Various Artists
Cryotank Volume One (Cryonica)
~reviewed by Uncle Nemesis

Herewith a handy compilation from the UK electronic label Cryonica, to introduce some of their acts to the world. Five bands and fourteen tracks, all for a bargain price. Let’s jump in and see what delights await us.

Mono Chrome open things up with two tunes from their recent album ‘Collapse And Sever’. The immediate attention-grabber is Victoria Lloyd’s voice, which sails effortlessly over the music. She sounds so at ease that the music itself, by comparison, comes across as a little too cluttered, a bit too busy-busy-busy. ‘This Life’, in particular, has a jittery synthpop backing courtesy of electronics-wizard Clint Sand, which sounds incongruously nervy and fidgety behind the assured vocal. ‘Solutions’ is a remix, in which Victoria has been relegated to a supporting role, way back in the mix, while synth-sequences judder in the foreground. I dare say the original version of the track had the vocal more to the fore, since it seems bizarre to have such a good singer on hand, and then mix her so low.  I confess I’m not entirely convinced by these tracks: there seems to be a rather awkward mismatch between the slinky, graceful, vocals and the jump-all-over-the-place synthpoppy backing music. Maybe that’s the whole point, of course - maybe there’s *supposed* to be a style-collision here - but nevertheless I find myself wishing the two disparate elements of Mono Chrome’s sound dovetailed together a little more neatly.

Inertia - who also run the Cryonica label and thus are the proprietors of this whole shebang - give us three new tracks. Two of these - ‘Blank Stare’ and ‘Hypno-Suck’ - occupy that familiar Inertia territory of staccato beats, stabbing synth-sequences, and half-rapped, half-chanted vocals. It’s all heavily rhythmic stuff, a relentless dancefloor pulse, to the point where it seems frankly irrational to listen to these tracks while sitting comfortably in a chair at home. This, I suppose, is intended to be functional music. It’s precision-engineered to get amphetamine-fuelled club kids freaking out under the strobes, and I dare say it’ll do that job admirably. But I have to say that Inertia have been here before. They’re not breaking any new ground on these tracks, not pushing any envelopes.  This is exactly what we expect Inertia to sound like, and while I readily acknowledge the band’s expertise in creating hammering industrial dance tracks, I do think it’s about time they struck out in a new direction or two. Fortunately, the third Inertia track here does just that. It’s ‘Shakalaka Baby!’, a song from Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Bollywood ‘n’ bhangra musical Bombay Dreams - and it’s a little gem, an unpredictable cover which shows Inertia demonstrating an unexpectedly light touch and a witty pop sensibility. While I’m sure this particular song is a one-off - I doubt if Inertia are planning to feature selections from ‘Joseph And His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ on their next album - I’d like to hear the band try a few more odd tangents like this.

Swarf’s long-awaited debut album is scheduled to touch down any minute now, but while we await its arrival, here are three tasters. ‘Supine’ is Swarf in full-on uplifting trance mode. This is probably the most instantly accessible song they’ve done to date, at least from the point of view of the clubland massive. The band sound so confident here, the production is so warm and full, you’d think they were veterans of years of PAs down at the Ministry Of Sound. And if you think that reference is dangerously mainstream - well, yes, of course it is. Swarf are not some dodgy bedroom-electrogoth act, sticking sequences together with virtual Sellotape in a bid to get a few plays at the Slimelight. They’re a class act who could easily hold their own with the best of the big boys, and I for one hope they get their chance to mix it in those circles. ‘Grey (Version)’ rolls along on an insistent, upfront, bassline, with Liz giving it some expression on the vocal - although I have to say the halleluiah chorus of surging synths which break out like a rash on every chorus is perhaps a little OTT. It’s the musical equivalent of shouting ‘Put your hands in the air!’, and Swarf are far too cool for any of that nonsense. Then there’s the ‘Bold’ remix by Weirdo of ‘Subtext’, which is, I think, more Weirdo than Swarf - but it’s still a careering space rocket of a club tune. Taken together, these three tracks sound significantly more professional than anything else here, all due respect to the other artists - and if there’s more stuff of this quality in the can, then the Swarf album looks like it’s going to be a bit of a corker.

Hum. Did I utter the words ‘dodgy bedroom-electrogoth act’ up there? Yes, I think I did. And, as if summoned by a mystical incantation, the very next band on this compilation is Void Construct. I must admit I feel rather embarrassed about the way I always seem to find myself reviewing Void Construct, and inevitably giving them the bum’s rush. They just don’t connect with me; I think they’re one-dimensional and dull, and they stand in desperate need of a half-decent vocalist. But their stuff always seems to end up on my review-plate. If any other StarVox contributors would like to take Void Construct off my hands next time one of their releases comes along - please do! That would be slightly more fair to the band, and frankly I’d welcome the break. Here, the band give us three tracks.  ‘Myriad’ and ‘Glitch’ are curiously smooth synth-anthems, over which main man Scott Walker half-chants, half-whispers his apocalyptic lyrics in a distorted monotone. So far, so-so. However, the third track, ‘Construct (Android Mix)’, has been reconstructed by someone called Cycloon, and he/she has made an intriguing almost-instrumental tune (most of the vocals are intertwined movie-dialogue samples) which doesn’t seem to include much of Void Construct themselves. For me, this is the best track of the three, but then I would say that, wouldn’t I. Ah, well. Uncle Nemesis and Void Construct: some things are just not meant to be.

The album wraps up with three tracks from Fiction 8, which demonstrate their melodic, but oddly melancholy, brand of synthpop. ‘Too Late’ is a wistful little thing with a downbeat male vocal - imagine New Order on a rainy day. The real treat, however, is ‘The Dark Room’, which has some nifty violin and an even better vocal courtesy of Mardi Salazar. It’s a lilting, atmospheric piece, and one of the best things on Fiction 8’s recent album, ‘Forever, Neverafter’. Then there’s ‘Silent’, which shows Fiction 8 getting all ambient on us - and again, the band demonstrate their command of atmosphere, and ease us gently out of the compilation while doing so.

Like many compilations, ‘Cyrotank Volume One’ is a bit of a patchy affair.  There’s outstandingly good stuff here, and also a few slightly class-average efforts. But for all that I’d say this is an album worth getting: the fact that it’s a cheap-price item makes it worth taking the plunge. I’d recommend it especially for ‘Shakalaka Baby!’, ‘Supine’, and ‘The Dark Room’, and then investigate further as the fancy takes you.

The tunestack:
Mono Chrome: This Life, Solutions (Torrent Vaccine mix)
Inertia: Blank Stare, Hypno-Suck, Shakalaka Baby!
Swarf: Supine, Grey (Version), Subtext (Bold mix by Weirdo)
Void Construct: Myriad, Glitch, Construct (Android mix by Cycloon)
Fiction 8: Too Late, The Dark Room, Silent

The Cryonica label site:

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: