Music Reviews



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Artist: Chronotope Project (@)
Title: Lotus Rising
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
Jeffrey Ericson Allen's Chronotope Project is back with a new release, 'Lotus Rising,' his eighth album and fourth with Spotted Peccary, after 2017's excellent 'Ovum' which I reviewed here. Allen's 30 year study and practice of Zen serves as the inspiration for this one, focusing on the image of the lotus flower, Buddhism's most recognizable symbol. The album's eight tracks tell the story of an aspirant's journey of self-actualization on the Buddha Way, stressing the importance of the moment. Allen explains, "Zen emphasizes the identity of practice and realization. Practice is not a 'means' to awakening; it is awakening itself, just as music is not a means to reach the end of a piece, but an evolving expression in time, in which each moment expresses an aspect of the whole."

I suppose the album could be viewed in that way if one were to think about it, but I think, Grasshopper, one would already need to have a zen mindset in order to make the association. The Haken Continuum Fingerboard, an instrument which affects a smooth glissando sound, not unlike a pedal steel guitar (with no Hawaiian or country music affectations) dominates quite a bit of 'Lotus Rising,' gliding effortlessly over gently sequenced synthesizer and ambient pads, producing a languidity to rival a lazy Sunday afternoon in July. Because of this, there seems to be little overt variation from track to track. There are subtleties, but it may require several listenings to pick up on them. The exception I found was the Deleriumesque "Opening The Hand of Thought," the fourth track in. The synth sequencing and mysterious aura are a bit stronger and the lack of HCF on it gives the piece a different vibe. Although there is a thread of rhythm in 'Lotus Rising,' that tends to be subtle too, at least until the last (and longest) track, 'Homage To The Three Jewels." Here we have a more percussion-oriented rhythm giving the piece a hint of tribal, also supported by a chorus of low voices and a delicate flute.

There might be a tendency to lump the music on ‘Lotus Rising’ into the New Age category, but it is nowhere near as melodically saccharin as your typical New Age outing. For me, this is music for drifting and dreaming, for exploring your inner-mind, not just some background ambiance for massage therapy or Reiki sessions. (Although it could work for that too.) Overall, Chronotope Project has produced another fine ambient work that should satisfy the most discriminating ambient enthusiasts.
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Artist: Styrofoam (@)
Title: We Can Never Go Home
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence Records (@)
Rated: *****
If you're deep into Euro-electronica, the name Styrofoam is likely known to you. Belgian sound producer Arne Van Petegem has worked with so many, including Valerie Trebeljahr (Lali Puna), Andrew Kenny (The American Analog Set), Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie, The Postal Service), Bent Van Looy (Das Pop), Markus Acher (The Notwist, Lali Puna), Miki Yoshimura (Munk) and Alias, just to name a few. 'We Can Never Go Home' is his 8th album under the name Styrofoam, with more EPs and singles, and his first full album in 8 years. Although his name is familiar to me, I can't say I've even heard his work before, so I guess I'm coming from an unbiased perspective, one way or another. The album is full of percolating synth sequencing in a myriad of shimmering, bubbling dimensions underpinned with legato basslines and slap-dashy but effective percussion, giving the impression that some of this has been well thought out, and some of it just throwing caution to the wind saying "what the hey..." So in a sense, it sounds partially like some pieces could be adapted as background for real commercials, while others have no commercial potential whatsoever. Regardless of some unconventiality, the format is largely standard with synth sequencing (arpeggiated, or otherwise) being the core, percussive elements nudging things along, a slow-moving bass bottom and synth melody or something more abstract (sometimes abrasive) on the top. I guess this is just what Styrofoam is, or does, but it would have been nice to hear something that didn't conform to the format at all. At times I was reminded of earlier Kraftwerk (you know, before they got into pop songs) but not exceptionally so. My one beef with the music is that a couple of tracks took way too long to end - a single note just sustained for what seemed like eons. Some of the song titles are as abstract as what you hear - "It Isn't Real So It Doesn't Count," "The Crook of Your Elbow," and "Did Your Mouth Buy You This Scar?" but it hardly matters as 'We Can Never Go Home' seems to be more of a complete work than a collection of (instrumental) songs. Perhaps most telling is the picture on the front of the album cover, a dead pool at some resort or civic center. It fully looks like summer in the background but no swimming fun here! So in a sense, this album has the sonic trappings of nostalgia, but none of the depth the first-hand experiences of it. In that sense, we never can go home. Handmade cardstock CD container, limited to 300 numbered copies.
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Artist: Eternell (@)
Title: Still Light
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence Records (@)
Rated: *****
Here is an interesting release, from the Athens, Greece based label Sound In Silence Records, that seems to specialize in limited edition CDs with handmade artwork. This one is by Swedish ambient artist Ludvig Cimbrelius, under his project name Eternell. (He also has other projects under the names of Alveol, Purl, Rust, Surr, Xpire, and Ziyal.) 'Still Light' is his 9th or 10th album under the Eternell name. 'Still Light’ consists of three lengthy tracks totaling about 74 minutes. This is the kind of ambient that doesn't put any demands on the listener, as is quite droney and minimal. In fact, the cover painting sort of describes the music perfectly. Eternell's soundscapes are multilayered, drifting pieces that have a timeless quality to them. Cimbrelius also employs ambient guitar using vague melodies blended in seamlessly, which won't cause your mind to form any specific correlations, just as it should be. (It’s more or less improvisational noodling, but good noodling.) When it comes to this kind of amorphous ambient, titles seem almost irrelevant. "Inner Song," "Still Light," and "Resting on the Surface of a Stream" seem like mere suggestions rather descriptive of the music. The ambient here is much closer to Eno's 'Thursday Afternoon' than nearly anything by Robert Rich in a light vs. dark sense comparison. The neat thing about albums such as this is that they have a high degree of replayability. In fact, if you were in the right mood, you could just put it on endless repeat and let it play all day or all night. Limited to 150 physical copies; no limit on the download.
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Artist: FYI Chris ft. DJ Morris
Title: Songs About People's Feelings
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Toy Tonics
I’m going to stick my neck out here and suggest that “Songs About People’s Feelings” isn’t about people’s feelings, other than the specific feeling of wanting to dance. This is deep house music built from steady kicks, clean low basses, short melodic and atmospheric patterns and the odd decorative snippet or sample. Short phrases like the words “it’s okay to escape” that repeat in “B Glaser” don’t really qualify as a deep psychological study of people’s feelings- but you can definitely dance to it.

