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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
Volkoren #46 – CD Time: 29:00
Label: http://volkoren.com/ Photography by: Jan Borger
More Information: https://www.facebook.com/pages/SILMUS/159349577522537?fref=ts
Tracks: 1) Birth 2) Bright 3) Fortunate, My Child 4) Mono No Aware 5) Song For You 6) Clearing Up 7) Lives Lighted Out 8) Ostara 9) Disappearance (The Horse Ride) 10) Storm Lay Down
Some observed rituals are ancient and have roots in far away and nearly forgotten times, and various natural orders remain mysterious until the moment when one is firmly planted within the experience—there is no book to be read (although advice might be given) yet somehow deeply planted instincts guide…trusting that it will all turn out as we hope. There may be unexpected turns, but that is part of the adventure…the journey through life. If I have my history correct, Ostara is a pagan goddess of fertility and referred to centuries ago during the annual Festival of Easter—rebirth, the cycle of life and in some languages ostara also translates as “loop”.
Silmus is Dutch musician Gert Boersma (acoustic and electric guitars, bass, ukelele, vocals), and along with producer Minco Eggersman (guitars, mandolin, percussion and synthesizer), Jan Borger (piano, bass, synthesizer, Hammond, accordian) and Mirjam Feenstra (vocals), Boersma has created a sonic novella of the anticipations, sensations and emotions of becoming a parent—the delight of wonderment and discovery.
Released in late 2012, this debut album (which is beautifully recorded, mastered and illustrated) contains often dream-like vignettes displaying tenderness and crystalline musicality that guide the narrative without any self-absorbed sentimentality—themes are developed, explored and nimbly resolved. There is an enchanting innocence as the sounds coalesce with ethereal movements in the electric and acoustic instrumentation and occasional subtle voices. This album is curious in that it allows moments of deep and absorbing reflection, yet one is not cast into the depths to awaken in a chilled haze (despite the album artwork); instead the feeling is the presence of warmth and refreshing clarity after the music has gently departed.
A few have placed Silmus’ work in the canon of some well-known ambient artists, but I think his work is more engaging, closer to some instrumental works of Anthony Phillips, selections from albums like New England and Dragonfly Dreams. My favorite track on the album is the nearly-mystical Mono No Aware.
Let’s hope for more from Silmus.
This is a solicited review.
The Royal Potato Family – RPF 1312 – LP, CD, Digital – About 35 Minutes
Songs: Side A: Stop Tonight, Mean Maybe, Love Stories, Young Men Promise, The Ceiling Side B: The Vanished Frontier, Julian, For Girls Who Love To Sing, What’s Out There
Sam Cohen: Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Organ; Annie Nero: Vocals; Brian Kantor: Drums, Percussion, Vocals; Josh Kaufman: Guitar, Organ, Vocals
Something different…and even better it has an excellent sleeve design and is available in white vinyl…
The new Yellowbirds album is: mysterious, drifting, lush, orchestrated, cheerful, danceable, hopeful, syncopated, witty, retro, autoharpy (I know, not a word, but very 10cc*), uplifting, sonorous, jangly, toe-tapping, catchy, spirited, amorous, languid, romantic, edgy, bathed in reverb, fuzzy, harmonious, bluesy, intimate, ragged, orchestral, stark, melancholy, reflective, sad (but wait!), buoyant, lively, driving, dramatic, thoughtful, inviting, tuneful, lyrical, spacey, philosophical and inventively melodic.
I love the combinations of organ, guitars, bells, zither, Mellotron, strings, bass-lines, and the (at times) witty vocals. Yellowbirds’ last album, The Color was exceptional, but this album is even better. Deftly crafted songs, and an supportive record label that takes care of its customers.
Darla Records – DRL 281 CD Time: 59:18
Tracks: Jane 1, Jane 2, Jane 3, Jane 4, Jane 5, Jane 6, Jane 7, Jane 8, Jane 9, Jane 10, Jane 11
Harold Budd is not complacent and I am thankful that rumors of his retirement actually turned out to be false (he briefly tired of writing and recording). He is (at 77) producing some of the most interesting work of his long and varied career. In a way, he is like Frank Lloyd Wright was at about the same age when Wright was hitting his stride with highly original and innovative works like the Kaufmann House (best known as Fallingwater)—always exploring and seeking new edges. Many might connect Budd’s work almost exclusively with solo piano pieces or his first collaboration with Brian Eno, Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror, but his discography is remarkably varied, and including his joint releases, he has contributed to or been the solo artist on over forty albums since 1971.
The music alone on this album is divine, and even better there will be a DVD later this year including video collaborations with artist Jane Maru (who also produced the beautiful artwork for this album). Earlier this year a version of the furtive and at times skittering Jane 9 was quietly released on youtube—it’s just a hint of what to expect from this album.
This is a work of contrasts; some tracks tease the senses (like the unexpected and at times shrill Jane 1 or sharp-edged Jane 5 or the visceral and ghostly Jane 7) and then the pleasurable counter-effects are later intensified as the music ebbs and flows (as in Jane 2, Jane 3, Jane 4 and the sublime Jane 8). Moods and spaces change, first grounded and up-close and then transform into expansive and liberating flights. Budd is also exploring new sounds, instrumentation and treatments on this album (percussion [like chimes], electric piano, droning electronics, celeste and harp). I won’t say why, but Jane 6 evokes some very pleasant childhood memories. Jane 8 reminds me a bit of Anthony Phillips’ recent work Watching While You Sleep—deeply moving and one of those tracks I don’t want to end. The expansive Jane 10 is almost a reverse overture, recapitulating variations of sounds and themes from the previous tracks, as if reliving the experiences. To me, Jane 11 is the reappearance of the spirit of Jane 8—that which I didn’t want to end earlier, returned. How did Budd know that this is what I wanted?
