Music Reviews

Dead Voices On Air: Michael And The Angels Fought

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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May 27 2012
Artist: Dead Voices On Air (@)
Title: Michael And The Angels Fought
Format: CD
Label: Lens Records (@)
Distributor: Lens Records
Rated: *****
I don't know why I've held off so long on reviewing this CD; maybe I just needed time to absorb it...then there was a period of about 2 weeks recently that my computer was down...but that's another story. Anyway, we're all familiar with Mark Spybey's DVOA to some degree or another, aren't we? If not, you certainly should be. DVOA has been a staple on the Industrial-Ambient music scene since 1993 or so, and before that Spybey was a member of Zoviet France. During his career Spybey has participated in numerous collaborations, remixes, tours, etc., but you can make your own connections there; this review is likely to be lengthy enough without the full back-story.

I admit that I'm not acquainted with the whole DVOA catalogue. I own a few of their CDs owing to a DVOA phase I went through a number of years ago, but lost touch after the 'Frankie Pett Presents The Happy Submarines...' album. I'm sure that many would lump the music of DVOA in the 'Ambient' category, but it really isn't ambient per se. I've always thought of it as more 'sound collage' utilizing many different elements, some of which inhabit the industrial and ambient realms, and others more experimental, improvisational, noise, electronic, and uncategorizable. So to get a better picture I spent a little time cruising iTunes track previews for the DVOA albums I hadn't heard (which turned out to be quite a few) just for some frame of reference for this review. It couldn't have been a more varied listening experience. There was plenty I liked, as well as things I didn't care for. When you're a leading edge experimenter though, you take chances and not everyone is going to love everything you do. Goes with the territory. Taste changes over time too, not only for the listener but the creator as well, always a factor in whether or not an artist's latest work is going to trip your trigger or not.

As far as 'Michael And The Angels Fought' is concerned, my trigger was definitely tripped. The album is more focused and not as diverse as some other DVOA releases, but I tend to think of that as refinement rather than reduction. The album features a supporting cast that includes contributions from American-Serbian singer Ivana Salipur; the British cellist Bela Emerson; Portland, Oregon throat-singer Soriah; the French auteur and high-wire artist Philippe Petit; Toronto based electronic musician, Michael Morton (Displacer); Massachusetts based guitarist Michael Page (Sky); Utah electronic keyboardist Lori Cole, and also Robin Storey (Rapoon), and Jared Louche (Chemlab). In a sense, 'Michael And The Angels Fought' is like no other DVOA album you have ever heard, although some sonic elements may be familiar at times.

The album consists of five tracks that clock in at one hour. It could be one of the most mesmerizing hours you've spent listening to music of late. Opening track 'Shadow' has classical overtones courtesy of Bela Emerson's cello weaving in and out of clouds of drone. It's a melancholy sort of tranquility, but cellos tend to foster the lachrymose. 'Voice' features the voice of Ivana Salipur, and a heavenly voice it is too. It's not wordless singing either; there are lyrics. Think of This Mortal Coil, or something that might belong on a Heavenly Voices compilation, or if you remember it, 'Celestial' by Heavenly Bodies (sure wish I still had that album), but perhaps even more gorgeous. The track is less ambient-oriented and more structured in a sense with a few simple repeated string-section chord phrases. No less ethereal though. I don't think there is a single DVOA track I've liked better than this one. Absolute perfection! You WILL think of angels when you listen to it.

'Pulse' opens with even more cello which morphs menacingly through some distortion processing before regaining its classical footing. Slow, long, sustained notes and an orchestral pillow of radiance propel the track. At the end, it almost sounds like a viking horn being blown in the distance across the fjords. 'Moon' is at first a dense, breathy track with more overly electronic elements than previously, rumbly bass, static, high timbre drones from Petit's electric psalterion, and eventually Soriah's throat-singing, which gives the piece a truly unearthly feel. The dynamics get very low-key in the middle of the track with hardly-there gentle layered drone supported by similar strings. This is the longest track on the album at 19:36. A bit further on there is an increase in the dynamics as a repetitive chordal phrase emerges, and then disappears as the whole is replaced by a sort of rhythmic loop akin to the sound of a muffled top-loading washing machine during the wash cycle, with an arrhythmic tapping of something made of plastic on a drinking glass, and celestial synth chorus. This culminates in a muffled explosion of chambered noise, but the voices carry on. There is a lot of subtlety to this track, and much more to it than I am describing here. It's one of those things you just have to hear. Especially toward the end, it becomes most typical DVOA, although it's hard to classify anything DVOA does as typical.

