Sound in Silence x 4: Panoptique Electrical/ Test Card/ Sweeney/ A Lily.

Keeping up to date with releases that come my way is getting daunting now (and I am nowhere near the level of submissions of the bigger better known blogs like Headphone Commute, Stationary Travels and A Closer Listen get). The choice I see it is to review only select things and be choosy or to reduce the size of the reviews to try to cover more music. I have opted to do the latter.

With this review I will mention four of the previous Sound in Silence releases (with their most recent Gray Acres and Yndi Halda releases to come later).

Panoptique Electrical is the solo project of Jason Sweeney with “Quiet Ecology”beinh his third release on the Sound in Silence label after last year’s highly acclaimed “Disappearing Music for Face” and the debut album, back in 2015 of collaboration with Richard Adams of Hood and The Declining Winter, under the name Great Panoptique Winter. According to the label the album is “centered on gentle piano melodies and a background full of atmospheric textures and swelling cello drones. “Quiet Ecology” balances between Modern Classical and Ambient soundscapes, in the vein of both Ambient pioneers like Brian Eno and Harold Budd and artist like Max Richter and A Winged Victory For The Sullen.”

The album opens with “The World is so Loud” which fuses minimalist repetitive piano motifs effectively alongside long undulating and ultimately fulfilling drones. The dark stabs of piano that end each section reverberate with weight to them that is opposite to the drones that cascade around it. The drones would be enough to sustain another artists work by themselves. There is a feeling of lightness with a hint of melancholy while the piano tone is rather morose.

“A Vow of Silence” welcomes the listener with multilayered drones of ominous quality that vibrate with a short thick frequency while a cello drone cuts in and out, sometimes just barely in the background. The feeling of the drones is of like an amplified recording of natural sounds of the earth has been manipulated to a more consistent soundscape.

“Footfalls” the piano makes a welcome return with a balanced sound of lighter and darker keys and rather than the repetitiveness of the opener, a more lyrical approach to the music. With piano based music it is sometimes hard to gleam a different feel or mood to the music due to the timbre of the instrument. The music on this particular piece cones across very filmic, in my mind, to visualize a night drive in blinding rain desperate to get somewhere or leave somewhere. The mood over the seven plus minutes of the piece is consistent and unadorned, leaving a naked piece of music to reveal itself.

“Upon a Map” creates a string section drone that cuts across the music with sharp sections of cello slashing across a dark filigree of drones which give the track more of the feel and (almost) rhythm.

“A Place With Trees” minimal keys with long reverberations open this piece and give it weight when filling out the sound. The long drones created are matched by the delicate melodies also created. The feeling of the piece as if Sweeney has sat down and just started playing with an open mind, but with an idea of an intended sound as well. The music feels very relaxed, the pace is consistent, with a slight feeling of things breaking down as the piece goes on and the playing becomes darker in mood.

“In Between Buildings” mote strident piano playing sets the tone for this track that musically sits mid range between the more melancholic and light and airy playing. There is definitely a meditative feel with the use of building repetition. Five minutes into the piece the tone changes with a slight detour into the darker sounds of the instrument which cases this constant rumble of keys vibrating to give the piece a thick underbelly. This is a part that you would expect a soaring string section to elevate it and push the music further out into the stratosfear, but restraint is shown in not doing something obvious.

“Quiet Ecology” is quiet a stunning work that adds another name into the mix of fine piano musicians.

Test Card is the solo project of Vancouver based Lee Nicholson also known in the past as Electrohome and as a member of Formula One, Domestic4 and Future Peasents. He has released on labels such as Kooky, Fierce Panda, Liquefaction and others. “Redfussion” is his second full-length album after last years highly acclaimed debut album “Start Up Close Down” on the japanese Symbolic Interaction label. “Blending perfectly elements of dreamy Ambient, Minimal Post Rock and Lo-Fi Electronica, “Redfussion is a lovely release highly recommended for devotees of Labradford, 1 Mile North, The Durutti Column and Helios.”

Test Card is a new name for me. The music covers the glitchy but organic strains of electronica meets ambience. Opener “Remembering Redfussion” has squelchy beats, ambience, warped electronics, guitar parts to fuse together creating a mishap mash of different sound sources that work together in creating a relaxed bit of electronica.

“Those Long Dusks of Summer” bass tones , synth ambience, delicate Fripp & Eno-esque guitars, phasing synthesizers and the most minimal of beats to create a retro inspired piece of gentle ambient/ electronica with sci-fi touches.

