Music Reviews



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Artist: Pan-Scan Ensemble
Title: Air And Light And Time And Space
Format: CD + Download
Label: Hispid Records / PNL Records
This recording of an improvised pre-Christmas experimental knees up features an impressive nine-piece line-up of improvisers whose combined musical CV includes over a dozen groups. A supergroup they may be, but as some football managers know, a group of star players doesn’t necessarily make a team. The Pan-Scan Ensemble however seem to be gelling very nicely.

It’s brass-heavy, with three saxs (one of whom spontaneously transforms into a flautist) and three trumpets accompanied by a piano and two percussionists, giving things a tone that’s heavily jazz-infused. No overdubs, no FX, just raw but mostly non-abrasive avantgarde improv.

Both recordings are an exercise in contrasts. The baseline mode is extremely sparse; individual instruments, individual notes, standing alone among sections of actual silence, tentative and tense. Then there’s a mutual consensus to crescendo, an unspoken agreement to disagree among the performers as they all get louder and more chaotic, before calm is restored and we settle back into abstract and sporadic instrumental opinions. Some instruments echo another, others contradict each other, but it’s clear there’s no tight structure or specific plan, just a selection of confident and skilled performers riffing wildly and freely.

“In Time And Space” the trumpet sounds are more sustained and there’s a greater sense of urgency in ‘the loud bits’, but otherwise despite one track being twice as long as the other, they still have the same overall sonic identity.

This is a well-produced, neat if slightly disposable little bit of fun broken jazz.
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Artist: Babils
Title: Ji Ameeto
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Sub Rosa
Babils’ fourth album, their first without founder member Michel Duyck, is a pair of sixteen-minute-long prog-rock wig-outs that hark back to the 1970’s heyday. Gently distorted guitars fed through rich analogue effects, rasping indistinct trumpet noises and muddy reverb-soaked vocals hanging on a string in the vicinity of lyrical structure, are constantly underpinned by a regular 4/4 bassline and steady live drumbeat that keeps everything at least vaguely grounded and prevents each piece from wandering into the stratosphere of soundscapes.

Each track starts off with a structure that’s almost pop music- French vocals on the title track, and sometimes hard-to-distinguish English lyrics on “C'est la raison pour laquelle nous ne cesserons jamais de recommencer”- showing that a steady groove and song structure is the seed from which each improvised adventure grows.

This is a release with more than one foot in the past, it’s practically prog nostalgia. Extremely brief glimmers of what may be more modern effects processors don’t shatter the illusion. An indulgent LP to enjoy with long hair, tweed and a lava lamp.
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Artist: Creation VI & Uhushuhu (@)
Title: ^
Format: CD
Label: Muzyka Voln/Zhelezobeton (@)
Rated: *****
This is a collaboration between two Russian ambient entities - Creation VI and Uhushuhu. The title of the album is a triangle, or pyramid, a text symbol which I don't possess, and even if I did, I'm not sure it would translate properly on the Chain D.L.K. site, so whatever this "^" looks like, it will have to do. Creation VI has been around a bit longer than Uhushuhu having started in 2006 and having a slew of albums (often collaborations) to its credit. Uhushuhu was formed in 2013 and they have a few prior releases. The best description of this album comes from the one-sheet - "A narrative stream out of the green thicket of a fictional forest as a cloud of purple fog pierced by flashes of resonating harmonies and ghostly echoes. A dense organic cobweb of field recordings, voices, acoustic instruments and electronic manipulations. A dream filled with bright colours or a psychedelic slumber with a whirling kaleidoscope of asymmetric images and visions. A sonic fantasy so pleasant to dive into together with the musicians and spend some time in the company of your own subconscious mind..."

Well, okay, some of that sounds like hype, but it's really not far from the truth. This is one dense 40 minute drone piece where not much happens, yet a lot happens, and such is the dichotomy of "^". All sonics are woven together like one inextricable braid. Noticing a flute, or tambura, bird sounds, or even what might be used for the various drones seems superfluous. This is the kind of album Ash Ra Temple and early Tangerine Dream aspired to, but never quite achieved. This is submergence of the self and surrender to the cosmic awl. This is intense, not just pleasant hippie drifting. Maybe you need a good hallucinogen to get the most out of it, then again, maybe that might just be too much. It comes on quite strong, but fades away slowly just like the acid trip you barely remember. Recommended for living room cosmonauts, heavy stoners and day trippers alike. It may not change your life, but it may change your perspective.
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Artist: Anthesteria (@)
Title: Eis
Format: CD
Label: kultFRONT/Zhelezobeton (@)
Rated: *****
Another ambient work by a Russian artist, this time, Anthesteria, the main project name of Georgiy Beloglazov, from St. Petersburg. 'Eis' is the third CD in the "Znaki" series tracing the parallel life of Zhelezobeton and kultFRONT label residents. The album is a compilation of Anthesteria compositions created between 2003-2010, some released on various artist compilations, others published by the author in his web diary, and some released for the first time. Technically, no newly composed material has been released by Athesteria since 2010, with the exception of "Alone" for which Sergey Vasilyev (Insane Pierrot Cabaret/Electrocabaret) read the poem by Edgar Allan Poe in 2016. Not surprising that much of 'Eis' is winter-themed, considering that's how it usually is in St. Petersburg. Considering that this is a compilation, the music of 'Eis' is a mixed bag of somewhat bleak ambient, neoclassical and industrial. My first impression was an enigma wrapped in a riddle, one for which I had no answer. Some of 'Eis' is quite engaging, some off-putting, and some just really strange. Over the 13 tracks on the CD, there is quite a variety, and at times you I felt like I was listening to different artists. It is more likely that Anthesteria has changed over time. About the name, Anthesteria - it was one of the four Athenian festivals in honor of Dionysus, occurring around the time of the January or February full moon.

