Music Reviews

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Artist: Aardvarck
Title: Anti Concept
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Eat Concrete (@)
Distributor: Rush Hour Records
Rated: *****
Mike Kivits (aka Aardvarck) is not a newcomer in the electronic music scene. Starting in the mid-80s as a dj, he went to become a producer by the early 90s and, since then, he never stopped to explore the many aspects of the electronic spectrum. Having released stuff on various labels (Rush Hour Recordings, Delsin, Bloom etc.) Mike seems to have found a more permanent home on the excellent dutch label Eat Concrete, at least the last couple of years.
"Anti Concept" is Aardvarck's 3rd full length album for EC and, believe me, it is exactly what its title stands for: a release that defies genres and categorizations. Mike's sound is ranging from deep ambient soundscapes and drones, to dub, techno, abstract funk and hip-hop vibes, with references even to classical music (on the beautiful "Hope Not Dope"), experimental fusion ("Sandor Vs Pig Talk Beat" blends church organ with what seems to be a sampled... go-go beat!) and ethnic (like on "Afrika Slang" and "Arvo Snake"). Of course in a... 27 tracks album (especially of so many sonic orientations) it's very hard not to come across some fillers and "Anti Concept" is no exception. I listened to the cd 4-5 times and i must confess that, from the 2nd listen, i caught myself skipping (thankfully only a few pointless or annoying) tracks. However the whole result is very interesting, there are some real gems in this album (personally i'm really hooked on the ambient tracks), the choice of the (unpredictable) samples is genius at places and the mastering (credited to Sandor Caron) is flawless. Plus that the artwork is great and there's also a fine limited edition white vinyl EP, including 9 tracks, that works as a sampler of the album (side a showcases Mike's soundscapes, while side b focuses on his more dancefloor oriented stuff). Oh, of course it's also available on your favourite digital outlets.
Nice release by a top quality label.
Artist: Hlandna & Vresnit (@)
Title: Inej Senju Kornej
Format: CD
Label: Vetvei (@)
Distributor: Vetvei
Rated: *****
This is the first of a bunch of CDs I have to review from the Russian Vetvei label, and all the info I have on them is directly from the label's website which fortunately has an English version. From what I can tell Vetvei deals in experimental ambient and dark ambient exclusively. 'Inej Senju Kornej' is the first part of a collaboration between Nicolay Kalmykov (Hladna) and Sergey Ilchuk (Vresnit) recorded in the remote village of Jarogora in January of 2010. I imagine things are pretty bleak in Jarogora in the winter if this CD is any indication. The music is very obviously deep, dark ambient, and even the presence of the occasional handbells gives the impression of a sleigh being buried under an avalanche of lethal snow. I suppose the handbells have some mystical import; perhaps a ritualistic device to summon frozen spirits, but even their tinkling is foreboding.

The three tracks clock in at a little over 49 minutes total, and begin with the deep, ominous drone of 'Siyanija Inej'. Other subtle echoed elements (the tinkling little bells) in higher timbres give the piece character. Although primarily minimalisitic, there is a good amount of complexity in Hladna & Vresnit's drone scheme accompanied by ringing tones and other elongated sonic elements. 'Senju Leskr' is somewhat of a respite from the heaviness of the two tracks it is sandwiched in-between, with manipulated field recordings, processed flutes and jew's harp and perhaps the vocal moaning of the Veela. This is the most overtly active piece on the album. It is eerie and unsettling to say the least, but not unwelcome. 'Neba Kornej' is third and final piece, and also the longest at nearly 25 minutes. It takes some time to build into a dense atmosphere of vast barreness and surreal space, but it gets there, and when you arrive, you realize just how awesome it is. It's sort of like trying to describe the Grand Canyon, if it were in the Russian Far East. Simply amazing!

I've always thought Russians might someday be capable of creating some of the best dark ambient music on the planet, and from what I'm hearing on Hlandna & Vresnit's 'Inej Senju Kornej,' it appears as though I'm right. Between the environment of the land and the artistic temperament of experimental Russian composers (they're very serious you know, except maybe when drinking with friends) it's a perfect combination. I'd strongly recommend this to anyone who enjoys Lustmord style dark ambient, as it is probably the best comparison. Very cool cover design by Vresnit too. As my first introduction to the Vetvei label, this is a really good one.
Artist: Obsil (@)
Title: Vicino
Format: CD
Label: Psychonavigation (@)
Distributor: Psychonavigation
Rated: *****
'Vicino' is Italian electronic music composer Giulio Aldinucci's third album under the name Obsil, and from the one-sheet that accompanied the CD, in a similar vein to his previous works. It has been compared to the work of Japan's Susumu Yokota and Austrian guitarist/composer Fennesz, but as I am unfamiliar with them I can only give you my impressions. 'Vicino' is a brief album with nine tracks clocking in at only 36 ½ minutes but it quite an interesting excursion. Beginning with what sounds like a collage from the toy chest from a variety of vintage windup toys, xylophones and thumb-piano kind of things, sweet string lines and maybe a muted oboe wave throughout giving an impression of childhood nostalgia and wonder. This carries over to the next track ('A Smile in Summer') where the sound of a cuckoo-clock appears at one point. Classical orchestral instruments (but as far from traditional classical music as you could imagine) are integrated providing a wistful feel. Obsil's use of repetition is more along the lines of gamelan, quite playful.

