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.