Kl(aüs) – Kl(aüs)

[Castles in Space, 2016]

Kl(aüs) is a project from Australian friends Stewart Lawler and Jonathan Elliott. I’ve just recently stumbled onto this group’s debut album, and took to this album immediately. With motorik beats, chugging bass synths, and gorgeous keys and orchestration overlaying bits of found sound and some additional odds and ends, this album fits nicely with the likes of Tangerine Dream, NEU!, Cluster, and Jean-Michel Jarre, while still maintaining a clearly defined sound of its own.

Where those artists’ albums can at times feel loose, meandering, or in some cases unpolished, Kl(aüs) is compact, deliberate, and focused throughout. These songs are driven by their underlying sequences, allowing the accompanying synths and additional effects to dance over the top. The songs remain rooted to the motorik aspects, working with a fully solidified foundation upon which additional instrumentation builds, layer upon layer, sometimes into beautiful, lengthy crescendos.

“Three Sheets” starts with such a sequence that never relinquishes its influence on the direction of the song until the very end, finally fading out in favor of gentle keys.

“Proof Portal” picks up where “Three Sheets” leaves off with soft strings surrounding a processed flute while hi-hat and a bass sequence slowly fade in. These touchstones of mid to late 70s electronica, including generous use of chimes, recall classic science fiction scores and works by Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, and Michael Stearns’ Planetary Unfolding.

The remainder of Kl(aüs) is much the same, however never approaching sameness to the point of being boring. The album is full of warm washes of beautifully-played synths and rhythmic sequences, with Lawler and Elliott in clear sync with one another. It’s an album best listened to actively and in full, but I’ve found that placing it on in the background is just as rewarding.

Since releasing this album, Kl(aüs) have produced a second LP (2020’s 2) and a live album, all for Castles in Space. The first two LPs have long since sold out, leaving people such as myself clamoring for repressings. As of this writing, there are still copies left of the live album, however. I expect that we’ll be hearing more from this group in the near future, and I am very much looking forward to it.

You can purchase the digital albums and additional merchandise on the band’s Bandcamp space: https://only1klaus.bandcamp.com/

Negative Response – Submersion Therapy

[Negative Products, 2021]

Negative Response, the minimal synth group which began in 1980, is back with its first new material since 1983. And it’s quite an achievement! The nine tracks found on Submersion Therapy instantly recall cold wave/minimal wave from that period, while still feeling forward-thinking and edgy. This is incredible minimal wave synth and post-punk you’d expect to find on a label like Dais Records or Sacred Bones, but is surprisingly (and amazingly) self-released by the artist. Each track glistens and warbles with a vintage iciness, with vocals laden with vocoder and murky effects. Equal parts John Foxx, late stage Joy Division, and ADULT.

Album opener, “Dancing on the Head of a Pin” kicks off with a Cold War-era-sounding synth sequence, quickly accompanied by some modulated strings. Vocals are run through a vocoder, and the effect is otherworldly—the song’s imagery suggesting rebirth of something not quite benevolent: “Emerging from the wreckage that lay scattered on the ground / A flaming cape of orange. A ruthless sense of right and wrong…. He was blessed. / Or just losing his mind.”

It’s a strong start to an album filled with such sentiments. Throughout, there is a sense of the unnatural awakening itself, fighting to control itself in its new environment. “Artificial”‘s narrator is a sentient being with “no emotion to speak of” and a borrowed personality. It is searching for itself in a foreign world, finds itself with “strange feelings taking hold.”

“Truth” continues this model, infusing a chugging bass synth, surrounded by a wall of strings and twinkling bells, with the narrator grasping at the existential “did you find your truth”.

However, for me, it’s the standout “Coral Pink and Candy Coloured Sky” that really melds these ominous sounds in the most exciting way. The song’s beginning throws the listener for a bit of a loop, accenting the counter rhythm with what could be described as ultra-modulated horn blurts before the song kicks into gear with some thunderous drums. It blends the best the album has to offer in terms of the depth of tones of the synths, robotic vocals, and metronomic drum machine—with a narrator, reacting to an alien-feeling, multicolored sunset, and who states “far from home this is a strange land, / Stranger than I’ve ever known.”

These are sentiments that are not uncommon to this genre of music, but they lend themselves perfectly to the mechanical, precise rhythms presented here. Perhaps not a direct connection to the pandemic, and for that I’m fairly thankful, it’s a great example of minimal wave/post punk in the 2020’s as we’ve become separated from the lives we once knew, only to find ourselves rebirthed in a new reality in which we’re searching for answers.

You can find the album for sale on Negative Response’s Bandcamp page, and the lathed, handmade vinyl is an absolute treat and highly recommended as well!

Purchase here: https://negativeresponse3.bandcamp.com/album/submersion-therapy-2

John Carpenter – Lost Themes III: Alive After Death

[Sacred Bones, 2021]

If you love John Carpenter’s past work as much as I do, you’ll already be aware of this album. If you are new to John Carpenter (dear god, how could you be???), know this: those late 80’s-90’s synth-driven horror soundtracks to films you grew up with are most likely inspired by him. His latest with his son, Cody and Godson, Daniel Davies is another fantastic entry into his non-soundtrack library. Although this time around, they are spreading their wings a bit more. “Dripping Blood,” “Turning the Bones,” and “Dead Eyes” are reminiscent of Carpenter’s more subtle work on soundtracks like Christine or Halloween III: Season of the Witch, while songs like “Vampire’s Touch” and “Cemetery” reach for the rawness of some of Carpenter’s more sonically invigorating pieces. Highlights include “Weeping Ghost,” “Skeleton,” and “The Dead Walk.” Grab a copy as soon as you can from Sacred Bones. Or, you know, don’t and miss out on some cool shit.

