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Review: Cock & Swan – Secret Angles

C&S Secret Angles 500x500

Hush Hush Records # HH011 CD: About 38 minutes

Band: http://www.cockandswan.com/ and http://dandeliongold.bandcamp.com/

Label: http://www.hushhushseattle.com/ and http://hushhushrecords.bandcamp.com/

Tracks: 1) Following, 2) Secret Angle, 3) Animal Totem, 4) Night Valley, 5) Looking Out, 6) Red Touch, 7) Inner Portal, 8) Kicking In, 9) Melt Down, 10) I’ve Got A Feeling, 11) Night Rising, 12) Myself Inside

I’m thrilled that Cock & Swan have a new album.  With each release it’s apparent that their confidence is growing, and even better, they’re still experimenting.  From their earliest albums like Drawing From Memory (2007) and Unrecognize (2010) their sound ranged from rough synthesized foundations, tape and microphone experiments to nearly extreme lo-fi acoustic recordings.  The 2012 album Stash (I reviewed early last year) had moved their sound from more electronic towards “…a record focused on acoustic instrumentation…”  For their forthcoming album (to be released on September 10th) Secret Angles they are combining the acoustic instrumentation with more of their electronic roots—the sound is fuller, rhythmically engaging and more up-beat.  Secret Angles moves between many different genres: progressive, electronica, acoustic and electric folk, house, dance and many others—it doesn’t dwell in one realm for long, but the album is not at all disjointed—it’s quite cohesive.

The acoustic and analog roots of Cock & Swan are still strong, and they appear as Following begins with the sound of tape mechanisms and immediately a seductive pulse, electric guitar riffs and Ola’s soft voice initiate their hypnotic spell.  By contrast the title track shifts to a darker, looped and gritty electronic foundation (and we are awakened briefly from our pastoral spell).  Animal Totem is quite reminiscent of the latter day Everything But The Girl’s track Before Today from their album Walking Wounded, when ETBG’s music shifted from coffee house to a darkened house vibe, but C&S’s Animal Totem is earthier and more acoustic with broad clarinet washes added by Hungerford.

 

With Night Valley, the album shifts to an even glitchier more experimental sphere where Ola’s voice and some of the instrumentation are bent and shifted and the sound enters a mysterious territory.  Looking Out continues with electronic, vocal loops, an almost Mellotron Brass sound and what I call “heavy drums.”  As I noted with their album Stash—tracks like these are reminiscent of King Crimson’s earlier work as on In The Wake of Poseidon.  The album also contains some short instrumental and vocal links (Red Touch and I’ve Got A Feeling) which are samples disguised elsewhere in other tracks.

Tracks often start with samples and a vibe that are then absorbed into the mix of a song; Inner Portal illustrates this with Ola’s vocal and breath loops coupled with what almost sounds like a ship’s steam-powered horn and it’s woven together with a heavy dub beat and coarse under-pinnings.  The chorus adds an acoustic guitar (a contrast of the heavy with the delicate).  This is a great track and one of my favorites on the album, along with the first three.  By comparison Kicking In is quite stark in its percussion and rhythm section before gathering momentum into the vocals.  Melt Down is the most electronically layered of the songs, and Ola’s vocals calm the mood and fill the spaces.

 

Only once did I feel like I had a sense of some monotony drifting in during the track, Night Rising—after a while it didn’t really take me anywhere…a bit like some of Edgar Froese’s (Tangerine Dream) solo work of the late 1970s.  It’s a vocal and rhythm-section drone.  The album closes with Myself Inside, which harkens back to Cock & Swan’s stark early work—an acoustic guitar (in the character of a child’s toy piano), a simple rhythm and Ola’s vocals layered with deep breathing.

Since I’m working with a promo recording, I don’t have access to the lyrics or the personnel list for the album, so I’m not sure if there are other musicians on the album besides Johnny Goss and Ola Hungerford.  It’s also worth noting that Johnny Goss provides engineering and recording support for other Seattle-based musicians, including one band that recently caught my attention, La Luz (absolutely infectious 60s surf-pop) fronted by Shana Cleveland.

After Secret Angles, I’ll be very interested in hearing where Cock & Swan takes us next.  Don’t miss this album, and seek out a copy of their last, Stash too.

C&S by Angel Ceballos

Cock & Swan – Ola Hungerford and Johnny Goss – Photo by Angel Ceballos

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This is a solicited review


A List Too Small – My Favorites of 2012

Thank you to all the artists and record labels for such wonderful and diverse music.

