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Posts tagged “Darla

Lucky 13 – My Favorites This Year…

…A Not-So Comprehensive List

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2013 has been a quirky year; for a time I found that inspiration had vanished and I wasn’t interested in listening to music or writing about it at all (a rare occurrence).  I’m guilty of having purchased less music this year (an economic curtailment of necessity).  Nonetheless, there has been some great music in 2013 (and my slice is a tiny piece of what’s out there).  This year I read some music-related memoirs by artists whose work I’ve admired for decades (Burt Bacharach, Neil Young, Michael Feinstein–of his time spent with Ira Gershwin and other books), some histories of Jazz Standards, Blues, Rock and Roll, and records labels (including one of my favorite indie labels, Merge Records).  I was also fortunate to attend a number of live shows, and I’ve posted photos of some of those throughout the year.

Is it me or have record labels and artists reduced their output somewhat?  Is it a lull in a normal cycle or a sign of the economic times?

Some of the music on this list will be familiar if you have checked-in to read my reviews and some I have not reviewed.  I also have some albums I’m still listening to and I haven’t decided if I’ll write reviews for them (an archival release by The Books, La Luz’s first LP, Mary Lattimore and others).  One album in particular that I’ve enjoyed recently (although it was NOT released this year) is a live archive solo recording of Neil Young at the Canterbury House in 1968 entitled Sugar Mountain—the album is mostly material that Young wrote or co-wrote with Buffalo-Springfield, and it was recorded right after Buffalo-Springfield broke-up.

NY SM

A double live CD has also just arrived of one of the last (very lively hot Jazz) gigs played by the house band at Eddie Condon’s in New York City before it closed in 1985—One Night at Eddie Condon’s (Red “The Commodore” Balaban’s Condon Band), with Ed Polcer, Dr Palu Squire, Jack Maheu, Tom Artin, Bobby Pratt, Dave Shapiro and Danny D’Imperio, recorded by Doug Pomeroy)–thanks to Tom Artin for sending this great piece of Jazz history!

****

The Lucky 13 (all albums purchased–not promos)

Yellowbirds SFTVF

Yellowbirds – Songs From The Vanished Frontier – Royal Potato Family:  This is my favorite album of the year—just love it–the vibe, the sounds.  Please see my June review.

HB Jane1-11

Harold Budd – Jane 1-11 – Darla:  The music with companion videos release won’t be available until early 2014, but another beautiful album from HB.  I reviewed this album in June, as well.

JSUD

John Scofield – Überjam Deux – Emarcy:  I reviewed this album in August—an excellent follow-up to the original Überjam, and a great vibe with Jazz, Blues and more!

Steve Hackett Hammersmith Digi w info.indd

Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited: Live At Hammersmith (CD/DVD) – InsideOut:  As I noted in my review of last year’s studio release of Genesis Revisited II, I feel like Steve Hackett is the keeper of the spirit of the work of Genesis during the 1971 to 1977 era.  So many of the earlier recordings (weak on the engineering and mix, except The Lamb) were greatly improved and enhanced, and this comprehensive 3 CD and 2 DVD set documents the fabulous and memorable Hammersmith show in May of 2013 before the band traveled to the US for their fall tour.  The SH Band will tour further in support of this in the southeastern US and Europe and Russia is 2014 (bassist Lee Pomeroy will be replaced by Nick Beggs, a familiar face to Hackett Band fans…I really enjoyed Lee on this tour, he really brought out just how musical Mike Rutherford’s bass lines are in these earlier Genesis classics).

Wire CBU

Wire – Change Becomes Us – Pink Flag:  I was a big fan of Wire in the late 1970s and then I just plain lost touch with their work.  The Words On Music label has a compilation of reinterpretations of their well-known single Outdoor Miner from their 1978 Chairs Missing album, and then I noticed a post earlier in the year by Marc Ostermeier (of the band Should ,and WOM and Tench labels) that a new album was forthcoming.

Juliette

Juliette Commagere – Human – Aeronaut:  Late in 2010 Commagere released her album The Procession on Manimal Records—a diverse combination of songs with dense and gorgeous vocals instrumentation—part art-rock, progressive and electronica.  Commagere has returned with another beautifully recorded album of lush songs with her strong vocals and support from husband Joachim Cooder, Ben Messelbeck, Amir Yaghmai, Ry Cooder and recorded by Mark Rains and Martin Pradler.  The sound is deep, full, inventive and often fantastical—she is doing her own thing, and I love it (catchy melodies and all).  There are times when she channels Elizabeth Fraser as on Low.

TS Cover

Roger Eno – Ted Sheldrake – Backwater:  Thirty Years after his first work Apollo with brother Brian and guitarist Dan Lanois, Roger Eno compiled this tribute to friend and neighbor, Ted Sheldrake.  Although I reviewed this album in November of 2012, it wasn’t officially released until January of this year.

C&S Secret Angles 500x500

Cock & Swan – Secret Angles – HushHush:  I am eagerly awaiting my blue vinyl (Kickstarter-funded) copy of this digital release that I reviewed in August.

Ferry Jazz

The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – The Jazz Age – BMG:  Back in March I did a brief comparative analysis of this album and Steven Wilson’s latest (see below).  I think this is a really spirited and fun reinterpretation of earlier works by Roxy Music and BF.  Being a lover of old acoustically recorded 78s of the pre-Jazz and Jazz ages, I get this.

Wilson Raven

Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (and Other Stories) – kscope:  A strong album (I think it’s Steve’s best to date), beautifully recorded and engineered by Alan Parsons.  My favorite song is Drive Home.

William Tyler - Impossible Truth

William Tyler – Impossible Truth – Merge:  A brilliant solo guitar album by Lambchop and Hands Off Cuba alum, and a great follow-up to his previous Tompkins Square release Behold The Spirit.  I reviewed this album in March.

celer murmur

Celer – Viewpoint – Murmur:  As I noted when I reviewed this album in April, I find this album absorbing and romantic—a great piece for getting lost.

RS 4EVRNDVR

Ron Sexsmith – Forever Endeavour – Cooking Vinyl:  I love Ron’s work–started listening in 1997 with his third album Other Songs.  Forever Endeavour is sparsely arranged, but strings, horn, percussion, pedal steel or electric bass are right there when they’re needed.  Other than that, the songs are Ron’s voice, and his acoustic guitar.  He has a gift for wordplay and expressing emotions with a deft efficiency that flow so naturally with his melodies.  Some songs on Forever Endeavour are ironically upbeat, like Nowhere Is and Snake Road—in a sense, keeping the faith.  The CD has two bonus tracks (songs written with Don Black and recorded by Don Kerr), Life After A Broken Heart and Autumn Light, and they are just plain gorgeous additions to this album.  Here’s a live recording of Autumn Light.

****

Two of my favorite new discoveries in 2013

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Meridian Brothers – Desesperanza – Soundway:  I heard about Meridian Brothers in an NPR Alt Latino podcast and was instantly hooked by this band from Bogata, Colombia–buying as much of their back catalog as I could find in physical releases.  Their music is surreal and playful—a combination of Joe Meek, Esquivel and Raymond Scott.

La Luz Brainwash (7″) – Suicide Squeeze: This is a single (my version is on clear vinyl) that was released by La Luz just prior to their new album It’s Alive—It’s infectious and fun!  I got to La Luz thanks to Johnny Goss (one half of Cock & Swan).


Review: Brainkiller – Colourless Green Superheroes

Brainkiller - CGS

RareNoiseRecords CD RNR033 Time: 45:53  (LP version coming soon)

http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/brainkiller-store

Tracks: 1) The Vindicator Returns, 2) Scribble, 3) Empty Words (featuring Coppé), 4) Top Of The World, 5) Orange Grey Shades, 6) A Piedi Verso Il Sole, 7) Plates, 8) Noodlin, 9) Labratorio, 10) Secret Mission, 11) Otaku Goes To A Rave, 12) Viv, 13) To Be Continued

Band: Jacob Koller: Piano/Fender Rhodes/Keyboards, Brian Allen: Trombone/fx, Hernan Hecht: Drums

Wit and subtlety are often hard to find in much of what passes for music today.  Then there’s music that takes itself so seriously that it might collapse under the weight of its own ponderous self-importance.  Music isn’t always about the sound, it’s sometimes about the spaces and the silence—it doesn’t necessarily have to be a full-frontal assault on the senses.

