Music Reviews



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Artist: Lyef
Title: Introspections
Format: CD
Label: Krysalisound (@)
Rated: *****
Some listeners could find some similarities (particularly in the way the voice got often recorded) against some bands belonging to the old-fashioned branch of ethereal wave or medieval-folk, other ones could match some moments of this recording to other possible similar sonorities such as the early outputs by Brian Eno (particularly his well-known album "Neroli") or Beaumont Hannant, but the strictest relation of this new bicephalous project by Milan-based Italian musician Francis M.Gri, whose transition from quite cliched dark style of All My Faith Lost (the musical nubbin of his youth) to a more personal, more pensive and somehow brighter one could be considered already completed, and talented singer Lilium is the one with Revglow, their previous project. I wouldn't say Lyef is entirely beatless, as a sense of movement is sometimes rendered by occasional slow piano stroking, but traditional percussions or rhythmical patterns have been removed. In spite of the rarefaction of their sound, I wouldn't either label it as minimalistic as Francis didn't skimp on aural items, as many field recordings and diluted sounds mantled the trilling voice coming out of Lilium's uvula, which sometimes becomes an accomplice in spreading soothing sonic balms like her subtle invitation to silence or imitations of delicate air breezes in "Air". I prefer the moments when Lilium's voice and Francis' sonic handling sounds more balanced such as on "Iron Trees" or "Unbrace" (particularly in the second lulling part), but the other tracks are interesting as well, particularly the enchanting fade-in of Lilium's voice in "Fire" and her sort of dream nursing in the initial suites "Water" and "Paper". A possible enhancer for your oneiric activity.
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Artist: Catherine Graindorge / Hugo Race
Title: Long Distance Operators
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sub Rosa
Australian guitarist and vocalist Hugo Race (one part of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, presumably one of the Seeds and not part of Nick Cave himself though the press release is not clear), teams up with Belgian violinist and composer Catherine Graindorge for a melancholy collection of evocative ballads. I’m obliged to pick one of ChainDLK’s genres to classify this review, but none of them truly quite fit.

What lifts this above the usual “two virtuoso musicians showing off” scenario is both the production and the tone. The production is phenomenally rich- broad, with extremely cinematic string arrangements, choral sounds, thick percussive drama (mostly devoid of actual drumbeats), and the guitar and violin and sometimes piano drenched in warm reverb and subtle distortions, to magnificent effect. The vocal itself is deep and warm. Occasional and carefully considered electronic overdubs keep things deeply modern too.

The whole thing has an epic, film score feel to it, conjuring up images of wide plains and long journeys. The tense evolving instrumental “By Stealth”, one of the more tense pieces, is surely Hollywood-ready, and finale “Stones From Heaven” is your tear-jerking end credits tune, right there.

Tracks like the opener “Forever Lost” are initially reminiscent of Japan (the band rather than the country), with a gritty and pained vocal giving a performance that feels freeform over initially slow and spacious arrangements, but it soon fills out with rich tones which are then consistently present for the rest of the album.

I’m not a big fan of spoken-word tracks, I think on average they’re not very successful- third-track “Immortality” skirts a little bit too close to this, with only a brief chorus skipping close to melodic singing, immediately followed by another spoken-word piece “On Ice”, this time in French, then again by spoken interludes on the following track “I Call On You”; speaking for myself I would’ve much rather hear both these tracks as instrumentals. Vocally there’s more than a touch of Rob Dougan about this album, both sonically and lyrically, and Dougan put out his album with an instrumental second disc… so if anyone from the label is listening, can we get an instrumental version please?..

