As the new year is hurtling forward, this is a brief look back at what was missed from last year.
Sleepland is the work of Kengo Yonemura who is based in Kobe, Japan and has released on labels such as White Paddy Mountain, Taâlem and Cellar Tapes.
“Transition/Composition was recorded in the comfort of his home town between 2012 and 2017. This album in fact consists of two different albums merged into one: ‘Transition’ is three mid/long form drones with longer track titles, whereas ‘Composition’ is made up of eight short form pieces with shorter names. The two albums overlap as they play, with each of the separate recordings folding into one. The albums blend over a gapless audio presentation to emit a warmth in its early stages, as gentle guitar strokes adorn the hum of a comforting drone accompanied by washes of water and bird song. Before long, the album delves into deeper drone territory whilst retaining a restorative, comforting aesthetic. Towards the mid stages a foggy murk transmits before swathes of warm drone return, concluding with familiar sounds of bird song and soft rain.“
Another fine Whitelabrecs release that soothes the ears and is the kind of music I tend to listen to these days. There is a concept within the album and it contains 3 long form drone tracks and 8 short pieces, essentially two albums combined. “The two albums overlap as they play, with each of the separate recordings folding into one. Not only are the recordings buried inside the mix but the track titles for ‘Transition’ are also embedded within those of ‘Composition’. The tracks of Transition are listed below along with a guide of where these sit within the wider album presentation:
a. Tall slant
b. So far away
c. Lines has led a plane
Transition / Composition
01. Crys(tall)ized [a-i]
02. Moment(s la)ter [a-ii]
03. Varia(nt) [a-iii]
04. point(s of) view [b-iii]
05. (A ra)in check [b-iv]
06. S(way)ed by [b-v]
07. fine (lines) [c-v]
08. P(has)e bubble [c-vi]
09. Tang(led) up [c-vii]
10. In tr(ap lane) [c-viii]
The music is light an airy with a soothing and sometimes jarring sound with field recordings embedded throughout. The tracks flow into each other creating a singular piece of work that would be suited to meditation or a soundtrack to a floatation tank session. Yonemura shows how beguiling music can be when it can be used to draw the listener in to different states of consciousness. The use of subtlety and taking time to explore the territory, tones and textures within the album results in its success as a whole piece of music designed to bathe the listener in sound and let them unwind.
“Transition/ Composition” is available on cd-r (limited to 50 copies) and Digital.
Sun Through Eyelids
Sun Through Eyelids are the New Zealand based duo of Tom Necklen and Meghan Wood. They describe their music as “continuous blend of cinematic dark ambience, mystical drone and meditative music.” Basically, from that description they are suited to the ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ label. Their bandcamp page offers some 30 releases dating back to 2015, so they are quite prolific.
The opener “Shelter of the Taiga” feels more like a soundtrack to a particular environment more than as piece of music. There are strong earthy tones to the piece and much like the remaining titles such as “Subarctic Oasis”, and “Desolate North”, you get the feeling of the duo creating soundtrack works to specific places. Firmly entrenched in the dark ambient genre, there is still depth to the pieces that allow for pieces that border on noisier territories like the aforementioned “Desolate North”, but also offer something different with “Failure to Contact” with its more electronic and slightly hypnagogic feel.
“Glacial Iridescence”would be suited to those that like dark ambient mixed in with mystical connotations with a cinematic ear. It is available on standard cd-r, Deluxe and Digital.
Med Gen is Russian artist Mikhail Selitsky and his album “Brittleroots” is described as “Almost 80-minutes journey through the marshes and woods, off the paths and with no signs where to go. Mysterious, dark and brooding, yet mesmerizingly pleasant album combing lots of field recordings with ambiance and ritualistic elements.” Utilizing field recordings of Moscow marshes which are conveyed in the titles such as “Silt”, “Peat Accumulation” and “Man from the Bog”, the album mixes cold ambience, field recordings, occasional beats (made from wood percussion) and eerie electronics.
Not the type of music that I tend to listen to, I prefer shorter and I guess lighter ambient styles, I can see with tracks like “Silt” with its layers of very subtle sound design that Selitsky is very capable at what he does and can adeptly expand on his style.
“Bitterroots” is available on standard cd-r, Deluxe and Digital.
Dronny Darko and Apollonius
“The Sea of Potentials” is a collaborative release by Ukranian artist Oleg Puzan (Dronny Darko) and Eelke van Hoof (Apollonius) and comes out on the Russian ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ label. Four long pieces with the shortest coming in at just over fifteen minutes, the artists intentions were to create an album for introspection and to delve into the spiritual aspects of Dark Ambient with a New Age twist.
