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