choirs and that indefinable air of classiness.

And then there is track three: Dr Wutzke's Psychedelic Wonder Machine - a track that increases the beatability quotia markedly. After the genteel cosmic travelling of the previous tracks this is a great pop electro track, a foot tapper of the first order and the best track on what is already growing into an excellent album. Silent Thief On A Desert Train is next - the beats partially dissolve away to offer more cosmic soundscapes to visit, before morphing into the final track, The Taxidermist, a chill out exit zone that packs its own delayed punch. This new album by Arcane is one of the best I've heard in a long time, its sound is sophisticated and retro, showcasing the future and the past of electronic music in a very mellifluous fashion. Easily one of my albums of the year so far!


The Omega Syndicate - Phonosphere (NH036)

This new album by the Omega Syndicate is a pretty stunning piece of cosmic EM. Phonosphere contains three lengthy tracks - the first is called Our Communication Satellite Has Disappeared [15 minutes], track two is Onyx [22 minutes] and the third and final section is a seven part suite called Phonosphere [approximately 30 minutes long]. So plenty of space [no pun intended!] to stretch out and explore how much sequencer riffage you can pack into a time limit. Actually, that is being perhaps a little too flippant as this is a very atmospheric album, the music contantly swirling and changing over a background of classic sequencer sounds. There is a lot of variety to be found within these tracks - from lyrical, almost dreamlike instrumental solo sections to parts where the sequencers have set up poly-rhythmical beats that might give the Kling Klang boys of Kraftwerk pause for thought. On reflection the first two tracks are much smoother sounding than the Phonosphere suite, which is spikier sounding as befits a live performance. The first two tracks are studio recordings performed by David Burr, Xan Alexander and Stuart Jackson, while the Phonosphere suite itself was recorded live at a gig held in the appropriately named National Space Centre, Leicester and performed by just David Burr and Xan Alexander. I think this just the second album by the band and it shows a mature progression of musical talent. I look forward to hearing what these guys create in the future.


Airsculpture - TranceAtlantic (NH037)

If there is a band signed to Neu Harmony that could be considered to be the flagship artist[s] on the label it is Airsculpture. I think this band have released the most albums of any Neu Harmony artist, and each one has been consistently strong on musicality, atmosphere and that heart-wrenching oomph that the best EM offers. And so it is with their latest double album, TranceAtlantic. Recorded when the band visited America in 2004, CD1 is recorded live at the Gatherings Festival and the second CD was recorded during sessions for a radio show. Each CD is around an hour in length, contains one track split into three sections. CD1's track is Walk The Locust and it starts with a gentle piano intro before the loops and synths begin to slowly appear and build a momentum that gradually ebb and flow over the thirty odd minute length of the track. Where Part One was melodic and mellow, Part Two also starts with a slow build up of beeps, boops and sci-fi sound effects that lead into a synthetic soundscape of stunning modernity, ideal as a new soundtrack for a remake of Forbidden Planet - on the basis of this track the guys have the gig. Oh, and there's a neat little homage to Kraftwerk's Trans Europe Express at the middle point of the track before the sequencers kick in for a final ten minute rock yer diodes finale. Track Three is a four minute encore of synth and sequencer duelling. CD2's track is TranceAtlantic, and is also in three parts that follow a similar structure and feel to the first CD. However, the musical themes are different and reflect the freedom a studio environment allows over the more rigid structure required for live performance. The music has a harsher, more industrial feel to it. So, both CDs are very different and highly listenable - this is Airsculpture at their peak and should be unmissable to every EM fan.

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Under The Dome - Wot No Colin? (NH031)

Under The Dome - Wot No Colin?Under the Dome are a Scottish EM [Electronic Music] band whose style of music resembles that of late 70s/early 80s Tangerine Dream. I don't mean that they are simply a tribute band, just that they have taken the TD stylistic ball and have run far with it, creating their own exceptional [and unique] music. UtD are Grant Middleton and Colin Anderson on a variety of synths and guitars. However, Wot No Colin is a collection of live recordings in which Colin Anderson wasn't able to participate - hence the title. Instead, a number of other veteran musicians of the EM movement ably fill the void: Paul Nagle, Steve Jenkins and Andy Bloyce.

The tracks on this excellent live album derive from gigs at Hampshire Jam 2 and the National Space Centre in 2002 and 2003. And I must applaud the sound engineer for providing extremely clear recordings on this CD. Most of the tracks are drawn from UtD's previous albums, and of course sound a little different performed by this unique line-up. The tracks include Launch, Return, Event Horizon, C-57D, Watch The Skies and many more.

Wot No Colin provides two functions, it is a superb live document that will act as a souvenir for the fan who went or couldn't make it, and it is the ideal primer for the EM or UtD novice who would like to point an ear [or preferably two] towards this type of music. UtD are no 'new age' merchants, this is full throttle synth music full of rhythm and melody, shimmering with cosmic vitality and innovation. Highly recommended!