DJ Morris appears on “Encounters”, which starts out as though it’s going to be a full-on spoken-word-narration house record, but then wanders into deeper territory, cutting up the conversation into short breakdown pieces and peppering light synth stabs around over a sweet kick sound.

“Flat Psych” is a simple one-groove affair with nice measured use of a vocal-ish melodic loop over rolling, fairly Belearic beats. Despite its name “Just Atmosphere” is one of the more complex pieces, with a jazzy organ sound getting twisted and glitched playfully over a marginally more industrial beat (and an ending that will trip up DJ’s not paying attention).

And with the name “FYI Chris feat DJ Morris”, in case there are any Brits who might for a moment have wondered if controversial DJ Chris Morris was involved- I’m pretty confident he’s not.
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Artist: Alina Kalancea
Title: The 5th Apple
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Störung
Alina Kalancea’s debut album is a rich collection of analogue synth and electronica layering, a brooding collection of slow pulses, artificial heartbeats and atmospherics that is certainly not a new recipe in itself, but which is well prepared and confidently produced so that it will certainly draw you in.

Built in waves, both micro (as in sine waves or sawtooth waves rather than literally microwaves, that would be terrible), and macro, as layers and elements meander in and out of presence with an assured languidity. In pieces like “Fears” you can practically feel the gradual knob-turning as you wallow in a rich sound, with plenty of long slow bass and subbass tones that wash over you in a strangely luxuriant fashion. The title track is the most coarse of the collection, but textured rather than sharp.

As the release progresses, it starts getting both wider and colder. “Poisonous Girl” raises the bar and is a definite highlight, bringing in sparse and perfectly measured string orchestration and a sorrowful sung vocal. The result is powerful and has a cinematic breadth. The string sounds fold back nicely into the established synth elements nicely in “Behind The Curtains” before the sinister lullaby notes of “Limbo” offer up another texture of soundtrack-style work. “Devil’s Lullaby”, despite the title, is a rather calm and natural conclusion.

The whole release is pitched as electronics framing a spoken word core, but in actuality many of the pieces are at least partly if not wholly instrumental. For me personally the whispered, sleepy text readings may be the weakest link here, with shades of a half-asleep Yoko Ono but not, unfortunately, in a good way. The poetry of opener “Imbalance” almost mis-introduces the album, while the “listen… shhh…” layer in “Poisonous Girl” feels faintly unnecessary and “Insider” an interlude which wasn’t necessarily required.

For a debut it’s very assured, and with good reason. While it would be a stretch to call it innovative, it’s got a polished and clear sonic vision to it that deftly draws you to repeat listens.
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