Music Reviews



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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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Artist: Zea
Title: Agency
Format: 7"
Label: Subroutine
“Agency” is a sweet-sounding but pointed 7” slab of folksy anti-pop with a political message that spans environmental catastrophe and ex-UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s porcine rumours. Lyrics like “the whole world’s got cancer” and “who should I kill to save this planet?”, sung in English with a fairly heavy Dutch accent, are the unique selling point. There’s a nice rumbling electroacoustic loop pattern that opens it up and runs underneath it, and it’s only this element that really qualifies as ChainDLK territory- everything else is more Billy Bragg or late-era Chumbawamba, no bad thing but not our typical audience expectation.

B-side “My First Friends Were Animals” is quite different. Zea (Arnold de Boer)’s sampler gets a more front-and-centre position over a 100-bpm basic drum machine groove and a novel guitar melody that plinks along somewhere between a sitar and a ukelele. The vocals have been distorted and crushed to the point of being hard to make out. It’s classic B-side territory, in a way, in that it seems to represent an artist experimenting outside their standard comfort zone and willing to mess about, and it works fairly well, though it’s not a classic.

The sharply digital cover art is quite a mis-sell for this half-acoustic, hot-and-cold mix of angry politics and soft acoustic guitar ballads with a politically frustrated message.
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Artist: Niklas Adam
Title: Undulate
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sofa
Niklas Adam’s first release on SOFA is a sparsely populated sonic space, decorated with soft and unpredictable percussion work that is sometimes complimented, tweaked and toyed with by analogue-sounding electronic processing. Other sound-effects noises make little cameos- occasional woodpecker-like noises, odd animalistic and sometimes vocoder-styled vocalisations, and some fleeting appearances from more traditional melodic instrument sounds.

The result feels somewhat old-fashioned, in a positive way- a throwback to the deliberately weird-sounding attitude of electronic experimentation of the 50’s and 60’s, grounded in bubbly analogue blips and beeps, but given an extra dose of breadth and open space to play in, across two long tracks (16 minutes and 19 minutes respectively).

The two pieces flow like one 35-minute whole, and while there is apparently no vinyl release for this, it certainly feels like an arbitrary split only caused by the need to divide it into two sides on an LP- otherwise the two pieces continue in mood and tone indistinguishably to any listener not deliberately watching the track number on their media player.

The most beautiful part of it is how it concludes. After a solid half hour of conscious abstraction that borders on random, soft gentle organ-style chords arrive, feeling like the gradual arrival of soothing calm and order into an alien space. It’s handled rather simply, in a way, but the effect is surprisingly bold.
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Artist: Fredrik Rasten
Title: Six Moving Guitars
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Sofa
Frederik Rasten’s first solo release is simply built. Gentle acoustic guitar strumming, slow and steady, tracing gentle and unchallenging patterns between different chord progressions, is essentially the whole work. It’s decorated by occasional found sounds and oddly scratchy atmospherics, but it is essentially a 38-minute collection of gentle acoustic guitar chord noodling that eschews virtuosity or complexity in favour of a calm reverence of simplicity.

Longest piece “Wandering” is, as the prosaic names suggest, the hardest of the tracks to predict and has at least a faint semblance of dynamic. The other pieces throw up some interesting chord contrasts, most notably on “Circling, Alternating”, that sit somewhere between music-and-maths analyses of chord comparisons, and idle strumming.

It’s mellow, and certainly relaxing, but it somehow fails to justify itself or generate more than the sum of its parts. If it is imbued with a sense of purpose, then unfortunately I missed it, because this just felt like faintly indulgent sonic wallpaper. Undoubtedly pleasant, but unfortunately I didn’t find it either engaging or impressive. You can’t win them all.
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Artist: Tegh
Title: Unusual Path
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Midira Records
Shahin Entezami’s previous work as Tegh, “Downfall”, gets returned to fairly frequently in our place, so a new work was very welcome, and “Unusual Path” doesn’t disappoint. It’s a similar flavour- twenty minutes of tense, edgy drone-ambient-soundscape work, constructed from a fairly thick layering of analogue pads and found sounds that unfold and evolve constantly without ever distinctly changing- as though taking the principles of a Shepard tone and applying them across the whole dynamic of a sinister, suspenseful sustain. As some elements fade, others have already arrived, leading to an incessant yet always interesting carpet of noise. It’s nicely cathartic, and stops short of being actively difficult to listen to.

Unusually, there are two remixes here- giving a tracklist which looks more like a dance track, though you’ll never hear either of these on a dancefloor. Siavash Amini’s remix is a softer take on the material, a mellower and rumblier and less in-your-face cousin, while Zenjungle’s mix keeps the tension at a more constant level and brings forth some of the more organic brassy instrumentation, that transforms into an odd sort of muted clarion call for an undisclosed desire. Both remixes are ten minutes long, filling the second side of an LP while the original track fills the first.

It’s a very appealing and balanced bit of textured drone work, complex, moderate and cultured, and just the right amount of difficult.
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