Time is short and submissions are in abundance. Those that make it onto the blog pages are those that I want to share. Unfortunately due to time restraints I can’t always do the further in-depth reviews I normally do. That said all these releases have their own special qualities and all get the DAF tick of approval.

Rapt

Jacob Ware is the man behind the project known as Rapt. First coming to my attention with the Basinski/Van Wey/ Voigt inspired self titled debut Ep. He bravely switches it up on the follow up Ep “Within Thrall” by releasing music that is more in line with, in his own words, music that is “drifting somewhere in-between Folk and Shoegaze (think if Nick Drake, Grouper and Slowdive had a child). I still will be making Ambient/Electronic stuff with the the name, but this is the direction I felt like going in. I collaborated with Demi Haynes from a great band (Seashine) from the US on this. I heard her voice and had to message her asking to work with me.”

Again a five track release, Ware shows that his musicianship isn’t solely limited to or restricted to one style. Sure the ambient feel is still there, but what makes this Ep a success is his confidence within the studio to create great sounding music. When you hear an emphasis on acoustic instruments it can lead to done a certain path (which a track like “Torn” matches your initial thoughts), but other tracks such as the opener “Girl in Black” and “Wax & Rosewood” bring more of an ambient feel out of the material. The vocals of both Ware and Haynes have a fragile quality to them that suits the music nicely and when they are intertwined the result is quite magical.

Ware mentioned Folk and Shoegaze influences in the sound and there is also a Noir-ish quality to the music with the tracks having a ghostly quality. A perfect example of this is the rather stark musically final track “The Lighthouse”. As mentioned before the intertwined vocals draw in the listener with their almost breathy, whispering voices. What makes it intriguing is the way that it seems to fade away just as when you were being told something. As if a secret was about to be revealed, but then rescinded.

Rapt version 2.0 is a totally different beast to the first incarnation, but like version one it is successful and lures you in and leaves you wanting to hear more. Hopefully this is just the beginning of Ware and Haynes collaborating.”Within Thrall” is a digital only release and generously pay what you want. Go get it and its predecessor now.

Sun Rain

“Sun Rain is the solo alias of Toronto based multi-instrumentalist, DJ and electronic producer Chad Skinner. “Sheets” marks his debut solo album, yet he has been active within the electronic music community for the past five years, releasing two albums as one half of the electronic production duo Snowday and frequently unveiling thoughtful DJ sets in clubs and at festivals around Toronto as Legs Florentine. Last year he conceptually launched the Sun Rain project , fusing his versatile compositional talents to explore his own expansive sonic ideas. Recorded entirely in his home studio, Sun Rain is ready to emerge with “Sheets” , a gorgeous 8-track showcase of rich  textural soundscapes infused with the emotional resonance of Modern Classical music. Organic beats and natural percussive elements are beautifully woven with dusty synths, rolling guitars and elegant piano, creating an electro-acoustic landscape steeped in nostalgia and melancholy, yet also optimistically hopeful.

The HushHush label is run by Alex Ruder who is a KEXP DJ who hosts the Pacific Notions which serves up the finest Ambient and Modern Classical releases on a weekly basis. With this exposure its clear to see why his label (which I came late to the party with the Zoltan Fesco “Shimmer Raga” release being my first exposure) is successful at crossing boundaries.

Indeed, this release in some way feels like a mix tape as Skinner traverses Ambient, Modern Classical and Electronica soundscapes with relative ease. Crisp beats, piano and swirling soundscapes are some of the arsenal on offer and then Skinner throws a curve ball with a track like “Calmly, I entered a state of Reverie” which drags us through a smoky opium den cum jazz club. This track features Rachael Weinroth-Browne who has recorded with Alaskan Tapes and whose own Komancello project is in my review queue.

Skinner likes to incorporate different instruments such as guitar into his mix as well as to make them the feature instrument. Case in point the almost Alt Country-ish “Joel Walker Sweeney” and the guitar that opens the following trip hopy track “November” which nicely balances ambience with beats, piano and a cinematic overture. The sound flips and is stripped back with the natural piano that makes up “Paper 2” a close relative of the opening track “Sheets”. Both have an assured Modern Classical feel that is introspective and draws the listener in with their calmness.

