Music Reviews



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Artist: Psychonautilus
Title: Notopia
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: GiveUsYourGold (@)
“Notopia” is the second of a trilogy of Psychonautilus EP’s releasing in quick succession on GiveUsYourGOLD. The title track is an odd affair, involving horror movie-esque harpsichord synths, a squelchy vocal-like acid melody line, slow-stepping light breakbeat rhythms and the occasional deep spoken word sample talking about derelict spaces. It pertains to a dark atmosphere yet some of the instrumentation is like an inverted, almost tongue-in-cheek electropop in parts.

Second track “Hierophantiasis” is only marginally less quirky. Pierre Henry-like short analogue electric squeaks dance over a hollow arrangement of heavily effected dreamy guitar plucking and synth organ stabs, drum-free but with a steady beep keeping time like a heartrate monitor. Again, a synth melody line is almost poppy in its structure.

Final track “Dysphoria” is more conventional- a 105bpm throbbing kick drum, gritty bass notes and a few messed-up speech snippets declaring that things aren’t what they used to be (I knew that already) give it a flavour that harks back to both 80’s disillusioned industrial music and the underbelly of 90’s techno. Halfway through there’s a bizarre breakdown involving yet more organ noises, which works well though could perhaps have been produced with a greater contrast to what preceded it. This ends up feeling like it ought to have been the lead track of the release.

A distinctly odd bit of backwards-looking not-techno with a raw energy and a disregard for convention that leaves it bordering on daft- but mostly in a good way.
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Artist: Mary Lattimore
Title: Collected Pieces
Format: Tape
Label: Ghostly International (@)
Mary Lattimore is a classically trained harpist who has recorded or performed with an impressive list of artists. Having released her third solo album “The Dam” last year, “Collected Pieces” is a gathering together of miscellaneous improvised harp solos from over the last decade- seemingly to be regarded as a compilation, though it has the consistency and sheen of a new album.

A pure harp sound has an intrinsic association with lullabies and the persuasion to sleep. From the opening patterns of “Wawa By The Ocean”, this release shows it’s not going to shatter that connection. But while that familiar and beautiful sound is a starting point, we do get taken a few steps further, thanks to the delicate and sympathetic use of electronic effects to provide extra layering and filters that add a little extra to the dynamics.

In particular, low notes reverberate further, becoming drones that ebb and wave much longer than natural, giving the soundscape a much deeper and broader texture than you’d expect one harp, no matter how resonant, to provide. Higher frequencies are sometimes quickly retriggered, giving a gentle gating effect which I’ve heard on some Mike Oldfield releases.

But for all that electronic assistance, truthfully this is still an album you can fall asleep to. “Bold Rides” is a perkier piece, relatively, but it never stops being gentle and harmonious. Despite the title, “We Just Found Out She Died” is relaxed and jaunty, adding harmonium-like synth tones and vocal ‘ahhhh’s in a manner that does tend towards celtic chillout cliché, but is still lovely.

“It Was Late And We Watched The Motel Burn” is certainly not cliché, bringing the delays and layer repetition to the fore for a dark and tense atmosphere which is the most abrasive part of the collection. It contrasts beautifully with the pure and optimistic tone of the following track “The Warm Shoulder”. Final track “Your Glossy Camry” rounds things off sweetly, reintroducing the deeper bass tones subtly.