A few years ago Brainkiller released their first album The Infiltration on RareNoiseRecords (#RNR010).  Initially, this album caught my attention because it was a trio with a trombone, their music sounded playful and quirky, and it had some roots in other artists whose work I admired (Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Brand X, Godley-Creme, Weather Report, Return To Forever).  Here’s a sample track, Casketch from their first album:

Casketch 

Colourless Green Superheroes is a series vignettes (some atmospheric like Empty Words, and some funky) exploring melodic, rhythmic and at time ethereal motifs and the tracks don’t rest long on a given theme before shifting direction.  In a way, this album is a soundtrack in search of a film.  There is also a restful ease throughout the album (making it perfect for a languid summer day or when the night is young), but there are moments when cool breezes blow and there is a jaunty awakening, as in Scribble.  The spirited Fender Rhodes opening phrases take me back to Brand X’s Disco Suicide*.  There is, however, an unexpectedly laid-back funky response from trombone and percussion, a bit like The Tortoise and the Hare—as if the Tortoise retorts, “Chill, I’ll get there…”

Scribble

The themes introduced in the anthemic opening track The Vindicator Returns are explored further in Top Of The World, at first on a solo piano before the full trio plays off the rhythms and melodies.  As in their first album, there are moments of recorded studio banter or live voices, which add a sense of spontaneity—also evident in the veiled conversations during the furtive Orange Grey Shades (my favorite track on the album).  One can make up their own story to accompany the music.

The Vindicator Returns

There are times when the album is more contemplative as in A Piedi Verso Il Sole, a reflective lament of sorts.  Yet the album shifts (before the vibe gets too heavy) to more raucous themes in Plates.  The mood lightens further with Noodlin—a spirited piano solo (think a leisurely evening at a night club…at first), before moving to lighthearted voices (steering the improvisation), muted trombone solos and ultimately a vigorous trio romp.  The upbeat repartee continues with the march-like Labratorio and perhaps the most vigorous track on the album Secret Mission (like a chase scene from one of the Bourne films)—see the video below for an excerpt.

 

Earlier themes are again revisited in the closing tracks of the album Otaku Goes To a Rave (my other favorite track on the album) mixing in some Scribble[s] and polyrhythms from the drums and piano.  There’s an interesting combination of 1970s-era electric piano work combined with energetic phrasings similar to what the band Zammuto (ex-The Books) is working on these days.  The album closes with the peculiar and brief Viv—a prepared piano musing, followed by To Be Continued, a reflective and somewhat subdued “roll credits” piece.

This album functions well as both incidental music or for straight-on listening and as soon as it ends I wonder where the time has gone…and so, REPLAY!

BrainkillerPic2

Photo of Brainkiller Courtesy of RareNoiseRecords

* – For those curious about Disco Suicide by Brand X: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdAPEEW-OUA

***

This is a solicited review.


Review: Harold Budd – Jane 1-11 *Updated with Jane 8 Video*

HB Jane1-11

Darla Records – DRL 281 CD Time: 59:18

Available here: http://darla.com/?fuseaction=item_cat.ecom_superitem_detail&item_cat_id=41841

Tracks: Jane 1, Jane 2, Jane 3, Jane 4, Jane 5, Jane 6, Jane 7, Jane 8, Jane 9, Jane 10, Jane 11

Harold Budd is not complacent and I am thankful that rumors of his retirement actually turned out to be false (he briefly tired of writing and recording).  He is (at 77) producing some of the most interesting work of his long and varied career.  In a way, he is like Frank Lloyd Wright was at about the same age when Wright was hitting his stride with highly original and innovative works like the Kaufmann House (best known as Fallingwater)—always exploring and seeking new edges.  Many might connect Budd’s work almost exclusively with solo piano pieces or his first collaboration with Brian Eno, Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror, but his discography is remarkably varied, and including his joint releases, he has contributed to or been the solo artist on over forty albums since 1971.

The music alone on this album is divine, and even better there will be a DVD later this year including video collaborations with artist Jane Maru (who also produced the beautiful artwork for this album).  Earlier this year a version of the furtive and at times skittering Jane 9 was quietly released on youtube—it’s just a hint of what to expect from this album.

 

This is a work of contrasts; some tracks tease the senses (like the unexpected and at times shrill Jane 1 or sharp-edged Jane 5 or the visceral and ghostly Jane 7) and then the pleasurable counter-effects are later intensified as the music ebbs and flows (as in Jane 2, Jane 3, Jane 4 and the sublime Jane 8). Moods and spaces change, first grounded and up-close and then transform into expansive and liberating flights.  Budd is also exploring new sounds, instrumentation and treatments on this album (percussion [like chimes], electric piano, droning electronics, celeste and harp).  I won’t say why, but Jane 6 evokes some very pleasant childhood memories.  Jane 8 reminds me a bit of Anthony Phillips’ recent work Watching While You Sleep—deeply moving and one of those tracks I don’t want to end.  The expansive Jane 10 is almost a reverse overture, recapitulating variations of sounds and themes from the previous tracks, as if reliving the experiences.  To me, Jane 11 is the reappearance of the spirit of Jane 8—that which I didn’t want to end earlier, returned.  How did Budd know that this is what I wanted?

Harold Budd has an uncanny gift for expressing so much with so little, a poet who just happens to use music instead of words.

 


Harold Budd – Jane 1-11 – Updated with Video

HB Jane1-11

**THIS POST HAS NOW BEEN SUPERSEDED BY MY REVIEW OF THIS ALBUM**

Here —> http://wajobu.com/2013/06/11/review-harold-budd-jane-1-11/

I won’t say much about this…yet.  The new Harold Budd album is exceptional and different—unexpectedly so.  It has a wide variety of instrumentation and broad frequency range.  It moves from stark to lush and has moments of indescribable beauty (like Jane 8).  Up until recently there was a video up on YouTube by Jane Maru, but now it appears to be gone**.  So, for now, Budd’s record label Darla is streaming the album in its entirety (for how long, I don’t know).  Go ahead, just buy it.

**Video now found!

 

I am thankful that Mr. Budd is still making music.

Stream Harold Budd’s Jane 1-11 Here at Darla Records


Revisiting Old Friends and Meeting New

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Anthony Phillips: http://www.anthonyphillips.co.uk/

Ant’s friend and illustrator Peter Cross: http://petercrossart.com/

Ant’s (too occasional) collaborator Enrique Berro Garcia: http://quiqueberro.com/

Although he was 18 when he departed from the band Genesis in 1970, many still associate Ant Phillips almost exclusively with that band (despite his approximately 40 commercially released solo albums and collaborations since 1970 in addition to his vast output of library music compositions and commission work).  I have been very fortunate over the years to acquire all of these albums, and each time I place one of Ant’s albums on my turntable or a CD player his music takes me to another place and time (the ups and downs of a life).  Ant’s music has been a big part of my life and I owe a great deal of my own creative work to being inspired by his.  I think Ant said it best on his second Private Parts and Pieces album Back To The Pavilion (released in 1980): “This album is dedicated to all those who still champion the “old fashioned” ideas of beauty, lyricism and grandeur in art against the tide of cynical intellectualism and dissonance.”  Many of Ant’s earlier albums are now being completely remastered (from the source tapes) and reissued (often in double CD releases).

Ant and Quique from PP&PPIII – Antiques: Old Wives Tales

 

Also spinning these days are albums by:

ThreeMetreDayCN

Three Metre Day – Coasting Notes

http://www.threemetreday.com/

I have a ceramic artist friend (Hayne Bayless at Sideways Studios) to thank for getting me to these folks (often the best music comes from referrals by friends).  At times their music is somewhat mournful, but always reflective and passionate—this trio from Canada is Michelle Willis, Hugh Marsh and Don Rooke with guest appearances by bassist David Piltch and drums by Davide Direnzo.  The album is up-close, largely acoustic in instrumentation and delightfully musical.

 

Rhian Sheehan SFE

Rhian Sheehan – Stories From Elsewhere

http://www.rhiansheehan.com/

At times the music is delicate and others it’s intense, but it’s always inventive and beautifully recorded.  Rhian Sheehan is from New Zealand and has released 7 albums under his name as well as appeared on many compilations and soundtracks.

 

 

I&WGhost

Iron and Wine – Ghost on Ghost

http://www.ironandwine.com/

I sometimes find Samuel Beam’s work to be a bit too intense and serious, but his latest album is open, hopeful and at times playful.  The first single Joy is beautiful.

 

Wire CBU

Wire – Change Becomes Us

http://www.pinkflag.com/

I kind of lost touch with Wire after their albums Pink Flag and Chairs Missing, but I rediscovered their more recent albums when I updated my original recordings with CD reissues.  If this new album sounds a bit like it comes from the late 1970s and early 1980s post punk era it’s because many of the songs were written back then, and haven’t seen the light of day until now.  The recordings and production are full, with great clarity and this album just makes me want to turn up the amplifiers.

