Music Reviews

The Micronaut: Friedfisch

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Techno / Trance / Goa / Drum'n'Bass / Jungle / Tribal / Trip-Hop
Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Feb 22 2012
Artist: The Micronaut (@)
Title: Friedfisch
Format: CD
Label: Acker Records (@)
Distributor: Kompakt
Rated: *****
If you dwell upon some details of debut release by German guitarist Stefan Streck, also known as Dj Sterngucker, the nice moniker he used for his appearances in German dnb scene, such as the way he titled tracks taken from freshwater inhabitants (daces, rudds, carps, tenches, gudgeons, minnows, crucians, barbels and so on), you could assume Micronaut's creator is a fanatic for aquariums or recreational fishing, but other marks, including that gudgeon (or at least it seems a gudgeon...) while swallows some unidentified fish on the cover artwork, might shake such an assumption, which could appear belittling or close to a reductive shot cut if you begin to discerning a metaphorical language, based on the "big fish eating little fish" vision of such a broken social scene, where economical impasse as well as some political decisions which are hitting welfare policies and competitional mechanism, basis of Capitalism, look like awakening primordial atavistic predatory instincts fostering a battle arena-like vision of society more than a cooperative one. If you try to solve such a dilemma by an auricular analysis of musical clues, ambiguity could remain (and be even increased if you try to find an association between tinches and Bulgarian folk choirs, suggested in the lovely entrancing track "Schleie"!): whereas there are tracks which evoke wondering in deep contemplation of river's or just pound's life through sonic splashes, spurting, darts, soft xylophone's trills, clappy rhythmical stepping and sweetly effected guitar arpeggios (I particularly enjoyed "Grundling", "Hasel" - featuring very nice vocal games - and "Karpfen") there's that feeling of dramatic urgency and underskin tension, that kind of electric defibrillation close to the one applied by Apparat to his songs, amalgamating such a bucolic musical poem with more pensive weighs in mind. Every track has been carefully assembled and performed anyway and the release includes two appetizers for clubbers and djs as well, two dubby/electropop remixes by Ronny Mollenhauer aka Mollono.Bass (I liked more the one of "Barbe" than the treatment he reserved to "Schleie", maybe cause original version of the track was good enough).

Celer & Machinefabriek: Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake

 Posted by J Simpson (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Feb 20 2012
Artist: Celer & Machinefabriek (@)
Title: Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake
Format: 7"
Label: Machinefabriek (@)
Rated: *****
"What'd he look like?"
"I don't know. He didn't lift his head up. He could've been... just anybody."

A disembodied voice, a tape snippet, inquires, on Maastunnel, the A Side to this auspicious pairing of these two giants of drone. 'Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake' came about after Machinefabriek & Celer played a show together in Tokyo in 2010, and was released to coincide with an upcoming European tour, so we will most likely hear more from these combined heads.

Both Machinefabriek & Celer are hyper-prolific, nigh-on legendary in the ambient/drone/field recordings microcosm, so what happens when they get together? That's why i started with that quote, it is a fine example of the egolessness of both artist's work, an almost slavish devotion to the 'sound', the 'work'. Tasteful in the extreme, you can hear the individual spirit of each, the squeaky field recordings that are Machinefabriek's hallmark, the drifting, cloud-like melodies Celer is known for. The overall effect achieved, is a sonic world, an auditory hallucination, with Machinefabriek creating the space for Celer to score, events unfolding, humans interacting with the inanimate.

'Maastunnel' is the more pastoral of the two, which is funny as its named after a tunnel, but its tinkling, splashing water give a sense of the outdoors. 'Mt. Mitake', named after the mountain to the west of Tokyo, is a more sci-fi affair, think Vangelis, think Klaus Schulze - dreamy, futuristic, floating. The pair make for more colorful drones and inner-visions than the monochromatic blur often found in the more industrial cadre of this style.

'Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake' is an exercise in restraint, in good taste. They show respect for one another, the music, and the listener. The whole shebang clocks in at a scant ten-minutes, which means you will spend a lot of time hitting play, or flipping over this little gem. Poring over its intricacies. Makes for pleasant company in the morning, if you want to keep that dreamy vibe going. I'm looking forward to hearing more from these two.

Burial: Kindred EP

 Posted by J Simpson (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Feb 19 2012
Artist: Burial
Title: Kindred EP
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Hyperdub
Rated: *****
Remixing the city

The Kindred EP is the latest trickle from enigmatic producer Burial, aka William Bevan, the first we've heard since last year's Street Halo. Burial seems intent on focusing on the less-is-more solution to media overload: less publicity, scarce amount of tracks, and as such, his work always seems very well-considered, intentional. It always seems special.

The three tracks that make up Kindred are a late-night headphone journey, calling upon the familiar sonic landmarks of urban dwelling: phone crackle, eavesdropped music, subway rumble, raindrops. Its like he incorporates the environment, as well as the music, making a beautiful Frankenstein's monster of field recording and score; cinematic. The overall effect leaves a rich, ineffable residue: many chalk it up to nostalgia, a faded reminiscence, but it is deeper and weirder than that. Burial conjures WORLDS, but doesn't tell you what they are. He merely creates auditory scenarios, and leaves the listener to be the judge.

Burial's always done his own thing, remaining anonymous for a long time, remaining aloofs from trends and fads. His recorded output is ethereal and mysterious, he merely produces the sounds that he likes to hear, and lets high falutin' journalists like me hash out the end result. The three tracks on Kindred are all rather lengthy, and it makes for a sonic journey, an imaginary cinema. This is music to trip out to, to relax to, to live with. Not to discern and quantify. Its music of the boundaries, of the periphery. I like to imagine Bevan riding the bus, in London at night, listening to the tires on wet pavement, listening to conversations. Kindred is what it sounds like to be a loner, to be drifting through time and space.
His outsider perspective makes Burial's music such a deep, intimate experience. It references techno, is obviously steeped in the tradition, but with the textures and the production, it makes for an emotional, unified whole, that is intelligent, cerebral, emotional, and danceable all at the same time.

