I recently used the analogy of the block game Jenga to describe the precarious nature of the review queue to a label boss. Being largely a weekend blogger due to the usual work/life balance, I barely get even with the submissions reviewed vs the new ones coming in. This is yet another in the series of trying to redress this balance. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to do my usual review style/lengths, but rest assured these are all worthy/interesting releases.
“A Futurists Cookbook” by Philip Samartzis and Daniela d’Ariellia was released back in March on the Italian sound art net label Galaverna. It pairs the renowned Australian sound artist and recorder Philip Samartzis, whose career dates back to the late 80’s in Melbourne with groups like Gum and Information Systems, and Daniela d’Arielli, a photographer whose work captures the residency the audio was recorded at and convey the sound sources.
“The residency coincided with the summer harvest providing an opportunity for a variery of sound recordings of agricultural infrastructure, including complex machinery used to transform unrefined crops into processed foods. “During our field trips Daniela would photograph the places, objects and people we encountered. Often embedded in the landscape, hidden from view, shooting from a distance with a macro lens. The images accompanying the composition are designed to reveal the richly textured environments in which we worked.”
The seven track album (available as a free/pay what you want download) contains music if you could call it that (Sound Art is probably a better description) consisting of layered and re-configured field recordings to create sound works that are infused with the sounds of the harvest. Having a background in noisier sounds, Samartzis creates walls of sound from recordings like clanging metal jars, storms, threshing machines, water and insects to name a few and then sets about creating works with these sounds. Not falling into Ambient traps, Samartzis creates pieces that are rhythmic, pulsating, natural sounding and extreme. “Mill” and “Factory” are the sonically noisy and percussive pieces, while “Night” is as close as you will get to peace. If you are a fan of sound artists such as Francisco Lopez, then the “Futurists Cookbook” (named after the Futurists manifesto of the same name, which highlights the rural and food as the source of art and cultural commentary) may be of interest to you.
“Schachmatt” released on Whitelabrecs back in April was Sven Laux’s follow-up to his “Paper Streets” (Dronarivm, 2017) album and sees him move further away from his minimal techno background.
“Schachmatt” is a German phrase for something that ends or when something is finalized or indeed, the last move in chess. The concept was born a Sven was inspired by watching a movie about famous chess players and as a result, he has created a set of disparate tracks to reference this as each player had a different strategy. He wanted the approach for each track to play out along a differing path, each with its own set of unique characteristics or game plan, if you will. The resultant soundtrack presents itself as a melancholic space for the listener, with every move of the chess pieces offered as undefined metaphors for your own interpretation.”
Instantly with the opener “Krammik” Laux takes the listener away into a rich tapestry of swooning drones with soaring passages of synth that manage to balance between a modern classical soundscape and a proggy-ish sci-fi one. The track is a way of a sound bath, in that the music washes over you. “Karjakin” veers you into a cavernous, distant and bending post modern classical worked which has an ominous undercurrent to the piece. Minimalist stabs of piano and deep rumbling strings form the core, while a selection of sounds flutter around. “Carlsen” takes us the area where Ambience, Modern Classical and Experimentalism meets, constructing a cinematic sounding piece that utilises repeated/looped motifs as well as sounds that disappear as soon as they are drawn in. As the track progresses the elements become richer and longer, such as the drones, before the track comes full circle to its opening style. “Fisher” is the most ‘electronic’ sounding with bouncy tones that echo, haunting strings and minimal percussion that slowly grows in intensity and mood. Synths take the music to a higher plane, before being replaced by strings and then all the elements of the tracks movements come together with an intense and vibrant finish before looping and fading to silence. “Spasski” takes the listener into darker territory with deep rumbling drones, strings that go from bassy through to swooning all at a slow pace, creating a feeling of deep concentration and unease. The albums closer “Anand” with its piano stabs, flickering stabs and short, brief ambience brings about a little bit of light needed in the album, but also incorporates experimental soundscapes. Mournful strings that come into play in the middle of the track open up the sound and causes it to overflow with emotion.