Harold Budd has an uncanny gift for expressing so much with so little, a poet who just happens to use music instead of words.
LP/CD or Digital Time: 37:43 Hydrogen Dukebox Records: Duke 157djv
Released May 20th in Europe and July 2nd in US and Canada
Tracks: Side A: 1) Taking Steps, 2) Geometry, 3) Codewords, 4) Suspended Animation, 5) Ulterior Motives, Side B: 6) The Weather Inside, 7) Back to the Beginning, 8) The Artificial Cat, 9) Pulling Strings, 10) Beauté de Passage
Time plays tricks as one gets older…what used to seem like an eternity might now seem like months, weeks or even a blink of an eye. In the proper hands, time can bend under the spell of music. Transparencies, the last album by Roger Eno and Plumbline (Will Thomas) appeared about six years ago…seems like a while ago, but the memory of it is clear enough that hearing their new album Endless City/Concrete Garden, is like picking up a conversation with an old friend that paused mid-sentence and then continued, flow uninterrupted after an unexpected reappearance—like they never left. But something is different, new experiences have somehow changed things.
A paradox exists in this album, on one hand there is an apparent idée fix of love, loss and tragedy (as noted by reference to the curiously obscure works of the poetess Arlette Feindre) yet the album is not gloomy; it is woven with ethereal moments of warmth, reflection and comfort, beginning with the familiar gentle cascades of piano in Taking Steps. There are scenes of rhythmic playfulness, as in Codewords, with a gamelan-like opening. Also an ironic solitude is present in some tracks like Pulling Strings where one could be walking alone late at night in a city full of people and noise, yet remain focused on more powerful inner thoughts (a strange loneliness in a crowded place). Despite the calming softness to this album, it isn’t amorphous; it has a purposeful direction.
Like their album last together, Endless City/Concrete Garden has taken its form across an ocean and between time zones, the contrasts of cities (New York City and Los Angeles) and the countryside of East Anglia in the UK. The pieces this time around often have a foundation in more recognizable instrumentation: piano, guitar and even a koto, with arrangements including violin, cello, percussion and electronic treatments. Percussive mantras also form the basis of some pieces as in The Artificial Cat. Treated field recordings make appearances throughout (I could swear there is a train horn hidden within The Weather Inside). It’s not always clear from whose hands the sounds are created, but Roger Eno’s piano work is unmistakable, as in Back to the Beginning…it starts out like an etude and then moves on to tell a story. The haunting Beauté de Passage appears to open with what sounds like Frippertronics, but with closer listening, I think it could be a treated accordion…how appropriate, how French. C’est tragique, mais enchantant aussi.
Note: The album is being released as an LP with CD included or as digital files. It’s not yet clear to me if the CD will be available on its own—no word from the record label on this.
Volume One – SoundSignals – #HCC001
Notes and Detailed Credits: http://hearcapecod.org/soundsignals/
CD 1 (Time: 39:08): Sound Signals: Act 1: On Land, Act II: On Water, Act III: A Year, Coda: Route Six
CD 2 (Time: 46:24): Signals Remixed: 1: Goldmund, 2: Marcus Fischer, 3: Loscil, 4: Taylor Deupree, 5: Neara Russell, 6: FourColor, 7: Steve Wilkes, 8: Simon Scott, 9: FourColor & SoundSignal
Volume Two – Upstream by Fordham Wilkes – #HCC002
Notes and Detailed Credits: http://hearcapecod.org/upstream/
CD (Time: 37:08): 1) Gates of Summer, 2: The Language of Birds, 3: GP Road Resonator, 4: Dive Down, 5: Upstream, 6: June, 7: Shifting Sand, 8: Fog, 9: The Message
Sound Archive: http://www.hearcapecod.org/ListView.php
Recordings mastered by Taylor Deupree at 12k Mastering
Since the middle of 2011, Berklee College of Music professor, percussionist and Blue Man Group alum, Steve Wilkes has been working on a project to capture the sounds of Cape Cod over a year and to map those sounds as an aural history of the region (the far eastern end of Massachusetts in the northeastern United States). The project was funded in part by the Newbury Comics Faculty Fellowship. The region has undergone many environmental and man-made changes, from rising sea levels and coastal erosion to residential development. It was Wilkes’ feeling that the region is measured and analyzed in many ways (like bird population counts, temperature and sea levels), but there was yet to be a base-line environmental sound analysis examining animal, environmental and cultural activity in the region.
At this point, the project consists of 3 CDs: 1, a collection of regional sounds; 2, the sounds remixed by a number of musicians who will be familiar to many, and 3, a song-cycle inspired by the region at various times throughout the year (which also incorporates many of the environmental sound recordings and the detailed credit links give an excellent overview of the variety on-location recordings). The album artwork evokes pleasant memories of worn edged blue-green beach-glass.
CD 1 is a sonic time capsule, and at first it reminded me of a number of sound effects and spoken word recordings of the 1940s and 50s, and for a brief moment, I thought I was hearing a snippet of the old records by Bert and I. It also had the immediate effect of taking me back in time to the days when I summered on “The Cape” as a child with my parents in the early 1960s. The documentation of the region also harkens back to some of the expansive sound archive work by Alan Lomax. This CD chronicles the sounds of land, water and activities that mark the course of a year from a First Night Noise Parade to the calming summertime beach surf. It closes with the reading of the poem Route Six by Stanley Kunitz (being the road that travels down the center of the “flexed arm” of Cape Cod, reaching out into the Atlantic Ocean).
