Music Reviews & Commentary
Publication: Industrial Nation
Undercurrent is the latest in a series of CD's that seek to promote the electronic music emerging from America's northwest corner, here highlighting 14 bands, some recognizable, others still strangers. SpineFolder's The Soul Barrier is a very Tangerine Dream derived instrumental. It displays a good sense of programming and a solid but not heavy handed beat, with many directional changes peppered throughout the song. Violet Arcana's Solace is a moody atmospheric work; it's light erratic beat and soft string synthesizers with back bouncing sequencer patterns, spoken echoed voices, and gently caressing flute. Pet of the Future's Night Vision is a good Electro-Pop a la mid-80's, although definitely touched by traces of the darkness of the 90's. Mesmer's Fire Reveals Itself creates a third world sound, with rolling jungle toms, shaken metal, and bass drones overlaid with soft plucked bass strings and the sound of running water. As with all compilations of this nature, not everything is going to be a smashing success. Nobody is plagued by weak vocals and an insistence that Ozzy Osbourne and recent Alice Cooper somehow have something in common with modern Electro. Nocturne comes across as a male fronted Mission UK wannabe, and more than one band seems to be attempting to imitate Devo rather than establishing anything original on their own. Overall, this compilation can be recommended, primarily because it features a lot of upbeat instrumentals, songs that try to create a scenic backdrop rather than simply another assortment of noise and distortion in which so many of these CD's seen to specialize.
A collection of new electronic artists based in Oregon and Washington states, showing the current creative scene in this genre is still alive and kicking across the pond. AREA88 (Hard EBM in Nitzer Ebb and Front Line Assembly style), Mindvirus (Guitar samples and gravelly vocals meets Front 242), SpineFolder (Industrial influences, distortion effects in Severed Heads manner), Nobody (Metal crossover like Fear Factory), Attenuated Euphoria (Revolting Cocks take on Techno), RKiK (Eighties style electronics somewhere between DAF and Depeche Mode), Thine Eyes (Dark Electro via Sleep Chamber), Nocturne (Tribal Gothic via Mission), Violet Arcana (Spaced out Ambient Trance), Pet of the Future (Pounding drums, machine gun guitar samples, Techno mix), Runes of Desire (Political stance EBM via Mussolini Headkick_, Triple Point (Driller killer waves of distorted Industrial Noise), Mesmer (Tribal machine music like Test Dept.), and lxl (Uptempo soundscape like Art of Noise).
The main purpose of this sampler is to promote the Oregon Electro-Industrial scene ... Undercurrent PDX contains a few interesting bands, the first being SpineFolder. They propose an interesting marriage between Techno, Cross-Over and Electro-Trance influences! For the nostalgics of old wave stuff, RKiK will undoubtedly satisfy your desires! The most famous band on this sampler is the most intesting one too... Violet Arcana take us back to their very own Electro-Ambient universe full of grace and splendor! Pet of the Future and Runes of Desire represent the Electro-Body side of this release and even if they don't reach the tops, both pieces belong to the best of this sampler. Let's concentrate on the less intersting bands now! AREA88, Mindvirus and Nobody take care for the Cross-Over style. Attenuated Euphoria seems to be involved in a closer Electro approach, which musically is quite accessible, but the weak vocals really annihilate the composition. In a closer Electro-Gothic styles, the more-known Thine Eyes and less known Nocturne don't really convince at any single moment! Triple Point deliver a kind of relaxing soundscape, while Mesmer go on with a kind of classical inspired instrumental one. The last word belongs to lxl, which ends with another instrumental composition. If some of our readers are planning on visiting Oregon during their next holiday, this sampler can be a good guide.
Publication: RAW 42
Issue: August 1998
AREA88 reminds me greatly of NIN and they do a very good job of sounding like NIN on this track. A heavy snare is the driving force behind this song with heavily distorted vocals, very much standard for Industrial music but it works especially well for AREA88, an impressive compilation opener. Mindvirus bring a danceable quality to the Undercurrent CD. They have good ideas which unfortunately tend to drown each other out at times. The guitar could be moved to the front of the mix to make the song more powerful and aggressive. Nevertheless, Mindvirus has what it takes to hold up in the Industrial scene. The bands on this CD tend to be better than your average independent band so keep that in mind when reading the review. SpineFolder has a pleasing piano melody in the midst of this danceable electronic track. A good mix of contemporary dance music and Industrial distortion, nicely done. Nobody's track, Eyes Sharp, Teeth Sharper, seems to be an Industrialized version of modern rock. It's catchy enough for radio and appealing enough for Industrial/Electronic fans although I'm not sure it entirely fits well on this CD. Attenuated Euphoria is electronic fare with a poppy edge, minimalistic drums and a freaky wobbling melody line reminiscent of old computer games. That's not to say Attenuated Euphoria is dated, just reminiscent of times gone by. Whips and dulled screams introduce RKiK's Obsession, a lighter electronic outing with a nice analog bass line to fill up the bottom end and a cool reverb on the background effect. And then comes Thine Eyes with Devil's Mountain. Now this is a good band and they stand out on this CD as I can imagine they do anywhere. They have their own blend of maniacal whisperings, weirdly programmed percussive loops and unique effects to make their track full and lush. Nocturne shift the mood with their mellow Gothic song, collide, which has its emphasis more on song structure, guitar, vocals and mood. A nice change of pace. A swing back to electronic with Violet Arcana, a melodic ambient piece with occasional vocals, quite light and airy compared to other songs on this compilation CD. A bouncy bass line opens Night Vision, the Pet of the Future track. Fast beats over slow voice pads and high pitched choir samples combined with intermittent driving guitar. A danceable track which, with the addition of some low end, would do well in any club. Runes of Desire bring back a more Industrial edge to this compilation CD with Taste of Reality, fused with electronic bass lines, samples and distorted murmuring vocals. A strange machinery like track from Triple Point adds a touch of weirdness to an otherwise straightforward compilation CD. What sounds like an electric saw resonates throughout this song, pretty odd. A liked the addition from Mesmer, a Percussive/Tribal number with a nice bass synthesizer filling up the background. The song doesn't stray far and stays in the mellow ambience sphere but a cool little outing from Mesmer. Finishing up the Undercurrent CD is lxl, a dark track with a Trance like piano. Striking orchestral hits makes this ending track attractive. There is a hidden track on the CD although I don't know whose it is. A slow moving Industrialized ambient song which works well if you can sit still long enough.
