Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Music Reviews

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.

Oliver Leith: Balloon / Slide

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Artist: Oliver Leith
Title: Balloon / Slide
Format: 10"
Label: SN Variations
This short 10” release from London-based composer Oliver Leith was originally commissioned by the London Sinfonietta as an acoustic piece, performed at the Sound Unbound festival in 2019. This arrangement, however, has been reworked for “synthesizers of many tunings”.

Over the course of three parts, each a little under five minutes, it’s an interesting and somewhat pointed exercise in obtuse melodic tuning. Vaguely “ethnic-sounding” synth notes are played with some leisure, but also a fixed sense of discord, or if not discord, then at least something slightly ‘off’. The third part in particular feels like an odd pastiche of the Chinese pentatonic scale somehow.

Bonus piece “Slide” uses a similar source palette of Eastern-sounding notes and plucks. It’s one of Leith’s first purely electronic pieces and grew out of his discovery that on his old software, tweaking parameters with both a mouse and trackpad at the same time would cause jumps and glitches. Apparently a software update has put paid to this ‘feature’, which is certainly a shame, as the additional post-production trickery, and a few extra ambient noises, elevate it a level of interest above “Balloon”.

It’s a curious and compact little release, though it doesn’t bewitch either melodically or sonically.

Sparkle Division: To Feel Embraced

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Artist: Sparkle Division
Title: To Feel Embraced
Format: CD & 12"
Label: Temporary Residence
In the electronica boom of the late ‘90’s, genre-smashing was everywhere, sampling was ubiquitous, and with the boom in popularity of the remix, every corner of labels’ back catalogues were mined. This led to some fascinating, and often quite underrated, remix compilations- “Electro Lounge”, “Motown Remixed”, the “Verve Remixed” series, and of course electro swing which blew up into a genre that’s still going strong (divisively) to this day.

In their debut album as a duo, ambient tape loop experimenter William Basinski and his former-assistant-now-collaborator Preston Wendel have managed to create their own original compositions that feel like one of those remixed compilations. Basinski’s saxophone offers up the centrepiece for the jazz and lounge side, supplemented by extra jazz samples and the occasional guest.

Meanwhile on the electronica side, it’s often a fairly familiar array of light beats, simple acoustic-sounding bass tones and a few appropriate digital sparkles. A few choice glitches and loops offer up referential interference, breaking up the jazz sounds in mostly non-invasive ways on tracks like “To The Stars Major Tom” (which given that the album was recorded in 2016, is presumably a Bowie tribute in its title, though there’s nothing musically to indicate it).

It knits together very nicely, many times. The soft, almost belearic loungey long sax notes of “For Gato” play nicely against a slightly stuttering light rhythm. Odd time signatures nibble at the edges of the spectacularly named “10 Mmmmkayy I'm Goin' Out Now and I Don't Want Any Trouble From You!”. Final piece “No Exit” is also a highlight.

It’s not all fun and games, far from it. It lacks the playfulness and cheekiness of some of the aforementioned remix albums- it seems the novelty has worn off, as it were. Tracks like “Oh, Henry!”, with upright bass and violin from Henry Grimes, is evocative noir, with the more urgent rhythm pulling in interesting ways against the late-night seedy jazz vibe. There are definite playful moments though- Leonora Russo’s bizarre scat singing on “Queenie Got Her Blues” being one.

Longest track “To Feel” is notable as a decidedly ambient piece that adds a substantial hiatus in the middle of the album, and which leads on to the husky title track, with Xeli Grana on sparse vocals.

It’s a really interesting fresh take on “jazztronica” (if I’m allowed to use that word), with the emphasis more on the jazz part. It’s rich in quality and has an authentic feel that blends the retro and the modern, and it’s an album with a lot of character.