Mala Herba’s six track demo feels like anything but. Insofar as a demo is supposed to be a rough or unrefined version to attract interest, the music and aesthetic presented by the Vienna-based darkwave artist is fully realized and potent. While the two previously released songs – the towering “Rusalki” and the dark crawler “Chwasty” – are the best on the release, every cut shares in their magisterial air. A huge part of that has to come directly from the vocals, which are by turns soulful and frank (“Lament”), woozy and distant (“Zaklęcie: Droga”) and discomfiting (“Kupaly”). The delivery is distinctive and matches the spare feel of the synthetic backing tracks, like how the rolled r’s, shrieks and held notes of “Rusalki” are placed in direct contrast to the bassline and the synth lead. The slightly rough edge on the production works in the release’s favour, borrowing some of European cold wave’s deliberate rawness but none of its detachment, allowing for impact and emotion that feels very immediate and real. The cassette version (only available at shows) apparently comes with actual herbs, which should tell you something about the project’s “synth witchcraft” mandate, and the powerful connotations thereof. Recommended highly.
We’ve become so accustomed to Michael Morton carving out his own little niche not only for Displacer releases but for similarly-minded ambient and downtempo stuff on his Crime League label that the thought of Displacer cropping up on another label is a bit jarring. Not to worry, though; even playing an away game for the UK’s Section Records, the warm, transporting, and always tasteful sounds Morton mines are still wholly present on this EP. The title and artwork of Astral obviously point to cosmic themes and sounds, though there’s never anything austere or cold about Morton’s compositions here. “Extent” echoes and chimes as if to connote the emergence of constellations (and later shifts into a Kraftwerk homage), yet something about the echo on the pads feels grounded and almost homey. The gossamer melody of the title track is passed through a whole mesh of spacey phasing, but the tune itself is so lilting and pretty that it never feels alien. A tight and pretty little package, Astral finds Morton with his head in the stars and his heart at home with a nice cup of tea.