You can listen to the entire album here: https://soundcloud.com/wirehq/sets/change-becomes-us

MM Sk

Montt Mardié – Skaizerkite

Record Label: http://hybr.is/

David Olof Peter Pagmar has taken many identities and until a few years ago he was Montt Mardié (his website is now defunct) and he has since moved on to new projects, but in early 2009 this was his album of excellent pop tunes and ballads—beautifully recorded and produced.  The entire album can be streamed here:

 

Jonas Munk SFB

Jonas Munk – Searching For Bill (Original Soundtrack)

Jonas Munk has released many great albums and collaborations as Manual and more recently as Billow Observatory, but this is his first soundtrack.  The documentary Searching For Bill is Danish director Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s debut and it explores the meaning of life for those living on the edge of American society.  It’s a sensitive and contemplative soundtrack.

 

Many of these albums are available directly from the artists’ websites or at online merchants like http://darla.com/

*****

Happy Listening and Spring (finally)!


Review: Celer – Viewpoint

celer murmur

Murmur Records: MMR – 17 CD Time 78:31

Murmur Records: http://murmurrec.com/ & Celer: http://thesingularwe.org/celer/

 

I’m not sure where to begin with this, but it’s likely best that I write as little about it as possible.  Some of what I write is speculation or perhaps flawed interpretation, but it doesn’t really matter since music listening and appreciation is often subjective.

Will Long’s (Celer’s) new album Viewpoint is simply gorgeous.

I have listened to Viewpoint while walking, reading, on the edge of sleep, awakening in rays of sunshine and listening as I am now on (what I consider to be) proper audio equipment, with sound filling my listening room.  There’s a commentary within the CD cover, and it’s a narrative of (as I see it) the beginnings of a love story, moments in time and place, captured and held in the collective memory of the two who shared it–the connections in words and sound.  It took me a few attempts to remain focused for the entirety of the album, but after re-reading the story and dreaming along with the music I was hooked, deeply.  There are moments when Viewpoint weaves and peregrinates throughout its twenty-six nearly invisible sections, and at times there are some darker moments (life’s unexpected times) and pleasant daydreams, but eventually it all becomes clear and things interlock and harmony prevails, as tightly as the paving stones that decorate the inner sleeve of the bi-folding CD jacket.

Hold fast to the memories, don’t let them go…


Marsen Jules – The Endless Change Of Colour

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12k Label – 12k1074 – CD Time: 47:00

Website: http://www.12k.com/index.php/site/releases/the_endless_change_of_colour/

When I was younger and had a completely untrained eye for seeing, as in art of any form, I didn’t realize how many colors went into what I saw, whether in a landscape or an object (same in the musical parallels).  It was later, seeing artwork at a museum (paintings up-close), dramatically enlarged photos, and a friend’s work in college (artist, Allen Hirsch) that I started to understand the density and complexity of color–as well as in sound and music, the overtones, harmonics and phasing in addition to the pure waves.

The Endless Change Of Colour affects me in two ways, creating a state of peaceful timelessness (wondering where that nearly-an-hour went) as well as producing a state of nearly motionless cascades of blending sounds that transmute into a sense of relaxing in a stream bed of flowing water on a warm summer’s day–when all else falls away and what remains is that moment.  All of this from a generative piece of music built from a single phrase on an old jazz record split into three audio stems.  The sounds (and side-effects) that without closer examination and contemplation, we wouldn’t normally sense except for the benefit of the time that this work seems to warp and retrograde during its existence.

There are brief moments when almost familiar sounds enter, only to be absorbed back into the metamorphosing blend.  I hear some parallels to the effects created by Nicholas Szczepanik’s brilliant album Please Stop Loving Me, although the feeling in Endless borders on that of a gentle voice on the edge of a dream–a peaceful sense of belonging.

 


Birds of a Feather – Part 3 – Broken Chip and Simon Whetham

Available at: http://www.flamingpines.com/

Broken Chip Wonga Pigeon

The Wonga Pigeon by Broken Chip

Sometimes there are things that I don’t want to end, but then they do, far too soon.*  This is how I feel about Broken Chip’s dreamy and elusive The Wonga Pigeon contribution to the latest pair of CD3s released in the Flaming Pines label Birds Of A Feather Series.  Broken Chip is one of the musical personas of Martyn Palmer, who is from the Blue Mountains of Australia.  Broken Chip has contributed to other Flaming Pines releases, and Palmer’s other nom de plume is Option-Command, for more electronic oriented works.  The Wonga Pigeon musically recounts a first mysterious encounter with an unknown bird.  Time passed and then the bird reappeared to finally be identified.  Despite the presence of (what appear to be) bird calls within the recording, it’s a piano (in my opinion) that takes on the guise of this particular avian creature.  All sounds, initially, are distant in the recording, indescribable, and ethereal.  Gradually, the identity coalesces, only to disappear back into the ether after a brief second chance encounter.

* – And so, I hit repeat!

 

Simon Whetham The Phoenix

The Phoenix by Simon Whetham

The Phoenix is the second CD3 of this latest pair of Birds…, and starts off like a shower of humidity encountered when disembarking from a plane in a distant land—the sudden shock of relocation.  The wall of omnipresent sound of the outdoors is from Phoenix Island in Cambodia and at first it is intense (mind your amplifier’s volume control!).  Eventually, the body and mind adjusts to this extraordinary new environment, and the sounds around eventually calm, and the vision of what was once like a blinding light comes into focus.  Water, wooded areas, bells and gongs can be heard from sound recordings made by Whetham in June, 2012.  In a way, the piece starts off with the fervor of the war endured by Cambodia and VietNam not so long ago, and the gradual calming could symbolize the peace that has slowly returned to these environs; The Phoenix rising, symbolically.  As with the previous releases in this series, I love the cover illustrations.

 

Kate Carr Landing Lights

Landing Lights by Kate Carr

Also, of note (and I have only heard these samples thus far), I am intrigued by Kate Carr’s latest new album Landing Lights.  I quite like the contrast of the growl of her guitar juxtaposed against the soft, floating keyboards as in the track My Brother Came To Stay…I wonder who the brother could be, in the mix?  I can’t imagine. ;-)  Some samples from Landing Lights are below, so I am definitely interested in hearing more.

My Brother Came To Stay

 

Thunderstorm

 


Review: Cory Allen – The Great Order and Pearls

TGOPearls

http://quietdesign.us/ and http://www.cory-allen.com/

Musicians: Cory Allen: Piano, Mike Vernusky: Bowed Classical Guitar, Nick Hennies: Bowed and Struck Vibraphone, Brent Fariss: Double Bass, Henna Chou: Cello

The Great Order: A: Movement I: 17:53; B: Movement II: 15:38

I enjoy listening to the Quiet Design podcasts with Cory Allen and Mike Vernusky (available free through iTunes).  They discuss observations on art, the world around, how music affects them and their sources of inspiration as well as the musicians and artists they interview, to date: Lawrence English, Simon Scott, Duane Pitre, Taylor Deupree, Sun Hammer, Wide Sky and others.  The topics are wide-ranging, often very entertaining and thought provoking.  I also appreciate the reflective consideration that Cory Allen brings to the development of his work, and to his experimentation with instrumentation (extant and invented).

TGO

From the first sedate piano note of The Great Order, to the almost shy conversation between guitar, vibraphone, cello, and double bass, there is a respectful and somber discipline, a regimen to this largo in two movements.  It is evident that there is a prescribed yet restrained foundation to this all-acoustic instrumental work.  This is an album about relationships and exploration: the musicians to their instruments, the instruments with each other and how the sounds sustain and resonate both in the recording and ultimately in the listening space (or headphones) and the ears of the listener.  No one instrument dominates, and it’s as much about the spaces between the music as it is about the sound.  The first movement is somewhat hushed, and the second movement has a slightly increased density of statement-response and layering among the instruments.  This is an album that also cleanses the mind and encourages contemplation.  The recording has a clarity and live presence that feels as if one is sitting in the room with the musicians, making it all the more intimate.

 

 

The album art and design are by Cory Allen, who has done an impeccable job with the entire package (the covers printed by Stumptown Printers in Portland, Oregon).  The limited edition LP is pressed in translucent clear vinyl.  Also, in conjunction with the release of The Great Order, Cory Allen has issued an LP version of his serene, beautiful and introspective album Pearls (from late 2010).  The first 100 copies of Pearls are pressed in white vinyl and 400 copies in black vinyl.  For a limited time, both LPs can be purchased at a special price from the Quiet Design website.  I’m also looking forward to Cory Allen’s ongoing experiments with his recently created multi-stringed instrument (a sound sample is below).