A number of great tunes on the undercurrent CD. Well worth the purchase just to hear great inclusions by Thine Eyes, Mesmer and AREA88.
Capturing the essence of the Oregon scene (Sonic Boom is based out of Hillsboro), Undercurrent features fourteen electronic upstarts, all but one of which reside in that northwestern state. One might expect that limiting contributions to those received from a specific area of the country magazine lead to some rather gratuitous selections (particularly if the area in question is neither considered a major market or hotbed for music of that category). Amazingly enough, however. Boom's Jester has unearthered a rather stable roster of competent composers. While the vocals mag be a bit weak on a number of the tracks, little fault can be found with the musical dosages Jester has prescribed. Portland's AREA88 offer the emotional restraint of the excellent No Release From, while Attenuated Euphoria seep themselves in an unexpected fusion of styles derived principally from such unlikely sources as Yaz and Nitzer Ebb. Violet Arcana's Solace offers a welcome change of pace halfway through; Thine Eyes and Nocturne also offer applaudable efforts. Running the gamut from traditional EBM to guitar heavy crossover, Undercurrent is a commendable aural time capsule of various styles and musical predilections. A good piece for the collector and the curious alike.
Publication: Alternative Press
Issue: 117, April 98
Portland, Oregon, rules if you're a tree-hugging, flannel-wearing, backwoods nature type. Just don't tell that to the bands on this Portland-area Industrial compilation. "Sampler" is an apt homonym, and these sound-sampling, guitar-toting guttural grunt invade Rock, Techno, Disco and soundtrack territories. Thine Eyes Eyes, SpineFolder, Violet Arcana and lxl excel, but as with most demo-level recordings, amateurism foils the five-star rating. Nobody would indeed be nobody without their Alice in Chains. Attenuated Euphoria should reconsider their musical career. Overall, this hits and misses on a par with the big-league compilations.
Publication Noize Foundation
Issue: March, 1998
Undercurrent PDX was released by Doppler Effect Records in mid-to-late 1997, and like its follow-up, Undercurrent PDX features some of the best talent in the Oregon, featuring only one artist from the Seattle area, SpineFolder.
Doppler Effect favorite, AREA88 open up this compilation with No Release From (Raw Aggro Mellow Mix). This is a great AREA88 track, and was featured as one of the audio clips in February's issue of Noize Foundation. Mindvirus follows with Chapel Perilous. This track has a great flow on the vocals, unique in delivery, the vocals almost rush the song in a bit of a frenzy, and make you work to keep up. SpineFolder delivers a nice instrumental track. Nothing spectacular, just good and nice to listen to.
Nobody. Now this band almost confused me. Not by their music, but because I wasn't sure why they are on a compilation that seems to be geared toward industrial music. Aside from a little bit of synth use, these boys are simply a damn good rock band. If you like rock, you will love this track. Great vocals, steady rhythmic guitar, and my favorite part, intermittent screaming and squealing. Very cool track!
Runes of Desire brings us Taste of Reality (Reconstructive Surgery Mix). This track has some great beats, cool samples and some odd synth effects that sound remarkably like a tricorder from Star Trek. The vocals kind of ruin where this some is going. It sounds as if Jerry Sievert is trying a little to hard to sound scary. Triple Point put down about a minute and a half or two minutes of feedback type sounds that just sort of droned on before I got bored and skipped to the next track. Mesmer's Fire Reveals Itself has a sound fitting the title. I felt almost like I was at a jungle ritual. Similar to NuMantra's track on Resurgence, Mesmer need to be played loud. It is the only way to do it justice.
Undercurrent PDX ends with a hidden 15th track. This is one of the better tracks on the compilation. Excellent slow-industrial drum beat, reminiscent of VIVIsect-era Skinny Puppy, and some cool squeaky synths. The only thing lacking here is vocals. While this is a good track, it lacks the ability to hold any self respecting short attention span, like mine.
So, what do I think. If you've got some extra cash and you are looking for some new stuff, pick up Undercurrent PDX. Its about a 50/50 of great and decent industrial and electronic music. Fortunately, the great songs more than make up for the decent songs.
Publication: Last Sigh
Issue: March 1998
Doppler Effect has outdone themselves with the first release of a superb blend of Industrial-Electro Hard-Core/EBM type of tracks on this compilation of Undercurrent. Not for the timid in aural listening pleasure, Doppler has set to the public ear an excellent sampler of Portland Oregon's finest in the underground arena.
Area 88 opens up this compilation with their hard driven Electro-Industrial (Mellow) beat of No Release From (Raw Aggro Mellow Mix) track. The vocals are great, as are their drums and synth interjections. You can catch a bit of guitar and a moshing of Industrial sounds on Mindvirus's Chapel Perilous. Turn it UP!
The Soul Barrier by SpineFolderis a wonderful dance track of hard beats and synths with a background of harmonics to blend between the keys and samples -- leading into Nobody's Eyes Sharp,Teeth Sharper which brings out the 4:4 beat of the older rock sound, guitars and clear vocals.
Undercurrent switches back to the Electro-near-pop sounds of Attenuated Euphoria's Danger, and advancing deeper into the Electro with RKiK in Obsession, a bassy darker piece of work, these tracks command a good listener.
