New York

Martial Canterel ‘Horizon Ltd.’

Algorithms are only reflective of the society which creates it. The nations biases and presumptions of class aptitude revealed dramatically in the U.K. school results fiasco, whereby the flawed predictive model used by the examinations regulator Ofqual to assign grades to students unable to take their exams due to COVID scored pupils from public school higher than the majority in state comprehensives. Similarly, the plethora of data-dictated playlists vying for attention on streaming sites like Spotify are, as consistent with the increasingly marketised world, pushing for perennial consumption over the authentic discovery of underrepresented artists. There is no risk in the world of voracious capital, and as the ubiquity of automated culture grows greater, our scope for a truly alternative community or movement fades into further artifice.

“…the dissolution of space and time, the emptying out of the future – the narrowing of our collective Horizon.” There’s always been a cerebral rigour to Martial Canterel‘s work. Initially studying philosophy before being taken by the synthesizer in his college music lab, Brooklyn based artist Sean McBride began crafting a thoroughly chilly take on synthpop anchored by a veneration for live analogue hardware and heady examinations of existentialist themes. Finding greater fame as one half of Xeno & Oaklander, McBride has steadily been releasing a string of work under the Martial Canterel moniker which continues his immersion of the coldwave heritage and provides a crunchier, industrial menace in contrary to the more glacial and ethereal electronics of his collaboration with Liz Wendelbo. Latest EP Horizon Ltd. sees McBride explore the eroding space and vision for the mistakes and variables which encourage art and the creative process.

EP opener ‘Remake the World’ establishes the mission statement succinctly and with dramatic urgency. A call to arms against the forces of passivity and the derivative with harsh drum beats and foreboding melody bristle against McBride’s distinct mastery of cascading sequencers and volatile frequencies. Caustic grooves slither with a weird carnal strut on the robotic swagger of ‘Melegseg’ (meaning ‘warmth’ in Hungarian), an irresistible blend of abrasive but funky percussion and cutting synths that slink and glide like the singing keys on Depeche Mode’s ‘Leave in Silence’Excavating his back-catalogue to rework 2007’s Other Half, the austere sting of the original is given greater sonic expanse of frenetic angst which recalls the aggressive dissonance as heard on Gyors Lassú, before the title track hits you with expert punchy basslines and metallic clangour which demonstrate McBride’s masterful ability to fuse seemingly difficult textures with dancefloor energy.

The corporate death grip of our collective horizon has been expertly articulated in another fantastic entry to a body of work which has been establishing itself as one of the most forward-thinking and pioneering in contemporary electronic music. Cutting the iciest and most fascinating examples of minimal-synth, Horizon Ltd. shows clearly that Martial Canterel is still full of ideas and retains a clear voice in the crowded synth scene filled with ‘imitations of imitations’ he no doubt inspired.

Macula Dog ‘Breezy’

Witnessing any one of New York visual artist Ben Mendelewicz‘s music videos and record covers is like two alien fingers plunged into your eyeballs, twisting around several times to ensure maximum brain jabbing before extending its slimy, elongated tongue to lick the grey matter and ocular fluid off its many digits. Garish, gooey, gross, Mendelewicz’s warped style found itself right at home among the kindred mutants that make up the weird and brilliant Haord Records.

Not content just corrupting the visual arts, Mendelewicz teamed up with Mark Matthews in 2015 to unleash Macula Dog, a congealed splatter of performance art, fucked-up electronics and eye-popping multi-media theatrics. Like some little bastard brother of The Residents kept locked in the attic for being even weirder than they, Macula Dog have steadily released a string of aggressively strange albums and E.P.s which established the Macula Dog sound: cartoonish donk and kids game show candy saturated with vocoder gunge and synth ooze. Jumping from Haord Records to Wharf Cat Records and inviting Paul D. Millar (from Aerial Pink’s band) to lend his engineering chops, Macula Dog has dared to inject a little pop into their latest offering, Breezy.

Recorded completely live to a 16 track tape, Breezy‘s four pieces are satisfyingly blemished and imperfect, each warble and atonal convulse captured organically. E.P. opener ‘Popping Hot Balloons’ is an urgent flurry of an 8-bit percussion and disjointed keyboards that rub, stretch, and squeak against each other like chewing flat balloons. Vocal slime gunks on the baffling title track, an expert display of keen sequencing skills that play out in a jumbled fashion, each bass throb teetering on the edge of collapsing into a mess of bleeps and screeches. The sonic stretching, inflation, and pulling-apart continue on the taut ‘Red’s Corvette’ before the animated ‘Lissajous’ (named after Jules Antoine Lissajous’s famous curve equation) bring the E.P. to a sludgy resolve of swamped synth gurgles and brittle vocal croaks curdling together with pleasing melodies and psych guitar licks under the electronic soup.

