Mariska Baars / Rutger Zuydervelt – eau
CD and Download Time: 30:10
There is an awakening, but the mind is foggy, vision blurry and hearing is trying to clarify. Then the realization, the nearly imperceptible, but ever-present rhythm of waves, and the enduring ebb and flow of the tides. It is caused by the slow dance of the Earth and Moon as well as the sinuous atmosphere. The flow is incoming, then retreating, at advancing times each day. The macro-rhythm of the water moves predictably, but it’s never the same. One could awaken one day to an ebb, and the next to a flood.
States of mind can change in daydreams as alpha waves are created and then dispersed by fleeting sounds, glimmers of light, gentle movements or drifting aromas. Where do we begin with eau, where do we end, does it really matter? Perhaps, in a way, that’s kind of the idea. It’s cyclical, it cleanses the mind, washing away thoughts that are distracting, while immersion within it aids in blurring the sense of time.
Although moderately indistinct while in a state of relaxation, I detect that eau is divided into four parts, but again, does it really matter to the overall perception of the experience?
One: At first, jittery granular voices, with gently plucked electric guitar (buzzing occasionally with a tightly controlled Frippian growl). Then there are more distinct and gradually entwined loops of voices and guitar, which transform into choral harmonies.
Two: About halfway into the recording there is a respite of tonal percussion, keyboards and (perhaps) guitar harmonics, but still with a gentle undercurrent of voices. It’s like lying in the bottom of a boat, in a gentle breeze, and hearing the water gently wash against the hull.
Three: At about seventeen-and-a-half minutes, voices and guitar return (recurrent flow), but it is a tide with percussive flotsam and jetsam. Some surprises have washed in. Sounds are crisper.
Four: Just before twenty-two minutes, a threshold is encountered after expanding layers of voices and sizzle (more of that subtle growl too). Then…a plucked string casts the sounds off into the distance, where they gradually become more indistinct. The voices and sounds are gradually hushed, akin to a quiet harbor at night. A fog seems to roll in, with the quietude.
In a way, like the shift of advancing tidal rhythms, eau could be encountered at any point in the recording, and left to loop, even slowing the speed to change the sounds and distort the sense of time further. The choice of how to encounter eau could be up to the listener.
There are no rip currents here, only calm seas.
Mariska Baars has worked with Rutger Zuydervelt both as a duo in 2008, on the album Drawn as well as with the quartet Piiptsjilling. Rutger Zuydervelt records as a solo artist, as well as with many different collaborators and is also known by the moniker Machinefabriek. EAU was mastered by sound artist and musician Stephan Mathieu.
This is a solicited review.
Dolphin Midwives – Liminal Garden
Available Formats: LP & Digital
Time: About 40 minutes
Labels: Sounds et al: ETAL011 & Beacon Sound: BNSD031
Tracks: 1) Grass Grow, 2) Junglespell, 3) Castleshell, 4) Flux, 5) Temple IV, 6) Mirror, 7) Labyrinth I, 8) Temple V, 9) Satya Yuga, 10) Iridesce
From an early age I have been fascinated by the sound and look of a harp. While some watched the Marx Brothers for the comedy, I was waiting for the ritual of Harpo’s performance—the calm respite from the chaos. Later, it was Bach Partitas played by Nicanor Zabaleta and other harpists and ensembles, and then improvisations and atmospheres played by Andreas Vollenweider (who was unfortunately pigeon-holed in the ghastly ‘New Age’ record bins in the 1980s). Thank goodness there’s a new generation continuing to make music with their harps.
No matter the genre, hearing music from a harp can be a riveting and even a mystical experience. A harp can supplement the atmosphere of a larger work of music or it can stimulate on its own, generating inner subconscious reactions (as instrumental music tends to do). It can be abstract or symbolic—cascading water, sun in the clouds, soft gentle repetitions to calm or to be invited into another realm beside the present.
Sage Fisher composes and performs with a harp, percussion, effects, and her voice. She is an experimental sound artist from Portland, Oregon, and Dolphin Midwives is the name of her performance project. As far as I can gather Liminal Garden is her second full length album (Orchid Milk appears to be her first in 2016—available on her Bandcamp page). I think that Liminal Garden has mystical or spiritual references that I am not qualified to interpret (some mysteries are better left unsolved), but I speculate that this album is a journey of exploration in two episodes, whether it is experienced as a two-sided LP or as a continuous thread in a digital music stream.
Each of the two parts starts with an abstract centering and cleansing vocal prologue (Grass Grow and Mirror), where short themes are established and then altered with looping effects, samples and down and up octaves—a loosely narrated trip that gradually arrives at an altered state, where a sense of time can be lost. It could even be the beginning of an escape from our current unstable world condition. The two interconnected meditations then have sharp contrasts throughout—think of slipping from the comfort of a hot pool of water into the shock of one that is frigid. There is a momentary shudder, but then the realization that the entire experience is about an awakening of all the senses to understand and embrace the whole.
Once fully absorbed, Junglespell is a transition from a peaceful start into a star gate sequence akin to Bowman’s journey of enlightenment near the end of 2001 A Space Odyssey. Here there is no vocal to guide, and there is a transformed sense of perception leaving subconscious thought to interpret. Not only is the sound entrancing, but watching it being created is equally as fascinating.
Once released from Junglespell, a slow awakening begins in Castleshell, arriving somewhere else, perhaps a bit dazed from a dream, out the other side of that star gate. The sharp contrast of Flux stimulates other parts of the mind that have been quietly idle. There is an electric energy of realignment, a jarring altered-state glitchy repetition. Then balance returns in the absorbing Temple IV with short tangible loops and a short melody that meanders within a tight range.
Part two of the journey is somewhat different and is introduced with Mirror. It has layered cascading vocals in varying octaves altered with electronic effects, octaves and loops. Rather than continuing on into a hypnotic state, another contrast is entered in Labyrinth I, which is disorienting with stimulus from all sides, seeking and not finding a way out. From the cold pool to the warm, the immersive and enveloping Temple V’s melodic percussion reminds me of Kraftwerk’s Klingklang (Kraftwerk 2 – 1972). Then there is a clear return of the harp with a gentleness and purity of the enlightening Satya Yuga, a respite of reflection and balance from the prior experiences. The epilogue to the album is Iridesce, a colorful stuttering of altered voices and electronics.