As the album is never explicitly steadfast to one particular genre, it results in a listen that is as exploratory as it is an intense journey. The original edition of 50 copies has sold out, but it is still available digitally or through the “Whitelabrecs box set 21-40”.
The Cryo Chamber label describe themselves as a Global Dark Ambient label based out of Oregon, USA. I have to admit not knowing about them and judging by some of their numbers in social media followers, they are a very popular label. This release from Dead Melodies aka Tom Moore is his follow-up to 2017’s “Legends of the Wood”.
“The wrought iron gate creaks open to the overgrown driveway. Up ahead, flickers of lightning make out the hazy silhouette of a large house veiled in a dense fog. Shelter! Finally, somewhere to rest your head after that terrifying ordeal in the woods.
The house, a ruinous crumbling remnant of better days stands lonesome in the unruly grounds; like a keeper bestowed with time itself. An ornate wooden door hangs broken on it’s hinge, the windows cracked and vines creep wildly from every crevice like tendrils from the netherworld. Something definitely feels wrong here, but with hours till dawn and the relentless storm wailing through the surrounding trees, the will to survive the night defeats all reason to fear this shady sanctuary.
Stepping inside the once stately ruin, the great hall teems with decay and an age of sedimentary dust covers every surface; any remnants of life that once knew this place are long gone. Doors and stairwells stem off in all directions. With a creaking silence and a deathly stillness consuming the air, you contemplate which way to go. But then, a noise… is someone there? The temperature drops and a familiar chill runs down your spine…”
The most notable thing when you listen to this album is how it resembles more of a score than as a traditional album. The opener “A Seduction of Malice” sets the cinematic tone with the soundscapes that encompasses drones, strings and piano, all with a gloomy undercurrent that flows slowly. It shows restraint by resisting to be bombastic which it could easily evolve into. “Deceived by Shelter” pairs field recordings of rain and attendant noises alongside dark glacial slow-moving soundscapes while “In the Company of Ruin” utilizes delicately eerie synth lines among rumbling tones and sound effects to conjure up a horror film soundtrack that builds its tension ever so slightly.
As the album unveils itself it reveals more of its consistent themes and pacing with the slow-moving, but engaging “Haunted by Whispers” , the return to the almost neoclassical opener meets haunting dialog in “The Manifestation” and the musically diverse “The Collectors Harvest” which adds to the feel of the album with snatches of acoustic guitar that breaks through the layers of flickering, crunching and rattling sounds.
“Entangled on Mortar” sees a complete reduction in sound to be the musical equivalent of lava, engulfing everything in its path. “Lonesome Hall of Ruins” nicely pairs modern classical styling with multiple layers of drones and static laced sounds that ebb and flow. The minimal piano being a highlight here. The albums second last track “Bound to Memory” is a pure drone track where the drones are thick and linear with additional sounds that are laced on which provide texture and cues to where the music is heading. “The Eternal Veil” shows once more Moore’s sound design where he utilizes minimal passages of piano in the heart of a swirling drone piece that feels at time claustrophobic and others fragments of a time past.
The noticeable trait to Moore’s music is the use of pace. Nothing is rushed within each piece and the tracks ranging in length from three minutes to just under eight minutes are given the time and space to explore moods, textures and territory. You get a sense of an artist with both a cinematic composition style and one that is rooted in music that gives you a certain feeling whether it is ominous or claustrophobic or just eerie. For those who like to be slightly unsettled by music, then “The Foundations of Ruin” may be just what you are looking for.
Also featuring Tom Moore is this release on the Norwegian label Sparkwood Records (who have released Dead Melodies as well), this time in his duo with fellow UK artist Colin Crighton. Released in August the album is noticeably more guitar based than the above album.
