Much Like May, here we have Part 1 of some of the releases that came my way that were released in the month of June from labels such as élan vital, A Strangely Isolated Place, Modularfield, Lost Tribe Sound, Moderna, Rottenman Editions and a self released work from Oscar W. Küsel.
“Downpour is a calm and detailed ambient album with sweeping, emotional movements, rich with subtle field recordings, gentle textures, ethereal melodies and atmospheres that as a whole make it a truly emotionally challenging listening experience. Written during the latter half of 2019, the album takes direct inspiration from the ambience of rain and the comfort which it can bring to the listener. Downpour combines a constant flow of rain with field recordings, synthesizers and piano to create a calming yet mysterious backdrop for introspective late night thinking.
“Downpour” is the fourth release from Aberdonian artist Jacob Anthony aka Keys For Eclipse and it finds a home on the Macedonian label élan vital. Inspired by such ambient icons as Brian Eno, Aphex Twin and Akira Kosemura, Anthony sets about creating pieces that are like dreamscapes of Ambience with field recordings. The end result is an eight track album of ambient music that is as good as anything you are likely to hear.
Anthony’s music has that laid back feel where sounds wash over you. Time is the key to the essence of the pieces allowing them glide and move with a gentle lilting touch. While maintaining a cohesive sound across the tracks, this is not merely a case of eight versions of the same piece. Anthony understands the structure of building pieces and the use of tones and colour to flesh them out. While minimal in sound source the end result is one that has a greater effect.
A piece like “Haze” see Anthony infuse his music with a variety of sounds from layers of synths, to field recordings and very subtle electronics. The way that he structures this particular piece and indeed the sounds he uses makes for a relaxed listen and one which gives you the impression that you are watching events from the comfort of your own home. With the title track a more Modern Classical inspired take on Ambient is noted as well as a use of effects to give the piece a warped soundscape. A contrast between the sonicly rich opening and the later warped piano sounds adds to the mystery of the piece.
The tracks I have highlighted are just the tip of the iceberg. “Downpour” is the kind of album which should be appealing to all that consider themselves fans of the ambient genre. If you love the output of labels like Polar Seas Recordings, then this will be perfect to you. élan vital have released a real gem. “Downpour” is available on highly limited CD (20 copies) and Digital.
“Gastón Arévalo debuts on A Strangely Isolated Place with an exploratory themed album told through the lens of an expedition diary – a rich soundtrack set amongst nature. Gastón aimed to depict an adventurous journey, where each track captured a specific moment over an imaginary, daring ascent. An intimate meeting with nature, the album rises from the ground to our highest peaks – with the two extremes captured in the album’s artwork.
Field recordings from Patagonia enhance the feeling of freedom, one can only find from the great outdoors. Adorned with drifting harmonies; shimmering guitars; dense pads of cloud; gentle rising mists; the sound of shallow rivers and morning bird-calls, it all comes together to create a vivid and intrepid scene told across a variety of full-length tracks and short interludes, acting as breathers and moments to reflect amongst mother-natures finest grandeur.
As Ambient artists discographies go, Gastón Arévalo’s one is quite sparse. After a flurry of Digital / Net label releases from 2006 – 2010 and a couple of cassettes and a 2013 Cd “Rollin Ballads” on Oktaf, this Uruguay based artist has been quite for almost seven years. His second full length dropped on A Strangely Isolated Place and as usual sold out very quickly. This twelve track hour long work initially gave me feelings of an electronic artists take on ambient music, with a back catalogue that included releases on the late great Thinner label this made sense. But then once I investigated it more his Ambient credentials were evident. On “Terrain” Arévalo doesn’t stick to one particular style of Ambient music. He infuses the pieces with plenty of synths and guitar as well as field recordings to provide a complete take on the genre, which other than the literal translations of the titles, I suspect is the reason the album was titled as such.
In some ways “Terrain” is a bit of a mix tape as he takes you on a journey that gives the impression that you are listening to a compilation. There are the more drone orientated pieces like “L’éclat des premières neiges” (aka “The Glow Of The First Snow”), a track which also shows an innocent and playful side with field recordings and looped micro melodies being standout features. “L’ascension sur les rochers” (aka “Climbing On The Rocks”) brings in walls of synths and post rock like Ambient guitars with bright and open sound. On “La contemplation des étoiles” (aka “Star Gazing”) Arévalo explores an open soundscape which doesn’t initially feel dense until you start taking notice of all the different individual sounds that make it up. The last track I will highlight is “Petit chemin sur les trachytes” (aka “Small Path On The Trachytes”) which is as much as a travelogue piece with the field recordings of presumably Arévalo walking in a peaceful area. There is birdsong ringing out throughout the piece, but it is more of the very subtle musical moments that make the piece. Cascading drones and distant blurred melodies combine to give the piece a hint of nostalgia as well as a gentle quality that highlights the mood of the piece which is not melancholic, but a touch introspective.
“Terrain” is the kind of album to explore. With the titles of the pieces and the style of them hinting at exploring texture and tone, it’s the kind of album to explore at your own pace. “Terrain” is sold physically at source, but Digital is still available.