This is one list of many, it’s my list, and it leaves off many other favorites that I have enjoyed over the year in addition to the thousands of other albums and single tracks that make up music throughout the World.  What has helped me arrive at this list is what I have always loved about music: Does it move me?  In addition, is it creative, well recorded and produced with a degree of care that makes me pay attention to it?  There was a time when I was obsessed with highly produced and tightly engineered works, then I learned about artists such as East River Pipe and Sparklehorse, and many other genres of music were opened to me.

If you don’t see your favorite album on this list (or even your own album), it doesn’t mean a thing.  If an album has been reviewed on my website this year, it’s meaningful to many others and me, but this is only a very, very small slice of the music world.  Often people ask me about new music, and what I recommend.  When I started this website in late January, 2012 it was first a means to write about music that I enjoyed, but also to get to know other artists and learn about new music that they create, so I could pass it on.  Often, the best new music is that referred by a friend.  Please feel free to send me your comments and recommendations.

Special note: There are still three or four late 2012 releases that are either enroute to me, have yet to be released or have just arrived.  I need to spend proper time listening to and absorbing these albums.  Rather than delaying this list further, and if after listening to those last 2012 releases I feel that they hit a sweet spot, I’ll review those albums in early 2013.  I know of at least two 2012 releases that I’ll likely not receive until 2013.

I have three categories: Albums (12), Individual Tracks (6), and Special Releases (3) that don’t necessarily fit into a category.

Albums (Artist – Album Title – Record Label)

T&Y TLOF

1) Twigs & Yarn – The Language of Flowers – Flau

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2) Lambchop – Mr. M – Merge Records

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3) Zammuto – Zammuto – Temporary Residence

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4) Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited II – Inside Out Music

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5) Taylor Deupree – Faint – 12k

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6) Billow Observatory – Billow Observatory – Felte

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7) Gareth Dickson – Quite A Way Away – 12k

Pill-Oh KL

8) Pill-Oh – Vanishing Mirror – Kitchen. Label

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9) Brambles – Charcoal – Serein

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10) Almost Charlie – Tomorrow’s Yesterday – Words On Music

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11) Cody ChesnuTT – Landing On A Hundred – One Little Indian

SM DEEP

12) Stick Men – Deep – Stick Men Records

Individual Tracks (from other albums)

 

1) Library Tapes – Sun peeking through (from the album Sun peeking through) – Self Released

2) Cock & Swan – Orange & Pink (from the album Stash) – Lost Tribe Sound

3) Alex Tiuniaev – Daylight (from the album Blurred) – Heat Death Records

4) Kyle Bobby Dunn – In Praise of Tears (from the album In Miserum Stercus) – Komino

5) Kane Ikin & David Wenngren – Chalk (from the album Strangers) – Keshhhhhh

6) Olan Mill – Bleu Polar (from the album Paths) – Fac-ture

Special Releases

Celer Machinefabriek

1) Celer & Machinefabriek: Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake, Numa/Penarie, Hei/Sou – Self Released

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2) Birds Of A Feather: Michael Frommer – The Great Northern Loon, Porya Hatami – The Black Woodpecker, Darren McClure – The Black Kite, The Green Kingdom – The Great Blue Heron – Flaming Pines

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3) Simon Scott, Corey Fuller, Marcus Fischer, Tomoyoshi Date and Taylor Deupree (Recorded live in Japan October, 8, 2012) – Between (…The Branches) – 12k

Record Labels Noted Above

Flau: http://www.flau.jp/

Merge Records: http://www.mergerecords.com/

Temporary Residence LTD: http://temporaryresidence.com/

Inside Out: http://www.insideoutmusic.com/

12k: http://12k.com/

Felte: http://www.feltesounds.com/

Kitchen. Label: http://www.kitchen-label.com/

Serein: http://www.serein.co.uk/

Words On Music: http://www.words-on-music.com/

One Little Indian: http://indian.co.uk/shop/landing-on-a-hundred-1.html

Stick Men Records: http://stick-men.net

Library Tapes: http://librarytapes.com/

Lost Tribe Sound: http://www.cockandswan.com/ Note: I have not listed the weblink to the record label as Google has noted that the website MAY be compromised.

