White Vinyl LP limited to 260, 30 premium include an ant’lrd split cassette with specialty insert. Time: About 42 minutes
Tracks: Vanishing Procession, More Washed Feeler, Obscured and Waiting, Two Mirrors Looking, Fogged Placer
With respect to music genres, where does ambient end and drone begin? Can music help to offer a refuge, focus the mind or distract it? Fog Mirror flirts with all of these possibilities. I admit to being puzzled at times on why some music needs to be so heavily shrouded with the melodic aspects pushed nearly out of reach, yet unexpected benefits can occur, like vanquishing a worrying thought, eroding it with sound. Admittedly, I don’t always understand the approach, but I appreciate the intent, especially if the quality of the recording is full and not bleached-out into an unpleasant monophonic haze.
Remember the moment in the original Star Trek pilot episode The Cage when Captain Pike and Mr. Spock touched a plant on the forbidden planet Talos IV? The layers of sounds emanating from the alien plants and the remaining ambient atmosphere were revealed…Spock even smiled. Never seen it? Here’s a reminder…
The point is, there is often an overall gestalt to sounds, music and atmospheres, being greater than the sum of their parts, and there is mystery and intrigue in imagining how those sounds were created if those parts were to be disassembled. The layering creates unexpected harmonies and overtones, and even unrelated memories of events can be activated.
Braeyden Jae’s latest album Fog Mirror (Braden McKenna’s nom de plume) clears the mind yet it can steer its focus in rather curious ways. Each piece has a perceptible aggregate tone (whether major or minor, deliberate or unintentional), and some tracks stay relatively stable, almost devoid of a perceptible melody, whereas others meander and ruggedly thrash beneath the haze. McKenna carefully disguises the sources of his sound generation, which I’m guessing are varying degrees of fuzz applied to an electric bass, piano (literal in Obscured and Waiting, but veiled elsewhere), along with various effects, treatments, noise and perhaps some field recordings. The illusion of water and wind, which appear to be created synthetically, are prominent throughout, offering the effect of cleansing, even if it suddenly appears as a deluge. Another quality of the recordings is the “Did I just hear that…?” aspect of the layering, like walking in the dark and seeing something move nearby or the flash of something moving beneath the surface of a body of water.
Vanishing Procession is like sitting behind a gentle waterfall with occasional peeks through the cascading water to a scene beyond, or sitting on an open porch with rain falling as time passes slowly by. There are some similarities the works of Nicholas Szczepanik, but McKenna’s variations in the layering of the sounds are more subtle. In contrast, More Washed Feeler is practically a deluge with a undercurrent of recirculating ascending and descending notes, a sonic mantra of sorts. Seven minutes into the piece, the torrent is forced open slightly to reveal a swirling undertow.
A steelier resonance is present in Obscured and Waiting, with a slow pulsing piano. This is the most identifiable, melodic and peaceful track on the album with a wooly-fuzz bass occasionally piercing the quietude off in the distance, sounding like shortwave radio sawtooth-wave interference. The piano evolves into sounding like far-off carillon bells. This is a rough-edged version of portions of Budd and Eno’s The Plateaux of Mirror.
There’s a veiled rhythmic gait working against a counterpoint of concealed peeling bells in Two Mirrors Looking. It’s more industrial-sounding with an undercurrent of an old shipyard recorded just below the surface of the water with a sudden harmonic shift at about 6-1/2 minutes as perhaps a ship’s screw passes by on its journey out to sea. The last and longest track on the album, Fogged Placer, I actually perceived as being the shortest—a rather odd time-shifting experience. This track allowed a memory of mine to return, back to the days when I commuted periodically to the Adirondack region of New York as a passenger in a twin-engine Piper aircraft—sitting in the back listening to the two engines shift the timing of their revolutions slightly, generating hypnotic vibrations and harmonics that were transmitted into the plane’s fuselage. At certain moments, it also sounds like watching a blanketed symphony performance, with my ears isolating the cellos and double-basses.
Finding a semblance of peace in absolute silence these days can be rather difficult (especially when unwanted tinnitus randomly appears), and an album like this can help achieve a frame of mind that allows an imaginary escape to evocative places and memories.
An aside, I wonder if Braden McKenna has ever heard the opening side of the 3 LP set of Consequences, by Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, produced in 1977? I could hear some similar background atmospheres, although the resulting piece is quite different.
