CDr éter-06 Time: 38:42 Edition of 70
Tracks: 1) Pneuma, 2) Infraleve, 3) Indeleble, 4) Transparencia, 5) Levedad, 6) Gravedad
I listened to Levedad a few times and instead of immediately formulating thoughts about it, I moved on to some other activities allowing the impressions to coalesce in my subconscious. A day later I listened again and found myself thinking about cosmology, and the mystery that we cannot see or explain approximately 95% of the mass and energy in our Universe—what has come to be known as: Dark Matter and Dark Energy. It’s a conundrum of knowing that something is there out there, but not knowing what exactly it is.
Although I have no expertise in astrophysics, I have read some of Stephen Hawking’s and Carl Sagan’s works. Why I had this macro-scale reaction to Levedad, I’m not sure. By sharp contrast, there’s also a micro scale parallel as in the communications between (nerve) cells, the electrical impulses that pass via dendrites and synapses (which we KNOW to exist and have been observed in real-time using powerful laser and electron microscopy). And what of the 5% of the Universe that we can describe, see and hear?
In this album I think I would equate the tangible 5% of the Universe to the micro-sounds that populate the sonic ether throughout the six pieces on this album…like the flash of a small meteor that almost fools the eye when it disappears as quickly as it appears, the electrical pulses of a distant quasar captured with a radio telescope or the intensive shimmering ribbons of an aurora borealis. The vast remaining aura of sound is the indescribable and unknown.
Miguel Isaza studies sound and philosophy and conducts cross-disciplinary research on listening. His work includes composing, exhibit installations, performance, visual art (including computer generated images) and research. Isaza explores the relationship between creators, educators and students with workshops, talks and publications as well as creating, recording and producing music. He works with museums, academic institutions and on web-based projects. He co-founded the Éter label along with Alejandro Henao in Medellín, Colombia and also runs the Monofónicos, Invisible Valley and Sonic Terrain music labels.
Levelad is a series of micro-montages that are akin to the recent long exposure Hubble Deep Field images of a fraction of our visible night sky. The longer the time of the exposure the greater the detail that is revealed and the further back in time one travels visually; like letting one’s eye adjust to the dark and eventually more stars appear in the dome of the sky.
In my brief e-mail correspondence with Isaza, I asked if there are any underlying concepts for the album, and he had a reply that was curiously similar to my impressions (after I had already listened to the album and formulated my opinions):
“The work has for me a sense of nothingness, inspired on thin, delicate and suspended activity of bodies…”
So my reaction to the album, I have concluded, is plausible in the broadest sense. The album has varied textures and moments of contrast from crystalline (almost piercing) individual tones to broad and intense walls of sound. There are some recurrent sounds and themes giving a sense of familiarity within the largely ethereal sound-scape. It’s my opinion that the aura of two of the latter tracks (Transparencia and the title track Levedad) somewhat belie their titles, but that in no way diminishes the listening experience. Perhaps they were titled with a somewhat Duchamp-esque irony.
Pneuma (roughly translates to a vital spirit or creative force) opens the album with a vibrant clarity. It begins in relative silence and then merges into sonorous glassy environs, and moves briefly into cavernous and buzzing electric depths. Infraleve gives the impression of being nearby an audio jet-stream with micro-sounds and other sonic activity dancing below and in front of the high and fast-moving heavens. There is somberness in Indeleble, as if evoking a distant memory during a passage of time. In contrast to the jet-stream of Infraleve there is a feeling of an almost brooding undercurrent.
As noted above, and despite the title, there is a broad three-dimensional frontal density to Transparencia. It meanders a bit with the faintest sounds of distant voices. For me, Levelad (lightness) is ever so slightly referential, sounding mildly like the Opening Titles and backgrounds to the soundtrack of the film Bladerunner where Deckard is reviewing surveillance photos, which is followed by the Blush Response segment. Eventually a layered drone blends into the piece, but is delicately penetrated with avian sounds of an outdoor environment. Gravedad is appropriately grounded and has familiar sounds of nature, perhaps marking a return from the exploration of the unknown.
Enjoy the flight.
Volkoren 58 – Time: 39:46 Format: CD, also available as a limited edition of 35 copies (see Bandcamp link), recorded in the northern Netherlands
Available at: http://silmus.bandcamp.com/
1) Deeply Beloved 2) Remembrance 3) Set In Stone 4) You Are Tenderness 5) Leaving Darkness 6) Shelter 7) You Have The Words And I Listen 8) Bare 9) Sadness Covers Me 10) Follow Me
The word shelter has different connotations, and I recall an assignment in my early design studio days exploring that word in terms of space, light and structure. I think the new Silmus album is perhaps less about spaces or places, rather being more about people and seeking or finding the comfort and shelter of a person, friends or within a family. It’s the soft comforting embrace of a loved one—the holding on or the letting go, the giving or receiving shelter in or from a given situation.
Dutch musician Gert Boersma (acoustic and electric guitars, piano, synthesizers, ukelele, samples) returns along with producer Minco Eggersman (electric guitar, harmonica, synthesizer, effects), Jan Borger (piano and bass) and Mirjam Feenstra (vocals). In his debut album Ostara that I reviewed last year, Boersma explored the delight and wonderment of the cycle of life and parenthood.
Shelter is presented within a soothing yet relatively controlled dynamic range and shorter form instrumentals are more dominant on this album compared to Boersma’s last. There are moments when rhythms appear and a direction is established (as in the initially stark then hopeful Leaving Darkness or the firm acoustic presence of Remembrance). At other times the music peregrinates for a time and suddenly expands into a broad sound-scape (as in the stark moodiness of Bare, punctuated with electric guitar that emerges from the cover of an acoustic steel guitar). Some pieces are like brief visions of a mood or an experience, but others are self-contained and complete. Each track has a foundation, whether it starts with acoustic or electric guitar or piano, and gradually layers and responses are built to establish the atmosphere. It does seem that the album, taken in its entirety, represents a full cycle of feelings or reactions to a particular set of circumstances.
The CD opens with the meditation Deeply Beloved with repeated phrasings offering a gentle mantra of stability. Set In Stone has a clear voice of electric guitar, which is ever so gently treated with a phased chorus effect. You Are Tenderness opens with restrained orchestral strings and then a gently voiced piano, which is enhanced with light electric guitar.
The title track Shelter expresses the intent of its title—it starts delicately then the melody and harmonies are held firmly and uplifted within a secure bass line. In You Have The Words And I Listen the piano is treated as a voice. An enmeshed drone opens until the voice appears, then a conversation begins. The voice remains steadfast throughout the responses and delivers a message. A reflective piano opens Sadness Covers Me and is later coupled with a softly bowed electric guitar. The album closes with the steady hopefulness of Follow Me.
For those seeking a point of reference, I place this album within the gentler versions of Robin Guthrie’s solo work or perhaps the more contemplative instrumentals by Cocteau Twins. There is indeed a sense of warmth and comfort in this album, and it’s a pleasant place to be.
This is a solicited review.
Lest you all think that I only listen to Ambient and Progressive Rock music, I also listen to many other genres including Country music…wait, WAIT, don’t close the window–you won’t regret it!
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (High Top Mountain): This new album by SS is the real deal. Great country songs about real stuff with great music, and even better the first single released is Turtles All The Way Down (with a nod in the title to Stephen Hawking) and it’s deliciously psychedelic with reverb, phasing-shifting and Mellotron. Give it a listen:
Shearwater and Sharon Van Etten – Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around (SubPop): From Record Store Day 2013, I missed this single, but I found it on RSD 2014 in the back of the singles bin—aha! The A side is by Tom Petty (which I can take or leave), but the gem is Jonathan Meiburg’s A Wake For The Minotaur—it’s just plain stunning. This live version features vocalist Jesca Hoop.
Songs: Ohia – Journey On Collected Singles (Secretly Canadian): Not much I can say about the tragic loss of Jason Molina that hasn’t already been written. Thank goodness we have Molina’s musical legacy, including his last band Magnolia Electric Company—great songs and music and many of subjects of Molina’s songs turned out to be prophetic. Long before he died, his last label Secretly Canadian was discussing releasing a boxed set of the early singles of Songs: Ohia, many of them quite rare and long out of print. Unfortunately Jason didn’t live to see it. It’s a beautiful blue cloth wrapped boxed set of nine 7” singles with a separate book of the original artwork and song histories and a CD compilation of all the singles. These were available on Record Store Day 2014 and they disappeared quickly…I was very fortunate to find a copy. Here’s a video on the set. If you can find one, buy it, you won’t regret it.
Mutual Benefit – Love’s Crushing Diamond (Other Music Recording Co.): Bob Boilen from NPR’s All Songs Considered got me to this album. Part folk, part psychedelic and reminds me a bit of a softer Grizzly Bear (the band) at times.
Ben Watt – Hendra (Caroline – Unmade Road): I’ve been a fan of Everything But The Girl (ETBG) since their early days and then Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt put that project on an indefinite hold while they pursued other musical endeavors and had a family. Tracey has released a number of excellent solo albums and this is Ben’s first solo album—very introspective. My favorite song is The Levels and David Gilmour plays slide guitar. This is a live version:
Lee Gobbi – Purple Prose (www.leegobbi.com): Lee is a fan of Progressive Rock music and the influences are clear on his self-produced debut album of mostly original songs with guest appearances by alums of the original 1970s and 80s Steve Hackett band. There are strong shades of The Beatles, ELO and the vibe of George Harrison’s work in this album. There are a couple of covers, a Stu Nunnery tune Madelaine (remember Stu Nunnery from the early 1970s?!) and a haunting version of Nick Drake’s Parasite. A brilliant first album, and I hear that there is a second album in the works—stay tuned. I’ll post some sound samples when they are available.
