Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Rational Youth - "Live 1983" 2xCD

Synthpop resuscitation

Rescued from cassette oblivion by electro-industrial label ArtOfFact and Rational Youth synth keyboardist Kevin Komoda, this double-set captures the Canadian synthpop pioneers at the height of their powers, in 2 shows from Winnipeg and Ottawa.

The first disc is the Winnipeg set, and it contains 15 tracks of electro-pop that's as well-done as anything out there of it's era. Having no previous experience with this influential group (shame on me), I hear pretty much what I'd expect --  synths, live drums and guitars, and sensitive, melodic vocals. Regional hits like "Dancing On The Berlin Wall" or "Holidays In Bangkok" sound crisp and clean, and as with all of this disc, it's of a superb recording quality. 

The second disc is "Live In Ottawa", and though it features a similar set as the Winnipeg disc, it's also a superb archival recording, somewhere between audience bootleg and soundboard quality. 

Rational Youth's music is best compared to their peers, Vancouver synthpop darlings Images In Vogue (who gained notoriety for opening a show for Duran Duran and for giving Kevin Crompton a boost towards his Skinny Puppy future). Sadly, Rational Youth never achieved the status of notoriety of IIV, and they remain but a footnote in Canadian pop music history. For fans, this is a must-hear set, and for unfamiliar listeners like myself, it's a good education.

Klaus Schulze & Lisa Gerrard - "Big In Europe 2009 Vol. 1 - Warsaw" 2xDVD+CD

Wonderful live collaboration from 2 legends

This live document of electronic pioneer Klaus Schulze features his sometime-collaborator Lisa Gerrard (she of Dead Can Dance and soundtrack fame), and it's a wonderful combination of Schulze's cinematic textures and Gerrard's evocative, ethereal vocal stylings.

Opening with the Schulze's moody, string-laden "Voices Of Weilun", and continuing into the uplifting, aerial textures of "Kampania Wrzesniowa", Gerrard joins in for the 28-minute "Selbsterkennede Ganzwerdung", where she takes the forefront among Schulze's ambient sounds and synth percolations. "A La Recherche Du Printemps Perdu" again showcases Schulze's classic Berlin-style sequencer work, before Gerrard rejoins for the solemn 10-minute closer, "The Da Varsaw Code".

The first DVD is simply a pro-shot video of the same concert, recorded during the duo's 2009 European tour in Warsaw. It's a well-done video capture, and shows the pair's brilliance in their respective fields -- Schulze the synth pioneer and analogue wizard, and Gerrard's unearthly, mystical, glossolalia. Together, they blend their respective talents into a cosmic ambiance that could only come from these pioneers.

DVD2 is "A Moogumentary", produced and directed by James L. Franchon, (the same videographer as the concert). But rather than being a documentary about the Moog synthesizer itself (as I somehow expected initially), this is a look behind the scenes of this unique concert, and we get to meet the forces behind the show, from Schulze's road crew to the concert organizers. In-between, interviews with both Schulze and Gerrard give insights into their collaborations. It's 50 minutes of fascinating visuals and sounds, and a perfect nightcap for viewing after the show.

My only complaint is the awful, bootleg-looking cover design. What's up with all that big, intrusive, off-balance lettering? That aside, "Big In Europe Vol. 1" is a lovely, warm and inviting set of Schulze's famous electronic textures with Gerrard's unmistakably unique voice.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Napalm Death - "Enemy Of The Music Business Plus Leaders Not Followers" CD

Fine return to form from grind legends...

Combining the band's 2000 album and attendant EP of classic covers, this 57-minute disc opens with the corrosive "Taste The Poison", which signaled a welcome return to form from the Birmingham-based grindcore legends. 

The tracks to follow prove equally worthy, being extreme clots of aggressive post-metal noise & grindcore. "Vermin" captures the unbridled spirit of Napalm's punk/metal roots, being an ultra-speed-fueled ride, complete with clearly-mixed instruments and Barney Greenway's primal, gutteral vocals. "Volume Of Neglect" features a seriously amazing blur of bass-heavy drums and guitar that rivals the band's earliest work. I could go on, and sure, each song is pretty similar, but that's the beauty of Napalm Death. Discount their shaky death metal period, and the countless lineup changes, and you have one of the most stalwart of their crossover breed. "Enemy of The Music Business" is a solid and exemplary work from the band, and offers crunchy clots of abundantly aggressive metal/punk/grindcore noise that just doesn't relent. 

"Leaders Not Followers" is an EP of covers, including works by Napalm influences like Raw Power, Repulsion, Death, and Dead Kennedys. It's refreshing to hear the band making pretty reverential and faithful covers of their heroes -- yet still maintaining that inimitable Napalm blend of blur and bluster. I wasn't familiar much with most of these underground classics, but the cover of the DK's "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" is just classic. 

Napalm Death site