The latest look back and a quick round-up of releases sent my way brings a rather eclectic bunch. From the conceptual work of Neotropic through to the folky folk/ neo classical of Zura Zaj, the music sent represents more than a single style. As ever I am drowning in music, apologies for the brevity in these reviews.

“The Absolute Elsewhere is an otherworldly, highly original piece of work beautifully drawing together elements of folk, classical and post-techno, firmly in keeping with our remit of presenting exceptional, unclassifiable music in lovingly assembled handmade editions.  Steeped in ritual and mysticism, this is music of no fixed time nor place, the sound of implausible dreams and impossible nightmares. Recording for the first time in nine years as Neotropic, Riz has somehow alchemically melded psychedelic folk, post-techno and vocal virtuosity into a richly personal modern mythology quite unlike anything else out there.

“Overture” initially brings forth a feeling that you are listening to a concept album, rather than an album inspired by or a response too, an event. Musically it is at times minimal, but there is a feeling of intense thought in the sound design so that it carries this conceptual mood through the tracks. Haunting ghostly vocals, dark electronics, thumping beats, sounds that feel like they are hanging in air before slowly floating down. The track is a very effective opener.

“Your War” inspired by a 2003 anti-war protest opens with stark piano before a choir of crooning vocals floats ghostly above. Spectral of strings swirl around complimenting the vocals. Bass lines brings the vocals forth which have a jazzy, torch singer quality to them which suits the moodiness of the music. The music uses cinematic qualities that rely on minimal sound sources, but ones that are used to great effect. Strings soar in orchestral fashion, incidental sounds build moods, brass instruments mirror the vocals, the piano sets the tone and pace for the track and the vocals themselves, are more of an instrument than as a narrative tool.

“Wreckage of Dreams” detritus sounds operatic vocals and long drones weaving their way around lead through to a section of call and response vocals. The music becomes more influenced by field recordings that paint a bleak soundscape where light is all but removed. The use of vocals becomes the central focus over the stormy soundscapes and accentuates this feeling of a concept album, but with hints of dare I say it in a good way, Rock Musical stylings. The soundscapes use of crashing waves and atmospherics is effective in creating an unsettling environment which the vocals, which have a certain amount of eerie and romantic gothisism about them, works extremely well together .

“Byzantium” for a track that is rather minimalist in construction, you do not feel it is minimal in its impact. Vocals that are supported by additional haunting backing vocals as well as being paired in sections with male vocals are front and center over fairly consistent linear drones. The vocals draw in the listener with their hypnotic, story telling structure and the way that they are so evocative.

“Nyolat” nicely pairs the more doom laden atmospherics alongside electronics that change the color of the album’s tracks up to this point. Crisp beats, rumbling bass lines and looping effects are woven into with the distant horn like drones and scattershot electronics. While previous tracks have seen the vocals in the prime position, this track propels forward with the vocals being just one of the components. In a way it gives you a feeling of the album being put through a remix by a noted electronica producer than the operatic drone pieces thus far.

“Pleiades” probably the most experimental of tracks, the opening combines field recordings with rumbling sounds and looped machinery recordings before venturing into a dronescape punctuated by Maslin’s high operatic voice and Muslimgauze like atmospherics. While other tracks have felt more structured , this piece feels more free form and drone based. Strings enter the fray and alongside the various drones, vocals and electronics construct a piece that has a drifting quality.

“The Restless” brings us full circle in the initial feeling I got from the album. Sounding almost medieval in parts due to some of the sounds and the use of vocals in creating a bed of sounds, the track is epic in scale, if not length.

While musically defying classification, there is a feeling of experimentalism, neo folk, opera, post-classical and electroacoustic styles within “The Absolute Elsewhere”. The album is a work that requires more than the cursory listen. For the theme centered around the effects of war, it is never rammed down the throat of the listener or blatantly clear. There is a certain poeticness to album that lends itself to it a feeling of something much more greater than just a piece of music.

