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M. Ostermeier – Tiny Birds

Ostermeier Tiny Birds James Luckett consumptive dot orgCD: Home Normal 071

Time: 34:28

Website: http://homenormal.com/

1) glide 2) of a feather 3) rafters 4) watcher 5) duo 6) flutter 7) flying south 8) head cut off 9) nesting 10) caged 11) skitter 12) twin crested peaks 13) albatross

M. Ostermeier: piano and sounds

Christoph Berg: violin on glide and of a feather

Photography: James Luckett – consumptive.org

In my part of the world, some birds that used to winter elsewhere now seem to stay here, but many still migrate: from swallows by the millions (spectacular departure throughout October) to songbirds like warblers to the more solitary bald eagles that pass through here on their way to nesting areas along local rivers and up to the Adirondack mountains in upper New York State.  Just before the first break of Spring, woodpeckers return or emerge and the local forests can sound like giant marimbas as the oversized pileated variety pronounce their territorial claims, rapping on hollow trunks.

still

M. Ostermeier’s latest album is the avian themed Tiny Birds. There is a slightly different approach to Tiny Birds compared with his prior album still on Ostermeier’s Tench imprint. The piano instrumentals on still tend to meander somewhat with more liberated abstract forms whereas Tiny Birds is a more controlled series of repetitive melodic vignettes with variations—perceptive yet humble etudes with minimal embellishment or peregrinations—some more dulcet than others.

Despite their apparent simplicity there is still a great deal of subtle texture and depth in the recordings, and notwithstanding initial minimalist appearances, Ostermeier is quite adept at layering and revealing micro-sounds into his recordings, as in his earlier album The Rules of Another Small World.  Soundscapes can be taken in as a larger whole while in a place or one can focus on the intimate.

The overall mood in Tiny Birds is mostly comfort with varying passages ranging from delicate to vibrant, but never jarring.  The point of view is that of a bystander in quiet contemplation observing the moments, and as a result the music evokes visual memories.  I try to resist comparisons to the works of others, but this one locked in my head and I couldn’t shake it: there are connections with some of Satie’s works and the pace (without vocals) is reminiscent of Brian Eno’s two meditations: Julie With and By This River from his 1977 album Before and After Science.

 

Aside from Ostermeier’s piano and delicate melodic and percussive treatments, Christoph Berg enhances the first two tracks, glide and of a feather with deftly restrained violin accompaniments.  It also sounds like there might be some cello in the somewhat mournful flying south, adding weight to the depth of the long cyclical journey.  A piano is generally the foundation throughout, and in glide the violin moves in and out of earshot like a golden eagle riding thermals high-up in the sky on the edge of human sight.  Of a feather has slight chordal shifts and Berg responds to the piano phrases with a gentle sway.

m ostermeierIn summer days of my youth, some of my family used to help a farmer hay his fields and then methodically transfer hay bales from carts into an old barn loft while barn swallows were on the wing above in the rafters—this reminded me of those days, many years ago.  Alighted and above, in the breezes, is the watcher, with languid wind chimes below, in a subtle duet.  And as if in mid-conversation, duo picks up a somewhat less structured dialog between two birds in trees (is it an actual transcription?), like sometimes at dawn when windows are open and two great horned owls are conversing from opposite ends of the yard, or two robins singing their evening-song at dusk.  Some visceral low frequencies pass through this too.

The most musical piece on the album, flutter, is at first a duet, then a trio, perhaps even a quartet, with brisk playful variations on the original melody.  head cut off is a slow meandering stagger of sobering paired tones (no birds were harmed in the recording of this…I assume!).  Gentle rustling with more intimate microphone placement at the piano, nesting has a slightly voyeuristic quality of a webcam keeping an eye on birds and chicks in a tree, safe from dangers below while swaying quietly in the breezes.  The monotony of confinement is depicted in caged, where there are few changes with the passage of time.  Skitter has five, perhaps even six sections with both an untreated and a slightly phased piano, punctuated by pure tones in between the melodic phrases.  Twin crested peaks is a hypnotic call and response, with the regularity of an EKG taken at rest.

alba

albatross can have several meanings, a golf term (AKA double-eagle, a rare three under par—a bird reference!), a psychological burden or the majestic sea bird with an enormous wing span (up to an incredible 12 feet) and they are often long-lived.  There is a tagged female Laysan albatross named Wisdom that has returned to Midway Island for at least 63 years, and this year she mated and had another chick (estimated to be her 36th)– truly remarkable.  This closing track is graceful of flight and steady, yet it carries the enduring burden and insight gathered with the passage of time.

My favorite tracks on the album are: glide, of a feather, flying south and albatross.

****

This is a solicited review.


