Described as a missing link between the first two albums and a planned forthcoming release, these four tracks have been talked about in hushed tones by those in know for a long time now. Having been recorded over a decade ago prior to debut album No Windows to the Old World, there is much here that resonates with the expectations of The Blood Choir‘s fans but also much that is wonderfully new and slightly unexpected.
The instrumental pieces on The Humors, the second full-length album from NYC-based freelance guitarist Ryan Dugré, are meant to create mood and space. Drawing influence from film music, sparse scores such as Neil Young’s music for Dead Man, as well as the more melancholic pieces found on Marc Ribot’s Silent Movies, Ryan’s music is graceful and meditative.
Not that there was ever any doubt, but the fact that Palm Rose choose to open this debut e.p. with a song built of transient grace and gentle drifting qualities, proves that they know just how good their songs are. They are probably too modest to admit it but deep down inside they know. Most bands would go in big, play the obvious single, get the listener fired up, make a big impact and then try to ride out the wave of enthusiasm before it peters out. Not Palm Rose. No sir. Even when they are doing nothing more than delivering simple but soaring vocals over a musical dreamscape wash, they do so with more poise and integrity than most of the bands on the contemporary alt-pop scene.
It is this ability to use minimalism to maximum effect that means when the chiming guitar tones and understated grooves of Where Are We Now kick in, it sounds like the biggest song in the world. It’s all relative… relatively speaking. And that is the great thing about the band, that they understand space and atmosphere, how to build anticipation and allure through what is not being played, which means that even the gaps between the notes and the pauses between the lyrics become powerful musical tools. Not an unknown concept but certainly a much overlooked one.
Move Slowly captures a slight Morrissey vibe in Adam’s voice which, twenty years ago would have been a talking point, now it is best to gloss right over and Tender Crush/Heartless Love is a wonderful slow burn running between atmospheric pop and shimmering shoegazery. The swan song of the collection, Daydream in C is a perfect coming together of the bands ability to write pulsing bass hooks and infectious riffs, of soaring majesty and widescreen cinematics. Perfect.
If you took almost any current indie-pop album, folded it up, took a pair of scissors and cut out shapes of little people so that when you opened it out again you had a row of joined dancers…well, I suppose that you wouldn’t be able to play those albums again! If, whilst wondering why you did that in the first place, you put Daydreams on they would probably all start grooving around to the music. Or something about leaving gaps in music, or less being more….I don’t know, I’m not good with analogy!
Albecq is the collective of prolific London based artists and composers Angus MacRae, James Jones and Thom Robson. Formed in late 2016 through a love of vintage synths, unhurried free-flowing soundscapes and the pioneering ambient expeditions of Basinski and Stars Of The Lid they bring along their debut full length offering ‘A Distant, Guiding Sun.’
Here their efforts are coalesced to form an ethereal, melancholic journey into intricate arcane environments, performed live and uninterrupted on a collection of dusty synths and a striking classic Rhodes piano, with a constantly evolving backdrop of live percussion, heady electric guitar and spiralling analogue tape delays.
Opener ‘Prophet’ is a quarantining, ominous arrival that beckons with alien textures and luscious, elongated wails, reminiscent of Brian Eno’s “generative” ambient experiments and the downtempo bliss of X.Y.R.. ‘Lace’ provides an injection of more rhythmically led contemporary piano work and will be familiar territory for fans of Erased Tapes and 130701 catalogues with immediate, arresting melody taking the reins.
All music is going to remind you of something that you have heard before, how can it not, there is a finite amount of material to work with and only so many ways that you can combine it. It is a big number, but not a limitless number. Sadly most people are content to put the same building blocks together in pretty much the same ways. So when the opening track of the album drifts towards you like an as-yet-unheard Vangelis soundtrack, you know that you are in rarefied company indeed.
Unheard is one of those albums that, for the most part, shimmers rather than grooves, chimes rather than employs riffs, it moves with ambient grace and sometimes almost glacial pace and the result is stunning. Tracks such as Midnight conjures grand vista’s or dramatic images of deep space, Stratosphere is built of soaring crescendos and Satellite is a collection of wonderfully strange sonics and sweeping majesty. It is music that evokes such power in so few musical moves. It is conciseness personified.
But there are also a few less transient moments when beats are employed to better define structure and clothe a few of the songs in more conventional music trappings. Broken runs on a hypnotic and almost industrial beat and Radar is a wonderful trippy piece of synth-pop, bleeping rather than drifting, pulsing rather than swirling. It’s a strange futuristic minimalist alt-dance moment, where the music seems to often just hang between the beats rather than be served by them, all of which adds to the otherworldliness of the number, a glimpse of dance music to come perhaps? Perhaps.
It is an album of moods and atmosphere, where space is used as much as an instrument as the beats and notes are, where the pauses and anticipations, the non musical components, are used as punctuation, the points of grammar to this beguiling musical language. Glorious, graceful and nothing short of majestic.
I’ve always been a sucker for ambient, drifty, dreamy music. I’ve also always loved strange, glitchy electronica. But it isn’t often that you find the two coming together in such a complimentary fashion. Kate Bush led the way and the likes for Bat For Lashes carried the torch, but outside of, say, Mandalay and Lamb it has been a fairly quiet scene, a spacious musical plain marked only with the occasional sonic temple for aficionados to worship at. But maybe that is how it should be, it makes albums like this gorgeous and beguiling eponymous beauty all the more refreshing for its rarity.
