Artist: Ensemble Neon
Title: Niblock/Lamb
Format: CD + Download
Label: Hubro
“Niblock/Lamb” is the rather prosaic name for Ensemble Neon’s performance of “To Two Tea Roses” by Phill Niblock and “Parallaxis Forms” by Catherine Lamb. The two twenty-something-ish-minute ensemble drone pieces, both composed within the last decade, make excellent companions, displaying patterns of similarities and contrasts that make it a rewarding two-chapter listening experience.

“To Two Tea Roses” is relentlessly steady, a plateau magically generated from a large number of ebbing and flowing parts that manage to almost cancel one another out indefinitely, with no beginning or end yet somehow the feeling of progression that you can’t put your finger on, a progression that manages to prevent something so flat from being tiring.

“Parallaxis Forms” has the same broad timbre, but is far emptier. Individual drawn-out elements, most strikingly vocal sounds but also strings, suddenly find themselves in solo or very thinly layered environments where their separate textures can be more easily discerned. Melodic change is introduced, deliberate beginnings and ends of pitched notes with such length and sustain that the performance requires both athleticism and finesse, which Ensemble Neon clearly have in abundance. Calming, bordering on romantic, it feels like quite an indulgent experience.

A beautiful and intriguing pair of supremely slow works with a velvet touch.
Artist: HIN (@)
Title: Warmer Weather (EP)
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence Records (@)
Rated: *****
Once again we delve into another offering from the small custom label, Sound in Silence Records, and a new project called HIN, which is comprised of London UK based artist Jerome Alexander (his main project being the ambient/folktronica Message To Bears) and transatlantic partner from Los Angeles, Justin Lee Radford (his current project being The Kids And The Cosmos). Jerome has had several previous releases both under his MTB moniker and his own name, while Justin has cultivated extensive collaborations with film makers, environmentalists, astronauts, activists, scientists and social activists, composing music for films, VR, commercials, art installations, and theatre. Apparently these two were school chums back in the day, and likely social media renewed their acquaintance.

'Warmer Weather' consists of five tracks between 2:24 and 5:48 in length and clocking in at about 20 minutes. When it comes right down to it, the SIS one-sheet provides a better description of the music on 'Warmer Weather' than what I could have dreamed up- "HIN's debut deals with feelings of isolation, environmentalism and friendship, and is a perfect mix of dreamy electronica, elegant dream pop and soothing ambient. Utilizing wistful guitars, warm pads, hazy synths, enchanting electric piano melodies, deep bass lines, gentle male and childlike female vocals, intricate beats and glitchy electronics, HIN create an EP full of emotive textures and sublime soundscapes." Yep, that pretty much sums it up. The music is very engaging in such an innocent, naive way, with no agenda or attempt to pull you in a particular direction. It's a pop-ambient hybrid that succumbs to neither convention nor experimentalism. Perfect but not flawless, sweet without being saccharine, ambitious but not epic, and esoteric yet accessible, this is the way 'Warmer Weather' comes across. If I had to describe it succinctly though, I'd call it mini-marvelous. For that certain void in your listening experience when it seems like nothing in particular will do, try 'Warmer Weather'. I think it will hit the spot. As usual with Sound in Silence releases, this is a limited (to 300), numbered edition in a hand-stamped cardboard envelope with a color image printed on polaroid style photo paper. (Also give you a download code.) Otherwise available as a digital download.
Artist: Johnathan|Christian (@)
Title: Dark Hallways
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Here is a review that is somewhat overdue (the album having been released in May) but that's what happens here when you only release your work in digital download format only, at least in my world; it takes a back seat to physical product I get sent. In this digital age anyone can put nearly anything easily on the web, and I'm of the (old school) belief that if you've got a worthy product you really care about and believe in , you will make it available physically as well as digitally. I know, I know, it's expensive to do that but there are plenty of independent artists (likely just poor as you) who are putting out physical product one way or another, so just deal with it. Anyway, enough of that.

'Dark Hallways' is Johnathan|Christian's third (full length) release after 'The Nothing I Feel' from 2015 which I reviewed here. The group is Johnathan Mooney (synths, keys, composition) from the U.S., and Christian Granquist (Vocals, lyrics) from Stockholm, Sweden, with the addition of Tiger Koehn (percussive battery). To a certain extent this new album is more polished, consistent and homogenous than their previous works, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee a better result. The opener, "Deeper" is supposed to be a mood setter, paving the way for an introspective excursion, and although it does set one, it's a rather dour and depressing trip. Christian's gruffer than Peter Murphy vocals are well suited for this kind of thing, but the angst can only be stretched so far before it becomes tedious. "Car Crash Romance" should have been a nice angry kicker but it tends to wallow in self despair more than anything else. As nicely orchestrated as title track "Dark Hallways" is, it comes off as morosely blasé. The next couple of tracks seem equally prosaic. Then there is a cover of that old Kate Bush chestnut, "Running Up That Hill," a chance for redemption squandered in an overblown orchestration of the original, with little to add (the children's voices at the beginning don't count), and no nuance to speak of. Half the album gone, and this was not going so well.

