Interesting things happen when worlds collide. Sometimes the results are catastrophic and earth-shattering, sometimes they are unexpectedly compatible and beautiful. Forest Robots has always fallen into the latter category and this new album of electronic music used to describe the majesty of the natural world is no exception. Continuing where Super Moon Moonlight left off Timberline and Mountain Crest continues its mission to describe the world beyond the man-made in sweeping synth instrumentals, electro-classical grandeur and technological soundscapes.
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.
Right from the off, as that first resonant riff drops into place, Pekkanini nails his musical colours to the sonic mast and sails this creative ship through some very noirish, retro-infused sonic waters. As the title suggests we are in the realms of film and TV soundtrack, a 60’s thriller, a 70’s cop show even a Bond movie, and as is often his way, and in the cyclical nature of music, his backward referencing cultish, sound scoring seems to meet the underground and alt-dance club scene coming the other way. The result, much like Diamond Bullet before it, is a unique blend of then and now, the commercial and the cultish, the familiar and the unique.
It’s amazing the power of music suggestion, the ability that the first five notes of that opening riff to set the scene so brilliantly, conjuring furtive glances between fedora and raincoat clad men, of chases through night time streets, of intrigue and danger. And if soundtracks seek to underline and emphasise the action and emotion taking place on screen, then The Dancin’ Spy belongs in the company of a tense and intense film noir or a slow burning atmospheric horror movie. It is just that the film hasn’t been written yet. Maybe this suggests a new approach to the art, write the score first and imagine the film from the sounds and emotions, action and story that it suggests. No? Just a thought. And as conformity goes out of the window a blend of dance beats and staccato keyboards form a platform for layers of riff and melody, gently pulsing bass lines, synth washes, guitar hooks are ushered in and all manner of affected sounds and of course his signature instrument, the Theramin become the norm.
The Theramin gets a bad press, long associated with 60’s sci-fi themes, the original Star Trek TV series along must have been responsible for a massive sales spike, it crops up mainly as a punchline to jokes about geekiness. But geekiness is next to Godliness and let us not forget that this much conflicted instrument is also the opening riff to The Beach Boy’s Good Vibrations, wanders through the middle distance of The Stone’s Please Don’t Go Home and has been employed by everyone from Rush and Led Zeppelin to The Pixies and, unsurprisingly, The Flaming Lips. Great company indeed.
What these songs in general and Pekkanini’s deft musical creations in particular prove is that The Theramin needs its day in the sun, a chance for a reappraisal, and tracks like The Dancin’ Spy show that not only can it hold its own as a lead instrument and core sound to a track but bring something, new, slick, strange, beguiling, retro-cool and ultra-modern to the musical table.
Pekkanini is a man who seems to cover a lot of bases, musically speaking, from scores for theatre productions to electronic music and from full band live shows to solo albums. And sat at the heart of it is his beloved Theremin. I have written thousands of music reviews in my life but I don’t ever remember writing about someone devoted to this odd and slightly controversial instrument.
Diamond Bullet is a blending of many of the key sounds and influences that lie at the heart of Pekkanini’s music. It at once feels like a score to a Bond movie, a chilled out instrumental piece, futuristic-retro dance music and a strange collaborative musical-film narrative in its own right. It is piano infused and keyboard driven and the Theremin adds that strange alien allure which made it the go to instrument for 60’s sci-fi music in the first place. Diamond Bullet is strange, beguiling, past, present, future, film-noir and science fiction sound all in one take. I’m not even sure how you do that.
Whilst On Top feels like a strange and beguiling soundtrack, what the film it is the score too really does defy imagination. If soundtracks seek to underline and emphasise the action and emotion taking place on screen, then On Top belongs in the company of a tense and intense film noir or a slow burning atmospheric horror movie. Conformity goes out of the window from start to finish and alongside more regular musical instruments and traditional recording techniques, everything from spoken word, found sounds,, strange percussive objects and the amplified results of stones and pieces of glass being played with, moved and manipulated make up the mix.
