Music Reviews



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Artist: Tobias Hellqvist
Title: Kaskelot: Reissue + Remixes
Format: CD
Label: Home Normal (@)
Rated: *****
It's not that difficult to understand why Tobias Hellkvist has been regarded as "one of Sweden’s best-kept secrets" just after the release of his debut album "Evolutions" in 2010, due to the elegant way by which he intertwined heavily processed drones, acoustic instruments and field recordings, but the release I'm going to introduce - reissued in the beginning of the current year by Home Normal - was even less known by European and American listeners than it was his widespread debut: firstly produced by Home Normal sub-label Tokyo Droning in 2011, "Kaskelot" was a four-track EP, that became considerably popular in Japan, due to its daydreaming and gently melodic sound, close to the aesthetics of many skilled producers that blossomed over years in that fascinating country. Years after its release, Tobias and Ian Hawgood talked about it during a discussion they had in London after a gig by Tobias at The Vortex in March 2013 and after a series of emails, Ian decided to reissue an extended version of it by involving a number of remixers to revamp the original tracks, which got also remastered for the occasion. The four lulling and slightly entrancing sonic sweetener that Tobias improvised and recorded in just one night at Sunlaugin in Reykjavik (Iceland) between 24th March and 4th April 2011 by a one-take recording of a piano, a vibraphone, a pump organ, a guitar, a pedal steel, some simple loops and some likewise neat percussions, got squeezed and restyled by a set of well-known artists of the ambient and electronic folk circle, who sometimes enhanced some of its properties: the most elongated dilutions are the one by Steve Pacheco, who extended Kaskelot sounds over a sweet thin melodic softener lasting 12 minutes and 12 seconds where piano reappears as a tide of the stretched melodies, and the remix by Chihei Hatakeyama, who used the piano-driven melody as a sparkle to vaporise the original input before arousing its electricity like the rain-smelling air before a summer thunderstorm. Likewise elongated, the remix by Chris Herbert sounds like the rendering of salutary geyser where you could imagine he dissolved different sets of unknown shining minerals. Hibernate artist Simon Bainton is the one who maybe kept more elements of the original version of 'Kaskelot' in the first part of his short remix before dissolving them into a blessing void, while Iranian sound artist Porya Hatami made a magnificent version by combining a certain "rusticity" of the input and a lukewarm epic wrapping by inserting a nylon-bass sound and a lovely synthetic string. The quirky computational sequence by offthesky and the radiant set by Canadian producer Jordan Sauer aka Segue are the cherries on top of this delightful release.
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Artist: Ernesto Rodrigues, Guilherme Rodrigues, Nuno Torres, Eduardo Chagas, Carlos Santos
Title: Surfaces
Format: CD
Label: Creative Sources (@)
Rated: *****
The parallelism between the music of Ernesto Rodrigues and the idea of fruition of a literary text that Roland Barthes in his essay "Le Plaisir du Texte" that music writer Rui Eduardo Paes made in the introductory words attached to this release is useful to render the way I could recommend to perceive more details in improv music in general. The French essayist refers to "plaisir" ('pleasure') to describe a somehow passive approach to a text and 'jouissance' (translated as 'bliss' by Rui) to describe a more immersive approach, requiring "an active effort, almost if you're writing (or re-writing) what you read". Similarly, according to Rui analysis, this kind of distinction could be applied to the way of approaching Rodrigues' music: "you have to stop all other activities and immerse yourself in those sounds to obtain the maximal results from it. You'll need to give yourself away and to focus in order to perceive it all. this is not music for entertainment or to give you an atmosphere for rest and for conversation. You have to be there, right in the middle, like you're one of the musicians, sweating with them". Hot temperatures of these days over countries around Mediterranean sea could help you in sweating, but your individuality can let you appreciate the three part of this session, recorded on 14th March 2015 at Scratch Built Studio in Lisbon. The almost sinister textures of a whispering cello, a blow over the alto saxophone and the trombone which sound like emulating the blowing of the wind in a desert place, a subtly piercing computer generated thin frequency and a sort of buzzing noise supposedly generated through an analog synth over the 17 minutes of the first part matches the feeling of dizzy detachment and spleening lividity evoked by the artwork (a sort of view on a desolate secluded place through the diaphragm of a mosquito net, that pixelate the sight to emphasize that perception). The sizzling noise over the alternation of sparse and strangled tones and the rising hypnotic anxiety evoked by their muffled chorus in the second part seems to get extinguished by a likewise hypnotical analog whisper in its last minutes, while the way by which tones got combined in the third and last part could be matched to the gradual and somehow confused awakening after a troubled sleep. The ensemble is maybe not totally new, as the involved musicians (Ernesto Rodrigues, viola; Guilherme Rodrigues, cello; Nuno Torres, alto saxophone; Eduardo Chagas, trombone; Carlos Santos, computer, analogue synthesiser) already performed together in other improv sessions and got recorded in past releases of Rodrigues' imprint. In other words, they know each other quite well and such a mutual understanding cannot but enhance their performative chemistry.
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Artist: Freddy43
Title: EP 02
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Basserk (@)
Freddy43’s second EP on Basserk is a 3-track package of downtempo-but-cheery instrumental electronica with playful acid bleeps, warm bass notes and squelches, and a groove that’s got the swagger of hip-hop, particularly in “Computer On Fire”.