“Another Early Night” with an opener sound similar to that of Gary Numan’s “Cars” the track welcomes ambient pulses alongside glitches and snatches of guitar and other sounds. Squelches loop to form a sort of percussive rhythm while dub like sound techniques are introduced added to the retro sounds of this synth (slightly reminiscent of the Dr Who theme) to create a laid back piece.

“Old Enough to Drink Sherry” sees the guitar come to fore surrounded by swirling ambience and mini retro drum machine beats. The sound is light even with all the elements included the customary retro synths fluttering in and out. The music doesn’t force its way through to the listener, rather being laid back for the listener to engage with.

“The Sheep Field is Now An Estate” warm tape looped like ambience is built upon with other lighter drones, tiny fragments of guitar that briefly shine alongside a slightly darker toned guitar and drones which start to take a more forceful presence.

“Be Home In Time For Tea” Wah guitar sets this track apart immediately alongside other guitar parts, sci-fi touches, truncated beats and sounds to give an ambient meets sci fi meets surf music feel. The guitars that occupy different plains in the track are the feature instrument of the piece. They create the melodies, rhythm and also are used as a textural device.

“My Favorite Conker Tree” uses loops that sound like theremin to warp in and out while guitars come in in snatches of sound. Backwards clipped recordings are used effectively in the nostalgic sense. There is a pastoral laid back feel to the track which you can pin on the guitars and the loops.

“Ice Cream Day Dream” is a brief snatch of retro synth progression that is over almost as it just began.

“We Have Helium Balloons” a layered section of crooning and choral wordless vocals are paired with minimal crisp beats, dubby bass lines, twangy guitar lines and snatches of electronics. The track works well in that it doesn’t over do in the elements and feels more constructed than some of the others.

“I feel so Adrone” phasing guitar is joined by cold ambience that changes around in the depth of the track as does the guitar parts. The ambience takes over this time with a warmer freer tone before fading into the background with a bass section added. Each section that comes in retreats back to the background while the previous elements returns to the fore. It’s almost like a treadmill with the movements of the instruments coming around cyclically. The warm ambience tends to win the battle of the elements as it remains for the majority of the track.

Unfortunately this album didn’t grab me. There is nothing wrong with it, there are parts that are nice such as “We Have Helium Balloons”, but as a whole body of work it wasn’t for me. However, other reviewers have liked it and if you like that hazy nostalgic ambient meets electronica theme it might be right for you.

Taking a detour from his Panoptique Electrical pseudonym Jason Sweeney also records under the simple name of Sweeney.

“With help of his collaborators Jed Palmer and Zoe Barry who provide Cello, Accordian, String Arrangements, Guitars and Bass, Sweeney creates a peaceful and emotional album full of beautiful textures and sonic landscapes. Centered on his distinctive voice and melodic piano lines, “Middle Ages” magnificently merges songwriting, Modern Classical and Ambient sounds with minimal beats and field recordings.”

“Night at Spirit Lake” sees Sweeney’s Sylvian-esque fragile vocals over piano welcomed in by a string section drone. The vocals have a faltering emotional touch to them which is enhanced by the cinematic nature of the music with drones heightening this feeling. You get the feeling of mood being a strong consideration in the construction of the piece.

“End of Men” musically the tone is lighter than the opener with a more lightly haunting feel. Lyrically the tine is dark but the vocals don’t over do it. Subtle bass guitar motifs lead soaring sections of strings that bring in the haunted stark feeling inspired by the lyrics.

“45” swirling piano and cello accompany vocals that are dripping in despair and are faltering in their delivery. Metallic shaking percussive sound introduces a more intense section with percussive piano as well as staccato cello that raise the intensity of the music, but also change the tone to like dark European folk music.

“Oh Goddess” fuses piano, voice, synths and cello. The Sylvian-esque quality of Sweeney’s vocals is more noticeable here with the track also having a retro feel to it. The cello provides the melody to the track, before the string section turns percussive with its insistent rhythms alongside the piano.

“Man of Dreams” delicate piano lines with soft string drones accompany Sweeney as he croons about a lover and his features. The music while not bathed in light or darkness seems to float in between these two dimensions. The vocals are passionate without getting whispery or dramatic. Overall the track in a way, shows restraint.

“When He Went Away” light strings cut through with both a melodic and drone touch to them before retro pulsing synths and a bass drum beat welcome acoustic guitar and vocals. The vocals have a touch of fragility which is followed by a medieval sounding string section which further takes the track in another direction. Accordion adds a flourish of sound that adds to the piece.

