With the year and decade over, I am attempting to play catch up before the new year really hits. This post features four distinctly different styles from the four corners of the world – Norvik (Hong Kong), Memory Drawings (UK/US) and Robert Farrugia (Malta). All have their own special kind of beauty.
“Occasionally, we need to realise how tiny we and all our emotions are in the grand scheme of things, such as, perhaps, the Universe? There is value to being humbled. In the end, however, we still feel like the Universe hears and answers us. And perhaps it does, because what are we if not emotional.
Anyway, that is just a theory.
The album was created with the intention of creating something big in scale – metaphorically, and what is bigger than the birth of the Universe? So that was the theme.”
Hong Kong’s Gabriel Chan has had a big 2019 with this album and what looks like some archival material. Presumably he has also had a big year in regards to what has been happening in his homeland, but this is not reflected in the music. Chan has a cinematic mind and approach when it comes to music, creating soundtracks to imaginary films with his use of Modern Classical and Ambient styles coming to the fore. Because of this approach this album feels like a collection of pieces rather than a collection of tracks. By that I mean that there is a variety of different styles highlighting different moods without it appearing as if it’s all a singular felling from one instrument. Chan has evolved from the first time I heard him with his “Messages to No One” album. In comparison, while that earlier album is good, you can just see where he has been working on his craft in regards to the construction of pieces and the overall sound quality. There was a muted / lo-fi sort of quality to that release and the follow up “The Drawing Board”, but with “Echo Theory” Chan is approaching new sonic new territory (still a little on the muted side) and shows a confidence in his pieces.
On this album Chan blurs the lines with his music. Is he an Ambient musician or Modern Classical artist? On the evidence of the majestic “Vorfruede” you would suggest the latter with its metronomic piano and swirling strings that capture an emotional intensity. But then when you compare to a track like “Dapsilis” you are firmly in Ambient territory and then there is a piece like “Fernweh” which sees those two elements work together. Whatever the case the pieces on the album are a refreshing listen.
“Echo Theory” is available Digitally.
“Memory Drawings is an Anglo/American collective led by Minneapolis-raised, Casablanca-based hammered dulcimer player Joel Hanson (Judgement Of Paris), alongside guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Richard Adams (Hood, The Declining Winter, Western Edges), violinist Sarah Kemp (Lanterns On The Lake, Brave Timbers), pianist Gareth S Brown (Hood) and multi-instrumentalist Chris Cole (Movietone, Manyfingers). Since 2012 they have released three albums and two EPs, all praised by critics, on labels such as Second Language, Hibernate Recordings, Zozaya Records and their own Signal Records.
Phantom Lights, originally self-released by the band last year as a very limited tour CD and now getting a wider release by Sound In Silence, is a short form album that moves on from the marvellous sweeping The Nearest Exit album with a pick and mix example of what this band are good at. Memory Drawings continue to manipulate their dulcimer, guitar and violin sound into inventive new shapes and on the title track create their most vibrant moment yet. As on their latest album, the band’s sonic palette is more expansive and unpredictable than their first two albums and after the addition of the polyrhythmic drumming and extra instrumentation from Chris Cole, they are now also joined by Yvonne Bruner (Big Hat) who provides some ethereal vocals on the last track of this mini album.
Originally released on the band’s own Signal Records label in an edition of 100 sold out copies, “Phantom Lights” sees and expanded re-issue of 300 copies on the Greek Sound In Silence Records (Absent Without Leave, Wil Bolton, Caught In The Wake Forever, The Green Kingdom). Some release really feel their run time. Short ones can appear like a blink and you will miss it sort of feeling, while long ones tend to drag on. On “Phantom Lights” with it’s six tracks and twenty-five minutes, it feels a lot more the length would suggest. By this I don’t mean that that the music drags, rather that the music feels fully formed and that the intentions of the pieces have been met.