Final track, 'Sudden' is perhaps the closest thing to Dark Ambient on the album, although even that categorization could be construed as a misnomer. It has a darker, more ominous tone at first, utilizing swells of phased processed noise in conjunction with Lustmord-style deep drone on the low end. In a sense, it has more of an industrial quality to it, confirmed by the eruption at about midway (7 minutes) through the track. Things get loud and cacophonous for a brief while, suddenly ending in a very different subterranean environment which is eventually transformed into something more brilliant and beautiful (perhaps even hopeful?) courtesy of the sustained strings. We are also treated to some esoteric DVOA sound looping and eerie but intriguing higher timbre sonics. Jared Louche throws in a few words towards the end that is more or less a cameo on his part.

As a whole, this is the most ambient-esque album I've ever heard from DVOA. To me, it also seemed to be the most rewarding. There is undeniable genius at work here and not one iota I didn't care for. If for some reason you've lost touch with DVOA, this is an album you must own to reacquaint yourself with the project. Spybey has created something special with 'Michael And The Angels Fought' and you owe it to yourself to experience it in its entirety. Even if you're not familiar with DVOA (it hardly matters as far as this release is concerned) I recommend this without hesitation, because I have no doubt you'll be thanking me that I did.

Simon Scott: Below Sea Level

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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May 25 2012
Artist: Simon Scott (@)
Title: Below Sea Level
Format: CD
Label: 12k (@)
Rated: *****
Cambridge-based drummer and "electronic" musician Simon Scott, whose name and musical skills emblazoned a number of remarkable post-rock, shoegaze and post-minimalism emanations (he replaced Adrian Sell in Slowdive and collaborated with Rafael Anton Irisarri and his band The Sight Below as well as with Machinefabriek, Lowgold, Klimek and many other), looks like taking listener by the arms in order to let him discover the wonderful marshy region of Fenland in East Anglia by means of natural sounds of that former wetland, grabbed with hydrophones and self-built recording devices, and his music, whose emotional charge and sonic chromaticism sound emphasized by the filter of nostalgia, as the so-called Fens and its controversial environment were the places where he spent some moments during his childhood. "Below Sea Level" - the title can be explained with the fact the Fens host the lowest land points in United Kingdom due to drainage and higher grounds are so rare that it's maybe one of the few places in the world were occasional hills are called "islands"! - immediately gets listener inside the environment (both natural and emotional) and every musical ingredient (mainly processed guitars, waves, synth horns and other sonic sketches deriving from digital signal processing) seems to look for a symbiosis with natural auditory inputs, so that it seems a sort of osmosis between acousmatic pastorale and lively natural elements occurs track by track till the moment when such an amalgamation has been accompished in the final entrancing track. This release is just a part of a wider project - there should be a limited edition of it as well -, which include a 68-page-color journal with snapshots, Scott's entries in his travel diary over a period of two years when he explored the Fens and essay entitled "An Exploration of the Subterranean Fenland Environment", which could help the listener in understanding the creative process behind it.

