Music Reviews

Artist: Distant Animals
Title: Weaves
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Hallow Ground
This is the second release on the Hallow Ground label from the unidentified artist using the Distant Animals alias (unless I’m mistaken about it being an alias, and Mr. & Mrs. Animals’ urge to name their daughter “Distant” raised no eyebrows at the registration office). While the first release was a more purist and simple drone, this is a more complex affair built from a variety of elements drawn from the sonic palettes of electronica and avant garde classical. There are low synthetic bass tones, string strums, tuned wooden and metallic block hits and bell tones, and found sounds disassembled at a granular level.

The arrangement of these is based on a written word text that has been used as a trigger- though details of the process, the transposition, or even the identity of the source text, is not provided, so the extent of Distant Animals’ compositional influence is hard to judge. Across two numbered parts and a total of 33 minutes there are ebbs and flows, louder and more dramatic sections contrasted with more peaceful times, but it does certainly feel like there is a helping of randomness, or at least arbitrariness, at play here. This is audible both in the rhythm, or sometimes the lack of it- an impulsive and reactionary percussive approach makes this a sound which never sits still- and also in the melodic treatment, with several pitched elements which repeat or shift notes with a similar, seemingly anti-pattern mentality. That being said, there’s also a progression- a devolution of sorts, with noisier sounds, heavy wind and distorted vocalisations (possibly religious ceremonial chanting, it’s hard to tell), gradually creeping in more and more towards the finale to give a defined structure and defy any notion that the whole work has been truly randomised.

The result is a relatively sparse, disorientating alien environment. It’s a little bit sci-fi, and just a little bit tense, as though you are lost in an unfamiliar metal forest and there are industrial creatures flitting past nearby- but where, for the most part, you are being left alone and where loneliness not tension may be your overriding emotion.

It’s a dark and brooding bit of experimental work, grumbling and sinister, but it’s a work you may appreciate cerebrally more than actually enjoy.
Artist: Celer
Title: Xièxie
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Two Acorns
This release has been out for a few months digitally already, but has a physical release date of June 7th, giving a good opportunity to look at it again.

When it comes to truly ambient works that relax and comfort, Celer- for a decade now the solo project of Will Long- has been on top of the game for a long time. We’re big fans of his work in our household- though we would probably have to promptly admit to being familiar only with the first half of works like “M1” and “Here, for now” as we use them as night-time relaxation music so consistently that we have probably now programmed ourselves in a Pavlovian fashion to fall asleep when we hear them. They are warm, lush drones that are well suited to the purpose, and while the sparseness of some of them also suggests more thoughtful, broad or lonely moods, there’s always a thread of positivity in there that can be hung on to.

And so it is with “Xièxie”. The introduction of some found sound elements, recorded around Shanghai in 2017, leads to titles which might suggest busy chaotic atmospheres- “Maglev at 303 km/h”, “Shanghai red line, metro karaoke” or the rather ambitiously monickered “From the doorway of the beef noodle shop, shoes on the street in the rain, outside the karate school”- but there is no chaos here. These elements are blended gently- and very, very lightly- into familiar long drone tones. It generally is not long before the real-world atmospherics fade away and you are drawn into long, purely synthetic drone worlds that you can lose yourself in entirely.

The twenty-one minute piece “For the entirety” is an example of Celer at his most symphonic, which is an almost absurd overstatement given how understated it is musically- but with three notes in a slow repeating cycle that changes gradually in tone and pace (without ever approaching standard musical speeds), this feels like what modern classical music has rightly and naturally evolved into. Similarly there’s a sombre and peaceful beauty to final track “Our dream to be strangers”, though I suspect I’ll try to listen to that again in the future and be asleep well before I reach that point.

Besides the 90-minute work, as a digital bonus you get two “Uncut” tracks in which the tracks are segued together without track breaks; however I may be missing something here as the transitions are mild at best, often still drops to silence, so I’m not entirely sure what this adds. Also if it’s ‘uncut’, why is it two tracks instead of one?... It’s a mystery to me and I’d welcome some clarification. But as an excuse for listening to the whole work twice in a row, it’s a bonus (albeit a confusing bonus) rather than a problem.

