Music Reviews

VV.AA.: RE: Residual

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jul 29 2015
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: RE: Residual
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Parenth├Ęses Records (@)
Rated: *****
Five years ago, two members of cross-cultural ensemble Way Out West, the Australian eclectic trumpeter and composer Peter Knight, whose outstanding sonic research is mainly focused on making musical bridges between jazz and world music, and Vietnamese musican and experienced jazz guitarist (as well as performer on many traditional Vietnamese instruments) Dung Nguyen gave birth to Residual, a collaborative project which tried to make a possible connection between Western musical styles and Vietnamese music. Their debut album on Brussels-based label Parentheses Records was enthusiastically acclaimed by many reviewers and listeners. In the beginning of 2014, Peter and Alexis Courtin discussed about the possibility to revamp that great release, so that they decided to ask some musicians from France and Australia to provide their personal perspective on the ideas that got seeded by Residual. The five tracks - I won't refer to them as proper remixes - of this digital remake are simply awesome and features the contributions by Mathias Delplanque aka Lena, whose elegant cosmic-dub explorations on "Autumn Music" could resemble some world/dubby stuff by Harold Budd or Hector Zazou, Tilman Robinson, whose lulling abstract ambient "Phase Pedal" could inspire ecstatic daydreaming, Melbourne-based drummer, percussionist and electro-acoustic performer Joe Talia, who unweaves some micropercussions on the subtle electronics of "Minky Star" where Peter's trumpet could resemble Erik Truffaz's style, Melbourne-based Dan West, whose minimal-techy revamp of "Residual" is the most club-fitted moment, and last but least, the American-Scottish (actually living in Paris) word artist and writer black Sifichi, speaking of astronomical subjects by means of his distinguishable deep voice on "Travelling". Available for free on label's bandcamp.
Jul 28 2015
Artist: Bunny &...
Title: The Invalid Singers
Format: CD
Label: Bearsuit Records (@)
Rated: *****
More volatile than prices of current marketplaces, the unpredictability of this nice project by Glasgow-based musician Bunny -one of the legs of the experimental duo Anata Wa Sukkarai Tsukarete Shimai -, that kind of unpredictability that could put more zealous reviewers in a rage in the vain attempt of striving for a definition, is the hallmark of this release, where the binding elements of the spell is probably the hammy lucid madness of his inventor. The squirrelly edgy nuance that suddenly got inflamed by an amazing explosion of whacky distorted guitars on "One Time For Good Time", the hot needles by which Bunny turns a simple melody into a warm blanket on "Hallucinating Felt Beasts", which could resemble some "easytronica" stuff by French band Air, the energic intro - imagine to listen Kula Shaker or Galaxie 500 in your cozy bathroom while dryng your hair by a very powerful hairdryer - and the following tender decay - imagine you burned your hair for an excess of enthusiasm and diversion! - on the amazing opening track "Ask The Man Inside Your Head", the innocent and almost fairy delicacy of "Gift To Gift", which sounds like the sonic rendering of your very first birthdays, the strange naivety of "The Invalid Singers" as well as references and hooks to listenings such as Robert Wyatt, Piero Umiliani, Ennio Morricone and even The Carpenters or other soft rock bands like David Gates' Bread which pop out of the release like mushrooms are just some of the evidence of his weird approach to composition. Check it out!