Thine Eyes' Devil's Mountain is more up in the beat yet dark in mood, using synths and drums to highlight the piece, and vocals sung sweetly and harmonic, a good dance song.
Nocturne begins track 8 Collide, with guitar, leading into drumming, harmonic background and sensuous male vocals. A soothing piece of work, however Violet Arcana work their wonders in the Ambient-Electro sounds of Solace -- a quieter synth backing sound mixed with flutes, harmonics, treated vocals and swirling electronics. Excellent track.
Pet Of The Future is another good yet harder EBM track with Night Vision, leading into Runes Of Desire's Taste Of Reality, a short yet satisfying track of fast paced Electro.
Shifting a gear higher, Triple Point's, Lorrie Pours Out kicks it with samples and hard core speed paced Electro-Industrial drumming, beats, and tempo. Not for the weak, Mesmer begins track 13, Fire Reveals Itself with noise that seems to escape time, a winding aural experience in waves -- whispering samples in the background add an eerie feel to the piece, tribal in beat, drumming and dark Electro- manipulations and ending with a long oceanic wave sound, this has to be the best work for my taste in music on the compilation! Put out a full length! Reminds me of Scorn -- excellent work.
lxl is another great track with False Illumination.
Soft, dark, synth laden, blended with harmonic classical treated vocals.
There are some compilations coming out that are proving that American Electro-Industrial-Experimental is very alive and well; this is one of the nest! Focusing on bands from Oregon (mostly Portland), it has a good balance in all electronic variations. I was pleased with just about every track! Favorites form the EBM Industro-Dance floor are definitely AREA88 with a catchy sex song and a very familiar chorus. Runes of Desire and Attenuated Euphoria come across with a most unusual style. Mindvirus and Nobody both take their own directions with crossover bands and SpineFolder presents a brilliant instrumental piece as usual. RKiK and Violet Arcana are my favorites in texture and melodic feel; both should be watched in the future, as well as Thine Eyes whose track took a while to get to me, but has some excellent emotion and a unique style. Nocturne give a droney Goth piece which also grows on you as well. The tribal drumming of Mesmer is quite a pleaser, as is lxl. This diverse compilation is brought to you by Jester (Better known for the webzine Sonic-Boom) of the new label Doppler Effect. I hope they do more.
Publication: Black Monday
For a new label, Doppler Effect Records has found some of the most polished and well-versed underground electronics acts from the Portland, Oregon area to create Undercurrent. The most predominant track is AREA 88's No Release From, which is a brilliant anthem in the tradition of, and at points sounds a bit too much like, 16 Volt. Mindvirus reveal with Chapel Perilous that they are in fact guitar mongers with hell-bent electronics, this is by far the most wham-bam song here and I love it! There's a lot to like with Undercurrent, especially it's diversity of forms and attitudes, there's Experimental, Electro-Goth, EBM, conventional Industro-Pop, and fun! John Irish of AREA 88 produced and engineered Undercurrent with great success, this is due in part to his past experience with Eric Powell of 16 Volt and various remix projects.
Publication: Willamette Week
Issue: October 29, 1997
Other recent releases attest to the increased diversity in the type of music being made here. The Hillsboro label Doppler Effect assembled a compilation of Techno-Industrial artists from the area, Undercurrent--PDX, featuring well-crafted songs of varying merit from Mindvirus, Nocturne, Mesmer and lesser-known acts. Though some of this is run-of-the-mill Industrial, several tracks stand out. SpineFolder's The Soul Barrier maneuvers from a murky intro into a bright, twisted dance track; Violet Arcana layers synths and effects-laden vocals over pleasingly sparse beat; and Thine Eyes' Devil's Mountain drifts through an intriguing, dark Techno landscape.
An overview of the Elektro scne of the Portland, Oregon area, and a diverse one. In addition to the obligatory tracks that sound like other bands (although I have to admit I never thought I'd hear another band that sounds like Kill Switch... Klick), and a few semi-goth and otherwise forgettable tracks, there's some real gems, particularly electro-scapes from SpineFolder, Mesmer and lxl and a pleasant Violet Arcana track. I guess Portland breeds good atmosphere. Most of this sounds like studio stuff, so I don't imagine there's much of a live scene in Portland these days, but interesting on the whole.
Undercurrent - PDX brings 14 mostly Portland area Gothic/Industrial acts on one CD to showcase the area's prolific and growing scene. Conceived by Jester, editor of the music-rich e-zine Sonic-Boom, this compilation offers an interesting glimpse into the diversity and vibrance of the many Northwest-based Electrocore artists.
The set contains tracks that run the whole gamut of the genre. SpineFolder's The Soul Barrier is an exceptional instrumental piece of gliding synth loops on top of rapid, distorted and static-laced drum beats with a few ethereal samples thrown in to make you feel at home. Mindvirus turns it up a notch with super-fuzzed guitar riffs on top of EBM-style synths and aggressive vocals stylings on Chapel Perilous. Thine Eye's Devil's Mountain brings on the melody that reminds me of Seattle's own Christ Analogue with it's harmonic vocal style. Finally, Nocturne put it all to bed with their gothic and airy Collide, a mix of thick and expansive guitars and sleepy Cure-like vocals. The biggest disappointment on this disc is Attenuated Euphoria's chaotic and irritating Danger, which reminds me of some sort of horrible cross between children's television soundtrack and those long forgotten, one-hit wonders in the glory days of WaxTrax!
Overall Undercurrent - PDX drudges up memories of early compilation like Industrial Revolution with its genre-spanning influences and variety. I'm surprised to find there are so many bands in the Portland area producing the quality of structures noise found on this disc. Not to mention how refreshing it is to find a collection of talented bands doing more than just revamping someone else's work for yet another tribute. It definitely makes for on of the best indie Industrial samplers I've come across in the past year.
