The Green Kingdom – Incidental Music
Tench – TCH03: CD Time: 39:58
Record Label Website: http://www.tenchrec.com/
More on this release: http://www.tenchrec.com/TCH03.html
Artist Website: http://thegreenkingdom.wordpress.com/
Available at: http://darla.com/
1) Three Friends Of Winter; 2) Backyard Epiphany; 3) Over Treetops; 4) Cherry Theme; 5) Slow Bloom; 6) Green Theme; 7) Floatation Themes; 8) rshda; 9) Whispered Through Pines
Whether in a conscious state of reverie or in the pre-waking hours when fleeting visions come forth into the camera obscura* of the mind, there are moments where hanging onto the edges of dreams is perhaps more desirable than even slumber. And after the dreams end, in the glistening haze of the morning, The Green Kingdom’s latest album, appropriately titled Incidental Music, is the soundtrack for this quietude.
My first experience with Michael Cottone’s work was on the Home Assembly’s #HAM004 album from 2010 entitled Prismatic, and his more recent album Egress on Nomadic Kids Republic #011. Incidental Music holds time in suspension with subtle rhythms, and gentle yet tangible instrumentation (crystalline guitars, keyboards, kalimba and minimal processing) that encourage a calm wandering state of mind. Although different and original in his approach, there are some similarities in the feeling and sound in Cottone’s work to Dictaphone’s recent album Poems From A Rooftop (Sonic Pieces) and The Boats album Ballads Of The Research Department (12k), two albums that I like very much. It is evident that great care was taken in the recording of this album, and it has been beautifully mastered by Tench’s M. Ostermeier.
Three Friends Of Winter is the placid introduction, a point of awareness without a concrete reality. Backyard Epiphany is serene in its sense of movement and passage of time. Over Treetops is the beginning of a gentle awakening. There are Satie-esque moments of allure as in Cherry Theme and Green Theme, even after a chimed nudge opening in Cherry Theme. Slow Bloom and Floatation Themes blur the sense of time. rshda is the most ethereal track on the album; the moment before stirring, where reality is still beyond reach. The album closes with a gentle awakening in Whispered Through Pines.
There was a place-holder for album #TCH03 at Tench Records for some time. Now the mystery is solved, and the void filled with these delightfully tranquil scenes and halcyon musings from The Green Kingdom.
* Tip of the hat to Mr. Williamson.
Review: Almost Charlie – Tomorrow’s Yesterday
Words On Music – WM33: CD Time: 42:17
Record Label Website: http://words-on-music.com/
More on this release:
http://words-on-music.com/WM33.html & http://words-on-music.com/almostcharlie.html
Artist Website: http://www.almostcharlie.com/
Available at: http://darla.com/
1) Hope Less; 2) Open Book; 3) Sandsong; 4) Man Without A Home; 5) A Nice Place To Die; 6) Tomorrow’s Yesterday; 7) Still Crazy ‘Bout You After All These Years; 8) Cummings; 9) Youth Is Wasted On The Young; 10) Undertow; 11) When Venus Surrenders
I have a broad rotation of albums, all sorts of genres (I listen to more than ambient and electro-acoustic works, despite what some might think from my reviews). Since its release in 2009, Almost Charlie’s album The Plural Of Yes (TPOY) hasn’t been too far away from my CD player. It’s a great album of songs written in the tradition of Elton John and Bernie Taupin or Burt Bacharach and Hal David, musician and lyricist working separately. In the case of Berlin’s Dirk Homuth (singer and multi-instrumentalist) and New York City’s Charlie Mason (lyricist), they still haven’t met in-person and aren’t separated by “two rooms”, but two continents and an ocean. It’s evident, however, from their work together that they communicate well, no matter what the distance.
Tomorrow’s Yesterday is the latest release, and I’m really happy that Almost Charlie has returned after three years with more beautifully crafted and skillfully recorded songs. There are familiar faces in the band: Sven Mühlbradt on bass and Pelle Hinrichsen on drums and percussion with the addition of Bert Wenndorff on piano as well as other supporting musicians.
For those unfamiliar with Almost Charlie, I find similarities to the songwriting and sound of bands like The Beautiful South, The Autumn Defense and some of the less raucous songs of the Fountains of Wayne. I’d even compare some songs to works by 10cc (either written by Eric Stewart/Graham Gouldman or Kevin Godley/Lol Creme). Similarities to the Beatles are also unmistakable (especially the voice of John Lennon with a bit of George Harrison on the track Still Crazy ‘Bout You After All These Years). There are marvelous wordplays, edges of wit and subtle metaphors in the lyrics resulting in this latest collection of musical gems.
