Artist: Lights Album: The Listening Genre(s): Electronic Subgenres(s): Synthpop Released: 2009 Length: 43 minutes Language(s): English Label(s): Universal Music, Sire Records
02. Drive My Soul
04. The Listening
07. The Last Thing on Your Mind
08. Second Go
09. February Air
10. Face Up
13. Pretend (Reprise)
Lights The Listening Cover
Lights The Listening Review
The Listening is the debut album of Canadian synthpop solo artist Lights. It is a low key outing that puts her voice, which is so sickly sweet that it could give you diabetes, at the front and centre of each song. This isn’t inherently a bad thing but the music itself can feel secondary at times and this approach leads itself into a by-the-numbers result when looking at this in the context of a full album.
Saviour introduces the listener to The Listening and sets the tone nicely while also making use of auto-tune software that isn’t necessary because Lights has a voice that should be able to stand on its own merits. It is also prominent on the title song and its use might simply be a by-product of the pop trend for auto-tuning voices that arose in the mid to late 2000s. All but two songs are under three and a half minutes long so their shortness will lend itself to a good amount of replay value on individual songs rather than as a whole album.
Both Pretend and The Last Thing on Your Mind take on a downbeat mood and feature an acoustic guitar which adds to the sincerity of the performance with the latter breaking out of the mould further by having a distorted guitar playing in the crescendo to the finale. This also has Lights singing far more intensely over a comparatively rapid paced beat and makes it a standout moment for the album. Being placed in the middle of the album, it is a good way to break up the pacing although it would have made for a better closing song.
Lights sounds rabid in her choppy delivery of the second verse of Ice and combined with the frantic synthesiser part that follows it, it quickly becomes a stand out moment like Pretend (Reprise), a reimagining of Pretend as a piano ballad that strips away all of the polish associated with the synthpop sound and gives a glimpse into another side to Lights.
Many listeners will undoubtedly be won over by Lights’ voice alone but since The Listening has Lights and her co-producers working within certain parameters and only ever tip-toe across the line, which is what yields some of their best results, it shows that there is room for growth.
Lights: Vocals, production (all tracks) Thomas Salter: Production (tracks 1–3, 5, 6, 10, 11, 14, 15) Dave Thomson: Production (tracks 4, 7–9, 12, 16) The Angry Kids: Additional production (track 15)
Artist: Mortiis Album: The Smell of Rain Genre(s): Electronic Subgenres(s): Synthpop Released: 2001 Length: 51 minutes Language(s): English Label(s): Earache Records
01. Scar Trek/Parasite God
02. Flux/Mental Maelstrom
03. Spirit in a Vacuum
05. You Put a Hex on Me
06. Everyone Leaves
09. Smell the Witch
Mortiis The Smell of Rain Cover
Mortiis The Smell of Rain Review
The Smell of Rain is the 6th studio album by Norwegian solo artist Mortiis. This also marks the first and only entry of “Era 2” Mortiis in which he makes an unexpected transition from dark ambient music to synthpop.
This is also the first album wherein Mortiis assumes the role as lead vocalist and while he doesn’t possess the same vocal range or confidence that comes along further into his career, it’s not enough to outright dismiss his performance either. He also enlists additional vocalists including Sarah Jezebel Deva, of Cradle of Filth and Therion fame, for dramatic choral and solo arrangements that are laced together with straightforward distorted guitar work.
Scar Trek/Parasite God addresses contempt for God as Mortiis decries peoples willingness to “…sacrifice themselves/to the locust master, to the one that drowned the world” while saying “yet they crucify me,” presumably for having a simple difference of opinion on theological concerns. Many of the lyrics in other songs revolve around themes of alienation and angst while the final song, Smell the Witch, is more fantasy themed and less detailed in its narrative by comparison.
This is then followed by a two-part song found in Flux/Mental Maelstrom and Spirit in a Vacuum, which adds up to nearly 12 minutes between them, showing that Mortiis hasn’t lost his penchant for longer compositions in their entirety just yet. The long durations of many songs found on The Smell of Rain is also a point of contention due to the fact that they simply don’t need to be as long as they are and a more refined approach would have gone a long way in streamlining the overall presentation of the album.