2014 has been a year when I’ve been relatively quiet on reviews, but I have been listening to many things, and I was very fortunate to attend some fabulous concerts that I’ve documented here with brief write-ups and photos (no photos of King Crimson!). I’ve also been focused on other things, including making noise with some guitars. As in the past, my listening is concentrated on what’s available to me, which is relatively narrow in scope, but I do listen to a pretty wide array of music.
This is my list of 14 favorites for 2014 (in no particular order) and then a few special categories. Each title on the list links to the artist or record label website. Happy Listening and I hope you all have a nice Holiday season, no matter what you celebrate. Thank you for reading in 2014!
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Nick Magnus – n’monix
Tony Patterson & Brendan Eyre – Northwinds
Should – The Great Pretend
Gareth Dickson – Invisible String (a compilation of recent live recordings)
Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2CD/DVD (a fabulous live album & DVD with excellent sound quality!)
Stephen Vitiello + Taylor Deupree – Captiva (double 10” LP)
Medeski Scofield Martin Wood – Juice
Ben Watt – Hendra
Beck – Morning Phase
Levin Brothers – Levin Brothers (It’s only taken decades, but the Levin brothers got together and made a really marvelous jazz album)
Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread
Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd – White Bird in a Blizzard
Anthony Phillips – Harvest of the Heart (Anthology Boxed Set): Unlike the recent R-kive Genesis box set, Cherry Red knows how to put together a proper anthology, complete with many tracks of never-before heard music from AP’s archives.
Jason Molina – Songs: Ohia – Journey On (7” 45 RPM Compilation Box Set, a really beautiful set, probably rarer than hen’s teeth by now.)
King Crimson – The Elements (Tour Box, archive, live and some new material as a companion to the 2014 US Tour)
East River Pipe – The Gasoline Age (vinyl reissue, my introduction to the brilliant songs of F. M. Cornog when it was first released on CD in the early 1990s)
Lambchop – Live at XX Merge (I’m so happy that Merge Records decided to release this in honor of their 25th Anniversary. Looks like the LP is out of print for the moment.)
William Tyler – Lost Colony
Olan Mill – Half Seas Over (Live performances 2012-2014)…too short for an album, too long for an EP, but what the heck!
An Accidental Concert Photo
CD: Darla DRL289 2014 Time: About 39 minutes
CD available at this link to Darla (To be released on September 9, 2014)
Tracks: Jane 12 through Jane 21 with track Jane 16 subtitled (For Pale Saints)
I took some time off from writing reviews; primarily to just take some time off, but also I have been awaiting preorders for a number of releases as well as getting more serious about making some music instead of just listening. It’s a hard road training old fingers to do new things, but it’s about the journey for me, not just the destination.
What a treat it is to return to a new album by Harold Budd (and I understand that another collaboration with Robin Guthrie has been recorded and will be released in early 2015, the title will be Another Flower). Jane 12-21 is another fine example of Harold Budd sitting at a piano (or other instrument) and just playing without rehearsal or embellishment, one take without revisiting and then moving on. There are some apparent treatments and minimal overdubs. It’s difficult for me to tell if the percussion is actual or keyboard-based sampling, but it does sound like actual percussion most of the time.
This album is simpler and less adventurous compared to Jane 1-11, and that’s not a criticism at all, just an observation. The cover design is also rather stark by comparison, with one panel by artist Jane Maru and minimal information about the tracks, recording and times, adding a bit to the somewhat mysterious nature of the album. Jane 1-11 was created in response to videos created by artist Jane Maru (which were later released as a companion CD/DVD: Budd Maru Collaboration ) so without the benefit of input from Harold Budd (so far), I wonder if Jane 12-21 was created as a response to further videos by Maru (see video for Jane 8 below).
The album contrasts between recordings that are intimate and those which are spatially broad, more distant (whether the distance and reverberation were achieved with actual spaces or electronically, I don’t know). To briefly describe each of the tracks on the album: Jane 12 is a stark and up-close, yet resonant piano with brief references to Debussy’s Clair de Lune. Jane 13 also uses a piano with light melodic percussion. After the first two tracks Budd moves to more experimental territory and Jane 14 consists of melodic percussion (bells, glasses) with reverb and has a very calming effect. Distance, like a dream on the edge of consciousness is how Jane 15 sounds, with hushed piano and a spatial reverb. Whether intentional or not, I do find some of the pieces referring back to other previous Jane 1-11 pieces. Jane 16 does this for me—reminds me of Jane 8. It’s placid keyboard chords with gentle piano accompaniment and minimal apparent treatments. The piano is responding to the chord movement of the keyboard.