“Tales From The Shadowlands, is the second full-length album by Understated Theory, following 2015’s debut “Juxtapparition” (also released on Sparkwood). With each of the two halves behind the project bringing new perspectives from their respective solo-endeavours to the drawing table – Tom Moore (Dead Melodies) and Colin Crighton (nil.co, Sorrow Floats). Understated Theory leaves the vast expanse of treacherous seas (Critical Drift EP and Juxtapparition) to continue their journey across dry land. The desolation blues remains however, as we follow in the footsteps of what might be one of the few survivors roaming a post-apocalyptic wasteland, commonly just referred to as “The Shadowlands”.
Opening with “No Man’s Land” the duo waste no time in introducing their oscillating and looping soundscapes and static flashes before post rock-ish guitar starts to come from within these soundscapes. The playing is hypnotic with a tone that suits the ambience (it sometimes retreats within it). The track has sounds that are drawn in, some with a ghostly or cold touch that replace the guitar parts of the middle section of the track. The follow-up track “Raptured Earth/Heavy Skies” opens rather quietly with sonic detritus before unveiling two distinct guitar parts – one similar to the opener and another of pure feedback, a well as discordant, scratchy noise that comes in waves. Being definitely more experimental than its predecessor, the track feels more about guitar tones that are forever moving and creating a stormy, but not clichéd stormy swell of sound.
“A Semblance of Embers” brings the volume down several notches utilizing guitars, drones, synth, field/found recordings and looping sounds to be closer to an ambient piece than those previously. Possibly the embers referred to are the looping sounds that are slowly fading out as the track progresses. The guitars feature in the track in the way that they cut through swathes of sound and while not being an obvious guitar sound are still identifiable as the source instrument. Towards the end the track becomes almost a pure ambient one. “Ashes Washed Away” sounds like Rhodes piano with its distinct darker sounds mixed in with looped sounds and gentle arcs of guitar that radiate outwards. The looped sounds add an alien like feel to the track, which seems at odds to the other instrumentation and sounds. Having the track being synth dominated changes the complexity of the piece and adds an earthy and at times more conventional feel, which is a bit of an interesting curve ball, before the track ends with more of the experimental looping sounds.
“Beyond the Shadowlands” with its ancient sounding blues/slide/steel guitar transmissions from the other side beckoning you in, brings forth an uneasy ambience of haunting apparitions beckoning you in. These intern are replaced with water bubbling sounds and long form drones which slowly move in calm waves. By listening to the music and its constituent parts I try to see where the title comes from on, but the water sounds throw me as the rest feel like pieces of the same puzzl, while the water sounds feel like don’t exactly fit. “Valley of the Lost” starts from near silence with low-level electrical hum that is joined with layered drones to create this sandwich of sound that grows in intensity as pulsing electronics and guitar parts come in. As the feature parts change you feel as if you are going on a journey encountering different areas. The main part (the drones) are consistent, it’s all the different textural areas that change and give you this feeling of travel.
“Solar Refraction” is the album’s longest track at nine and half minutes in length. Featuring field recordings of rain, guitar and electronics, it harkens back some what to the opener. The track is full in sound and composition with the repetitive guitar front and center as a sort of leader if you will of the other sounds. At times the swirling cacophony threatens to drown out the piece, but instead results in a different direction taken in the final three minutes with feedback and the return of the Rhodes. “Afterworld” finishes the album with a submerged, swirling electronic feel that feels like a portal from a scene in a Sci-Fi show. There is a howling ambience alongside screeching electronics and then from nowhere – entwined sections of Harmonica, which I did not expect. Dark clanging ominous sounds churn in the background which add to the uneasiness of the track. If this track is the audio equivalent of a post war world, then it is deeply unsettling.
Coming directly from the Dead Melodies album I thought I may have an idea of what to expect. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. This album, while sharing the slow pace to the above release and while not as cinematic as the above, it feels like the then of the album is about creating soundscapes that are about creating atmospheres and taking the listener to darker and more ominous settings.