John Pizzarelli – Double Exposure (Telarc): This album from 2012 is of song interpretations and some pairings by Jazz guitarist (and son of Bucky Pizzarelli) and Popular song-man. The album is largely covers, with an original by Pizzarelli and his wife Jessica Molaskey Take A Lot Of Pictures (picking up where Michael Franks left off with his song Popsicle Toes). My favorite is the soulful Neil Young song Harvest Moon.
Elaine Radigue – Trilogie de la Mort (Experimental Intermedia): When I reviewing Nicholas Szczepanik’s latest album Not Knowing, I noticed the dedication to French composer and electronic music pioneer Elaine Radigue (born 1932) and I was reminded of this 3 CD trilogy that was composed as a tribute to her son upon his death. It’s very minimal with gradual layers in parts and intense at others. Like most of her other work it was composed on an Arp 2500 modular synthesizer. Since 2001 she has composed on and for primarily acoustic instruments.
Superchunk – I Hate Music (Merge Records): This is the band that started Merge Records (http://www.mergerecords.com/i-hate-music) and if you have a chance read their book Our Noise – The Story of Merge Records. I heard FOH (stands for Front of House) just before the album was released and ordered it instantly (and then waited, since it was a preorder). Be careful, it’s raucous!
Tomotsugu Nakamura – Soundium (Kaico): I have Tench and Words On Music label’s Marc Ostermeier to thank for getting me to Nakamura’s work. He is a sound artist from Tokyo and Soundium is an album of microtones, springy and glitchy rhythms and fractional sound samples. The sounds and instrumentation are so pure—this is a great album and delightfully quirky at times. http://naturebliss.bandcamp.com/album/soundium
Lateral reference: Soundium reminds me of the absolutely enchanting album In Light by 12k label’s Small Color (and I think that everyone should buy this album): http://www.12k.com/index.php/site/releases/in_light/
Federico Durand – El estanque esmeralda (Spekk): I find this album to be Durand’s most melodic work so far. Many of his previous albums and collaborations focus on longer form field recordings combined with bells, wind chimes and other instrumentation. This album concentrates on childhood memories of places and times, presented in delightfully concise pieces . The three latest Spekk label releases are in the larger format CD sleeves and they are a welcomed change from small digipacks, jewel boxes or (worse yet) plain sleeves. The music AND the art matters. http://www.spekk.net/catalog/esmeralda.html
Celer – Zigzag (Spekk): Will Long AKA Celer is well known for his extensive ambient works and soundtracks. This is a more rhythmic (albeit subtle) electronic work. Have a listen: http://www.spekk.net/artists/celer.html
Melodia – Saudades (Kaico): Melodia is a collaboration of Federico Durand and Tomoyoshi Date. I missed the original LP on the Own Records label, so I was quite pleased that Kaico released a CD version. More here: http://kaicojapan.tumblr.com/
Opitope – Hau (Spekk): This is the first album by Tomoyoshi Date and Chihei Hatakeyama. Micro-tones, found sounds, ambient and field recordings along with instrumental (acoustic and electronic) improvisation make up Hau. The album is charmingly subtle at times and crystalline at others. The pieces are observations and explorations of places and experiences. http://www.spekk.net/artists/opitope.html
Opitope – Physis (Spekk): This is the latest CD from Opitope. The pieces are longer form than on Hau and curiously feel more like minimalist Jazz, at times. The instrumentation is more direct (recognizable), yet the environmental and visual influences are still present.
William Tyler – Lost Colony 12” 45 RPM EP (Merge Records): Unlike Tyler’s recent (and fabulous) album Impossible Truth, which is a solo guitar album, this EP is a band release and Tyler reinterprets the track We Can’t Go Home, covers Michael Rother’s Karussel and the entirety of Side A is devoted to Whole New Dude. Dude is a ramble with a meandering opening (with excellent pedal steel by Luke Schneider) and then sets off on a driving rhythm (drums, guitar, pedal steel and bass) for the duration. It’s a traveling song, heading out “there” to explore, and Tyler lets it rip towards the end. http://www.mergerecords.com/lost-colony
Orcas – Yearling (Morr Music): Orcas are Benoit Pioulard (another guise of Tom Meluch) and Rafael Anton Irisarri. This is the follow-up to their first eponymous collaboration in 2012. Yearling is part environmental instrumentals and part songs. The opening instrumental track Petrichor reminds me of Brian Eno’s The Spider and I from the 1977 album Before and After Science. I complained about the tone and mastering of BP’s most recent album, but this album sounds MUCH better. The songs are lush with vocals and harmonies by Pioulard—really nice music with oft-catchy refrains.
Hundred Acre Recordings HA06: 12” LP (copy 18/40 signed, 200 total LPs & digital download)
Label: http://www.hundredacrerecordings.com/ Arrangement and production by Tim Noble
Hallock Hill Website: http://hallockhill.com/
Tracks: Side A: 1) I Light The Lamp And Sit Down, 2) The Good Dead, 3) The People Without Tears, 4) Death Was A Bird, 5) Villages Of The Black Earth, 6) A Secret It Remains, 7) Another Light; Side B: 1) Workbench Atheist, 2) Demons In The Birchwood, 3) Farewell, Pale Corpse Of Many Sins, 4) The Immortalisation Commission, 5) We Looked For You For 52 Years, 6) Massed Bands And Megaphones
Ask a person cold about a particular moment in time and the recall on specifics might not be immediate or complete, but drop a needle on an LP or press play on a CD and the instant the music starts (even if it has been unheard for 30+ years) that same person’s recollection of a memory could be lucid, with the place, time and circumstances remembered in vivid detail. Music is often a key that unlocks chambers in a memory palace. While not necessarily as far back as 30 years, there are moments while listening to Kosloff Mansion that visions of the past coalesce and the aura of the album further enhances that experience. Perhaps Tom Lecky had different intentions from my own experience for the inspiration of his fourth album, but that’s the power of music when combined with synapses, dendrites, proteins and whatever…
I often associate the works of HH’s with layered compositions for acoustic and electric guitar (as in the albums The Union or A Hem of Evening), but this LP is mostly rooted in solo piano with production and treatments by collaborator Tim Noble (of The Lowland Hundred). It’s hard to know where Noble’s contributions specifically appear, but I think of Lecky’s work as being mostly austere, without apparent structure at times, although intricately layered (some juxtapositions being left to chance). I was fortunate to have ordered this LP early enough to obtain a copy signed by Lecky and Noble, along with a hand written short poem by TL.
Kosloff Mansion starts gently, like the rising Sun with beams of light reaching into the morning, or rather, a candle’s flame penetrating the darkness. It could be an unhurried day or evening in a cabin in the woods, just sitting contemplating nothing (or everything) and listening without distraction—the types of moments of which we need more. Briefly, a storm interrupts in The Good Dead and this triggers the vision of a very late night deep in the Adirondacks (of New York) with lightning and thunder that a (then) very young son wanted to end, but I wanted (privately) to continue, to hear the storm echoing through the mountains. With assurances that the storm was increasingly distant, there was comfort enough for the younger to sleep and so the elder could continue listening and pondering that particular night before a loon emerged and greeted the dawn.
Instrumentation sometimes changes from solo piano to bells, or perhaps it’s a celeste, but they fit while shifting with the breezes, moonlight and stars reflecting in the lake of the vision. A Secret It Remains blends liquid and tones before landing in the austerity of Another Light with only hints of ominous strings rolling in on an imaginary tide of a lurking then emerging spirit…before fading.
Workbench Atheist seems to be more of the morning; soft music with a light rain or is it the creaking of an ancient wood floor? Demons In The Birchwood is a darker, but livelier spirit and the celeste returns with a deeper Leslie-esque treatment, before merging into a wraith-like Farewell, Pale Corpse Of Many Sins, which at times is unsettling yet ironically at peace. A reverie is freed to peregrinate in The Immortalisation Commission and it builds to a crescendo and then gently disperses. There is a firm perseverance in We Looked For You For 52 Years, a feeling of reverence is also present. Massed Bands And Megaphones punctuates Kosloff Mansion with a blend of a celebratory whimsy and sounds reminiscent of fireworks echoing in the distance.
At times Kosloff Mansion is mysterious, yet halcyon moments come forth and while different in sound and instrumentation from his previous works, it’s very much rooted in what I have come to appreciate in Lecky’s work—a really brilliant and different kind of music experience.
Added bonus! Hallock Hill live on WFMU, along with Tim Noble (HH segment starts at about 30:00, but enjoy the entire show!): http://wfmu.org/playlists/shows/55533
Label: Whispered CD WR001CD Limited to 500 hand-numbered copies Time: 36:54
Available at: http://whisperedlabel.bandcamp.com/album/fields
Tracks: 1) Cristaline (Flux), 2) Copper Traces, 3) Elements, 4) Archaique, 5) Rubis, 6) Pudgala, 7) Myth, 8) Canvas, 9) Cristaline (Reflux)
Fields is the first album to be released by the Whispered label and opens with a solo piano and the sounds of a distant shore. The music is from the imagination of Stéphane Vandezande in his guise as the Peaceful Wrath, and the work is part minimalist and part chamber orchestra along with delicate electronic and environmental treatments. The spirit is somber at times, as in Cristaline, but can change quickly to be playfully furtive like in the track Elements.