The feeling of Tomorrow’s Yesterday is a bit more pensive and acoustic than TPOY, but there are upbeat, playful and spirited tracks too. Instrumentally, the foundation of most of the songs is guitar, bass, drums and piano, but many of the tracks are delightfully punctuated with brass, woodwinds, sitar and dobro guitar. Some of the finest moments are simply acoustic guitar and Homuth’s vocal harmonies, as on Sandsong, which is a bit melancholy and reflective. In this album there are songs of relationships, a sense of realism, but not resignation; acceptance and contentment, but also a feeling of hope as in Cummings. I also appreciate that the recording is crisp and sounds like a live performance in the studio with minimal processing. There was only one point (at the end of the last track) where the recording was sounding saturated on my equipment, but I stress this is a minimal issue.
Hope Less (a song of setting expectations) begins with acoustic guitar and harmonies and then advances into a march of sorts. This and Open Book are great examples of the smart wordplay in the lyrics, double-meanings, literary references and a deft efficiency of expression. Man Without A Home and Youth Is Wasted On The Young are ironically upbeat ruminations with shades of The Byrds (electric guitars), syncopated rhythms and are gently arranged with brass and strings respectively. A Nice Place To Die has a lively rhythm and bluegrass roots-music vibe with dobro and violin solos. Tomorrow’s Yesterday is a stark and melancholy observation on the passage of time, and perhaps more than any other track Homuth is channeling John Lennon’s voice (literally and figuratively).
Undertow (a favorite of mine) has power in its symbolism and realism; the words and music combined are indeed greater than the sum of their parts. The passage “The more I try to fight it; Its grip on me is tightened…Overwhelmed by the undertow” is about as close to perfect as it gets. The closing track When Venus Surrenders builds from a quiet beginning, and is the longest and most ambitious song on the album, similar to the spirit of The Monster and Frankenstein from TPOY with a nod, I think, to The Beatles’ Let It Be.
As The Plural of Yes was in 2009, Tomorrow’s Yesterday is one of my favorite song-albums of 2012. Perhaps next time lyrics could be included in the package, since they are such an integral part of the songs. The Homuth and Mason formula works, the chemistry is still there, and I hope they continue to write songs together and we hear much more from Almost Charlie in years to come.
Autistici – Beneath Peaks
Hibernate Recordings – HB44: Time: 46:30 – Edition of 250
Record Label Website: http://hibernate-recs.co.uk
More on this release: http://hibernate-recs.co.uk/releases/autistici-beneath-peaks/
Artist Website: http://www.autistici.com/
1) Asleep Beneath Nests (Fieldhead); 2) Edall; 3) Mam Tor Soarers’ Workshop; 4) Styx; 5) Edge Over Millstone View; 6) Padley Gorge; 7) Noe (Upper Booth); 8) Mulgrave’s Dining-Room; 9) Aidale; 10) Peveril’s Open Door; 11) Sleep State For Carl Wark
Beneath Peaks (Autistici’s debut release on Hibernate Recordings) is an interpretive sound narrative of a walking and camping tour through the Peak District in the central UK; a luminous and expansive journey with a strong sense of place. The region is geologically diverse with moorland plateaus, expanses of millstone grit escarpments, limestone and demarking zones at the edges of the long-ago eroded strata. I have been fortunate to take long walks in similar places: Devon (The Burrows in Saunton) and on Exmoor in the southwestern UK, and Beneath Peaks is certainly an enticement to travel to this varied pastoral upland region.
Even before the music, I was struck by the hues, varying landscape and seemingly endless sky in the cover photo (quite similar to Exmoor in some respects). The photo is also illustrative of Autistici’s work, which ranges from outwardly expansive to inwardly minute explorations; the literal and abstract in a landscape that is both known yet still mysterious.
Instrumentation throughout the album is both recognizable and veiled, and includes piano, guitar, synthesizer and electronics, in addition to sculpted fragments of extensive field recordings captured during the trip (processed with the help of Christopher Hipgrave’s software module AMBIENT). Additional guitar on Edge Over Millstone View was provided by Erik Schoster.
