Music Reviews

Ian Hawgood: Love Retained

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jun 18 2017
Artist: Ian Hawgood
Title: Love Retained
Format: CD
Label: Home Normal (@)
Rated: *****
This lovely output by Ian Hawgood, the man behind the curtains of Home Normal came out on the label's store as a gift for Christmas, but it reached stores after one month. Maybe the way I described Ian in the previous sentence could summarise the floating of his musical soul and his memory by which he watered "Love Retained" - the 100th release of his imprint -, as it's a moving evidence of humanity and got composed during days when Ian was somehow behind the curtains. He masked his depression to the eyes of his friends and family till the moment a particularly stressing moment, related to his decision of leaving Japan together with his wife in early 2015. In his own words: "The intensity of the move and the reasons behind it caused a huge amount of stress for us both and due to our backgrounds we were unable to communicate just how hard this was to any of our friends and family. By early autumn, my mother and sister one day had come over to find me curled up in a ball, unable to speak and in an uncontrollable fit of tears. This was nothing new after a life spent in and out of severe depression but it was the first time family had seen this directly in my adulthood.". Dedicated to the women of his life (mostly his wife and his sister, I guess), Ian initially composed the piano sketches he included in this album for future collaborations, but he finally decided to keep as they were with no editing or mastering. They got recorded on cassette and looped on low levels in the nighttime or when his mind was wondering or wandering, as he told in the introductory words for "Love Retained", and his decision of offering them incomplete is a meaningful gift, as incompletion is "a beautiful and freeing thing" in Ian's viewpoint. Some of the piano loops are really good for nocturnal meditations, other ones sound like sonic heartfelt portraits of people that helped Ian to come out of that state of mind, but the whole release got imbued with an intense and catchy emotionality. In the introduction of "Love Retained", Ian focused on a very important aspect of depression, that got often misunderstood by people who try to support them, but in a wrong way: "Silence is the real killer. It feels embarrassing and shameful to speak of such things as it shows weakness, which leads to awful judgement from most people. This may sound negative, but the simple fact is we all judge others whether we want to or not. And those who suffer from depression have a stigma attached to them. That stigma's name is 'pity' and it isn't very helpful in truth, albeit understandable. People who suffer from depression can feel joy, can laugh, and can connect deeply to others, but they also need friends and family to support them now and then in a world where people are growing increasingly alien to one another.". All the profits from this album have been and will be donated to Mind (check their website here:, a charity organisation helping people suffering from mental diseases.

Tobias Hellqvist: Kaskelot: Reissue + Remixes

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jun 13 2017
Artist: Tobias Hellqvist
Title: Kaskelot: Reissue + Remixes
Format: CD
Label: Home Normal (@)
Rated: *****
It's not that difficult to understand why Tobias Hellkvist has been regarded as "one of Sweden’s best-kept secrets" just after the release of his debut album "Evolutions" in 2010, due to the elegant way by which he intertwined heavily processed drones, acoustic instruments and field recordings, but the release I'm going to introduce - reissued in the beginning of the current year by Home Normal - was even less known by European and American listeners than it was his widespread debut: firstly produced by Home Normal sub-label Tokyo Droning in 2011, "Kaskelot" was a four-track EP, that became considerably popular in Japan, due to its daydreaming and gently melodic sound, close to the aesthetics of many skilled producers that blossomed over years in that fascinating country. Years after its release, Tobias and Ian Hawgood talked about it during a discussion they had in London after a gig by Tobias at The Vortex in March 2013 and after a series of emails, Ian decided to reissue an extended version of it by involving a number of remixers to revamp the original tracks, which got also remastered for the occasion. The four lulling and slightly entrancing sonic sweetener that Tobias improvised and recorded in just one night at Sunlaugin in Reykjavik (Iceland) between 24th March and 4th April 2011 by a one-take recording of a piano, a vibraphone, a pump organ, a guitar, a pedal steel, some simple loops and some likewise neat percussions, got squeezed and restyled by a set of well-known artists of the ambient and electronic folk circle, who sometimes enhanced some of its properties: the most elongated dilutions are the one by Steve Pacheco, who extended Kaskelot sounds over a sweet thin melodic softener lasting 12 minutes and 12 seconds where piano reappears as a tide of the stretched melodies, and the remix by Chihei Hatakeyama, who used the piano-driven melody as a sparkle to vaporise the original input before arousing its electricity like the rain-smelling air before a summer thunderstorm. Likewise elongated, the remix by Chris Herbert sounds like the rendering of salutary geyser where you could imagine he dissolved different sets of unknown shining minerals. Hibernate artist Simon Bainton is the one who maybe kept more elements of the original version of 'Kaskelot' in the first part of his short remix before dissolving them into a blessing void, while Iranian sound artist Porya Hatami made a magnificent version by combining a certain "rusticity" of the input and a lukewarm epic wrapping by inserting a nylon-bass sound and a lovely synthetic string. The quirky computational sequence by offthesky and the radiant set by Canadian producer Jordan Sauer aka Segue are the cherries on top of this delightful release.