The music fits exactly what the two musicians intended it to. The pace is glacial slow, it’s dark but not overly oppressive. The New Age elements are included, but don’t over shadow the whole of the work, Much like the cover painting by van Hoof, the music feels like you are venturing through a series of cold caves with occasional sources of water running through them. Light is limited, the temperature continues to drop and a sense of eerieness permeates.
“The Sea Of Potentials is available on a standard cd-r or one of the more deluxe packages the label is noted for (the were in A Closer Listen’s best packaging list).
“SineRider is the solo project of Berklee College of Music composer Devin Powers, based in Norwood, Massachusetts. For over a decade, he has been producing his sublime music, ranging from ambient and electronica to shoegaze and post-rock, having released many albums and EPs, either on labels such as Sun Sea Sky, Archives, BFW Recordings and Silk Music, or self-released. “Four Years Away”…features twelve new compositions of blissful ambience and calming soundscapes. It’s a captivating collection, carefully created using multiple layers of mesmerizing synths, soothing pads, dreamy piano melodies, loops of delicate chimes, ethereal drones, subtle percussion elements, minimal bass lines and tape loops manipulated with various effects like reverb, delay and wow and flutter.”
For different moods you need different music and with “Four Years Away” you get several different slices of Ambient mixed with electronica, glacial drones, modern classical and a touch of the dark stuff. The opener “Farmland” is electronica infused ambience that has a woozy feel to it with its muted tones and blurred piano lines. It’s the musical equivalent of a sun shower on an autumn day. With tracks like “Sea Level”, “Aomori”and “Four Years Away” the tones remain muted with a glassy sound that feels comforting. There is not a lot of depth which suits the music as it wraps you up tightly with its hints of melancholia and introspection. “Glimmer” is a modern classical / Ambient hybrid with close recorded natural piano which has a repetitive, almost percussive feel to it accompanied by field recordings, while “Crimson” falls under the dark stuff category mentioned before. Rumbling detritus soaked recording with micro melodies that flicker under the crunchy soundscape.
Tracks like “Gate”, “Chamomile” and “Into the Distance” bring the pace right down with gentle languid ambient drones that move ever so slightly along and require more acute listening to detect the subtleties throughout the pieces. “Sparrows” is like the early dawn with the sun gently rising, the drying up of dew and the hopes of a new day. It’s uplifting quality are the drones which reach up higher, elevating the piece.
The music on this album, like the press release says is “blissful ambience and calming soundscapes. It’s the type of album to relax and unwind with, to just let the ambience float over you.
“Four Years Away” is available on cd-r (Limited to 200 copies) and Digital via Sound in Silence..
“Styrofoam is the solo project of electronica producer Arne Van Petegem, based in Antwerp, Belgium. For about two decades he has released several sublime albums and EPs on labels such as Morr Music, Nettwerk and Rocket Racer, bringing together influences as diverse as electronic pop, idm, shoegaze, indie rock and hip hop. We Can Never Go Home is Styrofoam’s first full-length in over eight years, as well as his first ever all-instrumental album. It features eight new compositions all written, recorded and produced by Arne at his Silent Face studio during the early months of 2018 as the soundtrack to an ever more confused and confusing world. Any vocal elements present on his previous albums have been entirely pushed away and Styrofoam pays all of attention to the details of mixing his delicate melodies and complex rhythm programming. Styrofoam’s intelligent arrangement blends dreamy warm pads, shimmering synths, deep bass lines, blissful layers of delayed guitars, playful beats, glitchy clicks and electronic bleeps and bloops, resulting in his long-awaited return being one of his most accomplished efforts to date.”
The first descriptors that pop into my head with this album are “Joyful”, “Retro”, “Unashamedly Melodic”, “Slightly Ominous” and “Glitchy”. The opener “Fully Present” may suck you into feel the feel good vibe with its trumpet like synth sounds, retro chugging synths, melodic bass lines, ambience and scattering beats. Once you come across tracks like “It Isn’t Real So It Doesn’t Count” and “This Terrible And Beautiful World” both of which have a slightly dark side, one which seems to cast a inquisitive eye over the proceedings.
“The Crook Of Your Elbow” follows on from the opener with its fun retro vibe, upbeat feel and playfulness, as does “Did Your Mouth Buy You This Scar” while still exploring the darker ominous side. “Love Restores Almost Everything” is pure playful electronica with its squelchy sounds, truncated beats, dark bass lines and array of synth sections. There is a bit of a celebratory feel to the music which the synth lines are driving this emotion. “We Can Never Go Home” is a track that reminds of a lighter version of the music from “Stranger Things” before the classical electronica of dysfunctional machines breaking down changes the sound and texture of the piece. The album finishes of with the ebullient and interestingly titled “Blind Spot Safety Procedure” which is a mashup of free form synth lines, dark bass lines, shuffling drum machine beats and just the right balance between light and dark, with it tipping more to the light side of the equation.
