ALBUM REVIEW: Five BC by Bruce Cohen

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https://www.tarockmusic.com/bruce_cohen/

Bruce Cohen is a musician and composer hailing from Philadelphia, with an interesting musical background. He was a founding member and keyboard player in The Reds who have played live with bands like The Police, Blondie, The Ramones and Public Image, amongst others. They have also released several successful albums.

As a solo artist, Bruce has been releasing material since 2009, and his music is essentially ambient electronica with elements of funk and acid house. He regards his influences as Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel and Klaus Schulze. This twelve track album, Five BC, is a continuation in a series of albums that started with his debut, One BC.

It starts with the chilled out acid house of Groovatronic, based around a punchy ‘four to the floor’ kick drum and syncopated, exotic percussion. Throughout the album, Cohen incorporates elements of tribal Latin and African style rhythms to great effect. The synths are subtle and float across the sonic spectrum, having a mesmeric effect. They are layered skilfully across the duration of the track, so that they are continually metamorphosing.

Kaiju is a distinct contrast, a loping, almost hip hop-esque beat as the backdrop for an instantly memorable high end synth riff, counterpointed by a rumbling dub synth bass. It sounds so modern that it could be straight from the production house of hip hop producers like Dr. Dre or Jay-Z. Once again, the track builds gradually across its six minute duration, with some wild synths towards the end.

Saturn Drift, as the title suggests, is a spaced out Brian Eno-style ambient instrumental. Cohen conjures up a magical soundscape that transports you as a listener and by the end you feel you are indeed orbiting Saturn. A sax-like synth melody meanders across the sonic haze, and the sense of displaced time is compelling.

Push Play is much more close to traditional electronica. Like Groovatronic, it’s based around a house beat with inventive use of percussion. The bassline has a very addictive melody, while circular synth patterns in the high end draw you in further. The final minute is a kaleidoscopic swirl of sonic Technicolor.

Silence is another ambient piece that takes you to distant realms in your imagination, Cohen weaving a potent spell with amorphous synths circling and swirling. The following Electric Samba is an unexpected contrast, an uptempo, funky groove that seems tailor made for the dance floor and recalls the Balearic house era of the 1990’s. The percussion patterns have an internal melody that grips the ear and the beat is simply irresistible. My personal favourite on the album.

Somber is an interesting blend of the two disparate styles, halfway between ambient and house, with a magical sounding melody interweaving amongst pulsing chordal synths. The contrasts keep coming with the hugely funky breakbeat funk of What Is It, which grabs you from its first seconds. A pitch shifted keyboard works in a pleasingly angular way to the sparse but effective Jah Wobble-esque bassline. Another highlight.

On The Road is different once more; a skittish, industrial beat is the bedrock for a moody low end synth while melodic fractals splinter and evolve across five and a half minutes in a hypnotic fashion. Sunday is half the length and the most sparse piece here, simply a low cello-like synth carving out a solemn, hymnal melody. Haunting.

No One takes us back into the world of exotic rhythm, an intricate beat full of percussive subtleties that get the top tapping. Gradually, a haze of synths take centre stage, conjuring an enigmatic vibe. The final track Requiem feels like a continuation, perhaps by design. It’s another ambient piece and the most mystical track on the album. For me, it gave me that same sense of quiet awe you might feel under a clear night sky and it leaves the listener feeling somewhat elated, a satisfying conclusion to a musical odyssey.

Overall, this album is a fascinating blend of eclectic styles within the electronica genre. Bruce Cohen has learned to master writing both the atmospheric ambient pieces and the uptempo tracks that employ elements of house and funk, as well as the rhythms of world music from different cultures. The result is an album full of twists and turns, inventive touches and transcendent moments. Ideal for those looking for the more sophisticated end of electronica, Bruce Cohen deserves recognition as a class act in his field and this album should help bring him to a wider audience.

