Alapastel is the recording name of Slovakian composer Lukáš Bulko with his debut release being the first release in the series from Slowcraft label called Slowcraft Presents. Each release will be limited to a first edition of 150 copies with heavyweight custom sleeve which is hand stamped and includes other personal hand-made elements. For this particular release Bulko is joined by Alex Lukáčová and Marián Hrdina on vocals and mastering by Adam Dekan.

According to the label “This treasure trove of neo-classical grandeur, electric-acoustic production and subtle folk tones was eight years in the making and clearly signals the arrival of a unique and original new talent. Lukáš speaks with spirited and assured musical voice in an ambitious, pastoral and otherworldly collection…”

“Encounter” opens with an electronica like feel with bells, field recordings of birds, drones, flickering sounds to create this slightly dark neo-classical inspired drone piece. The track has a static feel to it and the short sections of drones that cut across add to this feel. After a fraction of silences string section cones in elevating the sound to become more grandeur. The way the music comes across in surges or washes is reflected in the choice of field recordings of nature. The track has the feel of an introductory piece to the album as it sets more of a groundwork rather than maintain a specific narrative. This is noted by the snatches of vocals at the end of it.

“Seashell” chiming, toy like instruments alongside chimes, vocals (presumably sung in Slovenian) , guitars, violins, static haze, piano create a hybrid track that feels like a mixture of classical meets electroacoustic with a slight folk element. Bass horn instruments add a lower element while violin which is buried low in the mix adds to the feel alongside the percussive piano. The music towards the end flows more into the experimental realm with distorted bass motifs and affects laden vocals that are used more as a musical element than as just singing.

“Bride of the Mountains” male and female vocals intertwine with drones to give a choral and icy feel. Soaring strings place the track firmly in the modern classical field with some ominous sound scapes creating a otherworldliness. The vocals (female only now) become less clear and distant while the strings float around while dark heavy drones create a sound  aurally similar to a dark snow-covered area. The vocals return front and center and without an understanding of the language you feel just by the singing that it comes across like a traditional folk song.

“Frozen Lakes, Fog and Snow” an icy foghorn like sound alongside staccato violin, plucked strings, field recordings, piano, accordion and drones starts forming a clicky rhythm with pulsing accordian and snatches of a variety of sounds coming in and out at almost random intervals. There is a certain comforting mood to the piece that in a way despite being quite electroacoustic in its construction, is quite meditative. The sounds pulse and scatter, quickly shine and fade away, all to do it over again but not feel repetitive.

“Solar System for Nina”opening with plucked strings and long drones the piece moves on to minimal piano with long flowing violin drones and granular electronics with a male narrator giving the feel of a cinematic piece rather than a ‘song’. Repeating chime tones adds a melody to music that has a certain weight and feel before the male voice changes to torch song quality meets opera. The music has retreated back to the shadow thanks in part to the strings, plus the dark bass hums which give an almost dread like feeling. At the half way point the track is turned on its head with frantic strings, pounding keys, swirling sounds and full-blown operatic singing. This change brings a feeling of intensity and of frantic despair which again is felt through the vocals. The track once more changes back to a similar tone to the first movement, but not as dark as before thanks to the flowing piano and the water like sounds, plus the hand percussion lightens the music. For the first time since the intro of “Bride of the Mountain” are the female and male vocals combined.

“Tousled” solo piano with an improv feel of experimenting with the instrument is the basis of the track. The playing changes from soft and tentative to frantic and intense. With a name like “Tousled” you are led to believe that the messy, disordered piano is to reflect the title.

“Demon” long heavy layered drones are paired with some sort of animal like growling which has a guttural feel to it. The drones change from section to section, some cutting through the darkness, while others add to it. As the track progresses the darker elements take more of a focal point in the music and the music is firmly in the neo-classical canon. Glitchy, crunchy textures are introduced alongside arching strings and slight melodic motifs, but the music remains firmly in the darker territory.

“Peaceful Soul in Calm Ocean” wind-blown horn sounds, flickering electronics, pulsing sounds and drones give off a feeling that is contrary to the title. This is no gentle flowing and ebbing piece. There are elements like the horn sounds which you could identify as being calm, but its the other elements that are in stark contrast. Just over half way a piano melody enters in which for the most part has relaxed playing with occasional increase in intensity. The electroacoustic sound scapes start to shower the music with static sounds and washes of distortion. You get the feeling of music that has been exposed to the elements where decay has set in and original sounds have been modified.

This is an album were you leave you expectations at the door. I was thinking it would be more Modern Classical, but it feels like an electroacoustic album that uses Modern Classical and to a lesser extent Folk as its source of inspiration and then manipulates them into a totally different context. If music has become a bit predictable for you and you like it a bit on the darker, more experimental side of the fence then Alapastel’s debut may just be right for you.


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