Sometimes you just need a record that will change your mood in a positive way and the energy and melody that comes through with “We Can Never Go Home” is just the ticket you need. This is available on Cd-r (limited to 300 copies) and Digital via Sound In Silence.
Caminauta is Swedish musician Cami Gadea whose previous work was released on Ukrainian label Delta Shock. “Fragments” her first full length is released by Whitelabrecs.
“Fragments’ is a record centered around melancholia, loneliness but also nature and stylistically it adopts her signature sound but with plenty of variation within these generous 10 tracks. The opening moments use arpeggios where as other pieces are more drone and soundtrack based. Some pieces have the lightest hint of ‘electronica’, as subtle beats provide a faint pulse and you can even hear poetry, in a tribute to the memory of her friend Alec Wildey.“
The music on “Fragments” blends synth prog with sweeping ambience , occasional minimal synth like percussion and modern classical. The music on the album is an almost 50/50 mix of is upbeat like “Escape”, while “Fragments” and “Almost Home” show a darker side. The tribute to her friend “Happy (In memory of Alex Wildey)” is suitably melancholic without being too sad. Over the ten tracks Gadea gently sucks you in to her world mixing up styles and sounds while still having a quality which relaxes you. Gentle is the new intense.
“Fragments” is available on Cd-r (limited to 50 copies) and Digital
“Heavily influenced by mountain terrain after relocating to the Southern Alps, Andy Cartwright has experimented further under his Seabuckthorn alias with raw guitar sounds in bowing, fingerpicking & the use of slides, bringing a wider channelling of atmospherics & textures. Recorded in late 2017 and with the wood burner always in use, most song parts were captured in one take providing a spontaneous feel, focusing on loose, minimal improvisations which are apparent somewhat in Seabuckthorn’s live performances. With the new addition of banjo, clarinet & synthesizer to occasionally accompany the guitars, this release reflects the spatial surroundings in which it was created.”
In a recent post on Stephan Hauluska’s release I wrote about artists that take their chosen instrument and set about casting a new light upon it. I used Andy Cartwright aka Seabuckthorn as an example. When I first got sent this release I wasn’t sure what to make of it. This is largely based on my sonic expectations of what a guitar sounds like and the context to which it is used in music. Traditionally I am more used to the guitar in the Punk/Hardcore/Alternative format and of course Drone, so when it its is removed from these genres and employed to a different sound and texture, it kind of threw me.
Featuring a stunning cover (which reminds me of releases on the Preservation label), the album is a combination of drone, Alt Folk, Experimental, Alt Country, and Post Rock styles to create pieces that conjure up a certain darkness and uneasiness. In addition to guitar, Cartwright also plays Banjo, Clarinet, Synth and Percussion. The album eases in with “Blackout” an eerie droning alt country-ish track with tribal like percussion, which reminds you of the label of his last release, Lost Tribe Sound. “Disentangled” has a metallic, cavernous sound that brings forth images of desolation, and drought.”Figure Afar” feels like a quartet of string musicians making mournful funeral soundtracks, while the title track emerges from short feverish playing into arching drones resulting in a cinematic piece that feels like indecision and stress are running freely.
By the time of “Inner” Cartwright is sitting crossed legged with his psych hat on as a percussive sound not too dissimilar to the darker notes of a didgeridoo pound repetitively while synth washes and scatters about. “It was Aglow” utilises the Banjo in layered fashion as recordings of the instrument come and go, like waves crashing on a shore. “Sent in By The Cold” feels like an amalgamation of some of the pieces of the previous tracks, with the tribal percussion, string section sound and alt folk drones. You get the feeling of the weight and emotion to the piece as if Cartwright is squeezing out the emotion, but still holding onto control, not letting it get away from him.
“Somewhat Like Vision” creates a barely there feel to the piece with strong ambient touches, slight mournful qualities and minimal textural changes, resulting in a moody, introspective piece. “Submerged Past”highlights Cartright’s playing as well as his depth as a composer. Virtuosic guitar over minimal ambient drones which not only compliment the guitar playing, but also add extra dimensions to the piece and expand it sonicly into Post Rock meets Alt Folk territory. The way the track is paced and its flow results in this being the definite standout track for me. The album ends with the loop like and feverish “What the Shepherds Call Ghosts” that is built on multiple layers including metallic like drones, fast strummed guitar, equally fast finger picked Banjo. There is an ominous ghostly hum throughout the piece which juxtaposes the guitar and banjo nicely and holds my attention more, because it adds a certain moodiness that I feel is conveyed in the title.
I still can’t get my head away from my pre-conceptions in regards to an instrument and it’s sound and context, but I am slowly getting there. The tracks that for me, are less of the experimental nature like the title track, “Sent In By The Cold” and “Submerged Past”, which speak to me more than others. Though that said, I feel that this is an album I could rediscover in the future and get more from it.