The logical starting point is the single Undo which lies at the heart of the album, a song built of the same vocal grace and classic lines as those found on a Dead Can Dance album, a song which explores space and drama through its dynamic shifts and atmospheric conjuring. It’s an approach that runs through the whole collection to varying degrees. Crystalized sitting at the minimal end of things, a slow burning and gentle instrumental, growing increasingly claustrophobic as it nears its musical destination, Phonetics being a robotic and staccato alt-dance groove and Nodus Tollens the pinnacle of the albums disarming and addictive white noise buzz.
It ends with The Sea, another previous single, which acts as a brooding, industrial and cinematically epic swansong to this visionary debut album, an album which plays out like a possible alternate sound track to the recent Blade Runner reboot, capturing the same echoes of 80’s electronica, trippy futurism of the alt-dance fringe, the same dark designs and dying world drama.
As debuts go, its a triumph. A mesmerising weave of mutant EDM and warped pop, hazy ambience and alien dance music; it is forward thinking yet remembers the past, it is clinical, ritualistic and otherworldly. Someone should write the ultimate dystopian movie just so Searmanas can provide the sound track.
I’ve always been drawn to contemplative and ambient music such as that found on Invadable Harmony’s EP Beneath The Surface. I guess it comes from being surrounded with live music for a living that the music I chose to fill my personal space with, the music that gently colours my home once the door to the outside world is shut is very different from what people might expect. Beneath The Surface is exactly the sound I revel in as the sound track to my solitude.
The music found here is the most ambient, the most chilled, mixing classical piano sounds with gentle atmospherics, space with the most transient of structures, gossamer thin musical textures with softly chiming grace. Most of the tracks take the form of wistful and relaxing mood music but Reminiscence trips over into after hours, clubland chill out zone music with its meandering beats and Echoes has an otherworldliness that suggests that Vangelis could have slipped it into the original Blade Runner movie score or indeed Hans Zimmer into the current one.
Trying to be any more probing about the music itself would be like trying to describe why a flower is beautiful, a scent emotive or a sunset therapeutic. This isn’t music to be analysed, this is music to be absorbed. Sit and soak it up, its enough that you do that.
Music can mean different things to different people, we all remember the song that was popular or was playing when we had our first kiss or our first dance at a disco, and music, be it good or bad, becomes intertwined with the good times and, sadly, the bad times. Music we heard in our parents’ car on the way to a holiday, music playing at a funeral or while the sun sets on a memorable day, we carry these songs with us everywhere and it quickly becomes the soundtrack to our lives.
Another thing that music manages to do so effortlessly is to bring people together, people are drawn to it, either in its appreciation or, in this case, it’s creation.
For those of you not familiar with Buswell (I should also include Erik Nyberg here, his influence seems central to everything Shaun Buswell does), it’s a tricky thing to explain without missing any of the history out; part band, part conjurer, part mad scientist, what you get with Buswell is the belief that music is it’s own language and those lucky enough to speak this language can, with a little faith, become part of Buswell and the project that he has his sights set on at the time.
This is the man who decided to form an orchestra from people he met on the London Underground. If you were carrying an instrument, you were in! (There is plenty of information about his various projects online, simply go to the website – http://buswellmusic.com/about/the-challenges/)
‘Stitched Shoes and an Irish Wristwatch’ is an album six years in the making and each of the eleven tracks are poised patiently waiting to be your new favourite song.
What we have here is a group of musicians armed with anything ranging from guitar, drums, flute and mandolin to instruments associated with an orchestra such as clarinet, cello, violins and trumpet, this is by no means a stripped-back album.
The music merges and melts from track to track, often without realising you have moved into a different song (the transition from opening track ‘For the Family’ into second track ‘Language is a Virus’ is seamless) and helps the listener enjoy the album as a whole rather than individual chapters. There are moments of such deliciousness within the music that somehow this level of quality becomes the norm, the quiet moments of track 5 ‘It’s You’ that nestle the listener in a bed of strings and calm before lifting and guiding you towards the soaring finale is breath-taking. The short, yet poignant ‘Fur Mein Klavier’ (roughly translated as ‘for my piano’) sits perfectly in the track listings and conjures up images of Doctor Zhivago, you can almost smell the varnished flooring of a St. Petersburg palace.
The vocals are played out with a delicacy and fragility of a voice similar to Irish singer Damien Rice, in fact the vocals sit above the music very nicely – as you would expect from something so obviously so well planned – and, add to that the inclusion of female vocalist Zoe Mead, you have a wonderful complimentary vocal performance. I think the songs benefit massively from her voice, giving each track she appears on more balance.
There are some wonderful moments within this album, far too many to list here, and on repeat listens you find more. Interestingly the album was recorded in Sweden and I think this influence comes through in the overall sound of the album, there are spaces of calm, spaces of openness and reflection and no sense of urgency, it’s a very laid-back sounding album which gives it an other-worldly vibe.
This isn’t an album to play while you do the housework or fix a leaking bathroom tap, this is one to play while the kids are at school, when your telephone is switched off and next doors dog is asleep, it’s an album to step into and become part of and acknowledge each note, so if you’re tempted to take a step inside this collection of 11 songs, just remember to give it the time it deserves, six years of work is worth it.
Hourglass is a song which says so much about the musical world we find ourselves in today. With the abandonment of the old tribal allegiances, the hard and fast rules which created rigid styles, musicians are freer to make music which wilfully fuses genres, cross-pollinates sounds and gene-splices musical DNA. Less and less are we presented with music which conforms strictly to one form or another, but which is instead free to pick and chose the sonic building blocks it uses from a wide and ever changing source.
