Music Reviews

Janek Schaefer: Glitter In My Tears

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jun 07 2017
Artist: Janek Schaefer
Title: Glitter In My Tears
Format: CD + Download
Label: Room40
The prolific Janek Schaefer, responsible for 30 albums in the last 20 years, has in “Glitter In My Tears” released something that is at times raw and at other times polished.

The album opens with “Sparkles Into The Light Of Night”, a gentle, slowly building six-minute ambience that sets the tone very nicely. It makes you wish that some of the other pieces, many of which are under two minutes long, had been explored further and allowed to breathe more. Perhaps Mr Schaefer could have turned this into three or four albums…

There are some tracks that stand out sonically- “Looking For Love” is a piano piece that sounds like a early prototype noodling demo for a potentially cliché piano ballad. The deep bass hum of the following track “Low Points” also clamours for your attention more than other parts do.

Novelty value also plays a part- “What Comes Around” unexpectedly adds a funky looped music sample (faintly Royksopp-esque drums and guitar) skittering around the edge of your consciousness, while final piece “Conclusions In Two Minds” gives you deep male voice choir tones followed by light aeroplane noises. Some experiments work better than others- the looped classical vinyl of “Hells Bells” is surprisingly eerie, but “Dawn Draws In” feels like an unfinished attempt at writing a childrens’ lullaby.

However there are other tracks, like “Swallow Hole”, “All In The Mind” or “Falls From Favour”, that typify the generic synthetic drone sound that suggests a lack of inspiration or distinctive character. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them, but they’re so brief that it’s unclear what they’re really accomplishing- they begin to seem like filler.

Overall it’s a mixed bag, which in itself could be seen as a virtue, as it recalls more diverse classic chill out albums (from Alex Paterson, Jimmy Cauty etc.) which felt more playful and less confined to one purpose or expression. It’s eclecticism is certainly hit and miss but there are enough worthwhile moments in here to justify some attention.

Carlos Casas: Pyramid Of Skulls

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Jun 05 2017
Artist: Carlos Casas
Title: Pyramid Of Skulls
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Discrepant
“Pyramid Of Skulls” is a Tajikistan-based field recording experiment in four parts of around seventeen minutes each. Found sound from a variety of different sources is layered and looped to create environments that manage to feel both familiar and implausible at the same time, as spoken word conversations blend with fireside crackling and light industrial machine sounds, melding overall into something that wanders in and out of making sense. The sound of the proverbial kitchen sink may be somewhere in the mix too.

To further complicate matters, Persian-sounding instrumentation such as the pamiri rubab and the ghijak are added, bringing folksy tones but played in strung-out and drone fashion, totally disassociated from their musical roots.

This isn’t purely ambience- this is deliberately and conscientiously layered and juxtaposed sound. Percussive elements are digitally looped and EQ’ed to make them unnaturally deep, bordering on organic techno. The vocal wails at the start of “Triune God” and the bizarrely lo-fi and distorted (possibly backwards) instrumentation alienate the folk tone from the original poem, exposing and twisting it into something warbly and alien. Certain editing, such as the abrupt cut at the end of “Avesta”, is seeking your attention in a way that soundscape works often don’t.

“Avesta” stands out for its increased use of analogue electronic noise, with white noise and primitive-sounding oscillations ripping through the soundscape with an abrupt determination, and a second half which is relatively sparse compared to the cacophony that has preceded it.

“Sinpoj Variations” gives a lighter touch to the editing, allowing some of the singing (credited to ‘Jonboz’) to breathe a little more naturally, with drones and plucked instrumentation meandering alongside. This slightly more minimalist approach continues into the final piece “Dargilik Variations”, where hollow reverb gives a more reverent and church-like tone, but the anachronistic electronics have not fully disappeared.

Overall it’s a bold clash of ethnically-sourced and ‘rustic’ sounds with an attitude-laden production aesthetic that demands attention and which isn’t afraid to break the context of the recordings even if it might seem disrespectful. And the net result is a success- bold, distinctive, and unusual, it’s a rare beast of a soundscape work that commands your attention and keeps you guessing, without detaching from its authentic origins.

