Saturday, October 31, 2020
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Music Reviews

Steve Roach: A Soul Ascends

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Artist: Steve Roach (@)
Title: A Soul Ascends
Format: CD
Label: Projekt Records (@)
I assume that most of you as most of the people into ambient music are quite familiar with the name of Steve Roach. I would also include most of the audience following what gets normally labelled as 'new age', that I personally consider more a way to functionalize - sometimes in a not so guessed way - music belonging to different genres, that the well-known social and cultural phenomenon and set of sometimes freakishly syncretic beliefs of new age. Steve could have become a sort of spiritual guru for some of this kind of audience after some of his recent albums - "Spiral Revelation" (2017) and "Molecules of Motion" (2018) - received two consecutive Grammy Award nominations as New Age Album of the Year (a notorious contest won by big names like Pat Metheny, Yusef Lateef, Andreas Vollenweider, Peter Gabriel, Peter Winter or Enya), but this aspect is not necessarily an entrypoint to the heart of music lovers or simply audiophiles. By the way, this recent output, pushed by the awesome imprint by Sam Rosenthal, can satisfy both listeners who love synths and sequencers and those who talks to angels or other alien entities by burning tons of scented oils and coloured waxes. Including three long suites, recorded at the Timehouse studio in April 2020, Steve immediately brings the listener into a lavishly austere suite of flowing synth brasses and sort of whistles over the 32 entrancing minutes of the opening "The Radiant Return", that slowly pour into the central "In Present Space" (16 minutes lasting) after those cosmic whistles temporarily dissolve to come back as isolated beams of light in the darkness, evoked by a slightly different set of reverbs, that seems to support a sort of expanding movement of the above mentioned sonic entities. If audiophiles won't be overwhelmed by trance, sleep or boredom, they will appreciate more "Reflection in Ascension", the third stage of this album (other 26 minutes to be added to the listening or meditative session - depends on your expectations!), where Steve feeds less fluffy dynamics by nice percussive elements (I guess maybe stones and woods). If some mystical experiences will be somehow inspired or triggered by the listening of this album, please share!

Sleepy & Boo: Perception

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Artist: Sleepy & Boo
Title: Perception
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: 3Bridge
The reliable 3Bridge Records have offered up another 4-track EP from the mellower, more progressive side of house- and this one is gentle and laidback even by their standards, with New York-based Sleepy & Boo offering up a nostalgic sound of afternoon beach house.

“Perception” is quite loungey thanks mostly to its key sounds. “Expectation” starts off with thicker kicks and more of a sense of purpose, but before too long gets to a breakdown full of long Balearic vocal pads and a soft wistful two-note melody- but it’s a well crafted blend and a highlight once the beat comes back.

“Impressions” is nicely bright and optimistic and “Notion” has a flatter, more journeying tone, but essentially they’re all built from the same recipe of crisp house beat, layered pads and plinky synth arpeggios, and a structure that makes the chord sequence the star, in the absence of any vocal or other top line that would normally take that accolade.

For circumstances where house music being forgettable isn’t a problem- gentle afternoons, office work or slower workouts, dare I say it even ‘muzak’- this package has got all the quality in the right places, without anything to make it stand out.

Sverre Knut Johansen: Dreams Beyond

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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.

TMUX: State Of Exception

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Artist: TMUX
Title: State Of Exception
Format: CD
Label: False Industries
Yair Etziony normally works in the spheres of ambient and drone, and I’ve positively reviewed at least one of Etziony’s releases here before. As a consequence of lockdown experimentation, this is something different, that certainly warranted a new artist name. This jumps genres quite resolutely and lands in dark electronica and EDM. Rolling long synth basslines run over cut-up breakbeats, drumloops and drum patterns that are part drum-and-bass, but sometimes with the half-speed swagger that grew from dubstep.

“Hand Disinfection” sets a tone that initially feels almost retro- like synthwave but for the darker underbelly of the 90’s d&b world, emphasised by a vocal sample made familiar by Primal Scream. “Lockdown” has a slower, more hand-made programmed break to it that’s a touch lazier, while “Metropolis” has a distinctly brighter and more positive tone with a bright synth arpeggio and upbeat break.

“A Place Where There Is No Darkness” is the most overtly post-dubstep-ish thanks to its crisp groove, and when we reach “The New Normal” there is a certain sense of narrative to the fact that the more unsettled and distorted tones have been replaced by a slightly more positive but still sorrow-infused atmosphere. “Umwelt”, with its ‘everyone wanted a place where they could be alone’ sample, feels less like a finale and more like a creeping acceptance of the new status quo.

Between some of these tracks are more ambient interlude pieces more akin to the previous works I’ve heard from Etziony. “Dead Skin” and “Stay Safe” are soft arhythmic padded pieces with a calm to them that seems quite fitting for the lockdown theme, socially distancing the beat tracks, while “State Of Exception” is a longer broodier rumble with a distinctly sci-fi theme.

As an expression of lockdown mood and experience, it’s not especially diverse or unique in its tone. However it’s a well-presented 50 minute journey through soft but broody electronica that does seem to strike a chord.

Housemeister: 3NDL3SS SVMM3R

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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.