Salvatore Passaro – Overwhelming

SP Overwhelming Cover

Label: mopstudio  CD-R (Gatefold case with artwork by Mahnaz Esmaeili): MST 001  Time: 51:59

CD available at: http://www.mopstudio.com/site/

Digital files available at: https://salvatorepassaro.bandcamp.com/releases and at iTunes

Tracks: 1) Stone 2) Touch 3) A Light 4) Dream 5) Memory 6) Next 7) Circular 8)Blue 9) Overwhelming 10) Early Morning 11) Settembre 12) It Is 13) Trip 14) Sinestesia

There’s a somewhat enigmatic quality to this album: the instrumentation, what might have inspired the work and to a certain extent, Mr. Passaro himself.  What I do know is Italy-based Passaro’s last work, a collaboration with Carlo Cossu entitled Earth, was released approximately 15 years ago, and there are some excerpts from that collaboration scattered around the internet (which I chose not to sample).  Since I’m a bit of an equipment geek, I normally find background helpful, although I’m told by some musicians, “…never reveal your secrets…”  Despite the album’s title, Overwhelming is a relatively calm offering that exists within a fairly narrow emotional range, with minimal sonic distractions and melodic directions.  Whether spontaneous or scripted there are moments where Overwhelming leans toward the ambient music genre with an occasional sense of place, and others where it’s nearly sleep-inducing devoid of an identifiable physical realm, yet the music generally hovers somewhere in between.

Salvatore PassaroThe instrumentation (real and/or virtual?) appears to be primarily electric guitar, piano and some electronic keyboards with various effects and treatments.  The strongest sonic nudge is the opening track, Stone with purer sounds that are woven and sustained.  Only near the end more forceful tones and grit enter the soundscape.  Touch is more spacious with grainier qualities.  Then the album settles into a more pleasant, swaying and peaceful interlude with A Light, Dream, Memory and Next.  In this section places and memories are evoked with veiled sounds of a shoreline, wind, voices and the outdoors.  Next is the most restful.

Many of the pieces seem to be improvised with minimal underlying structure (I could be entirely wrong).  Circular has drifting voices co-mingling with piano and keyboards.  Blue continues with even more random bell-like notes (perhaps on a heavily processed piano) until there appears to be momentary references to Vangelis’ Memories of Green.  Ironically, the title track Overwhelming is one of the more sedate pieces on the album with gently rolling voices mixed with guitar and keyboards.  Whereas, relatively true to its title, Early Morning has sounds emerging and blending much like the rising Sun as colors of a new day are gradually revealed as darkness wanes.  Settembre is plucky, gritty and random.  Phased, flanged and wandering is It Is, and Trip gently winds-up and then coasts with scenery wisping by in slow-motion.  Sinestesia closes the album and is the haziest, layered and trance-inducing track, and it doesn’t stray far from its central sonic focus.

 

The CD version of the album is available directly from the artist at the website noted above with digital versions available at Bandcamp and iTunes.

****

This is a solicited review.


Western Skies Motel – Buried and Resurfaced

WSM - B & R

Twice Removed TR051 CD-R Time: 29:21

Label: https://twicerememberedtwiceremoved.bandcamp.com/

Artist: https://westernskiesmotel.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Western-Skies-Motel-310816295732546/

Tracks: 1) Awakening 2) Black Sea 3) The Quiet Rust 4) Passage 5) Echoes 6) Behind These Walls 7) Thaw 8) Distances

Buried and Resurfaced is the final release, of 60 albums and EPs, from the Twice Removed record label.  Label curator Gavin Catling, in far away (from me) Perth (western) Australia, has done a fine job of bringing artists and musicians to our attention since 2011, and I’m sorry to see him put the label to bed, but understand his desire and need to bring the project to an end.

 

This album arrived here at an interesting moment; I had recently done some reading on the gradual and tragic decline of the Aral Sea between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.  Some of what I have read and imagined about the decline of that landscape seems to have parallels in René Gonzalez Schelbeck’s musical creation, even the title.  I have also just seen Guy Maddin’s adventurous, liquid-time-bending and bizarre film, The Forbidden Room, and in many ways Buried and Resurfaced could have been a soundtrack for that film.  The film is an homage to old lost and often quirky movies, which Maddin reimagined, and they are collected as an amorphous omnibus that is almost beyond description and, at times, comprehension.

Another parallel to Buried is it can be beheld as either individual pieces or part of a larger whole with a real or imagined narrative.  The tape-decayed and modulated passages in Buried blend remarkably well with Maddin’s visuals (firmly planted in my memory—it’s an intense film).  The possible album storylines I have posited are two possible accounts, but there are many others, despite what might be the actual intent (if any) of RG Schelbeck.

Rene Gonzalez Schelbeck

There is an ancient and mysterious quality to the music from the start.  Tape decay and flutter produces wrinkles in the perceived time continuum.  The electric guitar is also well disguised with bowing, modulation, and effects, often yielding qualities akin to a long-neglected Mellotron or Chamberlin.

Awakening is the languid preparation for the journey and pending storm.  Black Sea has a dark foundation and buffets with macabre winds lashing a hull at sea and occasional sonic breaching of the portholes (this piece is an especially perfect match for Maddin’s film).  Quiet Rust is a peaceful yet unsettling aftermath to the storm with its sustained and reverberant atmosphere (this track is well mated with Schelbeck’s companion video: scenes of San Francisco after the devastating 1906 earthquake).  It also reminds me a bit of Kane Ikin’s and David Wenngren’s collaboration Chalk from their 2012 album Strangers.

