Music Reviews



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Artist: Ingar Zach - Speak Percussion
Title: Before Nightfall One
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sofa
This is the first in Australian percussion duo Speak Percussion’s intended series of one-day collaborations where they first meet their intended collaborator in the morning, they spend the day working and improvising together, and then they perform the result as a free concert the same evening- and this CD (or download) is the recording of that concert (mixed and mastered at a later date).

Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach is first up and the result is, as you’d expect, a percussion-fest- one 34-minute work constructed of a variety of melodic bells, metallic rattles, rolling noises and long decaying reverberant tones. It ebbs carefully between delicate arrangements and more cacophonous moments which arrive in slow waves. As it progresses and evolves, the contrasts between the very pure-sounding tuned glockenspiel-ish noises and the scratchy, edgy industrial harshness of some of the rhythmic elements are emphasised to strong, if conventional, effect.

I’m loathe to mention it as it’s such an Australian stereotype but the drone elements playing underneath the harsh scratches towards the end of the work really do have a touch of the didgeridoo about them.

Despite only having a few hours to work it out, this is the sound of three percussionists working on the same page and sympathetically. There’s almost nothing about the release that exposes the brevity of its compositional process, except perhaps at a push the fact that it feels somewhat ‘safe’ and that perhaps this is the sound of Speak Percussion’s comfort zone.

The duo have already done eight Before Nightfall events and this is the first to be released as a listening product. Presumably the others won’t be far behind and should also make for interesting listening.
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Artist: Athana / Andreasen (@)
Title: Tapes From Slowland
Format: CD
Label: West Audio Music
Rated: *****
Almost after two years from "Invisible Colors", Alf Terje Hana and his project Athana are back with a new musical adventures. This time, for the album "Tapes From Slowland", Alf teamed up with Guttorm Andreasen, who's presenting himself on his website this way: "is one of Norway's most experienced and versatile journalists. He has worked as a program and journalist in radio and television since 1985 and has the country's widest record collection! Guttorm Andreasen is a popular lecturer, conference and stage interviewer, musician, DJ and cultural organizer". The collaboration grew up with the time after several gigs they did together, so at a certain point they decided to take a bunch of guitars, pedals, effect boxes, different iPads and synthesizers and spending some time at the Rifferiet, Alf's own studio, to experiment with sounds and atmospheres. Experimentation is the key and I think that "Tapes From Slowland" is one of the most noisy and experimental albums that Athana ever did. With the previous albums I was used to hear Fripp influences here and there along with free jazz, fusion, a bit of prog and stuff like that. On the seven new tracks the guitar is still sounding like coming from David Sylvian's ambient album but everything that's around is different and it's noisy. The opening "Plastic Ivy" starts quietly with distant slow guitar arpeggios and little by little it grows including synth noise sweeps which are coming and going. After a while it gives me the impression of a message coming from space. "Crawling Wall" mix synth, noise, treated metallic sounds and it gets more intense with the time. If you would turn up the volume really much, you would think it could be a new Sunn O))) track. The experimental approach founds its peak with the improvisations on "Broken" where a spacey guitar sound little by little is joined by guitar drones, synth pulses and synth digital sounds. "D With A Stroke" is another tune which improvisation is king and where layers of sounds make it sound like the devil opened a factory and he's hammering from hell. "Nanula" with its nine minutes is the longest track, along with the opening one and it's a trip that starts with an ambient guitar just to get more intense and turning into a flow of sonic lava which is getting saturated more and more. When the going gets tough, the tough get noisy...
Artist: Kj
Title: Spells
Format: CDS (CD Single)
Label: Lost Tribe Sound
Rated: *****
I confess it’s the first time that I hear about Kj, also known as Kj Rottweiler. By looking at the website, it seems that Kj is not only a musician, but a video maker as well. The album ‘Spells’ has been produced by the label Lost Tribe Sound. I confess I have never heard of this label either, but it looks certainly a very interesting one - the type of label that produces whatever the owners like, with well-curated packagings (as it’s the case with ‘Spells’).
However, I’m very disappointed at this album, despite very good reviews I read. How do ambient/dark ambient/drone albums usually work? What are their aims? I have been listening to this kind of music for a long time (almost 20 years), and the best albums are the ones that completely absorb you. Here are my two cents. You absorb someone else into your music by creating a sort of evolution of the song leading to a climax (and back again!): you start with a layer of sound, and then you fade in other layers, and while you have the new ones, you may subtract others. It can be dark ambient, new age, minimal, or whatever: I think the concept is exactly this. This is why ambient’s songs tends to be pretty long - it is exactly to create this suspence. But this is not necessarily the case: there are pretty good artists who can do with short songs.
What about ‘Spells’? This album is composed of brief songs (with some exceptions - more on this later). These songs are usually made of a couple of layers of sound - mostly pads, reverberated, creating the typical wide and open perception of ambient music. However, there is no construction, there is no evolution. Sometimes I had the impression of listening to only excerpts of the actual songs - when you want to introduce the listener to your album, and you made him/her listen to the songs when they have reached the climax. The only exceptions are the songs Dawyn and Spells. Interestingly, these are the longest songs.
What I want to say is that this album has amazing and well-curated sounds. However, it lacks structure and evolution - and I think structure and evolution are of paramount importance to ambient music. Without structure and evolution, it is very difficult to be absorbed by the music.
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Artist: Moskus
Title: Mirakler
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Hubro
Moskus are a trio of piano, drums and bass, though they’ll hop onto some other instruments- keyboards, organs, vibraphones or recorders- on a whim. But at its core it remains three skilled musicians performing, mostly improvising, around each other in a manner that’s comfortable, almost cosy, and quite playful at times.

