Thursday, September 24, 2020
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Artist: Sverre Knut Johansen (@)
Title: Dreams Beyond
Format: 10"
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
'Dreams Beyond,' Norwegian electronic artist/composer Sverre Knut Johansen’s fifth offering on the Spotted Peccary label, is a wondrous adventure through musical visions and sonic dreamscapes. Inspired by the album’s striking and surreal cover artwork (created by Micha Karcz), Johansen reveals a beguiling collection of compositions infused with imagination and beauty. Guiding the listener on a fascinating voyage, the album’s nine tracks travel through quiet spaces and mysterious realms, frequently propelled by dynamic rhythms that build to powerfully dramatic moments. Using his collection of synths, electronic percussion, electric guitars, and sound design software, Johansen infuses the tracks with a creativity that satisfies the ears and sparks the imagination, weaving melody, rhythm, and texture into a captivating musical tapestry that constantly evolves from beginning to end.

And of course, the above paragraph is promo text from the Spotted Peccasy label, but it's certainly not inaccurate. 'Dreams Beyond' consists iof nine track in 72 minutes -"Tatra Mountains" (Intro), "Awakening," "Skylight," "Dreams Beyond," "Dawn," "Tatra Mountains," "Causeway," "Echoes of the Past," and "Human Connection." Since Tatra Mountains figure so prominently on this album, you might like to know where they are. The Tatra Mountains is a mountain range that forms a natural border between Slovakia and Poland. They are the highest mountain range in the Carpathian Mountains. You might think that because of this, the music would be cold, dark and isolationist. Actually, quite the opposite is true. While not brimming with the sounds of civilization, there is much that alludes to nature thriving in this environment. It is sewn through the rhythms and indefinite melodicism Johansen employs throughout this album, breathing life into the realms of imagination. Everything works together to complete a picture, as a painter's palette does with drawing and blending colors to the image she creates.

Opening strong with the Tatra Mountains Intro, the artist lays down broad, grandiose synth strokes that rival Vangelis's cinematic quality and immediately grab your attention. Following that, "Awakening" sets the tone for the journey, with a strong, but gently steady rhythm emerging from the synth effluvia that takes up about the first third of the track. An arpeggiator opens "Skylight" and forms its base as a gentle synth melody rolls over the horizon while other synth sweeps and sequenced bits underpinned by a simple rhythm track play along. Through headphones, this is a real brain massager, bringing both a sense of adventure and bliss to the fore. The title track offers a bit of romantic wistfulness in familiar tones and forms and stronger melodic content than before. "Dawn" is as you might expect, rising languidly from slumber, the voices of birds chirping in your ears, a hive of activity commencing, sunlight and cool water splashed on your face, all of these things together perfectly captured. On the trip to the "Tatra Mountains" Johansen evokes grandeur and awesomeness that do these peaks justice with his expansive synth palette. As you may know, a "Causeway" is a route constructed over water, and the liquid below on this piece is palpable. Although somewhat transitory, it retains its own identity in the motion of crossing, of the journey being perhaps more important than the destination. "Echoes Of The Past" is the most ethereal track on the album, so light and airy you might think you're floating away. It ends on more solid ground though with "Human Connection," a good ending that just might be a couple minutes too long.

I've heard a good number of Sverre Knut Johansen albums, both solo and collaborations with others, and I believe 'Dreams Beyond' may just be his most fully realized work yet.



