Music Reviews

Artist: Nate Trier (@)
Title: Palehound in a Sea of Color
Format: CD + Download
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Nate Trier is a Connecticut-based composer and pianist who creates meditative and abrasive electro-acoustic ambient music. Dubbed a “Rosetta Stone” by the New Haven Independent for making atonal music accessible, Trier creates lyrical melodies with piano and accordion that alight on churning soundscapes of buzzes, hums, and crackling static. French new-music website L’Autre Musique featured his approach to music notation as an exemplar of “new forms of writing sound and music distant from the traditional Western scoring.” The 48th International Summer Course for New Music in Darmstadt distributed a recording of his music to participants. Trier also curated and performed 15 one-minute graphic scores as part of New York City-based Composer’s Voice “Fifteen Minutes of Fame” series. He credits his sound to La Monte Young’s prose score that instructs, “Draw a straight line and follow it.” Taking this as a compositional mantra, Trier unified his disparate influences in jazz improvisation, classical counterpoint, and noise music into a style of music that begins with a conceptual motive and unfolds out into a complete piece. At times it may remind the listener of Erik Satie, spectralism, and ‘90’s industrial hip-hop. Ultimately, Trier’s music embodies the spirit of improvisation within a framework free of tonality and, at times, pitch.

That all pretty much comes from his website, but it is clear that Nate Trier is an avant-garde/experimental composer of some diversity, but there's not much diversity on this recording. (I did however listen to some of his other compositions on his website, and I can attest to the diversity.) 'Palehound in a Sea of Color' consists of two tracks - "Palehound" (7:53), and "In a Sea of Color" (1:01:04). The idea here is just three notes, held for a very long time on piano and accordion. The result is ambient drone-tone(s) with variation in timbre, harmonics and resonance, but not really much in pitch. For those unaccustomed to this kind of minimalism, this can get boring, and even annoying pretty quick. For the drone connoisseur though, the fascination is how these pieces evolve over time, and they do evolve here. "Palehound" could serve as the appetizer for the main course of "In a Sea of Color," being the obviosly briefer work with a quicker evolution time. Nothing is really quick here though, as Trier introduces new sonics at a quite leisurely pace within a repetitive scheme. While "Palehound" seems almost basic and quite minimal, "In a Sea of Color" becomes rich with droney resonance before it even reaches the six minute mark. The intensity of this is not sustained for very long though, which may be a relief to the casual listener. (This actually happens several times throughout the track.) One does notice other sonic effluvia creeping in; various noises that could be a side effect of electronic processing, or "other sounds" introduced into the piece. I think these events enhance rather than detract from the main drone and help keep it from getting too static. While this lengthy piece isn't what I'd call "noisy," there are definitely elements of noise employed in it. Most of those are of the subtle variety. Keep in mind though that the source instruments aren't going to sound like any conventional piano and accordion. It is all in the electronic manipulation of those lengthy held notes that the drones one hears are achieved, having little to do with any performance technique on the instruments per se. "In a Sea of Color" passes through various moods and shades, from light tones to dark dissonance, dense drones to minimal atmosphere, always eventually changing and evolving over time. Probably best experienced at a low volume as too many decibels could spoil the soundscape.
Artist: Craven Faults
Title: Erratics & Unconformities
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: The Leaf Label
In the description of the first full Craven Faults album (after a series of EP’s and the excellent recent “Lowfold Reworks” 12”, some of which are bundled in full as bonus tracks on the CD edition of this), we are painted a series of florid atmospheric vignettes, ranging from canals in rural Nottinghamshire to studios in 1967 Manhattan. It’s a disjointed, abstract pitch and a classic case of a press release that gives you very little clue what it’s going to actually sound like.

Luckily though, the music itself is far far more consistent and single-minded. Pulsing warm electronic patterns are the order of the day, taking the analogue modular synth sounds familiar to electronica and stretching and thickening them into broad synthetic textures.

“Vacca Wall” owes more than a little to Tangerine Dream sonically, yet across its seventeen minute span it progresses relatively little even by TD standards, with relentless arpeggiation that seems to adopt the Philip Glass approach to mesmeric repetition- a brave move, but one it certainly succeeds at. Following track “Deipkeir” has such a similar make-up that it rolls into one 25-minute piece. “Cupola Smelt Mill” offers a gently different groove, a soft simple kick pattern and some sawtooth pad wishes making it feel substantially more optimistic.

It’s only in “Slack Sley & Temple”, filling the first side of the second disc in the double LP set, that we hear a small flourish of recorded environmental sound- but rather than being the opener to a new approach, it’s just a brief bookend to another elaborate and quite purist dive into electronica, this time slower, with an almost twangy low pulse note over an extra-rich bass. Slightly more industrial percussive sounds give a little extra grit as it goes along, a broodiness that’s interrupted by the generally chilled “Hangingstones” but restored in slightly funereal final piece “Signal Post”.