Anne Garner’s new album Lost Play celebrates the vital, unrestrained joy of childhood and grieves the nameless slide from curiosity to conformity. This moving and heartfelt work reflects on how being moulded by other people can leave us feeling punished, shut down, and open to abuse and loss of self in adulthood. Within these dark echoes are seeds of comfort and a sense of hope, and perhaps even a path towards rediscovering the childlike joy all over again.

“The Living” there is a delightful mix of abstract electronics, drones, organic instruments and vocals that open the album, that lets light and hope enter from the get go. Unhurried with a strong sense of experimentalism , Garner’s vocals have a wispy  and delicate quality that draws in the listener. Haunting strings add nice melancholic touches that counteract the innocence of the other sounds.

“Fall Before The Night” decidedly more moody and atmospheric than the opener, the music at the beginning is rather low-key. I mention this in the sense of its consistency,  with all instruments sharing the soundscape rather than being on several layers of sound. As the track progresses, the music opens more ever so slightly to reveal a bit more of itself. Garner’s vocals have a torch song feel to them and in a way she shares a similar style or feel to the above album, in that she feels like a storyteller, rather than just singing a song.

“Colt” has an ebullient feel with its touches of electronica infused modern classical. There is a shimmering and hazy quality to the music much like when you encounter a piece influenced by nostalgia. However, this piece extends this touch with additional instruments such as saxophone and flute giving it an almost smoky jazz feeling in its latter half.

“Lost Play” minimal electronics swirl in the distance while Garner laments about lost youthfulness and innocence. What sounds like possibly Harp leads the melody accompanied by Cello and layered vocals that convey some of the innocence lost in the transition between childhood and adulthood. With the lyrical subject matter being such as it is, you could easily be drawn into a piece of music that carries the weight of the mood of the piece. This track however feels introspective without being too morose. A nice touch is the vocals of Garner’s daughters which could, when paired with their mothers, reflect the lyrical concepts contained in the track.

“Toys” is a whimsical piece of music that feels constructed using toy instruments. There is a classical feel running throughout it with flute, strings, piano being the core instrumentation. Garner’s vocals have changed and reflect the music and theme of the piece, to be a bit more playful and feel like she is singing a nursery rhyme.

“Bedlam” with headphones on Garner feels like she is standing right behind you. Breathy vocals float over a crystalline electronics meets piano/keys combination that beautifully matches the cadence of the vocals. The listener is drawn into an ethereal slice of innocence that seems at odds with the title of the track. The music has a dreamy quality that shares some of the feelings and qualities of the previous track.

“Not Home” The track opens with ambience mixed with sci-fi sounding electronics, glitches and melodically toned guitar before Garner’s vocals arrive with an understated and gentle but passionate feel. It’s refreshing that you can pick out her accent (especially on the word ‘come’) which gives her an authentic feel rather than a generic sounding voice. The song lyrically, is a bit morose about someone leaving another person’s life, but Garner reigns it in as not to saturate the track with melancholy. The pedal steel guitar of Jack Hayter is a nice addition as while it could lead the track in a country influenced direction, the way it twangs and bends the sound, it does so in an ambient fashion. Layers of vocals and guitars add to the flow like feeling of the music pushing the early electronics deeper into the mix only to return once more towards the end.

“Unhand” the album finishes on a mournful note. The track opens with sounds that feel both like their coming from a church and also a new dawn. Jo Quail (recently seen in these pages) draws long bows of cello that drip with raw emotion as a bubbling underbelly of electronics slowly comes to join them. The soundscape increases greatly bringing forth a swell of sound that bathes all corners of the music and elevates Garner’s vocals as the music matches it to a tee. An impressive way to finish the album on a high.

The thing noticeable in the productions that come out on the Slowcraft label is the sound quality is second to none. There is a feeling of granduer that comes through when it is necessary, but also an ability to pair things back, give space and let the music breathe. With this album Garner and her partner James Murray have taken their time (three years in this case) and crafted a well-rounded release that easily moves from melancholia to playful, while still sounding consistent.

