Music Reviews

Nikos Stavropoulos: Micro-lieux

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jun 11 2019
Artist: Nikos Stavropoulos
Title: Micro-lieux
Format: CD + Download
Label: empreintes DIGITALes
There’s a strongly academic approach at work in UK-based Nikos Stavropoulos’ first album (perhaps unsurprisingly for someone with a Doctor title). It’s a compilation of eight works dated between 2003 and 2017, each typically between seven and eleven minutes long and each accompanied by their own independent explanatory paragraph that describes or justifies it with reference first to its title, then by the musical process by which it was reached.

Despite being a compilation spanning works over more than a decade though, this still holds together with the consistency of an artist album, because of a relatively singular and persistent approach. Predominantly, this is electroacoustic music with quite a bubbly nature, transposing biological data and rapid but arhythmic organic noises into fragile-sounding synthetic tones. It’s frequently scratchy, but interspersed with occasional thicker and wetter bass noises and rumbling percussive grumbles that add an unpredictable drama. The result is both atmospheric and alien, with a generally intimate, sometimes almost claustrophobic tone.

Pieces like “Ballistichory”, despite being inspired by seed dispersal, sound organically alive in a way that is unlikely to appeal to anyone with phobias of crawling insects, sounding as it does like angry ant colonies microphoned up while they strategise and attack. Other works like “Nyctinasty” and “Granatum” are drawn from very similar source remedies but are a little mellower, despite still being rapid- like a sonic interpretation of what vegetables would sound like if they could tweet like songbirds.

“Granicus” stands out as an exception, by drawing from ancient-sounding Eastern European and Asian dance rhythms that are contrasted and contradicted against themselves to some degree, but which for the most part hang together as a dramatic piece worthy of a dusty, desert-based, before-the-battle-tension scene for a non-existent movie.

There’s something a little over-familiar about the release as a whole- the combination of wet and bubbly organic grain noises feel a little like an electroacoustic staple and it doesn’t feel like any new ground has been identified with it here. To its credit though it is a polished and accessible example of it, with accompanying texts that serve well as an introductory process for new or sceptical listeners.

Western Edges: Prowess

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jun 10 2019
Artist: Western Edges (@)
Title: Prowess
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence Records (@)
Rated: *****
It seems as though many of the artists who find their way to the Sound in Silence label have had their fingers in other musical pies, and such is the case with Western Edges. You may know its architect, Richard Adams from his Leeds, UK, experimental post-rock band Hood, or his Yorkshire, UK slowcore/shoegaze/semi-ambient outfit, The Declining Winter. (Mr. Adams has been involved in a number of other projects as well, but rather than get too far afield, you can investigate them on your own.) Me, I've never heard any of it previously, but I found some tracks to listen to just to get a sense of what he was doing- lots of DIY non-mainstream eclecticism, not all of it wonderful but flashes of brilliance here and there. While Western Prowess may be closer to The Declining Winter in tone and temperament than Hood, they really sound nothing alike. Western Edges is completely instrumental electronic/ambient. The approach here is minimal, in set pieces that vary little over time, but are different from track-to-track. The first, "You Look So Beautiful From Up Here" is reminiscent of early Tangerine Dream at its most ambient with no rhythmic sequencing. It's a bit stark but not unpleasant. "Suddenly: A Dream" uses two slow moving organish chords with some echo and a bit of semi-abstract melody. Innocuous but nice. "Western Edges" is bleak drone with some pitch changes. "Solid Gold Soul" has a rhythm track to it and is reminiscent of some of the ambient stuff you'd hear on the San Francisco based Silent Records label. "You're Going To Miss Me My Love" is a contrast in lows and highs with a low bass line and higher lead line playing the same minimal melody while another synth enters to fill in some gaps in the counterpart. "All Downhill From Here" is shimmery echoey and repetitive in it's less than two minute existence. Big sky pads and some eventual rhythm graces "Very Good On The Rushes" which adds synths as it goes along. "Absence" is the longest track on the album at 7:11, and perhaps the most intriguing as it unfolds and evolves, eventually incorporating a minimal beat buried deep in the background. When the bass comes in you're almost expecting it to turn into something much grander, but it just hangs in the air like a ghost. While simplicity can be beautiful, and there is no doubt that 'Prowess" is a simple affair, the scant 27 minutes in total of this work makes it seem more like a sampler platter than a full-course feast. Yet, it has its charm and pleasantry which adds to the replay factor. As usual with Sound in Silence releases, limited numbered edition (300), in a custom cardstock sleeve with photo front, and download code included.

Ifitisn't: Colophon

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jun 10 2019
Artist: Ifitisn't
Title: Colophon
Format: CD + Download
Label: Focused Silence
“Colophon” is a 2-track, 20-minute mini CD work from the duo of [first name undisclosed] Robinson, playing modular electronics, double-bass, guitars and ‘sonic sundries’, and Maria Kalnars as “the acoustic part of this outfit” performing with voice, piano, keyboard, melodion, recorder, viola, percussives and found objects. With such a long list of instrumentation packed into a 20 minute work, you might think this release would sound energetic and dense.

