Music Reviews

Still Und Dunkel: Abandoned

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Nov 21 2019
Artist: Still Und Dunkel
Title: Abandoned
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Hallow Ground
There’s a persistent and broad human fascination with abandoned human-made spaces, presumably tying in psychologically with the appeal of post-apocalyptic stories. I don’t understand why it’s appealing but I’m certainly one of many who are drawn to and fascinated by these images and ideas of failure and decay. Unsurprisingly then it’s a concept that I’ve heard expressed in experimental music several times now. Most typically it’s ripe conceptual material for pure ambient work, or for drone soundscaping.

This Still Und Dunkel release takes an approach that’s slightly different, but not excessively so. Certainly it’s long dark and atmospheric, but there’s a strong cinematic tension and electronic pulsing that crosses drone with the darkest aspects of techno. There’s found sound from abandoned places included in the recipe, but never really foregrounded. It’s slow and deeply moody, but there’s a latent sense of energy underneath it that’s somewhat at odds with the ambient emptiness normally used to portray abandonment in sound.

Opening piece “Lure” is an epic 18 minute work that initially brings bass rumbling and extra tense sounds before gradually settling, of sorts, into a slower-breathing series of dark washes. This sets a tone which is generally maintained throughout the rest of the lengthy work. “Seagull Night” takes the waves idea and brings a crisp, non-abrasive, lo-fi distortion aspect to it, that gradually gets drawn out, time-stretched and stuttered into woodpecker-like rhythms that transform somehow into gunfire- a fascinating experimental success, and a highlight. For pure atmospherics, other notable tracks include “Colossus”, and the strange sense of journeying, possibly commuting, that fills final track “Transient”.

“Hallway”, with its steady ticking, relentless two-note bass pattern and impenetrable spoken-word noise wall is one of the most industrial moments, a near-gothic ear-scrub that’s refreshing and immersive- really strong work, albeit not in any sense evocative of abandonment at all in my opinion. It plays nicely against tracks like “Flicker” which take a similar sonic palette in a more abstract direction.

It might not be as barren or empty as the concept may suggest, but if dark electronic atmospherics are welcome, then take a deep dive into this- it’s certainly worth it. Not every track is a winner- for example “Rise” feels a bit over-familiar, and 78 minutes makes this a release that perhaps overstays its welcome just a little, but there’s plenty to enjoy here, especially with your eyes closed and your ears open.

Seamus Cater & Kai Fagaschinski: Secrets

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Nov 18 2019
Artist: Seamus Cater & Kai Fagaschinski
Title: Secrets
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: self-released
This combination of Seamus Cater’s voice, concertina, Rhodes and harmonica with Kai Fagaschinski’s clarinet was composed over several years, and took over a year to record. Yet it’s got such a consistency of musical purpose that it knits together beautifully as a single, near-contiguous work- 36 minutes of extremely long, solitary, drawn-out instrumental notes, commonly only one or two at a time, exploring the purity and tone of each in thoughtful detail.

It’s sombre and sorrowful, with the supreme expressive capabilities of the clarinet really brought to the fore, and with Cater’s gently husky voice quite masterfully understated. For the most part it’s supremely slow- one of those releases where you might count the beats not by the minute but by the hour.

It’s so loose and open that when a three-note bass pattern appears towards the end of “Blackout” it feels almost chaotic compared to what preceded it. “The Philosopher” almost approaches song-like territory, complete with melodic pattern and chord change, but then throws an abrasive spanner in the works around the 4:30 mark with a frankly bizarre discordant squealing that is the album’s closest flirtation with high drama.

“The Dot Before The I” is notable is something of an accessible interlude piece, with gentle Rhodes tapping and spoken word instructions that give a much lighter tone than the surrounding tracks, resulting in something that sounds almost like a parody of old children’s TV art programmes.

It feels quite theatrical at times, but as though intended to soundtrack a Beckett-like stageplay or arthouse film. As such you have to be suitably mentally positioned to listen to it, otherwise it is likely to hit you at the wrong angle. But if you’re already calm, introspective, and if your heart rate is low, try bathing yourself in this emotive and sonically luxuriant work.

First Tone: Reactions

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Nov 14 2019
Artist: First Tone
Title: Reactions
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Spectrum Spools
The duo of Turk Dietrich and Duane Pitre have been collaborating on sound for years, but this is their debut set of available recordings. It doesn’t sound like the work of a duo, in that it’s a simple and direct vision of atmospheric drone and tone with a singular purpose, devoid of any of the back-and-forth or turbulence that collaborative work can be imbued with.

The meat of the release is four long pieces, that average around 12 minutes each. “Reaction 1” is slightly gritty with a mildly sinister hollow and metallic drone tone (exhibiting a gentle tension which re-emerges in short piece “Recollection” later on), whereas “Reiterations” has a far more pure and melodic make-up that opens with a powerful and emotive call before settling into flatter tones. “Reaction 2” offers up synthesis that feels very organic, and quite clarinet-like at times, but still with a hint of artifice and alienation.

Ultimately this is ambient soundscaping across well-worn territory, and while there’s undoubtedly a rich sonic quality here, it does seem to fall just a little short in terms of unique texture or distinctive character. It’s a very pleasant 55-minute way to fall asleep, undoubtedly, but if you’re alert and looking for sonic detail, you may find this is the wrong kind of ambient for you.

