Music Reviews

Artist: Trey Gunn (@)
Title: The Waters, They Are Rising
Format: CD
Label: 7d Media (@)
Rated: *****
If you're into latter-day progressive rock, you are undoubtedly familiar with the name Trey Gunn, who was part of Robert Fripp's King Crimson from 1994 to 2003. Gunn has a slew of other credits under his belt, including collaborations with David Sylvian, Michael Brook, John Paul Jones, Steven Wilson, Jerry Marotta, Sean Malone, and a host of others as well as having a number of solo albums. Gunn's instrument of choice here is touch guitar (Warr guitar), an instrument that combines both bass and melodic strings on a single fretboard, related to the Chapman Stick. I've come to find that 'The Waters, They Are Rising' has been out for well over a year. My apologies that sometimes things get buried in the stacks of releases we are sent for review, and we only have a limited number of reviewers with limited time (hey, this isn't all we do) so better later than never, eh?

I have to admit that I gave up on Fripp's KC after 'Three of a Perfect Pair' so I'm not familiar with Gunn's work there, nor have I ever heard any of his solo albums. 'The Waters, They Are Rising' isn't what you's expect of a Crimson prog-rock guitar alumnus, but then again Gunn is far from your average prog-rock guitarist, and touch guitar isn't your typical prog-rock guitar. The majority of 'TW,TAR' is ambient, at times in the mode of Frippertronics, but not exactly. The album begins with a cover of Bob Dylan's "Not Dark Yet" sung by Dylan Nichole Bandy. Her husky alto voice sings this track in a languid style that's perfect for the feeling of what's to come backed only by Gunn's touch guitar. The rest of the tracks (2-11) are instrumentals that are based on Peter Gabriel's "Here Comes the Flood" and and music for a recent film score. (Sonya Lee's "Every Beautiful Thing.") Some were done live, some in the studio. You would be hard-pressed to figure out which is which, or what is what as it all seems to flow together. (This is supposed to be the first in a series of recordings based on different themes; "Flow" for this one, "Gravity" for the next.) When I first listened to this, I really didn't care for it. Seemed to me like a lot of sparse improvisational guitar with some electronic processing without aim or direction. In the background can be heard heavily processed spoken word at times on one track. Kinda thin on substance I thought. Subsequent listenings produced a markedly different opinion as aim and direction can definitely be discened by the careful ear. This is all about ebb and flow, where the most basic sonic elements can run very deep, as deep as the rising waters presented in the title. Each of the ten tracks of the instrumental portion of the album has its own feel and texture, and while undoubtedly minimal, presents a rich ambience that is unique. While much of it has no rhythmic component, there are a couple of sections that do- "The Seven Who Were Saved," and "The Final Wave." They are subtle to be sure, but you can't miss them. Bandy's voice makes a brief, wordless reprise on the final track, "The First Return," a nice bookend to close out the album. Overall, The Waters, They Are Rising' is an interesting, absorbing kind of ambient music, much more likely to be appreciated by connoisseurs of the contemplative than Gunn's core fanbase.
Artist: Atomine Elektrine (@)
Title: Laniakea
Format: CD
Label: Wrotycz Records (@)
Rated: *****

There probably aren't too many people who read Chain D.L.K. reviews that aren't familiar with the work of Peter Andersson. He's the man behind Raison d'être, Stratvm Terror, Necrophorus, Atomine Elektrine, Panzar, Svasti-ayanam, Bocksholm, Cataclyst and Grismannen. Back in the early '90's when I was first investigating the dark side of electronic music I couldn't get enough of the music of artists on the Cold Meat Industry label. It was inevitable that I'd discover Andersson's astounding work, and over the years he's become one of the most influential artists in the dark ambient genre. I ate up this stuff like crazy buying anything of his (and other similar artists) I could get my hands on. For me, Atomine Elektrine, and the fist album, 'Elemental Severance' seemed to be one of his more unusual projects; a repository for ideas that didn't seem to fit in elswhere in his ouevre. It was a hodge-podge of experimental electronica and sampling that ran the gamut from Enigma-esque instrumentals to Tangerine Dream-like space music to Dead Can Dancey structures, and a smidge of Raison d'être archaic gothiness with plenty of dialogue samples thrown in for good measure. Listening to it again in the present day it sounds a bit dated but there are still great moments. I kind of wrote it off as a one-off project, little realizing that Andersson would produce a half-dozen more albums under the Atomine Elektrine moniker (including this one) over the years. Imagine my surptise and delight then in discovering a new Atomine Elektrine CD in the latest review batch, although I found I had some catching up to do when I checked out the discography. From the little I was able to sample it seemed as though Atomine Elektrine had taken on a definite identity- much more electronic and cosmic space oriented, and also at times much heavier.