“True Love” piano,vocals and cello entwine together with the strings complimenting the piano rhythms as they are both light and delicate. The cello is gentle with its playing, the piano sounds like fingers rolling over the keys with slight weight placed on the keys. The vocals vary from breathy to faltering to more strident delivery.

“Middle Ages” cinematic strings and drones mirror each other with light drones, gongs taking the music into the next direction alongside field recordings of someone walking on hard wood floors and birdsong. Synth ambience permeates the piece for the second half of its duration providing a counterpoint to the opening string section.

“None but the Lonely Girl” piano, pastoral sounding acoustic guitar, vocals, strings take the song in a medieval feel with the guitars having a lute like quality to them. They mirror the piano and with the accordion revel in the old feeling of the music.

“Burial” while the track has a bit of an ominous feel to it, the music constructed of piano and cello alongside vocals doesn’t tend to dwell in the darkness. It does have its moments, but because of the tone in the vocals the music is still removes from melancholy. It is almost like a track for looking back and reminiscing.

The music on this particular album is definite different to that under Sweeney’s Panoptique Electrical moniker which is understandable why it’s just under his surname. There is a strong Medieval torch song feel to the album. I have always struggled with works that include vocals, which I feel limits my connections with the lyrics contained. Of you however, are fans of singers such as David Sylvian, Scott Walker or Anohni, then you will like this.

A Lily is the solo project of James Vella, better known as a member of instrumental Post Rock band Yndi Halda (who recently released the “A Sun-coloured Shaker” single on Sound in Silence). “Ten Drones on Cassette”, A Lily’s third full-length album and first since 2011, consists of ten cinematic Ambient and Minimalist Drone tracks originally released on ten cassette in editions of one copy each. According to the label: “It was recorded using various instruments, including Guitar, Voice, Organ, Clarinet, Brass and many others, and treated with a multitude of effects and acoustic processing, resulting in a sublime collection of dreamy soundscapes and hypnotic textures.”

Each track is named after a person that inspired the track and took up the side of a cassette. For this release the tracks are edited.

“Hildur” its hard to work out the instrumentation on such a piece, but what ever they are they are layered together creating a kaleidoscope like track of multi layered sounds that comes across at time stabs of sound as the loops roll around. There is a central drone sound to it as the other sound are mixed up on layers that are constantly changing color tone and texture.

“Selassee” a glacial and choral drone stretches out traversing territory as it winds its way out slowly changing its texture and pitch. There are two distinct levels to the piece with a darker more ominous drone being saddled with a whistle like harsher, but lighter drone.

“Konstantin” a submerged murky drone that has a humming quality to it is matched with a more textured multi layered one that sonically occupies a different territory and one that if you were looking at on a graphic equalizer you would notice the undulations and changes in its tone. The track is quite hypnotic.

“Soloman and Adama” following on from the previous track we have another intertwined layered drone. This track starts with a kaleidoscope drone which is joined by another string section like long pastoral drone which comes in at intervals and elevates the original drone.

“Enrico” two sounds emerge with a whistling like feedback drone and a throat singing like deep drone. The two of them trade-off for intensity in the track with each occupying their own sphere, but the feedback glacial like one being more noticeable due to the sometimes harsher tones.

“Miles” shrill siren like drones and a wind squall drone are joined by a third louder and more soaring drone that travels from ear to ear in clockwise fashion. The layers of sound are covered from deep to high with a constant dark, heavy keeping the same territory throughout.

“Jas” takes us into storm filled hills as the wind rushes through creating a howling noise which teaches its crescendo just shy of two minutes into the track before remaining with that intensity for the majority of the rest of the track. The drones have a certain ‘color’ to them rather than just being harsh noise.

“Layla” takes the storm of before and hands it to a power electronics musician for a remix – well, probably not, but it does infer the intensity of the piece. It doesn’t fully go into noise territory but the drones are at that level were it could collapse into white noise.

“Zadie” takes the dark ambient approach mixed with some static as if it’s a transmission from an isolated uninhabited place. There is a dry arid feel to the drones with the static giving a feel of interruption in the music.

“Didem” is a pure ambient drone with haunting tones that sound like horns. There is little distortion or noise and they unfurl in sections with some sounding very crystal clear synths and others having an orchestral feel to them. This changes when dark washes of heavy guitar drones take the track in a different direction with arching drones before returning to a similar territory as the beginning. This is probably the standout track.

If you are into pure drone music that is largely unadorned this could be the album for you. With the CD purchase you also get a download coupon for the original ten tracks that clock in between 37 and 50 minutes each. At time of publishing there were only a dozen copies remaining.


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