“A House With Too Much Fire” is available on LP and Digital via Bookmaker Records & La Cordillère.
“A Light Is Running Along The Ropes is a the first full-length release by “Chamber Ambient” sound artists SPIRIT RADIO, on Editions Vaché. The New York duo of Stephen Spera and Tamalyn Miller deliver a carefully crafted cycle of alchemical and liminal works, from experimental vocal and text pieces to spatial drones, with Tamalyn’s spectral voice weaving in and out of Stephen’s tapelooped textures and electronic soundscapes.”
If you have seen the Instagram page of Spirit Radio (@spiritradiomusic) you will get an idea of the music behind Spirit Radio. The music is a mixture of dark ambient styles, mystical sounds, music that sounds barely there, fragile at times and at others transmissions from the other side. The tracks are composed using Keyboards, guitars, tape loops, samples, sitar, mellotron, Roland MC-505, devices, and a monotone horsehair fiddle of Miller’s own creation.
The music moves from ghostly spectres to folk tones, post rock touches and torch song singing. Miller’s voice is essentially an instrument and she uses it for singing traditional styles, poetry reading, throat singing and chanting. There is a sound art feel to the album that is more akin to creating an overall feeling that varies from track to track, rather than a collection of songs. It does however seem to be broken into two distinct types with the trilogy of “A Light Is Running Along The Ropes: Copper/Silver and Mercury” and the more poetry based pieces that rely on vocal repetitions.
This is occasional music for late night, candles and howling winds. “A Light is Running Along The Ropes” is available on limited cd with a special bag, print and poem and also digital.
“Anne Lovett’s stunning new release for 1631 is a departure from her beautiful previous solo piano album Beyond (and below). Without losing any of the startling beauty of the precedent album, in The Eleventh Hour, Anne Lovett revels in a new sonic world. Joined by the London Contemporary Orchestra , UK’s most innovative and respected ensemble routinely heard alongside such luminaries as Radiohead or Johnny Greenwood, and later in duo with phenomenal cellist Oliver Coates, Anne Lovett introduces subtle electronics alongside carefully layered melodic piano lines.
Best described by the Japanese concept of Kintsugi or “broken beauty”, The Eleventh Hour is a heartbreakingly beautiful contribution to the modern classical genre. The thirteen tacks ring out with a dark luminosity. All meticulously crafted, the result is gut wrenching, an elegy to our troubled times.”
An album like this is good for the soul. It’s the kind that shows there is beauty in the world. The pairing of Lovett’s piano and the London Contemporary Orchestra is a perfect match. Neither overshadows the other, they share space and also give space to each other. This is modern classical is the grandest scale. The strings range from haunting through to melancholic, while the piano moves effortlessly from dark flourishes to light graceful playing. A track like the title track is the perfect example of this at it moves through several different iterations within the piece, all the while being consistent.
Most Modern Classical these days tends to centre around the piano which at times can leave it a bit stark. The balance of starkness and exploratory or expressiveness is sometimes need to lift the music to the next level. Lovett proves herself to be a fine pianist as the track “There is No Why” perfectly demonstrates with its intense and expressive playing which she augments with electronics on “Psyche Piano” which offer a completely different take on modern classical piano. The album is bookended by two versions of “At the Same Time” which vary the instrumentation and feel of the track, the final Alt version being my preferred one as it features more piano which brings it closer to the light than the string dominated other version.
“The Eleventh Hour” is a trip into what I would call classical modern classical. It feels suited to a theatre with a conductor with a hushed reverence in the audience. As music changes and scenes like modern classical become filled with musicians and better known as a contemporary style it can feel like it has been taken away from its source. This feels like you are listening to the source directly surrounded by people dressed in their finery. “The Eleventh Hour” is available on Cd and Digital via 1631 Recordings.
“Surrogate Sibling is the solo studio project of composer/multi-instrumentalist Dieter Dolezel. Being an already established, multiple award-winning classically trained composer, originally active in the field of contemporary classical music, his interests gradually developed over time towards a more inclusive approach to music making, one that would incorporate the multitude of musical influences that accompanied him since his earliest days of being a musician. As a consequence, the vision arose to found a music project, that would be an open playing field of free musical expression between the poles of classical and popular music, yet devoid of any mainstream trends and hence, Surrogate Sibling was born.
From early on, a rather unique feature of the project was the notion of featuring various collaborating musicians with vastly different musical backgrounds, that would also possibly change with each new album. The music is deliberately neither strictly classical nor pop, oscillating freely between intricately crafted, chamber-music-like string and piano arrangements and contemporary electronic beats and soundscapes in varying degrees, mixing it up with the occasional electric guitar part, performed by Dolezel himself, incorporating a wide range of influences spanning from Reichian minimalism to Autechre’s abstract electronica and even a little dose of Ravel.”
