Music Reviews



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Artist: Simple Symmetry
Title: Beginner's Guide To Magic
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Disco Halal
The track titles are possibly the most out-there aspect of this three track bundle of steady house grooves with a variety of sampled and synthetic Eastern flavours meandering over the top, though they’re not without their musical quirkiness.

“Too Much Fun In The Temple Of Doom” is the most characterful of the set, with ghostly feminine vocal sounds phasing in and out over a spoken word incantation that prefaces a very bouncy upbeat peak section, it’s an unusual attempt to bring Indiana Jones-style cod-mysticism into a relatively simple danceable structure, and it works.

On the B side, “Dervish Euphoria” has a slightly rockier beat and a nice gradual build towards a bright arrangement of synth pads and sampled chanting that feels Summery and refreshingly positive, before “Exploding Toads Mystery” is a nice set-up of jungle environment atmos, looped soft tribal drum patterns and sparing use of electronics.

Not sounding as sinister as its artwork may imply, it’s a perky package that flirts with some cliché ideas but comes out with a not-too-familiar flavour.
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Artist: Nowa Ziemia / Echoes of Yul
Title: Holter / Fuse
Format: CD
Label: Zoharum (@)
Distributor: Alchembria
Rated: *****
After a while, Zoharum returns with another chapter of their split cd where they collide compatible musical project and present them with separate cover for both project. This time, rather to present obscure projects, are Nowa Ziemia and Echoes of Yul which were already reviewed and well received. This time both project are focused on drone and guitar and seems likely as both sides of the same project.
The half by Nowa Ziemia start with "MW" which is a field recordings introduction to "agiew" which is a slowly developing drone for guitar colored by a sparse feedback and armonics while "MT" exposes resonance over a rolling beat. "Holter" closes this side with distortions and resonances giving a movement to the drone and echoing some metal influences.
The half by Echoes of Yul is completely filled by "Fuse (Version II)" a long, over 35 minutes, track whose first part proceeds by accumulating drone in a slow crescendo intertwining psychedelic parts with noisier ones until the drums introduces the coda with metal oriented guitar lines.
This is an enjoyable release and a split of two project working in the same fields so it doesn't sound as a split but as a cohesive release that could be well received by fans of minimalism or drone metal. It's really worth a listen.
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Artist: Sverre Knut Johansen with David Helpling
Title: The Vast Expanse
Format: CD
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
Sverre Knut Johansen's third release on the Spotted Peccary label lives up to its title, 'The Vast Expanse,' as it is expansive, but then again the composer is known for his spacey compositions. On this outing he has some help from ambient guitarist David Helpling who has been producing his own albums since 1996. 'The Vast Expanse' is a fairly mellow affair with little in the way of cosmic disruptions or stellar explosions. Nearly constantly in motion, there is a sense of purpose without urgency or impulsiveness in the music. It is as if it was a gradual unfolding of the universe in all its glory. While the opening track, aptly titled "Origins of the Universe" seems tentative at first with a plethora of sounds floating in the cosmic void, it eventually coalesces into a more solid formation, underscored with bass-driven rhythm and a distinctive melody. Nearly half way in, it really gets cooking and develops a theme that's going to have you thinking...Vangelis! That's not a bad thing either. Helpling's guitar adds a bit of panache without overtaking the orchestration. So far things are off to a wonderful start. Johansen stretches synth pads for miles, maybe even light years across title track, "The Vast Expanse" with nice melodic content and effective arpeggios. I found the melody on "Emotion Strata" too repetitious and overbearing for my taste, but the arrangement was nice. "Space and Time" is a cool track because the melody is rather abstract and you can blissfully float along without getting wrapped up in something too tuneful. "The Beginning," the longest track on the album at over 11 minutes begins in ambient space (or space ambient) before it develops any motion. When it did get going I was reminded of the early '70s electronic outfit, Tonto's Expanding Head Band. On this piece a simple theme augmented by arpeggios and sequencers is built upon until it becomes something quite fantastic, then dissolves away into hyperspace. Heavy (and I do mean heavy) pizzicato open "DNA" with probably more echo-verb than needed and become a mainstay of the track. A little much in my estimation. The rest of the album is just good space ambient chill, not particularly exciting or innovative, but enjoyable all the same. I liked 'The Vast Expanse' better than 'Secret Space Program' (Johansen's last album), partly because it isn't trying to be anything it's not, and also because of the universality of the music. Space ambient enthusiasts are guaranteed to have a wonderful trip with this one.
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Artist: Visions & Phurpa
Title: Monad
Format: CD
Label: Cyclic Law (@)
Rated: *****
This release is a collaboration between Visions, the experimental project of Frederic Arbour, and Phurpa which is one of the most radical and arduous project of these days. The result is an expanded musical spectrum where time has the property to let all musical resonances express their potential to be a sort of trigger for meditation.
The well known low frequencies which characterize the music of Phurpa opens "Ascendance" but the contribution of Vison is audible after a few seconds as their rather minimalistic approach is evidently filtered and juxtaposed as applying color to a black and white musical picture. The dark ambient form of Visions is more prominent in "Fohat" as only Purpha's percussion are clearly audible in the final part adding a sort of religious mood to an overall meditative atmosphere. "Monad" is based on a frequency separation between the two project: Vision has the higher frequencies while Phurpa has the higher one but instead of be a trivial juxtaposition there's a real dialectic between the two musical streams and this is further enhanced in "Reminiscense" which closes this release with an impressive audio spectrum of rare evocativeness.
This release could be seen as an introduction to Phurpa's music as it's a lot easier listening to their music or as the addition of a spiritual element to the processual framework of Visions. However, it's one of the releases of the year for the genre.
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Artist: Okkyung Lee
Title: Cheol-Kkot-Sae (Steel.Flower.Bird)
Format: CD + Download
Label: Tzadik
“Cheol-Kkot-Sae” is a single 44-minute, 7-piece ensemble performance recorded live at Donaueschingen Festival in 2016. Brought up on a diet of the European classical tradition, Okkyung Lee turned her attention back to Korean traditional music was her work developed, and what we hear here is a complex, impulsive fusion between all sorts of influences, moulded into a distinctly avant garde freeform modern jazz structure- if structure isn’t the exact opposite of the word I’m looking for.

