Music Reviews

Ernest Hood: Neighborhoods

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Oct 10 2019
Artist: Ernest Hood
Title: Neighborhoods
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Freedom To Spend
“Neighbourhoods”- sorry, “Neighborhoods”- is a deluxe re-issue of an unusual 1975 album from Ernest Hood, whose early career was as a jazz guitarist before contracting polio pushed him into playing gentler and softer string instruments such as harps.

On this album though, as well as gentle string plucking, there’s a strong emphasis on the experimental- wistful fluke-like high-pitched synthesizer notes borrowed from the sound of prog rock or 70’s era Radiophonic Workshop, and a bold use of ambient field recordings that are mostly familiar-sounding audio postcards that you may find on sound effects LP’s, but which are allowed to run deeper and longer than you may expect and really give you time to soak up the atmosphere. In the original liner notes there are references to “musical cinematography” which for 1975 does seem (marginally) ahead of its time. Knowing fading of musical motifs into gentle birdsong-and-vehicle-laden ambient tone certainly seems to predate and hark forward to work like The KLF’s “Chill Out”.

There’s something quite parochial about a lot of it, musically speaking. “At The Store” sounds at first like the incidental music to a light-hearted documentary about the routine of everyday suburban life, even to the extent that it’s structured in a set of easily-edited movements for easy picture sync. The harp tones of “August Haze” seem to paint an idyllic but somewhat Stepford Wives-esque picture of suburban tranquility, and “From The Bluff” is similar but with evening social hues. There are odder compositions at play as well, with “After School” a curious concoction of fun, energy and innocence blended with playground sounds, but which does seem to carry a gently mocking subtext. “Gloaming” is the track where most spoken word is discernible, with what seems to be a grandfather waxing nostalgic to an attentive child, accompanied by a thoughtful melody seemingly determined to paint a landscape of ‘the good old days’

It’s one of those releases which, on the surface, has dated somewhat- despite exemplary remastering quality, it’s still a release that’s of its own time. But in context it’s a fascinating period piece- not just of sounds of the era (albeit not wholly different from today’s sounds), but of a lesser-known bit of 1970’s experimental music for which a dusting off is very much justified.

Daniele Bogon: 17 Encores

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Oct 10 2019
Artist: Daniele Bogon (@)
Title: 17 Encores
Format: CD
Label: New Model Label (@)
Rated: *****
The perturbed pads and the rising dissonant electrical interference of the opening "Ex Nihilo" are the sparkling aural events of this interesting album by Padua-born sound artist and academically trained musician Daniele Bogon, named after the already published album "17" in the guise of Alley and including the 10 tracks of this first output plus five additional tracks. Some of Bogon's musical background composition is manifested over the whole album, as on the following "Piano Song #177" - aptly intimate piano melody, that sounds perfect to follow the maidenly intro -, the intimately touchingintertwine of an imperfect minimal piano (recorded through close-mic), pads and brass of "The Tide" or on "Opono No Piano", whose piano elongations - recalling a piano refrain on Sebastian Tellier's "Le Ritournelle" or some moments of oldest compositions of other minimalists like Max Richter or Arturo Stalteri - closes the first part of the album, the one that retraces the tracks of the above-mentioned original release. By the way, I'm pretty sure that what is going to hit listener's eardrums more prominently are Bogon's electronic artifacts since the blurred fragments of conversation and the evoked a vague sense of bewilderment of "Airport" (far away from the known Brian Eno's sound in spite of the dry piano melody could sound 'Enoesque') or the harsh electromechanical spasms of "Insectx" - something closest to that branch of techno known as rhythmic noise -. Some tracks in the second part for some mysterious reason are somehow faltering, but what really hits in Bogon's music is the dangerous riding on a wire between anxiety and a sort of artificial calm, that he often translates into a sort of unstable stylistic balance between electronic ambient and typical OST music ("Wolverine", "Batman is Bruce Wayne"), that often embraces unconventional strategies in many moments of the second (previously unreleased) part.

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.

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