Favorite Albums of 2017(so far) : Maine’s ‘V’

There’s been a gradual shift in my brain over the last few years to music that doesn’t necessarily tell a story through words more than through mood. Listen, I grew up devouring the Beatles, Rush, the Kinks, Flaming Lips, Radiohead, Wilco, and the list goes on. I was a song guy. I was moved by stories and words and grand musical statements in the classic songwriting tradition. I still love the songwriting tradition and even do it myself when time allows, but over the last three to four years I’ve found myself drawn to instrumental music. In-particular, heavy synth music. There’s something about synth music that feels ingrained into my DNA that I hadn’t known was there till about four years ago when I bought Walter Rizatti’s score for House By The Cemetery. The last time I’d heard that music was when I was probably 14 years old when I first watched Fulci’s trashy classic. Hearing it again at the ripe middle age of 39 I felt there was something that I’d unlocked in my head that had been stuck up there since that balmy summer night all those years ago. That music instantly connected with me. There was no warming up period. It just instantly hit me.

From that point on I began grabbing as many of those Italian horror scores as I could, and expanded into newer artists that had a kinship with the synth and all things eerie and Gothic. I’m always looking for someone who can move me with a turn of a melody, hypnotic repetition, and who can create a sonic world where I’m quite comfortable spending time in. One person new on my musical radar that can do all of those in spades is Michel Dupay, aka MAINE. While a lot of synth music is a synthetic creation, built on circuits, wires, tubes, and buzzing waves of noise, Dupay takes a much  more organic approach to his heavy synth sound. According to his Bandcamp page, MAINE’s music is “Fiercely analogue, pre-midi musique from Montmartre, Paris.” A lot of electronic music uses midi to help create and build songs. It’s a process by which an artist can connect and sync several pieces of electronic tools and gadgets allowing a pristine connection of different musical pieces. Dupay is creating music the old fashioned way, by performing these songs as a band without the safety net of midi and syncing.

“He makes music the old fashioned way. He performs it.” – John Houseman.

I’d seen Burning Witches Records talking MAINE’s new album V up quite a bit over the summer. A couple months ago I finally got around to checking it out and I was absolutely blown away by the record. It hits every dark, melancholy tone just right. It’s a slow burn LP, too. It allows you to work your way into the album gradually as to savor the bits and pieces without overindulging. You find new things to love each time you drop the needle. There’s something very European about the sound. It’s quietly alluring and subtly dance floor-ready. Something like the vinyl-only “Black Cloud” feels like a slow cloud rolling in over the Parisian sun. “La Pluie” evokes visions of cobblestone streets, centuries-old villages, and seaside walks. “Cadence” has a very early-80s vibe. Something that might have accompanied the opening credits to a “Satanic Panic” occult film. “Below The Landslide(featuring Nina)” is an exquisite piece of synth music. With the addition of vocals it becomes something far more emotional and engaging. “The World Without” is pure desolate beauty, like a slow crawl through some dystopian landscape. “I Never Wanted to Write These Words down for You” gives you the feeling of waking from some long, ancient rest. Tremolo-effected electric piano gives the track an almost pop sensibility. It’s like the moment when the clouds break and there’s shards of light hitting the earth once again.

This record is so sonically rich. It has the production value of an early 70s Alan Parsons production. There’s an aged refinement that permeates the record I can’t get enough of. It’s dark, but there’s a warmth in the songs. Like early OMD obsessed with Vangelis. The production and engineering is almost like another instrument altogether.

V is an hypnotic listening experience. There are not overwrought explosions of sound. It’s all very cool and calculated. Some tracks feel as if they feed right into the next, giving you the experience of one long, musical piece rather than individual shots of songs. The album’s organic nature only adds to the feeling that these songs sprung up from the earth. Dupay masterfully weaves these songs together like a Gothic tapestry for us to wrap ourselves in and embrace whatever journey they’re going to take us on. I cannot recommend V enough. It’s a masterpiece of restraint and storied beauty.

