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.
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.
The 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.
Twice Removed TR051 CD-R Time: 29:21
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.
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.
Cherry Red Records – Esoteric Antenna EANTCD 1053 – CD Time: 48:59
Available at: http://shop.cherryred.co.uk/shopexd.asp?id=5158
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The vinyl version of The Source–beautiful color!
This is a solicited review.
CD: 68bpm 001 Time: 41:26
Website: http://drummassage.com/ (Purchase option links at website will be “live” as of 4/28/15)
Tracks: Chimes (Intro), 68BPM, Interlude, Rolls, Heartbeat I, Chimes Coda, Heartbeat II
Performed by Phil Didlake, Leah Gramsjohnson, Isabella Iatarola, Tessa Kaslewicz, Ben Meyers, Clara Natonabah and Steve Wilkes, with support from the Berklee College of Music. Field recordings from the Hear Cape Cod project
Something a bit different from our standard music review…what is known as “functional music.”
Whether by means of self-hypnosis, meditation (such as TM) or other approaches, there is a point where the body and mind can achieve a surprising state of awareness in the midst of a deep calm. Along with others, Dr. Herbert Benson used the term The Relaxation Response to describe a multi-step process for achieving this state. One method to assist with relaxation is by using various forms of music. I can attest anecdotally to the healing and calming powers of certain forms of music.
The Drummassage album is an outgrowth of a project started by Steve Wilkes (a faculty member at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts). Some may recall that Steve Wilkes and Ginny Fordham brought us their Hear Cape Cod project in 2013, a set of field recordings accompanied with remixes by many well-known ambient and experimental musicians as well as a companion album of songs inspired by Cape Cod (another in that series will be released later in 2015).
Drummassage started as an informal gathering and exploration of the possible healing and calming power of drums and drumming at Wilkes’s Berklee studio (an aside: Berklee offers various degrees and concentrations in music therapy). As work advanced on the project and became better known, performances were held at venues around the Berklee community for larger groups with participants placed within drum circles along with the percussionists. Native American drums made with indigenous woods of various types in Wilkes’s collection are used in these recordings. Instrumentation is all-acoustic, and the performances include quiet repetitive and low frequency rhythms with occasional counterpoint from other ambient percussion.
This first recording is in stereo (two channel) with the ultimate goal to produce additional recordings using surround-sound 5.1 mixes to more accurately replicate the experience of participating in the actual performances and therapy sessions. The stereo version is quite effective and Wilkes recommends using either a high quality audio system or headphones to obtain the best sonic results.
Since I have experience with inducing the relaxation response from having practiced self-hypnosis for many years (although not nearly as often as I should!), I can confirm that this stereo recording is quite effective. Often, I found the greatest relaxation being achieved (surprisingly) during the more active rhythm sections. Frequently, I lost a sense of time and either drifted to a deeper meditative state, off to sleep (which is permitted!) or found myself relating visual memories to the sounds during to the interludes (which have field recording excerpts).
The CD has a brief spoken-word introduction mixed with resonant wind chimes. There are three sections (68BPM, Heartbeat I and Heartbeat II) of extended slow muted trance-inducing rhythmic drumming (these will be especially effective if the listener’s sound system also includes a sub-woofer). Interlude is a brief rain shower with thunder, followed by Rolls, a series of building thundering washes (reminiscent of a passing storm). Outdoor sounds (chirping evening insects) return just before Heartbeat I begins.
Heartbeat I builds slowly, first a simple three beats and rest, then a layer of triplets is added to create a pulsing that is later supplemented with what sounds like rain-sticks before diminishing to the straight beat. The last interlude, Chimes Coda passes through with a gentle mix of environmental recordings. The final session, Heartbeat II, reintroduces the foundational three beat and rest pattern, which transforms again into a series of three triplets and a diddle (percussion rudiment term, two struck notes in succession instead of three). Periodically shaken percussion is added. For those who haven’t intentionally tried to induce a relaxation response before, it’s quite an unexpectedly pleasurable and invigorating experience (and can be habit-forming too). It can also improve one’s sense of awareness following a session.
There will be a CD release event and performance at 7PM on April 28, 2015 at The Red Room @ 939, in Boston, Massachusetts located at 939 Boylston Street.
This is a solicited review.
Eilean Rec 88 CD Time: 40:53
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 contemplation. If 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.
This is a solicited review.
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)
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.
Out 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.
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 Parts, one 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.
Tench – TCH-07 CD: About 35 Minutes
Label and Information: http://www.tenchrec.com/TCH07.html
Tracks: Stasis, Division, Hang, Counterpoise, New Lights, Congruence, Inertia, Parity
I read something recently by a musician whose work I admire about disconnecting from modern life, even for a short while, and in the time away a sense of one’s true self may return, even briefly. During that time, relationships with others might even improve. The mystic writer of the Victorian era, Richard Jefferies also wrote of this in some of his essays in the latter part of the 19th century. The pace of what I call life’s ‘carousel’ is sometimes so dizzying, and at those moments, no matter what beckons it’s often time to get away and seek a refuge. Personally, my quickest solution is to go for a walk in the woods, or even local streets away from the din in the mind or work at the desk.
M. Ostermeier’s new CD Still offers a cleansing respite with both passive and active listening. It took a few tries (first while doing other things and then sitting and focusing on the music) to condition myself, but by the time of the third audition, I was tuned-in. Most of the pieces have a piano-dominant center, the primary melody or phrases, and there are sonic backdrops delicately stitched in which complement a given theme. The melodic arrangement is often more akin to Far Eastern rather than Western musical structure, but it isn’t always the case. There is no ominous darkness here, only soft and gentle light. In fact, Stasis opens the album as if the Sun is rising and shadows can be observed to course slowly across the camera obscura of the imagination.