Buy here: https://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/collections/frontpage/products/sbr265-john-carpenter-lost-themes-iii-alive-after-death

Or buy here: https://johncarpentermusic.bandcamp.com/album/lost-themes-iii-alive-after-death

Imaginary Softwoods – Annual Flowers in Color

[Mineral Disc, 2020]

As a fan of late 2000s/early 2010s ambient/electronic group Emeralds, I was somewhat familiar with John Elliott’s work in Outer Space. Somewhere in the aftermath of Emerald’s demise, and in the midst of diving into each member’s solo and extended catalogs, I criminally leapt over his outstanding work in his Imaginary Softwoods.

This is happy, hopeful music. Drenched in the bittersweet chord progressions are swaths of glittering, plucking peaks; within the layers of symphonic chorus and floating, delayed swells of ethereal keys, oscillating arpeggios dance as if soaking in the late summer’s dawn.

It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and finds the beauty in late 70s sci-fi schlock scores as much as in contemporary neo-classical tomes of Max Richter and Steve Reich. There is as much Double Fantasy’s Universal Ave in these pieces as there is Harold Budd’s The Pearl and Reich’s tape loops.

“Aura Show” opens with something that sounds much like a singing bowl. The calm and gently swaying waves soon give way to a deep undercurrent slowly churning up the surface before slinking back into the depths, leaving the sun gleaming off the bouncing wake. The song culminates in the light, its lasting impression a vision of sighing breezes on sheer curtains.

“Destination Stone’s” dreamy, echoing analog synths are bookended by a set of glitchy scratches, distant long-forgotten video game sounds, and off-key carnival ephemera. It’s like stepping though a shattered crystal door, into a hall of mirrors, then back through the crystal door.

All this said, the album is remarkable from front to back, whether actively listening or as a mood-setter in late afternoon—or actively listening in late afternoon, as I’ve found it to be most enjoyable. It’s also a solid notice that I have a lot of catching up to do on Elliott’s catalog. I’m starting right away.

Listen to or purchase the green and red vinyl editions here: https://imaginarysoftwoods.bandcamp.com/album/annual-flowers-in-color-2020-remaster

Leif – Loom Dream

[Whities, 2019]

Found sounds, droney backdrops, natural elements, ethereal woodwinds, and sequenced chimes. Leif Knowles creates a feeling of pastoral mystery—the feeling you get when dusk hits, the fireflies come out, and fog sets in. There’s no dreariness to it. On the contrary, it’s an album overflowing with wonder and intrigue. Leif sounds excited as he weaves these songs together: all pinpricks and dopamine.

“Myrtus” is a standout, with its sequenced African xylophone and humming, softly ringing tones. I absolutely love this album and listen to it on repeat.

Listen and purchase here: https://leifsounds.bandcamp.com/album/loom-dream

Kate NV – Room for the Moon

[RVNG Intl., 2020]

Russian musician Kate NV’s new album, Room for the Moon, expands on the minimalist synth pop from 2018’s для FOR. As with that album, analog synths garble, bleep, and thump, but this time around NV is much more polished. There is an immediacy to this album that was slightly missing from her previous efforts. The growth is noticeable, her voice is more confident, and her songwriting skills are sharp. As with all Kate NV albums, there remains a level of quirkiness certain to delight fans but risk a widespread embrace. It’s what sets her apart, however, and it is what will ultimately allow her to build an enduring legacy. Check it out if you like Japanese minimalism, Yellow Magic Orchestra, or analog synth pop in general.

Purchase vinyl, digital, cd, or cassette here: https://katenv.bandcamp.com/album/room-for-the-moon

Kosmischer Läufer – The Secret Cosmic Music of the East German Olympic Program 1972-83, Volume 4

[Unknown Capability Recordings, 2018]

The fourth installment of the, supposedly, lost secret music of Martin Zeichnete, written to provide the East German olympic team music to train to, is once again a stellar example of motorik, electronic music in the vein of Tangerine Dream, NEU!, and Ashra. This time, along with the typical pieces we would expect from this project, side B contains a suite of music composed for a film meant to stimulate athletes. As always, it’s all a little too perfect to feel totally true, but regardless, the music is still well worth the visit, if not repeated listens.

Listen and purchase here: https://kosmischerlaufer.bandcamp.com/album/volume-four

Polypores – Flora

[Castles in Space, 2019]

With Flora, created under the moniker Polypores, Stephen James Buckley crafts beautiful ambient electronic, surrounded by field recordings of bubbling springs, rustling trees, and bird chirps. Yet there’s something other worldly about this music that plucks these familiar sounds from their associated surroundings, morphs them in front of us, and fashions them into an alien soundscape. This disassociation, and the creative employment of analog synths has been my go-to album for the past several days. Exceptional, mesmerizing stuff.

Polypores live.

Listen and purchase here: https://polypores-cis.bandcamp.com/album/flora