The latest little adventure…
It’s been quite a while since I posted a review, and that’s because I’ve been focusing mostly on making noise in my own little studio. It doesn’t mean that reviews are permanently stopped–if the right album comes along or gets submitted (physical releases only), then I will take the time to review it. In the mean time, please have a listen to this and let me know what you think–thanks in advance. See also the Sounds link in the upper right hand corner of this page for more videos and sound files:
Mariska Baars / Rutger Zuydervelt – eau
CD and Download Time: 30:10
There is an awakening, but the mind is foggy, vision blurry and hearing is trying to clarify. Then the realization, the nearly imperceptible, but ever-present rhythm of waves, and the enduring ebb and flow of the tides. It is caused by the slow dance of the Earth and Moon as well as the sinuous atmosphere. The flow is incoming, then retreating, at advancing times each day. The macro-rhythm of the water moves predictably, but it’s never the same. One could awaken one day to an ebb, and the next to a flood.
States of mind can change in daydreams as alpha waves are created and then dispersed by fleeting sounds, glimmers of light, gentle movements or drifting aromas. Where do we begin with eau, where do we end, does it really matter? Perhaps, in a way, that’s kind of the idea. It’s cyclical, it cleanses the mind, washing away thoughts that are distracting, while immersion within it aids in blurring the sense of time.
Although moderately indistinct while in a state of relaxation, I detect that eau is divided into four parts, but again, does it really matter to the overall perception of the experience?
One: At first, jittery granular voices, with gently plucked electric guitar (buzzing occasionally with a tightly controlled Frippian growl). Then there are more distinct and gradually entwined loops of voices and guitar, which transform into choral harmonies.
Two: About halfway into the recording there is a respite of tonal percussion, keyboards and (perhaps) guitar harmonics, but still with a gentle undercurrent of voices. It’s like lying in the bottom of a boat, in a gentle breeze, and hearing the water gently wash against the hull.
Three: At about seventeen-and-a-half minutes, voices and guitar return (recurrent flow), but it is a tide with percussive flotsam and jetsam. Some surprises have washed in. Sounds are crisper.
Four: Just before twenty-two minutes, a threshold is encountered after expanding layers of voices and sizzle (more of that subtle growl too). Then…a plucked string casts the sounds off into the distance, where they gradually become more indistinct. The voices and sounds are gradually hushed, akin to a quiet harbor at night. A fog seems to roll in, with the quietude.
In a way, like the shift of advancing tidal rhythms, eau could be encountered at any point in the recording, and left to loop, even slowing the speed to change the sounds and distort the sense of time further. The choice of how to encounter eau could be up to the listener.
There are no rip currents here, only calm seas.
Mariska Baars has worked with Rutger Zuydervelt both as a duo in 2008, on the album Drawn as well as with the quartet Piiptsjilling. Rutger Zuydervelt records as a solo artist, as well as with many different collaborators and is also known by the moniker Machinefabriek. EAU was mastered by sound artist and musician Stephan Mathieu.
This is a solicited review.
Dolphin Midwives – Liminal Garden
Available Formats: LP & Digital
Time: About 40 minutes
Labels: Sounds et al: ETAL011 & Beacon Sound: BNSD031
Tracks: 1) Grass Grow, 2) Junglespell, 3) Castleshell, 4) Flux, 5) Temple IV, 6) Mirror, 7) Labyrinth I, 8) Temple V, 9) Satya Yuga, 10) Iridesce
From an early age I have been fascinated by the sound and look of a harp. While some watched the Marx Brothers for the comedy, I was waiting for the ritual of Harpo’s performance—the calm respite from the chaos. Later, it was Bach Partitas played by Nicanor Zabaleta and other harpists and ensembles, and then improvisations and atmospheres played by Andreas Vollenweider (who was unfortunately pigeon-holed in the ghastly ‘New Age’ record bins in the 1980s). Thank goodness there’s a new generation continuing to make music with their harps.
No matter the genre, hearing music from a harp can be a riveting and even a mystical experience. A harp can supplement the atmosphere of a larger work of music or it can stimulate on its own, generating inner subconscious reactions (as instrumental music tends to do). It can be abstract or symbolic—cascading water, sun in the clouds, soft gentle repetitions to calm or to be invited into another realm beside the present.
Sage Fisher composes and performs with a harp, percussion, effects, and her voice. She is an experimental sound artist from Portland, Oregon, and Dolphin Midwives is the name of her performance project. As far as I can gather Liminal Garden is her second full length album (Orchid Milk appears to be her first in 2016—available on her Bandcamp page). I think that Liminal Garden has mystical or spiritual references that I am not qualified to interpret (some mysteries are better left unsolved), but I speculate that this album is a journey of exploration in two episodes, whether it is experienced as a two-sided LP or as a continuous thread in a digital music stream.