The words in press release alludes to the music of the final two tracks “Ground Swell” and “Dunes” and their hint of future sounds to follow. What they do do is build upon what has come before and combine them to create pieces, especially with “Ground Swell” that hints at the multifaceted big picture that an artist like Skinner can easily paint for the listener. “Dunes” is the more laid back and experimental of the two and makes me think of the track listing and how the positioning of each relates to the expectations of the listening. In some way I would have flipped them as then the album would of ended in a more epic and exultant way, but as it currently does, the more sublime “Dunes” kind of makes a statement to the listener that you just doubt know where I am headed.

“Sheets” is available on Digital and Cassette and is well worth your attention.

El Conejo

“Nostalgia is perhaps the best word to describe the music of Bruno Nunes Coelho aka El Conejo. Inspired by his first chords in his grandfather’s old guitar and by the memories of the places where he lives, Coehlo creates soundscapes that reveal themselves full of silences. His previous works include bands like Constantina and Ana. In El Conejo, Coelho embraces a calmer side of music and explores more delicate arrangements.”

Featuring possibly my favorite art this year, “Tempestade Tropical” released on the Brazilian label La Petite Chambre shows Coehlo to be quite the able composer. I feel like this is a soundtrack to a film yet to be made or conceived. There are moments of experimentation filtering through, with fluid and challenging guitar work featured in “Peixe de Água Doce”. Minimalism abounds in “Deriva” with its openness and depth, while “Manga Rosa” brings to mind the work of Frederico Durand with its almost glitchy field recordings and broken instruments.

The nostalgia or fleeting memories becomes present with the lightly warped nature of ‘Adeus Coehlo” before flowing into the post rock territory of the title track that nicely marries the chimes and tones with Daniel Nunes fluid and jazz style drumming. While a track like “Sonhando com Sapos na Relva” highlights Coehlo’s minimal approach to creating tracks that seem like snapshots of time and that unravel slowing as if being forgotten or taken by the wind. Its rare in music not to have things shoved down your through and I feel the Coehlo has a knack of creating works that demand attention as their minimal nature can almost make them somewhat invisible. The albums finale sees him return to the territory of “Peixe de Água Doce” but then extends on it and turns it into a more cinematic piece that sees moods shifting imperceptibly with a subtlety that infuses the soundscape.

This is an album to get lost in. Silence, minimalsim and innocence abounds within. There are no directions leading the listener down a particular path. Just an openness  and freedom which rewards over time.

“Tempestade Tropical ” is available on cassette and digital.

Jakob Lindhagen

“Released in 2017, Jakob Lindhagen’s ”Paces” combined evocative piano-and-string-work
with unusual instruments like musical saw and zither and experimental electronics, met
critical praise and over a million Spotify streams. A carefully curated selection of artists have been invited to reinterpret six of the tracks, with the music now taking deeper turns into and towards ambient, industrial, jazz, soft beats and experimentation.

No stranger to these pages Swedish musician Jakob Lindhagen returns with a remix Ep featuring re-interpretations from artists such as Kinbrae, Klangriket, Dag Rosenqvist and others. Lindhagen is very much an in demand musician / composer with film work and touring taking up his time with most recently completing a Swedish tour alongside other 1631 Recordings artists Lavalu and Hoshiko Yamane as well as his musical and personal partner, the equally talented Sofia Nystrand aka Vargkvint.

Opening with fellow Swede Fabian Rosenberg aka Klangriket’s reworking of “Kenopsia”, the EP starts off strongly. Rosenberg is faithful to the original with it’s skeleton of piano and eerie soundscapes and he steers into a more beat driven direction while emphasising the alien and robotic qualities of the original. With each work by Rosenberg I find myself getting more impressed. His Jazz like trumpet work is a nice addition as well. Tontario is a new name to me and the Finnish musician who states in his bio that he is “inspired by the captivating beauty of the Nordic nature…a big fan of Ambient soundscapes, crispy textures and wide range of foley sounds” turns in a noisy electroacoustic take on “Shelter”. While the original largely feature piano and string, there was a dark underbelly which Tontario has taken as his influence and amplified.

