Music Reviews

Stereo Hypnosis & Christopher Chaplin: Bjarmi

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Apr 10 2019
Artist: Stereo Hypnosis & Christopher Chaplin
Title: Bjarmi
Format: CD + Download
Label: Fabrique Records
“Bjarmi” is a 40-minute live studio recording, recorded in Hvammstangi in Northern Iceland. The track titles are derived from place names in the nearby Heggstaðanes peninsula, and the tone of the sound is what you may also consider as stereotypically Icelandic- cold, barren sonic landscapes littered with glacial electronic sounds and some rugged rough-hewn textures, resulting in a beautiful sense of complex emptiness.

Established experimental trio Stereo Hypnosis are at the core, with Thorkell Atlasson’s guitar work laying delicately over the synthetic elements and field recordings. At time the purer melodic tones develop shades of Tangerine Dream or 70’s prog rock at its most relaxed, but it’s only a loose comparison. Other trio members Óskar and Pan Thorarensen (father and son) are founders of the Extreme Chill festival and it’s not unreasonable to imagine this release being targeted for performances there. However guest Christopher Chaplin is not just an also-ran here, contributing melodic elements with a slightly more conventional contemporary music tone that give proceedings a stamp of quality as well.

Mostly arhythmic, it’s worth singling out final track “Tangi” for its slow clicking rhythm that, with minimal effort, generates a structure that’s mostly not felt in the other pieces, except perhaps in the breathing and heartbeat patterns of opener “Klif”- a neat piece of bookending with more rhythmic sections that’s an unusual structure for a mostly ambient work like this.

In four ten-minute live pieces (a couple of which perhaps fade too abruptly), it’s a very consistent piece of chill out (or ‘Extreme Chill’) music that doesn’t challenge any established conventions of the genre, but it’s handled with such deftness and such attention to detail that it’s pretty much impossible not to like.

Zachary Paul: A Meditation On Discord

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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Apr 09 2019
Artist: Zachary Paul
Title: A Meditation On Discord
Format: CD + Download
Label: Touch # Tone
Three solo works by Zachary Paul, performing violin with electronics, are gathered here for a fairly intensive and immersive bit of solitary performance in which lengthy violin notes and sparse moments of more impulsive playing are layered up, reverberated and droned until the single instrument source has transformed into a full environment you can bathe in.

First piece “Premonition” is an exemplary half-hour exercise in slow build and transformation, as the tension and texture grows and grows, almost imperceptibly slowly, resulting in an impressive self-contained journey where a relatively narrow range of sounds can hold your interest for far longer than ought to be possible.

Second piece “Slow Ascent” is almost inappropriately named then, as it’s got a similar sonic outlay to the first piece, but dynamically it’s more of a plateau, not featureless but devoid of any major changes.

Third piece “A Person With Feelings” was created as the score for a short abstract film that hasn’t been released yet, and reflects an emotional journey that perhaps may make more sense with its associated picture; on its own, it feels more like a compressed version of the opening piece, but reaching a destination that’s more tense and discordant in the end.

Since Ed Alleyne-Johnson’s experiments with electric violin processing in the early 90’s (before he side-stepped into weak crowd-pleasing cover versions), the idea of drawing grittier tones and electronic source elements out of a violin has seemed powerful to me, and these pieces explore the idea well. They may be steeped in anxiety but the result is a rewarding listen, and the fact it doesn’t overstay its welcome is an impressive feat.

Amp: Entangled Time

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Apr 05 2019
Artist: Amp (@)
Title: Entangled Time
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence Records (@)
Rated: *****
Sound in Silence always seems to come up with interesting releases (making it one of my favorite labels of late) and this one by Amp is certainly a pleasure. For those not familiar with the Amp project, it is the electronic/post rock duo of Richard F. Walker (aka Richard Amp) and Karine Charff, based in London, UK. Amp's lineup has changed numerous times over the years since its inception by Walker in 1992. Prior to that Walker was a member of a band in Bristol called The Secret Garden that incubated a number of groups including Flying Saucer Attack and Third Eye Foundation. Amp's permutations and collaboration members (not to mention its discography) could fill a page, but you can find that information elsewhere.