One cannot know the calm without experiencing the chaos. On what mesmerizing journey will Sage Fisher take us next?
The album was recorded by Jason Powers, and mastered by Rafael Anton Irisarri (Black Knoll), and the artwork is by Bijan Berahimi.
This is a solicited review.
Review: Almost Charlie – A Different Kind Of Here
Label: Words on Music WM43 CD Time: 36:55
Tracks: 1) Shadow Boy 2) Ambivalent 3) The Sadness Of The Snow That Falls In May 4) Defective 5) The Loneliness Of Sharks 6) Waiting 7) Robot 8) A Different Kind Of Here 9) Sunset In The Elysian Fields 10) Expect For Her Name 11) Gold 12) I’ll Still Be Missing You
At last, the songs of Dirk Homuth and lyricist Charlie Mason return, in the latest Almost Charlie album A Different Kind Of Here. It seems that the older I get, the more I lose track of how quickly time passes—it’s already been about 4-1/2 years since their last album Tomorrow’s Yesterday.
It’s so easy to get drawn-in by the inventiveness and wit in their well-crafted songs, the melodies, hooks and restrained arrangements. All of the songs in this album can be quickly committed to memory, and there they remain, added to the playlist of the mind, but they are not simplistic. These songs are deftly efficient, and don’t overstay their welcome—each of the twelve is about 3 minutes long, with the last, longest and most sonically impressionistic, I’ll Still Be Missing You. There are connections between the moods of the music, arrangements and subjects. Listen in …Missing You for the wistful sounds of an implied telephone busy-signal layered back in the mix of the sound effects. In Waiting, the rhythm is like the finger-tapping of impatience. Yet there are contrasts, the upbeat tune of The Sadness Of The Snow… deals with the unexpected and unwelcome shivers of a late winter storm after experiencing the tease of Spring.
Homuth’s singing (with a voice reminiscent of John Lennon’s) varies from near-whispers in Defective to full-throated vocals with a spirited string quartet arrangement in Gold. What’s different from their previous albums: A lyrics booklet is included with this album (YAY!), and while the subjects of the songs is still largely about relationships, they are far more introspective, and some are darker and tend more towards melancholy. The Loneliness Of Sharks is initially stark, and gradually adds layers symbolic of the pressures of the deep and the isolation of power. There is also a short and reflective piano instrumental, Sunset On The Elysian Fields.
Overall, the recording of the album is remarkably spatial. Initially, I listened to the album sitting at a distance in a chair, in my car while driving, and then sat closer to the speakers in my music room, and felt like I was in the studio with the musicians while they were recording—so praise to the musicians in addition to those involved in the recording (Rob Cummings in Berlin is credited). The title track, A Different Kind Of Here, in particular is just plain gorgeous, the acoustic guitar, especially.
And imagine, the two songwriters still have never met (according to all that I have read). Despite the distance, the magic remains. Next time Charlie, please don’t wait so long before returning. This album, like their others, immediately gets put in the “hit replay” category. The Words On Music label (celebrating their 20th anniversary as an independent music label) sells it direct from their website for a great price, but it’s also available through your favorite music sellers. While you’re at it, buy the rest of Almost Charlie’s back catalog, you won’t be disappointed.
Here’s a three track sampler of the album:
This is a solicited review.
Braeyden Jae – Fog Mirror
Label: Whited Sepulchre Records WS001
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.
On Sabbatical, Except…
As perhaps some of you have noticed, I’ve been on a bit of a sabbatical from regular reviews. I haven’t stopped doing reviews at all, but I have less to say for the moment. Instead I’ve been focusing more on my day job (designing buildings) and making some noise of my own (which better informs music reviews).
Please do continue to submit requests for reviews, but keep in mind that I might be more selective with what I choose to review.
Please also have a listen at the following link, I offer any of this music to young filmmakers, free of charge, and only ask in return for credit if you download and use any of this original material: https://wajobu.com/sounds/
Thank you for continuing to read and listen.
M. Ostermeier – Tiny Birds
1) glide 2) of a feather 3) rafters 4) watcher 5) duo 6) flutter 7) flying south 8) head cut off 9) nesting 10) caged 11) skitter 12) twin crested peaks 13) albatross
M. Ostermeier: piano and sounds
Christoph Berg: violin on glide and of a feather
Photography: James Luckett – consumptive.org
In my part of the world, some birds that used to winter elsewhere now seem to stay here, but many still migrate: from swallows by the millions (spectacular departure throughout October) to songbirds like warblers to the more solitary bald eagles that pass through here on their way to nesting areas along local rivers and up to the Adirondack mountains in upper New York State. Just before the first break of Spring, woodpeckers return or emerge and the local forests can sound like giant marimbas as the oversized pileated variety pronounce their territorial claims, rapping on hollow trunks.
M. Ostermeier’s latest album is the avian themed Tiny Birds. There is a slightly different approach to Tiny Birds compared with his prior album still on Ostermeier’s Tench imprint. The piano instrumentals on still tend to meander somewhat with more liberated abstract forms whereas Tiny Birds is a more controlled series of repetitive melodic vignettes with variations—perceptive yet humble etudes with minimal embellishment or peregrinations—some more dulcet than others.
Despite their apparent simplicity there is still a great deal of subtle texture and depth in the recordings, and notwithstanding initial minimalist appearances, Ostermeier is quite adept at layering and revealing micro-sounds into his recordings, as in his earlier album The Rules of Another Small World. Soundscapes can be taken in as a larger whole while in a place or one can focus on the intimate.
