Wednesday, July 15, 2020
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Music Reviews

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Artist: Chiang Valley Liberators
Title: And Then Everything Changed
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Corrosive Growth Industries (@)
Distributor: Corrosive Growth Industries


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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.


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Artist: Francis M.Gri
Title: Boke
Format: CD
Label: KrysaliSound (@)
Rated: *****
Due to the COVID-related block of flights, I had to postpone the listening of some stuff I received in Italy, but as far as I managed to repatriate I unpacked (almost) all of them. One of the release that immediately grabbed my attention has been the one signed by KrysaliSound founder Francis M.Gri - a very good ambient label, whose releases were introduced many times on this space -. Named after a Japanese word meaning blur and mental confusion, "Boke" is the touching translation in music by which the Swiss-born Italy-based artist (also known as the co-founder of the Italian ethereal dark band All My Faith Lost, whose albums reached big labels of this niche like Projekt Records and Cold Meat Industry) articulated the different painful stages of a degenerative pathology burning the memory (I guess Alzheimer syndrome) diagnosed to someone very close to him and that many of us could have lived as powerless frustrated spectators. The electro acoustic microsounds appearing since the beginning of the opening "Loneliness" seem to render impurities in the entrancing blending of distillated synth pads over the repeated sequence of two tones, almost a sonic rendering of gradually petrifying or crystallizing mnemonic particles before the trigger of the emotional rendering by a melancholic guitar-driven melody. In "Lost", the listener can perceive both the beauty of getting lost and the rising sense of tragedy of feeling lost, where parts of piano and guitar are like dissolving flakes, which get agglomerated in a sort of buzzing lullaby at last. The strong knocking in the first moments of the following track "Void", where the melodic drafts leaking out of a synth, a whistling mouth and a guitar, continuously fade out in blurred evanescences, emphasize the progression over some of the worst stages of the disease, whose more tragic peak get sumptuously rendered by the final heartfelt hugs in between minimal ambient and post-rock nuance on "Disappearing", last chapter of an "interruption of memory" that gets aptly described as "a collision between our dreams and what we are".



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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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