The Catch Up – A look back to 2018.

The nature of doing a blog means that at times you get overwhelmed by the amount of submissions. I like to try to support releases/artists/labels that have sent things my way, especially those that fit in within the genre confines of the blog and my own personal tastes. That said the whole work/life and blog/life balances don’t always work out and before I get involved with the releases of 2019, for the next few posts I will be shining a little light on some of those releases patiently waiting in the queue.

Smoky

Smoky is Ben Haynes. His bio states: “I’m a professional producer and realised that I’d spent so much time making music for other people that I’d not made any music just for fun for a few years. So put together an EP of ambient guitar sounds, recorded over a series of winter night, and called it “Night Music / Ambient Haze Vol 1”. Intoxicated by the process of making the tracks, two more EPs quickly followed and then a strange thing happened. My Spotify play count went from a handful of plays per day to thousands. One of my tracks, “Penarth Pier”, had been added to the Spotify Dreamy Vibes playlist, where it remains and has accumulated nearly three million plays. “It Sounds A Bit Like Heaven” is my first full-length album. The title came from what my young daughter said about my music, but it’s also a tribute to my mother, who passed away whilst it was being made. This gave the tracks a slightly more melancholy feel than previous Smoky songs and the final track, Goodbye, is dedicated to her.”

“It Sounds Bit Like Heaven” came out in August of last year. He states that Smoky’s music is “Ambient drone night music, using just a few instruments and a lots of effects.” With the exception of the countrified sounds of “Steel” (with pedal steel courtesy of Paul Hilton) the album is one to drift away to with a mixture of glacial drones such as “Night Atmospheres”, “Purr”, to more guitar orientated ambience such as “Spread the Love”, “I’ll be Gone” and the finale “Goodbye” (prophetic possibly as this could be the final Smoky release for some time). As Haynes stated about the personal circumstances surrounding the album, it is not too melancholic. “Goodbye”, the tribute to his mother nicely balances the introspection with melancholia and mixes in the drifting quality that is heard throughout the album. Haynes’ music is the type that is unhurried, rich and gentle. There are no real peaks or troughs and for the most part it’s a classic sort of ambient style, one that occasionally needs a bit of something rough to add more texture.

With the exception of “Steel” which is not to my taste purely only because of the featured instruments sound, this release is enjoyable, but for me it is just missing a little bit more depth and texture to really elevate the pieces. That said eighteen months into creating music as Smoky, Haynes has already reached a lot more listeners than some other artist do and he can continue to go on developing his style.

Rapt

One of the best parts of doing a blog is hearing new music from a new artist. Rapt is UK artist Jacob Ware. He has this to say about his project and it’s self titled debut release.

“My latest project/release is a self titled album, ‘Rapt‘. It is difficult to label it as a single genre but I would describe it as a mixture of drone, ambient, techno , neo-classical and music concrete. My focus was on taking very small musical ideas and expanding them far beyond the usual length they would exist in more ‘traditional’ musical composition. The album was partially inspired by my own insomnia and the looping thought processes I often fall into when struggling to sleep.I also heavily sampled classical music and folk, with the intention that my some of favourite composers could share musical spaces together without their own knowledge and even after they are long gone. On Rapt ‘IV’ Joni Mitchell, Richard Strauss and Frank Sinatra are manipulated beyond recognition to share the same musical space. Musical ideas repeat and change very slowly, I was determined to be patient and let ideas loop, alongside my own field recordings and sampling, I also used my own ethnic instruments to create loops (finger pianos and singing bowls).”

The album’s tracks are title “I” through to “V”. When artists do this it expands the listeners conscious listening as titles can lead the listener into a mental path before hear a single note of music. “I” and it’s close related “IV” for me are the highlights. All the tracks are nice and epic with the shortest being just under six minutes and the longest at twelve and a half minutes long. This gives the chance for the music to breath, for the loops to become hypnotic and ingrained in your memory. “I” and “IV” are beat laden, similar to Wolfgang Voigt’s GAS project. They also contain a very similar ambient core which will also turn up in “V”, which instead of being one-dimensional on sound ideas, nicely ties the pieces and indeed the album together. When you listen closely sections reveal themselves such as the vocals that are almost buried into the ambience in “V” or the subtle and minimal percussive parts of “II”. While some pieces are very much beat driven, a track like “III” features more of orchestral elements creating a swathe of sound as they build up throughout the track but never falling over.

You feel like this album could be one giant piece as it would nicely flow together covering the territory within it, with hints back to where it began. I am now kicking myself as this album would have had a walk in on my best of 2018 list it’s that good. For fans of bvdub and GAS. Totally recommended.

Fallen

Lorenzo Bracaloni is Fallen, who in 2018 had releases on labels such as Time Released Sound, Cathedral Transmissions and this release “Tout est silencieux” on Triple Moon Records. This album consists of guitars, piano, synth and field recordings and was influenced by letting the music come to hin which was the result of relative period of calm in his life despite some changes.

“La tempête dans le coeur” aka “The storm in the heart” introduces a more epic side to Bracaloni’s music with sweeping orchestral passages and sad fragile piano. The ever-present static noise that was on his “ást” and “glimpses” album returns and unfortunately for this piece, it distracts from the beauty that the has been created. The emotion of the piece is canceled out by the noise that overshadows it.

“Chèrement” aka “Dearly” manages to balance the use of noise better with the soundscape having many layers such as dark drones, two distinct and different sources of noise – one a looping one, the other from field recordings. Piano, guitar and percussion round out the sound sources. The guitar gives it a contemplative feel that goes well with the slightly the melancholic minimalist piano. While the track is dense with sound it doesn’t feel overtly full.

“Memories du vent” aka “Memories of the Wind” has four main sound sources that inhabit their own spaces. On each side there are repetitive noise loops, a flowing drone and guitar parts that have an Asian feel to them. Whistling sounds float into the mix with a mild storm like howl and after a swirl of sound that takes all the sounds away, solo piano with low screeching drones replaces everything. As the title suggests, the removal of all the instrumentation from the majority of the track with the addition of the whistling sounds is scattering it, like a memory with the wind.

“Les chansons Des enfants” aka “Children’s Songs” uses field recordings of children playing alongside guitar, Synths, drones, beats and piano. When you think of children’s songs you tend to think of nursery rhymes or songs filled with joy, but this particular track is moody and introspective – possibly an homage to childhood.

“Dans les rêves oubilé” aka “In the Forgotten Dreams” hearkens back to the opener with its use of space and time. The drones slowly unfurl with time for them to show their full colors, while the piano shows a sense of fragility mixed in with hope. I would love to hear the piano expanded on as you feel that it’s about to reveal something before tentatively stopping. Occasional beats and the noises alongside skill fragments of Synths and chiming guitar fill out the soundscape.

“Tout est silencieux” aka “Everything is Silent” opens with echoing glitchy field recordings with dark ominous drones that vibrate, chimes cut through with micro melodies that are congruent with those of the piano that joins them. The balance between light and darkness is established before leaning slightly to the darker side with drones that sound like strings hovering around. The music is like a lullaby that relaxes you to sleep. It has that sort of relaxing hypnotic quality.

With “Tout est silencieux” Bracaloni shows that when he looks to more epic territories and uplifting full-scale drone works he excels. Of his releases from 2018 this would be my favourite one. I gather the noisy contrasts in textures are important in his works, but sometimes they can negate the beauty he is creating and it would be interesting to hear a ‘cleaner’ take on his music. His latest release “Against the Storm” is available now on Focused Silence.

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