Another quick look back to some releases from 2019 that have been floating around DAF HQ (plus the new one from Tristan Eckerson as well).
“Eckerson’s life, musical and otherwise, has been that of a nomad since his teenage years, when he left his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio to pursue his musical career. Since then he has lived in Charleston, South Carolina, San Sebastian, Spain, San Francisco, California, Seattle, Washington, and Asheville, North Carolina, and has recently returned to Cincinnati with his family to continue his musical career in his hometown. Throughout his travels he has written music and performed in multiple groups on both U.S. Coasts, Canada, and Europe, recording with members of the Ray Charles Orchestra, writing string arrangements for the Magik*Magik Orchestra, receiving his Master’s degree in Music Production and Sound Design from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and writing original music for multiple award winning films, commercials, and animation projects.
“Trozo” was originally released as Tristan’s debut full length album by Swedish Label 1631 Recordings (Nils Frahm, Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka) in the summer of 2016. Tristan has decided to re-release the album independently on Oct 18th, 2019, and has also completely re-recorded, re-mixed, and re-mastered the entire album, hence the name “Trozo Revisited”.
Tristan Eckerson is an independent pianist who releases music on a consistent basis with an album, an EP and three singles being issued in 2019 with an album slated for February of 2020 already. Not entirely reliant on labels, he self releases as much as does for labels, which have included 1631 Recordings and Sonder House. This particular release sees him revisit his debut, slightly alter the track list an excise a song from the original album. I can only assume he decided that they were things he wanted to re-visit from the first album he put out and that three years on he had the confidence to go back and re-do things.
Not having the original release at hand I can purely comment on this album. With a consistent sound throughout, one could assume all pieces were recorded in one sitting. For some this consistency of tone of the pieces will tie them all together and for others it could leave them searching for some variation. I have noticed that this seems to be a thing will solo piano albums which I hazard a guess as to the logistics of moving the instrument around to experience different recording environments. For that reason it would be nice to see musicians experiment with their sound design while constructing their albums as it can alter the perception of the pieces and expand on the emotional content of the pieces with different approaches to the recordings.
I suspect at some point Modern Classical will go through it’s Hardcore crisis where, as there are so any people doing it that people start looking elsewhere for inspiration or sound ideas and the purity of the music gets lost. Right now with this album it’s purity is a strong point, but also could be also be it’s down point because of the strong competition within this scene. I don’t know if Eckerson is planning on expanding his sound or scope, but it could possibly be a good idea as as nice this album is, it would be a shame to see someone like Eckerson being lost in the crowd.
“Trozo Revisited” is available Digitally.
“With “Decades” Tristan wanted to create a set of songs that would stand alone as compositions in their own right and have some form of forward momentum, while also keeping to a very minimal, almost conceptual aesthetic. Tristan’s biggest inspiration for this concept was Philip Glass and Ryuichi Sakamoto. About the creation of the album, Tristan says:
“I was aiming for the simultaneous ultra simplicity and profound impact that I find particularly in the solo piano works of Philip Glass and Ryuichi Sakamoto. And I wanted to use a production style that was more modern and brought an extra element and depth to the recordings, in terms of hearing the workings of the piano, atmosphere, etc.”
Straight off with the press quote above you can see that Eckerson is more about just the music as the difference between a simple recording and one with depth can make or break an album. For his latest work “Decades” Eckerson seeks to expand on the mood of his playing which is evident on pieces like “Pascal” and “Dolores Park”, both of which resonate nicely. As mentioned above Eckerson is pretty much a self contained unit as hie composes, plays, records, mixes and masters his own work. It would appear this to be the case for most of his releases. I wonder how his music might be opened further with some outside ears in the mastering or recording process or additional instrumentation. You see from time to time such minimal additions having maximal results and sending his work to a Deupree or Hawgood or Irrisarri or English or Plotkin may discover other elements of his music to shed further light on. That said, his music has streams in the millions so the point might be moot.
