Saturday, November 28, 2020
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Music Reviews

Kazumichi Komatsu: Emboss Star

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Artist: Kazumichi Komatsu
Title: Emboss Star
Format: 12" + Download
Label: FLAU
Kazumichi Komatsu has been putting out releases fairly prolifically since about 2012, using the Madegg alias until 2016, then his own name, but this is his first full album release under his own name, which must in some way feel like a peak of a personal musical expression. It certainly feels emotive, but more so it feels like peering into a stranger’s sketchbook, at a variety of different styles, some of them perfected, some of them more prototypical.It’s a collection of ten short, mostly laid back and semi-experimental electronica pieces, almost all of them under three minutes long. Everything is fair game sonically, from acoustic and traditional-sounding plucked instruments to crafting sound out of found sound, samples, and noises. These are layered up into arrangements that are mostly grooves, steady, undramatic and short. It’s chill music, but with something wilfully ‘off’ about it, as typified in tracks like “Skip” with its gentle plucked melody and chopped-up, more urgent-sounding spoken words, or the underlying disquiet in “Come In”. Other tracks substitute gentle piano work as the melody.“Umi Ga Kikoeru”, featuring Dove & Le Makeup, is a really strong curiosity, playing a relatively conventional verse-chorus vocal structure against an interestingly back-to-front arrangement, an experiment in how to construct a pop ballad out of all the wrong sounds and still make it work (just about- it’s likely to be a bit divisive to some audiences). The other fully-fledged song on the album, “Followers” with Cristal Bere, is a touch more conventional in arrangement, piano-led and uniquely English-language, but concentrates less on the vocal hook, a stronger one of which could’ve made this a track with strong crossover potential.“Weight Of Smoke” is notable for its increased tension initially, with an opening that feels like an intro to a much more aggressive, almost EDM album, before dropping quite abruptly into a padded sci-fi soundscape. It’s the exception to the rule in regard to my earlier comment about the tracks being undramatic.At only 27 minutes it’s very compact, practically a mini-album, but it packs a fair bit of musical quality into that small package. Certainly one to try out if you like your chilled out musical experiences to be very off-kilter.

Babe, Terror: Horizogon

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Artist: Babe, Terror (@)
Title: Horizogon
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Glue Moon (@)
Even if I'm not really persuaded by the fact that pain (particularly when undeserved) is the element that turns a piece of art into a masterpiece, some interesting artists are resurfacing from the depths of oblivion or the chaotic ocean of web during the surreal pandemic situation we're experiencing. Babe, Terror, the brainchild of Sao Paulo-based soundscaper Claudio Szynkier, could be considered an interesting re-discovery. On "Horizogon", he collected six pretty long suites lasting almost one hour in total, but in reality it's a multimedia as each track got hooked to the six clips belonging to the footage "Os (Brazilian-Portuguese meaning "the poles"), that Claudio made during the first days of the pandemic in Sao Paulo, showing what is related to this assumed medical emergency that anyone can imagine and maybe experienced. In spite of the crucial and somehow inescapable visual part of the project, the music is so evoking that it doesn't really need a visual support to evoke those scenes and its obscure emotional framework. Slo-mo playbacks of bleak choirs, sombre piano choked phrases and dry and austere chord tunes that sound like curling, fading and sometimes trembling on "Scalar Velodromeda", wisely cross breeding sonic clues of that glossy tropicalism of late 70ies and 80ies movies on the following track "Alcalis", whose atmosphere almost evokes a raped illusion of an earthly heaven and a certain sense of disenchantment by a sound that could match an anthem for an imaginary spooky version of The Love Boat, the famous sitcom set on the fictional luxury passenger cruise ship S.S.Pacific Princess, whose crew and passengers turned into zombies or ghosts. The funereal chorus opening the following "Horizogon Squadra" got masterfully melted with a tune that sounds coming from a synth-trumpet-driven 80ies television commercial and could be the perfect ironic and iconic national anthem for a Brasil in Bolsonaro format, as well as the spectral music-driven intensive care by any possible instrumental phrasing in e track "Estuario Transurania", whose circling all-pervading ghostly choir impels the listener to the weird catalepsy of the following "Salina Lumen", whose black procession lead to the final grinding glitches of what could be labelled as doom-jazz of the final "Horizogon Catalase".