The overall mood in Tiny Birds is mostly comfort with varying passages ranging from delicate to vibrant, but never jarring. The point of view is that of a bystander in quiet contemplation observing the moments, and as a result the music evokes visual memories. I try to resist comparisons to the works of others, but this one locked in my head and I couldn’t shake it: there are connections with some of Satie’s works and the pace (without vocals) is reminiscent of Brian Eno’s two meditations: Julie With and By This River from his 1977 album Before and After Science.
Aside from Ostermeier’s piano and delicate melodic and percussive treatments, Christoph Berg enhances the first two tracks, glide and of a feather with deftly restrained violin accompaniments. It also sounds like there might be some cello in the somewhat mournful flying south, adding weight to the depth of the long cyclical journey. A piano is generally the foundation throughout, and in glide the violin moves in and out of earshot like a golden eagle riding thermals high-up in the sky on the edge of human sight. Of a feather has slight chordal shifts and Berg responds to the piano phrases with a gentle sway.
In summer days of my youth, some of my family used to help a farmer hay his fields and then methodically transfer hay bales from carts into an old barn loft while barn swallows were on the wing above in the rafters—this reminded me of those days, many years ago. Alighted and above, in the breezes, is the watcher, with languid wind chimes below, in a subtle duet. And as if in mid-conversation, duo picks up a somewhat less structured dialog between two birds in trees (is it an actual transcription?), like sometimes at dawn when windows are open and two great horned owls are conversing from opposite ends of the yard, or two robins singing their evening-song at dusk. Some visceral low frequencies pass through this too.
The most musical piece on the album, flutter, is at first a duet, then a trio, perhaps even a quartet, with brisk playful variations on the original melody. head cut off is a slow meandering stagger of sobering paired tones (no birds were harmed in the recording of this…I assume!). Gentle rustling with more intimate microphone placement at the piano, nesting has a slightly voyeuristic quality of a webcam keeping an eye on birds and chicks in a tree, safe from dangers below while swaying quietly in the breezes. The monotony of confinement is depicted in caged, where there are few changes with the passage of time. Skitter has five, perhaps even six sections with both an untreated and a slightly phased piano, punctuated by pure tones in between the melodic phrases. Twin crested peaks is a hypnotic call and response, with the regularity of an EKG taken at rest.
albatross can have several meanings, a golf term (AKA double-eagle, a rare three under par—a bird reference!), a psychological burden or the majestic sea bird with an enormous wing span (up to an incredible 12 feet) and they are often long-lived. There is a tagged female Laysan albatross named Wisdom that has returned to Midway Island for at least 63 years, and this year she mated and had another chick (estimated to be her 36th)– truly remarkable. This closing track is graceful of flight and steady, yet it carries the enduring burden and insight gathered with the passage of time.
My favorite tracks on the album are: glide, of a feather, flying south and albatross.
This is a solicited review.
Salvatore Passaro – Overwhelming
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.
Western Skies Motel – Buried and Resurfaced
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.
John Hackett – Another Life
Cherry Red Records – Esoteric Antenna EANTCD 1053 – CD Time: 48:59
Available at: http://shop.cherryred.co.uk/shopexd.asp?id=5158
More info at: http://johnhackett.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/hacktraxmusic?fref=ts
Tracks: 1) Another Life 2) Look Up 3) Poison Town 4) White Lines 5) Life In Reverse 6) Burnt Down Trees 7) Satellite 8) Forest 9) Magazine 10) Rain 11) Actors 12) Another Day, Another Night 13) Poison Town Reprise
It’s hard for me to believe that it was 10 years ago John Hackett released his last “electric” album Checking Out of London, a collaboration with lyricist Nick Clabburn, brother Steve Hackett, keyboardist Nick Magnus and guest vocalist Tony Patterson. COoL was largely an album of contemplation of modern realities with a fairly narrow and relatively calm emotional range (the song Ego & Id being the exception). Since COol John Hackett has released a collection of acoustic collaborations (see photo, I’m sure some are missing from my collection) and a live album with Nick Magnus in 2010, in addition to other session work with Magnus and others.
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.
Cory Allen – The Source
CD PR025 time: 40:53 (Also available as an LP, first 100 copies on coke clear vinyl)
1) Divine Waves – 12:11 2) White Wings – 8:53 3) Neon Mandalas – 6:58 4) Crown Canal – 12:48
Cory Allen: Hammond Organ, Harmonium, Tanpura, Rhodes Electric Piano, Violin, Voice, Mbira, Balalaika, Tibetan Singing Bowl, Gong, Tingsha Bells, Chinese Bells, Balinese Nut Shell Shaker
With Brent Fariss: Bass, Henna Chou: Cello and Lyman Hardy: Drums and Percussion
Artist: http://www.cory-allen.com/ Record label: http://www.punctumrecords.com/
Preorder link: http://www.punctumrecords.com/shop/coryallen-thesource
Without any prior guided experience to an astral realm of enlightenment, I feel a bit underqualified in commenting on certain aspects that may have influenced or inspired this album, but I feel perfectly at ease in speaking on the restorative nature of music, meditation and private contemplation. The mind is often so pre-occupied with distractions that thoughts become fragmented, confused, and the ability to concentrate is diminished—so at times a realignment is in order. Cory Allen’s new album, The Source provides a gentle yet intensive framework to cleanse the mind and re-focus awareness. In tech-speak: defragmenting the hard drive.
The Source, I think, is both a reflection of Allen’s own achievement of radial balance and self-unity, as well as a sonic guide for others to experience. With repeated auditions of the album, awareness of both the individual instrumentation and the gestalt of the overall effect of the work increases. For those less familiar with Cory Allen’s oeuvre, and before listening, an important aspect to keep in mind, is to suspend conventional expectations of musical structure and melody, and allow oneself to be drawn into the experience of both listening and feeling the sounds in the recording. Also, Allen’s work often uses a loosely rules-based construction including guided improvisation.
