Thursday, April 15, 2021
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Music Reviews

Flamongo: Sun Dreams

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Artist: Flamongo (@)
Title: Sun Dreams
Format: 12" + Download
Label: HauRuck

Flamongo is the brainchild of Austria’s Alexander Trinkl, who is also a respected and prolific visual artist and graphic designer. Sun Dreams is the third full length Flamongo album release in two years. The music falls into the category of lo-fi ambience / noise, and Trinkl composed, performed, produced and mixed the record himself.

The album begins with "Braunungsstreifen" (“tan lines”), which features an evocative synth wash slowly unfolding over the top of a field recording of what sounds like a dismal rainy day. Slightly unnerving yet also strangely relaxing and calming, the music creates a picture of an idyllic dream set against the reality of everyday drudgery. Towards the end, the music becomes more and more unsettling and discordant, until loud otherworldly crashes replace the calm ambience. “Schilling wird angenommen” (which I think means “coin is accepted”) starts with a continuation of the rain sound, with distant cars now audible as well. Strange glitchy rhythms begin to come to the fore alongside mournful and lugubrious synth textures. The track exudes a strange kind of sadness as it gradually becomes more intense, with sounds of doors opening and closing juxtaposed against sci-fi synthesizers. “Absprung Tunnelwurm” (jump tunnel worm) follows, and again the rain sample continues. A lush pulsating pad texture enters, along with a an unsettling feedback-like whistle sound. Twisted snippets of piano and synth melodies peak out of the wash as more harsh ambient sounds (that sound like speeding trains) muscle their way in. “Satan & des Messers Zweck” (“Satan & the knife’s purpose”) is based around what sounds like a heavily distorted sludge metal guitar sound. Strange synthesizers also begin to writhe around and collide. Samples of what could be a train station announcement, and of church bells and choirs, eventually start to take over. It is eerie and affecting. As this track ends and “Unter der Brucke” (“under the bridge”) begins, the rain sounds carry on, and then a forlorn and nostalgic accordion wades to centre-stage. As the accordion moans through its sorrowful passages, the sound becomes gradually more twisted and distorted as though shifting into a weird nightmare. The rain still pours as album closer “Endzeit Ketzergasse” (“endtimes heretic alley”) begins. Ghostly discordant wailing synth textures swirl around. Listening to this feels like being stuck on a very strange broken down ghost train. Gradually, romantic piano chords begin to emerge from the ethereal textures. The sound has been run through delirious effects so that this sounds like a distorted and queasy reality. As air-raid sirens and disturbing bass synths gradually come through, the feeling becomes gradually more and more intense and menacing. As it all slowly fades out we are left, yet again, with the relentless precipitation, along with a distant sounds of a passing train and far-away thunderclaps.

The album cover (also by Trinkl) is an excellent piece of graphic design, featuring an overcast sky and a rain-soaked street with a rather dilapidated and boarded up old unit adorned with the sign “Sun Dreams” and the “Flamongo” logo. Perhaps this building used to be a sun-tanning salon. Either way, the effect is powerful, and the image perfectly compliments the music.

Sun Dreams is the most accomplished, evocative and cohesive album Flamongo has so far put out. It takes the listener on a journey and it manipulates the emotions in subtle but very effective ways as the sounds and atmospheres unfold to create a dreamlike and at times somewhat dystopian sound world. Each track has its own identity, but the whole work is held together by the use of recurring themes and sounds including the ever-present rain which serves as an anchor to reality even when the nightmare of the music itself is steering wildly out of control. Excellent stuff!

Sun Dreams is released on 1st May 2021 via HauRuck on vinyl and as a digital download.

