Music Reviews

Alder & Ash: Psalms for the Sunder

 Posted by eskaton   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 05 2019
Artist: Alder & Ash
Title: Psalms for the Sunder
Format: CD
Label: Lost Tribe Sound (@)
I had not previously heard this artist, but the bio states that “Alder & Ash is cello taken to its absolute extremes of calm and violence. Montreal-based instrumentalist Adrian Copeland brings together elements of modern classical, noise, and doom, exploring the dichotomies of minimalism and maximalism, stillness and cacophony, terror and chaos.” This seems like a lot to live up to. I have previously reviewed some acts that take the cello in interesting directions and frankly it is a beautiful instrument, so I was interested to see what Copeland does. As a whole, much of this would be right at home on any classical station, and that was kind of the problem for me. It was well executed and well composed, but it didn’t seem to really take a lot of chances. I like some noise and weirdness in my classical when I am reviewing for ChainDLK. That’s not to say that there were not some moments where it got interesting. For example, I really enjoyed the thudding bass and dissonance of “At Night in the Slaughterhouse” and the use of the cello as a percussion instrument (while distorting it nicely) in “Children of Gomorrah.” For me the standout tracks were “Black Salt,” which featured rough strumming and a bit of cello abuse as Copeland alternates between calm passages and ragged intensity, and “Seen Through the Cedar Smoke,” which combined gritty chamber music with world music flavor. I could see this as a good introduction to experimental classical for someone who is just ready to dip their toes into the water. It is clear that Copeland is an excellent musician, and it will be interesting to see how his work evolves. This album weighs in at around 29 minutes.

From the Mouth of the Sun: Hymn Binding

 Posted by eskaton   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 05 2019
Artist: From the Mouth of the Sun (@)
Title: Hymn Binding
Format: CD
Label: Lost Tribe Sound (@)
Rated: *****
From the Mouth of the Sun is the work of Aaron Martin and Dag Rosenqvist, whose work I was previously unfamiliar with. This project started in 2011, and they have released two albums previously under this name. The package, like the others from Lost Tribe Sound, is beautifully packaged in an interesting digipack that is screwed together. Now let’s get into the music. We open up with “A Healer Hidden,” which is a short, pleasant droning piece with a bit of static and noise added for good measure. The album then takes a cinematic turn with “A Breath To Retrieve Your Body” is a slow moving piece that would be right at home in the retrospective montage sequence in a soundtrack, with strings over whole note washes. Indeed, much of the rest of the album follows this formula of soundtrack-like work, with piano, strings, and a bit of grinding dissonance and noise just beneath the surface. Some of the standout pieces are toward the end, however. “Risen, Darkened,” for example, is a wonderfully ominous track that builds slowly over time. “Grace” starts off with some nice droning and gets increasingly more intense as it goes on, which provides an interesting counterpoint to the slow piano that runs through it. Overall, this reminds me somewhat of the music one might find backing early Projekt Records releases (such as Black Tape for a Blue Girl). Although I would have liked this to be a bit more on the experimental side, it was quite enjoyable and worth checking out. This album weighs in at around 41 minutes and is limited to 150 copies.

Bill Brovold: Superstar

 Posted by eskaton   New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 05 2019
Artist: Bill Brovold
Title: Superstar
Format: Tape
Label: Eh? (@)
Rated: *****
I was unfamiliar with Brovold’s work, either solo or as part of the band Larval, so this would be my introduction. The tape opens with a child talking and an adult replying, “OK, Star. Take it away.” Where Star takes us is to a nice, slow funky groove, but it’s just a bit off. Like if The Residents decided to cover a funk band (the album that I never knew I needed until now). As with most tape releases of this sort, the tracks sort of blend into each other, with subtle shifts in style and tempo giving the sense of change. Some tracks are more straightforward jazzy pieces, while others tweak things ever so slightly with some pitch shifting here and there. Touches of ragtime and blues peek through on some tracks, keeping things interesting. Some of the standout tracks for me are “Lost in the Fog,” a slow, plodding guitar number with raw, jangly percussion and cymbals that sound like sheet metal. In this piece the repetitiveness of the guitar really works and provides an air of hopelessness and desperation. The other would be “Absent Friends,” which opens with a hint of dissonance before morphing into a peaceful, almost meditative composition. Overall, this was a solid tape with some interesting themes and solid tracks. I have to admit that it didn’t really go crazy like a lot of the stuff that I have heard from this label. Still, it was a good time, and if you like jazzy experimental, this would certainly be worth checking out.

