Music Reviews



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Artist: 75 Dollar Bill
Title: Wood / Metal / Plastic / Pattern / Rhythm / Rock
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: tak:til
New York duo 75 Dollar Bill introduce themselves like an avantgarde version of Seasick Steve; at its core, a combo of harsh bluesy guitar and wooden crate playing, but instead of snappy blues vocals in a baseball cap, instead we go on an instrumental journey of looping patterns, evolving repetitions and off-kilter time signatures.

Unlike previous releases, the duo also have guest appearances here- saxes, contrabass, viola, trumpet and floor tom- but these are mostly cameos, and not a sign that 75 Dollar Bill is a larger band now. Though the press release implies that I should say, ‘a larger band yet’.

The limping ‘aksak’ beat of opener “Earth Saw” is steady and tightly measured. Second track “Beni Said” is more ambitious, with guests arriving and more virtuoso guitar playing that wanders at points almost into King Crimson territory; more prog rock than post rock.

The tonality of “Cummins Falls” is an interesting hybrid of American blues guitar and Middle Eastern chords, frills and flavours, also a hybrid between spontaneous simplicity and complexity- one of those pieces which sounds deceptively simple, yet which is probably unfathomable on paper.

Final and longest track “I’m Not Trying To Wake Up” goes back to sounding a little like King Crimson again, this time with saxophone added and a lovely, almost funky 18-beat stepping pattern that again sounds utterly natural and effortless in its groove, but which must be nightmarish written down. The sheer confidence of it is relaxing in itself.

At 4 tracks and 39 minutes this release sits somewhere between an EP and an album. It won plenty of plaudits on its American release, and its European release should appeal to European fans of post-rock and the more introverted side of Americana.
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Artist: Philippe Lauzier
Title: A Pond In My Living Room
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Sofa
“A Pond In My Living Room” is constructed predominantly from multitracked bass clarinet recordings, layered and processed into steady beatless hypnotic ambiences. Sparing use of other noises- which may in fact be clarinet-sourced but are so processed it’s hard to tell- add a little sprinkle over what is otherwise a very pure and sincere expression of resonance.

I’m a sucker for a lovely clarinet, and while the sustains and thick reverberations here pull the tones far away from the traditional instrument’s sound, that rich timbre is still present. The hollowness of the production is a little alienating, and the resonant frequency responses are a touch metallic, making the overall feel of the album surprisingly inorganic.

The differences between the tracks are subtle and well segued. The first two track have distinct and different pitches of tone that sound not unlike tubular bells. Third track “On The Window Side” has a higher, more flute-like quality and adds a steady slow plucked light bass note, and occasional sounds like processed and distorted tap noises which increase the sense of homemade domestication compared to the other pieces. The final track has a more ebbing and fragile tone, almost like pitched wineglass playing.

Twisting bass clarinet sounds into melodious drones and super-slow looped chord patterns may not be an innovative concept in itself, but the straightforward approach and pure quality of this release make it a big success.
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Artist: Miguel Angel Tolosa
Title: Ephimeral
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sofa
Miguel Angel Tolosa has contributed to and mastered several releases on the SOFA label but this is his first solo outing- a tight, moderated collection of drones, washes and passive sound, fusing and filtering electronics with sound sources detached unrecognisably from their origins. It’s mostly windy and hollow, but sometimes sub-bass. Instrumentation and process both become irrelevant.

The result is for the most part rather familiar- the echo chamber effect of distant deep oscillations, the sense of being trapped in a large bleak room with a busy city outside, this is certainly territory that has been audibly walked through before. Everything here is washes and reverb, there’s no percussive element at all- just curves and rumbles with a fairly purist sensibility. Rain and thunder on “Sol de plomo y purpura” and a couple of bell chimes on “De un pais de hierro” are exceptions that don’t jolt you.

Tonally it’s not quite as barren as the artwork may suggest. The purity of some of the metallic tones is borderline optimistic at times.

Many of the pieces are surprisingly short (10 tracks span 41 minutes) which prevents almost any of the tracks from elongating into a mesmeric familiarity; just as you’re beginning to accustom yourself to the atmospheric tone, it stops- sometimes a little abruptly- and a new tone begins to creep in. I do wonder whether some of the pieces should have been segued into one another for a more immersive listening experience, or whether some of the pieces should simply have been longer. When the tracks are allowed to live for longer- on “Sol de plomo y purpura” and “Fragmentos de ti”- it works well.

It’s a bold and rather too brief musical statement as an album, not too steeply infused with any kind of unique sonic identity but certainly both pretty and polished.
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Artist: Luca Forcucci
Title: The Waste Land
Format: Tape
Label: Crónica
The title track of “The Waste Land” is an unusual example of soundwalking- strolling about gathering atmospheric found sounds and ambiences. While the process often leads to broad and relaxing soundscapes, this is a willful inversion, heavily processed, twisted and alienating. Strong gusty winds and heavy industrial noises of unknown origins lead to a scene that’s almost post-apocalyptic in its atmosphere. At times it sounds insular, almost claustrophobic, with noises akin to deep breathing noises recorded from underneath a coat. Over the fifteen minutes of the title track the sounds evolve fairly rapidly- at points there’s just a single layer, then before too long there are four or five competing noises.

“Voices From The Coal Mine” is an exploration of reverberation in a gigantic enclosed space- sporadic metal hits and scrapes fade into the distance with incredibly long echo tails which begin to layer and form their own, wall-and-material-born hum.

“My Extra Personal Space” is initially a slightly more typical and familar soundwalk- village sounds of gates, passing cars, church bells and birdsong- but as it progresses, further metallic hums and tubular resonance begins to cut through, as though something very sinister is afoot in the previously peaceful town. It all gets a bit “Village Of The Damned” in soundscape form. As it evolves further we move from Normandy to Paris, with more urban noises, metro announcements and suchlike, as though we’ve travelled more in time than in space.

“The Waste Land” is an unusual hybrid of found sounds and treatments, infused with a lot of energy. It covers a lot of ground in 37 minutes and is certainly an interesting, if not always comfortable, journey.
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Artist: Frode Gjerstad & Paal Nilssen-Love
Title: Nearby Faraway
Format: CD + Download
Label: PNL Records
Gjerstad on saxophone and clarinet, and Nilssen-Love on a vintage set of Asba drums, have been playing together either as a duo or part of larger ensembles for over a quarter of a century. Such a familiarity breeds confidence and understanding, and with those, the duo can assuredly put together a 9-track, 42-minute collection of stripped-down loose jazz improvisations.

Gjerstad’s sax is often quite frantic, oscillating rapidly between two notes; when switching to clarinet that’s true to a lesser extent but there’s still a willingness to push the instrument towards the edge of screeching. On the other hand Nilssen-Love’s drumming is often more understated, preferring complexity of expression over drama. The drums are surprisingly raw in their recording and low in the mix, giving the whole release a slightly lo-fi, garage tone which does no favours to the virtuosity of the playing.

There’s not a great variety of styles between pieces. By and large it all has one single attitude. While “Flying Circus” is slightly more panicky, with the highest sustained saxophone note I can ever remember hearing, and pieces like “Funny Talks” are a bit more casual, things tend to stay within the duo’s comfort zone performance-wise. As such, forty minutes is probably just about enough. This album is an impressively accomplished performance with a raw and frustrated feel, that doesn’t perhaps stretch its wings as far as it might have.
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