Music Reviews

Phase Conductor: Conditions

 Posted by Ibrahim Khider (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Aug 30 2017
Artist: Phase Conductor (@)
Title: Conditions
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Chinese calligraphy masters take years to cultivate their art form to the point that they draw characters with one stroke and a minimum of revision, if any. Mike Matheson, who for years produced as Beef Terminal, has reached a kind of mastery where his tracks are now casual yet masterful strokes. Matheson created a world of brooding yet melodic guitar over drum machine beats, liberally seasoned with field recordings of rambling inebriated party attendees, religious sermon culled from the radio and captured conversations from mobile phones that still used analog signals. Beef Terminal tended to have darker overtones, melancholic instrumental drama, and at times a kind of anxious solitude, yet within all this is also its beauty and strength. The Beef Terminal was always able to evoke emotions felt long after the disc played and Conditions is no exception. I would go so far as to call it the missing album. In some ways, Conditions is more low-fi than Matheson’s previous efforts with discernible tape saturation, cable hiss, equipment hums, with the exception of 20GOTO10 (2000), his debit solo album. A point of departure is how varied Conditions sounds. Tracks like “Fourth” and “Long Ride” could have been outtakes off of Further or New Lands by Flying Saucer Attack and all that is missing are the haunting vocals of Rachel Brook or David Pearce. FSA are not so much influences as descriptive touch stones, though the two projects share similar approaches to recording. In the early days, FSA would record onto VHS tape via home stereo whereas Matheson records onto cassette, as he elaborates, “I did much of this album outside the computer, or if I started in the computer I would output it usually to my SP404 or OP-1 and use on-board filters there, which is where some of the hiss came from but for a lot of tracks I bounced them to cassette. Besides that I spent most of last year just making these songs with no real plans to release them or anything but once I got them together I enjoyed listening to them so I thought it might make a good “album”. Basically the criteria for music making for me in 2016 was that it had to feel good doing it, and doing things on computer had become so boring and sterile I had to come up with some other ways to do things, which I’ve done and now I’ve continued making tunes this way and have been far more prolific than ever, working super fast, barely any overdubs or editing, I just do these tracks and move on. Sort of how I did 20 GOTO 10 actually. Way more enjoyable.” Indeed, much of Matheson’s work is immersed in the glitch in ways that would do early Aphex Twin proud with “Pooling”, Rplanet”, and “RCA” which are more ambient excursions that recall Selected Ambient Works Vol 2. That is not to say that all of conditions is low-fi, as “Rounded”, “Sorting”, and “Sorting 2” come off as more crisp electronic ambient productions. A personal favourite is “Discleaves” for it’s 90’s-era melodic electronica feel more at home in a Warp or Delsin records retro-compilation. “Backlook” is firmly in early Beef Terminal territory with fragments of audio sample’s from 2003’s The Isolationist and could be an outtake, even. Mathesons’ artistry is certainly there, though somewhat curious, if we follow the calligrapher analogy, that he picks more worn parchment as his medium, so to speak. But that is Matheson’s aesthetic where he fully understands the production rules and breaks it to make his melancholic musical statements that have all the charm of faded and aged photographs or film, emotional fragments that encapsulates memory.

Monty Adkins: A Year At Usher's Hill

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Aug 29 2017
Artist: Monty Adkins
Title: A Year At Usher's Hill
Format: CD + Download
Label: Eilean Records
Completing a trilogy of albums that have all been released on different labels, “A Year At Usher’s Hill” sees Monty Adkins on celesta, organ and electronics joined by Jonny Best on piano to perform eleven introspective, supremely languid, ballad-like bits of downtempo music that border on ambient and drone but doesn’t step over that line. Lush, smooth chords sustain and wane with a vibe that’s warm yet a speed that’s melancholic. The melodies are loose and feeling improvised.

There’s variety in the tracks insofar as, for example, “Alone” is a solo piano offering with a more classical feel while “An Eden Within” is more purely atmospheric; “Small Steps” or the lullaby-like “Radiant Moon” offer both. That’s the limit of it though- it’s consistent and soporifically unchallenging.

It’s a touch glib at times, edging just a little close to a “meditation music for relaxation and yoga” CD you might find in a motorway service station, with only the enhanced sombreness (and the lack of water sounds or pan pipes) keeping it distinguishable from that. At other points the drone elements, hints of darkness and polished electronic production is what ensures this release belongs well away from service stations. “Solstice” is notable thanks to the deep pulse that pervades underneath it and gives it a more soundtrack-like feel.

Music for self-pity and emotional wallowing.

Bosaina: New York April – July 2013 / Two Names Upon The Shore

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Aug 25 2017
Artist: Bosaina
Title: New York April – July 2013 / Two Names Upon The Shore
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Discrepant
Syrian/Egyptian singer songwriter and producer Bosaina here offers up two short EP’s stuck together.