One moment, the music appears to be from a discreet scene from an imaginary film (as in Pudgala) whereas at others it depicts a broad conceptual sonic portrait, much like in the track Rubis. The presentation of the compositions is never brash, but the starkest of tracks can be the most powerful, even more so than those more broadly orchestrated (in a way, the power of silence). In Copper Traces, Vandezande also plays with rhythm and syncopation and has elements similar to Johannes Schmoelling’s solo oeuvre. There are also brief moments of humor in the variety of the orchestration in Elements and I was instantly reminded of Eno Moebius Roedelius’s 1978 album After The Heat.
Voices also appear like momentary distractions in dreams, but are gentle enough to allow a return to the comfort of the music; this occurs in Myth as it advances cautiously from solo piano to cello and then bass (or treated synth) and then into a section of chamber music, which quickens rhythmically. It’s one of my favorite pieces on the album. Canvas shimmers, rumbles a bit and even growls before the “reflux” of Cristaline. Vandezande notes that Fields was recorded under rainy skies in Brussels and in a small village in the French countryside, and he recommends as companions, “…a log on the fire and a nice cup of hot chocolate…”; sounds like an excellent idea, and I can also attest that it works well on warm sunny days too, a very nice listen with beautiful cover artwork.
This is a solicited review.
EANTCD 1032 – Esoteric Antenna (Cherry Red Records) – Time: 46:54
Tracks: 1) Time, 2) Memory, 3) Kombat Kid, 4) Headcase, 5) Eminent Victorians, 6) Broken, 7) Shadowland, 8) Entropy
Other music genres aside, I posit that many fans of Progressive Rock (Progressive Metal and other sub-genres included) have fairly high expectations when anticipating the release of an album by a favorite artist or band. The hope is perhaps for certain sounds and instrumentation—in a way, holding onto the past, the memories. I’m certainly guilty of that (I want Mellotrons, Les Pauls, E-bows and bass pedals), but I also hope for variants and invention in addition to complicated rhythms and key signatures that I associate with Prog Rock.
Music can trigger memories; hear a song and it can take one back to a long distant place and time, instantly. My memory of Nick’s work goes back to the early days of the Steve Hackett Band, in the late 1970s through the 1980s, and I certainly remember standing up front at more than a few venues close to the stage, marveling at Nick using his two (four?!) hands, feet and even elbows at times to assist with bringing Steve Hackett’s early work to life (he was a large part of the sound and technology of that era…and the transition from the analog to digital era in instrumentation and recording technology). Then, of course, I have enjoyed his solo work beginning with Straight On Til Morning from 1993.
I’ve heard some recent Prog Rock albums (even albums that I like) where the artist felt it necessary to include frequent derivative historical references and instrumentation or phrasing to other artist’s albums, but Magnus resists this temptation and takes n’monix in unexpected directions and makes it his own. The album does include many new friends as well as old; a connection to the past while looking to the future: Steve Hackett, Tony Patterson, Tim Bowness, Pete Hicks, Rob Townsend, James Reeves, Kate Faber and Andy Neve. Once again, long time collaborator, Dick Foster delivers sharp, witty and poignant lyrics that combine so well with the music.
n’monix is social commentary, history, reality and an observation of the results of technological advancements and the effects they have on us all. The more information available, the more to process, the more to remember and as a result we need devices to cope, mnemonics of many types. And curiously, even with the most tragic and unjust, we humans have such short memories; history is bound to repeat itself, it sadly becomes inevitable. We are victims of our own creations. The album is also about loss on many levels.
Time is the allegro of the symphony or the overture to the opera and it’s aggressive with firm vocals by Tony Patterson (and it will give your audio equipment a workout). By contrast (but very much in keeping with the symphonic reference) Memory is an adagio (slower tempo) waltz of sorts, which shifts from a somewhat shrouded soprano solo to broad choral treatment. Kombat Kid is an allegory. It is part march, part recitative and a story of consumption, manipulation and obsession…a reminder to step away from the keyboard or game controller now and then. Headcase is the only track on the album that even vaguely includes an homage…in this case (it seems to me!) to Gentle Giant…with quirky rhythms and lyrics—and memory games in the lyrics. Eminent Victorians is the most fantastical of the pieces on the album (with a brilliant animated video to accompany and vocals by the carnival “barker” Pete Hicks), and traces the absurdity of the served and servants, the sacrifices of the young and poor for the glory of an Empire and upper class; a familiar theme even today as income gaps grow ever wider and those less fortunate suffer even more. EV also includes prominent and most welcomed solos by Steve Hackett.
Broken is a heartbreaking lament with remarkable and emotional soprano saxophone solos by Rob Townsend (I have to admit that I had quite an unexpected emotional reaction to the track). Reality hits in the mournful resignation and loss of Shadowland and includes choral treatments and a stark guitar solo again from Steve Hackett. Some of the original themes return in the opening of the final track Entropy, an acceptance of reality and the unknown possibilities. I am certain that I have missed some of the literary, mystical and historical references…for now.
Although the subject matter of this album can be rather daunting, I find it to be somewhat lighter in spirit at times and more musical compared to Nick’s brilliant previous album Children of Another God. n’monix is impeccably arranged and orchestrated, and dances on the edge of being symphonic and operatic while including original and accessible songwriting. This is certainly not an album that collapses under the weight of a Prog Rock cliché, in fact, just the opposite–it brings a fresh relevance and viewpoint to the genre.
Available at: http://polarseasrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/transit
Polar Seas Recordings PSR-007: CD-R Limited to 50 (Time: 64:02) with hand stamped numbered envelope, 8 page booklet and unique numbered art card by Shannon Penner. Review copy is 35/50. Album is also available as a digital download, but the first seven tracks only.
Tracks: 1) The Breathing of Roots, 2) Saturnine, 3) Chambers of the Sea, 4) Sungazing, 5) Ylla, 6) Un Jardin Des Cieux, 7) In The Decay of Shadows, Bonus CD tracks: 8) Equinox, 9) In The Decay of Shadows (Piano)
It’s all a matter of relative perception…a transit at sea, in the sky or on land and the paradox of experiencing the direct speed of travel from within or observing from afar a celestial body in space, a vehicle on land or a jet in the sky moving very slowly, when in reality in it could be traveling hundreds or even thousand of miles per hour. Time can seem to stand still…
Shannon Penner is Orbit Over Luna and he is an animator, sound designer, composer and multi-instrumentalist from Toronto, Canada. His work draws from many influences and instrumentation in his work varies, but it’s primarily guitar-based (often with ample reverb) with select moments of piano.
Penner’s album Transit is both about being in the moment and observing from afar while experiencing the sense of movement on land, at sea or in air (or perhaps even floating in space). The album is quite serene and comforting, but it holds one’s attention weaving through a variety of sonic territories. I compare the album (as much as I like the competitive side of sailing) to spending a delightful afternoon on a sailboat in the warm sunshine with gentle breezes and my hand occasionally creating a gentle wake in the water.
The Breathing of Roots announces what follows almost like a distant fog horn at dawn, to gently nudge one’s attention that it’s time for a journey. Saturnine seems a bit of a misnomer, because rather than being gloomy, it’s a slow drift on that boat (and not in the doldrums) allowing the distractions of the world to dissolve and to focus instead on the gentle and calming movement…a languid afternoon on the water.
I’ve read Shannon Penner’s oeuvre being compared to a number of different musicians, but the closest for me is the work of Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) and in particular his trilogy of recent EPs entitled Angel Falls, Songs To Help My Children Sleep and Sunflower Stories. Penner’s work, however, is not as rhythmic or melodic when compared to Guthrie’s; instead it focuses more on atmospheric imagery. Throughout the album there are occasional broad wave motions that yield gossamers of a tangible melody, but it’s the exception rather than the rule. In The Decay of Shadows, which follows the transit of the Sun in the sky, has a minimal and complementary piano melody to the guitar chords that emerges and disappears gently like shadows created from clouds passing across the sky until the Sun sets below the horizon (one of the bonus pieces is the isolated piano track).
Sungazing has moments of distorted guitar as if shielding one’s eyes from the Sun’s glare and as a more comfortable view emerges the sound clarifies and the panorama of the landscape comes into focus. Ylla is a celestial passage and it makes me wonder if it’s a nod to one of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles of the same name. And the farthest and most ethereal transit of all is in Un Jardin Des Cieux (The Garden of Heaven). In The Decay of Shadows is the postlude to the album, but there are two bonus tracks on the CD, the first is Equinox, the two points in our year on Earth where we travel about the Sun and where day equals night, before summer or winter, as we pass through time…and the older we are the shorter our relative perception of time becomes.
Enjoy the ride!
CD DR-21 Time: 56:34 – http://dronarivm.com/
Tracks: 1) Donitsk, 2) Daithn, 3) Skdiv, 4) Aoleeignal, 5) Rionzemef, 6) Vansunbarth, 7) Pleq Remix of Rionzemef
I’ve been a bit out of the loop with Dronarivm label releases for the last six months or so, but one of their new albums caught my ears—the collaboration with Pjusk and Sleep Orchestra.