Leila Abdul-Rauf: Insomnia

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jul 28 2015
Artist: Leila Abdul-Rauf
Title: Insomnia
Format: CD
Label: Antibody/Malignant Records (@)
Rated: *****
Leila Abdul-Rauf is a multi-instrumental music artist from San Francisco. If her name seems familiar to you, you might recognize it from such bands and projects as Vastum, Ionophore, Hammers of Misfortune, Amber Asylum, and Bastard Noise. I understand that she's a mean metal guitarist, but you won't hear anything like that here. 'Insomnia', released on Malignant's side-label Antibody is her second foray into ambient, the first being 'Cold and Cloud' on Saadi Saati (2013). I haven't had a chance to hear that one, but after this, I'm definitely going to check it out. The music on 'Insomnia' is dark, but not pitch black, more grey or crepuscular. It is also more melodic than most dark ambient. Unlike other recent releases I've heard from Malignant, there is no "noise" component, somewhat of a relief to me. Leila enlists a few guest musicians on this album - Jan Hendrich (e-bow on "Absences" and "Wane"); Ryan Honiker (violins on "Wane"); Nathan Verrill (guitar and additional synths on "Edges of a Mirror"); and Kat Young (lead vocals on "Pull"). That' right, there are tracks with vocals on this album; three of them to be exact, and lyrics too, not just wordless. Songs with vocals? Doesn't that betray the ambient concept? you might be asking. Well, no, not here. 'Insomnia' is sort of the ambient music of a dream; not a nightmare as dark ambient might imply, but perhaps a waking dream; that time between midnight and dawn when you just can't sleep and everything seems surreal.

Things fittingly begin with "Midnight" where a swell of angelic wordless voices float over a dream-like ambience, quickly moving into "Drift", where deep chambered muted horn sounds provide the hazy top over lower shifting drones. This is territory you might expect inhabited by Vida Obmana, Robert Rich or Jeff Greinke. "The Opening" lets in some light and radiance with lighter drone ambience and Leila's vocals (yes, with lyrics) in a sort of abstract song in heavenly voices mode. Wow! This is really beautiful. It grows in intensity but never oversteps its bounds. "Clock Glows" is one of those enigmatic mystery pieces that makes so much out of so little. A delicate melody supported by minimal synth work, this is cinema worthy. I've been charmed. "Pull" (with Kat on vocals) has simple piano accompaniment and that mournful chambered horn. It's a song but ambient in that Projekt/4AD way. Reminds me a bit of Frolic. Absolutely lovely! "Seconds Tick" give the impression of time passing, but oh so surreally. "Edges of a Mirror" and Absence" are wonderfully sublime dark ambient pieces heavily reliant on drones. "He Sits in His Room", another track with understated vocals by Leila employs a droney atmosphere with a repetitive, low plucked string musical phrase and that mournful chambered horn again. Vaguely psychedelic, moody and highly atmospheric. "Wane" brings together a lot of previous musical elements previously employed by Leila with the addition of violins and e-bow. Perhaps this is the most desolate sounding track on the album. It ends with "Dark Hours of Early Morning", the most intensely dark piece on all of 'Insomnia'. Yet there is concession to light towards the end as daybreak can be sensed on the horizon. The perfect outro.

I can't remember when I so thoroughly enjoyed an album from start to finish with nary a thing to question or grouse about. This is one exceptionally fine album with a high degree of replayability. Leila nails it here in a way few seem to be able to do. I would even recommend this to those who aren't necessarily into dark ambient. Although the neat CD cover painting by Mark Thompson would have you believe the music is bleak, it really isn't. So far, a contender for album of the year. It's just that damn good.

