Independent Music Reviews & Music Label

Archive for October, 2012

Review: Good Weather For An Airstrike – Lights

Sound In Silence SIS011 – Time: About 40 minutes (CDr & Digital Files)

Record Label Website & Contact: https://www.facebook.com/soundinsilencerecords & http://www.myspace.com/soundinsilencerecords E-Mail: soundinsilence@hotmail.com

Artist Website: http://goodweatherforanairstrike.bandcamp.com/

Tracks: 1) A Quiet Day; 2) Thinking Of You; 3) Storm Fronts Collide; 4) The King XXVI; 5) One Of These Days; 6) Escape; 7) An Ode To Fring; 8) Rescue

The sounds that keep one up at night; they could be the house creaking, babies crying, traffic on the streets, the sounds of animals stirring outdoors, and my personal favorite the hoots of owls sending messages to each other in the dark.  In the case of Tom Honey (aka Good Weather For An Airstrike), what keeps him up at night is the ringing in his ears—tinnitus.  So, in 2009 Tom started his GWFAA music project as a means to help him relax and get to sleep (sounds like a candidate for a Slaapwel project too).  I know of at least six releases by GWFAA since 2009 (with labels Hibernate, Rural Colors, Bad Panda, Audio Gourmet, Sonic Reverie and his own Hawk Moon Records), but I’m sure that there are more, including his most recent and lovely tribute EP to his wife Lauren entitled This Is As Good A Place As Any.

His latest album Lights is to be released by the small independent Greek record label Sound In Silence (their contact information is noted above) in a hand made sleeve and is limited to 200 copies.  The album is arranged a bit like a meditation session, with instrumentation including guitar, banjo, strings, piano and percussion.  The sound is steadier and fuller than many recent ambient albums, and I’ll resist the temptation to compare GWFAA’s sound to the works of others.

A Quiet Day begins softly before introducing a calming and guiding pulse with a mantra first from a piano and then supplemented by gentle percussion.  Once in a more focused state Lights goes deeper, into the tranquil canon-like Thinking Of You.  There isn’t a feeling of yearning here for what cannot be or the unattainable; there is just an idyllic state of belonging.

Thinking Of You

 

As with any period of slumber, the brain still sends signals to be processed, and periodically there are voices, broadcasts and sounds that appear to be sorted-out.  Dreams send flashes that are discernible and other times are fleeting and out of reach.  Storm Fronts Collide returns to the time of the Paris Peace Accords and the VietNam War in 1973—voices from the past (forgotten by some and unknown to others, except those who lived through those times); the codified yet unratified tragic melancholy that sometimes enters the drifting mind.  The King XXVI and One Of These Days are also brief episodes in the sequence of reverie with the sounds of the outdoors and the cheerful voices of children.

Escape is a transition to the last section of the album, an arrival at pleasant and calmer memories.  The mind is no longer distracted and has returned to the center in An Ode To Fring, perhaps from halcyon recollections of East Anglia, Norfolk.  Rescue closes the album, and it is both the final state of slumber and the slow return to the conscious world.  The opening theme of the album is more broadly reprised like the rising sun not yet seen, but still a signal to an awakening.  Enjoy your travels, and the weather.

Photo Courtesy of Sound In Silence

****

This is a solicited review


Review: Will Samson – Balance *UPDATED with VIDEO*

Karaoke Kalk 69LP – Time: About 34 minutes (LP, CD & Digital Files)

Record Label Website:

http://www.karaokekalk.de/ & http://www.karaokekalk.de/will-samson-balance/

Artist Websites:

http://willsamson.bandcamp.com/ & http://wsamson.tumblr.com/ & http://willsamson.co.uk/

Recorded & Mixed By: Florian Frenzel & Will Samson  Mastered By: Nils Frahm

Tracks:  1) Oceans Are Wilder; 2) Cathedrals; 3) Hunting Shadows; 4) Eat Sleep Travel, Repeat; 5) Painting A Horizon; 6) Music For Autumn; 7) Storms Above The Submarine; 8) Dusty Old Plane

Some may recall my review of Will Samson’s last album Hello Friends, Goodbye Friends (there’s a link to it on the right of this page, near the bottom of the list or use the Search box).  HFGF was timely; it rang like a beacon of hope.  It was a pretty special thing to think that a 20-something had such an affect on this 50-something, but there are all kinds of wisdom floating around and sometimes age really doesn’t matter.  I don’t mind admitting this at all, as it has been music that has helped me at many times throughout my journey in this life.  So, at the first mention from Will that he had another album in the works, I was excited; resisting temptation to listen to early previews, preferring to wait for its full and formal release.  So, I ordered the LP, with the striking cover photo by Scott McClarin.