What Daarien has created takes that idea to its logical conclusion and what we find is that classical grandeur sits comfortably alongside trip-hop cool, chilled electronica with hazy dream-pop landscapes, the urban with the urbane. The real charm is this seamless blend of an ambient vibe with seeping electronica, of majestic but distant atmospherics, of intrigue and anticipation, of restraint and understatement. Even when the textures and sonic layers are writ large they are done so in a water-colour style application rather seeking to make their point through vibrant, thick oils. (Not the best of analogies but I’m sure you understand the point I’m making.) The result is a series of windswept and gossamer like sounds hanging around the lead lines rather than anything more intrusive or bombastic.
Neo-classical charm is threaded through futuristic beats, plaintive electronica washes through vocal delicacy, dance floor culture is turned into smoke and anagrams and dream-pop vibes soak into a wholly new sensual and understated EDM sound. This understated and majestic grace runs through the video as well, as it leads us through a narrative filled with sumptuous backdrops and rich colours and upmarket locations.
But more than anything this song is all about the vocals which hang somewhere between classical choral, almost religious tones and the sort of dramatic world-pop that came so easily to the likes of Lisa Gerrard and Dead Can Dance. It contains the same music as an instrument qualities which make it occasionally merge into the music to become another beguiling and exotic layer in the songs make up rather than merely the narrative device.
Timeless is a word that is much over used when applied to music, but here Daarien does indeed fashion something timeless, something that references the past but looks to the future but also something without genre, location or direction. Why road sign your music for the listener, far better surely, to have them follow you off the beaten track with eyes full of wonder, open to adventure and ready to go with the flow?
Musical genres are pretty much the equivalent of having a nine to five job. Those who adhere to them follow the strictly dictated rules and follow the logical and practical sequences of their chosen path. They serve a purpose and make the world turn in an orderly fashion. That’s fine, it’s the norm, it is what is expected. But there are those who chose to make their own path, those who learn the rules only so they know which ones they can bend, which ones they can break and which they can ignore altogether. These are the mavericks and the dreamers. These are the people who make music like Blue Bird, an extraordinary piece of music by an artist we have met before in a different but no less mercurial and exploratory guise.
To Otherside music is like the sea, different parts have different characteristics but you are free to travel unrestricted through which ever waters you chose, shallow or deep, tranquil or dramatic. And whilst you do so the waters below you are constantly mixing and changing. As before Blue Bird is the musical form of a poetic statement, “Distant sounds of the blue bird echo in the night” and the result is, as you would expect, ambient, bucholic, hazy and minimal, like the sound waves is describes echoing out into the blackness of night, beyond hearing, beyond detection, existing more as a memory or idea than anything more tangible. The music seems at times as transient, fleeting and lost as the philosophical bird song it is trying to cage.
Just as before the music combines mediative and contemplative sounds and hypnotic repetitions which seem somehow to balance complex and intricate musical motifs into an overall finish which can only be described as complex yet minimalist. This instrumental is inward looking, soul-searching and wistful even as it broadcasts its ideas outward to the universe at large. And whereas lyrics are a form of communication which aim straight for the brain before engaging with the heart, this voiceless soundscape aims straight for the very soul.
You can trust Mr Dog The Bear to take an unusual approach to releasing an album. Normally, as a reviewer, I receive an intangible link to the album’s on line home, if I’m lucky I get a physical version through the post. But Mr Dog The Bear has always been about music built around a visual aspect, cinematic and wide screen in its scope it has always felt more like a film score or a soundtrack than a conventional music release. Which is why, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, the new album arrived as a series of videos, as visual representations of the sonic emotions being created.
Previous releases have often felt like an ambient band testing deeper waters, gentle, understated and restrained but with glorious crescendos of music threaded through as they occasionally leave the safety of the shallows behind. Ghosts, however, is the sound of full immersion and opening salvo All These Constant Reminders draws a line of intent which is hard to ignore. Growing from familiar slow burning grace it eventually takes the listener to a place where dramatic post-rock walls of sound and exquisite symphonic sweeps are the norm.
And something else that they previously only toyed with but now forms an integral part of the sound is vocals, Wait being a more conventional pop-rock groover with classical undertones, Eleutheria a dark and brooding piece with modern indie vocal deliveries and Fireflies calls back to their earlier Cocteau Twins infused haze. Apostrophe combines the conventional wisdom of song structure with the left field thinking that we have come to expect, commercial enough to be popular, cultish enough to be cool and the title track is a slow, mercurial piano piece, the perfect contrast of space and intensity to wrap the album up.
Watching Mr Dog The Bear grow over the last few years has been a joy. They have been a band..project…collaboration…I still don’t really know what they are, that has subverted expectation at every turn and in their solitary and masked way made music for all the right reasons, that is, for their own sake. The results, of which this album is the perfect summation, show that you don’t have to follow fashion, advice, trend or zeitgeist, that the best and indeed the most original music is that which just naturally flows from the creative soul. A lesson more people could probably do with learning!
As one half of Dead Can Dance, Lisa Gerrard explored wonderful sonic territory and created music which wandered between re-imagined world sounds and soundtrack style arrangements, she painted with cinematic and widescreen musical colours, and balanced the ethereal and the neo-classical. She has since been associated with numerous big budget soundtracks but is equally likely to be found exploring niche world sounds and highlighting cultural traditions.
