In an effort to keep things fresh we’re trying a new format for our music reviews. Our monthly roundups will give you insight into new submissions and findings from around the web. Don’t worry about our extended feature reviews going anywhere though – we’ll still be writing long and in-depth reviews for albums and release we think deserve special attention.
So, without further ado…
Nexus 666: Night City Stories
Nexus 666 Night City Stories is a full checklist of retro and synthwave cyberpunk action; a title that nods to a classic RPG; a story about dystopian class division and rogue AI; moody cityscape artwork and a neon logo. It’s a specific and familiar product built from a very particular set of blocks, and whilst it soars in all the right places and hints at a possible brilliance, it largely remains an exercise is production line homogeneity.
Tracks like ‘Gangland’ and ‘Resistance Underground’ show moments of experimentation with their respective use of clanging near-industrial drums and crushed lead parts, so it’s frustrating that they aren’t utilized to greater effect. What’s more, the songwriting is relatively strong but is shackled by the same pedestrianization that all too often defines the genre. It’s a shame – if Nexus 666 opted to take a lesser traveled path, Night City Stories could have been so much more. Instead it’s all too familiar, a pale imitation of a procession of simulacra.
As a fan of cyberpunk, I imagine you already know whether you will enjoy this or not. It is a solid if largely generic listen, but synthwave fans looking for more of the same might find reward.
Raizer: We Are The Future & Fall
Raizer squelch and skronk their way through some very heavy electronics with a decided Russian feel, recalling the likes of Gancher & Ruin, before dropping into glossy produced electronic rock territory. ‘We Are The Future’ is big on chorus, with its anthemic sing along part recalling even the likes of contemporary mainstream alt. acts like 30 Seconds to Mars and Angels & Airwaves. Newest single ‘Fall’ is equally as chorus-driven, but is a little slower and with a much more traditional arrangement. Think slick balladry and you’re more or less there. It’s not as instantly gratifying as ‘We Are The future’ and verges on sickly even for those who enjoy their music with a great dollop of angst.
The visual and audio aesthetics give a strong cyberpunk vibe with dark imagery nodding to mind uploading and space travel. They lyrical content however is fairly standard stuff, high on empty sing-alongs and pseudo-passionate poetry about the future being now; that kind of self-empowering call to arms that tickles disenfranchised youth but makes those of us over 25 die a little inside. With that, Raizer would serve well as a gateway band for those looking to dabble with various forms of alternative culture. Those preferring their music a little more urgent and bitter should look elsewhere, but it’s an otherwise perfectly acceptable listen. I do however think that at almost $2 per download single (2 tracks each; the single and an instrumental version of the same), it’s a little steep.
Archo-Logic’s EP3 greets us with another familiar night time cityscape, shades of purple, blue and red behind a neon logo that seems at odds with the rest of the image, if only for the awkward juxtaposition. Fortunately the music of EP3 appears less slapped together. Soundscapes shimmer over crinkly reverbed drum patterns, melodies glide on a steady breeze. The majestic string swells of ‘Blessed Otaku’ recall the haziness of half-sleep, only driven by something an artificial intelligence, whilst ‘Metroplex Burning (Lost in the Details)’ takes a darker turn into paranoia and pushes towards something on the synthwave spectrum.
As with many of my favorite instrumental or electronic releases, EP3 plays out as a singular work rather than a collection of singles. At almost 30 minutes of music spread across 4 tracks, EP3 has plenty of breathing room. It uses this time to great effect, each track coaxing the listener to delve a little deeper, never feeling rushed nor outstaying its welcome. The sheer variety on offer within the tracks ensures that it doesn’t feel samey, each track having an identity of its own. There were moments where I wished for some variation in the drum samples and synth patches, but not enough for it to detract from the over all experience.
As a neo-noir narrative, it’s a bold and expressive piece that leans away from the often harsh grim or dreamy future visions found in cyberpunk audio worlds. If like me you enjoy listening to music as you drift off to sleep, then you’d do well to get your hands on this. As a pay what you want download, you can’t go wrong, although I would advise dropping some courtesy cash on this. It might not change your life, but it could easily make your week.
