Music Reviews

Satoshi Takeishi: Premonition

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Mar 31 2017
Artist: Satoshi Takeishi
Title: Premonition
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Clang
Satoshi Takeishi is a well-known and experienced percussionist with a diverse and decades-long CV. The press pack comes complete with photos of him surrounded by drums and other percussive instruments. So listening to “Premonition” comes as something of a major surprise… there’s no percussion in it!

Inspired by Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” and originally intended as a temporary score to a film, this is stripped-down drone music- though I might prefer to call it ‘hum music’. From a synth, a ring modulator, an echo pedal and a bunch of computer pitchshifting comes a very pure soundscape of glacially-stepping sine waves.

The shifted alternating tones of “Abandoned Shadow” is the closest the work gets to conventional melodic progression, turning simple oscillations into an electronic ballad. In “Glimpse Of Silence” the modulation becomes more akin to alien vocalisations reminiscent of late 1960’s Radiophonic Workshop noises.

“Behind The Door” has, to contradict what I said earlier, a rhythm that’s almost percussive edging in with so much subtlety that it doesn’t break the flow. “Dichotomy Of Noise” toes a fine line between random arpeggiation and percussion and is the most jaunty and off-kilter section, it’s practically tongue-in-cheek. The opener “Prologue” and closer “Epilogue” bookend this relatively short album peacefully and appropriately.

It’s a beautifully restrained and simple collection of simple electronic ambiences with a net result that’s surprisingly warm and timeless. To me it’s more retro sci-fi than Franz Kafka, certainly, but I’d recommend it even more for that.
Artist: Scheerling, Thaumaturgist (@)
Title: Vertoeven LVI / Mysteries Van De Droom
Format: Tape
Label: Oggy Records (@)
Rated: *****
Let's dig deeper in sonic world's underbelly that is often so 'under' that some of you could think weird things related to them (occultists, aliens, mad psychiatrists making experiments, ghosts or whatever omitted to get credited as producers...). Fans of the darkest side of drone-driven music and gloomy ambient will be maybe delighted by the listening of "Vertoeven LVI" on side A of this split tape release, filled by Dutch sound artist Bert van Beek aka Scheerling with four acousmatic drones (lasting five minutes each) - mostly driven by effected scorched guitars, but also featuring whisper-like sounds, whooshing noises that got often used by tape art and metallic hits -. The abrasive first track "Schemmer" sets the ground for the hypnotical "Guurn", where some of the above-listed aural entities have been immersed into a dilated reverberation, which makes them feel like coming from some parallel dimension. The third movement "De Danne" - my favourite one - is a combination of tricks of the first two ones, as both slightly scorched guitars and reverb-puffed bubbles got joined, and precedes the final "Tehoape", which sounds like a cathartic reprise of the initial "Schemmer". I read somewhere it got inspired by the translation of some poetry of Dennis Gaens, but it's a detail that doesn't help me in explaining nuances I didn't catch due to the fact I didn't find anything in English or other languages I understand, so that I can only say it's an entirely recommendable listening. Likewise absorbing the sound that Thaumaturgist spread over two 10-mins lasting tracks on "Mysteries Van De Droom": this guy used some briquettes and pellets of acid-house and Berlin techno to develop a seemingly lo-fi sound (more sedated and uplifted on this first part, slightly morbid and psychotic on the second one, landing on those fractured bleeps you can hear when some old Korg drum machine is close to tilting), that could vaguely surmise some industrial techno experiments of the late 80ies.