From what I recall of M. Ostermeier’s splendid last album, The Rules of Another Small World, this work seems more focused on acoustic instrumentation with electronics and sampled sounds taking a more secondary role. The album is largely a preservation of the quietude, but there are moments as in Counterpoise, the only marginally forceful piece on the album, where after attention is grabbed it turns into an almost gentle pattering massage, which is eased with a slightly distant piano and other microtones. The fabric of Congruence is gently percussive, reminiscent of dampened marimbas. The CD closes at its most broadly sonorous and harmonic in Parity, with only a hint of foreboding, yet thankfully, no sudden dose of reality.
As is often the case with meditation or self-hypnosis, one loses a sense of time, after entering into a state of deep relaxation. What the clock tells us is a half an hour feels as if it’s only moments, not easily parted from, but wanting to return–like a dream one doesn’t want to end. It’s often difficult to find time to escape to a quiet forest, lake or one’s favorite place for truly as long as is needed, so in lieu of that disappear into some contemplation and take time to think, reflect and be Still.
Future Spin Productions CD – Time: 38:26 – Release Date: March 31, 2015
Available at: http://www.chrisjamisonmusic.com/
Tracks: 1) Always, 2) Blue Melody, 3) Juniper Blues, 4) What About Tomorrow, 5) Pedernal, 6) The Mockingbird Song, 7) Waves Of The Wind, 8) Roadside Bar, 9) Old 81
When first meeting some folks, it often takes time to get to know them. It might take months or even years until an acquaintance becomes a friend. For reasons that can’t often be explained, sometimes with a certain person or people, there’s a sense of ease or a bond and it just seems right from the start, and that’s how Chris Jamison’s forthcoming album Lovecraft feels and sounds to me.
Formerly of Texas, Jamison now lives with his young family in Arizona and he has self-produced four previous albums, and contrary to my normal listening preparations, I didn’t listen to any of his previous work, initially. There is a grounded familiarity in Lovecraft, like being at a favorite place or in a well-worn cherished piece of clothing, and even if a song’s subject is somewhat melancholy there’s a comfort in it that brings some hope for better things ahead. The album is tastefully humble and original in many ways, yet with a lilt of roots, blues and country, and it does kick-up some dirt too. Most of the songs are quickly memorable, but the substance is far more than just catchy hooks.
As much as I try to resist comparisons, it’s clear that there’s an homage to some musicians reaching back into the 1970s (instrumentation, vocals and studio vibe) like Jackson Browne of the Running on Empty era and earlier as well as the timing and presence of vocals in earlier works of Van Morrison. It’s also clear that Jamison not only cares about the songs and instrumentation, but how the recording sounds, and he sought Sam Kassirer for the mixing who has worked with Josh Ritter, as well as mastering by Scott Hull of Master Disk in New York, who has worked with many well-known musicians. Click on the photo below to view other album credits and musicians.
The album opens with Always, which has a steady awakening beat that features organ and electric guitar with Jamison’s strong vocals, yet the vocals don’t demand attention. There are reflective and slow-swinging moments with languid electric guitar or piano as in Blue Melody and Waves Of The Wind, and whether the vocals are slightly saturated or clean, they are clear, but not over-powering. The meditative slow-dance Juniper Blues channels some of Vince Gill’s work from The Reason Why album (These Days tetralogy); the sweet memories that still haunt, to paraphrase the lyrics. Jamison also plays a bit with a sense of time, starting What About Tomorrow with sounds reminiscent of an old radio tuning into a memory and discussions of what could have been. The song’s construction evokes the instrumentation of Al Stewart’s On The Border with Sebastian Cure’s guitar solo paralleling Peter White’s solo in Border.
In addition to telling stories, Jamison also remembers places, as in Pedernal, which I believe is the northern New Mexico mesa (Cerro Pedernal) that Georgia O’Keefe used as an occasional subject for her paintings. The piece is at first instrumental, ambient and contemplative, then the vocals blend with the cello, vibes and organ, it’s a humble entreaty to listen, “May I sing you a song…” The Mockingbird Song is an observation and appreciation with a soft spacious opening, almost trance-inducing. It’s of chasing dreams, with a strong vocal and is reminiscent of Josh Ritter’s The Temptation of Adam, but more hopeful. Mockingbird is an elegant song, and the harp along with hushed organ and vocals are just…perfect. Another place, real or imagined is the intimate Roadside Bar with piano, percussion and the feeling of enjoyment and jamming with friends who sing along. The album closes with the reflective, visual and optimistic returning depicted in Old 81.
So much music (or what passes for it) these days seems synthetic and lacking an authenticity that pushing the “SKIP” button on a CD or MP3 player might be a better option than wasting the precious time to be inundated by sound that is over-processed with samples and pitch-correction. As much as I seek music that is more experimental and somewhat edgy, I also enjoy and have a deep respect for songwriters who take great care to compose and record with understated yet effective arrangements and skillful musicianship.
This album is the real deal and it’s a great companion for a road trip too. Hit “REPLAY.”
Photo of Chris Jamison by Lillian Reid
This is a solicited review
Temporary Residence TRR 227 LP (CD and D/L) Time: About 39 Minutes for 11 LP Tracks
1) Good Graces 2) Great Equator 3) Hegemony 4) Henry Lee (Trad) 5) Need Some Sun 6) Don’t Be A Tool 7) Electricant 8) IO 9) Stop Counting 10) Sinker 11) Your Time 12) Codebreaker* Bonus on Deluxe LP download with silkscreened cover
Many scientists have labs and equipment, and there are parallels between science and the creation of music. Discovery and creativity take hard work, inspiration and many tools—some of the work is also drudgery and can take a long time to complete. Some experiments succeed and some don’t, but research presses on.
Nick Zammuto’s lab is in Vermont and while Zammuto’s current work is more accessible and song-oriented than work of his previous collaboration with Paul de Jong (The Books), Nick and his bandmates are still looking for music and inspiration in unexpected places (sometimes in quirky infomercial videos, physical inventions, admonitions from a parent and odd audio samples). Sounds are discovered, altered, created and spun into a fabric of song, and more often than not the results are downright fun.
