Emotiveness in music is a nice thing but without concept, philosophy and underlying imagination seems empty and untrue to the idea of art as an expression of one’s emotions. Olan Mill, duo consisting of Alex Smalley and Svitlana Samoylenko, have a perfect vision of how to deal with emotions, the ways to evolve them in the most suitable way and, above all, what those sentiments stand for. On their debut album ‘Pine’ duo worked with space as a dimensional object to be filled with the sound of echoing strings and piano. Instead of trying for a bigger sound or greater space, the pair’s second full-length ‘Paths’ (Facture) is rather focused on the images and tones linked to journey as a concept of exploring the world around. Where ‘Pine’ was a blank, abstract surface, or an empty dome, ‘Paths’ is an imaginable world that surrounds us. It might be bit idealized and bit personalized, but still thinkable and graspable.
From the sonic perspective, ‘Paths’ demonstrates a beauty of simplicity. The sound is open, vastly spreading across the entire world and waiting for an embrace. It’s so simple: murmurs of piano with highly-set melodies as if touching the skies with your own hand in ‘Springs’ or its contrasting counterparts ‘Bleu Polar' and ‘Rube’ which turns the idea upside down and focuses all its attention down to earth. The micro-life in meadows, brooks and woods is captured in the most calming and universal way as if Olan Mill were displaying the entire life in a single picture. Once it’s a clear, azure sky, then emerald life-full ground.
From the sun through mist Paths leads its way to darkness in ‘On Waiting.’ Dark vibrations with lush and unsettling drones set the tone for Angelo Badalamenti-like synths to fully contain the glory of a night walk through the seemingly sleeping nature. Olan Mill suggest that not everything sleeps and few dangers are still awake, waiting for their prey. Overall, it’s simple touch of low echoes of organ (possibly) against few dissonances in the violins’ melody coming over again.
In one moment the recipe of lushness and repetitiveness is too predictable. It’s the case of ‘Knew Bold’ which is too reminiscent of the opening on ‘Paths’ and imitate the conciseness present on ‘Pine.’ With an austere melody and general atmosphere of mist and fog ‘Knew Bold’ doesn’t add any new dimension to the journey took on ‘Paths’ and serves as a two minutes long bridge between the darkness and an anticipated sunset. First the setting sun is suggested in ‘Rube’ and fully evolved in the most abstract and most shiny ‘On Leaving’ overflowing with brightness and clarity. As a whole ‘Paths’ is a simple journey and articulated via words maybe too banal but the richness of the sound and believable atmospheres demonstrate the mastery of Smalley and Samoylenko in inducing images of a more charming and idealized world.
Even though the name ‘Poems From a Rooftop’ is inspired by politics – fear of direct protest against the authorities in Iran which led the revolutionaries to their own rooftop to raise – the music evolving this concept is much more abstract and calm that a listener would expect after reading such introduction. The saxophone and clarinet of Roger Döring and Oliver Doerell’s piano and guitar calm, mystify, purr but certainly don’t protest. In contrast to their older work (such as Vertigo released six years ago) Dictaphone invited a violinist Alexander Stolze, whose gentle pizzicato and smooth touches of the bow to the string enrich the rather grayish combination of warm acoustics with electronic manipulations. Jazz-soaked compositions flow in their own tempo which invokes a mysterious calm masterfully evolved by this trio.
Probably the most impressive piece of these nine poems is the introductory ‘The Conversation.’ Few seemingly incoherent tones of saxophone open the album, but the fine strumming of Doerell’s guitar is the key there to fully introduce Poems in a shady way which stimulates imagination and suggests various emotions. It’s that moment of stopping doing all around and entirely focusing on the single sound of a simple, but sophisticated melody. The structure is tightly constructed and still, Dictaphone made it pretty open to any evolution with subconscious (and compositionally mature) intention to vary and improvise on it later. Subtle percussion, ephemeral fragments of violin-led melody and saxophone’s accompaniment to the front-lighted guitar make this piece the warmest and in the same time the least approachable out of the entire ‘Poems From a Rooftop.’ Then a nice contrast to their abstract, hazy sound is the extremely material and unique packaging from the creative studio Sonic Pieces. Palpable, physical and misty in the same moment.
The answer to any second-album jitters seemed so easy for Sleigh Bells: stick to their modus operandi and add some new flavour without alienating those who love them. […] Listening to Reign Of Terror it’s hard to determine what exactly went wrong in the process. A few listens in and everything seems to be in its rightful place: Krauss’s sweet vocals still connect with the abrasive, unpolished basslines and crazily hard drums
More noise and harder guitars are fine for a bit of mindless fun, but Sleigh Bells have already demonstrated talent for more.