As the name suggests The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices falls squarely in the latter territory, a brilliant splicing of the countries traditional sounds and a sweeping arrangement with Gerrard’s voice threading through but always happy to defer to the sumptuous vocal arrangements which act as the platform upon which she works.
It is a piece which steps between worlds, the timeless musical footprint of the region is at its heart and it is also music which could easily have been found on a Dead Can Dance album, especially the later, more musical ethnically linked ones such as Into The Labyrinth or Spiritchaser. It also offers the same wonderful “vocals as music” feeling as the likes of Karl Jenkins, though less intentionally, but unless you are fluent in Bulgarian then the appreciation has to be sonic rather than lyrical and that is a wonderful problem to have as the overall effect is stunning. Maybe the lack of understanding means you appreciate its hidden subtlety and musical beauty rather than focusing on the communication of language.
So of course the piece is stunning, this is Lisa Gerrard after all and that is generally her default setting. If you want something that transcends language and instead speaks in a more universal musical form, that of emotion and ethereality, then she is your go to girl. But you always knew that anyway.
Musical genres are pretty much the equivalent of having a nine to five job. Those who adhere to them follow the strictly dictated rules and follow the logical and practical sequences of their chosen path, they serve a purpose and make the world turn in an orderly fashion. That’s fine, it’s the norm, it is what is expected. But there are those who chose to make their own path, those who learn the rules only so they know which ones they can bend, which ones they can break and which they can ignore altogether. These are the mavericks and the dreamers. These are the people like Bob Holroyd.
To Holroyd music is like the sea, different parts have different characteristics but you are free to travel unrestricted through which ever waters you chose, shallow or deep, tranquil or dramatic. And whilst you do so the waters below you are constantly mixing and changing. With eight albums and six remix albums to his name, Holroyd’s work can only be described as eclectic and his latest, The Cage, is as textured and cinematic as they come.
It is built on 12 tracks which combine mediative and contemplative sounds and which seem somehow to balance complex and intricate musical motifs into an overall finish which can only be described as minimalist. The instrumentals found here are inward looking, soul-searching and wistful, and whereas lyrics are a form of communication which aim straight for the brain before engaging with the heart, these voiceless masterpieces aim straight for the soul.
The artist himself describes his music as sad and epic, and to be fair, those are exactly the right words. His brand of orchestral music is build on dark swathes of classical grandeur, a bristling nervous edge which occasional spills over into outright terror and wonderful dynamic highs and lows. It broods and bristles, shudders and sighs…a manic church organ painting chaos one moment, a plaintive piano or gently sweeping strings tugging at your emotions the next.
Without the limitation of words, the music paints pictures and suggests scenes and scenarios that are limited only by the listener’s imagination, irrespective of the composer’s intentions, you are the interpreter here, this is your dream. Its very nature has your mind writing the film it should accompany, a film of high drama and unrequited love, of loss and longing, of dark intent and the colliding of worlds. When was the last time a pop song gave you that?
Find out more about Roberto Cavallo here
Not all music has to make a big impact or get right on with the job straight away. Sometimes the most effective musical communication is all about reserve and understatement, about taking your time and working with slow, gradual build ups, space and minimalism. What they used to call the “less is more” approach. If you are a fan of this angle of attack then the wonderfully named Times When I Know You Will Watch The Sky Pt. I is a song that you will warm to.
This chiming, electro instrumental is all about delicacy and restraint. It spends the first 30 seconds gathering shimmering sounds and then slowly expands on them, but never excessively, never gratuitously. Instead the overall effect is like the first drops of rain coming down followed by a steady strengthening of precipitation. And rain seems like a good parallel to use as the whole song feels somehow transient and ephemeral, a musical mood rather than a song. And this strange and beguiling quality is what brilliantly sets it apart from the makers of more obvious music. Strangeness is good, especially when it is this beautiful.
Larva is one of those albums which is a reviewers dream. So much music follows firm templates and, good as it may be, from a review point of view you are often just reworking the same language and over used descriptions, into slightly new forms. Larva is not like that. It is sweeping, ephemeral, restrained and elegant. In short, it is gorgeous. And that’s my point, I have already slipped into the sort of descriptions which I would never get away with when confronted by the usual three minute pop workout or a bedroom rapper armed with a set of beats and a working knowledge of auto tuning.
But maybe that is unfair to pop music as Larva is built from everything not pop. It is built from classical grandeur, from drawn out strings, from both dark brooding menace and ethereal fragility, it is as much about the space between the notes, the anticipation and the atmospherics, the echo of the music as much as what is being played. It also takes its time, many songs, such as the opening Larissa, moving at almost glacial pace for over seven minutes but never once failing to carry the listener along with it.
It is not until track three, Clytaemnestra, that any form of beat is introduced, tribal, primal and brutish, wonderfully at odds with the classical sweeps and gentle piano motifs, adding claustrophobic intensity as it builds to a crescendo. Daphne, is the epitome of the spatial awareness of the record, piano notes often acting merely as heartbeats through the silence, again making the point in the most eloquent fashion that it isn’t about how many notes you play, how dexterous and full you make the music, sometimes the right singular note at the right moment of the song is more powerful than a whole album of showboating.
Tenebrae VII could be echos from deep space, the sound of glaciers moving or the musical ghost in the machine as a computer network learns how to make music, it is strange and beautiful, haunting and addictive. Like much of my favourite music, Larva goes beyond the limits of modern song, way beyond, it avoids conventional structures and expectations and just builds its own identity, beguiling and separate. It is both of the now, of the what might be and of the not quite remembered, a blend of classical tradition and shamanic channelling.
