Music Reviews



Daniel & Mikael Tjernberg: Death Of A King

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jan 27 2020
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Artist: Daniel & Mikael Tjernberg
Title: Death Of A King
Format: CDS (CD Single)
Label: self-released
“Death Of A King” is a short 2-track CD single of music written and produced by Daniel and Mikael Tjernberg, and performed by the strings of the Malva Quartet (MalvaKvartetten), with additional bass on the first piece.

The title piece starts somewhat abruptly, as though we have dropped into a longer soundtrack work that we have arrived late for, but quickly unfolds into a rich emotive melodic journey that avoids repetitive phrases in favour of a wilful free meandering of thought. It’s melancholic, as the title suggests, but not overtly sombre or funereal. If this were film music, this would be for the montage of happy memories more than for the sense of loss.

“Ad Interim (Minuet in G Major)” plays even more so to the traditional qualities of a string quartet and feels like it may have been plucked straight from a formal dance of centuries past, with a lilting top end and sweetly optimistic rises and plucking. A slightly more pensive mid-section leads into a positive and affirming end. It’s shamelessly feel-good classical by the end.

It’s nicely presented in a smart gatefold sleeve with artwork that seems purpose-made to retrospectively drop these pieces into classical music history. At only eleven minutes long, it certainly leaves you wanting more.

Aidan Baker & Gareth Davis: Invisible Cities II

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jan 24 2020
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Artist: Aidan Baker & Gareth Davis
Title: Invisible Cities II
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Karlrecords
Two years after the debut collaboration from Aidan Baker on guitar and Gareth Davis on clarinet, here’s the sequel. Five long, atmospheric and meditative compositions built from loose melodies, with plenty of post-production layering and reverb effects. For the most part the clarinet is performed conventionally, while the guitar work is more invested into the dark atmospherics and effects work.

The first and longest piece “Hidden” sets an interestingly ambiguous tone that different listeners will interpret differently as either relaxing or sinister depending on whether they latch on to the gentle and pure clarinet sounds, or some of the lower rumbling drones and near-vocal grumbling below it and the crisp radio interference noises it ends with.

This tone persists without any great diversion through the deep-jungle-invoking sonic imagery of “Eyes”, through the sombre graveyard tones of “The Dead”, and into the barren, empty underworld of “Continuity”. The differences between pieces is fairly subtle throughout, though final track “Names” is notable for losing some of the rumblier tones in favourite of a more sedate palette, as though the previous tracks were set at night and this is a form of dawn to finish.

The consistency is both a blessing and a curse. Overall it’s a very coherent and quite single-minded 43-minute work, setting a filmic atmosphere- but any film that painted only one mood for this long would be accused of being dull. Such is the danger with this- if you’re not completely immersed and engaged with it, it may well leave you cold.

Robert Haigh: Black Sarabande

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jan 23 2020
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Artist: Robert Haigh
Title: Black Sarabande
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Unseen Worlds
“Black Sarabande” is a collection of eleven short original piano works from Robert Haigh. Some, such as the title track or “Lady Lazarus”, are purist solo piano recordings, while others, like “Strangers On The Lake”, frame the piano in the centre of soft electronic ambience and gentle synthetic and sympathetic accompanying melody elements. Subtle production touches, like the backwards notes in “Wire Horses”, tip this release over into an electronica category, but only just.

The result is always spacious and calm, and sits in conventional piano ballad territory, painting sound pictures that are thoughtful, melancholic, sometimes romantic, but never really energetic.

Highlights include the icy, barren-sounding “Ghosts Of Blacker Dyke” (which was released as a single last year), which feels strongly pitched into soundtrack territory, and the memorable and faintly haunting melody in “Arc Of Crows”. The chord sequence in “Progressive Music” is calling out to be turned into a trance tune, Wim Mertens style.

Over the course of 39 minutes, though, there is a sense that it’s all a little flat. There are only occasional hints of dischord- the unexpected odd synth-strings in “Painted Serpent” feel like a new voice, albeit an oddly dated-sounding one- but overall the drama is limited just to slow introspection and doesn’t successfully progress. This leaves you feeling like you have spent two-thirds of an hour staring at a single painting. A beautiful sound, for sure, but it would have benefitted from braving its way further away from the conventional.