Drowning In The Sky initially strikes close to home in its sound aura since we are just emerging from a VERY long winter here in the northeast USA. Pjusk’s (Rune Andre Sagevik and Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik) music is often rooted in their Norwegian locale being inspired by weather, landscape and nature and Sleep Orchestra’s work (as noted by Christopher Pegg) is often influenced by science fiction or imaginary soundtracks to “…movies in your head…”
From what I have heard of their prior respective works, I wouldn’t have necessarily thought that their musical styles would merge comfortably, but after listening to Drowning In The Sky the combination works quite well. The album does indeed seem very much like a soundtrack to a short film of an imagined journey that starts in a stark and harsh landscape of wind, snow and ice—not exactly a comforting place to be, but the solitude brings a focused awareness of the surroundings (Donitsk). Eventually the scenes change and there is a transformation from an outdoor landscape into more industrial and metallic-sounding scenes (Daithn) with sporadic rhythms. Taut and glitchy beats emerge and then there are layers of cavernous spaces, like giant shipyards or factories with remote gantry cranes (Skdiv), sharpened with a solo trumpet.
In time the scenes are darker (Aoleeignal), although still quite spatial with sounds dancing within the mix, and there is a strong visceral undercurrent and an increased sense of motion. There is a return to an outdoor environment: water and wind in Rionzemef and an auditory sense of being in a vehicle of some sort (a large truck, train or ship perhaps) while experiencing a storm and pulsing undercurrent from outside the vehicle. The environment, despite being a long way from the desolation of an Arctic plain continues to intrude into the soundscape and at a windshield or porthole…or in the mind. Vansunbarth appears to be the arrival at the imaginary destination, where furtive sounds move quickly, muffled announcements, signals ring and footfall moves in a foggy haze, disorienting as if being awakened suddenly from a traveling slumber.
The album is a journey of contrasts, from the far reaches of harsh yet pristine tundra to the gritty environs of an industrial zone, from desolation and isolation to population. Pleq’s remix of Rionzemef gently sways and is more hypnotic and comforting than the original track.
A historical comparison: Drowning starts off being quite similar to Envangelos Papathanassiou’s chilling soundtrack to the film Antarctica and ends up more in a post-apocalyptic and highly cinematic realm of Bladerunner. Also of note, (and I always prefer a physical release to digital) Dronarivm has changed their CD sleeve to a quite effective recyclable folded heavy cardstock slide-out package; my only comment would be to ask that the inner portion slides out another centimeter farther for easier access to the CD.
Eilean:  – Eilean Records: CD-R (an edition of 80) Time 48:16
Tracks: 1) Prelude in E Major, 2) Evenings Wait; The Morning’s Break, 3) Early Ferns, 4) The Sun Looks Quite Ghostly When There’s A Mist On The River And Everything’s Quiet, 5) Faint Whirs Of The Smallest Motor, 6) They Carried Teapots And Tiny Gas Canisters, 7) A Ship’s Bell (Sings), 8) The Weight Of The Frost On A Branch, 9) And The Guitar Plays War Hymns, 10) (Sings)
Long ago I found myself curiously attracted to an old celesta (celeste) in the back corner of my high school band room. I’d plug it in when I was sure that no one was around and adjust the controls and the small piano-like instrument made pleasantly sonorous yet mysterious sounds: belltones with alluring sustains and tremolos…
Eilean Records is a new French-based label run by Mathias Van Eecloo and twincities – variations for the celesta is the label’s first release (although ironically labeled ). Long Islander (New York) Fletcher McDermott creates music in his basement studio in the guise of twincities (funny, when I think of “Twin Cities” I think of Minneapolis/St Paul, Minnesota).
Eilean is Scottish Gaelic for Island and the label’s works will each relate to a point on an imaginary map with up to one hundred predetermined locations. Coincidentally, McDermott lives on an island (albeit a rather large island). Eilean releases will vary in quantities from 75 to 200 physical copies and there will be up to 100 releases with hand made covers and related artwork in this map series. Connections to the place where the music is created will be memorialized with an image of a small bottle containing the soil from the musician’s locale. On the reverse of the image with be the map quadrant assigned to the musician. Each release will be a part of the puzzle of the overall map…the music connected to the artist, a point on the map and a small vial of soil. In effect, an imaginary hybrid island with a small yet tangible existence. Islands of the imagination, islands of the mind, perhaps even islands of isolation. Have any of you ever read the short story The Man Who Loved Islands by D. H. Lawrence?
I’ve noted before that I’ve listened to shortwave and ham radio operators for decades and in some respects this album is like roaming the radio dial late into the night on an old analog shortwave set using the fine-tuning knob. The music is like traveling and it takes the listener to different places. The feeling of being taken on a tour through a shortwave realm isn’t literal like in Kraftwerk’s song Radioland (from their 1975 album Radioactivity), rather it’s more subtle in the background and doesn’t distract from the aura created by the music and other sounds. The album at times also evokes Godley and Creme’s song Get Well Soon from the 1979 album Freeze Frame (waxing rhapsodically about Radio Luxembourg and Radio Caroline late into the night), although that song is more melodic. The celesta isn’t the dominant sound generator in this album, but each piece has a strong thread weaving throughout along with other well-disguised instrumentation, found or ambient sounds and faint voices. Rather than repeat the track names, I’ll just reference the track number in my overview:
1) variations opens with rapid-fire automated Morse code, soothed with slow comforting celesta responses. 2) The celesta is transformed into restful wind chimes with long passages of deep resonant tones and distant faint melodies. There are some comparisons to the recent works of Kane Ikin’s otherworldly explorations (seek out his recent 12k label releases). 3) Is like hanging on the edge of a dream while awakening in the misty early morning light—the calm and the quietude. The celesta treatment is like it could be from portions of the soundtrack to Forbidden Planet—rather mysterious, almost ominous.
4-7) This collection of tracks seems like a suite, at first sonorous, gentle and deep tones and mysterious atmospheres (in time, a slower Morse code reappears), transitioning into an edgier realm (6) and finishing in a gritty drift across the radio dial, sharper sounds with kalimba-like percussives. 8) Sways gently and is the most peaceful track on the album. It evokes some of the feeling of Robert Rich’s recent album Nest. 9) This piece is a broad soundscape (in some respects like those created by the band Lambchop as links between songs…William Tyler’s moody electric guitar drones). The celesta is treated like chimes sounding like church bells, in memoriam. 10) A gritty close, like the beginning, and the distant music returns one last time from a far away island.
Eilean Records is off to a fine start with twincities variation for the celesta. Visit their website soon for the next planned destination which will be released on 5/5/14 and monthly thereafter.
Photo of twincities by TJ Boegle
This is a solicited review.
We were fortunate to be in the audience for both the afternoon soundcheck and evening’s concert on Friday night March 28, 2014 in Collingswood, New Jersey. We had seats at the head of the mezzanine and also had a chance to see sound engineer Ben Fenner and lighting engineer “Tigger” perform their magic–they’re on their toes the entire evening! I have a photo of the set list, but I won’t give it away entirely, but rest assured that there are minor changes each evening according to those who attended the Thursday show. The added songs last night included: Squonk, Carpet Crawlers, Lilywhite Lilith, The Knife (from the Ant Phillips days!) and many other favorites from the early to mid 1970s. The Scottish Rite Auditorium is part of Masonic arts complex and in the interior of the building has an eery Moorish feel to it, so the music was appropriate, if not haunting at times.
If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet for this “Genesis Extended” Tour, do so before the ship sails (as in The Cruise To The Edge) and then the band is off for a European tour. More information here: http://www.hackettsongs.com/tour.html
Thank you, as always to the Band (Steve Hackett, Roger King, Gary O’Toole, Rob Townsend, Nad Sylvan and Nick Beggs) as well as their fabulous crew, tour manager and Jo Hackett.
All Photos are copyright 2014 by wajobu, please do not use without permission and credit–thank you.
Label: http://www.12k.com/index.php/site/releases/akari/ CD 12K1080 Time: 58:54
Artist Website: http://illuha.com/
1) Diagrams Of The Physical Interpretation of Resonance 2) Vertical Staves Of Line Drawings And Pointillism 3) The Relationship Of Gravity To The Persistence Of Sound 4) Structures Based On The Plasticity Of Sphere Surface Tension 5) Requiem For Relative Hyperbolas Of Amplified And Decaying Waveforms
ILLUHA’s new album is a more introspective progression from their previous works, some of which have been recorded in large spaces with vast natural reverberation (like their last studio album Shizuku – 12K1067). Akari is like the successively magnified views in Charles and Ray Eames’s film The Power of Ten, while still being in the dome of the sky, the experience of the sound moves inward, and despite being ever closer to the point of focus a vastness of even more detail is revealed. The album has a comforting intimacy, and from the first quite unexpected (to me!) muted acoustic guitar harmonics there is also a deeply tactile quality. The instrumentation on the album is diverse, but it never distracts; each sound or ensemble has the space it requires and it tangibly enhances the experience.
The recording is profoundly crystalline and as one meanders through the scenes there are moments of illumination to be discovered…finding light in the darkness where color and detail are exposed. The broader ambient sounds that open many of the tracks are subtle (like The Relationship of Gravity…) forming a backdrop for the journeys that Corey Fuller and Tomoyoshi Date lead us through.
I think the quality of sound-light in some of the passages of Akari is like the photo below that I took on a walk, early in the Fall of 2012.
Find a comfortable place to rest and get lost in this.
One of my favorite ILLUHA pieces is a live recording from their CD Interstices (see the excerpt of Interstices III below, CD also available from 12k).