“Contemplation, a spiritual and inner journey by sonic explorer, composer and sound designer Hélène Vogelsinger. Audio fabric woven to echo the feeling of coming home. A personal sound wave diary describing her inner worlds. An invitation to contemplate the meaning of existence. Collectively carried by circuit generated patterns coloured with the amorphous vibe of a floating other worldliness. Mirroring the constellation of experiences transformed into moving air.”
Hélène Vogelsinger is a french singer, composer and sound designer that explores modular synth soundscapes as well as utilising her voice within her compositions. If synth based pieces are your thing, then a release such as “Contemplation” is perfect for you. This release is dripping with wall to wall synths that result in the pieces feeling they are living, breathing organisms. A perfect example of this is the title track that has ripples of sound that feel like they are creating their own bit of space. They evolve and continually change shape and distance, moving and occupying different states and matter.
Vogelsinger is not afraid to mix operatic vocals into challenging pieces of synth exploration. The vocals on “Dimension” provide a nice contrast with their ghostly presence as the music is quite physical in nature. That is not to say the music is harsh, but rather the synth work has a strong rhythmical and intense side to it. A piece like “Illumination” highlights Vogelsinger’s way of integrating retro sounding synths into a contemporary soundscape which gives the music a timeless sort of feel that it could be made in the 1970’s or present day. You could claim Vogelsinger as an exploratory artist as the music she makes is much about the sounds she can generate with her modular synths as well as the music she makes. The fact that her Instagram bio refers to things like ‘explorer’, “sound healing’, ‘vegan’ and ‘reiki student’ tends to support the idea of her seeking a bit more through her music than just makes synth tunes.
“Contemplation” is the type of work that is possibly suited to those times where you consider the bigger questions in life. While the limited physical release has sold out, Digital is still available.
“”The Letdown” is a record better identified by the vibe it creates rather than a particular genre or style. It’s dirty, unapologetically loud and charmingly haphazard. It’s the sort of self-educated, non-jazz record that critics of Moondog would have written off as impure. Frankly, we’re good with that. The strength of the record lies not with any collegiate-level classification, but in its ability conjure moods that just feel good, are instantly familiar and invite a certain nostalgia. The gritty, noir side of it, brings to mind the old black and white detective stories. The jovial, 1920’s romanticism, lends a bit of class and gives the sense that even though everything is falling to shit, we are going to power through it with a bit of song and dance.”
In some ways this is an album where you can see the William Ryan Fritch thread that runs through the music of his I have heard, but it is equally something quite different. Fritch’s music has always had a raw, organic feel which is present with the earthiness of the tones in the pieces on the album. What is different however is the style of music which is more centred towards a black and white film noir film from the 1940’s that has a smoky, but lightly swinging jazz score. This should of course come as no surprise when you take into consideration Fritch’s history when it comes to penning scores for film or other projects. What it shows is how versatile a composer he is to venture a bit further out from his usual oeuvre and still retain his own essence. Pieces like “Compulsion / Going Through the Motions” and “Dream Differently” exemplify this feeling quite nicely.
As the album progresses, so to does the variance within the pieces. “Curls of Smoke / False Confidence” is perfectly titled for the piece it is with a smokey jazz lounge meets space age bachelor pad feel. “Ashen Relics” and “Hesitation / Recurring” welcome more Drone and Ambient touches as well as leaning more towards a specific cinematic feel. Then there is the triptych “Dream Glitch / Fugue State / Broken Barriers” which ventures more into atmospheric territory. The final piece “What’s Left Unfilched” gives you the impression that it is the source material for a future piece by The Caretaker. You can visualise it being used in some 1960’s British film’s closing section as Michael Caine leads his merry band of no-gooders away from a funeral service with revenge on their mind.
You know with each Fritch release you are going into music that is deep and highly visual. Listening to these pieces you can’t help but come up with some visual accompaniment of your own. Now the hope is that someone will put this to film to do justice to the music. While the limited physical version is sold out, Digital remains. “The Letdown” is only in it’s name.
“n-So is a project by American composer Nick Angeloni. n-So’s LP “Out of the Valley” is a profound artistic statement, weaving introspection and quiet moments with cinematic drama ; blurring sounds old and new, acoustic and electronic ; and pushing against the conventions of genre through explorations of novel textures, rhythms and forms. The record accompanies an imaginary protagonist through a metaphysical journey into a deep valley surrounded by impossibly tall mountains, driven to find a path home through uncharted terrain accompanied by infectious analogue synth riffs, filtered drum machines and soaring piano melodies… Nick studied film scoring, production, audio engineering, and piano at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Shortly after graduating, he began to explore modular and analog synthesis, which led him to create n-So. His work is marked by a collision of genres, including late-romantic, minimal, ambient, blues, and modal jazz. instruments used include vintage and modern analog synthesizers, modular synthesizer, felt and prepared piano, voice, tape loops, and various percussion.“
These days you find the use of electronics within a Modern Classical piano foundation on a regular basis. It has come to be a sort of default position for artists to venture towards. In some occasions it is a case of adorning what is already there without necessarily exploring any further or deeper. Thanks to Angeloni’s wide range of musical taste and experiences, this form of convergence of styles is in good hands. While other’s may use electronics within their pieces, Angeloni explores pure electronics on the likes of “Into The Valley” and “Drums And Drama”, with each track being in a different style such as the more retro meets future synth of “Into the Valley” (with it’s wooden percussion claps) and the glitch meets dub techno of “Drums And Drama” which has a minimal but deep soundscape.
