Endurance – Endurance.

One of the first artists to send their wares to this humble blog was Japan based Canadian Joshua Steffane aka Endurance. After the review appeared a handful of further cassette releases appeared on labels such as Onmyodo Cassette, ACR, Moss Archive and Metaphysical Circuits. He also has been involved with new Japanese label Muzan Editions.

This self titled cassette was self released and is based on a science fiction short story that Steffane was writing involving a stranded astronaut infected by a parasite that protected him from harm and prevented him from aging (see more information at his bandcamp page). The album was constructed with a variety of electronic tools and field recordings.

“Starsea” opens up the release with glacial ambience of the floating variety combined with static bursts. The swirling layers of ambience  give the feeling of being off the ground and being above the clouds.

“I No Longer Miss Home” long tendrils of drones spiral out with one sounding a bit cut up, another looped and a third being of the proggy synth variety. While the opener had a feeling of floating, these drones have a bit more of a discordant edge to them, especially the secondary drone that is slightly dominated by the proggy synth one. As the track progresses the drones alternate in focus, bringing out different qualities.  You get the feeling of isolation or abandonment through the singular nature of the music.
“Collapsing Giants” opening with distant screeching noises, a rumbling soundscape emerges which is oscillating as if it is almost stuck in a short position and is decaying. The decaying sounds increase with the screeching becoming a howl and industrial like field recordings add a sinister robotic edge.

“New Companions, Old Friends” what sounds like looped broken electronics or signals moves from right to left with a rumbling, but not oppressive sound. There is a feel of some sort of transmission , but also a feeling of the still and quiet after something has happened and a new dawn is beginning. It’s hard to pin down as it is slightly eerie, but also calm and unsettling.

“Goodbye Everything” is the first of two of the album’s epic tracks clocking in at just under twelve minutes. In that time it moves at a relatively slow pace, much like a mud slide that engulfs everything. Opening with what sounds like affected field recordings similar to natural electricity,  random melodic tones appear as the field recordings start to have a stormy quality.  The tones start to get heavier and darker, but also uniform. The speed of them is constant and slow, with the background stormy recordings containing the variety as opposed to the constant foreground drones. Coming up to the six-minute mark the melodic tones return accompanied by a harsher weather sound and a thicker bottom edge. For the remainder of the track the elements alternate in their intensity and the attention of the listener. With such a thick long track, it is almost like a wiping out of what has come before and a possible new start.

“Why Must I Endure?” Is a more purer ambient track than the one that preceded it. Lush ambience, in a way returning to the style of the opening track, alongside field recordings that give an environmental feel. Layers of synth start to envelope with one being a more constant drone, while the other having a cut up varying tone to it. With a title such as this it would be expected to be quite morose, but for me the meaning is obtained largely through the repetition as if the character is ruminating things over and over in their head. There is still enough of an edge that it is not all light and fluffy, but not claustrophobic either.

This album would be suited to listeners who like their music thematic or with a Sci-Fi edge.

 

 

Advertisements

New Release: Winterlight – The Longest Sleep Through The Darkest Days.

n5MD (the home of the likes of BVDUB, Arovane, Mark Harris and To Destroy a City) have announced their first release of 2018, Winterlight’s “The Longest Sleep Through The Darkest Days” which drops March 16. The album is the follow-up to 2011’s “Hope Dies Last” and after a period of hiatus punctuated by Soundcloud demos , false starts and live performances, Tim Ingham was joined by his daughter Isabel on bass.

The label has this to say about Winterlight “After absorbing post-punk and shoegaze in the 80s and 90s in his native Thames Valley England, Tim Ingham took time to let those influences soak in and it wasn’t until 2006 in an effort to recreate the lush and hazy sounds of his youth that Winterlight came to be. Quickly coming to the attention of other acts on the ambient/electronica scene, he remixed a number of his contemporaries, including n5MD’s own port-royal. Two singles, Mirror and Kissed, on UK label Years Without Art, demonstrated his ability to craft his own simple dream-pop melodies in the vein of contemporaries like Ulrich Schnauss and veterans like Robin Guthrie.

In regards to the album, which comes in transparent green or ultra clear with green splatter 180 gm vinyl, CD and download, n5MD state “The further emphasis on guitar-based compositions and the addition of Isabel, on bass has resulted in a sound that is more complex and varied but also at times more straightforwardly forthright. The trademark sweeping strings and soaring guitars are ever-present but, in a handful of the songs, more sparse instrumentation and straightforward rhythms create greater ambience and show that for Winterlight now, less can mean more.

unnamed (1)

The label has released a teaser video as seen below and at only thirty-four seconds long, it does tease with what you may expect when the album drops. On February 23rd the first single “I Can’t Start Being Happy For Feeling Sad” will be released with two exclusive B-sides. If you pre-order the album now using the bandcamp link below, you get the track “Hinterland” now.

Ben Rath – Black Heart Music.

It is a little hard to review Eilean Rec releases. Such is the demand for the music they put out and the limited edition nature (this particular release was limited to 130 copies) that they regularly sell out in pre-order. You may find them at Stashed Goods or Experimedia, but on the whole the physical editions are long gone.

“Ben Rath is an amateur musician currently based in Manchester, UK. He makes experimental, ambient music using original recordings of guitar, keyboard and piano, as well as samples and field recordings. He has been recording and releasing music through a variety of labels since 2014 and has also released a short EP of improvised acoustic guitar tracks under the name Slow Heart Music in 2017”.
Ben Rath has been building up a catalog via a series of great labels such as Triple Moon, Cathedral Transmissions, Unknown Tone and now Eilean Rec.

His “Black Heart Music” album contains ten tracks of differing material such as the ghostly and noisy opener “I see you demon” with its icy electronics, howling wind like drones and slightly ominous electronics that are joined by an organ like drones, field recordings and what sounds like a guitar quartet to the scratchy field recordings, drones and almost classical guitar of “Hidden Contract” which has a drone meets acoustic post rock meets orchestral drone feel to it.

