November 7, 2010

30 in 30: Lazersword – Lazer Sword [86/100]

By Daniel

By request I’m putting line breaks between track descriptions. Sorry about that.

Notes: “Tar” opens up with chiptunes aplenty, transitioning into a moody electronica sound, definitely on the experimental side, a lot going on that I wouldn’t be able to really explain but that’s typical of the genre, not bad at all though you do need to be a fan of the genre to appreciate a lot of what’s going on. If you’ve listened to Infected Mushroom or Shpongle you’re suitably prepared for what’s going on here. Good opener.

“Agrokrag” opens up very heavy on dropping the beat altogether, this one’s less the realm of Shpongle and more like a Squarepusher or Flashbulb sound. The crystal synth they chose gives them an interesting sound, the track would be less palatable without it. Nice buildup to a bridge with time-stretched handclaps. Solid ending. This one’s not quite as solid as the first track but should have its share of fans.

“Surf News” has a watery opening true to its name, and the first vocal sample I could understand. This one’s even more experimental than the last, we’re getting into some obscure stuff like Prabhamandala. These are admittedly hard to grade, but the song isn’t bad.

“I’m Gone (Feat. Turf Talk)” has a wild bass drum sound opening up the track which is the first electro-rap song on here. Soundstage is a bit cluttered, instruments are drowning the vocals in the verses. The last minute or so serves as an outro and it’s top-notch.

“Batman” has a great syncopated rhythm section, with little vocal stings and pad synths throughout. This one’s pretty different from anything I’ve heard in the genre, the rhythm gives it a hypnotic quality. If you’re the sort that prefers better living through chemistry, you’ll probably have this song as a go-to track. Very interesting track, but it feels a bit drawn out towards the end.

“Topflites (Feat. M Sayyid)” has a name that makes me hope we’re covering Arabian trance. Doesn’t appear to be the case, we get a second electro-rap song with a very different feel, less instruments on the stage and it’s much easier to hear to vocals. Some hot lyrics here, but we are still in very experimental electronica. It’s a “learn to love it” genre.

“4loko” is a slower track, very syncopated rhythms and an acid synth are the bulk of what’s going on. The rhythm almost feels spasmic, quite an interesting track honestly given the short length.

“Machine (Feat. Zackey Force Funk)” has an industrial sound straight from Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock”, complete with samples. It’s actually a bit comforting to have a less experimental track to listen to, and they do a really good job taking an established genre and adding their sound, in this case adding their synthesizers with pitch bends. A really solid track, I’d like to hear them do more in this space.

“Web Swag” opens up with a lot going on, samples, instruments, synths, chiptunes. It’s got some of the trappings of rap, you keep thinking it’s heading that way, but this one’s a melodic experimental sound that is one of the high points of the album. No good comparison to make here in terms of another artist, I honestly haven’t followed the genre closely recently. Worth a listen for sure though, with the caveat that goes with the rest of this album that you like the sound or aren’t afraid to listen to something totally different.

“Skybox” opens up with endearing chiptunes, more of a video-game sound than any of the other tracks have had. Simple melodies and simple instruments, it’s not even two minutes long but it’s quite unique from anything else on the album. These guys are covering a lot of ground in experimental.

“Def Work” has an opening with bells and cleverly placed synthesizers that remind me of Amon Tobin, but when it transitions it’s closer to acid house than anything else on the album has been, though we’re still a bit too syncopated to fit neatly in that genre, with a bridge full of that crystal synth from the first few tracks, bringing the song to a much more brooding sound, big sweeping bass synth, the synths change scale into something more menacing. Very complex song in terms of arrangement.

“Fubu” opens up dominated by synthesizers, big acid synth in the front with little stings from a spooky pad synth, other little Neptunes-esque cosmic sounds going on in the back. If I were DJing this song has about as much promise as anything on the album so far. There’s an arpeggiated synth that’s giving the song tons of character, it’d have a lot less impact without it. Good gated ending that ends it on a good note.

“Owl Tats” once again has a ton of stuff going on, we’re knee deep in experimental with more emphasis on vocal synths than in previous tracks, about halfway through the song it changes character but even it’s not enough to get me on board with this one. Not enough setting it apart from previous tracks.

“Cosmic Ride (Feat. Myka Nyne)” opens up with a sort of synthesized harpsichord sound climbing up and down scales, transitioning into more of a future-house rap sound. Really not bad, the strongest of the three rap tracks by a fair margin. Much easier listening than the last few tracks.

“Beast’s Reprise” opens up with brooding plucked strings, joined by a crunchy acid synth, and finally some nice mellow chiptunes and vox box. Actually quite a solid little song, and a good closer to a pretty good album.

Tone and Overall Sound: 16/20 Points. They did a really good job in a genre where it’s tough to srtike a balance. I had one or two times where the soundstage was too cluttered for comfort, but this is innovative stuff from a pair of up and comers.

Melody and Harmony: 16/20 Points. Little use of harmonies meant that brilliant melodies save the score here. Good varied approach.

Rhythmic Qualities: 16/20 Points. Had to dock a few points for not bringing anything new to the table in terms of percussion instrument choice. What they did use was solid on nearly every track and on a few of the more syncopated tracks it stole the show. Good job here.

Mixing and Production: 20/20 Points. I’ve already made mention of there being a bit too much going on on the soundstage, so I’m not taking off points in this section for it. Lots of good use of synthesizers of all kinds, which is harder to get a feel for than most people realize. It’s far too easy to have two or three to use all the time, but they went above and beyond. Effects were solid and dynamics were used well.

Theme and Concept: 8/10 Points. Theme in a work like this is less about a story and more about overarching musical themes, and the brooding, spooky sound they went for that gave me that Amon Tobin feel is consistent throughout. The four songs that used lyrics were each good but not quite standout material.

Presentation: 10/10 Points. Beautiful cover art, very appealing aesthetically and it does feel like a good fit.

Total: 86/100 Points. In an earlier life I’d have been listening to this with the company of some plant friends and a bag of Chewy Chips Ahoy with the lights out. For newcomers to the genre, it’s easy to be turned off by all the noise, all the stuff going on, the nonstandard rhythms, instruments and melodies. I encourage you to expand your horizons, that’s part of this 30 in 30 project for all of us, to listen to stuff we wouldn’t normally. For experimental fans, there’s something new here for you, give it a listen, and soon, so you can say you heard these guys when they were just putting out their first EP because they have tons of potential.

Scoring Method: [pdf]
Sennheiser HD25-1 II
Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS
MOG 320kbps MP3 Stream

Lazersword was a pleasant surprise from a new band. Tomorrow was supposed to be the new one by Machinae Supremacy but I can’t find it anywhere on MOG, so an emergency substitute is called in, the band is Avey Tare and the album is called Down There, released back on Tuesday. If the new MaSu shows up I’ll see about working it into the project.