Music Reviews

The Star Pillow: Music For Sad Headbangers

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Dark / Gothic / Wave / New Wave / Dark Wave / Industrial Gothic
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Mar 13 2019
Artist: The Star Pillow
Title: Music For Sad Headbangers
Format: CD + Download
Label: Midira Records
Although the tongue-in-cheek title might lead you to expect distorted slow guitar drone and electric noise, and the opening chord of the Slayer-referencing first track “Bruno Martino is my Tom Araya” seems at first to confirm the presumption, over the course of 37 minutes this relatively short album does prove to be broader and more detailed than that. Admittedly the opener does escalate into slow, heavily processed thrash guitar hammering, but inbetween the grunge, such as the climax of “Moving Grey” and the inevitable finale in final track “Sad Headbanger”, in many parts this has a more thoughtful level of detail and introspection that tempers it very well.

Longest track “Departures” is a soft, appropriately pillow-like sonic wash of gentle pads and warm hums, with small guitar-sonic details that give it a live, leisurely improvised feel.

“Circle Of Events” stands out as slightly odder, with a more overt guitar melody line that sounds quite twangy, almost corny pseudo-Americana that doesn’t quite work, but “Quiet Cooper, we’ll not die today” pulls off a slightly similar arrangement more successfully.

It’s a result that builds a well-measured touch of class and introspective thoughtfulness around its gritty core, to mostly strong effect.

Labreque / Barakat: Terminal Desert

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Mar 12 2019
Artist: Labreque / Barakat
Title: Terminal Desert
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Karlrecords
Paul LaBrecque, of Sunburned Hand Of The Man, and Ghazi Barakat, of Pharoah Chromium, have collaborated here to offer up two seventeen-minute pieces of nicely tripped-out post rock atmospheres that successfully sit somewhere between ambient and prog.

First piece “Jajouka Pipe Dream” has, as the title may suggest, a slightly more Moroccan flavour, with ambling flutes and organic percussion. Everything ebbs and floats like a chaotic dream over a near-permanent grumbling percussive base.

Second piece “Planet R-101”, again aptly titled, mostly foregoes these elements in favour of much more sci-fi waves of pulses and noises, over which there’s a gentle layer of occasional guitar plucking that’s just about the right amount of indulgence. Twelve minutes in there’s the return of a Moroccan-sounding melodic instrument which feels like a nice throwback to the first piece and ties it together well.

It’s a deftly handled and nicely immersive short album that is marvellous to relax to.

Craig Padilla & Marvin Allen: Toward The Horizon

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Mar 10 2019
Artist: Craig Padilla & Marvin Allen (@)
Title: Toward The Horizon
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
To anyone acquainted with the more ethereal side of electronic music, the name Craig Padilla should certainly be familiar. He has quite a large catalogue of releases going all the way back to 1990. The last thing I heard from him and reviewed here was his 2017 collaboration with Howard Givens, 'Being of Light,' an absolutely splendid ambient work. Padilla has been known to partner-up with some great collaborators over the years, and this one with guitarist Marvin Allen is no exception. If you could imagine Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour working with Tangerine Dream, that might give some clue to the music you could expect on 'Toward The Horizon'. It is expansive space music with some space rock overtones, soaring well above the stratosphere into regions you've only dreamed of visiting.

The album opens deceptively with some texturally rich languid chords from Allen's guitar echoing around, suffused with Padilla's synthmosphere, and you figure this is just going to be one floaty, placid trip. Then the sequencer sneaks in, and now we have a rhythm going. Allen's guitar takes flight and suddenly it's "whoa! I've got to crank this mother up!" Everything's cookin', everything's groovin', this is what I came here for. This is the rocket ride we’ve been longing to take! At over 17 minutes the title track of this album is still too brief. It could have gone on for 30. Hell of an opener though; got my attention. Padilla conjures some gentle but heady ethereal atmosphere in "Distant Waves," and Allen's guitar sonics are way more expansive than what you'd expect from a guitar. Things are comparatively more tempestuous on "Tidal Disruption" (another long track at 13 minutes) at first, until the rhythmic sequerncer kicks in, with Allen's guitar skirting the nether regions. Then it begins to rock, and I mean ROCK! This ain't no new age nonsense, this is SPACE ROCK baby and I'm all in! Once again, this track could have gone on for 30 minutes and I'd still be digging it. It does mellow out before it finally concludes, but that's as it should be.