Chihei Hatakeyama: Mirage

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jun 12 2017
Artist: Chihei Hatakeyama
Title: Mirage
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Room40
Pitched as a non-academic study of how architecture has shaped music and vice versa, “Mirage” is a collection of nine gentle and relaxing ambient textures made up of slowly looping synthetic chords and subtle use of environmental found sound. It’s a very well established sonic style so it would be something of a challenge to bring anything new to the table, and sure enough, “Mirage” doesn’t, really. Being critical, this release severely lacks that distinctive element or polish that will make you remember it above the dozens of similar-sounding releases.

But, despite all that, it has to be said that it still works. As a slow and mellow wash of warm chords, it’s soporific and thoughtful. It’s an ideal background soundtrack to reflection or somnambulance. “Starlight And Black Echo” is the track that most epitomises this, while “Anatolia Mirage” is the track that comes closest to shattering it with a moderately unwelcome distorted glitch towards the end.

The found sound elements feel underplayed. “Bus Terminal In Konya” starts with purely environmental sound and shows more promise, but within a minute this culture and texture has almost entirely ebbed away, and the same gentle chords have meandered back.

The synth sound that forms the whole of “A Silence Of Day” is so reminiscent of the intro to Pet Shop Boys’ “Being Boring” that you keep wondering when the drum machine and wahwah guitar are going to kick in.

Rarely have I heard an ambient release that is so lacking in the singularity that might make you take it off the shelf, yet wanted to recommend it so highly for its relaxing qualities.

Bvdub: Epilogues for the End of the Sky

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jun 11 2017
Artist: Bvdub (@)
Title: Epilogues for the End of the Sky
Format: CD
Label: Glacial Movements (@)
Rated: *****
Even if he's not a very known name, Brock Van Wey has a long history started in the late 80's and oscillating between deep house and ambient. With his new release on Glacial Movements he takes the titles of the tracks by a brief poetry and this is an hint that, more than a collection of tracks, this is a cohesive release.
The first track, "On Deaf Hearts Your Prayers They Fall", seems an usual ambient track with the juxtaposition of drones that create a quiet mass of sound but suddenly a piano chord if used to forge a second part of the track closer to certain modern classical. "With Broken Wings and Giants Tall" use the drone to blur the piano and the voice and transform them in abstract sounds to reveal them only in the closing seconds. The discernible melodies of the guitar and synth make "Sparkling Legions Turn to Black" a track away enough to the usual structure of the genre and closer to the form of the prime movers e.g., the Orb. "Your Painted Armor Aches to Crack" is quiet ambient watercolor and "Clouds Besiege What You Remain" is a crescendo for synth until his end in silence.
"Footsteps Fade If Not Your Pain" is based upon a beat that is loosely audible until when it stop with the soundscape to let an almost inaudible synth accompaniment. The cradling metaloop of "Love Is Never Asking Why" has a mirror in the almost static drone "It All Ends with the Coming Sky" which ends the release.
Even without any ground-breaking moments, this release let the will to hear it again as it balances his well known form with a remarkable sense of balance and a great craft for sound forging. It's worth a listen maybe with headphones.

John Matthias & Jay Auborn: Race To Zero

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jun 08 2017
Artist: John Matthias & Jay Auborn
Title: Race To Zero
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Village Green Recording
“Race To Zero” is an epic soundtrack for no particular film. Emotive and energetic strings, bold piano melodies, a variety of different percussive techniques and a sympathetic smattering of electronics and detail-driven post-production give the album an extremely high-budget and dramatic feel that just leaps out at the listener.

Tracks like “Tilted Stage” and the unusually constructed “Soma Vapour” bring the electronics work closer to the fore, making music that is reminiscent in parts of a BT or Hybrid score. There are some crazier moments too, such as the near-oompah brass of “Wax Heart” that plays against rapidly arpeggiating synth sounds over complex live-sounding drums.

Like a film score there are a variety of moods and tensions. “Stone Face” is a slightly militaristic call to arms, the clarion call of a heroic fight back, while “Caretaker” is a more plaintive and somewhat sinister piano piece, that leaves you unsure whether the titular character is a good guy in danger, or the source of some evil. While many soundtracks end with the big finale, here we end with “Songbird”, a reflective violin and piano piece with large doses of windy ambience that brings things to an slightly off-kilter conclusion.

It’s magnificent and if this were a film score, I’d be heading down to the cinema to learn more. It’s one of those albums where the only criticism you think of is that, at 38 minutes, it’s too short.

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