Music Reviews



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Artist: Hans Koch | Gaudenz Badrutt | Alexandre Babel (@)
Title: Species-Appropriate Animal Husbandry
Format: CD
Label: Creative Sources (@)
Rated: *****
Recorded at the well-known Faust Studio, Hans Joachim Irmler's studio in Scheer, Germany, in June 2012, this odd file in the huge archive of releases by Portuguese label Creative Sources comes from a trio of imaginative improvisers (Hans Kock on bass clarinet, Gaudenz Badrutt on electronics and Alexandre Babel on percussions), whose seemingly abstract stuff often sounds more concrete than you can guess: the somehow sinister whistle and its resounding arching on sneaking electronics and slight tremblings on the short introduction open up the hinged jaw of a claustrophobic and mysterious sonic world. The longest track "apartment" sounds like the fast track processing of a series of conventional domestic activity, as if listeners got invited to hear what happens in the house of a sped up SIM character's "life" and, as you can easily guess, noises of snoring, metallic hits, resounding keys, bottles and similar listenable entitites have wisely been included in the package. The first and more lasting interlude, where a squeaky sound that becomes thinner and thinner pierces a menacing nocturnal atmosphere, prepares the ground for the second main improvisation, "outside", where they seem to focus on the mirroring or the rendering of external sounds (including trains, interferences, buzzes and beeps) by means of their instruments where both electronics and percussions are surprisingly not so intrusive, even if its intermittent scrolling sounds like a gradual asphyxiation. If the first two main tracks of the album, the above-described "apartment" and "outside", could have been appeared like an unzipping file of sometimes indecipherable snapshots, the third main track "inside" is even more elusive in spite of its occasional pauses, which features the feeble whistles of the final track "end" as well.
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Artist: Simon Crab
Title: After America
Format: CD
Label: Fathom Distribution
Distributor: Fathom Distribution
Rated: *****
Simon Crab has been making music since the late seventies and he is the founder of the experimental band Bourbonese Qualk, which was dismantled in 2002 when the band's guitarist died. Crab is now a member of Sunseastar, a musique concrete band, as well as the London's Gamelan orchestra. The music he creates is the outcome of his experience: "After America" is dense, rich in tones and superbly produced. The album is reminiscent of Bourbonese Qualk discography, being eclectic and mastered at the same time, something not a lot of people can accomplish. Simon Crab learned traditional African and Middle Eastern music and it shows: you can clearly hear that he's a knowledgeable musician, the rhythms on the album are skillfully carried out, be it live played or electronic. Crab also has the ability to fuse the acoustic with the electronic in a very natural way. Everything fits very well together

On this first solo effort, Crab mixes traditional tribal percussion with deep electronic tones (using SuperCollider among other tools) and sound collage with thick layers of acoustic and electronic rhythms. The result is exciting to say the least, and the sonic landscapes on the album have a truly immersive effect because of the quality of the recording. Some of the tracks are definitely beat oriented while others are ambient and sometimes even melodic! My favorite track being a melodic almost idm affair: 'For Jian-an' could have been written by Aphex Twin or Multiplex (Christian Dormon and Roland Dormon). While he juggles with multiple genre of music of various origins (occidental electronic music, traditional African rhythms, Indonesian gamelan ensemble music), every track is well executed. Various genre also means various instruments, mixed with electronic music, we can hear guitar, clarinet, acoustic drums, synthesizers, congas, bongos, accordion, flute and more.

While I've never heard of Simon Crab before, I was pleasantly surprise by the quality of this album. Overall, this is an excellent release beautifully produced by Simon Crab himself.