Other than gripes about certain love-it-or-hate-it parts of the vocal, this is a fantastically produced and very moving album that is hopefully not the last collaboration between those two artists who are clearly very in tune with one another.
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Artist: Innercity Ensemble (@)
Title: III
Format: CD
Label: Instant Classic (@)
Rated: *****
I don't know if the palace in Ostromecko, a village in the heart of Poland, where Innercity Ensemble got hosted between 10th and 12th July 2015 for a three-day lasting improvisational musical meeting, fostered the inspiration of this group of talented musicians playing a plenty of conventional and unconventional instruments, but this third output is just a confirmation of the incredible stylistic whirling carousel they already forged. I honestly have no idea of what titles mean, but the beautiful music they built sometimes speaks by itself. The opening "Pismo Powstaje Noc" evokes the atmosphere of a possible tale of a Thousand and One Night by its graceful percussive arabesques and the sudden grandiose entry of Wojciech Jachna's trumpet, sustaining the incredible textures where two darbukas sets the flow in a way that reminded to me some outputs by Mazurek's Sao Paulo Underground. Both the darbukas and the trumpet again are the columns of the following track "Gdy Oddech Gór Rozpoznany," which sounds like an entranced evocation during some mysterious shaman-driven dance, disgorging its energy in the narcosis of the following "W Przeswicie Gestego Powietrza" and the prog-tinged blissful nuances of "Namacalny." "Staje Sie Pradem Nieprzespanej Godziny" sounds like the awakening from the previously rendered bittersweet mental trip and its fantastic crossover between a sort of dirty samba and surf rock over sonorities that could fit the revenge of some wounded gringo is utterly catchy. The bridge between the bitter lullaby on the trumpet (close to Erik Truffaz style) and a sort of lopsided amalgamation of ambient and obscure electronics features "Przenika Przez Drewno I Stal", maybe the track where electronics are more clearly listenable, preceding the bright finale of "Godzi Nas Ze Swiatem", sounding like the moment when a sort of atonement got reached. Some aspects of what seems to be the sonic rendering of a collective spiritual journey could have been clearer if I understood what the Polish titles were meant to say, but Innercity Ensemble's music is pleasant.
Feb 21 2017
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Artist: Astvaldur
Title: At Least
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Oqko (@)
“At Least” is a seven-track, 26-minute instrumental mini-album that has feet in two camps. On the one hand (or foot if you want a persistent analogy), this is smart electronica, with complex trap rhythms and crisp percussive loops, but on the other hand/foot/whatever it’s also an experimental piece, featuring esoteric samples, cut-up orchestral noises, off-kilter bleeps and whirrs and some rich ambiences.

Astvaldur sounds (and is) Icelandic, and there are tonal qualities stereotypical of that country here- it’s expansive, it’s sounds cold, a lot of it is quite empty and it’s as crisp as snow.

“Hark” is a slightly odd intro piece, being neither just an intro nor a fully-fledged first track and hinting at a sound much more grime-like than the rest of the release. The next two tracks set the predominant format- a fairly frenetic but soft kick drum as the biscuity base, with a slightly plinky synth arpeggio bouncing above, and with the other sounds and soft synthetic textures more lazily ambling over the top.

“Flesh” is a highlight and a more tense affair, the glacial ambience replaced by slowly building tension, a very filmic concoction worthy of a cat-and-mouse chase in a spy thriller, with tinnitus-esque super-high notes for extra disquiet.

“Punture” [sic] is more stripped back, depending largely on looped bleeps that are akin to a music box panicking, while “Locked On” is a tension bed, ominous and technical. The brief “Mother” ends things in a playful way, with synths playing bright melodies with a sound like blown raspberries, though somehow it sounds more like an intro than a finale.

There is a breadth of different moods constructed from the same building blocks here, a strong musicality and the confidence to use emptiness as a key feature. While nothing about this release will blow you away, it’s a rich collection of ideas in a relatively small package.
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Artist: Glice & Coen Oscar Polack
Title: Race To The Bottom
Format: Tape
Label: Narrominded
“Race To The Bottom” is a single, 42-minute improvised slab that combines raw electronic noise with music concrete. Despite being billed as a single track, there are two fairly distinct sections, the first for the first fifteen minutes, the other for the remaining twenty-seven.

In the first part, the central bed, while synthetic (I think), sounds a little like tuvan throat singing, with subtle and slow variations in pitch giving a constant and unsettling sense of suspense and disquiet. There’s a constant and very frequent undulation in this, giving it the tone of a old car motor constantly ticking over. Over this are constant and rapid blips like secret hidden radio messages.

At points, we are joined by other instrumentation that’s been pulled so far away from its comfort zone that it’s barely recognisable- there’s something which I think, unconfidently, is a saxophone, though I wouldn’t be shocked if it turned out to be a clarinet. A few minutes later there’s something that has a chanted vocal quality to it, yet it’s so distorted you have to question whether it’s somebody shouting, or a guitar wailing. It starts to feel more like a musical quiz than a passive experience- “can you tell what instrument this used to be?”

The second part, while constructed of some of the same building blocks, switches tone. The subbass drone is mostly gone, replaced in part by industrial sound effects, metal scrapes and drags. Electronic loops and squelches are more prominent and the vocal is almost clear and discernible (but not quite). Relatively speaking everything’s a bit more playful and a bit more percussive. As with the first part, tension builds so steadily that it’s barely perceptible.

It’s a dark, noisy, sinister and attention-demanding collaborative work with a very raw feel, that brings dramatic control and balance to a sonic ensemble that is too often just an exercise in extremes.
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