Having lived in a beach-town region in nearby southern Connecticut, I am also reminded that a resort region like The Cape has two lives—the times when the summer-folk occupy and the off-season when only the locals remain. The off-season is the time when locals can take long walks on the shore beaches and see very few people. Life goes on in a different way after the tourists have left in the autumn.
Taylor Deupree’s Remix
Wind Chimes Field Recording That Inspired TD’s Remix
CD 2 is a sensitively created set of interpretive remixes by many well known artists in the current electro-acoustic, ambient and electronic music communities (see list above). The field recordings from CD 1 are delightfully co-mingled with the offerings from each of the artists (well documented at the web link also noted above). I was immediately struck by the opening notes of the first track by Goldmund (Keith Kenniff), the piano melody being very reminiscent of Anthony Phillips’ Death of a Knight from Henry: Portrait from Tudor Times (from the album The Geese and The Ghost), before drifting into a dream-state with seaside, night-time crickets and Morse Code pulses.
Field Recording for FourColor Remix
Most of the remixes are by artists who have done work strongly connected with outdoor environs and water (as in the Flaming Pines label Rivers Home series), like Marcus Fischer, Taylor Deupree and Simon Scott (to name a few). The character of this disc ranges from contemplative to glitchy (FourColor) to playfully rhythmic (as in Loscil’s remix). The remix by Steve Wilkes includes the first HearCapeCod recording made in Truro at Corn Hill Beach in the summer of 2002. The CD closes with a collaboration of FourColor and SoundSignal (Wilkes) and is the most melodic and rhythmic of the tracks of the album. This CD forms a strong connection to the foundation provided by Wilkes’ research and recordings. As much as I’m tempted to suggest that this CD be made available separately, after spending time with the entire set, it is actually a quite inseparable part of the whole.
CD 3 Upstream, is a song cycle by the duo Fordham Wilkes (Ginny Fordham: vocals, Steve Wilkes: drums with Crit Harmon: guitars and Keiichi Sugimoto: guitars) and is inspired by years of memories of time on Cape Cod and it is the most personal of the three discs. Fond recollections of places run deep for many and they have different effects on people. This is where the project transforms from being objective (CD 1) to the most reflective and personal (while avoiding sentimentality).
The album has a sense of welcoming and ease, enjoying summer breezes, wading in tidal pools, walking in sanctuaries or along beaches. There is no heavy foreboding or hand-wringing of what was or could be; the feeling is that of the now and hopefulness, and Ginny Fordham’s voice brings a relaxing calm to the album. Gates of Summer opens CD3 and is forms an instrumental and melodic transition from the last track of CD2. The Language of Birds plays rhythmically with a juxtaposition and syncopation of the instrumentation and avian field recordings.
GP Road Resonator
The Field Recording Forming Basis for GP Road Resonator
The ever-present drone of automobile traffic is also a reality of summers on The Cape (whether passing over the Sagamore or Bourne bridges before necking down to Route 6 or at the half-way point to Provincetown, in Eastham) and these sounds are merged with fleeting views to salt marshes in the pensive GP Road Resonator. As in CD 1, there are songs of Land as well as Water, as in Dive Down and Upstream (as much a metaphor for returning to and rebirth of the area as it is the traffic on Route 6 that one is “swimming” against!).
CD 3 is also a reflection of CD 1’s A Year, The Cape in song over the course of a single circumnavigation of our Earth around the Sun. As the album progresses through the summer and into the end of a year (June, Shifting Sand and Fog) it grows more contemplative with the advancing of the calendar, melding dreams with reality. Each Spring many look forward the approaching time outside and then seemingly in the blink of an eye, Summer is over. The album closes with The Message, an inspiration left in a voicemail, which ultimately is the beacon announcing the sense of place of The Cape that inspired the HearCapeCod project.
The release date (May 28, 2013) for this set is at the unofficial “gate of summer” season, just after Memorial Day weekend. These albums will be available at: Booksmith Musicsmith, Orleans, MA: https://www.facebook.com/BooksmithMusicsmith , Muir Music, Provincetown, MA: https://www.facebook.com/muirmusic5 , The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History: http://ccmnh.org/, CD Baby: SoundSignals On CD Baby, iTunes: http://www.apple.com/itunes/ and Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/
RareNoise Records CD RNR031 Time: 49:41 (vinyl soon and hi-res digital)
Tracks: 1) Macabre Dance, 2) Fetal Claustrophobia, 3) Blow, 4) Not Dead, 5) Clairvoyance, 6) First, 7) Dream Made Of Wind, 8) Wait Until Dark, 9) Latent Prints, 10) Dream Made Of Water
Band: Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari (Voice, Electronics, Organ, Guitar) and Lorenzo Feliciati (Electric and Upright Bass) with: Gianluca Petrella: Trombone & Effects (tracks 1,2,4,5,7,10), Fabrizio Puglisi: Piano & ARP Odyssey (6,8,9), Jamie Saft: Keyboards (1,2,9), Eivind Aarset: Guitars (3,4,7,9,10), Sandro Satta: Alto Sax (3,9), Cristiano Calcagnile: Drums & Effects (4,5), Pat Mastelotto: Drums & Effects (6,8,9), Simone Cavina: Drums (1,2)
Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari aka LEF and Lorenzo Feliciati form the core of Berserk!, along with some other familiar names in the RareNoiseRecords stable, including Feliciati’s fellow Naked Truth bandmate Pat Mastelotto.
