Music Reviews



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Artist: Ursula K. Le Guin & Todd Barton
Title: Music and Poetry Of The Kesh
Format: LP
Label: Freedom To Spend
The story behind “Music And Poetry Of The Kesh” is a fantastically elaborate one, the tale of late sci-fi author Ursula K. Le Guin’s five-hundred page book describing the anthropological history of the Kesh, an invented race who first appeared in her novel “Always Coming Home”. A cassette of made-up field recordings and indigenous songs accompanied early editions of the book. Oregon-based experimental musician Todd Barton had, it seems, followed Le Guin’s text about the Kesh’s native instruments and built some of them himself, to her specification, then taught himself how to play them. Both Le Guin and Barton clearly immersed themselves very deeply into the Kesh mythology. Now, over thirty years later, the contents of that cassette are remastered and officially reissued for the first time.

Mythology aside, what does it sound like? It’s a curious collection. Across thirteen short tracks we get something that really does sound like field recordings and ambient sounds from the folk music history of an indigenous people that is hard to pinpoint yet is strangely convincing at times.

Despite the information about Barton building a lot of original and invented instruments, large parts of this work are solely vocal. The chant-singing of “Yes” (despite the giggling fit that calls it to a halt) has a certain Russian or Mongolian twang to hit that’s hard to explain. “Long Singing” is like a lighter-edged semi-choral take on group throat singing exercises, and really rather beautiful. “The Quail” is a more Gaelic-ish folk arrangement over a very simple soft drumming.

Pieces like “Dragonfly Song” and “A Homesick Song” are less authentically staged, the former the sound of a babbling brook with a studio-quality solo female folk song laid on top, the latter an in-the-round mantra of multiple voices that sounds a bit more like 1960’s experimental theatre work.

Of the few instrumental pieces, highlights include the rather pretty “River Song” with its soft mesmeric sort-of-glockenspiel tapping patterns. “A Music Of The Eighth House” uses synthesized sounds in a very delicate way for an extraordinarily mellow wrap-up.

This vinyl release retains some attachment to the original book via using some of the original illustrations. But if it had been initially released in 2018 it would be easy to think of this as an in-game soundtrack, as we’re far more accustomed now to immersive and extensively realised made-up environments in the world of gaming. By 1985 standards it’s something of an anomaly but an interesting and maybe ahead-of-its-time concept worth being introduced to.
Mar 23 2018
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Artist: Mary Yalex
Title: River
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: KANN
“River” is a 5-track electronica EP full of contrasts, as sounds from downtempo light instrumental techno chug alongside bleepier, more melodic elements.

Opener “Metalic Elements has a groove which is born out of crisp steady house rhythms but with ahead-of-the-beat layers adding a sense of urgency that plays against the mellow, near-chill-out synth lines wandering about above them. “Night Bus” offers a more easy-to-follow glitch-laden pattern arrangement before “July (Part 2)” (I don’t know where Part 1 went) delves further into Rhodes-keys-like meditation noises, only really given any edge by the slight crispness in the glittering decorative synth noises.

The energy levels pick up again with strong and more conventional techo track “River” where the pads have a slightly more sun-kissed flavour, but “Stairway To The Stars” takes us back to the chillout room again to finish.

What might have projected tracks like “Night Bus” into stellar territory is strong melodies- instead, for me the weak point throughout the EP is that the synth pads sound like half-hearted live improvisations searching for good elements, rather than the filtered outcome of those experiments.

Sonically it’s quite a familiar set of sounds that’s been arranged here, not really pushing the envelope particularly hard, but nevertheless it’s an accomplished mixed bag of techno and electronica instrumentals on the intelligent side of dance music.
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Artist: Havnes.Järmyr.Serries
Title: Distant Curving Horizon. The Primal Broken Passage. Beneath the Scorching Sun
Format: CD + Download
Label: Midira Records
Drummer Tomas JÄrmyr is in a variety of different groups- The Void Of Expansion, Yodok, Zu, Motorpsycho, Werl, Sunswitch, Saw- and here he gets together guitarists Dirk Serries and Eirik Havnes for a three-way long unplanned improvisation made up of long drawn-out floating guitar sounds, long sustained ambiences, and decidedly prog-rock-ish drumming that undulates between manic and mellow somewhat independently of the guitar work going on above.

It’s one 55-minute piece, ostensibly divided into three parts though it’s not immediately obvious where the divide or distinction lies. Instead it plays more like one consistent rise and fall affair playing heavily on the pull between arhythmic reverberating guitar and complex, very accomplished drumming.

