Karaoke Kalk 69LP – Time: About 34 minutes (LP, CD & Digital Files)
Record Label Website:
Recorded & Mixed By: Florian Frenzel & Will Samson Mastered By: Nils Frahm
Tracks: 1) Oceans Are Wilder; 2) Cathedrals; 3) Hunting Shadows; 4) Eat Sleep Travel, Repeat; 5) Painting A Horizon; 6) Music For Autumn; 7) Storms Above The Submarine; 8) Dusty Old Plane
Some may recall my review of Will Samson’s last album Hello Friends, Goodbye Friends (there’s a link to it on the right of this page, near the bottom of the list or use the Search box). HFGF was timely; it rang like a beacon of hope. It was a pretty special thing to think that a 20-something had such an affect on this 50-something, but there are all kinds of wisdom floating around and sometimes age really doesn’t matter. I don’t mind admitting this at all, as it has been music that has helped me at many times throughout my journey in this life. So, at the first mention from Will that he had another album in the works, I was excited; resisting temptation to listen to early previews, preferring to wait for its full and formal release. So, I ordered the LP, with the striking cover photo by Scott McClarin.
It was worth the wait.
From the first celeste (vibraphone?) notes and soft vocal harmonies of Oceans Are Wilder, I knew that there was a great synergy in Will’s work with Florian Frenzel and Nils Frahm—complementing the music and lyrics so well. As the album progresses it moves from a soft state of consciousness to a deeper meditation (with one brief diversion). There is a lovely balance of instrumentation, vocals, ambient sounds and the outdoors. These are songs of friendship, strange journeys, and visits to places real and imagined. The mix of six vocal songs and two instrumental respites is a bit like Nick Drake’s second album, Bryter Layter.
Samson continues to use his upper register (and falsetto) voices prominently, although there are times when full-throated harmonies are blended. Vocals are also fuller in the mix of this album, and the overall sound is different; the result of using venerable analogue equipment, tapes (old cassettes, a Tascam 8-track) and working with Florian Frenzel’s salvaged organs, analogue tape delays and old microphones.
The ambiance of the analogue equipment is strongly present in Cathedrals, it gives a misty quality to the sound, a sense of the ancient, like the foxed pages and deckled-edges of aged books or the opening title sequence to an old film. In particular, I think the layering of sound is particularly strong, starting with simple acoustic guitar, then unadorned vocals, then vocal harmonies added ending with the lyric “That spin so separately…” and then an abrupt and lyrical chord change into “Impossible became much easier…” and shifting to an electric guitar drone to the end—it’s mystical and soulful.
Hunting Shadows is an outdoor walk, and the music and treatments take the place of moving light, shadows and the lightly moving breezes of a new day. Eat Sleep Travel, Repeat has the ambiance of being aboard a ship at sea late into the night, composing (acoustic) music by candlelight and the stars, with slow swaying movements, as does the more electric (with broad vocal harmonies) Painting A Horizon. The trombone solo in Eat Sleep is an impeccable complement as are the banjo and cello on Painting. There are similarities with the more plaintive side two of Brian Eno’s album Before and After Science, the three tracks Julie With…, By This River, and Spider and I.
Eat Sleep Travel, Repeat (Premiere Video)
The second instrumental piece (again, with cello) on the album is Music For Autumn. It’s as if the sun is lowering in the cool night sky and as the track closes, Samson adds a warming chorus of voices. The brief diversion noted above is Storms Above The Submarine, which starts playfully, with furtive notes, sounding a bit like some sonic experiments of Raymond Scott. Then a somber throaty organ mixes with Will’s overdubbed voices (which are treated to sound a bit like a mournful saxophone) and altered guitars. Dusty Old Plane (and oh so beautiful, it is) closes the album, with practically a whisper of droning keyboard, reverberant electric and acoustic guitars and Samson’s harmonies. Listen carefully; there are birds in the background. This peaceful track is a sonic blessing, and a farewell of sorts. I also note that this album is dedicated to his father.
