Music Reviews



Ale Hop: Apophenia

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Sep 18 2019
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Artist: Ale Hop
Title: Apophenia
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Buh Records
Across the 33 minutes of “Apophenia”, Peruvian-born but Germany-based artist Ale Hop offers up an interpretation of her memories and impressions of Peru. It’s presented as a landscape, but constructed from a diverse set of sonic sources- heavily processed or miniscule field recordings, electronic glitches, sombre stretched guitar tones, and gritty textures create landscapes that, like the artwork, are portraits thick with emotive interpretation rather than anything literal.

Across eight tracks, there’s a broad range of approaches. Some are predominantly ambient, such as the thick claustrophobic texture of the title track, or drone-based like the brooding “Onomatopoeia”. “El beso” adopts a subtle rhythm pattern to give a soft temporary backbone, that contrasts against the thick lo-fi drum rumbles of “Marches”. The plucky guitar sounds of “Punales” make it sound positively folky.

Longest track “Lima” is the most complex, a self-contained seven minute minidrama that starts off with soporific, melodic calm and gradually builds through tension into a warlike percussive barrage. My interpretation of its meaning isn’t subtle or complex, but emotionally these tracks certainly carry some deliberate weight.

Overall I would suggest that this sounds more like an interpretation of Berlin than it does like Peru, not least thanks to the English-language, German-accented spoken word elements in tracks like “Side Effects”, and the prevalence of glitchy electronica and some borderline EDM elements.

Kelly David: Meditation in Green

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Sep 16 2019
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Artist: Kelly David (@)
Title: Meditation in Green
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
'Meditation in Green' is the fourth album by electro-acoustic ambient artist Kelly David counting his 2014 collaboration with Steve Roach. The theme here is a psychedelic journey deep into the heart of Viet Nam's Mekong Delta, with rich ambient textures, manipulated field recordings, traditional instruments, and a blend of cultural and electronic percussion. This is the first work I've heard from Mr. Kelly, and it is always a pleasure to discover something new and interesting in this genre. My first impression even before knowing anything about the artist or this album (I often listen before reading the record label's one-sheet so as not to prejudice the initial performance) was that there is a marked similarity to Steve Roach's work. I was also happy that I wasn't hearing any definitive melodies that so often puts ambient into the New Age category. Pure ambient multi-textured drones, some natural sounding incidents and minimal rhythmic passages works great for me.

Seven lengthy tracks gives each piece the time required to evolve but not overstay their welcome. At nearly an hour, time will pass before you know it as the line between active and passive ambient blurs in the realm of imagination. There is spaciousness without necessarily being "spacey", and natural sounds without necessarily being "environmental". Even if you didn't know about the Mekong Delta theme, the album sound Buddha-influenced; zen-like yet multifaceted in its realization. Tranquility and calmness is juxtaposed with turbulence, and the familiar juxtaposed with the mysterious and unknown. There is no aimless meandering on 'Meditation in Green' as its purposeful path guides the listener to experience their own form of enlightenment without prodding or provocation. Kelly stays true to his vision and avoids temptation to digress into self-indulgent excursions that could have made this a lengthier, yet less satisfying experience. Seldom have I heard an album in this genre that I immediately took to without reservation, and it only gets better after each listening. 'Meditation in Green' is Kelly's first appearance on the Spotted Peccary label, and I hope there will be more in the future. Highly recommended!

Daniel Menche: Melting Gravity

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Sep 13 2019
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Artist: Daniel Menche
Title: Melting Gravity
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: SIGE Records
“Melting Gravity” is a forty-minute work, in two parts, that layers up synthesis and oscillator-sourced drones, long acoustic string sustains, and moderately rapid sonic waves, putting you in a relentless environment that’s initially quite affronting, but into which the listener gradually acclimates. Teethier, discordant bow-like bass sounds play against more pure, digital-bell-like single melodic notes, while the strong tones manage to fluctuate from warm to disquieting with elegant subtlety.

It’s never excessively harsh or noisy, but never excessively pleasant either. Towards the end of the first part the string tones breathe a little more freely, which feels like a form of respite. The second part is calmer at first, a less undulating string bed framing some unusual, always squeaky bow work, before growing into thicker territory that more closely resembles the first part.

If you like your drones stringy, with a degree of grit that never actually gets nasty, then you’ll very much appreciate letting these tones roll over you.
Sep 12 2019
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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Interactions: A Guide to Swiss Underground Experimental Music
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Buh Records
This is a sampler, in the proper sense, a sonic buffet providing 27 short works or snippets, all under five minutes long, the vast majority under four minutes long. It’s a palette wetter, giving you brief, but largely radio-unfriendly, nuggets that will hopefully launch you into wanting to know more.