Timeless is a word that is much over used when applied to music, but here the perfectly named Floating Beauty does indeed fashion something timeless but also something without genre, location or direction. Why road sign your music for the listener, far better surely, to have them follow you off the beaten track with eyes full of wonder, open to adventure and ready to go with the flow?
So let me get this straight. A Brazillian artistic polymath, based in Italy, making music using both traditional and digital instruments and as influenced by Icelandic post-rock dreamscaping as the American classical avant garde! This is how the world should be, cross pollinating, musically fluid, culturally borderless, wonderfully eclectic. As someone who grew up in much more musically tribal times, this is the world I have been longing to become the norm, one where demarcations and generic allegiances are abandoned to make way for music that is only guided by the composers imagination.
Beach House has a wonderful off-kilter quality, a strange collision of eastern exotica meeting western experimentalism, occident meets orient in some strange alternate reality, Cinematik is a hypnotic and meditative lucid dream and Nightwalker is built from swirls of pent up energy and claustrophobic pressure. For all the albums understatement and often minimal instrumentation, it is an album which covers a lot of ground musically, and the tracks seem designed to, using only the title as a reference point, conjure scenes and scenarios from films and stories that for now exist only in the listeners mind.
Swim is an album of gentle, cinematic creations, instrumentals which shimmer and sparkle like the sun on water, a collection of moods as much as music, a musical sketch which leaves enough space for the listener to fill in the details. I’m sure that Thiago C. Desant, the man behind the music, had very set ideas and influences in making the music, but the advantage of such free ranging music and particularly music not directed by anything as obvious and leading as lyrical direction, can only ever offer suggestion. This means that you are free to interpret the music in any way that best suits your own thoughts and imagination. It is as if he gets to write the album anew for everyone who falls under its charms.
But if pushed, Desant does admit that “In my head, ‘Swim’ tells the story of a couple who are tired of their daily routines and decide to leave their boring life behind. As they travel across the country in search for a new and more exciting life, they end up watching the return of the ancient beings that inspired the creation of all religions – the old gods – in a neon-lit pool of an old motel room,” explains Desant.“They then learn that the gods want to return because they want the world back to a prehistoric state. A world in which the ancient gods were still feared… Or maybe they’re just imagining things? It’s not a dream though. Oh, and I can assure you they’re not dead. No, no. Definitely not dead.”
I only mention this because I have just read Neil Gaiman’s amazing American Gods, a story which captures such ideas in written form, whether this is a direct influence, a subliminal osmosis of similar ideas or just great minds thinking alike, I don’t know. Either way, maybe there is more to this idea than meets the eye and this is the soundtrack to the discuss…which should take place late at night, in front of an open fire with a few bottles of wine on hand.
Not only is hERON a long distance collaboration between musicians in Seattle and San Antonio, it is a collaboration between musical worlds, between eras and genres as well. At the core of these lovely, languid largely instrumentals is a trip-hop beat, a solid groove that they use to hang any number of musical oddments on. You could draw lines on an imaginary four dimensional map which help explain the album, lines which connect the small clubs of Bristol, England in the 90s with the urban street music from the previous decade that inspired them, you could also use them to connect 70’s alternative soul experiments with 60s European chamber pop, avant-garde soundtracks with American West Coast psychedelia.
You could carry on joining dots that represent eras and styles and then many more connecting places and thoughts, music and stories that have no business being connected. Stare at the pattern of the lines for a long time, and then shut your eyes. The stars dancing behind your eyelids is the music that makes up this mercurial album. Flipout employs some smooth jazz motifs, It’s Too Late seems to wander across the vastness of space in search of a home, Chillmode seems to be a strange collision of east and west whilst Melt Away has the resonant guitars and inherent menace of a Lynchian soundtrack.
It is a great album, it covers so much ground over its twelve tracks and if you think that instrumentals are the stuff of background music, think again. It isn’t that the music is imposing, anything but, it is that the music is beguiling, otherworldly and mercurial that it will have you tying to unpick it, explore it and try to see how it all fits together. Any music which engages the lister in such a way has to be a good thing, right?
Matching lyrics which are poetic, scientific and philosophical to music which is hypnotic and mercurial, Astrobal’s Memories of Stars falls somewhere between a new wave of underground dance culture and Carl Sagan’s iconic Cosmos reimagined as music. It is full of electronic soundscapes, psychedelic meanderings and slow pop grooves and whilst we think of electronic music as being very much a recent form, here the echos of early pioneers such as the Enid, Vangelis and Tangerine Dream, who incidentally get namechecked, can clearly be heard. But as is always the way with the cyclical nature of music, looking back is the same as looking forward, sort of, and as much as this music tips its hat to those originators, it also blazes its own, fairly gentle, trail into its own future.
The title track is the briefest of encounters, a spoken word delivery over a slow but relentless beat, fading out like a broken signal just over a minute down the line and at the other extent of the musical brief is Belle Comme La Nuit whose glitchy grooves steer closest to what you could concieve as a converntional dance track. Within these two parameters, the pace is wonderfully smooth, the tone warm and engaging, the lyrics scattered between spoken, sung or robotic and the overall effect is as intriguing and digitally otherworldly.
For those who need to order their life in such ways you can file this under, dance, alt-pop, progressive, cosmic soundtrack, cinematic, ambient or experimental, depending on just where in the sonic water you dip your toe. Those who care less about such things just file it under wow!