We all need a venting catharsis now and then—some folks resort to primal scream therapy, but generally I’ll pick music to assist with exorcising my darkened bilious tendencies. The new self-titled album from Berserk! seems like an effective cure for those intractable days when the pile gets too deep and the unrelenting Myth of Sisyphus comes to mind. Despite the band and album moniker, there is a broad mix of dynamics in the album and it’s marked by many (nearly neck-snapping) contrasts in sound and rhythm.
Berserk! isn’t a broad spectrum motoric assault on the senses, but it deftly selects its points of release, building like a suspense thriller with the rage boiling over every so often. The album also teases and mocks (from the gently maniacal whistling in the opener Macabre Dance to the background telephone ringing in Fetal Claustrophobia…yes, I turned my head to see if my phone was ringing!). There’s also a brief moment of saxy playfulness (albeit dark) in the reflective interlude Blow before entering the backstreets and dark alleys of Not Dead (shades of the growling Tom Waits and Sparklehorse duet Dog Door from the 2001 album It’s A Wonderful Life) with raspy voices and clusters of percussion pushing against an unyielding darkness.
Feliciati’s bass work throughout the album is reminiscent of Percy Jones’s work with Brand X, particularly the earlier freer-form improvised and less commercial version of “The X”. The aggressive horns, meandering piano, fast-changing rhythms and moods (as in Fetal Claustrophobia) also remind me a great deal of one of my favorite King Crimson albums, Lizard (under-appreciated until Steven Wilson remastered it with Robert Fripp). The treatment of Gianluca Petrella’s horns throughout much of the album often sounds like the thundering Mellotron horns used in Lizard. The sharp inventive contrasts in instrumentation also remind me of Frank Zappa and early albums by Godley and Creme (as in the albums L and Freeze Frame). Yet, there’s little humor in Berserk!—the focus is strictly business.
The middle portion of the album is furtive and contemplative in spirit (like the tracks Clairvoyance and First) and eventually LEF’s vocals (sung here, not spoken) break through, channeling John Wetton. Note: Don’t forget to listen for R2D2. There’s a brief pause (the calm before the storm?) with ethereal atmospherics and horn work in Dream Made Of Wind before the closing section of the album begins with a tender solo piano largo and transition to a massed rhythmic vocal and ultimately a full band assault in Wait Until Dark leading into an alto sax ensemble of Latent Prints (the feeling of KC’s Lizard returns) and moves into a roaring full-clustered rip. The album closes with the ominously thunderous and raging vocal domination of Dream Made Of Water—there’s the Berserk!
Had a tough day in the trenches? Hold the rage at-bay (warn the neighbors, shut the doors and turn up the amp) and have a listen. I think you’ll feel better.
This is a solicited review.
Anthony Phillips: http://www.anthonyphillips.co.uk/
Ant’s friend and illustrator Peter Cross: http://petercrossart.com/
Ant’s (too occasional) collaborator Enrique Berro Garcia: http://quiqueberro.com/
Although he was 18 when he departed from the band Genesis in 1970, many still associate Ant Phillips almost exclusively with that band (despite his approximately 40 commercially released solo albums and collaborations since 1970 in addition to his vast output of library music compositions and commission work). I have been very fortunate over the years to acquire all of these albums, and each time I place one of Ant’s albums on my turntable or a CD player his music takes me to another place and time (the ups and downs of a life). Ant’s music has been a big part of my life and I owe a great deal of my own creative work to being inspired by his. I think Ant said it best on his second Private Parts and Pieces album Back To The Pavilion (released in 1980): “This album is dedicated to all those who still champion the “old fashioned” ideas of beauty, lyricism and grandeur in art against the tide of cynical intellectualism and dissonance.” Many of Ant’s earlier albums are now being completely remastered (from the source tapes) and reissued (often in double CD releases).
Ant and Quique from PP&PPIII – Antiques: Old Wives Tales
Also spinning these days are albums by:
Three Metre Day – Coasting Notes
I have a ceramic artist friend (Hayne Bayless at Sideways Studios) to thank for getting me to these folks (often the best music comes from referrals by friends). At times their music is somewhat mournful, but always reflective and passionate—this trio from Canada is Michelle Willis, Hugh Marsh and Don Rooke with guest appearances by bassist David Piltch and drums by Davide Direnzo. The album is up-close, largely acoustic in instrumentation and delightfully musical.
Rhian Sheehan – Stories From Elsewhere
At times the music is delicate and others it’s intense, but it’s always inventive and beautifully recorded. Rhian Sheehan is from New Zealand and has released 7 albums under his name as well as appeared on many compilations and soundtracks.
Iron and Wine – Ghost on Ghost
I sometimes find Samuel Beam’s work to be a bit too intense and serious, but his latest album is open, hopeful and at times playful. The first single Joy is beautiful.
Wire – Change Becomes Us
I kind of lost touch with Wire after their albums Pink Flag and Chairs Missing, but I rediscovered their more recent albums when I updated my original recordings with CD reissues. If this new album sounds a bit like it comes from the late 1970s and early 1980s post punk era it’s because many of the songs were written back then, and haven’t seen the light of day until now. The recordings and production are full, with great clarity and this album just makes me want to turn up the amplifiers.
You can listen to the entire album here: https://soundcloud.com/wirehq/sets/change-becomes-us
Montt Mardié – Skaizerkite
Record Label: http://hybr.is/
David Olof Peter Pagmar has taken many identities and until a few years ago he was Montt Mardié (his website is now defunct) and he has since moved on to new projects, but in early 2009 this was his album of excellent pop tunes and ballads—beautifully recorded and produced. The entire album can be streamed here:
Jonas Munk – Searching For Bill (Original Soundtrack)
Jonas Munk has released many great albums and collaborations as Manual and more recently as Billow Observatory, but this is his first soundtrack. The documentary Searching For Bill is Danish director Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s debut and it explores the meaning of life for those living on the edge of American society. It’s a sensitive and contemplative soundtrack.
