These two releases from Russia’s Dronarivm label highlight the diversity of the label. Sandwiched around Bvdub’s “A Different Definition of Love” (which I assume was great), these two albums released in February and May respectively, cover the minimalist Modern Classical and lush Dubby Ambient styles of music.
Bruno Sanfilippo has been covered before on this blog. Traditionally linked to the AD21 label (and now expanding into more promotions and digital marketing), this album, his twenty-fifth by my count, sees him further expand his sound and enhance his reputation as one of greats of such a crowded field of Modern Classicalists.
“Bruno Sanfilippo’s newest album “Unity” is an emotionally evocative collection that moves the listener through moments that exalt the senses. Through cyclical and minimalist sound, the composer creates visceral experiences that are both ethereal and hauntingly beautiful.”
“Spiral” opens the album with a religious feel to it. Thick but lush choral drones, haunting strings that hang with weight and tortured like ethereal vocals that just cascade around the listener, set the tone for the album. The sound is involving and epic with an emphasis of slowly revealing each element and then building and complimenting it. You could use this particular track when you want to mourn something or someone or you could just listen to it reflectively and mindfully such is the multitude of moods it conveys.
“One” brings us into the piano sphere where repeating minimalist piano is joined by cello (played by Alena Tryhubkina) that paints dark colors over the piano. The tone of the cello is thick and holds onto the notes really accentuating them. To contrast the cello somewhat is the violin of Pere Bagarí (who himself has a 30 + year recording career) which allows a layer of melody and sits between the piano and cello in terms of sounds. For a track that belongs on a pianists album, it’s the strings that are the focal point while the piano is rather constant in its playing. This for me highlights Sanfilippo as creating a space for other artists to communicate with him rather than he being the central focus.
“Lux” a glassy electronic toned piano rolls out with a slight hazy soaked ambient quality alongside Cello and violin that retains a somewhat religious quality of “Spiral” but with a bright feeling to it, as if it is the day to the night of the opening track. This is brought about by a combination of the piano tones and the uplifting sounds of the strings that together create quite an emotional track that slight vocalizations (which are uncredited) compliment so well.
“Simple” the sound changes from a rich previous track to an initial stark minimalist one that has deep sorrowful cello alongside contemplative piano, which is certain sections feel like that of “Lux”, but then at others feels colder in tone. The repetitiveness of the piano holds the track together providing a bed for the strings to cloak and wail over.
“Oneness” reverberating piano tones search out with a measured and controlled pace which are joined by long string sections that cast of drones and feel like they are circling the piano. There is an introspective feel to the piece which is demonstrated by the pace and the way the piano keys roll, and attention to holding long notes on the cello in particular. There is also a grandeur to the track that is hard to not get swept up into. You could easily see this particular track being used in a film, such is its scope and scale that with its repeating moods would suit a flashback sequence.
“Entity” drones welcome you to a darker, electronically affected and distant sounding piano. While the strings join once more its nice to see them used a little less than previous as it allows the piano with its layering to shine. The piano playing is meditative and hypnotic with a slight undulating feeling, while the strings soar and traverse with long, rich tones that sometimes obscure the piano. The electronics included are noticeable enough, especially in the last-minute or so of the track, but still subtle as to not sound like they don’t belong there.
“Circular” heavy played keys with stark to rich tones are matched with glassy tones that provide a nice contrast in sound with a nice balance of light and dark both in sound of the piano and the pressure on the keys. Drones are used as a way to announce the next movement or section rather than as a complimentary instrument which allows the focus to remain entirely on the piano and the almost loop like feel of the music. It is a track composed of obvious instrumentation integral to Modern Classical music, but I don’t think you could strictly label it as such as it would be a disservice to the music.
“Unity” the title track and epic (just under eleven minutes on length) opens with fluttering glitchy electronics which welcome deep dark tones which to me sounds like some sort of brass instrument but I can’t put my finger in it. Trumpet, breathy electronics, haunting choirs, some strings and percussive devices give an almost medieval feel to the track. There is a building and repetitive feel to the track that doesn’t get boring as there is enough elements going on. In comparison to the other tracks it is a bit of an anomaly (and just possibly does not fit the other tracks on the album), but it also sees Sanfilippo musically stretching out with the track being hard to pigeon-hole. It has ambient, experimental, electronica electroacoustic and possibly even post-rockish elements all brought together in one big melting pot – which I assume is the reason for the title.
In my opinion for piano based music to be successful it needs to have a soul. The instrument is one of the most flexible and exciting, but it can also be one of the coldest and starkest instruments that can truly reveal the stark qualities it possesses and the stark qualities in life. Sanfilippo’s music has soul. If you like listening to pianists you simply can’t do wrong with him, so much so you can use him as a yard stick to other composers – while some write nice music, Sanfilippo writes music that moves you. A tip of the hat must go to Ian Hawgood who mastered this fine work with the attention to detail and skill he has honed over the years.
Halftribe’s third album and first for Dronarivm follows two albums released by Spanish label Archives (who predominantly released cd-r and digital before putting out the recent deluxe Hotel Neon album) and a couple of digital releases. He describes himself as producing “Deep Ambient and Downtempo styled music”.