In improvisation terms it is somewhat familiar, each of the seven instruments first leading then following in unpredictable measure, exercises in spontaneous counterpoint and symmetry that seem hell-bent on audience disorientation. Of the instruments, it’s Song-Hee Kwon’s Pansori singing and the composer’s own cello work that take centre-stage most frequently, with the bass and saxophone often relegated to sprinkled decoration.

The electronics elements are, powerfully, extensively ignored at first- but when they rip through, around 14 minutes in, with an overwhelming punch of coloured noise, it’s a really effective way to bring dynamism and surprise into an arrangement that might just at that point have started to become over-familiar. This peels away into sparser arrangements of tinnitus-style high-pitched electronic tones, into which the natural instruments start imitating animal noises starting with mice and birds running tonally down to elephants, before we pull back around to the more familiar arrangement and the lead vocal returns to its plaintive origin point. From here, through the second half we get a build of layers that’s a more well-known avantgarde jazz output with slightly fewer surprises, but still plenty of dynamism.

The final six minutes, revolving around an actively deconstructing piano melody gradually supplanted by chaotic cello solo, falls a bit tacked-on after the main piece has ended (even the live audience thought so as they start clapping too early), almost an encore rather than part of the whole, but not unwelcome.

In many sections, sometimes evolving and sometimes just shunting, it’s a very expansive work that keeps you on your toes and makes the most of the ensemble’s strengths. It’s a little antagonising in parts and not easily loveable but it’s a solid and bold bit of avant garde, improvised, out-there just-about-jazz.
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