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Artist: Eternell (@)
Title: Imagined Distances
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence Records (@)
Rated: *****
It seems only a short while ago that I reviewed Eternell's prior release, 'Still Light,' but it was actually back in December 2018. How time flies these days. Be that as it may, 'Imagined Distances' is Eternall's 2nd release on Sound In Silence, and perhaps 11th or 12th album overall. Eternell is the project name of Swedish ambient artist Ludvig Cimbrelius, who also has other music projects under other monikers. While 'Still Light' was 3 very lengthy pieces (nothing under 19 minutes), 'Imagined Distances' is six track of varying length, with only two of them being over 20 minutes. Other than that, the differences between the two albums are not exceptional. They both utilize airy synth pads and gauzy ambient guitar to produce gorgeous, sumptuous ambient soundscapes, and only minor differences seem to separate them. One thing I noticed is that on 'Still Light' the guitar seems to be sewn into the ambient pads while here on 'Imagined Distances' it seems to ride on top of them. Another thing is that the synth pads seem a bit heavier, sort of like the differences between cirrus and stratus clouds. As for the feel of the album, to me this sounds like music for a cloudy day rather than the picture of a spectacular tropical sunset that's on the album's cover. Yet there seems to be some more dramatic moments on this album than the previous one (the track "Singularity" is a case in point) but nothing that really disturbs the generally tranquil atmosphere. Maybe because of the kind of year it's been, and the fact that summer's over, this kind of strikes me as an 'end of summer' album; majestic but wistful, chill but not chilly, entropic but hopeful, languorous but not still. There are subtle devices employed by Cimbrelius that are so subliminal you will hardly even notice they're there, but they will affect your perception of the music on the album in positive ways. 'Imagined Distances' is a dreamy album that will not wear out its welcome even after repeated plays, and that could be the best testimonial for it of all. As per usual with SIS releases, limited edition of 200 CD-r in handmade packaging.



[.que]: And Inside

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Artist: [.que] (@)
Title: And Inside
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence Records (@)
Rated: *****
[.que] is the solo project of multi-instrumentalist Nao Kakimoto, based in Tokyo, Japan. Since 2010 he has released ten albums and many EPs and singles on labels such as Schole, IntroDuCing! and his own Embrace. He has also composed music for many film movies, television commercials, websites and exhibitions. ‘ And Inside’ is his eleventh full length album (2nd release on Sound In Silence) and consists of ten tracks with a total duration of about 35 minutes. Harmonizing the warmth of acoustic instruments with delicate electronic textures, [.que] creates an emotional album full of nostalgic melodies, dark atmospheres and complex rhythms. Mastered by Shigeharu Ieda of One Day Diary, ‘And Inside’ perfectly blends gorgeous twinkly folktronica, joyful dream-pop and elegant post-rock and it’s a must-have album for fans of artists such as The Album Leaf, Message To Bears, Miaou and Epic45.

OKay, the aforementioned paragraph is straight artist/label promo fodder. This is my first experience with [.que], and it has it plusses and minuses. I don't necessarily agree with all the promo text either; ie, I didn't find anything dark on this album at all. I should mention that every track has a one word title - "Return," "Haze," "Sepia," "Nothing," "Divagate," "Film," "Inside," "Said," "Thaw," and "To," lending a certain haiku minimalism. Because at first this album seemed more like Windham Hill New Age Instrumental than true ambient, I was about to dismiss it as Weather Channel background music, but upon subsequent listenings I came to the conclusion it does have a bit more going for it than that. For one thing, tracks are varied and do explore some different avenues. The brief opener, "Return," is a nice solo guitar piece that could have come from any number of artists - Pat Metheny, Steve Hackett, William Ackerman, Michael Hedges, or even Ritchie Blackmore; nothing complex, just something nicely melodic. "Haze," which follows, is a more moving piece with minimal rhythm track, twinkling electronics, sequenced synth, piano, bass, etc., that takes its time to build to become something much greater than its beginnings. "Sepia" is built on a base of ostinado guitar arpeggios, then fills out with a repeated piano melody and a gentle electric guitar lead-line on the refrain. It actually sounds kind of proggy in a smooth-jazz sort of way. (I think it might have been this track that made me think "Weather Channel Music.") "Nothing" is a primarily piano-based piece of sentimental fluff. "Divagate" still carries a sense of melodic sentimentality and nostalgia but is more instrumentally realized. By this time I was hoping for something different, and sort of got it with "Film," a multi-tracked guitar transitional piece that serves to add a different spin to the album. While the (semi) title track "Inside" began as if it was going to head back into sentimental-land, it got busier and more progressive as it went on adding more interesting melodic elements expanding technique, and exploding with expressive ideas that really enhanced the album quite a bit.

The rest of the tracks are a melange of the familiar - "Said" - nicely orchestrated New Age; "Thaw" - amorphous and ambient; "To" - sentimental, romantic piano ditty. If your thing is placid new-agey instrumental music, you will probably enjoy this album very much. It ruffles no feathers, but makes no new inroads. As always with a Sound In Silence release, limited hand-numbered edition (300) CD-r with the usual Polaroid picture on a cardboard envelope packaging.