It’s one of those releases where lack of breadth or diversity has been adopted into a virtue- 72 minutes of fairly similar-sounding electronica, based on a fairly small set of ingredients, but unrolled with a confidence and steadiness that becomes quite intoxicating as you sink deeper into it. While it didn’t quite live up to the high expectations I had from the remix EP earlier in November, it’s still a rich and quality bit of deep electronica.
Artist: Laura Angusdei
Title: Laurisilva
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: The Wormhole
The debut album from saxophonist and electroacoustic composer Laura Agnusdei is a fascinating hybrid beast. With saxophone sitting frequently at the core, accompanied by a small ensemble of the artist’s colleagues who contribute trumpet, reeds and ancient flute sounds, at its heart this is light, almost traditional small ensemble jazz music- sometimes reminiscent of soundtracks to old black and white cartoons. But it’s presented in an experimental frame, with organic bubbling, atmospherics, synthesized sound and post-production work ever present throughout. It’s as though a small, fairly contented jazz ensemble have been plonked onto an alien planet, but have decided to carry on performing regardless.

It’s exemplified by the title track, which sums it up quite well, right down to the odd seagulls, gloopy fluid sounds and sorrowful sax. The production work often brings an extra level of uniqueness to the groove level of the pieces, such as on the dubby, reverb-laden walking patterns of “Jungle Shuffle”.

“Shaky Situation” stands out thanks to its life-affirming spoken word samples talking about how life should be fun, blended with a far more playful series of melodies that bounce around between popcorn synth, flutes and wantonly cheesy stabs. It’s almost pop music, reminiscent of the Art Of Noise in some ways, and though it doesn’t represent the whole album, hopefully it has the capacity to cross over onto some broader Spotify playlists and garner some attention.

In pieces like “Golden Kites” or the decidedly more abstract “Lungs Dance”, it shows off a more relaxed, mature and confident side.

I’m a big fan of this release, thanks to its bold character. It feels like it offers up a fresh recipe with known ingredients. It’s accomplished, sometimes virtuoso, but it absolutely doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s also fairly concise, at only 30 minutes, and certainly leaves you wanting to hit ‘play’ on it again.
Artist: Günter Schlienz (@)
Title: Know Your New Age
Format: CD
Label: Zoharum (@)
Distributor: Alchembria
Rated: *****
While his previous release on Zoharum, "autumn", was a kind of ambient music close to modern classical with its melodic framework, "know your new age" is a little bit more canonical in its construction and more meditative as it makes heavy use of field recordings to place the sound into a rather familiar environment for the listener.
This release has two faces: the first one is an almost direct follow-up of the previous release with its discernible melodies and the use of acoustic instruments which adds a catchy element to the whole composition which develops half way between ambient and pop; the second one is a more abstract palette, especially in "More Beautiful", that hints a movement towards a wider use of timbres instead of melodies which creates a more rarified athmosphere. However the music is always far away from an intellectual arrangement of sparse sound as a pictorial quality of the composition is always present.
This is a release that could keep its promise to heal the soul of the listener if the quietness of the music balances the urge for speed of modern life and point to a simpler one. Listen in a quiet environment.
Artist: PCM
Title: Attraverso
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: n5MD (@)
A yin/yang four-track release by PCM, Milan-Italy’s trio of producers, Francesco Perra, Matteo Cantaluppi and Matteo Millea who alternate tracks that emotionally range from the pits of sheer angst to elevation of tranquility to dread again and then ascension to sublime wonderment. Quite the emotional wave for just four tracks, you may get vertigo from the sharp rise and falls. Title track “Attraverso” has a sense of elevated angst-ridden tension from keyboard/organ that builds gradually to greater angst and intensity. When you feel things cannot get any more dim or dark, the tones continue until you feel you are in a chamber where water enters, rises, and realize there is no escape. “Attraverso” eerie keyboard/organ resonances are joined with wisps of heavy wind that skitter over tracks like rats treading afloat as flood waters continue to rise, fill and then spill beyond the confines. As apprehensive as the track may feel, there is also a certain kind of resonating beauty to it as the piece progresses and the listener is fully enveloped in layers of waves. The following, “Atraves” deeply contrasts with gentle, pensive, spacious, strumming tones later joined by a compliment of sparse yet mellifluous electric guitar notes and shimmering tones that hover. Somehow this piece conveys romantic overtones, with a hint of wistful longing and mystery. Once more we return to angst ridden territories with the steadily modulating, galloping synth tones that continue into a kind of crescendo panic attack accented with sparse guitar notes that streak by like angels who survey a procession of the damned. The fevered pitch continues for about ten minutes without letting up, rather going through a gradual rise until components of the piece finally dissolves. Capping the release is “Par”, a mellifluous ambient counter to all angst to an orchestral sweeping finish with a slightly wintry feel, with lovely guitar notes that instill a sense of nocturnal, wind-swept landscapes, gentle guitar notes, with an occasional pulse-hum and a magical, uplifting finish. Though there are a mere four tracks, Attraverso feels more like an album for the variety of intense moods and emotions expressed.
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