Pearls

Pearls: A: Strange BirdsLost Energizer 17:09; B: Isozaki CloudsBlue Eyes 18:52

 


What’s Spinning – Deep Winter Edition

I need some warmth on these cold winter days…

Ron Sexsmith – Forever Endeavour

RS 4EVRNDVR

http://www.ronsexsmith.com/

I love Ron’s work (another thoughtful Canadian songwriter—imagine that?!).  He writes such great songs.  My problem with his work, at times, is that sometimes his songs are just too sad, but Ron has a gift for making a sad song curiously uplifting, like Michael and His Dad from his last album Long Player Late Bloomer.  I started listening to Ron’s work in 1997 with his third album Other Songs (produced by Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake—coincidentally Froom produced Suzanne Vega’s Nine Objects of Desire the previous year, another favorite album of mine).  Forever Endeavour is sparsely arranged, but strings, horn, percussion, pedal steel or electric bass are right there when they’re needed.  Other than that, the songs are Ron’s voice, and his acoustic guitar.  He has a gift for wordplay and expressing emotions with a deft efficiency that flow so naturally with his melodies.  Some songs on Forever Endeavour are ironically upbeat, like Nowhere Is and Snake Road—in a sense, keeping the faith.

The CD has two bonus tracks (songs written with Don Black and recorded by Don Kerr), Life After A Broken Heart and Autumn Light, and they are just plain gorgeous additions to this album.

Nowhere To Go

 

Lorna – Heart of Wire

WM34_300

http://www.words-on-music.com/index.html and http://lornatheband.com/bio/

This is Lorna’s third album on the Words On Music label.  The collective from Nottingham, UK creates dreamy contemplative songs with shy vocals and delicate harmonies.  I’ve read of some comparisons to Yo La Tenga, but Lorna’s instrumentation tends to be more complex, and chamber-like at times.  I think that this is their most direct album of the three for Words On Music—their sound is more confident, but they haven’t lost the softness and (at times) melancholy of their lyrics.  I think the strongest songs on this collection are As She Goes ByOld Shanklin Sunset and Mina and Marco (with a delightful melodic phrase sample borrowed from composer Edward Elgar).

 

 

Daphne Lee Martin – Moxie

DLM Moxie

http://daphneleemartin.com/ and http://telegraphrecordingcompany.com/

A woman after my own heart—part record store owner, part musician; for many years, Daphne has been part of the New London, Connecticut-based band Raise The Rent.  Moxie is the first of two releases (the forthcoming being Frost), and is a sultry collection of songs of the (only mildly) lurid backstreets of her imagination (with the added bonus of occasional Mellotron accompaniment!).  There are shades of the cheekiness of the Squirrel Nut Zippers and the “heat” of mid-1970s Maria Muldaur in this well-produced album.  I have an idea for what to expect from Frost—counterpoint!

 

Heligoland – Sainte Anne

Heligoland Sainte Anne

http://heligoland.org/ and http://heligoland.bandcamp.com/

Sainte Anne is the latest EP from the Paris-based Australian quartet known as Heligoland.  Their work in the last few releases has come under the wispy spell of producer and musician Robin Guthrie (who also plays occasional keyboards and bass), so it was only natural that I try their work.  My favorite tracks on this EP are Sleepless and 22 Miles—peaceful ethereal guitar and bass balanced with gently pulsing drums and Karen Vogt’s warm and full vocals (channeling, at times, the sound of Christine McVie with a bit of vibrato).  Other band members are Dave Olliffe (guitars and keyboards), Steve Wheeler (bass) and new member Antti Mäkinen (drums and percussion).  Their previous albums and EPs include: Bethmale (recorded in 2010 and released in 2012), All Your Ships Are White (2010) and A Street Between Us (2006).

 

 

Corazón from their album All Your Ships Are White

 

And even more wonderfully creative releases from the Flau label in Japan…  I can’t possibly buy them all, so one must be…somewhat…selective.

http://flau.bandcamp.com/ and http://www.flau.jp/top.html

The Boats – Our Small Ideas (2012 Edition)

The Boats OSI

http://oursmallideas.tumblr.com/

I have thoroughly enjoyed the various releases by The Boats (Craig Tattersall and Andrew Hargreaves with Danny Norbury, Chris Stewart and others).  Our Small Ideas is a re-release and enhancement of an original 2008 CD-R.  Contained in this work are the often quirky and sometimes fragile and nascent threads of pieces to be released later (and some are quite recognizable).  This album is not unlike the approach of CD #1 of Tape Loop Orchestra’s The Words On My Lips Is Your Name/The Burnley Brass Band Plays On In My Heart.

Sound samples are here (since The Boats seem to eschew Soundcloud): http://www.flau.jp/releases/r09.html

El Fog – Reverberate Slowly

El Fog RS

This is a solo project of Berlin-based vibraphonist Masayoshi Fujita, a light blend of acoustic instrumentation with a tranquil late night aura of electronics and subtlest of glitchy rhythms.

 

Masayoshi Fujita – Stories

MF Stories

http://masayoshifujita.com/

Stories is an album of solo acoustic vibraphone works (with occasional violin and cello).  Whether struck gently (as in Snow Storm) or bowed (as in Cloud), Fujita paints vivid, yet tender sound pictures.  Some pieces are rhythmically playful, and could form the foundations for musical conversations (much like those between Bill Bruford and Michiel Borstlap on their album Every Step A Dance, Every Word A Song).  This is an appropriate soundtrack for gently falling snow.  The album is beautifully mastered by Nils Frahm.

 

 

Swan and Morning Dews

 

Graham Gouldman – Love and Work

GG Love And Work

http://www.grahamgouldman.info/

Graham Gouldman has been writing songs since the days of The Yardbirds (For Your Love), and many others like Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, before formally crossing paths with Eric Stewart, Lol Creme and Kevin Godley (Hotlegs) who later became 10cc with a long string of albums with sharp, witty and often sardonic songs.  Love And Work is an album of twelve beautifully crafted and wide-ranging songs.

The album dedicated to the memory of Andrew Gold, and the song Daylight is about Andrew.  They worked together as the duo Wax and earlier on some of 10cc’s later albums.

 

I’ve seen Graham and Ron Sexsmith appear together on BBC Songwriters Circle programs.  Perhaps Graham and Ron will work together someday…

 

 

For Your Love

 

Happy Listening–Stay Warm!


Catching The Groove with Martin Schulte

MartinSchulteB

More information on Martin Schulte: https://soundcloud.com/martinschulte

Musician and DJ Martin Schulte is the nom de plume of Marat Shibaev, who is from Kazan, Russia (about 500 miles east of Moscow, in the Republic of Tartarstan).  Whether working, relaxing or out for a night, there are times when a groove just needs to be caught, and Martin Schulte helps get me there.  Without getting too much in the sub-genres of his music (which could spark a debate like which speaker is the best, in audio circles), let’s just stick with words like Electronica, Techno with small doses of ambient field recordings.

MartinSchulteC

His music is solidly rooted in analog modular sequenced synthesizer works (latter day Kraftwerk, for example).  His latest album Slow Beauty is inspired by photography and memories, including images he has taken of the beautiful landscapes near his home (in sharp contrast to the stark winter vista depicted on some of his previous albums).  Some tracks have deep visceral* grooves, others are more delicate, sampled and atmospheric, but there’s always infectious motion involved.  I have favorites on all four of his albums that I’ve referenced—excellent soundtracks for all sorts of places and experiences.

MartinSchulteA

Since I’m rather old-fashioned, and prefer physical releases, to date I have four of Martin Schulte’s CDs, three released on Lantern/Nature Bliss and one on RareNoiseRecords.  All are available at Darla Records (US Distributor).  There are many other releases available, including some live recordings (see links at his Soundcloud page).  Samples of each of his albums are shown below.

* – Although not essential, a subwoofer is a beneficial accessory for the full effect.

Slow Beauty (2012):

Treasure (2011):

Silent Stars (2010):

Odysseia (2009):

****

Please Note: With the exception of the cover of the album Silent Stars, all images are by Marat Shibaev and are used with the permission of Marat Shibaev who retains all rights, credit and copyrights to these images.