Heat Death Records: http://www.heatdeathrecords.co.uk/

Komino: http://kominorecords.com/

Kesh (Simon Scott’s label): http://www.keshhhhhh.com/

Facture: http://www.fac-ture.co.uk/

Machinefabriek & Celer: http://machinefabriek.bandcamp.com/ & http://www.thesingularwe.org/fs/

Flaming Pines: http://flamingpines.com/


Caught In The Wake Forever – Against A Simple Wooden Cross

Hibernate Recordings – HB43: Time: 41:27 – Edition of 250 – Cover photo by Chris Gowers

Record Label Website: http://hibernate-recs.co.uk

More background information on the album: http://hibernate-recs.co.uk/releases/caught-in-the-wake-forever-against-a-simple-wooden-cross/

 

1) Scottish Grief; 2) The Quiet Beauty Of The Northern Lakes; 3) Waiting Rooms & Chemists; 4) After The Blackout; 5) Western Medicine Failed Me; 6) Last Of The Heroin; 7) Point Sands

Caught In The Wake Forever is the nom de plume of Fraser McGowan, who lives in Paisley, Scotland where he composes and records his works at home.  McGowan has been recording music in various incarnations since 1998.  I recently became acquainted with CITWF’s work through a Hibernate Recordings collaboration with Yellow6 (Jon Attwood), entitled The Slow Manipulation Of Dying Light (now sold out, but digital files are still available for download).  And so, I started to dig further…

 

McGowan’s latest album, Against A Simple Wooden Cross is a surprisingly open and stark account of his recovery from a lifelong affliction with chronic anxiety, and ultimately a complete mental breakdown in 2011.  As is often the case, the crash was not only debilitating to him, but also to family and friends (and I suspect the title of the album is a reaction to those who don’t often understand all the circumstances; a feeling of guilt that can also hinder recovery).

Despair and melancholy permeate this album.  Recordings vary from a six month period when McGowan was heavily medicated to a time when more effective alternate methods of treatment were found.  As a result those pieces are more hopeful as resolve and clarity develop.  There is also an ancient and timeless quality to the album (similar to Cock and Swan’s album Stash and other works by Sparklehorse AKA Mark Linkous…oh, I miss ML).  In this case, it is the concept that recovery takes time, time for a worthwhile cause—rebuilding a life worth saving, on one’s own terms.

I am also attracted to this album in a similar way that I admire self-examination in the works of East River Pipe (F. M. Cornog); although the songwriting and atmospheric approaches are quite different.  In particular, the stark simplicity of penultimate song on the album, Last Of The Heroin.  Not being fully aware of all the circumstances (and not wanting to speculate blindly), I have made some notes on some of the tracks, but I think that some interpretation is best left to the individual listener.

Scottish Grief opens with field recordings from a holiday before his breakdown.  As the tragic nature of the events is revealed, the piece transforms into a dirge.  Conflict grows represented by increasing dissonance and ultimately a shredding electric guitar. Despite dealing with conflicting feelings and thoughts, there is a determination to keep moving and not give up, even at this early stage.  The track builds in layers slowly, perhaps symbolic of the pace of treatment, and closes with an excerpt from (what appears to be) a demo where it is evident that hopelessness still weighs heavily.

The Quiet Beauty Of The Northern Lakes opens with a simple rhythm and acoustic guitar, where re-building a life begins.  The struggles are evident: “It’s hard to keep a light on…”  Eventually, piano and keyboards layer with McGowan’s almost-whispered vocals and a chorus of a Gizmo-like (bowed) electric guitar.  Waiting Rooms & Chemists is atmospheric with acoustic guitar, and the feeling of endless waiting and being alone.  After The Blackout starts with melodic rhythmic blips and then blends acoustic guitar and vocals.  The track is reminiscent of Recorded With You In Mind (from the 2011 EP All The Hurt That Hinders Home**).  Western Medicine Failed Me is instrumental, with acoustic guitar and a veil of electric guitar reminiscent of Frippertronics in Robert Fripp’s 1979 album Exposure (that which simmers below the surface).

Point Sands closes the album, and it appears to look back on the beginning of the journey to getting well, and as I understand it, the title of this track is taken from the location heard in the field recordings in Scottish Grief; a pleasant memory perhaps held onto and another piece of the journey back.  Some might feel that this album goes too far into the abyss of despair and is too personal, but it is also the case that music such as this occupies a space that seldom gets explored, or even understood, as it is often hushed with whispers.

