Record Label: http://www.idioholism.com/ Album Time: About 32 Minutes
Chris Dooks’ Website: http://www.dooks.org/
LP or Digital available via: http://chrisdooks.bandcamp.com/album/300-square-miles-of-upwards-2013-blue-vinyl-digital-album-hd-film
Tracks: Side 1 – 1) Gardening as Astronomy; 2) The Greeks That I Love; 3) Morse Mode; Side 2 – 1) Conversation with a Boy (album mix); 2) Gwiazdozbiór Andromedy; 3) Pinpricks; 4) Katrina
For those old enough to remember, Carl Sagan wrote a book and produced a television series in 1980 for PBS (USA) entitled Cosmos*. In that series he probed our knowledge of the Universe and explained in remarkably accessible language what scientists and astronomers knew at that time, and theories on the yet undiscovered. On one hand we humans are bound by the limits of our Earth and our observations, yet beyond there are seemingly boundless realms to be explored and understood. As noted by Dooks (in the detailed liner notes that I highly recommend reading) on each of the deep space Voyager probes (that have now left our Solar System) there is mounted The Golden Record, a phonograph LP containing sound recordings of Earth and pictograms explaining our location in our Milky Way galaxy–a collective memory of our humanity.
300 Square Miles Of Upwards (subtitled: Tales for a Dark Sky Park) is the second album of Chris Dooks’ Idioholism Trilogy, the first being The Eskdalemur Harmonium (the link will take you to my previous review and an explanation of the overall project). As with the first album, the graphic design and presentation (by Rutger Zuyderfelt AKA Machinefabriek) are impeccable; this time the motif and LP vinyl are the primary color blue. The liner and cover photos are by Dooks, relating to the same color. Dooks also has a marvelous online archive of his photographs here: http://d7000000.tumblr.com/
300 SMOU is a calming meditation and memory archive relating to science, astronomy, conversations, and music, and relationships to earthly flora. The album’s title refers to an area of the Galloway Forest Park in Scotland (near Dooks’ home) and is a Dark Sky Park for observing the night sky.
The album’s recordings (a film soundtrack, field recordings, interviews and readings) are deftly interlaced with Dooks’ minimalist compositions (on piano and other instrumentation). The works occupy an experimental realm somewhere between ethnographic documentary akin to Alan Lomax or Hamish Henderson and experimental (looped and altered) music by Laurie Anderson (Big Science) and The Books (The Lemon Of Pink). Dooks has imaginatively woven the music, sounds and reflections on the night sky into an almost hypnotic opus. Within the intricate, clarity is revealed.
If digital download is your usual mode, consider purchasing the LP–a beautiful presentation overall. I’m looking forward to the third part of the trilogy.
* – For interested readers, Cosmos is available via streaming at Netflix.
RareNoiseRecords CD RNR033 Time: 45:53 (LP version coming soon)
Tracks: 1) The Vindicator Returns, 2) Scribble, 3) Empty Words (featuring Coppé), 4) Top Of The World, 5) Orange Grey Shades, 6) A Piedi Verso Il Sole, 7) Plates, 8) Noodlin, 9) Labratorio, 10) Secret Mission, 11) Otaku Goes To A Rave, 12) Viv, 13) To Be Continued
Band: Jacob Koller: Piano/Fender Rhodes/Keyboards, Brian Allen: Trombone/fx, Hernan Hecht: Drums
Wit and subtlety are often hard to find in much of what passes for music today. Then there’s music that takes itself so seriously that it might collapse under the weight of its own ponderous self-importance. Music isn’t always about the sound, it’s sometimes about the spaces and the silence—it doesn’t necessarily have to be a full-frontal assault on the senses.
A few years ago Brainkiller released their first album The Infiltration on RareNoiseRecords (#RNR010). Initially, this album caught my attention because it was a trio with a trombone, their music sounded playful and quirky, and it had some roots in other artists whose work I admired (Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Brand X, Godley-Creme, Weather Report, Return To Forever). Here’s a sample track, Casketch from their first album:
Colourless Green Superheroes is a series vignettes (some atmospheric like Empty Words, and some funky) exploring melodic, rhythmic and at time ethereal motifs and the tracks don’t rest long on a given theme before shifting direction. In a way, this album is a soundtrack in search of a film. There is also a restful ease throughout the album (making it perfect for a languid summer day or when the night is young), but there are moments when cool breezes blow and there is a jaunty awakening, as in Scribble. The spirited Fender Rhodes opening phrases take me back to Brand X’s Disco Suicide*. There is, however, an unexpectedly laid-back funky response from trombone and percussion, a bit like The Tortoise and the Hare—as if the Tortoise retorts, “Chill, I’ll get there…”
The themes introduced in the anthemic opening track The Vindicator Returns are explored further in Top Of The World, at first on a solo piano before the full trio plays off the rhythms and melodies. As in their first album, there are moments of recorded studio banter or live voices, which add a sense of spontaneity—also evident in the veiled conversations during the furtive Orange Grey Shades (my favorite track on the album). One can make up their own story to accompany the music.
The Vindicator Returns
There are times when the album is more contemplative as in A Piedi Verso Il Sole, a reflective lament of sorts. Yet the album shifts (before the vibe gets too heavy) to more raucous themes in Plates. The mood lightens further with Noodlin—a spirited piano solo (think a leisurely evening at a night club…at first), before moving to lighthearted voices (steering the improvisation), muted trombone solos and ultimately a vigorous trio romp. The upbeat repartee continues with the march-like Labratorio and perhaps the most vigorous track on the album Secret Mission (like a chase scene from one of the Bourne films)—see the video below for an excerpt.
Earlier themes are again revisited in the closing tracks of the album Otaku Goes To a Rave (my other favorite track on the album) mixing in some Scribble[s] and polyrhythms from the drums and piano. There’s an interesting combination of 1970s-era electric piano work combined with energetic phrasings similar to what the band Zammuto (ex-The Books) is working on these days. The album closes with the peculiar and brief Viv—a prepared piano musing, followed by To Be Continued, a reflective and somewhat subdued “roll credits” piece.
This album functions well as both incidental music or for straight-on listening and as soon as it ends I wonder where the time has gone…and so, REPLAY!
Photo of Brainkiller Courtesy of RareNoiseRecords
* – For those curious about Disco Suicide by Brand X: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdAPEEW-OUA
This is a solicited review.