Many of these albums are available directly from the artists’ websites or at online merchants like http://darla.com/
Happy Listening and Spring (finally)!
Murmur Records: MMR – 17 CD Time 78:31
I’m not sure where to begin with this, but it’s likely best that I write as little about it as possible. Some of what I write is speculation or perhaps flawed interpretation, but it doesn’t really matter since music listening and appreciation is often subjective.
Will Long’s (Celer’s) new album Viewpoint is simply gorgeous.
I have listened to Viewpoint while walking, reading, on the edge of sleep, awakening in rays of sunshine and listening as I am now on (what I consider to be) proper audio equipment, with sound filling my listening room. There’s a commentary within the CD cover, and it’s a narrative of (as I see it) the beginnings of a love story, moments in time and place, captured and held in the collective memory of the two who shared it–the connections in words and sound. It took me a few attempts to remain focused for the entirety of the album, but after re-reading the story and dreaming along with the music I was hooked, deeply. There are moments when Viewpoint weaves and peregrinates throughout its twenty-six nearly invisible sections, and at times there are some darker moments (life’s unexpected times) and pleasant daydreams, but eventually it all becomes clear and things interlock and harmony prevails, as tightly as the paving stones that decorate the inner sleeve of the bi-folding CD jacket.
Hold fast to the memories, don’t let them go…
Three albums from far away (to me) arrived at studio wajobu yesterday, and my immediate reaction (aside from the excitement of getting a package from Moscow) was when I opened the envelope, I was very pleasantly surprised with the design approach of the album packaging—a heavy semi-gloss stock tri-folded card (about 5 by 7 inches) with really nice layouts, printing and graphics—simple, elegant and compact.
The three albums are the latest collaboration by Machinefabriek and Minus Pilots entitled Signals, the Aquarius project (a collection of 5 minute works by artists including: Federico Durand, The Green Kingdom, Pjusk, Melodium, Simon Whetham, Loscil, Marsen Jules, Fabio Orsi, Pillowdiver, Machinefabriek, Hakobune + Hiroki Sasajima, Francisco López, Pleq + Mathieu Ruhlmann and Yann Novak) and Darren Harper’s release from late 2012 entitled Passages for the Listless and Tired. What drew me to Dronarivm (at first) was Darren Harper’s album.
Dronarivm Label – Aquarius
DR-09 – CD: 70 minutes – Limited to 200 CD copies and digital download with extra track
Aquarius, being a sign of the ancient zodiac, representative of one of the many artificial constructs of arrangements of stars in our Universe and on Earth symbolic of undulating waves of water, and in color an aqueous blue. This album is largely the sound of comfort and peacefulness with only occasional hints of stormy seas or skies (as in Untitled #288 by Francisco López). There is a broad sonic presence in each 5 minute track that belies their brevity, each telling a complete and unhurried story. Each track is somehow connected by imaginary links to another and perceptions of the overall whole change if listening is done in the shuffle-mode. There are so many strong pieces on this album, but I had the strongest connection with the incredible pulsing depths of Loscil’s Hemlock. This would be an excellent choice for lying down in the grass on a clear dark night with a pair of headphones and staring into the night sky and as the eyes adjust to the darkness, the many secrets of the great depths are revealed.
Machinefabriek and Minus Pilots – Signals
DR-10 – CD: About 34 minutes – Limited to 150 CD copies and digital download
Signals is the latest release from Dronarivm. Like signals drifting in and out on a shortwave radio far off into the night, Minus Pilots and Machinefabriek have created a sense of mystery and discovery with intertwined and layered sounds. At first constructed with arrayed loops of electric basses created by Minus Pilots and Machinefabriek blending woodwinds, strings and voices into a loosely woven fabric of sound; the result at times being like conversations between unlikely strangers. There are moments of quiescent contemplation contrasting with more vibrant exchanges akin to morning-songs of birds reacting to the rising Sun. Sonic moods shift throughout Signals with more dulcet tones appearing at about the mid-point of the piece before more active coils of sound emerge later. With careful listening, distinct instrumentation can be gleaned from the recording, but blurring the mind yields a gestalt that is like imagining a room full of people (perhaps strangers sitting quietly in an airport lounge or waiting room) with their thoughts being transmitted into the ether, many passing into the nothingness, yet some connecting.
Darren Harper – Passages for the Listless and Tired
DR-07 – CD: About 45 minutes
Limited to 100 CD copies and digital download
This is the album that brought me to the Dronarivm Label. I don’t recall how I was drawn to it or what landed me at sampling this album, but it must’ve been a lateral association somewhere in the neighborhood of six degrees (or in this case six passages) of separation and then attraction. The effect of this six-part album is calming, ethereal and curiously grounding. At times it growls (gently, as in Second passage) and often drifts into delightfully pastoral zones (like the closing Sixth passage). There are sections with a sense of flying slowly, just above a landscape in a vividly colorful slow motion dream (think Kubrick’s 2001) with deep almost motionless grooves reminiscent of parts of Tangerine Dream’s Rubycon. At times, the sound reaches, and reaches far, as in Third passage—it just keeps stretching ever closer to an unattainable edge and still onward for more. Despite being created from improvisation, Darren Harper has achieved a well-planned and deeply satisfying journey. There is a soft resonant afterglow present in this album.
Note: If you live where I do (far away!), it might take a couple of weeks to receive an order from Dronarivm, but trust me—it’ll be well worth the wait and patience. I look forward to more releases.
The Darren Harper CD was a direct purchase and the other two are solicited reviews.