It took about a year from the very successful IndieGoGo campaign to the release of Anchor, but along the way Nick Zammuto kept backers well informed on progress and entrusted early previews of the final tracks, along with the background for inspiration and in-depth technical information on how many of the sounds were developed. The resulting album varies from calming drones to chest pounding beats along with idiosyncratic melodic turns and spirited lyrics. Many of the tracks are based around odd rhythms, some created with scratches deliberately made on LPs at planned intervals.
Although I’m not always an advocate of loud music, I think this album better with the volume knob UP—it’s often an absolute romp. Most of the music is also well suited to their live shows, where Nick Zammuto and his bandmates know how to have a good time, often with accompanying videos. I can attest it’s also a great album for driving (at safe lower volumes!). In general, I find this album to be more reserved (almost cautious, at times) compared than their first.
After Good Graces eases-in, the more dynamic tracks like Great Equator, Hegemony, Need Some Sun, Electricant and the aggressively percussive IO give the album its verve. Anchor also has its quieter and more drone oriented moments, and can be quite introspective at times, as in Henry Lee, Stop Counting, Your Time and the acoustic percussion and guitar swells of Sinker. The bonus track Codebreaker is a syncopated keyboard, guitar arpeggio and electronic percussion pattern study.
I think my only criticism of Anchor is that Zammuto might consider exploring some longer form works. Peculiar and energetic always work for me.
The limited edition deluxe LP with silkscreen print cover
Photos are courtesy of Zammuto’s website, but I participated in the campaign and got myself a deluxe LP.
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.
Hundred Acre Recordings HA06: 12” LP (copy 18/40 signed, 200 total LPs & digital download)
Label: http://www.hundredacrerecordings.com/ Arrangement and production by Tim Noble
Hallock Hill Website: http://hallockhill.com/
Tracks: Side A: 1) I Light The Lamp And Sit Down, 2) The Good Dead, 3) The People Without Tears, 4) Death Was A Bird, 5) Villages Of The Black Earth, 6) A Secret It Remains, 7) Another Light; Side B: 1) Workbench Atheist, 2) Demons In The Birchwood, 3) Farewell, Pale Corpse Of Many Sins, 4) The Immortalisation Commission, 5) We Looked For You For 52 Years, 6) Massed Bands And Megaphones
Ask a person cold about a particular moment in time and the recall on specifics might not be immediate or complete, but drop a needle on an LP or press play on a CD and the instant the music starts (even if it has been unheard for 30+ years) that same person’s recollection of a memory could be lucid, with the place, time and circumstances remembered in vivid detail. Music is often a key that unlocks chambers in a memory palace. While not necessarily as far back as 30 years, there are moments while listening to Kosloff Mansion that visions of the past coalesce and the aura of the album further enhances that experience. Perhaps Tom Lecky had different intentions from my own experience for the inspiration of his fourth album, but that’s the power of music when combined with synapses, dendrites, proteins and whatever…
I often associate the works of HH’s with layered compositions for acoustic and electric guitar (as in the albums The Union or A Hem of Evening), but this LP is mostly rooted in solo piano with production and treatments by collaborator Tim Noble (of The Lowland Hundred). It’s hard to know where Noble’s contributions specifically appear, but I think of Lecky’s work as being mostly austere, without apparent structure at times, although intricately layered (some juxtapositions being left to chance). I was fortunate to have ordered this LP early enough to obtain a copy signed by Lecky and Noble, along with a hand written short poem by TL.
Kosloff Mansion starts gently, like the rising Sun with beams of light reaching into the morning, or rather, a candle’s flame penetrating the darkness. It could be an unhurried day or evening in a cabin in the woods, just sitting contemplating nothing (or everything) and listening without distraction—the types of moments of which we need more. Briefly, a storm interrupts in The Good Dead and this triggers the vision of a very late night deep in the Adirondacks (of New York) with lightning and thunder that a (then) very young son wanted to end, but I wanted (privately) to continue, to hear the storm echoing through the mountains. With assurances that the storm was increasingly distant, there was comfort enough for the younger to sleep and so the elder could continue listening and pondering that particular night before a loon emerged and greeted the dawn.
Instrumentation sometimes changes from solo piano to bells, or perhaps it’s a celeste, but they fit while shifting with the breezes, moonlight and stars reflecting in the lake of the vision. A Secret It Remains blends liquid and tones before landing in the austerity of Another Light with only hints of ominous strings rolling in on an imaginary tide of a lurking then emerging spirit…before fading.
Workbench Atheist seems to be more of the morning; soft music with a light rain or is it the creaking of an ancient wood floor? Demons In The Birchwood is a darker, but livelier spirit and the celeste returns with a deeper Leslie-esque treatment, before merging into a wraith-like Farewell, Pale Corpse Of Many Sins, which at times is unsettling yet ironically at peace. A reverie is freed to peregrinate in The Immortalisation Commission and it builds to a crescendo and then gently disperses. There is a firm perseverance in We Looked For You For 52 Years, a feeling of reverence is also present. Massed Bands And Megaphones punctuates Kosloff Mansion with a blend of a celebratory whimsy and sounds reminiscent of fireworks echoing in the distance.
At times Kosloff Mansion is mysterious, yet halcyon moments come forth and while different in sound and instrumentation from his previous works, it’s very much rooted in what I have come to appreciate in Lecky’s work—a really brilliant and different kind of music experience.
Added bonus! Hallock Hill live on WFMU, along with Tim Noble (HH segment starts at about 30:00, but enjoy the entire show!): http://wfmu.org/playlists/shows/55533
Label: Whispered CD WR001CD Limited to 500 hand-numbered copies Time: 36:54
Available at: http://whisperedlabel.bandcamp.com/album/fields
Tracks: 1) Cristaline (Flux), 2) Copper Traces, 3) Elements, 4) Archaique, 5) Rubis, 6) Pudgala, 7) Myth, 8) Canvas, 9) Cristaline (Reflux)
Fields is the first album to be released by the Whispered label and opens with a solo piano and the sounds of a distant shore. The music is from the imagination of Stéphane Vandezande in his guise as the Peaceful Wrath, and the work is part minimalist and part chamber orchestra along with delicate electronic and environmental treatments. The spirit is somber at times, as in Cristaline, but can change quickly to be playfully furtive like in the track Elements.
