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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Label: mopstudio CD-R (Gatefold case with artwork by Mahnaz Esmaeili): MST 001 Time: 51:59
CD available at: http://www.mopstudio.com/site/
Digital files available at: https://salvatorepassaro.bandcamp.com/releases and at iTunes
Tracks: 1) Stone 2) Touch 3) A Light 4) Dream 5) Memory 6) Next 7) Circular 8)Blue 9) Overwhelming 10) Early Morning 11) Settembre 12) It Is 13) Trip 14) Sinestesia
There’s a somewhat enigmatic quality to this album: the instrumentation, what might have inspired the work and to a certain extent, Mr. Passaro himself. What I do know is Italy-based Passaro’s last work, a collaboration with Carlo Cossu entitled Earth, was released approximately 15 years ago, and there are some excerpts from that collaboration scattered around the internet (which I chose not to sample). Since I’m a bit of an equipment geek, I normally find background helpful, although I’m told by some musicians, “…never reveal your secrets…” Despite the album’s title, Overwhelming is a relatively calm offering that exists within a fairly narrow emotional range, with minimal sonic distractions and melodic directions. Whether spontaneous or scripted there are moments where Overwhelming leans toward the ambient music genre with an occasional sense of place, and others where it’s nearly sleep-inducing devoid of an identifiable physical realm, yet the music generally hovers somewhere in between.
The instrumentation (real and/or virtual?) appears to be primarily electric guitar, piano and some electronic keyboards with various effects and treatments. The strongest sonic nudge is the opening track, Stone with purer sounds that are woven and sustained. Only near the end more forceful tones and grit enter the soundscape. Touch is more spacious with grainier qualities. Then the album settles into a more pleasant, swaying and peaceful interlude with A Light, Dream, Memory and Next. In this section places and memories are evoked with veiled sounds of a shoreline, wind, voices and the outdoors. Next is the most restful.
Many of the pieces seem to be improvised with minimal underlying structure (I could be entirely wrong). Circular has drifting voices co-mingling with piano and keyboards. Blue continues with even more random bell-like notes (perhaps on a heavily processed piano) until there appears to be momentary references to Vangelis’ Memories of Green. Ironically, the title track Overwhelming is one of the more sedate pieces on the album with gently rolling voices mixed with guitar and keyboards. Whereas, relatively true to its title, Early Morning has sounds emerging and blending much like the rising Sun as colors of a new day are gradually revealed as darkness wanes. Settembre is plucky, gritty and random. Phased, flanged and wandering is It Is, and Trip gently winds-up and then coasts with scenery wisping by in slow-motion. Sinestesia closes the album and is the haziest, layered and trance-inducing track, and it doesn’t stray far from its central sonic focus.
The CD version of the album is available directly from the artist at the website noted above with digital versions available at Bandcamp and iTunes.
This is a solicited review.
Twice Removed TR051 CD-R Time: 29:21
Tracks: 1) Awakening 2) Black Sea 3) The Quiet Rust 4) Passage 5) Echoes 6) Behind These Walls 7) Thaw 8) Distances
Buried and Resurfaced is the final release, of 60 albums and EPs, from the Twice Removed record label. Label curator Gavin Catling, in far away (from me) Perth (western) Australia, has done a fine job of bringing artists and musicians to our attention since 2011, and I’m sorry to see him put the label to bed, but understand his desire and need to bring the project to an end.
This album arrived here at an interesting moment; I had recently done some reading on the gradual and tragic decline of the Aral Sea between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Some of what I have read and imagined about the decline of that landscape seems to have parallels in René Gonzalez Schelbeck’s musical creation, even the title. I have also just seen Guy Maddin’s adventurous, liquid-time-bending and bizarre film, The Forbidden Room, and in many ways Buried and Resurfaced could have been a soundtrack for that film. The film is an homage to old lost and often quirky movies, which Maddin reimagined, and they are collected as an amorphous omnibus that is almost beyond description and, at times, comprehension.
Another parallel to Buried is it can be beheld as either individual pieces or part of a larger whole with a real or imagined narrative. The tape-decayed and modulated passages in Buried blend remarkably well with Maddin’s visuals (firmly planted in my memory—it’s an intense film). The possible album storylines I have posited are two possible accounts, but there are many others, despite what might be the actual intent (if any) of RG Schelbeck.
There is an ancient and mysterious quality to the music from the start. Tape decay and flutter produces wrinkles in the perceived time continuum. The electric guitar is also well disguised with bowing, modulation, and effects, often yielding qualities akin to a long-neglected Mellotron or Chamberlin.
Awakening is the languid preparation for the journey and pending storm. Black Sea has a dark foundation and buffets with macabre winds lashing a hull at sea and occasional sonic breaching of the portholes (this piece is an especially perfect match for Maddin’s film). Quiet Rust is a peaceful yet unsettling aftermath to the storm with its sustained and reverberant atmosphere (this track is well mated with Schelbeck’s companion video: scenes of San Francisco after the devastating 1906 earthquake). It also reminds me a bit of Kane Ikin’s and David Wenngren’s collaboration Chalk from their 2012 album Strangers.
