Music Reviews

Lawrence English: Cruel Optimism

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Mar 26 2017
Artist: Lawrence English (@)
Title: Cruel Optimism
Format: LP
Label: Room40
Rated: *****
This new impressive release by Lawrence English immediately barges into listeners' mind through a sort of thud and magnetic lapping on the initial "Hard Rain", rendering a magnetic and somehow urgent sense of pensive tragedy, which manages to push them in the meditative pool, inspiring the whole release. Named after the title of an essay by American theorist Lauren Berlant (it also inspired "Cruel Optimist", a song by Brooklyn-based melodic punk band Worriers, led by songwriter, singer and feminist Lauren Denitzio, but I preferred the sonic language chosen by Lawrence to a part of the content of that essay), the sparkle of the inspiration, enflaming "Cruel Optimism", was a reflection about the (consuming, augmenting and shaping) effects of power on two related aspects of human conditions, obsession and fragility. Unlike the screaming of liberation yelled by the above-mentioned punk band, which was almost concomitant to the publishing of that essay, the more concerned halo mantling the ten tracks of Lawrence's output sound more anchored to the somehow unexpected pronouncement of contemporary human history. The connection between the surrounding meditation behind this album and Berlant's essay got explained by the author as follows: "In Cruel Optimism, I found some critical readings around the issues that have fuelled so much of the music I have been making recently. Beyond her keen analysis of the relations of attachment as they pertain to conditions of possibility in the everyday, it was particularly her writing around trauma I found deeply affecting. It was a jumping off point from which a plague of unsettling impressions of suffering, intolerance and ignorance could be unpacked and utilised as fuel over and above pointless frustration.". Most of the ten flowing movements are drones built on elongated voice-like choirs, intensely fluttering single tones, subtle chimes, muffled thundering hits, reaching the apex on tracks where Lawrence dramatise the previously described sense of tragedy by banging hits such as "Hammering a Screw" or the majestic "Object of Projection". During the listening, your mind could land on some of the contemporary historical events and the subsequent thoughts related to them that partially inspired Lawrence himself - he mainly quoted the new wave of humanitarian and refugee crisis as well as the emblematic photo of that tiny body on the shore by Alan Kurdi, the striking drones in many parts of the planet, the black lives matter movement, the use of sonic weapòons against civilians, Us and Uk recent elections, the serpentine return of racism and sexism -, but "Cruel Optimism" is also "an encouragement to press forward towards more profound futures" in Lawrence's words. Someone could ask if such a kind of "functional" album are really necessary and maybe such a feedback could make sense. Decades ago. Nowadays the situation is so concerning that some ways (or sonic protests, if you prefer to consider in a different way) of escaping from the lobotomizing musical mainstream are somehow necessary.

S S S S: Just Dead Stars For Dead Eyes

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Mar 24 2017
Artist: S S S S
Title: Just Dead Stars For Dead Eyes
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Hallow Ground
Though described as the product of found sound from a two-week residency in a performing arts centre, this is not ambiences and room tones. Certainly those ingredients are somewhere in the mix, but the whole soundscape is so drowned in dark synthetic bass noise that any sense of the centre’s original atmosphere is long, long gone. An actor, also based in the centre, has been recorded talking, possibly rehearsing, and his crushed and unintelligible voice is a constant presence, but again any sense of meaning or purpose is gone.

After a relentless opening, the first part calms down, relatively speaking, with the bass notes settling to a steady electronic throb and some awkward-sounding percussive hits and stretches echoing around on top. If this were real-life ambience, the sense of impending threat would be palpable.

The second part has a similar structure, opening with a sonic affront that’s higher pitched and more gaseous before thinning out into a broader hum, with the surprise and brief inclusion of a rather sci-fi three-note repeating glass-like melody. The sustained notes of suspense are littered with glitchy and backwards vocal snippets and formless percussive noises. There’s a cameo in the final minutes from the real unprocessed ambience underneath soft choral notes, as part of an almost anachronistically harmonious resolution.

This is a well-planned, thick gloopy wave of noises and details that reinvents whatever space it was originally recorded in into something wholly unrecognisable, and at times unwelcoming. Ambience twisted, with attitude.

Golden Diskó Ship: Imaginary Boys

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Mar 22 2017
Artist: Golden Diskó Ship
Title: Imaginary Boys
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Karlrecords (@)
“Imaginary Boys” is the third album from Theresa Stroetges under her Golden Disko Ship alias. The classically trained viola player uses her traditional instruments and voice as just two layers in a complex mash-up of slow instrumental synthpop and electronica with a decidedly quirky and rather playful collection of bleeps, chords and loops, over rolling clean bass tones and with guest appearances from indie guitars.