One moment, the music appears to be from a discreet scene from an imaginary film (as in Pudgala) whereas at others it depicts a broad conceptual sonic portrait, much like in the track Rubis. The presentation of the compositions is never brash, but the starkest of tracks can be the most powerful, even more so than those more broadly orchestrated (in a way, the power of silence). In Copper Traces, Vandezande also plays with rhythm and syncopation and has elements similar to Johannes Schmoelling’s solo oeuvre. There are also brief moments of humor in the variety of the orchestration in Elements and I was instantly reminded of Eno Moebius Roedelius’s 1978 album After The Heat.
Voices also appear like momentary distractions in dreams, but are gentle enough to allow a return to the comfort of the music; this occurs in Myth as it advances cautiously from solo piano to cello and then bass (or treated synth) and then into a section of chamber music, which quickens rhythmically. It’s one of my favorite pieces on the album. Canvas shimmers, rumbles a bit and even growls before the “reflux” of Cristaline. Vandezande notes that Fields was recorded under rainy skies in Brussels and in a small village in the French countryside, and he recommends as companions, “…a log on the fire and a nice cup of hot chocolate…”; sounds like an excellent idea, and I can also attest that it works well on warm sunny days too, a very nice listen with beautiful cover artwork.
This is a solicited review.
EANTCD 1032 – Esoteric Antenna (Cherry Red Records) – Time: 46:54
Tracks: 1) Time, 2) Memory, 3) Kombat Kid, 4) Headcase, 5) Eminent Victorians, 6) Broken, 7) Shadowland, 8) Entropy
Other music genres aside, I posit that many fans of Progressive Rock (Progressive Metal and other sub-genres included) have fairly high expectations when anticipating the release of an album by a favorite artist or band. The hope is perhaps for certain sounds and instrumentation—in a way, holding onto the past, the memories. I’m certainly guilty of that (I want Mellotrons, Les Pauls, E-bows and bass pedals), but I also hope for variants and invention in addition to complicated rhythms and key signatures that I associate with Prog Rock.
Music can trigger memories; hear a song and it can take one back to a long distant place and time, instantly. My memory of Nick’s work goes back to the early days of the Steve Hackett Band, in the late 1970s through the 1980s, and I certainly remember standing up front at more than a few venues close to the stage, marveling at Nick using his two (four?!) hands, feet and even elbows at times to assist with bringing Steve Hackett’s early work to life (he was a large part of the sound and technology of that era…and the transition from the analog to digital era in instrumentation and recording technology). Then, of course, I have enjoyed his solo work beginning with Straight On Til Morning from 1993.
I’ve heard some recent Prog Rock albums (even albums that I like) where the artist felt it necessary to include frequent derivative historical references and instrumentation or phrasing to other artist’s albums, but Magnus resists this temptation and takes n’monix in unexpected directions and makes it his own. The album does include many new friends as well as old; a connection to the past while looking to the future: Steve Hackett, Tony Patterson, Tim Bowness, Pete Hicks, Rob Townsend, James Reeves, Kate Faber and Andy Neve. Once again, long time collaborator, Dick Foster delivers sharp, witty and poignant lyrics that combine so well with the music.
n’monix is social commentary, history, reality and an observation of the results of technological advancements and the effects they have on us all. The more information available, the more to process, the more to remember and as a result we need devices to cope, mnemonics of many types. And curiously, even with the most tragic and unjust, we humans have such short memories; history is bound to repeat itself, it sadly becomes inevitable. We are victims of our own creations. The album is also about loss on many levels.
Time is the allegro of the symphony or the overture to the opera and it’s aggressive with firm vocals by Tony Patterson (and it will give your audio equipment a workout). By contrast (but very much in keeping with the symphonic reference) Memory is an adagio (slower tempo) waltz of sorts, which shifts from a somewhat shrouded soprano solo to broad choral treatment. Kombat Kid is an allegory. It is part march, part recitative and a story of consumption, manipulation and obsession…a reminder to step away from the keyboard or game controller now and then. Headcase is the only track on the album that even vaguely includes an homage…in this case (it seems to me!) to Gentle Giant…with quirky rhythms and lyrics—and memory games in the lyrics. Eminent Victorians is the most fantastical of the pieces on the album (with a brilliant animated video to accompany and vocals by the carnival “barker” Pete Hicks), and traces the absurdity of the served and servants, the sacrifices of the young and poor for the glory of an Empire and upper class; a familiar theme even today as income gaps grow ever wider and those less fortunate suffer even more. EV also includes prominent and most welcomed solos by Steve Hackett.
Broken is a heartbreaking lament with remarkable and emotional soprano saxophone solos by Rob Townsend (I have to admit that I had quite an unexpected emotional reaction to the track). Reality hits in the mournful resignation and loss of Shadowland and includes choral treatments and a stark guitar solo again from Steve Hackett. Some of the original themes return in the opening of the final track Entropy, an acceptance of reality and the unknown possibilities. I am certain that I have missed some of the literary, mystical and historical references…for now.
Although the subject matter of this album can be rather daunting, I find it to be somewhat lighter in spirit at times and more musical compared to Nick’s brilliant previous album Children of Another God. n’monix is impeccably arranged and orchestrated, and dances on the edge of being symphonic and operatic while including original and accessible songwriting. This is certainly not an album that collapses under the weight of a Prog Rock cliché, in fact, just the opposite–it brings a fresh relevance and viewpoint to the genre.