Divine Waves slow-dances on the edge of something resembling a liquid jazz with the initial two, three and four note phrases exchanging between cymbals and bass (plucked and later bowed). A tanpura joins the ensemble and its whirr is sustained by merging with the bass, cymbals, and chiming of inter-mingled bells and bowls. I hesitate to say that the cello is a later mournful addition to the group, yet it adds a wistful calm with an electric piano gently weaving throughout. The instrumentation in the latter part of Divine blends into a soft vibrating drone and is as much about the sound heard, as well as the interaction of the vibrations being felt (to experience this, I recommend listening with well-placed speakers at a volume roughly equivalent to match the original live sound of the instruments versus using headphones).
Initially focusing on the interplay of two and four notes phrases on a balalaika, White Wings’ bowed cello and bass, drums and harmonium absorb and weave while stretching varying dissonances. A first sonic alignment appears at a little more than two-and-a-half minutes, before meandering many times again with loose guidance (visually, like a flock of migrating swallows as they gather in the autumn, at sundown, seeking a resting place for the night).
The most intensive experience on the album is within Neon Mandalas; initially there is a chorus of deeply toned voices (which I think should have extended even longer), and once held in that realm, other elements are introduced with their fleeting movements (percussion, drums, bass and tanpura). A choir of gently plucked Mbiras (like a gentle steady rain) and bells provides a sonic background for an emergent and focused organ that dissolves into a returning familiar plucked acoustic bass phrase—a sort of arrival.
Crown Canal seems to represent a departure, reflecting on the fullness of the experience. The cello has a somewhat somber recurrent melody, reminiscent of a recessional or postlude, and has a tonality of resolution within a duo of a harmonium and tanpura. The ensemble is gently punctuated with percussion and voices. Despite being the longest piece on the album it has a curious absorptive quality, which compresses a sense of time, while achieving a state of steady entrancement.
The more I have listened to this album, it seems there is a general framework describing Allen’s own experience—the album appears to be a journey in four parts, describing what I interpret as: preparation, journey, arrival and return. The recording and mastering achieves a profound clarity and realism that I have come to know in Cory Allen’s previous albums, The Great Order and Pearls that feel as if the listener is within the environment where the music is being created.
The Source will be released on June 30th, 2015.
More on Cory Allen’s previous albums that I have reviewed can be found here.
The vinyl version of The Source–beautiful color!
This is a solicited review.
Damián Anache – Capturas del Único Camino
CD Time: 57:57, Digital, 300 copies of CD or 150 copies of Deluxe CD #CCL011 & #IR003
Tracks: 1) Paisaje Primero, 2) Paisaje Propio, 3) Paisaje Artificial, 4) Paisaje Natural
Websites: http://damiananache.com.ar/ &
Labels: Concepto Cero & Inkilino Records
Think of the hour just before sunrise, in Spring especially, the Sun hasn’t yet peeked above the horizon. The songs of birds and sounds of other animals slowly rise with the Sun. Eventually there is a wondrous sonic aura filling the morning, until the Sun is firmly in the sky and the impromptu performance gradually fades. A similar effect occurs at sunset as the gentle evening-song of birds and other fauna greet the night. The sound landscape can, at certain locations, grow to be almost deafening, yet there still remains a feeling of ease and relaxation. Other sounds might enter: wind, rain, trees moving, a distant coyote howling to its pack or even the sounds of a city or shipyard. Taken as a whole, the soundscape has no apparent patterns or melodies, and it spontaneously exists without apparent forethought or design. Isolate individual elements with the ear and some patterns may be detectable, whether from a songbird or the rubbing of an insect’s wings.
Although Argentine composer Damián Anache’s method of creation for his debut album Capturas del Único Camino is different in its technical execution, the resulting experience is similar to how sound is generated in our environment. Anache’s works have been performed at events at the Conservatorio Santa Cecilia (Rome), National University of Cordoba (Argentina), Museum of Modern Art in Ecuador (Quito) and the Cultural Center of Spain in Buenos Aires, among others, in addition to his guest musician appearances at several performances of live experimental music, and as a producer of local rock bands in Argentina. This album is also an outgrowth of the research project Spatial Sound Synthesis in Electroacoustic Music, directed by Oscar Pablo Di Liscia at the National University of Quilmes.
In Capturas, Anache prepared a collection of recordings using acoustic instruments (piano, guitar, glockenspiel, percussion, etc.), voices (the composer’s voice, including falsetto), electronics and field recordings of water (distant and near-field). He then generated a series of four interconnected soundscapes using a software-based technique to randomly select and place the recorded sounds into an interlocked linear progression (I’m not familiar with the software, so I’m taking this at face-value). While the recordings are largely abstract, non-representational of place and without identifiable melodic or harmonic structure, they can be quite spatial in their interaction with each of the other recorded elements. There are also transitions between the four parts where fragments of the subsequent movement appear towards the end of the previous movement coupled with a mild crescendo to generate a disguising sleight-of-hand between the sections.
In Paisaje Primero, strings are plucked, hammered and bowed lightly, percussion is struck gently and the sounds are untreated and naturally resonant. This is the softest and most spacious of the four movements, more furtive than calming, and is without a detectable melody or pattern. Voices appear in Paisaje Primero within about two minutes of the transition to Paisaje Propio. There are also gentle whispers and hushed vocalizations combined with placid trills and hisses. At times, the voices have a character of bowed strings, and I could be wrong, but I also detect some sounds of what could be a cello.
Near the close of Paisaje Propio synthetic sounds are combined with the voices and the character of Paisaje Artificial shifts quite dramatically from the acoustic environment of the first two movements. Paisaje Artificial is more industrial with a static-electric atmosphere, where sounds could be generated by the interaction of conflicting frequencies of radio interference or magnetic waves as one moves through space. Some sounds are pure sine-wave, and the higher frequencies are crystalline and sometimes piercing; so the listeners’ ears should be somewhat prepared, especially if headphones are in use. On the cusp of passing from the Paisaje Artificial realm, the electronics seem to be mildly treated for the appearance of water in Paisaje Natural. Water is presented near and far, as drips, a stream, bubbles, waves and perhaps rain falling from a roof to the ground. There are short cycles in this piece that last about three or so minutes, like passing rain showers, so there is not only gentle motion in the individual recordings, but also in the overall movement. Near the mid-point of Paisaje Natural the sounds of birds appear in the distance, and the treatment of the recording shifts from one existing within the recordings to one of observing from a vantage point of some kind of shelter (this may be unintentional, and purely my own interpretation).