Monolith breaks the synthpop framework for a dramatic piano and percussion driven number that brings the distorted guitar to the forefront for the bridge of the song and Everyone Leaves is a depressing synth-driven ballad that shows Mortiis at his most defeated as he describes the futility of loss found in the refrain in which he states “everyone leaves. In the end. Everything dies. In the end. It doesn’t matter how hard you hold on.” The build-up in the last minute of the latter song is merciful after around 6 minutes of mope but this song is easily the most stretched out.
Thankfully Mortiis bounces back from Everyone Leaves, particularly on Antimental and Smell the Witch. Both songs feature a cello and violin combined with the synthpop sound Mortiis has crafted but they are far more dramatic and intense than the other songs found on this album. The ending of the final track (Smell the Witch) is sudden but fitting and it will leave you with a good impression of The Smell of Rain, which will have undoubtedly alienated plenty of long-time Mortiis fans on its release but it is an important step in his musical evolution.
Mortiis: Lead vocal, keyboards, synthesizers, synth programming, drum programming Martina Binder: Additional lead vocal Sarah Jezebel Deva: Vocal harmonies, soprano vocals Mika Lindberg, “Raptor”, Suvi-Tuulia Virtanen: Alto vocals Chris A: Guitars Alzahr: Bass Staffan Wieslander, Asa Anveden: Cello Cecilia Lindgren, Johanna Wetter: Violin Frederik Bergstrom: Tympani, percussion
Artist: Leaether Strip Album: Civil Disobedience Genre(s): Electronic Subgenres(s): Electronic Body Music (EBM) Released: 2008 Length: 69 minutes (CD 1), 72 minutes (CD 2) Language(s): English, German Label(s): Alfa Matrix
Track List (CD 1):
01. Civil Disobedience
02. The Damaged People
03. When Blood Runs Dark
04. Bite Until You Taste Blood
05. Jagtvej 69
06. Going Nowhere
07. I Said I’m Sorry
08. Pissing on My Territory
09. It Hurts Doesn’t It
10. One Day
11. The Devil’s Daughter
Track List (CD 2):
01. A Whore for Jesus
02. I Wear Black on the Inside
03. Machineries of Joy (Die Krupps Cover)
05. Soul Collector
06. Could Ya, Did Ya
07. In the Arms of a Demon
08. One More Reason
09. The Cradle of Death
11. The Evil in Putin’s Eyes
Leaether Strip Civil Disobedience Cover
Leaether Strip Civil Disobedience Review
Civil Disobedience is the 11th studio album (and second double album) by Danish Electronic Body Music (EBM) artist Leaether Strip. Claus Larsen, the sole architect behind Leaether Strip, guarantees two things with Civil Disobedience with the first being a tour-de-force in aggressive dance music paired with subversive lyrics that paint a grim reality.
This is noteworthy early on with The Damaged People, wherein Claus Larsen lists off vignettes of suffering ranging from “the village idiot who made us laugh/until he raped a girl behind the bike shed” to “the dead man on the second floor/no one noticed he was gone until the smell came” and “the gay teenager killing himself/because his parents told him what the world does to faggots”. The last of those could possibly be a reference to his teenage years in which he was in danger of taking his life*.
On the first CD Claus Larsen’s voice ranges from confrontational snarls and shouts to outraged cries of distress (on Going Nowhere in particular) but on the second CD he often sounds more even tempered by comparison. The distorted vocal effects are still implemented across Civil Disobedience in varying degrees to compliment the militant attitude of the music. Some songs also contain voice samples to introduce a lyrical theme with The Cradle of Death, from the second CD, being the most explicit as it is presumably a recording of a soldier or journalist who recalls seeing “scores of people who had been killed, women who had been gang-raped” to “men who had been castrated and been left to bleed to death” … “those are things that we would see nearly every day”.
On the surface you could accuse Claus Larsen of using mere shock value to grab some attention but at the same time it’s entirely possible that this is the result of someone venting his own frustrations with the troubled world he observes. On the politically conscious title track he observes that “politicians use unfair tactics/to scare the people with convenient lies/they want two sides to go against each other/to make us pick the side they want” and Jagtvej 69 addresses the riots in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2007 following the closure and demolition of the Ungdomshuset (The Youth House).
Tired and true loud/soft dynamics with a heavier industrial music influence are used to up the aggressive ante on this song. Starting with a sample of protesters shouting and chanting, the soft piano motif poignantly overlaps them only to be cut down by caustic industrial stylings before it abruptly stops for a haunting solo vocal performance with only soft crackling noises of a fire to create a tense yet sombre atmosphere. The electronic elements are also present in other parts of the song and when they’re used subtly alongside the piano the end result is unquestionably one of Civil Disobedience’s finest moments.
