Music Reviews



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Artist: Alder & Ash
Title: Psalms for the Sunder
Format: CD
Label: Lost Tribe Sound (@)
I had not previously heard this artist, but the bio states that “Alder & Ash is cello taken to its absolute extremes of calm and violence. Montreal-based instrumentalist Adrian Copeland brings together elements of modern classical, noise, and doom, exploring the dichotomies of minimalism and maximalism, stillness and cacophony, terror and chaos.” This seems like a lot to live up to. I have previously reviewed some acts that take the cello in interesting directions and frankly it is a beautiful instrument, so I was interested to see what Copeland does. As a whole, much of this would be right at home on any classical station, and that was kind of the problem for me. It was well executed and well composed, but it didn’t seem to really take a lot of chances. I like some noise and weirdness in my classical when I am reviewing for ChainDLK. That’s not to say that there were not some moments where it got interesting. For example, I really enjoyed the thudding bass and dissonance of “At Night in the Slaughterhouse” and the use of the cello as a percussion instrument (while distorting it nicely) in “Children of Gomorrah.” For me the standout tracks were “Black Salt,” which featured rough strumming and a bit of cello abuse as Copeland alternates between calm passages and ragged intensity, and “Seen Through the Cedar Smoke,” which combined gritty chamber music with world music flavor. I could see this as a good introduction to experimental classical for someone who is just ready to dip their toes into the water. It is clear that Copeland is an excellent musician, and it will be interesting to see how his work evolves. This album weighs in at around 29 minutes.
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Artist: From the Mouth of the Sun (@)
Title: Hymn Binding
Format: CD
Label: Lost Tribe Sound (@)
Rated: *****
From the Mouth of the Sun is the work of Aaron Martin and Dag Rosenqvist, whose work I was previously unfamiliar with. This project started in 2011, and they have released two albums previously under this name. The package, like the others from Lost Tribe Sound, is beautifully packaged in an interesting digipack that is screwed together. Now let’s get into the music. We open up with “A Healer Hidden,” which is a short, pleasant droning piece with a bit of static and noise added for good measure. The album then takes a cinematic turn with “A Breath To Retrieve Your Body” is a slow moving piece that would be right at home in the retrospective montage sequence in a soundtrack, with strings over whole note washes. Indeed, much of the rest of the album follows this formula of soundtrack-like work, with piano, strings, and a bit of grinding dissonance and noise just beneath the surface. Some of the standout pieces are toward the end, however. “Risen, Darkened,” for example, is a wonderfully ominous track that builds slowly over time. “Grace” starts off with some nice droning and gets increasingly more intense as it goes on, which provides an interesting counterpoint to the slow piano that runs through it. Overall, this reminds me somewhat of the music one might find backing early Projekt Records releases (such as Black Tape for a Blue Girl). Although I would have liked this to be a bit more on the experimental side, it was quite enjoyable and worth checking out. This album weighs in at around 41 minutes and is limited to 150 copies.
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Artist: Bill Brovold
Title: Superstar
Format: Tape
Label: Eh? (@)
Rated: *****
I was unfamiliar with Brovold’s work, either solo or as part of the band Larval, so this would be my introduction. The tape opens with a child talking and an adult replying, “OK, Star. Take it away.” Where Star takes us is to a nice, slow funky groove, but it’s just a bit off. Like if The Residents decided to cover a funk band (the album that I never knew I needed until now). As with most tape releases of this sort, the tracks sort of blend into each other, with subtle shifts in style and tempo giving the sense of change. Some tracks are more straightforward jazzy pieces, while others tweak things ever so slightly with some pitch shifting here and there. Touches of ragtime and blues peek through on some tracks, keeping things interesting. Some of the standout tracks for me are “Lost in the Fog,” a slow, plodding guitar number with raw, jangly percussion and cymbals that sound like sheet metal. In this piece the repetitiveness of the guitar really works and provides an air of hopelessness and desperation. The other would be “Absent Friends,” which opens with a hint of dissonance before morphing into a peaceful, almost meditative composition. Overall, this was a solid tape with some interesting themes and solid tracks. I have to admit that it didn’t really go crazy like a lot of the stuff that I have heard from this label. Still, it was a good time, and if you like jazzy experimental, this would certainly be worth checking out.