Being cast adrift in an increasingly dense fog is the texture of Passage with expanding and layered dark droning strings.  Echoes pulses above and near before vibrating from the depths (a subwoofer helps to enhance this).  Sounds move near, then are distant and fade into the ether.  The most active and sweeping of the tracks is Behind These Walls, as if the storm of Black Sea returns, this time on land with squalls lashing relentlessly.  I think I hear the warm and familiar hum of a tube amplifier in Thaw, with the percussive plucking of strings, as if water is dripping from ice in a warming sunshine.  Buried and Resurfaced closes gently with the reflective and contemplative Distances with far off sounds of (perhaps field recordings of) nature absorbed into the haze.

 

My one criticism of the album (also a compliment), is the abbreviated timing of some of the pieces makes them seem rather elusive.  Just when settling into the immersive aura of the music, some tracks fade away too soon, and I was left hoping that each would last longer for a more deeply enhanced experience.  Perhaps extended versions might appear at some point in the future?

****

Trailer to Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room

****

This is a solicited review.


John Hackett – Another Life

Another Life

Cherry Red Records – Esoteric Antenna EANTCD 1053 – CD Time: 48:59

Available at: http://shop.cherryred.co.uk/shopexd.asp?id=5158

More info at: http://johnhackett.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/hacktraxmusic?fref=ts

Tracks: 1) Another Life 2) Look Up 3) Poison Town 4) White Lines 5) Life In Reverse 6) Burnt Down Trees 7) Satellite 8) Forest 9) Magazine 10) Rain 11) Actors 12) Another Day, Another Night 13) Poison Town Reprise

It’s hard for me to believe that it was 10 years ago John Hackett released his last “electric” album Checking Out of London, a collaboration with lyricist Nick Clabburn, brother Steve Hackett, keyboardist Nick Magnus and guest vocalist Tony Patterson.  COoL was largely an album of contemplation of modern realities with a fairly narrow and relatively calm emotional range (the song Ego & Id being the exception).  Since COol John Hackett has released a collection of acoustic collaborations (see photo, I’m sure some are missing from my collection) and a live album with Nick Magnus in 2010, in addition to other session work with Magnus and others.

John Hackett CDs

In contrast, Another Life exists in a darker realm, and is cathartic, but also treats the subject matter, at times, with sonic irony—where the music belies the lyrics, almost mocking the hopelessness or anger, reveling in the pain, getting to an even darker place perhaps in the hope to emerge in a better elsewhere.  It’s not, however, necessarily a nihilist point of view.  I also hesitate to say that Another Life is a concept album, but there is a tightly knit theme throughout.

The title track opens the album aggressively and builds to a primal scream of sorts.  After listening to it a few times, I detected a structural pattern similar to the verse and refrain comparing it to In The Court of the Crimson King, including the point where John Hackett’s flute enters…coincidental or an homage?  In Look Up “Everyone is changing…” and it is reminiscent of the sound of the change The Byrds sang of in the late 1960s (and distinctive opening chords like ELO’s 10538 Overture).  The song is embedded with foreboding, but it has a driving energy of what I characterize as hope in the words “Look up and feel the light…”  Poison Town is one of the examples of where the music seems to contradict the message of the lyrics, it has a sort of chill-vibe with the soft keyboards and wah-wah treatment of the guitar…kind of swaying and comforted in the darkness of thought.  White Lines delves into frustration, with the Doppler-Effect sound and motion of vehicles speeding past on a highway, following the road into a vanished point in the distance…a destination never reached on an endless journey.

Life In Reverse on one hand is bleak, but there is a sense of optimism and beauty in the music—the chord shifts, layered chorus vocals and the gorgeous bridge from John Hackett’s flute (the passage “This rented room…This rented life…” with the chord bends and vocals is powerful).  Another example of the sharp contrast of the message in the lyrics and music is Burnt Down Trees, as if one is mocking the other.  The music is funky, rhythmic with ripping guitar solos from Steve Hackett, almost as if the music is laughing at reality while the streets burn; like the conditions are so bad, one needs comic relief or escapism.  Ant Phillips is a guest instrumentalist on Satellite (12 string guitar and harpsichord).  A song of conflicted feelings, opens with Steve Hackett on harmonica, with flowing chords and harmonies from the vocals and guitars.  Stark truth and minimal sentimentality “Say how you feel…I just want to hear you try…”  By the time Phillips’ rich sounding harpsichord enters, the difficulties of reality return—a very emotional piece, one that cannot be played loud enough to hear all the depth to the layers.  Holding onto beauty in the face of despair.

