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
CD: Emarcy B0018605-02 Time: About 62 minutes www.johnscofield.com
Band: John Scofield: Guitar, Avi Bortnick: Guitar and Samples, Andy Hess: Bass, Adam Deitch: Drums, Louis Cato: Drums, Special Guest: John Medeski: Organ, Wurlitzer and Mellotron
Tracks: Camelus, Boogie Stupid, Endless Summer, Dub Dub, Cracked Ice, Al Green Song, Snake Dance, Scotown, Torero, Curtis Knew, Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely
Between his solo and collaborative work, John Scofield has appeared on more than a hundred albums since the 1970s (including his early work with Miles Davis). His first Überjam album was released in 2002. As with the first album, Scofield moves all around and in between music genres, Jazz, Rock, Blues and Funk. Many of the tracks on Überjam Deux start with a sound or rhythm sample and the quartet (switching between drummers Adam Deitch and Louis Cato) build a groove and just chill there or get their funk-on. My two favorite tracks are Boogie Stupid (which reminds me of Roy Buchanan’s work) and one of the five tracks with John Medeski Curtis Knew, where Medeski brilliantly has his way with a Mellotron—just delicious. In recent years I’ve greatly enjoyed Scofield’s collaborative work with Medeski, Martin & Wood. Überjam Deux is a joyful album and I can’t help but think that John Scofield was sending positive vibes to his son Evan during the recording of this album earlier this year (Evan died far, far too young in July, from a rare form of cancer). A bitter-sweet album, yet excellent for a road trip or listening at home.
Rest in Peace, Evan.
More on the album in this video