Music Reviews



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Artist: Aeoga (@)
Title: Obsidian Outlander
Format: CD + Vinyl
Label: Aural Hypnox (@)
Rated: *****
Aural Hypnox, the Finnish experimental label which is one of the physical manifestation of the Helixes Collective (including a constellation of projects orbiting around more or less dark ritual ambient), picked one of the columns of the label, Aeoga, for their very first release on vinyl. The duo, which prefers to keep their real names secret in order to focus on the potentially cathartic effects of their aural experiments, formed Aeoga just one year after the label was founded and, as far as I know, all releases under Aeoga came out under Aural Hypnox imprint. Also available on a nicely packed (as usual) CD edition, 'Obsidian Outlander' is slightly different than their previous releases. First of all, its length is apter to an EP instead of an LP, but it was introduced as their fourth album so that we can't really criticize the way it got filed. The moment when they get close to their earlier rite-like outputs is the central shortest tracks of the release "The Black Loom" (the ascending and descending chanting voice spreading over ritual percussive hits are really absorbing) and "Obsidian Towering", where the previously mentioned voice turns into a sort of entranced humming while weird whispers and ghostly chirping surround it. This short ritual output gets opened by "Initiatory Boil", where a set of percussive elements (including metallic hits and what sound a sort of rolling on a metal surface) seems to crackle and pop (without boiling actually!) over an ethereal melody that becomes clearly listenable at the end of the track. One of the most entrancing moment is the following "Rot Magnetism": a deeply low frequency and an obscure subtle chant begin to fill the aural sphere before a sort of subtle whisper and other elements get gradually inoculated. According to some more or less esoteric writing, the obsidian is a ritual element that requires a process of purification before having positive effects. If it doesn't get purified, it could attract negative energies. Whether you believe or not to this kind of matters, such an ambivalence seems to be rendered in the last two tracks of this album (the fourth in Aeoga discography). Both "Outer Observatory" and the final "The Sublime Canvas" get filled with disembodied weird voices, sinister aural entities and slowly rising dark melodies (close to some stuff by Lustmord or Troum).
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Artist: Roman Leykam
Title: Essence
Format: CD
Label: Frank Mark Arts (@)
Rated: *****
We already introduced some of the outputs of Roman Leykam's musical incontinency. The most recent we talked about is maybe "Impressions", a very good one for listener's meditation. There was also a track titled "Essence" in its list, but it has nothing to do with the sound that he explores on this album, likewise titled "Essence". He keeps on focusing on the painstaking forging of aural settings for meditation, but he preferred to squeeze an acoustic guitar for this lofty target. He didn't squeeze an instrument he found in a pawnshop, but he chose a Line6 Variax 700, one of the aesthetically ugliest guitar, but one of the best in producing some particular kind of sonorities in my opinion. Roman seems to know this acoustic jewel and its mods very well, so that he turns the instrument into something closer to Japanese shamisen, Indian sitar (tracks like "Subterranean River" or "Instinct" are the ones where the Line6 resembles this instrument) and a set of classic legendary guitar like the D'Angelico New Yorker, the Selmer Maccaferri or the National Reso-Phonic Style "O" - some of the instruments that inspired the mods of Line6 Variax 700 -. Roman often switches over different mods in the longer-lasting of the seventeen improvisations he packed in "Essence" (such as "Food for Thoughts" or "Uncomplaining Patience"), but all of them are mainly based on slowly picked chords (strumming is really rare on this album), that highlights Roman's interesting handling of effects.
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Artist: Annabel (lee)
Title: The Cleansing
Format: 12"
Label: Youngbloods
After debuting on Ninja Tune two years ago, Richard and Sheila Ellis move to Youngbloods for this album “The Cleansing”, an eight-track, 36-minute album which, despite its short length, has two relatively distinctive halves. A fusion of jazz, ambient, and mellow folkish ballads, but with subtle production touches like repeating vocal sections more akin to dub, the first half is distinctly mellow while the second half ups the melodrama somewhat.