Sometimes I wonder whether electronics are some kind of an escape for classically trained musicians. If they try to express bit different ideas with a language very different from their usual, good ol’ piano or violin put too many constrains and traditional thinking in harmonies, progresses and melodic lines. Synthesizers, vocoders, processors and all the appliances that give an option to manipulate, modify and mutate come handy in such situation when an instrument is too bounding and too anticipated – especially when something extra-ordinary wants ti go out of soul.
Ólafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm, label mates from German-based label Erased Tapes did something similar to the musings above. They met first in Berlin, later in Reykjavík to jam, to play, to experiment. What they finally evolved is an art of surprise and unexpected nature; Arnalds & Frahm picked analogue synthesizers with few quintessential synth effects and processed them through filters with some manipulations known only to them and a bunch of professionals.
Electronics are usually associated with cold, inhuman emotions, but the result of this collaborative effort is a completely opposite feeling: Stare (out on April 21st, Erased Tapes) is a soothing and highly touching piece of work. The sub-basses are warm, click-clack melodies are purely playful and all of this is poured in a slowly moving, whitely gleaming sonic liquid. It’s hard to say if the beeps in a1 should evoke glockenspiel or the tremours in a2 resemble a low-tuned xylophone; all of this is a nocturnal, yet lightly beaming mass of peacefully flowing hush.
Anja Plaschg’s impressive and aptly titled 2009 debut Lovetune For Vacuum documented an intense desire to escape from her teenage sorrows and fears into a world of her own making, pitched almost schizophrenically against the subconscious knowledge that such a freedom is impossible. As much as we might sometimes want to escape ourselves, if we wish to continue life then our internal nightmares must be overcome – or at the very least accepted. Soap&Skin, her imaginary artistic persona, knew all of that and wrapped these distorted and incredibly intense emotions into delicate piano-led and electronically manipulated ballads highly influenced by the Central European folklore tradition of songwriting.
Despite the wildly experimental nature of Lovetune For Vaccuum, the album charted highly in Plaschg’s native Austria and won the praise of hordes of critics throughout Europe. But just as Plaschg seemed to be within reach of taking her destiny into her own hands, her father died unexpectedly and happiness once again seemed to be fated to elude her. The eight recordings on Narrow capture Plaschg’s state of mind during this period and her subsequent move to Italy. Played and produced entirely on her own, it’s perhaps no surprise that the result is even darker and more oppressive than her debut.
Immediate surroundings seem to have a powerful influence over Hanne Hukkelberg’s state of mind, and certainly her music. Her impressively lovely debut Little Things was recorded in the warmth of her own home, giving the impression of a naturally playful artist secured and impressed by the subtleties of found sounds and everyday things. A rawness crept in around the edges for the follow-up, Rykestrasse 68, which documented a temporary to Berlin, while isolating herself on a remote island in northern Norway brought much braver, colder edges to her songwriting, as documented in the audacious jazz-rock experimentation of 2009′s Blood From A Stone. Hukkelberg’s belief in a concept and willingness to constantly reimagine her approach to her art provides an implicit hint of what not to expect from her fourth album Featherbrain, and that’s something we’ve already heard.
Shapeshifting Detroit techno of 19.418.104.22.168.5.18
Detroit techno is an evergreen genre; maybe it’s not the most popular subculture within electronic underground, but shows impressively stable following and steady delivery of not-much-different music. Lack of evolution, or better, constancy of its sound and aesthetic is one its appeals which help it to stay within its rigidly austere and aggressively beat-driven environment without extinction or getting into mainstream.
And yet, after all these (quite unjust) preconceptions about impossibility of diversity and constancy, the new mix by 19.422.214.171.124.5.18 feels fresh, new and inspiring (stream above via Official.fm). It heavily reminds me of Redshape, another mystic persona, or late stuff by Carl Craig. 19.4126.96.36.199.5.18, project of an unknown individual or a group (who knows?), first amazed techno fans by his murky mix for Resident Advisor and follows his path of dark mystery with an hour-long pastiche for a Dutch label Field Records. It starts from smokey underground and rises into brutal iciness of bare beats followed by more percussion-oriented and rhythm-variable passages. If anyone falls asleep in the beginning of the third quarter, this shapeshifer moves into even more minimalist areas with focus on drum patterns and tiny fragments of melody. It’s pretty characteristic to a project like 19.4188.8.131.52.5.18 to end his mix with mood of a folklore sacrifice to gods, since his perception of techno seems pretty ritualistic, reaching the areas of slower-beats-focused Raime and Shackleton. Hold your breathe and prepare for an hour-long techno blackout.