Agencies: The Number Stations

 Posted by Ibrahim Khider (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Nov 12 2019
Artist: Agencies (@)
Title: The Number Stations
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Deep music for deep listening to immerse in varied moods and textures where melodic fragments luxuriously float in plush atmospherics, some serene and some disquieting. Indeed, the album title, like some track names suggest Cold War era tension and this listener cannot help but feel that Agencies may be tapping into memories of when humanity was closer to the horrific brink. The Number Stations opens with the psychedelic, “When Tomorrow Becomes Today”, where disquieting ambient fits right at home under the ‘illbient’ genre. Saturated in reverberating, choppily phasing psychedelic fragments that echo in the perpetual distance—like fever dreams—as tones ripple, dissolve, then re-materialize, fragment and re-assemble into a continuous, dizzying loop. This track serves the function of ‘time machine’ and takes the listener back to a narrative that is about to unfold. Subsequent track, the aptly named, “Quarantine the Past” has remnants of the psychedelic ripple, only this time on a more serene backdrop as the waves then become modulating, near-retro sublime synth tones. A din of radio chatter from mission control levitates as radio signals float in the aether and dissolve into ongoing ripples of time. “Shelters” offers a tentative, fledgling start amidst a sedated plume of angst while playful Casiotone notes and distant guitar flows through much the way a child weaves through throngs that queue to the bomb shelter. The magic in the track is in how discord is successfully merged with a sense of playful wonderment. “Time Lag Accumulation” opens with metallic resonance as if from turning bike spokes before pensive keyboards materialize and bring calm reassurance, even when a disembodied vocal chorus joins. Wood instruments interplay for an intermission of tranquility. “Wasp Network” sets the tone for tension with nice, dramatic synth sweeps and understated beats, radio signal transmissions and voices that indecipherably intone with a sense of urgency that dissolves midway through into another dreamy excursion. “Standing Wave Levitation” and “Carriers” are both comparatively serene yet brief ambient tracks; the former accentuated with understated melody and guitar feedback, the latter has faint toybox tunes within the larger drone tone. “Errornets” is melancholic infused with static crackles and enigmatic shuffling, but “Static Dead Lines” is more expansive; a fuller, lush backdrop with understated beats and muted melodies. Among the more mellifluous tracks is “End of Transmission” which starts with a barrage of radio frequency feedback before sequaying into an orchestral cinematic ambient piece complimented with acoustic guitar and piano, culminating into a wash of bliss. Finally, the title track, “The Number Stations” caps the release on a somewhat dramatic note, melds drone and ambient seamlessly—though it starts off with discord it is then overwhelmed with guitar ambience and piano fragments that fall like a drizzle amidst distant static crackles. It is not known whether the narrative is stuck in time, but what remains is a lingering sense of bittersweet and wistful melancholy. If you are into deep, lush and layered yet masterfully crafted ambient-drone with melodic overtones, this album is for you.

Haythem Mahbouli: Catching Moments in Time

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Oct 30 2019
Artist: Haythem Mahbouli
Title: Catching Moments in Time
Format: CD
Label: Schole (@)
Rated: *****
“I don’t want to predefine my genre or have an instrument-centered composition (e.g. piano). I see music as a mix of sounds that create emotions. Emotions can emerge in any music form. I picture music as images; each of them is associated with an emotion. This album (Catching Moments In Time), is a journey throughout experiences I lived and tried to translate. My goal is for the listener to adapt it to their own, mix it with their emotions and create their own images”. By these words, the Tunisian composer Haythem Mahbouli introduces his brilliant release landed on the Japanese label Schole and feeding the expectations following such an introduction since the symphonic breezes of the opening "Catching The First Moment", whose piano and string driven grandeur mirrors the one of the closing "Catching The Last Moment", opening and closing brackets detaching the musical padded bubble of the aural experience he offered. Two big names of contemporary music scene sustained the emotional flight by this guy, who reprised his compositional work after a hiatus following his settlement in Montreal after the Tunisian Revolution in 2011 and the start of a job as sound designer for gaming industry: the name that most of our readers would recognize is the one by Taylor Deupree, who cared the mastering of the album, while the name that you wouldn't maybe expect, even if it makes sense considering the strong component of classical music into the recipe by Haythem is the one of City of Prague Philarmonic Orchestra, playing strings all over the album. In between the two brackets, many layered emotional sounds flood over listeners' eardrums and souls and the way such a flood gets organized through frequent crescendo, overlapping symphonies and the implant of spooky operatic parts could break the emotional banks of many of them. Some voiceovers have been embedded in some ascensional movements of this album, recorded as if they were transmissions from outer space and quoting lines by American poet Robert Lee Frost, such as the one from Birches: "I'd like to get away from earth awhile / And then come back to it and begin over". They sound consistent with the mood of the album - sometimes getting closer to the cinematic style well expressed by Jóhann Jóhannsson or Hildur Guðnadóttir, particularly in tracks like "Passage" or "Transition" -, whose general dynamics seems to activate different emotional or mnemonic areas before cathartic explosion, partially emulating techniques normally belonging to soundtracks. Awesome output!

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