With “Vert” Dolezel opens the album with a restrained piece that marries minimal electronics and gentle, thoughtful piano playing. Together they create a perfect fusion full of melody, minimal glitchy/crunchy beats and piano, resulting in an uplifting piece which transcends genre classifications and sets the listener up nicely for the remainder of the album. The mood of the piece is open and with a mood that mixes hope with introspection and joy with restraint. “Fen” then flips the script on its head with a full on Modern Classical piece of piano and violin. The context of the album’s opener has been changed to a more dramatic and moody piece with the piano largely holding down the piece with its stark playing, while the violin adds a different shade of moodiness to the piece. Flickering Electronics and monotone piano follow the same tempo and pattern on “Thorn” with just the faintest hint of ambience floating in. Towards the end of the track the music starts to take more shape with the tiniest beats entering the sphere and the piano tone changing to tone reminiscent of prog pieces.
With “Trails” Dolezel embraces the ambience with a swooning fluid moving wash being joined by fragile occasional piano tones before the music moves into darker territories with deep synth drones rolling out and gritty almost percussion like accompaniment. With Hive”the piano has a glassy, distant and fragile tone with opens the track with a wistful innocence. Melodic electronica then bursts forth with repetitive tones that occupy the same feeling as the piano. The rhythms of the tone become more fluid which also bring up the piano playing as well resulting in a piece that compliments as well as challenges each element. It shows how well Dolezel is at working with both influences within the piece. “Lume” nicely brings us a solo piano track which feels intimate through the natural sounding recording process. It manages to steer clear of falling into a certain type of feeling like melancholia or introspection. Rather it feels rather personal and free form, almost as it was semi improvised. “Tellur” flips everything on its head with layered vocal chants and violin before electronics start to lurk in the background. The vocal chants are used more as an instrument rather than singing. Out of nowhere the track goes very intense with the strings, ambience and piano fusing with the voices to create the type of piece that reminds me of “Einstein on the Beach”. It’s a mix of modern classical, electronica and experimental theatre music. II can safely say that it is not the way i would have expected the album tp end. The final part feels like you are listening an old 78rpm record with its static soaked grooves. If anything this reveals a lot about Dolezel and just where he may take his music in the future.
“Hive” is recommended for those that appreciate when genres mix resulting in interesting journeys in music, but also for those that are looking for something a little bit different. “Hive” is available digitally via 1631 Recordings.
“There are feelings that only her piano can express. It has been four years since the release of the long selling third solo album, ‘Gift’, by Yuki Murata, the Tokyo-based pianist and member of the cinematic instrumental music band, Anoice, and dark classical unit, Films…her 4th solo album ‘Piano Fantasia’ featuring beautiful piano tunes which will strike all listeners to their very core.
Similar to her previous album, this release includes her outstanding gift for composing music, which left her name in the history books of the three major international film festivals; Cannes, Berlin, and Venezia, and for her skill in playing the piano that has brought her many awards in competitions such as PTNA Grand Muse and The International Piano Duo Contest. Her talent was also admired by internationally famous Japanese composers Ryuichi Sakamoto, Nobuo Uematsu and Takeshi Kobayashi. This piano sound, that is more impressive than a visual are and more moving than words, will go down in history alongside albums from neo-classical music artists such as Max Richter, Jóhann Jóhannsson, and Nils Frahm.
By recording various pianos, not only her private studio, but also a large concert hall, she gave the album a prime reverb. In addition, her own band, Anoice’s members joined as the instrumental accompaniment upon returning to Tokyo following tours in Asia and Europe. Everything, from the vibrations of the piano strings to the noise from the piano pedal, is Yuki Murata.”
“Piano Fantasia” was preceded by two singles “Red Owl” and “Bird Sings A Lullaby” which I wrote the following about: After a delicate opening of contemplative piano “Red Owl” really starts to take its shape as a piece of music with its confident and rolling playing. You feel as if you are being taken on a journey that involves twists, turns, inclines and descents. The musical tone balances between sections of fragility, passages of romantic playing and the strong confidence that becomes the hallmark of the piece. For some reason I am reminded of Michael Nyman’s soundtrack to “The Piano”.
“Bird Sings a Lullaby” a ghostly fragility is noted. The piano tone is ice-cold with a certain amount of reverb coming from the instrument which enhances this cold and ghostly feel. The keys have a sharp, but shimmering tone while also being quite minimal and the way that Murata moves across the piano gives you the impression of someone who is gently, almost barely touching the keys. As a piece of music it is slowly played which allows the notes time to breathe and gives Murata the time to move over the music territory, which in some respects hints at her Post Rock background. The track finishes with a separate field recording of rain before fading into silence.
