Music Reviews

Darshan Ambient: A Day Like Any Other

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Feb 17 2020
Artist: Darshan Ambient (@)
Title: A Day Like Any Other
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
'A Day Like Any Other' is the 11th album by Michael Allison who is Darshan Ambient. In spite of the rather bland title Allison creates 11 tracks that are thematically simple but richly arranged and somewhat atypical of ambient music. In fact, this falls into the "melambient" sub-genre for the most part, where a definite melody overrides the atmosphere. First track, "City Of The Seven Hymns" doesn't bring to mind any city or hymns, but does kind of sound like a train ride through the Midwest with its chugging rhythm, and slidey guitar mimicking a pedal steel. "Ah! Sunflower" is the most adventurous piece on the album with a rich, repeating Marcato string section giving the piece a playful momentum. It almost sounds like orchestral prog-rock. Elsewhere there are dreamy woozy pieces that lull you into a soporific state; nice little semi-ambient interludes in the vein of Mike Oldfield vs. William Orbit; shimmering sleepy guitars mixed with synth voices ("LightFighter"); and a piece ("Shadow Lines") that recalls the Eno/Brook/Lanois 'Hybrid' collaboration. Some of this has a Boards of Canada feel, so if that's the kind of ambient you're into, you may very well enjoy 'A Day Like Any Other.' The one thing I didn't particularly care for was the repetitive guitar loop used on "The Rain Has Flown" as well as the title track (which reminded me a bit of the guitar on the Nilsson version of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'"), a small quibble compared to the whole. If you're looking for strictly minimal ambient music, you'll have to look elsewhere, but if a pleasant, low-key kinda drifty musical excursion is what you're after, this will hit the spot.

Jan St. Werner: Molocular Meditation

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Feb 17 2020
Artist: Jan St. Werner
Title: Molocular Meditation
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Editions Mego
I’m just going to come out and say this. Mark E. Smith is posthumously revered as a kind of post-punk counter-culture icon, but I just don’t “get it”. His train-of-thought, beat poetry-esque narratives have somehow never connected with me. I’ve heard others say the same about Karl Hyde’s lyrics (which as it happens I do appreciate), but for me, it’s Mark E. Smith whose word salad doesn’t connect or inspire. It’s entirely subjective, but I’ve got to put this out there first and face the inevitable wrath from those for whom his work had more power.

“Molecular Meditation” is a selection of Smith’s spoken-word work set to a dense, thick, experimental analogue electronic backdrop from Jan St. Werner, whose work I only know from the typically more structured Mouse On Mars. The words are front and centre, but there are hiatus points where the music speaks alone. It’s extremely scene-driven, with a series of rapidly varying electronic noise arrangements that jump and shift spontaneously and with urgency, rather than with any gradual evolution. In that way, it’s quite theatrical, adding to the sense of jazz beat poetry translated into electronica. Smith is the ringmaster, and it’s the electronics, rather than the jazz musicians, that react in a manner that feels improvised, driven by the varying levels of despair or fury in Smith’s voice.

It was originally performed in 2014, before Smith’s death, and has now been reworked in undisclosed ways. The twenty minute title track is the ‘original’, and it’s supplemented by three unreleased tracks that were recorded around the same time. Both “Back To Animals” and “VS Cancelled” feature more of Smith, and are urgent, angry, distorted, sweary, and compact compared to the main track, but act as interesting adjuncts.

Of the extra tracks, the standout is “On The Infinite Of Universe And Worlds”, a twelve minute ‘electronic opera’ piece based on Giordano Bruno’s Renaissance writings which Werner was asked to conceptualize for a Finnish new music festival. It’s a showcase track and an excellent tutorial on how to make rough-edged electronics feel more expressive, meaningful and emotive than most word choices.

For me, it’s the electronica that shines here. The dense but measured noise frenzy that opens “Back To Animals” is more to my taste than some of the looser, lazier, more drunken-sounding sections. So forgive me if you don’t agree, but I’m afraid I would find this album a more interesting listen if it were stripped of some or all of Smith’s monologuing, the extremely awkward mock-American accent, the talking about killing magpies with detergent, the bitter (bordering on childish) mocking and exposition of a fairly polite email cancelling a music project, and so on.

