When I started getting into electro swing however many years ago, I remember Dunkelbunt being one the first artists to really impress me. From the moment I discovered his music, I was immediately struck by the fact that he was already stepping outside the formula of the genre, and experimenting with what could be achieved – and I still think that Raindrops and Elephants is one of the most beautiful albums this genre has produced. Now, this new release, Asia Files (Days of Isolation) is a little confusing. Depending on where one accesses it, there appears to be a different number of songs, a different order of songs, songs have been given different titles, and most confusingly – some of the songs seem to already have been uploaded to SoundCloud up to nine months ago. For the sake of clarity, I’m going to be reviewing the tracks as they appear on Spotify.
The first is ‘Two Dancing Cranes’, which features some nice cut ’n’ paste techniques, with hip hop beats superimposed over some real Oriental sounds – in a way very reminiscent of Chinese Man. One keeps feeling like they’re getting lost in some extravagant exotic setting, but never with the loss of that urge to dance. There’s a sincere combination here of both ancient, and ultra-modern temporalities. ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ then follows, in which the Eastern influences continue, with some samples of foreign dialogue as well. There’s a particular string instrument being used that I can’t identify exactly, but it’s fantastic; and there’s plenty of other stimulating timbres throughout as well. Structurally, this one feels very much like a complete song; it’s a fine example of compositional arrangement. We then have ‘In the Fields of Musashino’ – called ‘Days of Isolation’ on the Bandcamp page – a rather unusual choice to retitle then, given that it’s effectively the title track. There’s a strong, heavy beat throughout, and the piece features some catchy and memorable motifs. It actually reminds me a little bit of the Deezguys review I published the other week in that there’s several elements that manage to sound both live and sampled simultaneously.
Continuing on with the labelling confusion ‘Velavan’ is the title of two tracks on this release, that don’t seem to have anything to do with one another. The first is the ‘UFOs Over Bengaluru edit’, and is likely the best song of the release. There are some really lovely Indian vocal samples used heavily throughout, and some subtle glitchy effects too. Like many of these tracks, the downtempo nature keeps the piece relaxed, but there’s still so much going on as to stay lively – the piece always feels like it’s moving. Then, ‘Modus Operandi’ immediately jumps out as a bit alien – ironically, in the sense that it’s not alien. The sounds presented here are far more familiar to the Western ear, although there’s still some brilliant interplay with the foreign vocal samples. On top of being another quite glitchy piece, I also really like the wildlife samples here that situate the listener directly into a different environment. Finally, the second ‘Velavan’ – simply the ‘Radio edit’ – demonstrates another oddity. There’s almost a Balkan feel here – it’s still very much Asian influenced, but the offbeat rhythm carries a noticeable Eastern European feel to it. Whilst this isn’t the best of the release, it’s probably the one most familiar and accessible to those who know Dunkelbunt already, although I prefer the more explorative ones. Towards the end there’s a brief emergence of energy when the beat picks up, although this lasts only briefly.
Before concluding, I’ll quickly mention ‘Nadhaswaram’, a track that only seems to feature on the Bandcamp version of the release. This features a significant tempo increase from the others – it’s pretty much a drum ’n’ bass number, just without the Amen break. I’m not sure if this one works as well as the others. It’s certainly fun, but I can’t imagine sitting down and actively listening to it, although I do really like the brief melodic line that kicks in about three minutes in. It’s definitely the best part – unfortunately, the rest is a little bland.
It’s an interesting release from Dunkelbunt. I feel that if the whole thing were organised and structured better I would have enjoyed it more – one should never overlook the importance of the overall flow of an album/EP – but that’s not to say that it’s in any way bad. Indeed, there are some real gems here. It reminds me a fair bit of Boogie Belgique’s Lure Of Little Voices, which I reviewed three weeks ago, in that both artists are stepping outside of their standard box, and passionately experimenting with foreign sounds. Whilst Asia Files isn’t as successful as that one was, it’s still a good effort. I don’t tend to listen to Dunkelbunt as much as I once did, but there were several moments throughout this release that made me want to delve straight back into his back-catalogue.
Written by Chris Swinglis Date: 2020-04-28