Coil – “Panic” (1985)

coilpanicThere are three songs on this 12″ from Coil, and all three bring something different to the party.  “Aqua Regis” is the stuff nightmares are made from, and industrial horror show from the deepest recesses of the most primitive parts of the brain.  I mean, just look at the cover of this thing – if that image isn’t nightmare fuel, I don’t know what is.  However, “Panic” is some great industrial dance, metallic beats and more structured than its predecessor, though the vocal interlude is creepy as hell (and it sort of sounds like they sampled some Led Zeppelin era Robert Plant with some of the moaning).  The B side is given over to an industrial cover of “Tainted Love” that will peel the paint off your soul, if you have one.  Even played at 45 rpm you’re left thinking, “wait, is the speed too slow?”  It’s not.  It feels like something being sung by a homicidal stalker.  Meaning it’s pretty great.

DIY Synthesizer Kits #2 – Disintegrated Cracklebox

crackle1Following my successful Atari Punk Console build I had so much confidence that I wanted to tackle a second Rakit DIY synth kit immediately.  After all, I was clearly on a roll and my soldering game was on point.  So I decided to go with what looked like the next easiest kit, the Disintegrated Cracklebox.

My confidence lasted for as long as it took me to lay out all of the individual parts (see below).  Man there’s a lot of stuff in this bag!  Sixteen resistors… shoot, the APC didn’t even have 16 total parts!  And all those different resistor values to differentiate using the tiny color striping had be a bit worried.  Throw in 19 capacitors and a handful of other parts and it was clear that I had a lot of soldering in front of me.  Fortunately the online instructions were very detailed and I’d learned a few lessons in the APC build about the importance of staying organized in how the pieces were installed.  Even with all that prep, though, I still managed to fill a hole I wasn’t working on with solder which required some MacGuyver-ing to resolve, but I managed to get it sorted.

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I’m not entirely sure how long this build took – probably somewhere around 60-90 minutes.  But it fired up right away and I was crackling like a fool.  The Cracklebox is an interesting item – you need to use both hands on it to complete the circuit and create sound, and how you interact with the touch pads creates the sonic variance.  You can rest a finger in one spot, or tap to create a sort of beat, or rub across the surface to make a sort of electro-scratching sound.  There were some combinations that made noise and others that didn’t – I’ll have to play with this a bit more to understand precisely how to use it.

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This kit was more intricate than the APC, but honestly wasn’t any more difficult – it just took more time and patience and maybe a bit more care since those holes are all so close together.  Remember kids, keep the tip of that soldering iron clean as you progress so you don’t drip a molten metal plug where you don’t want one!

So far I’ve been happy with the kits from Rakit (if you’re interested in checking them out for yourself, you can do so HERE).  It’s a few bucks more expensive than the APC, somewhere around $20-25 US, but there’s also quite a bit more to it.  I’m intrigued to see if/how I can use this with some of their other pieces.

DIY Synthesizer Kits #1 – Atari Punk Console

While I’m definitely a big music fan, I’ve never made much of an effort to learn how to play it (and given how bad my singing voice is, that was never an option).  I played violin in fourth grade, and clarinet in fifth, but that was it for any formal attempts.  I suppose I could read music at a basic level at one point, but that skill has long since disappeared from my brain.  Later I owned a little Casio keyboard and an electronic drum pad, but never got anywhere with them.  I wouldn’t say I’m incapable of learning – after all, at one time I could play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the violin.  But the older I get, the less likely it seems.

Then a few weeks back I was doing something online and ended up coming across an article about DIY synthesizers.  We’re not talking keyboards here, but various electronic components that you can build and use to make sound.  That was an incredibly fascinating revelation, and after a few hours going down an internet K-hole I emerged at the website for Rakit, a UK-based company that makes a variety of these DIY kits designed for a range of skill levels, even first-timers like me who had never built anything electronic and in fact have never even used a soldering iron.  So what did I do?  I ordered six different kits from Rakit, that’s what I did, along with a soldering iron and some angled wire cutters from Amazon.  And yesterday I sat down in the garage and made my first attempt at building a synth.

A quick disclaimer here.  The folks at Rakit don’t know I’m writing these.  I bought my kits from them at full price through their website – I didn’t get any freebies or discounts by offering to write about their stuff.  I’m writing about them because I bought them and have been having fun with them.

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I started with the Mini APC, the “Atari Punk Console”.  The reason I began here was simple – it was the smallest kit and had the least number of pieces.  I figured there was less to screw up, and since the APC only has minimal functionality I wouldn’t be too bummed if I screwed it up.  The Rakit kits are great – everything you need is right here in this one bag, and the instructions are available online.  You can even order the solder they recommend you use (which I did), plus add-ons such as a small speaker for the APC and connectors for hooking it up with some of their other kits, like the Baby 8 (which I also bought, but haven’t yet built).  The kit comes to about $20 US (plus shipping) and the APC runs on a regular 9-volt battery.