Available at: http://polarseasrecordings.bandcamp.com/album/transit
Polar Seas Recordings PSR-007: CD-R Limited to 50 (Time: 64:02) with hand stamped numbered envelope, 8 page booklet and unique numbered art card by Shannon Penner. Review copy is 35/50. Album is also available as a digital download, but the first seven tracks only.
Tracks: 1) The Breathing of Roots, 2) Saturnine, 3) Chambers of the Sea, 4) Sungazing, 5) Ylla, 6) Un Jardin Des Cieux, 7) In The Decay of Shadows, Bonus CD tracks: 8) Equinox, 9) In The Decay of Shadows (Piano)
It’s all a matter of relative perception…a transit at sea, in the sky or on land and the paradox of experiencing the direct speed of travel from within or observing from afar a celestial body in space, a vehicle on land or a jet in the sky moving very slowly, when in reality in it could be traveling hundreds or even thousand of miles per hour. Time can seem to stand still…
Shannon Penner is Orbit Over Luna and he is an animator, sound designer, composer and multi-instrumentalist from Toronto, Canada. His work draws from many influences and instrumentation in his work varies, but it’s primarily guitar-based (often with ample reverb) with select moments of piano.
Penner’s album Transit is both about being in the moment and observing from afar while experiencing the sense of movement on land, at sea or in air (or perhaps even floating in space). The album is quite serene and comforting, but it holds one’s attention weaving through a variety of sonic territories. I compare the album (as much as I like the competitive side of sailing) to spending a delightful afternoon on a sailboat in the warm sunshine with gentle breezes and my hand occasionally creating a gentle wake in the water.
The Breathing of Roots announces what follows almost like a distant fog horn at dawn, to gently nudge one’s attention that it’s time for a journey. Saturnine seems a bit of a misnomer, because rather than being gloomy, it’s a slow drift on that boat (and not in the doldrums) allowing the distractions of the world to dissolve and to focus instead on the gentle and calming movement…a languid afternoon on the water.
I’ve read Shannon Penner’s oeuvre being compared to a number of different musicians, but the closest for me is the work of Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) and in particular his trilogy of recent EPs entitled Angel Falls, Songs To Help My Children Sleep and Sunflower Stories. Penner’s work, however, is not as rhythmic or melodic when compared to Guthrie’s; instead it focuses more on atmospheric imagery. Throughout the album there are occasional broad wave motions that yield gossamers of a tangible melody, but it’s the exception rather than the rule. In The Decay of Shadows, which follows the transit of the Sun in the sky, has a minimal and complementary piano melody to the guitar chords that emerges and disappears gently like shadows created from clouds passing across the sky until the Sun sets below the horizon (one of the bonus pieces is the isolated piano track).
Sungazing has moments of distorted guitar as if shielding one’s eyes from the Sun’s glare and as a more comfortable view emerges the sound clarifies and the panorama of the landscape comes into focus. Ylla is a celestial passage and it makes me wonder if it’s a nod to one of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles of the same name. And the farthest and most ethereal transit of all is in Un Jardin Des Cieux (The Garden of Heaven). In The Decay of Shadows is the postlude to the album, but there are two bonus tracks on the CD, the first is Equinox, the two points in our year on Earth where we travel about the Sun and where day equals night, before summer or winter, as we pass through time…and the older we are the shorter our relative perception of time becomes.
Enjoy the ride!
CD DR-21 Time: 56:34 – http://dronarivm.com/
Tracks: 1) Donitsk, 2) Daithn, 3) Skdiv, 4) Aoleeignal, 5) Rionzemef, 6) Vansunbarth, 7) Pleq Remix of Rionzemef
I’ve been a bit out of the loop with Dronarivm label releases for the last six months or so, but one of their new albums caught my ears—the collaboration with Pjusk and Sleep Orchestra.
Drowning In The Sky initially strikes close to home in its sound aura since we are just emerging from a VERY long winter here in the northeast USA. Pjusk’s (Rune Andre Sagevik and Jostein Dahl Gjelsvik) music is often rooted in their Norwegian locale being inspired by weather, landscape and nature and Sleep Orchestra’s work (as noted by Christopher Pegg) is often influenced by science fiction or imaginary soundtracks to “…movies in your head…”
From what I have heard of their prior respective works, I wouldn’t have necessarily thought that their musical styles would merge comfortably, but after listening to Drowning In The Sky the combination works quite well. The album does indeed seem very much like a soundtrack to a short film of an imagined journey that starts in a stark and harsh landscape of wind, snow and ice—not exactly a comforting place to be, but the solitude brings a focused awareness of the surroundings (Donitsk). Eventually the scenes change and there is a transformation from an outdoor landscape into more industrial and metallic-sounding scenes (Daithn) with sporadic rhythms. Taut and glitchy beats emerge and then there are layers of cavernous spaces, like giant shipyards or factories with remote gantry cranes (Skdiv), sharpened with a solo trumpet.
In time the scenes are darker (Aoleeignal), although still quite spatial with sounds dancing within the mix, and there is a strong visceral undercurrent and an increased sense of motion. There is a return to an outdoor environment: water and wind in Rionzemef and an auditory sense of being in a vehicle of some sort (a large truck, train or ship perhaps) while experiencing a storm and pulsing undercurrent from outside the vehicle. The environment, despite being a long way from the desolation of an Arctic plain continues to intrude into the soundscape and at a windshield or porthole…or in the mind. Vansunbarth appears to be the arrival at the imaginary destination, where furtive sounds move quickly, muffled announcements, signals ring and footfall moves in a foggy haze, disorienting as if being awakened suddenly from a traveling slumber.
The album is a journey of contrasts, from the far reaches of harsh yet pristine tundra to the gritty environs of an industrial zone, from desolation and isolation to population. Pleq’s remix of Rionzemef gently sways and is more hypnotic and comforting than the original track.