Air moving through pipes is how Jane 17 starts, it’s a strong sound with treated piano and minimal percussion, and a pronounced flow and movement. Jane 18 bends and twists with a somewhat downcast sonorous keyboard. The melodic references to the first Jane series return with Jane 19, again keyboard and resonant chimes. It sounds a bit more reflective to me with shades of Budd’s earlier work.
Jane 20 has a breathy keyboard melody, somewhere between wind chimes and woodwinds along with a gamelan (at times sounding like vibraphone) and deep percussive overtones. This track more than any other in the series evokes a scene from a film with a vast landscape of mystery. Budd closes this collection with Jane 21, a modest and delicately resonant cross between piano and celeste and themes appearing in various other Jane tracks, making it part of the larger cohesive whole.
Harold Budd’s work takes me to a place where I like to be, and return there as often as I can. I think you’ll want to add this album to your collection.
I think I’m ready for Spring, but since that’s expecting too much at this point I’ll just stick to what’s spinning here lately…
Tompkins Square Records – Imaginational Anthem Volumes 1 to 5 (boxed with William Tyler’s Elvis Was A Capricorn, live performances) and Volume 6 (Tompkins Square TSQ 2790 and 2851): I purchased this on intrigue after a few other TSQ label purchases and upon learning that Hallock Hill’s Tom Lecky had a piece on Volume 5. It’s a wide-ranging collection of mostly acoustic guitar (American Primitive “fingerstyle”) works by some musicians well known (Max Ochs, John Fahey, James Blackshaw, Jack Rose, William Tyler, Daniel Bachman and Robbie Basho) and others more obscure. The WT live CD is a bonus in the box, which is not sold separately—his wizardry is hypnotic. Volume 6 has 14 historic recordings transferred from 78s. It’s a really fascinating collection.
Robert Rich – Morphology (Anodize AD 1304): After really enjoying Rich’s last CD Nest, I thought I’d try this 2010 live recording (released in 2013). At some sections it’s more rhythmic than Nest, but this again takes me back to the Modular Moog days of Tangerine Dream’s double live album Encore. Turn down the lights, turn up the volume and take a ride.
Lambchop – Nixon (MRG175): This is a reissue of the 2000 release to help celebrate Merge Records’ 25th anniversary. I opted for the CD, which includes a second CD White Session 1998 “How I Met Cat Power” recorded in 1998 (Lambchop “represented” by Kurt Wagner on vocals, tape loops and guitar recorded for Radio France). Gone is the jewel box of the original and everything is contained in a double gate-fold sleeve with enhanced artwork. This album was my introduction to Lambchop and the 5 track bonus CD (with 4 tracks from Nixon and The Saturday Option) is like having a private concert by Kurt in your living room.
The 78 Project – Volume 1 (http://The78Project.com – 78P-001): Somewhat like the Black Cab Sessions, this is the first of what looks like many forthcoming albums, most of the songs are traditional, recorded in one take on one blank lacquer disc on a 1930s vintage Presto direct-to-disc recorder working at 78 RPMs in full ruby-cut monaural with ambient noise and all. Artists on this first volume include Richard Thompson, Loudon Wainwright III, Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal, Marshall Crenshaw and 9 others. The LP is mastered for 33-1/3 RPM. Old school and a fascinating concept.
Porya Hatami – Shallow (Tench TCH 06): Recorded in Sanandaj Iran, Hatami’s latest album is a gorgeous instrumental work with three extended pieces (Fen, After The Rain and White Forest) of field recordings, loops and minimal instrumentation that are hypnotic, peaceful and produce a strong sense of place, and an escape.
The Autumn Defense – Fifth (Yep Roc YEP-2354): The core of the band is still Wilco’s Patrick Sansone and John Stirratt and this album for the most part picks up where their last album Once Around left off—well crafted songs with a relaxed but catchy vibe (some feel like they’re from the 60s and some could be from the 70s–make me think of Graham Gouldman’s work.)