 

VERDICT: 8.8 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: Supermoon Moonlight Part One by Forest Robots

Supermoon Moonlight Part One Cover_preview

https://www.forestrobots.com

Forest Robots is the musical brainchild of electronic artist and composer Fran Dominguez and this project has an interesting and unusual genesis. It began when he began pictorially documenting his travels to the Sierra Nevada mountain range. When his daughter was born, he started to attach narratives to his collections to teach his daughter about the wonders of nature. This led to feeling inspired to compose music to go with these narratives and Forest Robots was born.

This album, Supermoon Moonlight Part One, consists of ten instrumental tracks in the electronica/ambient genre. Dominguez cites various influences as musical inspiration, including electronic and ambient artists like Brian Eno, Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada but also artists like Nick Drake, David Bowie and Radiohead. His overall intention with this album is to inspire a love of nature and encourage people to preserve our natural lands.

It opens with the haunting A Path In The Woods, which melds beautiful harp-like melodies with a skittish, complex electronica beat and atmospheric synths. It builds gradually, developing into a shimmering soundscape that has a pleasingly hypnotic effect. A captivating way to start the album.

Second track, Times When I Know You Will Watch The Sky, Pt.1, is even more dreamy. Consisting of interweaving melodic patterns and a subtle but highly intricate beat, the swirling glockenspiel-esque synth sounds create a magical tapestry which immerses the listener and instils a meditative mood.

Shapes Shift In The Distant Shadows maintains the mood and is another five minute track, though  this one is somewhat closer to mainstream electronica. It is built around a laid back four-to-the-floor rhythm, which develops into something restlessly inventive with all manner of syncopations and rhythmical intricacies flitting in and out of the mix. It is held together by the constancy of synth melodies which hold the attention till the end.

Fourth track Last Slivers of Moonlight is rather different. A moody, minimalistic and repetitive but addictive melody manoeuvres through some unusual harmonic changes and modulations and it brought to mind Philip Glass’s classical/ambient masterpiece Koyaanisqatsi. It shares the same restlessness and intensity, perfectly capturing the mood of a late night moon.

The beautifully titled Silhouettes Follow The Echoes then takes us into a more traditional electronic realm, developing into a Jean Michel Jarre-esque ambient journey with a pulsing beat. The high-end synth melodies add a lot of atmosphere, giving the music a crystalline texture. It’s perhaps the most instant track here and would make great soundtrack music.

Things turn rather weird and wonderful with the mindbending Then The Spider Turned Into A Cloud. With just a sparse but subtly intricate glitch beat, a lead melody drifts across the top, constantly morphing and pitch bending. It has a rather disorientating effect, but also induces the enjoyable otherworldly feeling you get from the best 60’s psychedelia.

And there’s more than a touch of the psychedelic in these titles, as shown by seventh track Mandelbrots In Winter. Mandelbrot was the 20th century mathematician who pioneered fractal theory and so this is presumably a musical depiction of snowflakes or other fractal shapes found in nature in winter. It’s one of the more opaque tracks, with an ominous bassline that never quite goes where you expect, melodically.

White Birds Dream of Dawn and Wind returns to more melodic climes, with a cluster of intertwining, soaring synth melodies set to a funky beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on a hip hop record. This is one of the strongest arrangements and melodies on the album, with subtle musique concrete low in the mix helping to retaini the album’s consistent air of mystery.

Ninth track By The Stillness Of The Lake is as tranquil and beatific as the title suggests, though at only one minute long it acts as a prelude to the last track, Follow The Towers To The Moon.

This one has a unique vibe, with a quirky, rubber-band bassline and a rather groovy Daft Punk-style beat. It somehow seems to combine the cumulative styles displayed across the album in a grand finale, with a fireworks display of synergistic synth melodies deployed in a dazzlingly tapestry. It’s an apposite way to complete what’s felt like an epic sonic adventure.

Overall, this is a fascinating album that manages to give seemingly abstract instrumental music a sense of narrative and progression. This has been achievable due to the authentic inspiration of experiencing nature, which kick-started the whole project. The quality of the composition and production is first rate, which is all the more impressive as Fran Dominguez does it all himself, entirely. Fans of ambient and music lovers, in general, will find much to enjoy here and hopefully will feel inspired themselves to go out and appreciate nature in all its glory.