“Devotion” takes the listener on a loop based psychedelic electronic drone journey while the follow-up “Reasonable Doubt” sees acoustic guitar return to the fore with a hypnotic disjointed loop feel and a whistling drone gradually building to hold a similar degree of attention in the track, complimenting the guitar playing.

“Know thy Shadow” is a pure drone piece with an orchestral choral feel to it which makes it quite haunting. There is a shuffling feel before darker pulsing elements take over with flashes of electronics which altogether give a wide-screen feel to the sound. “Boiling Point” has pulsing static covered electronics that have a drill like quality with orchestral probes which sound like a bed of church organs. As the title suggests, the music builds up with a fractured cut up selection of electronics and sound to build a frantic base for the organs to sit upon. As the track finishes up the elements start to drop out with a static off-kilter buzz taking the piece to silence.

“Winter Blues” has looped samples and submerged drones with distortion. Such is the distance felt in the recording, the drones feel buried underneath the samples and it gives a claustrophobic feel to the track.

“The Devil in Disguise” opens with slightly shimmering drones that are layered and occupy different levels on the sound palate. There is no need for urgency, but they are not stationery in any way. The build slowly and swirl around. Field recordings of an unknown nature scatter about and a glacial drone joins the fray as these two elements become dominant before a heavier drone that slowly varies in pitch takes over.

“Hesitation” looped cut up drone elements with a slight chugging feel are joined by a spindly guitar style drone and a fog horn sounding one. A melodic element takes its place and initially it is buried in the mix, but starts taking prominence in piece.

“Visit to the other side” starts with a looped distortion drone that throbs while a granular and a bowed like haunting element joins in. The haunting element has a ghostly sing-song feel to it with an orchestral like touch. The medic ebbs sad flows, but probably needs another element to complete it.

With “Black Heart Music” Rath shows he can create wide-screen music with impressive elements and the like of “Reasonable Doubt” show he is heading in the right direction. I look forward to seeing where he can next take his music.

Home Normal – An interview with Ian Hawgood.

HOMENORMAL_LOGO

I Don’t think there has been a label that has influenced my listening quite like Home Normal. I came across the label relatively early on and have been following them since eagerly picking up their quality releases. Label boss Ian Hawgood took time out of his busy schedule to kindly answered my questions. 

In March it will be 9 years since the label started. Over those years a number of labels have shut their doors (or just gone to digital only eg: Line). In that time the label has moved from the UK to Japan, back to the UK and now based in Poland (with a presence in the previous homes). Its quite an achievement to last this long. What propels you to keep going in this ever changing environment ?

Home Normal actually started when I was living in Japan, and I fully restarted the label when we moved to Poland again after a little bit of a break while my wife studied in the UK. Home Normal was founded on the idea of what ‘home’ and ‘normality’ meant and sounded like whilst living in a country other than where I grew up in the UK, so it has always made more sense and been inspired by my experiences living in homes beyond. Without a shadow of a doubt, the move to Poland and my constant contact in Japan (where we are still mostly distributed and based), have kept things fresh and alive in this vein. Music that connects to me deeply and makes wherever I am at that moment ‘home’ is truly inspirational on a spiritual / auditory level.

The other side are the people involved, notably the artists right now. They are all friends, supporters, and we have a bit of a family now with the work we do together. Working on a physical package together really is a joy, and seeing an end product that you can hold in your hands makes all the work worth it. I do understand labels closing or going digital, and we are constantly on the edge really as we don’t break even on most releases. So we produce work very carefully. The simple truth is that certain small things can happen that can deeply impact the funding of a label, and we have to be aware of that. I would never go digital only for Home Normal as it just wouldn’t be worth it at all as it would be too limited and limiting without any physical end product or reason. I love physical formats and that has to be the end of the creative path as it has a permanence to it. And I love the idea that when the digital age passes, when things are lost and forgotten, someone will come across this disc of music they’ve never come across before wherever that may be, and it connects to them as it does to me each and every day. That’s what keeps me going. Discovery.

You have become an in-demand mastering engineer with your credits appearing on numerous releases. As well as running a label and mastering how do you combat listening fatigue?

That’s a really good question. I’ve been doing sound engineering and mastering for 20 years now, so before I started the labels. The labels were in some way a reaction to some of the work I did in the past that was commercial and quite tiring to work on each day. I’m lucky in that I can pick and choose my projects now, and that the label and mastering are not my day to day work. However, I found myself feeling incredibly exhausted listening to almost any music earlier in the year, as if I had finally peaked and my ears couldn’t take anymore. I started meditating and minimising the flow of my life in Warsaw, and when flying (which I do a lot for work) I chose to not listen to music nor watch films, but instead quietly read books or just relax / meditate. That might sound weird, but I learnt how to slow down my life when not switched ‘on’ for the label and engineering works. I now no longer listen to anything outside the studio or my home, no headphones on the go, and I have come to massively enjoy walking slowly and absorbing my surroundings. The listening fatigue I felt kind of saved me really, as I never feel rushed or tired, and I come at music in a fresh way each time as a result. I enjoy the mastering I do so much now as well because of this.

Beyond the music I work on in whatever capacity, I’ve also taken to really enjoying my old records and cassettes again. I listen to mostly old Folkways recordings and old Blues music. The music keeps me connected to something real when I listen to quite a lot of digitised work, and keeps my ears fresh in a way. It sometimes feels like I am giving my ears a sound bath when listening to some crackly old harmonica record for example.

How mindful are you when selecting music to release? Does being aware of musical trends and the sudden influx of music such as the Modern Classical  resurgence influence your decision making?

Not at all. If the music has soul, is true and connects, that is all I need. Whilst we are very careful in our scheduling, we’ve released a wider variety of genres than many people seem aware. The one connection to each album is a sense of identity and self; something organic and timeless. Trends are too limited to a certain time, and I have no energy for the modern trend of music artists and labels that seem solely focused on getting on playlists through any means necessary, and ignoring the art they should really be creating with their undoubted talent.