Hiss Golden Messenger – Poor Moon and Bad Debt (Tompkins Square 2660 and Paradise of Bachelors PoB-11): I got to HGM by poking around in TSQ’s back catalog and that led me to these two albums by the core of M. C. Taylor and Scott Hirsch (the latter being a reissue of Taylor penned and recorded songs which were a reaction to the 2008 financial crisis). Stark at times, but I was immediately drawn into the genuine nature of the lyrics and roots-like instrumentation and arrangements. Real solid albums and I’m looking forward to their 2013 album Haw when it arrives.
Steven R. Smith – Tableland (Emperor Jones EJ35CD website: http://www.worstward.com/): Smith has a number of musical personas and in addition to music he is an instrument builder and print maker. I’m most familiar with one of his aliases, Hala Strana (that work is more eastern European and traditionally-rooted). Tableland is a (sadly, this 2001 CD is out of print, but download is available here: http://worstward.bandcamp.com/album/tableland) haunting and somewhat moody collection of largely electric guitar-based soundscapes that could easily be a soundtrack for a roadtrip to a long forgotten territory.
Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread (Blue Note Records B00195t202): Some musicians and artists with well-known predecessors often have periods of distancing themselves from those strong roots, breaking away to establish themselves. Rosanne Cash (whose dad was Johnny Cash) and John Leventhal have produced a beautiful album of songs tracing RC’s memories and influences that have gradually resolved with time and understanding of the struggles of humble beginnings and the trials of fame. The song Night School is stunning. Get the CD version with the bonus tracks.
Ben Lukas Boysen – Gravity (Ad Noiseam ADN168CD): The striking cover illustration drew me into the wake of this album and Boysen’s placid rhythms and harmonious aura suspended time.
Harold Budd – Avalon Sutra (Darla DRL 285): This is a completely remastered (by sound engineer Bradford Ellis, who has worked with Budd for 30 years) reissue of the Samadhisound double CD that was first released in 2004 (often referred to as Harold Budd’s last album before he retired from composing and recording—lucky for us it was a false alarm!). This double CD has new artwork and photographs, and the recordings have greater depth and clarity.
Harold Budd & Jane Maru – Jane 1-11 (Darla DRL 287): This is a two disc CD and DVD video release. The CD is the same as DRL281, and the second disc includes video companions (by artist Jane Maru) to each of the tracks on the album. Some of the videos are a very light touch with minimal effects and others explore colors, depth of field, transformation and the passage of time. I wrote last year about this very special Harold Budd album. Jane Maru did the cover artwork for this and the original CD release—she also does some really wonderful batiks.
And let’s not forget a favorite of mine – Kraftwerk!
I’m ready for the Spring Thaw! Happy listening.
…A Not-So Comprehensive List
2013 has been a quirky year; for a time I found that inspiration had vanished and I wasn’t interested in listening to music or writing about it at all (a rare occurrence). I’m guilty of having purchased less music this year (an economic curtailment of necessity). Nonetheless, there has been some great music in 2013 (and my slice is a tiny piece of what’s out there). This year I read some music-related memoirs by artists whose work I’ve admired for decades (Burt Bacharach, Neil Young, Michael Feinstein–of his time spent with Ira Gershwin and other books), some histories of Jazz Standards, Blues, Rock and Roll, and records labels (including one of my favorite indie labels, Merge Records). I was also fortunate to attend a number of live shows, and I’ve posted photos of some of those throughout the year.
Is it me or have record labels and artists reduced their output somewhat? Is it a lull in a normal cycle or a sign of the economic times?
Some of the music on this list will be familiar if you have checked-in to read my reviews and some I have not reviewed. I also have some albums I’m still listening to and I haven’t decided if I’ll write reviews for them (an archival release by The Books, La Luz’s first LP, Mary Lattimore and others). One album in particular that I’ve enjoyed recently (although it was NOT released this year) is a live archive solo recording of Neil Young at the Canterbury House in 1968 entitled Sugar Mountain—the album is mostly material that Young wrote or co-wrote with Buffalo-Springfield, and it was recorded right after Buffalo-Springfield broke-up.
A double live CD has also just arrived of one of the last (very lively hot Jazz) gigs played by the house band at Eddie Condon’s in New York City before it closed in 1985—One Night at Eddie Condon’s (Red “The Commodore” Balaban’s Condon Band), with Ed Polcer, Dr Palu Squire, Jack Maheu, Tom Artin, Bobby Pratt, Dave Shapiro and Danny D’Imperio, recorded by Doug Pomeroy)–thanks to Tom Artin for sending this great piece of Jazz history!
