Music Reviews

XT: Palina\'tufa

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jun 19 2019
Artist: XT
Title: Palina\'tufa
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Empty Editions
After XT’s last two albums were primarily documentations of live performances, the duo of saxophonist Seymour Wright and percussionist Paul Abbott have embraced more studio work, overdubbing and re-tweaking their impulsive improvisations into something pointedly chaotic.

Across four sides of an LP are spread four untitled works, each precisely fifteen minutes long. In some respects there’s an experimental jazz timbre, hard to avoid with spontaneous saxophone playing, but there’s a deliberate intent here to fill the sonic space frequently. Despite there only being too performers, both the attitude and the production result in something noisy and at times quite raw. There is dynamic contrast at times, breathing space between assaults, but for most of this exactly-an-hour work, the energy level rarely drops far, or for long.

The electronic experimentation sometimes stretches into equipment-tweaking as well- a strong motor-like drone on side B being an example. Lines are blurred or broken between what counts as playing the instrument, with atonal and squeaky extreme sounds often focussed on the incidental noises of the instrument as a machine, and what is more abrasive and industrial noise-making. At times, particularly in part C, the subversion of ‘normal jazz’ rhythms and sounds is a little more overt.

This is rough and aggressively handled experimental music. It’s a distant cousin to avantgarde jazz with an attitude that’s more noise-punk. It doesn’t necessarily want to be liked, but on those terms it can be appreciated.

Abstract Nympho: Static

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jun 14 2019
Artist: Abstract Nympho
Title: Static
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Static Age
“The Static” is a short 5-track EP from the duo of Rahel Preisser (on vocals, trumpet, and “noise interventions”), and Ghazi Barakat aka Pharoah Chromium providing the rest of the psychedelic and drone noises. Thanks are given to “Gordon W.” who contributes steady Eastern-sounding tablas. The result is an 18-minute package of ‘un-pop’ dreamwave, with organic-sounding drone and super-soft hand-drum rhythms, and Preisser’s easy-sounding spoken-barely-sung vocal work front and centre.

After kicking off with a very trippy cover of “Silver Machine”, we flow into the duo’s first ever track, which sets a poem by Scardanelli (who happens to be Preisser’s father) over some plaintive and exotic instrumental calls and a rugged textured synth bass drone.

The B-side starts with another disassembled cover version, stripping Jane Birkin’s 1983 “Baby Alone In Babylone” back to essentially just a half-sung acapella with coincidental high-pitched drone and wind sounds. “Japanese Double Suicide” is a short suffix to this where the same electronic noises suddenly go a little loopy and the half-asleep vocal is replaced by manic reverb-laden trumpet squeals, There’s a fluid segue so that digitally it appears as one track. It’s the only track with a writing credit solely of the duo, and despite being so short, it hints at a different and much more agitated direction that the project could take musically if it felt so inclined. But instead of pursuing that, instead the final track is “Delirium”, another German-language Scardanelli poem set to rough-hewn and dark atmospherics.

There’s a slightly old-school attitude at play here, a confrontational experimental grittiness that recalls a few decades past, though the production quality is more polished. It will appeal to people who like their electronica deeply arty and best suited to edgy poetry recital events.

Niklas Adam: Undulate

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jun 02 2019
Artist: Niklas Adam
Title: Undulate
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sofa
Niklas Adam’s first release on SOFA is a sparsely populated sonic space, decorated with soft and unpredictable percussion work that is sometimes complimented, tweaked and toyed with by analogue-sounding electronic processing. Other sound-effects noises make little cameos- occasional woodpecker-like noises, odd animalistic and sometimes vocoder-styled vocalisations, and some fleeting appearances from more traditional melodic instrument sounds.

The result feels somewhat old-fashioned, in a positive way- a throwback to the deliberately weird-sounding attitude of electronic experimentation of the 50’s and 60’s, grounded in bubbly analogue blips and beeps, but given an extra dose of breadth and open space to play in, across two long tracks (16 minutes and 19 minutes respectively).

The two pieces flow like one 35-minute whole, and while there is apparently no vinyl release for this, it certainly feels like an arbitrary split only caused by the need to divide it into two sides on an LP- otherwise the two pieces continue in mood and tone indistinguishably to any listener not deliberately watching the track number on their media player.

The most beautiful part of it is how it concludes. After a solid half hour of conscious abstraction that borders on random, soft gentle organ-style chords arrive, feeling like the gradual arrival of soothing calm and order into an alien space. It’s handled rather simply, in a way, but the effect is surprisingly bold.

Fredrik Rasten: Six Moving Guitars

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jun 01 2019
Artist: Fredrik Rasten
Title: Six Moving Guitars
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Sofa
Frederik Rasten’s first solo release is simply built. Gentle acoustic guitar strumming, slow and steady, tracing gentle and unchallenging patterns between different chord progressions, is essentially the whole work. It’s decorated by occasional found sounds and oddly scratchy atmospherics, but it is essentially a 38-minute collection of gentle acoustic guitar chord noodling that eschews virtuosity or complexity in favour of a calm reverence of simplicity.

Longest piece “Wandering” is, as the prosaic names suggest, the hardest of the tracks to predict and has at least a faint semblance of dynamic. The other pieces throw up some interesting chord contrasts, most notably on “Circling, Alternating”, that sit somewhere between music-and-maths analyses of chord comparisons, and idle strumming.

It’s mellow, and certainly relaxing, but it somehow fails to justify itself or generate more than the sum of its parts. If it is imbued with a sense of purpose, then unfortunately I missed it, because this just felt like faintly indulgent sonic wallpaper. Undoubtedly pleasant, but unfortunately I didn’t find it either engaging or impressive. You can’t win them all.

Véhicule: Le Temps du Chien

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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May 29 2019
Artist: Véhicule
Title: Le Temps du Chien
Format: Tape
Label: Midira Records
Sylvian Milliot’s debut album as Véhicule is a very smooth, yet odd, hybridisation of classical instrumentation (ensemble-style cello and woodwind sounds) with jazzier elements, found sounds, a mostly-but-not-always-ambient approach and deft electronic touches, to form one of those releases that really is hard to categorise successfully.

It’s a collection of ten sonic vignettes that stand alone, each of them with their own unique properties and moods. Some are fairly thick and semi-cinematic, but in unconventional ways, such as opening track “Rites”, the tensely cyclical “Voila la” or the more sombre “Adolescence”. Others, like “Test” with its tiny vocal noises and long warn notes, are both sparser and calmer.

There’s plenty of room for playfulness and outright weirdness too- exhibited in the curious time signatures and prog rock virtuoso twistiness of “Tourne”, or the pitch-bended angsty vocal noises of “Je-vous” that are contrasted against short spoken-word French poetic lines and an almost glib-sounding organ. The contrast of stressed vocal notes against almost daft- and random-sounding organ notes in “Tambour” is downright confusing in terms of how you as a listener are supposed to respond to it. Final piece “Pompe” draws certain comparisons to the jazzier side of French techno- but severely bent out of shape.

A really unusual debut showing from Véhicule, offering up an album with a genuinely unique character. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to something so pleasant yet so puzzling.
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