This is an album more concerned in inducing mood, emotion and reaction in the listener, the songs, if indeed they can be regarded as songs in the conventional sense, are fractured and unexpected, fall in and out of musical norm and into the realms of sonic gene-splicing and the building of chimeric musical creatures, part music, part noise, held together with the most mercurial of acoustic glue.
It comes as no surprise that Petit has in the past worked and collaborated with a range of musical explorers from Lydia Lunch to Throbbing Gristle’s Cosey Fanni Tutti, Barry Adamson and James Johnson, the latter found everywhere from Gallon Drunk to Faust to The Bad Seeds. The same restless spirit lies at On Top’s heart, the same need to explore the fringes of music, to find out where you end up when you push beyond conventional song and structure, when you find yourself beyond the place where the rules were written, where the only guideline is your own imagination.
Music like this is like high-end cat walk fashion shows. You watch the models (tracks) walk down the catwalk (album) in all manner of impractical (musical) trappings and you instinctively think that you would never see anyone out in the street wearing that. And that is true, but like those over the top, catwalk designs, the trickle down affect and subtle influence that this sort of music has on the more mainstream and conventional is a lot more powerful than you could even begin to realise.
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.
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.
At a point where sound becomes conceptual art, where songs are abandoned in favour of hypnotic soundtracks, where music goes beyond being merely minimal and seems to be created at an almost atomic level, that is where you find Solitary Universe the latest collaboration between Eraldo Bernocchi & Chihei Hatakeyama. A collection of five sound textures, these are certainly not songs and even to use the term music and all that it implies should be used cautiously, they are created by just two guitars but the treatment of them results in haunting, extremely ambient and smoke like pieces.
At its most active, which still by the standards of most recordings it remains dreamlike and intangible, it captures elements of Vangelisian future visions and the sounds of the vastness of space, often more akin to the incidental music that would enhance TV programs about natural history or cosmology.
It goes without saying that both musicians have interests which take them into many other artistic areas such as photography, visual and conceptual art as well as the more expected realms of composition and recording. Similar to the exploratory and gentle boundary pushing recordings of Dave Wesley, Solitary Universe is meditative and beguiling, wanders through its concepts at an almost glacial pace, and similarly challenges the listener as to where the boundaries of music, conceptual art and soundtrack even lie. Some music makes you feel, other music makes you think, Solitary Universe makes you do both.
It is worth noting that Solitary Universe is released via Aagoo a small label specialising in ground breaking and experimental music and if you are interested in this release you might also like to check out previous reviews of their music on this site – Cup and connect_icut.
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
Richard Wileman has used the Karda Estra musical mode of transport to explore some very interesting places over the years. From progressive landscapes, taut horrific scores, dark noir-ish themes and even the death of galaxies, and the music always matches both the depth and breadth of the subject matter it is encapsulating.
And if last time out The Seas and The Stars placed him at a very Moorcock-esque location, looking up from an empty shore to witness the collision of The Andromeda galaxy and our own, that blend of science fiction and science fact which is never far from the surface is again the topic of instrumental conversation for his latest album.
The Fermi Paradox is a tug of war between super slick jazz and a spot of musical avant-gardening, matching the contrasting arguments of the Paradox itself; that contradiction between the lack of evidence for extraterrestrial civilizations and the high estimates proposed by The Drake Equation. I mention this only because it explains the both theoretical and physical nature of the journey that this album takes you on.
Pastoral tones are layered over a piano loaded with anticipation and expectation accompany our wandering around the dwarf planet Ceres, whilst Obelisk Of Cruithne is built from sinister tones and brooding staccato deliveries before wandering off into electric space fuzz and alien radio noise.
We visit theoretical locations such as the controversial Theia through waves and washes of sound, white noise bleeding into music and vice versa and end up amongst the gas swirls of Tyche and some suitably sixties, sci-fi sound tracking.
As always it is a truly unique experience, a sort of beat-era space opera, a musical journey from the smooth and familiar to the challenging and mercurial just as the themes explored takes us into unexplored territories, distant locations and hypothetical realms. I should imagine that if history were different and Serge Gainsbourg had been the first man in space, this is exactly the sort of thing he would have been listening to as he left earth’s atmosphere.