It was worth the wait.

From the first celeste (vibraphone?) notes and soft vocal harmonies of Oceans Are Wilder, I knew that there was a great synergy in Will’s work with Florian Frenzel and Nils Frahm—complementing the music and lyrics so well.  As the album progresses it moves from a soft state of consciousness to a deeper meditation (with one brief diversion).  There is a lovely balance of instrumentation, vocals, ambient sounds and the outdoors.  These are songs of friendship, strange journeys, and visits to places real and imagined.  The mix of six vocal songs and two instrumental respites is a bit like Nick Drake’s second album, Bryter Layter.

 

Samson continues to use his upper register (and falsetto) voices prominently, although there are times when full-throated harmonies are blended.  Vocals are also fuller in the mix of this album, and the overall sound is different; the result of using venerable analogue equipment, tapes (old cassettes, a Tascam 8-track) and working with Florian Frenzel’s salvaged organs, analogue tape delays and old microphones.

The ambiance of the analogue equipment is strongly present in Cathedrals, it gives a misty quality to the sound, a sense of the ancient, like the foxed pages and deckled-edges of aged books or the opening title sequence to an old film.  In particular, I think the layering of sound is particularly strong, starting with simple acoustic guitar, then unadorned vocals, then vocal harmonies added ending with the lyric “That spin so separately…” and then an abrupt and lyrical chord change into “Impossible became much easier…” and shifting to an electric guitar drone to the end—it’s mystical and soulful.

 

Hunting Shadows is an outdoor walk, and the music and treatments take the place of moving light, shadows and the lightly moving breezes of a new day.  Eat Sleep Travel, Repeat has the ambiance of being aboard a ship at sea late into the night, composing (acoustic) music by candlelight and the stars, with slow swaying movements, as does the more electric (with broad vocal harmonies) Painting A Horizon.  The trombone solo in Eat Sleep is an impeccable complement as are the banjo and cello on Painting.  There are similarities with the more plaintive side two of Brian Eno’s album Before and After Science, the three tracks Julie With…, By This River, and Spider and I.

Eat Sleep Travel, Repeat (Premiere Video)

 

The second instrumental piece (again, with cello) on the album is Music For Autumn.  It’s as if the sun is lowering in the cool night sky and as the track closes, Samson adds a warming chorus of voices.  The brief diversion noted above is Storms Above The Submarine, which starts playfully, with furtive notes, sounding a bit like some sonic experiments of Raymond Scott.  Then a somber throaty organ mixes with Will’s overdubbed voices (which are treated to sound a bit like a mournful saxophone) and altered guitars.  Dusty Old Plane (and oh so beautiful, it is) closes the album, with practically a whisper of droning keyboard, reverberant electric and acoustic guitars and Samson’s harmonies.  Listen carefully; there are birds in the background.  This peaceful track is a sonic blessing, and a farewell of sorts.  I also note that this album is dedicated to his father.

Please keep making music Will; you have a true gift.

****

A postscript: I have only one (hopefully received as constructive) comment on what is otherwise a brilliant album, and that is to recommend to not let the desire to use aged and lumbering analogue equipment for ambiance shroud the quality and beauty of the music too much.


Flaming Pines Label

Record Label Website: http://www.flamingpines.com/

Soundcloud Page: http://soundcloud.com/flaming-pines

Bandcamp Page: http://flamingpines.bandcamp.com/

I am always looking for new and interesting music, and often works with a message or a foundation.  Late in 2011, I came across a label from Sydney, Australia named Flaming Pines.  I first noticed an EP release by Marcus Fischer and then realized that it was part of a series entitled Rivers Home.  The first series consisted of 5 separate 3 inch CDs, each with works by a different artist (Marcus Fischer, Kate Carr, Field Rotation, Broken Chip and Billy Gomberg).  There was also a common theme to the CDs, and I immediately took note of the striking cover artwork.  Rivers Home (and its later Part Two with releases by The Boats, Seth Chrisman, Dan Whiting, Savaran, and All N4tural) “…celebrates the wonder of rivers at a time when many of them are particularly vulnerable.  Many of us dream about rivers, ride along rivers, take ferries along rivers and sit on river banks. This series is a musical exploration of the ways we influence rivers and they influence us.”  The founder of Flaming Pines it turns out is Kate Carr, whose work is also featured in the series.  Kate also produces the artwork for the covers.  I ultimately bought the entire set.  Many of Flaming Pines’ releases are mastered by Taylor Deupree of 12k.