There are a variety of styles at play- noise, industrial, ambient, drone, and more constructed and melodic offerings as well.

The more accessible tracks include “Nozomi” by Papiro & Yanik Soland, which is a quirky bit of ethno-electro-pop, and Julian Sartorius’ bouncy “Ziggli”. The out-of-breath panting sounds of Martina Lussi’s “Pool” are attention-grabbing in an obvious but still successful way, while Serote’s “Niton” is string-heavy, soundtrack-like melancholia with a gritty twist. Joke Lanz’s “Dutschke” feels like a throwback to the weirder side of early-naughties sample-hop, and the distinctive groove of Tout Bleu’s “Souviens-toi” makes you want it on repeat play.

Electronica and more production-centric works get a showing with pieces like the sci-fi-trailer tones of Therminal C’s “Sputnik Crash”. Manuel Troller’s “Hologram”, acoustic instruments bathed in rapid retriggering and looping, has a fascinating purity about it that’s rather endearing. Souharce’s “Assurance Maladie” is a glitchy lo-fi affair of pulses and melodic deformation, and Gilles Aubry’s “And who Ears the Desert” [sic] applies a similar scratchy digital logic to untraceable but vaguely Eastern-sounding ethnic found sounds and traditional music, for a form of broken reportage, while the excerpt from Purpura’s “Cruel” puts foghorn-like low bass notes on a turbulent sea of white noises.

Darker and more avantgarde offerings are included too, for example of “Tod am Bach” by Rudolf Ed.er, a shifting noise and drone pattern which at such short length becomes a prelude. Christian Müller’s “London Study #2” is a characterful assembly of found percussion that flows well into Flo Stoffner’s plucky stop-start and increasingly chaotic “Carmensac”, while Christian Kobi’s “I” is a curious set of blowing noises that seem to be both pneumatic and asthmatic at times. Denis Rollet’s “sW#1” is a curious and cathartic selection of twisted noise of various colours.

Not everything was to my taste, understandably. Erb/Loriot/Morishige’s “Ice”, with its nails-down-a-blackboard toned violin screeching, was just the wrong side of painful for my ears and made me actively wish for less capable headphones, while Jason Khan’s agonised sing-wailing on “Nearly You” was somehow just the wrong kind of emotional mess for me.

As an 89-minute listening experience in its own right, it’s only moderately satisfying- like trying to structure an entire dinner out of small snack bites- but the track sequencing is reasonably well balanced and keeps you interested. But with such a broad selection on offer, there will definitely be at least something to pique your interest here, and something you can’t be bothered with- the true sign of a good sampler compilation. It’s a sign of a very healthy underground scene in Switzerland, for sure.

François Bonnet & Stephen O’Malley: Cylene

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Sep 11 2019
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Artist: François Bonnet & Stephen O’Malley
Title: Cylene
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Editions Mego
Stephen O’Malley’s guitar work here is very recognisable from his work in Sunn O)))- long, cavernous, reverb-and-effect laden sustains describing a series of cavernous, hollow, barren yet somehow darkly peaceful environments. Francois J. Bonnet is the studio re-worker, the producer, but despite having his name credited first, it does like Bonnet has adopted a very subtle, less-is-more approach to the studio post-manipulation, allowing the plaintive guitar work acres of respect and calm. Synth pad and environmental elements are subtle, and have a very strong synergy to the guitar work that makes them sometimes border on the unnoticeable.

Bluntly, for most of this work it feels like there is more variation in the track lengths than there is in the tracks themselves. Lengthy and mesmerisingly simple pieces like thirteen-minute “Pahoehoe” have the same sonic quality as the shorter sketches like three-minute “Premiere noire”, but simply for more time, dim though that may sound. And while that may sound like a criticism, if you want to approach this album to enjoy the value of its soporific stillness, it becomes a virtue.

It would be unfair to say there’s no variation, of course. For example “Tephras”’s wind tones add an extra haunting element, while the reverb dips a little deeper into the realm of an alien foghorn, and this flows fluidly into the more atmosphere-led “Dernieres teintes noires” where the guitar itself is less distinct and the after-effects of it explored further. The opening of fifteen-minute final piece “Des pas dans les cendres” is the album’s softest section, the soft pads sounding almost synth-choral, before unfolding into the warmest and most velvety of conclusions.

It’s reliable and deeply atmospheric guitar-drone that will certainly appeal to existing Sunn O))) fans, but which shouldn’t really feel like it has travelled anywhere new.


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