The whole album is mixed by Schneider TM, and if you squint your ears you could believe the whole thing is a mellow, slightly more ethnic Schneider TM mini-album- some of the steady, faintly chiptune-like rhythm programming and rubbery bass could easily have been Dirk Dresselhaus’, particularly in elements like the shifting rhythm pitches of “Abandoned Chinese Fishing Village”.

There’s a fairly wide range of tempos and moods here- while opener “Flaming Flamingo” is a rather casual hello, it’s followed by the more chase-music groove of “Pacific Trash Vortex” which sounds like a disassembled prototype of a mathematically-generated pop song. The verse-chorus-ish alt-pop of songs like “Wrong Beach” will appeal to fans of The Knife, or Roisin Murphy’s weirder moments, while the closer “Lifelike Showdown” wanders confidently into Tangerine Dream territory and blends in some choral-ish chanting and brass for a powerful and unique finale.

It’s got a lovely warm tone throughout, and while song titles like “Swarm Of Bees” might imply an abrasive and uncomfortable listen, it’s absolutely anything but. There’s a relaxed and casual playfulness and a rich chillout vein to it. A sterling bit of alt-pop with the emphasis on the alt and definitely worth a listen.

Tom Hall: Fervor

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Mar 21 2017
Artist: Tom Hall
Title: Fervor
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Elli Records
Tom Hall is an AV artist. The 2-track release “Fervor” comes with an accompanying Windows & Mac app to compliment the sound, but I’m reviewing the audio as a standalone work.

This is a set of two gentle and meandering pieces in which ambling synthesizer lines drift over thick, slow and stretched ambiences. In “As We Go To Fight Giants”, the hardware wave synthesis is initially fairly sedate, but with a sawtoothed edge to the tone, and as it progresses it gets a little more harsh and bass-heavy, perhaps as we meet the titular giants.

In “Only The Hunted Know”, there’s a lighter melodic tone with quasi-piano notes like random raindrops over a drone which, again, evolves in harshness and flatulence as it progresses- although this time round there’s a more distinct drop.

Closing The Eternity: Forever And A Day

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Mar 19 2017
Artist: Closing The Eternity
Title: Forever And A Day
Format: CD
Label: Muzyka Voln/Zhelezobeton (@)
Rated: *****
Russian ambient drone project Closing The Eternity has had numerous releases going back to 2001, some of them in collaboration with Ad Lux Tenebrae, Mathias Grassow, and others. 'Forever And A Day' was recorded in 2004, mixed in 2007 and mastered in 2008. Why it hasn't been released until now is a bit of a mystery. The label claims it "has long been waiting the right moment for manifestation" but I'm guessing there were other factors involved. This is the first release on the Muzyka Voln/Zhelezobeton label for Closing The Eternity and that may have also have had something to do with it. CTE has gone through plenty of other labels in their time, so who knows? Anyway, 'Forever And A Day' is here now, and it's actually quite good. This is what I'd call "grey ambient" as opposed to dark or light, where the atmosphere is kind of neutral but still in lonely, isolationist terrain. There are three tracks (two lengthy ones, and a shorter one about 8.5 min.) a little over an hour in length total, but it's all that easy to discern one from the other. In a sense, the music bears a remarkable similarity to the cover photography by Arseniy Vinovarov, who took these pictures literally on the edge of the Earth- at the shore of the Arctic ocean. Surely that is a fairly bleak place (not that there isn't a certain sense of beauty about it) and this work absolutely reflects that. There is an ebb and flow to these drone pieces that could be equated with natural elements in the Earth's environment. It is simultaneously relaxing and disquieting, and maybe only those who have stood at the precipice overlooking some vast terrain or abyss might understand this. Played loudly, 'Forever And A Day' could easily seem oppressive and overwhelming, but at medium to low volume wondrous and transcendental. There are no obtrusive elements or incidents in the recording; it all flows smoothly. And though you might consider this minimal, there is no thinness to the atmosphere for it is as deep and wide as your ears can perceive. Having something as amorphous as this makes it easy to return to when you're in the mood for something that isn't highly defined.

Although Closing The Eternity is sort of shrouded in mystery, it hasn't been too difficult to find that the person behind the project is Anton Shafarostov (aka 121) who also has another (apparently) still active project called Velehentor which seems to be dark ambient and abrasive than Closing The Eternity. This release is strictly limited to 300 CD copies only, no digital download available, so if it sounds interesting to you, order it now because once it's gone, it's gone.

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