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Artist: Homogenized Terrestrials (@)
Title: distraction holograms
Format: CD + Download
Label: Terrestrial Records (@)
Rated: *****
'Distraction Holograms' is the second album recently reissued on CD by Phil Klampe's Homogenized Terrestrials, originally released on cassette by Analog Minimum in 2017. This CD includes the digital only bonus track plus a new bonus track for a total of 11 tracks in 14 minutes. Overall I'd have to say 'distraction holograms' is a more jarring and unsettling experience than either 'e tistula no. 2' or 'the defending magician.' The album begins without a beginning on "bribing the queen," sounding like you just wandered in by accident. In fact, the disorientation is palpable, as is the fear that things are no longer what they seem. On nearly every track there is an ominous feeling of foreboding dread. In absence of that, it's like being trapped in a "crazy house" where the scattershot oddities never let up, reality is twisted inside-out, and even a more or less placid ambient piece like "rhone" is disconcerting. A lot of people may well enjoy this disorienting "uneasy listening" experience, and truth be told, it is executed very well with oodles of creativity. It just doesn't rank among my favorite Homogenized Terrestrials albums.



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Artist: Homogenized Terrestrials (@)
Title: e tistula no. 2
Format: CD + Download
Label: Terrestrial Records (@)
Rated: *****
It wasn't too long ago that I reviewed Homogenized Terrestrials' 'The Defending Magician,' and at the time I stated that Phil Klampe (the man behind HT) sent me a couple of other re-releases on CD which were only initially released on cassette at the time in a limited run. 'e tistula no. 2' is one of them, with the other being 'distraction' holograms,’ but we'll get to that in another review. Because few have probably ever heard either of these albums, I think they each could use a review to explore them further. While every Homogenized Terrestrials release is in essence, different, there are similarities you can expect from HT's electro-acoustic environments- some semblance of darkness, and general strangeness. 'e tistula no. 2' was originally released in 2015 on the Aubjects label. It is comprised of 13 tracks with a duration of about 58 minutes total. In no way does it sound like 'The Defending Magician,' but you can see how it came from the same source. On the opener, "Drifting In The Multiverse," you get some amorphous ambience, and also what sounds like Tibetan ceremonial horn, the sound of huge piles of earth (or maybe garbage at a dump site) being moved, a drone of voice-like enlightenment, the sound of something swimming through electric waters with light, wavering ambient drone in the background. Overall, it's kind of placid. "Efa Plenda Zek" begins with what could be the amped-up sounds of insects moving through the earth before a complimentary ambient environment forms. A variety of sounds, some nearly musical, take shape and carry the piece along. "Tigf'er" is like the strangest abstract jazz/world music combo you've ever heard, with a demonic muezzin thrown in for good measure. (Jon Hassell would probably dig it.) A few others worth describing - "Non Destructive Scanning" - rumblings and rituals deep in the subterranean chambers of the prehistoric Maltese death cults. "Eat Your Soup, We Need Healthy Warriors" - Nice basic tribal beat with drones and wordless voices swirling about. "Flimal 5" sounds like a field recording of some forgotten primitive bush people playing on their native instruments, mysterious and intriguing. "Snake Culture" doesn't seem to sound what the title would suggest, except perhaps if you understood parseltongue. There's an element of ambient breathing in it, as well as some minor background clatter, flutey pipes and low drumming, but what it suggests is some kind of primitive ritual (perhaps a snake cult?). The last track, "Light Through Carbons," is a really unsettling piece, largely due to the 'strange metallic object' loops in combination with rising and falling ambient pads. The loop is like a musical rake being fingered randomly but defined enough to create some sort of rhythm when looped. It seems a minor stroke of genius to have combined these sounds.

I still like 'The Defending Magician' album better, but 'e tistula no. 2' is still a bargain for only 8 bucks in a four-panel slipcase with a 16-page (mostly) color booklet that's a lot more colorful than the b&w front cover would lead you to believe. Klampe's graphic/photographic work here is impressively psychedelic.




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