Angelo Badalamenti- “Soundtrack from Twin Peaks” Review

With the new series of “Twin Peaks” wandering to its predictably inscrutable conclusion, now might be a good time to revisit the velvety, oddly timeless soundtrack of the original 1990-91 show. This album must be judged not solely on its own merits but on its correspondence to, and enrichment of, the show it is scoring, so it’s impossible to discuss without discussing “Twin Peaks”.

This contextualisation is in turn dependent upon the contextualisation of “Twin Peaks” itself, which was startlingly alien in 1990 (or so I’ve heard). Dropping like a mortar full of Douglas firs, flashing surrealism and lounge-lizard jazz into the staid televisual landscape of “Cheers” and “Full House”, it set to gleefully upending genre conventions. The insertion of the Laura Palmer whodunnit was one of David Lynch’s few concessions to narrative sense, but even that served as something of a trojan horse—as time goes on, it becomes clear that “Twin Peaks” was never really about Laura Palmer, and that she only catalysed the exploration of the people and mythology of the town.

However, like “Scream” for horror, “Twin Peaks” was transgressive because it functioned both as a sardonic parody of its genre—in this case, the soap opera—and a credible example of that genre. The result is one of studiedly, almost unsettlingly deadpan camp. The show’s intermittent bouts of visceral grisliness are forced into greater contrast by its wryly stilted and gaudily excessive interpersonal drama, a large contribution to which is made by the music.

Thus, we make it onto Angelo Badalamenti’s now-famous “Soundtrack from Twin Peaks”. For all their silky lushness, there is a melodrama inherent in Badalamenti’s compositions which neatly underscores the segments of primordially saccharine soap opera the show wades into. Particularly, the hilariously predictable deployment of the glossy climax of “Laura Palmer’s Theme” at any emotional moment imbues the scene with a sense of dry self-deprecation. The soundtrack more broadly slaloms through ethereal dream-pop (“The Nightingale”); swanking, finger-snapping jazz (“Audrey’s Dance”); and spooky, nocturnal ambience (“Night Life in Twin Peaks”).

Irrespective of the grace of much of Badalamenti’s soundtrack even divorced from “Twin Peaks”—in particular, his sumptuous and wistful “Twin Peaks Theme” sears itself into the memory—“Soundtrack from Twin Peaks” functions optimally as an aural travelogue to the town and show. Much of it is utterly indivisible in the public mind from “Twin Peaks” itself, fossilising its status at the crux of the programme. Interestingly, like the show itself, it admirably both functions in a parodic context and as a moving and atmospheric soundtrack in its own right: it has delved so deeply into irony that it seems to have come out the other side. CO


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Belle Chen- “Mademoiselle” Review

Belle Chen is a curious blend of classical reputability and avant-garde oddness. Endorsed by the almost alienatingly tasteful likes of Classic FM and BBC China, she has also been hailed as “original and provocative” by Brian Eno, and is influenced by Frank Zappa. These distinct threads entwine interestingly on “Mademoiselle”, an album that in some ways attempts to have its cake and eat it. Despite its experiments in dissonance “Mademoiselle” functions more as a classical album, with all its connotations of conservatism, than an avant-garde one. However, the cover is nonetheless a glittery Chen wearing nothing but vivid smears of colour, like war paint: if ever an album was conflicted as to its audience, it was this one.

On the other hand, this stylistic push-and-pull drives the album. As a classical musician Chen is clearly highly able, intercutting snippets of Chopin into her style, as well as most obviously Debussy in her fluent interpretation of his own “Claire de lune”. There is also maybe a little of the jazzy eloquence of Ryo Fukui in the expertly precise runs of “Tango No. 2”, or Rachmaninoff in her combination of dextrous pace and melodic tenderness in “Detour”.

All the piano trills and those unfurling flourishes of notes with which classical music is most closely associated are here in abundance, but Chen also displays a surprisingly experimental flair. “Dead Princess” vacuums her own playing backwards, embedding ghostly new harmonies and melodic interactions, and “Absence – Interlude” is faintly reminiscent of the music of David Lynch in its industrial found-sound eeriness. The album often flirts with discordance, the incipient atonality of “Dig” compounded by its evocative sampling of wind and what sounds like the crunching of gravel. However, these jagged edges keep “Mademoiselle” arresting and at least cosmetically transgressive.

