Music Reviews



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Artist: Fovea Hex
Title: The Salt Garden 2
Format: 10"
Label: Janet Records
“The Salt Garden 2” is a 20-minute, 4-track EP from Fovea Hex, the Clodagh Simonds-fronted ensemble that count David Lynch and Brian Eno as part of their fanbase. Indeed there’s an ambiguous implication (or possibly a typo) in the press release that suggests that Brian Eno may have contributed something to this particular EP.

Simonds’ pure, folksy vocal ambles gently and plaintively over arrangements which blend acoustic percussive patterns with a selection of strung-out drones, synthetic chords. The electronics are beautifully understated, often only just present enough to detach the listener from the organic elements of the performance and give the whole affair a sinister touch at times.

The first three tracks are all strong, with a powerful emotional thread. Opener “You Were There” is the highlight, a strong sense of journey and scale being evoked in a manner that feels very cinematic. Final track “Piano Fields” does give a slight sense of being filler, just a meandering gentle piano noodling over soft chords and bordering on cliché.

Ultimately there are part of the EP which can’t escape comparisons to artists like Enya, and I know that that comparison will have people facepalming and complaining that it’s “just because it’s Irish” but it really isn’t just that. Like it or not, the slow, bold yet melancholy singing style over expansive synth washes, particularly on “All Those Signs”, reminds me of the barren Atlantic-swept landscapes west of Galway. It’s a stereotype but honestly there’s something in it.

It’s a strong and emotional EP that is rich in quality, and leaves you wishing it had expanded and evolved into a full-length album.
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Artist: Mark Templeton
Title: Gentle Heart
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Graphical
The final part of electro-acoustic musician Mark Templeton’s ‘Heart trilogy’, arriving four years after the previous installment, “Gentle Heart” is a collection of short, wallowing atmospheres made up of slowly looping found sound patterns, distant indecipherable vocal noises, gentle sustained drone notes, tape effects and brief extracts of melodic elements.

It’s very languid and in parts rather muddy-sounding, as though underwater, giving the whole work a very lazy feel. Pieces like “Range Road” exemplify the lethargy- truly chilled-out, with a barely clockable tempo under 70bpm well in line with a sleeping heart rate. “One Last Encore” has a slightly less passive breathing rhythm, while other pieces like “Pond” are tempo-free ambiences.

“Valley” has a more distinct guitar (or guitar-like) melodic pattern at its core, but retriggered and gently twisted. “Voice” brings ramping digital bleeps and bloops to the fore before getting weirdly squelchy as it ends. Album closer “Gentle Story” has two parts, the first a very smooth and pure ambience with a familiar feeling of closure, the second initially a more blippy and bubbly number with a sliding bass tone that’s a less orthodox, but more fitting, way to wrap up.

At only 34 minutes it’s barely more than a mini-album, with most pieces curtailed at the three-minute mark, left static without the opportunity to evolve, but it’s a nicely immersive, sleep-friendly listen- as perhaps acknowledged in the title “Horiztonal Plane” [sic].
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Artist: Brutter
Title: Reveal And Rise
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Hubro Music
Established Norwegian jazz siblings Christian and Fredrik Wallumrød’s “Reveal And Rise” is an exploration of rhythms, and also of the absence of rhythms. Being singularly focussed on drums and adopting a sonic palette that mixes 1980’s style proto-techno with the analogue electronic avantgarde tones of a generation earlier, but wrapping them up with a sprinkle of modern dubby production, gives everything a very small-scale, insular vibe, like listening to the most complicated headache you’ve ever had (and then some)- but instead of techno’s regular thumping, this seems to be a piece of music where the space between the beats is more important than the beats themselves. It’s spaced out, in the literal sense- super-slow and consequently rather dark.

The real meat of this very short album is the two tracks “Mi Tek No” and “Your House”, both deep adventures into delay, punchy subbass and echo. “Mi Tek No” is surprisingly foot-tapping-friendly and a great entry point- “Your House” is deeper and more sparse.

After that, the remaining pieces are shorter and have a more unfinished experimental tone to them. “Stand To Downfalls” is a simple playing with mixing reversed and unreversed kick drums, while “Fallfinish” takes body-fall style effects and loops their tails indefinitely. “Push Push” sparingly adds Pierre Henry-esque electronic squeaks while “Hide And Sink” has a slow slightly swaggering groove to it and stands out by sounding more like ‘normal music’.