A historical comparison: Drowning starts off being quite similar to Envangelos Papathanassiou’s chilling soundtrack to the film Antarctica and ends up more in a post-apocalyptic and highly cinematic realm of Bladerunner. Also of note, (and I always prefer a physical release to digital) Dronarivm has changed their CD sleeve to a quite effective recyclable folded heavy cardstock slide-out package; my only comment would be to ask that the inner portion slides out another centimeter farther for easier access to the CD.
Eilean:  – Eilean Records: CD-R (an edition of 80) Time 48:16
Tracks: 1) Prelude in E Major, 2) Evenings Wait; The Morning’s Break, 3) Early Ferns, 4) The Sun Looks Quite Ghostly When There’s A Mist On The River And Everything’s Quiet, 5) Faint Whirs Of The Smallest Motor, 6) They Carried Teapots And Tiny Gas Canisters, 7) A Ship’s Bell (Sings), 8) The Weight Of The Frost On A Branch, 9) And The Guitar Plays War Hymns, 10) (Sings)
Long ago I found myself curiously attracted to an old celesta (celeste) in the back corner of my high school band room. I’d plug it in when I was sure that no one was around and adjust the controls and the small piano-like instrument made pleasantly sonorous yet mysterious sounds: belltones with alluring sustains and tremolos…
Eilean Records is a new French-based label run by Mathias Van Eecloo and twincities – variations for the celesta is the label’s first release (although ironically labeled ). Long Islander (New York) Fletcher McDermott creates music in his basement studio in the guise of twincities (funny, when I think of “Twin Cities” I think of Minneapolis/St Paul, Minnesota).
Eilean is Scottish Gaelic for Island and the label’s works will each relate to a point on an imaginary map with up to one hundred predetermined locations. Coincidentally, McDermott lives on an island (albeit a rather large island). Eilean releases will vary in quantities from 75 to 200 physical copies and there will be up to 100 releases with hand made covers and related artwork in this map series. Connections to the place where the music is created will be memorialized with an image of a small bottle containing the soil from the musician’s locale. On the reverse of the image with be the map quadrant assigned to the musician. Each release will be a part of the puzzle of the overall map…the music connected to the artist, a point on the map and a small vial of soil. In effect, an imaginary hybrid island with a small yet tangible existence. Islands of the imagination, islands of the mind, perhaps even islands of isolation. Have any of you ever read the short story The Man Who Loved Islands by D. H. Lawrence?
I’ve noted before that I’ve listened to shortwave and ham radio operators for decades and in some respects this album is like roaming the radio dial late into the night on an old analog shortwave set using the fine-tuning knob. The music is like traveling and it takes the listener to different places. The feeling of being taken on a tour through a shortwave realm isn’t literal like in Kraftwerk’s song Radioland (from their 1975 album Radioactivity), rather it’s more subtle in the background and doesn’t distract from the aura created by the music and other sounds. The album at times also evokes Godley and Creme’s song Get Well Soon from the 1979 album Freeze Frame (waxing rhapsodically about Radio Luxembourg and Radio Caroline late into the night), although that song is more melodic. The celesta isn’t the dominant sound generator in this album, but each piece has a strong thread weaving throughout along with other well-disguised instrumentation, found or ambient sounds and faint voices. Rather than repeat the track names, I’ll just reference the track number in my overview:
1) variations opens with rapid-fire automated Morse code, soothed with slow comforting celesta responses. 2) The celesta is transformed into restful wind chimes with long passages of deep resonant tones and distant faint melodies. There are some comparisons to the recent works of Kane Ikin’s otherworldly explorations (seek out his recent 12k label releases). 3) Is like hanging on the edge of a dream while awakening in the misty early morning light—the calm and the quietude. The celesta treatment is like it could be from portions of the soundtrack to Forbidden Planet—rather mysterious, almost ominous.
4-7) This collection of tracks seems like a suite, at first sonorous, gentle and deep tones and mysterious atmospheres (in time, a slower Morse code reappears), transitioning into an edgier realm (6) and finishing in a gritty drift across the radio dial, sharper sounds with kalimba-like percussives. 8) Sways gently and is the most peaceful track on the album. It evokes some of the feeling of Robert Rich’s recent album Nest. 9) This piece is a broad soundscape (in some respects like those created by the band Lambchop as links between songs…William Tyler’s moody electric guitar drones). The celesta is treated like chimes sounding like church bells, in memoriam. 10) A gritty close, like the beginning, and the distant music returns one last time from a far away island.
Eilean Records is off to a fine start with twincities variation for the celesta. Visit their website soon for the next planned destination which will be released on 5/5/14 and monthly thereafter.[vimeo http://vimeo.com/86956807]
Photo of twincities by TJ Boegle
This is a solicited review.
We were fortunate to be in the audience for both the afternoon soundcheck and evening’s concert on Friday night March 28, 2014 in Collingswood, New Jersey. We had seats at the head of the mezzanine and also had a chance to see sound engineer Ben Fenner and lighting engineer “Tigger” perform their magic–they’re on their toes the entire evening! I have a photo of the set list, but I won’t give it away entirely, but rest assured that there are minor changes each evening according to those who attended the Thursday show. The added songs last night included: Squonk, Carpet Crawlers, Lilywhite Lilith, The Knife (from the Ant Phillips days!) and many other favorites from the early to mid 1970s. The Scottish Rite Auditorium is part of Masonic arts complex and in the interior of the building has an eery Moorish feel to it, so the music was appropriate, if not haunting at times.
If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet for this “Genesis Extended” Tour, do so before the ship sails (as in The Cruise To The Edge) and then the band is off for a European tour. More information here: http://www.hackettsongs.com/tour.html
Thank you, as always to the Band (Steve Hackett, Roger King, Gary O’Toole, Rob Townsend, Nad Sylvan and Nick Beggs) as well as their fabulous crew, tour manager and Jo Hackett.
All Photos are copyright 2014 by wajobu, please do not use without permission and credit–thank you.
