"Modem Times" (Album 2007) !DSO Recommended!
I understand that Kinetik have always been heavily influenced by Kraftwerk, but taking six years to get your second album out is taking the homage too far! The single, Marconi, taken from this album was released in 2002 - that was five years ago! This was worth the wait though. Modem Times begins our journey in glorious fashion - the slightly bizarre but entirely convincing baroque homage to Wendy Carlos via the world of Tron, where lyrics about FTP technology (Wiki it if you need to) sound perfectly... well, lyrical, I guess. This is instantly followed by Digtial World where the spoken words shift only marginally, onto a stream of (vocodered) "One, Zero, Zero, One, Zero, One, One" but due to Kinetik's constantly dismarmingly unpredictable compositional style, it's only when Colin's spoken lyrics come in, largely void of electronic filters, does the effect cheapen and the magic falter.
The beat-less otherworldly Data Protection is a shimmering, timely reminder of the importance of data protection in the modern age. At the other end of the spectrum there's the jaunty I.S.D.N. and the impressively organic Sine Language which could easily be an outtake from Wolfgang (Yamo) Flür's Time Pie album. When we get to the terrific penultimate track Modem Music the Kinetik creative juices are flowing full speed and the result is one of their finest compositions ever.
Limiting yourself essentially to singing about the wonders of technology and wrapping it in primal electronic beeping would challenge anyone's creativity after a while and Modem Times is a testament to how successfully Kinetik have risen to that challenge. It's the pinnacle of their career to date. But there is a seriously dark cloud on the horizon. Last track, the instrumental Over & Out sounds very much like a resigned 'goodbye' from Kinetik. Something the band have admitted could indeed be the case. It seems like a reluctant, almost inevitable decision given the inordinately protracted gestation of Modem Times, as if the band may have reached the limits of their expressive capablities, but one that I and many others hope will not be final. Never say never guys... please. 8/10
Rob Dyer (January 2008)
"Modem Times Supplement" (EP 2007)
Like the also very limited bonus DVD disc, this EP was supplied only to those who had pre-ordered the Modem Times album. Four explorations into Morse Code land, only one of which appears on either of the two albums - a shorter version of album track Tranz Mission that was used as the basis for the live version played at the 2002 Elektrofest festival. Two other tracks are completely live versions, recorded at the band's second appearance at Elektrofest in 2003. Go Elements, Go is a slightly hippy track that throws caution and pretention to the wind and revels in letting it's hair down. Not terrible but it contains little of what, to me, makes Kinetik so rewarding.
Contrast that with the second live track, the eight-minute In-Novation. This firmly sets out it's objective early on being a mid-tempo indulgence in rhythmic syncopation, just the kind of egg-head meets music maestro experiment that I love and we rarely see these days. The quality of both live recordings is extremely good. Trans Continental was an old song co-written by Andrew Sleight for a band he was in back in 1988, long before he joined Kinetik. It too is of the indulgent variety, clocking in over six minutes, it's a celebration of travel by rail in Europe (hmm... sounds familiar), but lacks depth and cannot fully sustain its length. A curiosity for Kinetik fans though as this did feature in the band's live set for a few years and until now had never been released as a studio recording. 6/10
Rob Dyer (January 2008)
"Modem Times Video Supplement" (DVD 2007)
This is a genuine rarity, a seriously limited bonus DVD disc that was only produced to reward those people who had been waiting patiently for Modem Times to appear - many of whom had paid money up front directly to the band. And for Kinetik fans this is a veritable smorgasboard of delights. First up is an in-depth hour interview with the three band members (apparently shot in someone's lounge!), mainly about the making of the album but also takes in broader topics. It's during this interview that the band confess that the album track Over & Out could be a swansong. They don't say decisively that there won't be any more Kinetik releases but you just get the sense that all three are exhausted with the process for now. They do say they will be taking a break from writing or recording and beyond that... they cannot say. Fans, like me, will be hoping that they at least keep the door open to more material in the future. It would be a great loss to the pure electronic music field if Kinetik called it a day forever.
Other goodies include a glance at recording Over & Out, a walk-through the mixing of the song Digital World, a look at the design of the CD inlay and a video guided tour of the Kinetik studio. All of these are shot on on low-fi handicam giving the whole thing a quaint homebrew feel, very much in keeping with the general 'no pretence' approach of the band. The second section of the disc is dedicated to three promo videos. Haven's Lament a simple (in every sense) video dating back to 1997 of Shirleyann playing the digital clarinet on the clifftops of Cornwall; Re-Generations an intensely detailed bedroom-cam boffin video of studio equipment in extreme close-up!; and the more professional and effective promo for single Marconi from 2002. The latter rewarding repeat viewing more than the other two. Finally, there's footage of three live performances: Kinetik Energy (at the Burning Issue festival, Wales 1995), Industry of Sound (from the 1998 Micro Tour) and I.S.D.N. (from Windows 2000 in Bath). All three come with a sound and picture quality health warning but are nice pieces of archive that fans will appreciate. This supplement to their great second album is unquestionably geek overload for the uninitiated, but a treasure trove for Kinetik enthusiasts. 6/10
Rob Dyer (January 2008)
"Marconi" (Single, 2002)
Second taste of material due on Kinetik's second album Modem Times that, despite two years passing since this was released, has still yet to materialise! Never mind, this goes some way to tide over fans of the Cornish Kraftwerk in the meantime.
