Music Reviews



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Artist: Chris Russell (@)
Title: Echo
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
'Echo' is ambient sound sculptor Chris Russell's second release on the Spotted Peccary label, but about his 15th release over all, and that's only since 2010. No doubt Russell is a very prolific artist, but this is the first I'm hearing his work. On the SP one-sheet that accompanied this release it says "Russell's sci-fi inspired audioscape is a stimulating aural environment of immersive spaces that calls to mind the haunting cinematic works of Stanley Kubrick ('2001 A Space Odyssey') or Ridley Scott ('Blade Runner')." That description isn't far off the mark, just don't expect any Legeti or Vangelis cloning. Comprised of 9 tracks of varying length totaling an hour and a minute, 'Echo' is a trip that will take you both to outer and inner space. Beginning with the title track you are thrust skyward at intense velocity rocketing you quickly through the stratosphere to the exosphere and beyond into weightless space. And yes, it begins as noisily and turbulent as a rocket, but doesn't last long. After that, it's a pretty smooth ride. Most of Russell's atmospheres are on the minimal side sound-wise, but complex in their formulation. The music is closer to grey ambient (neutral) being neither particularly light or dark, except on a few pieces. A couple of those have a gamelan-like ambience, most notably "Sparse," a nearly 11 minute excursion into a Javanese dream sequence, as if you were visiting a perfumed garden on a sunny day. Some pieces are overtly extraterrestrial while others seem more reflective of inner space. The last, and longest (13:20) track, "Abandoned" belies the ominous definition of its title. Definitely terrestrial, it sounds like a peaceful vacation day at the lake (or maybe even the beach) where you can hear birds, a barking dog in the distance and other minor ambient activity combined with a generally mellow drone atmosphere. 'Echo' is an enjoyable journey that is high in replay value. Essential if you love ambient music.
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Artist: L# Collivasone (@)
Title: Vostra Signora Del Rumore Rosa
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Furry Heart Records (@)
Rated: *****
I think we've become jaded and lazy as far as new music goes; in what we listen to, the way we listen to it, where we get it, and what we pay for it. At the risk of being called an old fart (I am, but that's beside the point) I recall a time when ever new album was a special event; something to be savored and cherished. Yeah, there was the radio, but it mostly played "songs," not complete works. It was a taste- incomplete and usually only the highlight or "hit", not the whole work. (A bit of a different situation with classical music, but that's another story.) The point is, with so many different music outlets and formats, we tend to take it for granted. Stealing music on the 'net is commonplace. Many new music artists give it away just to get known. Nearly everybody streams their stuff, so you don't have to pay anything to hear it (not to mention YouTube), just to own it. To some extent I think that cheapens the experience, and also cheats the artist. But if you can't listen to it (radio is a dead, at least here in the U.S., for most new music artists) how are you going to get it to the people who will most appreciate it? Record companies (labels) used to pave the way, grease the right palms, and obtain exposure for new artists. Now it doesn't work that way anymore, partly because the labels can't afford it, and partly because they're unwilling to do the kind of work they used to do. The whole game has changed and it's up the artists more often than not to promote their product. With so many out there doing that though, it's a cacophony of sound where one has to slog their way through so much crap to get to anything really good. This is where folks like me come in. I don't necessarily think reviewers are the arbiters of what's good and what's not, so much as guideposts pointing potential listeners in the right direction. Yes, we're all biased to some degree as no one can be completely objective when it comes to an art that is just so subjective. However, a good reviewer should be able to provide context and maybe even some nuance when it comes to description and qualification.