Having no prior acquaintance with Amp I took a brief tour through their discography to get a sense of what they're about and a feel for their evolution over time. Pieces ranged from droney-experimental and sometimes noise-based to exhibiting some [traditional] song structure, albeit somewhat loose. Rhythm was sometimes present, sometimes not. Vocals (where present) were often swathed in reverb and echo making them another hazy ambient element, some with lyrics, others wordless. While most of the instrumental elements are electronic, and keyboard based, guitar and other instruments were sometimes employed. Sometimes the motif is noisy shoegazer, ala My Bloody Valentine. Within the confines of their oeuvre there seems to be a fair amount of variety, although the drone and shoegaze formats remain constant. Nothing ever approaches anything even remotely mainstream; their improvisatory nature precludes that.

While a good number of their past works often feature the experimental and avant-garde, 'Entangled Time' is relatively straightforward and set with little deviation from its structure. Gauzy, gossamer drones and pads are employed throughout the five tracks in 43 minutes that comprises this album. Charff's ethereal vocals float over, under, around and through this haze like a shimmering, elegant thread in a sonic tapestry. Rhythm is used sparingly (on two tracks only - "Will-Oh Dreams," and "Will-Oh Dreams Extended Mix") and is minimal. While some might say that rhythm in predominantly ambient music of this type is just a distraction, I think it adds to the hypnotic effect. Karine's deliciously dreamy Ophelia-like voice is not omnipresent but when it does appear, it adds dimension and depth that makes this work a standout in the realm of ambient. While not breaking any new ground here, Amp solidified its approach and trimmed the rough edges often found in their previous efforts. A worthy album, limited to 200 handmade and hand-numbered collectible copies, the like of which Sound In Silence is typically known for.

Audraulic: Quadrate Patterns

 Posted by Ibrahim Khider (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Apr 04 2019
Artist: Audraulic (@)
Title: Quadrate Patterns
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Section 27
A journey on the darker end of the ambient-electronic spectrum, with segues into downtempo and techno, but always firmly into the realm of ambient atmospherics. The opening track, "Gardens at Impossible Distances" drifts into eerie ambient with darker, yet majestic and spacious sounds with layers of human voice, perhaps synthetic, that instill a kind of ghostly quality -- sort of eerie, yet majestic. The eeriness dissipates in the following "Kobalt", a downtempo electronic track that skirts Oxygene-era Jean-Michel-Jarre where beats and slow melody interplay. "Last Practitioner of the Vanishing Technique" and title track, "Quadrate Patterns" starts off with drones that ricochet, and semi orchestral sweeps before it ventures into understated beats with squelching acid techno accents and layers of techno melodies that pick up as the track progresses and are catchy--an unexpected turn for something that feels more on the ambient tip. "Lost Memories" and "A Soul The Same" has a vast, cavernous feel, early 80's Vangelis, specifically the Bladerunner soundtrack for when Roy Batty meets and dispatches his maker. Human voice, understated rhythms and dirge-like tones with sombre piano notes in cohesion lend dark overtone. The overall feel of this album is slightly retro electro-ambient that Audraulic is able to conjure and deploy to powerful effect. The aptly titled "Mountains in the Sky" bookends Quadrate Patterns with deep sound yet offers a more optimistic overtone. Ambient is really where Audraulic excels best, but even the most rhythmic track here is saturated in atmosphere and brings cohesion. Audraulic delivers magnificent, moving ambient and with orchestral majesty and sweeps...the last track the musical equivalent of a sunrise.

Khotin: Beautiful You

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Apr 04 2019
Artist: Khotin
Title: Beautiful You
Format: LP
Label: Ghostly International
“Beautiful You” is an off-beat, downtempo, fairly balearic chill-out album from an artist with more pedigree in danceable material. In amongst the familiar sounds of birdsong (quite a lot of it), lapping waves, soft and leisurely organic hand-drum patterns, soft positive-sounding melodic synth pads and so on, are layered slightly more off-kilter sounds- detuned and processed pianos in the opening tracks, odd and slightly grating telemarketing samples in “Vacation”, and more electro-style beats on “Alla’s Scans”.

At its peak points, it channels the ambient house vibe of the 90’s into detailed, thoughtful electronica. Final track “Planet B” is particularly endearing, while the decidedly Wagon Christ-ish tones of “Dwellberry” are very pleasing as well. “Merged Host” is strongly reminiscent of some old Irresistible Force tracks, while the keys on “Somehow More Sad” make its broodiness just a shade more jazzy.

However at other points it could be accused of being a little ‘nothing-y’, as while it oozes a calm charm, in the flatter more sunbathing-house tracks like “Looping Good” it does feel a little short on ideas or on attention to detail. A sweet but perhaps just slightly too forgettable chill-out hour.

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