Being cast adrift in an increasingly dense fog is the texture of Passage with expanding and layered dark droning strings. Echoes pulses above and near before vibrating from the depths (a subwoofer helps to enhance this). Sounds move near, then are distant and fade into the ether. The most active and sweeping of the tracks is Behind These Walls, as if the storm of Black Sea returns, this time on land with squalls lashing relentlessly. I think I hear the warm and familiar hum of a tube amplifier in Thaw, with the percussive plucking of strings, as if water is dripping from ice in a warming sunshine. Buried and Resurfaced closes gently with the reflective and contemplative Distances with far off sounds of (perhaps field recordings of) nature absorbed into the haze.
My one criticism of the album (also a compliment), is the abbreviated timing of some of the pieces makes them seem rather elusive. Just when settling into the immersive aura of the music, some tracks fade away too soon, and I was left hoping that each would last longer for a more deeply enhanced experience. Perhaps extended versions might appear at some point in the future?
Trailer to Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room
This is a solicited review.
Cherry Red Records – Esoteric Antenna EANTCD 1053 – CD Time: 48:59
Available at: http://shop.cherryred.co.uk/shopexd.asp?id=5158
Tracks: 1) Another Life 2) Look Up 3) Poison Town 4) White Lines 5) Life In Reverse 6) Burnt Down Trees 7) Satellite 8) Forest 9) Magazine 10) Rain 11) Actors 12) Another Day, Another Night 13) Poison Town Reprise
It’s hard for me to believe that it was 10 years ago John Hackett released his last “electric” album Checking Out of London, a collaboration with lyricist Nick Clabburn, brother Steve Hackett, keyboardist Nick Magnus and guest vocalist Tony Patterson. COoL was largely an album of contemplation of modern realities with a fairly narrow and relatively calm emotional range (the song Ego & Id being the exception). Since COol John Hackett has released a collection of acoustic collaborations (see photo, I’m sure some are missing from my collection) and a live album with Nick Magnus in 2010, in addition to other session work with Magnus and others.
In contrast, Another Life exists in a darker realm, and is cathartic, but also treats the subject matter, at times, with sonic irony—where the music belies the lyrics, almost mocking the hopelessness or anger, reveling in the pain, getting to an even darker place perhaps in the hope to emerge in a better elsewhere. It’s not, however, necessarily a nihilist point of view. I also hesitate to say that Another Life is a concept album, but there is a tightly knit theme throughout.
The title track opens the album aggressively and builds to a primal scream of sorts. After listening to it a few times, I detected a structural pattern similar to the verse and refrain comparing it to In The Court of the Crimson King, including the point where John Hackett’s flute enters…coincidental or an homage? In Look Up “Everyone is changing…” and it is reminiscent of the sound of the change The Byrds sang of in the late 1960s (and distinctive opening chords like ELO’s 10538 Overture). The song is embedded with foreboding, but it has a driving energy of what I characterize as hope in the words “Look up and feel the light…” Poison Town is one of the examples of where the music seems to contradict the message of the lyrics, it has a sort of chill-vibe with the soft keyboards and wah-wah treatment of the guitar…kind of swaying and comforted in the darkness of thought. White Lines delves into frustration, with the Doppler-Effect sound and motion of vehicles speeding past on a highway, following the road into a vanished point in the distance…a destination never reached on an endless journey.
Life In Reverse on one hand is bleak, but there is a sense of optimism and beauty in the music—the chord shifts, layered chorus vocals and the gorgeous bridge from John Hackett’s flute (the passage “This rented room…This rented life…” with the chord bends and vocals is powerful). Another example of the sharp contrast of the message in the lyrics and music is Burnt Down Trees, as if one is mocking the other. The music is funky, rhythmic with ripping guitar solos from Steve Hackett, almost as if the music is laughing at reality while the streets burn; like the conditions are so bad, one needs comic relief or escapism. Ant Phillips is a guest instrumentalist on Satellite (12 string guitar and harpsichord). A song of conflicted feelings, opens with Steve Hackett on harmonica, with flowing chords and harmonies from the vocals and guitars. Stark truth and minimal sentimentality “Say how you feel…I just want to hear you try…” By the time Phillips’ rich sounding harpsichord enters, the difficulties of reality return—a very emotional piece, one that cannot be played loud enough to hear all the depth to the layers. Holding onto beauty in the face of despair.
Forest, in a way harkens back, in sound and instrumentation, to many of the songs on COoL. Reflection and self-examination, pondering how things could have gone, yet living with how they turned out. Magazine is the one piece on the album where Nick Magnus is credited as a songwriter along with Hackett and Clabburn. It’s another in the canon of gentle and contemplative songs, somewhat like the early instrumental piece by brother Steve Hammer In The Sand, although it passes through a couple of grander orchestral codas. Rain is perhaps a relationship gone bad (the actual inspiration could be completely different!) and in this the music and lyrics are aligned—the twisting sadness of the minor chords and the forceful vocal refrain, punctuated by Steve’s sustained growling solos.