So why the big long preamble here? Maybe because this is a review of something so far afield from the norm that it warrants some expository treatment. When I come across unfamiliar music that purports to be "avant garde" I tend to wince because it's a genre that is often refuge to the talentless and inept, music utterly lacking in palatability or associated redeeming features. (Just because it's weird doesn't make it good.) I am most pleased to say though that L# Collivasone's 'Vostra Signora Del Rumore Rosa' (Your Lady of Pink Noise) is not that dreadful, poorly conceived and executed kind of avant garde music, but the real deal. A little background on Luca Collivasone (AKA: Doc. Luden Looksharp, Aston Baxmaq, L #, L.L.Looksharp): this Italian musical genius/savant began his artistic career as a musician at the turn of the ’80s as founder and guitarist of the band Aus Decline. He then studied classical guitar and various programs for the production of music with computers, composed soundtracks for documentaries, tv shows and advertising. He played with the Italian rockabilly band Stiletto, then later (2006-2013) established the art-punk/rock 'n' roll/retro band The Masked Marvels which toured extensively in Italy, Switzerland, Germany and France. Post-Masked Marvels Luca formed the band Iarballe, playing prepared guitar and a small synthesizer accompanied by a bassist and a drummer. It was around this time that he stumbled on the concept of the "Cacophonator," the primary and only instrument (excepting Collivasone's voice) played on this album.

The Cacophonator was made from an old (1940's) Singer sewing machine he found in a junk shop, that he modified with an assortment of strange sound producing elements. To see this contraption you would have no idea that the sounds on this album would even be remotely possible from some an archaic device, but they are. It really sounds as if it was made using some hi-tech combo of sophisticated modular synthesizers and samplers. (He calls it the "Concrete Music Machine".) A bit of Collivasone's philosophy regarding this work - "Slow down. Remove technology with its sure result. A strong idea becomes the first musical instrument..." There is much more but you can chew on that for now.
So what does this sound like? Well, a wide variety of things ranging from subtle ambient to chaotic experimental electronic. Dynamics are quite varied; quiet at times, loud at others; sometimes beatless, sometimes rhythmic. The album is comprised of nine tracks all with different motifs, moods and sonic palettes. "Alpha Crucis" which open the album is low-key ambient and kind of droney. The title track features a poetic recitation by Luca (in Italian) with slow beats, twisty, contorted sounds amidst light bellish tones and the occasional moaning, groaning bass. "Tropicantor," one of the longer pieces on the album, begins with a variety of low tones, then ghostly moaning oscillators enter the picture. Also eventually some squeaky sounds in a repetitive pattern, with a slow noise as well. This piece also has a vocal recitation, a short phrase repeated like a ritual chant. Collivasone concocts a plethora of odd electro-acoustic sounds for "Everything About Her Was a Lie," backed by an off-kilter rhythm. The bizarre vocal track on this one just has to be heard. If there could ever be a hit single from this record (which is highly unlikely) this would be it. There is even some sort of stringed instrument solo (warp guitar??) but all that is coming from the cacophonator.

Moving to side 2 we begin with "Bela Bite" which uses a simple metallic rhythm over which bowed, scraped and plucked string sounds, bass and little noise elements interact. The piece grows noisier over time as the volume increases. There is a definite buzzy machine-like ambience in "Sanguisuga," also with heavier beats which begin a basic rhythm you could even dance to. In fact, this is REAL industrial dance music, but not the kind you may be used to hearing. (I'd recommend this as the B-side of the non-hit single.) "Anus Pelicanus" almost sounds like its title, but I was thinking "duck farts in a shallow bathtub". String plucks and woodwind squeals over that strange duck-farting sequence on a repeating loop with blasts of noise interspersed. My description doesn't do it justice. "Rain On Your Parade" might be as close as we get to a conventional song with Luca's spoke-sung lyrics and repeating chorus, but it's not that close. Finally, "Caramel Moon" is a musique concrete fantasia with just about everything in it including a rudimentary beat. Usually when I've listened to this much avant-garde music I've had enough for a while but this album just makes me want more. Highly recommended for its concept and execution, but you'll need some quiet time to process it all. Thanks Edwina (owner of Furry Heart Records) for sending me the vinyl rather than just a download link. Tangible product is always appreciated, and I’d recommend the vinyl over the download.
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Artist: Luton (@)
Title: Black Box Animals
Format: CD
Label: Lost Tribe Sound (@)
Rated: *****
Luton is the Italian duo of Roberto P. Siguera and Attilio Novellino whose electroacoustic music is something at the edge between modern classical and ambient. As they use traditional instruments as strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion and they reportedly wrote their pieces in various venues, this release sounds as a sort of journey diary with his impressive diversity.