That brings us to 'Laniakea,' the most recent Atomine Elektrine album, and what a wonderful thing it is. The name means "immeasurable heaven: deep, spacious, dark and ostensibly empty but still full of energy, matter, structures and bright objects." A perfectly approprite title if there ever was one. In essence though, 'Laniakea' is an homage to Tangerine Dream and the passing of founding memeber Edgar Froese (who I was lucky enough to meet and interview back in the late '70's) as well as other "kosmiche musik" artists of the era. The album has five tracks, with an additional three for the CD version, a definite inducement to buy the physical product. It begins gently with "Centaurus" easing you in with with some melodic electronic ambient, then builds up the deep atmosphere with "Abell 3521". It's about 3 minutes before that oh so familiar TD hypnotic sequencer comes to fore, but when it does, it's nostalgic and glorious! Every element employed supports and enhances this wave of cosmic bliss that you hope might never end. "Virgo" moves into even deeper terrain, far beyond thyis earthly realm, floating in the void of the infinite. Then, out of nowhere, or everywhere, the hypnotic sequencer takes over again, with motion that becomes your travel engine. You have to love the subtle sonic manipulations and permutations that ensue, all the while maintaining the integrity of the structure. "Hydra" is somewhat lighter but still sequencer driven, a little respite before the awesomeness of "Fornax". This is the last stop on the cosmic express for those of you buying the digital download as opposed to the CD.

For those continuing on the journey, welcome to "Achernar" where a more sublime (and slightly metallic) hypnotic sequencer awaits. "Acamar" uses a staccato yet sublte sequencer to transport you to "Zeta Normae" firmly rooted in TD territory. 'Laniakea' doesn't really break new ground in the kosmiche musik genre, but it will give you that (hypnotic sequencer) fix you've been craving, and really, what more could you ask for?
Artist: Komora A (@)
Title: Crystal Dwarf
Format: CD
Label: Monotype Records (@)
Rated: *****
Ambient music got sometimes matched to a set of chilling frequencies and ways of escapism in between artificial pleasure and idyllic reverie, but as most of you know, there's a darker side of the genre that sometimes deserves attention. This trio of Polish sound scouts and improvisers made up of Dominik 'Wolfram' Kowalczyk (computer and electronics), Karol Kosniec (sampler) and Jakub Mikoajczyk (modular synthesizer) assembled something which gets closer to these obscure territories of ambient (and improvisational) music. Many moments on "Crystal Dwarf" are closer to some experimental music by David Toop, where a sound or a noise grabbed from "real" world seems to feed paranoid emotional drifts and obsessive thoughts to the point they become the first bricks of a personally built mental universe. In spite of the fact they mainly improvised, the rich sets of knob-twiddled sounds and highly textured bunches of microsounds intertwined to concrete sounds by Komora A seem to become metaphysical splinters surrounding the listener. The isolated beeps and the lengthened bells over separate thuds, burned electronic squeaks on the opening "Waking Up" could let you imagine the human-like awakening of a robot and its crescendo till the almost traumatic impact with the routinary reality and a sort of hidden "desire" of prolonging the sleep; the emulsion of hypnotic undertows from "real" sounds and its defacing on the specular long-lasting "Drone of Reality" and "Drone of Unreality" are just stages of an homogeneous amalgamation, where the medley of "Beat & Memories" and the mutant whirlpool of scratchy hisses, crackling beats and flickering slow inflammations of "Inscape Module" seem to be transitional stages of a coherent process that leads to the ecstatic "Escape", where the two above-sketched definitions of ambient music finds their only possible point of intersection.
Artist: Syncopix (@)
Title: Benevolence
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Syncopix Records (@)
Rated: *****
The appetizer "I Miss You Too", which came just before the official launching of the whole album, mouthwatering many followers of the more "elastic" side of liquid drum'n'bass. Such a title could sound like a declaration of love as well as a statement and the preannounced beloved and highly-expected benevolent act by Roland Bogdahn, better known as Syncopix, got finally served on the heated plate of his imprint. Besides the appetizer mentioned above, Roland explored different styles of the genre over the last years, but it seems he was just preparing the ground for a clearer stylistic definition. The thirteen tracks of "Benevolence" can be reasonably considered the spurt of Syncopix's soul seeking. I wouldn't say he added something new to the genre and in places like the opening "Fast Life", some airy jazzy or almost Balearic tunes such as "Bey-Bey", "Yesterdays" or "Airways" or the almost romantic beat drops of "I Love Her" - superlative vocals, that could let you imagine Jim Morrison on the mic! -, he seems to pedal back (very quickly!) towards that way of rolling beats up by many guests and settles of Hospital Records. The whole tone of the album steps up nimbly through soulful rolling grooves, spongy lush synth-driven patterns and somehow melodic power sliding, that become really catchy when they become punchier and punchier ("Where One Is", "Who You Are" or the perfectly clipped cuts of "Peaceful Warrior", my favourite moment of the album)... An engaging bouncy journey till the cheerfully bright "Happy Ending"!
Artist: Nik Bärtsch's Mobile
Title: Continuum
Format: CD
Label: ECM
Rated: *****

