Charlie Cunningham – ‘Permanent Way’

Sounds like … emotive singer/songwriter sounds, spiced with Spanish guitar riffs.

A singer songwriter and his guitar … sounds like a worn out concept in the year 2019? Add a two-year stay at the flamenco school in Sevilla and expressive vocals and you have got everything but boring. Charlie Cunningham is releasing his sophomore record Permanent Way and moves away from the simple stripped back tunes of his debut to a more experimental sound. The collaboration with other artists and producers pushed him out of the comfort zone and led to experimentation with electronic elements as well as a new take on songwriting process.

Incorporating new dynamics into his record, tracks like Monster include ethereal synthesiser waves, which match the vocals like fitting puzzle pieces. The atmospheric vibe and the gentle voice of the singer give this single unexpected turns and different colors. Charlie Cunningham is expressing his love for creative freedom and the importance of staying true to oneself especially as a musician on Permanent Way. ‘You can do what you want / but I’m making my own way’ he croons. His tendency to include autobiographical stories into the lyrics of his songs, gives them a special feeling of honesty and humanity. By opening up about his struggles and showing vulnerability, the artist’s music resonates with the listener easily. On the Interlude (Tango) he draws strongly on his Spanish guitar influences and delivers an impeccable presentation of the skill. But he also mingles the passionate Spanish fingerpicking style into his songs. Bite is a dark account of the downside of addiction and while Cunningham sings achingly, the guitar riffs and the keys give the track a unique feel. Hundred Times shifts somewhere in between late night jazz and mellow folk track. Charlie Cunningham does not only show off his skills at mastering the six-string but also his sense for lyrical texts and a moving presentation of those, on Permanent Way(Liv Toerkell)

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Robag Wruhme – ‘Venq Tolep’

Sounds like … a warm summer morning following a big rave night out

If it’s done the right way electronic music can have an emotional effect on you that lasts beyond the simple euphoria many people love to experience during a club rave. But only a few producers are capable of letting elements of humanity and fragile beauty shine through and create something truly moving. Gabor Schablitzki, the man better known as Robag Wruhme, is such a talent and Venq Tolep, his first full-length in eight years, is a magnificent testament of his unique sound. While Wruhme‘s DJ-sets are often also wholesome club experiences and he’s still capable of releasing proper techno floorfillers (like last year’s EP Wuzzlebud FF proved) I always enjoy him the most when he leaves traditional techno territory. Labelled by him as a sibling to 2011’s critically acclaimed album Thora Vukk this new one takes Schablitzki’s love and feeling for gentle melodies and mellow electronica even further away from the dancefloor context and that’s the best thing that could have happened to this album. Advent and Westfal, both features with longtime collaborator Lysann Zander, open the album with gentle piano melodies, strings and a tender beat. Electronic effects chirp around like crickets on a warm night, giving the music plenty of depth and it’s a bliss.

What makes Robag Wruhme‘s sound so unique in the field of electronic music are not just certain trademark sounds and returning elements but also the complexity that is sensible within this apparent easiness. Sounds are bubbling everywhere, surprising samples and elements are happening in the background, inviting the listener to discover a lot of love within each element. However, you don’t need to go that deep to enjoy Venq Tolep, you can also simply get carried away by it’s hypnotising flow. And while tracks like Iklahx and Ak-Do 5 surprise with their ‘breakbeats meets chimes’n’bells’ vibe it’s songs like Komalh and the marvellous title-track that unfold the full potential of the German producer’s ambient techno. Warm string patterns caress the listener and invite him to reflect a bit. Venq Tolep shows how much Robag Wruhme has perfected his artistic vision since Thora Vukk, leaving outworn techno patterns behind and embracing musicality and … well, also pop (Nata Alma might surprise you here). From the start to the closing Ende #2 (which features plenty of friends from all over the world sending heart-warming greetings) you can sense a love for detail, the music and the people that are involved in it on this record. With this eloquent elegance Robag Wruhme simply underlines what I’ve been saying for years: He is a truly unique figure in the world of electronic music and maybe one of the best producers the scene has to offer right now. (Norman Fleischer)

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AURORA – ‘A Different Kind Of Human (Step 2)’

Sounds like … a modern musical, starring a singing fairy in the leading role.

“You cannot eat money, oh no.” – the main message from Aurora’s already released single The Seed of her newest musical effort A Different Kind of Human. really stucks in your head. The Norwegian singer-songwriter and producer makes no fuzz when it comes to our current environmental situation: pollution or exploitation of natural resources are just two thing capitalism is willing to sacrifice for cash. The song is an act of rebellion and a warning for all of us. With it, AURORA sticks to her musical themes of nature, human spirit and fantasy. So does the rest of the album, without getting boring. Since the beginning of her career AURORA was up for drama and mystery story telling.