Label: http://www.12k.com/index.php/site/releases/akari/ CD 12K1080 Time: 58:54
Artist Website: http://illuha.com/
1) Diagrams Of The Physical Interpretation of Resonance 2) Vertical Staves Of Line Drawings And Pointillism 3) The Relationship Of Gravity To The Persistence Of Sound 4) Structures Based On The Plasticity Of Sphere Surface Tension 5) Requiem For Relative Hyperbolas Of Amplified And Decaying Waveforms
ILLUHA’s new album is a more introspective progression from their previous works, some of which have been recorded in large spaces with vast natural reverberation (like their last studio album Shizuku – 12K1067). Akari is like the successively magnified views in Charles and Ray Eames’s film The Power of Ten, while still being in the dome of the sky, the experience of the sound moves inward, and despite being ever closer to the point of focus a vastness of even more detail is revealed. The album has a comforting intimacy, and from the first quite unexpected (to me!) muted acoustic guitar harmonics there is also a deeply tactile quality. The instrumentation on the album is diverse, but it never distracts; each sound or ensemble has the space it requires and it tangibly enhances the experience.
The recording is profoundly crystalline and as one meanders through the scenes there are moments of illumination to be discovered…finding light in the darkness where color and detail are exposed. The broader ambient sounds that open many of the tracks are subtle (like The Relationship of Gravity…) forming a backdrop for the journeys that Corey Fuller and Tomoyoshi Date lead us through.
I think the quality of sound-light in some of the passages of Akari is like the photo below that I took on a walk, early in the Fall of 2012.
Find a comfortable place to rest and get lost in this.
One of my favorite ILLUHA pieces is a live recording from their CD Interstices (see the excerpt of Interstices III below, CD also available from 12k).
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.
A chance to listen to some great music locally, and thanks to a recent Facebook post by guitarist John Scofield (photo with Ed Cherry at JFK Airport) that was the nudge I needed to see what The Sidedoor Jazz Club (located in Old Lyme, Connecticut) is all about*. Born in New Haven, Connecticut, New Yorker Ed Cherry (among his many music associations) is known for his decade long work with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. I think Cherry’s sound is somewhat like Grant Green with a playing style akin to Wes Montgomery.
The two sets by the trio of Ed Cherry – guitar, Chris Beck – drums and Matt Bianchi – organ included works by Thelonius Monk, Wayne Shorter, George and Ira Gershwin (Summertime), Duke Ellington, Duke Pearson and others, including a gorgeous interpretation of the Heyman/Sour/Eyton/Green standard Body and Soul (one of the best known versions is the 1939 recording by tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins).
The trio played a number of selections from Cherry’s latest album It’s All Good including Edda and Cristo Redentor.
The music varied from spirited to soulful, and blues to smooth and with the warmth of (here’s hoping!) an early Spring sunny day. There was a great chemistry between Cherry, Bianchi and Beck whether it was a nod to take a solo, a swell from the organ or syncopated fill on the drums. At a few points the microphone was close enough to Cherry to hear brief moments of humming like Oscar Peterson, echoing his guitar melody and phrasing. It was a very enjoyable evening of great music.
Ed Cherry’s Website: http://edcherrymusic.com/
Record label for It’s All Good: http://www.posi-tone.com/itsallgood/itsallgood.html
Ed Cherry’s Selected discography: Solo: It’s All Good (2012), The Spirits Speak (2001) , A Second Look (1997), First take (1996). With: Hamiett Bluiett – With Eyes Wide Open, Mark Weinstein – Three Deuces, Paquito D’Rivera – Havana Cafe, Dizzy Gillespie – Live in Montreaux 1980, Dizzy Gillespie – Live at Royal Festival Hall, Dizzy Gillespie – Live at Blues Alley, Jon Faddis – Hornucopia, Henry Threadgill – Makin’…A Move, Jared Gold – Supersonic
Here’s a late 2012 WGBO recording of Duke Pearson’s Cristo Redentor by the same trio that played last night:
* – The Sidedoor Jazz Club is part of the Old Lyme Inn (http://thesidedoorjazz.com/) and is laid out a bit like a smaller and narrower version of The Blue Note Jazz Club (in Greenwich Village). The acoustics and sound system are quite good, most of the seating is clustered a bit like a dumbbell (seats near the bar at the far end of the space and near the entry with minimal seating in the middle in front of the performers). If seeing the musicians with a clear stage-front view is important to you, it’s best to get there early for good seats (there can occasionally be a large party of dinner guests with reserved seats ahead of you), but the space is intimate enough that seeing the artists and hearing the music is generally good no matter where your seat is. I appreciate that the house PA system is kept at a very tasteful volume level—easy on the ears. Desserts and cocktails are served and are reasonably priced.
450 CD copies, first 15 copies signed by BP, also digital (to be released January 21, 2014)
Remix label: http://losttribesound.com
Available at: http://losttribesound.bandcamp.com/album/hymnal-remixes
CD 1 Remixes – 44:51: 1. Mercy (Fieldhead), 2. Margin (William Ryan Fritch), 3. Excave (Squanto), 4. Litiya (The Green Kingdom), 5. Homily (Cock and Swan), 6. Florid (Brambles), 7. Censer (Field Rotation), 8. Reliquary (Part Timer), 9. Margin (Zachary Gray), 10. Foxtail (Graveyard Tapes)
CD 2 Remixes – 53:29: 1. Hawkeye (The Remote Viewer), 2. Censer (Segue), 3. Knell (Widesky), 4. Florid (Loscil), 5. Foxtail (Radere), 6. Gospel (James Murray), 7. Reliquary (Benoît Honoré Pioulard), 8. Margin (Ruhe), 9. Gospel (Window Magic)
I want to note that sound quality and production are very important to me, almost as important as the music itself. So, given that statement, please read this review carefully. Comments seen as criticisms are not of the music or the writing, but largely on the choice of production methods and sound quality. I think very highly of the music penned and played by Tom Meluch (in his guise as Benoît Pioulard). With that in mind, please read on.