After the rich poetry and loose form of opener “Acquiesence”, it’s from “Move With Me” onwards that we meet the band’s main structure- soft acoustic guitar patterns with slightly bluesy female vocals lilting in and out. The purity and breadth of the vocal tone is the major selling point, with the long notes on “Paris, Room 14” an impressive feat of control. Often it’s the tone of the sound, rather than the lyrics, that really attract the listener’s attention.

From the opening piano of “The Cleansing” the extra tension is audible in the second half, but it’s never in your face. The sometimes multi-tracked vocal is cleverly done to add just a hint of alienation. “Far” is a good entry point to the album, on one level fairly conventional pop music but underpinned by odd theremin-like noises that give it a distinctive edge. The almost drunken strings and vinyl-style crackling on “See Her” coupled with a strongly Billie Holiday-esque vocal make it feel like a retro 1960’s dream gone wonky- a vibe which flows into the final piece “Autumn Requiem” that evokes feelings of melancholy in open woodland.

Overall it’s a silky and luxuriant bit of downtempo, spaced-out jazz-pop, not as soporific as its opening suggests, quite engrossing and musically very accomplished and confident.

For extra promotion, the track “Far” is also being released as a digital single on the same date, featuring the album version of “Far” bundled with a studio-quality live version of album track “Paris, Room 14” that proves that Sheila can certainly cut it live vocally as well.
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Artist: Philip Jeck
Title: Iklectik
Format: CD + Download
Label: Touch # Tone
The cryptic press release for “Iklectik” details Philip Jeck having been “creating sound with record-players since the early 80’s”, yet fails to explain the instrumentation or sourcing that would give you even half an indication of what a 45-minute, single-track live performance, recorded live at and named after the Iklectik art space in London, would actually sound like.

So, what it sounds like initially is a steady, soft, mellow drone affair with willowy pad sounds ebbing slowly, and gentle plucked synthetic notes dancing modestly over the top. At it progresses, slightly more metallic and at times more animalistic and vocal tones arrive to add a sinister shade, but it never veers towards any true discordance. Seemingly random pizzicato string notes later give it a sense of both progression and pace which evolves into a subtly more symphonic arrangement in the middle. The final third of the piece becomes hollower, returning to drone but with a greater emphasis on bass sound which at times sound faintly dubby before flattening into another drone element. A spoken word eulogy in the final three minutes is an odd addition, coming after a soporific section as though intended to speak into your dreams.

Occasional audience coughs are the only recognition of it as a live performance and the involvement (or otherwise) of record players is left undetectable, there’s nothing sonically that would determine that this wasn’t a laptop performance or a studio creation.

It’s an intriguing and very carefully evolving work which takes you in some interesting, if not especially challenging, directions. Very smart.
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Artist: Stephanos Vassiliadis
Title: En Pyri / Bacchae
Format: LP + Download
Label: Holotype Editions
“En Pyri” and “Bacchae” are a pair of 1970’s electroacoustic experimental recordings, dusted down and remastered a decade after Vassiliadis’s death with the support and facilitation of his family.

The first, “En Pyri” (‘in fire’), from 1973 or 1976 depending on what you read, is an unreleased version of a composition previously released in other forms. It invokes the memory of a car crash which claimed the life of Vassiliadis’ first wife, among others, and it’s a violent and harsh anguish-ridden piece where drones turn into screams. Periods of awkward calm precede slowly mounting cacophonies of squeals and harsh brass and bass wails. It’s a piece of sheer catharsis that’s both attention-grabbing and alienating.

The second and longer piece “Bacchae” from 1974 is a more sedate piece, originally conceived and only ever performed live as part of a theatrical performance at the University of California. Adopting more of the ethnic Greek traditional music and organic natural drumming rhythms as a layer that wanders in and out among the other elements, there’s a strong sense of proto-ambience here- a relatively classical form which acknowledges the melting pots of prog rock and electronic avantgarde of the time and which also seems to predict future chillout and Eno sounds, especially in the slightly dreamier, more sci-fi second half.

The two pieces manage to be both of their time, and slightly ahead of it, and are a real indicator that Stephanos Vassiliadis’ work deserves more retrospective attention.
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