After unpacking all the parts and spreading them out, this didn’t seem too intimidating even for a newbie like me.  Only 15 things to attach to the APC board.

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As a complete and total novice, this took me about 45 minutes to assemble.  It would have been much faster had I displayed any common sense as to the order in which I mounted the pieces – a few times I found myself with some hard-to-reach soldering because I’d mounted other pieces around the spot I was working on next.  Mounting from inside to outside would have made it a bit quicker.

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I didn’t attach the little external speaker and instead tried to connect it to an old Mac laptop, but couldn’t get any sound.  Oh man… did I mess something up?  But then I plugged some headphones into the jack and it worked like a charm!  There isn’t a whole lot to the APC – just pitch and depth knobs.  That being said, it was a lot of fun to play around with, and while I don’t expect to make any hit songs using just the APC I know I can take some of these sounds and run them through some of the other Rakit kits to create something interesting.

All-in-all it was a fun experience building the Rakit APC kit.  I learned some new skills and even as a middle aged guy I felt a sense of accomplishment in having put something like this together for the first time.  I’ll be posting about other Rakit DIY kits as I put them together.  If you’re interested in checking these out for yourself, visit the Rakit website HERE.  Maybe you’ll find your next project.  There are also some YouTube videos by various folk about putting together and using little DIY synths like the APC.  But watch out – you might get sucked in.  I sure did.

Sweaty Records – “Blizzard People” Compilation (2019)

Sometimes I ask myself questions like, “Is it OK to review a digital-only release on a blog dedicated to vinyl”, or “Should I write about this record if I’m ambivalent about it”.  If I’m foolish enough to ask things like this out loud and within earshot of Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane, inevitably she’ll remind me, “It’s your blog, you can do whatever you want on it”.  Which is both true and good advice.  Recently I’ve been asking myself if a compilation could qualify for my year-end Top 5 releases list, and based on the strength of Blizzard People and my wife’s insightful reminders I think that answer is a definitive yes, at least for 2019, because it’s that good.

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The digital release of the six song Blizzard People came out back in March, and conservatively I’d guess I’ve played it at least 30 times since then.  It’s definitely the 2019 release I’ve played the most times this year, and I’m still not even remotely tired of it. I’ve been holding off writing about it until the vinyl version came out and earlier this week it appeared in my mailbox, so away we go.

I was hooked right from the opening beats of Logitech’s “Leather Forecast” and its refrain, does your wife even know…  It’s mysterious and mildly dangerous, the raised eyebrow of a bystander who finds themselves surprisingly attracted to something they normally wouldn’t give a second look.  Does your wife even know… maybe you’re actually into this even though you’d never even considered it before.  And that’s both exciting and a bit unsettling, just like these beats.

While I was already familiar with Iceland’s Sweaty Records from their 2016 VA_001 comp and therefore on board with their aesthetic, it was the involvement of Kuldaboli that initially drew me to Blizzard People.  And here he’s paired with none other than Volruptus, the duo combining on the high-tempo scattershot “Nightvision”, a high-pitched Speed Racer of a jam that would wear me out on the dance floor even though it’s only four-and-a-half minutes long.

Blizzard People is available online at Bandcamp HERE, both digitally and on vinyl (€12).  And I say get it while you can because this thing is hot as hell – all six tracks are outstanding.

tate/allison – “Jazz Machines” Cassette (2019)

tate/allison is JR Tate and Billy Allison, a couple of guys who met in music school in the San Gabriel Valley, just outside of Los Angeles.  The duo have backgrounds in big band, jazz, and rock, but also an affinity for noise, and they brought all those disparate pieces together on their new release Jazz Machines.

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Jazz Machines opens with the 23+ minute “Rain”.  The first third of the track creates an overall ambient soundscape with a distinctly non-electronic, instrumental warmth about it.  The horn takes a more prominent place as we progress, the composition splintering into different subelements as the intensity attacks and relents.  There are elements of free jazz at play, but much of the vibe remains minimalist and some passages feel quite intentional and not so improvisational, the overall subtlety making the noisier portions that much more jarring.  “Washer/Dryer” hits the listener with more discordant sounds early on, taking a more aggressive stance.  I sense a broader range of instrumentation here as well, including some electric guitar feedback that would have made Hendrix proud.  The track is more reminiscent of experimental rock than free jazz, in part due to the more prominent place of the guitar and other obviously electronic elements.  At 36 minutes it’s a marathon, but one that never gets old or tired.  “Train” opens in a much gloomier place, like a dark night in a run-down harbor district, damp, cold, and dangerous.  It retains that somberness throughout, a film-noir-esque soundtrack (and at 28 minutes, it could indeed score an entire film) to those places that are best avoided.  Compared to the other tunes, “detergent” is almost punk rock at just over five minutes in length, a song that retains its ambient core throughout and serves as a relaxing outdo to the overall Jazz Machines experience.

Jazz Machines is available on limited edition cassette and digital download via the art throughsound Bandcamp page HERE.