Wastelanders: Cosmic Despair

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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May 23 2012
Artist: Wastelanders (@)
Title: Cosmic Despair
Format: CD
Label: Basses Frequences (@)
Rated: *****
When men stare at the ineffable sight of Milky Way in a conveniently dark point of observation from Planet Earth, they could be overwhelmed by that feeling of solipsistic littleness combined with that somewhat controversial astonishment or ecstatic ravishment. An insignificant creature who can even make a fool of itself in the frantic attempt of framing such an infinity through intellect, but who cannot close the doors of perception in spite of the awareness and the acknowledge of its limitations. This one seems to be the conceptual launching pad of this second act of Wastelanders, side-project by Dean Costello, member of Michel Spiegel's Chicago-based metal band Harpoon, who looks like suggesting cosmic wandering where the above-mentioned inevitable frustration collides the wonder of constant discovery and travel, which cannot be but powered by music. "Cosmic Despair" mainly rests on introspections and contemplations aided by dilutions of guitar loops and moulding of analogue synth organs, which could recall some similar stuff by Christian Fennesz, Sunn O))) or Oren Ambarchi. The first three tracks sound like a mental tuning, based on lingering drones and the title track, "Cosmic Despair", is the most remarkable of them for its inspirational and hypnotic hooks, while "Expanding Mental Universe" and "The Crossing" are more guitar-driven mystical journeys, the first focused on crystalline sparks evoking a mesmeric cosmic roaming, the latter - and my favorite track as well - sounds closer to an ambient (then getting more rhythmical) translation of Indian raga-inspired enlightment. "Cosmic Despair" is also available on digital format through Hewhocorrupts and on tape (!) through Space Idea (check Just keep on wandering!

Saltillo: Monocyte

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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May 21 2012
Artist: Saltillo
Title: Monocyte
Format: CD
Label: Artoffact (@)
Rated: *****
The follow-up of the recently reissued debut album, Ganglion, is another strange mash-up of trip-hop, distorted violin, spoken word and is a concept album, a soundtrack to the comic book of the same name. The good news is this is vastly superior to the debut album in composition and production.
"ABEO" in the intro constructed upon some noises and the heavily distorted voice of the narrator. "Proxy" is the first proper track and is an uptempo based on the folky lines of the violin above the beat. "If Wishes were Catholics" is one of the few singed song with an, at least for the writer, unknown female vocalist and probably one of the singles due to the catchy lines. "The Right of Action" is another instrumental constructed with a violin melodic development upon an hip-hop beat. "They all do it the same" is reminiscent of, cited even in the linear notes, the work done by DJ Shadow in the definition of this genre. "Gate Keepers" features the return of the spoken words to describe the development of the plot and so "I Hate You" and "Forced Vision" continues upon this development track. "Hollow" is an instrumental track revealing the soundtrack project of this release. "Locus Priory" starts with a guitar lines suddenly replaced by a dialogue between cello and piano. "Veil" is the other singed track of the album and is reminiscent of all the metal bands doing some sort of crossover. "To Kill a King" close this release with an almost classic instrumental hip hop tunes that suggest an happy ending of the comic book.
This is an album without any truly original idea but so carefully constructed and well produced that it will find a place in any end of the year playlist of fans of the genre. Non only for the fans of the genre but also for any wanting to hear a pleasant release.

Hildur Gudnadottir: Leyfdu ljosinu

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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May 19 2012
Artist: Hildur Gudnadottir (@)
Title: Leyfdu ljosinu
Format: CD
Label: Touch (@)
Rated: *****
Recorded live at the Music Research Centre of York University by Tony Myatt last January, by means of a Sounfield ST450 Ambisonic microphone and two Neumann U87 microphones, with no audience and above all with no post-production, this 40-minute lasting release by talented Icelandic cellist and singer Hildur Gudnadottir stands like an act of devotion to her musical vision, merged during her career into many artistic felloships - she's a permanent member of Mum since "Go Go Smear The Poison Ivy" and she could boast about important collaborations with Throbbing Gristle, Hauschka and Pan Sonic -. After 5 minutes of tuning in Prelude, starting with a do (C) on cello and various harmonic flexing, and the beginning of her entrancing vocal mantra, which becomes ethereal and hypnotical thanks to vocal overlapping, "Leyfdu ljosinu" (Icelandic for "Allow The Light") transforms into an authentic sonic theophany whereas there's a cyclic alternation of empty spaces close to silence and sonic saturations and the performer looks like a medium experiencing and translating of the divine, a purpose she manages to reach by overloading ths onic space with an increasing metaphysical tension, which immediately grabs the listener, who could experience a weightless-like feeling of suspense. Little by little, cello and additional arches sounds like expanding like clouds, and such an expansion looks like unstoppable and endless even when bow-strings sound like stretched to the limit and amplify tension and overwhelming catharsis, according to an ascending movement which could remind the sonorities of records like the collaboration between Sigur Ros and Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson for the soundtrack of "Angels of the universe" or Zoe Keating's soundtracks. Highly recommended!

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