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Artist: Dafna Naphtali / Gordon Beeferman (@)
Title: Pulsing Dot
Format: CD
Label: Clang (@)
Rated: *****
According to the press release, “Gordon Beeferman and Dafna Naphtali perform duet pieces and improvisations for piano and voice with kinetic sound processing, fractal rhythms, and general polyphonic/kaleidophonic disturbances.” Now let’s see what this sounds like. With Beeferman on the piano and Napthali credited with voice, live sound processing, and electronics, I had hopes that this would not be another classical recording masquerading as experimental music, and thankfully I was not disappointed. The disc opens with heavily processed vocals and sparse piano in “Transmission.” Analogue noise bursts break through as the piano takes center stage, becoming increasingly more animated as the voice is reduced to pure tone, which then becomes more grist for the processing mill. Although this began rather minimal it ended up being quite interesting in the end. Next up, we have “Surface Disturbances.” Animated piano, warbling analogue filter buzz, and theremin-like sweeps, mixed with snippets of voice give this the feel of a mashup of Looney Tunes incidental music and 1950s sci-fi movie sound effects. In other words, it was a fun listen. “Ozone Tongues” has a much more improvised feel to it, with the first part seeming somewhat disjointed. In some ways this segment is reminiscent of Bob Ostertag’s “Attention Span.” The second half brings in voice and rapid-fire piano. At 5:32, “Elegy for Bones” is the shortest track on the album. Here, voice comes to the forefront, and the piano is much more subdued, with sparse playing that is then processed and looped. In contrast, the voice is left virtually untouched, as Napthali sings in tones like an avant-garde scat singer. The disc concludes with “Orbiter,” bringing insistent, frantic piano to the forefront. Overall, this was a good listen, but at times the vocals were completely overshadowed by the piano. For me, this was fine, because I enjoyed the piano more than the vocals (this is just my personal preference, and your mileage may vary, of course). This album weighs in at around 52 minutes.
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Artist: Helado Negro
Title: This Is How You Smile
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: RVNG Intl.
New York-based Roberto Carlos Lange’s sixth album is predominantly Latin-textured melancholy acoustic pop, with elements of soul ballads and even lounge. Though introduced as being aimed at topics of politics and race, it’s got an introspective tone that makes it all feel like heartfelt and romantic love songs, even though the lyrics (some English, some Spanish) are sometimes fatigued world-weary assessments of the difficulties of life. If you don’t pay attention to this, you can mellow out to this, no problem.

While a lot of acoustic guitar music is now revered in production terms, as though adding any non-acoustic elements would be some kind of sacrilege, that mistake is not made here. The production touches are gentle, but beneficial- a few drum sounds here, a bit of synth bass there, nice use of delay on “Todo lo que me falta”, all small doses but effective. Little sonic skits like “Echo For Camperdown Curio” and “November 7” are where the most unusual stuff happens, little bursts of analogue synths and found sound and tape-style edits that belie a studio playfulness.

Highlights include “Seen My Aura”, a gently funky walking number that has pop crossover and radio potential. “Sabana De Luz” which is the closest we get to a party atmosphere, but we’re clearly still inside Lange’s head. If looking for one track that channels the full sound of the album, try “Fantas”, and not the overly intimate and slightly unrepresentative opener “Please Won’t Please”.

The title, while not overtly ironic, could certainly be misleading, and if you’re expecting a feel-good party album, think again. If however you’re in the mood for a rich and heartfelt bit of relaxing acoustic pop (I’ve resisted mentioning Seu Jorge until now), with just hints of lyrical edge and modern production, this may catch your ear.
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