Each of the two parts starts with an abstract centering and cleansing vocal prologue (Grass Grow and Mirror), where short themes are established and then altered with looping effects, samples and down and up octaves—a loosely narrated trip that gradually arrives at an altered state, where a sense of time can be lost. It could even be the beginning of an escape from our current unstable world condition. The two interconnected meditations then have sharp contrasts throughout—think of slipping from the comfort of a hot pool of water into the shock of one that is frigid. There is a momentary shudder, but then the realization that the entire experience is about an awakening of all the senses to understand and embrace the whole.
Once fully absorbed, Junglespell is a transition from a peaceful start into a star gate sequence akin to Bowman’s journey of enlightenment near the end of 2001 A Space Odyssey. Here there is no vocal to guide, and there is a transformed sense of perception leaving subconscious thought to interpret. Not only is the sound entrancing, but watching it being created is equally as fascinating.
Once released from Junglespell, a slow awakening begins in Castleshell, arriving somewhere else, perhaps a bit dazed from a dream, out the other side of that star gate. The sharp contrast of Flux stimulates other parts of the mind that have been quietly idle. There is an electric energy of realignment, a jarring altered-state glitchy repetition. Then balance returns in the absorbing Temple IV with short tangible loops and a short melody that meanders within a tight range.
Part two of the journey is somewhat different and is introduced with Mirror. It has layered cascading vocals in varying octaves altered with electronic effects, octaves and loops. Rather than continuing on into a hypnotic state, another contrast is entered in Labyrinth I, which is disorienting with stimulus from all sides, seeking and not finding a way out. From the cold pool to the warm, the immersive and enveloping Temple V’s melodic percussion reminds me of Kraftwerk’s Klingklang (Kraftwerk 2 – 1972). Then there is a clear return of the harp with a gentleness and purity of the enlightening Satya Yuga, a respite of reflection and balance from the prior experiences. The epilogue to the album is Iridesce, a colorful stuttering of altered voices and electronics.
One cannot know the calm without experiencing the chaos. On what mesmerizing journey will Sage Fisher take us next?
The album was recorded by Jason Powers, and mastered by Rafael Anton Irisarri (Black Knoll), and the artwork is by Bijan Berahimi.
This is a solicited review.
Silmus – Laaksum
Volkoren 82 – CD Time: 43:53
1) Laaxum 2) Dancing On The Pier, Discovering The Sea 3) Hectanred 4) The Spirit of Morning Light 5) Raise Up 6) Meeting At Stonerow 7) Silence Is Black 8) Sacred Place 9) Wintering 10) Lay Myself Down
Gert Boersma (electric guitars, bow, khim, bass, melodica, harmonica, synthesizers, percussion, samples, effects and field recordings) is from the Netherlands, and is supported by musicians Jan Theodoor Borger (piano and effects), Minco Eggersman (drums, percussion), Guy Gelem (cello), and Mirjam Feenstra (vocals)
It’s been almost five years since we’ve heard from Gert Boersma of Silmus, but in the contemplative realm, seeking inspiration and summoning creativity can be an unpredictable long-term pursuit, and so, our patience is now rewarded.
There is a certain degree of speculation in reviews like these, but I feel relatively confident that Laaksum is inspired by evoking and honoring memories of a place, and I perceive that they are generally fond and formative recollections. The album is a sonic memoir of sorts, a solitary contemplation, and it delicately hovers between reverence and melancholy, but it is bereft of sentimentality.
Laaksum, the place, where I have never been, is on the shore of a remote inland bay in the province of Friesland, in north of the Netherlands, and is well-protected, apparently peaceful and a place where time might seemingly stand still. Memories are an inner form of time travel, and can return with seeing or holding an object, smelling a fragrance or hearing a sound—and any one can evoke all the others. I’m guessing, judging by the cover illustration that it starts with the appearance of a feather, and then what returns are the memories of the time spent at the jetty, the stand of trees, seeing flocks of seabirds, all of which are depicted in photographs and are the inspiration for the artwork within the tri-fold sleeve and booklet of the CD, envisioned with minimal embellishment by Daniel Thomassen.
Laaksum, the album, is mostly delicate, warm and peaceful. It’s impeccably recorded with a clarity and crispness of a clear noon sky in Spring—an auditory purity that is not overly precious. The instrumentation is widely varied, mostly acoustic, woody, but when it’s lush, it’s not self-indulgent. Boersma has taken great care in conveying his perception of that place from another time. It is a welcome and contemplative meditation in our current rather thoughtless and unsettled period in our collective history, an escape.
