Music Reviews

Artist: Sontag Shogun
Title: It Billows Up
Format: 12" vinyl + CD
Label: Youngbloods
3-piece Sontag Shogun’s 3rd album is an attempt, over 3 days, to record in a studio a representation of what the band’s live performances are like. Physically it’s a 3-format package- a 12” (1+2=3) LP, a CD, and unusually, a zine that features poetry and artwork. For review purposes I can only comment on the MP3’s, and in doing so, I’ve already reached my quota for the number 3.

Musically it’s a combination of Ian Temple’s piano work, Jesse Perlsten contributing vocals and found sounds, and Jeremy Young working with tapes, oscillators, and kitchen utensils. The result is a smorgasbord approach to downtempo atmospheric musical modernity, with the relatively traditional approach piano to piano playing and the plaintive and non-lingual vocal ‘ahhhh’ sounds offering up a familiar and comforting organic core, that’s heavily decorated with environmental noises and sympathetic and synthetic pads and warm drones.

“Song No. 5” is an reasonably strong exemplifier, giving you a fair idea of the overall sound, a slightly M83-ish wash of cinematic mood music that borders on the anaemic- and “Aveyron” is so gentle and unchallenging that it could be regarded as bland.

However in other parts a more diverse approach to the sonic sources gives more interesting flavours. The hard-to-pin-down ethnic singing at the end of the title track, that blends into recordings of a bombastic but far-away American polemicising in “Kienast Dans Un Parc”, is an example of this working well. “Clstrs” is an intriguing three-and-a-half minute collage of human conversations, distant folk music, radio snippets and sound effects that hints at a very different and more esoteric approach to sound collage, but which ultimately is only an interlude between the more traditional and melodic pieces.

Final track “Cages” is notable for an upbeat ending. After five minutes of gentle piano-driven melodic peacefulness, a slightly folky drum rhythm suddenly arrives. “Aveyron” pulls the same trick, but with less of a jolt, but the approach on “Cages” ends things with a more positive vibe that contrasts, perhaps a little oddly, with the forty minutes of tired but optimistic melancholy that preceded it.

It’s mellow and accessible chill-out music that will be liked most by tired indie and rock fans, but which more established listeners to experimental and drone works will still find appreciable details in.

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