The music could be lumped under the Post Rock umbrella which to a certain extent is true, but because of the instrumentation and sounds, there is a strong folk feel to the tracks. Like bands of the Post Rock ilk there is a sense of building up the material, but they don’t really venture into those tipping points of loud/quiet, instead the music becomes almost hypnotic in nature with a very organic feel to it. In some ways the release feels like a tale of two halves- the first three tracks are grouped together in feeling, while the remaining two feel like an almost different band. This is partially because of the remix by Post Rock influenced electronic artist Barnaby Carter and the vocals of Yvonne Bruner and propulsive drumming on the final track “Captivated”. There is this sort of classic UK feel of indie pop meets dream pop with a non electronic dance feel. It totally casts the instrumentation in a different light and opens the sound up from being more inward thinking to more vibrant and joyful. That is not to say that joy isn’t a part of the opening trio of tracks, but there is more a feeling of constructing moods and feeling than the more pop song feel of the final piece.
The music of “Phantom Lights” would be suited to those that are fans of the members other projects, especially Hood. “Phantom Lights” is available on CD-R and Digital.
“Adrift is Robert Farrugia’s 7th album, and his third release on the Archives imprint. The album is a departure from his previous electroacoustic works to a more minimalistic approach in the vein of Geotic (Baths) and Helios.
It touchingly discusses the feelings of uncertainty and optimistic doubt that come with maturation and onset adulthood. The fifth track, Daylight Saving, was composed alongside Robert’s brother, Matthew, to whom the album is dedicated to.”
OK, so I am late to this. In fact this album was released almost a year ago to the day of this review being published. Farrugia is an artist who has appeared on labels such as Polar Seas Recordings, Whitelab Recs and Archives (the home to this particular release). In fact Farrugia Has just announced that pre-orders will start on his new album for Lontano Series by the time you read this. His bio states that “Robert is an Ambient/ Experimental/ Neo-classical artist from Malta, Europe. His work is mainly influenced on the styles of Hammock, Sigur Rós, Stars of the Lid and Brian Eno . His works are based mainly on vast Soundscapes integrated with piano tracks and to a certain extent, voice-over samples. All of Robert Farrugia’s material is completely home recorded. One can see that a minimalistic approach in his music is certainly prominent, ultimately creating rather soothing and extensive soundscapes. Methods of productivity in his music result in a certain set of distinct sounds, creating a rather unparticular and unexampled identity.”
Farrugia has released three albums on Archives – “Tines”, “Slow Mornings” and “Adrift” and feels very suited to the label. There is a mixture of organic sounds, ambience, electronics and modern classical that makes up the DNA of Farrugia’s work. Having a diverse background of influences and styles at hand can mean that some artists have the modern classical track, then the ambient track, etc… but Farrugia has the opportunity to take his music wherever it dictates. There is a strong Ambient feel to the music without it being wholly ambient based. In fact it could be the groundwork for the music rather than just the style. From this point Farrugia adds layer of synth, crisp micro beats, drones and other elements to build up his pieces. For this reason it would hard to classify Farrugia’s music as it is as much about the beats as it is the drones or the piano.
Because of the nature of the pieces being influenced by electronica as much as ambience, there is a strong laid back vibe that in a way affects the way you listen to the music as you skim over the structure of the pieces.It is only once you take a closer look that the neo-classical way of arranging becomes apparent. The perfect example of this is “Topographies” which starts off with linear, hazy drones before dubby synth stabs and retro synth pads join in and roll into minimalist beats. The track juxtaposes conventional sounds with those which, especially in the case of the percussion is off-kilter. The modern classical meets ambient is shown on “Daylight Saving” , a track for the most part rooted in ambience with the fragile piano added more like a sound element, rather than as a contrasting style. Label boss Agustín Mena aka Warmth takes on the second track “Stargazing” and his remix ends the album. Mena takes the Ambient components and focuses on them and stretching them out. The original piece has a warm tone to it with glitchy like chimes and ultra minimal beats, while Mena’s take in some way makes the music darker and colder with only under deep listening, can you detect the glitchiness towards the end.
As is custom for Archives the presentation is first rate with photography by Alexander Kopatz and mastering by Taylor Deupree. “Adrift” is available on Lp, CD-R and Digital.