Otarion - Faces Of The Night (NH032)

Otarion - Faces Of The NightI'm not sure if it's Neu Harmony's policy to keep the artists on their CDs anonymous, but this latest latest album by Otarion is as lacking in information on the inlay as the Omega Syndicate album was - though the artwork and graphics design on both albums is excellent, I must admit. Right, with that minor gripe aside, Faces Of The Night contains nine tracks of pretty upbeat electronica [not sure why but the title of an old Who album, Meaty, Beaty, Big 'n Bouncy kept flashing across the brainbox while listening to this album!], interspersed with some moody atmospheric periods. On the whole though this is an album where your bass woofers will undoubtedly be sorely tested and just a pair of tweeters will not be enough. In other words this is an album stuffed full of oomph that won't disappoint the electronica fan.

With a title such as Faces Of The Night it isn't surprising to find that the track titles also share a theme of darkness and the wee small hours: Nightfall, Mylene, Tower Of Darkness, Sleepwalker, Dreamcatcher, Pictures Of Dreams, Nightmare, Dancing In The Silver, and Morning Twilight, all include a hint of gothic seasoning in there with the synths and sequencers. This is a hugely enjoyable album, with enough melodies and atmosphere to initiate a replay as soon as it stops. Otarion certainly have a knack of coming up with a very commercial sound that should appeal to those who don't usually partake of microchip music.


The Omega Syndicate - Analogue Waves (NH033)

The Omega Syndicate - Analogue WavesI have no idea who the The Omega Syndicate are - the cd inlay is unusually reticent on offering any details other than the track titles. However, taking such a name means someone is a bit of a sci-fi fan and a lover of old synths... And with a playing time of over seventy-five minutes they have plenty of time to indulge themselves in the three tracks on show here.

The opening of the first track, Analogue Waves, is suitably spacey, with cosmic winds howling, synths bubbling and sampled voices sounding off in the next universe. A slowly building set of sequences come in just before the three minute mark and start to create a shifting pattern of rhythms and melodies. This is great stuff, very Tangerine Dream, but then all artists on Neu Harmony pretty much take the 70s/80s classic TD as their starting point. This track should be played loud and proud on the best speakers you have, its pounding stuff, I can tell you! Track two, 12:21 PM, starts off in very deep space, just drifting amongst the stars, dodging comets [as you do], until the sequences slowly edge in and there, I do believe, is a mellotron - haven't heard one of them in years! This track's a slow burner, taking a mid tempo trip around the solar system [if it's Friday its Saturn!]. The last track is called Dark Skies, and I have no idea if it is inspired by the sci-fi tv series of a few years back. Then again it does start with some suitably alien sounds and menacing rumbles - it's a long [an epic 34 minutes], brooding piece with a lot of pace.

So, Analogue Waves has it all, attitude and atmosphere. Highly recommended.


The Omega Syndicate - Apocalypse [NH038]

There is always a sense of heightened expectation when I receive a new Omega Syndicate album for review, their music is always adventurous and impressive in the extreme. And that is the case with their latest album on the Neu Harmony label, Apocalypse. Strangely enough, with an album title like that you'd expect the music to be rather doom laden and full of evil portents, but in reality it is quite an upbeat album full of light and shade, leaving the listener uplifted instead of waiting for the ferryman Charon and his dog Cerberus to carry you across the river Styx. The Omega Syndicate [henceforth TOS] are David Burr and Xan Alexander on synths, samplers and sequences, and Rob Clynes on guitars and special effects, who all display their talents across the five tracks: Apocalypse, The Lycanthropic Principle, Pixie's Playground, The Global Extinction Of The Wireless and Masque. TOS have released many fine albums on Neu Harmony and are prime participants of the electronic music sub genre 'the Berlin School', which basically means they take as their musical stylistic template the work of the late 70s/early 80s era Tangerine Dream. So long, cosmic dreamstates are the norm and this album has them in spades, with several lengthy excursions to listen to while sniffing up the Horlicks. The engineering on this album is excellent and if you have a hi-fi with large speakers you are in for a treat. Highly recommended!


Cosmic Sounds from Neu Harmony

Javi Canovas - Light Echoes [NH039]

I think this is the debut album by Javi Canovas on the Neu Harmony label and so I know absolutely nothing about him, apart from gleaning from the CD inlay that he may hail from either Spain or the Latin American diaspora. Light Echoes consists of three lengthy tracks, Light Echoes, Two Toned Rock On Mars and Interpherometry. The opening, title track, begins with some slow glacial cosmic sonics reminiscent of the type of music you can hear on albums from the Electroshock label - but here, rather than being the substance of an entire album, they quickly recede as a series of fast tempo sequences fade up and intertwine, taking over the track. The style and substance of this track and the others is 'Berlin School', but perhaps with a little added latin fervour to give the music an added intensity. And so with Light Echoes as the template for the remaining tracks, Javi Canovas has crafted an album of cosmic eloquence and elements of gothic atmosphere which raise it above the already high Neu Harmony benchmark of quality. A special mention for the highly distinctive graphic design for album inlay booklet and box - extremely effective in depicting the heart of the music, so kudos to Gaz, and I hope to see more of his work gracing future Neu Harmony albums.


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