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“Zura Zaj’s journey started ten years ago when three young musicians met in a university orchestra and started tuning their instruments to each other’s tastes and creativity. A Hungarian roommate called it “strange sounds”, or “zura zaj” in the dialect of his home region, and so our name was born. We came together in various living rooms, attics, kitchens, a garden or two, and at times presented our results on stages. Many hours of music were written, improvised, arranged, discarded; a bass player joined and left again; plans were made to record, put on hold and revived, and finally achieved. We moved around, studied, found work, established relationships or ended them; a child was conceived, grew in tune to the album’s recording sessions, and was born during the mixing stages; a marriage will more or less coincide with the release.

Small Obstacles is the outcome of a decade of searching and finding, of overcoming and bonding. The oldest composition on the album (“Tide”) is the very first composition we wrote while the newest (“Acres”) is barely a year old. Some songs were originally written as a four piece and later rearranged (“Exhale”, “Atoll”, “Ever”, “Alight”), but all carry the creative touch of our hands, breaths, and bows.”

This Belgium based trio’s album released in May was recorded in October of 2017. Musically it comes across as post rock infused with traditional folk elements. The opener “Exhale” with its field recordings of waves, spindly guitar, violin and French horn set about gently setting a template for the album to follow. There is a sense of time taken to explore the individual instruments and make each shine, rather than have one being the lead instrument. Tension is held in the opener while “Landfall” furthers the emotive qualities of “Exhale” with the pairing of Violin and French Horn working nicely and bring forth the Neo Classical influences. “Eastbound” sounds like a mix of cinematic and classical influences converge under folk tutelage with the guitar leading the piece with its intense playing.

On “Nigh” the trio go grand with the way that from three quite diverse instruments can create something that at times can be so minimal and at other points be intense. “Acres” is the closest the trio get to Ambience with its atmospheric opening, before becoming a melancholic piece that has experimental tones and sounds throughout it (predominantly courtesy of the violin). “Atoll” the guitar takes this track in a post rock direction while the violin wails mournfully, before a brief guitar flurry changes the tracks completion, before it returns to its original style. The violin and French horn add their own distinct qualities to the which really elevates it. The track in its last-minute and a half reaches an almost frenetic crescendo.

“Tide” feels we’ve gone into a swinging sixties time machine thanks to the guitar parts which are at odds somewhat stylistically with the other instrumentation, but however they do it somehow works out nicely indeed. “Still” is a short track that feels emotional, but also forward-looking. The violin has a certain mournful quality, but not in despair, the French horn has a similar accent, while the guitar radiates a feeling of relaxation and contentment.”Ever” has a fragile feel thanks to both string instruments and the picking as opposed to strumming, which reveals a playful character. This results in a bed for the French horn to briefly glide over, before its unfortunate brevity kicks in. I would have loved to hear more of this track. “Alight” with its rich and tremolo styled guitar finishes off the album with the control first demonstrated back on “Exhale” and the use of space and separation. Throughout the album certain tracks have come to feature each instrument to a certain degree. This track however has each instrument as an equal and also highlights the way the trio and their decade of history together, work so well.

For fans of Neo Classical,  Post Rock and Folk who have been looking for something a bit more that adds a different feel to those genres, Zura Zaj offers an enjoyable journey into those particular genres.

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Pool of Light aka 光淵 is China based Russian drone musician Anton Bogdanov who utilizes guitars, bows,  drums, vocals and zhongruhan (Chinese Tenor Lute) to create alternating long form and short form drone pieces. The five tracks on this now sold out release on Russian label ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ Records  featuring soaring noises such as the opener “焚 (Burn)” with its rumbling underbelly, almost vocal like screeching drones and strums of guitar. While “念 (Memory)” hints to Bogdanov’s adopted home land with the use of the Chinese lute accompanied by flickers of noise, like fire crackling. Musically it sounds like a re-work traditional folk piece than any thing drone related.