Beginning with "Eidolon II" the listener is introduced to much wind and chimey synth chords with sustained synth following the chords. Behind this is an indistinct voice speaking over a PA system. Hmmm... "Alone" is the aforementioned Edgar Allan Poe recitation (in Russian) with melancholy neoclassical backing and subtle beats. "Peter Krasnov" is bleak ambient and some bellish melody. Didn't care much for "I Killed," a track with string-like synth chords and a simple melody with plucked guitar sound following the chords. Dialogue samples in the background (Russian, of course), sounding like an uninspired Raison d'être. A couple of bland neoclassical track pass, then things perk up with the magical and aptly titled "Snowflakes". In "Everything Will Be As Winter Wishes" there is at first a storm with the spirits of winter whispering in your ear, then something more akin to passing time with family in the warm indoors while the storm rages outside. All of a sudden though, a stark Russian voice heralds what seems like bad news. Odd. "Exodus" is the most industrial piece on this album with plodding, harsh, klanging beats, noise and dark ambience, a distorted woman's voice over a PA system, and a hint of chaos. "In Gedanken An Russisches Drone" is a rather strange drone piece, unusual with kind of amorphous acoustic guitar running through much of it. "Falling Apart" is sort of neoclassical drone with intermittent borrowed Russian recitation. Contrasting this is "First Winter Day," with its light, airy feel. Not sure that the beat/rhythm that was introduced a little less than halfway through was necessarily appropriate; seemed a little to IDM for me. Final track "We Are So Inspired That We Glow" begins with a sing-along Russian folk melody in a public place, but then turns droney as the happy songsters depart. It's not a dark, heavy drone, but a light sunny one. Nice way to end the album, especially considering the laughter near the conclusion.

This is definitely a mood album, or variety of moods album, and maybe a good introduction to Anthesteria. Beloglazov is not only a very talented musician/composer but also quite astute. After reading an interview with him regarding his game soundtracks ('Phobos 1953,' and 'Metro 2033' among them) I got some insight into his compositional skills as well as his intellect. Not sure why he hasn't come up with new Anthesteria material, but when he does, sign me up.
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Artist: Halo Manash (@)
Title: Elemental Live Forms MMV - Initiation
Format: CD + Book
Label: Aural Hypnox (@)
Rated: *****
This recent output by Finnish experimental ritual-oriented Finnish label, focusing on the releases of the Helixes collective, has a relevant historical significance for the followers of their trail and the more obscure (or I'd rather say, esoteric) dark-ritual sonorities, as it includes nine previously unreleased movements by Halo Manash - one of the most famous name on their roster - that were performed during the very first live ritual at Syntesia on Joly 8th 2005 in Tampere, which could be reasonably considered a proper initiation, as the title says. The release is, as usual, maniacally packaged: the 444 copies of regular CD edition are enclosed in an oversized screen printed cardboard covers including a 4-panel booklet, 4-panel xerox-insert and eight two-sided insert cards within a stamped envelope and a similar format got chosen fot the 70 copies of the tape edition, while the 45 copies of the boxset (including both the CD and the tape) also includes a screen printed 30 x 30 cm canvas and four two-sided inserts from the preparation sessions held in Temple Hwaar. In my hands, I have the regular CD edition, and I have to say that its package perfectly enhances the sensation you're handling something really precious, rare and somehow mysterious. According to the introductory words by the label, that live ritual focused "on the boundless elemental form returning from metaphysical pilgrimage", bridging the "worlds of being and non-being" and the three group of three movements by which they subdivided the nine movements of this recording - in details "The Trail of Bones" (from movement I to III), "The Path of Fire (IV-VI) and "The Ghost Ceremony" (VII-IX) - mirrors the world of "re-birth, initiation and primal thundering" respectively. Some listeners could feel detached by this esoteric and mystic dimension of some aural experimentalists, but the evocative power of Halo Manash's music (even at this early stage of their research) can hardly be denied by this kind of listener, particularly in some moments of this "initiation" such as the third movement of The Trail of Bones, where they intersected the nocturnal whispers of the second one, the sonic "lacerations" of the first one and some entrancing tribal percussive hits, the subtle thunderous roaring of the fifth movement (really entrancing!) and the shamanic halo of the final tripartite set "The Ghost Ceremony".
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