There was something about Actors that sounded familiar to me…the lyrics seemed to have a parallel elsewhere, and sure enough, portions of the lyrics were used in the Squackett (Steve Hackett and Chris Squire) song Divided Self (a marvelous song, by the way—lyrics also by Clabburn). It’s a song of internal conflict—“Two tongues speaking in my head…” with a curious I Am The Walrus-esque link in the middle before the first guitar solo and vocal choruses. Another Day, Another Night has some sounds of hope with its upbeat rhythm and instrumentation, and is where the message is delivered to whatever is causing the feelings of darkness to move on—kind of an ultimatum with signs of optimism.
And then…the Poison Town Reprise…and a bit of the darkness returns.
Fear not the subject, just get lost in the music—I certainly have…as I click REPLAY.
CD PR025 time: 40:53 (Also available as an LP, first 100 copies on coke clear vinyl)
1) Divine Waves – 12:11 2) White Wings – 8:53 3) Neon Mandalas – 6:58 4) Crown Canal – 12:48
Cory Allen: Hammond Organ, Harmonium, Tanpura, Rhodes Electric Piano, Violin, Voice, Mbira, Balalaika, Tibetan Singing Bowl, Gong, Tingsha Bells, Chinese Bells, Balinese Nut Shell Shaker
With Brent Fariss: Bass, Henna Chou: Cello and Lyman Hardy: Drums and Percussion
Preorder link: http://www.punctumrecords.com/shop/coryallen-thesource
Without any prior guided experience to an astral realm of enlightenment, I feel a bit underqualified in commenting on certain aspects that may have influenced or inspired this album, but I feel perfectly at ease in speaking on the restorative nature of music, meditation and private contemplation. The mind is often so pre-occupied with distractions that thoughts become fragmented, confused, and the ability to concentrate is diminished—so at times a realignment is in order. Cory Allen’s new album, The Source provides a gentle yet intensive framework to cleanse the mind and re-focus awareness. In tech-speak: defragmenting the hard drive.
The Source, I think, is both a reflection of Allen’s own achievement of radial balance and self-unity, as well as a sonic guide for others to experience. With repeated auditions of the album, awareness of both the individual instrumentation and the gestalt of the overall effect of the work increases. For those less familiar with Cory Allen’s oeuvre, and before listening, an important aspect to keep in mind, is to suspend conventional expectations of musical structure and melody, and allow oneself to be drawn into the experience of both listening and feeling the sounds in the recording. Also, Allen’s work often uses a loosely rules-based construction including guided improvisation.
Divine Waves slow-dances on the edge of something resembling a liquid jazz with the initial two, three and four note phrases exchanging between cymbals and bass (plucked and later bowed). A tanpura joins the ensemble and its whirr is sustained by merging with the bass, cymbals, and chiming of inter-mingled bells and bowls. I hesitate to say that the cello is a later mournful addition to the group, yet it adds a wistful calm with an electric piano gently weaving throughout. The instrumentation in the latter part of Divine blends into a soft vibrating drone and is as much about the sound heard, as well as the interaction of the vibrations being felt (to experience this, I recommend listening with well-placed speakers at a volume roughly equivalent to match the original live sound of the instruments versus using headphones).
Initially focusing on the interplay of two and four notes phrases on a balalaika, White Wings’ bowed cello and bass, drums and harmonium absorb and weave while stretching varying dissonances. A first sonic alignment appears at a little more than two-and-a-half minutes, before meandering many times again with loose guidance (visually, like a flock of migrating swallows as they gather in the autumn, at sundown, seeking a resting place for the night).
The most intensive experience on the album is within Neon Mandalas; initially there is a chorus of deeply toned voices (which I think should have extended even longer), and once held in that realm, other elements are introduced with their fleeting movements (percussion, drums, bass and tanpura). A choir of gently plucked Mbiras (like a gentle steady rain) and bells provides a sonic background for an emergent and focused organ that dissolves into a returning familiar plucked acoustic bass phrase—a sort of arrival.
Crown Canal seems to represent a departure, reflecting on the fullness of the experience. The cello has a somewhat somber recurrent melody, reminiscent of a recessional or postlude, and has a tonality of resolution within a duo of a harmonium and tanpura. The ensemble is gently punctuated with percussion and voices. Despite being the longest piece on the album it has a curious absorptive quality, which compresses a sense of time, while achieving a state of steady entrancement.
The more I have listened to this album, it seems there is a general framework describing Allen’s own experience—the album appears to be a journey in four parts, describing what I interpret as: preparation, journey, arrival and return. The recording and mastering achieves a profound clarity and realism that I have come to know in Cory Allen’s previous albums, The Great Order and Pearls that feel as if the listener is within the environment where the music is being created.
The Source will be released on June 30th, 2015.
More on Cory Allen’s previous albums that I have reviewed can be found here.
The vinyl version of The Source–beautiful color!
This is a solicited review.