Music Reviews

Artist: Claire M Singer
Title: Fairge
Format: CD + Download
Label: Touch # Tone
Described as a companion piece to the title track from her debut album “Solas”, “Fairge” is one twenty-minute work commissioned and written primarily for the relatively small Ahered and Brunzema organ in Oude Kerk, Amsterdam’s oldest building. Long, sustained and mesmerising organ chords are decorated by the addition of modest and sympathetic cello and electronic layers to create a deceptively simple sonic carpet.

Occasional chord changes and a gradual sense of tonal shift that at times feels like a Shepard tone effect result in something that seems static at first, but which under the surface, is never standing still. A two-note pattern slowly reveals itself in the upper register that over time transforms into a plaintive unanswered call.

Seventeen minutes in, a gradual cessation begins in which the purest organ tones are slowly left alone in their own space, a fade which continues beyond our hearing into a final minute which is essentially silence.

Fairge is Gaelic for the ocean, and if this is an evocation of the sea, it’s a very calm, sedate and empty moonlit plateau.

It’s a bold and beautiful work that, on first listen, made me sign up to Singer’s mailing list with immediate effect, and want to check out “Solas” at the first opportunity.
Artist: Lee Gamble
Title: Mnestic Pressure
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Hyperdub
Lee Gamble joins Hyperdub with “Mnestic Pleasure”, a 13-track, 43-minute collection of quirky yet still fairly purist short glitchy electronica pieces that feel like they’ve found a natural home. Odd percussive hits, plops and bleeps dance around in relatively sparse rhythmic structures along the jagged faultline between danceable electronic music and experimental noises. Synth pads step and wave along over the top.

It’s rather gentle at points, with tracks like “Quadripoints”, a rather sweet plucked randomised arpeggio affair, and the gently stuttering and melodically odd “A Tergo Real”. However a hardness is more apparent in tracks like “East Sedducke” with its pounding, broken-drum-and-bass beat contrasting conventionally against smooth synthetic chord pads. “23 Bay Flips” and “Ignition Lockoff”, meanwhile, give a bit of extra swagger to the rhythm with shades of the weird side of hip-hop. Longest track “Swerva” also has gentle chiptuney, 8-bit influences without properly stepping into that world, while “Ghost” has a lovely old school drum and bass vibe and not purely through the surprise inclusion of a loop that may or may not be the Amen break in tiny pieces.

“You Hedonic” and final track “Deja Mode” forego most of the rhythm in favour of more ambient and dubby flavours that could have potentially been explored at greater length, but the former chooses instead to work as a prelude to the thick drum programming of “UE8”. These tracks are clearly the sound of an artist trying out new things, within a release where it’s impossible to pick one track and say ‘listen to this and you’ll know what the whole album sounds like’.

It’s a skittish three quarters of an hour, sometimes smooth, sometimes jittery, never predictable yet never attention-grabbing. The barriers of experimental electronic music no longer exist and this release will fit in as easily in your kitchen as in a performance space.
Artist: Angelspit
Title: Black Dog Bite
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: self-released
Angelspit’s seventh album is a set of twelve tightly-produced, relentless and noisy slices of electro-EDM-rock full of glitched guitars, thumping drum machines, dirty sharp fills, gutpuncher kicks and distorted shouty vocals. It’s a fairly familiar set-up that will appeal to fans of Blue Stahli, Celldweller and the like.

While much of the vocal is one-note stuff (“V Is For Voltage” a prime example), there’s also an underlying strong sense of melody that shows through in tracks like “Sexy Tragic Muse”. “Post Truth Wonderland” acts as though it’s ashamed to be almost synthpop.

The lyrics are also mostly a notch above the stereotypes of the genre, breaking out of the insular and angry into wider themes of politics, social media and so on, some but not all of the time. Unusually clear vocal treatment, avoiding the deliberate muddiness other acts prefer, let the lyrics shine through and they’ve been thought through. Some tracks, like achingly obvious anti-capitalist rant “Great Bank In The Sky” (“make money, and then you die”) and the on-the-nose anti-Trump “Dead Man Talking”, take this one step further in a way that you begin to suspect might be both furious and slightly tongue-in-cheek at the same time.

The surprisingly funky “Bang Bang Bang” is a good example of the high production values at play- playful and energetic and carefully mapped out. Seven albums in, Angelspit clearly know what they’re doing in production terms.