Chris Dooks / Machinefabriek – The Eskdalemuir Harmonium

Eskdalemuir

LP Title: The Eskdalemuir Harmonium

N-LRoS-EH

EP Title: Non-Linear Responses of Self-Excited Harmoniums

Komino K0M1N0-004 (Vinyl LP & Digital w/ EP) Time: LP About 36 Minutes EP About 13 Minutes

Record Label: http://kominorecords.com/

Chris Dooks: http://www.dooks.org/  More on the LP trilogy: http://www.idioholism.com/

Machinefabriek: http://www.machinefabriek.nu/

Tracks LP (LP & Digital): 1) The Pike Knowes The Loupin’ Stanes; 2) Betamax and Dictaphones; 3) Ewe Knowe The Girdle Stanes; 4) Settlement

Tracks EP (Digital): 1) Steady States and Transient Oscillations; 2) Aerodynamic Excitation of the Harmonium Reed; 3) The Motion of Air-Driven Free Reeds

Authentic, synthetic, living, languishing, animate, inanimate, well, ailing, history and the now: these are the explorations of the latest collaboration of Chris Dooks and Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek).  Like many, I have always been drawn to the old and mysterious, wanting to know more about the history of things, the times in which they existed (and in this case, what hands and feet brought these venerable machines to life).  Harmoniums are vestiges of another time (mostly from the late 18th C through the middle 20th C), inanimate objects, strangely biomorphic in their inner workings that are revived with physical exertion, air in their bellows (the lungs) and resonant metal reeds producing the sounds (the vocal chords).  Neglected harmoniums often mournfully creak and object to being revived after long slumbers.  A friend of mine once used the term “lumbering harmonium” to describe his relic on an instrument—curiously descriptive in both reality and material (when the verb is used as a noun).

 

These soundtracks depict a retreat of solitude into the Scottish countryside, one of a series of three projected works and part of Chris Dooks’s PhD research in sound art and medical humanities, as well as response to a chronic illness; the search for comfort and rest through improvised sonic threads (passed between Dooks and Zuydervelt during their development) that were crafted from music, field and voice recordings.  The resulting drone-like ambiance is a fascinating and relaxing journey with sociological, archaeological and radio documentary parallels.  Thanks to the on-location recordings, there is a strong sense of place and memory imbued into this album.

IMG_3212

The recordings, liner sleeve and notes, photographs and graphics are impeccably produced as is the ruby red vinyl LP.  This is the second Komino Records LP that I have acquired (the first being Kyle Bobby Dunn’s In Miserum Stercus, which I reviewed in late 2012).  The digital EP presents additional serene field and harmonium recordings—a beautiful production overall.

The next album in the series will be Three Hundred Square Miles of Upwards.

Pre-Master Recordings from Three Hundred Square Miles of Upwards

 

The third album will be CIG{R}LES.

Pre-Master Samples from CIG{R}LES

 


Review: Celer – Without Retrospect, the Morning

Celer WR,tM

Glacial Movements Records – GM015 (CD) Time: 52:13

Artist Websites: http://thesingularwe.org/celer/ & http://celer.bandcamp.com/music

Record Label: http://www.glacialmovements.com/ & https://soundcloud.com/glacial_movements

Tracks: 1) Holdings of Electronic Lifts; 2) A Small Rush into Exile; 3) Dry and Disconsolate; 4) Variorum of Hierophany; 5) A Landscape Once Uniformly White; 6) Distance and Mortality; 7) With Some Effort, the Sunset;

Although not as indiscriminate as is denoted by the term, I am often a completist when it comes to collecting the works of selected authors and musicians.  Yet, I would be hard-pressed, given his massive output of creative work, to even begin to collect all the music of Will Long in the guise of Celer.  By now, I probably have a dozen or so of Celer’s recordings, but if I had to recommend one and only one recent work, it might just be this almost mystical and entrancing album.   I’m also drawn to this release since it fulfills one of the most significant inspirations for why I listen to music—it takes me somewhere, and the images and sensations are vivid.

Album Samples

 

This is the third work in a trilogy based on water (to some, water symbolizes comfort and freedom).  The two previous albums are Cursory Asperses (2008) and Escaping Lakes (2009)—the former alluding to the slow movements of small streams and the latter to the calmer depths.  The music on this album being inspired in part by Will’s trip to southern Alberta in 2009 (documenting the wilderness in photographs for a local Park Service).

Without Retrospect, the Morning is different from the first two in the series in that it has distinct tracks (versus a continuous thread of sound) and it captures water (or the sense of it) in a different state—a chilled desolation, at times at the edge of an existence where the potential energy is stored and released ever so sparingly in a landscape yearning for Sun and warmth.  It’s therefore appropriate that this album landed at the Glacial Movements record label, a self-proclaimed “glacial and isolationist ambient” label.  I also appreciate that the recording has been mastered with a softness that retains the intricate clarity of the many layers of sound buried in the crystalline strata (to heck with the loudness wars!).  There are also hidden sonic depths, and some passages might be felt before they are heard (as in Dry and Disconsolate).

A lateral effect of this CD is that it triggers (for me) some pleasant, albeit quirky, sonic memories from long ago.  I’m a fan of the original 1960s Star Trek.  There was some great incidental music and ambient sounds used in that series that, to my ears, are recalled in a track like Distance and Mortality (see if you hear the resonance of the wind from the pilot episode, The Menagerie or the sound of the transporter beam).

Distance and Mortality

 

So find a quiet room, bundle-up, get comfortable, and explore stunning breadth of this vast hyperborean landscape.  Just remember to turn the volume back down on your amplifier before you change the sources on your preamp or pop-in another CD.


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

434_lambchop_mrmet_mini_900px

2) Lambchop – Mr. M – Merge Records

zammuto-cover

3) Zammuto – Zammuto – Temporary Residence

sh-grii-front

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

12k-faint-cover

5) Taylor Deupree – Faint – 12k

BillowObservatory

6) Billow Observatory – Billow Observatory – Felte

12k10701Gareth

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

Pill-Oh KL

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

brambles-cover-alt

9) Brambles – Charcoal – Serein

almost-charlie-ty

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

CodyChesnuTT

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

Trommer%20artworkPorya%20artwork

 

 

 

 

 

Darren%20McClure%20artworkThe%20Green%20Kingdom%20artwork

 

 

 

 

 

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

12k2026_2

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/


Review: Taylor Deupree – Faint

Record Label Website and Links: http://www.12k.com/ & http://www.taylordeupree.com/

http://www.12k.com/index.php/site/artists/taylor_deupree/

Taylor Deupree’s Discography: http://www.taylordeupree.com/music/

12k2025 (CD, Deluxe CD & Digital)

Tracks: CD1 57:17 1) Negative Snow; 2) Dreams of Stairs; 3) Thaw; 4) Shutter; 5) Sundown & CD2 38:38 1) Thaw (Reprise)

Whether it’s his music, photography, collaborations, and even the work from his record label 12k, Taylor Deupree is an Artist (emphasis on capital A).  I’m a relative late-comer to his work, and I’m not even quite sure how that I came across his work or the 12k label, but I think that it had something to do with a 12k sampler CD, and then as I often do, I took a dive into his back catalog, focusing on physical releases (since those tend to be my preference—I’m old fashioned that way).

While Deupree has an extensive solo output, he also is an active collaborator with a wide range of artists (follow the discography link I noted above) in addition to many other musicians not listed for concerts and tours.  He also actively experiments with new approaches and directions in his work—reinvention invigorates.  Just as in his musical works, there is a peaceful desolation in his photography.  I’m drawn to many of his photos, especially his landscapes (I’m fortunate to have a copy of his book of photos and CD Sea Last), but this is one of my favorites:

Moss, Kyoto (linked from Taylor Deupree’s website)

I also enjoy his Instagram photos posts, many of them are taken on outings in the woods, the fields and a reservoir nearby his home.  It’s evident in his mastering of his own work and those of other musicians that the quality of the sound is important too (I often seek out music, not only for the artist, but the studio, sound engineer, producer and mastering engineer).  Each release by 12k, whether CD, LP, standard or deluxe edition, receives special attention in the design, execution and promotion of the work.  I admire this greatly—the time and attention is worth the money and the effort.

Faint is Taylor Deupree’s new album.  It’s available in the latest 12k packaging as a standard release, as digital files or in a deluxe edition (pictured here) with a second CD of extended version of the track Thaw as well as twelve prints of photos taken by Deupree with a handmade camera.  Faint overall is more restrained and pared-down to elemental sounds (though not at all stark) compared to his other recent work, yet it has a warmth that makes this album deeply comforting (hints of this are in the track titles).  I’m not sure of the timeline in the recording of this album (beyond that it was recorded over a two year time span), but there are similarities in Negative Snow to the environment in Simon Scott’s expansive album Below Sea Level.  It’s like taking a walk in a field that still has a foot in Winter, but the cold is subsiding in the sun and streams are returning to refill vernal pools.