Elizabeth Anderson: L'envol

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jul 27 2015
Artist: Elizabeth Anderson
Title: L'envol
Format: CD
Label: empreintes DIGITALes (@)
The renewed interest on electroacoustic and acousmatic sonic material, that labels like empreintes DIGITALes are fostering by means of their publishing efforts, is allowing many hungry listeners to discover quite unknown composers or musicians in this interesting field. In spite of an excellent academic track and a plenty of prizes in international competition - including ASCAP-SEAMUS (USA, 2001), Bourges (France, 1994), CIMESP (Brazil, 1995, 2001, 2003, and 2007), Città di Udine (Italy, 2004), Métamorphoses (Belgium, 2004), Musica Nova (Czech Republic, 2008), Noroit-Léonce Petitot (France, 1998), Stockholm Electronic Arts Award (Sweden, 1994), TIME (2002), and Pierre Schaeffer Competition of Electronic Music (Italy, 2007) -, American-born Brussels-based composer Elizabeth Anderson could be an unknown name for many followers of the scene. Even if listeners who are not so familiar with sound processing couldn't catch the beauty of this release, "L'Envol" (French for "the flight") collects many works by Elizabeth, whose aesthetic research often features metacultural interconnection. Two of the above-listed prizes was given to the opening "Les forges de l'invisible", an electroacoustic suite that Elizabeth made by manipulations of some sonic input that she previously created during a residency at the Centre de creation musicale Iannis Xenakis in Paris, between the multichannel electroacoustic studio of City University London and the Studio of Akousma of the Academy of Soignes in Belgium. The main source of inspiration of the two movements - the first one seems to trace different lovels of sonic decay, while the second movement could be the reverse process as the initial particles seems to get gradually amalgamated - was Blake's poetry and particularly his visionary outlook of progress: she specifically mentions the notorious poem "The Tyger", whose "fearful symmetry" has already inspired many musicians and got mirrored by the contrast between creative and distructive forces that animate guts, hearts and behavious of every sonic particles of this suite. Named after the underground fortress that Nazi forces built in northern France, "Mimoyecques" - the oldest recording of this collection - is a sort of sonic tribute to the forced laborers (more than one thousand prisoners) who died when the fortress was heavily bombed by the Allied air forces in 1944: for this genuine act of remembrance, she combined two sets of sound, being the first one mainly made from sounds that she recorded in the fortress and the second one from the overlapping of different readings in different languages from writings of Hans Christian Andersen, Danilo Dolci, Annette von Droste-Huelshoff, Alexander Pushkin, David Baltuch, Vaino Linna, Bjornstjerne Bjornson, Amir Gilboa and Czeslaw Milosz, intended to mirror the multilingual origin of the died workers. The tracks in the middle - the most recent erecordings - are mainly connected to Anderson's fascination for space and ancient cultures: "Solar Winds", which was dedicated to ancient Mayan astronomers, was based on James Dungey's open magnetosphere model and interplanetary field lines that got carried by solar winds and interfere with Earth's magnetosphere, which become a sort of score to give sound to non-sounding astronomical event, while the following "...and Beyond" proposes an imaginary aural journey beyond heliosphere. The vaguely diquieting "Ether" and the two movements of "Protopia/Tesseract", inspired by Madeleine L'Engle's novel "A Wrinkle in Time", where space/time compression makes intergalactic travels possible, complete this release.

Hotel Neon: s/t

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jul 26 2015
Artist: Hotel Neon (@)
Title: s/t
Format: CD
Label: Home Normal (@)
Rated: *****
Footsteps on a wooden floor, two sonic waves (a low frequncy which seems to get longer and longer and a higher one which sounds like something a seraphic choir and a feeble murmur), a sort of heartbeat on the threshold of audible hearing levels feature "A Lament", the opening track of this release by which brothers Andrew and Michael Tasselmyer ignited their debut release Hotel Neon in the summer of 2013 on a striclty limited edition of 100 copies on cassette. A couple of years later after the first edition of "Hotel Neon" begun to circulate by means of word of mouth within a cosy huddle of ambient lovers, Ian Hawgood decided to re-release it by remastering the original version, that Tasselmyer Bros. mainly moulded by using cheap equipment (a usb recorder, cheap guitars, an effects processor and a computer). The title of the following track "Dust and Drag" seems to describe the sound processing, where listener could hear an undefined frequency which get finely pulverised before getting stocked by somber stretched tone and a mechanical loop, which sounds like a clock, while "The Crushing Weight" is the first exposure of the listener to more peacefully ethereal radiations and likewise smooth frequencies keep on shield listener from the rumbling sub-tones of "The Eye's Mind", which precedes the ecstatically narcotic reels of "Deprivation" and the entrancing subtle buzz, which flows through the heart of following "Confines". Distant thunderstorms attempt in vain to disrupt the heavenly ataraxia of "Lowly", the track which closes a release that perfectly matches the tagline of Hotel Neon: Restraint over haste, Perception over presumption, Awareness over intent". The Zen fingerprint on the a test tube filled with amniotic fluid.

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