From the outside the label appears to foster a family approach with a regular roster of artists (as well as newer artists) and collaborators such as art and design. How important are the relationships to the success and longevity of the label?

Massively. I wanted the label to release works by new artists, and we’ve tried to keep this up for the past 9 years, I think fairly successfully. But the simply truth is that a label has to have an identity and group of people that keep it going, and financially and energy-wise, you can’t keep releasing new artists. There are so many people who I am personally connected to, so whatever the storm (not many to be honest), we survive and thrive based on this. Jeremy Bible and Christian Roth are still friends who are always there for me, Ben Jones is still my best friend and sounding-board for the label. My friends in Japan always help whenever I need to step away for a bit, and this keeps me sane. Hitoshi Ishihara and Eirik Holmøyvik are amazing photographers and always there to support, constantly appearing on the label. And then the artists…I am in regular contact with people like Stefano Guzzetti, James Murray, Giulio Aldinucci, Danny Norbury, Stijn Huwels, Federico Durand, Moritz Leppers (Altars Altars ) and many more, so it is enjoyable to work on artistic projects with them. It is collaborative and inspiring, and this is so fundamental to running a label I feel, and without this I wouldn’t have carried on far as long as I have.

 You have dabbled with vinyl for the Pimmon and Fabio Orsi & Sontag Shogun and Moskitoo releases. Is this a format that we will see more releases on HN?

Sadly not. In Japan we just can’t sell vinyl really, and less people buy it than you’d think outside, no matter what the press say. We put everything into the former release, and only the CD edition we sold ourselves saved the label, as we never received anything for the vinyl sadly. It was just a bit of a nightmare, despite being such an amazing release. We actually had to put the label on hold for a long time just to make up for the losses. The Sontag Shogun and Moskitoo release was a 7″ and was made by the group themselves. We just helped to release it with them really as I’m a big fan of Jeremy Young’s various projects, and even then people didn’t grab it from us, with quite a few people asking why we didn’t put it out on CD. So I’m content in the knowledge that we are set-up as a CD label now, and that seems to be the best thing for us for better or for worse.

I still mostly buy vinyl myself though, and I have been working on a vinyl and cassette label for a few years now which should see light of day later this year. It is only for the odd reissue, and these are mostly just Japanese classics that many people outside Japan might not know. I’m mostly doing this because I want to own the vinyl of these amazing albums, so this is really for my own benefit really!

The Tokyo Droning and Nomadic Kids Republic labels have been quiet for a while. Will we see them revived at some point? 2017 and 2018 has seen you release on the label. Will we see more collaborative releases between yourself and others?

Tokyo Droning was based on using local paper and objects from where we lived in rural Saitama (Japan). The paper company closed down after the Tohoku earthquake so we stopped the label sadly. NKR was always supposed to be limited to a set of ‘polaroid’ style releases which we stopped in 2012. However, whilst TD focused on more experimental sound design, NKR was always intended to release works from various artists we have come across on our travels and lives around the world. We were supposed to re-open NKR last year but have been mapping out the best way to do this with friends in Japan as I don’t have time alongside my own work. Both labels should be re-opening this year as digital labels with the odd physical releases, and these will help to finance the future of the Home Normal physical packages and promotion in turn which is good.

In terms of collaborations, yes we will release more. I had been working on a bunch of collaborations over the years that I stopped working on a couple of years ago due to some personal stuff. After releasing some piano sketches last year in ‘Love Retained’ (my first solo album in 4 years by that point), it somehow cleared a path to return to these great collaborations and I realised just how special they were. It brought me back to music-making after a long hiatus, and I now have some secret projects coming out this year on amazing labels and some really great collaborations on HN and some other labels. The first of these will be my collaborations with Danny Norbury and Giulio Aldinucci respectively. I’m also currently tying up a monolithic work/s with James Murray. Our work together is ongoing now on a daily basis and is a huge surprise in how perfect it is coming together really.

What does the future hold with the decade anniversary not too far away?

A decade…phew. I’ve been asked this a number of times but the simple truth is I can’t think in those terms really as I am just enjoying the day to day creativity of working with friends. We’ve got very special packages coming out by Stefano Guzzetti and Federico Durand in the first half of the year, then a whole series of collaborations featuring Stijn Hüwels, a new Chronovalve, a reissue of my favourite Altars Altars album, a couple of other collaborations between various artist friends…and a lot more going up to 2020 at least. All I can really say is I am so excited to be releasing some truly special, subtle, magical works over the next year before we reach our ten year anniversary. Once we get there, I’ll probably just invite some artists and friends over for a road trip, go to a mountain, climb to the peak, and feel at peace in the quietude of these friendships I’ve made, and the amazing people they are…then climb down the mountain, go home, and start on with the next musical package to send out into the world. That would be a pretty fitting.

Ljerke – Ljerke.

The first Eilean Rec release for the new year may just be their most ambitious one yet. The debut album by Ljerke, a collective of like minds artists comes as a multi media package with a DVD included that is a visual realization of the album from Netherlands and Icelandic artists Marco Douma + Haraldur Karlsson.

“Ljerke is a multidisciplinary live project which took form in the Frisian landscape as as source of inspiration. (which on a tourist website is described as “as Dutch as it gets. Blue skies with impressive cloudscapes. Vast meadows, in which cows graze amid narrow ditches. Sheep dotting an old dike with a village church on a hillock in the distance”). The project includes some music artists from Netherlands (Romke Kleefstra on guitar and effects, Jan Kleefstra on poetry and voice, Sytze Pruiksma on percussion, dulcimer and guitar with effects ) and Norway (Alexander Rishaug on electronics, Hilde Marie Holsen on trumpet and effects, Michael Duch on contrabass) completed with the video artists Marco Douma (NL) and Haraldur Karlsson from Iceland. A new project of live impro music, poetry and film, in the same context of former projects as Seeljocht (Piiptsjilling) and Skeylja (The Alvaret Ensemble).”