I was just about ready to throw in the towel when "One Last Night" picked up the pace and revived my interest. FINALLY, a song with some oomph, a decent hook and panache. Gimme more! The followup, "Built" is pretty cool too, vocally reminiscent of PM's side-project, Dali's Car. Next up we have another cover, this time Pink Floyd/Roger Waters' "Nobody Home" from 'The Wall' album. To me, an odd choice for a cover. 'The Wall' is one of my least favorite PF albums, but there are tons of people out there who love it. This is a much better than average cover of the song, and Christian is equally as expressive as Waters on it, maybe even moreso, so in that sense, it's a winner. The last three tracks are remixes of a couple of previous songs on the album- "Car Crash Romance" (LeaetherStrip, Electropoint) and "Clearer" (Joe Letz of Combichrist). Usually I'm not a big fan of remixes, but in this case Claus Larsen makes "Car Crash Romance" a super-psychodrama dancefloor driver. "Clearer" (Letz Be Friends Mix) is a rather bodacious take on the original than not only serves as good club fodder but makes its mark with a highly adventurous and interesting arrangement. The Electric Auto Mix of "Car Crash Romance" sets it to a 4-onthe-floor beat but adds in a variety of effective electro elements that kick it over the top.

As you can tell, I didn’t care much for the first half of the album, but the second half has a lot going for it. I think it could have been boiled down to a really good EP. Available lots of places, so you should check it out for yourself.

Artist: Mats Eilertsen
Title: Reveries and Revelations
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Hubro
Established bassist Mats Eilertsen is no stranger to live performance as an experimental jazz bassist, but set about building “Reveries and Revelations” in a different manner to usual. Rather than capturing any live improvised elements, “Reveries and Revelations” is studio-centric. Eilertsen would constantly re-edit and layer his own work whilst composing it, making the production integral to the composition. Furthermore, each of the guest artists who appear throughout the release never performed any of this together; each was sent elements of the work and invited to contribute their own ideas, which they sent back for incorporation into the evolving work.

The result, unsurprisingly, is a heavily ‘produced-sounding’ album- rich, warmly and intimately recorded analogue instrumentation, treated respectfully to bring out the textures and qualities of each element.

Compositionally, it ends up having the flavour of a soundtrack album, composed by a single person with help from his friends; each of the ten short pieces seems to have been crystallised around a particular mood or idea that could potentially be tied into larger storytelling. “Endless” for example has a tense and journeying aspect to it, while “Bouvet Blues” makes no effort to escape the bass tone’s long-standing association with film noir and black-and-white detective stereotypes. “Venus” allows Eilertsen’s double bass the chance to shine as the lead melodic element in a darkly romantic nighttime scene, while “Siberian Sorrow” sets classic ‘death-of-the-hero’s-mentor’ emotive string work onto odder rhythms.

Odder moments include “Signal”, which gives the impression of having been built around the sound of small tools and spanners accidentally being dropped, and “Polynesia Pluck” which samples ethnic-sounding rhythmic elements but reforms them in a thoroughly post-modern European chin-stroking fashion.

It’s a compact and emotive little work over which a great deal of care has been taken. There’s nothing particularly novel about it, nor challenging, but if you like your jazz cinematic, thoughtful and bass-rich, you’ll certainly enjoy this particular sonic blanket.
Artist: Compactor (@)
Title: Infrastructure
Format: Tape
Label: Oxidation
Rated: *****
I had previously reviewed Compactor’s “Technology Worship” and found it to be absolutely inspiring, so when Marc of Oxidation dropped me a line to let me know that he was sending me the new tape from Compactor to review I wondered how it would measure up. Seriously – it was the best noise album I had heard in quite some time. Well, System Administrator Derek Rush has managed to do it again by changing the approach a bit. If Technology Worship was a manifesto of sorts on technology, this one can be seen as a statement on our crumbling infrastructure. First off, let’s talk about the packaging. I was recently lamenting to my wife that with the advent of digital downloading, we have gotten away from the ridiculous packaging that made each release more than simply an audio recording, but also an object of art. Benner has been in this scene for a long time and clearly was feeling the same thing because this packaging is fantastic. The tape is packaged between two weathered metal plates and wrapped in painted wire mesh, then held together by two bolts. The packaging also serves as a fitting enclosure for this album; I like to think that the fact that it is only held together by two bolts rather than the four it should have had to truly secure the tape is intentional, representing our impulse to cut corners when possible. The liner artwork echoes this sentiment, with scenes of urban decay overlaid with assessments from the American Society of Civil Engineers grading infrastructure at an overall level of D+. Now on to the music itself. This tape consists of two tracks. “Advancing Decline” kicks it off with an industrial track, and I mean this in the sense of Test Department pounding on iron girders in an underpass to make music. Pounding machinery merges with rumbling, distorted analog bass tones. This is music meant to evoke machinery. Metal clanks and rattles throughout as the bass plods away in its slow rhythm until it all dissolves into a grinding wall of distortion, static, and feedback. Turn it over and we have “Total Failure.” The machinery is gone and noise is all that remains. The sound evokes an engine that just can’t seem to turn over, the screech of gears out of place, a belt that is slipping. Overall, this is another solid release from Compactor. It’s limited to 40 copies, so if you’re like me you’ll want to get the physical release before it’s gone, but unlike some of the weird packaged releases from back in the day, this music stands on its own quite well. This tape weighs in at around 20 minutes.
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