As a 34-minute exercise in thumping beat complexities, this album grabs your attention and keeps it. It’s a standout bit of experimental work.
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Artist: STAUB Quartet
Title: House Full of Colors
Format: CD
Label: JACC records (@)
Rated: *****
As you can easily guess, this multicoloured musical house got occupied by four tenants from the lively Portuguese improv music scene: the brilliant violinist Carlos "Zingaro", the skilled guitarist Marcelo dos Reis (we already introduced some of his outputs in the recent past), bassist Hernani Faustino and cellist Miguel Mira. The title is not really related to what is known as 'chromatic scale' in music (as in improv music, variations on standard scales, wherever they get followed, almost belongs to the 'rule' of the game), but the variety of varnishes is more stylistic or I'd rather say emotional or even spiritual, if we consider the attached introductory words by Sergio Piccirilli: "the approach offered in this debut album of this quartet of distinguished musicians finds its inspirational epicentre in the concepts of light and colour. [...] So claimed Paul Cezanne, "Light is not something that can be reproduced, but something that should be represented using something else". The artistic testimony amalgamated by STAUB Quartet in House Full of Colors, the means used for that representation, are sounds and music". The initial "Quiet Arcs" is just apparently quiet as it includes seeds of a vehemence, that will explode later on and sounds more like a warm-up, where the relatively slow tempo got led by Faustino's double bass. The sound acquires the inflammatory tones of Mediterranean folk music traditions in the following "Red Curtains", where Marcelo dos Reis seems to mirror some sonorities by Django Reinhardt in the swirling tonal vapours and first flashing fires by other instruments. The longest piece of this release "Opacity Rings" sounds almost meditative and the more exotic to my ears, due to the bizarre intersection of lulling guitar melodies that could vaguely resemble some Far East tradition, easily perceivable counterpoints and a general progression from darker overtones and aptly dumb atmospheres to a lighter and almost soothing one, a temporary tonal harmony that got dissolved by the following "Knots of Light". All the instrument sounds overheated and the incandescent setting gets mirrored by the fast-paced playing by Carlos on his violin. Following such a furious parenthesis, the players seems to look for cooler places in their house, where the light and the heat cannot reach them, but the sliding through the shadows projected by a closed window or by the open door of some cabinet is not exempt from a certain sorrow in "Resonant Shades"...the strange disharmony they render in the second part is simply awesome like the way Marcelo quiets the tonal instrumental contrasts in the final "Discrete Auroras".
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Monika Werkstatt
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Monika Enterprise (@)
Legend of German underground music Gudrun Gut’s ambitious collaborative project takes a core of new and original mellow electronic dreampop material and shares it around among more than a dozen musicians who each spin things off in different directions, before the separate threads are re-woven together into a double LP that is somehow both an original album and a remix album at the same time.

The result is an accessible and gentle group of super-soft pop electronica. “Grow”, with B. Morgenstern, has hints of Goldfrapp at their most plaintive. “Green Rain”, including Gudrun Gut herself, has a slightly more driving electro beat that keeps things moving determinedly forward but also has echoes of 80’s new wave in its vocal refrains. “M.B.T.” is a deep techno number with lovely acid squelches melding into its ambience, the only disappointment of which is when it stops abruptly after three and a half minutes when it sounds like it’s warming up into a ten-minute deep techno classic.

Other sections are darker and less radio-friendly, although all the pieces tend to stay short. “Feuerland”, with Beate Bartel, is a beatless layering of whispers and breathing voices over subtle organ sounds with a ghostly effect. “Desert Fruit” is a sinister dream poem packed with distant bass tones and approaching alienating clicks. Longest piece “Witchcraft”, with Sonae, as a familiar but effective mellow glitched soundscape of sparking electrics and long cold synth chords.

More out-there offerings include the very 90’s-flavoured pop-dub of “Ikarus” with Danielle De Picciotto- a must-listen for fans of early 90’s The Orb. The surprisingly autotune-heavy “Repetition” is more playful, almost bordering on silly, while the squelchy funk sound of “Who’s Afraid Of Justin Biber” [sic] is great fun and very Spotify-friendly, while “Ninjaness” with AGF revels in awkward 8-bit processing.

Across the two LP’s you get 87 minutes of music, but with the single CD you’re shortchanged slightly with only 66 minutes of that, losing out on the fourth LP side that has mostly original non-collaborative material credited to Werkstatt as a whole. CD listeners miss out on some of the shorter and arguably less fully-formed techno pieces, such as the ominous “join us” vocal refrain of “Workshop” with Greie Gut Fraktion, the rumbling subbasses of “Schrei” and harsh electro sounds of “555minimal”. “Invisible” has a hint of Ursula Rucker’s style about it.

While all of the musicians involved under the Monika Werkstatt umbrella are female, that really isn’t important; this is not in any way a politically feminist work. At times it could be described as feminine, but then, so can a lot of gentle electronica with soft strung-out female vocals- without having the concept explained, you definitely wouldn’t listen to it and think “that’s a women-only album”, and that, I assume, is the point.

Overall it’s a big bag of really interesting cutting-edge electronica with a broad menu. It’s a really strong collection and while not every track’s a classic, and while some of the tracks feel underbaked or at the least simply too short, there are enough strong ideas in here to make it absolutely worth checking out.
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