Emanuele De Raymondi & Marco Messina: Saro

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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May 31 2017
Artist: Emanuele De Raymondi & Marco Messina
Title: Saro
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: ZeroKilled Music (@)
This album is the soundtrack to Enrico Maria Artale’s very personal documentary film “Saro” in which he travels to meet his absentee father for the only time in his life. So the tone is as you may expect- introspective, emotional, and with a sense of journey.

The soundtrack brings together the minimalistic string arrangements of Emaneule De Raymondi with the synthetic sound textures of Marco Messina, and results in something that is fairly typical soundtrack fodder- broad sweeping tones, plaintively plucked guitar notes, long sustained strings. It’s a familiar recipe used on many soundtracks and to be frank, many parts of this release are soundtrack-worthy in that they provide a tone, a general mood, but are otherwise unexceptional.

Most tracks are either de Raymondi or Messina on their own, but it’s when they collaborate, particularly on “Viaggio”, that the most powerful result arrives. It’s a well thought-out collaboration and the two composers clearly complement each other well- hopefully they may have more extensive combined work in future. The suspenseful “Mare” suggests they could also turn their hand to action movies as well.

The strongest de Raymondi piece here is “Assenza”, with its deep bowed ominous dawn and conscientiously simple piano work. For Messina it’s probably “Non Respiro”, an unnerving and alien layout with an ebbing sense of danger.

At only 26 minutes it’s a very succinct soundtrack album, with many pieces presumably only as long as the documentary required them to be, when in fact some, such as Messina’s “Terra Distante”, could easily have evolved and grown further.

Suplington: Repeating Flowers

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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May 26 2017
Artist: Suplington
Title: Repeating Flowers
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Youngbloods (@)
Supliington’s “Repeating Flowers” is a rich blend of digital ambiences, synthetic washes, mellow drawn-out instrument notes and effects, and an above-average helping of light multi-ethnic drum sounds. It’s a sonic bath, but at times a slightly disorientating one- while it doesn’t wander too far into dischord, there are some alien tones and odd juxtapositions here that make the release clamour for attention more than some do.

There’s a range of durations here, with “A Ritual Dance For Growth” little more than a 2-minute interlude, perhaps an unfinished idea, while “The Ocean As One Being” is allowed to breath for a justified and welcome ten minutes.

“A Place Of Fear And Realisation” is boldly simple, while “Spring Dance” brings live toms and deep drums into the mix in a way that feels natural and authentic. “Comforting Company” also adopts live drum sounds, but in a more regular and uniform manner than feels more like sample loops. The finger-snaps and gated vocal-like sounds of final track “An Infinite Loop Of Time” are a refreshingly upbeat way to mellow out, devoid of at least some of the melancholy that normally pervades this kind of soundscape.

It’s a smooth, fantastically coherent and ultimately rather beautiful 50 minutes of aural comfort, with just enough of the unorthodox about it to give it a memorable character.

(Oh and by the way, although I've listed it as "download only", it is also available as a limited edition cassette, but "cassette + download" wasn't on my options list.)

Yiorgis Sakellariou: Stikhiya

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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May 23 2017
Artist: Yiorgis Sakellariou
Title: Stikhiya
Format: Tape
Label: Crónica
“Stikhiya” is a pair of soundscape compositions comprising layered environmental found sound with additional electronic elements that sound sometimes like arcing electricity, sometimes like industrial gas processing, sometimes like the interference caused by mobile phones on unshielded audio cables. Repetitive mechanical processes occasionally form firm rhythms, ignored by their sonic neighbours. It’s an uncomfortable inserted juxtaposition that changes this work from ambient to uncomfortable.

Despite being labelled as only “part 1” and “part 2” there are smaller sequences within, and abrupt and distinct changes that jolt your consciousness just as you are beginning to tune out. On their own the environmental sounds are often quite prosaic- empty, everyday spaces with distant road noises and indistinct plastic hits. It often feels rather ordinary and familiar. Only fleeting glimpses, such as the odd whistling tones in the final minute, feel ethereal.

“Stikhiya” has all the commonplace elements of a soundscape arrangement but unfortunately it fails to shine as a self-contained work due to its uninviting awkwardness.

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