Music Reviews

øjeRum: 7 Sjæle

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Oct 07 2019
Artist: øjeRum
Title: 7 Sjæle
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Midira Records
øjeRum’s previous release from last year “Selv I Drømme Lyser Den Første Sne” is probably the ChainDLK-related release I’ve revisited more than any other- both as a relaxing headphone listening experience, and also as a soporific highlight of my sleep playlists, perfect for lowering the heart rate and drifting off.

So new release “7 Sjæle” was welcomed with great anticipation. It doesn’t disappoint, and to a large extent, it’s more of the same, for better or worse. With warm melodic ambience, loose and simple themes operating on gentle rotations, and long slow attack envelopes arriving like waves, it seems custom made to slow you down. No mention is made of the instrumentation- it feels synthetic, but there are shades of clarinet-ish woodwind and fragile string sounds that just give shades of the orchestral, without making it any kind of artificial impersonation.

The structure lends itself to sleep too, placing six shorter sonic sketches on the first side before letting the second side delve into a single and gradually more minimal twenty-minute offering “Syvende Sjæl”. As a consequence though, some of the first side feels a little under-realised at times, with pieces like “Tredje Sjæl” fading away at a point that feels further exploration could’ve been justified. “Femte Sjæl” furthers the wave theme by adding an undulating soft white noise, as a form of icing on top of a bass-rich and gooey warm audio cake.

Something about this release fails to shine quite as brightly as last year’s album. The slightly imbalanced seven-track structure, and a kind of frustrated undertow that runs through the sound, make it somehow marginally less loveable- or perhaps it just doesn’t feel as original. Nevertheless it’s still a warm and immersive listen that’s a pleasure to have washing over you.

Pip: Possible Worlds

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Sep 23 2019
Artist: Pip
Title: Possible Worlds
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sofa
Pip- a duo whose real names have been left undisclosed- recorded “Possible Worlds” as one 66-minute-long live take, hopping between a variety of mostly acoustic instruments to offer up an unbroken but constantly changing soundscape that is at times folky acoustic guitar noodling, and at other times fully ambient or gentle drone. It’s hard to believe the claim that it’s not overdubbed, because it’s often very rich in tone and feels like the performance of a larger ensemble- accomplished by playing more than one instrument at once, apparently.

The result is over an hour of warm audio comfort blanket. Soft fretless guitars slowly transitioning across notes, washed with calm reverb, soft bass hums, long synthetic pad sounds and gentle waves, are all the dominant order of the day. Some of the electronic elements and more experimental playing stages- for example around the 19 minute mark- add a certain amount of friction that stops it from all being plain sailing, but these moments do tend to relax promptly and without excessive fuss. Twinkling bells and other sonic sprinkles sometimes take things in a more New Age-y direction, around the 36 minute mark being an example of how at times you wonder whether this is music with yoga or meditation in mind.

But thankfully there is more diversity and intrigue in the texturing here, for the benefit of people who want to listen rather than just to relax. Around 43 minutes in, the rasping noises, which sound like what it would like if I passionately and totally failed to play a trumpet, are truly odd, and the bowing saw noises and bubbly tones in the last ten minutes certainly quirky as well.

It’s an impressive and consistent single-track work, and quite an accomplishment in one take. It’s all very nicely recorded, showing no outward signs of its live or single take nature, and coming across as very rich. It’s gentle, but detailed, and it’s quite rewarding, in a decisively laidback way.

