Music Reviews

Feb 27 2018
Artist: Mahdyar
Title: Seized
Format: LP
Label: Kowloon Records
From Iran and set against a backdrop of cultural repression comes a really fascinating debut album from Mahdyar, who’s jammed together Persian influences and instrumentation, experimental electronica elements and selected flavours of softer hip-hop into a short but varied mostly-instrumental LP that keeps you on your toes throughout.

Skipping between steady and off-kilter rhythm patterns, it’s busting at the seams with ideas, some of which are very shortlived. Almost all the tracks are under 4 minutes and yet within that short running time, many of them still find time for tempo changes or musical suffices. Slow swaggering grooves on tracks like “Hush” and field recordings of markets and street musicians on “Khakis” contrast against tense warping synth-string arrangements on “Iran Iraq” and the playful rhythmic weirdness of “Running From”. Finale “Twist The Facts” throws in a bit of everything.

The strange vocal and dark threat of “Timmy Might Bury Y’All”, leading into the initially light then militaristic “Vow”, is one of the most emotive and powerful sections. It’s not an overtly political release but, as the artwork suggests, one imbued with feelings of local tension and strong feelings.

It’s musically powerful stuff that fans of glitchy electronica should definitely pay some attention to.
Artist: Koji Maruyama
Title: isos
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: Mimi (@)
An uplifting follow-up to the more pensive but no less beautiful, Comune, Koji Maruyama brings the listener deeper into his compositions with piano solos, as well as with piano with ambient field-recording accompaniment and orchestral. The listener is treated to superb recordings of a masterful player who delivers musical narrative vignettes, each track feels complete though these may be bits of television and film soundtracks. isos (sic) is book-ended with shuffling sounds and the creak of a piano bench (perhaps a nod to luminary, Glenn Gould) as Maruyama pours over the keys with the fluidity of a waterfall, the precision of a Swiss made watch and story-telling prowess of Hans Christian Andersen. The meaning of the track and album titles remain cryptic, but “prelude/isos” unfurls like a summer rose wet with the morning dew as it cranes its stem towards the warmth of the sun to the tranquil flow of water. “Nap”, with its sparse and playful opening, emotes the innocence of a child as she lays her head upon the pillow, while the more vigorously played notes and sweeping orchestral accompaniment bellies the magnificent improbability of dreams; spacious and expansive as anything as anything Studio Ghibli could come up with. “Fluid/Door” opens impressively, overwhelming piano notes that glitters with the speed and aggression of gathering storm clouds that in turn disperse into clear-skied serenity. “Sketch#1” is just that, sort of like Van Gogh with a piece of charcoal who first plans a piece of painting with a sketch, hinting at the splendor to come. Echoing drops of water in a cavernous space , and piano notes that splash and resonate like stones tossed in a pond, “Land/welter” is ambient meets piano as an old man asks a question, joined by resonances and orchestral strings. “Pause#3” is a chance to get deeper into a Maruyama composition; it starts pensively and then dramatically before giving way to a dizzying and cascading yet graceful flow. “Postlude/isos” returns to the sweet sparse motif before the more assertive notes whirl and then stops almost mid flow and the creak of the piano bench. Yet another jewel in the trove of, treat yourself to a listen.
Artist: Carlo Domenico Valyum
Title: Cronovisione Italiana
Format: CD
For “Cronovisione Italiana”, Mirco Magnani and Valentina Bardazzi take old radio recordings- recorded by Carlo Domenico Valyum and surrounded, according to the press release, with a particular mystique as to their real age and origin, even to the point where time-travelling radio waves and a conspiracy theory are suggested. They lay them quite sparingly onto slow, moody arrangements of synthetic pads, soft micro-electronic rhythms, noise washes and waves.

Don’t let the title of opening track “Eurovision” mislead you, this could hardly be further away from the Song Contest most people will associate with that word. Conceptually it’s got more than a little in common with works like “IBM 1401, A User's Manual” by the recently and tragically lost Jóhann Jóhannsson, but the electronica tones are a little colder and a little darker here, and the orchestral element subtler and more synthetic. Alternating electronic bleeps and pitch-wandering arpeggios are the busy layer that provide a sense of rhythm in otherwise ambient sonic layouts.

Pieces like “Oretredici” are excellent examples of well-moderated and modest layering of the electronic noises into something melodic and beautiful, yet slow and sinister. Towards the end, “Oggi Al Parlamento” and “Bumper 77” are generally plainer, slow ambient wash material with the archive samples pushed into distant memory.

Every piece bar one is between four and five minutes long, showing a good amount of restraint and also a good understanding of what attention level these arrangements are likely to sustain- but even so, it would have been nice to hear one or two of the tracks allowed more time to evolve and rework- “Estrazioni Del Lotto” being a prime example.