“Muurv” which translates to the project umber three can mean a variety of things. From wisdom, harmony and understanding to the number of time; beginning, middle and end, birth, life, death, past and present and death. The track opens with what sounds like a bass drum beaten (but could be the contrabass), before scattered electronics, manipulated guitar recordings, drones and fragments of sound are joined by the narration / poetry of Jan Kleefstra. Sounding like a pure electroacoustic piece that seems in a way a collage work, with the intention, I think, to create a sense of unease. There is no real consistent structure. Sounds enter and leave, quiet-ish narration and warped parts like guitar, that depart as quickly as they arrived. In the last-minute and a half the track goes as conventional as it will with feverish guitar and contrabass being strummed quickly building up a rhythm while also sounding quite random in their playing. As there is sparseness to the track it is hard to discern what is going on, but it hints at the direction the music will take over the album.

“Tsjilland” starts with a distant explosion like beat alongside scorching electronics and trumpet. The trumpet has a touch of melancholy alongside the metallic sounding electronics that have an electrical storm quality about them. Contrabass, scratches of guitar and dulcimer give a more noisy sound scape. The press release mentions the “Frision Landscape” as a source of inspiration, but for me this is like an alien transmission. Unless that particular landcsape is still, but with a sense of menace or unease to it, then I don’t get the influence. That said, it is not my environment, so that could be my lack of recognizing the influence. A large part of this alien feel is the electronics, which are early Mego-esque with their feel of splattering sounds. The contrabass lends a more mournful tone, along with the fast strumming of what sounds similar to violin, but possibly manipulated guitar, gives it a certain, dare I say, structure to the piece. Again, towards the end the track starts to take more of a shape than the preceding six plus minutes.

“Waarbekkasin” low contrabass rumbles with a Godflesh like intensity are joined by a squall of stormy noise before a high guitar drone and Kleeftra’s narration enters the picture.A metallic noisey drone is introduced before it departs almost as quickly as it entered. The sound of the track is cloaked in a fog, but you can sense elements building up which they start doing four minutes into the piece with what sounds like bells, but probably dulcimer ushering in the next phase which has the contrabass quickly strummed, guitar lines rippling out, bass drum beats and electronics adding to the mix. the final section is the most musical with the dulcimer giving the brightest shade to a predominantly dark piece.

“Skiermunk” begins rather subdued with a pulsing sound with smatterings of percussion, static, low-frequency electronics, trumpet, guitar manipulations building a subterranean soundtrack of fractured music. a bit like musical detritus in that the parts seems to decay in your ears. As the notes say mixed and edited by Rutger Zuydervelt (aka Machinefabriek) you are not sure if this is one combined improv piece of one that has been edited or constructed together. You get elements of Jazz Fusion meets Mego fuckery meets out-and-out electroacoustic experimentalism.

“Hettekobe” droning contrabass sounding didgeridoo like welcomes the listener with its manipulated deep low playing and scraping. Bells and Kleeftra’s narration enter alongside a swirling drone. The contrabass disappears to leave the drones alongside trumpet and table top electronics changing the texture of the track to a slightly lighter one before bashing percussion takes the piece into a third section which the percussion and trumpet lead the way. The Contrabass and electronics return alongside a searing drone, more percussion, trumpet and guitar manipulation to create an almost impenetrable wall of sound that swarms tp the tracks completion and crashes like a wave.

“Skjegfuggl” looping distant trumpet, long presumably guitar drones fuse together with electronics entering the fray and low bashed guitar creating a jazzy soundtrack-esque piece of noir which adds an extra level of noir with Kleeftra’s poetry narration. The music changes more to a drone piece, but not a traditional one as you would usually expect, but one that has a definite more experimental approach to it. Elements come across, enter and disappear, flash in and out and probably is the most controlled piece of the album.

The album was recorded as part of a tour in  November 2016 at the Landscape studio te Gauw, recorded by Jan Switters and later mastered by Norwegian Noise legend Lasse Marhaug. The recording is clear and there is enough space for the instruments to occupy various levels of the sound scape and be audible at any level. That said, If I am being honest, I probably wouldn’t listen to this a lot. This is primarily my desire for more structure and less improvisation. Improvised music relies largely on flashes of brilliance, while a more constructed piece can work more on building mood, texture, rhythms as the musicians are on the same page. With improvised music the musicians are in a way reacting to each other, so there is more chance encounters at something different as opposed to constructing something in a singular fashion. That said, if improv is your thing, this may be for you.

 

 

2017 : Twenty of the Best List.

 

TWENTY GREAT RELEASES OF 2017

I have to admit a sense of dread in compiling this list. These lists can be seen as from arbiters of taste and start well before the year ends. Sometimes it seems in competition to be the first to decree which album/label etc to be the finest of the year. I am not an arbiter of taste at all by any stretch of the imagination. This is a simple list of twenty releases I liked this year. There is no ranking, no breakdown into genres or sub groups (sorry, no best Winter albums as well, it’s not winter everywhere). Just a plain old list. My apologies go to those that had sent across material that has yet to be reviewed, but I endeavor to review them all. There is a supplementary list of three re-issues that also caught my attention this year. Without further ado and in no particular order….

 

Lorenzo Masotto “Aeloian Preocesses” (Dronarivm)

“Although I have not heard Masotto’s two previous releases and cannot compare this release to them (nor ascertain if the music matches the title of the album), what is striking is the use of electronic elements and instrumentation that compliment the solo piano. Such is the skill that this could sit comfortably in the Erased Tapes catalog.”

Toàn “Histós Lusis” (Eilean Rec)

“The album has a feel of a well crafted cinematic mix of elements like every single structure, instrument and style was carefully thought out and executed well. This is not an album rushed or one to rush through. The pace of the album is very gentle and it flows smoothly.”