Capturas del Único Camino is well-suited to both a pure listening experience or as part of an audio-visual installation. Despite its apparent minimalist structure and execution, Damián Anache has created a curiously soothing yet complex realm in his debut recording. Rise early in the morn or linger at dimmity, and let the music be revealed.
This is a solicited review.
Karl Culley – Stripling
Label: Sound of Jura http://www.soundofjura.com/
SOJCD1501 CD Time: About 36 minutes
Tracks: 1) Semi-Precious, 2) Come Over To Me, 3) School Of The Heart, 4) Spinneret, 5) The River To The Cave, 6) If We Were Free, 7) Namesake, 8) Mote, 9) Infinity Pool, 10) Whey-Faced Phantoms, 11) A.J., 12) Memory’s Like A Hunting Hawk
Youth, on the verge of adulthood, in search of meaning and perhaps companionship. Young enough and determined to look forward and hope and old enough to reflect on memories and retain some wisdom from experiences; this I interpret to be the theme of Karl Culley’s latest album Stripling. This is Culley’s fourth album, and he now lives in Krakow, Poland, where the album was recorded, but still with strong roots remaining in the north of England and Scotland. His previous albums are: Bundle of Nerves, The Owl and Phosphor.
The songs on Stripling range from hypnotic meditations to something that might cause a gathering of folks (in a pub, perhaps) to spontaneously dance (or at least vigorously toe-tap). The sonics are relatively intimate and unadorned: It’s Culley, his guitar and his voice, but it’s a deeply resonant recording. Contrary to some of his finger-style guitar contemporaries like William Tyler, Daniel Bachman or James Blackshaw there are no lengthy rambling instrumentals. The songs are penetrating and get right to their point with an atmosphere, a memory or story. While others have made comparisons to the work of John Martyn and Bert Jansch, I’ll add the early acoustic works of Gordon Lightfoot (with echoes of his subtle vocal warbles) and the technical crispness and vigor of John Jorgenson and Tommy Emmanuel.
Judging from the reflective nature of his lyrics, it seems like Culley’s work takes time to gestate, but once a piece is fledged it’s cohesive and thoughtfully formulated. There are curious ironies and juxtapositions between rhythms and words. The somewhat brief Come Over To Me seems to be based on heavy subjects, yet the meter, fingerings and melody are lively, but not exactly upbeat. Mote has lyrics (“Floating like a mote through sun or angels trapped in amber, we fall…”) that reference the abstract yet there is a steady grounded rhythm and melody. Whereas Semi-Precious, School Of The Heart, Spinneret and Namesake are reflective, even tender meditations, with the rhythmic fingerings of Spinneret reminiscent of some of Nick Drake’s work—and there is a humble elegance in Namesake.
The mood of a song and lyrics can also be direct and related like the more serious The River To The Cave—not sentimental or wallowing, but observant of circumstances. Vibrant lyrics and melody align in If We Were Free, with much of the verses being slightly-pitched spoken word observations with the final incantation “3 men are lowered into the ground…” abruptly punctuated with silence before returning one last time to the vigorous refrain (reminds me of Richard Thompson’s work).
Stripling isn’t without musing, delighting in the possibilities of enjoying a figurative or literal swim in the reverie of an Infinity Pool—it also is curiously similar rhythmically to the acoustic version of Layla that Eric Clapton recorded a number of years ago. There are also moments where advice is presented or experiences recounted as in Whey-Faced Phantoms, which evolves into a cautionary mantra and A.J. recalling the desolation of unexpected endings—in both, the melodies and harmonies echoing the starkness of a mood.
The album closes with Memory’s Like a Hunting Hawk, intensively focused with desire. There is, however, a pensive gentleness in the longing…solemn and hauntingly lyrical all at once. Also of special note are the pen and ink illustrations that decorate the CD and cover, as if from a notebook of youth: pondering, exploring, even brooding yet freely expressing. This CD made a long journey to me, and I’m glad it finally made it.
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.
Twigs & Yarn – Still Forms Drift
Eilean Rec 88 CD Time: 40:53
Label: https://eileanrec.bandcamp.com/album/still-forms-drift and http://www.eilean-records.com/
More on Twigs & Yarn: http://www.twigsandyarn.net/
Tracks: Hibernate, Sonora, Channeling, Cave Bears, In the Valley, Lend a Hand, Laelaps, Floes
Lauren McMurray and Stephen Orsak are Twigs & Yarn, and on their previous album (The Language of Flowers, my favorite album of 2012), the duo created it over a great distance (between Japan and Texas). Their work presses all the right buttons for me: it’s inventive, tender, melodic, and at times unexpected. T&Y takes me on a new journey every time I listen, yet there’s an inexplicable familiarity that I find comforting. There is also a curious child-like quality of discovery in the music.
On April 5th, 2015, Twigs & Yarn did a live segment on KOOP Radio in Austin, Texas that was (thankfully) streamed over the internet, and T&Y noted they hope to release another album later in 2015. I will link to the recording of the program if it is posted by KOOP (EDIT: Here is the link to the entire program: https://www.mixcloud.com/fadetoyellow/episode-164-fade-to-yellow-still-forms-drift/).
Over the course of their new album, Still Forms Drift I wonder if there is an intentional arc of how the pieces were developed. I detect that the tracks move from more melodic to experimental, and from rhythmic to more atmospheric and subdued, so there is a nice combination of moods and progression on the album.
A layered sonorous hum opens and eases the listener into Hibernate; sounds eddy between the channels (headphone or speakers). The music builds gradually and blends into a delicate yet immersive fabric where voices and distant cloaked sounds are revealed. Sonora is absolute magic—so romantic, delicately rhythmic, playful and with a hint of some of Raymond Scott’s electronic experiments of the 1950s and 60s. As it progresses, there is increasing comfort, dissolving enmeshed sound, then melodic humming. Exploring the layers, with repeated listens is like a treasure hunt, but then just listen again and disappear into it. It’s like a tender and pleasurable whisper during a dream.