John Hackett

Forest, in a way harkens back, in sound and instrumentation, to many of the songs on COoL.  Reflection and self-examination, pondering how things could have gone, yet living with how they turned out.  Magazine is the one piece on the album where Nick Magnus is credited as a songwriter along with Hackett and Clabburn.  It’s another in the canon of gentle and contemplative songs, somewhat like the early instrumental piece by brother Steve Hammer In The Sand, although it passes through a couple of grander orchestral codas.  Rain is perhaps a relationship gone bad (the actual inspiration could be completely different!) and in this the music and lyrics are aligned—the twisting sadness of the minor chords and the forceful vocal refrain, punctuated by Steve’s sustained growling solos.

There was something about Actors that sounded familiar to me…the lyrics seemed to have a parallel elsewhere, and sure enough, portions of the lyrics were used in the Squackett (Steve Hackett and Chris Squire) song Divided Self (a marvelous song, by the way—lyrics also by Clabburn).  It’s a song of internal conflict—“Two tongues speaking in my head…” with a curious I Am The Walrus-esque link in the middle before the first guitar solo and vocal choruses.  Another Day, Another Night has some sounds of hope with its upbeat rhythm and instrumentation, and is where the message is delivered to whatever is causing the feelings of darkness to move on—kind of an ultimatum with signs of optimism.

And then…the Poison Town Reprise…and a bit of the darkness returns.

Fear not the subject, just get lost in the music—I certainly have…as I click REPLAY.


Cory Allen – The Source

CA The Source

CD PR025 time: 40:53 (Also available as an LP, first 100 copies on coke clear vinyl)

1) Divine Waves – 12:11 2) White Wings – 8:53 3) Neon Mandalas – 6:58 4) Crown Canal – 12:48

Cory Allen: Hammond Organ, Harmonium, Tanpura, Rhodes Electric Piano, Violin, Voice, Mbira, Balalaika, Tibetan Singing Bowl, Gong, Tingsha Bells, Chinese Bells, Balinese Nut Shell Shaker

With Brent Fariss: Bass, Henna Chou: Cello and Lyman Hardy: Drums and Percussion

Artist: http://www.cory-allen.com/ Record label: http://www.punctumrecords.com/

Preorder link: http://www.punctumrecords.com/shop/coryallen-thesource

Without any prior guided experience to an astral realm of enlightenment, I feel a bit underqualified in commenting on certain aspects that may have influenced or inspired this album, but I feel perfectly at ease in speaking on the restorative nature of music, meditation and private contemplation.  The mind is often so pre-occupied with distractions that thoughts become fragmented, confused, and the ability to concentrate is diminished—so at times a realignment is in order.  Cory Allen’s new album, The Source provides a gentle yet intensive framework to cleanse the mind and re-focus awareness.  In tech-speak: defragmenting the hard drive.

The Source, I think, is both a reflection of Allen’s own achievement of radial balance and self-unity, as well as a sonic guide for others to experience.  With repeated auditions of the album, awareness of both the individual instrumentation and the gestalt of the overall effect of the work increases.  For those less familiar with Cory Allen’s oeuvre, and before listening, an important aspect to keep in mind, is to suspend conventional expectations of musical structure and melody, and allow oneself to be drawn into the experience of both listening and feeling the sounds in the recording.  Also, Allen’s work often uses a loosely rules-based construction including guided improvisation.

Divine Waves slow-dances on the edge of something resembling a liquid jazz with the initial two, three and four note phrases exchanging between cymbals and bass (plucked and later bowed).  A tanpura joins the ensemble and its whirr is sustained by merging with the bass, cymbals, and chiming of inter-mingled bells and bowls.  I hesitate to say that the cello is a later mournful addition to the group, yet it adds a wistful calm with an electric piano gently weaving throughout.  The instrumentation in the latter part of Divine blends into a soft vibrating drone and is as much about the sound heard, as well as the interaction of the vibrations being felt (to experience this, I recommend listening with well-placed speakers at a volume roughly equivalent to match the original live sound of the instruments versus using headphones).

Initially focusing on the interplay of two and four notes phrases on a balalaika, White Wings’ bowed cello and bass, drums and harmonium absorb and weave while stretching varying dissonances.  A first sonic alignment appears at a little more than two-and-a-half minutes, before meandering many times again with loose guidance (visually, like a flock of migrating swallows as they gather in the autumn, at sundown, seeking a resting place for the night).

 

The most intensive experience on the album is within Neon Mandalas; initially there is a chorus of deeply toned voices (which I think should have extended even longer), and once held in that realm, other elements are introduced with their fleeting movements (percussion, drums, bass and tanpura).  A choir of gently plucked Mbiras (like a gentle steady rain) and bells provides a sonic background for an emergent and focused organ that dissolves into a returning familiar plucked acoustic bass phrase—a sort of arrival.

Crown Canal seems to represent a departure, reflecting on the fullness of the experience.  The cello has a somewhat somber recurrent melody, reminiscent of a recessional or postlude, and has a tonality of resolution within a duo of a harmonium and tanpura.  The ensemble is gently punctuated with percussion and voices.  Despite being the longest piece on the album it has a curious absorptive quality, which compresses a sense of time, while achieving a state of steady entrancement.