Emilìa “Down To The Sadness River” (Rottenman Editions)

“Yi and Peh construct the album using only bowed guitar and piano to stunning effect. Recently I have been listening to music composed with lots of different elements and instruments, so it is quite a refreshing change to listen to something constructed with such few instruments that is so rich in sound.”

Giulio Fagiolini “Dietro a un Vetro” (Home Normal)

““Dietro a un vetro” is quite a stunning record especially as debut’s go. There is a great range of material and the fact that Giulio shows great restraint in his playing shows that he is in total control. The field of Modern Classical solo piano is one that is full to the brim, but Giulio easily adds to the field without it being simply ‘another piano album’. Totally recommended.”

The Green Kingdom “The North Wind and Sun” (Lost Tribe Sound)

“The production, performing and mixing were all done by Michael Cottone. I can only assume that the recording was done at home as there is no information to where it was recorded. If this is the case Cottone has done an outstanding job with such time and care put into this album which was expertly mastered by Taylor Deupree at 12k Mastering. If you have been a The Green Kingdom you will love this, if you are new to his work go back and get accustomed to his outstanding back catalog. Totally Recommended.”

Francesca Giannico & Giulio Aldinucci “Reframing” (Eilean Rec)

““Reframing” is a work that could be classified as Electroacoustic Ambience and has more than enough depth and variation for sustained listening. It is a perfect headphone listen to pick up all that is happening in the tracks. A mention should be made of the dynamic master of Ian Hawgood.”

Sontag Shogun and Moskitoo “The Things We Let Fall Apart” (Home Normal)

“On this single Sontag Shogun and Moskitoo have ably demonstrated how to collaborate. The way they have been able to fuse their music together and construct it results in an enjoyable listen. Hopefully this is not the only collaboration that the four of them come up with. Totally Recommended.”

From The Mouth Of The Sun “Hymn Binding” (Lost Tribe Sound)

“From The Mouth Of The Sun have delivered a stunning album and have carried on Lost Tribe Sound’s outstanding the Prelude to the Decline series. They show how to make deeply textured music seem effortless and reward the listener with an album to enjoy endlessly. Totally recommended.”

Roberto Attanasio “Behind Those Eyes I Rest” (1631 Recordings)

“As Roberto mentioned in our email exchange in regards to his method of writing /recording his music “The only thing I had to do was transcribe I had in mind, and that was incredible because what you listen to is exactly the song I played in my mind. I didn’t do any change respect to my music thoughts and maybe this is the beauty of the Ep : spontaneous and intimate.”

I think the last word of that quote best sums it up this Ep and the recording style of it. – intimate.”

Bruno Sanfilippo “Lost And Found” (AD21music)

““Lost & Found” sees a collection of material from a wide span of time be collected to form a cohesive album. Some work better than others, my personal preference would be “Soltario” to be shorter, but the album is an enjoyable listen for people looking for more than just a solo piano album.”

Crisopa “Transhumante” (Sound in Silence)

“There are no standouts on the album for me. That is because it is consistently good. There are elements that appear several times over (like the affected vocals) which can make the music a bit samey, but that can attributed to a fair amount artists. What Lizón has created here is an enjoyable, bright listen. It’s the aural equivalent of opening the curtains and letting the light shine in. If you like the artist references at the start of the review, then you will enjoy this album.”

Aidan Baker/ Thor Harris/ Simon Goff “No Place” (Gizeh)

“It is quite amazing to think that this was recorded in a short period of time on one day, edited and re-assembled and then some six months later sounding like a fully formed album from an established group. Aiden Baker, Simon Goff and Thor Harris have produced a very enjoyable, rich album that thanks to Gizeh Records we are able to appreciate.”

Adrian Lane “Playing With Ghosts” (Preserved Sound)

“To say he has achieved something jaw dropping is an understatement. Any concern you have of it being derivative of The Caretaker are easily forgotten.A special mention should go to his collaborators especially Bryan Styles’ Clarinet, which helps formulate many of the albums tracks. This album was released on August 18 in an edition of 150 copies, I urge you to check it out.”

Ghost and Tape “Var” (Home Normal)

“Over the course of four albums in seven years, with the others appearing on Schole  and Slaapwel as well as Ep’s on Rural Colours and Hibernate, Heine Christensen has created his own place in the ambient scene with his thought out minimalistic, micro glitches and melodic tones. Expertly mastered by the former experimental grindcore practitioner Plotkin, “Vár” is a trip down the sun soaked dappled miniatures of Ghost and Tape and lives up to both his history and that of Home Normal’s class of 2017. Recommended.”

Jason van Wyk “Opacity” (Home Normal)

““Opacity” refers to the lacking of transparency or translucency which can be compared to the pieces on the album where there are multiple elements. One of the synonyms of Opacity is haziness which can be occasionally heard in tracks like “Clouds” and the beginning of “For Now” for example. For “Opacity” van Wyk has taken on some of the elements of “Attachment” added some from his previous work and taken it further. The shorter pieces that come across as Soundtrack-esque is a something that would be interesting to see van Wyk detour into as I think he would pull it off with aplomb. A mention should be made of the cello and violin of Brittany Dilkes, Gavin Clayton and Lynn Donson for their important contributions to the album. Recommended.”

Polaroid Notes “Unsung Memories” (Whitelab Rec)

“A thoroughly enjoy album from someone who would easily craft a great soundtrack in the future.”

The Prairie Lines “Eyes Down Slowdown” (Whitelab Rec)

“A thoroughly enjoyable release especially if you like your ambience coated in thick haze with layers to peel back and investigate.”

Astrïd & Rachel Grimes “Through The Sparkle” (Gizeh)

“The playing and compositions of this album give you the feeling of a long-standing band, not a band and a collaborator. The way Astrïd and Grimes fuse together is so seamless with each others influences forming together to create something their own. Elements of Grimes’ sounds developed in Rachel’s come through and fit nicely within the Astrïd framework to provide an enjoyable and cohesive piece of work. The label describes it perfectly : “Through the Sparkle is a record of miniature symphonies, of elegant restraint. A gracious and generous offering from a group of musicians at one with each other and at the top of their game.””

