The Eclectic Electric of Ektro Records: A Roundup
The latest and greatest from Ektro Records, featuring a smattering of electronic music, interspersed with bittersweet acoustic tunes.
Ektro Records’ so called vinyl-arm, Full Contact, is launching a new series bearing the imaginative title Full Contact Synthwave Series. Now, the title is somewhat more imaginative than you’d think, in that neither of the opening one-two punch resembles the renowned greats of synthwave, nor would I necessary place them in that category. Then again, I’m not a person from whom you should ask help in organizing your electronic music collection anyways.
The very first release under FCSS is the debut 7″ from Lazer Angel – a duo featuring none other than Jussi Lehtisalo himself, with Bruce Duff from Jesters of Destiny and several SoCal punk and alternative bands. The duo’s collaboration employs various analog synths and drum machines to a blend of John Carpenter, Tangerine Dream and Gary Numan, though the initial single “Soul Exchange” b/w “Shut Down Incoming Signal” features rather straighforward pop songs beneath the layers and layers of synths.
Another collaboration from the man behind Circle, Pharaoh Overlord and Ektro records, only this time with an old comrade from Circle, Janne Peltomäki, on their 7″ Dekathlon features guest contributions from both Faith Coloccia of Mamiffer, and Aaron Turner of ISIS, Sumac and Hydra Head fame, on guitars and vocals. Quite the chain of notable names, but how does it translate into record?
There’s a little Vangelis and little Kavinsky, and it doesn’t quite escape the carpenter influence either. The guitars add a thick layer of extra atmosphere into the slower, more ethereal compositions. The direction is still hook-laden and memorable, but less straightforwardly poppy than Lazer Angels’.
Janne Westerlund – Bell
Circle and Plain Ride alumnus Janne Westerlund’s solo sophomore Marshland introduced me to his folky, american a and country influenced singer-songwriter side. It was a rather minimal recording that differed from many others of it’s kind by it’s hypnotic, droning approach, though sprinkled with fuller, more brightly evocative material. For me it was one of the best records of 2015 and if something, I’ve only grown more fond of it since. It’s follow-up, There’s A Passage saw Westerlund continue his trajectory towards even more archaic waters, but ultimately failed to leave an impression as lasting. Now Bell follows his decision to take a five-year recess from writing music (that lasted a whopping couple of months). It was clear from the first rung chords of “Last of The carnivals” that I would like it, but forming what could be called an educated opinion proved more difficult than anticipated.
The album came described as having been carved out of a simple necessity to give shape to the chaos of thoughts obsessing Westerlund on snowless mid-winter nights. It would be hard to give a more accurate description of Bell’s minimal, acoustic guitar and banjo centered sound, over which Westerlund’s instantly recognizable, haunting voice resides. Many of the songs are momentarily supplied with additional instruments by Plain Ride’s Anssi Hallio and Pekka Jääskeläinen, ranging from the almost missable keys on the opener, through appearance of electric guitar on several tracks to the drumming on “Strange as Life/Bell’s” second half. Faith Coloccia also makes a particularly striking appearance on the eight-minute “So Vast The Fields of Sorrow”.
Where Marshland seemed to evoke a depression-era feeling without ever falling into said mood itself, Bell is more solemn and introspective, and though it’s not as archaic as it’s direct predecessor, at times it feels even more minimal. Though I can’t help but to miss the mystic drive “Marshland”, the array of supplementary instruments does give Bell it’s own, equally as magnetic character.
Aavikko – Monopoly
Ever since 1995, Aavikko has been playing their electronic muysic (sic) with a singular idea, “We play – you dance”. Though their music has gone through several incarnations, from the Kraftwerk influence of Viitostie to the harmony-centered Okeanos, seemingly stripped of melody and rhythm and now to the “disco muysic” of their sixth full-length, Monopoly. At a very slow rate, Aavikko has been moving towards a more modern sound, and on Monopoly the trajectory has reached a point where it’s becoming audible – now, instead of sounding like earlier game soundtracks, it’s only reminiscent of them.
Off to a great start, the vocalized “Go and Know” and especially the sprained 5/4 twist of of “Volt Age” are both fun and dance-able tracks, but although the album keeps fairly well in line with the band’s doctrine and most of the tracks are enjoyable in their own right, by “Satellites”, one of the more laid back tracks on Monopoly, the albums lost a lot of steam, and struggles to get back going. The melodies blur together and nothing before the closer “Olumpia” rises above. Monopoly can be great fun relegated to background music, but doesn’t hold up on closer inspection. If you’re new to the band, I’d recommend nibbling on a song here and there before diving head first to the deep end.