Being someone who finds words, wordplay and interesting turns of phrase…well interesting, I feel that there are few greater pleasures than looking at the list of song titles on an album and being greeted by strange names and intriguing subject matter. What after all is a Nested Infinity? Who is Mr. Bikinis? What is so exciting about The History of Fishes that you would be driven to write a song, or at least a tune about it?
But that is the world that Brian Wenckebach welcomes us into, a world where such strange titles have already conjured scenes and scenarios in your head, where you have created a unique other-land, a parallel world for his songs to exist in before even encountering the music.
And when you do you find his instrumental compositions to be equally as strange and brilliantly singular as the titles he gives them. These minimalist shards of music shimmer and shine like broken glass catching the sun, there is a feeling of space sometimes bordering on desolation but also optimism and quiet joy. The music is fantastical without pandering to the cliches of fantasy, it paints new landscapes but reminds me more of the strange acid-laced, left field artistic juxtapositions which adorned the covers of Michael Moorcock’s mercurial tales back in the day rather than anything more predictable or recent.
At its most drifting and transient, on tracks such as Eligible Receiver, sonic comparisons to Pink Floyd interludes abound, fragile, distant and largely unresolved; at the other end, bearing in mind dynamically the other end isn’t that far removed, The Great Dying or No More Parties feel slightly more structured though it is all relative and the album never moves far from territory which would keep the likes of Philip Glass on side.
Essentially it is an album of atmospheres rather than songs, of mood as opposed to music in the conventional sense, and even when there seems to be more space than creativity you are surrounded by sounds which hypnotise, intrigue, soothe and silence.
At a point where music bleeds into pure emotion, where sound becomes atmosphere, where songs are less about sonic structure and lyrical message and more about painting washed out, night time vistas and seem to suggest other dimensions encroaching on our own world, you find the music of Jason Herring and The Mystery Plan. Those who like labels might toy with dream-folk, cinematic soundscaping, ambient electronica and a whole host of irrelevant labels, irrelevant because this is music so unique, so of its self, that whatever clever and convoluted label you could come up would only ever be needed to encapsulate this one band, so what’s the point?
It is also music which shifts and shimmers, jumps generic divides and refuses to conform. Whilst songs such as The Golden Moon and The Silvery Sea, evokes some sort of hazy, 60’s baroque pop that forces night club grooves and soulful psychedelia to get better acquainted, the title track feels like a soundtrack to a futuristic horror movie and the oddly named Oola Heatray is nothing less than a reimagining of the sound palette of Jeff Wayne’s War of The Worlds! Yet some how they all sound like they belong on the same album, brothers in arms bonded by their strange exploratory nature and sense of being apart from the world as most of us know it.
Part of the charm of the record is the accompanying remixes, a term which normally sends shivers up my spine and braces me for a tsunami of unnecessary, clattering beats added by a “celebrity” DJ to negative effect but here living up to the broadest sense of the term and offering up whole new renditions of some of the songs. The titular creeping menace becomes a slick alternative soul-pop groover and the edgy electro-swirl of Vampires Are Lucky spawns parallel careers as both a subdued doomy disco war dance and a West Coast jazz-soul soundtrack. That’s what re-mixes are all about.
There is also room for fractured, classical grandeur in the form of Where Did You Go? and the whole thing bows out with a wash of drifting melancholy and post-everything ambient noise which somehow seems perfect as a crescendo of strangeness. And as that fades you sit and muse as to what just happened, you don’t really understand what went on but all you know is that you want to play it again. It’s good that there are still some mysteries in the world…right?
There are many perks of being in a band, one of the less obvious ones is being perfectly equipped to pay tribute to your musical heroes, those who shaped your formative years and who may have even been the reason for you taking up musical arms in the first place. Fassine are no strangers to the idea of paying tribute your heroes, their cover of XTC’s That Wave saw them merge the original’s acid-tinged, hazy psychedelic vibe with their own future-pop sound to great effect. Here they set their sights on an even bigger figure.
Ursa Minor sees the band write their own musical love letter to David Bowie’s Berlin years and the ambient nature of the songs found on the albums Low and Heroes in particular. This feels like a drifting neo-classical passage built from a collision of cool technology and warm instrumentation with cellos drifting through electronic landscapes and celestial vocals weaving their way through the backbeats, softening the edges like a dusting of snow.
I’m always amazed at the Fassine‘s ability to create music that feels wonderfully chilled yet so dynamic at the same time, ambient yet anthemic, a quality which is built from clever choices of space and texture rather than merely where you set the volume control. Yet again they have set a benchmark for nu-pop, ambient dance or whatever it is they do….the Ursa may be minor, but what they have created here is major achievement.
It was pretty much a year ago that Moleville presented us with a wonderful collection of emotive and dream-like songs under the name Relics, so it was great to find some new activity in the form of a video pop up on the musical radar. Some music is about impact and immediacy, the quick hit that fires you up for a Friday night out on the town, some is good time, throw-away music, a fast fix used to fire you up and then be thrown away and forgotten. Moleville in general and this new single in particular is the antithesis of all of that. Amongst its dreaming sonic spires and graceful song line you find subtler, deeper attachments, music that seeps into the soul via osmosis rather than any conscious ingestion.
It takes plaintive piano and Steve Skinley’s doleful yet striking vocals, underpins them with just enough of a beat and musical detail to flesh out the scene and creates a masterful baroque-pop piece. The video gives us a tantalising look into the emotive Moleville world, delivering a fairy tale set in the decaying forests around Chernobyl but ultimately a story of hope and regrowth.
