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Astral Social Club, "Neon Pibroch"

Neal Campbell continues his strong run of releases as Astral Social Club. This album should satisfy fans of his impressive back catalogue, but the music here is good enough to deserve separate treatment and should not be caged in by references to the past.

Important

"Tripel Foment" begins similarly to Campbell's other experiments in ambient beatscapes. A bassy, four-on-the-floor techno pluse pushes the track along pleasantly. But the track becomes compelling when he ditches that rhythm and lets his sounds fly untethered. The song keeps its momentum as scraps of sound detritrus float over the mix like luminous insects. At 12 minutes, the pitch bends up sharply as the song hits its crescendo. A looped guitar riff breaks in while a tremeloed static whirls in the foreground, carrying the beat for a few more minutes till a sudden and jolting rest ends the song.

The rest of the album lacks the percussive backbone which holds up "Tripel Foment," but they hold their own unhurried vitality. The title track meanders for more half its length before finding critical mass. Reversed chime swells and subdued guitar picking float lazily into a thicket of resonate beeps and flanged bellowing. The signal processing fights against this dense buildup, diluting the racket until it becomes a limp mass, percolating into gradual silence. "Big Spree" has the same meditative pacing, being built around a cloudy snyth drone peppered with icy, ringing tones that build into a snow storm of radiant sound particulate.

As detailed as each composition on this record is, they are certainly not fast paced. No song here is under 12 minutes, but Campbell is not the kind of musician that mistakes subtlety for monotony. Stale sounds are gently taken away from the mix or processed into something entirely different. The basic components are very simple: a three note guitar figure; pieces of static; some bells and chimes. Isolated from the whole they would sound thin and artificial, but within the tightly wound arrangements of this album they take on a cosmic immensity.

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Review of the Day

Elixir, "Don't Be Scared"
Quatermass
Here is another electronic, beat-based album that plays the game of "I love it/I hate it." The atmosphere is mostly dark, the beats thick and chugging, and the melodies somehow buried inside walls of static noise and time-warped samples. There's the first problem: sometimes the melodies never get a chance to come out and play. As a result, I'm left listening to a somewhat boring, somewhat repetitive drum track that doesn't have the power to carry the song by itself. Unfortunately, the album is produced in such a way that each song inevitably has some incredible sounds on it but they're completely attenuated by the way they're thrown into the backgroud and lost beneath a plethora of effects. But then, amazingly, all that wishy-washy noise comes together for a few brief moments and gives birth to an explosion that comes close to relieving the tension and weariness of the first few minutes of the song. This is how "Flesh Wound" opens up the album and it segues into the infinitely more entertaining "Gargantuan." I imagine one of those dolls that has a slinky for a neck bopping around to this rubbery and dynamic wall of beats only to have a stick of dynamite send it into the great beyond. "Gargantuan" has nearly the same production style as "Flesh Wound," but manages to pull it off by allowing the repeating drum and melody patterns to weave a bit more intricate and diverse body of sound. "Boiled In Blood" is a bit more low-key than anything else on the album and it provides a nice break from the havoc of the first two tracks. It unfortunately gives way to more standard four-on-the-floor dance music that sounds horribly distorted and only covers up what seems to be the most interesting elements dying in the background. And so this process continues throughout the duration of Don't Be Scared. I either love it or I hate it. Not much changes in terms of production: it's all pretty muddy and eventually this makes the entire album feel far too homogenous. The formula either works for some of the songs or it doesn't. This up and down experience ends up making the whole album feel dull; it's just hard to sit down and listen to the whole thing all the way through.

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