Music Reviews

Artist: Ryan Choi (@)
Title: Whenmill
Format: CD EP
Label: Off (@)
Rated: *****
You may recall that not too long ago I reviewed Hawaiian baritone ukulelist Ryan Choi's initial release, 'Three Dancers'. For those not familiar with Choi's style, clear your head of any notions of traditional ukulele music from Hawaii. This certainly is not that. Think of it as more akin to improvisational classical and jazz guitar with some avant-garde leanings. Although 'Three Dancers' and 'Whenmill' are both CD EPs, the similarity ends there. For one, 'Three Dancers' was very busy, and all over the map at times. It was as Choi was attempting to showcase his skills and various techniques throughout the EP. Here on 'Whenmill,' Choi seems much more confident in his improvisations and hence, the music is only busy when it has to be. There is also a marked classical tone throughout, signifying a serious, rather than playful attitude. 'Whenmill' consists of four pieces - "Quixano" (2012), "Inn Blue" (2012), "Whenmill" (2013), and "South Aleksandr" (2011), the last being the longest at 12:23, while the others are well under six minutes each. "Quixano" has a distinctly Spanish flavor, and although it employs numerous classical guitar techniques, it never develops a distinctive theme or motif. "Inn Blue" seems far more introspective and oblique, and somewhat enigmatic. "Whenmill" pushes even further into the obscure, and just when you think you've got a handle on this piece, Choi changes it up and blows away any preconceived notions you may have had about it. The playing here ranges from strictly genteel to hard-charging. "South Aleksandr" is the show-stopper though, with Choi starting out in a rather mellow vein, but then moving into a fantasia of differing forms. As it progresses, Choi strays from the classical leaning previously exhibited moving into jazzy and bluesy territory without ever being solidly grounded in either. Towards the end, Choi's playing becomes harder and more intense, really wailing on the uke. Played live, this piece would likely bring an audience to its feet by its conclusion. 'Whenmill' shows Choi's growth as an artist composer with his uncompromising vision. It may be a little more difficult to grok than his previous release, but for those who do, ultimately rewarding.
Artist: Deadrow77
Title: Dark Waves for Little Greys
Format: 2CD (double CD)
Label: Facthedral's Hall (@)
Rated: *****
Deadrow77 is Fabien Della Roma, a farmer who grows organic saffron in the Oriental Pyrenees mountains. And no, the album was not made exclusively using farm implements, but exclusively using a MiniLab 25 Arturia synthesizer. This is the second release by Deadrow77, the first going all the way back to 2005, called 'Mi-Figue/Mi-Raisin'. Man, that was a long time ago. I haven't heard that one, so I can only tell you about 'Dark Waves for Little Greys'. It's a double album (2 CDs) comprised of 29 instrumental pieces. Don't let that doggie on the cover fool you; I can't find any connection with the animal and the music. The label, Facthedral's Hall, describes the music as "a mix of of electro-ambient, electronica, dark, cosmic, psychedelic, tribal, medieval..." In places that may be true to some extent, but overall, that seems like a stretch. What you're really getting is simple, quirky, melodic synthesizer pieces, with a slightly dark tone. Now the impressive thing is that the majority of these spontaneous improvisations were recorded in a single take. When you consider that, it makes a big, big difference. The CDs are ordered 2013 (CD1) and 2014 (CD2), which I would assume to reference when they were composed. Some of the track titles pay up the whimsical quirkiness as well - "My First Caroussel," "Blind Tightrope Walker," "Pariah's Groove," "Knockin' D. Lynch's Door," "Psychic Bleeding," "Sabatik Salsa," "Birthnight Today," "Carbon Circus," and others. As for what it sounds like, well, imagine if you will, a instrumental collaboration between Tonto's Expanding Headband (Malcolm Cecil & Robert Margouleff) and The Residents. It might sound something like this. The melody and structure is ultra-simple, but there is a wide variety of sounds employed. Often there is rhythm but it is electronic rather than any conventional drums or drum machine. Some of these melodies sound very serious, while others are sort of goofy. Circus fantasy, carnival, medieval, klezmer, Kraftwerk, and numerous other influences are at work here. To some extent, certain forms hearken back to the electronic experimentalism of the 70's and 80's. There is one track ("TechNoLogic Future") that utilizes a similar rhythmic impetus as Wall of Voodoo's "Ring of Fire." Occasionally some of the electronic sounds employed resemble real instruments, but mostly it does not stray from its synthetic origins. Undoubtedly the listener will find some compositions more interesting than others. Due to their completely improvised nature, some tracks sound more like ideas for songs (demos) rather than completely fleshed-out songs. Still, it might serve well as background music for mimes or other non-verbal theatrical pieces, maybe even animation. It's possible that the album could have been distilled down to a single CD's worth of the best stuff, but the buyer who's looking for the most bang for the buck should be amply rewarded. If you're into peculiar melodic synthesizer compositions, then Deadrow77's 'Dark Waves for Little Greys' is for you. Limited to 500 copies.
