Thursday, September 24, 2020

Music Reviews

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.

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.


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