Buy the album right here.

 

One More F*****g Synthesizer Album

As if I didn’t have enough of these dated sounding synthesizer-heavy records, I had to go out buy one more. You know, I think if you threw these on the record player and played them for me blindfolded I wouldn’t be able to tell any of them apart. Why? Because once you’ve heard one antiquated keyboard you’ve heard them all, right? Jesus. How much money am I going to blow on these records? At this point we probably could’ve sent at least one of our children through college with the money I’ve handed over to various independent record companies, diy artists, and small mom and pop brick and mortars. My children won’t get an education, but hey they can sit around and listen to spooky synth albums to their hearts desire. What if their hearts don’t desire to do that? Well, I guess they could just sell my collection of synth albums and then put themselves through a trade school. Or at least buy a textbook that would help them pass their GED exam.

You know what? I’m being pretty hard on myself. I buy these album because I like them. I appreciate what the artist is doing. I appreciate all the time that was spent creating these eerie and sometimes haunting pieces that are committed to beautifully colored vinyl(sometimes in multiple variants even.) And these homegrown record companies that believe in these bedroom musicians and back them…these same bedroom musicians that still live at their parents house and don’t have a real job other than occasionally selling weed to high school kids in the Pizza Hut parking lot on Tuesdays through Fridays. Those independent record companies give hope to otherwise hapless, naive, clueless musicians that can’t get over the fact that they’ll never be more than a weed peddler. Selling weed to local tweakers and high school dropouts that say those demo tapes said musician/weed peddler gave to them are “rad” and “totally awesome” and “sounds like that Halloween dude” only because they want some free weed. I mean, these synth dudes don’t even play out. You can’t go see them unless they’re holding a concert in their mom and stepdad’s basement, and that’s only when their mom and stepdad are getting along, or aren’t having friends over for a euchre tournament.

Hey, but why am I judging? I love these records. Only the deepest of souls can create that sort of haunting music. The kind of music that takes you from your current surroundings and puts you in another place and time. Musical narratives that tell tales of post-apocalyptic wastelands, murderous souls, psychic zombies, and new age-y scientists messing with DNA and creating monsters from our own ambition. Sure, that may sound pretentious…ridiculous even…but sometimes we need ridiculous to get us through the day. Sometimes a little escapism is just what the doctor ordered. We can’t play this game called life 24/7 without eventually losing our marbles. We need distraction. We need an alternate route to shake things up. I’ll take my route with a moog and a side of sci fi, thank you very much.

Besides, what’s it to you? Why do you care about how I consume my escapism? It’s a very personal thing, you know. I don’t go judging you about all the money you spend on those Magic: The Gathering cards, or the hundreds of dollars you spend a year on sports tickets and $10 warm beers at those games. Or how about the money you dump in video games and video game consoles? Really? Have you even played all those games that are stacked in your closet? Because I’ve spun every record in my collection…multiple times, pal. And by the way, how does that little sports car handle in winter? That midlife crisis mobile you cruise around in. You do realize we live in Indiana, right? But hey, I’m not judging. I wouldn’t judge the guy with the internet porn habit, either. No sir. Not me. Just because you like watching chimps in diapers spanking a woman dressed like a nurse in a nun’s habit doesn’t mean you’re sick in the head or anything.

Wait, actually I think it kinda does make you sick in the head.

Editors Note: The views in this article do not reflect those of Jhubner73.com or any of its subsidiaries. We here at Jhubner73.com stand behind those bedroom keyboardists trying to make a living at doing what they love. The individual that wrote this piece is disturbed and all messed up on some free weed he got from some musician that lives in his parents basement. That musician plays the tuba, not the synth. He’s disturbed and needs help. Once again, we here at Jhubner73.com do not endorse anything that was stated in this article.

