Music Reviews

OSMAN ARABI: Burning Sigils

 Posted by Eugenio Maggi (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jan 01 2009
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Title: Burning Sigils
Format: CD
Label: Fractured Spaces
Rated: *****
I was not familiar with Lebanese artist Osman Arabi, who's also involved in other more obscure, industrial-tinged projects like 20.SV and Seeker. Well, you wouldn't really tell after listening to "Burning Sigils", which is a great one-track, 38' album of strongly percussive minimal music. Electronic pulses and drones introduce the composition, but soon the hand percussion steps in and will practically constitute the backbone of the whole track for 35+ minutes, only streaked by minimal melodies or slightly distorted drones. A risky choice if the meddling of the elements wasn't this good, but Arabi is skilled enough to make it work throughout, creating a sort of extended ethno-ambient-dub piece. Obvious comparisons would be Muslimgauze and some ambient artists like Steve Roach and Vidna Obmana (at their best), but I'm sure that many fans of Appleblim and Shackleton's ethno-dubstep would find a lot to sink their teeth into.


 Posted by Eugenio Maggi (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jan 01 2009
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Title: Hames
Format: CD
Label: Lazybird
Rated: *****
Rollers/Sparkers are a Dublin based collective creating rhythmic tracks out of improvised and re-edited sessions. "Hames" features 16 tracks of their bizarre loop-based collages, where every kind of source seems to be good to create a repetitive sequence, from vocals to mouth harps. Comparisons can be made with freak entities like Black Dice, (some) Boredoms and Fuck Buttons, but Rollers/Sparkers seem to lack their complexity and epic proportions - their tracks eventually reduce to sketches with few to no development, nor a real trance inducing force. As it is, "Hames" displays some flashes of creativity, but isn't exactly a memorable record.

Eyeless in Gaza: Summer Salt & Subway Sun (Boxed Set)

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Dec 29 2008
Artist: Eyeless in Gaza (@)
Title: Summer Salt & Subway Sun (Boxed Set)
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Beta-lactam Ring Records (@)
Distributor: Beta-lactam Ring Records
Rated: *****
I have to admit, I’m one of those people who was more familiar with the name of Eyeless in Gaza than their material. They seemed to be one of those seminal bands who influenced a lot more artists who became popular than achieving widespread popularity themselves. Perhaps it was their ever-changing musical directions that made me view them as a whirling playground roundabout; already set in motion spinning and I just never felt motivated to jump aboard. So I treated myself to a crash course on the group’s history via their rather comprehensive website to play catch-up, and was rather impressed with what I found.

I knew Martyn Bates was involved with Eyeless but my exposure was limited to his "Murder Ballads" project with M.J. Harris (Scorn) which I really enjoyed. I was not familiar with the other half, Peter Becker. I also didn’t know that Eyeless in Gaza began as an industrial/experimental outfit (Antagonistic Music/Dissonance) releasing tapes as early as 1980. What with their various genre explorations from avant-folk to pop, funk, improvisational, experimental, isolationist, and so many other sonic permutations, the band has a rich and varied musical history, not only within the confine of their own project, but also in conjunction with other artists that include Anne Clark, Deirdre Rutkowski (This Mortal Coil), Lol Coxhill, Bill Laswell, Mick Harris, Genesis P. Orridge, In Embrace, and numerous others.

If Eyeless in Gaza was divided to a simple equation (practically impossible I imagine), Martyn Bates would seem to be the pop-folky half of the band, while Peter Becker, seemingly the more avant-garde element. But the superficial assessment is merely that; it is the combination of the two that makes Eyeless in Gaza the eclectic entity it really is. The juxtaposition of Bates’ vocal style (warm and soulful Brit folk-pop) with often uncategorizable musical arrangements is indeed quite a contrast. The atmosphere and ambience shares equal importance with the melodic and lyrical content. Improvisation is as important as structure. Minimal passages are as weighty as cascading sheets of thick sonic substance. There is really no separating the elements here, even if one composition seems to favor a certain set of elements more than another.

I get the impressions that SUMMER SALT & SUBWAY SUN is meant to be taken as a whole work, and not separate tracks, or even separate albums. While by no means a restrospective, it would seem to sum up a good portion of what Eyeless in Gaza is all about, perhaps even more important, what they’re about NOW. The 2 CD set was originally released in 2006 on another label, limited to 1000 copies. Between then and now, the only other Eyeless in Gaza releases were previous albums remastered and a book of lyrics. I don’t know how the original release of SUMMER SALT & SUBWAY SUN was packaged, but this one comes in a nice heavy duty glossy colorful box with two heavy duty glossy colorful cardboard sleeves and a glossy yellow lyric and instrumental credit booklet. (It helps if you favor the color yellow, particularly "golden yellow" on your color chart as that is the predominant color throughout.) I would have liked to have the initial limited release with the extra CD, "Wildcat Fights" to review, but there were only 400 copies of those and they’re probably long gone. Besides, that would be more like telling you what you can’t have, rather than what you can.