It’s by no means groundbreaking when compared to Celer’s previous work, but for its purpose- insofar as I see it- that is *precisely* what we want.
Artist: MIS+RESS (@)
Title: Dispellers
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence Records (@)
Rated: *****
MIS+RESS is the ambient solo project of Brian Wenckebach, based in New Jersey, and he is also 1/2 of the electronica/shoegaze duo Elika, experimental/electronica duo Thee Koukouvaya, and lately as a member of Measured, a new collaboration project along with Evagelia Maravelias, the other 1/2 of Elika, and electronic producer and latter-day Tangerine Dream member Ulrich Schnauss. Prior to 'Dispellers' MIS+RESS has released an album and an EP. What Brian does with this project involves mostly effected electronically processed delayed guitar loops, but not so much you can't detect the guitar. In fact, the guitar base is usually quite evident. While these pieces aren’t necessarily what I'd call ambient, there is a certain ambience to them. On the one-sheet, Sound in Silence compares MIS+RESS to Michael Brook, Daniel Lanois, Durutti Column, and July Skies, something that I'd agree with but not in every aspect. There is a gentle and genial melodicism running throughout the eight tracks on 'Dispellers.' You have to love titles such as "Highly Functioning Sleepwalker" and "She Trembles As She Paints," which are somewhat evocative of the music they represent. While not as intense as say, the Fripp & Eno collaborations, the album isn't far off the mark from that kind of thing in places. Still, there is a rudimentary experimental quality about much of the material on ‘Dispellers’ that sounds as if Wenckebach was more interested in amusing himself than in developing thoughtful compositions for a sophisticated audience. That this album is under 30 minutes in time may make it a pleasurable breezy affair, but some may want more bang for the buck. Limited to 200 numbered copies in a custom handmade cardstock envelope.
Artist: This Void Inside (@)
Title: My Second Birth/My Only Death
Format: CD + Download
Label: Agoge Records (@)
Rated: *****
This Void Inside was originally formed in 2003 by Dave Shadow (ex front man of Italian gothic act My Sixth Shadow) as a one man band experimenting new sounds and concepts composing new songs. In 2008 Dave decided to form a real band, put out an album called 'Dust,' played around a bit, then went dark. Flash-forward to 2016, he stated writing again and came up with a new band lineup- guitarists Frank Marrelli and Alberto Sempreboni, and drummer Simone Gerbasi joined the former members Dave Shadow and the bass player Saji Connor, releasing a new album titled 'My Second Birth/My Only Death'.

So this is Gothic Rock, eh? Well you could have fooled me. I suppose the cover looks gothic enough, and the band looks gothic enough dressed in black, with some skull T-shirts, but I guess any band could affect that look. So if this isn't goth-rock what is it? Plain and simple, alternative melodic pop metal. Not a bad thing in its own right I suppose, but it ain't goth. The 14 tracks on this album are just too bright, peppy, slick, polished and um, yes, too mainstream to be gothic in any way at all. Dave Shadow is a very good vocalist, and the rest of the band plays the material to the hilt, but you can't pass 'My Second Birth/My Only Death' off as gothic rock. Even as an alt-melodic-pop-metal band the majority of the material presented here sounds quite derivative. Nowhere is this more evident than on the song “Memories’ Dust,” with a chorus melody I feel like I’ve heard a hundred times before. Maybe that’s enough to get these guys the commercial attention they’re undoubtedly craving, but when it comes to gothic rock, I’m really expecting more. It’s the same kind of not-so spooky material you might equate with Sweden’s GHOST, which in spite of the costumes, masks and makeup are not goth. Yes, there are electro touches (synthesizers, keyboards) here and there in the music but what band (besides the guitar purists) hasn’t been doing that? It doesn’t make it goth. So if you want to keep calling your band gothic, that's your business, and saying “eh, not so much” is mine.
Artist: Tom Eaton (@)
Title: How It Happened
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
Previously on Riverwide Records, pianist, synthesist and soundscape artist Tom Eaton makes his debut on the Spotted Peccary label with 'How It Happened'. I could have told you it was only a matter of time before Spotted Peccary picked him up because back in 2017 Eaton was well on his way to creating the kind of ambient music the label thrives on. On this new work consisting of eight tracks totaling 70 minutes, Eaton imbues his compositions with just enough melodicism to hold the listener's attention, but not so much that would seem thematically bogged down in either grandiose or trite melodies. It is precisely this quality that separates great ambient from the cliches of New Age music. While not entirely minimal (there are usually a number of subtle things happening in the layering), Eaton's style now is more reflective of Brian Eno and Harold Budd collaborations than ever before. Even when a piece has a defined melody, as in "MK and How It Happened," it is embellished atmospherically, and not orchestrally. Melodies are simple and repetitive, giving a "sonic wallpaper" effect, one often used by Eno. As a synthesist, Eaton creates lush sonic environments you can get lost in but they don’t feel cluttered or claustrophobic. The movement is slow and sedate, as if out of time, with almost a time dilation effect if you immerse yourself in it. This I noticed on two of the longer tracks, "Genezen" (13:01), and "Until Her Eyelids Flutter Open" (13:47), where I just completely lost track of time and place. 'How It Happened' is an album you can return to again and again when you're in a contemplative or meditative mood, without feeling like you've visited this environment too often.
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