Somehow Padilla and Allen's sounds work very well together, almost as if they've known each other for years and years, which they actually have. The depth of the environment of "Beneath The Surface" is simply breathtaking in its boundless cosmic vibrancy, where layer upon layers gives you the aura of the infinite. Seriously, this is beyond huge, and the changes over time are simply sublime. I wasn't so sure about "Hidden," which opens with an organy-harmonium like pad that didn't seem in keeping with what I had heard so far. That didn't last long though before giving way to burbling synths and galactic guitar. Man, that guitar sound is vast and humungous, like something conjured up from the primordial ooze. It's quite a contrast with Padilla's delicate synthwork, and that's what makes it fit together so well here.

The last track, "Liquid Heaven" lives up to its name but lacks the impact of anything that went before it. As it is the shortest track on the album at 4:35, you can just consider it a chiller to cushion your reentry to terra firma. I understand this is Marvin Allen's first foray into the world of ambient, but he acquits himself admirably on ‘Toward The Horizon’ as if he were a master in the genre. I'd be game for another team-up with this dynamic duo if they were so inclined; perhaps something even more space rock oriented and less ambient. (I know there's a market for it.) In the meantime this is a worthy and highly recommended effort.

Vidna Obmana: The Surreal Sanctuary / The Contemporary Nocturne

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Mar 10 2019
Artist: Vidna Obmana
Title: The Surreal Sanctuary / The Contemporary Nocturne
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Zoharum (@)
Distributor: Alchembria
Rated: *****
After the release of "The Trilogy", Zoharum releases a new reissue of albums by Vidna Obmana and this time is from the mature, and almost final, part of his discography. This two album are both form 2000 and features the the guest appearance of Steve Roach, Jim Cole and Joris De Backer. It's not clear if they were recorded together or it's simply a coincidence that the same guests appeared on both release but it's certain that they are based on almost the same musical framework but with a slightly different form.
This two releases are presented as classical music as all tracks are identified by their name but also, in an unconventional way for this genre, by the instruments used as this particularly significative of the process behind "The Surreal Sanctuary" as it sounds as an opus in seven movements rather than a collection of tracks. The seven track of this release are not simply mixed to give the impression of an uninterrupted musical flux but are based on a concept of ambient music where drone is both a glue that tie together the musical elements and the scope of development; there's anything static in this release even when nothing except drone is used. "The Contemporary Nocturne" is instead a collection of eight tracks that spans from the short tune for fujara of "Duel" to the long multifaceted drone of "The Path Downwards" which explore many timbres and instruments to obtain a remarkable sound complexity as in this album the difference between the tracks are more emphasized.
It's not pointless, even if not original, to notice the importance of the work by Dirk Serries in the evolution of ambient music and how he evolved his music throughout time. This is rather different music than in "The Trilogy", it's more complex and even experimental in some moments when he search some escape routes from the canon of the genre. Highly recommended.

Yann Novak: Scalar Fields

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Mar 06 2019
Artist: Yann Novak
Title: Scalar Fields
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Room40
These two almost-exactly-twenty-minute works are the sound elements from audiovisual installations, initiated in 2013, where both the picture and the sound are driven by an interest in stretching time to such an extent that any change is so gradual as to be barely perceptible. Everything appears static at first glance, and only by returning to it minutes later do you see that anything has shifted. Though it’s not made expressly clear in the notes I’ve got, it appears that the video is a supremely slow change in colour tone and gradient- hence the names “yellow, blue, yellow” and “orange, blue, orange”, which also appear to have titles where the colours are expressed hexidecimally. It appears to be a very digital and technical exercise.

And so it is with this detached sound. Supremely soft and mellow synthetic pads of sound, afforded no sense of origin either in the concept notes or the sound itself, where different elements of windy, hollow and hum tones meander forwards and backwards with a resolute slowness. Twenty minutes ends up feeling like an arbitrary extraction of sonic landscapes that could theoretically last hours or days, with no beginning or end, loops that never actually repeat, and so on.

There’s not a lot to distinguish the two pieces either, with the second piece “orange, blue, orange” perhaps marginally deeper and yet also slightly warmer, but the abstraction is so absolute that it becomes hard to differentiate between genuine sonic variation and the reflections of your own thoughts and moods occurring alongside.

Uneventful by design, this is a comforting and soporific sonic wallpaper of a kind of which I’m very fond.

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