Marcus Fischer – Willamette River

 

The Boats – River Calder

 

Recent releases include a split album by Kate Carr (Blue) and Gail Priest (Green), which is an exploration of sound and color.  The last track of each side serves as a transition to the other side of the LP, and the color references are subtle (as colors are muted at dawn and dusk), and reveal the natural world with field recordings and gossamers of acoustic and electronic instrumentation and effects.  The LP silences the distracting world around and reveals the many things missed in the background as the days and seasons come and go all too fast.  The LP is a co-production of Flaming Pines and Metal Bitch Recordings.

Kate Carr – Excerpt from Blue

 

Gail Priest – Excerpt from Green

 

Just released in September is the next series of EPs on a theme, this time Birds Of A Feather, and the covers keep getting better!  The first two are the Black Woodpecker by Iran’s Porya Hatami and Great Northern Loon by Canadian Michael Trommer.  Carr notes of this series, “…the role of birds as muse, as musical guide and inspiration has been well documented in classical music, from Mozart’s pet starling to Beethoven’s birdsong filled Pastoral Symphony and Sibelius’s swan hymn to Messaien’s birdsong compositions.  Birds Of A Feather celebrates the role of birds in ambient music, and the beautiful fragility of birds more generally.”  Both of these EPs are deeply layered soundscapes with field recordings of the chosen birds and environs mixed with acoustic and electronic instrumentation that heighten the experience.  It’s like getting lost in the woods or paddling a canoe on a hidden lake.

As with Rivers Home, Birds Of A Feather will be a series of about 12 three inch CDs released as pairs in editions of 100 over the next year.  The next pair of CDs will be by The Green Kingdom and Darren McClure.

My favorite of the cover artwork thus far is the expressive Black Woodpecker.

Michael Trommer – Great Northern Loon Excerpt

 

Porya Hatami – Black Woodpecker Excerpt

 

The latest October release is a debut by Michael Terren entitled Bythorne, who lives in far western Australia in Perth.  In June of this year, he strapped his piano to a trailer and drove it 200 kilometers to a farm of his childhood.  There he recorded this EP of six compositions (Cureaking, These Ones, All Nine of Them, Midiology, Bythorne and Dardyboys).  The tracks echo the surroundings and ever-changing weather (from placid blue skies to sudden stormy weather in from the Indian Ocean) as well as the pastoral timelessness.  I get a strong feeling of the sense of place from the beautiful title track.  The sleeve is handmade and the EP is limited to 100 copies.

Michael Terren – Bythorne

 


Review: Animation – Transparent Heart

RareNoiseRecords RNR028 – Time: 76:59 (CD & Digital Files)

Label & Soundfiles: http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/jukebox/animation/transparent-heart/

Artist Website: http://www.animationismusic.com/

Band: Bob Belden: sax/flute; Peter Clagett: trumpet & effects; Jacob Smith: bass; Roberto Verastegui: keyboards & samplers; Matt Young: drums

Tracks: 1) Terra Incognito; 2) Urbanoia; 3) Cry In The Wind; 4) Transparent Heart; 5) Seven Towers; 6) Provocatism; 7) Vanishment; 8) Occupy!

Bob Belden is a composer, arranger, conductor, musician as well as past head of A&R for Blue Note Records.  He is also has a strong sense of the history of Jazz, including being a scholar of the works of Miles Davis, and having received Grammy Awards for the reissues of Miles Davis’s work on Columbia Records.  In his own work, Belden is a story-teller of the lives of others, whether orchestral, jazz-fusion or soundtracks.

Perhaps his best known works are the 2001 Grammy Award-winning Black Dahlia (the mysterious tragic death of actress Elizabeth Short’s in 1947) and the more recent collective world jazz fusion productions (with Miles Davis alums) Miles From India (2008), and Miles Español – New Sketches of Spain (2011).  In the guise of the project known as Animation, Belden released the album Asiento in 2010, a live interpretation of Miles Davis’s 1970 album Bitches Brew, along with a 2011 3D60 surround sound remix of the album, entitled Agemo (both on RareNoiseRecords).