Dominique Charpentier “Esquisses” (Self released)

“It would be easy to see this ep as something more than it is. It could easily be part of a soundtrack to a feature film. The length of the tracks are perfect and make great little vignettes. For an artist that is used to being self released, he could easily slot into the roster of say 1631 Recordings.”

Totally Recommended.

Akira Kosemura  “In The Dark Woods” (Schole)

“Throughout the album Kosemura has demonstrated why he has such a following. For some a strictly solo piano album could be too much of a same thing, but for Kosemura he knows how to construct an album that can sound familiar but you look back to the other tracks you cannot pin point which track it is. Naturally with a genre like Modern Classical /Solo piano that is fast becoming a saturated one, it helps to be a great composer and this is what Kosemura has on his side. Add to the fact that Kosemura doesn’t just rely on Piano and you have an artist that sustains the listeners interest and keeps them engaged.”

 

THREE GREAT RE-ISSUES OF 2017

 

Vargkvint “Brus” (Soft Recordings)

“It is fairly easy to see why Soft re-issued this and fits in well with their stable of releases that have included Darren Harper, Kate Carr, EUS and of course Linear Bells. This release is just simply one of those that come along and captivate you from the start and you hope that more than a limited audience gets to experience it.”

William Ryan Fritch “The Sum Of The Parts” (Lost Tribe Sound)

“Throughout these albums Fritch shows his musical chops in the form of composer, musician and recorder. His strength lies in his ability to construct multi layered pieces with an attention to, structure and how the instruments work together. If I were to chose between these two albums Would pick “The Sum of the Parts” purely because my taste leans more to the cinematic feel than the more rustic Alt-Folk that his is familiar with. However, both albums are recommended.”

Jakob Lindhagan “Skorheten” (1631 Recordings)

“Overall this is an impressive album with miniatures that would be great if expanded. It shows of Lindhagen’s talent and flexibility and a composer to use different elements to the tracks so it’s not a case of “same same”. I look forward to what he brings us on his next release. Totally recommended.”

Whitelab Recs x 4: Teleferik/Polaroid Notes/Overshift/The Prairie Lines.

Harry Towell’s Whitelab Recs had a big 2017.  With seventeen releases (of which I got sent these four and the Covarino/ Incorvaia release sent by the artists themselves). The label even managed to snag a placing in A Closer Listens Labels of the year list – a great placing considering their one in seven strike rate for reviews. Due to the volume of submissions I have grouped these release together for a label overview.

Telerifik is Brutes, Belgium based artist Christoph Ywaska who also runs the weekly experimental music show Klankschap. “Sixteen Frames” is Ywaska’s first physical release compiling a decades worth of personal selections.  According to the label “The record is a curious mixture of Modern Classical excerpts and Ambient drones treated with electronic techniques. It might appeal if you like artists like Monolyth & Cobalt, Roel Funcken or Sylvain Chauveau.”

The album starts with ” (A) Cutlerie or how I used to eat my heart” and is a mix of vibraphone/chimes with looped distortion, short bass lines which together form a melodic and trance (not the musical style) like piece where the sounds of the vibraphone/chimes becomes muddier over time to eventually form a long slow drone.

“(B)Insert Kart” is a piece of manipulated and looped guitar playing, warping in and out joined by Nobukazu Takemura style glitches that are a different pace to the guitar, but as the track continues the focus varies from the glitches to the guitar and back again.

“(C)Close in matter” is a breakdown in transmission before a glitched section meets a small sampled and looped piano section. The track adds extra glitches elements taking away the organicness of the piano to become a purely electronic piece which also reminds me of Takemura.

“(D)Nightshift” continues the theme of manipulated recordings this time having a haunted fairground church organ sound before snatches of Amon Tobin like samples of percussion washes in and out.

“(E)Mingling” slowly approaching minimal percussion, sonar sounds, field recordings, sampled piano loops,  form this experimental track that is predominantly looped based.

“(F)Lets go nowhere else” a horn like loop that emerges right to left when listening with headphones is joined by a section of violin going in the opposite direction. After building up to similar sizes in the sound scape glitches appear as a form of detritus, much like the cut up nature of the two predominant sounds. Woozy jazz sounds enter the mix like a drunken man staggering around and join the two earlier elements to become the third main element just as looped electronics take over to the end of the track.

“(G)Klarf” sounds as if it is based on some old TV show (presumably from Belgium) alongside hauntological looped sounds not to dissimilar to that of The Caretaker.

“(H)Does it Matter” short metronomic electronic loops are joined by other electronic sounds that are also looped , but have a sound similar to an organic instrument. The layers are joined by a bass sound and squelchy sounds that look like they are looking for a beat to propel the track forward. It all degenerates towards the end of the track.

“(I)History favors the Winners”, maybe there is a Caretaker/ Leyland Kirby influence after all with a title like this? Snatches of piano, field recordings and broken electronics form this brief interlude.

“(J)The long Distance” glitchy rhythms, drones,  small fragments of percussion and oscillating electronics form the basis for this is track which is held together by the glitches. The other elements appear to be added without having much off an impact.

“(K)Lumen Reign (Telerifik reworks Illuminine)” shimmering electronics, waves crashing, drones with a hint of classical nature to them cascade against each other. The music has sections that slowly unfurl with some recordings of aeronautic nature.
“(L)Berceuse” meaning a musical passage that resembles a lullaby, with this one sounding like a demented one. Hauntological loops, glitches,  warped chipmunk like manipulated speech make for slightly harrowing listening.

“(M)Sketch 2” a long form drone, gentle bird song field recordings and soft acoustic guitar alongside some slight effects bring out a track that makes you think “Why couldnt the rest of the album be like this?” the music is gentle, but soaring , the elements all share a similar space and quality with a restraint not shown previously. Definitely a direction Telerifik should follow-up with.

“(N)Static of a Distant Storm” has a slightly sci-fi vibe with its layers of synth that float over each other with a slight sense of unease to them. The track as it progresses veers more towards a dark ambient vein with its metallic drones which are clanging in sound.

“(O)Subliminal” the glitches have returned, but following the previous track there is still a Sci-fi vibe to them. The synth sounds like stabs of arranged sound that bounce of each other and have a percussive quality.

“(P)A Minus D Minus D” swirling synth almost like a turntable that has been spun too fast joins a melodic tightly formed looped section that threatens to break out, but instead drops totally to a slow death march of retro electronic sounds an beats to the death.

Personally I feel the album is a collection of sketches that aren’t fully fleshed out. You see flashes of what could be good, but they disappear. If I am being terribly honest with the exception of (M) Sketch 2″ I probably wouldn’t listen to this again.

 

Polaroid Notes is a South Germany based artist named Andreas who has previously been released Whitelab Recs sister labels Tessellate and Audio Gourmet while also releasing dub techno music under the Kraut Sounds name. According to the label “‘Unsung Melodies” is very much inspired by film and TV series, as he strives to carve out sketches for an unreleased movie score. It plays out with each track as an episode with brooding piano and drone texture.” They recommend it for fans of Willis + Sakamoto, Robert Scott Thompson or Christoph Demean.

“A Small History of Decay” fuses ambience and solo piano with a feeling of stillness and restraint. For some reason I am thinking of winter and the ambient drones that soar around the piano are chilled while the piano itself is crisp. With subtle repetition and deft playing its a nice start to an album.

“Moment of Truth” starts similarly but with an off kilter-wish piano rhythm and glacial drones. Again I am feeling this is suitable for winter. The music starts to be manipulated with backward treatments which, if this alluding to a fictitious  film or TV program, brings the feeling of a flashback to an event or situation. So far the album has started at a relaxed pace.

“Golden Dawn” fuses icy drones, shuffling sounds, occasional bass notes, minimalistic piano and eerie electronics to create a mood rather than be a fluid piece of music. They use of the drones and eerie electronics add an element of suspense. The visual I get when I listen to this is a person, a detective,  driving through snow-covered dense forest roads with a lot on their mind such is the filmic quality of the music.

“Colours of Peace” repeating drones, electronics that briefly pop in and out, subtle sounds of an unknown electronic  nature and plaintive piano. It follows the theme set out previously with the other tracks before it, but I don’t get a visual representation with this one. It’s just a nice mix of sounds that have a similar sort of tone to each other and that work well together.

“Inside of Everything” manipulated sounds warp in and out with stark minimal piano playing alongside slightly noisy electronics – almost static like in their brief presence. The opening sounds have a distant quality to them and provide the melody and focal point. The distance felt with them is opposite to the immediacy of the piano and makes it feel like they are environmental in nature, like an outside force that is affecting something.

“Unsung Melodies” the pairing of drones and piano is strong in this title track where the drones are more central, but also threatening which is emphasized by the fragility of the piano with its delicate playing and its part slightly submerged in the mix. The nature of the piano leads to a feeling of suspense which is supported by the drones. The drones come in waves and are constructed in a pleasurable way.

“Dark end of the Street” the piano stabs that open this track and seem to go onto infinity set the scene for this track, which for me, visually is like a sister track to “Golden Dawn” but a darker version of it. The heavier keys of the piano present a dread that the other keys with their despair are leading to. As the track continues drones start to replace the initial effect that the piano had at the start and the fade the track out to the end

“Take Care of What you Love” manipulated layered electronics that warp in and out over a bed of glass-like piano playing. The electronics add a haunted and eerie feel to the music as they overlap the repetitive slightly reverberating meditative piano that has a visual quality of memories and possibly the electronics are the ghosts of the person’s life floating around.

“The Low Country” features noir-ish bass heavy minimalist piano with ever so subtle electrical sounding noise and possibly guitar generated drones which add a sinister like edge and feeling of claustrophobia to the track. You get a feeling of things closing in, but not totally engulfing the situation. The music is purely in shades of black and white.
“Nothing is Ever Over” begins with a mans voice uttering this title before synth throbs and distant birdsong and are joined by whispered vocals samples, percussion moments, field recordings of walking through bush paths, snatches of piano that is highly edited into electronic samples. The phrase “I saw you in my dreams” hints to a dream like quality of the track with the title being repeated ever so subtly. The visual feeling is an open grassy area where a person has either fallen asleep or is daydreaming and these elements are floating in and out of their consciousness.

“Once there was a beauty” a collection of howling drones over field recordings of nature sounds and small fragments of piano build up with the emphasis being the drones and the field recordings. The drones have a storm like quality without being too harsh and flow in a cyclical direction. This is a nakedness to the music as it is quite unadorned with lots of elements, but the elements that are there serve a purpose.  Towards the end the piano with its sparseness picks up intensity as the drones dissipate and between them and the field recordings take the piece to the end with a feeling of moving away from the storm.

“Dissolve” granular noises and buzzing slightly muted drones start this more electronic of tracks. Rippling keys and scattershot sci-fi sounds which fire and pulse around contain a different mood to the rest of the album. The track is still filmic, but the lack of piano makes it stand out as being from a different type of feel. While the remainder of the album feels like a Scandi noir soundtrack, this track feels like it’s from a Sci-fi soundtrack and just for that reason, because musically it is great, it doesn’t really fit the whole dynamic of the album.

A thoroughly enjoy album from someone who would easily craft a great soundtrack in the future.

Overshift is a US based artist who has been released on labels such as Psicodelica, Yoruba Grooves, Galanding and Listen:React (all of which are new to me).