Channeling moves to the outdoors, contemplating with the fauna and environs, then dissolving into a trance of gentle guitar, voices and comforting pulses. Gradually, the reverie subsides and a gentle reality emerges. Cave Bears opens a bit like an antique bell-chime clock, steady and somewhat glitchy. Beats, shifted repeating sounds and guitar harmonics are added and the rhythm slows. In The Valley is another memory of place, although more ambient and disconnected compared to Channeling. There is a slight grittiness to it as it progresses, with sounds that are less tangible, as in the edge of a dream. Lend a Hand is a song with two different parallel veiled spirits; an expression of yearning that moves in and out of focus…one voice moves to the distance, but then returns; as if eavesdropping on a one-sided conversation weaving in and out of gentle waves of guitar and entwined low resonant hums…a slowly rocking boat in the doldrums.
Perhaps the most meditative (and curiously metallic) of the pieces is Laelaps. I speculate that it’s an evening of lying on the ground outdoors with gazes cast to the sky in 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.
Steve Hackett – Wolflight
Label: InsideOut Music: Two Clear Vinyl LPs (with CD IOMSECD 417)
Time: About 65 minutes with bonus material (Other formats available)
LP 1: Side 1: Out of Body, Wolflight, Love Song to a Vampire; Side 2: The Wheel’s Turning, Corycian Fire, Earthshine, Loving Sea
LP 2: Side 1: Black Thunder, Dust and Dreams, Heart Song; Side 2: (Extra Tracks) Pneuma, Midnight Sun (with Todmobile), Caress (on LP 2, but not the enclosed CD)
Website: http://www.hackettsongs.com/index.html Shop: http://hackettsongs.sandbaghq.com/
After a pair of tremendously successful Genesis Revisited tours in Europe, UK, Japan and the US (with many sold out concerts and shows added due to demand), I’m thrilled that Steve Hackett is back again creating new music. He did the historic material from his Genesis era a worthy justice, clearly an important part of his life (and heck, mine too) and career, and some of that material will always be part of his live shows, but clearly it was time to move on to new things.
I was fortunate to have a chance to hear a preview of Wolflight in Steve Hackett’s studio in the autumn of 2014 and my immediate impression then was that the music is incredibly cinematic—vibrant sound and images in the tales unfolding in the music, whether vocal or instrumental. The music is drawn from experiences, places visited, dreams, nightmares, ancient history and inspired by love. I sense that there is still even a bit of delicately blended (and not yet completely written) autobiographical experiences.
Wolflight is an album of contrasts, from broad filmic passages, some briefly anthemic, to moments of delicate beauty. There is no formula being rehashed from his earlier work, but some elements that are pleasantly familiar are mixed with the inventiveness and varied regional instrumentation that I have come to appreciate in Hackett’s work throughout his oeuvre. Steve’s primary collaborators continue to be keyboardist Roger King and his wife Jo Hackett, along with live show bandmates and production team: Gary O’Toole, Rob Townsend, Nick Beggs, Amanda Lehmann, Benedict Fenner and others.
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.
M. Ostermeier – Still
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.
Yes, I’m guilty. I haven’t written many reviews of late–no other excuse except that there are many other things going on (not to mention a really rough winter), but here’s some of what I’ve been listening to, and I will also soon be writing a review of a forthcoming album on the Eilean label by Twigs & Yarn (some may recall that their The Language of Flowers on the Flau label was my favorite album of 2012). I recommend any of these albums.
A Winged Victory for the Sullen – ATOMOS: Kranky 190: I want to really like this album, but I struggle with some sections. I instantly loved their eponymous first release, but I continue to listen.
Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.: KScope 315: Follow-up to The Raven That Refused To Sing, and I frankly need more time with this album to formulate an opinion. The recording lacks the clarity and strength of the last (engineered by Alan Parsons), but I’m working through it.
M. Ostermeier – Still: Tench TCH07: Just started listening; minimal, soothing, and it is both in the background and can be for focused listening–a combination of melodic sounds and microtones. Helpful for calm…need more of that!
Robin Guthrie & Mark Gardener – Universal Road: Soleil Apres Minuit SM1501 CD: Comfortably familiar sound and soothing lyrics–shoegazing for the Sun.
I’ll likely have more to say on these soon, but for now, rest assured that my recommendation will not disappoint.
I’m hoping for Spring, and SOON!
Chris Jamison – Lovecraft
Future Spin Productions CD – Time: 38:26 – Release Date: March 31, 2015
Available at: http://www.chrisjamisonmusic.com/
Other Links: http://chrisjamison.bandcamp.com & https://soundcloud.com/chrisjamisonmusic
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
Taylor Deupree and Marcus Fischer at Spectrum NYC
More on Taylor Deupree and 12k: http://12k.com/
More on Marcus Fischer: http://www.mapmap.ch/
Compared to many, I am a relative latecomer to works on the 12k label (within the last 5 or 6 years), but I have listened to experimental, acoustic/electronic and improvised musical works for decades. Having missed other recent chances to see artists’ work that I admire in a live setting, I was quite pleased that the stars aligned last night to see Taylor Deupree and Marcus Fischer perform in an intimate and comfortable setting at the Spectrum NYC on Ludlow Street in Manhattan as the final part of The Cellar and Point Presents series. My elder son also came along–it was nice to share the event with him.
The type of work I do often involves long spans of time between inspiration and tangible result, months and frequently years. So, being able to witness creativity translated into a reality in a comparatively short interval is pleasantly stimulating. Mostly I’ve seen it in jazz collaborations or rock music solos—taking a true creative risk and watching the outcome unfold and evolve (although the latter is often pre-scripted these days).
