Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Music Reviews

Artist: Housemeister
Format: 12" + Download
Label: AYCB
German techo producer Housemeister’s second album of 2020 alone (bored in lockdown much?) is a fairly short mini-album of upbeat progressive house with a generally positive vibe befitting of the “Endless Summer” (sorry, “3ndl3ss Svmmer”) title, and easing off some of the cheekiness and playfulness of previous releases.

It’s generally fast, often squelchy, with a endearing lean to the analogue, most succinctly represented by tracks like arpeggio-lead “Trip To Heaven”. Some tracks feel more like a 90’s throwback than others, and there’s a lovely electro vibe in “Feel Like” that can’t go unmentioned.

It’s instrumental, with minor exceptions- a few single-word snippets, like “concentrate!” in the slightly tougher-edged “See You!”, but mainly when the unmistakable voice of Miss Kittin adorns “Daydreamer”. It’s a dreamy and mature spoken-word, almost whispered lyric with intelligence and introspection.

Coming out on the All You Can Beat label that Housemeister co-founded, this all feels like home turf, nothing particularly outrageous or experimental, but nevertheless a really nice pack of high-energy positive techno.

Artist: Martin Taxt
Title: First Room
Format: CD
Label: Sofa
The debut solo album from microtonal tuba player and composer Martin Taxt, a duet with Inga Margrethe Aas on viola da gamba and double bass, sits in a middle ground between classical solo and drone. It’s melodic, but many of the notes are so long and so sustained that they start developing their own drone-line textures.

It’s a single 35-minute piece that layers up live and studio recordings, with a reactionary concept at the core where the performers respond to the previously recorded layers. Perhaps the most striking parts are the pauses- while some drone works deliberately avoid stopping for breath, this work has several points where the tone ebbs away into silence or near-silence before gradually returning for another, different wave. Exposing the creaking tones of studio furniture adds extra texture at the top.

Taxt recently finished a masters degree in Music & Architecture, and this work is described as a tribute to the Japanese tearoom and the tatami mat- but if anything it seems to describe slightly larger, emptier rooms, studio spaces, or some kind of geometric cave. It’s a lovely nuanced bit of work that brings character and a sense of storytelling with tones normally used in flatter, more open drones, and it does it all rather nicely.

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 Insideis 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.

Artist: Julia Bondar
Title: Industrial Symphony
Format: 12" + Download
Label: Endorphin.es Production
Inspired by a Hans Zimmer quote about using more synthesizers, Julia Bondar set out to make Industrial Symphony a techno work with an ambitious and dramatic feel. But rather than going for all-out synthetic orchestral tones, melodrama and soundtrack styles, this release stays firmly in techno territory and lets this intention come out in the dark atmospherics, unsettling and biting tones and bass drones, while the drum programming stays steady and provides the scaffolding.

There’s plenty of Zimmer-like tension in tracks like “Fire”, a collaboration with the gothic tones of Nero Bellum, or the stretched-out bass punches and waves of “Overflowing”, and the outro track “Inner” is the one ambient indulgence.
Meanwhile on the album’s softer side some of the tracks have an almost progressive house feel, like that found in “Running With The Wolves” and the nearly-synthpoppy bassline of “Best Intentions”. Techno purists need not worry though, as there is plenty of tough, relentless, purposeful 4/4 to play with in tracks like the darkly unfolding “Power Of Presence”.

It’s a very polished techno album and even though it doesn’t fully reach every one of its rather high aspirations, it’s a slick deep journey that’s worth travelling.


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