 

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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E.P. REVIEW: World Of Illusions by Reflected Illusions

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http://reflectedillusions.net/

Reflected Illusions is the musical brainchild of composer/producer Rez from Toronto, Canada. This music project is in the Electro/Ambient/Experimental category with an emphasis on exploring sonic textures and atmospheres to create unique soundscapes.

The first album by Reflected Illusions, Psychosis, was released in 2004. After a quiet period, the EP Radio Waves was released in 2016, followed by Private Files Volumes 1 & 2 in the same year.

This year, 2018, sees the release of this five track EP, World Of Illusions. It begins with the four minute Narcotics, which is evocative from the start. Haunting, eerie strings combine with a simple but effective Rhodes-esque rising chord sequence.

Gradually, the sonic texture builds with subtle rhythmic patterns which become more prominent and develops into an intricate beat that drives the whole track forward. It is aptly named, as it has a mesmeric, drowsy and dreamy quality that someone on narcotics may experience! It ends with just the disembodied strings floating away, as if into outer space.

This sense of otherworldliness continues into the title track, which comes next. This one is like a very blissed out version of EDM, with a steady four-to-the-floor beat kicking in after a spectral introduction of icy synths. The syncopated, filtered synths allow the kick to breathe, while a tapestry of melodies weave their way in and out to create a hypnotic and compelling sonic journey.

This flows seamlessly, no doubt by design, into the psychedelic sound world of Waterfalls of Babylon. The magical, swirling and echoing synth sounds that reminded  me of The Orb’s ambient classic Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld. A complex glitch beat gradually starts to evolve across the track, which works as a nice contrast after the relative rhythmic simplicity of World of Illusions.

Fourth track Overdose is darker, with moody low-end organ and a fuzzy toned ominous sounding bassline over a sparse, angular rhythm and enigmatic Rhodes chords. Again, its an interesting contrast to the preceding tracks and perhaps the most mysterious one here, bringing to mind the more ambient moments of Radiohead .

The final track is Hydrocodone, which sonically manages to sound like the previous four tracks blended together. It fuses spacey, crystalline synths with darker edged low end synths and a haunting, sombre chord progression over a skittish, restless rhythm. The suspenseful atmosphere it creates keeps the listener gripped until the end.

Overall, this is a fascinating musical journey that takes the listener into some unchartered sonic territory, like all good art should do. It is impressive how cohesive and seamless the five tracks work together in a synergistic way. For those looking for high quality and original ambient music, look no further.

 

VERDICT: 8.8 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: 120 Onetwenty by Daniel Biro

 

Daniel-Biro

A signed, limited edition of this album is available from Daniel Biro’s official website, click HERE.

Daniel Biro is a musician, composer and producer based in London. He was originally trained in jazz but his creative output has expanded into an eclectic array of genres including ambient, prog rock, psychedelia and fusion, to name just a few. These diverse sonic explorations have been fuelled by his love of analog synthesizers and other electronic sounds.

He has numerous film and TV credits to his name including work for the BBC, numerous award winning short films and the score for the film Things of the Aimless Wanderer, which was featured in several film festivals. Aside from his solo work, he plays live in two bands, an electric psychedelic jazz band called Mysteries Of The Revolution and an ambient improv band Echo Engine.

His influences are wide ranging as you expect; jazz greats like Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, progressive rock like King Crimson and Tangerine Dream, ambient and instrumental artists like Brian Eno, Vangelis and Mike Oldfield. The influence of minimalist composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass should not be underestimated.

An understanding of these various artists is important in fully appreciating Daniel Biro’s nuanced music. This album, 120 Onetwenty, is an hour long musical odyssey that has taken six years to complete. It consists of ten tracks of varying duration, mostly under the category of ‘epic’ and has been produced entirely with Biro’s collection of vintage analog keyboards. This shows in the overall sound which is rich and full, as opposed to the digital sonic thinness of much mainstream electronic music.