Well, unless you do like watching a chimp in a diaper spank a woman dressed like a nurse wearing a nun’s habit. That’s completely sick and you should seek out help immediately. Jesus, is that how your mom raised you? You should be ashamed. 

 

 

 

 

Stenzel’s Dune

So I’m sitting in my recliner in my pajamas feeling a few steps above chopped liver and I’m listening to the soundtrack Jodorowsky’sIMG_1387 Dune by Kurt Stenzel. How did I get to this record? What possessed me to order such a thing? Well first let me go down some Nyquil and I’ll explain. Be right back…..

Okay, so here’s the scoop. First of all, I’ve never seen an Alejandro Jodorowsky film in my life. I know my life won’t be complete until I see El Topo or Holy Mountain, but until then I’ll just have to make due by listening to a soundtrack to a documentary about Alejandro’s attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s Dune to the big screen. That seems like a lot of “inspired by”, but if you stick around it’s worth it. This album is amazing.

Frank Pavich made a documentary that detailed Jodo’s attempt at making Dune, which was pretty much doomed from the start(his penned screenplay was the size of a phone book, and would’ve been a 14+hour movie.) Jodo had also spent $2 million of the $9.5 million budget just in pre-production. Needless to say, nobody wanted to back this project and it was ultimately left in the great “What if?” pile. Pavich felt this would be an interesting doc and contacted his longtime pal Kurt Stenzel to create some music for the film. Stenzel gathered up a list of analog noisemakers he’s had for years, both vintage and junky, and put together an amazing array of drone-y, mood-altering, and dreamy soundscapes that are on par with some of the best synth work I’ve heard in a long time. Part Lucifer Rising and part The Shining with a healthy dose of Klaus Schulze for good measure, the pieces on this double LP represent both the best of incidental and getting lost in the ether.

Stenzel said “Listening to Jodo’s narration -his voice is actually the main musical instrument on the soundtrack- was almost like hypnosis, like going to the guru every night. I was able to express a lot just by putting little nuances underneath his words and channeling whatever music I felt like doing, and Frank’s team edited it and got it to fit. It was a lucky and genuine collaboration, very heartfelt and easy.” You actually do hear that when listening to this record. It sounds like someone inspired; like someone creating off the high of artistic expression. Jodorowsky was ambitious(too much so, possibly), and that ambition seeps into these pieces you hear on Jodorowsky’s Dune.

IMG_1384I wasn’t aware of this documentary till I’d read an article about the soundtrack. The film was on Netflix, but by the time I’d gotten my lazy butt around to watch it, it was gone. I feel that this score is a great way to immerse myself into that world without seeing it. I do plan on seeing this doc, but I’m just not sure when. Maybe I need to look into grabbing it off of Amazon.

Sitting here now in my chair, with the world around me mildly whirling thanks to an extra large shot of Nyquil and Kurt Stenzel’s synthesizer score pulsating in the background I’m reminded of the magic of a good piece of music. Music that can grab you and take you to some other place. In order to do that, that music creator needs to be inspired; they need to feel what they’re committing to tape or digital. Without the spark of inspiration you end up with something cold and detached. Maybe interesting, but ultimately just flat and vacuous. I love what Kurt Stenzel has done here. He lists everything he used on this record in the album’s liner notes, and it’s quite a collection of gear. But the cool thing is that it’s not a who’s who of classic high end gear. Sure, there’s a few mouth-watering pieces of equipment, but a lot of it is secondhand stuff. A Concertmate from Radio Shack, a $40 Moog Source he bought off the street, a Casiotone, and it was all recorded to Audacity. Yep, Audacity.

Totally cool.

So sure, this cold(and some sciatic nerve issues) may have me down. But there’s no better medicine than a great LP spinning on the TT.

And maybe some Nyquil, too.