Claudio F. Baroni: The Body Imitates The Landscape

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jan 15 2020
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Artist: Claudio F. Baroni
Title: The Body Imitates The Landscape
Format: CD + Download
Label: Unsounds
This work, compared by Baroni and performed by Ensemble Maze, was originally designed as the sonic aspect of an installation rather than a recorded work, with the idea that each of the 11 pieces named (with one exception) after body parts would, when performed live, be felt in those parts by the audience as they engaged in the space. This was part of Adi Hollander’s installation of the same name, where she designed a collection of ergonomic objects that were meant to facilitate this transformation of the music into vibrations felt through the entire body.

Neutered from this interactive experience and now presented as a standalone CD or download, what we get is a 48-minute collection of sparse, impulsive plucks, bows and bells fused with fairly relentless low-level whispering that seems intent on targeting subliminal suggestion to tell you what your body should be thinking.

Without the body reaction, it feels quite barren, almost empty at times- there are no attempts to shake your body by the old-fashioned high volume approach, and resonance seems to be the preferred technique.

In me, this release triggered an awkwardness. It’s clearly intended to be sensual and intimate at times (although the topics seem to expand and contract in scale with more gusto than the music), with the breathy talking and seductive slow musical movement, coupled with the track titles that slowly work their way down the body. But for me, I’m afraid that didn’t really work. The whispering feels more sinister, leading to embarrassment rather than excitement. It’s also at such a low level that it triggers that super-awkward situation where your lover says something very quiet and sexy to you, and you fail to hear it so you’re forced to just say “PARDON?” and spoil the moment completely. But that last point is possibly a diversion from the point.

The journey down the body does not result in the level of musical diversity that you might expect. Notable tracks, to a point, include the oddly jazzy vibes that crop up in “Heso (The Navel)”. “Uesoto (The Waist)” foregrounds the narrative slightly more and this feels more poetic and engaging- or distracting, if your engagement to the playback has been thin enough that you’ve found yourself doing other things whilst listening.

As translations of musical work for installations go, unfortunately this falls into the category of “you should’ve been there”. Without the interactive experience, this doesn’t really glimmer as an audio work.

drøne: the stilling

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Jan 10 2020
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Artist: drøne
Title: the stilling
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Pomperipossa Records
Drøne’s fourth album paints a picture of an oasis in the middle of chaos. An ensemble of violin, celloes, bass, guitar, and synth pads collaborates to offer up a melodic layering that reaches us in phases- sometimes slow and calm, sometimes tense and suspenseful. It is often heavily mired in, sometimes almost buried by, an electronic expression of modern life built from field recordings and found sounds. City and vehicle noises, light industrial environments, electronic voice countdowns, and artificial drones generally pull the mood darker.

It’s comprised of two 17-minute parts, simply called ‘Side A’ and ‘Side B’, but in practice it’s broken into much smaller scenes, with the overall tone and sonic make-up changing substantially, never settling into a routine for more than three or four minutes. Sometimes the string work shines out in a purist fashion that becomes almost classical music (two minutes from the end of “Side A” for example), while at other points it’s almost music concrete (two minutes into “Side B” one of many examples I could have picked).

Perhaps this sounds a little pastoral in the way I’m describing it, but it’s full of contrasts in that respect too- most obviously in the teeth-shaking screaming section that rips right through you about eleven minutes into “Side B”, before switching to a long low string tone that feels relatively calm at first before it starts to pitch up… and up… and up… This is sheer drama, told with careful and non-excessive use of extremes.

What makes this work really shine out is its musical quality- which perhaps sounds like an inept thing to say. The string work, exquisitely recorded and sorrowful, fuses and transitions with the electronic work in a way that really elevates the latter. It’s a truly well-formed musical hybrid that makes the artificial feel natural and vice versa. It keeps you on your toes as a listener, keeping you engaged- if somewhat miserable- and ultimately very impressed, and possibly even a little shaken.
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