Belden’s latest album Transparent Heart represents a shift in his work; this time the story is his own.  It is a musical memoir of his life in New York City for more than the past three decades, and the dramatic changes seen since his first arrival in Manhattan in 1979 with Woody Herman’s band—the post-disco era.  Not only is this album personal, it’s also a social and political history and commentary of this period.  There are common threads throughout the decades (not the least of which is fear: from Communism to terrorism and the latest, the corporate takeover of America and the rise and fall of Wall Street and the financial sector and the revolt against it and corporate dominance).

During this period there was a gradual change from the mean streets of the 1970s (as depicted in the films French Connection, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico and especially my favorite Taxi Driver) to the gentrification and commercialization of many areas throughout the five boroughs of NYC.  We have seen huge changes since the 1970s in the music and arts scene, and in places like Times Square, Harlem and Greenwich Village.  New York City in 1979 was a LONG way from Belden’s own home in Goose Creek, South Carolina.  For Transparent Heart, Belden assembled a group of young musicians from his alma mater, the University of North Texas, ranging in age from 19 to 32.

Like the opening to a 1970s era film, Terra Incognito is the overview, the panning shot of Manhattan with its cavernous avenues of towers, and Belden’s first impressions seen wide-eyed with young optimism.  It’s a majestic and confident arrival, although a view from above.  By contrast, in this new city, there is another side; despite the city’s size and population there is isolation and the unknown, and living in the rough neighborhoods, a long way from home is what Urbanoia is about (and the old NYC time clock on the other end of the phone, a companion to some).  The track also has a contrasting section, more up-tempo giving the impression of a city on the move; pulsing and lurching.  Trumpet and soprano sax trade solos like people dodging the traffic of the rhythm section in mid-town or up-town.  There are phrases in this track that remind me of works by Weather Report (funk and fusion), Miroslav Vitous’s Magical Shepard, and even sections of Deodato’s (popular at the time on the radio) 2001 Space Odyssey, a reinterpretation of Strauss.

As big as New York City is, there is also the personal side to the city, and encounters with people in need.  Cry In The Wind recounts the aftermath of a woman in Belden’s neighborhood being stabbed, and him staying with her until help arrived.  It’s the somber voices of solo flute and trumpet, and the isolation of the moment.  Some of the hopeful opening themes are reintroduced in Transparent Heart, this time with a more turbulent undercurrent pulse of the city and stronger rhythms.  This is the era of Herbie Hancock’s Future Shock (with the ground-breaking hard-hitting percussive and inventive track Rockit) and a bit later, Miles Davis’s Tutu.  This was also the time when there was a great effort by NYC authorities to fight crime and clean-up the streets.

In some respects Seven Towers begins its life in February of 1993 with the first terrorist bombing on the World Trade Center.  First-responder and air-traffic control radios open the track, and the undercurrent of rhythm and state of alert and fear that surrounded the south of Manhattan for eight years until September 11, 2001 when the bottom fell out of everything (security and economic).  The track deteriorates into a frenzy of chaotic and searching rhythms and solos as the events unfold.  Scattered electric piano, flute and drums continue in the middle of the track as if they are the ongoing cloud of debris and smoke that existed for days after the attack as determined rescuers cleared the debris and searched for survivors.  The track closes with a building and re-energized rhythm and trumpet solo, as if Manhattan is determined to recover, and get back to normal.

 

After the 9/11 attack lower Manhattan was a different place, businesses closed, clean-up began, people were searching for missing loved-ones, and NYC was in a constant state of alert.  Posters and memorials appeared spontaneously as people ventured out onto the streets to see the aftermath of the attacks.  Provocatism is about the post-9/11 experience, survival, surveillance and exploration in the neighborhoods, with an energetic pace of fighting for survival.  Much like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, many residents in lower Manhattan, including artists and musicians left the area and could no longer afford to return as damaged neighborhoods were redeveloped.  Vanishment is the embodiment of this sense of loss; a lone flute, mournful rhythm, and the lament of a muted trumpet.

With the Recession economic meltdown of the mid to late 2000s, it was the big banks and Wall Street financial institutions that received the bailouts, not the people whose jobs, assets and homes were lost due to risky bundled investments sold by the very institutions that received the bailouts (perceived by many as economic terrorism by corporations against citizens who ultimately would pay the bill).  The reaction was (and still is) the Occupy Wall Street movement that spread across America.  The final track Occupy! expresses the anger and frustration of the protesters and law enforcement trying to contain the crowds.  In this the full band plays the part of the crowds of protesters (sometimes organized chaos) and solos are the voices of the town halls and mike-checks interlaced with field and law enforcement recordings.  Glimpses of the original (although altered and subdued) trumpet and sax theme return from Terra Incognito to illustrate that it’s still Manhattan, but things have changed with the passage of time.