How does such tales sound? Absolutely refreshing! A Different Kind of Human is the next chapter in the singer’s collection of escapism in music (following last year’s Infections Of A Different Kind – Step 1). Slightly electronic, light and dreamy. Dark but hopeful, tragic but positive. Indie-pop mixed with a musical greatness. By-now-overused trap-beats cannot be found and they are not missed at all. Along with the singer’s remarkable voice the 11-track-album is a soundtrack for all of you who did not jump on the current hip hop/pop wave. Aurora stays creative and is still able to take her listeners to another dimension for a moment. She stays in the woods and honestly: we should follow her as long as we can. (Kai Hermann)

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The Divine Comedy – ‘Office Politics’

Sounds like … a synth tinged, curious and witty exploration of human sensitivities. 

Expect the unexpected from The Divine Comedy. That’s about as much of a rule as there is for every new album created by Neil Hannon, the creative force behind the band from Northern Ireland. So it’s hardly a surprise that the musical outcome of the eleventh studio album called Office Politics shifts yet into another new found direction that displays the great scope of diversity Hannon is capable to capture and able to pull off. All of Hannon’s ideas being examined carefully over the course of the comprehensive album featuring 16 tracks in total. Despite being naturally curious to immerse himself into a broad spectrum of musical genres, Hannon’s love for synthesizers remains at the core of Office Politics for sure this time around with the overall synths tinged sound often exploring the possibilities of this particular musical element. 

Hannon being the gifted songwriter always skillfully combining melody and wordplay alike, Office Politics, once again, offers a great deal of exactly those two songwriting pillars when looking at The Divine Comedy’s back catalogue. Its greatest strength being the endless number of hooks, the witty storytelling full of detailed observations of sometimes rather secondary experiences that are normally easily overlooked. Instead, Hannon examines them with a whole lot of sarcasm and adds further creative dimensions by portraying the songs’ characters with empathy as well on the follow up of Foreverland (2016). Office Politics may explore the big pop gestures along with an increased interest in electronic pop, however the record also features choirs, many blissful orchestral arrangements or funky moments on top of it all. There are songs about jumping the queue (Queuejumper), a married couple (Norman And Norma), machines taking over our lives (Infernal Machines), self evaluation (Psychological Evaluation), synthesizer brands (Synthesizer Service Centre Super Summer Sale) or interpersonal relationships and frustration (A Feather In Your Cap) which make Hannon’s latest work seem like a truly great playground of ideas that still carries his particular handwriting and love for imagination that is truly enviable. (Annett Bonkowski)

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Pixx – ‘Small Mercies’

Sounds like … a genre-hopping marathon. 

Pixx, aka the twenty-three year old London based artist Hannah Rodgers, delivers Small Mercies as the follow-up record to her debut in 2017. Unlike on the latter, in 2019 she is not looking inwards but targets the outside world with her charming wit. From gender stereotypes, to religion, and environmental destruction, nothing is safe from the sharp look of Pixx, she even assembles the view of a toy doll on Funsize. But besides the intriguing insight into what a plastic doll’s life might be like, the track comes with a beautifully but unsettling arrangement. Between the driving metronomic beat with hints of experimental electronic elements, Pixx presents her vocals in a computer-like staccato. The synth-centric track is like a disturbing short film dipped into eclectic music.

Moving away from the lifeless dolls, on Andean Condor Pixx tackles gender inequality. She compares the justification she has been given by (some) men, who compare it to the roles of animals and turns their example on them: aren’t we supposed to be human and not animals?! ‘Mature males tend to be at the top of the pecking order’ but ‘Maturity is a myth’ she sings on the playful and disarmingly honest lyrics. Form the synth-heavy tracks Pixx jumps right into the grungy guitar-loaded Mary Magdalene. The fuzzy and reverb-laded guitars project dark and gritty mood and give the singe a certain dystopian vibe. The singer relieves the tension with the incredibly catchy chorus. The reflection on the disciple of Jesus is an alternative rock single of the finest and a true highlight of the album. But the artist is not yet done with her genre-jumping marathon. Bitch is a cocky punk anthem celebrating self-acceptance drowning social stereotypes in angry noise. While the guitars on it might shatter eardrums if you turn it up too loud, Blowfish takes a softer side. The steely surf-rock guitar strums and gentle lyrics mixed with some reverb effects, make it sound like a folk song pressed through a dreamy psychedelic filter. The diversity of Small Mercies is astonishing. Pixx manages to explore more styles than some artists do during an entire career on one album without sounding like anything else but herself. Get ready to laugh, dance and cry to this record. (Liv Toerkell)

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