Sound In Silence #sis015 Limited Edition of 200 CDr in hand numbered sleeve w/ insert
Tracks: 1) Passing Time, 2) Monuments, 3) Concrete Oceans, 4) Sandlab, 5) I Have Never Seen The Light, 6) Scholars Of Time Travel (part 2), 7) Sun Dial, 8) So Long As They Fear Us (on the CDr only)
The overlapping musical origins of Mike Abercrombie and Brad Deschamps have led to a sound that shifts between music genres: Mike’s roots being in electronic music and Brad’s in post-rock. They share common interests in the works of Eno, Satie, Stars of the Lid and others, and their music is soothing yet with a clarity of awareness of the out there beyond what is often the prosaic miasma passing these days as ambient instrumental music. It’s kind of like lightly sleeping with one eye open; taking in a view and related sounds while acknowledging what might lurk in the underneath or the above. At first, the presence of a musical fabric sets a scene and then a transformation to what might be a song in search of a lyric or even a deep transitional groove—it fits well.
At times the change in sound can be more than just a nudge (an unforeseen entrance of percussion or a back beat as in the middle of I Have Never Seen The Light—a wake-up of sorts, as if to ask: “Are you paying attention?—Don’t drift off just yet!”). It appears like a coalesced awareness from within a dream or as if sleeping in the warm sun when a cool breeze unexpectedly but pleasantly arises (a well known Canadian experience, I suspect).
There are threads between pieces on the album (and also to North Atlantic Drift’s first EP) like with the common sonic roots in Passing Time and Monuments (the undercurrent that binds) with the themes further developed with sustained and reverberant electric guitars. I’m somewhat familiar with their previous album Canvas as well as their two EPs Amateur Astronomy and their first work Scholars of Time Travel, the root of the sixth track SOTT (part 2) on Monuments. Part 2 is the awakened day to the original EP’s quiescent night with first an undertow of processed piano, and then the Sun rises as the undisguised piano is revealed.
I find that North Atlantic Drift’s music has a stronger connection to recent work by Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) as opposed to Eno, Satie or SotL, yet the overall sound is more rooted in tangible instrumentation; the alignment with Guthrie’s work being that moods are set with an opening wash of sound (while a spring is being gently wound) and then a release to a fuller rhythmic soundscape. The most visually reflective track on the album is Sun Dial, the slow sweep of shadows passing as the light and activity waxes and wanes with the field-recorded ephemeral sounds of a day. The extra track So Long As They Fear Us on the CDr (not the digital download) is a return to the quietude, like sitting on a porch (in the dark) on a comfortable rainy night with a safely distant thunderstorm.
And don’t forget to go back to their album Canvas—copies are still available.
Amateur Astronomy: http://northatlanticdrift.bandcamp.com/album/amateur-astronomy
Canvas (first full album): http://northatlanticdrift.bandcamp.com/album/canvas
Scholars of Time Travel: http://northatlanticdrift.bandcamp.com/album/scholars-of-time-travel
This is a solicited review.
Concert: Zammuto with Valgeir Sigurðsson and Nadia Sirota at the Spaceland Ballroom, Hamden, CT March 29, 2013
Nick Zammuto – Guitar and Electronics, Nick Oddy – Guitar and Keyboard
Mikey Zammuto – Bass, Sean Dixon – Drums
Promoter and Venue
I missed the last Zammuto tour in 2012, so I was determined to go see them this time around—and it was a great coincidence that they ended up stopping so close by in Hamden, Connecticut at the new Spaceland Ballroom with promotion by Manic Productions from nearby New Haven. Valgeir Sigurðsson (producer and founder of Iceland’s Bedroom Community record label and Greenhouse Studios) and violist Nadia Sirota started the evening’s show with an introspective and sensitive performance of work from Nadia’s latest album Baroque and Valgeir’s album Architecture of Loss (in addition to some earlier VS work). I think that the performance would’ve been enhanced all the more with a better piano and subwoofer system, but their performance ranged from the contemplative (my son says “chill”) to visceral. I’m less familiar with Sigurðsson’s and Sirota’s individual works, but this performance was a great introduction. My only other hope for this new venue is that the lighting improves to allow one to see the musicians better during their performances (and perhaps some more tables and chairs).
I’ve followed Nick Zammuto’s work since his days with The Books, and have appreciated his mining for music and inspiration in unexpected places, whether from old or new family home movies to skillfully edited (often bizarre) instructional videos. The humor and wordplay also makes his work all the more attractive. The difference (to my ears) between The Books and Nick’s latest incarnation in the band Zammuto is that the music is even more rhythmically infectious and at times, downright joyful. I also appreciate that Zammuto has created in their first eponymous album music created by artists staying true to themselves and their work—always pushing the boundaries and seeking inspiration from the most unlikely of places…making the serious silly and the mundane musical…and to be doing it in beautiful Vermont is all the more enticing. Their work is also an example of what I see as a proper usage of auto-tune technology—not to correct a singer who can’t sing, but to enhance the statement of the art and sound.
Last night’s set was tight, energetic and enhanced by a multimedia show of short films synchronized to the music. Much of the songs were taken from the latest Zammuto album on the Temporary Residence (independent) label. We were also treated to some songs from The Books era, a Paul Simon cover and some unreleased tracks. This was the second performance by new guitar/keyboardist Nick Oddy and he has immediately absorbed the often intense and delightfully quirky parts that Gene Back (up until recently) contributed to the band—bravo!
