Music Reviews

Quentin Sirjacq: Companion

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Sep 22 2019
Artist: Quentin Sirjacq
Title: Companion
Format: CD
Label: Schole (@)
Rated: *****
By means of his 4th solo album, the Parisian pianist Quentin Sirjacq confirms his penchant for what some reviewers could keep on naming contamination, but that it's a proper meeting of different styles, almost as if he's making music to demonstrate the multiple possibilities by which a simple piano can be intertwined to something different from traditional registers. So that piano can be considered, as the title of the album seems to suggest, a proper companion for his musical travels, like the one of the opening "Variations", where the melodic line gets immediately followed by resounding elements (conga, marimba, electronic synths and entities squeezed by recognizable drum machines), that could sound quite disorienting before the mellifluous musical speech moves toward clearer and less asynchronous dynamics. You could wonder how Quentin together with a skilled team of occasional collaborators from the French scene such as Vincent Taurelle (Air, Tony Allen, Vincent Ségal), Julien Loutelier (Cabaret Contemporain, Emile Parisien), Steve Arguelles (Benoit Delbecq, The Recyclers) and Arnaud Lassus (Ensemble Kern, Percussions de Strasbourg) manages to make his apparatus of complex mutations and stylistic hybrids so accessible by a wise usage of simple melodies that paradoxically disguise transmutations and transition particularly in tracks like "Dance", "Carol", "Companion" or the awesome "Choral" (the best moment of the whole album due to the unpredictable cross of film music and free jazz). Mutations or hybrids between electronic music, neoclassical, Balinese influences, Afro poly rhythms, film music or even the above-mentioned free jazz moments have rarely been less traumatizing than in records like these, where Quentin almost acts like a wise anesthetist.

Tropic of Coldness: Maps of reason

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Sep 22 2019
Artist: Tropic of Coldness (@)
Title: Maps of reason
Format: LP
Label: KrysaliSound (@)
Rated: *****
Francis M Gri, appreciated sound artist and brave founder of KrysaliSound, reached a very important goal since the first bricks of his creation in 2010, the first release on vinyl, and he cannot but do a careful choice. He decided to start by inflating the entrancing breathes of Tropic of Coldness, the bicephalous project that Giovanni La Placa (guitarist, voice and sampler player in the experimental band Fuji Apple Worship) and David Gutman (already active in the indipendent Brussels scene, where he was mostly known for his electro/experimental band Drawing Virtual Gardens) conceived after their meeting in Brussels in the autumn of 2011. Described by Francis as "a mature work of rare sensitivity that manages to combine all the nuances of the soul as points of a map that every human being hides inside", this sonic pearl immediately grabs listeners by wrapping lukewarm synths, whose dazzling light get eclipsed by a feeble guitar-driven melody in the initial "The beauty and the meaning", a track whose title seems to suggest the shrilling contrast between a phenomenon whose appearance partially hides a hint of a forthcoming decay (like the contrast between the beauty of a butterfly and the awareness that its beauty has a short life). A sense of meaning gets evoked by the title track "Maps of reason", where a field recording evokes a walk in the wood, where the initially cold and simple tones get warmer and warmer, while the guitar gradually strays onto the stylistic shores of classic ambient since its final harmonic rift. The emotional framework of the following "The Loss of empathy" is really impossible to be framed (forgive the unconscious pun!), as it's an ocean of sonic waves, where the same wave could begin by evoking a feeling of peace before turning into something peaceless or uneasy, or where a concrete clearness could fade away into a vague sense of confusion. In spite of its more predictable dynamics, the last of the four tracks of this awesome album, titled "Diving for pearls", features a similarly harmonic dissonance, according to a sonic strategy which tries to balance and unify apparently opposed and contrasted emotions, belonging to the definition that the name of the project "Tropic of Coldness" seems to suggest.

Chihei Hatakeyama: Forgotten Hill

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Sep 19 2019
Artist: Chihei Hatakeyama
Title: Forgotten Hill
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Room40
Tokyo-based ambient artist Chihei Hatakeyama here offers up a musical impression of a visit to the Asuka region of Japan, specifically to ancient stone burial mounds and chambers. Consequently, the result is a 37-minute collection of wide reverbs, synthetic melodic pads and melodic guitar shades that sounds hollow, deferential and calm- as though making music for some kind of alien church.