"Mount Kenya Imperial" opens this release with a field recordings which is juxtaposed to drones generated by strings used to add a subjective mood to an objective landscape. "Spectres of Mark" is a minimal and hypnotic track developed upon a drone and a simple synth line. "Södermalm Phantom Cab" is instead a sort of jazz tune introduced by a field recording followed by the entrance of the single musical lines. "Eternal Now" is a short interlude where all elements of Luton's music are compressed to the essential. "Black Concrete" alternates noisy moments to ethereal ones. "Archipelago" in an evocative catchy tune where the clear arpeggio of the guitar and the melancholic trumpet line capture the listener. "Night Avalanche" is a drone crescendo interrupted only for another one using instruments. "Elk Talk" is a dialogue between a piano and a violin while "Submergence" uses editing techniques to escape catchy melodies. The melodic elements of "Ice Museum" emerge from the drone background and "Silent Firework" closes this release bordering on the edge of modern classical.
The clever and rather romantic use of melody let this release depart the rather pop territories of modern classical as the electroacoustic element appears to add an element of noise which is functional to avoid the sense of déjà vu while retaining the catchy elements. Highly recommended.
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Artist: Halftribe
Title: For The Summer, Or Forever
Format: CD
Label: Dronarivm (@)
Rated: *****
Halftribe is the musical project by Ryan Bisset whose music is a rather canonical ambient music with a certain research of a catchy layer. So, this is music which resonates with the listener in such a way it sounds as something heard a multiple time even in the first listening and without sounding as a tribute band. It's not merely derivative but has a sense of familiarity with the listener.
"Sacred" starts this release immediately depicting a sound framework made out of quiet drones and dreamy loops. "For The Summer, Or Forever" uses also field recordings of birds singing and water flowing. The sounds of "Balm" ebb and flow from a quiet background noise. The gentle melody of "Swimming Off That Sombre Shore" emerges from the loop while "Still" is a dreamy sound watercolor and the simple melody "Imaginery Lines" catches the listener and "Radiant" hypnotizes him with its suspended atmosphere. "Anagram" is a crescendo by accumulation of sound elements as drones and field recordings. "From One Point To Another" uses piano not as a way to mimic a modern classical tune but as a way to add a color spot in a black and white drawing. "The Simple Things" is a slowly unfolding ambient track and "Liberated Lies" uses sustained tones to add a movement to the static background based on a loop. "Until" closes this release with a catchy melody for synth.
This is a really enjoyable release that could upset the fans for new and innovative music at any cost but will be well received by fans of ambient and modern classical. If only it doesn't have that patina of déjà vu...
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Artist: Attilio Novellino & Collin McKelvey (@)
Title: Métaphysiques cannibales
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Kohlhaas (@)
Rated: *****
This new release by Attilio Novellino and Collin McKelvey takes its title by the essay by the anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro which seems based around the concept that, for fully understand another culture, it's necessary not to see it behind the screen of western culture. So, it's understandable the liner notes claim that "sound organization is here conceived as both as a apparatus of creation and a practice of knowledge" i.e., it's not derived by an abstract system but it's closer to a physical exploration.
This release is divided in two parts: the first one, "Métaphysiques cannibales I", starts quietly with the juxtaposition of pulsating sinewaves in the background and various noises in the foreground, then the track evolves alternating moments where the noises generate a sound field reminiscent of the city's background noise to more static one where the drone acts as a moment of rest during a long journey. Those sense for path planning escapes the dull accumulation of samples for fake complexity.
The second one "Métaphysiques cannibales II" is instead a subtler track starting with a quiet and almost inaudible drone which slowly introduces other drones until at half his length this framework is repeated with noisier elements as a study for sonic accumulation.
A well developed release where a narrative sense removes that patina of self indulgent experimentation which is ejectable for the fans of the genre. It's really worth more than a listen to fully appreciate it.
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