Dream of Stairs is a gorgeous track with a lightly guiding keyboard thread (sounding like a Fender Rhodes piano) weaving through whispers of treatments, gentle guitars, remote looped voices, and ephemeral sounds of an almost intangible reality that might be captured on the edges of a dream.

 

Thaw (with a longer reprise on CD2 in the deluxe issue, akin to Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon) has a broader aura, like a fog lifting on an very early Spring morning where the air is warmer than the still-frozen ground.  There is an ethereal suspension into which a distant organ-like sound appears and retracts back into the haze—like gentle waves on a flat sand beach.  It has an ancient and mysterious sound like that in Creation du Monde, a very early post-Aphrodite’s Child soundtrack by Vangelis.  Shutter has a hazy analog-reverberant foundation behind a placid and heavily treated electric guitar solo that is later joined by gentle reminders of Dream of…  Sundown at first is a like a quiet seascape, watching distant ships passing and hearing far-off signals as a day draws to a close.  Closer sounds enter to illuminate the scene, like fleeting afterglows that fill a sky once the sun disappears below the horizon—nature’s reverberation of what was, before entering darkness.

It’s a restful and warm journey.


Review: Naked Truth – Ouroboros

RealNoiseRecords RNR029 (CD & Digital) Time: 49:51

Record Label Websites: http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/

Sound Samples: http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/jukebox/naked-truth/ouroboros/

Tracks: 1) Dust; 2) Dancing With The Demons Of Reality; 3) Garden Ghosts; 4) Orange; 5) Right Of Nightly Passage; 6) Yang Ming Has Passed; 7) In A Dead End With Joe; 8) Neither I

Ouroboros, the eternal consuming and replenishing serpent can be seen in the singular (nothing outside of itself) or in a broader societal context.  In this case, my interpretation is more of a collective urban consciousness.  This is an album of motion, not of rest, an album of experiences, not of contemplation (at least until after the intense experience is over).  It’s a fusion-brew of industrial, urban and cosmic sounds, and a potent follow-up to the 2011 album Shizaru (the lesser-known fourth primate of see, hear, speak, and DO no evil).

Graham Haynes has joined the Naked Truth quartet on electric cornet and trumpet (following Cuong Vu’s departure) along with original members, King Crimson alum drummer Pat Mastelotto, English keyboardist Roy Powell, and Italian Lorenzo Feliciati on electric bass and guitars.

Shizaru from 2011

First a warning: Prepare your audio system (and your ears) for a workout.  Ouroboros will shake out the cobwebs.  The opening track Dust is the warm-up, the testing of the systems.  It’s a more keyboard dominant, brass punctuated bookend before entering the fuzzed sonic maelstrom.  It has the atavistic fibers of many eras, and I’m old enough to have been around for the many incarnations of King Crimson, Weather Report and other Jazz-Fusion, Progressive Rock variants, and it’s all there–the solid musicianship and the sometimes angst-filled drive.  There’s also a hint of Miroslav Vitous’s 1976 spacey funk inspired album, Magical Shepherd.

Track One: Dust

 

Next, place yourself in a traffic jam with an impetuous case of not-so-mild road rage (in the aggressive spirit of KC’s Neurotica, sans vocals), and that’s Dancing With The Demons Of Reality.  The pauses are the waiting at traffic lights, restoring momentary sanity, but tension builds with pressurized chromatics, electronics and percussion before subsiding.  Garden Ghosts is a respite; at first a progression of sonic fragments, a meandering prepared piano, percussion and fuzz-bass.  The trumpet is the roaming spirit joined by a languid beat, murky electronics and guitar background; ultimately it ends as a brass-teasing percussive danse macabre.

At the start of Orange it’s disguised as an atmospheric piece, a quiet evening perhaps—serenade with cornet, but then diverts quickly with syncopated rhythms (bass, guitar and keyboards reminiscent of Kazumi Watanabe’s work), before returning to the more sedate themes.  Right Of Nightly Passage is an instrumental recasting of the driving rhythmic “heat in the jungle” anagram.  Clustered horns interlace with the cadence of the frenetic scene.  The spirit of Miles Davis’s later more electronic work is channeled in Yang Ming Has Passed.  It’s a menacing and deeply rhythmic piece (sounding like it could be dock-side in a shipping yard) with traded riffs between bass, percussion and trumpet meshed together by a high-cover of electronics.

The heavy backbeat continues in the darkly raucous In A Dead End With Joe.  The trumpet soars and trills against the syncopated drums, electric guitar and keyboard phrases.  Neither I is the other keyboard-textured closing bookend of the album.  It displays some Far Eastern influences, and is more experimental and atmospheric with clustered brass, melodic percussion and roving piano before finding its beat.  By contrast to the rest of the album, it closes with a gentle yet furtive purity.

Ouroboros is an adventurous and deliciously brash album that reveals glimpses of the eternal and sometimes daunting cycle of existence from different perspectives.  Naked Truth is a sturdy, tight and vibrant quartet, and I’ll be very interested to see and hear where they take us next.

Naked Truth – courtesy of RareNoiseRecords

****

This is a solicited review.


Updated: What’s Spinning Today – Robin Guthrie, Olan Mill, Machinefabriek and A Winged Victory For The Sullen

Robin Guthrie – Fortune ***Updated with Souncloud link sample***

Soleil après minuit – SM1203CD – CD and 300 copies forthcoming on Vinyl

Robin Guthrie, long ago, moved on from his work with Cocteau Twins.  Some fans want him to keep looking back, but frankly, I’m glad that he has continued on with his own work (albums and EPs) and numerous collaborations with Harold Budd, Eraldo Bernocchi and others as well as film soundtracks.  Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy my CT albums, and nothing is more searing, emotionally than the CT track (from their last album, Milk and KissesViolaine.

Fortune is a personal work, putting his life, emotions and experiences into his layered, chorus-and-echo-filled guitar sound.  I sense intense memories too.  I find that Guthrie’s work is filled with sound-color, which is also why I am so drawn to it.  My favorites include the languid ladybird, the refreshing like water in water, the tender and deeply-toned melody of perfume and youth, and and so to sleep, my little ones, which picks up where the EP Songs To Help My Children Sleep leaves off—enchanting.

 

Artist Website: http://robinguthrie.com/

Available also at: http://darla.com/?fuseaction=item_cat.ecom_superitem_detail&item_cat_id=41313

****

Olan Mill – Home

Preservation CIRCA512 – limited 300 copy CD release and Digital

With each Olan Mill release, I am drawn all the more to their work.  There is a subtle lag between rhythms, melodies and harmonies that gives a tidal flow, similar to some works of Ralph Vaughn Williams or Claude Debussy.  Also, I’m not sure how this will be taken by some current listeners of this genre, but some of Olan Mill’s work reminds me of early to mid 1970s compositions of Evangelos Papathanassiou’s, especially the soundtrack to the Frédéric Rossif  film La Fête Sauvage.

Record Label: http://www.preservation.com.au/product/olan-mill-home

 

Album overview at Experimedia:

 

****

Machinefabriek – Secret Photographs

Important Records – IMPREC366 – CD and Digital

This is a three track (more than 70 minute) soundtrack for a forthcoming film about Alvin Karpis (notorious bank robber and longest serving prisoner at Alcatraz Prison) by Mike Hoolboom.  Karpis was released from prison in 1969, moved to Spain and wrote a memoir.  He took photographs in the closing years of his life, and never shared his work with anyone until the collection was found for sale on ebay.  Rutger Zuyderfelt’s response to the work is separated into three parts (black and white, color and black and white).  It is a subtle guitar and electronics-based composition that gives the sense of taking a hushed and private tour through chambers of secluded memories.

 

Artist Websites:

http://www.machinefabriek.nu & http://machinefabriek.bandcamp.com/album/secret-photographs

****

A Winged Victory for the Sullen – A Winged Victory for the Sullen

Erased Tapes – ERATP032 – Vinyl, CD and Digital Files

Released about a year ago, the eponymous A Winged Victory for the Sullen album is the work of Stars of the Lid’s Adam Wiltzie and LA composer Dustin Halloran.  I didn’t realize that there was a connection between Adam and Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse), but it was ultimately that connection and colleague Francesco Donadello that brought …Winged Victory… together.  Large spaces, grand pianos, string quartets and delicate woodwinds and brass are the framework for this lush and stunning album.