Deupree’s own work I know primarily through his 12k label and I have reviewed a number of his label’s albums here, and Fischer’s with various collaborations and solo works on a number of labels including Tench, Kesh, Optic Echo, Flaming Pines, 12k as well as self-released. Aside from their live performance with Corey Fuller, Tomoyoshi Date and Simon Scott on the 12k CD Between, Deupree and Fischer also collaborated on a studio project in 2011 entitled In A Place Of Such Graceful Shapes (and I was VERY fortunate to find the gorgeous original limited edition release thanks to a referral from Marcus Fischer who spotted a lone remaining copy at Beacon Sound in Portland, Oregon a couple of years ago).
I’ve been trying to find the text source, but I recall Taylor Deupree advocating that musicians of electronic or experimental works avoid using their laptop computers as primary music generators at performances, recommending artists create sound in the moment via other methods, rather than playing prerecorded sequenced works. Live performances need not be perfect, and sometimes fascinating things come out of failure or happenstance. Last night’s performance lasted a bit more than an hour (audio and video were recorded by Joseph Branciforte of The Cellar and Point), and was a sonic journey that could have fallen unexpectedly to quirks of some rather complicated equipment set-ups (see photos below), but the back-up plans in place were not needed at all.
Initially, Deupree and Fischer spent about 15 or 20 minutes recording and layering sounds and textures loosely reminiscent of Graceful Shapes with percussion, melodic instruments, bows and various effects before branching off and working, more or less, independently of each other yet still curiously bound together. At about 40 minutes, both added new sounds and effects to take the performance into an alternate realm (Deupree being somewhat freer in applying contrasting textures).
Taylor Deupree’s Equipment
After the opening, Deupree’s sound creation and processing were primarily via electronic means, adding sounds from his modular synthesizer and shifting resonances between the channels of Spectrum’s surround-sound system. Whereas Fischer used largely acoustic instrumentation, plucking strings, bowing (actual bow and E-bow), tuning forks and other objects to add layers and textures. Before long, sounds that started as staccato percussives sounded more like fluid, perhaps akin to an ocean or at a shore, and light breezes mixed with occasional Manhattan street noises (the happenstance).
Fischer, who also works with tape loops (such as his recording At Frame) had a vintage tape recorder with an expanded trapezoid of magnetic tape stretched between microphone stands to supplement the fabric of sound. Fischer would at times modulate pitch by physically moving the tape (also, watching the tape splice pass across the stands was rather hypnotic). Only occasional glances between Deupree and Fischer occurred as the piece developed, no words exchanged, just the sounds they created that filled the space. At an appointed moment, Fischer snipped the tape loop, it unraveled, and the music gradually faded into the night.
Marcus Fischer’s Equipment
It was an inspiring and soothing diversion from the realities that compete for space in an overly active mind, and Taylor Deupree and Marcus Fischer’s performance gives me hope that in an age where ceaseless media, noise, and clamoring for wealth and power dominates many of our collective daily experiences, it is possible to remain true to a more peaceful and well-crafted vision while remaining spontaneous and creative in a quiet timelessness.
A couple of pre-show photographs by jotabu
Marcus Fischer Pre-Performance Set-up
Marsen Jules – Sinfonietta
CD DR-28 – Time: 45:56 (Limited Edition of 100 and Deluxe Edition of 100)
Dronarivm – http://dronarivm.com/2014/11/21/marsen-jules-sinfonietta/ & http://dronarivm.bandcamp.com/album/sinfonietta
Almost two years ago The Endless Change of Colour (12k1074) presented a peaceful timelessness borne from a phrase on a jazz record split into three stems disguised as something entirely different. The resulting single movement instrumental work was grounded in a calming earthiness.
Sinfonietta is similar in form, although in contrast it’s loosely held to the bounds of sonic gravity. From the opening, the music phrases materialize definitively then ease in gently to create a feeling of gazing over what could be a familiar realm below with the observer being gently suspended and the vision staying just beyond reach. Recurrent themes occupy a somewhat narrower range of sound and emotion compared to TECOC, yet there are no detectable patterns and the entire work is elegantly devoid of monotony. Periodically, slower flowing waves materialize and vanish gracefully, like evaporating clouds, a languid aurora or another vision from the imagination.
Even with a seemingly minimal palette, Marsen Jules (the nom de plume of Martin Juhls) cleverly interlaces and produces three dimensional visualizations in sound. Listening to Sinfonietta, I feel as if I am serenely traveling in space, perhaps orbiting the Earth (or another as yet undiscovered planet) and marveling at the sights from my comfortable observation craft where I am quite content to remain.
This is a solicited review.
My Favorites of 2014
2014 has been a year when I’ve been relatively quiet on reviews, but I have been listening to many things, and I was very fortunate to attend some fabulous concerts that I’ve documented here with brief write-ups and photos (no photos of King Crimson!). I’ve also been focused on other things, including making noise with some guitars. As in the past, my listening is concentrated on what’s available to me, which is relatively narrow in scope, but I do listen to a pretty wide array of music.
This is my list of 14 favorites for 2014 (in no particular order) and then a few special categories. Each title on the list links to the artist or record label website. Happy Listening and I hope you all have a nice Holiday season, no matter what you celebrate. Thank you for reading in 2014!
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Nick Magnus – n’monix
Tony Patterson & Brendan Eyre – Northwinds
Should – The Great Pretend
Hallock Hill – Kosloff Mansion (My review was somewhat unconventional in interpretation–a really nice album).
Gareth Dickson – Invisible String (a compilation of recent live recordings)
Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2CD/DVD (a fabulous live album & DVD with excellent sound quality!)
Stephen Vitiello + Taylor Deupree – Captiva (double 10” LP)
Medeski Scofield Martin Wood – Juice
Ben Watt – Hendra
Beck – Morning Phase
Levin Brothers – Levin Brothers (It’s only taken decades, but the Levin brothers got together and made a really marvelous jazz album)
Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread
Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd – White Bird in a Blizzard
Anthony Phillips – Harvest of the Heart (Anthology Boxed Set): Unlike the recent R-kive Genesis box set, Cherry Red knows how to put together a proper anthology, complete with many tracks of never-before heard music from AP’s archives.
