Music Reviews



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Artist: Monty Adkins
Title: Shadows And Reflections
Format: Tape
Label: Cronica
“Shadows And Reflections” aims for ‘a sense of meditation, contemplation and relaxation’ as it develops sonic ideas originally created for an audiovisual exhibit at Bradford Cathedral in 2016 that drew inspiration from the restored altarpiece and stained glass windows of the cathedral. Designed for the cassette format, it’s two twenty-minute pieces of warm, comforting, eventless drone soundscape with a decidedly ‘empty church’ feel.

This is simple, floating ambience that can’t help but induce a sense of steady calm. The evolution of the tones is imperceptibly glacial. The second piece “Sounds Of The Sun” has an ever so slightly more tubular, metallic resonance to it, but I may only think that because my brain started to adapt to the noise level as its new normal.

Thankfully it’s available digitally too, as the often soft and subtle soundscape can’t really benefit from tape hiss- it’s a very purist bit of soundscaping that’s pleasantly soporific and attention-avoiding.
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Artist: Three Free Radicals (@)
Title: Travelogue
Format: CD
Label: Improtest Records (@)
Rated: *****
Minnesota-based composer and live-electronics performer Scott L. Miller and Estonian guitarist Mart Soo return as "Three Free Radicals" with their second collection of free improvisations. Their collaboration continues at a distance but the fertile avant garde improvisation scene in Tallinn makes Miller’s every visit an intensely creative journey that ends in a recording studio. This newest release on Improtest Records features Mart Soo’s fluid lyrical guitar style layered over his looped and fractured extended guitar techniques which are simultaneously feeding Miller’s Kyma system for additional digital signal tune-ups.

All of the above is one-sheet provided description. So what is Kyma system (you may ask)? It's a sophisticated sound design environment relying on complex algorithms used by heavyweight music producers most notably in the film and game industries, and also by certain music pros in live performance. It's not cheap but if you're looking for real sonic adventure, it's the thing to use these days. While I can't specifically pick out passages on 'Travelogue' and say, "ah yes, that's Kyma," overall this work does have a certain ambience to it that is different than other avant-garde guitar/electronics combos that I've run across previously. If you are expecting some kind of all-encompassing cinematic environments though, get that out of your head, because these guys aren't trodding that path.

Comprised of seven pieces, 'Travelogue' begins with the guitar-plinky "Roundabout," where Soo fusses and fidgets on the strings over a plucky guitar rhythm while sustained electronic drones play in the background. "The Flaneur" relies on controlled echo of varying types juxtaposing one against the other all using guitar as the basis. It sounds rather clockwork in its own fashion. "Passing Turbulence" begins placidly enough with sporadic guitar figures and ambient electronics but eventually wells up into something a bit more sinister. Anyone who has ever traveled by air has probably had their own "Departure Lounge Fantasy," but this one is a bit on the ominous side with fretfully foreboding squalls and wails emanating from Soo's guitar. If you like old school electronics, you will probably enjoy "Weekend Casino Junket" for it's looped electronics sequence if nothing else. Over that Soo's guitar creates long, sustained ambient drones. There's a bit more to it than that, but you'll just have to hear it. I don't know how "Suburban Tourist" got its title; free improv guitar over a monotonous rhythm that subtly shifts might make you think of something a bit more cerebral. With "Perambulation" we're back to another old school synth loop, this time with some digital distortion thrown in for good measure. Lots of dissonanc3e and not my favorite track on the album. It ends fittingly with "Passage Home," a predominantly placid number that employs sparse, simple but effectively creepy sounds that indicate all is not exactly as it seems.

The enigmatic nature of this work is bound to leave some scratching their heads wondering what it all means. Truth be told, I'm a little perplexed myself, although there were tracks I definitely enjoyed. You might just have to put aside your preconceptions in order to really enjoy this, but taken in the spirit of avant-garde improvisation, it works well more often than not.
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Artist: Chronotope Project
Title: Ovum
Format: CD
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
Chronotope Project is the music of Oregonian composer, cellist and electronic music producer Jeffrey Ericson Allen, and 'Ovum' is his seventh album under this name, and third on the Spotted Peccary label. And of course, the first time I'm hearing anything by Chronotope Project. "Chronotope" refers to the essential unity of time and space, a concept with numerous expressions in literature, physics and the arts. According to the artist, "Ovum is a concept album that poetically reflects on the nature of beginnings, seeds, and primordial states of being. As an archetypal symbol in art, literature and mythology, the Ovum represents pure potentiality and possibility, the indwelling and self-organizing élan vital that gives rise to life in its manifold forms." Yes, yes, all well and good you say, but how does it actually sound?