Helado Negro: This Is How You Smile

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Synth Pop / Electro Pop / Synth-Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 05 2019
Artist: Helado Negro
Title: This Is How You Smile
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: RVNG Intl.
New York-based Roberto Carlos Lange’s sixth album is predominantly Latin-textured melancholy acoustic pop, with elements of soul ballads and even lounge. Though introduced as being aimed at topics of politics and race, it’s got an introspective tone that makes it all feel like heartfelt and romantic love songs, even though the lyrics (some English, some Spanish) are sometimes fatigued world-weary assessments of the difficulties of life. If you don’t pay attention to this, you can mellow out to this, no problem.

While a lot of acoustic guitar music is now revered in production terms, as though adding any non-acoustic elements would be some kind of sacrilege, that mistake is not made here. The production touches are gentle, but beneficial- a few drum sounds here, a bit of synth bass there, nice use of delay on “Todo lo que me falta”, all small doses but effective. Little sonic skits like “Echo For Camperdown Curio” and “November 7” are where the most unusual stuff happens, little bursts of analogue synths and found sound and tape-style edits that belie a studio playfulness.

Highlights include “Seen My Aura”, a gently funky walking number that has pop crossover and radio potential. “Sabana De Luz” which is the closest we get to a party atmosphere, but we’re clearly still inside Lange’s head. If looking for one track that channels the full sound of the album, try “Fantas”, and not the overly intimate and slightly unrepresentative opener “Please Won’t Please”.

The title, while not overtly ironic, could certainly be misleading, and if you’re expecting a feel-good party album, think again. If however you’re in the mood for a rich and heartfelt bit of relaxing acoustic pop (I’ve resisted mentioning Seu Jorge until now), with just hints of lyrical edge and modern production, this may catch your ear.

Exseind: s/t

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Electronics / EBM / Electronica
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Mar 03 2019
Artist: Exseind
Title: s/t
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Orion Network
Exseind, from “EXperiencia SEnsorial INterDisciplinaria” is as the name suggests an audio-visual hybrid from three collaborators, though as I’m reviewing the sonic product only, I’ll rudely disregard the real-time visual synthesis of Ce Pams, for the simple reason that I can’t see it, and concentrate on an audio work that is then a two-part collaboration between Cristian Gallardo on alto sax and flute, and Lars Gaugaard’s computing and electronics.

What this collaboration provides is an unusual and in-depth fusion of fairly light and intellectual slow techno that wouldn’t sound out of place on Planet Mu, with melodic improvised elements lifted from avantgarde jazz and liable at times to sound like Jethro Tull. On paper it’s an awkward-sounding combination, but in practice, it definitely works.

After the complex and intriguing opener “Greynarl”, it’s longest track “Is That A Gofford?” that has the most sense of purpose, building on a steady 4/4 beat that some of the other tracks eschew to give the clarinet a broad, fifteen-minute-long playing field to enjoy itself on, and the positivity is infectious and seems to hark back a little to the early days of electronic club music and exploring the limits of how far a 12” mix could go.

“Paloma” twists the time signatures in a more unorthodox fashion, turning the interplay between multi-layered sax and synth bass into a kind of waltz, before the strangely titled “So Flute”, while continuing to mix up the threes and fours to keep you on your toes, takes the electronics into deeper, rumblier territory and makes Gallardo’s flute work seem bizarrely abstracted and alien. Over twelve minutes it gradually becomes a little edgier, with just slight hints of 80’s dark and electronic industrial.

The return to bendy bass tones and quite jaunty, sometimes almost squeaky melody of final track “Beyond The Yonder” is so very listenable that when it slowly fades away at the end of the forty-eight minute album, you’re definitely left wanting more.

It’s a really strong release. Apparently it’s also available on floppy disc as well, but that isn’t one of ChainDLK’s format options- plus the size and format of the floppy is undisclosed, so as well as being unable to comment on the visuals, I can’t review its compatibility with my old BBC Micro model B either...
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