Please keep making music Will; you have a true gift.
A postscript: I have only one (hopefully received as constructive) comment on what is otherwise a brilliant album, and that is to recommend to not let the desire to use aged and lumbering analogue equipment for ambiance shroud the quality and beauty of the music too much.
Serein SERE003 – Time: About 38 minutes (CD & Digital Files)
Mastered by: Donal Whelan at Hafod
Tracks: 1) To Speak Of Solitude; 2) Such Owls As You; 3) In The Androgynous Dark; 4) Salt Photographs; 5) Pink And Golden Billows; 6) Arête; 7) Deep Corridor; 8) Unsayable
I am a relatively new listener to works on the Serein label, which was founded in 2005, originally with works available as free digital downloads. In 2009, Serein switched to “carefully considered commercial” releases. Serein is a name taken from the natural world, being a fine rain that falls from a clear sky after sunset (a phenomenon more common in the tropics, but I can’t say that it doesn’t occur in ancient, pastoral and industrialized Wales, where Serein is located). I first became acquainted with Serein after looking for back catalogue work by Olan Mill, and there I found their beautiful album Pine. So, another record label on which to get hooked!
Brambles is the alias of Mark Dawson, a musician born in the UK, a resident of Australia, and from what I have read, he is traveling throughout Europe (and currently in Berlin, according to his Twitter-feed @brambles, for those who adventure into the Twittersphere). Charcoal, his debut release, was largely recorded (piano, strings, woodwinds and field recordings) while in residence at The Painted Palace, a low-environmental-footprint communal house of artists and thinkers in Melbourne, Australia.
For me, Charcoal is an album of observation and contemplation at opposite ends of a given day. Beginning at the end—at dimmity*, the settling-in to night then shifting to first-light and awakening. The moods range from brooding (though not gloomy) to amorous (a deep feeling of warmth and comfort). There are times when the album verges on haunting, as in the dark visceral (and unexpected) tones of Deep Corridor.
Charcoal opens with the resting heartbeat of plucked strings and piano of To Speak of Solitude; to me it’s as if observing the setting sun, viewing the horizon and skies in contemplation. The pace slows further with similar instrumentation and gentle woodwinds, to a meditative state in Such Owls As You; the silence of a late candle-lit night. There is a slow Jazz vibe to In The Androgynous Dark, which has a feeling of reflection, of what might have been. It’s a quiet and mournful trio of drums, piano and woodwinds (with some electronic atmospherics).
The album gently stirs with Salt Photographs, as time passes with sounds of exploration. Soft pulses of keyboard (electric piano?) and nylon guitar narrate, and bowed strings entwine the rhythmic foundation and probe to awaken memories before fading away. Pink And Golden Billows is a light-hearted, plucky, meandering awakening to dawn. By contrast, Arête opens with a stark yet expansive scene, punctuated by a lone cello, like a knife edge of rock (the arête) cutting the view. A somber piano responds, the balance. It could be a scene of surveying a mountain ridge, and then making the decision to traverse it, represented by the quickening rhythm, as if hiking across to a destination.
The most mysterious and atmospheric of the tracks on the album is Deep Corridor. It is as if spelunking an uncharted cave with a dim head-lamp, with sounds (and some of earthly-low frequency) all around from unknown sources. I’ll date myself and note that there are times when it sounds like Tangerine Dream’s Desert Dream from their 1977 live album Encore. Charcoal closes with the whispering lament Unsayable, on what sounds like an old saloon upright or pin piano; reminiscent of some recent works by Harold Budd or Nils Frahm.
Once again, the best discoveries in music for me are the result of lateral associations with other artists or their record labels. I am happy to have discovered the Serein label and Brambles. While Charcoal is seemingly a personal work, so fortunate we are to have a window into Mark Dawson’s journey. His debut work is peaceful, timeless and transcendent.
*- Dimmity or dimmit-light (twilight), an old West Country (Devon, UK) term used by Henry Williamson, to open the original text version of his book Tarka The Otter, published in 1927.
This is a solicited review.