Music Reviews

Artist: David Grubbs
Title: Prismrose
Format: 12"
Label: Blue Chopsticks (@)
Rated: *****
Now almost better known as a writer, after his impressive "Records Ruin the Landscape", Prismrose reminds about one of the figures that built the genre known as post-rock. However, instead of returning on paths already taken, this albums is mostly a guitar-only one, featuring only the drums of Eli Keszler and the voice of the author as an exception, and could be seen as an exploration, or a return, of a classical form in music: the piece for guitar.
The long opening track of this release, "How to Hear What's Less than Meets the Ear", reminds to a rock form that is canonical at a sound level but is avant at harmonic level: an almost simple melodic guitar arpeggio is developed by variation in the first part until is transformed in a chord leading the entrance of the others instruments. "Cheery Eh" is a guitar meditation vaguely based upon classical tunes for guitar while "Learned Astronomer" is a proper song. "Manifesto in Clear Language" oscillates between meditative moment and harsher ones using the some notes with a clear sound or a distorted one. "Nightfall in the Covered Cage" is a quiet piece for guitar and "The Bonsai Waterfall" sounds like his prosecution as if the previous piece was for single notes, this features open chords in the first part, the second part, which juxtaposes a distorted guitar line, closes this release with the fading of the amplifier.
This release underlines the writing quality of David Grubbs that publish a record that could seem far for any ground-breaking moments but reveal a concern for form which is really rare these days. For the ones which doesn't listen only "the next big thing".
Artist: Erlend Apneseth Trio (@)
Title: Det Andre Rommet
Format: CD
Label: Hubro (@)
Rated: *****
The almost incessant work in digging into interesting musical artifacts in the Norwegian improvisational scene by Hubro brought to the discovery of another fantastic release, signed by a trio named after the most prominent instrument player in this output, the young fiddler Erlend Apneseth, whose style of performing on Hardanger fiddler manages to mantle listeners by evoking symphonies that often seem hanging in between Norwegian and Japanese musical traditions. He involved Øyvind Hegg-Lunde (drummer of Electric Eye, Building Instrument - we already talked about this awesome project - and José González) and Stephan Meidell (guitarist of Cakewalk and Krachmaker), who already joined him for the last track of the critically acclaimed album "Blikkspor", the impressive debut by Erlend. They enhanced Erlend's performance by unobtrusive details that embellished any moment of this album, where Erlend shields the powerful hooks of his music over a broad set of different semblances: the opening "Trollsuiten" is going to immerse listener in an enchanted set, where the lukewarm heating of a bonfire sets the stage for the discovery of forgotten Nordic legends, inspired by the vaguely oriental nuances of "Sapporo", the flowing symphonies of "Dialog", the charming meeting of organic and electronic entities in "under Isen", the rising dissonant title track "Det Andre Rommet", the folk breezes of "St.Thomas klokkene", the flipping percussive medley of "Natkatt", the surprising veer towards Radiohead-like declension of rock in the lovely "Magma", the reprise of spores of all the above-mentioned influences on "Hugskot" and the blissful finale on "Draum Om Regn". Highly recommended listening experience!
Artist: Song Circus (@)
Title: Anatomy of Sound
Format: CD + DVD
Label: Lindberg Lyd /2L (@)
Rated: *****
Song Circus is a five-piece female vocal chamber ensemble from Stravanger, Norway led by Liv Runesdatter. 'Anatomy of Sound' is comprised of two works - "Landscape with Figures," composed by Reuben Sverre Gjertsen, who also supplies the electronics for the piece, and
the second work - "Persefone" by Ole Henrik Moe. I should mention that the latter work is an acoustic piece written for five female voice and wine glasses. Already from the little that I've mentioned you must be getting the impression that this is serious avant-garde modern classical music, and you'd be absolutely correct in that assumption, but what you will actually hear here subtly takes sound beyond the confines and preconceived notions of what you've ever experienced before. For your listening pleasure, you have two options - (it is a two disc set) Blue-ray surround sound (your choice of three different modes), or SACD. I found the Blu-ray to be the most rewarding experience, putting the sublime into perspective and best emulating a live performance scenario, although even the SACD will give you a wonderful sonic experience.

The collaborative "Landscape with Figures" took four years for Song Circus to work out with Reuben Sverre Gjertsen, and it's an epic 45 minute excursion into what voices and electronics can accomplish together. As the liner notes state: "The composition stretches the limits of tonal flexability and microtonal precision." Gjertsen studied Wishart and Ferneyhoug (New Complexity) for their systems of notation and composition to achieve this (yes, all the music was actually scored, not merely improvised) so you know this is pretty heady stuff.