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Nik BÄrtsch's fifth record on ECM is his first with the "Mobile" ensemble, which is pretty much the acoustic version of his main band "Ronin" (which adds a bass player to the line up).
I have seen both Ronin and Mobile live and both are amazing experiences, engulfing you in a vortex of patterns and sounds, and from what I can hear on "Continuum" the CD experience is very much true to the live experience, save for the fact that the CD has some cuts with a string quintet as well.

BÄrtsch's composition and dexterity on (and most definitely also inside!) the piano are complemented by Sha's bass and contrabass clarinet and by the tuned percussions, drums and multiple bass drums with different tunings played by Kaspar Rast and Nicolas Stocker. The whole experience is a very rhythmic one, where even the clarinet, who one might expect might soar over everything else, in fact, quite to the contrary, becomes a very integral part of the rhythms itself, playing a bass part in a very percussive part way. The dynamic and tonal range of the percussions is comparable to that of the 88 keys of the piano, and stretches all the way from the low rumbles of the 32" concert bass drum to the piercing icicle sounds of the xylophone, which often blends in subtly with the upper register of the piano notes.

The music is so expansive, it makes you forget time, in spite of the fact that it is all about time and its subdivisions... Somebody is quite obviously doing a lot of counting. Plenty of odd meters to be had for all you math-musicians out there, but more importantly plenty of gorgeous and masterfully executed suites of trance-inducing soundscapes that definitely well understand and embrace the concept of tension and release, which is so important in music.

It's hard to imagine, let alone describe, a band like this, but suffice it say that it is some of the most creative use of variation enriched repetition I've heard in a long time, along with those of Philip Glass. And just like Glass' compositions, BÄrtsch's capture, engulf, fascinate and enchant, except they do so in a more assertive, almost endearingly aggressive way, if you will, that almost has an undercurrent of stealthy military-on-foot-like advance and proud royal samurai-like dedication (if you take a hint from the composer's kimono clothing and occasional Japanese-in-performance-like short-upper-throaty-screams it all makes sense) under the commandeering direction of its main composer and leader.

All I can say is, you've got to hear this for yourself. This is not your average ECM record. This is not your average record. These compositions are magical, transcending space, matter and most definitely time!
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