Music Reviews



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Artist: Kin Leonn
Title: Commune
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Kitchen Label
The debut album from Singapore-born, London-based Kim Leonn is a ten-track collection of short chilled-out and near-ambient musical ideas that demonstrate that truly ambient music is international- or, as a more cynical spin on it, that this is a very homogenous work built from familiar parts and treatments that traverse the border with cliché. Organic instrumentation at the core is draped in electronic processing and decoration. There’s piano (of course), long string pads, wind-jangled bell noises, reverb-bathed sparse guitar noodling- the works. It’s a recipe with very familiar ingredients.

Most of the pieces stay under the five minute mark, and several follow the same format- a slow fade in of the general atmosphere, which fades away to allow individual elements and layers to the fore before settling down into an established calm which then drifts away. There are a handful of more sudden changes, such as the ending of “Detached”, but they’re rare.

But despite feeling like this is an exercise in chill-out ambient by numbers, it’s certainly not bad. The piano work on “Visionary” is a highlight, following on from the arpeggio-happy “Somewhere” into something much more lyrical and introspective that comes together nicely when joined by a pulsing kick and soft synth to form something that’s diverted very slightly in the direction of synthwave.

Like a velvet cushion, it doesn’t have to be special or imaginatively made to feel plush and relaxing, and that’s what’s going on here. High quality textures, pieced together in simple and reliable ways to give an end product that’s very pleasant without being remarkable.
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Artist: O Saala Sakraal
Title: Etmaal
Format: CD
Label: Cyclic Law (@)
Rated: *****
O Saala Sakraal is a collective led by former Hadewych member Peter Johan Nÿland and "Etmaal" is described, in the liner notes, as ""the first in a series of explorations that aim to serve as a channel between the ethereal and chthonic". In concrete terms, this is ritual music based on percussions as the line up is made out of four percussionists which accompany Nÿland who plays tapes and a piano-string percussion instrument.
The first track of this release, "Stasis", after a first part where percussions, mainly bells, create a quiet and meditative atmosphere, the change in the background from a drone to a noise marks a movement towards a more dynamic framework where drums appears to symbolize the earthly element of reality after the ethereal one of the first part; this is further underlined by the distorted, and barely audible, voices. The final section of this release is centered upon the piano string and it's a rhythmical barrage ending in an ethereal soundscape.
"Lilit" starts as a slow crescendo for string, with various samples which create a menacing atmosphere and spoken words introduce the drums and a second part based on synth and an insisted rhythmic pattern that is suddenly interrupted by the return of the bells and a gong for a meditate section which is a ment of rest until the restart of rhythmic pattern accompanies the listener towards the end of this release in a final howling crescendo for voice and noises.
This is something rather different from the releases marketed under the dark ambient genre as rituality is not a trivial matter of silence and sparse beats of gong but an atmosphere construction which reflect the premises of this release. Highly recommended.
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Artist: Eric Maltz
Title: Dream Journal
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Flower Myth
Eric Maltz’s latest 12” is made up of two tracks, both of which stretch leisurely instrumental jazzy synth-house grooves out to around 11 minutes each.

Although the title track ticks along at a very steady 120bpm, somehow it feels much slower, with its laidback bassline the key reason. Beginning with some cliché bongos, as it unfolds new elements arrive in slow procession, hihats filling it out somewhat, and three minutes in, a small, slightly Frankie Knuckles-ish piano riff arrives to tell us we’re on a long and very reliable little self-contained journey. Brighter synth chords around the 7 minute mark feel less like a breakdown and more like a shift into a different atmosphere, but it’s a false alarm, and before we know it we’re back to the original groove, which then spends the next three minutes gradually spacing out and meandering into dub echo on its way out.

B-side “Subliminal Virgo” has just slightly more vigour, rolling at 125bpm with a steady but soft kick groove and more emphasis on the twinkling synths arpeggios that dance around at the top. The overall structure’s very similar and they make a very pleasant pair.

While not necessarily as dreamy as you may be expecting, it’s a strangely soft and adorable pair of tracks that have a shade of throwback to the long indulgent house journeys of the 90’s, whilst still sounding fairly fresh.
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Artist: Chasms
Title: The Mirage
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Felte
“The Mirage” is an introspective bit of dubby dream pop that, despite clearly being fused with melancholy channeling problems and tragedies in Jess Labrador and Shannon Madden’s recent lives, comes out the other side as a charming and calming affair. Over light and confident electronic dub and synthpop beats and basslines run light echoing guitar melodies and soft, slow, feminine vocal tones.

The poppier moments include “Every Heaven In Between” which, save for a slightly more hollow and washed-out production quality (a deliberate one, rather than a criticism), might be reminiscent of early 90’s Electronic, or State Of Grace.

However for the most part it’s more wistful, slow affairs like “Gratuitously Cruel” which, despite its title, sonically doesn’t sound cruel at all. Adopting elements of electropop that are at times both modern, not that dissimilar to chart electropop ballad material, but also retro with shades of wave, there’s a steadiness and richness to them that justifies and easily fills each song’s generally six-to-seven-minutes-ish running time. The dubbier points, like opening track “Shadow” or the very endearing “Tears In The Morning Sun”, also have shades of the fusion of electronic and dub sometimes ploughed by The Orb and others, while “The Mirage” is a slightly more grimy and gothic affair which seems to have its sights set firmly backwards.

As expressions of grief go it’s rather measured and controlled, but the result is an accomplished three-quarters-of-an-hour sonic indulgence that will be appreciated by those who prefer their soul-searching and shoegazing to be a touch on the lighter side, but still very sincere.
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Artist: Munchies On Flowers
Title: Munchies On Flowers
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Switch Music Recordings
Riccardo Gorone’s solo project, named after voiceover heard in a BBC documentary about flowers, claims to see musical genres as flowers that it flits between impulsively. At its core it’s electronica, mostly downtempo atmospheric and thoughtful, a collection of seven pieces that sometimes border on the playful but which, within each track, adopt a fairly serious and focussed attitude. It’s in the unique details adopted in individual tracks, like the harmonica on “Azazel Boogie” or the spoken word snippets on “Camouflage” that the experimental aspect is nested.

The mellow soft near-ambient pads of opener “Cantatrice Chauve” find themselves, halfway through the track, suddenly cut through by odd discordant lo-fi sawtooth wave noises, before second track “Encore Aujourd'hui” really exemplifies the album’s tone, with complex but light-footed rhythm patterns that constantly chug and shift in parallel with strange and awkward-sounding atmospheric chords and sci-fi noises.

The low rumbles and steady midday techno of “White Rabbit Of Calypso” are a highlight, a slow and steady nine-minute build of electronic bubbling and clicks that seems to recall the best of dubby underground early 90’s trance aesthetics. This runs nicely into the final track “Ocean In One Drop” which is a touch more 8-bit but in the same ballpark.

It’s mostly coherent, and an interesting exercise in electronica which understands that less can sometimes be more. Not every experiment is a winner but over the course of 45 minutes it draws you in to a small-sounding but curiously detailed little world of electronic sonics.
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