Jason Molina – Songs: Ohia – Journey On (7” 45 RPM Compilation Box Set, a really beautiful set, probably rarer than hen’s teeth by now.)
King Crimson – The Elements (Tour Box, archive, live and some new material as a companion to the 2014 US Tour)
East River Pipe – The Gasoline Age (vinyl reissue, my introduction to the brilliant songs of F. M. Cornog when it was first released on CD in the early 1990s)
Lambchop – Live at XX Merge (I’m so happy that Merge Records decided to release this in honor of their 25th Anniversary. Looks like the LP is out of print for the moment.)
William Tyler – Lost Colony
Olan Mill – Half Seas Over (Live performances 2012-2014)…too short for an album, too long for an EP, but what the heck!
An Accidental Concert Photo
Allan Holdsworth Trio – Iron Horse Music Hall – Sept 17, 2014
Information on the Allan Holdsworth Trio Tour: http://www.therealallanholdsworth.com/allanlive.htm
What a treat to see Allan Holdsworth, Gary Husband and Jimmy Haslip last night at the Iron Horse Music Hall (I used to know it as the Iron Horse Cafe) in Northampton, MA. The lighting could’ve been better (so the photos aren’t great), but the food was pretty darned good (as was the company and others in the crowd). This was the first gig of the trio and there were some kinks with equipment (and some timing), but all three were in fine form and probably the most energetic I’ve ever seen Allan Holdsworth on stage during his solos especially. The trio worked well together and all took solos throughout the nearly 90 minute set. Jimmy Haslip scatted along with a couple of his solos and Gary Husband was explosive at times–really a treat to watch him play again (it’s been a long time!). Great humor and chemistry between the band and the crowd. The opening trio (Beledo and Friends) was a nice complement to the music of the night and members are from Uruguay, Ireland…and BROOKLYN!!). Gary Husband spent a great deal of time hiding behind the ride cymbal from where we were sitting, but he was pretty much a blur all night anyway!
I recognized most of the set from albums like The Sixteen Men of Tain, IOU, Sand, All Night Wrong and it’s always a treat to hear Zone, Water on the Brain, Lanyard Loop, Fred and one of my (more ambient) favorites Above & Below. In the middle of the set there was a piece that I didn’t recognize and it was rather free form with three equal solos.
Thanks for a great night, and by all means–get tickets to see this trio!
Zammuto – Anchor
Temporary Residence TRR 227 LP (CD and D/L) Time: About 39 Minutes for 11 LP Tracks
Artist: http://www.zammutosound.com/ Label: http://temporaryresidence.com/
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.
Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers
Merge Records MRG 523 LP CD FLAC and MP3 Time: About 43 minutes
1) Lucia 2) Saturday’s Song 3) Mahogany Dread 4) Day O Day (A Love So Free) 5) Lateness of Dancers 6) I’m A Raven (Shake Children) 7) Black Dog Wind (Rose of Roses) 8) Southern Grammar 9) Chapter & Verse (Ione’s Song) 10) Drum
Artist Information http://www.mergerecords.com/hiss-golden-messenger Samples: http://www.mergerecords.com/songmgr/radio.php?album=60195&song=61865
I got to know Hiss Golden Messenger’s (M. C. Taylor) music after perusing the online catalog of Tompkins Square, where I had purchased William Tyler’s solo album Behold The Spirit (prior to his Merge Records release Impossible Truth). I ordered the HGM album Poor Moon, and that was all it took for me to go off hunting for more, which led me to his 2013 album Haw (on Paradise of Bachelors) and ultimately to his first complete album Bad Debt, recorded in his kitchen shortly after the birth of his son in 2009. There are overtones of concern in that album, since it was created as the global economic crisis was hitting financial markets and was having tangible effects on people. It took Bad Debt a long time to see the light of day due to a warehouse fire during the London riots a few years back—most of the original CDs were lost. Amanda Petrusich has a brief essay about Taylor at the Merge Records link above, and it will give further insight on the roots of his music and her impressions.
Lateness of Dancers is quieter and a bit slower in pace compared to Haw and the recording is more intimate, even introspective with some of the qualities of Bad Debt. It includes some musicians from the previous albums along with primary collaborator Scott Hirsch (most often on electric and bass guitars) and William Tyler. Taylor’s songs appear to be largely personal self-reflections, laments on vulnerability, restrained joy, explorations of faith and optimism. This album sounds to me like it’s rooted in the early to mid-1970s in sound.
Taylor’s voice is at times like a melodic version of Bob Dylan as on Lucia, which has a gentle sway to it (as do other songs on the album). I immediately felt like I was back in the early 1970s during Saturday’s Song (a time when I listened to albums for hours on end). Saturday has a Jackson Browne Doctor My Eyes vibe to it and is instantly familiar and comfortable. The spirit of Mick Fleetwood was present for the back beat of Mahogany Dread along with an early incarnation of Fleetwood Mac (for those of us old enough to remember!). No doubt, Taylor’s son’s voice opens Day O Day (A Love So Free) with his self-assured proclamation (present in younger children) of the song’s title. It’s quiet and contemplative and the subtitle gradually becomes an incantation of joy. Lateness of Dancers is one of the more serious sounding tracks on the album, the other being Chapter & Verse (Ione’s Song), which is revealing and very contemplative. I’m a Raven (Shake Children) growls with a heavy beat and is a contrast to the slow-dance quality of Black Dog Wind (Rose of Roses). Southern Grammar channels a gentler (yet still funky) version of Lowell George and Little Feat of the Dixie Chicken era (oh, how I miss Lowell George).
The album ends with a lightly orchestrated version of Drum (that first appeared on Bad Debt) and it has the spirit of a recessional, and it sounds hopeful “I’ll rise in the morning, take the good news and carry it away…” Lateness of Dancers is good news indeed, and it seems like Hiss Golden Messenger has landed at a good spot with Merge, where his work will hopefully get to a wider audience, and they will let M. C. Taylor continue unencumbered to do what he does best: write thoughtful and beautifully crafted songs.