Flesh Coated Tech: Augmented Realities
Meanwhile, in the metalverse, Flesh Coated Tech offer us their unique take on, well, just about everything really. A self-described ‘space opera’, their music recalls Devin Townsend’s far snottier and vile little brother. It’s most definitely the most metal submission we’ve received in my time here, and for that I am most thankful.
Opening with ambient synth wizardry and the din of machinery firing up, the soundscape quickly desolves into a kind of industrial rock meets digital doom, disassembled by sprawling noise skronk, arpegiated chainsaws and feedback lasers. Imagine EyeHateGod and Ministry jamming over Skype and using laptops so riddled with viruses that the music is barely audible over the skree of network and OS failure. And then it drops into synthy 70’s horror soundtrackery, and wow, you had no idea that was coming, but it worked.
In its own way it’s quite brilliant; difficult to pin down, unexpected in its twists and turns yet cohesive. It never feels like a sum of its parts or drifts into the kind of nonsensical schizogrind of acts like Whourkr. With a story that appears to be about cyborgs, or AI, or something (I had no lyric sheet and could only make out the occasional phrase, like ‘I’m a brain in a box’ and ‘tormented by my demons in this virtual hell’), it’s a dark and almost cartoonish approach to cyberpunk. The artwork plays with these ideas too, recalling a 90’s tabletop roleplay games and comic books; militant scientists and spidery overhead machinery piece together a cyborg, whilst more red-eyed militants look on. It definitely feels right. But not all is right. At times the half-barked, half-sung vocals become monotonous or sit too high in the mix, particularly when the metal riffing kicks in. The riffs sometimes feel a like they are relying too much on respective genre standards, which can soil the experience.
On the whole I enjoyed the musical unpredictability and how Flesh Coated Tech were able to turn on a dime and incorporate all kinds of influences without sounding at odds with what had come before. It’s an EP worth exploring, particularly for the metalheads amongst you. Anyone looking for a change of musical pace might also want to give this a go, as it is quite something unto itself. It looks like it is only available to stream at present, but has a release date of October 1st. Get on it.
Did we miss anything? What music are you most excited about right now?
Craig Lea Gordon
That Arco-Logic release is really nice. Definitely going to check out EP1 and 2.
Code Elektro is worth a whirl. The first album, Superstrings, has a very distinct Blade Runner vibe.
And today, I’ve just discovered Tale of Us.
Techno has always been synonymous with Cyberpunk for me, and their Silent Space track is certainly on point.
A dark and brooding atmosphere with a heavy glitching riff that reeks of oppression. Lovely!
Isaac L. Wheeler (Veritas)
Thanks for pointing those out. Code Elektro has another review upcoming from us.
Craig Lea Gordon
Glad to hear it, Martin is a lovely bloke.
Two more suggestions, both Electro mixes from the gents at Digital Distortions…
If you’ve heard of Plus100 records, then you might’ve heard a few of their releases being tagged as Cyberpunk. Their very first release is probably the most Cyberpunk album I can think of, and I realize that’s just my opinion. Anyways, its been confirmed by the artists of that release that they will be releasing another album later this month and will be pressing it to vinyl. A first for Plus100 records. This will be “the” Cyberpunk release of 2016. Again, just my opinion.
As you’ve probably noticed, I didn’t give out the name. It’s Japanese, but looking at Plus100s first official release shouldn’t be hard to find.
Isaac L. Wheeler (Veritas)
Thanks, we will look into it.
Hi Phoobooz, thanks for the comment. I’m familiar with Plus100 and Vaperror. Since joining the ND team this year I have reviewed various post-vaporwave and ambient electronic bits and pieces from labels like OESBEE and Dream Catalogue. Always looking to find and review more, but at the moment am trying to focus on recent releases! I should probably look at some of the more recent releases from Plus100. I have also been thinking about doing a ‘Music you might have missed’ type catch-up column with some personal favourites from myself and the rest of the team.
“Those preferring their music a little more urgent and bitter should look elsewhere”
Specific recommendations here would be much appreciated!
Michael – depends entirely on the type of music you want! If you let me know if there is any specific genre, I or the crew could probably point you in the right direction!