Issue: November 1997
If you're looking for some "underground" Industrial, you might want to grab a copy of Undercurrent-PDX, a compilation of up-and-coming artists on the Doppler Effect label. For info, contact Chris Christian at email@example.com; http://www.sonic-boom.com/undercurrent/.
Publication: Spongey Monkey
It's good to see that the Electro-Industrial-Techno scene (or whatever it's called these days) is still thriving in Portland. Raves are just starting to become popular down here, but that's another story. I'm finding aspects of old Front 242, Severed Heads, Front Line Assembly, and Nitzer Ebb. At least the artists on this compilation have roots in the old school. My favorites were Violet Arcana and Mesmer each with a mellow mix, Triple Point with the mid to high frequency pitches and voices layered underneath, and lxl with the simple beat under electronic melodies.
A strong selection of mostly obscure Portland,OR-area based electronic hardbeat artists. Best tracks are turned in by AREA88, THINE EYES, and VIOLET ARCANA, but nothing here truly fails. Good production and packaging too. Fine work.
Publication: Jester Promotions & Productions
This CD is a mix of independent artists put together from Jester, not us, another guy named Jester. Regardless, this compilation consist of Electro Pop to Industrial. The compilation is more poppy then anything.
Publication: Culture Shock
Issue: Summer 1997
Undercurrent is the first off-line production of Sonic-Boom editor Chris Christian (Jester), and it upholds the quality we've come to expect from his work. A nice cover design by AI's Ken Holewczynski presents the disc well, even if it is a bit too colorful, and a few well known names are also sure to grab attention. For the most part, the bands here are all unsigned Portland / Seattle area artists, almost all of which have an rmi presence (uh, oh...) Certainly the two highlights are Thine Eyes and Violet Arcana. I must admit that I skipped over half the disc and listened to these two tracks first. Thine Eyes offer Devil's Mountain, a wonderful, hard, chaotic, piece with Morrissey-esque vocals that fit the track surprisingly well. Subdued Techno elements and tons of effects swirl throughout the track. It's a beautiful precursor to the coming Kodex debut. Violet Arcana's track Solace is taken from their new release Sonic Aquarium, and it's a surreal Ambient Techno trip. While none of the other bands quite live up to these standards, there are several noteworthy tracks. SpineFolder gives a solid, psychotic experimental electro track. Runes of Desire provides a strong EBM track with vocals that don't quite fit. Triple Point gives an intersting, noisy experimental piece, and Mesmer's Fire Reveals Itself is a highly accomplished tribal work - very nice! A few others, like Pet of The Future, lxl, and the unlisted 15th track are decent electro tracks, but really call for vocals. Really this collection is touch-and-go, but as far as "local" samplers go, It's better than most.
Publication: The Rocket
Issue: 9/24/97 - 10/7/97
The electro-Industrial scene is currently experiencing a system error. More bands are plugged-in than ever, but the clone-to-creativity ratio hovers around 500-to-1, with the ease of sequencing overwhelming the chaotic potential of MIDI-fied machinery.
Viewed in this light, then, Undercurrent is a solid portrait of the surprising Portland scene. I don't mean "surprising" in the sense that the music within is paradigm-shattering, but "surprising" in that, in a town where the only Industrial club caters to foolish teens in Marilyn Manson shirts, there are so many people with synthesizer smarts. Area 88, Runes of Desire, lxl and Pet of the Future may not break new ground but build sturdy cyberpunk constructions nonetheless, while Nocturne, Thine Eyes (lose the Sam "Melodrama" Rosenthal vox, guys) and Violet Arcana provide gothic atmosphere as an antidote to the future shock.
Still, the scene as a whole needs to trash the third-generation-Skinny-Puppy-without-the-psychoses (that is, Leaether Strip) crap and start exploring new sonic realms again: The Triple Point track, a collage of collapsing noise, is the truest "Industrial" song here and hopefully the start of an experimental insurgence. Undercurrent shows that Portland's got the people...now the people just need the passion.
Publication: Apocalypse Magazine
Issue: Fall/Winter 1997
This compilation is made up of artists from the Oregon Area, with the exception of SpineFolder from Seattle, WA. Bands here are; Area 88, which has a Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine era, sound to it. Mindvirus, with a Front 242 sounds, and many other outstanding bands I've never heard of, such as, RKiK, Nocturne, lxl, Attenuated Euphoria, SpineFolder, Nobody, and more..... The two bands I have heard from are Thine Eyes and Violet Arcana. This is one of the best compilations I've received this year, with a load of different sounds from 14 different bands. This compilation was arranged by Chris Christian of Sonic-Boom magazine.
Issue: August 1997
The half-baked media frenzy surrounding so-called electronica might get a bit tedious at times, but it certainly has its rewards. The burgeoning interest in electronic music allows more interesting and experimental sounds to become widely available. As the brooding, atmospheric Undercurrent compilation can attest, Portland possesses a hidden store of dark electronic talent. One standout is Devil's Mountain by Thine Eyes, who perfectly balance hypnotic synth riffs with subtle dynamics and understated vocals. SpineFolder creates a nice, drifty space before diving into a faster, darker groove in The Soul Barrier. Violet Arcana and lxl round out the compilation with an appealing melancholia. Even if Techno and Industrial based music isn't generally your cup of tea, Undercurrent may hold your interest and draw you into its distinctive world. Gothic tendencies emerge in Nocturne's Collide, which lacks the band's striking live presence but still creates an intense effect. The rhythmic Nobody throw in some guitars on Eyes Sharp, Teeth Sharper, an insidious little gem that'll have you cranking up the volume. In a more experimental Industrial vein, Triple Point sculpt some wild soundwaves with Lorrie Pours Out. Is there a downside? Of course. RKiK's Obsession is an embarrassing foray into bad 80's self-indulgence, and some cuts offer straight-up Techno Industrial dance music that's a tad too derivative. Otherwise Undercurrent makes for a clean listen and an impressive introduction to Portland's electronic underbelly.