And that has always been the balancing act that Moleville performs so well, the ability to be melancholic but not miserable, shaded but heading for the light, honest yet optimistic and any song which sounds like a long lost track by arch fantasists and dream weavers Mercury Rev is always going to get my vote.
I’ve been reading some of the writing by those music bloggers they have now days. You know the ones, with their skinny lattes, even skinnier jeans and complicated hair. It seems that the current trend is all about juxtapositions and I was thinking just how they might approach Pattern Language’s intriguing sound in one of those achingly hip publications. They may try to suggest that this is Vangelis’s Dusseldorf years or Jean Michel Jarre getting a dance grove on, use terms such as indietronica or reference the Krautrock motorik sound. It all looks good on paper but I’m not sure it gets to the heart of the matter.
Sure, there is a heavy debt being paid to those Germanic sonic explorers of the 70’s but there is also a lightness of touch to these instrumentals which references what came through the door that they kindly left open. Thomas Dolby’s eclectic electronica, the pre-pop sensation years of The Human League and the dreamy retro-futurism of Air to name a few.
But it is a lot more than an exercise in cherry picking past glories, the instrumentals found on Total Squaresville are nothing if not contemplating the future, sometimes the far future and Blade Runner-esque cityscapes and Isaac Asimov book covers seem to be intrinsically linked to the music. And for all its grandiose imagery and often-clinical qualities the music is also somehow surprisingly romantic and overwhelmingly beautiful. It is the stuff of atonal music boxes and digital fugues, of escapism and longing and for all its conjuring of space vistas and alien encounters it never seems anything less than rooted in the now and locked on to a human heart and soul.
I think it is fair to say that when it comes to music, there were two decades known as the eighties. The modern re-writing of history would have you believe that everyone went around in jumpsuits and headbands, listening to saccharine pop and hair metal with their sleeves rolled up to their elbows Miami Vice style. Not me, I was in the other decade, probably sporting a donkey jacket and DMs, stood in a muddy field waiting for New Model Army to come on stage and possibly whistling The Specials dystopian classic Ghost Town. The reality lies somewhere in between but there is no denying that it was a time of great creativity as people charged over the musical barricades that the punks had kicked down for us.
It is then totally expected that bands of today look to that era for inspiration and do so with a the advantage of hindsight and a modern appreciation for the era, extolling its virtues and dodging the cliché. LUCKYandLOVE are just such a band and a New Romantic heart beats at the centre of this record (we called them records back then.) And the forth coming album Lucky + Love is a wonderful marriage of the past and the present, heart and technology, motion and emotion, a serious nod to the past, very definitely of the here and now and gazing excitedly into the future.
It takes the musical otherness of the likes of Kraftwerk and humanizes it through lush vocals and hazy electronica, has the elegance and aloofness of the Blitz Kid originators and somehow acts as a musical elevator running between up town, up scale night clubs and a jukebox in a bar on the fringes of the universe. It is at once dreamy and sonorous, yet wonderfully lucid and focused, it sits at a place where the chilled out dance set meets the stoner haze, where EDM becomes cinematic soundtracking, where dreams meet drama.
The beauty of this album is that it ties atmosphere and ethereality to an ever growing purpose, remains odd and otherworldly yet still sounds hypnotic and enticing. Maybe music like this is a bit too clever for the mass appeal that it deserves, it would be great if this was the stuff of late night alternative radio and the après club playlists. Maybe it is enough for now that it is our little secret, something us self appointed music snobs can bond over and call our own before the secret gets out. Shh…let’s just keep this between you and me, just for a while at least. Okay?
I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for kickstarter funding I can tell you I don’t have money, but what I do have is a very particular set of words. Words I have acquired over a very long career. Words that make me a nightmare for musicians like you. If you stop sending me your music that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you, but if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you and I will describe your music in the most verbose way possible.
Just as some of the more production line music, style over substance pop and unadventurous artists with their skinny jeans and complicated hair cause me to trot out the same well rehearsed lines, when I find myself on the receiving end of such mercurial music as that on the debut album from Astroblue Express, I feel like writing about it is what I have been training for all my reviewing life. Finally music so textured so well crafted, so layered, subtle and supple, that I feel like I am wielding a pen like a scalpel, that I am less reviewing, more attempting open surgery to dissect, reveal and understand what lies before me. But where to make the first incision? The heart!
The heart of this music, the pulse, the very lifeblood of the album is a wonderful blend of classical ethereality, sonorous dream-pop and ambient soundscapes. Sometimes this is driven by trip-hop beats or glitchy, futuristic sounds, but more often than not it is all about a sense of quiet majesty, one often built less out of the sounds being conjured and collided and more about the atmosphere and anticipation that lingers behind the vocals and between the notes.
Often these post-genre experiments feel less like songs and more like a series of musical statements that conjure scenes and scenarios of a fleeting cinematic memory or a glimpse of the future, otherworldly soundtrack or alien music being picked up in high tech laboratories. Ranging from atmospheric minimalism, though slow-burning post-rock dynamic builds, to soaring anthemic crescendos, and back to quiet classical granduar, it covers a lot of ground even within each individual track.
It is music based on mood rather than message, music that depicts scenes rather than tells stories, music about images rather than ideas. It is music of the isolation tank, just exist within it, become one with it, heavy meditation, a solitary experience. Some music is aimed at the brain, intelligent and intricate, some at the heart, emotive and alluring, Astroblue Express does nothing less than aim for your very soul.