It’s divided into nine pieces, most around the four minute mark, which come across as single-page sketches rather than deep dives into longer ambient adventures. Some of these sketches are more appealing than others. The title track, that opens the release, is a strong relaxant. The sense of breathing and gradual build in “Buddha statue without roof” is really delicious, while the vocal tones of “The big stone tomb” bring another layer of richness.

However some pieces like “The constellation space” sound more like loose and lazy improvised noodling and fly too close to sounding kitsch for their own good. Some, like “Staring at the mountain”, fade out at the point where development is due.

For me the main problem with this release is the short nature of the tracks, which makes some pieces seem underbaked. It’s as though we are brief tourists to these environments, walking through and being impressed but not stopping long enough to appreciate their nature in any detail. Other than that, it’s a rich if perhaps slightly over-familiar ambient tone that’s gentle and pleasant.

Ale Hop: Apophenia

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Sep 18 2019
Artist: Ale Hop
Title: Apophenia
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Buh Records
Across the 33 minutes of “Apophenia”, Peruvian-born but Germany-based artist Ale Hop offers up an interpretation of her memories and impressions of Peru. It’s presented as a landscape, but constructed from a diverse set of sonic sources- heavily processed or miniscule field recordings, electronic glitches, sombre stretched guitar tones, and gritty textures create landscapes that, like the artwork, are portraits thick with emotive interpretation rather than anything literal.

Across eight tracks, there’s a broad range of approaches. Some are predominantly ambient, such as the thick claustrophobic texture of the title track, or drone-based like the brooding “Onomatopoeia”. “El beso” adopts a subtle rhythm pattern to give a soft temporary backbone, that contrasts against the thick lo-fi drum rumbles of “Marches”. The plucky guitar sounds of “Punales” make it sound positively folky.

Longest track “Lima” is the most complex, a self-contained seven minute minidrama that starts off with soporific, melodic calm and gradually builds through tension into a warlike percussive barrage. My interpretation of its meaning isn’t subtle or complex, but emotionally these tracks certainly carry some deliberate weight.

Overall I would suggest that this sounds more like an interpretation of Berlin than it does like Peru, not least thanks to the English-language, German-accented spoken word elements in tracks like “Side Effects”, and the prevalence of glitchy electronica and some borderline EDM elements.

Kelly David: Meditation in Green

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Sep 16 2019
Artist: Kelly David (@)
Title: Meditation in Green
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
'Meditation in Green' is the fourth album by electro-acoustic ambient artist Kelly David counting his 2014 collaboration with Steve Roach. The theme here is a psychedelic journey deep into the heart of Viet Nam's Mekong Delta, with rich ambient textures, manipulated field recordings, traditional instruments, and a blend of cultural and electronic percussion. This is the first work I've heard from Mr. Kelly, and it is always a pleasure to discover something new and interesting in this genre. My first impression even before knowing anything about the artist or this album (I often listen before reading the record label's one-sheet so as not to prejudice the initial performance) was that there is a marked similarity to Steve Roach's work. I was also happy that I wasn't hearing any definitive melodies that so often puts ambient into the New Age category. Pure ambient multi-textured drones, some natural sounding incidents and minimal rhythmic passages works great for me.

Seven lengthy tracks gives each piece the time required to evolve but not overstay their welcome. At nearly an hour, time will pass before you know it as the line between active and passive ambient blurs in the realm of imagination. There is spaciousness without necessarily being "spacey", and natural sounds without necessarily being "environmental". Even if you didn't know about the Mekong Delta theme, the album sound Buddha-influenced; zen-like yet multifaceted in its realization. Tranquility and calmness is juxtaposed with turbulence, and the familiar juxtaposed with the mysterious and unknown. There is no aimless meandering on 'Meditation in Green' as its purposeful path guides the listener to experience their own form of enlightenment without prodding or provocation. Kelly stays true to his vision and avoids temptation to digress into self-indulgent excursions that could have made this a lengthier, yet less satisfying experience. Seldom have I heard an album in this genre that I immediately took to without reservation, and it only gets better after each listening. 'Meditation in Green' is Kelly's first appearance on the Spotted Peccary label, and I hope there will be more in the future. Highly recommended!

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