This glinting undercurrent of surrealism is built on in the fleeting “Moon-Spotting”, which alludes through fuzzy police scanner broadcasts to “a large Chinese rabbit…standing in the shade of a cinnamon tree”. Indeed, Chen repeatedly subverts assumptions of the staidness of modern classical: “Prologue” opens with an oompah-style keyboard line that sounds ripped from an 8-bit NES title before slewing into virtuosic piano elaborations, and “Impression of the Young Prince” sounds like a refugee from an Ennio Morricone soundtrack with its spectral whistling motif. The alluring yet foreboding “Green on Black” judders into a dissonant wash of chords, like trains passing in the night.

“Mademoiselle” certainly seems more interesting in its experimental moments than its moments of obsequious traditionalism, although that may just be personal preference. Perhaps “Mademoiselle” is Chen dipping her toes in the waters of the avant-garde, to submerge herself further in later releases. Though clearly a talented classical musician, they exist in countless numbers and it forgoes Chen’s knack for sparky idiosyncrasy. The solution may well be to head further towards the Eno/Zappa end of the spectrum—the audience is larger and the music bolder. Come on in, the water’s fine. CO


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Funk, Hip Hop, Jazz

Action Bronson- “Blue Chips 7000” Review

Kevin Bacon. Kevin Hart. Kevin Spacey.

These are just the celebrities named Kevin that Action Bronson name-checks in “Blue Chips 7000”, his latest mixtape and perhaps his most inseparable from the pop cultural zeitgeist. Formerly a respected New York chef who now peppers references to food into his songs, Bronson emerged as an independent rapper in the early 2010s. By this point Bronson is an entertaining inflation of his own personality, David Byrne in “Stop Making Sense” transposed onto character. His quirks have come to dominate his persona, right down to his “Ancient Aliens” viewing parties and Viceland show “Fuck, That’s Delicious”.

“Blue Chips 7000” is the third in Bronson’s “Blue Chips” mixtape series, and it effectively ossifies the style that emerged throughout these previous releases: bouncy, faintly cartoonish samples reminiscent of P-funk and hip-hop’s golden age topped by Bronson’s hoarse, raspy flow, which is vaguely reminiscent of MF Doom in voice if not lyrics. Despite liberally littering the mixtape with topical cultural references, its sound remains stolidly retro, which Bronson himself acknowledges with his “It’s 1986 again in Flushing, Queens” (a reference to his childhood home) on the languid “Chop Chop Chop”, or his “I was hatched in ‘83” on “Durag vs Headband”.

The mixtape’s supple, jazzy backdrops provide a fairly stock setting for Bronson’s raps about virtually anything that enters his head. He impatiently orders a car on “La Luna” and bellows “The full moon make me loco, like I sniffed a whole baseline of cocoa” on “The Choreographer”. While there is a likeable playfulness to his sloppy non-sequiturs, “Blue Chips 7000” sometimes buckles into tawdry laziness or generic braggadocio. The “I’m on a plane to Russia with a hard dick and a tank top from target, why this blunt taste like Starburst?” of “Tank” is a particular high/lowlight of the at-least-it-rhymes Bronson school of lyricism, but even that has an endearing ridiculousness.

It’s a pity Bronson sequesters himself in sophomoric frat-boy quips, because the quieter moments of “Blue Chips 7000” are surprisingly effective. “My Right Lung” is a gorgeous travail into rainswept jazziness that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm”, and the unexpected reggae stylings of “Hot Pepper” are at least a change of pace. However, the mixtape remains exasperatingly unrealised and formless—closer “Durag vs Headband” is truncated into Bronson’s random exclamation that “I want to die by machine gun!” before “Blue Chips 7000” abruptly cuts off. It’s a muddled conclusion to what is ultimately a muddled mixtape. Bronson’s absurdist excess is ultimately his Achilles’ heel as well as his defining feature. CO


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Electronic, Techno

nej!las- “Washout” Review

As gleefully improbable origin stories go, that of nej!las takes some beating. The founder of Global Health Conscious, an international charity that has raised some $2.5 million for UN refugee camps across the Middle East, she is now venturing into floorboard-rattling techno because why not, really. The paradoxically named “Washout” is the prow of her upcoming E.P., a bloodied slab of merciless, mirthless intensity reminiscent of the brutish electro of Trent Reznor’s soundtrack for “The Social Network”.