CD TANGENT001 Time: 52:56
Auditioning long form musical works take time and with the many modern distractions it’s often difficult to dedicate an extended period to focused listening, but for Not Knowing I think you’ll want to make the time (especially if you are familiar with Nicholas Szczepanik’s previous work such as Please Stop Loving Me). In fact, if one is in the right frame of mind (like in a state of meditation, self-hypnosis or deep relaxation) the sense of time is often compressed, and one wonders ultimately where the time has gone.
This piece was originally available in a shorter version on the limited 12 part release CD3 series Ante Algo Azul from 2011, and it was a favorite of mine back then. So, I was delighted to hear that an extended version would be released by Desire Path Recordings as part of their new Tangent series.
I liken Not Knowing, which is different in form and sound from PSLM, to a dream sequence in roughly four parts, although there are threads of sound that keep the piece connected throughout. The first 12 minutes or so is a deeply pulsed and hypnotic mediation that brings one to where memories and dreams might become lucid, but still out of tangible reach. It’s at this point where an imagined orchestra appears from the ether and it flows. Is it a literal sample of another piece or is it combined with electronics? It appears like unresolved memories in a dream. I can hear chords of Elgar…wait, then Dvorak…but wait, there’s the flow of Debussy, a sleight of hand used by other composers, hiding themes from elsewhere, leaving the brain to search for a source, and the sound is ethereal and uplifting (dare I say even heavenly for the non-believers?).
Then the music and perceived vision seems to drift out of reach and almost dissolves. At the point in a dream when one loses touch, but wants to return to the visions, and then the melodies and harmonies arrive again, but in a shrouded form with layers of choral vocals. And within this new realm the piece moves into a less recognizable and deeper unknown territory before gently returning to the original sonic thread, albeit in an altered and transitional chordal-tone state and ultimately the arrival back into the warmth of the visceral pulses.
Although quite different in presentation and instrumentation, I compare the journey in this album to that of some other favorites of mine like Vangelis Papathanasiou’s Rêve from the album Opéra Sauvage and Tangerine Dream’s Desert Dream from their double live album Encore. The development and sound architecture of the piece is clearly influenced by the works of French electronic composer Éliane Radigue, to whom Szczepanik dedicates the album.
Words On Music – WM38 CD Time: 43:15 (To be released on March 25, 2014)
More on Should and the album: http://www.words-on-music.com/WM38.html
Tracks: 1) Don’t Send Me Your Regrets 2) Loveless Devotion 3) Mistakes Are Mine 4) In Monotone 5) Down A Notch 6) Everybody Knows 7) Dalliance 8) A Lonely Place 9) Amends 10) Gold Stars 11) Don’t Get To Know Me
I was around for the punk and post-punk eras (Wire’s Pink Flag and Chairs Missing being pretty prominent in my studio days along with early Talking Heads albums and many other bands and genres). I have to admit that I missed a great deal of the original Shoegaze bands largely due to austerity and having a young family, so other pleasant distractions reigned from the late 1980s into the late 1990s (although bands like Cocteau Twins, The Sundays and Scritti Politti found their way to my vintage stereo). I missed the early days of the band Should, but I remember their second album Feed Like Fishes from the edges, and their 2011 album Like A Fire Without Sound is a recent favorite (by then I was well out of my musical seclusion).
Relationships are often complex entanglements, whether one is embarrassed to admit being in one, longing to be in one (longing to be OUT of one, perhaps?), or preferring to be just plain left alone (whether misanthropic or morbidly shy). The songs on The Great Pretend have pleasantly simple and catchy foundations of melody, chords with lyrics of young and even mature longing or angst. The songs build gradually and the instruments and voices weave into dulcet yet deceptively intricate compositions. The album never sounds heavy, and if anything it’s ironically upbeat at the moments when lyrically it’s just the opposite (at times avoiding directness, shrouding emotions, much like the album’s stylized cover). A side note: The Great Pretend is also the title of the last track on Like A Fire Without Sound.
Don’t Send Me Your Regrets opens the album and is a sort of foreword, largely a verse without a chorus. To me, it’s more of a song fragment that sets a mood, much like some of F. M. Cornog’s East River Pipe songs like Wholesale Lies from The Gasoline Age. The one cover on the album (and it’s a great one) is Loveless Devotion by Over The Atlantic’s Nik Brinkman and Bevan Smith (from their album Dimensions) and it’s a softer interpretation with staggered harmonies from Marc Ostermeier and Tanya Maus accompanied by crisp guitar and bass. The rougher edges of the original version appear towards the end of the song.
What’s a bit different on this album compared to Should’s last is that rhythms seem more energetic (dare I say danceable?) as in Mistakes Are Mine, Everybody Knows (with drum machine and statement-response lyrics) and Dalliance, yet there are moments (like In Monotone) that are more contemplative with gentle keyboards, light electric guitar and drums; it’s a Shoegaze One Note Samba.
Down A Notch is an excellent first single for the album, another example of an upbeat song with paradoxical lyrics. A Lonely Place is a duet reminiscent of some of Brian Wilson’s songs from the romantic yet melancholic Pet Sounds era, it reminds me of Caroline No. Amends explores a darker mood and sound. Gold Stars is like a gentle sonic waterfall, similar to Turned Tables from Like A Fire Without Sound.
The album closes with the curiously upbeat yet shy introspection of Don’t Get To Know Me, and there it is again, the complexities of relationships and emotions—songs that often express feelings better when one is at a loss for words.
In the past few months I’ve heard and seen a number of interviews with Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal in support of Rosanne’s latest album The River & The Thread (produced and arranged by John). In particular, check out her interview from the CBS Sunday Morning program—it’s a great piece about the roots of most of her music, but also the inspiration for the songs on River, and how blues legend Robert Johnson, the civil rights movement, Rosanne’s parents (Johnny Cash’s childhood home and her own first home) and a bridge all mixed together to form a thread that makes up her story.
I can’t say that I have all of her back catalog of albums, but I have many of them. Rosanne noted (with her dry wit) last night, “…this is a song from back when I had hits…” and in describing the journey that led to the latest album (paraphrasing) “…you spend a great deal of time wandering around in your 20s figuring out who you aren’t so you can figure out who you are when you’re…older…”
John Leventhal is an extraordinary musician and arranger, and the two of them have the same chemistry on stage as they do on River. At one point Roseanne noted (after a guitar solo by John, with heavy country and blues roots…again paraphrasing), “…hard to believe that this guy is a native New Yorker…” John treats his guitar like it’s a full band. It was also really nice that John played soft lead-in vamps on many tunes as Rosanne recounted stories related to the development of the album.
Most of last night’s show was taken from River, her previous albums The List, Black Cadillac, King’s Record Shop, and Seven Year Ache…I haven’t yet compiled the full set list (but see the photo below). One of the highlights (in addition to TWO power failures during the show…it was sleeting outside) was a perfect (even with power interruption) cover of Bobbie Gentry’s Ode To Billy Joe, which has a strong connection to The River & The Thread (the Tallahatchie Bridge is on the cover of the album).
Their encore last night included taking some requests from the audience (including a verse from Runaway Train) along with a gorgeous version of 500 Miles from The List. John’s one trip to the piano with an arrangement that had elements of gospel and the light touch of Count Basie—brilliant; even better, it’s a song that one of my cousins used to sing to us younger cousins in the 1960s. It was a special moment, and a lovely evening of music. Thanks to Rosanne and John, and all at the Infinity Hall (in snowy Norfolk, CT).
Tench Records: CD TCH06, about 43 minutes
Tracks: 1) Fen; 2) After The Rain; 3) White Forest
There are unknowns and misconceptions when it comes to learning of others in far away lands and different cultures, but we have a universal language: Music. Music with or without words, music of nature or created with found or built objects. This is perhaps where we can find common ground and even Peace among us. We can hope.
Years ago when I was in school I had a friend from Tehran, Iran who sadly I have long since lost touch with (I always marveled at his design work, because it was rooted in ideas and techniques so different from my own), and later I got to know another person from a different family who fled Iran during the 1979 Revolution. This person’s family was persecuted because of their beliefs (sound familiar?). We became friends and colleagues in the mid 1980s after he made his way to America via Europe and we have since learned of each other’s heritages (and enjoyed many spirited discussions over the years!). We all have stories, histories, struggles and desires—we have far more in common with one another than we often think.
Porya Hatami is from Sanandaj, Iran and although we have never met in person, I believe I feel Hatami’s deep and universal desire to reach out and share the experiences of his culture and environment in the hopes of achieving connections we can all appreciate while preserving our regional identities. With all the turmoil and fear bred by our countries and political establishments, Hatami’s music is a magical beacon of hope and beauty observing the natural world around and more of what binds our humanity instead of what separates us in our beliefs and politics.
Some of Shallow is taken directly from the fens and streams, some from the sky and rain, and some from soft breezes in the trees (as in White Forest), while parts are symbolically reminiscent of those places and experiences (real or imagined). There is deep sense of warmth in Hatami’s work. At times it’s so delicate and tender and at others it gently soothes and envelops–allowing one to drift freely into an imagined experience (like where Fen transforms from an environmental to more of an inner dream or even underwater experience at the mid-point of the piece, before returning again to the outdoors—as if from reality to dream and back again). After The Rain opens as if soft comforting rays of sunshine have entered the morning with a fresh mist still falling from trees or eaves (you can decide).