“Decades” is available Digitally.
“Combining the poignant simplicity of Erik Satie-esque piano and ethereal Sigur Rós-style vocals, Thomas Méreur’s debut album Dyrhólaey brings his memories of landscapes he experienced on a trip to Iceland back to life.
“I wanted Dyrhólaey to be very simple, so it’s mostly about piano and voice,” says Thomas. “Blending the voices together to create a whole new melody was very exciting to record, and brings a rewarding sense of richness.”
Named after Dyrhólaey, a small peninsula on the south coast of Iceland, Thomas has always felt a connection to the country through the music of artists such as Sigur Rós, Ólafur Arnalds and Björk. There are two themes that blend together on this album – Iceland and losing someone – with some of the lyrics making reference to the wild Icelandic nature and strange comforting loneliness that seems to come from it.”
You could argue that this album is as much Ambient as it is Modern Classical with Jonsi-ish vocals giving that Pop meets Post Rock innocence. Anyone familiar with my blog posts would be aware of my dislike for vocalists on the whole, but when it is done so well like on “Dyrhólaey”, which at times acts as a instrumental source as much as a narration, then I let down my guard and listen without prejudice. When Méreur strips it back to just piano on a piece like “A Steady and Sad Process” then you are in for a treat as it shows what an accomplished composer he is, creating pieces that move the listener more than some of the current batch of modern classicalists. With the mastering done by Ian Hawgood, you can hear how the sounds are brought to life with a vibrancy in parts and a sublime feel in others. The majority of the album is contemplative, slightly melancholic, but with a strong sense of self so the pieces don’t feel as if you are exploring the same territory. The closest that Méreur takes flight is on the previously mentioned “A Steady…”, but don’t let that fool you as the emotional journey while not having major peaks or troughs, is nicely consistent and has a film score feel to it.
“Dyrhólaey” is a fairly impressive debut and one waits to see what Méreur comes up with next. “Dyrhólaey” is available on LP, CD (although sold out at source) and Digital.
The next two releases are from the Piano and Coffee Records label who have in their own special way quietly releasing works that I really need to pay more attention to as when I do listen to them, I am often flawed by how good they are. The first of these comes from Cedric Vermue.
“Cedric Vermue is a Dutch composer and producer currently based in Berlin. After graduating from Utrecht Conservatory of Music in 2018, he started an intensive studio project: writing and recording two albums in association with various string players and producer Antal van Nie. The first chapter of the series is Left Upon Us, an amalgam of serene piano passages, captivating electronic elements, and subtle soundscapes.
Prepared with a variety of layers and textures, and intimately captured with a strategic microphone placement, Left Upon Us is a carefully crafted landscape that invites the listener to submerge into Vermue’s musical universe —a tranquil place in a world full of turmoil. The delicate piano in We Came And Left, the lead track, smoothly morphs into pulsating analog sequences, while in Helena the piano arpeggios merge with in crescendo synth layers —a reminiscence of both individual and collaborative projects by label peers Sjors Mans and Klangriket. Before Us, the penultimate piece of the album, catches the listener by surprise when the tranquil melody of a viola appears, taking center stage and allowing us a brief glimpse of what will come in the second part of the project.”
There is an understated beauty to the music of Vermue that suits the label that released his album so well. Neither Vermue nor Piano and Coffee got into hysterics and promoted this release with ludicrous hyperbole. Instead both parties have let the music stand by itself which in turn makes it that much more special. I have written before about how a saturated field like Modern Classical makes for a need to stand out. This can be attacked by having an individual sound or even a highly thought out and multi layered form of promotion. With Vermue’s “Left Upon Us” the artist has just decided to let the music speak for itself which is a brave move, but what it does is that it makes the experience that much more special as you feel like you are unearthing a real gem. Vermue on his site states that his music from the start has to have had a strong atmospheric and cinematic quality. He achieves this in spades without the music being so cliched or forceful. I keep returning to the word “understated” because it is the strongest feeling that i get while listening to this album. I have a tendency to be turned off the large banging and look at me approach of some forms of music and maybe it’s because I am middle aged that I appreciated the confidence of someone that turns up, does the work, floors the listener and moves on. Confidence is a strong quality and when it is added to talent the result is quite tantilizing.