Issue: Issue 1.1 - August 1997
This album acquaints us with some underground (i.e. Industrial/Gothic) artists from (mostly) around the Portland metropolitan area, in hopes of showing people around the country that Portland does have a thriving underground Industrial scene (albeit still in its formative stage). Many different styles are represented on this release, ranging from the strong Electro-Industrial of AREA 88 to the Experimental Noise leanings of Triple Point, the Gothic sensibilities of Nocturne and the Coldwave stylings of MindVirus (who really should be signed to a label). Thine Eyes and Violet Arcana (probably Portland's most widely recognized electronic groups - now that 16 Volt has taken off for Los Angeles) make appearances as well with their well-crafted, beautiful, Ambient stylings; in fact there is something on this album for everyone who is into electronic music or the "darker" side of the music spectrum. None of these songs on this CD could be considered filler, even though some of the bands are making their first-time appearances on recorded format; each song brings its own unique atmosphere to the entire album and each song is enjoyable in its own right. And with small improvements in lyrical content with a few bands, many of these artists should be able to capture the attention of a wide audience. When all is said and done, this release should go a long way in providing a satisfying glimpse at the growing Industrial/Gothic scene starting to flourish in the Portland area.
Issue: Volume 7, Issue 7 - July 10, 1997
This is probably the only compilation ever released that consists entirely of Portland acts doing the style known as Industrial, Hardbeat, Techno or the like. Well, to be exact all fourteen acts included give Portland addresses except one from Seattle, one from Eugene and two from Lake Oswego (?!). In any case, the fact that some guy in Hillsboro managed to dig up that many digicore bands in this town and put out a disc of their tunes is pretty amazing. Certainly a feat worth applauding.
Of course, the key word there is band; i.e. group, as in a group of people playing together... More than half of these acts are one-man deals, and a couple more are just duos. Not that that makes them any less viable as a performing unit, solo acoustic performers are just as viable as bands; hell, with Technology the way it is, you don't need but more than one guy and a bunch of gizmos. It's just that one might think - looking at all the bands on this CD - that this city has a really active Industrial music scene. But, less than half of them play out live... at least as far as I've seen.
Then again, perhaps I over-emphasize the importance of a live presence. You can certainly get your recording out to a lot more people than you can get to your show. And there's something cool about scads of Techno-goons twiddling away on their bedroom rack of electronics, making a tape, and passing it around. Hell, a little more bandwidth expansion on the net and you'll have a veritable cornucopia of digital delights pouring out of your computer speakers.
Anyway, I digress. Although the internet is relevant in that the man behind this compilation, Chris Christian (aka Jester), also has an e-zine called Sonic Boom (www.sonic-boom.com). It, of course, has a page about his comp which includes audio snippets of each of the tracks on the record (except the fifteenth secret bonus track, which isn't credited to anyone... but may be the best track on the disc). There's also reviews with refreshingly mixed sentiments (and one does actually say that there must be a great Industrial scene in Portland!). You might want to check the site out before buying.
As for some actual musical opinions, the fact that someone did this for the Portland Industrial scene is what this CD has going for it most. Unfortunately, most of the music on this disc has the same problem as most Industrial music anywhere: lack of originality. It's frustrating that so many young bands get their hands on this great Technology only to chum out the same doot-doot-doot, sequenced dance music as scores of bad haircuts before them. Then again, you could say the same for quite a few kids with guitars out there. It's just that the sampler's possibilities are so limitless.
There's also the usual lack of songwriting skills for a smaller city like this. What good is a monster riff if the next part loses all the cool vibe the first part created? And for that matter, most of the singing on here is either standard or downright embarrassing. It's no surprise that the best cuts are instrumental, particularly Solace by Violet Arcana (who actually have a couple albums out), The Soul Barrier by SpineFolder (the one Seattle act) and Fire Reveals Itself by Mesmer, which though not as polished and accomplished as the other two -- deserves a hearty applause for breaking the mold with its live percussion mixed with tape loops and droning noises. Actually, the Triple Point cut deserves that nod as well; it's basically a noise collage. And as mentioned above, the bonus cut is a pretty cool blast of sample-happy hardbeat as well.
Should you buy it? Well, the good cuts are worth having around, if only for your own compilations or conversation. Local fans will probably in want one, and out-of-town digifriends will probably get enough out of it... just understand that we don't have an Industrial band playing here every night. But for most folk, who probably aren't that into the hardbeat thing, there's not much here to tease you into the fold.
Issue: July 1997
Jester, founder and editor of the online zine Sonic Boom has expanded his presence in Industrial society with his first CD release, Undercurrent. Undercurrent is a gathering of sorts for many of the electronic bands that are based in the northwest. Each of the 14 bands present get a chance to be heard outside of their native communities. For some of the bands (Thine Eyes and Violet Arcana) this is nothing new, but for others (Mindvirus, Nobody, Nocturne, etc.) this is the first step to getting recognized nationwide. The Mindvirus piece, Chapel Perilous, is a percussionists dream. Mainly driven by a crushing beat, this piece incorporates other elements, such as noisy electronics, compelling sequences, and untreated vocals to round it out into a track that is both harsh and addicting. SpineFolder aligns semi synth-pop styled sequences with a turbulent rhythm and various samples to create an instrumental The Soul Barrier that never gets stuck in one place. Nobody takes a slight coldwave approach to their track, Eyes Sharp, Teeth Sharper. While the vocals leave a bit to be desired, the music behind this piece is brilliant. Attenuated Euphoria's Danger is a minimalistic piece that is too reliant on the various vocal patterns. Obsession by RKiK is a decent, rhythmically driven piece, but once again, the vocals are a bit weak. Thine Eyes twist peculiar sequences in and out amongst the pulsating beat of Devil's Mountain and layer the vocals over the top of it all. This piece takes several turns before winding down, making it rather enjoyable to listen to. Violet Arcana deliver with whispered vocals and Ambient sequences on their spacey sounding Solace. Taste of Reality (Reconstructive Surgery Mix) by Runes of Desire is a cyber-Electro piece with a palpitating rhythm and half hidden vocals. Triple Point takes us into the realm of electronic noise with their track, Lorrie Pours Out (Wide-Eyed Mix). 14 bands and 15 songs (one being unaccredited), all unadulterated US Electro.
