Music Reviews



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Artist: Saafi Brothers
Title: The Quality Of Being One
Format: CD + Download
Label: Liquid Sound Design Records
The sixth album from Saafi Brothers (five performers with different surnames) is a collection of up-tempo ambient dub (if that’s not inherently a contradiction in terms), a series of tracks infused with the energy of 1990’s crossovers when electronic music opened up to every multicultural influence you could think of. The result evokes memories of Dreadzone, Asian Dub Foundation, Afro Celt Sound System and the like. Rocksteady basslines, tight drum programming and plenty of Future Sound Of London-esque electronic sprinkles give the whole thing a lovely vibe that’s part blissed-out Ibiza daytime beach party, part chill-out, part wig-out, and if I’m being critical, at times part wallpaper.

Every track is a lengthy journey in its own right. “Catch Me If You Can” is an eleven-minute meander that mixes lazy spoken-word poetry over a dub beat that dips in and out. The vocoded vocal on “Hippies In Trance” is knowing and playful, and a funky wah-wah guitar oozes a kind of tongue-in-cheek class that’s rather infectious.

There’s a good helping of diversity too. “Joy Of Mystery” is a little more unusual, finding a slightly unsettling breakbeat and bouncing around some slightly harsher and lo-fi bass noises among the standard delay-laden keys and pads. “Out On A Ride” plays like a trancey reimagining of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” was the starting point. “Ta Tvam Asi” with its steadier, more techno-tinged beat is a highlight that mixes things up nicely, while “Dub No 9” and the beatless final track “Summer Travel” up the synth emphasis.

It’s no coincidence that every band I’ve referenced here for comparison is heavily associated with the 1990’s. Save for a bit of top-notch mastering, this album could have fallen through a wormhole from 1995 and the halcyon days of this genre and you wouldn’t have questioned its authenticity. It’s a very appropriate fit for a record label founded by Youth, with his associations with acts like The Orb. It’s not a classic (contemporary or otherwise), but for people with fond memories of those days and those sounds, this album will go down very nicely indeed.
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Artist: Moodring
Title: Cottage Mess
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Media
After a brief hiatus, Silber Records make a welcome return with three-piece Moodring’s collection of eight tracks of energetic twisted dark shoegaze jazz. Long sustained keyboard chords and steady mostly single-note electric bass playing are the core, with live drums often allowed to cut free and loose among sound effects, samples, vocal wails and and other elements lifted from the more electric side of indulgent prog rock.

There’s a broad sweep of styles involved and every track has its own character. After the relatively straight-up prog rock of opener “Of Metal And Burning”, “Pete In A Cage” is unusually accessible, with a steadier poppier rhythm and an electric bass that’s borderline funky, while “Snow Shadow” centres around a plaintive piano over a swaggering bassline. Proceedings are equally unpredictable in the second half, with “Nobel Iron” flying closest to the song format before the chaotic avantgarde 70’s throwback sounds of “There Is No Last Word”. Final track “Thuja” showcases flitty, skittish and effect-heavy flute work over a warm drone and guitar pattern.

It’s a warm and tightly-constructed short album with atmosphere and energy, that finds a good balance between musicality and the deliberate repetitiveness that can be the strength of the genre. It’s one of Silber’s more accessible offerings and definitely worth checking out.
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Artist: Paul Dolden
Title: Histoires d'histoire
Format: CD
Label: empreintes DIGITALes
Unusually for this genre, the press release on “Histoires d’histoire” is sparse- a simple list of titles, durations, dates and credits. There’s no written rationale or post-justification with heavy use of adjectives- the music will justify itself. And it really does.

It’s a collection of long, expansive and ambitious avantgarde classical pieces that combine ‘proper’ modern classical in the style of Lygeti or Bartók with a range of more Eastern-sounding percussive instrumentation, and gentle and occasional use of post-production, re-processing and resampling at unexpected moments. The histories being squared here are not purely Western, not purely any tradition, perhaps a history from a universe parallel to our own.