Standout tracks: For Jian-an, Kropotkin, Cobra Mist.
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Artist: Sonae (@)
Title: Far away is right around the Corner
Format: 12"
Label: Monika Enterprise (@)
Rated: *****
The first release for 2015 from Gudrun Gut's label Monika Enterprise uncovers the talent of Koln-based sound-artist Sonia Guttler aka Sonae, whose sonic embroidery on his debut album includes many field recordings from freesound.org that she wisely modified and integrated within nine interesting cameos that she made between 2012 and 2014 in between abstract and glitch isolationist ambient. Nothing was left to chance in her sound, whose strong connection with emotional processing and perception was already clear on "Entmutigt" (German for 'discouraged'), the free release she made for Spanish netlabel Modismo just before "Far away is right around the Corner": the opening track "Gewittspaziergang" (German for "storm-walking") seems to render the electrified air where electronic collisions and distant menacing deafening roar of a thunderstroms finds an echo in the mood of the sentient beings; the following title track sounds to be about the meeting of distance and proximity by means of amazing transformations of micromelodies that she supposedly made from the ring of a telephone from caller's side which got "imitated" by a sort of tinker bell, while "Wandering" sounds like an amalgamation of sonic clues of different kind of whereabouts, where nomadic sensations as well as a certain vague anxiety equalize distance and transporting vectors as if the idea of wandering could be a sort of existential dimension. The biomechanical blips of "Einfach SO" precedes the touching remix of Cio D'Or's "Distanz", the track that Cio Dorbandt made for a piece inspired by the dead victims on their way on overcrowded makeshift boats to Lampedusa, the austere and gradually burning piano chords of "Song of Hate and Anger" and the lovely "Hot Summerday", an interesting crossbreed between French piano impressionist, field recordings and nocturnal trip-hop detours. The aquatic daydreaming of "I Know a Fish" and the crepuscolar corpuscles of "Not The Moon/I Don't See Any Flowers There" and "Uberwindung" conclude this awesome workout. If you enjoyed it, Sonae says on her website you can send flowers to her!
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Artist: Marsen Jules (@)
Title: The Empire Of Silence
Format: CD
Label: Oktaf (@)
Rated: *****
When I asked to a friend of mine about the most impressive aspect of his adventurous travelling over Greenland for a couple of months, he ecstatically replied by one simple word: silence. He explained that even a monk in his hermitage wouldn't have a real idea about how "silence sounds", but the most interesting aspect of his report is the one where he tried to explain that this aural perception could let perceive the real sound of his own soul. I don't know if Berlin-based composer Marsen Jules fed this release by similar report or experiences, but the listening of "The Empire Of Silence" got me thinking about those fascinating account, which has nothing to share with other notorious "definitions" of silence in modern music history. The name of Marsen Jules has been matched by most reviewers to the label of "modern classics" due to the strong connection of his declension of ambient music to the classical concept of symphony, but this release is the proof he's getting deeper and deeper in the quintessence of his own sound, where the main points in common between "The Empire Of Silence" and some past stuff by this brilliant composer are an overzealous approach to sound forging and a fully immersive ethereal halo. The eight tracks of this album got named after a selection of eight words to say "snow" in Inuit language, whose dictionary has hundreds of different ways to refer to "snow" (definitively more than the 50 words for snow by Kate Bush....): "penstla" (meaning the idea of snow in Inuit language) and "tlaslo" (referring to snow that falls slowly), the first two snowfalls that bank up against listener's eardrum, whiten the sonic space by somehow melancholic tunes, but the mood remarkably changes on the following tunes. The alternance of silence and ethereal strings on "kayi" (drifting snow) and their amalgamation on the following "skriniya" (another Inuit word for snow, which refers to the snow that never reaches the ground) as well as the nine epic minutes of "katiyana" (night snow) gradually turn the initial vague disorientation into a kind of charming spell, that reaches the climax after the slightly clouded "naklin" (forgotten snow) on the ecstatic glisandi of "chatalin" (snow that makes a sizzling sound as it falls on water) and the enchanting last track "ylaipi" (tomorrow's snow), but if your appetite for sonic catharsis needs more, Oktaf recommends the 45-minutes digital bonus track that got bundled with the cd version on bandcamp.
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Artist: Tobias Lilja (@)
Title: Medicine Sings Triptych
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
A while back I reviewed Swedish electronic experimental artist Tobias Lilja's 'Delirium Portraits' album which was released on the n5MD label. It was a very cool piece of experimental pop electronica, vastly different than most of the material that comes my way in the synthpop vein, so I would hesitate to even call it "synthpop". In the interim between that and his latest release(s), the 'Medicine Sings Triptych', Mr. Lilja moved his studio out of his apartment and into a bigger space allowing him to be louder and more experimental with his voice, and also to incorporate a lot more hardware musical gear and acoustic percussion instruments in the recording process. The first result is the 'Medicine Sings Triptych', a series of three EPs - 'Medicine Sings', 'White Shell', and 'Flaming Mouth', all released on his own Medicine Sings label. The material on these EPs is vastly different than 'Delirium Portraits'; more organic, hypnotic and ritualistic, as well as conceptual, although of an abstract or oblique nature. The EPs are a journey and Lilja is your guide through these uncharted regions. While some places along the way may seem familiar by default, I can guarantee you most of it will be places you've never been.