The more I have listened to this album, it seems there is a general framework describing Allen’s own experience—the album appears to be a journey in four parts, describing what I interpret as: preparation, journey, arrival and return.  The recording and mastering achieves a profound clarity and realism that I have come to know in Cory Allen’s previous albums, The Great Order and Pearls that feel as if the listener is within the environment where the music is being created.

The Source will be released on June 30th, 2015.

More on Cory Allen’s previous albums that I have reviewed can be found here.

CA Source LP

The vinyl version of The Source–beautiful color!

****

This is a solicited review.


Damián Anache – Capturas del Único Camino

 

Damián Anache Cover

 

CD Time: 57:57, Digital, 300 copies of CD or 150 copies of Deluxe CD #CCL011 & #IR003

Tracks: 1) Paisaje Primero, 2) Paisaje Propio, 3) Paisaje Artificial, 4) Paisaje Natural

Websites: http://damiananache.com.ar/ &

https://damiananache.bandcamp.com/album/capturas-del-unico-camino

Labels: Concepto Cero  & Inkilino Records

 

Think of the hour just before sunrise, in Spring especially, the Sun hasn’t yet peeked above the horizon.  The songs of birds and sounds of other animals slowly rise with the Sun.  Eventually there is a wondrous sonic aura filling the morning, until the Sun is firmly in the sky and the impromptu performance gradually fades.   A similar effect occurs at sunset as the gentle evening-song of birds and other fauna greet the night.  The sound landscape can, at certain locations, grow to be almost deafening, yet there still remains a feeling of ease and relaxation.  Other sounds might enter: wind, rain, trees moving, a distant coyote howling to its pack or even the sounds of a city or shipyard.  Taken as a whole, the soundscape has no apparent patterns or melodies, and it spontaneously exists without apparent forethought or design.  Isolate individual elements with the ear and some patterns may be detectable, whether from a songbird or the rubbing of an insect’s wings.

 

Although Argentine composer Damián Anache’s method of creation for his debut album Capturas del Único Camino is different in its technical execution, the resulting experience is similar to how sound is generated in our environment.  Anache’s works have been performed at events at the Conservatorio Santa Cecilia (Rome), National University of Cordoba (Argentina), Museum of Modern Art in Ecuador (Quito) and the Cultural Center of Spain in Buenos Aires, among others, in addition to his guest musician appearances at several performances of live experimental music, and as a producer of local rock bands in Argentina.  This album is also an outgrowth of the research project Spatial Sound Synthesis in Electroacoustic Music, directed by Oscar Pablo Di Liscia at the National University of Quilmes.

In Capturas, Anache prepared a collection of recordings using acoustic instruments (piano, guitar, glockenspiel, percussion, etc.), voices (the composer’s voice, including falsetto), electronics and field recordings of water (distant and near-field).  He then generated a series of four interconnected soundscapes using a software-based technique to randomly select and place the recorded sounds into an interlocked linear progression (I’m not familiar with the software, so I’m taking this at face-value).  While the recordings are largely abstract, non-representational of place and without identifiable melodic or harmonic structure, they can be quite spatial in their interaction with each of the other recorded elements.  There are also transitions between the four parts where fragments of the subsequent movement appear towards the end of the previous movement coupled with a mild crescendo to generate a disguising sleight-of-hand between the sections.

Damián Anache

In Paisaje Primero, strings are plucked, hammered and bowed lightly, percussion is struck gently and the sounds are untreated and naturally resonant.  This is the softest and most spacious of the four movements, more furtive than calming, and is without a detectable melody or pattern.  Voices appear in Paisaje Primero within about two minutes of the transition to Paisaje Propio.  There are also gentle whispers and hushed vocalizations combined with placid trills and hisses.  At times, the voices have a character of bowed strings, and I could be wrong, but I also detect some sounds of what could be a cello.

Near the close of Paisaje Propio synthetic sounds are combined with the voices and the character of Paisaje Artificial shifts quite dramatically from the acoustic environment of the first two movements.  Paisaje Artificial is more industrial with a static-electric atmosphere, where sounds could be generated by the interaction of conflicting frequencies of radio interference or magnetic waves as one moves through space.  Some sounds are pure sine-wave, and the higher frequencies are crystalline and sometimes piercing; so the listeners’ ears should be somewhat prepared, especially if headphones are in use.  On the cusp of passing from the Paisaje Artificial realm, the electronics seem to be mildly treated for the appearance of water in Paisaje Natural.  Water is presented near and far, as drips, a stream, bubbles, waves and perhaps rain falling from a roof to the ground.  There are short cycles in this piece that last about three or so minutes, like passing rain showers, so there is not only gentle motion in the individual recordings, but also in the overall movement.  Near the mid-point of Paisaje Natural the sounds of birds appear in the distance, and the treatment of the recording shifts from one existing within the recordings to one of observing from a vantage point of some kind of shelter (this may be unintentional, and purely my own interpretation).