The Lucky 13 (all albums purchased–not promos)
Yellowbirds – Songs From The Vanished Frontier – Royal Potato Family: This is my favorite album of the year—just love it–the vibe, the sounds. Please see my June review.
Harold Budd – Jane 1-11 – Darla: The music with companion videos release won’t be available until early 2014, but another beautiful album from HB. I reviewed this album in June, as well.
John Scofield – Überjam Deux – Emarcy: I reviewed this album in August—an excellent follow-up to the original Überjam, and a great vibe with Jazz, Blues and more!
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live At Hammersmith (CD/DVD) – InsideOut: As I noted in my review of last year’s studio release of Genesis Revisited II, I feel like Steve Hackett is the keeper of the spirit of the work of Genesis during the 1971 to 1977 era. So many of the earlier recordings (weak on the engineering and mix, except The Lamb) were greatly improved and enhanced, and this comprehensive 3 CD and 2 DVD set documents the fabulous and memorable Hammersmith show in May of 2013 before the band traveled to the US for their fall tour. The SH Band will tour further in support of this in the southeastern US and Europe and Russia is 2014 (bassist Lee Pomeroy will be replaced by Nick Beggs, a familiar face to Hackett Band fans…I really enjoyed Lee on this tour, he really brought out just how musical Mike Rutherford’s bass lines are in these earlier Genesis classics).
Wire – Change Becomes Us – Pink Flag: I was a big fan of Wire in the late 1970s and then I just plain lost touch with their work. The Words On Music label has a compilation of reinterpretations of their well-known single Outdoor Miner from their 1978 Chairs Missing album, and then I noticed a post earlier in the year by Marc Ostermeier (of the band Should ,and WOM and Tench labels) that a new album was forthcoming.
Juliette Commagere – Human – Aeronaut: 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.
Roger Eno – Ted Sheldrake – Backwater: Thirty Years after his first work Apollo with brother Brian and guitarist Dan Lanois, Roger Eno compiled this tribute to friend and neighbor, Ted Sheldrake. Although I reviewed this album in November of 2012, it wasn’t officially released until January of this year.
Cock & Swan – Secret Angles – HushHush: I am eagerly awaiting my blue vinyl (Kickstarter-funded) copy of this digital release that I reviewed in August.
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – The Jazz Age – BMG: Back in March I did a brief comparative analysis of this album and Steven Wilson’s latest (see below). I think this is a really spirited and fun reinterpretation of earlier works by Roxy Music and BF. Being a lover of old acoustically recorded 78s of the pre-Jazz and Jazz ages, I get this.
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (and Other Stories) – kscope: A strong album (I think it’s Steve’s best to date), beautifully recorded and engineered by Alan Parsons. My favorite song is Drive Home.
William Tyler – Impossible Truth – Merge: A brilliant solo guitar album by Lambchop and Hands Off Cuba alum, and a great follow-up to his previous Tompkins Square release Behold The Spirit. I reviewed this album in March.
Celer – Viewpoint – Murmur: As I noted when I reviewed this album in April, I find this album absorbing and romantic—a great piece for getting lost.
Ron Sexsmith – Forever Endeavour – Cooking Vinyl: I love Ron’s work–started listening in 1997 with his third album Other Songs. Forever Endeavour is sparsely arranged, but strings, horn, percussion, pedal steel or electric bass are right there when they’re needed. Other than that, the songs are Ron’s voice, and his acoustic guitar. He has a gift for wordplay and expressing emotions with a deft efficiency that flow so naturally with his melodies. Some songs on Forever Endeavour are ironically upbeat, like Nowhere Is and Snake Road—in a sense, keeping the faith. The CD has two bonus tracks (songs written with Don Black and recorded by Don Kerr), Life After A Broken Heart and Autumn Light, and they are just plain gorgeous additions to this album. Here’s a live recording of Autumn Light.
Two of my favorite new discoveries in 2013
Meridian Brothers – Desesperanza – Soundway: I heard about Meridian Brothers in an NPR Alt Latino podcast and was instantly hooked by this band from Bogata, Colombia–buying as much of their back catalog as I could find in physical releases. Their music is surreal and playful—a combination of Joe Meek, Esquivel and Raymond Scott.