Shallow is available here: http://www.tenchrec.com/TCH06.html
A chance to listen to some great music locally, and thanks to a recent Facebook post by guitarist John Scofield (photo with Ed Cherry at JFK Airport) that was the nudge I needed to see what The Sidedoor Jazz Club (located in Old Lyme, Connecticut) is all about*. Born in New Haven, Connecticut, New Yorker Ed Cherry (among his many music associations) is known for his decade long work with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. I think Cherry’s sound is somewhat like Grant Green with a playing style akin to Wes Montgomery.
The two sets by the trio of Ed Cherry – guitar, Chris Beck – drums and Matt Bianchi – organ included works by Thelonius Monk, Wayne Shorter, George and Ira Gershwin (Summertime), Duke Ellington, Duke Pearson and others, including a gorgeous interpretation of the Heyman/Sour/Eyton/Green standard Body and Soul (one of the best known versions is the 1939 recording by tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins).
The trio played a number of selections from Cherry’s latest album It’s All Good including Edda and Cristo Redentor.
The music varied from spirited to soulful, and blues to smooth and with the warmth of (here’s hoping!) an early Spring sunny day. There was a great chemistry between Cherry, Bianchi and Beck whether it was a nod to take a solo, a swell from the organ or syncopated fill on the drums. At a few points the microphone was close enough to Cherry to hear brief moments of humming like Oscar Peterson, echoing his guitar melody and phrasing. It was a very enjoyable evening of great music.
Ed Cherry’s Website: http://edcherrymusic.com/
Record label for It’s All Good: http://www.posi-tone.com/itsallgood/itsallgood.html
Ed Cherry’s Selected discography: Solo: It’s All Good (2012), The Spirits Speak (2001) , A Second Look (1997), First take (1996). With: Hamiett Bluiett – With Eyes Wide Open, Mark Weinstein – Three Deuces, Paquito D’Rivera – Havana Cafe, Dizzy Gillespie – Live in Montreaux 1980, Dizzy Gillespie – Live at Royal Festival Hall, Dizzy Gillespie – Live at Blues Alley, Jon Faddis – Hornucopia, Henry Threadgill – Makin’…A Move, Jared Gold – Supersonic
Here’s a late 2012 WGBO recording of Duke Pearson’s Cristo Redentor by the same trio that played last night:
* – The Sidedoor Jazz Club is part of the Old Lyme Inn (http://thesidedoorjazz.com/) and is laid out a bit like a smaller and narrower version of The Blue Note Jazz Club (in Greenwich Village). The acoustics and sound system are quite good, most of the seating is clustered a bit like a dumbbell (seats near the bar at the far end of the space and near the entry with minimal seating in the middle in front of the performers). If seeing the musicians with a clear stage-front view is important to you, it’s best to get there early for good seats (there can occasionally be a large party of dinner guests with reserved seats ahead of you), but the space is intimate enough that seeing the artists and hearing the music is generally good no matter where your seat is. I appreciate that the house PA system is kept at a very tasteful volume level—easy on the ears. Desserts and cocktails are served and are reasonably priced.
450 CD copies, first 15 copies signed by BP, also digital (to be released January 21, 2014)
Remix label: http://losttribesound.com
Available at: http://losttribesound.bandcamp.com/album/hymnal-remixes
CD 1 Remixes – 44:51: 1. Mercy (Fieldhead), 2. Margin (William Ryan Fritch), 3. Excave (Squanto), 4. Litiya (The Green Kingdom), 5. Homily (Cock and Swan), 6. Florid (Brambles), 7. Censer (Field Rotation), 8. Reliquary (Part Timer), 9. Margin (Zachary Gray), 10. Foxtail (Graveyard Tapes)
CD 2 Remixes – 53:29: 1. Hawkeye (The Remote Viewer), 2. Censer (Segue), 3. Knell (Widesky), 4. Florid (Loscil), 5. Foxtail (Radere), 6. Gospel (James Murray), 7. Reliquary (Benoît Honoré Pioulard), 8. Margin (Ruhe), 9. Gospel (Window Magic)
I want to note that sound quality and production are very important to me, almost as important as the music itself. So, given that statement, please read this review carefully. Comments seen as criticisms are not of the music or the writing, but largely on the choice of production methods and sound quality. I think very highly of the music penned and played by Tom Meluch (in his guise as Benoît Pioulard). With that in mind, please read on.
Hymnal – The Original
I’ve enjoyed Benoît Pioulard’s previous kranky releases as well as the more experimental vinyl EP Plays Thelma on Desire Path Recordings, so coupled with the early press accounts of Hymnal I was hopeful that it would be a great album…
I feel that there are many exceptional songs on Hymnal (Hawkeye, Reliquary, Excave, and especially Margin, and Litiya) along with some comforting drones (like Censer), but in general I feel there is a lack of presence in the recordings—they sound flat, out-of-phase and firmly entrenched in a claustrophobic mid-range (nothing at all like the sumptuous reverb of the intended muse “religious architecture”). Pioulard’s songs on this particular album are lost in a limiting boxy haze.
I’m a big fan of lo and mid-fi recordings and some musicians do it so well; East River Pipe (FM Cornog), more recently Will Samson and especially (one of my favorite albums of 2013) Bryan Ferry’s The Jazz Age (recorded in monaural with Jazz-era microphones). Granted, some artists and writers create works within strict limits and can be quite successful (shades of a single color, certain textures or excluding a specific vowel in a written work), but with all the praise I take a contrarian view on the technical execution of Hymnal. The quality and depth of recordings matter to me, unless there is a stated goal for why sound must be altered so dramatically.
I learned recently of Benoît Pioulard’s other off-label work, such as his 2011 digital EP Lyon (and in support of how I think Meluch writes some great songs). Have a listen to the gorgeous and unadorned song Tie:
It has some of the qualities of recordings by Nick Drake and Bert Jansch (think The Black Swan). I’m certainly not advocating that Pioulard chooses between one recording approach or another, I’m suggesting perhaps a sound somewhere in the middle, with the vocals higher in the mix and a fuller sound.
Hymnal – The Remixes
Original songs can find new life in covers or remixes. So, when Lost Tribe Sound announced this collection of Hymnal reinterpretations (by artists such as Loscil, Cock & Swan, Brambles, The Green Kingdom and William Ryan Fritch) I thought that some of the depth that I felt was missing in the original might be introduced or restored.
This is a really interesting collection, and the recordings in most cases have the clarity and sonic diversity that I had hoped for in the original album.
The two CDs are split loosely into two categories: 1) rhythmic with vocals and 2) more on the ambient side, largely instrumental. After a couple of listens I was quite surprised that I found myself leaning more towards the feel and sound of the more actively engaging CD 1.
As with the original album Mercy (I’ll call it track 1.1) opens the collection and it’s a bit of an assault on the ears (the original being a full-on harmonium before the vocals enter), but in the remix version the harmonium is tamed and a slow march beat is overlaid. The sound is far more spacious, as if entering a cathedral. William Ryan Fritch’s remix of Margin (1.2) is an almost frenetic orchestration compared to the original and Zachary Gray’s version (1.9), which starts off quite stark with lone guitar and vocal and gradually the instrumentation and soundstage expands—I think both are quite successful, and in Gray’s version the vocals are clear as the song develops (makes me wonder all the more why Meluch chose to shroud such a great song). Squanto’s remix of Excave (1.3) is a series of repeated fragments made into a rhythm and sounding very much like some of Peter Gabriel’s mid-career work.
The Green Kingdom’s and Cock & Swan’s remixes of Litiya (1.4) and Homily (1.5) are quite enchanting. The sound of Litya softer, fuller and more comforting than the original—the soft electric guitar and cello overlays give the track such an easy feel, and Pioulard’s largely untreated vocals weave right in, so well. I have to admit that Homily is one of my least favorite tracks on the original album and Cock & Swan have woven their unusual magic, making it an ethereal journey (supplemented with Ola Hungerford’s vocals) while maintaining some of the original grit, and I assume that the crisp nylon guitar overlay is Johnny Goss’s. Brambles transformed Florid (1.6) into a (quite unexpected) “chill dance” piece—it has a languid vibe. Field Rotation put Censer (1.7) into a time machine and it emerged from an old modular Moog during Tangerine Dream’s Stratosphere era. The original version of Reliquary is furtive and mysterious, and Part Timer (1.8) stretched this concept further with his stark (and at time minimally orchestrated) interpretation.
The Remote Viewer’s version of Hawkeye opens CD2 (2.1) and its origins are deftly shrouded, and at first I didn’t care for it much, but it has grown on me—it’s delicately fragmented with some quirky treatments (very Boats-y!) and at times it sounds like Mark Isham’s early experiments from back in his Windham Hill label days (yes folks, I’m that old). My two favorite tracks on CD2 are Segue’s version of Censer (2.2) and Loscil’s (at times, visceral) remake of Florid (2.4). Curiously, Censer is given a gentle heartbeat, which despite the motion has a rather soothing effect to it. The remix of Florid somewhat belies its connotation, elaborate in its sonic depth, but not ornate.
Widesky’s Knell is an expansive fragmentation of the cathedral bells of the original and then all is absorbed into a rather compressed package of the experience (kind of like a snow-globe)—it’s a bit edgy for my ears. Sorry, but Radere’s version of Foxtail (2.5) just didn’t work for me—too strident. James Murray’s Gospel (2.6) meanders and bends with a broad color palette and is a contrast to Window Magic’s version (2.9) that is narrower, more primary shaded.