Could Ya, Did Ya is an electro-industrial flavoured song that brings the electric guitar to the forefront and begins with a sarcastic sit-com skit whereas Stains takes a rather gothic twist with an organ arrangement that goes on for a good 3 minutes before the thumping dance beats reappear. There is also a cover of Machineries of Joy, originally by Die Krupps, on the second CD that is sung in both English and German but doesn’t forgo the awkward moaning sounds and manages to be about 2 minutes longer than the original. This leads right into the second guarantee of the Civil Disobedience album: the unholy length of each CD.
The running time of the first CD is 69 minutes and the second is 72 minutes. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that on average each song is nearly 6.5 minutes long so not only will each CD test your patience, there is also the practical question of having the time to be able to sit down and listen to either half properly.
These are some obvious negatives that could have easily been addressed by releasing each CD as a separate album or by shortening some of the songs because the likes of Pissing on My Territory is the shortest song on the album (4 minutes and 43 seconds compared to several that are between 6 and 8 minutes) yet it has some of the most replay value for this very reason.
While Civil Disobedience can feel stretched out on both halves of the album, it shouldn’t diminish the positive qualities found in the dark lyricism that is melded with the spirit of punk rock, particularly in the vocal department, and aggressive dance music because it is a powerful combination that deserves a larger spotlight.
Artist: Ulver Album: Metamorphosis Genre(s): Ambient, Electronic, Trip Hop Subgenres(s): Dark Ambient, Trance Released: 1999 Length: 25 minutes Language(s): English Label(s): Jester Records
01. Of Wolves and Vibrancy
03. Limbo Central (Theme from Perdition City)
04. Of Wolves and Withdrawal
Ulver Metamorphosis Cover
Ulver Metamorphosis Review
Metamorphosis is the first EP by Ulver. Following the release of the diverse “Themes from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” double album a year earlier, Metamorphosis acts as both a stepping stone in the bands musical legacy and as a statement to their fans – more specifically the fans of their metal albums who didn’t like Ulver’s change in direction. Before you get to the music you can find a message in the CD case stating that “Ulver is obviously not a black metal band and does not wish to be stigmatized as such…” to try and cut ties with the heavy metal community as it becomes quite evident that they no longer want to play metal or be associated with the scene any longer since the Themes album apparently didn’t send a clear enough message.
In the event that the written message got overlooked Ulver went out of their way to shake off any lingering detractors and made it as clear as possible by writing an all-out trance song called Of Wolves and Vibrancy to start the EP. After starting with some moody ambience the song proves to live up to its name when it kicks into life and since it is the only trance song in their catalogue, it gives the distinct impression of being a statement to further separate them from the heavy metal scene.
Another twist comes with the second song, Gnosis, which combines dark ambient with trip hop and features lyrics from Bad Blood, a poem by the French author Rimbaud. For Ulver’s take on the poem it is sung entirely in English by Kristoffer Rygg who worked under the pseudonym Trickster G. on this EP. It is the only song to contain any vocals and Limbo Central (Theme from Perdition City) is another trip hop song with a more abrasive and experimental edge. As implied by the songs subtitle, this is the genre that would be embraced on their next album, Perdition City.
Of Wolves and Vibrancy is an up tempo song, as implied by the name, so it follows on that Of Wolves and Withdrawal would be subdued in comparison. This proves to be true as Ulver crafted a 9 minute dark ambient song that is nearly impossible to hear unless you turn your speakers all the way up. You half expect a sudden dramatic shift in sound that will deafen you because of this as well as the eerie nature of the song, which doesn’t do you any favours in this respect. The song ebbs along slowly and proves to be a convincing effort but the decision to make the recording so quiet for one song is still questionable.
There aren’t any stepping stones between Ulver’s black metal/folk era and their Themes album so in this instance the Metamorphosis EP gives the listener an opportunity to look at their transformation and embracement of electronically produced music. If nothing else this EP, which spans 3 distinct genres, proves that Ulver are more like chameleons than their namesake (wolves in Norwegian) at this point in their career.
Trickster G: Various instruments Tore Ylwizaker: Various instruments Havard Jorgensen: Various instruments