Kinbrae take on “Forgotten” one of the highlights of the original album. While the original was a raw natural warts and all melancholic piano place, the duo of twins Andy and Mike Truscott opt for a dense and looping soundscape with mournful brass elements floating around. It’s quite a different sort of track to the other that is quite a challenge to find elements of the original piece, though I do here small fragments buried within the looping soundscapes.

It makes sense to have Aisling Brouwer take on “In The Machinery” for it was one of the most impressive of the original pieces. Brouwer, an Ambient Classical composer has a similar background in film to that of Lindhagen and she applies this background with a decent amount of electronics to put her own take on the track and the result is an equally impressive version. There is a balance between elements and influences, covering Modern Classical, Film Score and IDM fields with an effortless ease. It also introduces me to an artist I must seek out. Fellow swede and owner of the impressive recent “Blood Transmission” album, Dag Rosenqvist turns in a fairly faithful rework that gradually has his stamp put on it. The original was a blend of Modern Classical with an ambient core running throughout it. Rosenqvist holds firm on the piano element but seduces the track into a electronic/drone piece that nicely provides a counterpoint of the strings of the original.

The Moody and piano stab driven “S,47” takes on a ghostly complexion thanks to Vargkvint who adds a healthy dose of eerie ambience to the piece and makes it more of a collaboration, rather than just stamping her identity all over the piece. This is quite understandable due to their relationship, touring together and you can imagine Nystrand being able to see the original piece come to fruition and where she would find herself within it. The texture is changed somewhat and offers a flip side to the piece by giving it an old as opposed to nostalgic feel. It also asks the question – why not a collaborative release from these two? I for one would gratefully gobble it up.

Reworkings or re-mixings can provide challenges in the sense of where do the people reworking the pieces take them. Are they faithful to the original works? Do they have too much of a stamp of the re-workers musical DNA on them? Are they stand alone or complimentary versions? For the most part the versions on this release are the latter , adding to the originals and highlighting different aspects. The reworkings that stand out more for me are the final three from Brouwer, Rosenqvist and Nystrand, but all are enjoyable.

“Paces (Reworks)” is available on digital via 1631 Recordings.

Blair Coron

“Blair Coron is a  musician and composer residing in Glasgow, blending the borders between contemporary classical music, ambience, folk and poetry. With the aid of a 9-piece string ensemble accompanying his piano compositions Blair’s primary intention is to create enchanting atmospheres that sets course for introspection and meditation.
‘On The Nature Of Things’ is Coron’s 2019 debut album release. A delicate exploration of the intricacy and fragility of life, nature and the surrounding world. It is love…mortality…the sublime…a personal mantra…everything. “

The name Blair Coron is a new one to me. “On The Nature of Things” follows two years on from his debut EP “DO/RE” and what you get from this Glasgow based musician  is an album that is for the most part, fully realised. This is a large scale release both musically and in the number of collaborators. The album ever so lightly kicks of with ” Et Dieu…Créa La Femme” (aka “And God Created The Woman”) with its subtle intro through to it’s furious strings that straight away signals to the listener that you are almost going to hear a small orchestra at a theater. Strings and piano lead you into music that feels very much part of the Classical genre as opposed to the  Neo or Modern Classical style. Their is grandeur, tension and emotion dripping from the strings with the music leaving you on the edge of a precipice and it’s your choice whether to jump or not. “To The Garden” offers a quick contrast to the opener with it’s minimal piano and strings with an emphasis on silence and letting the notes breathe. It’s hard not to place an emotional emphasis on the strings that mournfully cry with the piano holds true. A brief section which feels somewhat cathartic lets the emotion flow out, before returning to a more controlled feel.

The press statement above mentions the fragility of life which is the hallmark to the track “Song”. a nice lowercase mix of piano and bird song that has a natural ambience to it including space and the raw piano recording style that offers an authentic and organic approach that other recording types manage to loose.”R/G/B” is a left field excursion into more experimental synth work full of dark resonating timbres and while it feels slightly at odds initially with the remaining album, it takes the listener through a journey of many different sounding movements that alternate from epic string driven sections to more ambient based sound that buffets from side to side.