“Music Of Another Present Era” is the main work, in five distinct and individually named parts. After the warm overture of “Marsyas Melodies”, “Shango’s Funkiness” is a percussive workout, at times sounding like an improvised drum workshop descending into either confusion or ennui before repeatedly recovering. Shortest piece “Entr’acte” is the most Lygeti-esque, bursts of long and then short string sustains flirting with cacophony, segueing into “Air Of The Rainbow Robe And Feathered Skirt” which has a similar attitude with a broader, more operatic palette. It evolves further as “The Cosmic Circle” treats the same ingredients with an extra spark of spontaneity, before twisting into a kind of bizarre alt-jazz in the final third- an obtuse way to wrap up.

Two further long pieces, each a few years old, fill the CD almost to its brim. The eighteen-minute “BeBop Baghdad” is, despite the name, practically prog rock- long noodling guitar notes playing over sporadic percussion, like a kind of subdued and Eastern-influenced Yes or Robert Fripp piece in parts. The sixteen-minute “Show Tunes In Samarian Starlight” is similarly adventurous, but with the central instrument switched from Maurizio Grandinetti’s electric guitar to ukasz Gothszalk’s layered-up B-flat trumpet, bringing proceedings back into the weirder suburbs of out-there jazz.

It’s an extensive 80-minute journey through a whole heap of ideas, sounds and moods, a real patchwork quilt of organic ideas arriving and departing with plenty of energy and a hint of frivolity. That playfulness and slight shortage of coherence disempowers it somewhat from being a really ‘wow’-inducing listening experience, but it’s a very out-there listen.
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Artist: SODA lite
Title: In Eco
Format: Tape
Label: Constellation Tatsu (@)
Rated: *****
The aural journey proposed by Melbourne-based musician and visual artist Alex Last aka Soda Lite is one of the closest to what was known as "new age music" I ever reviewed. To be honest, I've never been a fan of this kind of music as it's too strictly related to a marketing-driven system of belief, but Soda Lite's sound is well recorded and has a remarkable quality in spite of the typical hissing noise of cassettes. I can't say Alex made a sleep-inducing album due to the short length of each track (not enough time to fall into sleep...); any of them seems to be the aural postcard of some luckily uncontaminated place on this planet. As you can easily guess, the constant element of them is the presence of field recordings - chirping more or less exotic birds, croaking frogs, entrancing water streams and maybe some insects supposedly grabbed during his camping trips with friends and his dog Liffey or the contemplative sessions of frogs, lizards and kingfishers, his main hobby according to the attached biography... no ambitions to become a guru, as far as I know - as well as the typical set for this kind of "environmentalist" stuff (relaxing pad synths, Pan flutes, single hits on xylophones, overstretched guitar drones, oceans of reverb and slightly delayed sounds...), but there's a sense of blissful naivety in his aural postcards (as well as some really weel-assembled track like "Aurai" or "Lagoon" - oh, those lukewarm placental tones sounding like a telepathic chat with a dolphin found inside a Mesmer's pool!) that can let you indulge in some excessively predictable sonic amalgamations.
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Artist: Fovea Hex
Title: The Salt Garden 2
Format: 10"
Label: Janet Records
“The Salt Garden 2” is a 20-minute, 4-track EP from Fovea Hex, the Clodagh Simonds-fronted ensemble that count David Lynch and Brian Eno as part of their fanbase. Indeed there’s an ambiguous implication (or possibly a typo) in the press release that suggests that Brian Eno may have contributed something to this particular EP.

Simonds’ pure, folksy vocal ambles gently and plaintively over arrangements which blend acoustic percussive patterns with a selection of strung-out drones, synthetic chords. The electronics are beautifully understated, often only just present enough to detach the listener from the organic elements of the performance and give the whole affair a sinister touch at times.

The first three tracks are all strong, with a powerful emotional thread. Opener “You Were There” is the highlight, a strong sense of journey and scale being evoked in a manner that feels very cinematic. Final track “Piano Fields” does give a slight sense of being filler, just a meandering gentle piano noodling over soft chords and bordering on cliché.

Ultimately there are part of the EP which can’t escape comparisons to artists like Enya, and I know that that comparison will have people facepalming and complaining that it’s “just because it’s Irish” but it really isn’t just that. Like it or not, the slow, bold yet melancholy singing style over expansive synth washes, particularly on “All Those Signs”, reminds me of the barren Atlantic-swept landscapes west of Galway. It’s a stereotype but honestly there’s something in it.

It’s a strong and emotional EP that is rich in quality, and leaves you wishing it had expanded and evolved into a full-length album.
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