Issue: July 1997
Undercurrent - PDX is the product of the efforts of one Chris Christian, a.k.a. Jester, the man behind the excellent Sonic-Boom e-zine. His compilation is a collection of artists from the Northwest United States, mainly in Portland, Oregon, which must have one hell of a scene, judging from the fourteen acts residing there. Before I get down to the review, I must admit that I have soft spot for underground Electro compilations. I love them all, but Undercurrent PDX is certainly a deserving compilation.
The disc starts out with John Irish's project AREA 88, which shares a sound similar to 16 Volt, with whom he has worked, but lacking guitars. SpineFolder, who I was familiar with from Mind/Body 2, presents a great track that reminds me of less danceable Vanishing Heat mixed with Thorns styled :wumpscut:. Both Attenuated Euphoria and RKiK have a poppier Electro sound that could have come out of Disorder era FLA, while Arts Industria favorites Thine Eyes are here in their standard, cool and eclectic form. Violet Arcana present what surely is the best track of the compilation with the Techno-esque Solace. Triple Point have a nice, Tinty Music styled sound, and Mesmer present a pounding tribal track. The only down side to Undercurrent is the two Sisters like Goth groups, but I've never really liked Goth, so it probably isn't fair for me to judge. Doppler Effect Records has a nice underground compilation, showcasing some groups who really deserve more attention than they are getting.
Author: Brandt Gassman
Issue: January 1998
Owing much in premise to Sinless Records' seminal Boston Electro 101 compilation, Undercurrent - PDX is a collection of superb tracks from electronic-Industrial artists in a particular region of the United States, this time (with the exception of SpineFolder, who are from Washington) the state of Oregon. Assembled by Sonic-Boom writer and national scenester Chris Christian, this compilation provides an excellent sample of the underground acts that populate the Oregon scene.
However, unlike Boston Electro 101, Undercurrent - PDX does not limit itself strictly to artists in the electro genre. From the Industrial-rock of Nobody, to the organic goth of Nocturne, to the airy ambience of Violet Arcana, Undercurrent - PDX remains exciting and diverse throughout all of it's fifteen tracks.
That's not to say that this compilation is bare of electro acts. On the contrary, acts such as AREA88, SpineFolder, Pet Of The Future, and Runes Of Desire provide some superb electro-mechanical chaos that rivals anything Offbeat Records has put out in the last few years. Nobody and Mindvirus both offer up hard electro-Industrial mixtures that are suitable for dancing or moshing, depending on your mood. Another plus is the fact that neither act uses much (if any) vocal processing; a rare occurrence with this type of music nowadays.
The most notable tracks on this compilation are supplied by Thine Eyes (who is scheduled to appear on the upcoming Cyberbabies compliation) and Violet Arcana. The former's Devil's Mountain is a blend of distant blips and whirrs with pulsing electronics and soul searching vocals. The latter gives a sensation of floating through a dream world with their track Solace. The compilation, in my opinion, is worth the price for these two tracks alone.
For those of you who are familiar with the scene in Oregon, this compilation will provide you with an exceptional sampler of acts that you already know and love. For those of you who think that Oregon has nothing more to offer than 16Volt and lots of timber, you are in for one Hell of a surprise.
AREA 88 opens the compilation with an angst-ridden coldwave track. The vocals sound like what I've heard of 16 Volt, and the whole track has a sort of restrained feel. The bassline and a steady beat hold your attention as vocals are delivered, until some neat percussion comes in. When the guitars _do_ come in, after the refrain, they don't really add the power that guitars should. Because of that my main memory of the track is the vocals. Lots of singing and relatively little musical variation. As a whole, it's a good song in the vein of God Lives Underwater, 16 Volt, etc.
Next is Mindvirus. With a complex percussive intro, the band destroys my expectations with screechy guitars, and continues their wailing until amateurish bleeps come in and funny sounding wood block percussion. The vocals come in and remind me a little of SMP sort of stuff. They're pitchshifted on the refrain, and to be honest I listen to this track and wonder what it's supposed to convey.
Spinefolder is next, and yes they are incredible. I don't know how to describe this instrumental piece. Begins with droning sounds, and then factory-like crunching noises, followed by the obligatory high hats. Then the noisy factory stuff filters out, and the song really takes off. This is complex enough to please fans of Mentallo & The Fixer instrumentals, but I think it' better than most of theirs. The track has bite, and speed, and originality.
The next song is by a band called Nobody. I'm not going to joke about that name. The song has lots of guitars, and sounds identical to Life of Agony and God Lives Underwater to me, with the vocal twist of a more nasal Alice and Chains.
Attenuated Euphoria's track begins quickly with quirky bleeps and some clanky percussion. Then the distorted vocals enter accompanied by the funny sounding bleeps. I wish they had some strings in the mix, or some guitars, or something - the song sounds too choppy. The melodies are too strange to stand alone, there needs to be a bit more melodic structure. Comparisons would be a weirder and more empty Lab Animals.
RKiKpresents a cool track with a bassline and treble bleeps and relatively simple percussion that works *perfectly*. The vocals are very undistorted and melodic, ruining a comparison to new Leather Strip. The track is very depressing and interesting, but it doesn't have the energy that could make it shine nor the depth that could make it truly dark.