Pioulard’s remix of his own track Reliquary (2.7) shrouds the original even further; the furtive character is diminished—a curious approach. Ruhe’s version of Margin (2.8) is an almost unrecognizable adaptation of the original with only the slightest of rhythmic and vocal fragments remaining—in kind of a trance beat.
Sometimes sequels or remakes are better than the original, and that’s how I feel in this case on the production side of things. Despite my comments on the source material, I urge listeners to purchase a copy of Hymnal and judge for yourselves—some might disagree completely with my assessment on the sound quality. I’ll continue to look forward to Benoît Pioulard’s future recordings.
This is a solicited review.
…A Not-So Comprehensive List
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.
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 – 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.
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.
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 – 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 – 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 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.
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.
Cock & Swan – Secret Angles – HushHush: I am eagerly awaiting my blue vinyl (Kickstarter-funded) copy of this digital release that I reviewed in August.
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.
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 – 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 – 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.
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
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).
A bit of a diversion from music reviews!
I’ve had some people ask for some more information about one of the turntables listed at my About page. The plinth for my Garrard 401 is made of solid aluminum parts (mill finish) and it can be disassembled easily and transported. Normally people have concerns with resonance issues making turntable plinths from metals (favoring wood, slate or other dense non-metallic materials). I’ve had absolutely NO issues with noise or resonance with this turntable plinth design, and there are even ways to “deaden” the metal if it’s even needed.
Parts are attached with threaded Allen wrench studs and the three “feet” at the bottom are threaded to be adjustable. The top plate “floats” on four loose brass pins (at the corners) and the top is separated from the base with soft rubber washers. The design is built around a Thomas Schick tonearm–a REALLY great tone arm, I love it. The solid cylinder of aluminum supporting the tonearm is isolated from the turntable deck by 1/16″. Here are some photos of the design with dimensions. I’m sure it can be adapted for use with other tonearms. If you decide to build one yourself, you’re welcome to use this design, but if you post about it somewhere, please credit “wajobu” as the designer. I wrote about this a few years back at the audio forum audiokarma.org.
Keep vinyl alive!
There’s so much great music out there, I just can’t get to it all (let alone afford to add it to my collection!). And so, another installment of a brief overview of the best of what’s playing here. Since the temperature has moderated with the season, I’ve been able to fire-up the tube amplifiers again.
Pausal – Sky Margin (Own Records) http://ownrecords.bandcamp.com/
Simon Bainton and Alex Smalley return after their most recent album Forms. Sky Margin is a series of mystical “flights”, with some tracks grouped (Vapour-Distance-Trails, Celestial, Balance-Topography, Solstice-Utopian). Whereas Smalley’s work as Olan Mill tends more towards the melodically and harmonically directional, Pausal’s compositions are of the “out there.” The music flows as from drifting gossamers with ethereal layers of instruments and field recordings.
Federico Durand – El idioma de las luciérnagas (Desire Path Recordings) http://www.desirepathrecordings.com/releases/federico-durand-el-idioma-de-las-luciernagas/
I live in an area where the sound of the night is anything but silent, but it’s not the sound of a city or machines, it’s the sounds of fauna (small mammals, birds and insects). So, I have to admit that when I first cued Durand’s new album I had to look and see if I had left a window open.
I have missed-out on some of Federico’s recent albums (like El éxtasis de las flores pequeñas and Saudades by Durand and Tomoyoshi Date AKA Melodia), but I really enjoyed his collaboration with Nicholas Szczepanik (as Every Hidden Color), Luz on the Streamline Label. El idioma is a blend of the outdoors, pastoral chimes, sensually treated piano, gentle guitars and many other instruments—a subtle and restful tapestry of sound. Tracks like El espejo de mil años are in good company with Harold Budd and Brian Eno—peaceful, on the edge of a dream. There is also a familiar melody (to my ears) in the title track.
Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe (Dead Oceans)
After Barwick’s last album, The Magic Place on Asthmatic Kitty, I was curious to see if she could take her music to other places—without seeming like a repetitive formula of her last album…and on Nepenthe she has. This time her inspiration is taken from a new sense of place, the stark and raw beauty of Iceland, in conjunction with producer Alex Somers (Sigur Ros and Jónsi associated). The album has a sense of searching and loneliness, and Barwick’s voices are combined with rhythms and melodies, more so compared to her last album.
Juliette Commagere – Human (Aeronaut Records)
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.
Meridian Brothers – Desesperanza (Soundway) and Devoción (Staubgold)
I have NPR’s program Alt Latino for getting me to the delightfully quirky Meridian Brothers. I characterize their work as part Equivel, part Joe Meek and part Raymond Scott. Just go along for the ride, it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard. Devoción is a collection of earlier recordings and Desesperanza is their latest album.
Laith Al-Saadi – Real (Weber Works)
I first saw Laith and his trio perform live at an audio festival in northern Michigan a few years ago, and then saw him again a couple of years later. He is an artist who puts his heart and soul into his music, mostly Blues (as does the rest of his band). For this extended EP (six tracks with two alternate takes) producer Jeffrey Weber assembled Al-Saadi’s dream-band (Jim Keltner, Lee Sklar, Larry Goldings, Jimmy Vivino, Tom Scott, Lee Thronburg, Nick Lane, Brandon Fields and others) and recorded this album of original compositions (except for Robbie Robertson’s Ophelia) live to two track with no overdubs, treatments, mixing, editing, limiting, or compression. Have a listen to the samples—great music, solid.
DR-14 – CD Time: 36:36 – Limited to 250 CD copies or digital download
Aaron Martin: 1) Slow Wake, 2) Burl, 3) Comfort of Shadow, 4) Night Never Came
Christoph Berg: 5) Pillows, 6) Today Has Been Alright, 7) Things Are Sorted, Finally, 8) Coda
Contemplation is too often overlooked; a time for reflection, giving the mind a chance to wander and resolve the events of a day before moving onward into the night. The transition into night may come slowly as the Sun sets on the horizon, yet some of the scenes of the day’s past are lost to fleeting time in the camera obscura of the mind.
Listening to Aaron Martin and Christoph Berg’s shared CD Day Has Ended is way to refocus the mind and to put the swiftly moving retrograde of time and visions back into perspective and allow the mind to return to a more natural order. Martin’s half of the CD (tracks 1 through 4) are starker and more direct despite mixing a variety of instrumentation (electric guitar, acoustic strings [banjo or lute?], organ, voices and the familiar cello—in most cases the calming narrator). Slow Wake’s electric guitar gently percolates with cello weaving. Burl is more serious and centered. Comfort of Shadow uses layered voices like gentle breezes with slow, low and enveloping cello harmonies reaching up from below. Night Never Came opening with an organ is the most solemn and deliberate with a mournful and distant cello, which transitions into…
…Berg’s more broadly orchestrated compositions (tracks 5 through 8). Pillows starts with a phrasing and melody very reminiscent of King Crimson’s Formentera Lady (from the album Islands), and the cello (with other stringed accompaniment) is the narration before gently dispersing. Today Has Been Alright is the most reflective piece on the album, the foundation (at first) is deeply rooted, then an idée fixe appears on piano. The pace quickens somewhat to replay that which is to be contemplated and absorbed. Things Are Sorted, Finally is as in a dream-state when the thoughts of the day may reformulate and become enmeshed in dreams. And finally to Coda, the calming end, the quietude.
Day Has Ended is to be released on September 23, 2013.
Tympanik Audio: CD TA079 Time: About 49 minutes
Music – Zinovia [Arvanitidi]: www.facebook.com/ZinoviaMusic
Label – Tympanik Audio: www.tympanikaudio.com/artists/zinovia
Artwork – Shift: http://www.futurorg.com/
Mastered by Alexander Dietz Mixed by John Valasis
Tracks: 1) The Blue Shade Of Dawn Covered Your Skin, 2) Communicating Vessels, 3) Chimera, 4) Entangled, 5) Emerge To Breathe, 6) Attached, Our Eyes Wide Open, 7) Sucking The Smoke From Your Lips, 8) Beneath A Stellar Sky, 9) A Time To Make Amends
I suspect that most of us live pretty ordinary lives, but every once in a while finding oneself on the cusp of an adventure seems rather tempting. A while back, author David Schickler wrote a book Kissing in Manhattan; it’s mysteriously haunting and strange—as if eavesdropping on people, places and their situations; the kinds of experiences that only happen to others. So, imagine arriving at home some night and seeing a note pinned to the door: “Meet me at ___ at 9 pm”, signed “___” (you fill in the blanks). Would you go?
I’ve mentioned it before: my strongest connection to music is when it takes me somewhere—whether an escape, a fantasy, to relax or to find a groove, and Zinovia’s The Gift of Affliction is a nearly perfect connection; even better, it’s beautifully recorded and produced. This album has the broad pulse of a city, its dark spaces and verve with occasional tender moments. It tells a story with many possible beginnings and endings.
First, I posit that the sounds in this album have a connection to the vast works of fellow Greek countryman Vangelis Papathanassiou (listen to his 1990 album The City, and passages in the dark soundtrack to the film Bladerunner)—if only for historical influences or connections, yet Zinovia’s album has a clear and freshly expressive voice of its own. I also wonder, given the recent political and economic times in Greece, if there are any political undertones or foreboding woven into the narrative.
