Coming hot on the heels of 2018’s “Seen and Unseen” (Sound in Silence) and “Ephemera” (Rusted Tone Recordings), The Green Kingdom opens 2019 with “Expanses Remixes”. Originally released in January of 2014 (with a handful of copies still available), the Russian Dronarivm label have re-issued the album “Expanses” a couple of days shy of its fifth birthday and added a bonus disc that contains ten remixes from the likes of Warmth, Hotel Neon, Roel Funken, The Green Kingdom himself and others. Cottone is no stranger to remixes having issued a bonus disc of remixes with the “Prismatic” album and the “Miniature Forest Remix” Ep.
“Expanses was my homage to classic ambient and ambient techno albums of the past, albeit passed through the filter of dusty samples from old vinyl and classical records, the odd guitar melody, electronics and some soft rhythmic pulses. Since its release, the album has taken on a life of its own and also unexpectedly reached many more ears than I could have ever expected through some particularly fortuitous circumstances. It’s a slightly otherworldly, mysterious album within the TGK oeuvre that somehow continues to work its magic. I am very excited to now have the album back in print with a bonus album of incredibly creative and diverse mixes from some very talented artists, each of whom weave their own unique soundworlds. I hope these sounds can bring some peaceful moments spent within your personal expanses, whether real and imagined”.
Keeping it open to interpretation Cottone named all the tracks “Untitled”. By doing this it allows the listener to pick up sonic queues and allow them to interpret the pieces themselves. For a reviewer its a little trickier to describe the pieces rather than just talk about them as “Untitled 1-10”. That said, a quick overview of the original album shows TGK venturing into dubby territories, fractured ambience, guitar ambience that approaches post rock, micro beats and loop driven elements. Cottone mentions that the album is his tribute to Ambient Techno and while it is not obvious in the sense of being overly beat driven, you get the feeling of small elements taken from that particular style and then used to construct tracks around them. Of the original pieces the highlights for me are pieces like the delightfully relaxing “Untitled” (2), the collection of micro sounds and melodic tones of “Untitled” (4), the laid back “Untitled” (8) and the almost symphonic ambience of “Untitled” (10).
The remix disc opens with a Fingers In The Noise remix. Fingers In The Noise is French musician Laurent Bisch who offers a remix of micro glitches, guitar pieces, looped electronics and clipped beats with an irresistible bass line hovering deep down, which gives it a slightly dirty edge. It feels like a full circle has occurred between TGK’s influence of Ambient Techno through to Laurent’s resurrection of the style. Segue aka Jordan Sauer follows on with a melodic reworking which builds incrementally through out adding layer upon layer. While there is percussion it’s not the type to lead in the techno way, despite the variety of loops and bass line that may hint in this direction. It’s just a refreshing light filled piece that touches on folktronica. Presumably like the Tobias Hellkvist’s remix, this is one of the two download bonuses that came with the original album.
Auburn Lull , a dream pop band based out of Michigan offer not surprisingly a dream pop/shoegaze inspired remix that shows why musicians that might not be from the same genre can be extremely adept at remixing other artists. The track is full of swooning, droning elements that swirl around with a minimal rhythm centering the piece. Being a band dominated by guitarists you can see where they have chosen their inspiration and which element to focus on, resulting in a textural piece that weaves a variety of guitar sounds in and around each other. Roel Funcken, Dutch artist, one half of Funckarma and Legaic (who released “The Voynich Manuscript” on Dronarivm in 2016) takes TGK in a fusion of pure electronic music that is almost ‘housey’ in sound. The original TGK elements feel that they are used in a sort of call and response method, as if Roel has heard some piece of Cottone’s and responded to it. It feels like the remix is leaning more towards Funcken’s style than Cottone’s, which is the point of someone remixing a particular piece of music.
Another Dronarivm alumni Halftribe aka Ryan Bisset unleashes an ambient/drone piece that is thick in sound but also has elements that interact through out the piece giving it more dimensions. The drone is tightly wound and oscillating slightly – at times sounding like a siren. Guitar ambience flickers in offering the post rock sound heard in part through the original tracks. Bisset removes some of the light and much like the album cover to his “For The Summer, Or Forever” album, I am left with the feeling of a soundtrack to the early morning after the night before. Tobias Hellkvist, the Swedish born musician and Emmy nominated sound artist (who also released on Dronarivm in 2014 with “Cay”) contributes a moody, rich and almost claustrophobic remix that combines swirling layers of sound rolling over each other creating hypnotic loops under which micro beats propel the music forwards. Consistently changing, the track feels like all the source material has been combined into one particular piece that feels heavy with depth. Despite being full of sound at no point does it feel over the top, nor excessive. Valotihkuu provides the sonic flip side of Hellkvist’s remix with a track bathed in light, drones and field recordings. The remix sounds in part like his “Fragile Melodies” album, but Valotihkuu aka Denis Davydov emerges from the distant shell of that album and opens up with his take of TGK’s music which feels like it is balanced nicely between both artists work. Ever flowing loops, swathes of melody, percussive like field recordings and a slight moodiness results in a track that is calming, but not so laid back that you could fall asleep to.
Hotel Neon, the American trio of Michael Tasselmyer, Andrew Tasselmyer and Steven Kemner create a remix that sounds like Hotel Neon. Cinematic in touches, submerged throughout, their remix strips the light from the music creating a piece that feels small in size, but dense in activity. Starting off slowly with detritus and fractured sounds, the track over time gets more grittier and dronier resulting in a wind soaked piece that is tightly wound and slightly chaotic. The artist himself, Michael Cottone takes on his younger self with a track that mixes in all the colors and textures you would expect from TGK. Gritty and granular, distant and present, contemplative and inquisitive, the track takes shimmering melodies, introspective guitar noodling and takes the listener on a sonic textural journey. Cottone has an ability to balance out sounds and elements within his pieces that casts light and darkness revealing multidimensional pieces that you can listen to over and over, picking up different clues each time. The album fittingly finishes with a remix by Warmth aka Agus Mena of the Archives label. I say fittingly as TGK remixed his track “Concave” for the “Parallel Remixed” album that also came out in January (On Mena’s Archives imprint). Warmth’s reciprocal remix is a track that swirls with uplifting ambience that drifts along at a relaxed pace with a subtle hum woven into it. There are layers to the remix, from slightly darker synth like pads to airy ambience, but the track remains on the type of floating ambience that brings about calm without falling to the pitfalls of being boring. It is a nice way to bring the collection to a close.
For those that missed the original release this perfectly highlights both the original work and those of the remixers. The balance in styles of the remixes should be noted as the collection offers variety, something that occasionally goes missing in remix collections.