Regardless of whether you buy into the more far-fetched claims about the album’s sonic origins, this is a very well-realised bit of spacious electronic composition with a definite accessibility. If you fancy a thoughtful chill-out, this is a soundtrack worth trying.
Artist: Numina (@)
Title: The Chroma Plateau
Format: CD
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
According to the Spotted Peccary one-sheet accompanying this release, Denver, Colorado based musician Jesse Sola, the creative force behind Numina, has twenty releases to his credit (and that's since 2000), and 'The Chroma Plateau' is his first on the Spotted Peccary label. I haven't heard any of them, but that's fairly typical for me. The music of Numina is what you'd call "space ambient," being rich with atmosphere and thin on melodic content which is fine by me. In fact, I'd rather not have my space ambient sullied with any melodic content, but it's hard not to have some filter through on many artists' releases in this genre, and there is a smattering of it here on 'The Chroma Plateau,' but it's abstract and sparse enough not to be much of a bother. Too much melodic content and things get "New Agey," in my opinion. (It's what I call the Hearts of Space Syndrome.) A really good thing about Numina's sonic loops and drones is that they're treated to sound huge and vast, a hallmark of most good space music. One track that does use melodic sequencing, "Intergalactic Traveller," is at least hypnotic, minimal and brief enough to keep the starship on course. There are plenty of mysterious ambiences on this album to make you feel like you may be exploring some uncharted territory, although the sounds may be fairly familiar to the well-traveled space-ambient cosmonaut. Numina employs a varied and well-integrated sound palette and even occasionally skirts dark ambient territory, as on "Living in the Clouds" with an ominous undercurrent of foreboding. Perhaps the most curious track though is the title track which reminds me a bit of Pauline Anna Strom's Trans Millenia Consort. It may lack the wild oscillations Strom is known for, but has certain other fine elements I recall on a couple of her albums. If you're an aficionado of space ambient music, you'd do well to check out this release. It's one I will surely keep on my playlist.
Artist: Andrey Kiritchenko (@)
Title: Overt
Format: CD
Label: SPEKK (@)
Rated: *****
If you are already familiar with Ukrainian electro-acoustic artist Andrey Kiritchenko, 'Overt' (his third album on the Japanese SPEKK label) will surprise the hell out of you. Kiritchenko has been active in fields of electronic music since 1998, both with his own projects, as well as collaborations with artists such as Kim Cascone, Francisco Lopez, Jonas Lindgren, Moglass, Jeff Surak, Frans de Waard, Brian Lavelle, Scanner, and others. 'Overt' is much more intense and highly constructed than many of his previous releases, and you might not be prepared for what you're about to experience right off the bat. First, this is a very active album. Most pieces are quite busy with a lot going on. If I had to only use one phrase to describe it, that would be "staccato contrapuntal extravaganza." It's deceptive though; from the first minute and a half of "Enough Heaven (Absolute)," you think you're going to get mellow ambient, but then the staccato bassoon comes in and sets the tone for most of the rest of the album. Jazz-tinged new classical is largely what the music of 'Overt' falls into. With the underpinning of staccato instruments melodies and contrapuntal harmonies are woven into the fabric of these pieces making what would otherwise seem like an exercise in calculated form a beautiful dance of exquisite interplay. Take "Ecstatic Piece" for example. It begins with a repetitive, climbing cello phrase through which another cello accents single notes, then a third cello plays a bittersweet melody, and single piano notes ascend a scale. Then all instruments coalesce into a repeating melodic figure while other elements support this main theme. An interesting bellish digital synth with filtered noise takes over the rising melody supplanting the strings, and even that sound then morphs into something else as the melody grows sonically complex. This morphing happens a few times throughout the piece but never goes that far afield from the piece's ascendancy. This all leads to a rather rhythmic complexity. These techniques are used throughout 'Overt' in different permutations. On "Soundtrack for a Sad Movie," rhythmically complex piano forms the basis for melancholy string melodies, and sub-melodies on guitar and vibes with incidental melodic bass counterpoint. The more you listen to it, the more amazing you find it. The piece that really got to me though is "Blackouts". It's got this very cool repeating staccato trombone figure which sets the tone off of which everything else plays- brief piano phrases eventually turning more complex; clarinet sub-melodies, electronics and more, with an underpinning of rhythmic staccato bass and brushed snare percussion. Even that changes before the end as nothing stays static. There is much more to this but you really need to hear it, not hear me describe it. Things don't mellow out until "Untold," but even that number becomes complex with it's happy gamelan influences. Perhaps the most techno-infused track is "Manifest" with its one-note repetitive staccato synth holding down the rhythm while a number of varied sonic elements play around it. No melody emerges until the piano takes the lead nearly halfway though, and even that becomes part of the rhythm. It's a marriage of rhythm and melody that few seem to be able to pull off successfully, but Kiritchenko does it with aplomb. This is beyond Reich and Glass, and my only criticism here is that it could have used some spatial sound treatment (reverb, echo) in places to broaden the effect. 'Overt' may be a very busy album but it certainly isn't irritating or fussy like some busy music can be. It's more fascinating, and lends itself to cinematic use, especially in its development of themes, motion, and counterpoint. Not everyone is going to go wild over this, but there is just so much going on that those who are ready for it can't help but be enthralled. I know I was.
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