Second, I am most familiar with Zinovia Arvanitidi’s recent collaboration (on Kitchen Label) with Hior Chronik as the duo Pill-Oh, their Kitchen Label release Vanishing Mirror was a favorite of mine in 2012. I love the reflective track Melodico. It’s a compassionate album, but The Gift of Affliction is quite different in every way, except in the strong musicianship and production.
Throughout the entire album there is a constant shift from the ethereal to the grounded, reality to fantasy, electronic to acoustic; and as quickly as we are in a sonically amorphous zone, the vibe moves from solitary to a full ensemble of electronica or jazz undertones—a genre-bending and cohesive swirl.
It could be late at night or in the early hours of a morning; from the first plaintive beats of The Blue Shade Of Dawn Covered Your Skin all the characters are furtively introduced into the narrative with an broad ambience, beats, melodica and piano (the latter two, perhaps being the voices of the main characters). Unexpected sounds enter and vanish in Communicating Vessels; there is movement of people, vehicles and information in this new place, yet despite all the motion there is a comforting presence of the familiar (the recurrent melodica and piano). One doesn’t want to be swept-away too quickly. But adventures are not without complications, but why not enjoy the ride?
The mythic shift begins in Chimera, a fantasy of sound and voices, expansive, getting absorbed into the experience and the implausible. Momentary introspection follows in Entangled—the deep and centered beats, one of the most absorbing (and longest) tracks on the album—I think my favorite too. The narrating melodica returns, in conversation with the piano, they weave into each other, in and out of the pulse. Emerge To Breathe is a shift from interiors to exteriors, traveling, sounds of rails and stations (like Kraftwerk’s Europe Endless, but more ominous).
Attached, Our Eyes Wide Open is the darkest and most vulnerable of scenes on the album, yet there is an alluring comfort in the melody of a solo piano (with string accompaniment). Key shifts are slowly introduced, along with an emotional realism and sense of doubt, yet still one is drawn further into the fantasy of…
…Sucking The Smoke From Your Lips and its out-of-focus depth of field with moving colored lights—a sonic tilt-shift in a smoky jazz club with the liberation of dream-like voices. The adventure nears its end with Beneath A Stellar Sky, out in the open, holding onto the escape. It’s a reluctant emergence and one last taste of the vibrations of the night. A Time To Make Amends is the return from fantasy, the pensive melancholy, with a reflective and intimate close, accentuated all the more with the sounds of the internal workings of Zinovia’s piano.
In case you’re wondering, I did take the note from my door and went on the adventure, and you should too.
This is a solicited review.
Soundscaping 005 CD: About 34 minutes
Tracks: 1) Something There, 2) Feel Nothing, 3) Before I Leave, 4) Still Nothing Moves You
Writing reviews is a tricky business. One tries to be objective and in the end arrives at mostly subjective. Try writing a review for audio equipment, like for speakers, often the quickest way to create a flame-out with audiophiles (even with qualitative test data)*. Writing about different types of music is also a challenge; some folks just don’t like Bluegrass, Jazz or Folk music, for example. Writing about Ambient, Electro-Acoustic, Electronic or other types instrumental music often proves to be the most challenging. Many listeners just can’t grasp (we’ll call it generically) “ambient” music since there are often limited tangible melodies, lyrics or other references unless there’s an artist’s statement or a known concept behind a given work. I find that when writing about instrumental music, it’s most helpful to reference the work of other artists (who might be familiar reference points) or try and describe how the music makes me feel, or what I see or where it takes me.
Often, music enhances experiences, and at times nothing is better than a restful sonic journey to the quietude, and Below helps to get us there.
I’m more familiar with David Wenngren’s work as Library Tapes, Murralin Lane and other collaborations, but Jonatan Nästesjö’s work is new to me (and he also has used the nom de plume Woodchucker for some of his earlier work). Both are from Sweden. Instrumentation in this work is not readily identifiable compared to most of what I know of David Wenngren’s work, but as a point of reference I’d place Below closest to Wenngren’s recent collaboration with Kane Ikin entitled Strangers.
From the first gentle whispers of the ineffable Something There to the broadest fullness of choral passages of Still Nothing Moves You this album presents an ever-changing yet serene oasis of sound. There is mystery within, and a sensitive audio system is almost essential for this album (*-you pick whether the music is through speakers or headphones, and no, I won’t advise on what system is best). Throughout Something There are fleeting ethereal apparitions that emerge from high up and then they are absorbed back into the haze. Part way through the piece there is a moment where the dream subsides, and seemingly the mind reaches back into the scene to complete it, before it disappears into the ether.
Feel Nothing appears as if from the edge of a drifting consciousness—at times the faintest of voices can be heard. One floats through time, soft sound-light appears and diminishes and there are moments when a tangible clarity focuses, but it’s still gentle as one moves through the broad spaces created by the music (hence the term often used to describe this type of music: “cathedral electronic music”), yet this album resists being majestic.
Before I Leave is more intimate and centered initially, and then almost undetectably a tide (of organs, perhaps) builds on loops and expands as if rising and withdrawing on a broad sandy coast before receding slowly back to the horizon. Still Nothing Moves You closes this sonic novella with veiled choral and Mellotron-like flute passages and after building the sound is gradually lost in the distance. The effect is reminiscent of Holst’s Neptune [The Mystic] from The Planets.
Whether leaving a listener with a feeling of walking through a quiet forest (as depicted on the album’s cover), on foot in gentle breezes at a beach or escaping to another realm, Below is a fulfilling and tranquil way to leave the here, for the there.
This is a solicited review.
Hush Hush Records # HH011 CD: About 38 minutes
Tracks: 1) Following, 2) Secret Angle, 3) Animal Totem, 4) Night Valley, 5) Looking Out, 6) Red Touch, 7) Inner Portal, 8) Kicking In, 9) Melt Down, 10) I’ve Got A Feeling, 11) Night Rising, 12) Myself Inside
I’m thrilled that Cock & Swan have a new album. With each release it’s apparent that their confidence is growing, and even better, they’re still experimenting. From their earliest albums like Drawing From Memory (2007) and Unrecognize (2010) their sound ranged from rough synthesized foundations, tape and microphone experiments to nearly extreme lo-fi acoustic recordings. The 2012 album Stash (I reviewed early last year) had moved their sound from more electronic towards “…a record focused on acoustic instrumentation…” For their forthcoming album (to be released on September 10th) Secret Angles they are combining the acoustic instrumentation with more of their electronic roots—the sound is fuller, rhythmically engaging and more up-beat. Secret Angles moves between many different genres: progressive, electronica, acoustic and electric folk, house, dance and many others—it doesn’t dwell in one realm for long, but the album is not at all disjointed—it’s quite cohesive.
The acoustic and analog roots of Cock & Swan are still strong, and they appear as Following begins with the sound of tape mechanisms and immediately a seductive pulse, electric guitar riffs and Ola’s soft voice initiate their hypnotic spell. By contrast the title track shifts to a darker, looped and gritty electronic foundation (and we are awakened briefly from our pastoral spell). Animal Totem is quite reminiscent of the latter day Everything But The Girl’s track Before Today from their album Walking Wounded, when ETBG’s music shifted from coffee house to a darkened house vibe, but C&S’s Animal Totem is earthier and more acoustic with broad clarinet washes added by Hungerford.
With Night Valley, the album shifts to an even glitchier more experimental sphere where Ola’s voice and some of the instrumentation are bent and shifted and the sound enters a mysterious territory. Looking Out continues with electronic, vocal loops, an almost Mellotron Brass sound and what I call “heavy drums.” As I noted with their album Stash—tracks like these are reminiscent of King Crimson’s earlier work as on In The Wake of Poseidon. The album also contains some short instrumental and vocal links (Red Touch and I’ve Got A Feeling) which are samples disguised elsewhere in other tracks.
Tracks often start with samples and a vibe that are then absorbed into the mix of a song; Inner Portal illustrates this with Ola’s vocal and breath loops coupled with what almost sounds like a ship’s steam-powered horn and it’s woven together with a heavy dub beat and coarse under-pinnings. The chorus adds an acoustic guitar (a contrast of the heavy with the delicate). This is a great track and one of my favorites on the album, along with the first three. By comparison Kicking In is quite stark in its percussion and rhythm section before gathering momentum into the vocals. Melt Down is the most electronically layered of the songs, and Ola’s vocals calm the mood and fill the spaces.
Only once did I feel like I had a sense of some monotony drifting in during the track, Night Rising—after a while it didn’t really take me anywhere…a bit like some of Edgar Froese’s (Tangerine Dream) solo work of the late 1970s. It’s a vocal and rhythm-section drone. The album closes with Myself Inside, which harkens back to Cock & Swan’s stark early work—an acoustic guitar (in the character of a child’s toy piano), a simple rhythm and Ola’s vocals layered with deep breathing.
Since I’m working with a promo recording, I don’t have access to the lyrics or the personnel list for the album, so I’m not sure if there are other musicians on the album besides Johnny Goss and Ola Hungerford. It’s also worth noting that Johnny Goss provides engineering and recording support for other Seattle-based musicians, including one band that recently caught my attention, La Luz (absolutely infectious 60s surf-pop) fronted by Shana Cleveland.
After Secret Angles, I’ll be very interested in hearing where Cock & Swan takes us next. Don’t miss this album, and seek out a copy of their last, Stash too.
Cock & Swan – Ola Hungerford and Johnny Goss – Photo by Angel Ceballos
This is a solicited review