Overall this is a polished collection of performances, with restrained use of electronics making a solo harp album that retains its purity of expression but avoids being one-dimensional.
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Artist: Tashaki Miyaki (@)
Title: The Dream
Format: CD
Label: Metropolis (@)
Rated: *****
I'm not a great fan of that mixture of shoegazing and dream pop that someone named dreamgaze, to be honest, but there are some amazing details in the style of Los Angeles-based singer and musician Tashaki Miyaki that manage to boost the canons of the genre. Those canons are still there: the plain popsicle of quickly sliding pop rhythmical patterns, a set of dual guitars, one sustaining the chords of the other, a lollipop of schmaltzy melodies, a lulling pace that sometimes brushes against the backcombed style of 50ies American female singers or 60ies Americana country-folk ones. Some songs are the ones that you could expect coming after giving a kick against an old jukebox, but the way her dream (to reprise the aptly forged title) melts various elements by means of some slight distortion on the guitar, the guessed effects of her candied vocals that adds some shirring on a stream, sounding so fluid that her dream could become yours, some unexpected hiccoughs of the sound (such the distorted lead guitars on songs like "City" or "Get It Right") and the strange beauty of their fusion with the angelic serendipity evoked by Taskaki's voice could let you surmise that that juke-box fallen down the sky after getting kicked by a furious angel. Such a description could have been influenced by the catchy intro and outro of L.A.P.D., where the makers of this selection of Ms Miyaki's more or less recent outputs injected something lysergic that could vaguely resemble the ephedrine atmosphere of Amorphous Androgynous's "Slo-Mo" in a more orchestral sauce.
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Artist: Ragnar Grippe
Title: Sand
Format: LP
Label: Dais Records
This is the first time after its original release back in 1977 that Ragnar Grippe's "Sand" has been reissued. Available in 300 black and 200 blu vinyl copies, "Sand" is divided in two parts that are forming a 50' long minimal percussive/synth suite. It's useful always to put things in context and the label's bio is helping a lot. Grippe was asked to compose a piece that was to be played during the Sand painting exhibition and was then to be released on Shandar in 1977. This release would be the first official album that would start Grippe’s career as a modern avant-garde composer and electronic musician. Originally trained as a classical cellist, Grippe had relocated to Paris in the early 70’s to study at the famous Groupe de Recherches Musicales (more commonly known as GRM and if you read French, there's a great book written by Evelyne Gayou, one of the member of the group, titled "Le GRM groupe de recherches musicales : Cinquante ans d'histoire") founded by musique concrete pioneers Pierre Schaeffer, Pierre Henry and Jacques Poullin. Think that also Jean-Michel Jarre joined the group in 1969 fascinated by their theories about sound. Grippe became close friend with French avant-garde minimalist Luc Ferrari. and it was under his direction and guidance that the young Grippe started to build a shared experimental music studio, named l’Atelier de la Liberation Musicale (ALM), in which Ferrari shared his knowledge and instrumental supplies, thus forging Grippe’s implementation of harmonic tone within the confines of musique concrete. After a brief stint of electronic music study at McGill University in Montreal, Grippe returned to Paris in 1976 to compose with Ferrari at the now fully-realized ALM studio. One of the visiting artists passing through the creative epicenter of the Cite Internationale des Arts during this time was the painter Viswanadhan Velu. Velu’s recent works consisted of various Sand paintings which were to be exhibited at the Galerie Shandar, the avant-garde art gallery and home to the Shandar record label which was the home to minimalist composers Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Cecil Taylor and Charlemagne Palestine. As I was initially saying, the piece is divided into two parts: the first one has layers of delayed hit objects (wooden and metal ones) are mixed with simple synth melodies which are almost sounding casual, while the second one starts with a similar rhythmic approach but on the background the synth lines are more ambient like. Here and there sax or clarinet notes come and go as well as guitar ones. Little by little improvised synth arpeggios appear reaching the main place in the sound palette just to stop abruptly at nine minutes from the end where we're back at the initial approach of delayed percussion with synth drones. The track fades out slowly leaving you still "stoned". If you are into minimal and experimental music, you should definitely try this one.
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Artist: Oiseaux-Tempête
Title: Al-'An!
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Sub Rosa
Oiseaux-Tempête’s latest album is sonically ambitious, fusing their French shoegaze and post-rock sensibilities with an array of guest musicians, substantially recorded in Beirut and with a range of Middle Eastern flavours. Combined with multilingual found sounds and with a raw feel to the effects, diversity is at the core of this album.

However some of this ethnic variety is a better fit for the languid tone than others. While pieces like “Electrique Résistance” are definite successes, evocative modern moods with expert careful use of sound effects, tracks like “Mish Aaref Eish W Leish” feel a stretch too far, with a tempo just too slow to sustain the almost poppy vocal. Some of the shorter pieces, many under four minutes, feel like experiments or diversions that didn’t get properly concluded, but it’s the subtle segueing between tracks that justifies their inclusion.

Sometimes it’s the simpler pieces that make more sense- “Ya Layl, Ya 3aynaki” is a relatively classic bit of drone structure, with warm ebbing hum-and-strum that is on safe ground and works well. “Carnaval”, structured around an alarming saw-toothed synth loop with slow-stepping building arrangement surrounding it, is bold and confident in its use of the plaintive vocal as a form of interlude from the electronic relentlessness. The almost jazzy tones of “Feu Aux Frontières” are a highlight.

“Through The Speech Of Stars” is a standalone seventeen-minute track that’s quite a different beast from the rest of the album. The emphasis is closer to post-rock here, stabbing bass guitar notes and slowly accelerating drums underpinning a slightly indulgent distorted lead guitar that meanders around a five note melodic core. After temporarily fading to nothing, a long spoken-word English language poem is an extended interlude before the band reform for a Resonance Association-like second phase and crescendo.

It’s an impressive multicultural mélange but there’s something about the overall product which somehow doesn’t seem to achieve its full potential.
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