Music Reviews

Marker: s/t

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Aug 09 2017
Artist: Marker
Title: s/t
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Medical Records
New Orleans-based Mike Wilkinson’s self-titled first full-length album as Marker is a collection of very soft dream-pop comprising gentle, faintly lethargic electronic drum patterns, echoey guitars, straight-stepping bass and meandering male vocals sketching out loose melodies with an ad-libbed flavour. All of it is blurred together into one soothing wash of sound.

Opening track “Identification Of A Woman” has been processed with reverb and windy echo so thick that the whole thing borders on indiscernible, thankfully this eases off from the second track onwards but the vocal in particular never loses that extremely long tail that masks the performance in a manner that sounds more like a lack of confidence than a unique production decision.

As far as it’s possible to tell, “The Memory” is a melodic highlight and a good indicator of the overall work (‘stream this one’, etc.) “Pale Silver” and the slightly more upbeat “Come Out” are also quite strong, and is reminiscent of the late 80’s Shamen albums, when they were still an indie band. By the second half of the album things begin to get rather samey and you begin to yearn for a broader variety of sounds, even within a relatively modest 44-minute running time.

The addition of a strong vocalist and the removal of some of the worst excesses of echo could turn Marker from something a little too wishy-washy into some very decent gentle dreamy indie-pop.

310: SMoKE DoGS

 Posted by Tyran Grillo (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Aug 07 2017
Artist: 310 (@)
Title: SMoKE DoGS
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Among the pleasures of spinning a new 310 album is feeling like you’ve picked up right where you left off. Joseph Dierker (Seattle) and Tim Donovan (New York City) have been slinging amorphous assemblages since their self-released AUG 56. And while the band has moved beyond the scrapbook aesthetic of that 1997 haunting, their layering techniques, slicker productions, and guest musicians have enhanced rather than replaced the ambient shadows at their core. Put another way: they’ve moved from the suburbs to the city.

310 are possessed of keen ears, which they cast into this grimy matrix as if it were a flea market replete with faded photographs, aural impressions, and tinkering spirits. From each haul, they curate one meticulous gallery after another, each more color-laden than the last. Drummer Ralph Rolle returns from 2007’s Sixes and Sevens, recording his parts at New York City’s legendary Avatar Studios to bring spatial dynamism to the proceedings, and going against the grain of the pop industry’s reliance on sampling. That said, 310 does their own fair share of looping, yet because they sample from moving media—films, field recordings, everyday noises, etc.—there is as much organicity in their digital manipulations as in Rolle’s timekeeping. Their balancing of these forces guarantees that perfect symmetry remains a strange ideal.

310 may have grown up from the boys exploring their grandmother’s attic on albums such as SNoRKELHoUSE, but traces of that youthful curiosity linger. The title of “Put Down That Phone,” for instance, will be familiar to any fans of the duo as the first words spoken on “Pharmacy Within,” the opening track of AUG 56. Whereas that first appearance morphed into a questionable late-night encounter, here that same soundbite sets off a ride through backlit streets. Trumpet and piano mesh into Rolle’s ignitions as a gritty introspection seeps into the foreground.

Before that, however, “SMoKE DoGS Theme” sets the album’s stage with an urban majesty that recalls the tactility of Prefuse 73. Live keyboards add to the flow, and lend the global snippets that much more cache amid this cross-hatching of machines and flesh. The overall effect is so smooth, it’s almost caustic. Likeminded grooves ensue, flitting in and out of frame like light through a windblown curtain. “Chin Music” showcases an uncanny ability to find regularity in the mundane by weaving a meticulous beat around the sounds of dripping water and coughing (“Squeaky Sneakers” utilizes the foley of soles on wooden surface to likeminded whimsical effect). Rolle embodies these impulses and more in a track named after him. Over a swirl of guitars, he is every bit the storyteller, as also in “Check On The Chicken,” through which he carries a sensual denouement toward the stratosphere.

Not all is asphalt and glass, as evidenced by such inter-continental stretches as “Amaroq.” Nature limns its edges, even as an incessant pulse reminds us that the world is an ongoing variation on the theme of our brokenness. Whether in the quiet drug of “Pursuit” or the throwback electronica of “Cut Kid,” ritual fires stand on their last embers to protest the dark. Even “Out of Towners,” with its jazzier inflections and head-nodding itineracy, evokes summery distance by way of 12-string shimmer. Finally, basking in the William Basinsky-esque undercurrent of “SMoKE DoGS (Love Theme),” we know that each circle finished leaves another to be started.

Once again, 310 prove to be masters of their craft, for without them it would cease to exist. Their music is like an old record being played on the phonograph of another life—one that isn’t yours, but might as well be. It holds mystery on its tongue as if in contemplation of swallowing, choosing instead to spit into the gutter and spin from that punctuation an underlying grammar for the next journey.

Jens Pauly: r/f

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Aug 07 2017
Artist: Jens Pauly
Title: r/f
Format: CD + Download
Label: Karlrecords
“r/f”, or “remember / forget”, is one of those minimalist ambient releases where you find it difficult to sense the ambient temperature. On the one hand it’s warm- comforting, fairly fuzzy bass drones that roll along in a relaxing fashion. On the other hand it’s cold- minor chords, hollow echoing tones and melancholy improvised solo guitar plucking. Every listener’s mileage will vary with this release.

Tracks like the opener “Vergessen” slowly build elements, with the initial heavily processed guitar-sourced drones being joined piece-by-piece by odd woodwind-esque notes and occasional muted bells in a manner that builds up to something resembling a Sigur Ros track. “Regungslos” is a bit more spacious, with the tubular resonances and waves being pushed a bit further.

Third track “Überlaufen” is slightly more structured, with a strummed guitar pattern looping around to form something more rhythmically steady than the pieces that preceded it, with just a hint of Steve Reich about it. “Verschoben” plays like the slowest piece of techno you’ve ever heard, with a soft kick drum every 8 seconds or so accompanying a chord alternation while crisp digital glitches flit along the top like imitations of vinyl crackle. Finally “Erinnern” feels like the completion as a circle as we loop back round to the bass plucks and softer drones that we met at the beginning.

It’s a deceptively simple 5 track, 51-minute album of focussed ambience that seems to set out to be as complex as it’s possible to be whilst still qualifying for the categorisation of minimalist.

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.

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