I don’t always get around to releases straight away. Submissions roll in at an even rate, there’s releases I buy myself as well as my addiction to podcasts. However, the submissions form a queue and are placed into a playlist that I can explore through. I tend to find myself most captivated when I am listening to releases playing without intention or in fact attention to which artist that is being played. This blind listening has a tendency to reveal music to me on the pure form without expectations. One of those gets that caught my attention while working on the nuts and bolts of the blog was this release from Dan Armstrong.
“Long Time Coming: the first solo electronic, ambient chill out album from composer, musician and producer, Dan Armstrong. An emotive journey through an electronic ambient soundscape, you can expect to hear a selection of drone, luscious pads,deep rich bass-end, percussion and sweet melodies. The sounds used range from the synths of the 70’s through to the latest modern-day equipment, along with high-quality Production and mixes. Dan Armstrong has many influences and draws as much inspiration as possible, but artists of note include the Future Sound of London, Global Communication, Biosphere, Aphex Twin, Si Matthews, William Orbit, Speedy J, Sabres of Paradise, Bill Laswell and Chicane are but a few.”
Armstrong is a UK based musician and his album “A Long Time Coming” is perfect as a soundtrack to your daily life. Naturally with chilled out music there is a laid back feel, but it’s not something that is ignorable. The pieces are mood enhancing as they have the right mix of Ambience, pads of synth, crisp beats, grittiness and hits of melody resulting in an almost meditative listen. There is a mixture of both a retro and timeless feel to the tracks that results in a pleasurable listen. With some chill out orientated music it can be either be cold and emotionless or furniture music. While the tracks on this album can easily be used to relax or as a soundtrack to daily life, they also can be cinematic in nature and capture your attention.
With each track named after a waveform, some of which refer to different electrical states of the brain, from relaxation to deep sleep. Interestingly a track like “Beta Wave”, while not as full on as the definition would lead you to believe (the definition refers to fast conscious activity when involved with tasks like problem solving), the track in particular is more percussive than others, but still has an ambient core throughout it, entwined with a pure IDM feeling. “Epsilon Wave” which refers to a positive blip post excitation has a clock like rhythm joined by a similarly bouncy synth with a a swirling, moody background adds an element of coldness and dread. The album’s penultimate track “Zeta Waves” sees Armstrong reach out into the universe with choppy almost dubby synth rhythms, blips, dark ambience and crisp beats. While the definition refers to the diagnosis of underlying structural lesions of the brain, this does not come across in the music. I would have expected to have a piece that leant more in the traumatic side of things, rather than this piece which further demonstrates Armstrong’s knack for creating pieces that balance the chill out feels with hints of dance floor excursions. The result is that perfect marriage of cerebral and healing music.
Throughout the album there is not a dip in quality, which is a rarity these days. All pieces have a shared feel without the album being repetitive and Armstrong mixes up the retro with the present, Ambient with the beat driven sections and the light with the dark nicely. If you are a fan to any of those artists mentioned in the press quote above you will not be disappointed with this release.
“A Long Time Coming” is available on limited Cd (150 copies) and Digital. Recommended.
One of two recent releases (the other being the Wil Bolton & Mark Streatfield’s Anzio Green project), Confluent Phase is the work of the previously mentioned Dan Armstrong and Si Matthews. Matthews is a UK based Ambient/Electronic musician who had appeared on Carpe Sonum, Fantasy Enhancing (A TXT, Neo Ouija, neotantra related label) and TXT.
“Confluent Phase is a new project by Si Matthews and Dan Armstrong. Combining their talents and influences, they are very proud to release their debut album ‘Ad Astra’ on TXT. Emotional ambient with subtle melodies and shimmering pads fused with delicate percussion are delivered here. On this trip you are transported beyond the asteroid belt where the rings of Saturn and the storms on Jupiter become your view. A trip ‘to the stars’ beyond the limits of the universe.“
This album leans definitely more towards the ambient side of music. The pieces are full of rich vibrant synth work, minimal beats, steering clear of the drone aspects of ambient music. The duo make use of time with the shortest piece “Ionospheric Connection” being the only sub eleven minute piece. The music matches the duos moniker nicely which refers to the flowing together or merging of two or more things. In this case it’s their particular talents, influences and equipment.