Michał Jacaszek, Polish composer and musician first crossed his paths with my music library with his third full-length Treny released on Norwegian label Miasmah. That dark affair, half-classical, half-dark ambient amazed me with its indefiniteness and unapproachability. As with every Miasmah signee, Jacaszek explored his own vision of artistic darkness: bit nostalgic, partly foggy and slightly brutal.
In comparison to Treny, his latest album Glimmer released in the end of 2011 begins somehow lighter, almost shinier. Yes, there’s the droning bass in ‘Goldengrove' which creates the shadows embracing the music all around, but the main theme of a charmingly singing harpsichord accompanied by playful banjo and fragile glockenspiel. The high-pitched sound of harpsichord – sharp in its sound and majestic in delivery – as if suggested that the glimmering nature of this album dwells in a veneer-like shallowness. Luckily, the following ‘Dare-Gale’ (streamed above; check out its video too) wins over such presumptions. Jacaszek is patient in uncovering its many layers and evolving its beauty towards a magnificence. First, there’s a humble, subdued combination of basic harmonies which are present for the entire six minutes.
‘Dare-Gale’ cracks, breaks down and rises up again reminding of never-dying Phoenix who will burn and than revive even stronger and more beautiful. Jacaszek demonstrates here his talent for building up a tension and releasing it in an ecstatic, noisy climax. However, it’s not just a demonstration of know-how, but also and foremost an emotional peak with heart bumping and mind blowing.
After its first and probably the most glorious highlight, Jacaszek focuses more on structure and instrumental diversity. Whether it’s a deployment of bassoon and clarinet in moody ‘Pod-Swiatlo’ which sounds like a walk across a mysterious woods just a second before a twilight or it’s a scary omen of a over-processed hellish noise in ‘Evening Strains To Be Time’s Vast’ having a dialogue with folklore-tinged clarinet, Jacaszek goes further, but remains true to the concept of Glimmer. Melancholy of baroque inspired ‘As Each Tucked String Tells’ and definitiveness of closing ‘Windhover’ than not only confirm his love for classical music and his processing into a complex of moods, impressions and, of course, glimmers.
Those two faces of Glimmer – serene impressions of classical instruments having a party in a droning limbo – are its most fascinating asset. Jacaszek composed nine versions of such event and every one of them is different, yet very similar. The selection of a harpsichord is even more striking and moves the overall atmosphere into more gothic, but somehow luminous areas as if visiting an old palace with all its ghosts and shadows waiting to be released. And trust me, you’ll love them.
After a bit disappointing song Yellow Halo comes something sounder and more exciting from Goldfrapp, British duo who started their career more than a decade ago. Melancholy Sky, as the name suggests and artwork hints, is a song of blue, ethereal atmosphere. Here Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory make the path of their career a full circle. Chamber, noir nature of their Felt Mountain is tangibly present in the strings’ section and the saxophone mini-solo in the bridge. The catchy poppiness of Black Cherry and Supernature is hidden in its straight-forward verse-chorus-bridge-structure. The most obvious and probably the most essential is the meandering melody which flows from a calm beginning above the world and beyond the sky. Yet, the warmth and somewhat pastoral harmony owes much to their fourth album, spring-tinged Seventh Tree.
And still, the bottom line lays in Alison’s half-broken, half-reconciled words: “Melancholy sky, You made me blue, Still hanging on, There’s nothing I can do, Not this time.” This absolution has always been part of Goldfrapp's world and Melancholy Sky is its high peak. Feeling the triumphalism in the closing arrangements and Alison's words, it seems that a certain phase of this project gets towards its end. After hearing Melancholy Sky, it’s pretty obvious, that new highs are ahead – whatever genre will they choose next.
Ólafur Arnalds has already became a synonym for lush, melancholy minimalist approach towards modern classical composition during those four years he’s been around. Don’t expect any Arvo Pärt's experimentalism, Gyorgy Ligeti's magnificence or Daníel Bjarnason's maximalist view of a classical music. Arnalds mediates the world of “simple" acoustic music played on classical instruments but composed for broad audience spanning from indie-rockers to techno-lovers. Backing himself with useful electronics and appealing drums just evolves his philosophy of interconnecting these two worlds through sincere simplicity.