La Luz – Brainwash (7″) – Suicide Squeeze: This is a single (my version is on clear vinyl) that was released by La Luz just prior to their new album It’s Alive—It’s infectious and fun! I got to La Luz thanks to Johnny Goss (one half of Cock & Swan).
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.
**THIS POST HAS NOW BEEN SUPERSEDED BY MY REVIEW OF THIS ALBUM**
I won’t say much about this…yet. The new Harold Budd album is exceptional and different—unexpectedly so. It has a wide variety of instrumentation and broad frequency range. It moves from stark to lush and has moments of indescribable beauty (like Jane 8). Up until recently there was a video up on YouTube by Jane Maru, but now it appears to be gone**. So, for now, Budd’s record label Darla is streaming the album in its entirety (for how long, I don’t know). Go ahead, just buy it.
**Video now found!
I am thankful that Mr. Budd is still making music.
Serein SERE003 – Time: About 38 minutes (CD & Digital Files)
Mastered by: Donal Whelan at Hafod
Tracks: 1) To Speak Of Solitude; 2) Such Owls As You; 3) In The Androgynous Dark; 4) Salt Photographs; 5) Pink And Golden Billows; 6) Arête; 7) Deep Corridor; 8) Unsayable
I am a relatively new listener to works on the Serein label, which was founded in 2005, originally with works available as free digital downloads. In 2009, Serein switched to “carefully considered commercial” releases. Serein is a name taken from the natural world, being a fine rain that falls from a clear sky after sunset (a phenomenon more common in the tropics, but I can’t say that it doesn’t occur in ancient, pastoral and industrialized Wales, where Serein is located). I first became acquainted with Serein after looking for back catalogue work by Olan Mill, and there I found their beautiful album Pine. So, another record label on which to get hooked!
Brambles is the alias of Mark Dawson, a musician born in the UK, a resident of Australia, and from what I have read, he is traveling throughout Europe (and currently in Berlin, according to his Twitter-feed @brambles, for those who adventure into the Twittersphere). Charcoal, his debut release, was largely recorded (piano, strings, woodwinds and field recordings) while in residence at The Painted Palace, a low-environmental-footprint communal house of artists and thinkers in Melbourne, Australia.
For me, Charcoal is an album of observation and contemplation at opposite ends of a given day. Beginning at the end—at dimmity*, the settling-in to night then shifting to first-light and awakening. The moods range from brooding (though not gloomy) to amorous (a deep feeling of warmth and comfort). There are times when the album verges on haunting, as in the dark visceral (and unexpected) tones of Deep Corridor.
Charcoal opens with the resting heartbeat of plucked strings and piano of To Speak of Solitude; to me it’s as if observing the setting sun, viewing the horizon and skies in contemplation. The pace slows further with similar instrumentation and gentle woodwinds, to a meditative state in Such Owls As You; the silence of a late candle-lit night. There is a slow Jazz vibe to In The Androgynous Dark, which has a feeling of reflection, of what might have been. It’s a quiet and mournful trio of drums, piano and woodwinds (with some electronic atmospherics).
The album gently stirs with Salt Photographs, as time passes with sounds of exploration. Soft pulses of keyboard (electric piano?) and nylon guitar narrate, and bowed strings entwine the rhythmic foundation and probe to awaken memories before fading away. Pink And Golden Billows is a light-hearted, plucky, meandering awakening to dawn. By contrast, Arête opens with a stark yet expansive scene, punctuated by a lone cello, like a knife edge of rock (the arête) cutting the view. A somber piano responds, the balance. It could be a scene of surveying a mountain ridge, and then making the decision to traverse it, represented by the quickening rhythm, as if hiking across to a destination.
The most mysterious and atmospheric of the tracks on the album is Deep Corridor. It is as if spelunking an uncharted cave with a dim head-lamp, with sounds (and some of earthly-low frequency) all around from unknown sources. I’ll date myself and note that there are times when it sounds like Tangerine Dream’s Desert Dream from their 1977 live album Encore. Charcoal closes with the whispering lament Unsayable, on what sounds like an old saloon upright or pin piano; reminiscent of some recent works by Harold Budd or Nils Frahm.