 

 

 

MG : MG

MG is actually Martin Gore. Martin Gore is actually that guy that pretty much makes Depeche Mode Depeche Mode. Songwriter, guitarist, keys, angelic backing vocals…that’s Martin Gore. MG is what he’s going by this time around on a new solo LP. This solo LP is all instrumental and filled with analog synth buzzes and whizzes. There’s some beats here and there, but mostly it’s some seriously heavy synth stuff. If you’re sniffing around this one looking for some classic Depeche Mode sound, you will be sorely disappointed. But if you like instrumental electronic music in the vein of Tangerine Dream, Cluster, and the Reznor/Ross film score noise, then you might have found that brisk fall record you didn’t know you were looking for.

So right off the bat, I was never much of a fan of Depeche Mode. I was still playing with Star Wars toys when they appeared in the early 80s. In 1990 when Violator was unleashed on unsuspecting, sexually frustrated sadsacks, I was beginning a love affair with Seattle, Rush, and Queen. My loyalties didn’t lie with personal Jesus’ and enjoying silences. As the years rolled on I grew a fondness for DM, and in particular Martin Gore and his contribution to what became the DM sound. In 2009 the band released Sounds of the Universe, an album that relied heavily on analog synths and 808 beats. It was a throwback to their beginnings as an new wave/goth/electronic band. I really dug it. Fast forward to me falling heavy for bands like Tangerine Dream, Cluster, and modern guys like Jakob Skott and Jonas Munk. The analog synth became this tool for time travel. Childhood noises and wisps of yesterday emanated from these circuit-driven machines. Thanks to Boards of Canada’s mix of nostalgia, eeriness, subtle breakbeats, and synth layers my affinity for the analog synthesizer was cemented firmly. So when I came across this MG record I was quite taken aback. Not that I didn’t think Martin Gore was capable of creating such a subtle and sublime collection of songs. I just couldn’t imagine he’d have any interest in such a project.

The songs on this double LP are short snippets. There’s a few that hit above the four minute mark, but most are two to three minutes in length. They linger long enough that once they end you wish they were a bit longer. It feels like a score to some dystopian sci fi film, and each song is scoring some colorfully shot scene of orange and purple horizons, vast space, and crumbling humanity. You know, the fun stuff. “Pinking” is bright and prickly, while “Swanning” sounds like a slowed down version of Wire’s “I Am The Fly”. “Exalt” is swaths of synth light. It’s the moment the ship takes flight and breaks through the atmosphere. “Elk” is one of the shortest pieces here and one of the most sublime. Imagine the Beatles’ “Sun King” played entirely on a Clavinet and moog. It’s spacious and illuminating in just over two minutes. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, well Martin Gore takes us through light years in just over two minutes. “Europa Hymn” feels and sounds like some lost Boards of Canada tune. Maybe something left off Music Has The Right To Children. Again, this feels very familiar yet alien at the same time.

Elsewhere, “Creeper” has the menace of a John Carpenter piece and “Stealth” feels like something from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ The Social Network S/T. “Islet” sounds like cascading digital water. It’s sparse and moody, while “Trysting” sounds like the audio innards of some late 80s video game. “Blade” seems like a proper finish to this record, feeling all melancholy and dour.

I’m not sure I’d ever jump head first into another Martin Gore record like I did with this one. I don’t think anything could ever hold up to my cantankerous scrutinizing. Not that I’m saying he doesn’t have another quirky little album like this in him, I’m just saying I highly doubt it. Besides, I’m not sure in my strange, little interior world he could write a better imagined soundtrack. MG is dark, subtle, melancholy, moody, and quite wonderful. It’s an anomaly, really. I hold anomalies quite close to the chest.