With the remainder of the album Murata shows her varied techniques and styles such as the feverish and intensely passionate playing on “Utopia”, the controlled and almost jazzy feel of “Elephant Dance”, the mixture of restrained playing and field recordings of “Clammbon”, The Post Rockish meets Pop full band of “Flying Tricycle” and the emotionally fraught “Good-bye, Hello”.
My personal favourite style of playing on the album are tracks like the two singles as they both have different feels, “Red Owl” has a certain confidence running through the piece, while “Lullaby…” has this fragility and feeling of not being sure of oneself. Tracks like “Clammbon” and “Phosphorescent” stand out because of the time and space given to each track.
With “Piano Fanatasia” Murata offers twelve pieces that cover different emotions and also harkens back to a time that predates the current Modern Classical explosion. The music will attract those that like a purity and classicism that features on this album. “Piano Fantasia” is available on Cd and Digital via Ricco Label.
K – Conjog is the pseudonym of Italian artist Fabrizio Somma. “Magic Spooky Ears” his latest album (Schole 2018) is his 5th album following works on labels such as Abandon Building Records and Trovarobato. His work is described as “mixing piano music, electronic, ambient and orchestral sounds.”
From the artist: “In October 2018 “Magic Spooky Ears”, will be released: a brand new LP for the Italian White Forest Records and the Japanese Schole Inc.”Millennials Otters” is the track that foreruns the album.The track, for its synthetic texture and dance shades, marks once more a change of course, only partially revealing the sound of the new album. The clip that goes along the track, created by the designer Giuseppe Santillo – who also edited the single and the upcoming album covers – brings to light the conflicting relationship between nature and technology and is produced with cutting-edge digital art techniques.”
The album is different from the other releases in Schole this year and in a way it reminds me of things from Ghostly International compilations. Musically it doesn’t stay in one electronic style, but you can hear qualities that demonstrate the stamp that Somma has put on his music. With retro influences, vocals that remind of the early 80’s synth pop days, crisp beats, piano, synth stabs, acoustic guitar and electronica frameworks, the album changes from track to track showing an open-minded musician.
In a way I am sort of reminded a bit of the Styrofoam release mentioned above with its ominous bass lines, retro synth touches and its classical electronica stylings. The opener “What Begin Began” mixes post rock stylings with retro minimal synth, dark bass lines, acoustic guitar and flurries of synth and percussion. It lulls the listener in somewhat to what they will hear in the album, but it’s also showcases both the album and the artists openness in using different styles of music when constructing his pieces. The album’s second track “Kingpink” is an early highlight, one that blends current and past styles with a heavy dose of melody and feeling of being taken on a journey. My own personal inclinations means that a track such as “Same Old Grace” is a bit of an odd choice to listen to. I don’t tend to listen to many vocal driven pieces, I do have a sort of anti -pop bias that leads me away from thing that I deem to commercial. But for this track the vocal element is such a small one and to deny the track just because of the vocals, would be a wasted chance on expanding my horizons.
The preceding single “Millennials Otters” nicely balances retro synth work with distorted experimental vocal techniques and crispy beats. The track manages to go through several iterations before returning to familiar motifs, continuing the pop feel of the structure. “Love Walks on Unexpected Ways” is the type of track you expect in a Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaum fame) film. It skirts so many musical styles from acoustic pop to folktronica, moving from sound to sound in a fluid manner with such ease.
“Replica” provides an Ambient and Piano track relaxing us before “Old Enough To Look Young” takes us into retro Prog synth explosions of colour and sound with a cinematic feel. With a track like this you can see how Somma constructs his pieces to not just entertain the listener, but to take them on a journey creating imagery with sound and playing on tension to elicit reactions. “Monotone” is pure Synth Pop with emotive vocals, the type of track you would expect to see in an 80’s film in a night club scene. Pulsing noise make you think of smoke machines while the pre-techno synths fill the dance floor. “Cheeks” feels positively laid back in comparison to the other tracks. Not cut from the same cloth as “Replica”, but acting in a similar way in that its calms proceedings somewhat before exploding in the second half with a pure 80’s feel that makes me misty eyed and nostalgic for my youth. There is an abundance of melody in Somma’s piece, but he also has hints of a slightly darker undercurrent so as to not make it too saccharine.
I am not sure what it is, but I have noticed a bit of a trend occurring when the final track of an album is a bit removed from the preceding tracks. I hazard a guess that the track listing may be an arbitrary thing, but a bit of me thinks that the last track in a way is a road map to where the artist may take the listener in the future. a track like “Falcon” definitely feels more contemporary than the other eleven pieces. Opening with a sort of ambient meets electroacoustic meets electronica vein, the track is rather subdued but ever-moving with its shuffling percussion, piano lines and beats. At some point I expect vocals to come through, but they never materialise, instead we get sweeping strings which gives us a glimpse into a totally different side to the artist that would be an interesting deviation to take.
