Music Reviews

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Artist: SiJ
Title: The Time Machine
Format: CD
Label: Cryo Chamber (@)
Rated: *****
According to the liner notes this release is based on the concept of time travel and, while it's not particularly evident during the listening of this release, this is the reason why there's a so massive use of field recordings. SiJ makes little use of drone as it's used mainly as a structural glue which ties together all tracks and relies instead on a descriptive musical language based on a the choice of samples with an evident influence from movie's sound design. In such choices samples are chosen not only for their technical properties but also for the fact that they are so culturally connoted to be even descriptive of a mood e.g., the sound of rain.
Over the usual drone which is the skeleton of this music, "Forwards in Time" exposes a series of small field recordings / samples whose technical craft is simply impressive. The childs' voices of "A Place to Live" amplify the sense of menace given by the soundscape. As the drone is almost inaudible, "In Ancient Times" sounds as a crossover between a field recording piece and an audio track of a movie while "Instantaneous" is a return to the canon of the genre that is even reassuring after all the previous deviations. "Floating Clouds" borders the territories of some new age with his peaceful atmosphere and the use of a flute while "Realm of Eternal Rain" is based on the juxtaposition of a drone and the field recording of the rain and "Particulate Matter" is a short and complex track where field recordings, drones and electronic effects are juxtaposed in a descriptive manner. "Morlock's Path" and "The Death of the World" are almost canonical dark ambient tracks that sounds as a sort of rest, while "Vision of Hell" marks a return to the use of field recordings and "Shine of Dark" closes this release with a return to the peaceful atmosphere of "Floating Clouds".
This is one of best release from this label at a technical level and it's even courageous to explore territories out of the canon of the genre. Truly recommended.
Artist: Radio Free Clear Light (@)
Title: In The Company Of The White Rabbit
Format: CD
Label: Black Note Music (@)
Rated: *****
Records like this one by San Francisco-based collective Radio Free Clear Light could get matched to those rare visitations by some supposed shamans or hippie veterans, whose magical potions (or poisons, depending on dosages) manage to liberate (or intoxicate, depending on dosages again) the entire community of an unknown village. "One might call it music", they say in the opening words about this enjoyable release. If we don't have to label as music, I guess we had to consider this unidentified strange round object (one might call it cd) as a sort of divinatory instrument to reach the enlightenment or maybe tear Maya's veil to shreds. And yet it sounds like something musical. I'd rather say that the similarities of the audible entities quote higher standards of electronic, post-rock and ambient trance music, particularly of the late 90ies, and all those resemblances could have been persuaded some reviewer to introduce them as Future Sound of San Francisco by establishing an imaginary bridge to Future Sound Of London, due to the psychedelic vibing of its sound. Some of the similarities/influences - Matmos, Jim O'Rourke, Supersilent... I honestly don't catch too many resemblances against Autechre they included in the "sounding-like" list - are quoted by themselves, other ones - maybe less known - could be easily deducted if you know some unknown underground blossoms of that period. For instance some similar sonorities that almost immediately to my mind are the ones by ATOI - Ambient Temple Of Imagination, another San Francisco-based collective project, founded in 1992 by Richard Sun and Seofun (melting ambient-trance, therapy music and that vague sense of transversality, close to be socially critical stings...) or the entrancing tribal-ambient by Jorge Reyes, but I wouldn't sayRadio Free Clear Light are a collective of plagiarists! There's a remarkable degree of stylistic heterogeneity (including the swirling lukewarm beat of "Underlying Macro Narrative", the hyperbolic clap-driven movement of "Change The Course", the hypnotical tribalism of "Children Of The Most Arcane" or the abstract blurring of piano sketches and oriental nuances in tracks like "In These Places" or "Undifferentiated Particles"), but there are some recursive items: besides the psychedelic halo wreathing the whole album, Radio Free Clear Light often uses inverted sounds, stereo effects based on rapid channel switching, catchy heavily distorted or gently reverberated female vocals, piercing theremin-driven oscillations and muffled bleeps. It's what the white rabbit would insert in your car stereo if you had to ride for miles to reach the Queen of Hearts on time.
Artist: Satoshi Takeishi
Title: Premonition
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Clang
Satoshi Takeishi is a well-known and experienced percussionist with a diverse and decades-long CV. The press pack comes complete with photos of him surrounded by drums and other percussive instruments. So listening to “Premonition” comes as something of a major surprise… there’s no percussion in it!

Inspired by Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” and originally intended as a temporary score to a film, this is stripped-down drone music- though I might prefer to call it ‘hum music’. From a synth, a ring modulator, an echo pedal and a bunch of computer pitchshifting comes a very pure soundscape of glacially-stepping sine waves.

The shifted alternating tones of “Abandoned Shadow” is the closest the work gets to conventional melodic progression, turning simple oscillations into an electronic ballad. In “Glimpse Of Silence” the modulation becomes more akin to alien vocalisations reminiscent of late 1960’s Radiophonic Workshop noises.

