Music Reviews

Artist: Dans Les Arbres
Title: Phosphoresence
Format: CD + Vinyl
Label: Hubro Music (@)
For their third album, Dans Les Arbres have taken their acoustic four-piece chamber music core and thrown it into what they’re calling a “more mixed economy of means”- a more electronic and processed environment, but still deeply ambient. The organic and digital elements play nicely together and it’s an expansion of their sound- but it may perhaps have taken away some of their uniqueness, because the result is a very familiar, experimental digitally-twinkling soundscape that’s arguably a little lacking in character. The grafting of tiny glitch noises and micro-samples

We’re a few minutes into the second track before we reach some distinct and fleeting percussive noises that border on recognisability. These are fleeting moments of proximity in what is otherwise just over 30 minutes of detached distance, and ominous quiet. It’s well tempered, an impressive exercise in restraint, but you can’t help but feel that you’ve been invited to a live avantgarde music performance- and you have accidentally gone to the room next door to the one the performance is in. You can make out some noises through the wall, but there’s a surprisingly alienating sense that this music is not being aimed at you.

The two short pieces “Sciure” and “Luminescent” are, relatively speaking, the brightest, wandering close to having discernible loops and a faintly more suburban feel. The two long pieces, “Flourescent” and “Phosphorescent”, are much more freeform to the untrained ear. “Phospherescent”’s use of woodblock-style noises makes it sound at points like a set of windchimes tinkling in a garden centre; but with a subtle drone underneath, like a distant hedge trimmer, to remind you that not all is well. And the drum-like sounds may be empty flowerpots falling over in the minute… wait a minute, this garden centre analogy may be stretching too far. But without meaning any disrespect, this ‘in the trees’ soundscape is more akin to the random sounds of a garden centre with no customers than to a wild forest.

Overall it’s a distant and surprisingly inaccessible half-hour of spontaneous but subdued noise stabs over a decidedly barren ambience. The lack of variety and the slightly over-familiar noise palette unfortunately mean that, for me, it’s a release that fails to stand out from the (very diverse) crowd.
Artist: d'Animal
Title: d'Animal l'Ogic
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Silber Media (@)
It’s hard to pick a category for this release, so maybe take the category description above with a pinch of salt…

Surprisingly poppy by the usual drone and post-rock standards of Silber Records, “d’Animal l’Ogic” is a 14-track album of bright, vocal psychadelic pop with one foot in the 1960’s and the other in today, albeit the lo-fi alt-pop part of today.

Dan West is a one-man band I’m told, but it’s hard to believe from this release that d’Animal isn’t a full indie-rock band- guitars, bass, keys, guitars and vocals, everything’s there in the right amounts. The production is mostly faithful to the band structure but there are moments, such as towards the end of opening track “Hear It (Creeping Down The Alley)” where there are some genuine George Martin-esque moments with reversed tracks and found sounds. There’s clearly nothing precious about the target sound, as heard in the unashamed use of filtered house loops and scratch FX on tracks like “Comments”.

It’s also really strong song-writing. Vocally there’s a hint of They Might Be Giants about it, particularly in the harmonising. Lyrically it’s mostly a little more conventional than that, often concentrating on single lines or ideas rather than full-on four-verse-long stories. For example, “She Knows Someone”’s complete lyric is “she knows someone who knows someone”, yet it’s worked in different ways so that it’s both verse, chorus and bridge covered by six words. Conversely “Gemma & I” is a complete love story. If I was itching to criticise something, I might say that the vocal production does sound a little on the homegrown demo side compared to the rest of the sounds, but I’d be clutching at straws as to be honest it sounds fine.

There are plenty of highlights. “Retrofission” sounds like liquid drum’n’bass recreated using indiepop instruments, and it really works. “No Shame”, the only track to break the 5-minute barrier, has slight hints of Ben Folds about it, while “Pleasure Freak” has a Beck-like groove and some fun 8-bit flavours. Final track “Buena Vista” is mostly a Latin-tinged ballad, but with a bonkers and abrupt prog rock outro.

It’s packed with energy, a surprisingly successful 52-minute pop album that seems to have fallen backwards out of time but doesn’t seem to care. A total and very welcome surprise.
Artist: Strotter Inst.
Title: Miszellen
Format: 2 x LP
Label: Hallow Ground
As Strotter Inst., Christoph Hess plays with the mechanics of turntables as a physical instrument, rather than a record player. For almost two decades he has avoided using other people’s records, except when asked to do remixes. With “Miszellen” there’s a change of heart- he decides to take stems and elements from others, from artists that theoretically have influenced him over time, and warp and abuse them in a variety of ways.

Every track bears the name of an artist whom Strotter Inst. is paying tribute to, or heavily borrowing from, depending on how you look at it, but with the letters ordered alphabetically. This includes Asmus Tietchens, Nurse With Wound, and Tasaday. This inadvertently turns it into a bit of an alternative music quiz- “AABDMORRS”, anyone? How about “GIILLMSS U”?