This album is the definition of a slow burner. It took a while for my head to get around it, but once I did I discovered myself enjoying it more and more with each listen. If you like contemporary music that is highly influenced by the 80’s, then you can do no wrong with “Magic Spooky Ears”. It is an enjoyable listen and a nice diversion from what I normally would hear. “Magic Spooky Ears” is available on Digital and Cd via Schole Records.
Gri + Mosconi
“The most successful collaborations reframe the distinct voices of the participants, elevating their combined efforts onto paths crossing unexpectedly rarefied territory. Between Ocean and Sky is such a work. Written and recorded by Francis M. Gri and Federico Mosconi between Milan and Verona during 2016-17 this debut collection alloys the most appealing features of ambient, drone, neoclassical and post-rock into a singular, cohesive and resonant statement. With apparent ease the duo have effectively merged musical identities, interweaving layers of manipulated guitar and textured piano, grounding and innervating one another throughout six exquisite instrumentals that wordlessly bridge depth and height with crystalline tenderness and tidal strength.”
The final release for 2018 via the Slowcraft resents series pairs two Italy based artists Francis M Gri and Federico Mosconi. While you can read about Francis’ history below, Mosconi’s work has appeared on the Tranquillo Records and KrysaliSound labels. Some collaborations can sound clunky or cut and paste, what comes through in this album is the fluidity of the two artists to create a cohesive work. I listened to this after Francis’ “Decay” album so I can see his fingerprints within the music, but they are traces rather than full imprints.
The music has a vibrant quality, especially when it’s at its most shimmering. Take “Landscape Rosso” for example. A fever pitched opening which has entwined melodies and depth of sound which requires deep listening to pick up all the acute details. Piano, Guitar, what sounds like clarinet, synth, drones all combine to create a piece that feels like it’s organically growing. In a similar way to how Gri constructs his own piece, the duo traverse genres and styles to create something that glides across different sounds. The following “Landscape Biano” takes a different tack and blends noisy ambience with modern classical stylings that starts off with low volume before heading into ferocious white noise (possibly a reference to the bianco of the title).
Backtracking, the opener “Conversations” lets you know what sort of journey you are about to undertake. It mixes fragile elements alongside those of a stormy quality. The pace is deliberately slow and relaaxed resulting in periods of long instrumentation that grows within the piece and on the listener. It also hints at that dark and light battle that will unfold throughout the album. Music that mixes modern classical and ambient seems to be high on my current listens list. The balance of these two styles and how they extract more from each other while also giving back to each other, is the reason why a track like “Lumen” is right up my alley. There is this perfect 50/50 mix of style with additional effects to make the track appealing. The slow pace also suits the style. “Titan Rain” sees a bit more experimental sounds and techniques entering the fray, while keeping it in tune with the rest of the album. Minimal looping piano, back wards soundscapes, haunting melodies bring about feelings of a feverish, but introspective dream like soundscape. there is a strong feeling of narratives within the tracks as if you are being taken on a ride through different emotions or experiences.
The album’s final track “Slow Dance” shares a similar quality to “Landscape Bianco” with its noisier edge that persist throughout the track. You find it ebbing and flowing, in a sort of battle with the piano that unlike the other tracks, has a strong and expressive feeling. The drones that find themselves enmeshed throughout are of the orchestral and cinematic variety and they seem to be perfect addition to the piece.
For this album Gri + Mosconi are not afraid to aim high. There is a certain confidence that comes through in the pieces and the way that interact and construct the tracks. Sometimes music that has a tendency to be dark and noisy can over shadow the other element and not work on a consistent basis. For this album the duo show restraint as they are not using the noise to overshadow, rather to coax out other sounds, textures and tones. Much, as I hate to use a baking analogy, in a way it is like when you add a punch of salt to a cake and the way that it alters, in a good way, the taste. Recommended headphone listening.
“Between Ocean And Sky” is available on Cd (limited to 150 copies) and Digital from Slowcraft Presents.
Francis M Gri
” At times sounding like the soundtrack to a moody, somber Tarkovsky film, Gri has captured the din of the clatter and clang of life as it grows, and then rises in an uplifting anthemic glory to all that man has made. Darkly delicate…constantly decaying and yet reborn again…eternally…this is the sound of “Decays”. Francis M. Gri is a musician and sound designer born in Switzerland in 1982 and based in Italy. Co-founder and member (1999/2002) of the Italian ethereal dark band All My Faith Lost (Cold meat industry, Projekt Records) he created in 2010 the label KrysaliSound focused in experimental ambient music. His sound always in evolution touch different ambient styles in a mix of dream-like images and emotions.”