Laaxum, the track, seems to be symbolic of the catalyst where the memories return, but it is apparent that there are no storms here; mostly calm waters as those appearing in Dancing On The Pier, Discovering The Sea. The melodies in Hectanred are teased and appear as short tonal mantras—caught and then released, fleeting as a daydream lost in the ether. There are momentary diversions of perceived mystery or tension, as in Meeting At Stonerow or the ancient sounding Silence Is Black with occasional microtonal notes and dissonant chords, but overall the comfort and warmth prevail. The Spirit Of Morning Light has perhaps the most tangible clarity, as the rising sun reveals the sights and colors of the day.
As the seasons change, Wintering has both the layered vocal chill of the outside, but the comfort of a warm stringed suite on the inside. The epilogue, Lay Myself Down is perhaps an overall reflection, where the flood of the many years past is at first unclear and drifting, until a calm and clear melody gently presses through, where the memories from long ago become sorted and clarified, and where they can be forever held and retold.
This is a solicited review.
Karl Culley – Last
Format: Digital only
Time: About 74 minutes
Tracks: 1) Perfection Only Exists In The Mind 2) Nastassya 3) In A Sky Of Infinite Suns 4) Listen 5) Mistakes 6) The Föhn Wind 7) Wedding And Funeral Shoes 8) Amethyst 9) Devil In A Damn Fine Suit 10) Being Alive 11) 1, 2, 3 12) Delivered (My Maja) 13) Windows 14) Ghost Made Blood 15) Reality Is Like The Sun 16) How It Works 17) The Siege Of Antioch 18) Dale 19) St. Crispin’s Day 20) Embers 21) Looking Back Blues
Some readers may remember my review of Karl Culley’s 2015 album, Stripling. His new album Last (to be released on September 1, 2018) was recorded over the last three years in Culley’s home of Krakow, Poland. The good news is we have new music from Culley, and he is also now a father of a young daughter. The sad news is the turmoil in his life, a divorce, and due to various responsibilities he has decided this will be his “last” album of music.
The engineers for this album are Jaroslaw Zawadzki in Poland and Daniel Webster in England (the two tracks: Nastassya and Listen, with Webster playing all instruments, except for Culley on acoustic guitar). At first, I listened to this album at home, in my little studio, then I took it on a long road trip to and from the Adirondacks (in upper New York State), to get to know it better. It’s an excellent road trip album, by the way.
The subjects of this collection are both within the mind (things that can be imagined) and actual experiences (both joyous and painful). This album is pretty dense, and with 21 tracks, I found that I needed about two sittings to get through it, which is NOT at all a negative comment. Just the opposite, since the album is of a quality that demands a listener’s rapt attention. In my opinion, this is not a collection of background music. Coincidentally, at the mid-point of the album, is the metronomic instrumental 1, 2, 3, which serves as a bit of an intermission, before part two.
Culley deftly conveys the emotion of a given moment or the subject with only his acoustic guitar (ignoring the lyrics, for the moment), since the rhythms, strumming and picking reveal the intent of the song, like gently descending notes (like Embers falling in a fire) or a galloping heart beat (Being Alive) or the tender waltz (rocking cradle) beat and comfort and contentment in Delivered (My Maja). Maja also plays tricks with time, at first it’s the marvelous intimacy of having a newborn child on one’s chest, and then four lines later to “…unfurl to your consorts…” In a sense, preparing to release her to the world in her later years (children DO grow up quickly, as I can attest).
Without knowing (or wanting to know) the details of Culley’s private struggles over the last three years, it’s clear from this album that there are many complexities to love, relationships, and resentment. Have a listen to the darkness in Nastassya (which I am told is based on Dostoyevski’s The Idiot) or the anger and harsh reality in How It Works.
One of my clear favorites on this album is In A Sky Of Infinite Suns, with its snappy taut rhythm–I found that I kept hitting replay on my car CD player to keep the energy going. Another of the near-breathless pieces is Being Alive, with its galloping rhythm of angst “…just being alive hurt so much…looking into the mouth of a liar…like walking through the fire hurt so much…” (also sounding like a fast-beating heart with the lyric “…swells in the blood…”). By contrast there are contemplative meditations like Listen, and Reality Is Like The Sun that are both reflective and perhaps self-analytical (just like the more energetic and playful Mistakes). I wonder if KC finds that his own music can function as a form a therapy? I certainly find music to be quite therapeutic, whether energetic or comforting.