This is a way-above-average example of electro-metal done well and is absolutely worth the price of admission. If you also happen to be feeling impotent fury at international politics, then this may strike a chord on other levels too.
Artist: Foch Delplanque
Title: Secret
Format: CD + Download
Label: Parenth├Ęses Records
After Philippe Foch met Mathias Delplanque during the sessions for Forch’s “Taarang” label, the two became long-term musical collaborators, and this is their first release as a duo. Played entirely live, with no overdubs, this is the sound of two mutual experimenters and electronic improvisers performing steady, rather languid soft percussive soundscapes blending a variety of organic percussion (and the sound of some rocks) and old-fashioned sound-effects-generation with electronic effects and real-time sampling. Differently paced rhythms overlap, coincidence and counterpoint each other in a way that dances around the outskirts of simple structure without ever actually forming one.

The result is sonically deep and sometimes quite womb-like, particularly in the more percussive opening three tracks, as though there’s a cacophony happening in an adjacent room but we are being shielded from much of it. “Utoeya” has a slightly brighter outlook, with melodic glass clink tones, pops and clicks ambling along in a generally contented manner with just the occasional deliberate glitch to keep us on our toes.

The short title track leads into “Ewo” which has a slightly more natural drumming tone with the electronics taking a back seat, though not disappearing, yet the drum patterns start to meander in the direction of techno at least a little. “Fen” thins things out a little with sounds like gentle walking on glass, before final track “Nyx” ends with a notched-up sense of urgency that gradually loses energy and fades into an ether, which works well as a finale.

It’s a richly textured and deep bit of experimental percussion work with a lot of character. It might perhaps be a little more entertaining to watch live than it is to listen to in stereo, where the unique selling points of its construction seem a little lost, but if you like your drum work deep and dubby, definitely have a listen to this.
Artist: Howard Givens & Craig Padilla (@)
Title: Being of Light
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
Here are a couple of names that ought to be instantly recognizable to many familiar with ambient artists - Howard Givens and Craig Padilla. Both long-time veterans as electronic musicians and composers, Givens has more credits as producer, mixer, recording and mastering engineer than as a solo recording artist, while with Craig, the opposite is applicable. Together on 'Being of Light' these two blend their talents in such a way as to complement each others' skill set over four lengthy soundscapes. I don't believe this is their first collaboration as I have seen at least a couple of other releases they did together. What I really like about 'Being of Light' is that there is a musicality to the ambient that is intriguing without being overwhelming. That is to say the melodic content is supportive rather than upfront. There are lengthy, sustained synth pads that carry the ambient textures of these pieces, in which non-obtrusive guitar and grand piano accents occasionally, but effectively emerge. As stated on the label's one-sheet, "Weaving melodic phrases and rich textures through rhythmic structures and sequences, Givens and Padilla create deep interludes and expansive passages that exemplify the inspiration behind the project- to musically express the state of awareness that comes through the discovery of one's 'inner being' and pure essence. With 'Being of Light they emphasize a a visceral and enveloping experience, conceptually envisioning the album as a topology of energy where the individual is a single point of light, solitary and self-aware, yet melded into the sum of all light, complete in the totality of existence."

The opening track, "Clearing the Mind" sets the stage for what is to come with a basically two-chord (there are actually a few more than two chords)piano theme set in a spacey atmosphere. It has dramatic impetus without being inordinant. (On some planet it might even make a good TV show theme.) "Threads of Thought" eases into its groove with lazy guitar, spacey drone and a repetitive bass pattern, followed by light percussion. This piece is a prime example of the trip being more about the journey than the destination. "A Contemplative State" is just that; over 30 minutes of textured drones and harmonics floating in the void. Concepts of time and space disappear here. Like the title of Sartre's most important philosophical work, this piece seems to be about "being and nothingness," where consciousness is left to it's own device to interpret reality, or what passes for it in one's existence. It is deep, intense and subtly changing, yet there is no distraction in its fluid stream. The subtle melodicism at the end of this piece reawakens the "dreamer" from her entranced state of contemplation. Lastly, there is the title track, "Being of Light." Here, one is assumed to have ascended into the realm of pure light. It is an airy and open dronescape twinkling with possibility, free of terrestrial matter, and ever spiraling upward and onward.

What I think Givens and Padilla have created in 'Being of Light' is something unusual and exemplary- a programmed meditative state free of distraction yet not without personality and purpose. It is rare to hear and ambient album that can serve as either musical wallpaper or deep meditation without one taking away from the other.
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