In fact, it’s neither of those things. This is stripped-back and semi-minimal electroacoustic ambient work in which odd atmospheric environments are decorated with short stabs of sound that variously glitter, creak and decay independently in situ. The title track is built around a long, hollow, alien-sounding drone, and is surprisingly simplistic.

By contrast second track “Density” is meatier, introducing Kalnar’s voice (as heard in Juxtavoices) and instrumental work in a more obtuse, sometimes quite surreal way- the melodion work in the latter stages bordering on the tongue-in-cheek, contrasting with some squelchy acid electronic sounds in sharp stereo separation in a manner that’s quite playful.

Obtuse, in a good way, this release is worth checking out for “Density” and is an interesting calling card for a pair of artists who seem to have the potential for works that are eye-opening, and potentially quite confusing.
Jun 09 2019
Artist: Athana with Jody Linscott & Gary Husband
Title: ”The May Sessions 0518”
Format: CD
Label: West Audio Music
Rated: *****
I reviewed different releases by Alf Terje Hana's Athana and for his newest one he teamed up with Jody Linscott and Gary Husband. Jody Linscott is a session musician and percussionist coming from the U.K. Gary Husband played as session man with different people of the likes of Jeff Beck, Al Jarreau, Andy Summers, Steve Hackett and many more and he's been part of Level 42 as well as of Allan Holdsworth Group, Gary Husband & Friends, Gary Husband's Drive, John McLaughlin And The 4th Dimension, Olga Konkova Trio. The whole band for his latest live album titled ”The May Sessions 0518” is the following: Alf Terje Hana - Guitar, electronics, composer - Jody Linscott - Percussion, Gary Husband - Keyboards, Drums - Torgeir Nes - Electronics, live sampling Øyvind Grong - Bass, voice - (Guests on vocals: Astrid Kloster / Christian Hovda). The seven tracks of the album have been recorded at the Tou Scene and at the Folken MajJazz Festival the last year in May. Compared to the last album I reviewed I must say that on this one the "improvisation" factor maybe is influencing a little bit the home experience. I mean, there is always the presence of ambient atmospheres and distorted "in your face" guitars with heavy drumming moments but I feel that the jazzy improvisation kind of killed the experimental vein we had on the other releases. Probably this is due to the back experiences of the session men but this is a thing that my ear caught and it affected a bit the judgment. The album is available as CD, double LP and digitally. I received also a printed USB key which is containing the video file of the "Athana Symphonic Experience", the concert recorded in 2013 where as guest drummer Athana welcomed Stewart Copeland. A nice bonus...

Celer: Xièxie

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jun 04 2019
Artist: Celer
Title: Xièxie
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Two Acorns
This release has been out for a few months digitally already, but has a physical release date of June 7th, giving a good opportunity to look at it again.

When it comes to truly ambient works that relax and comfort, Celer- for a decade now the solo project of Will Long- has been on top of the game for a long time. We’re big fans of his work in our household- though we would probably have to promptly admit to being familiar only with the first half of works like “M1” and “Here, for now” as we use them as night-time relaxation music so consistently that we have probably now programmed ourselves in a Pavlovian fashion to fall asleep when we hear them. They are warm, lush drones that are well suited to the purpose, and while the sparseness of some of them also suggests more thoughtful, broad or lonely moods, there’s always a thread of positivity in there that can be hung on to.

And so it is with “Xièxie”. The introduction of some found sound elements, recorded around Shanghai in 2017, leads to titles which might suggest busy chaotic atmospheres- “Maglev at 303 km/h”, “Shanghai red line, metro karaoke” or the rather ambitiously monickered “From the doorway of the beef noodle shop, shoes on the street in the rain, outside the karate school”- but there is no chaos here. These elements are blended gently- and very, very lightly- into familiar long drone tones. It generally is not long before the real-world atmospherics fade away and you are drawn into long, purely synthetic drone worlds that you can lose yourself in entirely.

The twenty-one minute piece “For the entirety” is an example of Celer at his most symphonic, which is an almost absurd overstatement given how understated it is musically- but with three notes in a slow repeating cycle that changes gradually in tone and pace (without ever approaching standard musical speeds), this feels like what modern classical music has rightly and naturally evolved into. Similarly there’s a sombre and peaceful beauty to final track “Our dream to be strangers”, though I suspect I’ll try to listen to that again in the future and be asleep well before I reach that point.

Besides the 90-minute work, as a digital bonus you get two “Uncut” tracks in which the tracks are segued together without track breaks; however I may be missing something here as the transitions are mild at best, often still drops to silence, so I’m not entirely sure what this adds. Also if it’s ‘uncut’, why is it two tracks instead of one?... It’s a mystery to me and I’d welcome some clarification. But as an excuse for listening to the whole work twice in a row, it’s a bonus (albeit a confusing bonus) rather than a problem.

It’s by no means groundbreaking when compared to Celer’s previous work, but for its purpose- insofar as I see it- that is *precisely* what we want.

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