While as a concept this might suggest that “Miszellen” is raw, sharp and analogue, the result is certainly none of those things. The raw ingredients are, as far as it’s possible to tell (they’re not credited), sourced from music concrete and avantgarde classical sources, along with electronic drones where it’s hard to tell whether they’re being played in, or whether they’re Strotter Inst originals.

Understandably, with such a variety of sources, the net result sits somewhere where several labels, though none of them would stick totally comfortably. There are dark industrial synthwave elements, there’s drone, there’s noise and found sound, there’s aspects of super-slow techno and more. The predominant mood is tense and ominous and there’s a lot of prevailing space.

There’s 70 minutes of material here, giving plenty of time for tracks like “ACEEH IMNSSSTTU” to swell into extensive filmic soundscapes of slowly pulsing bass notes with building, distant drumming. “DEHIN NOR STUUWW” is an accomplished piece of many parts and is at times reminiscent of Jimmy Cauty’s “Space” project but with an overriding sense of being further away. “146DP” and final track “ARLTU” both begin as a simple piano patterns which are then wrapped and then smothered in glitched electronic noise. “EFOSTU” features ambiguous vocal noises, while on “ÄDEKL” there’s the rare appearance of a discernible vocal sample, with a strangely cowboy swagger to it.

There’s a good balance between consistency and variety here, and it’s generally hard to distinguish where the original material ends and Strotter Inst.’s reworkings begin, which is a good sign. It perhaps never truly shines as a work that’s either attention-grabbing or beautiful but it’s a very coherent body of work that’s got some distinct character.
Artist: 1982
Title: Chromola
Format: CD + Vinyl
Label: Hubro Music
After a couple of collaborative releases, the trio confusingly labelling themselves 1982 return to first principles for an improvisation-heavy mood album with an instrumental core of violin, fiddle, harmonium and drums, but an outlook which is closer to both drone and soundtrack than to the folk or jazz that that ensemble of instruments may suggest.

Over slowly shifting hums, sometimes warm, sometimes discordant, the string instruments of choice plaintively wail in an often structureless and melancholic meandering. Slow and gentle drumming provides the structure, sometimes in the region of 90bpm.

Though the ingredients remain the same, there’s a broad diversity of styles between the seven pieces. Sometimes, such as on second track “06:19” (all the tracks are identified only by duration rather than having names), the patterns drift closer to a verse-chorus form, albeit not very close, and when this happens it does have a faintly celtic folk lilt to it. “07:00”, by comparison, is a stripped-down and freeform alternative, with spontaneous percussive noises and a more reluctant smattering of bowed notes. More militaristic use of steady snare drums gives “04:03” an after-the-battle flavour, while “04:45” with its dafter harmonium playing in particular has a more playful, almost silly touch of the avantgarde about it.

It’s an accomplished set of improvisations from a trio with a clearly broad scope, and while it possibly wanders in so many different directions that it begins to lose coherence as a forty-minute listening album, it certainly has a lot of class.
Artist: Luc Ferrari
Title: Hétérozygote / Petite symphonie…
Format: LP + Download
Label: Editions Mego
While ChainDLK more commonly receives reworkings and new recordings of modern classical pieces, this is an old-fashioned re-issue, by Editions Mego under their re-issues sub-label “Recollection GRM”. These are original recordings, one from the Sixties, one from the Seventies, carefully remastered and re-released. The mastering is exemplary- you could believe that this was a completely fresh recording. While this isn’t the first time these tracks have been reissued (they were released on CD in 2005), they have been freshened up here.

The A-side “Hétérozygote” is from 1963-64 and is from the very cutting edge of contemporary music concrete. Amid the 26 minute sequence are a fairly large number of scenes and interludes, individual ideas and elements that have been sequenced but rarely overlaid. There’s everyday found sound, woodland walk ambiences and light office machinery noises, there’s cut-up theatrical vocal snippets with their meaning stripped, there’s microphone and tape trickery. There’s distant traffic noises (that may be aeroplanes) making a sonic wash that resembles a single wave on a beach, sounding so processed that it’s hard to believe it’s not been put through modern digital filters. Some elements may in 2017 seem like avantgarde cliché but it’s works like Ferrari’s that allowed us to reach this place. The staged and dramatic staccato mini-drama of the vocal elements is, if I can say this, ‘very French’ for the time and reminds me of some Pierre Henry works.

“Petite symphonie intuitive pour un paysage de printemps”, recorded ten years later is a rather different beast. It opens with extensively layered pure sustained flute tones, lilting and echoing like birdsong. Unlike the first track, there are no abrupt halts and gearshifts here, but instead, very slowly, other elements are introduced. There’s a long snippet of a French interview (sadly my French is not up to knowing what it’s about), there are odd grasshopper noises and some metallic tubular tones. In the second half the pace lifts, flute playing is a little more frantic and something akin to more ethnic percussive instrumentation can also be heard. Overall it’s a much, much softer listening experience, less theatrical, more of a landscape.

This release is without doubt worth of the careful remastering that’s been applied and people exploring the development of avantgarde music should make this one of the stops on their journey. Completists may have preferred tracklistings faithful to the contemporary LP’s- this is essentially the first side of each of two separate LP’s stuck together- but as a bit of distilled history, it still works.
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