Established Israeli singer-songwriter and film composer Zoe Polanski, with help from producer Aviad Zinemanas, offers up a very lush nine-pack of leisurely dream pop with a shoegazey but generally optimistic feel. Slow instrumental patterns blending synths and acoustics roll quietly along, while Polanski’s reverb-laden vocal wafts like a cloud over the top. “There’s nothing violent about these musical flowers”, as a proper music journalist might say.
Though the term ‘ambient’ is referenced a few times, most pieces have a relatively conventional pop structure, like the folky radio-friendly “Pharoah’s Island”, the more synthpop-leaned “The Willows”, or the bright and almost naive-sounding lullaby-like “Ya’ar Bein Olamot (Forest Between Worlds)”. Even the more ‘out there’ pieces, like the nicely Tangerine Dream-like arpeggios and slow build of interlude piece “Humdolbt Current”, always have a rhythm at their heart, even if it’s a very mild one.
Highlights include the nicely infectious “Closer”- which, thanks to the slightly heavier percussion and faster tempo, is rather upbeat by this album’s standards- and by contrast, the more mesmerising simple patterns of “Slopes”. The purposeful synth chords of “Bubbles” hint at a little more attitude, but it’s a mood that seems to pass quickly.
I do have a sense that I would probably connect to the emotive vocals a little more if I could more confidently make out what the lyrics were. The treatment is so dreamy, so effect-laden and stuff, that sometimes vocally it feels like a string of loose vowels or Enya-style wordless vocalisations. Anyone who wants to really connect emotionally to the story side of this release might need a lyric sheet.
Polanski has been a supporting act for acts like Swans, Tame Impala and Alessandro Cortini, and you can see why that arrangement would work well. Lacking the cut-through melody, distinctive character or hooks that would make her steal the show, Polanski’s music is liable to remain the warm-up act, though musically it might be more appropriate to call it the cool-down act. But what a beautifully measured and refined output it is.
Mystery surrounds the artist known as Chiang Valley Liberators, whose new album - And Then Everything Changed - is an experimental electronic affair encompassing the influences of noise, ambient, drone, and industrial music. There is little information about the person or people behind the project, the intentions of the work, or even about which part of the world it originates from. I listened with an open mind, not knowing what to expect and piecing together my impressions of this album.
The first track - “Lightning Stations” - runs at over 10 minutes and is centred around a compellingly dark drone. As mysterious as the origins of the project itself, this piece seems to immediately drop us on some unknown and bleak planet, or a desolate dystopian future. The tone and intensity of the deep and otherworldly soundscape subtly varies, and samples of various recognisable sounds gradually emerge in a series which includes old-fashioned army fanfares and talking dolls. It is captivating, evocative and filmic.
“Addiction”, the second track, again features a droning backdrop, but we are now in post-industrial territory and there is heavy dub influence in the electronic drums and effects. The leaden, grinding, and purposeful beat is augmented by samples of shouting men. The use of the stereo field is impressive, with futuristic beams of glassy synth noise and dub reverbs bouncing all over the place but never distracting from the drive of the sinister underlying beat. Again, the single-note drone is the only harmonic or melodic feature here, but the texture, dynamics and rhythmic emphasis are constantly moving so as to hold our attention.
“SAND 7” has a more delicate, somewhat ethereal, touch and sounds like a tropical rainstorm on another planet heard from the shelter of a strange cave. The manipulation of noise and samples to create atmosphere is very impressive and highly effective.
“Summer in the Dark” features a steady four-to-the-floor kick drum beat but, again, everything is infused with an alien quality. Aggressive stamping sounds processed with a queasy reverb contrast with delicate ambient synth melodies. Yet again, a deep, enchanting and unrelenting drone flows underneath the whole affair. The calm and tranquil sounds are mixed and processed to feel close, while the tense and abrasive ones sound further away - a technique which makes this piece feel like a safe haven amidst chaos and destruction.
The album closes with “Devoted To You”. At nearly 15 minutes, this piece completes the construction of an album which opens and closes with its two epic-length pieces. As with the first track, percussion and strong rhythm is largely eschewed in favour of a soundscape approach. Again there are some samples of speech (I could make out “they gave me an electric shock and it destroyed my memory” amongst the largely unintelligible words). However, this track avoids the bleakness and tension of previous ones. It features a repeated rising two-chord synth pad pattern which seems to be designed to relax and soothe like a lulling dream. Although this pattern continues for the full duration, the piece maintains interest due to subtle and clever variations. This soft and comforting piece is a somewhat unexpected but very welcome way to close the record.
On a cerebral level, I suspect that some political or historical themes or at least cultural allusions of this album might have passed me by. Nevertheless, the emotional experience is highly engaging and the technical construction is expertly executed. If you enjoy dark and rich synth textures and if you like albums which take your mind somewhere else and need to be appreciated as a whole then you may well greatly appreciate And Then Everything Changed by Chiang Valley Liberators.
And Then Everything Changed is available now for download and streaming and will be released on vinyl on 27th August 2020 on Corrosive Growth Industries.
This LP from Robert Millis is a reflection on the fact that early shellac and wax cylinder records were fleeting novelty items, and decidedly temporary, at odds with the long-term collectivity and adoration that they inspire in some today. The source material is predominantly the surface noise and hiss from old records, but with a large helping of atmospheric and melodic ambient sounds to provide meat as well. Due to the deliberate artifacting, it was mastered twice, once for vinyl and once for digital, with apparently very different results, so I should say I’m commenting on the digital version here, where a lot of the crackling sounds feel almost electronic, like sci-fi locust noises, and not old but rather surprisingly new and clean.