 

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

Record Label: http://www.erasedtapes.com/artists/biography/16/A+Winged+Victory+For+The+Sullen


Some Recent Kitchen. Label Releases

Record Label Website: http://www.kitchen-label.com/

Soundcloud Page (Excerpts of Albums): http://soundcloud.com/kitchen-label/sets

Available at: http://www.darla.com/

I am always on the lookout for new music, especially from record labels that are doing something different, something special, and I don’t mind spending extra money for well crafted, limited or richly illustrated art editions.  In a way, it’s my reaction against the trend of digital only releases, which include not only music, but e-books (I still prefer finely crafted, bound books).

I’ve missed some of Kitchen. Label’s earlier releases that have gone out of print, but to date I have acquired four albums from their US distributor, Darla (their first release being in 2008 and they are an outgrowth of their design firm Kitchen, founded in 2005).  K.L is based in Singapore and specializes in releasing art-editions of talented emerging artists, and label founders Ricks Ang and April Lee take great care in all aspects of their work, from the engineering of the recordings to the diverse and creative designs.

***

ASPIDISTRAFLY – A Little Fable – Kl-007 – 2011

ASPIDISTRAFLY is composer and vocalist April Lee and producer Ricks Ang, and their work tells charming and delicate stories.  Their second album A Little Fable was released in 2011 and it has the presence of a secret garden.  I find the depth and airy quality of Homeward Waltz to be particularly enchanting–it’s like chamber music.  Their first album I Hold A Wish For You was also released on K.L.

Homeward Waltz

 

Landscape With A Fairy

 

***

FJORDNE – Charles Rendition – Kl-006 – 2011

FJORDNE is the solo project of Tokyo-based composer, Fujimoto Shunichiro.  His work has a timeless richness that is brought to life with acoustic instruments and a laptop computer.  Music for a quiet night of contemplation.  Charles Rendition is his 5th album.

Constellation Live

 

Gathering

 

***

Pill-Oh – Vanishing Mirror – Kl-010 – 2012

Pill-Oh consists of electronic artist Hior Chronik and classical pianist Zinovia Arvanitidi, both from Greece have been working together since 2009.  They each have established solo careers of composing for theater, film, documentaries, and art performances.  Zinovia is recording her 2nd solo orchestral album, to be released within 2012.  Their album Vanishing Mirror is like the soft and hopeful first-light of a spring day.  The feeling is sometimes reflective, but not sentimental.  In this music there is restful comfort along with accomplished musicianship.  The track Melodico is my favorite.

February Tale

 

Melodico

 

***

Szymon Kaliski – From Scattered Accidents – KL-011 – 2012

Szymon Kaliski is a multi-media artist from Poland.  From Scattered Accidents is his fourth album.  His work combines familiar acoustic and invented instrumentation.  His work has a tranquility that often evokes a suspension of time within a vast sonic depth of field.

Of Symmetry

 

Interlude I (with Peter Broderick)

 

***

The music at Kitchen. Label is never strident, but it can challenge some norms of straight-up ambient, post-classical or electro-acoustic genres.  There are even some jazz influences (FJORDNE, especially), yet the compositions are often ethereal and filled with memories of nature and surroundings of daily life—rediscovering the forgotten in the familiar.


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.


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.


Kane Ikin – Sublunar

12k1071 CD – Time: 53:33

Artist’s Website: http://www.kaneikin.com        Record Label Website: http://www.12k.com

Tracks: 1) Europa; 2) Slow Waves; 3) In The Arc; 4) Ebbing; 5) Rhea; 6) Titan; 7) Sleep Spindle; 8) An Infinite Moment; 9) The Violent Silence; 10) Black Sands; 11) Lo; 12) Prometheus’ Tail; 13) Oberon; 14) Compression Waves; 15) In The Shadow Of The Vanishing Night; 16) Hyperion;

 

I don’t know exactly on what plane Kane Ikin exists, but I can tell you that I’d like to get there.  There is a sense of deep mystery, the fleeting ethereal and a curious otherness in his musical travels.  I’ll gladly get on his spaceship, anytime.

Kane Ikin is one half of Solo Andata (along with Paul Fiocco, both being from Australia), and he has also collaborated with other artists including David Wenngren (aka Library Tapes) on their February 2012 album Strangers (KESH017).  I first encountered Solo Andata’s work in the 2009 self-titled 12k release.

Earlier this year, Ikin gave us a taster EP entitled Contrail (clear vinyl 7”, and a separate download of four tracks), and the title track alone was worth the price of the entire EP, not to mention the marvelous job that 12k did with the packaging.  Also, of note, Sublunar is packaged in 12k’s new (no plastic, and I assume, recycled cardboard) sleeve design.

 

Ikin’s music is decidedly lo-fi in production (tape loops, altered field recordings, sampling, warped instrumental recordings), but the quality and care that he takes in combining tangible instrumentation with highly manipulated sounds gives the end result an indescribable yet comforting quality.  His solo work also tends (so far) to focus on shorter format recordings (the longest track Oberon on Sublunar is 4:51).  Also, while I consider his work to be highly original in form and sound; there are occasional (intentional?) references to works of others.  At the risk of driving my readers bonkers, I’ll again reference Kraftwerk and their track Kling Klang from the 1972 album Kraftwerk 2, which came to mind when I first heard the gongs and bells in track (6) Titan.

Sublunar is a series of short journeys, just enough time to experience the sense of place Ikin is depicting, but not so long that one feels the urge to get to the next destination too quickly.  I’m going to resist the temptation to describe each track (there’s a full single track sound file for Europa and an Experimedia sampler of excerpts from the entire album), because I think that might diminish a sense of self-exploration for the listener.  Some tracks meander with little guidance from a recognizable beat, whereas others have highly treated percussion with extended decay.  I especially like how Kane treats the sound of strings in the mix; he uses the entirety of an acoustic guitar’s resonance.  Sublunar is a potent musical experience, and I hope Kane Ikin continues his voyages of experimentation, because I’m completely hooked.

****

Sublunar‘s Teaser Video

 

Experimedia’s Sampler of the Album

 


The Green Kingdom – Incidental Music

Tench – TCH03: CD Time: 39:58

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

More on this release: http://www.tenchrec.com/TCH03.html

Artist Website: http://thegreenkingdom.wordpress.com/

Available at: http://darla.com/

 

1) Three Friends Of Winter; 2) Backyard Epiphany; 3) Over Treetops; 4) Cherry Theme; 5) Slow Bloom; 6) Green Theme; 7) Floatation Themes; 8) rshda; 9) Whispered Through Pines

Whether in a conscious state of reverie or in the pre-waking hours when fleeting visions come forth into the camera obscura* of the mind, there are moments where hanging onto the edges of dreams is perhaps more desirable than even slumber.  And after the dreams end, in the glistening haze of the morning, The Green Kingdom’s latest album, appropriately titled Incidental Music, is the soundtrack for this quietude.

My first experience with Michael Cottone’s work was on the Home Assembly’s #HAM004 album from 2010 entitled Prismatic, and his more recent album Egress on Nomadic Kids Republic #011.  Incidental Music holds time in suspension with subtle rhythms, and gentle yet tangible instrumentation (crystalline guitars, keyboards, kalimba and minimal processing) that encourage a calm wandering state of mind.  Although different and original in his approach, there are some similarities in the feeling and sound in Cottone’s work to Dictaphone’s recent album Poems From A Rooftop (Sonic Pieces) and The Boats album Ballads Of The Research Department (12k), two albums that I like very much.  It is evident that great care was taken in the recording of this album, and it has been beautifully mastered by Tench’s M. Ostermeier.

Three Friends Of Winter is the placid introduction, a point of awareness without a concrete reality.  Backyard Epiphany is serene in its sense of movement and passage of time.  Over Treetops is the beginning of a gentle awakening.  There are Satie-esque moments of allure as in Cherry Theme and Green Theme, even after a chimed nudge opening in Cherry ThemeSlow Bloom and Floatation Themes blur the sense of time.  rshda is the most ethereal track on the album; the moment before stirring, where reality is still beyond reach.  The album closes with a gentle awakening in Whispered Through Pines.

There was a place-holder for album #TCH03 at Tench Records for some time.  Now the mystery is solved, and the void filled with these delightfully tranquil scenes and halcyon musings from The Green Kingdom.

* Tip of the hat to Mr. Williamson.


