Music Reviews



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Artist: Mirko
Title: LP1
Format: CD + Download
Label: Room40
This is a confident and rich collection of ambient textures from Cut Copy’s studio engineer and programmer Mirko Vogel. Initially begun as an escapist while-on-tour project, it has evolved into a broad collection of warm synths, reverberant hums, and stretched-out acoustics that certainly doesn’t break new ground but which is moulded with an exemplary quality. The overall tone is mostly mellow, often melancholy, sometimes sinister, sometimes reflective, and reflects Vogel’s further work in film and TV soundtracks.

The album is largely relaxingly bass-light, with exceptions. “One Hour”, for example, has a distant subbass-line that’s like listening to house music being played in a basement while you’re on the second floor, while opening track “Glass” has an acerbic strong bass synth cutting straight through in a way that rather misrepresents the album as a whole.

“As The Morning” has a more acoustic feel that brings real guitar and piano sounds to the fore, while “Bow” as the title suggests achieves similar responses from plaintive strings. The glitchiness of “Agassiz Rift” is more disquieting than it perhaps ought to be, soothed by the casually bleeping arpeggiators of final track “Night City Landing”.

There are nine pieces that are strong in their own right, but at times there is a slight shortage of coherence between the tracks- it feels more like nine standalone pieces or excerpts rather than one flowing fifty-four minute work; though I would also dare to say the same about some of Brian Eno’s most famous and revered ambient albums so it certainly isn’t a deal-breaker. The second half of this album is more consistent than the first, but the quality bar is never dropped. This is what professionally-made ambience sounds like.
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Artist: Peter Adriaansz (@)
Title: Enclosures
Format: CD
Label: Ergodos (@)
Rated: *****
On the occasion of the release of "Three vertical Swells" and "Music for Sines, Percussion, E-bows and Variable Ensemble" by Unsounds, we had the chance to extensively talk about the exploratory approach by Dutch composer Peter Adriaansz (during an interesting interview with him). This recent output on Irish label Ergodos could be a further aural supplement to understand better Adriaansz' sonic art (or I'd rather say science, as the approach to sound treatment is sometimes scientific). It embraces the years between 2008 and 2013 and all the four chamber works, representing according to Peter's words various phases in his compositional development, included in this selection got exclusively written for the involved ensembles and musicians. The earliest work, "Enclosures", is the one that gives the name to the whole collection, as a tribute to Irish keyboard player and musicologist Bob Gilmore (sadly gone in the beginning of 2015), and features the performance of Gilmore himself, whose slight oscillations matches the intent of the Peter's research: all the three parts (each of them lasting approximately 7 minutes) of this suite get based on a study on interval and time, where the involved aural inputs (Gilmore's oscillations, Elisabeth Smalt's viola, and Alfrun Schmid's spectral voice) get gradually and almost imperceptibly faster by three different initial starting points. The whole listening experience sounds closer to the rendering of psyco-acoustic algorithms as well as slightly hypnotical (particularly the first and the third parts). Time has a primary role in "Phrase", the first of two related piece composed in 2011 for Ensemble Klang (Erik-Jan De With on alto and soprano saxophone, Pete Harden on guitar, Joey Marijs on vibraphone, Chinese gongs and table dulcimer, and Saskia Lankhoorn on piano and autoharp), where each looping lines got continuously slowed down and sped up to reach a sort of inner balance against a likewise changing sine wave. On the other hand, the relation between interval and tempo got investigated in the second piece "Fraction": the only "static" element seems to be the wind one, while the others (autoharp, guitar, and percussions) got accelerated and decelerated on the basis of Henry Cowell's harmonic tempo scales (another link to Irish culture, due to the strict relation and knowledge of the American composer and Irish musical folk tradition). The most recent suite of this collection is the opening "Attachments," a composition for an enharmonically prepared piano, where Saskia Lanmkhoorn explored many excellent combinations and features offered by a piano, whose strings got modified by a series of paperclips and rubbers.
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Artist: Eric Wong (@)
Title: YYSSN
Format: CD
Label: Creative Sources (@)
Rated: *****
Minneapolis-born Hong Kong raised and Berlin-based guitar performer Eric Wong is the author of this amazing release on Portuguese label Creative Sources, named after the initial of each of the five pieces he collected here. Since the opening track "Yut", where he interlocks fast tapping, rubbing and pizzicato on his guitar together with sound processing that could let you think he's trying to change the state of matter of this amalgamation of guitar-driven sounds (if you can imagine audible elements as a physical entity), a listener can quickly catch his full command of the devices he handles as well as the inventiveness of his approach to the instrument. I particularly enjoyed that sort of stressing test that Eric proposed on the central track "Saam", where decaying low tones that disfigured the sound of guitar follows almost five minutes of over-strained and over-compressed guitar tones - a technique that sound reprised in the last part of the track -, and the bizarre "Sei", where the listeners can imagine that Eric managed to render an imaginary alien shop of cuckoo clocks by a weird alternation between a strange chirping and sudden cogs of such a chirping stream. The starting point of the other tracks - "Yee" and the final "NG" - are isolated guitar chords, that he gradually processed and dissected according to an approach that could let you think of unexpected and unrepeatable moments of manic lucidity by an experienced guitarist.
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Artist: Qual
Title: Cupio Dissolvi
Format: 12"
Label: Avant! Records (@)
This solo EP from the bassist of Lebanon Hanover is a wilfully and sincerely retro, aggressive industrial techno, mixing sonics that feel derived from the harder side of 1990’s German techno with a more gothic and 1980’s twist in the vocals. Raw, angry relentless energy has been fed into the synths, which pound away over thumping kicks, while two-note melodies and lyrics about digging your own grave flow miserably over the top.

