Music Reviews

Abandoned Footwear: 108 Trees

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Aug 06 2017
Artist: Abandoned Footwear
Title: 108 Trees
Format: 12"
Label: Isounderscore (@)
Rated: *****
Also from the San Francisco-based label Isounderscore, we have the project of Oakland duo Michael Buchanan and Jay Fields, titled Abandoned Footwear, and their debut- '108 Trees.' Of the two records sent by Isounderscore this was the most interesting. The accompanying one-sheet describes it as "penetrating into a purely orchestral and otherworldly aethyr of hardware synthesis," and that's a fairly accurate description.. '108 Trees' consists of four tracks - "Song 1," "Song 3, "Song 4" and "Song 6." (Don't ask about Songs 2 and 5; apparently there's no info on them.) The genre is ambient techno, with Side A being more active and Side B more passive. Although beatwork is a component, the rhythm supports rather than dominates. On the B side it's just barely there to keep the music from floating off into the cosmos. Overall, it's pretty trippy stuff that never breaks the mood, and works as well under phones as it does speakers. A real entheogenic delight! Some of the B side reminded me of earlier work by TD's Edgar Froese as there is definitely as cosmic space feel to it. It's something I think you can enjoy again and again without it getting old, all 28:09 of it. I should mention that Jay has had a number of releases as Exillon and Michael with Nommo Ogo. Limited to 250 copies available directly from Isounderscore.

Vlad Dobrovolski: The Drums Of The Fore And Aft

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Aug 01 2017
Artist: Vlad Dobrovolski
Title: The Drums Of The Fore And Aft
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Kotä Records
Vlad Dobrovolski’s first full-length album under his own name is built purely from modular and analogue synths and a combination of DAW and tape work, giving an overall flavour which blends both the crisp and the digital with something a little fuzzier and warmer. Long synth notes glide and shift slowly along like a melancholy synthetic symphony, while bleeps, whirrs and digital bubbles play around on top. At times, atmospheric sounds like waves crashing on a beach provide a gentle watery bed. Contrary to what the album title might make you assume, there are absolutely no drums in it (with the extremely minor exception of some soft cowbell-like hits in “A Blue And Oily” which eventually morph into xylophone tones).

The sonic range does feel somewhat narrow at times, which to give it a positive spin, means it’s a consistent listen. The glitched delay on “Million Wrinkles of the Sea Under the Moonlight” give it a dubbier tone, at times very reminiscent of some of The Orb’s most relaxed moments. “A Blue And Oily” hops slowly around with a bouncing, semi-random plucked bass sound (and, most annoyingly, a completely out of place siren at the eight minute mark which completely jolts you). Final track “Drifted Past The Bows” is the brightest, with energetic and higher-pitched arpeggios giving a slightly more euphoric and satisfied feeling.

This is a chillout album with a certain degree of timelessness, that, save for a few minor production details, could have been released as part of the chillout boom in the 1990’s. It’s smooth, it’s decidedly out there, and there’s just a hint of playfulness about it. So while it can’t contend that it is breaking much in the way of new ground, as a soporific sonic relaxation, it really works.

Cordis Cincti Serpente: Noo Yuggoth (Redux)