For all its brutalist repetition, “Washout” is surprisingly flighty in places, fading in and out between tangling, snaking keyboard riffs. As if teasing the listener, the relentless thud of the bass drum that serves as the track’s backbone occasionally slides out of sync between torrents of clicking hi-hats. The heavily distorted keyboards and restless percussion ferment an almost tribal, Teutonic pugilism but the track is still able to conjure a distinctive sense of space—the martial clatter of Woodkid or the soporific haze of Dashevsky compacted into spidery, fingernail-tapping claustrophobia.

Flying Lotus, one of nej!las’ primary influences, is clearly audible in “Washout”. Particularly, the end in which the track’s rhythmic digressions finally coagulate into a clattering, relentless chunter, like pebbles fountaining onto a tin roof, bears a striking resemblance to Flying Lotus’ “Do the Astral Plane”. However, the wired violence of nej!las is largely absent in his music, and is perhaps her USP.  CO


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Mihail Doman- “Arhythmology” Review

With “Arhythmology”, Romanian composer Mihail Doman voyages into headily conceptual territory. The album is a neo-classical exploration of rebirth spliced into 9 segments, accompanied by a video transposing Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” onto a pristine white backdrop through modern dance. “Arhythmology” is inspired by Jean-Michel Jarre in its evocative swells and flowerings, but Doman shepherds his glacial futurism back into the familiar piano-led bounds of modern classical, more akin to a Philip Glass than an Aphex Twin.

However, this doesn’t imply a lack of ambition in this grand, sweeping project. “Arhythmology VI”, which was deservedly the album’s first single, ascends smoothly from a stately opening into a tightly-wound, beautifully melodic climax. However, the restraint of its crescendo distinguishes it from several of the album’s other tracks, whose peaks can be obscured beneath booming, wide-screen drums. Notably, the end of “Arhythmology III” is fumbled by the unnecessary and melodramatic inclusion of pounding tribal rhythms.

However, for all the cymbal splashes and thunderous orchestral bombast, the music is often soberly unflashy at its core, Doman building gradually from minimalistic piano lines and melodies. Ripples of Yann Tiersen or Erik Satie surface in the patient, pristine chords of “Arhythmology V”, and Doman brews the ominous ambient bubblings of the “Prelude” with painterly tact. He eschews the virtuosic flourishes of a Rachmaninoff or Liszt, diluting their melodic gifts down into guarded clarity—breezeblock-basic but strikingly intelligible. Any risk of “Arhythmology” being desaturated into drabness by this simplicity is swiftly curtailed by Doman’s rich use of strings and those cannon-blast drums, which are at least modernising.

This intersection of grand orchestration and relative simplicity sits Doman at the crux of contemporary cinematic music, and there are indeed flickers of Hans Zimmer’s “Time” in the pluming, warming strings of “Arhythmology 1”. This track slots into the album’s clear and somewhat constrictive musical house style, but there are fleeting transgressions: for instance, “Arhythmology” unexpectedly veers into the work of William Basinski or Harold Budd in the simmering ambience of the “Epilogue”. In its rumbling, choral heaves it serves as an intriguing glimpse of what the album could have been had Doman deviated more from his artistic blueprint. As it stands, “Arhythmology” often falls into contrast with its own name, stoically adhering to its own internal logic for much of its duration. However, it is difficult to deny the resonance and potency of its highlights—”Arhythmology VI”, notably—and its own overall coherence. In both opening and closing with brooding ambient pieces it gleans a sense of circularity, in keeping with its themes of rebirth and resurrection, deepening its immersion. As Doman himself remarked, the album “a soundtrack without a film”, and it’s a strikingly realised one at that. CO


