Music Reviews

Artist: Daisuke Miyatani
Title: Diario
Format: CD
Label: Schole (@)
Rated: *****
There's a sort of sentimental value behind the decision by Akira Kosemura's imprint Schole to re-release this album by Daisuke Miyatani, having been the first version released by German label Ahornfelder in 2007, as it seems that this collection of intimate musical sketches this guitarist from Awaji Island, who already appeared on Schole in 2008 on a collaboration with Sawako (the album "Hi Be No ne"), has been a sort of source for inspiration as well as a part of the definition of Schole sonic research. The record was entirely made by an acoustic guitar, fragile electronic sounds, field recordings and occasional parts of xylophone and other instruments or just objects, that are often assembled in quite raw recordings - as it's clear since the track "Edadone" for instance, made only by sly strokes of an acoustic guitar, followed by what sounds like the tapping on a glass, following the opening "View", where a 'glitch plated' field recording grabbed into a runaway train get abruptly interrupted after 37 seconds -. The fragmententation of many parts over the whole records, the sudden fading in/out seems to follow the stream of consciousness, the role of the perception of external world (sometimes a distraction, sometimes a part or a sparkle of inner talking) and the introspective breakouts, that often go with the drafting of a personal log in the pages of diary (the tile "Diario" is the Italian word for diary), are consistent both with the conceptual framework of the record and the mission/vision of Schole, in general. There are many moments when audiophile could dwell on the beauty of the sounds that Daisuke naively forged and the ones that he also made for the four previously unreleased tracks (I particularly appreciated the entrancing ambient of "Brew" and the antiquated sound of the final track "Kurasu"), that come as a bonus, but I recommend listening to it all in one breath!
Artist: flica
Title: Sub:Side
Format: CD
Label: Schole (@)
Rated: *****
Five years after "Weekendary", a co-production by Mü-Nest, the Kuala Lampur-based indipendent label which launched his debut 11 years ago, and Shibuya-based indie label Inpartmaint Inc., the Malaysian composer Euseng Seto aka flica reappeared on Akira Kosemura's imprint Schole last year for "Sub:Side", an album that could also be considered a way to celebrate his first decade of activity, but also another stage of his creative path. Over this path, he met the bassist Kent Lee and the subsequent collaboration brought the extensive usage of improvised loops, that he begun to integrate on live stage during his tour in China and Japan, before integrating them in the compositional process. The main features, that many listeners who immediately fell in love with the sound of this artist, are unchanged yet, but flica seems to move his lovely sound towards a more lo-fi and minimal approach, as if he understood that keeping the composition simple is a good way to render the melancholy, that often featured his music. Such a neat and somehow functional approach doesn't imply a renunciation of a certain stylistic diversification. The opening "Listener" crosses the statistical territories of groups like the Icelandic band Múm by its delicate balance between crackling percussions, ambient breezes and chidplay melodies, while the style of the following track "Moor" by its balanced union of three complementary piano lines, the chiming guitar lines and its beats could remind some stuff that got pushed by Expanding Records by artists like Monoceros, Benge or Cathode more than a decade ago. The track that gets closer to flica aesthetics, if you had any chance to listen to his previous albums, is maybe "Aire", a track where any element get inserted in a flawless pattern that will be led by an airy string towards an ambient suite, while instrumental parts gradually fade out. A softened kick drum that acts like an enzyme in the childish reverie, which can be sparkled by the other resounding elements (particularly the sustained bass chords by Kent Lee), features the following track "Waver". The frail delicacy of a bunch of piano tones that gets turned into a sort of harp by a wisely modulated delay and echo, fosters the lulling evanescent melody of "Whisperer". The slow chimes and the following expanding piano chords hides the structural complexity of "GMT+o", that becomes clear with the introduction of beats and ambiance. Some unexpected dim lights appear on the following "Sputnik", where only a kalimba-like percussive melody adds some lights on the seemingly saddest track of the album. "Wednesday" and "336 Hours" don't shine in their own reflection, as they are based on the shuffling of ideas, that sometimes got better expressed in some previous tracks, while on the final "Nephilim" a surprising bluesy touch got added to flica's sound.
Artist: Arktau Eos
Title: Erēmos
Format: CD
Label: Aural Hypnox (@)
Rated: *****
As I recently mentioned Aural Hypnox to introduce the output of another Finnish sound artist, I checked in the pile of releases that reached my desk to something by this knowingly interesting imprint and I found this awesome release, that got released by the end of 2018 in a strictly limited edition of 440 units. I sincerely hope some of them are available yet, as the delight that lovers of ritual dark-tinged ambient sonorities by listening to Eremos, Coptic word for 'desert' and title of this album by Arktau Eos, a bicephalous Oulu-based project whose makers, A.I.H. and A.I.L., besides hiding their real identity, describe as a pact, could be boosted by its evocative sounds. Some followers of the label and the Helixes Collective consider it as the most important project under Aural Hypnox label at the moment, and the quality of this artifact can not be but a confirmation of its good reputation. As you can easily guess, the conceptual framework, to say it so, is solitude, seen as an almost necessary passageway to transcendence, intuition or as a transitional state to a higher level of consciousness and awareness, as the title, the inscription in the in-lay ('Per Solitvdinem Ad Astra'), the title tracks and the whole dynamics of the album, whose moments sound like the aural translation of a spiritual process departing from the catching "The Liminal Pilgrim" - the evoking track by which Arktau Eos let slip their out by delayed bleeps, electronic slithering, a sinister chant and other aural entities - and the eloquently titled interplay of "Facing The Exarchs of Desolation" to the final "Eden", chorally seem to suggest. The description they made about this album and a comparison against their previous outputs got provided by their author and is pretty eloquent: “As has been the testimony of wise men and women of all faiths, solitude bestows its own distinct gifts upon the seeker, a process here treated in less intimate terms than on the voice-led Catacomb Resonator. Ermos is more expansive; the desert that opens before the listener is not a locus of temptations or simple retreat, but a vivid inner mindscape of dramatic confrontations and transformations between flora, fauna, stellar matter, earth, and stone. Gradually they shed away the humanness in its most banal sense, until man identifies with the scorpionic voice of power that carries to the ends of the earth – and cosmos”. One of the most interesting feature is the double bridge they inoculated: a "time" bridge between archaic and modern as they combined (sometimes easily recognizable by trained ears) old synthesizers and ritual acoustics and a "space" bridge as they injected some fields recordings in this release, grabbed in two different moments in the woods of Northern Finland and in the steppes of Mongolia.
Artist: Phenotract
Title: Tides
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
After the 2017 album “It’s All We Feel Every Day”, Eric Shans is back with his established Phenotract monicker for a new three-track EP of unabashed and proud synthpop songs. Drum machines, synth arps, bleeps, squeaks and a generally melancholic and traditionally structured verse-chorus vocal can all be ticked off, present and correct.