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jul 30 2017
Artist: Cordis Cincti Serpente (@)
Title: Noo Yuggoth (Redux)
Format: Tape
Label: Industrial Ölocaust Recordings (@)
Rated: *****
Cordis Cincti Serpente seems to be the dark ambient project of Adrian Marcado from Bari, Italy and 'Noo Yuggoth (Redux)' is a 13 track album on 2 C60 cassettes, limited to 31 signed copies also with a booklet. There is not a lot of information to go on about this project. The only previous release under this name was in 1989, a self-titled C46 cassette, again limited to 31 copies with the participants being Giovanni Lisi and Ivan Iusco, the latter being the owner and founder of Minus Habens Records. I get the impression that Adrian Marcado could be a pseudonym for one or both of the previous participants. In any case, 'Noo Yuggoth (Redux)' is touted as "an exploration into Lovecraftian's Metaphysic" as you might expect from the title. Not difficult at all to believe as so much dark ambient music these days taps into H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. I warn you though that this is not all smooth sailing into the void to play with the Outer Gods. After a somewhat placid, yet disturbing dark and pulsating voyage on "Dvr'n Dbr'h," The first shock comes at the beginning of title track "Noo Yuggoth" with a piercing high pitched feedback tone that had me throwing my headphones across the room in order to avoid eardrum damage. Not cool!! Not cool at all. After that super-shock the rest of the track is rather calm but strange in a warpy-wobbly world. Monsters or wild beasts seem to be lurking everywhere in "Ft'ath aga" as their growls and groans will attest. " Ish' Nishg' urh'raTth" is comprised of backwards voices and bubbly, burbley electronics making a rather weird, creepy impression. "A'Ahzmuth" sounds like astral cats caught in a cosmic wringer with lots of variable feedback manipulation. It went on a little too long for my taste. On "A'AAAhZ'Pha" there are slow, low transmissions from beyond zapped by some kind of electronic device. "EheD'Z" sounds like the beast feeding on corpses, mindlesly devouring all within its reach. This is the lengthiest track in the work going on for an astounding twelve minutes! "Z'eed'erth" is only 1:35 but might well be the most disturbing track of all. It has an undercurrent of uncompromising evil to it. The watery grave of "PnaaTha" is almost a relief as a sort of placid respite, as much as you could have on an album like this. On "m'Fung" you will swear that Tulushuggua has deigned to have a personal conversation with you. "LL'Sh'drth" is the embodiment of cosmic horror from beyond; the kind of space music that pours its nightmarish content into every crevice of your being. "N'oz y'ggth" is supposed to be a reprise of "Noo Yuggoth" but it is rather different- more like a swarm of killer bees than anything else. The name Cordis Cincti Serpente is taken from Aleister Crowley's Holy Books of Thelema (Vol. 1 - Liber LXV: Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente), an account of the relations of the aspirant and his Holy Guardian Angel. I believe this release is obviously not intended for the masses, but rather that small cult of Lovecraftians who may even work in Magick. That indeed is a limited market, but it seems the artist was more interested in doing the work than profiting by it. For a discriminating esoteric clientele only; difficult but rewarding for those acolytes.

Ana & Ina: On Dockweiler Beach

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jul 30 2017
Artist: Ana & Ina
Title: On Dockweiler Beach
Format: Tape
Label: Constellation Tatsu (@)
Rated: *****
The winter batch (I know a couple of seasons - spring and summer - hit the calendar in the meanwhile, but it doesn't really matter) by tape-label Constellation Tatsu I also found this cassette by Ana and Ina, monikers of writer Ashley Hoffman and visual artist Ian James, who also likes to play synths. Honestly, I wouldn't label it as a masterpiece of analogue-synth electronica, but what lay behind the curtain of this (not only) artistic liaison and the subsequent sonic project is somehow interesting. Ana and Ina met in Columbus, Ohio, and run together a spiritual path as lovers and friends that brought them to explore what they refer to as 'metaphysical plan' through a series of bizarre ways to a more or less artificial transcendence smelling like new-age spirits (including some devotional beliefs in asexual muscly angels, goofy and supposedly nonsensical poems carved in sandstone and reverie about technology-driven utopian society ruled by equality and no worries about money). The beliefs fostering their sound had an unavoidable influence on hit: the two long ambient suites (the 26-minutes lasting "Come In" and the 20 minutes of "Come Around" on the B-side of the tape) feature naively elongated minimal loops, sudden injections of blinding wide-resonating harmonics, lukewarm wrapping (even if often "wilted") tones, cricket-like whistles and other softening elements, lying in between the dime-a-dozen lo-fi new age stuff that someone can even receive as a gift by buying tons of smelling candles in one of those shops owned by former hippies and highest stuff by some interesting findings belonging to the so-called isolationist branch of ambient, such as the mesmerizing stuff by Sonic Boom/Pete Kember's Experimental Audio Research or some outputs by Todd Gautreau's project Tear Ceremony. Some writings by Ashley could maybe explain the reason why they quoted Dockweiler State beach (nearby Los Angeles) for the title. It deserves a check, even if please don't expect to reach some kind of enlightenment!

Expo 70: Exquisite Lust

 Posted by Levi Jacob Bailey (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jul 30 2017
Artist: Expo 70 (@)
Title: Exquisite Lust
Format: LP
Label: Sonic Meditations
I'm in the second day of a fast right now, so maybe I'm cranky or a little too clear, but this album isn't winning me over so far. It's ambient-ish, loop-based guitar music "crafted entirely from guitars, sitar and Moog". The bed drone in the opening track is fine, whatever, but the guitar loop stuff is basically dicking around. The atonal clashing moments come off as "whoops" moves rather than any attempt at tension or a resignation to chaos. I've heard playing like this at open-mic nights, I'm sorry to say.

"astrionics pt. I" turns the tables a bit...the guitar is more interesting, with melancholy, drifting arpeggios, but the drone stuff and and other guitar dickery kind of awkwardly plop themselves right into the middle of the mood. There's totally room for electronic noise alongside solo guitar stuff, but this is a bad example. The abrupt ending, at least the way they ended it on this vinyl (this is a reissue of a 2006 CDr), gives me the impression of an unrealized sketch rather than an intentional, cohesive statement. The pretty guitar or spookshow electronics would maybe work fine in a one-or-the-other situation, but they fail as a team here.

