Music Reviews

Andreas Usenbenz: Bells Breath

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Feb 06 2017
Artist: Andreas Usenbenz (@)
Title: Bells Breath
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Klanggold
“Bells Breath” is such a pure and simple concept that it is difficult to either analyse or fault. The sound of the bells of Ulm Minster, the tallest church in the world, has been digitally stretched and then layered. That’s it; plenty of bells but no whistles, no frills, very little further trickery, principally just the bell sound, inflated and resonant, mesmerising and soporific. Though it’s theoretically minimalist, the tones are rich and broad and very warm, capable of filling a space wholeheartedly. The pieces were initially created as part of a 2015 art installation within the minster itself, but out of context, as simply audio, it’s a sound with fantastic power.

The main album is split into three studies. Each has a subtly different character; “Study III” is the simplest and purest. “Study IV” is somewhat darker and moodier, with very faint hints of percussive sound, distant ‘real time’ bell-ringing and occasional found sound ambience. The comparatively brief seven minutes of “Study II” sits between the two, still with dark tonality but a cleaner sound with fewer distant distractions.

As a digital bonus there’s also an hour-long “sleep version” of “Study III”, though it’s scarcely any more ambient than the others and personally I don’t see why you couldn’t fall asleep to any of these pieces.

Initially conceived as an in situ installation, and released on Klanggold who are themselves based in Ulm, this is a piece of art that will definitely work in your home.

Unsettled Dust: Formless Realm

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Feb 05 2017
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Artist: Unsettled Dust
Title: Formless Realm
Format: CD
Label: Black Mara (@)
Rated: *****
Unsettled Dust is one of the few artists that could be well described as 'underground' as no information is available on the web for this artist and there's no liner notes for this release so the listener is left alone. This release is a typical dark ambient release that is centered on the development of an atmosphere and the development of a drone with slight modification to escape, or underline, stillness.
The soundscape of "Formless realm" which opens this release is as canonical as crafted: layers of sound are juxtaposed until they sound as static as moving; every section of this long track is marked by a layer in the foreground while the previous slowly enters in the background. "Stream enterer" is based on slowly moving drones which hypnotize a listener with a proper attitude. While the first part of "Appeasement" is perhaps too predictable, the second one tries to bother with subtler sounds until there's a return to the first part of the track. "Accomplishment" closes this release with a sort of field recordings immersed in a slowly moving drone which surrounds silence.
This is that kind of release that will be loved by fans of the genre as will let uncertain the listener searching for the next big thing. Nice but only for fans of the genre.

Jessy Lanza: Oh No No No EP

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Feb 03 2017
Artist: Jessy Lanza
Title: Oh No No No EP
Format: 12"
Label: Hyperdub
This is a collection of three remixes of different Jessy Lanza tracks, bringing out some ‘very Hyperdub’ flavours- super-deep bass and atmospherics, complex rhythm patterns and minimalistic aesthetics dominate.

Morgan Geist’s remix of “I Talk BB” is an odd hybrid of a slow, soulful, romantically-toned ballad and a cold, overtly digital tonal quality. It wanders surprising close to ‘sexy slow’ cliché territories at times and surprisingly, despite Geist’s credentials, is the least successful track in the pack.

The radio-edit-like DJ Taye x Spinn remix of “Could B U” is in like with the thread of modern pop that’s spacious, shiny, and which revels in its own simplicity; less is more here. The unexpected twist is the relentless pounding subbass, which listeners on smartphone speakers won’t even hear- it’s the focal point of the track and without which it’s about as minimal as I’ve ever heard from pop music.

“Going Somewhere” seems to be a collection of YouTube beauty tip soundbites rather than a song, with DVA [Hi:Emotions] structuring their own brand new, Funkstörung-like sci-fi electro-glitch moodscape out of it. Bleeps and whirrs and mindtwisting panning ride over a staccato rhythm.

A neat bundle of super-deep reworkings for a serious bit of late-night, eyes-closed, headphones-on action.

Bethan Kellough: Aven

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Feb 02 2017
Artist: Bethan Kellough (@)
Title: Aven
Format: CD
Label: Touch (@)
Rated: *****
The first stone for this enchanting output got laid on the occasion of Touch Conference at South of Sunset area in Los Angeles, one of the appreciated meeting that Touch recently organized to focus listeners' and followers' to some branches of sonic research (including of course the one by the artists in its rosters, some of whom took part in these events in order to help newbies to learn some techniques as well). British composer and sound artist Bethan Kellough (formerly known as Bethan Parkes) attended the one I mentioned above after having joined the touch Mentorship Programme in 2015. The "concrete" sounds you'll listen in this precious sonic gemstone got collected during some journeys in Iceland and South Africa together with some big names of this branch of sonic exploration. She grabbed the noises coming out of a fence in South Iceland by means of a contact microphone in the days when Chris Watson and Jez Riley French were holding the Wildeye sound recording workshop, while the ones she grabbed during the Sonic Mmabolela residency with other two big names of this branch of sonic explorations like Francisco Lopez and James Webb got taken by a Soundfield microphone hidden under some bushes in the Savannah while a storm was approaching. What makes the listening actually engaging are the delicate and powerfully evocative musical insertions by Bethan: this inventive woman managed to highlight the mysterious power of nature by some breathtaking melodic lines she mostly made by the violin she played since her childhood, when she started getting involved in Scottish traditional music, classical music, rock violin and free improvisation. The melodic parts got added on the occasion of the conference I mentioned above, and that guided choice managed to turn the sonic canvas of field recordings in two special natural sets into a powerful musical poem. Highly recommended listening experience.

Mirko: LP1

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
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Feb 02 2017
Artist: Mirko
Title: LP1
Format: CD + Download
Label: Room40
This is a confident and rich collection of ambient textures from Cut Copy’s studio engineer and programmer Mirko Vogel. Initially begun as an escapist while-on-tour project, it has evolved into a broad collection of warm synths, reverberant hums, and stretched-out acoustics that certainly doesn’t break new ground but which is moulded with an exemplary quality. The overall tone is mostly mellow, often melancholy, sometimes sinister, sometimes reflective, and reflects Vogel’s further work in film and TV soundtracks.

The album is largely relaxingly bass-light, with exceptions. “One Hour”, for example, has a distant subbass-line that’s like listening to house music being played in a basement while you’re on the second floor, while opening track “Glass” has an acerbic strong bass synth cutting straight through in a way that rather misrepresents the album as a whole.

“As The Morning” has a more acoustic feel that brings real guitar and piano sounds to the fore, while “Bow” as the title suggests achieves similar responses from plaintive strings. The glitchiness of “Agassiz Rift” is more disquieting than it perhaps ought to be, soothed by the casually bleeping arpeggiators of final track “Night City Landing”.

There are nine pieces that are strong in their own right, but at times there is a slight shortage of coherence between the tracks- it feels more like nine standalone pieces or excerpts rather than one flowing fifty-four minute work; though I would also dare to say the same about some of Brian Eno’s most famous and revered ambient albums so it certainly isn’t a deal-breaker. The second half of this album is more consistent than the first, but the quality bar is never dropped. This is what professionally-made ambience sounds like.

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