There is no point isolating a particular piece on the record as it is one that is consistent throughout. The noted quality to the music is one of a slightly muted sound which gives the pieces a dreamy and soft feel, but not enough to be wishy washy, but enough to smooth out some of the edges. There is a suitably woven into the pieces with electronics and field recordings that never overpowers the position or intent of the piano, but manages to compliment it ever so well. While Vermue has the intent of a cinematic feel the music is open enough to not be restricted by any particular conventions which enables it to be appreciated in a greater way than some film scores can be.
“Left Upon Us” is a fantastic debut, very much recommended and available on limited CD-R (100 copies) and Digital.
“Plïnkï Plønkï is a 50 piece ensemble that doesn’t exist. That hasn’t stopped them from releasing several records over the past year or so though. Their debut Happy Birthday, an album for people across the globe to stumble across on their Birthday, received widespread acclaim. With support from BBC Radio 6 Music DJs Maryanne Hobbs and Tom Robinson, and even a BBC Radio 3 play under their belt, their ‘silly wee songs’ have reached audiences from London to Taipei and beyond, selling out its limited edition run of tapes, and clocking in over half a million streams on Spotify alone. After a slew of subsequent releases, from European Christmas Songs to Satie, Plïnkï Plønkï announced the release of their sophomore album with a two-track single, Gökotta. The release included a B-side for their Taiwanese fan base, whilst the title track set out to establish the world, sound, and theme for their new album “Pangur Din”.
A play on words from the 9th-century Irish poem Pangur Bán, Pangur Din sees Plïnkï Plønkï developing the kernels of their music into a fuller, broader spectrum of sound. Using it to give form to the abstract of words (specifically the Celtic languages of the United Kingdom), themes of language, nostalgia, breath, and memory shape the nine-track album. Going from words to sound, vignettes to field recordings, piano to guitar, and more, Plïnkï Plønkï “tries to create songs that sound like memories”.”
The mysterious Plïnkï Plønkï return for their second release “Pangur Din”, another thematic work. While their debut “Happy Birthday” centred around birthday songs and released on the band’s “homeland’s” birthday (Iceland), their second album released on the European Day of languages, and itself inspired by a 9th century Irish poem. The music is quite diverse with the introduction of clarinets, harps, electric guitars, synths, vibraphone and more amongst the familiar backdrop of pianos, acoustic guitar, musical saws, strings, percussion, field recordings, and home movies. The result is one which moves away from more piano based sounds – although evidenced on the album by pieces like “Hiraeth” and the two singles “Càirdeas” and “Reul”.
There is a found music quality to the pieces as if they have been dug up in a time capsule. Some of the music has a distant quality, while like on a piece such as “Càirdeas” it nicely blends this look into the past with an equally present feeling. The style of the music is somewhat folky, probably in more of a sense of the passing on of tales than as an acoustic form of music, although that is present on the acoustic piece “Pocléimnigh”. Musically it is quite different to “Happy Birthday”, but going back to that earlier release and comparing it to “Pangur Din” you can see a through line that attaches them to the artist(s). There is the use of field recordings of dialogue that existed on the debut, but the intent seems to change away from the almost whimsical nature of the first album to one of a more (without trying to insult) mature feeling. There are at times a smoky jazz feel (“Pangur Bán”) through to the expressive piano meets ambient meets cinematic style of the title track which highlight how diverse the collection is.
You don;t know exactly what you are going to hear or where you will find yourself on a Plïnkï Plønkï release which is half the attraction to the music. “Pangur Din” is available on limited Cassette (50 copies) and Digital.