Rather than dissecting tracks, I’d rather give an overall impression of SUMMER SALT & SUBWAY SUN. Although not present on every track, I think it’s important to really enjoy Martyn’s vocal style to appreciate music of the music on these CDs. If you’re unfamiliar with it and you don’t care for a sweet, pure emotional, often delicate, nearly commercial voice, you would be best to spend your money elsewhere. You would be missing a lot of interesting music, but the Bates vox is part and parcel of the package. In the music there are shoegazing elements, post-punk elements, semi-psychedelic, ambient folk, industrial beats, gentle folk pop, cinematic soundscapes, Eastern motifs, and more. It’s really quite an eclectic pastiche. One comparison that comes to mind in terms of an artist who mixes an accessible vocal style with an experimental format is David Sylvian. Although the bulk of Sylvian’s output keeps closer the commercial song format, there are parallels in mixing an emotional vocal style with musical improvisation and unusual ambiences. SUMMER SALT & SUBWAY SUN exhibits a wide diversity of sound palettes and there are numerous passages on the CDs that may seem more like anything BUT what you might associate with Eyeless in Gaza. Then again, the unexpected is what they built a career on. These are two very moody, atmospheric CDs that provide a challenging, yet rewarding listen. Every track may not resonate with you, but there is enough excellent material here to call this an essential Eyeless in Gaza purchase, especially if there is a lack of their albums in your collection.

Troum: AIWS

 Posted by Mike V. (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Dec 28 2008
Artist: Troum
Title: AIWS
Format: CD
Label: Transgredient Records (@)
Rated: *****
While some may find the analog-origin of this material limiting (there are artifacts of the original tape recordings), I get the impression that Troum took careful attention to create an overarching and dramatic listening experience with AIWS. The crackles which launch the disc into the air also lend themselves to establishing a solid foundation for the analog soundworld that Troum inhabits, hinting at the journey ahead.

AIWS is the first full-length release by Troum since 2003. As per the accompanying notes, this is a collection of their own favorite works. Featured nicely are guitars, bass, voice, accordion, flute, sufi-songs... the list goes on. What is nice, however, is how seamlessly these instruments are woven together to create a tapestry of melancholic and sublime sounds that run a gamut of emotional and meditative states.

By track 7, Penthos (sorrow of mourning), one feels as though they’re watching an army trek across the fields of Siberia, or perhaps the listener is treading the path themselves. Very thought-provoking music, whose essence is difficult to capture with words. My favorite track on the album and a mere 2’46 long.

This album should appeal to a fairly wide audience, as the sound is ambient in nature but has hints of Rhys Chatham and Steve Reich, with the inward journeys of Godspeed You Black Emperor(!) or the scapes and arrivals of The Dead Texan, to boot. Kudos also goes out to the design for the disc, which makes AIWS a fine addition both visually and sonically to any collection.

VV.AA.: "Table For Six: All Quiet? #3"

 Posted by Nuno Loureiro   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Dec 26 2008
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: "Table For Six: All Quiet? #3"
Format: CD
Label: EE Tapes (@)
Rated: *****
Throughout the years (already 20 and counting), EE Tapes has been presenting several compilation series, where sounding names and new values cohabit in editions that, in their own way, have gained a rightful place in the European underground history. That is the case of "Table For Six: All Quiet?", from which the third issue was recently released by the Belgian label.
The concept behind this series is quite simple: six artists/projects present their work in an autonomous way, although contributing, in the end, to a solid final result. A common point between its contributors is the sound "aesthetic" of their tracks, which can – somehow – be pointed as "ambient", filtered through different visions and methods. This means a wide range of interpretations, from post-industrial dark ambient to well-learned Eno lessons. Nothing new around here, only guarantied emotions – and that fact deserves to be underlined.
In that sense, it’s never easy to point out "highlights" in compilations like this one. Nevertheless, it’s inevitable to mention the tracks by the certified Anemone Tube (great melodic sound, as usual) and Frans de Waard (noise collages, in its most minimal and subtle version), as well as the pleasant surprise advanced by... (ad)vance(d).
It probably will not be a member of your CD collection’s top 10, but here’s another fine goal for the EE Tapes catalogue, though.

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