Thursday, July 9, 2020
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Music Reviews

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Artist: Massimo Discepoli (@)
Title: The Right Place on the Wrong Map
Format: CD
Label: Depth of Field (@)
Rated: *****
This is one of those things you never knew you wanted. I'm a drummer, so it warms my heart when drums are at the forefront because it so rarely happens. But you know one place you don't expect drums at the forefront? Ambient music. Now I'm not talking about some hippies with a djembe playing new age music. I'm talking drum set with plenty of cymbals. But Discepoli delivers.

There is a lot of variety here. The opening track, Once In A Minute, is a peaceful track featuring the sounds of xylophone, drums, and cymbal, with a slow moving synth line. Contrast this with Phase Transition, which is a bit grittier than the previous compositions. Everything is coated in a light layer of distortion until a soothing piano line comes in, which provides an interesting counterpoint to the static. Eventually the static fades away and we are left with a calm piano and cymbal composition. In others, we have a liberal helping of heavy synth drone to go with our drums.

The album as a whole is well composed and demonstrates what can be done when percussion is not merely a means of keeping a beat. I also appreciate that the album was not processed into oblivion. The cymbals actually sound like cymbals (complete with overtones and decay) and the drums are raw and beautiful. If you love percussion, this is one to pick up. If you don't, then you will probably love it after hearing this. This album weighs in at around 57 minutes.



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Artist: Alessandro Barbanera
Title: In the Middle of the Path: Five Sketches
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
This appears to be the first full length release from this Italian artist, and he has set the bar high for his next release. This is some solid work. The album opens with Time Bears Away All Things, which is a beautiful, slow moving synth composition. A Day Into The Planet Machine is a dark wall of ominous sound in the vein of Lycia. Submerged Mirrors keeps the heaviness in full effect with a lot of variety in the composition and some noisy elements peeking through. This is the scene in which the protagonists go into the forbidden forest as the ghosts of those who came before them try to warn them off in the low howling of the winds. Ghosts in Front of My Sleepy Eyes keeps the cinematic feel going, but this is the scene when they all lay dead on the forest floor, as a mournful spectral chorus sings over peaceful synth drone. Ataraxy closes it all off with more warm drone with a bit of a harsh edge to it. Once again, I am thinking of old Lycia. This is really good background music for working. A nice mix of dark and peaceful. Well worth checking out. This album weighs in at around 32 minutes.



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Artist: Bart Hawkins (@)
Title: 21 Pulse Eclipse
Format: CD
Label: Spotted Peccary (@)
Rated: *****
I had not heard of Bart Hawkins, but the label describes it thus: “Using only patch cables, oscillators, and a host of modular sound shaping devices, Hawkins guides the myriad machines with skill and purpose, molding the unrestrained sonic energy into mind-bending journeys of creative expression. Sweeping tones and harmonic drones set moods that range from peaceful and dreamlike to edgy and bleak, while occasional chirps, squelches, and pulsing patterns call to mind transmissions from distant alien worlds or the soundtrack to a sci-fi classic.” Sounds like a good time, so let's get into it.

I had just finished listening to a stack of albums from Spotted Peccary, so I was expecting a similar sound. It is similar in that it is heavy on drone and synth, but this was miles ahead of most of the other discs I reviewed. Let's start with the opening track, Dream Meditation." This is beautiful. Bird sounds mixed with some of the loveliest drone this side of Troum. Layers and layers of sound keep it interesting and engaging. 21 Pulse Eclipse is a 17 minute excursion into sound. The first third is grinding, sawtooth drone, the second third is an exercise in repetition, as patterns shift and evolve, and finally it all dissolves together. The rest of the album continues on this trajectory, playing with sound to see what he can get out of it. The second half of the disc is a lot of experimental synth work that was pleasant listening. It concludes with Dream Meditation Part 2, which is more gorgeous drone with snippets of voice that evade recognition. Overall, this was well worth listening to fans of drone music, and I will be quite interested to hear what Hawkins comes up with next. This album weighs in at around 73 minutes.



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Artist: Chris Russell
Title: Echo
Format: CD
Label: Spotted Peccary (@)
Rated: *****
I was previously unfamiliar with Russell's work, but the label describes the album thus: “Throughout Echo, textured and minimal atmospheres are layered with haunting effects, slowly morphing into melodic passages that develop from near nothingness to substantial and meaningful sonic narratives.” Sounds good; let's dive into it.

Echoes sets the tone with some pounding percussion and heavy drone. Radium keeps this going with piano and noisy ambiance. Clattering metal, sawtooth drone, and xylophone enter the scene to add depth and variety to the composition. Indeed, this formula continues throughout the disc, as heavy drone provides the base of the track while other elements are added throughout to keep it interesting and engaging. There are some that take a different approach, such as Odjek, which is spacey ambient with a lot of synthesized bells, and Abandoned, which opens with field recordings of bird calls. Overall, this is some solid dark ambient drone with a lot of complexity. Well worth checking out. This album weighs in at around 61 minutes.



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Artist: Tom Eaton (@)
Title: How It Happened
Format: CD
Label: Spotted Peccary (@)
Rated: *****
Tom Eaton’s day job is “studio engineer,” working with Will Ackerman, founder of Windham Hill Records, so one would expect that he has a good ear for sound. According to the label, “How It Happened is a love letter of sorts, or more accurately a musical expression about love in which Eaton reflects on his own deeply personal and sentimental experiences, inspired by the various ways in which love has impacted his life.” Sounds good, so let’s get into it.

When writing reviews, I like to think of one word that describes the music, kind of like an extreme elevator pitch. For this album, that word would be “delicate.” The tracks are peaceful and intricately put together. Soothing pads lay the groundwork for lilting synth and piano lines. This would be right at home in a soundtrack full of sentimental memories. If you are trying to evoke a mood, this would be one to reach for. This album weighs in at around 70 minutes.



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