Gintas K: Sound & Spaces

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Artist: Gintas K
Title: Sound & Spaces
Format: Tape & Digital Download
Label: Powdered Hearts
There’s something consciously small about the tone of established Lithuanian sound artist Gintas K’s work in “Sound & Spaces”, which was recorded in one take with no overdubbing, using just “a computer”, MIDI keyboard and controller.Obviously “a computer” can mean almost anything nowadays and almost any genre can be created using one, but the sounds created here are largely throwbacks to what people would think of as computer sounds in the 1970’s- lots of dot-matrix-printer-esque whirring, curt bleeps and beeps. This is layered up live predominantly driven by contrasts, such as in the first numbered piece where a steady rhythmic motor sound is pulled against sporadic and impulsive heavy glitching. The fourth part broadens the contrast further, with high watery bubbly notes in opposition to deep, toothy synthetic bass impulses that sometimes sound (and not in a bad way) like a broken hedge trimmer.The contrast between chaos and calm is also present in reasonable abundance- part five is frantic and disorientating, others less so. Piece 6 manages to contain both.It’s a 41-minute audio bath with a certain amount of abrasion, and at times, a feeling of randomness rather than improvisation. But it’s a rich abstraction of sound that enjoyers of a difficult listen will emerge from smiling at the end.

Time Being: An Ocean Of Time

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Artist: Time Being (@)
Title: An Ocean Of Time
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: * * * * *
With their acclaimed ambient/electronic music project Time Being, veteran space-music maestros Phillip Wilkerson and Jourdan Laik have been exploring the expansive sonic realms of atmospheric soundscapes for the better part of a decade. On their third album, ‘An Ocean Of Time,’ the duo venture into over 70 minutes of deep-drifting, time-melting, soul-stirring bliss that hovers delicately at the fringes of darkness and light.Those lines come from Spotted Peccary of course, and it would be easy to just paraphrase a few more lines about the album being "vast and immersive," "fathomless spaces evok[ing] a sense of ageless infinity," etc., etc., but what does any of that even mean, really? Okay, when you use lots of programmed big reverb, things are going to sound...vast, along with complex synth pads and long drones, it can't be helped. And that's exactly what a lot of this is. Couple that with most of the (8) tracks being somewhat lengthy (total of 70 minutes worth of music) and it all seems a bit unending. Throw in a good dollop of treated noise sweeps as well (perhaps to make up for the momentum that isn't there) and you've got...voilà...Space Music! Well, no, not really. You've got drones in a large space.I really don’t believe this to be "space music." I suppose it could be considered spacey, or space-ish, but it sounds pretty terrestrial to me, even though there are no birds or other nature sounds. I'm just not getting any cosmic vibrations at all from anything on 'An Ocean Of Time,' and I've listened to it plenty. What I can say is that the album has what I'd call a New Age sheen- tranquil gentility, and a sprinkling of stardust as the only concession to the heavens. (Okay, "Unfolding Way" has some dissonant chords in it, but that's only four minutes out of the whole.) Not that there's anything wrong with that but this isn’t my idea of space-music. Space is an interesting place, extremely cold, full of wonder but fraught with danger, the unknown and often times, violence. There's little of that here. Most tracks open sounding like the dawn of a new day, full of hope, possibilities, and maybe even some languorous lolling around. There is minimal momentum- no rhythm, pulse, or sequencing, just drifty, floaty drones, with occasional sequences of plucked notes, and a hint of melody. For me, I was looking for something more along the lines of what the label touted this as, and truth be told, I didn't get it. If you're cool with New Age drift, I guess this album is for you.

ELWD: Dandelion

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Artist: ELWD
Title: Dandelion
Format: Tape & Digital Download
Label: Bad Taste
“Dandelion” is introduced as “an abstract beat tape made during lockdown”, and it’s certainly the sound of the lazier Summer lockdown that’s behind us, not the colder Winter lockdown in front of us. Apparently over the Summer ELWD did a lot of work in his garden, and while there’s nothing particularly Gardener’s World about the tunes, tracks like “Poem” are strong throwbacks to the golden days of downtempo and positive trip-hop, perfect for people who still get joy from old Kinobe, Bent and Lemon Jelly albums. Casual acoustic melodies roll over tunes like “Chu” like butter and there’s rich instrumentation, strings and sometimes Groove Armada-ish trumpet work as well.There’s a slightly more determined swagger to tracks like “Greetings”, but it’s no more aggressive than a walk to the shops, and a warm positivity, almost naivety, to tracks like the “Y R Pirates Pirates” (the answer to which is, of course, “because they arrrrrr”). It’s a feel good release, that ends on a high with “Foreverrrr”, defiantly at odds with many people’s moods right now I’d have to say.It’s predominantly instrumental, smattered with a handful of spoken-word samples, though “Hear Me” is a notable interlude thanks to its rather unexpected soul vocal that digs back into ‘80s soul ballad territory and which, frankly, will be too cheesy for some. “Thinking About Mars”’s jazzy vibe manages to toe a much better balance with the arguably clichéd chill out sounds.November seems like an odd time to put out this release, but it could act like a form of aural SAD lamp, providing a window into happier, lazier Summer times for those of us stuck at home in the dark. Try a track out on Spotify (any track will do), and if you like the vibe, then there’s a good chance you’ll connect to the album and it’ll help you see through the Winter.