Capturas del Único Camino is well-suited to both a pure listening experience or as part of an audio-visual installation.  Despite its apparent minimalist structure and execution, Damián Anache has created a curiously soothing yet complex realm in his debut recording.   Rise early in the morn or linger at dimmity, and let the music be revealed.

Damián Anache CD

****

This is a solicited review.


Karl Culley – Stripling

Stripling cover

Label: Sound of Jura http://www.soundofjura.com/

SOJCD1501  CD Time: About 36 minutes

Websites: http://karlculley.co.uk/

Lyrics: http://karlculleyblog.tumblr.com/

Sounds: https://soundcloud.com/karl-culley

Tracks: 1) Semi-Precious, 2) Come Over To Me, 3) School Of The Heart, 4) Spinneret, 5) The River To The Cave, 6) If We Were Free, 7) Namesake, 8) Mote, 9) Infinity Pool, 10) Whey-Faced Phantoms, 11) A.J., 12) Memory’s Like A Hunting Hawk

Youth, on the verge of adulthood, in search of meaning and perhaps companionship.  Young enough and determined to look forward and hope and old enough to reflect on memories and retain some wisdom from experiences; this I interpret to be the theme of Karl Culley’s latest album Stripling.  This is Culley’s fourth album, and he now lives in Krakow, Poland, where the album was recorded, but still with strong roots remaining in the north of England and Scotland.  His previous albums are: Bundle of Nerves, The Owl and Phosphor.

The songs on Stripling range from hypnotic meditations to something that might cause a gathering of folks (in a pub, perhaps) to spontaneously dance (or at least vigorously toe-tap).  The sonics are relatively intimate and unadorned: It’s Culley, his guitar and his voice, but it’s a deeply resonant recording.  Contrary to some of his finger-style guitar contemporaries like William Tyler, Daniel Bachman or James Blackshaw there are no lengthy rambling instrumentals.  The songs are penetrating and get right to their point with an atmosphere, a memory or story.  While others have made comparisons to the work of John Martyn and Bert Jansch, I’ll add the early acoustic works of Gordon Lightfoot (with echoes of his subtle vocal warbles) and the technical crispness and vigor of John Jorgenson and Tommy Emmanuel.

Judging from the reflective nature of his lyrics, it seems like Culley’s work takes time to gestate, but once a piece is fledged it’s cohesive and thoughtfully formulated.  There are curious ironies and juxtapositions between rhythms and words.  The somewhat brief Come Over To Me seems to be based on heavy subjects, yet the meter, fingerings and melody are lively, but not exactly upbeat.  Mote has lyrics (“Floating like a mote through sun or angels trapped in amber, we fall…”) that reference the abstract yet there is a steady grounded rhythm and melody.  Whereas Semi-Precious, School Of The Heart, Spinneret and Namesake are reflective, even tender meditations, with the rhythmic fingerings of Spinneret reminiscent of some of Nick Drake’s work—and there is a humble elegance in Namesake.

Karl Culley Pic

The mood of a song and lyrics can also be direct and related like the more serious The River To The Cave—not sentimental or wallowing, but observant of circumstances.  Vibrant lyrics and melody align in If We Were Free, with much of the verses being slightly-pitched spoken word observations with the final incantation “3 men are lowered into the ground…” abruptly punctuated with silence before returning one last time to the vigorous refrain (reminds me of Richard Thompson’s work).

Stripling isn’t without musing, delighting in the possibilities of enjoying a figurative or literal swim in the reverie of an Infinity Pool—it also is curiously similar rhythmically to the acoustic version of Layla that Eric Clapton recorded a number of years ago.  There are also moments where advice is presented or experiences recounted as in Whey-Faced Phantoms, which evolves into a cautionary mantra and A.J. recalling the desolation of unexpected endings—in both, the melodies and harmonies echoing the starkness of a mood.

 

The album closes with Memory’s Like a Hunting Hawk, intensively focused with desire.  There is, however, a pensive gentleness in the longing…solemn and hauntingly lyrical all at once.  Also of special note are the pen and ink illustrations that decorate the CD and cover, as if from a notebook of youth: pondering, exploring, even brooding yet freely expressing.  This CD made a long journey to me, and I’m glad it finally made it.

Stripling BackStripling CD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

****

This is a solicited review.


Twigs & Yarn – Still Forms Drift

T&Y wajobu

Eilean Rec 88 CD Time: 40:53

Label: https://eileanrec.bandcamp.com/album/still-forms-drift and http://www.eilean-records.com/

More on Twigs & Yarn: http://www.twigsandyarn.net/

Tracks: Hibernate, Sonora, Channeling, Cave Bears, In the Valley, Lend a Hand, Laelaps, Floes

Lauren McMurray and Stephen Orsak are Twigs & Yarn, and on their previous album (The Language of Flowers, my favorite album of 2012), the duo created it over a great distance (between Japan and Texas).  Their work presses all the right buttons for me: it’s inventive, tender, melodic, and at times unexpected.  T&Y takes me on a new journey every time I listen, yet there’s an inexplicable familiarity that I find comforting.  There is also a curious child-like quality of discovery in the music.