Opening track Door is one of the shortest and serves as an introduction to Biro’s sonic universe. It sets a mood instantly, a soundscape that disorientates the listener by somehow standing outside space and time. Once this dislocation has been accepted, the music feels meditative and psychedelic in the most profound sense. Pitch shifting synths that sound like futuristic war sirens create a mesmerizing mood, mingling with delicate splashes of Rhodes piano, one of Biro’s favourite sounds.

Second track Ancient is the one of the ‘epics’. It’s a masterpiece in slow musical development, building in complexity naturally and gradually like Mike Oldfield’s finest work, though more minimalistic in style. The way the music grows and expands organically, almost symphonically, shows the influence of classical composers like Reich and Philip Glass. It also brought to mind the other worldliness of The Orb’s ambient classic double album Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld.

The main melody doesn’t begin for 6 minutes and then really starts cooking, continuing seamlessly into Nimbus. It begins with an arpeggio-based chord sequence on Rhodes before being joined by an airy high-end synth melody that makes the listener feel they are orbiting roughly around Betelgeuse. Flashes of organ act as a nice textural counterpoint to the more spacey synth tones.

The pulsating 6/8 rhythm continues and progresses in fourth track Itinerarium. Musically, it’s the exact halfway point between jazz and electronica, with a complex bass drum pattern gradually emerging as several themes and textures combine in a polyphonic spree (good name for a band?). It then breaks down into a fantastic Rhodes section, with some superb xylophone-esque melodies floating across the sonic spectrum. It slowly dies away like the embers of a fire, bringing this overall section to a close.

Fifth track Embark grips from the outset, with a catchy chugging synth riff combining with an excellent high-end melody that morphs through several sounds. This time the rhythm is an insistent groove in 4/4 that really explodes around the two minute mark. This piece is a good example of Biro’s unique fusion of genres; if pushed I’d classify it as ambient psychedelic jazz/electronica, but really it defies categorization!

Seventh track Levitator starts out hauntingly with a sparse use of sound and space  then unfolds with a superbly controlled natural sense of musical development. It eventually reaches an astonishing crescendo and climax that actually makes you feel you’re levitating. The synth sounds at this point are mind blowing, the music having an emphatic grandeur all the more effective for the understated style that precedes it. This one is my personal favourite.

Seventh track Barren is a wonderful piece of musical impressionism that conjures up the image of being marooned on an alien planet that’s, well, barren. Its mysterious atmosphere brought to mind some of the more abstract moments of Holst’s classic suite The Planets. The following Immortal is equally dreamlike and gives the impression of gently floating through space forever. Once again, it slowly develops into a spinning web of intricate themes and melodies.

Ninth track Returning is a continuation once again with the nicely overdriven electric piano having an almost guitar-like edginess to the tone, which adds a little grit to the overall sound. Spatial, reverb-drenched synth strings give this track an almost orchestral feel which certainly adds to the epic vibe. The music catches fire around the six minute mark, some fabulous speaker-panning swirling sounds creating an intoxicating effect.

The closing piece Outside strips things right down to a sparse, enigmatic soundscape….the sound of gentle rolling waves and the most subtle of melodic themes, while a plethora of sounds from outer space float around as if suspended in mid air. It feels like a suitably mysterious finale for what has been an epic musical voyage.

Overall, this is a highly ambitious but perfectly executed electronica/ambient album. It highlights the importance of the album as an art form, as this work takes the listener on a sonic adventure where the sequence and arrangement of the tracks form a symphonic whole. It’s an album that rewards the listeners investment of attention, and gives the magical feeling of being transported to another place. To fans of this kind of music it will be adored, but it deserves to be appreciated on a much wider scale. If you’re looking for a unique musical experience, look no further than Daniel Biro’s 120 Onetwenty.

 

VERDICT: 9.2 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

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