'Ovum' has the ambience of a lazy Sunday afternoon occasionally infused with mild percussion. There is a fair amount of flute in some of these gentle synthetic atmospheres giving it a more natural sound. Sequencing, when utilized, is subtle, and enhances rather than dominates. Over the seven tracks on this serene album the music is delicate without falling into stereotypical "New Age". I understand that Jeffrey employs the Haken Continuum Fingerboard which can effect a smooth glissando technique you just can't get from ordinary keyboard synthesizers, so elongated sustained guitar/pedal steel sounds are easy to emulate, as well as other instruments requiring lengthy sustain and slidey notes. He also incorporates subtle Javanese (gamelan) elements giving the music a placid world music flavor at times.

'Ovum' is an album I've played many times in my book & record store, usually in the morning when I'm in the mood for a laid back and peaceful atmosphere. 'Ovum' can be perfect for contemplation, doing yoga or tai chi, reading, or just chilling. Melodic without putting melodies in your head you'd rather not have stick around, Chronotope Project has come up with the antidote to over-stimulation in a world that is just full of it. Relaxing, enjoyable and a wonderful addition to the mellower side of ambient in your collection.
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Artist: Porn (@)
Title: The Ogre Inside
Format: CD
Label: Echozone (@)
Rated: *****
If you're looking for porn on the Internet, it shouldn't be too hard to find, but if you're looking for Porn, the French Industrial Metal band, that might be a little harder but worth it. This is Porn's third album, and sorry to say I haven't heard the other two. I'm also willing to bet Porn are (currently) a lot bigger in France and Europe than they are here in the U.S., but perhaps 'The Ogre Inside' will change that. The first positive aspect for American appeal is that the vocals are in English. Second is that vocalist Philippe Deschemin doen't just growl, he also actually sings. Philippe Deschemin...hmmm...where have I heard that name before? Oh yeah, he was behind that 'An Erotic End of Times' album. Didn't much care for that one. He's also a novelist, lecturer, and political philosopher, if I recall. So here we kind of have the thinking man's industrial-metal, rather than the typical in-your-face fist-pumping stuff that passes for Industrial Metal these days. You will find plenty of industrial strength muscular guitar (playing a fair amount of familiar riffage) and as well as effective electronics sewn through the mix, yet it's not all sturm und drang. For the occult-minded, there are vocal samples of master-magus Aleister Crowley sprinkled throughout the tracks.

The album plays like a graphic novel exploring themes of violence, lust and desire, pain and suffering, control, death amd mortality, and more. It's a loose concept album, but a concept album all the same. The "ogre inside" is obviously the beast that thrives on destruction, sadism, cruelty and an appetite of excess. For Deschemin it's a losing battle he's waging here but he doesn't go down without a fight. What I felt didn't work too well on 'An Erotic End of Times' seems to work fine here. Maybe I wasn't expecting much from a band called Porn (you've got to have some balls to name your band that), but this is well-produced, musically varied, yet still tough as nails Industrial. Deschemin's vocals are introspectively emotive when they need to be, and also ragingly powerful, and even over-the-top when the song calls for it too. There are times I'm hearing shades of Pete Steele which might make some old-schoolers want to check this out. I really feel that this is an album that needs to be taken as a whole, so I can't pick a standout over the 9 tracks here. Truth be told, they're all good and there's nothing you'd want to skip in the 51 minutes from beginning to end. I think they have another album coming out soon too, and I'd be looking forward to that.
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Artist: Ager Sonus
Title: Book of the Black Earth
Format: CD
Label: Cryo Chamber (@)
Rated: *****
Ager Sonus is a German project which is moving his first steps and now has his first album on Cryo Chamber, openly inspired by the imaginary of ancient Egypt. From a musical perspective his music is something at the crossroad between the canonical form of dark ambient which is the unifying feature of all label releases and a more personal form based on small melodies which appear in particular moments of this release.
Above the usual long tones typical of the genre, "Through the Desert" is full of various small detail which drawn the sounds into a concrète environment instead of a void without background noises. The construction of an atmosphere in "The Dead City" is achieved by the small duration of the drones so there's a sequence of them instead of a work on nuances as if there's a narrative behind the work. The use of voices in "Discoveries" is a functional element to the description of am Egyptian place. "Inner Sanctum" is a canonical piece and "Osiris's Courtroom" continues in this path until the final piano melody in the last seconds of the track. "Apophis" shows some good sound effects and "Awakening" closes this release with a remarkable work of writing as the track starts as an atmospheric ambient track, develops with a proper melody for a guitar synth that is reprised, after an ambient break, by the piano to end this release.
Alternating canonical pieces with more courageous ones, even if this could be considered as an average release, Ager Sonus develops a release which could be well received by fans of the genre and has some cue that something interesting could come with next releases. Only for fans of the genre.
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