Lawrence English: Cruel Optimism

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Mar 26 2017
Artist: Lawrence English (@)
Title: Cruel Optimism
Format: LP
Label: Room40
Rated: *****
This new impressive release by Lawrence English immediately barges into listeners' mind through a sort of thud and magnetic lapping on the initial "Hard Rain", rendering a magnetic and somehow urgent sense of pensive tragedy, which manages to push them in the meditative pool, inspiring the whole release. Named after the title of an essay by American theorist Lauren Berlant (it also inspired "Cruel Optimist", a song by Brooklyn-based melodic punk band Worriers, led by songwriter, singer and feminist Lauren Denitzio, but I preferred the sonic language chosen by Lawrence to a part of the content of that essay), the sparkle of the inspiration, enflaming "Cruel Optimism", was a reflection about the (consuming, augmenting and shaping) effects of power on two related aspects of human conditions, obsession and fragility. Unlike the screaming of liberation yelled by the above-mentioned punk band, which was almost concomitant to the publishing of that essay, the more concerned halo mantling the ten tracks of Lawrence's output sound more anchored to the somehow unexpected pronouncement of contemporary human history. The connection between the surrounding meditation behind this album and Berlant's essay got explained by the author as follows: "In Cruel Optimism, I found some critical readings around the issues that have fuelled so much of the music I have been making recently. Beyond her keen analysis of the relations of attachment as they pertain to conditions of possibility in the everyday, it was particularly her writing around trauma I found deeply affecting. It was a jumping off point from which a plague of unsettling impressions of suffering, intolerance and ignorance could be unpacked and utilised as fuel over and above pointless frustration.". Most of the ten flowing movements are drones built on elongated voice-like choirs, intensely fluttering single tones, subtle chimes, muffled thundering hits, reaching the apex on tracks where Lawrence dramatise the previously described sense of tragedy by banging hits such as "Hammering a Screw" or the majestic "Object of Projection". During the listening, your mind could land on some of the contemporary historical events and the subsequent thoughts related to them that partially inspired Lawrence himself - he mainly quoted the new wave of humanitarian and refugee crisis as well as the emblematic photo of that tiny body on the shore by Alan Kurdi, the striking drones in many parts of the planet, the black lives matter movement, the use of sonic weapòons against civilians, Us and Uk recent elections, the serpentine return of racism and sexism -, but "Cruel Optimism" is also "an encouragement to press forward towards more profound futures" in Lawrence's words. Someone could ask if such a kind of "functional" album are really necessary and maybe such a feedback could make sense. Decades ago. Nowadays the situation is so concerning that some ways (or sonic protests, if you prefer to consider in a different way) of escaping from the lobotomizing musical mainstream are somehow necessary.

S S S S: Just Dead Stars For Dead Eyes

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Mar 24 2017
Artist: S S S S
Title: Just Dead Stars For Dead Eyes
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Hallow Ground
Though described as the product of found sound from a two-week residency in a performing arts centre, this is not ambiences and room tones. Certainly those ingredients are somewhere in the mix, but the whole soundscape is so drowned in dark synthetic bass noise that any sense of the centre’s original atmosphere is long, long gone. An actor, also based in the centre, has been recorded talking, possibly rehearsing, and his crushed and unintelligible voice is a constant presence, but again any sense of meaning or purpose is gone.

After a relentless opening, the first part calms down, relatively speaking, with the bass notes settling to a steady electronic throb and some awkward-sounding percussive hits and stretches echoing around on top. If this were real-life ambience, the sense of impending threat would be palpable.

The second part has a similar structure, opening with a sonic affront that’s higher pitched and more gaseous before thinning out into a broader hum, with the surprise and brief inclusion of a rather sci-fi three-note repeating glass-like melody. The sustained notes of suspense are littered with glitchy and backwards vocal snippets and formless percussive noises. There’s a cameo in the final minutes from the real unprocessed ambience underneath soft choral notes, as part of an almost anachronistically harmonious resolution.

This is a well-planned, thick gloopy wave of noises and details that reinvents whatever space it was originally recorded in into something wholly unrecognisable, and at times unwelcoming. Ambience twisted, with attitude.

Golden Diskó Ship: Imaginary Boys

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Mar 22 2017
Artist: Golden Diskó Ship
Title: Imaginary Boys
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Karlrecords (@)
“Imaginary Boys” is the third album from Theresa Stroetges under her Golden Disko Ship alias. The classically trained viola player uses her traditional instruments and voice as just two layers in a complex mash-up of slow instrumental synthpop and electronica with a decidedly quirky and rather playful collection of bleeps, chords and loops, over rolling clean bass tones and with guest appearances from indie guitars.

The whole album is mixed by Schneider TM, and if you squint your ears you could believe the whole thing is a mellow, slightly more ethnic Schneider TM mini-album- some of the steady, faintly chiptune-like rhythm programming and rubbery bass could easily have been Dirk Dresselhaus’, particularly in elements like the shifting rhythm pitches of “Abandoned Chinese Fishing Village”.

There’s a fairly wide range of tempos and moods here- while opener “Flaming Flamingo” is a rather casual hello, it’s followed by the more chase-music groove of “Pacific Trash Vortex” which sounds like a disassembled prototype of a mathematically-generated pop song. The verse-chorus-ish alt-pop of songs like “Wrong Beach” will appeal to fans of The Knife, or Roisin Murphy’s weirder moments, while the closer “Lifelike Showdown” wanders confidently into Tangerine Dream territory and blends in some choral-ish chanting and brass for a powerful and unique finale.

It’s got a lovely warm tone throughout, and while song titles like “Swarm Of Bees” might imply an abrasive and uncomfortable listen, it’s absolutely anything but. There’s a relaxed and casual playfulness and a rich chillout vein to it. A sterling bit of alt-pop with the emphasis on the alt and definitely worth a listen.

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