His soundtrack to independent film of debuting Sam Levinson, Another Happy Day, first screened at Sundance Film Festival, is another piece to Arnalds’ neo-classical jigsaw. Emotive strings, blue piano, melodramatic mini-climaxes are woven into every minute of this chamber drama. Almost precisely one year after Arnalds put the central motive of Lynn’s Theme online comes another piece. Poland is even more austere, almost shallow. As if that short piano theme you hear in the beginning was looped for entire three minutes and half. But in the entirety of Another Happy Day soundtrack (released on Erased Tapes on February 27th) Poland fulfills the role of “silence before a storm.” It’s silent, but uneasy; it’s almost void, but much more is still to come – and it’s worth to wait for it. Poland, alone, would be quite a grey experience of abstract sadness, but in the context of the album, Arnalds puts a sense into it.
altAddicted: The most impressive alternative albums of 2011
(10) Okkyung Lee - Noisy Love Songs
Just very few people can express more emotions through a single instrument than Okkyung Lee does with her cello. Equipped with few field recordings and loops of her playing, Noisy Love Songs finds her tempting the limits of the cello and testing the openness of her listener. These uneasy provocative, but at the same time elegant compositions are a must for a free-form lover.
If there was a record sounding like a great meadow of blue calm this year, it would be Dunn’s Ways Of Meaning. Dynamic in its inner constancy, sorrowful in the secret harmony of the organ, this album finds the glory in an unlimited time and space.
(8) Sandwell District - Feed Forward
Shadows are the nearest quasi-object expressing the unapproachable character of Feed Forward, a genius collection of four minimal techno LPs. No light, no stroboscope, no diodes of technics are seen in this dark place under the club. Just the subdued beats and conjuring basses sinking even deeper into a dazed mind.
The first collaboration between Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie sounds as if they wanted to pair never-ending silence with the most beautiful single tone of some of their chosen instruments. This record is unashamedly spacious, offering a calm escape from the world.
The inner darkness and fear has two faces: it eats the human from the inside, but also stimulates his most hidden talents and imaginations. This release finds the author in post-darkness phase, reconciling shadowy essence of his own’s soul gloominess.
Almost an hour of improvisation performed by a moving sound of cello and a craziness of prepared piano which often sounds more like a percussion belongs to one of the most daring releases this year. Its qualities lay in the carefree nature of its creators and their simultaneous challenge to come with new sounds with preserving the consistency. Like its name, Pan Tone is an oceanic morphing beauty.
Reykjavík-based duo has made an ambitious, almost unreachable goal: to illustrate the psychotic difficulties of one’s mind in a extreme conditions of an astronaut being squeezed of his secret emotions by an undecipherable alien force. Frost & Bjarnason reached the odd scariness of such situation through spacey passages of silence and dense fragments of dissonance. Not only those contrasts made an icy impression but the uneasy nature and thoughtful structure materialized the fears of Lem & Tarkovsky at their best.
There has hardly been a harder and more difficult album this year than Juv – debut which has been waiting for its release for 13 years. Document of the sufferings and pains of growing up and changing from a creative youth into a self-realized adult is just part of Juv’s success. It’s the desolate murkiness and imaginative hopelessness that wins a broken heart of the listener.
One of the most emphatic works of last few years comes from the hands and mind of Leyland Kirby who imagines a fragmented and half-broken memory of patients suffering from Alzheimer. From frostiness to a touching absolution, this music is a full bliss beyond the grayness of the life.
Destruction of the art through the destruction of the sound as the underlying tool of music itself is a smart concept in an even smarter realization. As long as the synthesizers shiver and the church organ hums, one can’t get rid of those goosebumps that don’t want to go away. An impressive journey with a massive ideological basis.
Out of Sasu Ripatti’s many projects, Vladislav Delay bears the heaviest burden of minimalist darkness. One could argue that Luomo is that micro-house with poppy tendencies, celebrated by dance music-savvy listeners. Uusitalo is then an escape from colourful lights into an industrial murk of minimal techno. Then there is his occasional work as Sistol, his weird-glitch experimenting, and sporadic collaborating with Moritz von Oswald Trio. But what about works under Vladislav Delay, his most prolific and complex moniker?
This Oulu-born artist leaves his sparsest textures and the most daring rhythmic structures for strangely named Vladislav Delay. