Saturday, October 31, 2020

Music Reviews

Dæmon & Endgame: DXE

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Artist: Dæmon & Endgame
Title: DXE
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Infinite Machine
“DXE” brings the moody grime lyrics of Dæmon alongside the equally moody subbass-rich Hyperdub-style slow beats and atmospherics of Endgame. It’s a confident, easy fitting match that feels natural and assured, and it’s surprising to learn it’s a first link-up.

The whole affair is heavily reverb and effect-laden, to the extent that you need to really focus in on the lyrics to even pick them up, otherwise they will roll over you thanks both to the treatment and to the rather droll, casual delivery. As far as I can tell, then, “Let Me Breathe” has a topical and political leaning, as well as the EP’s catchiest hook with its “passive” mantra, and “Caged” is born of deep frustrations, but mainly it does fall back into the over-familiar grime themes of lechery and thug attitude.

“Queue” has shades of dancehall swagger about it, which contrasts against the urgent and somewhat leery “Eye Teeth”.

It’s a consistent dark EP with an exquisite amount of polish, though it does maybe feel a little too washy and toothless in parts.

Koraal: La Casa del Volcán

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Artist: Koraal
Title: La Casa del Volcán
Format: 12" x 2
Label: Nous'klaer Audio
Koraal recorded the nine numbered pieces of “La Casa del Volcán” in order over the course of a three-night stay in Lanzarote, though whether this was a casual tourist visit or whether Koraal has some special association with the island is undisclosed. It is pitched as an hour-long portrait of Lanzarote, and it certainly paints it as an interesting place to visit.

The backbone of the release is gentle, vaguely balearic rhythms, but this isn’t dance music, and to an extent neither is it casual, chillout music either, though it’s closer to the latter. Soft pulsing and gated electronic noises roll gently around, whilst surprisingly warm- and close-sounding, sometimes almost claustrophobic atmospherics fill the middle.

Sometimes there’s a distinct tribalism to the drums- in part 4 for example, a track which also exhibits one of the album’s more distinct lead melodies. At other points it’s dubbier, letting the rhythms be a bit more tripped out, such as in the delay-washed casualness of part 5, the more straightlaced subbass of part 8, or the slightly tenser rubber-metallic bouncing sounds that meander around at the beginning of part 6.

In electronica, icy, cold sounds are quite easy to come by, so it makes a refreshing change to hear a really hot portrait- you can almost feel yourself baking in the sun just listening to it. As an icy northerner myself it’s oddly uncomfortable at times, as though I want to go and find some shelter, but in every other respect it’s a really enjoyable listen, and a really strong debut from the faintly mysterious Koraal.

Gianmaria Aprile: Rain, Ghosts, One Dog and Empty Woodland

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Artist: Gianmaria Aprile
Title: Rain, Ghosts, One Dog and Empty Woodland
Format: 10"
Label: We Insist! Records
After a history of working in groups on drone and psychadelic works, this is Gianmaria Aprile’s first solo album. It’s built from just two instruments, a guitar and a guqin (a Chinese seven-string plucked instrument), but bathed and washed with atmospheric effects. The result is expressive and very personal-sounding, but also polished.

Across eight numbered parts, we get a series of vignettes that adopt several different tones and moods, though not necessarily styles. There’s outright drone, such as that heard in Part I, and more melodic gentle pieces as heard in Part II. More prog-familiar guitar effects are audible in Part III. Part IV feels like a culmination of the first three points, a little smattering of each, but with a somewhat sinister tension underneath- a tension which is writ much larger in the slow, alien backwards reverbs of Part VI.

Although it was recorded in 2017, you would be forgiven for thinking this release had something of a covid-19 lockdown ennui about it, as it does feel staid and static at times. Each piece feels like a compact little experiment, almost born of boredom sometimes, such as with the heavy delay effect work in Part V. The Eastern ‘ethnicity’ (with apologies for the vulgarity of the word) associated with the guqin sometimes peeks through, such as in Part VII, but there’s no sense of any overt adherence to a particular musical culture here.

To be honest, I still don’t know whether the extremely abrupt end to Part VIII is a very bold move, or a technical fault with the promo bundle I was sent!

If this is the story of a walk, as it’s described to be, it’s a mildly uncomfortable walk across unfamiliar territory. It’s an unusual blend of textures, neither wholly dramatic nor wholly chilled, and that’s what makes it quite an intriguing short album.

Anma: Kick 'em All & Kick 'em All Remixes

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Artist: Anma
Title: Kick 'em All & Kick 'em All Remixes
Format: 10" x 2
Label: Syncopathic Recordings
Originally cutting his teeth on drum’n’bass production with the alias ‘Sub’, Anma’s style has evolved over time into deeper and more experimental territory. However he acknowledges that “Kick ‘Em All”, as an EP, has shades of the former styles in the melting pot as well- certainly not in the tempo, but absolutely in the crisp subbass and sharp production that pervades through the 4-track EP.

The title track is a rolling 87bpm behemoth driven by a relentless non-4/4 but steady kick pattern, with tense alarming atmospherics over the top. “60Hz Stomp” is about 10bpm slower, making it feel like a d’n’b track at halfspeed, with a similar kick-centric tone and slightly more complex pattern, but essentially more of the same.

“Witchdrum” takes the balance a little differently, still subbass-rich but concentrating more on the sinister, soundtrack ebbs and flows of minor synth chords, a modern-day witches-chanting-around-the-cauldron theme for the post-rave generation. “Diode Chatter” is slower again and has a slightly more upbeat robotic swagger to it, with shades of grime, and a really bold, 90-degree turn in its later breakdown.

The package is backed by a couple of real d&b remixes that are bundled separately. Fre4knc’s take on the title track is a straight-laced and energetic take that adds in the rest of the percussion around the original kick and revels in the more fun side of the robotic and electronic sounds. Double 0’s take on “Witchdrum” is far darker, twisting the pulsing atmospherics of the original quite a lot and giving a more aggressive form of menace.

There’s an irony, or a deliberate idiosyncrasy to the imagery of the delicate flower used in the artwork. There’s nothing fragile about this release. This is beefy dark kick-heavy electronica with bite- more of a venus fly trap than a rare orchid.

Desensitized: Hemispherica Portalis (Portal Of 1000 Years)

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Artist: Desensitized (@)
Title: Hemispherica Portalis (Portal Of 1000 Years)
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Hemispherica Portalis is the debut collaboration album from the collective imagination of Deborah Martin and Dean De Benedictis. Performing under the moniker “Desensitized”, these two veteran ambient electronic sound explorers have joined forces to craft a thought-provoking work of art that combines ancient and futuristic moods into a captivating world of sound, filling the imagination with illusory images of undiscovered realms. The abstract and alluring music that unfolds across the album’s seven tracks is in many ways just what one would expect when De Benedictis & Martin’s recognizable yet disparate styles are focused into a singular expression.
Martin's long and early association with the Spotted Peccary label and her ability to integrate with similar artists in the soundscape genre position her well as the perfect partner for an album such as Hemispherica Portalis, while her extensive travel throughout Europe, Asia, and the North American continent brings a comprehensive understanding of the diversity of cultures and the historic threads that weave together connecting us all. The varied background and long list of music credentials makes Dean De Benedictis the ideal candidate and partner with Deborah Martin on this outing. Blending the familiar with the unexpected, Hemispherica Portalis not only takes you to some astoundingly exotic regions, but how you end up getting there is also an important part of the journey.

Forget everything you thought you knew about "New Age" music and begin again. While much in that generally maligned genre reeks of clichéd melodic content and easy listening/pseudo-classical bullshit, you'll find none of that here. Yes, there is plenty of melodicism, but nothing you will find yourself involuntarily humming. It weaves in and around the atmospheres, the magical environments your ear produces in your mind's eye. (The album cover by Daniel Pipitone is but a snapshot of a possibility of one of the realms explored here, but an accurate one.) You may even feel as though you've heard much of this before on an initial listening, but the deeper you delve, the more you will realize that you're experiencing something in a way you've never actually heard before. Martin’s signature sounds and digital synth expressions expand and contract as the occasional acoustic flourish or melodic moment briefly bubbles to the surface. Added to that are the nuanced layers of De Benedictis’ remarkable laptop-based sound-sculpting approach and the resulting array of textural, experimental, and at times gritty elements that he expertly swirls into the mix. Together they create a wonderama of a dreamscape that just cannot be easily defined. The tracklist may provide some clues though.

1 Hemispherica Portalis (Portal of 1000 Years) 06:59
2 Concunus Dracus (Dragon of the Heavens) 09:30
3 Formulata Oblivonos (A Complicated Tale) 09:15
4 Ecumenicus Orato (The Umbilical Center) 12:54
5 Saltis Nominus (Floating Seabeds) 11:38
6 Terminus Equitos (Redemption Seeker) 06:09
7 Amphibinatum (Myths and Legends) 09:05

And no, not everything is just drifty/floaty in the world of Desensitized. The rapid motion of "Terminus Equitos" for example, recalls Tangerine Dream's Berlin School sequenced electronics. This is an album to be savored like a fine wine, full of nuance, with great balance, flavor, complexity, and just the right length on the finish.