Side B, "motorik"...when you understand how loop pedals and delay effects work, and how easy it is to make weird sounds just by scratching your pick on the guitar strings bumping around the instrument, it becomes difficult to sit through things like this. I will say the addition of the Moog gives the listener more texture to explore, so good move, there. But when you're just dealing with texture for texture's sake, it doesn't really matter how many layers there are. There's some jazzy runs hidden in the middle of this track, but I'm getting the impression again that this is just more dicking around. I swear to God if the last run of notes had subtitles it would read: "Yeah, so you know, yeah whateverrrrr, whoooooo, uh. Sigh." Just an uninspired, beige slab, only there to impress the thoroughly baked or musically uninformed.

There's a heavily filtered drone happening right now that's actually kind of's so enveloped that it's kind of making my ears vibrate, and the feel is reminding me of good Lalo Schifrin Exorcist stuff, and it just led into some sickening stereo-field manipulated chatter that calls back to Wendy Carlos' "Colorado". And then the track ends. So the end of "motorik" gets a pass.

"village of forest" picks up where "motorik" left off, with thick, nauseating drone. It's legitimately "creepy", not just decoration. There's a menace here that was absent in the earlier tracks. Some square-wave sweeps dropping in, and this is sounding like an outtake from Brad Fiedel's "The Terminator" score. See? It's not that I hate drone, ambient, or improv loop stuff...I just need it to have some kind of actual depth. I'd be interested to know how far apart the sessions were for all these tracks. It sounds like this one was recorded at a darker time than the first two stinkers.

I know this genre works in lengthy durations to put you into the "zone", or whatever, but I definitely feel like there's a lot of tacked-on stuff to these pieces. The last two minutes of "village of forest" definitely feel like a hastily created exit tactic unrelated to the mood of the piece as a whole.

"witch hunt of the sun people" has the same problem as "astrionics pt. 1", being two poorly combined concepts of pretty guitar and ambient experimentation. Again, they do not give a seamless impression as much as oh-whatever jamming.

Back and forth, back and forth. "two black hearts" is excellent. The credits don't indicate there's Moog on this track, and I'm beginning to think the credits aren't correct. A Wire article quoted in the press sent with this album even lists different track titles ("Center Of The Earth"?), so I'm wondering if anything was changed from the initial CDr release. Anyways, there's some piercing high electronic tones on this track that don't seem guitar-generated. White noise hisses, and more powerful synth drone. When the guitar stuff comes in, it sounds like really good David Gilmour-creepjob stuff. This is a cool, menacing track. Things even get a bit crunchy towards the end, with fuzzed-out guitar strikes and blown-out synth washes.

"astrionics pt. II" seems to have almost nothing to do with it's predecessor, and joins the better tracks on the album. It says Justin Wright plays guitar on "all tracks", but it's buried here, or unrecognizable as guitar. This one doesn't feel overlong, either. Dark, ominous track with thick tones and a sensible conclusion.

The titular finale, "exquisite lust", opens with a soothing guitar-jangle loop that is soon surrounded in string-section like warmth from volume-swell tremolo washes, with sparse, bluesy picking on top. The strings effect is very convincing and lovely, and the jangle-loop disintegrating into itself works well in the mix. Some typical delay effect wankery is present as color, but it doesn't detract from the piece. I'm going to vote that the droning foundation on this track is the strongest, most impressive bed on the album. There's a clear reason it was used to close the album on a high note. There's a terrifying squall towards the end that again recalls Wendy Carlos' "The Shining" work, and an odd classical arpeggio that sounds like a ghost-echo from some other album. The whole thing reminds me of Elliot Goldenthal's "guitar orchestra" stuff for the Heat score, with a few out-there choices that were good or bad choices depending on which part of the mood you're enjoying. Again: I long for more cohesion.

This isn't awful stuff, but it's definitely a bit of an aimless mess. Completely listenable, and probably a fine addition to anyone's pile of ambient/improv/drone choices, but I just wish there had been some fat trimming and a better sense of blending and flow. The artwork is nice, but seems to be just lifted from some '70s art/porn stuff. The vinyl pressing is decent, but definitely seems to be mastered too hot, and starts to show its weaknesses quite a bit on the last side, at least with my copy, with peak snaps and lots of crackle that clearly isn't intentional. The tracks I did enjoy deserve a second listen, though, so I suppose I can comfortable recommend this, warts and all.

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