Beneath Peaks is book-ended by two sleep-states: an awakening (the beginning of the journey at a campsite named Fieldhead) and a closing to slumber and inward contemplation (at the ancient Carl Wark). Throughout there is a deep sense of observation and contemplation, both in the literal field recordings and abstract sonic interpretations of the journey.
Asleep Beneath Nests (Fieldhead) is a deftly woven tapestry of field, avian and human sounds, rising with the sun (while human slumbers). Edall is the sound of breathing and pulsing; movement through this timeless area. Edall is a 16th century variant spelling of the village of Edale and was once known as the “Valley of the River Noe”; the start of the Pennine Way, a trail in this district. Mam Tor Soarers’ Workshop; starts in what appears to be in a woodworker’s shop. This is a region known for hang and para-gliding. As this track progresses, it transitions from being grounded to having a sense of weightlessness. The latter section (and I am speculating) appears to be a bit of an homage to Raymond Scott’s rhythmic and melodic electronic Bass-Line Generator (of 1967). Styx is a brief and quiet transition into Edge Over Millstone View. The sound is sharp and panoramic in contrast to other areas of rolling pasturelands elsewhere in this region (a reference to the geology, I speculate).
The rocky echoed sounds of Padley Gorge give the sense of passing through the deep narrow wooded valley near the village of Grindleford. Burbage Brook is at the base of the gorge. Noe (Upper Booth) is a small tributary to the River Derwent and forms a sonic respite before a pulsating encounter with Mulgrave’s Dining-Room. Aidale (I believe, another early variant spelling of the village Edale) is at first, a delightful contrast to Mulgrave’s; a meandering solo piano, which then drifts into an altered dream-state and transitions to the apparent sounds of traffic passing or is it time bending? Peveril’s Open Door brings us to the environs of Castleton and the nearby Peveril Castle, which overlooks the village with sounds of birds, nearby waterway and the piano returns. The end of the journey is Sleep State For Carl Wark, the rocky promontory in Hatersage Moor (believed to be the site of an Iron Age hill fort). It is here that memories of the distant past flow into and blend with the present, and sleep returns with music box and strings; the end of a captivating journey.
Autistici is Sheffield-based (UK) sound artist David Newman. He is the curator of the Audiobulb (where I discovered the marvelous work of Monty Adkins) and Audiomoves record labels. To date, Autistici has released a number of acclaimed albums on the 12k, Home Normal and Keshhhhhh labels, amongst others.
Updated sound files will be posted when available.
This is a solicited review.
Caught In The Wake Forever – Against A Simple Wooden Cross
Hibernate Recordings – HB43: Time: 41:27 – Edition of 250 – Cover photo by Chris Gowers
Record Label Website: http://hibernate-recs.co.uk
More background information on the album: http://hibernate-recs.co.uk/releases/caught-in-the-wake-forever-against-a-simple-wooden-cross/
1) Scottish Grief; 2) The Quiet Beauty Of The Northern Lakes; 3) Waiting Rooms & Chemists; 4) After The Blackout; 5) Western Medicine Failed Me; 6) Last Of The Heroin; 7) Point Sands
Caught In The Wake Forever is the nom de plume of Fraser McGowan, who lives in Paisley, Scotland where he composes and records his works at home. McGowan has been recording music in various incarnations since 1998. I recently became acquainted with CITWF’s work through a Hibernate Recordings collaboration with Yellow6 (Jon Attwood), entitled The Slow Manipulation Of Dying Light (now sold out, but digital files are still available for download). And so, I started to dig further…
McGowan’s latest album, Against A Simple Wooden Cross is a surprisingly open and stark account of his recovery from a lifelong affliction with chronic anxiety, and ultimately a complete mental breakdown in 2011. As is often the case, the crash was not only debilitating to him, but also to family and friends (and I suspect the title of the album is a reaction to those who don’t often understand all the circumstances; a feeling of guilt that can also hinder recovery).
Despair and melancholy permeate this album. Recordings vary from a six month period when McGowan was heavily medicated to a time when more effective alternate methods of treatment were found. As a result those pieces are more hopeful as resolve and clarity develop. There is also an ancient and timeless quality to the album (similar to Cock and Swan’s album Stash and other works by Sparklehorse AKA Mark Linkous…oh, I miss ML). In this case, it is the concept that recovery takes time, time for a worthwhile cause—rebuilding a life worth saving, on one’s own terms.