In “New York” (in six parts), we get three pop song-length numbers separated by quirky interludes. Opening with balladic piano and keyboard playing and warm emotive chords set into a colder environment of found sounds and processed rainy atmospheres, with a smattering of odd and distant percussive patterns drifting in and out, sets you up for a melancholic or maybe even romantic listen- but when the third part kicks in, we shift into a trip-hop environment, with a heavier breakbeat, and Sneaker Pimps-style distorted vocals. The third substantial part (“June 3rd”) surprises us again, focussing on soft pure-sounding plinky synth sounds that have been glitched and re-triggered into a rather esoteric result. It’s an unusual collection of pieces that has some sonic consistency yet a wide variation in attitude.

The second EP “Two Names Upon The Shore” is equally hard to pin down. “Rivage” is another glitched and heavily effected piano piece, occasionally underpinned by rhythmic pulses. “Untitled” continues in a similar vein but with the spontaneous arrival of more distorted vocals and then harder-edged distortion halfway through. That format, of a purer sound with distortion arriving in the second half, is echoed in an instrumental fashion by final track “Abalone On The Grass”.

It’s an indulgently obtuse bundle of tracks where the sincerity and solemness is gatecrashed unpredictably by angier production touches that appear and disappear without warning. This gives it the distinctive but slightly inaccessible character of a work that can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be understood or not. It’s an interesting challenge.

Crisopa: Transhumante

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Aug 24 2017
Artist: Crisopa
Title: Transhumante
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence (@)
“Transhumante” is a short (7 track, 34 minute) bit of gentle electronica that’s correctly targeting an audience of fans of Boards Of Canada and especially Ulrich Schnauss. Simple bass notes and soft-and-steady beats with a faintly organic feel underpin warm pads and Rhodes-like chords which casually progress and meld into the atmosphere, with synthetic twiddles and bleeps tagging along for the ride.

There’s not a great deal of variation all things considered, with opening tracks “Bird Song Reincarnation” and “I Am The Lord Of These Ruins” built from a near-identical set of ingredients, with just the subtle hint of vocal in the latter to distinguish them. Despite the name, “Fast Dive” is almost equally languid, but just a little bit more bass-orientated. “Serene Option”, again somewhat ironically, is hardly any more serene than the tracks around it, apart perhaps from adopting slightly lighter key sounds.

“Melting Wax Sculptures” has a subtly higher energy but does drift dangerously close to sounding like a Coldplay ballad instrumental when it’s not being careful. After that we return to the first formula, with “Flourine Cold Frames” bringing quiet, Air-like vocal notes into an extremely Ulrich Schnauss-like soundscape. “Irradiating Nucleus”’s bass tone has just a dash of synthwave about it and provides a rich but uneventful wrap-up.

The limited edition CDR includes an eighth track, “Gran Panel”, which wasn’t included in the promo so I can’t comment on that. Given the consistency of the rest of the album I can be fairly confident about what it probably sounds like though…

Overall it’s a consistent and clear musical project with a warm, comforting and not especially distinctive sound. If you’re after music that grabs your attention, skip this one, but if you’re after something that will bolster your downtempo and chill out collection, this is worth a listen.

vÄäristymä / DRS: minimalia nocturna

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Aug 20 2017
Artist: vÄäristymä / DRS (@)
Title: minimalia nocturna
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Eight Tower Records (@)
Rated: *****
Trying to document the actual frontier of the new minimal ambient drone, Eight Tower Records release a split album even if, instead of having one side of a 12", the songs are interleaved in a digital collection. VÄÄristymÄ is a finnish duo using mainly analogue gear while DRS is the project of Andrea Darse which uses synths and tape; both are relatively unknown even if they have a considerable discography.
The three track by DRS are based around a sort of ambient techno where the regular beat is used to tie the soundscape generated by the synth and the tape, so the music is mostly hypnotic, without a large dynamic and based upon some sound trick and "Äyahuasca" could be easily described this way while the absence of the beat in "Äyael" forces the author to focus on the development of the drone with subtle variation with an almost inaudible loop on the background. The last track, "Äcarya", is more based on the maximalist impact of a drone with a great sound mass.
The tracks by vÄÄristymÄ are shorter and more based on a structure so "radiopurkaus" tries to develop a sort of melody with the tones while a sort of loop (it could also be an enveloper on a noise) is used to obtain the rhythmic structure. The same framework is also used on "epÄluulo" with a noisier sound palette and "tÄhden iÄsnÄolo" uses some dreamy sample to break the boundary of the minimal structure used.
Both at the threshold between the exposition of their influences and the development of a personal language, they represent a project to follow to investigate the development of a genre which perhaps lacks the path towards his next level but it's something that it's ever very pleasant to hear for fans of the genre. It's really worth a listen.

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