A bundled twelve-minute-long “radio edit” of the central section doesn’t serve great purpose but would serve as a neat way to sample the mood of the whole thing without committing yourself to an hour of it.

There’s a certain timeless to it, an organic effects-pedal feel to the production and a slight dampened tone to the drums that make it feel like this could’ve been recorded at almost any point in the last twenty or thirty years. It was in fact recorded in 2015 in Trondheim, if you’re interested.

While it pushes no boundaries, this is the sound of three accomplished musicians with a very confident but moderated outlook enjoying the world of long freeform soundscaping improv, and it’s enjoyable to listen to too.
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Artist: Goh Lee Kwang & Christian Meaas Svendsen
Title: Gibberish, Balderdash and Drivel
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Nakama Records
Gibberish, balderdash and drivel are words my Dad would use to describe these three “nonsensical musical conversations” between Goh Lee Kwan’s nylon guitar and Christian Meaas Svendsen’s double bass, musicians who, musically speaking and perhaps even literally, had never met before.

Three relatively frenetic, jazz-ish improvised pieces in which the two instruments are variously arguing, counterpointing, or just acting completely independently, even the press release admits that they were “totally failing at making any sensible dialogue”, which is unusual in a genre dominated by high concepts.

The notes bend, the pace wobbles, structure is defied, and despite being quite openly meaningless it’s still strangely enjoyable. “Gibberish” is the most manic of the three pieces, with “Balderdash” allowing a little more space and more back-and-forth between the two players. Final piece “Drivel” is the longest, and the piece which most encompasses a variety of different tones, sometimes barren, sometimes more manic, sometimes exhibiting a slightly more aggressive slap-happy performance.

It was recorded with a handheld device in an art gallery close to Kuala Lumpur. Despite this the sound quality is fairly good, but you do get a slightly dampened sound and more ambience than would be customary from a studio recording- particularly when, in “Gibberish”, somebody’s phone starts going off.

The CD and LP versions come with a custom-made pencil which you can use to draw your own artwork on the cover, further emphasising the refreshingly tongue-in-cheek nature of this release. It’s a level of mild silliness that ought to be encouraged.
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Artist: Homogenized Terrestrials (@)
Title: Suspension
Format: CD
Label: Aubjects (@)
Rated: *****
I knew I recognized the name Homogenized Terrestrials as soon as I saw this CD for I reviewed this project's 'The Contaminist' album back in 2013. Homogenized Terrestrials is of course Phillip Klampe from Princeton, Illinois, and HT is just one of the many projects he's been involved in. (Amalgamated is another one of them.) I've barely heard a fraction of this guy's stuff, but he never ceases to amaze with what he produces in experimental electronica. The compositions on 'Suspension' are varied, richly textured excursions into dark and mysterious terrain, often unworldly and dark enough only to see the dim light at the end of the tunnel. It is difficult to describe these pieces in any depth or detail because often there is just so much going on that you can't just condense it into a few lines. From its weird, spooky opening, you may feel like you've opened a Pandora's Box with 'Suspension'. Strange lifeforms creep out of it on "gronk" and even some kind of musical theme developes toward the end. I didn't think Klampe would be "enlisting devils" in the making of this album, but as that's the title of the track, I guess he does. These spawn of Satan seem to be throwing everything into a giant blast furnace, then relaxing in the radiation sauna after the task is complete. Moving along, things don't get any cheerier. Lots of little snippets, glitchy things, foley-like effects and mini-events can be heard sporadically amidst the morose pads and drones. A track such as "part, parted" gives the impression of industrial activity, but not in any reality we're familiar with. Then out of nowhere comes a strange tribal rhythm (loop) that belies the concept ascribed to the piece in the first place. There never seems to be any inertia in these soundscapes; activity abounds, even if you're really not sure just what that activity is, and it's usually quite abstract and enigmatic. Sometimes sounds are just familiar enough to coax some sort of impression out of the listener, but the majority of it is left up to the realms of one's imagination. Just because you think you may be hearing twittering birds, the zzzz of the line on a fishing reel, and the creaking of a wooden boat doesn't mean a summer vacation at Lake Watchamcalit. The vast majority of 'Suspension' is dense and dark, and what's not dark is still pretty grey. When compared with projects such as Nurse With Wound, Coil, and Dead Voices on Air, you'll realize just how primitive they were compared to this, in spite of similar tropes and techniques. If there was such a sub-genre as abstract industrial sci-fi pseudo-cinematic ambient, this would be it. Not something you're likely to fathom in just a couple of listening sessions, 'Suspension' will take time to absorb and grok, but it's very grow on you in its own fungal manner.
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