The real composition, if you like, is actually the slow glass-like melodic elements that run underneath the noise, while old shellac recording material as found sound is sometimes more of a cameo than the central focus (final track “Lament (I Always Hesitate)” sums this up in barely one minute). On the first side of the LP is a single 20-minute piece “Samsara” which is extremely spacious, almost barren, but with slow changes in this fragile tone keeping a dynamic going, while the second side contains six shorter pieces with a bit more diversity. Pieces like “Matters Of Court”, are generally a little more traditionally composed, bordering at times on abstract symphonic, with some beautiful string work, while “Further Evidence To The Contrary” is an interesting little piece from the softest edge of glitch work. The fragile tones return with the almost-choral atmosphere of “Only Here For A Short While”, before being interrupted very abruptly by an old spoken-word recording, and for contrast, the almost inaudibly low drone of “Theories Of The Lower Twelve” wanders into sonic space that old vinyl could never get anywhere close to reproducing.
As love letters to old shellac and vinyl go, this one is rather obscure. But as an experimental ambient work that eats up the ambitious challenge of merging vinyl found sounds with some absolutely gorgeous melodic elements, it’s rich and impressive.
Void In, from Blush Response (sometimes “Blush_Response”) is described as a “crafted sound sculpture” of a “deep atmospheric liquid metal world”. It’s hyperbole as usual but it’s a fairly fitting way to sum up this ten-track pack of very dark, gritty electronica and techno. What it maybe doesn’t fully indicate is just how aggressive and noise-driven some of it is. Tracks like “Slamhound” are full-on battle noise, driving broken kick patterns regimenting thick layers of distorted synths, glitches, granular noises, all blended together with heavy doses of reverb.
The relentlessness of some tracks become their main feature, such as with the pervasive and oddly anger-inducing “Loa”, the violent impulses of “Gene Stealer”, or the rapid double-hammering (and weirdly glam-rock-ish in a way) “The Second Aethyr”. Other tracks like “Morphic Polymer” are more abstract, looser experiments of noise and sawtoothed tones skittishly jumping up and down the register.
“Chiralium” is an unusual twist in that it brings a calmer and almost house vibe, without losing its identity in the middle of the album, while in the opposite direction “Waves Of Silver” takes what feels like an artificially generated melody pattern and meanders around with it in an enjoyably weird and experimental way. It’s predictable but welcome that last track “Timefall” edges the energy levels well down into near-ambient, like a kind of audio warm-down.
The palette of sounds being used across the 55 minutes is just a touch on the limited side, but the breadth of ideas and the willingness to change up the mood keeps the listener’s attention nicely. It’s on the right side of inaccessible and well worth bathing your ears in.
When this precious sonic document, a live recording that Pan Sonic - the obscure creature by Ilpo VÄisÄnen and Mika Vainio - made on the occasion of Kvitnu Live Concert on 6th June 2009 in Kiev, Ukraine, was firstly released by Kvitnu in 2014, Pan Sonic didn't exist anymore. Now that Kvitnu decided to push a second edition (300 copies only), many of you sadly know that Mika Vainio doesn't exist in his physical form at least, but the sound that those Finnish guys forged on that live session and nestled in this "Oksastus" keeps its fit to times. When it was firstly released, many reviewers heard some connection to the tickling bomb for world peace related to Euromaidan, the wave of demonstrations that started in Indipendence Square in Kyev in the night of 21st November 2013 to protest against the suspension of the association agreement with European Union. During our days, someone can certainly listen some echoes of the current and forthcoming limitations of civil rights and freedom related to... guess what? That virus. Both situations can somehow fit to the sound or vice versa. 'Oksastus' is the Finnish (and Estonean as well) word for 'grasp' and some details of both stories (Covid and Euromaidan) can conceptually be considered as grasps in the contemporary history. A grasp of an element in a common ground that totally disrupts the pre-existing order (or maybe it's aimed to strengthen it), even if the awesome grasps by those Finnish sound nihilists in the eight tracks (titled after their length, as there's no apparent matching with previously released output or simply melt sounds belonging to soundbanks they adopted for some of them) often sound like the inoculation of artificial cells into a dead matter, but I wouldn't say "Oksastus" is a sort of necrophile game, even if that's what you can feel particularly in the first three tracks. In the eleven minutes and three seconds of the fourth, the sonic entity, which they forged through chaotic dusts of dissonances, electronic regurgitations, convulsive synth lo-hats and atrocious cuts on volume, smells like a sort of mechanical flesh before their creators began to dig a hole to bury it and potentially your eardrums in the second half of the track. The clipped bleeps over super dried thus of the fifth movement (5'42") could have brought the audience of that live session to a higher level, even if those sound masters had fun in let their entities move into what sound like an anechoic room. The heaviest sonic assault comes on the following 17'28", a wonderful track that initially envelops listener's nerves into tighter and tighter electronic knots, hits them by a flurry of percussive muffled punches getting more and more cacophonous and sweltering and finally melts into magmatic sonic pools. Against such a stage, the fury of the last two movements is almost reassuring like the hug of a mother. Grab it, if you missed this little masterpiece.