Thine Eyes begins their contribution with interesting samples and cool rhythmic structures, produced by noisy scratching and ultra-fast bass kicks. Distorted strings raise an interesting melody. When the vocals do come in, they're undistorted and kind of whiney. Though my friends don't like this track, I think that Thine Eyes has a really cool, defined style and a lot of guts to sing so emotionally without distortion and especially as a new band. The track has an extremely droning and boring ending, though, which screws up the quick growth of energy they created with the rest of the track.
Nocturne have a pretty straightforward non-electronic track. I don't know which Nocturne this is, but they've a pretty good emotional rock piece. I'm no good at analyzing or describing that kind of music, though, so I'll stop here.
Violet Arcana are my favorite Ambient band. I love him. You see, it was two guys, Dave and Jeremy from 68000, who put out In the Scene of the Mind, a beautiful art-Techno cd with gorgeous vocals and slow sequences. This track is only Dave, I think, and I don't like it as much as In the Scene of the Mind stuff due to the lack of a louder beat, which always made Violet Arcana stick out to me) but it's still fantastic. I'm wondering what else Dave has come up with; I know he's got a new album called Sonic Aquarium that you should check out.
Pet of the Future recorded a spooky track they call Night Vision. Samples of screams and chorus sounding synths make me feel like I should be watching Thriller. Quick echo like piano parts and breezy strings along with snare percussion &well used guitar make this a cool track. With such a strong sense of melody, I'd like to hear less repetition and perhaps some vocals. The track seems to wander.
Runes of Desire begin Taste of Reality with noisy beats and by-the-numbers synth lines. Well done, but it needs a point. If it were jazz, I'd be waiting for the soloist to begin. That's the only way I know how to explain this... Give it a background, an atmosphere, something.
Triple Point's contribution begins like a really cool noise piece. It's in the noise Ambient realm, though it's not brutal or anything. I guess it's for those people that just like to sit and listen to factory sound slowed down. Pretty neat, but not my kind of stuff.
Mesmer has an awesome tribal song called Fire Reveals Itself. The track is really fucking cool and I'd definitely suggest that anyone into the spooky tribal sound, like the next to last track on Intermix's Future Primitives should listen. It's got incredible bongo percussion with the sounds of water rushing through and through, and what sounds like a monk singing a single note. Yet it's not cliche, it's in fact quite good.
lxl ends the listed roster with False Illumination, an Ambient piece with floating piano and percussion that reminds me of Skinny Puppy's Love in Vein. It sounds like less intense Last Rights material, without the vocals and of course not quite so good. It's interesting, and a whole album would be really good, but a single track of this sort always seems a little unconvincing.
"Listening to music is listening to all noise, realizing that its appropriation and control is a reflection of power. Noise - The political economy of music," are the words emblazoned in the credits of this compilation of Portland-based electronic music, and easily its credo as well. There's noise aplenty, but with quite a bit of ear-soothing prettiness sprinkled between the patches of harsh static.
AREA 88's contribution, No Release From, begins the disc. It's all electronic, mellow and aggro simultaneously, and you'll probably find the chorus of "I can't get my release from / I don't want respect / I don't want your reasons / all I want is your sex" running through your head long after the song ends.
Mindvirus and SpineFolder both offer us danceable Electro-ish tracks, with and without vocals, respectively. If the AREA 88 song doesn't get stuck on 'Repeat' in your mental stereo, both of these will.
Nobody's track, Eyes Sharp, Teeth Sharper, veers off in a slightly different direction than the three tracks proceeding it, but is nonetheless interesting. It's a darkish, almost ballad-sounding song, with live drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, and (GASP!) undistorted vocals.
Attenuated Euphoria, RKiK, and Nocturne all present us with poppy, radio-friendly cuts, while Thine Eyes' Devil's Mountain builds over the moody course of its four minutes and six seconds. All have chanted/howled vocals, distinguishable melodies amidst samples and static, static, and more static. Worth a listen or ten.
Violet Arcana's Solace is absolutely gorgeous, one of the true gems on this compilation. Primarily Electronic(a), there are whispers and airy sampled/live flutes which make it a VERY visceral experience. This song makes you want to close your eyes and say, "ahhh".
Sharply in contrast are Pet of the Future's, Runes of Desire's, and Triple Point's contributions; Night Vision melds harsh programmed drums with an aurally kinder pipe-organ-sounding bassline, equally harsh Taste of Reality features lots of news soundbites, and Lorrie Pours Out is an Ambient noise piece.
Mesmer's Fire Reveals Itself and lxl's False Illumination are two more instrumentals, both with a lot of interesting things going on in the background, besides the discernible primary melodies. However, those are the only things these two tracks have in common... Fire Reveals Itself is EXTREMELY tribal (I'd say jungle, but that brings to mind 180+ bpm hoo-ha), while "False Illumination" is piano and percussion-based. Oh, and I wish both these tracks were LONGER. Though they each clock in at over four minutes, I wouldn't complain if lxl or Mesmer made a twelve-minute rearrangement.
Chris Christian (aka Jester) of the Sonic Boom web-zine has done a fine job with the "Undercurrent" compilation, which contains various acts mainly from the Portland, Oregon area. Some of the tracks leave a bit to be desired, but as far as "underground" compilations go, this is clearly one of the best ones that I've heard yet. Anyway, the easiest way to review this album is with a track by track run down:
1. AREA 88 - No Release From (Raw Aggro Mellow Mix)
2. Mindvirus - Chapel Perilous
3. SpineFolder - The Soul Barrier
4. Nobody - Eyes Sharp, Teeth Sharper
5. Attenuated Euphoria - Danger
6. RKiK - Obsession
7. Thine Eyes - Devil's Mountain
8. Nocturne - Collide
9. Violet Arcana - Solace
10. Pet of the Future - Night Vision
11. Runes of Desire - Taste of Reality (Reconstructive Surgery Mix)
12. Triple Point - Lorrie Pours Out (Wide-Eyed Mix)
13. Mesmer - Fire Reveals Itself
14. lxl - False Illumination
15. A hidden track that's primarily beat driven with some electronics thrown into the mix. Again, solid, but by no means exceptional.