The clap-along “Irsk Setter” is one of the brightest tracks, with a poppy energy that’s halfway to making it an odd crossover radio hit, but other tracks are more sanguine, exuding the slightly smoking-sounding jazz tones in pieces like “Sang til C”. The vibes- literally- on “Min venns skaperverk” place us firmly in a quirky chamber jazz world. Particularly in the second half, many of the tracks are short- over half the tracks here are under three minutes long- giving us concise little patterns that are a touch under-baked at times, improvised melodic ideas being casually batted about and thrown away rather than really explored.

The track called “(_ ,)” is particularly sweet thanks to the judicious use of Hans Hulbækmo’s musical saw, sounding decidedly theremin-like when given preferential solo treatment.

Overall, it feels quite unchallenging. Musically the root concept behind pieces like the odd-stepping-rhythmed “Eventyrdagene” are interesting exercises, but the rest is something that sounds like it was more complex to play than it was to listen to (well of course that’s generally true but it feels even more the case here, if you see what I mean).
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Artist: Key To The Mint (@)
Title: A Godless Line
Format: CD + Download
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Key To The Mint is an '80s retro synthpop band (although they describe themselves as "post punk") from Cleveland, Ohio, who have been around since 2015 or so. The band consists of Joel Anger (lead and backing vocals), John Alexander (guitar, bass, keyboards, drum and synth programming), and Rich Kundracik (drum and synth programming, bass, keyboards) plus a few guests who help out with additional backing vocals and guitars. They admit to influences of Depeche Mode, The Smiths, The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, and OMD, and truth be told, they sound a little like most of those bands. This 11-track CD opens well enough with "The Hague," a song that sounds nearly like a Depeche Mode B-side, but unfortunately it's all downhill after that. The aptly titled next track, "Make Me Suffer" will make you realize that this album sounds like it was recorded live in a basement. It's also where the singer switches from Dave Gahan mode to Morrissey mode, meandering in the melody with no real hooks to anchor the songs. Joel Anger's vocals may be an amalgam of all the singers of the aforementioned "band influences" (excepting the Sisters) but basing the vocal melodies on the worst traits of Morrissey is no way to make an impact. Considering that Anger's voice is the most talented aspect of this group (the instrumental performance/execution is fairly pedestrian), these guys have a long way to go as the competition is fierce in this genre, and there are many better bands out there. In this age of rampant technology there's simply no excuse for the mediocre recording. What this band needs is a spiffy songwriter (one who can really cook up great hooks) and a good studio with someone who knows how to use it. Until then, it's back to the basement.
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