Alien, gelatinous, absurd, Macula Dog’s latest conjuring Breezy is another beguiling slice of strange which hasn’t been compromised by their embrace of pop sensibilities and outside production.

Sign Libra ‘Sea to Sea’

Silence isn’t silent at all. Bludgeoned by the unceasing demands of our collective labour, we obediently race through life in our useless displays of ‘productivity’ desensetised to the complex aural oceans of activity bubbling away outside our puny societal constructs. Stop for a moment and you’ll hear the piercing visceral hiss of subterranean nature reminding you of its indomitable awe against man’s temporary insignificance.

The sensory ether has been explored by Sign Libra since her debut E.P. Closer to the Equator. Inspired by BBC nature programmes on the rainforest, Latvian artist and producer Agata Melnikova soundtracked the organic microcosm of the jungle with a wide-eyed wonder of liquid arrangements and airy synths. Now aiming for the stars, Melnikova has sought humanity’s fascination with the Moon’s ‘lunar maria’ as thematic guidance for her first proper album Sea to Sea.

The spiritual and mythological relationship with the heavens course throughout the record. Each track named after one of the many volcanic plains historically mistaken for ‘seas’, Melnikova uses each sea name as a foundation to direct the flavour of each track. ‘Sea of Fecundity’ suitably opens the album, a rich and euphoric stir of vocal choirs and woodwind presets, Melnikova establishes the record with an unashamed harmony of celestial reach and cheesy instrumentation. Glossy kitsch develops further with keyboard sax and big club piano, all delivered with a knowing spirit of puckish fun. It’s a song which appeals to the heart over tiresome pretensions of ‘cool’, the rest of the album following suit.

The dense interplay between percussive rhythms and Eastern Asian melodies create a beguiling balance of electronica and organic sonics similar to Japan’s Tin Drum, Melnikova adding some throat singing to add an extra layer of exotic. ‘Sea of Nectar’ features Melnikova’s treated vocals dart and flutter like Grimes across sculpted ravines of Fairlight CMI sounding production, straight out of the more buoyant cuts off Kate Bush’s The Sensual World. The chilly vibe of ‘Sea of Serenity’ provides a welcome break from the jubilant character of the album, Silent Shout style wanders of echoing whispers and nimble bass hooks that ripple in its Scandinavian tundra. Ending as it began, the final track ‘Sea of Knowledge’ is a Hi-NRG banger of majesty, a joyous jolt of giddy dance with a smattering of kitschy Prince Rama pomp.

Fluid, amorphous, and ever-changing, Sign Libra have presented a piece of work that shifts its form into enticing and unexpected patterns and creations. Sincerely igniting some ethereal electricity without tumbling into New Age po-faced nonsense, Sea to Sea is an honest and exuberant signal to an energy we could all perhaps tap into if only we stopped and paid attention.

Grace Ives ‘2nd’

Grace Ives sat cross-legged, hunched over her Roland MC-505 with mic in hand, as featured in many of her promotional pics, is exactly the recording process one imagines when listening to 2nd. Bedroom beats, diary confessionals, everyday musings, Ives’s second release is a breezy, lo-fi hang-out where songs could just as easily stem from the toys and trinkets which adorn her apartment, as detailed on the cover.

A 12 track album clocking in at 22 minutes, 2nd is an exercise in pared down pop, each vignette effortlessly entertained before darting off feverishly, a collection of sketches much like The Residents’s Commercial Album. Despite it’s fleeting length, there’s a rich spectrum of flavours and guises which showcase Ives’s many dimensions, but never at the compromise of her laconic punch.

Crisp, sparkling pop fizzes on ‘Wow’, a buoyant contrary to the themes of neglecting oneself for the love of another, while Ive’s mission to make you dance is realised on ‘Icing on the Cake’, the satisfying snap of the hi-hat grooves along with programmed bass, culminating in a glorious arrangement of R&B vocals. Wistful energy propels ‘Anything’, cavernous voices wail around skitterish beats, before seguing in to the disconcerting ‘Something in the Water’, cartoon drums and brittle keys soundtrack the frantic splashing of ‘something red and yellow getting in your mouth’. Things take a slightly dreamier turn on ‘Butterfly’, a song of transcendence coloured with lazer synths and exquisite demonstrations of Ives’s singing ability, electronic flickers and flutters taking the lyric ”I’m just a sucker for love” off into the ether.

Everything about me is very laid back, my music is just supposed to be fun, danceable.” Avoiding the apathy which can sometimes plague her contemporaries, Grace Ives has contributed a bright and effervescent take on the lo-fi scene, grappling universal themes of love, regret, and anxiety with an infectious, vivacious, enthusiasm.