There are moments of keen observations of the bizarre, but absolutely true aspects of life, like in Wedding And Funeral Shoes, as well as moments of levity, Devil In A Damned Fine Suite. Overall, Last is a fine balance of musicianship and storytelling in a similar vein to the earlier acoustic works of Gordon Lightfoot, and if one listens carefully, one might pick-up the descending tones reminiscent of the opening to Nick Drake’s Chime Of The City Clock in The Siege Of Antioch (a pretty heavy observation on the First Crusade). The last song on the album, Looking Back Blues, is a reflection of sadness for a time past, but (perhaps) an appreciation that the passage of time can yield after the breakup of a relationship…there will always be a connection, especially when a child is involved.
I am sorry that Karl Culley is leaving the music scene, alas the realities and responsibilities of life somehow do take over, but I hope KC finds other rewarding endeavors for his talent and creative spark, and hope he enjoys watching his daughter grow up.
Take care and best wishes, Karl.
This is a solicited review.
…in words, but not in music…
Please have a look and listen, and stay tuned.
Thanks for listening and reading.
Review: Almost Charlie – A Different Kind Of Here
Label: Words on Music WM43 CD Time: 36:55
Tracks: 1) Shadow Boy 2) Ambivalent 3) The Sadness Of The Snow That Falls In May 4) Defective 5) The Loneliness Of Sharks 6) Waiting 7) Robot 8) A Different Kind Of Here 9) Sunset In The Elysian Fields 10) Expect For Her Name 11) Gold 12) I’ll Still Be Missing You
At last, the songs of Dirk Homuth and lyricist Charlie Mason return, in the latest Almost Charlie album A Different Kind Of Here. It seems that the older I get, the more I lose track of how quickly time passes—it’s already been about 4-1/2 years since their last album Tomorrow’s Yesterday.
It’s so easy to get drawn-in by the inventiveness and wit in their well-crafted songs, the melodies, hooks and restrained arrangements. All of the songs in this album can be quickly committed to memory, and there they remain, added to the playlist of the mind, but they are not simplistic. These songs are deftly efficient, and don’t overstay their welcome—each of the twelve is about 3 minutes long, with the last, longest and most sonically impressionistic, I’ll Still Be Missing You. There are connections between the moods of the music, arrangements and subjects. Listen in …Missing You for the wistful sounds of an implied telephone busy-signal layered back in the mix of the sound effects. In Waiting, the rhythm is like the finger-tapping of impatience. Yet there are contrasts, the upbeat tune of The Sadness Of The Snow… deals with the unexpected and unwelcome shivers of a late winter storm after experiencing the tease of Spring.
Homuth’s singing (with a voice reminiscent of John Lennon’s) varies from near-whispers in Defective to full-throated vocals with a spirited string quartet arrangement in Gold. What’s different from their previous albums: A lyrics booklet is included with this album (YAY!), and while the subjects of the songs is still largely about relationships, they are far more introspective, and some are darker and tend more towards melancholy. The Loneliness Of Sharks is initially stark, and gradually adds layers symbolic of the pressures of the deep and the isolation of power. There is also a short and reflective piano instrumental, Sunset On The Elysian Fields.
Overall, the recording of the album is remarkably spatial. Initially, I listened to the album sitting at a distance in a chair, in my car while driving, and then sat closer to the speakers in my music room, and felt like I was in the studio with the musicians while they were recording—so praise to the musicians in addition to those involved in the recording (Rob Cummings in Berlin is credited). The title track, A Different Kind Of Here, in particular is just plain gorgeous, the acoustic guitar, especially.
And imagine, the two songwriters still have never met (according to all that I have read). Despite the distance, the magic remains. Next time Charlie, please don’t wait so long before returning. This album, like their others, immediately gets put in the “hit replay” category. The Words On Music label (celebrating their 20th anniversary as an independent music label) sells it direct from their website for a great price, but it’s also available through your favorite music sellers. While you’re at it, buy the rest of Almost Charlie’s back catalog, you won’t be disappointed.
Here’s a three track sampler of the album:
This is a solicited review.
Braeyden Jae – Fog Mirror
Label: Whited Sepulchre Records WS001
White Vinyl LP limited to 260, 30 premium include an ant’lrd split cassette with specialty insert. Time: About 42 minutes
Tracks: Vanishing Procession, More Washed Feeler, Obscured and Waiting, Two Mirrors Looking, Fogged Placer
With respect to music genres, where does ambient end and drone begin? Can music help to offer a refuge, focus the mind or distract it? Fog Mirror flirts with all of these possibilities. I admit to being puzzled at times on why some music needs to be so heavily shrouded with the melodic aspects pushed nearly out of reach, yet unexpected benefits can occur, like vanquishing a worrying thought, eroding it with sound. Admittedly, I don’t always understand the approach, but I appreciate the intent, especially if the quality of the recording is full and not bleached-out into an unpleasant monophonic haze.