9.0 out of 10

 

Z :: Visions of Dune

zI have not made it a secret that I love analog synth music. Those warm, bubbling tones that permeate the air in visual greens and blues get me every time. The desolation they put my headspace in takes me to my childhood and those late nights staying up watching something I shouldn’t that I’d rented at Video World. Analog synths scored so many of the movies I grew up on; in-particular the horror and sci-fi flicks that followed and haunted me into adulthood. I think I’ve always loved the sound of analog synthesizers, but that love wasn’t reawakened until last year when the Boards of Canada vinyl reissues appeared courtesy of Warp Records. Once I’d started collecting those albums, that’s when all those feelings came back to me. I absolutely adore everyone one of their albums, but Geogaddi and Twoism in-particular hit some specific chords in my brain. I have since obsessed over the entire Boards of Canada canon and play them on a regular rotation.

For me, the analog synthesizer is a much more emoting and melancholy instrument than most others. I think it’s the fact that it’s such a desolate and lonely instrument. One person sitting behind a stack of keys with knobs, wires, faders, and buzzing machines creating these worlds all on their own. I liken it to a writer of science fiction sitting in a dark room, only lit by the light of a desk lamp as blue smoke slowly rises from an unfiltered cigarette that lays burning in an ashtray next to the typewriter. Within the paper before the red-eyed author is an amazing world filled with chromed-out buildings, rogue private dicks, neon lights, and strange creatures. All of this created by one man inside a lonely room with a bottle of something wet and brown in the desk drawer next to him.

Well, we are finally in the fall season. My favorite season. It’s a season that should be soundtracked by analog synths. Those dark, gray, overcast skies and brisk autumn breezes yearn for Moogs, modulation, and oscillation. It seems over the last few weeks that I’ve found some absolute gems in the old school synth department. Sinoia Caves’ Beyond The Black Rainbow, as well as his debut The Enchanter Persuaded are stunning works. Rudiger Lorenz’ Invisible Voices is a lost synth classic from 1983, with a sound that harkens back to Terry Riley’s A Rainbow In Curved Air, had that been recorded by Kraftwerk. All of these hint at the masterwork of John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream. I can add Z(aka Bernard Szajner) to the list of absolute gems.

I recently procured a copy of his 1979 analog synth classic Visions of Dune. This album was inspired by the Frank Herbert novel and listening to the sonic landscape of this record I can completely get that inspiration. The fact that this album existed five years prior to the David Lynch film adaptation of the book, I’m not sure why they went with Toto rather than this great album. I guess in the scheme of things this probably worked out better for Szajner, as he definitely would’ve been more well known having his music scoring a major science fiction film. But for all the wrong reasons as the film was an absolute mess. Anyways, Visions of Dune is a wonderful album. It moves from serene moments to darkness and tension. There’s a few tracks that contain drums(programmed or live, I’m not sure), and those tracks crackle and spark with some honest to Jebus heavy grooves. “Fremen” is like a heavy space funk track, much like Denmark’s Jakob Skott and his excellent Amor Fati album. “Bashar” is short but sweet with some great flanged snare as you feel like you’re falling down a worm hole. “Bashar” melts into “Thufir Hawat” and “Sardaukar” which then leads into the excellent “Bene Gesserit”, a seven minute track that owes as much to Edgar Froese as it does Frank Herbert.

I haven’t mentioned this yet, but you really must enjoy this record on some nice headphones. Not earbuds, kids. Headphones. Preferably some old school Koss that make you look like Princess Leia in Star Wars, but anything that will cover a good portion of your ears. The stereo panning and left-to-right movement is an aural smorgasbord on this album. “Ibad” moves from left to right oscillation, making you feel like your floating in space. There’s some heavily flanged vocals that sound like Trans Europe Express-era Kraftwerk. This album pops and crackles with artificial, tube-driven life.

I’ve geeked out enough. If you’re a fan of late night sci fi, Tangerine Dream, Philip K. Dick, and the absurdity of our existence in general, then I suggest you seek this album out. If your’e vinyl guy or gal, grab the vinyl version. It’s a beautifully repressed version on 180 gram vinyl(more geeking out, sorry.) I’m now a fan of Bernard Szajner. You will be, too.