I am also attracted to this album in a similar way that I admire self-examination in the works of East River Pipe (F. M. Cornog); although the songwriting and atmospheric approaches are quite different. In particular, the stark simplicity of penultimate song on the album, Last Of The Heroin. Not being fully aware of all the circumstances (and not wanting to speculate blindly), I have made some notes on some of the tracks, but I think that some interpretation is best left to the individual listener.
Scottish Grief opens with field recordings from a holiday before his breakdown. As the tragic nature of the events is revealed, the piece transforms into a dirge. Conflict grows represented by increasing dissonance and ultimately a shredding electric guitar. Despite dealing with conflicting feelings and thoughts, there is a determination to keep moving and not give up, even at this early stage. The track builds in layers slowly, perhaps symbolic of the pace of treatment, and closes with an excerpt from (what appears to be) a demo where it is evident that hopelessness still weighs heavily.
The Quiet Beauty Of The Northern Lakes opens with a simple rhythm and acoustic guitar, where re-building a life begins. The struggles are evident: “It’s hard to keep a light on…” Eventually, piano and keyboards layer with McGowan’s almost-whispered vocals and a chorus of a Gizmo-like (bowed) electric guitar. Waiting Rooms & Chemists is atmospheric with acoustic guitar, and the feeling of endless waiting and being alone. After The Blackout starts with melodic rhythmic blips and then blends acoustic guitar and vocals. The track is reminiscent of Recorded With You In Mind (from the 2011 EP All The Hurt That Hinders Home**). Western Medicine Failed Me is instrumental, with acoustic guitar and a veil of electric guitar reminiscent of Frippertronics in Robert Fripp’s 1979 album Exposure (that which simmers below the surface).
Point Sands closes the album, and it appears to look back on the beginning of the journey to getting well, and as I understand it, the title of this track is taken from the location heard in the field recordings in Scottish Grief; a pleasant memory perhaps held onto and another piece of the journey back. Some might feel that this album goes too far into the abyss of despair and is too personal, but it is also the case that music such as this occupies a space that seldom gets explored, or even understood, as it is often hushed with whispers.
**Recorded With You In Mind from the EP All The Hurt That Hinders Home:
This is a solicited review.
SRFélix – SRFélix
My Little Cab Records MLCR#031 CDr limited run of 100 (Review copy is #25)
Timing: 23:56 Mastered by Emmanuel Nogues
Website and Ordering: http://mylittlecabrecords.bandcamp.com/album/srf-lix
Tracks: 1) We Walk Until The End; 2) The Wind Dies; 3) Leaving Home; 4) A River In Winter; 5) Old Memories; 6) Until The End
S. R. Félix lives and records his works at home, between Lille and the shores of Brittany in France. His self-titled debut release on My Little Cab Records is an enchanting sonic novella that alternates between states of observation and contemplation. Most of the instrumentation is acoustic (piano, guitar, strings and treatments), and there are similarities with the instrumental portions of recent works by Will Samson and Gareth Dickson. There is deep sense of reverence for place and time.
We Walk Until The End announces a departure on a (perhaps imagined) journey with a layered and expansive beckoning, which gradually develops into an exultant march before fading. The Wind Dies shifts to a more introspective piano meditation. The recording preserves the ambient sounds of the inner workings of the muted piano*. Leaving Home continues the sense of reflection, this time with a solitary electric guitar lament. It starts quietly and grows more intense during the choruses. A River In Winter is a more outward looking and expansive sonic vision; a desolate scene encountered as the journey continues. Old Memories has a metronomic muted piano (layered with shimmering guitar). It expresses the passage of time, and gives the sense of viewing faded photographs. Until The End is perhaps the arrival at the destination, to a darker yet more serene realm. The sound is deeper and moves in waves to the close.
My Little Cab Records is a French DIY record label that has released mostly limited edition CDrs since 2004. The CD sleeve has an intriguing pine forest panorama spanning the front and back covers of the expressive and fully hand-lettered sleeve (with pressed dried flowers). S. R. Félix is working on his next album, to be released in 2013. Although this eponymous debut release is more akin to an extended EP than a full LP album, I find it to be a solid introduction to Félix’s work, and I look forward to the future release, as well.
*-Recording note: There is a slight vibration at the edges of the sonic peaks on this track. To be certain that it was not my equipment, I switched between multiple pairs of speakers and the vibration remained. It is not too distracting, but it is noticeable on certain equipment.
This is a solicited review, although I had already purchased a copy of the album.