Zammuto Set List: 1) Groan Man, Don’t Cry, 2) The Shape Of Things To Come, 3) Idiom Wind, 4) Too Late To Topologize, 5) Zebra Butt, 6) FU-C3PO, 7) Harlequin, 8) Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover by Paul Simon, 9) Yay, 10) The Stick, 11) Tahitian Noni Juice – That Right Ain’t Shit – from The Books The Lemon of Pink, 12) Classy Penguin, 13) The Greatest Autoharp Solo of All Time – A remarkable bit of video/sound editing!, 14) Smells Like Content – from The Books – Lost And Safe and the non-encore 15) The Fig and the Finger
If you haven’t seen Zammuto live yet, go see them—it was a very memorable concert. The link to their current tour is noted above, and I’m told that Nick is working on material for a new album.
Please note that all photos are by wajobu.com unless the image is suffixed with “IAB”, in which case it’s by Isaac Burns. We retain all copyrights to the images, but if you choose to borrow or share an image, please at least credit one or both of us. Thank you.
Stick Men: https://www.facebook.com/stickmenofficial
Tony Levin: http://www.papabear.com/
Pat Mastelotto: http://patmastelotto.com/
Markus Reuter: http://www.markusreuter.com/
Stick Men dot Net will take you to: http://iapetus-store.com/album/deep
I’m not often prone to numerical connections, but it occurred to me last night on the long quiet drive home from the woods of northwestern Connecticut that here I was in year 13 of this century and it has been (almost to the day) 31 years since I had last seen Tony Levin on stage in Syracuse, New York with the 1982 incarnation of King Crimson (Fripp, Bruford, Belew and Levin) in support of their incredible return album Discipline. Although Tony Levin might disagree, to my eyes his energy and spirit hasn’t aged a day in those 31 years. Last night’s concert in Norfolk, Connecticut was an incredible display of musicianship, sound and an intimate connection between the musicians and the audience (especially in a small hall like Infinity with great acoustics, sound system and a beautifully restored historic building).
In one way or another this trio of Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto and Markus Reuter all have a connection to King Crimson (and Robert Fripp) in various incarnations and ongoing KC ProjeKcts, but Stick Men while embracing KC’s influential work, have continued to develop their own voices in progressive rock including vital relationships with other bands, artists in addition each members respective solo work.
The Bows Come Out!
The set list last night was largely from their new album DEEP (all but two tracks) in addition to some real treats. Tony Levin made a special point to express appreciation to the audience for being so receptive to the new material, rather than insisting on hearing only the old (including many King Crimson favorites)–in effect progressive rock music…PROGRESSES. One thing that I wanted to see after listening intensively to DEEP is just how much of the melodies each instrument would take, and I was surprised to see that many sections that I thought were coming from Reuter’s Touch Guitar turned out to be melody exchanges between Reuter and Levin (the Chapman Stick being an extremely versatile instrument—not just for the bass line). Here are the tracks (along with some brief notes…not on every track, and nothing that I can write will do justice to the intensity and clarity of the sound last night–something to be experienced first-hand!):
1) Nude Ascending Staircase: As is the beginning of the album DEEP, this performance set the tone for the entire night, a seriously raucous (and fun) sound with deep visceral notes from Levin’s stick.
3) Crack In The Sky
4) Breathless (from Robert Fripp’s 1979 solo album Exposure): This Fripp album is incredible, and it’s still as vital as when I first placed the LP on my turntable in 1979. This was an absolutely shredding performance of this piece. Markus Reuter’s faithful interpretation of Fripp’s work (searing guitar) was just chilling. The trio seriously cooked on this.
6) Infinity Improv (free improvisation): Tony Levin noted that they record each of their performances (and I had noticed some stage and ambient microphones on stage before the show) in the hopes that some of the improvisations and recordings could lead to future releases.
7) Horatio: Thunderous!
8) Whale Watch: Tony Levin noted that despite his many years of having played the Chapman Stick, he was still learning more about what the instrument could do (and its often unpredictable results). He noted that some nights Whale Watch could turn out differently, depending on whether the instrument needed to be wrestled to the ground (I’m paraphrasing). It’s the story of being on a whale watch, from the start of an ocean journey to spotting, pursuit and arrival to see a whale up-close.
9) Industry (from the 1984 King Crimson album Three of a Perfect Pair): The growl and electronic percussion.
Pat is A-blur
10) Hide The Trees: The growing tension, exchange and release in this piece is deliciously enticing.
11) Open, Pt. 3 (from Stick Men’s 2012 improvisation-based album Open)
12) Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 2 (from the 1973 King Crimson album Larks’ Tongue in Aspic): It was exciting to hear this piece live again, as it was in the concert in 1982 (and previous KC concerts that I had attended)—also, on the heals of the recent 40th anniversary release of the re-mastered album.
Tony Levin playfully taking a stage photo for the ongoing Crimson Chronicles
13) Encore: A Stick Men arrangement of Stravinsky’s Firebird: Let’s hope that this ends up on a future live album—a forceful and experimental rendition of Stravinsky’s 1910 work.
After the Encore
It was a real treat to observe the persona of each musician on-stage: Tony Levin’s classic broad stance and kinetically expressive movements (resulting in many blurry photos!), Markus Reuter’s calm scanning of the crowd as he switched from touch-fingering his guitar to using it in a more conventional guitar-stance, and Pat Mastelotto’s highly expressive performance on percussion and electronic devices—and just when I thought that he had no more tricks in the bag, out he’d pull even more paraphernalia, including a bow!
At one point during the night Tony Levin noted that King Crimson was still alive, not broken-up, yet (somewhat comically) Levin noted that Robert Fripp had recently attended a Stick Men show (and paid for his ticket, despite a guest pass) and in response to a question about when a King Crimson tour might occur again, Fripp responded “Pain.” I think Mr. Fripp has moved on, and is enjoying his semi-retirement and over-seeing of the re-mastering and re-releasing of their massive archive of concerts and other recordings.