On April 5th, 2015, Twigs & Yarn did a live segment on KOOP Radio in Austin, Texas that was (thankfully) streamed over the internet, and T&Y noted they hope to release another album later in 2015.  I will link to the recording of the program if it is posted by KOOP (EDIT: Here is the link to the entire program: https://www.mixcloud.com/fadetoyellow/episode-164-fade-to-yellow-still-forms-drift/).

Over the course of their new album, Still Forms Drift I wonder if there is an intentional arc of how the pieces were developed.  I detect that the tracks move from more melodic to experimental, and from rhythmic to more atmospheric and subdued, so there is a nice combination of moods and progression on the album.

 

A layered sonorous hum opens and eases the listener into Hibernate; sounds eddy between the channels (headphone or speakers).  The music builds gradually and blends into a delicate yet immersive fabric where voices and distant cloaked sounds are revealed.  Sonora is absolute magic—so romantic, delicately rhythmic, playful and with a hint of some of Raymond Scott’s electronic experiments of the 1950s and 60s.  As it progresses, there is increasing comfort, dissolving enmeshed sound, then melodic humming.  Exploring the layers, with repeated listens is like a treasure hunt, but then just listen again and disappear into it.  It’s like a tender and pleasurable whisper during a dream.

Channeling moves to the outdoors, contemplating with the fauna and environs, then dissolving into a trance of gentle guitar, voices and comforting pulses.  Gradually, the reverie subsides and a gentle reality emerges.  Cave Bears opens a bit like an antique bell-chime clock, steady and somewhat glitchy.  Beats, shifted repeating sounds and guitar harmonics are added and the rhythm slows.  In The Valley is another memory of place, although more ambient and disconnected compared to Channeling.  There is a slight grittiness to it as it progresses, with sounds that are less tangible, as in the edge of a dream.  Lend a Hand is a song with two different parallel veiled spirits; an expression of yearning that moves in and out of focus…one voice moves to the distance, but then returns; as if eavesdropping on a one-sided conversation weaving in and out of gentle waves of guitar and entwined low resonant hums…a slowly rocking boat in the doldrums.

 

Perhaps the most meditative (and curiously metallic) of the pieces is Laelaps.  I speculate that it’s an evening of lying on the ground outdoors with gazes cast to the sky in contemplationIf I have my Greek mythology correct, it was Zeus who cast the dog Laelaps into the stars as Canis Major in pursuit of the Teumessian fox, Canis Minor.  With a largo of synthetic electronic sounds and somewhat compressed voices Floes closes the album with hints of a lullaby reminiscent of a well-worn music box.

There is so much wonderful in this album, and I was instantly smitten.

T&Y 88

****

This is a solicited review.


Steve Hackett – Wolflight

Wolflight Cover

Label: InsideOut Music: Two Clear Vinyl LPs (with CD IOMSECD 417)

Time: About 65 minutes with bonus material (Other formats available)

LP 1: Side 1: Out of Body, Wolflight, Love Song to a Vampire; Side 2: The Wheel’s Turning, Corycian Fire, Earthshine, Loving Sea

LP 2: Side 1: Black Thunder, Dust and Dreams, Heart Song; Side 2: (Extra Tracks) Pneuma, Midnight Sun (with Todmobile), Caress (on LP 2, but not the enclosed CD)

Website: http://www.hackettsongs.com/index.html  Shop: http://hackettsongs.sandbaghq.com/

After a pair of tremendously successful Genesis Revisited tours in Europe, UK, Japan and the US (with many sold out concerts and shows added due to demand), I’m thrilled that Steve Hackett is back again creating new music.  He did the historic material from his Genesis era a worthy justice, clearly an important part of his life (and heck, mine too) and career, and some of that material will always be part of his live shows, but clearly it was time to move on to new things.

I was fortunate to have a chance to hear a preview of Wolflight in Steve Hackett’s studio in the autumn of 2014 and my immediate impression then was that the music is incredibly cinematic—vibrant sound and images in the tales unfolding in the music, whether vocal or instrumental.  The music is drawn from experiences, places visited, dreams, nightmares, ancient history and inspired by love.  I sense that there is still even a bit of delicately blended (and not yet completely written) autobiographical experiences.

Wolflight is an album of contrasts, from broad filmic passages, some briefly anthemic, to moments of delicate beauty.  There is no formula being rehashed from his earlier work, but some elements that are pleasantly familiar are mixed with the inventiveness and varied regional instrumentation that I have come to appreciate in Hackett’s work throughout his oeuvre.  Steve’s primary collaborators continue to be keyboardist Roger King and his wife Jo Hackett, along with live show bandmates and production team: Gary O’Toole, Rob Townsend, Nick Beggs, Amanda Lehmann, Benedict Fenner and others.