Things turn a bit darker on the fourth track, 'Lenti Silenzi,' where what sounds like filtered sustained mellotron chordal drones comprise most of the piece. It does lighten up and climb into sunny territory as it progresses, like the parting of clouds. Field recordings and found sounds also play a part on 'Vicino'; well meshed with the music and never obtrusive but a natural part of it. This is an element that makes the album highly intriguing. Sonically, there are a lot of different things happening throughout but it never devolves into chaos or loses its focus. It is also quite mellow without being placid, and on some level, psychedelic too. I've played this at the bookstore that I manage and have had customers asking me about it. (That's always a good sign.)

To me, it is rare that you hear an album that is as experimental as this yet unequivocally enjoyable and evocative. 'Vicino' is a brilliant departure from what may comprise most of your music library but well worth seeking out. Eclectic to the max, and fascinating to the ears.
Artist: Tobia Lilja (@)
Title: Delirium Portraits
Format: CD
Label: n5MD (@)
Distributor: n5MD
Rated: *****
Don't be put off by the slightly creepy portrait of Tobias Lilja on the cover by Anna Moberg (of the band Fredrik, I presume); actually I think it's kinda cool. Be assured that Lilja doesn't quite resemble the undead in real life photos I've seen of him. Actually Swedish electronica composer/audio engineer Tobias Lilja might be a name some Chain D. L. K. readers are already familiar with. If you recall his 2007 'Time Is On My Side' album (no, not a Rolling Stones tribute) it was a somnambulistic ambient-like foray into the dreamy subconscious ala David Sylvian or Mick Harris & Martyn Bates Murder Ballads collaboration. Tobias is vocally less emotive than the former and musically less minimal than the latter, but you get the idea. What percussive elements there were on 'Time Is On My Side' were sparse, sludgy and lumbering.

'Delirium Portraits' is a quite different affair; wide-awake and very lucid with percolating beats and grooves. Although Lilja's vocals are still plaintive here, they are not nearly as drawn out and forlorn. The music, while entirely electronic, is so well integrated that it has an organic feel to it. In a way the mood is similar to The Blue Nile (circa their 'Hats' album) with at times a dash of laid-back Yello. 'Delirium Portraits' seems to be Tobias's bridge to synthpop, although I really wouldn't call in synthpop any more than I'd Pink Floyd hard rock. Perhaps progressive electronica would be a better suited term. Quite upbeat in comparison to 'Time Is On My Side' yet dreamy. Tobias is more vocally adventurous here as well warbling multitracked vocals with harmonies. The songs are story-oriented and though the vocals are melodic, the melodies are far afield from any conventional pop music, synth or otherwise. There is a meandering quality in that respect in comparison to the actual song structure which stays true to form for the most part. It takes a special knack to carry off this kind of pop-experimentalism (Laurie Anderson come to mind) without seeming pretentious or precious and Tobias Lilja makes it work on 'Delirium Portraits'. Undoubtedly his background in audio engineering has paid off immensely as well with all the nice little incidental sonic touches that permeate the album.

While a good number of the tracks are beat-propelled, they aren't really dancefloor material. Still, it makes for engaging, moody listening. The only track I didn't care for was the last ' 'Morocco,' which is somewhat of an ode to a dear departed friend of Tobias. I'm sure it was a personal thing he felt compelled to do, and ended 'Delirium Portraits' on a melancholy note, but as a whole this is still a wonderful album.

Artist: Stendeck (@)
Title: Scintilla
Format: CD
Label: Tympanik Audio (@)
Distributor: Tympanik Audio
Rated: *****
'Scintilla' is Swiss electronic music composer Alessandro Zampieri's fifth album under the Stendeck name and the first one that I have heard. Stendeck has made a variety of appearances on compilations since 2005 and also eight or so remixes and a movies soundtrack. 'Scintilla' sounds right art home on the Tympanik label as the simplest description of the music is lush electronic ambiences with industrialized beats. For either aspect Stendeck is a marvelous craftsman creating complex, dense rhythms with an incredible variety of elements- right up there with Front Line Assembly in that regard. As for the synthesis, the lush textures, often huge and other-worldly can be breathtaking as well. Usually they merge together well, but sometimes there seems to be a conflict between the lightness of the ambiences and the dark heaviness of the percussion. It's a minor point but one I have to make. The melodic content, with few exceptions seems to be somewhat amorphous; there is a sense of motion but also a sense of drifting. The sequencing, when utilized is supportive rather than dominating. There is structure and progression, but themes seem somewhat undefined and vague. Perhaps it's just Stendeck's impressionistic style to leave the listener to fill in the gaps.

One thing I noticed on the first listening was right on the first track, 'hold my hand high in the sky ready for the deep dive,' where the very pronounced and not at all vague melody sounded uncannily similar to the one in Thomas Dolby's 'Budapest By Blimp' (1988, 'Aliens Ate My Buick'). Granted, this was probably unconscious as it is a fairly simple melody, but all 8 bars nonetheless. Stendeck sounds nothing like Dolby though and this track has these titanic martial cadences juxtaposed against the sweet, wistful melody. In my opinion it is one of the best, if not THE best track on the album. One instance where I didn't feel that the industrialized percussion worked so well with the elongated chordal ambiences was on 'crimson clouds cascade' where it seems that the cirrus and cumulus of the music meet the cumulonimbus supercell of the percussion. All the drift and dream of the gorgeous sound pads turn dark and murky with the tornado of violent drums.

Overall though, 'Scintilla' is a worthy album and has much to offer especially for those who enjoy uncovering nuances that may not be apparent on the first listen.
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