Opening with the title track from 'Medicine Sings', Lilja sing-chants in a shamanic style over a repetitive electronic beat that melds the ancient with the futuristic. The hypnotic electronics employed seem to be designed to induce a sort of psychedelic trance, setting you up for what's to come. Before you get to where you have to go, you must cross the "Frozen Lake", a surreal impressionistic set piece where suppressed memories can be dimly perceived through the veneer of its icy surface. What began as a languid crawl turns into a jarring effusion of conflicting thoughts, desires and actions. You must hurry in order not to be consumed by it. On "Swarming Suns" Lilja uses his voice as an instrument, chanting wordlessly over a techno-tribal beat with lots of hypnotic repetition delving deep into the primal. Before you know it, you're 'In the Dead Zone', with creaking sounds and a motorish drone (maybe a motorboat?) being ferried to...elsewhere. There a bit of noisy industrial towards the end. Perhaps all is not as it seems? As a bonus you get the Hecq remix of "Frozen Lake". It downplays the brushed percussion of the original leaving a minimal hat as the main rhythmic guide. Tobias's voice seems bolder in this mix. It is a bit less eerie and somewhat more industrial. Strings are pumped up too. I can't pick a favorite; they're both good.

"How to Attract Snowflakes" opens the second EP, 'White Shell'. This one has lyrics by Sam Sohlberg. It's a slow melancholy song that reminds me of Legendary Pink Dots, somewhat due to the melody and lyrics. Musically, it's a doomy sort of electro-industrial. Perhaps one of the more accessible tracks on all of the EPs. Title track "White Shell" has clockwork piano and electronic percussion as its musical base while Tobias croons over the top. It's slow, but you get the feeling of intense motion as it evolves, until it sort of breaks apart. The instrumental mix of "Evelyn" follows with an ambient flavor and here again, Lilja's vocals are used instrumentally. The two tracks that follow are both remixes. First, the Storm Craver remix of "White Shell", which dispenses with the clockwork piano and subs an arpeggio-like sequenced synth. Lilja's vocals are left intact. It has a bit of a different feel, but I like the original better. This is followed by the Pelikanol remix of "Sun Eater" from the next EP. It is substantially different instrumentally from the original, and seems out of place here. Likely it was put here because the songs on 'White Shell' are shorter than those on 'Flaming Mouth'. Around the middle it gets much too old school trancey-techno. To me it was just superfluous.

Final EP in the triptych is 'Flaming Mouth'. It begins with "There is No Other", a wake-up call with a steady beat urging you onward with its proggy electronic noodling and Lilja's hypnotic vocals. It's not Pink Floyd, but if Syd Barrett was still alive and collaborated with Roger Waters on an album today, it might sound a little something like this. "Sun Eater" is next, and begins with harmonium and light electronic percussion. Lilja's languid vocals and synesthetic lyrics convey summer memories of the past. The harmonium fades out being replaced by more orchestral synth work. Somewhat reminiscent to me of Mercury Rev and later day Talk Talk, but still different. In any case, much better than the remix of this track on the former EP. The journey comes to an end with title track "Flaming Mouth", a completely improvised ambient piece with drones, harmonica, and no beat appears until nearly four minutes into it. Towards the end the rhythm really picks up. Lilja states "Those familiar with Sámi music will feel a connection." So not being familiar with it, I sought some out, and after listening I could see what Lilja was striving for in this Scandanavian folk music, although his implementation of it is somewhat more abstract. An interesting ending to this epic journey, but still it's not quite over yet. Final track on this EP is the Rotoskop (Klaus Gratzel) remix of "There is No Other" which substitutes a more active electronic rhythm for the original but strips out and/or downplays some of the atmospherics that made the original so engaging. The added electronics at the end I simply didn't much care for.

In conclusion, the EPs without the remixes are just fine. The epic vision of the artist may be just too much for some, while others may perceive the Medicine Sings Triptych as one of the most fantastic musical creations to come along of late. I enjoyed quite a bit of it, and it never ceases to amaze me of some of the things Tobias Lilja is capable of. There is also a video for "Medicine Sings"made in collaboration with Anna Moberg and directed by Sam Sohlberg that does much to convey visually what Lilja is striving for here. Deep. Very deep.
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