Remember the moment in the original Star Trek pilot episode The Cage when Captain Pike and Mr. Spock touched a plant on the forbidden planet Talos IV? The layers of sounds emanating from the alien plants and the remaining ambient atmosphere were revealed…Spock even smiled. Never seen it? Here’s a reminder…
The point is, there is often an overall gestalt to sounds, music and atmospheres, being greater than the sum of their parts, and there is mystery and intrigue in imagining how those sounds were created if those parts were to be disassembled. The layering creates unexpected harmonies and overtones, and even unrelated memories of events can be activated.
Braeyden Jae’s latest album Fog Mirror (Braden McKenna’s nom de plume) clears the mind yet it can steer its focus in rather curious ways. Each piece has a perceptible aggregate tone (whether major or minor, deliberate or unintentional), and some tracks stay relatively stable, almost devoid of a perceptible melody, whereas others meander and ruggedly thrash beneath the haze. McKenna carefully disguises the sources of his sound generation, which I’m guessing are varying degrees of fuzz applied to an electric bass, piano (literal in Obscured and Waiting, but veiled elsewhere), along with various effects, treatments, noise and perhaps some field recordings. The illusion of water and wind, which appear to be created synthetically, are prominent throughout, offering the effect of cleansing, even if it suddenly appears as a deluge. Another quality of the recordings is the “Did I just hear that…?” aspect of the layering, like walking in the dark and seeing something move nearby or the flash of something moving beneath the surface of a body of water.
Vanishing Procession is like sitting behind a gentle waterfall with occasional peeks through the cascading water to a scene beyond, or sitting on an open porch with rain falling as time passes slowly by. There are some similarities the works of Nicholas Szczepanik, but McKenna’s variations in the layering of the sounds are more subtle. In contrast, More Washed Feeler is practically a deluge with a undercurrent of recirculating ascending and descending notes, a sonic mantra of sorts. Seven minutes into the piece, the torrent is forced open slightly to reveal a swirling undertow.
A steelier resonance is present in Obscured and Waiting, with a slow pulsing piano. This is the most identifiable, melodic and peaceful track on the album with a wooly-fuzz bass occasionally piercing the quietude off in the distance, sounding like shortwave radio sawtooth-wave interference. The piano evolves into sounding like far-off carillon bells. This is a rough-edged version of portions of Budd and Eno’s The Plateaux of Mirror.
There’s a veiled rhythmic gait working against a counterpoint of concealed peeling bells in Two Mirrors Looking. It’s more industrial-sounding with an undercurrent of an old shipyard recorded just below the surface of the water with a sudden harmonic shift at about 6-1/2 minutes as perhaps a ship’s screw passes by on its journey out to sea. The last and longest track on the album, Fogged Placer, I actually perceived as being the shortest—a rather odd time-shifting experience. This track allowed a memory of mine to return, back to the days when I commuted periodically to the Adirondack region of New York as a passenger in a twin-engine Piper aircraft—sitting in the back listening to the two engines shift the timing of their revolutions slightly, generating hypnotic vibrations and harmonics that were transmitted into the plane’s fuselage. At certain moments, it also sounds like watching a blanketed symphony performance, with my ears isolating the cellos and double-basses.
Finding a semblance of peace in absolute silence these days can be rather difficult (especially when unwanted tinnitus randomly appears), and an album like this can help achieve a frame of mind that allows an imaginary escape to evocative places and memories.
An aside, I wonder if Braden McKenna has ever heard the opening side of the 3 LP set of Consequences, by Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, produced in 1977? I could hear some similar background atmospheres, although the resulting piece is quite different.
On Sabbatical, Except…
As perhaps some of you have noticed, I’ve been on a bit of a sabbatical from regular reviews. I haven’t stopped doing reviews at all, but I have less to say for the moment. Instead I’ve been focusing more on my day job (designing buildings) and making some noise of my own (which better informs music reviews).
Please do continue to submit requests for reviews, but keep in mind that I might be more selective with what I choose to review.
Please also have a listen at the following link, I offer any of this music to young filmmakers, free of charge, and only ask in return for credit if you download and use any of this original material: https://wajobu.com/sounds/
Thank you for continuing to read and listen.