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Pop, Prog-Rock, Singer-songwriter

Steven Wilson- “To the Bone” Review

Despite a career spanning more than 30 years, you probably don’t know who Steven Wilson is. Described by The Daily Telegraph as “the most successful British artist you’ve never heard of”, he rose to relative prominence as frontman of the band Porcupine Tree, as well as working with a plethora of storied bands playing prog or off-kilter pop, from King Crimson to Tears for Fears. However, the cover of “To the Bone”, his fifth solo album (although he has produced endless work through other names and projects) implies a literal and figurative stripping down. Rather than the studiedly moody Porcupine Tree album covers, here a shirtless Wilson is simply lit blue against a red backdrop in a repudiation of his previous tetchiness about publicity.

In some ways, “To the Bone” does seem to amalgamate all his divergent creations and influences: for instance, in dazzling highlight “Refuge” there are echoes of Rush in Wilson’s soft vocals—Geddy Lee but less shrill—or perhaps Tool in the mechanised, vaguely Eastern clatter. However, “Permanating” is weirdly reminiscent of ABBA at times, illuminating an underbelly of pure pop that intermittently surfaces throughout “To the Bone”. The album also strays into fleet-footed metal at times in the maniacal, jazzy riffing that concludes “Detonation”, or the trebley bite of “People Who Eat Darkness”, whose riff’s similarity to that of Metallica’s “The Memory Remains” is difficult to ignore.

However, this constant genre-hopping proves surprisingly stylistically durable. Even the broody Depeche Mode affectations of “Song of I” dovetail into typically maximalist string swells, snapping the song cleanly into the album’s track listing. The exception to this rule is the arpeggiated restraint of “Blank Tapes”, whose resemblance to Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage” isn’t too tenuous given Wilson’s prog credentials. The track is a welcome avenue of quiet prettiness, coming off more like “Ghost”-era Devin Townsend than the glittering bombast of “The Same Asylum as Before”, which balloons from tastefully bluesy soloing into a scalding climax somewhere between A Perfect Circle and The Chameleons.

However, despite the musical smorgasbord Wilson unveils, his undeniable technical skill sometimes struggles to gloss over a dearth of emotional engagement. The album’s lyrical opacity occasionally gives way to bland sloganeering: “I float above the stars, and I feel the rush of love” he gaudily declares on “Nowhere Now”. Nonetheless, “To the Bone” is largely carried by its musicianship, which is thankfully and necessarily excellent. Wilson’s virtuosity electrifies the album, providing it with its integral heft and invention. However, it is maybe this slightly alienating reliance upon technical ability that keeps Steven Wilson as “the most successful British artist you’ve never heard of”. Or then again, maybe he just likes it better that way. CO


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Alternative, Indie, Rock, Rock and Roll, Singer-songwriter

Whiskey-fuelled rockers Albino give us new single ‘Belinda’

Old school rock and roll may be a dying art in these modern times but the London based band Albino are looking to cast this misconception aside, whiskey in hand.

The alcoholic beverage has a big part to play in the band’s journey to date as they aim to entertain with their raucous, often humorous ‘drinking’ music.  It’s the kind of musical recipe that would make Johnny Cash proud, but would equally strike a note with fans of Tom Waits, The Animals, The Doors and children of the ’60’s ‘flower-power’ generation.



Their latest track ‘Belinda’ exudes this throwback, vintage feel that sounds like it could have come straight out of the 60’s.

The band made up of Ben Tucker (guitar/vocals), Merv ‘Fuzzy’ Salole (Bass), Gareth ‘gwEM’ Morris (guitar) and Don Gibson (percussion). As the main songwriter in the outfit, Ben is the driving inspirational force, tapping into a deep well of life experiences that draw on topics as diverse as love, deviancy, distrust of priests, historical events and of course, drinking.

Since they began in 2005, Albino has undergone a musical metamorphosis, travelling a long way from their humble beginnings, but now, the off-the-wall band has cemented their style and truly found their own sound. Whilst Albino’s eclectic and multi-talented musical line up has changed over the years, this latest track proves their musical direction, commitment and energy has always remained constant. AP

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