Opening track “Turning Tides” is actually the weakest I think, with an acoustic guitar loop that comes across as awkward and which takes away from what’s otherwise a perfectly decent synthpop song, with slight shades of New Order, and which benefits from a rich, almost folky female backing vocal.

“Seven Days” is the highlight for me, a catchy chorus, some bright pads and a few less predictable chord changes making it the most attention-grabbing of the pack. “One Last Time”, with some quite lush string sounds and another strong chorus, is quite reminiscent of the earliest material from Mesh, and also randomly throws up memories in my head of the Cicero album as well.

Whether deliberately or accidentally, but there’s a thickly 90’s style to the production, eschewing more modern synthpop wall-of-sound approaches in favour of a thinner, less heavily processed sound that could even pass for a live recording at times (and subjective I think there may even be a vocal bum note in track 3). It’s an approach that will endear itself to fans of synthwave and retro sounds, but which will hold it back from having a broader appeal, which may be unfortunate as the songwriting is strong.
Artist: Daniel Studer
Title: Extended (For Strings & Piano)
Format: CD + Download
Label: Hat Hut
In his sleeve notes for Daniel Studer’s “Extended”, Brian Morton draws quite an eyebrow-raising comparison between ‘professional’ versus ‘improvisational’ musical methods and the industrial methodologies of old East Germany and Nigeria, praising the virtues and effectiveness of the latter and stating that Studer’s work is effective in the same manner. It’s an ambitious comparison, but in “Extended” you can see what Morton is getting at- that both organisation and beauty lie underneath the apparent chaos.

Playing the double bass himself and working with four other performers with whom he is already very familiar, Studer offers up a series of works that are extremely spacious, sometimes minimalist, impulsive and unpredictable.

“Comprimere” sets the tone, a series of builds and relaxations that traces a fascinating waveform path, almost defying itself when the double bass becomes rhythmic in the final quarter.

“Bagatelle”, in three parts, draws most comparison to the industrial methods described above, beginning with slow sawing motions and seemingly describing a more mechanical outlook to performance as it flows. “Operandi” retains the slow method-driven approach, initially bringing a bit more character and melody to it but gradually dipping further into growling and grumbling tones, then abrupt reverb-laden piano crashes.

Initially “Verba” is a screechy and difficult work, driven by agonised high-pitched string notes that seem to mock the steady, almost ballad-like piano playing that tries to cut through it, but it settles into steadier and almost romantic territory as the strings back off. They then return for a vengeance in frantic final piece “Motus”, an energetic cacophony that must be almost as tiring to listen to as it was to perform, but in a good way, cathartic and engaging as the listener becomes aware of splendid details in among the noise and in the occasional respites.

It’s a bold, accomplished and confident 54-minute CD that’s moderately purist in its approach, the sound of assured high quality improvisation and musical virtuosity that defies traditionalism and manages to forge the template for a new form of traditional in the process.
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