“Ode to the Cimmerian” fuses poetry with a folky acoustic guitar and choir of vocalists. The Cimmerian were mythical people  living in perpetual mist near the land of the dead and this piece refers to them and feels somewhat like  like a hymn to people who are displaced and forever moving. “Olives & Marzipan” follows and revels in the folk and vocals just hinted at in the previous track. A simple pairing of voice, guitar, mandolin and perhaps viola, what it doesn’t make up for in bombastic sound it makes up for a raw earnestness and continues with the “ye olde” feel that is woven into the album. “Hymn” rounds out the central trilogy creating an ep within the album. The highlight here, like the other two pieces is the quality of the voices that are much more than just ‘singing’, they are very much a musical instrument alongside the acoustic guitar.

“Doom” unfortunately for me is a track probably best left off the record. Largely consisting of a piano stab that drones off into silence, it is at odds with the rest of the album with is quite rich with material and it doesn’t really fit the template of the album. The finale is the title track, the nineteen minute plus “On The Nature Of Things”. Sticking with the minimal flavor of the penultimate track it thankfully feels more introspective. I suspect that the idea is to tie in some of the emotion felt throughout the album and distill it into it’s purest form. The track feels like it’s not too restrained structure wise and feels almost semi-improvised. Predominantly piano based (with small chimes like sounds) the track moves from introspection to more energetic and upbeat playing that shows a change in mood. What happens next is unexpected. The track after a reprise of it’s opening mood changes complexion into a more synth proggy piano piece which seems somewhat at edge with the other pieces.

I have to admit kind of getting lost with the last two tracks of the album. The seven prior to them, especially the central three, all feel part of a whole work that is about expressing or consistent of a musical theme, while “Doom” and “On The Nature Of Things” somewhat loses me and possibly the focus of the album. I try not to think in negative terms, but for my particular taste a more stripped back seven track album, or one with two other pieces that were more aligned to the rest, would result in a more successful whole release.

“On The Nature Of Things” is available on CD and Digital.

“Lou Vènt means “the wind” in Provençal, a variety of Occitan, a romance language spoken in Southern France, mostly in Provence, where the composer lives now. Each track of his piano solo EP was inspired and entitled after the name of a wind that blows in this area or above the Mediterranean Sea. All the pieces were composed in a very short time in order to create very simple yet catchy piano solo miniatures that are meant to draw the attention of the listener with a nice and short melodic line. This EP is an hymn to the beauty of Nature, a declaration of love to Provence and a call to protect the environment.”

Naturally doing a blog you establish relationships with artists and labels. There is a trust involved that both parties know what each other appreciates. This evolves organically over time and one of the first artists (probably the first to contact me) was Dominique Charpentier. Over the two and bit years of doing this blog Dominique has been a regular with each of his full length or ep releases since “Esquisses” getting covered here. The reason is quite simple. I enjoy the music he puts out and admire the largely self released route he has taken.

Released on his new imprint Modern Piano Recordings over the space of Seven tracks and thirteen and a half minutes Charpentier returns to his familiar raw, naked, almost lo-fi style that took a stylistic detour with his last release “Chrysalide”. Once more improvisation features with the tracks “Ponant” and “Levant” being pure improvisations. Charpentier easily captures a personal quality with his playing which makes it come across as a direct communication from composer to listener. He likes to mix up the pace and intricacy of the pieces with a track like “Mistral” showing both his fluidity and passion. Moodiness peers in through the previously mentioned “Levant” and hangs around for “Tramontane”, but sees Charpentier turning and facing towards the light. The short vignettes contained within the ep cover the gamet of feeling from the bright and summery opener in “Libeccio” through to the contemplative closer “Marin” and although tantalizingly short with no track passing the two and a half minute mark, this should easily satisfy those that have joined me on the Charpentier musical journey.

“Lou Vènt” is available for pre-order, with the digital release available from June 14.

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