On “Northern Lights” Angeloni morphs piano chords into an almost fractured ambient meets dub techno piece with rippling electronics and gritty loops. On pieces like “AFM” and the intimate, naked and raw “Momiji” he really shows off his piano chops. Indeed with a piece like “Momiji” Angeloni highlights his credentials in sound design by offering up a piece that is cinematic as it is far ranging in scope. There seems to be no limit to the various musical journeys that are offered up on “Out Of The Valley” which may upset the purists out there, but for myself it highlights the possibilities of just where the music of n-So could possibly head in the future, which is quite exciting.
“Out Of The Valley” is available Digitally.
“Visiting an antiquarian is a journey to an uncertain past in which lethargic objects are found, but loaded with aesthetic, historical and sentimental value, waiting to be rescued to perpetuate their identity and be able to live a second chance. In “Anticuario”, Alex Alarcón aka Sustainer exhumes, using digital tools for restoration and sound processing, forgotten musical genres, giving them a new form and structure. The objects of his “Antiquarian” are old recordings of popular music that have been forgotten, but without being completely blurred. Today, after a long and meticulous work of editing, as if it were sound archaeology, he presents them to us preserving their identity, although with a different appearance.”
If you haven’t worked it out by now, I am a big fan of the Spanish label Rottenman Editions. It started with Emilía’s “Down To The Sadness River” album, which is the perfect place to start, Releases from the likes of Lee Yi, Shuta Hiraki, Shinji Wakasa and Dear Sailor have since come my way and I have enjoyed them all. Their latest release comes from fellow Spaniard Alex Alarcón aka Sustainer and does nothing to steer away my interest in the label. To borrow a quote from a Bandcamp purchaser “One of the prettiest records of the year, hands down.”. “Anticuario” is a sweeping and soaring release that could be quite easily compared to the likes of say The Caretaker or William Basinski, but Sustainer adds a stunning vibrancy to his pieces that are in contrast to The Caretaker’s distance and nostalgia.
Heavily looped based, the pieces also utilise sounds that can come in so briefly and retreat as well as those that roll in cycles with the other loops. With music which is constructed with a similar base it can feel one dimensional and as much as I like repetition and minimalism in music, I also appreciate multidimensional pieces which is what Sustainer offers. At times you feel as if you are listening to a film noir soundtrack thanks to the use of strings throughout (see “Anticuario #06” for example) and at other times or a suspense soundtrack like on “Anticuario #04” where Alarcón nicely cuts sections of small sound and puts them into loop form which enhances their affect. The quality you notice with the music is an attention to detail. This is not the kind of release where little though has been placed. Alarcón clearly has an idea about using sound from the past and re-framing it. The success to this material is the variance within the pieces as well as depth in the sounds. The dynamics are definitely there as the pieces reveal themselves with both the subtle moments and those which are more pronounced.
“Anticuario” has a timeless sort of presence which makes for a delightful listen. As much as it feels cinematic, it also feels experimental. The end result is a release which opens with the idea of re-discovering long lost pieces of music and utilising them to create fantastically rich pieces which you won’t tire of hearing. “Anticuario” is available on Limited LP (100 copies on clear vinyl) and Digital.
“Oscar W. Küsel (associated acts: Them Teeth, Holy Mountain Beast, Mumbles) is a musician, producer and sound artist from Gothenburg, Sweden. Küsel’s The Backwood Narratives (with the subheading an unforgiving five-piece meditation on the experience of desolation) was recorded in May, 2020.The Backwood(..) is an exploration of both the actual, physical state of absolute desolation and the emotional and psychological response, or reaction, that might occur when said state is not chosen, wanted or desirable – what one might call forced, absolute desolation. With a few exceptions, such as a scarce use of string instruments and a small amount of Foley work, “The Backwood Narratives” was created solely through the use and editing of audio feedback, looping and cross-connecting the ins and outs of a small, analogue mixing console.”
In some way I think of this release more along the lines of sound art than actual music. The major reason is that it is more about mood and texture rather than movements and instrumentation. A hint is given away in the last sentence of the press release and it’s allusion to the way that the pieces are conceived. The five track release is of a minimal / electroacoustic / dark ambient template with a strong emphasis on the dark stuff. The idea of desolation as a theme is present throughout, as is the notion of isolation and decay. The pieces rumble and creek and use electronic and organic sounds to create pieces which in a way are quite free form in structure with the pieces varying throughout their existence. Küsel strays away from the cover imagery within the music, rather than using field recordings to designate to a certain place you feel as if he is trying to convey a feeling or an emotion, rather than an environment. The pieces are unsettling without being harsh and loose without being obvious in there intended response. Küsel may create an place for you to discover, but it is up to as to where it takes you and what you take from it.
“The Backwood Narratives” is available Digitally.