I first heard of Dubstep in reference to Burial, and Kode9's Hyperdub label, and became addicted to its post-industrial grime and decay, its bio-mechanical gothic elegance. I became disgusted, and discouraged, when the Americans took it, and reduced it to the formulaic LFO wobble that is the mating cry of Bros the world over. It is refreshing to get back to my roots, to hear a master of his craft, and to watch a producer making innovative, intelligent, heart-felt music. It restores my faith in techno.

Kindred is available for download, from the Hyperdub website, and there's a vinyl release in the pipeline.

Highly recommended

VV.AA.: Pop Ambient 2012

 Posted by J Simpson (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Feb 14 2012
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Pop Ambient 2012
Format: CD
Label: Kompakt (@)
Distributor: Southern record distributors
Rated: *****
Wolfgang Voigt's Pop Ambient series is a musical barometer; it tells which way the wind is blowing, how fast and how far. In its twelfth incarnation, you will not find earth-shattering epiphanies. You will not discover lost continents. You will, however, be treated to an hour plus of pleasant sounds and stirring inner voyages, glowingly recorded and produced by some of the most adept sonic alchemists in the field.

The ten tracks of PA2012 offers hints at which way the coming year will unfold, on dance-floors and headphones everywhere. Such a wide array of styles and composers makes for an interesting cross-section of styles; from the live-looping guitar of 'Riding the Bikes' from Loops of Your Heart, a new project from Axel Willner of The Field, to the haunting neo-classical drone of Bvdub's 'Your Loyalty Lies Long Forgotten'. There does seem to be a running tendency towards 80s plastic synth, Vangelis re-imagining, and live sampling and processing, the human blending with the machine.

There's not a mis-step on this record, although other reviewers would disagree with me. Many of us skip around from free-jazz to mnml techno to noise, it just makes for a more interesting inner journey. Most of the tracks function as furniture music, but there are a few stand-outs: Superpitcher's 'Jackson' sounds like Philip Glass in a dancehall, 70s minimalism given a digital shimmer, with a fountain of cascading piano and vocals. A rainbow plumed bird; 'Manifesto' by Mohn, the album opener, is probably my favorite track, with its sequenced pillowy fuzz pummel, sounding like some mid00s Merzbow record, and has been hated on, unnecessarily. Mohn, i like yr track! Who cares what those other reviewers say!

'Richmodis' by Triola has also been pretty much universally panned, and again, i just don't get it. Its a little weird in the playlist, granted, with its re-imagining of 70s sci-fi into a polychromatic mist, but how often do you hear a musical saw in a techno track? It sounds like the X Files, after contact has been established and pondered over for 6 and a half years, and excursions are about to commence. Music for the Wormhole.

You don't go to a series like Pop Ambient to find the most extreme, adventurous cutting edge sounds. The vanguard are always three leaps ahead, and are usually disseminating their art in the form of small-run, white label, homemade radio label cassette disseminations, ie. yr not gonna get it all neatly packaged in one place, and also the idea of a cohesive state of the ambient union is laughable. What Pop Ambient is good for, is to find a smattering of previously unheard artists, and take an audible adventure for an hour. They remind me of the old Fax compilations, or even homemade mix tapes. For those that like to listen to Ambient music, this will not disappoint, and the fact that it comes from Kompakt means that the sounds you will hear will not disappoint. I can say, after living with this record for a little while, that it makes an interesting and colorful mood, it will pervade yr life with some audible shimmer. It will flicker behind yr eyelids. It will make yr dish washing more like ballet. And there are some real stand-out tracks, here, that threaten to lead even further down the wormhole.

Good Weather For An Airstrike: Underneath The Stars

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Feb 13 2012
Artist: Good Weather For An Airstrike (@)
Title: Underneath The Stars
Format: CD
Label: Hibernate (@)
Rated: *****
Another lucky ice carrot extraction from the most glacial musical fields by Hibernate has been dropped into my overused headphones. Named after the translated title of a notorious Sigur Ros'song (that "Viorar vel til loftarasa", coming from an ironic comment a weatherman made during a bradcast on Icelandic tv while OTAN airstrike were raging against Kosovo), Hampshire-based musician Tom Honey's Good Weather For An Airstrike (for easy to guess reasons, the first image resurfacing from the abyss of my memory was Godspeed You! Black Emperor's cover image for Yanqui U.X.O. when I read the name of this project!) makes mention of notorious names such as Eluvium, Stars of the Lid, Hammock and, as if on purpose, Sigur Ros in order to help in finding a stylistical arrangement of his sound, even if other known and unknown sources could be added (for instance, the howling and suspensive dissonance in "Frozen In Thought" recalled to my memory some musical emotions triggered off by an almost unknown remix of Mum's "Smell Memory" by Traktor as well as tracks such as "Cast Aside (The Briefest Of Pauses)" could remind some slow versions of Boards Of Canada's stuff). Both that kind of sonic diluitions (where Mr Honey sometimes let dissolve sporadic field recordings related to meteorological disturbances, piano tones and electric buzzes) close to the so-called therapy music and references of frequencies associated to brain activity in titles ("Undernath The Stars" starts with "Theta Waves" and ends with "Delta Waves" before the long lasting closure of "Theroux") are not casual at all, as Tom composed most of the tracks as a soothing remedy for the tinnitus and sleep deprivation problems he suffers from, but this luminous intertwining of ambient and post-rock weaponry is going to delight many listeners by making their minds wandering in a deeply relaxing amniotic fluid filled pool.

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