Review: Almost Charlie – Tomorrow’s Yesterday

Words On Music – WM33: CD Time: 42:17

Record Label Website: http://words-on-music.com/

More on this release:

http://words-on-music.com/WM33.html & http://words-on-music.com/almostcharlie.html

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

Available at: http://darla.com/

 

1) Hope Less; 2) Open Book; 3) Sandsong; 4) Man Without A Home; 5) A Nice Place To Die; 6) Tomorrow’s Yesterday; 7) Still Crazy ‘Bout You After All These Years; 8) Cummings; 9) Youth Is Wasted On The Young; 10) Undertow; 11) When Venus Surrenders

I have a broad rotation of albums, all sorts of genres (I listen to more than ambient and electro-acoustic works, despite what some might think from my reviews).  Since its release in 2009, Almost Charlie’s album The Plural Of Yes (TPOY) hasn’t been too far away from my CD player.  It’s a great album of songs written in the tradition of Elton John and Bernie Taupin or Burt Bacharach and Hal David, musician and lyricist working separately.  In the case of Berlin’s Dirk Homuth (singer and multi-instrumentalist) and New York City’s Charlie Mason (lyricist), they still haven’t met in-person and aren’t separated by “two rooms”, but two continents and an ocean.  It’s evident, however, from their work together that they communicate well, no matter what the distance.

Tomorrow’s Yesterday is the latest release, and I’m really happy that Almost Charlie has returned after three years with more beautifully crafted and skillfully recorded songs.  There are familiar faces in the band: Sven Mühlbradt on bass and Pelle Hinrichsen on drums and percussion with the addition of Bert Wenndorff on piano as well as other supporting musicians.

For those unfamiliar with Almost Charlie, I find similarities to the songwriting and sound of bands like The Beautiful South, The Autumn Defense and some of the less raucous songs of the Fountains of Wayne.  I’d even compare some songs to works by 10cc (either written by Eric Stewart/Graham Gouldman or Kevin Godley/Lol Creme).  Similarities to the Beatles are also unmistakable (especially the voice of John Lennon with a bit of George Harrison on the track Still Crazy ‘Bout You After All These Years).  There are marvelous wordplays, edges of wit and subtle metaphors in the lyrics resulting in this latest collection of musical gems.

The feeling of Tomorrow’s Yesterday is a bit more pensive and acoustic than TPOY, but there are upbeat, playful and spirited tracks too.  Instrumentally, the foundation of most of the songs is guitar, bass, drums and piano, but many of the tracks are delightfully punctuated with brass, woodwinds, sitar and dobro guitar.  Some of the finest moments are simply acoustic guitar and Homuth’s vocal harmonies, as on Sandsong, which is a bit melancholy and reflective.  In this album there are songs of relationships, a sense of realism, but not resignation; acceptance and contentment, but also a feeling of hope as in Cummings.  I also appreciate that the recording is crisp and sounds like a live performance in the studio with minimal processing.  There was only one point (at the end of the last track) where the recording was sounding saturated on my equipment, but I stress this is a minimal issue.

 

Hope Less (a song of setting expectations) begins with acoustic guitar and harmonies and then advances into a march of sorts.  This and Open Book are great examples of the smart wordplay in the lyrics, double-meanings, literary references and a deft efficiency of expression.  Man Without A Home and Youth Is Wasted On The Young are ironically upbeat ruminations with shades of The Byrds (electric guitars), syncopated rhythms and are gently arranged with brass and strings respectively.  A Nice Place To Die has a lively rhythm and bluegrass roots-music vibe with dobro and violin solos.  Tomorrow’s Yesterday is a stark and melancholy observation on the passage of time, and perhaps more than any other track Homuth is channeling John Lennon’s voice (literally and figuratively).

Undertow (a favorite of mine) has power in its symbolism and realism; the words and music combined are indeed greater than the sum of their parts.  The passage “The more I try to fight it; Its grip on me is tightened…Overwhelmed by the undertow” is about as close to perfect as it gets.  The closing track When Venus Surrenders builds from a quiet beginning, and is the longest and most ambitious song on the album, similar to the spirit of The Monster and Frankenstein from TPOY with a nod, I think, to The Beatles’ Let It Be.

 

As The Plural of Yes was in 2009, Tomorrow’s Yesterday is one of my favorite song-albums of 2012.  Perhaps next time lyrics could be included in the package, since they are such an integral part of the songs.  The Homuth and Mason formula works, the chemistry is still there, and I hope they continue to write songs together and we hear much more from Almost Charlie in years to come.


Autistici – Beneath Peaks

Autisici BP-1024x1024

Hibernate Recordings – HB44: Time: 46:30 – Edition of 250

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

More on this release: http://hibernate-recs.co.uk/releases/autistici-beneath-peaks/

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

1) Asleep Beneath Nests (Fieldhead); 2) Edall; 3) Mam Tor Soarers’ Workshop; 4) Styx; 5) Edge Over Millstone View; 6) Padley Gorge; 7) Noe (Upper Booth); 8) Mulgrave’s Dining-Room; 9) Aidale; 10) Peveril’s Open Door; 11) Sleep State For Carl Wark

Beneath Peaks (Autistici’s debut release on Hibernate Recordings) is an interpretive sound narrative of a walking and camping tour through the Peak District in the central UK; a luminous and expansive journey with a strong sense of place.  The region is geologically diverse with moorland plateaus, expanses of millstone grit escarpments, limestone and demarking zones at the edges of the long-ago eroded strata.  I have been fortunate to take long walks in similar places: Devon (The Burrows in Saunton) and on Exmoor in the southwestern UK, and Beneath Peaks is certainly an enticement to travel to this varied pastoral upland region.

Even before the music, I was struck by the hues, varying landscape and seemingly endless sky in the cover photo (quite similar to Exmoor in some respects).  The photo is also illustrative of Autistici’s work, which ranges from outwardly expansive to inwardly minute explorations; the literal and abstract in a landscape that is both known yet still mysterious.

Instrumentation throughout the album is both recognizable and veiled, and includes piano, guitar, synthesizer and electronics, in addition to sculpted fragments of extensive field recordings captured during the trip (processed with the help of Christopher Hipgrave’s software module AMBIENT).  Additional guitar on Edge Over Millstone View was provided by Erik Schoster.

 

Beneath Peaks is book-ended by two sleep-states: an awakening (the beginning of the journey at a campsite named Fieldhead) and a closing to slumber and inward contemplation (at the ancient Carl Wark).  Throughout there is a deep sense of observation and contemplation, both in the literal field recordings and abstract sonic interpretations of the journey.

Asleep Beneath Nests (Fieldhead) is a deftly woven tapestry of field, avian and human sounds, rising with the sun (while human slumbers).  Edall is the sound of breathing and pulsing; movement through this timeless area.  Edall is a 16th century variant spelling of the village of Edale and was once known as the “Valley of the River Noe”; the start of the Pennine Way, a trail in this district.  Mam Tor Soarers’ Workshop; starts in what appears to be in a woodworker’s shop.  This is a region known for hang and para-gliding.  As this track progresses, it transitions from being grounded to having a sense of weightlessness.  The latter section (and I am speculating) appears to be a bit of an homage to Raymond Scott’s rhythmic and melodic electronic Bass-Line Generator (of 1967).  Styx is a brief and quiet transition into Edge Over Millstone View.  The sound is sharp and panoramic in contrast to other areas of rolling pasturelands elsewhere in this region (a reference to the geology, I speculate).

The rocky echoed sounds of Padley Gorge give the sense of passing through the deep narrow wooded valley near the village of Grindleford.  Burbage Brook is at the base of the gorge.  Noe (Upper Booth) is a small tributary to the River Derwent and forms a sonic respite before a pulsating encounter with Mulgrave’s Dining-RoomAidale (I believe, another early variant spelling of the village Edale) is at first, a delightful contrast to Mulgrave’s; a meandering solo piano, which then drifts into an altered dream-state and transitions to the apparent sounds of traffic passing or is it time bending?  Peveril’s Open Door brings us to the environs of Castleton and the nearby Peveril Castle, which overlooks the village with sounds of birds, nearby waterway and the piano returns.  The end of the journey is Sleep State For Carl Wark, the rocky promontory in Hatersage Moor (believed to be the site of an Iron Age hill fort).  It is here that memories of the distant past flow into and blend with the present, and sleep returns with music box and strings; the end of a captivating journey.

Autistici is Sheffield-based (UK) sound artist David Newman.  He is the curator of the Audiobulb (where I discovered the marvelous work of Monty Adkins) and Audiomoves record labels.  To date, Autistici has released a number of acclaimed albums on the 12k, Home Normal and Keshhhhhh labels, amongst others.

Updated sound files will be posted when available.

****

This is a solicited review.


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