With a title that when translated from Latin essentially means “To The Stars” and tracks that reference the solar system like “Enceladus” (the sixth largest Moon of Saturn) or “Osiris REx” (which is an asteroid study to obtain a sample of a close asteroid to earth) you know the direction the material will take. The noticeable feature is that while you are being taken into their world, there still is enough room for exploring their soundscapes. Probably slightly less retro and rhythmic than Armstrong’s solo work, the duo create pieces that are the sonic equivalent to a flotation tank. A piece like “Enceladus” is a perfect example of this in the way that it slowly unfolds in a calm, but confident manner (and is the closest to Armstrong’s work). A track like “Retrogression” explores the cold almost nothingness of space with its opening near stillness and slightly oscillating textures before venturing into minimal beats, subtle basslines and watery synths. With the title track and finale Confluent Phase take the listener deeper and darker into a Sci fi influenced piece laced with presumably NASA recordings (or Scanner – esque eavesdropping), cold dark synths and an ominous if slightly claustrophobic soundscape. The feeling of being all alone is very much present as Matthews and Armstrong extract emotion from the music replacing it with a sense of dread or uneasiness.
“Ad Astra” is an album for those that that like music that had a concept that encompasses the whole of it. Interestingly released before and not promoted around the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, it comes extremely close to the feel and mood of the momentous occasion, especially with its strong feeling of isolation that is a definite part of the DNA of the material. “Ad Astra” is available on Limited Cd (150 copies) and Digital.
While we are here it would be remiss of me not to mention TXT’S other recent release from the duo of Wil Bolton and Mark Streatfield aka Anzio Green. Bolton and Streatfield go back to at least 2004 with Streatfield’s Zainetica project releasing on Bolton’s Boltfish label, while the duo’s first Anzio Green release came out on Symbolic Interaction in 2008. The duos previous release “A Day Without Distance” came out on Streatfield’s Rednetic label in 2013.
“Each previous album had different production techniques and this time with each artist being based either side of the River Lea, it was formed around live sessions at Wil Bolton’s East London studio. Utilising a hardware only setup including guitar loops and live processing, with even the beats programmed live on an Electribe, the whole concept was about creating something fluid and evolving… something that evoked the energy but also calmness of rivers and water.“
Leaning to the more electronic side of Ambient related music Bolton and Streatfield create music with a mixture of influences from the Electronica, a dash of dark ambient, distorted post rock inspired (think Seaworthy) guitars, broken machinery and what feels like the studio as an instrument. There is an experimental sense to the material with an open approach. You won’t get pieces that sound predictable as both artists naturally have a back catalog of influences and experiences which they have combined to create pieces that blur boundaries. The highlight for me is the guitar dominated “Lygan” which has a familiar motif that feels like it has been sampled from another track, but I just can’t put my finger on it. Like the above TXT release you are treated to epic tracks ranging in lengths from just under eight minutes up to thirteen and a half. These lengths give the artists time to.work on the pieces and explore and tweak them. In lesser hands they could be repetitive, but under the tutelage of Bolton and Streatfield it’s a case of building structures and working on them. The final piece “Bright River’s” sees them mixing their ambient, electronic and experimental sides into a single flowing piece that threatens to explode but instead explores the sonic textures of it’s artists histories.
With “Lygan” Anzio Green steer clear of aligning themselves to one particular style. Instead the results ate the sum of the parts and an album that needs further exploration. Admittedly it could alienate those more accustomed to releases that have a definite sort of sound or style, but has sounds that make the experimental more accessible and the electronics more experimental. “Lygan” is available on limited Cd (150 copies) and digital.