Quentin Sirjacq: Companion

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Sep 22 2019
Artist: Quentin Sirjacq
Title: Companion
Format: CD
Label: Schole (@)
Rated: *****
By means of his 4th solo album, the Parisian pianist Quentin Sirjacq confirms his penchant for what some reviewers could keep on naming contamination, but that it's a proper meeting of different styles, almost as if he's making music to demonstrate the multiple possibilities by which a simple piano can be intertwined to something different from traditional registers. So that piano can be considered, as the title of the album seems to suggest, a proper companion for his musical travels, like the one of the opening "Variations", where the melodic line gets immediately followed by resounding elements (conga, marimba, electronic synths and entities squeezed by recognizable drum machines), that could sound quite disorienting before the mellifluous musical speech moves toward clearer and less asynchronous dynamics. You could wonder how Quentin together with a skilled team of occasional collaborators from the French scene such as Vincent Taurelle (Air, Tony Allen, Vincent Ségal), Julien Loutelier (Cabaret Contemporain, Emile Parisien), Steve Arguelles (Benoit Delbecq, The Recyclers) and Arnaud Lassus (Ensemble Kern, Percussions de Strasbourg) manages to make his apparatus of complex mutations and stylistic hybrids so accessible by a wise usage of simple melodies that paradoxically disguise transmutations and transition particularly in tracks like "Dance", "Carol", "Companion" or the awesome "Choral" (the best moment of the whole album due to the unpredictable cross of film music and free jazz). Mutations or hybrids between electronic music, neoclassical, Balinese influences, Afro poly rhythms, film music or even the above-mentioned free jazz moments have rarely been less traumatizing than in records like these, where Quentin almost acts like a wise anesthetist.

Tropic of Coldness: Maps of reason

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Sep 22 2019
Artist: Tropic of Coldness (@)
Title: Maps of reason
Format: LP
Label: KrysaliSound (@)
Rated: *****
Francis M Gri, appreciated sound artist and brave founder of KrysaliSound, reached a very important goal since the first bricks of his creation in 2010, the first release on vinyl, and he cannot but do a careful choice. He decided to start by inflating the entrancing breathes of Tropic of Coldness, the bicephalous project that Giovanni La Placa (guitarist, voice and sampler player in the experimental band Fuji Apple Worship) and David Gutman (already active in the indipendent Brussels scene, where he was mostly known for his electro/experimental band Drawing Virtual Gardens) conceived after their meeting in Brussels in the autumn of 2011. Described by Francis as "a mature work of rare sensitivity that manages to combine all the nuances of the soul as points of a map that every human being hides inside", this sonic pearl immediately grabs listeners by wrapping lukewarm synths, whose dazzling light get eclipsed by a feeble guitar-driven melody in the initial "The beauty and the meaning", a track whose title seems to suggest the shrilling contrast between a phenomenon whose appearance partially hides a hint of a forthcoming decay (like the contrast between the beauty of a butterfly and the awareness that its beauty has a short life). A sense of meaning gets evoked by the title track "Maps of reason", where a field recording evokes a walk in the wood, where the initially cold and simple tones get warmer and warmer, while the guitar gradually strays onto the stylistic shores of classic ambient since its final harmonic rift. The emotional framework of the following "The Loss of empathy" is really impossible to be framed (forgive the unconscious pun!), as it's an ocean of sonic waves, where the same wave could begin by evoking a feeling of peace before turning into something peaceless or uneasy, or where a concrete clearness could fade away into a vague sense of confusion. In spite of its more predictable dynamics, the last of the four tracks of this awesome album, titled "Diving for pearls", features a similarly harmonic dissonance, according to a sonic strategy which tries to balance and unify apparently opposed and contrasted emotions, belonging to the definition that the name of the project "Tropic of Coldness" seems to suggest.

Chihei Hatakeyama: Forgotten Hill

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Sep 19 2019
Artist: Chihei Hatakeyama
Title: Forgotten Hill
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Room40
Tokyo-based ambient artist Chihei Hatakeyama here offers up a musical impression of a visit to the Asuka region of Japan, specifically to ancient stone burial mounds and chambers. Consequently, the result is a 37-minute collection of wide reverbs, synthetic melodic pads and melodic guitar shades that sounds hollow, deferential and calm- as though making music for some kind of alien church.

It’s divided into nine pieces, most around the four minute mark, which come across as single-page sketches rather than deep dives into longer ambient adventures. Some of these sketches are more appealing than others. The title track, that opens the release, is a strong relaxant. The sense of breathing and gradual build in “Buddha statue without roof” is really delicious, while the vocal tones of “The big stone tomb” bring another layer of richness.

However some pieces like “The constellation space” sound more like loose and lazy improvised noodling and fly too close to sounding kitsch for their own good. Some, like “Staring at the mountain”, fade out at the point where development is due.

For me the main problem with this release is the short nature of the tracks, which makes some pieces seem underbaked. It’s as though we are brief tourists to these environments, walking through and being impressed but not stopping long enough to appreciate their nature in any detail. Other than that, it’s a rich if perhaps slightly over-familiar ambient tone that’s gentle and pleasant.

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