Angst78: 78-Angst

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Feb 16 2020
Artist: Angst78 (@)
Title: 78-Angst
Format: CD
Label: Zoharum (@)
Distributor: Alchembria
Rated: *****
Angst78 is a collaboration between Patryk Ggniewicz (Revisq) and Lukasz Szalankiewicz (Zenial) and this release is naïvely presented as a compilation of tracks composed between 2013 and 2019. As neither Revisq nor Zenial has recorded in the same cities, it's rather obvious that the collaboration is internet based, so it's not taken for granted that this release could sound as a cohesive whole.
As the first track starts the listener is introduced into a sort of techno ambient vaguely reminiscent of '90s ambient-house at least by the wide sound and the catchy melodic lines. As the album advances, apart from episodic incursion towards IDM territories the structure is so clearly defined that even the three remixes of this release, Fisherboyz. Dawid Chrapla and Dominik ochowski, sound like regular tracks. This is due to a musical form (a dancey beat, a catchy line of synth and elaborate textures) that doesn't need particular tricks if the balance is carefully set.
Somebody could argue that this release is another in an infinite series, and he forgets that this is not a matter of innovation but of craft i.e., how to sound new using an old form. This is a remarkable example of this task. Recommended for fans of the genre.

Philippe Petit: Do Humans Dream Of Electronic Ships

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Feb 11 2020
Artist: Philippe Petit
Title: Do Humans Dream Of Electronic Ships
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Opa Loka Records
Right from the title, “Do Humans Dream Of Electronic Ships” is 100% sci-fi. It’s a double album, only a little under two hours long, that seems to embody a 1970’s era of sci-fi soundtracking, where the raw experimental analogue and art electric sounds akin to the Radiophonic Workshop were just beginning to be complemented and supplemented by more recognisable keyboard-shaped synthesizers that would evolve in the direction of prog rock- several of which, Buchlas, Moogs and Arps, can be heard here in full effect.

It’s often more drama than it is music, as heard in the manic and chaotic opening of “Encounters of the 6th Kind” for example. So much so in fact that it’s hard to believe there is no underlying story that this drama is intended to accompany. Two minutes into “A Night With Three Moons” there’s a series of monkey-like noises that certainly ape (terrible pun intended) the early scenes of “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

But across its 110 minute expanse, there is also plenty of calm and melody. The sombre piano in the first half of “Return To Tomorrow” is a case in point, a more traditionally composed soundtrack-like work with plenty of emotion- though it has to be said that the pitch-shifting vocalisations that follow it do sound more like the Clangers. That piece also briefly includes a rare sighting of a regular rhythm that, fleetingly, hints at proto-techno- and a shockingly rough ‘record scratch’ ending that’s one of the boldest ways I’ve recently heard of admitting to not knowing how to finish a track.

The second disc is dominated by “Laika In Space”, which is a 52-minute live performance on a Buchla Easel. As such it’s sparser, and less layered, and coupled with its meandering variously towards the very high and low frequencies at times, it is naturally just a bit more of a difficult listen. There’s some strong expression in there, and some interesting ideas- as well as some bravely long silences- but fifty-two minutes really does seem a bit over-indulgent, and a good half hour would’ve covered it, especially with a harsh and scratchy “Why Do Birds” pushing the idea on for a further ten minutes afterwards.

Some of the titular references are arguably on the obvious side- Twilight Zone, Philip K. Dick etc.- but this is a deeper dive into experimental sci-fi, rather than sci-fi’s greatest hits. It’s one of the best soundtracks you’ve ever heard for an old sci-fi movie that was never made, and but for a generally very polished sound quality, it would be easy to believe that it has fallen through a wormhole from around fifty years in the past.

Ruben Kotkamp: fall/winter 19'20

 Posted by Tyran Grillo (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Feb 10 2020
Artist: Ruben Kotkamp (@)
Title: fall/winter 19'20
Format: Download Only (MP3 only)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
For this brief yet strangely visceral album, Ruben Kotkamp has grafted pieces of his work across dance, art installations, and concert music into a self-contained entity. “I am trying to approach music as design,” says the Dutch artist and composer, but one might just as easily find him trying to approach design as music. While there is little on the surface of things to suggest a common theme, if you peel back even one layer of said surface you will find an undeniable genetic bond at play. It is as if the voices, cello, electronics, and other signals that constitute the project’s elements have interbreed for millennia until the hybrid sonic species we encounter here is ready to open its mouth in search of autobiographical truths. Whether in the spoken words of “ett litet våld” and “l’ensorcellement,” each a ghost of itself kissing the sun with wintry regard, or the tactile minimalism of “like a virgin,” which examines multiple shades of first contact, even the most ineffable utterances must rise from a physical body. In that sense, Kotkamp’s experience in museum spaces becomes apparent in the sheer materiality of pieces like “untitled in chrome” and “untitled in ultraviolence.” Both reveal a Tim Hecker influence, but also a willingness to tread beyond the embrace of comparison across a melting tundra until the world itself becomes a watery bed of dreams. As in the latter track, transmissions beam throughout from the apparatus of the soul, masticated by a dark hunger until they arrive in the stomachs of our regard, where they dissolve almost instantly, thus returning to the blood from which they were born.

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