Despite some weak links, this still comes off as being a pretty decent compilation, with the number of decent or better tracks far out-weighing the weak ones. Now if someone would just give Spine Folder a record deal.
This is what is great about the Pacific Northwest. It is an area that is very dense in Electro/Industrial acts, and Undercurrent is a sampling of some of those acts. The disk roars to life with ex-16 Volt keyboard player sase and his project AREA 88, a very polished track that brings to mind NIN/Gravity Kills, and is a crowd pleaser. (I have made sure this gets some play at our local club). Mindvirus follows with a dense mix of guitar, keys and angry vocals declaring "The worlds a whore" on Chapel Perilous. The music was catchy, but the lyrics did not move me. An instrumental The Soul Barrier by SpineFolder meshes hard Electro and light Ambient styles on a track that would work very well on MTV's AMP, and could easily find it's way next to FSOL on any playlist.
Nobody summons the ghost of Prog Rock (with a touch of KISS vocals) on Eyes Sharp, Teeth Sharper, followed by Attenuated Euphoria's Danger. Danger starts out with 80's style keys and distorted vocals, but them slips into a Beatles like chorus and as the song wears on, it slows down, killing any dance value. RKiK puts in another ode to the 80's with Obsession, a good track with good production yet, the vocals lack power. I am not convinced that the vocalist is anyone's obsession. I can tell he has a good voice, just needs to take it up a notch. Devils Mountain rings in the return of Thine Eyes with their patented "Tangerine Dream on crystal Meth" sound. In my opinion the best track on the compilation. I love these guys and hate them because they are so good.
Nocturne show up with a very passable "Cure" impression with the guitar laden Collide, a track that sticks out with it's Gothy imagery and cool musicality. Speaking of "cool", Violet Arcana provide "chill" with Solace, a real Trance trip to the center of David Duddleston's mind. I can't understand why Violet Arcana has not found it's way to the mainstream like Underworld or the Orb, because they are are in the same league. Good old fashioned home-brew Electro characterizes Pet of the Future's Night Vision, as well as the very EBM Runes of Desire with Taste of Reality. I might add that I loved the swirling vocal effects on the Runes track, opposed to the normal standard fare distortion.
Triple Point logs on with Lorrie Pours Out, a very Experimental noise track that sounds like it came from "The Forbidden Planet", and Mesmer brings on the world beat sound with Fire Reveals Itself, with it's drones, drums and sitar. The last track is lxl with the expermental sample collage called False Illumination, I found it eerie and pleasant until the drums kick in, taking the track to a different place, very cool. Oh but there is more, a hidden track at the end from an unnamed artist, as a bonus. Undercurrent shows just what can happen when a scene pulls together and promotes itself, and is one of the better compilation offerings that I have heard this year. Good job my friends.
Over the last 1 1/2 years my musical tastes have shifted from Industrial and Goth to more strictly electronic / drum & bass material. This was pretty much due to the fact that I was tired of guitars... It seemed only a few Industrial bands had anything left to offer me... on occasion, I do go out and buy myself an 'Industrial' cd, only to be disappointed... So I had my doubts about Undercurrent, but it had a Thine Eyes song on it, so that WAS something (Chris still plays his Thine Eyes demo from a few years back)
Undercurrents is excellent... there's a diversity running through it that other compilations (mainly Cleopatra releases, in my experience) lack greatly... I say, don't waste your $$$ on the latest Cleopatra release, but buy this and hear something new... genre-wise, you have a few run of the mill 'Industrial' numbers and a few Goth tunes (which aren't really my thing) but with tracks from Thine Eyes, Violet Arcana and lxl, its nice to see that influences aren't limited to Skinny Puppy and Frontline Assembly... Some material has a strong Ambient feel to it, some a very definite 'IDM' feel. Anyhow, I expected very little and was pleasantly surprised... a bit of my lost faith in Industrial music has been restored...
1) AREA 88 - No Release From
2) Mindvirus - Chapel Perilous
3) SpineFolder - The Soul Barrier
4) Nobody - Eyes Sharp Teeth Sharper
5) Attenuated Euphoria - Danger
6) RKiK - Obsession
7) Thine Eyes - Devil's Mountain
8) Nocturne - Collide
9) Violet Arcana - Solace
10) Pet of the Future - Night Vision
11) Runes of Desire - Taste of Reality
12) Triple Point - Lorrie Pours Out
13) Mesmer - Fire Reveals Itself
14) lxl - False Illumination
15) ? - ?
Publication: The High Voltage Circumcision Show
Special thanks to Jester (Sonic Boom, etc.) for the Undercurrent compilation. Featuring debut's of Portland OR's eclectic electronic music scene. Music ranges from alternative rock to new age to Chemlab'ish Industrial, to incredibly unusual Industrial and Ambient artists to heavy metal with minor electronics. A diverse blend of music with something for everyone.
Publication: Storming The Base of The Alien Foe
I love the voice of Mindvirus, though the lyrics land right in the center of the average Industrial lyrics - in Stinkyland. "The world is a whore"? But the vocals remind me of Mark27 from Terminal. I also like, of course, Violet Arcana, SpineFolder , and lxl, since they have a little more atmosphere to them. Pet of the Future and Runes Of Desire aren't at all bad, but I guess it's more a problem of all the other tracks not standing out all that much. I still love these compilations that chronicle a city/region's music scene. There's always something on them that completely stuns you that they're not any further. Violet Arcana's like that for me.