Hackett 111314 019aOut of Body is the eerie wolf-howl call and then energetic overture to the album, a brief taste of what’s to come.  Title track, Wolflight opens gently, setting a scene of calm, but the challenges of the tale are expressed in orchestral and sharp-edged guitar solos in contrast with the acoustic twelve-string verses—a powerful title track that has proven to adhere well in my memory, despite the complexity of the piece.  In addition to the contrast of sound there is also the irony of subject—that of pleasure in pain and the attraction of potential danger, which is the exploration of Love Song to a Vampire with Hackett’s hushed verses (almost a lullaby), powerful refrains and soulful peregrinations on his Les Paul guitar.

The Wheel’s Turning revisits some of the sights and sounds of works as far back as the album Please Don’t Touch—carnivals of inspiration and a bit of time-travel (with shades of his Squackett collaboration with Chris Squire in the marvelous song from the album A Life Within a Day, Divided Self).  At first there’s the basic song then orchestral moves to a devilish romp with a brief homage to The Air Conditioned Nightmare (from the album Cured) and then his album Blues With a Feeling before returning to strains of Bach and the memory of that distant carnival.  Creating a strong sense of place, Corycian Fire, after a gentle opening, Hackett uses his highly processed vocals like an instrument to accompany the orchestral, choral and regional instruments in exploring the history of an ancient underworld, which has some similarities to his earlier and less adorned instrumental Steppes (from the album Defector for those who have listened since the early days).  Earthshine and Loving Sea are a respite from the album’s vigorous beginnings (an intermission similar to the days of changing a film reel in a theater).  Earthshine, a classical guitar fantasy merges into the joyful twelve-string and vocal harmonies of Loving Sea, sailing freely.

Wolflight Spinning

Black Thunder rumbles with raw emotion; part history and part social commentary on slavery and civil rights struggles of Martin Luther King with an homage (in the liner notes) to Richie Havens (and his well-known song Freedom) who worked with Hackett on his second solo album.  Dust and Dreams is at first a vamp of languid movements and drifting mirages that adds layers and builds to portray scenes of divergent impressions and ultimately it’s resolved in a returning to the comfort of Heart Song, dedicated to Hackett’s wife and creative partner Jo.

The bonus material on side 4 of the LPs (two solo guitar tracks on either side of a collaboration with the Icelandic band Todmobile) fits quite well with the overall album.  Pneuma (translates as breath, soul and spirit) is a subdued rumination, a calming re-centering of sorts.  Midnight Sun is powerful, melodic and pleasing in its chord structure and rhythms.  Caress gently closes the album (which is on the LP, but not the CD).

Despite the sharp contrasts in the instrumentation and sources of inspiration, Wolflight is a very cohesive album, which upon a few listens will become deeply and solidly embedded in the canon of Hackett’s work.  The Steve Hackett Band will be celebrating his 40 year solo career with a tour in 2015, Acolyte to Wolflight.  I hope to attend a show (but tickets sell quickly!) and I urge readers to get tickets to a show, which will certainly be quite a visual and aural experience, as all of Steve Hackett’s concerts have been since the late 1970s.

Seeing John Edginton’s recent documentary Genesis: Sum of the Partsone might be left with the impression that after Steve Hackett left Genesis in 1977 he went on to do a few minor projects and then disappeared into the ether.  On the contrary, after his highly innovative work with Genesis during the tremendously creative period from 1971 to 1977, Hackett has had a varied and successful solo career of nearly 40 years with as many albums, including some well-known collaborations, songs in international charts (Wolflight is in the UK charts, as I write this), and a faithful legion of fans who are spreading his work to a new generation of listeners.

If anything, Steve Hackett is more vital and relevant than ever with new-found and ever-growing energy that belies the span of his career—continuing to blaze new frontiers in music and live shows.


Current Listening

AWVFTS SW MO RG MG

Yes, I’m guilty.  I haven’t written many reviews of late–no other excuse except that there are many other things going on (not to mention a really rough winter), but here’s some of what I’ve been listening to, and I will also soon be writing a review of a forthcoming album on the Eilean label by Twigs & Yarn (some may recall that their The Language of Flowers on the Flau label was my favorite album of 2012).  I recommend any of these albums.

A Winged Victory for the Sullen – ATOMOS: Kranky 190: I want to really like this album, but I struggle with some sections.  I instantly loved their eponymous first release, but I continue to listen.

Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.: KScope 315: Follow-up to The Raven That Refused To Sing, and I frankly need more time with this album to formulate an opinion.  The recording lacks the clarity and strength of the last (engineered by Alan Parsons), but I’m working through it.

M. Ostermeier – Still: Tench TCH07: Just started listening; minimal, soothing, and it is both in the background and can be for focused listening–a combination of melodic sounds and microtones.  Helpful for calm…need more of that!

Robin Guthrie & Mark Gardener – Universal Road: Soleil Apres Minuit SM1501 CD: Comfortably familiar sound and soothing lyrics–shoegazing for the Sun.

I’ll likely have more to say on these soon, but for now, rest assured that my recommendation will not disappoint.

I’m hoping for Spring, and SOON!


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