Nigel Mullaney: The Navigator

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Artist: Nigel Mullaney
Title: The Navigator
Format: LP
Label: Behind The Sky
Rated: * * * * *
There are not so many positive facts related to restrictions and lockdowns. Maybe one of the few is the impressive quantity of music releases, partially related to the excess of time amount available to work on sounds at studios or home studios, particularly for all those musicians and sound engineers, who usually spend a lot of time in forging sounds. Waiting for that moment when all these artefacts can be joined with some real audience... The biography of the skilled sound engineer Nigel Mullaney could match the profiling of this kind of sampler/keyboards worms (a big jump in the evolution of bookworms!). Making computer music since he was 11, the aural material he forged over the years was licensed for use mostly in TV shows and films, broadcasted or available on popular networks and platforms like Netflix, HBO, BBC, Fox, AMC, Marvel, DC. Nigel also spread some breakbeat stuff in the past as well as more explicitly esoteric contributions for a collaborative project (nicely named Best Before) with the English occult author and publisher Ray Sherwin, co-founder together with Peter J.Carroll of the so-called chaos magick, but besides grimoires and danceable beats, he shows a love for the somehow sacred melting of vintage, modular and digital synths in this output, whose "esoteric" inspiration is the mythical voyage of St.Brendan, also known as The Navigator, whose quest for a sort of Eden (named "Terra Repromissionis Sanctorum" in the 120 original manuscripts that circulated mostly in Europe of "Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis" or Tír na nOg, the Irish otherworld), embellished by that magical halo of Irish tales (even if there are some resemblances in his stories with the tales of another famous mariner, Sindbad), supposedly brought him and his crew on landing on American continent centuries before Columbus, or maybe on Iceland or Faer Oer. This bestseller of the Middle Ages cannot be considered a hagiography of St.Brendan, but its fascinating aspect lays in the fact that it looks more like a quest for the divine, that is what that could have propelled the ten stages of the musical journey offered by Nigel. The source of some sounds could be recognized by trained ears of synth lovers. I'm pretty sure that Nigel used a Korg Sigma of his collection which was proudly exhibited at Synthfest 2019, as I perceive the presence of many Korgish sounds, even if that crystalline drop you can hear the lovely "Paradise of Birds" - one of those tracks where get closer to those stylistic coastlines where Polyporus seemed to quote Californian New Age cassettes era - inspired a quarrel between me and a friend who listened to it (it seems coming from an Alesis or a Korg - but not the Sigma, maybe an MS series - to me, from a Behringer Poly to my friend). My favourite moments of this voyage are the ones where Nigel manages to transpose vintage sounds into structures that fit the so-called chill-step format (the favourite genre of many coders, while programming apparently) such as "A Shifting Sea", "Eternal Return" or "The Final Voyage", where he seems to quote Boards of Canada's harvesting (!), but synth lovers will appreciate most of the stages of this sonic journey.

Julian Ross: Fadeaway

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Artist: Julian Ross (@)
Title: Fadeaway
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence Records (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Julian Ross is the ambient/post-rock duo of Ettore Di Roberto, co-founder and still member of Port-Royal, and Andrea Comotto, former bassist in a local blues band, based in Genoa, Italy. Formed in 2016, Julian Ross released their debut album ‘Retrospective’ on Silent Flow netlabel in 2018, representing the meeting of two different visions of music naturally blending one into each other. 'Fadeaway' is this outfit's second album consisting of five tracks for about 35 minutes. It is largely ambient-oriented post-rock infused with electronica, field recordings and sampled speech.

I found that there is a good amount of sonic variety between tracks, but that leads to some unevenness, and I found the sampled speech somewhat distracting (for ambient) but it works as a sound collage. There is still a good amount of subtlety on 'Fadeaway' though, but sometimes you have to "listen between the lines" so to speak, to catch it. The tracks are named sequentially "Till," "Death," "Do," "Us," "Part," giving a bit of an impression of dark ambience, but it isn't all dark. Some of it does sound industrial though, such as the latter part of "Do." This does sound heavier and more experimental that what I've come to expect from a Sound In Silence release, but I find that refreshing. Somewhere I recall this album being touted for fans of Tim Hecker and Labradford, but I find Hecker's work too "in your face" and Labradford's too guitar heavy in comparison with this. 'Fadeaway' has it moments to be sure, and repeated plays could make it more endearing.

As usual with Sound In Silence, this s is a limited edition of 200 handmade and hand-numbered collectible copies. It is packaged in a lovely hand-stamped 127mm x 127mm 250 gsm cream recycled cardboard envelope with the front cover image printed on a polaroid style photo paper and an insert sheet containing tracklist and information printed on a 120 gsm olive green recycled cardboard. It also comes bundled with a download code coupon and a Sound In Silence card.

Hotel Neon: Moments

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Artist: Hotel Neon (@)
Title: Moments
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence Records (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Hotel Neon is an ambient trio, geographically spread between Philadelphia, Baltimore and Virginia Beach, USA. Formed in 2013 as a duo by twin brothers Andrew and Michael Tasselmyer, Hotel Neon expanded into a trio when Steven Kemner joined them in 2015. To date they have released five albums on labels such as Home Normal, Fluid Audio and Archives, a 10” vinyl split with Endless Melancholy on Thesis, and a single on Past Inside The Present. They have also self-released a remix album, two tour cassettes and four singles, two of which collaborating with Slow Meadow and one with Blurstem. Hotel Neon have toured with the likes of Benoît Pioulard, Lowercase Noises, Slow Meadow, Loscil, The Sight Below, Marcus Fischer and Christopher Tignor, filling a variety of performance spaces from galleries to cathedrals with their densely layered walls of sound, while all three members have also been active either as solo artists or in groups and projects such as The Sound Of Rescue, Gray Acres, Solidarity Hymn, Mordançage and Transient Sounds.