The first two tracks are in the vicinity of 118bpm, the final track steps it up to 135bpm-ish and makes the synths squeal and distort a little more furiously and the formula seems to work better like that.

With wannabe-controversial lyrics, suicidal Latin title, black-and-white promo images, and only the very slightest hint of modern production around the edges, it’s such a familiar collection of elements that you start to wonder if it’s a loving parody. Nevertheless it’s still a very decent collection of three throbbing techno tracks that have somehow cycled round in time.
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Artist: L-XIII (@)
Title: Obsidian
Format: CD EP
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
L-XIII is the solo project of Neil DeRosa from Salem Massachusetts. Well, you know what Salem is known for, but Neil is also a member of another (numbered) band from there- 1476, along with singer/guitarist Robb Kavjian. (Neil plays drums in that outfit.) In order to get some background on Mr. DeRosa, I had to spend some time tracking down and listening to 1476. Of the three albums I heard - 'Wildwood/The Nightside', 'Smoke In The Sky', 'Edgar Allan Poe: A Life Of Hope & Despair', I found them all to be quite different from each other, exhibiting some eclecticism, sounding at times like Nick Cave (sans the rich baritone), Echo & the Bunnymen, Joy Division, Death in June, and similar artists. Kavjian has a very good voice, and the songwriting is competent. The 'Edgar Allan Poe...' album was the most different being primarily piano (rather than guitar) based, neoclassical in flavor with passages of dark ambient. So now I think I know at least where Neil is coming from.

I must say that the first thing that struck me is that 'Obsidian' is nicely packaged. I like the purplish blue-black color scheme; the DVD style case, and the accompanying cardstock sheets that came with it. That's the standard edition of this work; the "Special Edition" (limited to 9 copies) is even more elaborate. I'll leave the details on that one for Neil to explain if you want to contact him, but only will say that a real obsidian stone is included in the packaging. In the promotional materials Neil goes into detail about the name of this EP, 'Obsidian', explaining the properties of obsidian stone and why he used it in a spiritual meditation ritual. Neil states, "This EP was a snapshot into a really uncomfortable place while trying to perform a surgery for the soul while felling around in the dark." Okay then let's see what the music has to say.

The opener on this 5-track instrumental EP is the title track "Obsidian," and what we get is bass drone with some light semi-sparse piano chords and muffled drums that sound like they were recorded underwater. Kind of atmospheric, kind of amorphous. "Ritual Smoke" begins with some sequenced bellish synth, then a rudimentary piano arpeggio. Heavy bass rumbles in the background, and then the thundering drums come in. A slow lead synth adds some melody. Overall, it sounded like an instrumental demo from a would-be 4AD band that didn't land the contract. On "Black Mirror" the piano is a bit more adventurous and so is the (electronically processed) drumming. Choir-like synths provide some ambience. Although not really dark ambient, there are elements, but I'd be more inclined to call this Gothic. More neoclassical piano arpeggios on "Belgrave Rooftop" with that ersatz choir synth sound back again. It's nearly midway through before any rhythm comes in, and after a pause the drums pick up, and you really know that this was done by a drummer, as it's the most elaborate element of the music. Last track, "Blinding Light" is the most eerie and interesting thing on this EP. The rather elongated and sustained lead synth sounds like a spooky harmonica ('Once Upon a Time in the West' style), the piano playing is more effective, the drumming more coordinated and the piece better orchestrated in total. My feeling about it though is that it could have been developed even further.

My overall assessment of 'Obsidian' is that it's really only demo quality in recording and composition. While the music might make a nice soundtrack for a noirish film, by itself it lacks substance. That's a shame considering all the effort put into the packaging. While the 1476 band seems to put a lot of effort into their music, DeRosa's fist solo effort seems to fall short by comparison. Perhaps his next one will hit the mark.
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