According to Dronarivm the albym is full of: “Laconic haze, ethereal curiosities, nostalgic glimpses and fictional illusions. Northern Irish Halftribe’s (Ryan Bisset’s) third album and Russian imprint Dronarivm’s fifty-third catalogue entry arrives punctually to soundtrack summer – or eternity, apparently if you like. It indeed suitably warm and familiar stuff, going straight for the bliss-out button with dreamy, droning pieces mixing airy synths and calm field recordings.”
“Sacred” feels almost like an environmental audio recording than a track. Dubby pulses, gritty electronics, wind-swept drones and field recordings give you a feel of a tropical but stormy place such is the influence of the pulsing sounds and the feeling of it being circular. The brevity of the piece feefs like a sound diary, but also gives a sneak peek at the potential territory the album will investigate.
“For The Summer, Or Forever” follows on which rich synth tone drones, field recordings of running water, bird song, chiming tones, snatches of broken piano, dubby tones that bounce across the sphere and breathy sounds. Not being genre bound there are Ambient, Dub Techno and Environmental Sound Art elements that utilize loops and repetition as building blocks to add and subtract elements and build the feeling established in the opener of a travelogue like track where the feeling is that Bissett is creating an electronic musical photo of a visited destination. The dubby tones bring across the feeling of waves of heat and the use of water and bird song give of a tropical environment, with the snatches of broken piano tones adding a little mystery to the proceedings.
“Balm” short sharp reverberating tones mixed with rain field recordings and glitchy vinyl static come together with lush drones, chimes and electronics to create a dreamy track that feels somewhat submerged. The electronics flutter, blip and blop with a sound quality that sounds as if it is a broken transmission from malfunctioning equipment. The pace is consistent and laid back which allows it to slowly unwind and exposes the various different textures of the track.
“Swimming Off That Sombre Shore” a dark dubby glitchy pulse like snatches of a storm that is warping as is it grows. The static shimmers out leading into walls of drones that include reverberating piano tones. The music relies on the dubby qualities but also this thick cloak of haze which allows elements such as tiny bits of piano and electronics to be focal points as they break through the haze for the briefest of moments. The music feels claustrophobic in a way where ,rather than the parts being free, they are held together by the haze which wraps them all up.
“Still” warm heavy enveloping drones with slight warped textures are joined by field recordings of birds, crackling static and electronics that ripple across. The drones follow the dubby template of before, but in this variation they feel like a thick bed of sound and as the track continues they weave around the other elements like the electronics.
“Imaginary Lines” warping, pulsing electronics, airy dub synths, bass notes and vocal touches create this floating track that is the musical equivalent of drifting unattached and free. There is nothing that holds it in one particular space, with musical elements coasting over each other in loop like fashion. The sounds in particular are all different in their tones. There is a retro, almost vaporwave feel to the synths that make it stand out from the other tracks.
“Radiant” the synths feel somewhat submerged as they radiate out with ambient drones float around them that are announced with a looped sample of a woman stating “I think it was getting harder and harder for him to go back”. The track is brief and I am not sure the origin of the sample, but I can’t help but think it may be relevant to the title.
“Anagram” brings forth frosty hazy tones which is at odds with the album’s title. Glassy sounds roll outwards alongside piano tones and field recordings that are mixed with a broken static. The piano sounds like it is trapped in a bubble and its muted sounds are at odds with clear and present other elements. The pace is relaxing and it draws the listener in gently exposing them to the contrasting sounds. The field recording elements and the broken static recordings warp out towards the end.
“From One Point to Another” city sounds escapes with howling sirens, people talking, fragile piano, glitchy electronics and haunting ambience. The piano elements while not the most in your face, for me are the key that holds the track together. The electronics fracture around, the sirens scream and the music gets drenched in haze, by it’s these tiny snippets of melody that stand out to me. I would love to hear more of the piano throughout the album as the tone of it adds to the tracks.
“The Simple Things” throbbing drones, scratchy loops, scattershot sounds and lush synths come together alongside field recordings, spluttering electronics and fragments of piano. The track is held together by the thick drones provided by the synths with the other elements interchanging in loop like fashion. There is a warm tropical feeling which the field recordings and spluttering almost animal sounding like electronics convey that is not overstated and in a way the music feels a bit sun drenched.
“Liberated Lies” we have gone to the coast while normally its the waves that are crashing the shore, this time it a mixture of field recordings and synths. The music comes in and then retreats out like the tide with chimes ringing out as the synth tones recede. The music comes and go, with warped electronics adding a foreign element that removed the pure ambience that it could have sounded like.
“Until” the album ends with this brief track that utilizes synth tones that sound like softened dubby horns with a vaporwave edge. The synths have a rolling progression that sound like something is coming to an end. There is no rush, but there is a sense of finality – almost like a notification of something that is over. There is also a feeling of understanding and resignation as well.
If the album title can be taken literally, this is an album that has summer and all that it represents (the sun, heat, weather, longer days, etc..) as its vision, but you can say that it is not totally obvious and adds for personal interpretation. The reason for this is that it has enough variation and doesn’t fall into cliches. Musically it lies on the dubby end of the spectrum, but with enough other parts that gives its own personality and variation – although I have to admit I would like a bit more of those piano tones. If you like dub techniques, field recordings and glitchy music, Halftribe could be what you are looking for.