**Recorded With You In Mind from the EP All The Hurt That Hinders Home:

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This is a solicited review.


Cock and Swan – Stash

CD #LTS0011: Total Time: 43:25

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

Record Label: http://losttribesound.com/

Recorded by: http://dandeliongold.com/

Soundcloud Samples:

 

Tracks: 1) Sneak Close; 2) Stash; 3) Raging Chisel; 4) Sympethizer; 5) Happy Thoughts; 6) Unrecognized; 7) Unserious; 8) Clear Sighing; 9) Remember Sweet; 10) I Let Me In; 11) Orange and Pink; 12) Walking Up Dandelions

Bonus MP3 EP: 1) Comfort Zone 2 (acoustic); 2) Raging Chisel; 3) Stash (Part Timer Remix); 4) End Sinister; 5) Random tracking; 6) Soft Setting; 7) Stash (Vieo Abiungo Remix)

Not so long ago I took a chance on purchasing an album based on a brief write-up and it turned out to be a real gem— Will Samson’s Hello Friends, Goodbye Friends.  It has happened again with Cock and Swan’s Stash.  I read a summary, and I also noticed the great care that Lost Tribe Sound had put into their limited edition release (cloth binding with mixed hand made papers).  I could not resist, and what an enchanting surprise this album is.

Cock and Swan are Johnny Goss (bass, guitar, percussion, vocals and production) and Ola Hungerford (vocals, piano and clarinet).  Supporting musicians include, Adam Kozie (drums), William Ryan Fritch (vibraphone, marimba, saxophone, flute and cello). Paintings are by Robert Klein and photography by Angel Ceballos.

Photo courtesy of Cock and Swan

There is something delightfully ancient and psychedelic about Stash.  I won’t dwell for too long on what other albums I am reminded of—the percussion (including deep bass drums), woodwinds, soft and dreamy vocals.  First, the ballads feel like they are drawn from the same cloth as Comin’ Back to Me from Surrealistic Pillow by the Jefferson Airplane (1967).  Second, the drums—rough, full and sometimes behind the beat are very close to Michael Giles on both Cadence and Cascade from In The Wake of Poseidon by King Crimson (1970) and the alternate lyric version (by B. P. Fallon instead of Peter Sinfield) Flight of the Ibis from the eponymous album McDonald and Giles (also from 1970).

Some of the tracks on this album are acoustic remakes of more obscure electronic versions from their two prior albums (Unrecognized, Unserious, Sympethizer, I Let Me In, Stash, Tectonic Plates).  It is evident that Cock and Swan were searching for a sound to fit the songs and I think in this album they have found it—softer, comfortable and more accessible (and with a hint of the sadly departed Sparklehorse).

Sneak Close and Stash both have guitars sounding like dulcimers, drum sticks counting time, whispering woodwinds, Ola Hungerford’s ethereal vocals and the overall sound of an old music box working against its well-used mainspring.  Raging Chisel is an excellent combination of the obscure and edgy sounds of their earlier albums woven with melodic instrumental and vocal passages.  Sympethizer is a short instrumental and Happy Thoughts moves slowly with a contrasting faster interlocking rhythm and subtle use of electronics.  Tectonic Plates has a lush beat, sounds are layered (ambient and instrumental) and Ola’s voice floats in between.  It’s easy to be drawn into this peaceful and dreamy realm.

The drums are strong, but never overpowering on Unrecognized and there is a charming mix with ambient sounds and solo acoustic guitar.  The largely instrumental Unserious has a stately piano backdrop with woodwinds and soft percussion.  Clear Sighing is a short instrumental percussion and woodwind link leading into the vocally and instrumentally beautiful Remember Sweet (with one of my favorite touches…a background of pin-piano during the choruses).  I Let Me In has a rhythmically languid, but swaying vibe.

The standout piece on this album for me is Orange and Pink.  Acoustic guitar, mallet-struck percussion and piano start with lightly teasing interplay until Ola and Johnny’s vocals feather into the mix and then yield to a hovering piano counterpoint before fading—it’s simply gorgeous.  The album closes with the soft anthem Walking Up Dandelions, a combination of many of the sounds throughout the album.

 

While the arrangements are relatively simple throughout, the layering of the instruments, vocals and ambient surroundings give the album a lush quality.  My only wish?—that a lyrics sheet were included.  Other than that, this album is just wonderful.

Tectonic Plates Video:

 


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