According to the label “‘Of Light and Shade’ is an immersive listen with Ambient and Electronic tones that are likely to appeal ti fans of artists such as Krill.Minima, Robert Henke or Echospace.” 

The Antivedulian Question” starts off with a section of electronic sounds which sound like glass balls rolling, crackles, oscillating ambience, static, glitched beats before a dub techno beat and bass line, clipped and metallic percussion join in. Field recordings of someone speaking,  manipulated cymbals and occasional wood block sounding beats come in as elements drop in out and occasionally just leave a very dubby section focusing on the static, bass lines and cymbals. This sets the template with the addition and subtraction of elements. You get the feeling that this would not be out-of-place on the long-lost Autoplate or Thinner Net labels. There is a very laid back and summery feel to the track and it is nice and relaxing to listen to.

“Repose” after some sort of field recording and a synth line, minimal beats, field recording of someone walking,  ambience and synth drones, the drones build up and up added to by sounds of compressed air and more field recordings. Once they have built up to a certain point the texture changes with a synth line slowly replacing one of the drones. It has a fractured rhythm to it and the drones, field recordings  and synth all build up again to peak levels joined by a looped electronic alarm like section and the compressed air. You feel like you are waiting for the drop where the beat will come in, bit it never does and you are left tantalizingly on the precipice.

“Reservation” begins with glitches, what sounds like chime bars, distant percussive beats, swirling darker electronics, darker drones and a horn sound creating an almost industrial meets new age sound before synth waves and minimal ping ponging beats take it in more a prog direction. As the track goes on wind instruments that sound like a pan flute enter the sound escape and a metallic chain like a percussive element joins a bass line, before the swirling electronics become the beat less focal point for a section. The beats return but deep in the background as the track fades out.

“Pareidolia” which means to see a meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern. The track begins with a collection of fractured electronics,  humming ambiance, glitches, beat like motifs, birdsong and very low-frequency glitched looped beats. A shuffling like percussion, plus other indistinguishable percussion elements join an ambient section that sounds like Alan Lamb’s electrical wire recordings as they hum with a certain level of disquiet before fading. Synth lines with a glassy, dubby feel enter alongside ultra minimal beats showing restraint,  but bring the melody and structure that was not present before. Overshift is quite adept at the use of the cut up and fractured elements that make up this track. While not feeling as summery as the opening track, it shares a certain quality and after largely beatless pieces between the two tracks it’s almost like a closing of the book in a flipside manner.

With the opening track feeling very Dub Techno,  you would think that was a direction in what the rest of this release might head in, but to the artists credit, they don’t take you down the obvious path, they steer you to the fringes with a little teasing on the way.

The Prairie Lines is South London-based artist Bill Bowden who formerly recorded under the moniker Herzog and ran the short-lived Bedside Table label. His music has previously been released by the likes of 12rec, Resting Bell, Rural Colours,  Serein and Audio Gourmet.

“This is where we Kneel” begins with hazy tumbling melodies soaked in a fog. The music feels that is weighed heavily down and distant, but as the melodies tumble in an ordered loop form, there are surrounding noises which are adding a layer of distortion to the piece. The music starts to get more distant as the distortion turns to waves of static, but not to loud as to overpower the melodies.

“Hands from the Sky” delicate looped piano lines are covered once more in a layer of fog and matched with a slight click providing a percussive element. Melodies come through in drones and hull like bass lines. Clockwork sounding micro beats appear as cascading melodies roll down like tones flowing down stairs. The haze makes the melodies masks the softness of them and adds a slight gritty feel to the music.

“Secret Home” sounds like a church organ opening it up with its relaxed, gentle melodies that slowly unfurl. The melodies are joined with cut up drones and fractured sounds that add a disjointed and nice counterpoint to the original controlled melodies. Dub style synth flashes that ricochet across add another layer to the sound palate as they ring out across the end of the track.

“Calm Landing” Warped rhythms welcome buried deep shimmering piano under a layer of static with the tones of the piano being gentle but totally immersed in haze removing any starkness that pianos can generate and making the melodies smooth. The layers of piano are slowly paced with time taken to let them breathe. The post production allows the music to inhabit a different sphere to that of it was just solo piano.

“Stop Haunting my Door” shares the sound scape with both buried introspective tones and those that are front and centre. The introspective sounds warped on the background, while the foreground ones ate cut up, layered and looped. However, they both have a feeling of memory from the hazy hated to remember background to the fractured fading away foreground sounds. At the end of the track the background sounds remain, but they have largely lost their warped edge to gently drone out.

“Smile But Prepare” Hazy glitched tones reverberating outwards in melodic tones of various layers, fill the piece with ambiance that is joined by static, fragments of percussive sounds, like sticks clacking together and a shimmering section which goes in a direction different to the main parts. At times claustrophobic, at others introspective and others with a sense of hope, the track covers a lot of territory.

“Eyes Down Slowdown”  a broken transmission welcomes you with off kilter melodies that sound like from the distant past as a buzz swells alongside them. A travelogue of sounds, you feel as if you are moving with them in a haze soaked drive through memory lane with faded Polaroids to remind you of the landmarks of the past. The speed starts to pick up with the rhythms running into each other as more sections join up together and the cut up sections splice together quickly. The bulk of the elements drop out to leave a small static section and the fractured reverberating piano bringing things slower to a more melancholic if broken down part. Before you get accustomed to the calm it all builds up once more with the gentle off kilter melodies complimenting the static fuzz till it fades to silence.

As a bonus and I guess a look back at the days of hidden tracks on cd’s, there is another version of  “Smile But Prepare” that comes on after a spot of silence and sounds like the hazy tones have had some of that haziness removed and are a bit harsher than before. Distortion is awash and in a way it is a bit of a reduction as if this is closer to the origin of the track prior to its addition of the haze and other parts.

A thoroughly enjoyable release especially if you like your ambience coated in thick haze with layers to peel back and investigate.

If this is a selection of 2017, then the new year should also be a good one for Whitelab Rec’s.