“Word 2 The Nerd” with its two-chord structure starts sounding like a glitched messed-up version of the theme from “Knight Rider” when you start listening to it long enough. “Computer On Fire”, looping a “my computer has just caught on fire!”, is not as nerdy or 8-bit as the title may suggest, nor as urgent-sounding. “Going Nowhere” is the most Luke Vibert-like track of the pack, bringing the squelchiness up a notch.

All three tracks are short and sweet radio-edit-style arrangements, leaving you a neat, quirky and lightweight ten minute listen that’s a neat sampler and shows promise for a longer album, for fans of the funkier and more acid sides of Planet Mu, Warp etc.
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Artist: Matschulat
Title: Cutting The Stone
Format: Tape
Label: Rester Records
The opening piece, "Garden (of earthly delights)", delivers on the Bandcamp description's claim that the sounds are "permeated with anguish". Heavy, laborious pulses made of destroyed audio signals, pitched-down field recordings that amount to groaning sub-bass walls, and rushing bursts that sound like passing cars in an underground tunnel. The entire piece, actually, has a subterranean feel. Very fat, wet sounds, slapping against one another over and over again. Time-stretching samples to get that robotic grinding effect can be tiresome, but he has plenty going on all around it to justify its extended presence. The tape and signal destruction efforts become more pronounced towards the end of the piece, as things collapse into a bubbling, harsh outro.

The delay and pitch experimentation of "Walls" has tasty moments that work well with "Garden...", but the eastern, almost sitar-like effect of these chosen settings always tends to wear on me.

"Benches" opens with a damaged sample of a conversation between a woman and maybe one or more others. Can't make out too many words, but there are ambient traffic sounds, as well. Matschulat pushes and pulls the pitch and filter, mangles the signal, and continues in the album's vein of thick, wet, bass-drenched sounds.

"21" starts the second side of this cassette with dirty, low, clipped tones that sound a bit like cables without a grounded connection, or when they're pulled out and handled. The ghost of a sample in the background that drifts through could be a GPS bot or a woman introducing a museum exhibit. The Bandcamp description claims "piercing", but I'm really just worried about my woofers with this album. Almost everything is in the low end of the spectrum, and the harshest moments are at worst "crunchy". This isn't an insult. Piercing stuff wouldn't be able to hang out this long and still be listenable. This track, in particular, is like an industrial track via early Dilloway.

The title track offers more field recordings, peaking out, flapping in the wind, alternating between rushing-river mids and this album's staple flabby lows. The choppy aspects seem to be a combination of quick edits and signal loss. There's lots of destroyed tape sounds, and a high whining howl that gives way to more mid-rushes. A shout or a curse cuts the rush off abruptly, and again gives a glimpse of the finer editing details that were employed on this recording.

After a second listen, I definitely detect the "anguish" more than I did at first...there's a deliberate plodding to all of this. Very heavy, dragging tones drenched in sonic muck. The closing track "Claim Your Limbs" again tests the limits of my subwoofers, with eerie, layered high tones coloring the suppressed whale songs driving the piece. Closer listening reveals some very busy static-play, but it sort of has a Magic-Eye place in the mix. Squelching, barked tones climb a damaged scale until they are crumpled up into crusty atmosphere. Thumbs are firmly held down on the tape reels for these last minutes...barely escaping chunks of more damaged sounds, finally and suddenly giving up to total silence. As a whole, "Cutting The Stone" is a great example of heavy tape manipulation and signal destruction. Like I said, fans of certain Dilloway would not be disappointed.
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Artist: Chihei Hatakeyama
Title: Mirage
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Room40
Pitched as a non-academic study of how architecture has shaped music and vice versa, “Mirage” is a collection of nine gentle and relaxing ambient textures made up of slowly looping synthetic chords and subtle use of environmental found sound. It’s a very well established sonic style so it would be something of a challenge to bring anything new to the table, and sure enough, “Mirage” doesn’t, really. Being critical, this release severely lacks that distinctive element or polish that will make you remember it above the dozens of similar-sounding releases.

But, despite all that, it has to be said that it still works. As a slow and mellow wash of warm chords, it’s soporific and thoughtful. It’s an ideal background soundtrack to reflection or somnambulance. “Starlight And Black Echo” is the track that most epitomises this, while “Anatolia Mirage” is the track that comes closest to shattering it with a moderately unwelcome distorted glitch towards the end.

The found sound elements feel underplayed. “Bus Terminal In Konya” starts with purely environmental sound and shows more promise, but within a minute this culture and texture has almost entirely ebbed away, and the same gentle chords have meandered back.

The synth sound that forms the whole of “A Silence Of Day” is so reminiscent of the intro to Pet Shop Boys’ “Being Boring” that you keep wondering when the drum machine and wahwah guitar are going to kick in.

Rarely have I heard an ambient release that is so lacking in the singularity that might make you take it off the shelf, yet wanted to recommend it so highly for its relaxing qualities.
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