Transparent Heart is an album of discovery, wide-eyed optimism, conflict, activism, conflicting ideologies, displacement, and the results of terrorism (warfare and economic) on a city, its art-scene and most of all, its people.  This is not an album for sitting down and relaxing to; it’s a thoughtful, skillful and eye-opening musical diary that forces reflection about the state of our world, politics and economic foundations in the spirit of composers and activists like Stravinsky and Copland.  It’s thought-provoking and riveting.

 

****

This is a solicited review.


Review: Brambles – Charcoal

Serein SERE003 – Time: About 38 minutes (CD & Digital Files)

Record Label Website: http://www.serein.co.uk/   Artist Website: http://iambrambles.com

Mastered by: Donal Whelan at Hafod

Tracks: 1) To Speak Of Solitude; 2) Such Owls As You; 3) In The Androgynous Dark; 4) Salt Photographs; 5) Pink And Golden Billows; 6) Arête; 7) Deep Corridor; 8) Unsayable

I am a relatively new listener to works on the Serein label, which was founded in 2005, originally with works available as free digital downloads.  In 2009, Serein switched to “carefully considered commercial” releases.  Serein is a name taken from the natural world, being a fine rain that falls from a clear sky after sunset (a phenomenon more common in the tropics, but I can’t say that it doesn’t occur in ancient, pastoral and industrialized Wales, where Serein is located).  I first became acquainted with Serein after looking for back catalogue work by Olan Mill, and there I found their beautiful album Pine.  So, another record label on which to get hooked!

Brambles is the alias of Mark Dawson, a musician born in the UK, a resident of Australia, and from what I have read, he is traveling throughout Europe (and currently in Berlin, according to his Twitter-feed @brambles, for those who adventure into the Twittersphere).  Charcoal, his debut release, was largely recorded (piano, strings, woodwinds and field recordings) while in residence at The Painted Palace, a low-environmental-footprint communal house of artists and thinkers in Melbourne, Australia.

For me, Charcoal is an album of observation and contemplation at opposite ends of a given day.  Beginning at the end—at dimmity*, the settling-in to night then shifting to first-light and awakening.  The moods range from brooding (though not gloomy) to amorous (a deep feeling of warmth and comfort).  There are times when the album verges on haunting, as in the dark visceral (and unexpected) tones of Deep Corridor.

 

Charcoal opens with the resting heartbeat of plucked strings and piano of To Speak of Solitude; to me it’s as if observing the setting sun, viewing the horizon and skies in contemplation.  The pace slows further with similar instrumentation and gentle woodwinds, to a meditative state in Such Owls As You; the silence of a late candle-lit night.  There is a slow Jazz vibe to In The Androgynous Dark, which has a feeling of reflection, of what might have been.  It’s a quiet and mournful trio of drums, piano and woodwinds (with some electronic atmospherics).

The album gently stirs with Salt Photographs, as time passes with sounds of exploration.  Soft pulses of keyboard (electric piano?) and nylon guitar narrate, and bowed strings entwine the rhythmic foundation and probe to awaken memories before fading away.  Pink And Golden Billows is a light-hearted, plucky, meandering awakening to dawn.  By contrast, Arête opens with a stark yet expansive scene, punctuated by a lone cello, like a knife edge of rock (the arête) cutting the view.  A somber piano responds, the balance.  It could be a scene of surveying a mountain ridge, and then making the decision to traverse it, represented by the quickening rhythm, as if hiking across to a destination.

The most mysterious and atmospheric of the tracks on the album is Deep Corridor.  It is as if spelunking an uncharted cave with a dim head-lamp, with sounds (and some of earthly-low frequency) all around from unknown sources.  I’ll date myself and note that there are times when it sounds like Tangerine Dream’s Desert Dream from their 1977 live album EncoreCharcoal closes with the whispering lament Unsayable, on what sounds like an old saloon upright or pin piano; reminiscent of some recent works by Harold Budd or Nils Frahm.

Once again, the best discoveries in music for me are the result of lateral associations with other artists or their record labels.  I am happy to have discovered the Serein label and Brambles.  While Charcoal is seemingly a personal work, so fortunate we are to have a window into Mark Dawson’s journey.  His debut work is peaceful, timeless and transcendent.

*- Dimmity or dimmit-light (twilight), an old West Country (Devon, UK) term used by Henry Williamson, to open the original text version of his book Tarka The Otter, published in 1927.

****

This is a solicited review.


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