'Moments,' Hotel Neon’s sixth full-length album and first for Sound In Silence, consists of seven evocative tracks with a total duration of something more than 36 minutes. Sound In Silence says there is a stronger presence of more orchestral sounds than on their previous albums, but I haven't heard any of those. However, I am liking what I'm hearing on 'Moments.' There music is consistently dense and multi-textured, with a slow swirl and aural nimbus haze. It makes me wonder how three people in different locations could have collaborated on something that sounds so homogenous yet with different aspects that seem like they naturally belong together. This seems to be more in the "grey ambient" sub-genre than anything else. There is some subtle noise, but I wouldn't call the music noisy. There are elements of the orchestral and also shoegaze, but neither term fully apply. Songs are titled by dates ("Nov 2," "Oct 11," "Nov 3," etc.) an abstraction which would only seem to have relevance to Hotel Neon members. I found the music to be deeply restful and subliminally engaging, some of the best ambient I have come across of late. On every play I found myself liking it more and more, glad that nothing in particular stood out as

This album comes in three editions - The Deluxe Limited Edition of 100 handmade, hand-stamped and hand-numbered collectible copies with an exclusive eighth bonus track, packaged in a lovely sewn fabric envelope, which includes a 4 panel insert sheet containing tracklist and information printed on a 250 gsm smoky grey recycled cardboard and the front cover image printed on a polaroid style photo paper. It also comes bundled with a download code coupon and a Sound In Silence card. The standard Limited Edition CDr of 200 handmade and hand-numbered collectible copies is packaged in a lovely hand-stamped 127mm x 127mm 250 gsm smoky grey recycled cardboard envelope with the front cover image printed on a polaroid style photo paper and an insert sheet containing tracklist and information printed on a 120 gsm greyish white recycled cardboard. It also comes bundled with a download code coupon and a Sound In Silence card. And of course, there is also the digital album for those of you who eschew physical copies. Recommended!

Nite Risk: Finale

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Artist: Nite Risk (@)
Title: Finale
Format: 12" + Download
Label: Fellowshipwreck (@)
Rated: * * * * *
There is no faster way to move to the front of my review line here at Chain D.L.K. than sending me vinyl. For me, vinyl trumps all other formats and shows me that you're seriously committed about making and preserving your music because it's expensive to produce, often sounds better (than CD, digital download, cassette, etc.) and will likely not be forgotten in a month or two. That being said, this limited edition white vinyl record is already sold out on the Fellowshipwreck website (just released Feb. 1, 2021), even though I only received it yesterday. Oh well, too bad. Maybe they'll press more copies...someday. On to the band and its music though.

Nite Risk is two dudes from Denton, Texas, just four and a half hours north of that other Texas synth duo, Hyperbubble. These guys are nothing like Hyperbubble though, and that's not a bad thing; we only need one band like Jess & Jeff DeCuir's outfit. Nite Risk's brand of synthosity is more akin to Cold Wave, although they describe themselves as dark synth/electropop. From the one-sheet they sent with the album- "Nite Risk sing of uneasiness and hope. They keep things simple using only synthesizers, a drum machine, and haunting voices from the past. Imagine Depeche Mode walking castle halls by candlelight or Midnight Juggernauts taking their horses from a canter to a gallop and you will get the idea."

So there's an admitted goth element I guess (even though these guys don't really look goth), but I'm still going with Cold Wave. The synth sounds and synthwork (as well as the drum machine) is old, old school, like early '80s; quite simple, thick in most places (nearly sludgy at times) and the synth sounds are uber-familiar. As for the vocals, I am definitely reminded of pre-'Dare' Human League, and some of the acts on the British Some Bizzare label. The recording sounds fairly lo-fi, but it does work for this kind of music. There are 10 tracks of mostly upbeat songs with vocals, and the vocalist has a good voice for this type of material, strong and distinctive. (Think Phil Oakley crossed with Peter Murphy, but a little more of the former than the latter.) I don't know if they under-mixed the drum machine on purpose, but the synths definitely override the rhythm taking a bit away from the album's danceability, lacking some punch. I doubt these guys had EDM in their minds anyway, so maybe that doesn't make much of a difference. While there seem to be no "instant hits" with super-infectious hooks, some of the songs are likely to grow on you over time, such as "Life Dreams," "Deja Vu," and "Sign of the Times." The last couple of tracks are a little draggy but I think the band was going more for atmosphere than anything else on them.

I did notice that the vinyl sounded a bit murkier than the digital album, but that's not surprising. Perhaps Nite Risk might benefit from covering a classic Cold Wave song (such as Kraftwerk's "Showroom Dummies"; Human League's "Only After Dark"; Norma Loy's "Shiny Dream"; B-Movie's "Nowhere Girl"; or Signal Aout 42's "Dead is Calling," to name a few). I think there are a few darkwave/electropop oriented radio stations in Germany that would eat this stuff up and readily add it to their playlists. (I've been listening to a lot of world radio lately; definitely better than U.S. radio.) The album artwork by Pioneers of the New Idea is also rather interesting, although I don't see much connection with the music. I only wish (for your sake) they weren't sold out of the vinyl, but Nite Risk are still worth checking out anyway.