Although not required, a familiarity with works by such composers as Morton Feldman, John Cage, George Crumb, Edgard Varese, Anton Webern, Harry Partch, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luciano Berio and others in this field would be helpful, but not essential in appreciating these works. While not musique concrète in the strictest sense, "Landscape with Figures" does seem to have sonic similarities - episodic and sporadic events in both vocals and electronics, radical sound characteristic variations, and impressions of extensive electronic manipulation of both voice and synthesizer. The voices however have not been electronically altered (to my knowledge) but some of the vocal techniques employed may give one that impression. The best way of describing "Landscape" is an aural dreamworld that sometimes mixes natural ambient (although no field recordings were employed) with snippets of other-worldly elements, and also whispers. Vocally, the composition ranges from onomatpoetic utterings to seductive, siren-like glissandoes. Electronically, well, much of it is what you'd expect in an avant-garde composition of this nature, and some of it is not. There is almost no concession to anything musically traditional, and the multitude of electronic variation used ranges from passages of subtle drone to bit of random sample and hold, tinkling belliish tones, something that sounds like a sink drain being unclogged, gong-like sonorities, and random orchestral elements that aren't actually orchestral. There is no rhythm; just a multitude of events that float along occasionally combining and intertwining leaving the listeners to form their own impression. The majority of this work is low-key and jarring events are in the minority. It never seems chaotic, cacophonous or claustrophobic, but rather playful and open, even though it can be a little alien at times. A portion of this piece uses combined fragments of anagrams from a passage of Joyce's "Finnegan's Wake" vocally, but don't expect that to be prominent in the listening experience. The piece is also divided into 12 tracks (sections) but you'd be hard-pressed to separate one from the next. In fact, it slips so seamlessly into "Persefone" that you'd hardly know you were on to another composition.

Ole Henrik Moe's "Persefone,' the piece for five voice and wine glasses, is radically different from the preceding work, being a textural study of vocal sound, dynamics and microtonality inspired by Morton Feldman. The description in the liner notes say " the first part he stretches silence and slowness so far that any sense of a horizontal timeline dissolves into a music of state." That's pretty much on off mark. It will be difficult to discern the sustained voices from the wine glasses here. Voice and glass harmonize in a mostly smooth 12 minute moan that has little in the way of hiccups until
near the end. After listening it is easy to hear why this composition was included in the recording.

I readily admit that most of my interest in avant-garde modern music stemmed from an earlier time when I was ever so curious about music that did not conform to convention and transcended traditional form. 'Anatomy of Sound' however has rekindled a spark for this kind of thing, being some of the best "new music" I've heard in a long, long while. While the performers and composers are to be lauded for these works, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and discerning listeners are sure to be rewarded, especially with the proper playback equipment.
Artist: Gaap Kvlt
Title: Jinn
Format: CD
Label: Zoharum (@)
Distributor: Alchembria
Rated: *****
his release from Gaap Kvlt, a mysterious Polish project, is inspired by the climate of the Moroccan deserts, hot during the day, very cold at night and so it's a two faces release. One part of this release is based upon drones while the other is based upon beats so the listener oscillates between ambient moments and minimal techno ones and this characteristic blurs the sense of boring that often arises with release too focused on the canon of a particular genre.
The drone of "Prayer" opens this release slowly developing, with the insertion of the sample of an oriental prayer, into an evocative sonic meditation. "Abu Kamal" is, instead, a rhythmic track closer to some minimal techno using the aural space to generate a sense of immersion into an abstract space. "Bou Rattat" starts as an ambient track but slowly adds hypnotic elements as beats and loops. "Peninsula" is a soundscape slowly evolving into a drone track. "Prayer 8 (Death)" takes the elements of the first to track but in an almost industrial way creating a track of great impact. "Larache" returns into minimal techno territories while "Tangsir" plays with the disposition in space of the samples. "Ovidius" tries to be an evocative track using synth lines to obtain a cinematic effect. "Vient" closes this release with a quiet track which uses gentle layers of quiet drones until the return of the rhythm reminds to the north Africa inspiration of this work.
Wandering between ambient and techno with a great production, it's the typical release to be heard with headphones to enjoy the various subtleties of the music. It's really worth a listen.
Artist: Underdark (@)
Title: Ynomrah
Format: CD
Label: Wraith Productions (@)
Rated: *****
This new release by Wraith is a reissue of an old demo by Underdark, issued as a tape in 2011 by Evil Beasts. Ynomrah, reverse for Harmony, is a mixture of black metal and electronic without any ground-breaking moments but with a strong sense of personality.
Layers of distorted voices introduce the listener, with "Rise of Cthulhu", into the black metal framework of "About Pyramid" where the use of synth and electronics collocates this project into the realm of experimental. "Ynomrah" alternates fast sections with slower ones while "Necromantica" is a finale, it closes the A side of the tape, for voice and guitar. "Aklo" features two distinct vocal lines and synth insertions of great impact. "A Minute Before the End of the World" is an evocative track for guitar and electronics while "The Excess Ones" returns to a more canonical form. "Satanic Wehrmacht Inquisition" closes this release with a slow track that reveals a great attention for details.
This is an interesting release whose probable remaster unveils some details that could be buried in the original tape which take this release into one of the most courageous release in a genre in a perennial fight with cliches. Recommended.
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