If you’re within striking distance of a Stick Men show—please go see them! They’re appearing at the Iridium Jazz Club this Friday (March 29) and Saturday (March 30) nights in New York City. I’m sure they’ll be on the road again soon. Bravo and thank you to the Stick Men! Oh, and buy their new album DEEP–see also this great review of the album by my friend over at Horse Bits: http://horsebits-jrc.blogspot.com/2012/11/deep-by-stick-men.html
Note: Click on any photo to see an enlarged version. Please contact me if there are any factual errors in what I have written above. I have many other high resolution photos of the show, and if you chose to copy or repost any of the photos, please credit me “wajobu.com”. You can’t see them, but the photos ARE watermarked.
Merge Records CD MRG465 – Time: About 54 minutes
Tracks: 1) Country Illusion, 2) The Geography Of Nowhere, 3) Cadillac Desert, 4) We Can’t Go Home Again, 5) A Portrait Of Sarah, 6) Hotel Catatonia, 7) The Last Residents Of Westfall, 8) The World Set Free
I posit that William Tyler is a thinker, and is perhaps more comfortable expressing himself with music than with words (although his spoken thoughts on the Merge teaser video have a distinct and interesting clarity). Tyler has worked in a number of bands prior to his solo albums including the Silver Jews, the ongoing experimental collective Hands Off Cuba and Lambchop (in addition to his record label, Sebastian Speaks). Tyler’s work brings a wide range of colors and moods to Lambchop’s sound, where he has been a principal guitarist for many years. Impossible Truth seems to me to be a more cohesive and mature work than his last solo album on the Tompkins Square label, Behold The Spirit. Nonetheless, I urge readers to seek out this very strong album.
The titles of the tracks on this album are like the names of short stories, and from the moment the cord is pulled on the first note of a track we are thrust right into the middle of the scene, without shyness or any lack of confidence. It almost feels like Tyler propels a well-worn yet vibrant flywheel at the start of each piece, and from that moment he is shaping and sculpting the sound and mood until the story is told.
Country Of Illusion starts mysteriously and sounding rather exotic (as if from a foreign land, sitar-like). There are sweeping passages envisioning a changing scene and then there are pauses (almost like a moment of contemplation) before moving through a sonic curtain and then the next passage of the tale. Some tracks show a greater tenderness (with solo acoustic guitar) than others like We Can’t Go Home Again or A Portrait Of Sarah (although musically the latter is quite adventurous, as are many relationships). The Geography Of Nowhere has a resonant otherness of being on the edge of consciousness and sensing the tangible without being able to actually reach it. There are others like Cadillac Desert and Hotel Catatonia that present vistas as broad and intense as a Montana sky (and I never knew what a big sky looked like until I saw one). The fretwork, picking and phrasing are tracing the landscapes and wrapping the listener in the gentle or gusty breezes of sound.
The Last Residents Of Westfall sounds like a scene from a dying or deserted town as the music pans to each of the buildings in the village, all with their own story to tell, some jaunty and others subdued. The closing track of the album, The World Set Free is the most reflective, but it enlivens joyfully as the track progresses—the acoustic bass being a steady and forthright heartbeat, and finally William Tyler releases to a growling close. I am trying to resist comparisons, but the opening section is similar to the instrumental sections of Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter.
Tyler disguises his guitars as many different instruments, and his musicianship and intense fingerings give a sense that more than one set of hands is at work, yet there is never a sense of Tyler playing a guitar hero—my guess is that he sees himself as quite the opposite. Just like Lambchop, William Tyler blurs the distinction of musical genres; first this is an instrumental acoustic and electric guitar album, there are hints of twang, country and roots in it, but also some blues, folk and rock and roll. Merge Records has a wide ranging catalog of musicians and has been around for more than two decades. I just finished reading and thoroughly enjoyed their biography of the first twenty years of Merge, Our Noise. Even though William Tyler has been part of the Merge family for many years in his work with Lambchop, I’m thrilled that he has released this latest brilliant solo album with Merge. This is an album that I highly recommend.
Merge Records just posted this reinterpretation (homage?) to the film Two Lane Blacktop with A Portrait of Sarah as the soundtrack.
12k Label – 12k1074 – CD Time: 47:00
When I was younger and had a completely untrained eye for seeing, as in art of any form, I didn’t realize how many colors went into what I saw, whether in a landscape or an object (same in the musical parallels). It was later, seeing artwork at a museum (paintings up-close), dramatically enlarged photos, and a friend’s work in college (artist, Allen Hirsch) that I started to understand the density and complexity of color–as well as in sound and music, the overtones, harmonics and phasing in addition to the pure waves.
The Endless Change Of Colour affects me in two ways, creating a state of peaceful timelessness (wondering where that nearly-an-hour went) as well as producing a state of nearly motionless cascades of blending sounds that transmute into a sense of relaxing in a stream bed of flowing water on a warm summer’s day–when all else falls away and what remains is that moment. All of this from a generative piece of music built from a single phrase on an old jazz record split into three audio stems. The sounds (and side-effects) that without closer examination and contemplation, we wouldn’t normally sense except for the benefit of the time that this work seems to warp and retrograde during its existence.
There are brief moments when almost familiar sounds enter, only to be absorbed back into the metamorphosing blend. I hear some parallels to the effects created by Nicholas Szczepanik’s brilliant album Please Stop Loving Me, although the feeling in Endless borders on that of a gentle voice on the edge of a dream–a peaceful sense of belonging.