Artist: Uncertain
Title: The Fox's Blood Moon (for Ian Johnstone)
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Wraith Productions
Rated: *****
It's almost impossible to write a review about this release without talking about the personal issues involved. This release by Uncertain is a way of dealing with the loss of Ian Johnstone, mostly known as the late partner of Jhonn Balance, and is composed using sounds of deer and fox's and old tape loops. The result is a sort of mise en scene of reminders and sentiments which left no place for the austere notes of a requiem.
The initial words opening the tracks describes how a loved one is remembered for the precious moments lived and introduce a first part of the track based on samples and loops whose emotional impact is overwhelming as there's a juxtaposition of sounds whose phasing generates a sense of melancholy as the voices seems distant and almost inaudible as incomplete reminders or something too precious to be shown. The second part of this release simply add other loops to the main soundscapes underlining the sense of loss as distant drum shots sounds as something is falling until all loops begin to be eliminated from the aural field to end the piece in a quietness where the sound of the fox's can be heard and the final drum beat closes this release.
An almost canonical musical form is the perfect canvas for a painting of emotions which is heartbreaking. To be heard at least once in a lifetime.
Artist: Phonothek
Title: Lost in Fog
Format: CD
Label: Cryo Chamber
Rated: *****
Phonothek is a duo from Georgia whose vision of Dark Ambient is characterized by a sense of melody embodied by the use of real instruments as the trumpet, the most prominent used, shifting the focus of the track towards songs rather than soundscape. It's another example of how this attitude seems to be a vision of this label as other releases by Cryo Chamber shows this musical elements.
The initial drone of "Old Swings" covers a soundscape of small noises and evolve in a slow melody played by a trumpet. The intricate layers of sound at the core of "Last Train" reveals a sense of narrative that "She was in a Dream" confirms as the return of the trumpet marks the unity of musical development.
"Something Happened" oscillates between ambient and field recordings while "Heavy Thoughts" return to the form already displayed at the beginning of this release. The long notes of "Dancing with the Ghost" creates an atmosphere of tension which is almost resolved by "Clown is Dead" as its final part is vaguely reminiscent of some industrial influences with his martial drumming. "Lost in Fog" closes the circle of this release with the return of the trumpet and the sound of the bells which closes this release with a bunch of question.
Apart from the consideration that this release is based on a fistful of ideas which are reworked an almost all track, with vague sense of boredom toward the end of the listening, there's a sense of atmosphere and writing which generates the wish of another listening. Only for fans of the genre.
Artist: free_quenz
Title: Garten
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Klanggold (@)
Rated: *****
If you just focus on the supposed result on body and mind of music, you could label this older entry in Andreas Ubersetz'z imprint Klanggold, the last one I listened of a package sent by Andreas himself, could be quickly labeled as relaxing. A careful listener will notice how many interesting details this collaborative project by label owner and Gregor Quade barely camouflaged behind their seemingly placid sonic streams: most of the tracks seems to have been roughly live-recorded by external mics instead of typical recorders, as if they virtually tried to render the experience of improvisational sessions genuinely without regarding of possible sonic deburring as well as sneezes, coughs, cracking objects, sonic overpressures, outdoor pouring rain and other (supposedly unexpected) interferences. They gave preference to the imperfection of immediacy and unpredictability to the icy perfection of artificially clean recording techniques, and such a choice turned the smooth piano tones and the peaceful frequencies by Gregor, that got gently modified by Andreas, who also cared field recordings, strangely enchanting. Join them in their sonic garden!
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