Behind the great sleeve photo there are four tracks but only two songs and one 'interlude'. Marconi is, you'll not be surprised to read, about the Italian who made his name (in Kinetik's home county) as the man behind the first wireless transmission to span the Atlantic. Like most Kinetik songs, this celebrates the technology as much the man, and it's a pretty good number with decent enough if not exactly surprising lyrics. A vocodered, slightly drawling "Mar-co-ni" is the trademark of the chorus in both versions included here (Radio Edit and Album Version). The verses are more spoken than sung but with a radio broadcast quality added in place of the vocoder. This works well and suits the gentle nature of the tempo.
Tuning In splits the two versions of the title track and is Kinetik's take on the tuning radio idea that both Kraftwerk and OMD have both visited in their own ways before. Into The Ether is essentially a more ambient mix of Marconi with added lead lines and more echo and reverb carrying the echoes of Morse code. Consumed and enjoyed. I continue to wait patiently, with interest, for that second album. 6/10
Rob Dyer (April 2004)
"I.S.D.N." (EP, 2002)
Four remixes of a track due on the forthcoming second Kinetik album. This EP was originally released in 2000 to coincide with Kinetik's live performance in Bath. This reissue (KCD 8A) adds an extra remix by the producer OctEight - which is the weakest of the four versions (although it does at least take the song in a direction all its own). The first track 'vanilla' I.S.D.N. is a forthright entry at the techno end of the Kinetik spectrum. A Speak and Spell sets out the title whilst a mellow vocodered voice adds minimal vocals.
Impressively, both tracks two and three, Trance - Ference Mix and No Sleep 'Til "Windows" Mix add something extra to the original. From the chilled intro to track two, the song's storming sequencer comes in to take things higher up the BPM scale. A funked up bass line is another distinctive characteristic that lives up to the 'Trance' element of the remix title. Even more surprising is the second of the two Kinetik remixes. Stripping back the components to their naked extreme could easily undermine what is essentially a dance track, but this expansive interpretation succeeds largely due to Kinetik's innate understanding of progressive build and structure. A solid EP for a solid track. 6/10
"Refined (Special Edition)" (Album, 2002)
This reissue of Kinetik's first (1997) studio album comes with two additional contemporary tracks, a bonus live track (Pipeline) and is remastered. Kinetik's origins as a Kraftwerk covers band (!) are blatantly apparent across these twelve tracks, yet this remains an impressive debut on its own terms. Tucked behind Charles Sheeler's beautiful cover painting are some real electro gems that long-starved Kraftwerk fans shouldn't hesitate to snap up. It's refreshingly free of samples and combines complex programming and evidently talented musicianship. Titles such as Kinetik Energy, Sound of Industry, Generation and Net Working give a clear signal as to what to expect. Kraftwerk's Computer World album seems a direct influence on the song structures and their Radioactivity for some of the subject matter. Yet Refined is more than mere homage to the German legends. At its finest when they don't try too hard, tracks like Pipeline, Dance Machine and Industrial Technology flow elegantly whilst combining vocodered voices, mechanical rhythms, incredibly effective melodies and infectious sequencers.
At times the style drifts closer to Magnetic Fields era Jean Michel Jarre (cf. the last third of Industrial Technology and perhaps their most distinctive track Haven's Lament). It is when Kinetik let their natural talent take the lead on the mid-tempo and slower tracks that they really come into their own, coming across as more personal. Their attempts at thumping, fast beats tend to come across as slightly cheesy or at least tongue-in cheek. Despite this being the remastered release, much of the album suffers from unsympathetic production. In particular, there's a weak, distant feel to too many of the tracks, meaning that the impact of even the raspy, slapping bass line of Net Working is undermined. Yet there are moments of brilliance throughout - with some hooklines that even their enigmatic German heroes would be proud of.
Choice cuts are Pipeline with its light melodic lead lines and Tour de France percussion and deep, vocodered voice. Dance Machine where the Speak and Spell voice, stabbing hooklines and bubbling sequencers overcome the rather obvious lyrics. Industrial Technology is a colossus of a track, lumbering yet captivating; nicely uncompromising and dark in tone thanks in no small part to a great synth line and slow, grumbling electronic voice: "This is the sound of in-dust-try". Although half the tracks come in at over six minutes in length, few stretch their ideas too thinly, indeed, the album is characterised by songs that constantly progress, are cleverly constructed and well composed. (All the more impressive when you consider that some of the material here dates as far back as 1995.) More than worthy of the convenient label "The Cornish Kraftwerk" but Kinetik have obviously much more to offer which is why you should watch them with keen interest. 7/10
Official Kinetik website: http://www.kinetik.fsnet.co.uk