Francis M Gri had a busy and productive 2018 with releases on Time Released Sound, Whitelabrecs and the above collaboration on Slowcraft Records. He also released seven albums of a variety of artists on his KrysaliSound label. “Decays”, which came a few weeks in advance of the above release is a cinematic piece that seems to glide through genres picking the best features of each to combine into a work that is vibrant, expressive and entrancing. Through out the album the music mixes light with dark, beauty with ugliness to create pieces that fluidly interchange in their texture, tone and mood.
“Numb” is a great choice to open the album. Mixed with backwards sounds, percussive motifs, glitchy ambience, drones and guitar, the music gently goes through a haunting electroacoustic section of metallic clangs, stormy sounds and sonic swirling before ending in a peaceful modern classical styled finale. Post Rock melodies rescue the second track “Subliminal Violence” from the eerie electronics, field recordings and post industrial soundscapes it was leading towards. Despite the decay and noise within the piece, there is still a strong melodic core running through it providing balance. “Dummies” finishes the first half of the record with tribal meets sci-fi soundscapes with fragile plinki plonking piano. The music feels free form in the way it travels through different sound sources never once holding on to a particular sound or genre. There are dark ambient elements, post rock flourishes, jazz – like piano, drones and a collection of random sounds that together weave into a fabric of sound that is hard to place anywhere. Cinematic in nature and feel, it’s quite a unique sort of piece that is in a way stateless.
The three tracks that finish off the album, the trilogy of “The Age Of Materialism I, II & III” combine for just under half the album’s running time. The first part “Anger” certainly delves into the noisier side with swathes of noise that blankets field recordings and prog synth sounds with minimal beats. It scatters around like an electrical storm under which guitar lines ring out. Towards the end the noise dissipates and the beats remain gently leading into part 2 “Anxiety” which shares a similar structure to Part 1, but while Part 1 was about scattershot noises, Part 2 focuses more on random glitches, reverberating sounds, melancholic piano and field recordings. The piece for me is a bit more moodier than anxious, but then it would be too obvious to put for example recordings of someone breathing deeply and hyperventilating. Part 3 “Apathy” starts off with microsound recordings, before rumbling static glitchy loops, lead into a horn like drone, before flashing backwards sound s and minimal guitar ambience lead us into the next movement. The music is constructed similar to that of”Dummies”, but feels more repetitive and loop oriented. With a lot going on and sounds over lapping each other, it feels like this particular piece, for me, is more suited to the anxiety theme, much like when you are anxious your mind is racing.
Much like what is stated in the above press release, this music feels like a dream soundscape. Dreams don’t have a tendency to be narrative driven , with elements and images flooding in and crashing into each other. Musically the album feels this way as the sounds layer, crash, and mould together. Although there is no credit for mastering (I am presuming Francis did it himself), it must be noted how crystal clear, rich and alluring the soundscape is.
“Decays” is available on Cd and Digital via Time Released Sound.
“Uhren is an album of twelve, individual five-minute clocks, totaling one hour. Composed of field recordings, found sounds and altered instruments, each clock also references time in content and/or structure. Some of the sonic materials used include recordings of a prehistoric, solstice-measuring monument, passing trains, a mnemonic for remembering how many days in a month, two juxtaposed cemeteries, an exhibit of extinct animals and five minutes after midnight reversed.”
I have recently removed the Experimental and electroacoustic descriptions from the heading of this blog. I have noticed as I have gotten older realised that works that tend to fall into this genre will either be things that I don’t like or somethings I will rarely listen to. Maybe I am getting old and boring, or maybe the minimalist streak that runs through the rest of my life has started to influence my listening. That said, I can still appreciate sound design. This is something comes through in Gregory Kramer’s “Uhren”. The release comes via the Pharmafabrik label who also put on Simon Serc’s “Bora Scura” which the artist himself sent, but was a little too noisy for my tastes (though it did feature on some Best of Lists I saw, so it resonated well with others).
Kramer is “a multidisciplinary artist working with sound and space. Taking inspiration from his archaeological curiosity of abandoned places and his interest in mythology, he searches for ghosts among the ruins and seeks to unearth evidence of forgotten histories through sound. He composes with field recordings, found materials, electronics, musical instruments and radio transmissions, and sometimes extends his work into physical installations.” He has a varied musical and art history which you can hear a selection of over the course of the twelve five-minute long pieces that occupy “Uhren”
The release varies from ones that are pure field recordings such as “Lunch Time” to ones that are presumably post produced like “A Cemetary Duet”. He borders noisier confines of “The Train Has Already/Will Never Arrive” with the distant, submerged rumblings of “MidnightRunningBackwards”, with some of the track verging on so clear that you feel the people/ settings surrounding you to those of a buried quality.
While not something that will get heavy rotation amongst my playlists, I can appreciate the construction and sound recordings that go into the pieces. Recommended for headphone listening to capture the lowercase noises.
“Uhren” is available digitally via Pharmafabrik.