“Behind The Door” has, to contradict what I said earlier, a rhythm that’s almost percussive edging in with so much subtlety that it doesn’t break the flow. “Dichotomy Of Noise” toes a fine line between random arpeggiation and percussion and is the most jaunty and off-kilter section, it’s practically tongue-in-cheek. The opener “Prologue” and closer “Epilogue” bookend this relatively short album peacefully and appropriately.

It’s a beautifully restrained and simple collection of simple electronic ambiences with a net result that’s surprisingly warm and timeless. To me it’s more retro sci-fi than Franz Kafka, certainly, but I’d recommend it even more for that.
Artist: Nash The Slash
Title: And You Thought You Were Normal
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Artoffact
This posthumous re-release of Nash The Slash’s second 80’s new wave album revisits an album with a very broad range. There are some common elements among the 20 tracks- a distinctly lo-fi effected guitar approach to melding rock, pop and synths- but from those core ingredients the range is ambitious. Vocal songs are mixed in with instrumentals that range from quirky little ditties to broad film score work.

From the vocal tracks, “Citizen” with its crisp digital beat seems to predict LCD Soundsystem grooves over twenty years early, yet with a Meatloaf-style vocal. “R.S.V.P.” as a song is Rock with a capital R, but set on a bed of driving rough electro with no drums. Opening track “Normal” has a slightly Soft Cell swagger with a hard edge.

“Dance After Curfew” was a radio hit that with hindsight has elements of early techno, a Kraftwerk-esque vocal yet blended again with show-off guitar twiddles. Two of the bonus tracks are remixes of “Dance After Curfew” that bring relatively subtle but previously unheard differences to the album version.

Among the instrumentals,“The Hypnotist” has the groove of an energetic Tangerine Dream track with a virtuoso guitar solo on top, while “Animal Jamboree” is a more sinister downtempo affair with the ‘animals’ digital squeaks and bleeps in an ominous downtempo jungle. “Remember When” is a wobbly, effected guitar waltz. “Memories” evokes images of a late night danger montage in an 80’s cop show while “Stalker”, despite the name, is more of a chase scene score.

Although the title suggests a wilful weirdness, this album isn’t actually that odd. There are some lyrics that are certainly bizarre and hard to decipher, for example in “Vincent Crows”, but the theme of ‘being normal’ isn’t a recurring one.

The final four short tracks on the original album make up “The Ontario Suite”, originally part of the soundtrack for the Colin Brunton short film “A Trip Around Lake Ontario”- these are gentle, mellow numbers with a travelling vibe, and frankly a little generic compared to what preceded them.

Over 64 minutes (including the three bonus tracks) the seemingly deliberate lo-fi aesthetic does begin to wear a little thin. It’s as though the whole album has been recorded as a demo, with a view to going back and re-recording the whole thing properly later- which could have resulted in one of the 80’s strongest albums. As it is it’s still a great listen though, full of energetic inventiveness, and it’s a real shame that Nash didn’t release any further albums for almost a decade afterwards because it would’ve been intriguing to see which direction he was headed.
Artist: Dans Les Arbres
Title: Phosphoresence
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Hubro Music (@)
For their third album, Dans Les Arbres have taken their acoustic four-piece chamber music core and thrown it into what they’re calling a “more mixed economy of means”- a more electronic and processed environment, but still deeply ambient. The organic and digital elements play nicely together and it’s an expansion of their sound- but it may perhaps have taken away some of their uniqueness, because the result is a very familiar, experimental digitally-twinkling soundscape that’s arguably a little lacking in character. The grafting of tiny glitch noises and micro-samples

We’re a few minutes into the second track before we reach some distinct and fleeting percussive noises that border on recognisability. These are fleeting moments of proximity in what is otherwise just over 30 minutes of detached distance, and ominous quiet. It’s well tempered, an impressive exercise in restraint, but you can’t help but feel that you’ve been invited to a live avantgarde music performance- and you have accidentally gone to the room next door to the one the performance is in. You can make out some noises through the wall, but there’s a surprisingly alienating sense that this music is not being aimed at you.

The two short pieces “Sciure” and “Luminescent” are, relatively speaking, the brightest, wandering close to having discernible loops and a faintly more suburban feel. The two long pieces, “Flourescent” and “Phosphorescent”, are much more freeform to the untrained ear. “Phospherescent”’s use of woodblock-style noises makes it sound at points like a set of windchimes tinkling in a garden centre; but with a subtle drone underneath, like a distant hedge trimmer, to remind you that not all is well. And the drum-like sounds may be empty flowerpots falling over in the minute… wait a minute, this garden centre analogy may be stretching too far. But without meaning any disrespect, this ‘in the trees’ soundscape is more akin to the random sounds of a garden centre with no customers than to a wild forest.

Overall it’s a distant and surprisingly inaccessible half-hour of spontaneous but subdued noise stabs over a decidedly barren ambience. The lack of variety and the slightly over-familiar noise palette unfortunately mean that, for me, it’s a release that fails to stand out from the (very diverse) crowd.
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