“圈 (Circle)” continues with the crackling noise as well as returning to the drone sphere of the albums opener. This time multi layered drones appear to radiate from a fixed point, inhabiting different positions and textures. As the track progresses guitar enters the picture and for some reason I think of the guitar tone of “Echo Beach” as it has that post punk/new wave feel. It really breaks up the drones, expanding the sound pallet of the piece.”瞀 (Dim)” the second of the brief tracks, coming in at just under three minutes in length, pairs the lute with oscillating drones. While the drones circle around, the lute has an almost improv feel to it.

“淵 (Abyss)” the drones of “瞀 (Dim)” carry through to the title track, however rather than just replicating the track, Bogdanov makes this track the most sonically filled of those on the album with dark rumbling drones, lute, drums and field recordings producing a track that could be referred to as Dark Ambient/Doom/Drone and sounding more like the work of a band rather than a solo musician. This track is the highlight as it offers more than the others, which were quite stark in comparison. If I were in a position to influence Bogdanov on his musical pursuits, then it would be in the vein/direction of a track like this.

“淵 (Abyss)” is an album that could have been a one-dimensional drone release if were not for Bogdanov bringing in different instruments to the mix, which adds a different twist. The title track is worth all its fourteen minutes in length.

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Rhucle is a name that has been popping up on my radar with frequency recently. Following this release Rhucle aka Yuta Kudo has appeared on Sounds Against Humanity and will be the 100th release on Constellation Tatsu come November 13. Rhucle constructs his music utilizing field recordings, synthesizers, piano and samplers to construct slow-paced environmental tinged ambient.

“Dark Grey Fantasy” straight away Rhucle eases us into gentle territories with relaxing field recordings of running water alongside long linear drones which vary in color and weight. The pace is glacial, while the intensity of the music is low-key, resulting in a meditative listen.”Green Water” follows a similar trajectory with bird song filling the air and drones that are shorter than the previous track. This track feels more synth orientated with a new age feel.

“Hot Air” Glacial drones that have a certain darkness embedded into gem swirl around. There is a stillness despite the movement as there are not many peaks and troughs. A certain amount of eeriness permeates the track, with the feeling of a potential menace around the corner that never eventuates. “Waiting Time 1” birdsong and flowing water and other field recordings provide a nice relaxing interlude between tracks, while “Howl” is a slow icy toned slice of glacial ambience that has drones that interlock and weave through each other. A darker synth layer floats above which is minimal enough not to attract attention, but noticeable enough to have an effect.

“Brown Pendant” welcomes drones, field recordings and piano to create a rich melodic light filled slice of ambience. After long form and glacial drone tracks, the addition of the piano is a welcome one, one which is unfortunately too brief with the track being only a minute and a half long. “Natural Edifice” carries on with this theme established in the previous track (minus piano) of field recordings and light filled drones.

“Telegraph” adds to the drones and field recordings with fractured and distorted electronic tones that give the piece a bit of a sci-fi feel to it. There is a bit of a sinister sound in the track, with the moods created having an ominous feeling that permeates the piece.

“A Flower of May” has a swell of sound that is storm like and a bit impenetrable. Bird song field recordings, synth washes and horn like sounds are added to the mix.

“Waiting Time II” like “part 1″ is a welcome interlude produced entirely of field recordings. This time layered recordings of flowing water.”New Usual Morning” brings the album to a close . Similar in nature to the sound sources of the previous tracks, the drones are shorter and melodic and this length changes the texture of the track more often than the longer drones.

Make no mistake this is a glacial drone meets field recordings release. Rhucle likes to take time to unfurl his music and for some this will be right up their alley. I have to admit to struggling a bit with the lengths of the pieces as I prefer shorter works with a bit more variety. That said, this release has sold out so it must be popular with those that prefer this style.

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