Musical releases might be seen as just a station along a sonic train ride towards an ever more vague final destination; a place of access, an embarkation point on this journey into musical possibilities. Anyone aware of Shaun Barry’s journey so far will find a lot here that makes sense based on the innovative and often strange landscapes he has steered us through so far.
Like many of his previous endeavours this is a largely instrumental collection in that where there are vocals, they are found sounds, film dialogue from some of the most iconic works in modern cinema, from the wise to the witty and from the sublime to the ridiculous. Rather than sounding like an easy way out, this approach actually adds a lot of pathos to the music, striking, familiar and measured dialogue and all of the weight and meaning which that brings with it.
Musically we are in familiar yet somehow unfamiliar territory. Familiar in that you know that the music will be mercurial, forward thinking and adherent to only its own rules and restraints but unfamiliar in what it does within that formula. It wanders progressive paths, ambient climes, psychedelic crescendos and neo-classical charm, looks to new horizons whilst tipping hats to what has already gone, is both strangely comfortable yet oddly foreign.
It has to be noted that the same town has also produced Karda Estra and Mr Dog The Bear (currently writing in exile) who work in similar post-genre, cinematic and exploratory veins. Must be something in the water!
For more information and to purchase the EP go to. www.shaunbarry.com
When you look at an artists “about me” or biographical blurb and check their listed influences, it often says more about what they want to sound like or what they sound like in their own head rather than describes the music that has just burst from the speakers. It was very strange, therefore, not to mention totally gratifying to find that as I listened and read, I found that the influences listed were more than just a nod to Dru Cutler’s record collection or aspirations. For all the myriad of sounds and styles suggested by musical roll call, I found myself mentally ticking them off as I listened to his music.
Hometown drives down a fairly straight heartland rock groove, it is wonderfully spacious, considered, clean-limbed and the lyrics are an emotive and reflective nod to the places we all remember before we took steps out into a wider world. And whilst it is the sort of song that everyone from Tom Petty to Neil Young would bite your hand off to call their own, it is Infinite Moons that tells you so much more about the potential of this artist.
Here we head into territory more often defined by the likes of Wilco, Arcade Fire or Rogue Valley drifting ambience locked onto more solid structures, unexpected dynamics, the sound of new sonic pathways being explored – cosmic Americana for want of a better term. Hometown is the type of song that will get them through the door in large numbers but it is the cinematic feel and fragility of Infinite Moons that will remain the talking point.
In many ways Myths and Mold exists in two simultaneous yet diametrically opposed worlds. The studio buff and technical music geek will embrace the textures that make up the music, the layering of drums, the hypnotic note peddling, the way guitar and vocal tracks in particular are built out of ever shifting and gossamer thin washes which combine in vividness and detail as each aural brush stoke is applied one on the other. Even the sound of the room becomes part of the instrumentation.
But there is another way of looking at such things. Although any recording is bolted firmly to the techniques and treatments of the studio it is born in, this is also an often structureless, free-flowing, musical stream of sonic consciousness. For all its existence in a modern and technical place it also seems to also inhabit an ancient and primal one. The sounds of the music are not those of modern instruments being put through their usual paces but seem more like elemental voices, drifting winds, distant thunder, tumbling skies and the sounds of long forgotten places where no human footprint has ever been left, all collected and blended into music.
Like much of my favourite music it goes beyond the limits of modern song, avoids conventional structures and expectations. It is both of the now, of the what might be and of the not quite remembered, a blend of cutting edge technology and shamanic channelling.
Timeless is a word that is much over used when applied to music, but here Chris Bartels does indeed fashion something timeless but also something without genre, location or direction. Why road sign your music for the listener, far better surely, to have them follow you off the beaten track with eyes full of wonder, open to adventure and ready to go with the flow?
If opening track Geisterschiff suggests a return to the dark elegance and noir-ish film vibe of Elephant, as soon as Papiermond kicks in you realise that this isn’t going to be just a new journey through previous sonic pastures. Yes, those rich elements are still there, the classic, and at times, classical vocal deliveries reminiscent of the opulence and style of the Weimar era, but now something mercurial, strange and almost otherworldly has entered the mix.
Papiermond in particular is intense and claustrophobic, a mix of the familiar, the exploratory and the inexplicable. Plaintive guitar strokes are consumed by the sounds of alien radio interference and fairy tale monsters before Le-Thanh’s late night, jazz diva voice emerges from the chaos and this acts as the perfect template of what is to follow.
The album wanders between worlds, one very real and recognisable, driven by the hushed, smoky vocals and the minimal instrumentation that forms a fragile musical net behind and one made of strange, brooding and often horrific sounds. Even in the sweetest moments there is an unresolved tension, a dam about to break, a wave of street noise bleeding in from other places, the sound of transport systems and radio interference, primordial whispers and the sound of the universe pulsing away.
It is this balance of wandering across this boundary that creates the wonderful struggle that give this album its strange beauty, this collision of the known and the unknown, the real and the fantastic, the calm and the catastrophic.
Anyone coming from Elephant to this will find themselves presented with much that is familiar but equally much that isn’t. If that album suggested elegant rooms and cool, opulent settings, Staub resets the scene to one of dark corners and desperate places, of streets filled with danger and desire, of the barriers between dimensions being stretched so thin that the sounds of those alien worlds spills through and of the crackling and groaning of the universe itself. That’s a long way to travel in the name of music!