Hymnal – The Original
I’ve enjoyed Benoît Pioulard’s previous kranky releases as well as the more experimental vinyl EP Plays Thelma on Desire Path Recordings, so coupled with the early press accounts of Hymnal I was hopeful that it would be a great album…
I feel that there are many exceptional songs on Hymnal (Hawkeye, Reliquary, Excave, and especially Margin, and Litiya) along with some comforting drones (like Censer), but in general I feel there is a lack of presence in the recordings—they sound flat, out-of-phase and firmly entrenched in a claustrophobic mid-range (nothing at all like the sumptuous reverb of the intended muse “religious architecture”). Pioulard’s songs on this particular album are lost in a limiting boxy haze.
I’m a big fan of lo and mid-fi recordings and some musicians do it so well; East River Pipe (FM Cornog), more recently Will Samson and especially (one of my favorite albums of 2013) Bryan Ferry’s The Jazz Age (recorded in monaural with Jazz-era microphones). Granted, some artists and writers create works within strict limits and can be quite successful (shades of a single color, certain textures or excluding a specific vowel in a written work), but with all the praise I take a contrarian view on the technical execution of Hymnal. The quality and depth of recordings matter to me, unless there is a stated goal for why sound must be altered so dramatically.
I learned recently of Benoît Pioulard’s other off-label work, such as his 2011 digital EP Lyon (and in support of how I think Meluch writes some great songs). Have a listen to the gorgeous and unadorned song Tie:
It has some of the qualities of recordings by Nick Drake and Bert Jansch (think The Black Swan). I’m certainly not advocating that Pioulard chooses between one recording approach or another, I’m suggesting perhaps a sound somewhere in the middle, with the vocals higher in the mix and a fuller sound.
Hymnal – The Remixes
Original songs can find new life in covers or remixes. So, when Lost Tribe Sound announced this collection of Hymnal reinterpretations (by artists such as Loscil, Cock & Swan, Brambles, The Green Kingdom and William Ryan Fritch) I thought that some of the depth that I felt was missing in the original might be introduced or restored.
This is a really interesting collection, and the recordings in most cases have the clarity and sonic diversity that I had hoped for in the original album.
The two CDs are split loosely into two categories: 1) rhythmic with vocals and 2) more on the ambient side, largely instrumental. After a couple of listens I was quite surprised that I found myself leaning more towards the feel and sound of the more actively engaging CD 1.
As with the original album Mercy (I’ll call it track 1.1) opens the collection and it’s a bit of an assault on the ears (the original being a full-on harmonium before the vocals enter), but in the remix version the harmonium is tamed and a slow march beat is overlaid. The sound is far more spacious, as if entering a cathedral. William Ryan Fritch’s remix of Margin (1.2) is an almost frenetic orchestration compared to the original and Zachary Gray’s version (1.9), which starts off quite stark with lone guitar and vocal and gradually the instrumentation and soundstage expands—I think both are quite successful, and in Gray’s version the vocals are clear as the song develops (makes me wonder all the more why Meluch chose to shroud such a great song). Squanto’s remix of Excave (1.3) is a series of repeated fragments made into a rhythm and sounding very much like some of Peter Gabriel’s mid-career work.
The Green Kingdom’s and Cock & Swan’s remixes of Litiya (1.4) and Homily (1.5) are quite enchanting. The sound of Litya softer, fuller and more comforting than the original—the soft electric guitar and cello overlays give the track such an easy feel, and Pioulard’s largely untreated vocals weave right in, so well. I have to admit that Homily is one of my least favorite tracks on the original album and Cock & Swan have woven their unusual magic, making it an ethereal journey (supplemented with Ola Hungerford’s vocals) while maintaining some of the original grit, and I assume that the crisp nylon guitar overlay is Johnny Goss’s. Brambles transformed Florid (1.6) into a (quite unexpected) “chill dance” piece—it has a languid vibe. Field Rotation put Censer (1.7) into a time machine and it emerged from an old modular Moog during Tangerine Dream’s Stratosphere era. The original version of Reliquary is furtive and mysterious, and Part Timer (1.8) stretched this concept further with his stark (and at time minimally orchestrated) interpretation.
The Remote Viewer’s version of Hawkeye opens CD2 (2.1) and its origins are deftly shrouded, and at first I didn’t care for it much, but it has grown on me—it’s delicately fragmented with some quirky treatments (very Boats-y!) and at times it sounds like Mark Isham’s early experiments from back in his Windham Hill label days (yes folks, I’m that old). My two favorite tracks on CD2 are Segue’s version of Censer (2.2) and Loscil’s (at times, visceral) remake of Florid (2.4). Curiously, Censer is given a gentle heartbeat, which despite the motion has a rather soothing effect to it. The remix of Florid somewhat belies its connotation, elaborate in its sonic depth, but not ornate.
Widesky’s Knell is an expansive fragmentation of the cathedral bells of the original and then all is absorbed into a rather compressed package of the experience (kind of like a snow-globe)—it’s a bit edgy for my ears. Sorry, but Radere’s version of Foxtail (2.5) just didn’t work for me—too strident. James Murray’s Gospel (2.6) meanders and bends with a broad color palette and is a contrast to Window Magic’s version (2.9) that is narrower, more primary shaded.
Pioulard’s remix of his own track Reliquary (2.7) shrouds the original even further; the furtive character is diminished—a curious approach. Ruhe’s version of Margin (2.8) is an almost unrecognizable adaptation of the original with only the slightest of rhythmic and vocal fragments remaining—in kind of a trance beat.
Sometimes sequels or remakes are better than the original, and that’s how I feel in this case on the production side of things. Despite my comments on the source material, I urge listeners to purchase a copy of Hymnal and judge for yourselves—some might disagree completely with my assessment on the sound quality. I’ll continue to look forward to Benoît Pioulard’s future recordings.
This is a solicited review.