One of the advantages of reviewing music in the rudderless way that I do, not fixed to a magazine or website, trend, genre or even brief, is that I am truly at the mercy of the Gods of Fate and the prevailing winds as to what comes my way. And whilst half of the resulting influx is, to be polite, a bit same old, same old, people adhering to tried and tested templates in an effort to be the new Oasis/Green Day/Ed Sheeran/Taylor Swift (delete as applicable) the other half is where the magic is found.
The latest slice of magic comes in guise of Shambhu, a West Coast guitarist and composer who creates ambient instrumental pieces, gentle and meditative soundscapes that provide the bridge between silence and music. Now that is a description which may already have people mentally earmarking this as just some new age, knit your own tantric yogurt nonsense, but if you think that Soothe, his third and latest album, deserves to be found in a hippy head shop rubbing shoulders with Gregorian chant and whale song, then think again.
As you would expect from someone who has recorded or performed with the likes of Whitney Houston, guitarist Carlos Santana and even the big man himself, Clarence Clemons, there is much more going on here than that. More depth, more intricacy, more deftness and more beauty.
Acoustic and electric guitars, pastoral folksiness, eastern esoteric vibes, sonorous jazz and much more besides go into the mix but it is the arrangements and texturing that really marks the work out as being head and shoulders above most of its generic rivals. Space, atmosphere and anticipation are blended with the more tangible elements and it is this room to breathe, this lack of urgency and this dreamlike quality that are its real charm.
This really is mood music, the sort of thing to put on when you need to free your mind of the stresses of the day, need to zone out, need to spend some time detached from the slings and arrows of everyday life. Certainly it’s otherworldly, ethereal qualities and enchanting sounds are the perfect conduit to achieving such a state and its unobtrusiveness also lends itself to being the perfect soundtrack for meditation, yoga or any number of activities that require you to look inside rather than out into the world.
But as I said before there are those who scoff at the idea of such an approach claiming music should have something to say, should be about storming barricades and changing the world. They are totally missing the point and should consider this. What if the message is unspoken, what if you can pass through the barricades without breaking them what if you don’t need to change the world, just your attitude towards it? I’m not claiming that Soothe can do that for you, what I am saying is that it is the perfect soundtrack to have playing whilst you work out how you do!
When I hear the word fusion applied to musical creations I think of horrible soul sucking experiments where fashionistas try to force a new trend by slicing rap deliveries onto free jazz or blend glitchy electronica with folk music. The result is normally shallow and unlistenable. If only there was another way. Well, I’m not sure how they do it but Three Cane Whale seems to have pulled it off. This multi-instrumental acoustic trio play with sounds gathered from such disparate sources as English folk music, minimalist classical, found medieval sounds and chilled movie soundtracks to create a blend which seems to have come together by osmosis rather than any forced hand.
The result is utterly charmingly pastoral, wonderfully unique and effortlessly timeless. It is as if the three musicians, rather than take the tried and tested root of writing and playing music have instead performed some sort of illicit ritual to an ancient earth deity and recorded the sounds sent to them from his underworld realm. It is quintessentially British, speaks of giants and gods, rolling landscapes, cascading waterfalls, still dark lakes and something intangible from a forgotten time. A glance at the titles seems to confirm this to be an area of interest to them and consequently the 21 tracks found here sound like the metabolic functions of a living landscape, its very heartbeat, its breath.
It is nothing short of enchanting, a chilled soundtrack that tugs heart strings, soothes modern worries and talks to the soul in a very ancient language indeed.
Following the critical success of the e.p. I Am Jacks Lonely Heart, the enigmatic Mr Dog The Bear have announced that a full album release under the title of Sharks and Butterflies is due for early 2016.
Released on the playdead music label and retaining its reserved approach towards any facts behind the artist or band behind it, Mr Dog The Bear are a fascinating concept, one that we described as
A series of instrumental statements that conjure scenes and scenarios of a fleeting cinematic memory or a glimpse of the future. Ranging from atmospheric minimalism, though slow-burning post-rock dynamic builds, to soaring anthemic crescendos, it covers a lot of ground even within each individual track.
You can hear a preview of the e.p. HERE