Once again, the best discoveries in music for me are the result of lateral associations with other artists or their record labels. I am happy to have discovered the Serein label and Brambles. While Charcoal is seemingly a personal work, so fortunate we are to have a window into Mark Dawson’s journey. His debut work is peaceful, timeless and transcendent.
*- Dimmity or dimmit-light (twilight), an old West Country (Devon, UK) term used by Henry Williamson, to open the original text version of his book Tarka The Otter, published in 1927.
This is a solicited review.
Optic Echo – oe010 LP limited to 250 LP copies
Marcus Fischer: http://www.mapmap.ch/index.php/recordings/tessellations/
Record Label Website: http://www.opticecho.com/OE/News.html
LP Time: about 43 minutes. Digital Time*: about 49 minutes with Track 8*.
Credits: Mastered by Taylor Deupree at 12k. Cut by Rashad at Dubplates & Mastering. Cover Design: Marcus Fischer
Tracks: 1) belong; 2) cold spring; 3) bokeh; 4) fourier; 5) unfold; 6) ghost lights; 7) tessellate (tessellation); 8) music for caverns*
Improvisation is about taking risks, experimenting and responding to the immediate results. It is the outcome of the instantaneous transition from thought to motion, and then to sound. It sometimes takes practice, and it requires chemistry between the artists; the kind of vibe evident between Marcus Fischer and Ted Laderas (aka The-OO-Ray). Music can yield a far timelier reward compared to other slower [art] forms, like in architecture or science, where the results of research and collaboration can often take years to behold.
This has been a busy year for Marcus Fischer with at least five published recordings, touring, and new projects in the works. I’ve certainly enjoyed all of them, solo and collaborative. It is thanks to Fischer’s work that I have become familiar with Ted Laderas (The OO-Ray: self-professed on his Twitter bio “Half Scientist, Half Cellist, All Shoegazer”) and his electro-acoustic chamber-drones.
Tessellations is the result of a series of long-form improvisations between the Fischer and Laderas. It was commissioned by the Optic Echo label in 2011. The instrumentation is largely stringed (acoustic and electric guitars, cello, lap harp) with percussion, loops, processing and minimal synthesizers. The album has a dynamic richness with a combination of soothing observation and introspection. I also appreciate that this is an album of largely non-electronic instrumentation, not necessarily a rejection of sequenced analog or digital electronics, but a return to earlier tangible instrumental roots, and a sense of the ageless. It kind of takes me back to some of Kraftwerk’s oft-forgotten earlier works from Kraftwerk 1 and 2, and Ralf and Florian; like the guitar portions of Tongebirge (Mountain of Sound) from 1973.
The album opens with belong, rising like the sun on a dewy morn; crisp and hopeful with a gentleness that avoids any sense of melancholy. Stark and mysterious is the ambience of cold spring with OO-Ray’s cello seeking the edges, and hints of Harold Budd’s Boy About 10 from the album By The Dawn’s Early Light. The largo metronomic of the bass line maintains the focus of bokeh as cello, keyboards and other instrumentation blurs the musical depth of field.
The shifting of sounds, interlocking, matching and then contrasting (much like a moiré pattern) is the sense presented in fourier, which is perhaps the most densely packed and expansive of the tracks. By contrast, unfold is perhaps the most peaceful track on the album, a private [waterside] contemplation with gently flowing cello, meandering lap harp layered and a soft droning veil. Then, the mystical and shimmering reverb of ghost lights emerges, and is reminiscent of the recent Unrecognizable Now album (Fischer’s collaboration with Matt Jones, KESH018) Two Rooms, with shifting chords and bowed strings (and has some of the sound I noted earlier in Tongebirge).
tessellate is the longest (about 10 minutes) and most subtle of the tracks on the album (titled tessellation on the download). It has the most nuanced transitions, with Fischer and Laderas trading themes and responses, and weaving phrases back into the fabric of the piece. It brings the LP to a placid close. *music for caverns is the bonus track with the digital download, and is a warm postlude to the day that started with belong, and in some respects is similar to the closing tracks of Eno, Lanois & Eno’s album, Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks—one of my favorite of Eno’s collaborative works.
Marcus Fischer + The OO-Ray have deftly assembled in their collaborative improvisational work both a cohesive sonic realism, and impressionistic vision with a timeless authenticity.
Marcus Fischer + The OO-Ray – Photo by Seth Chrisman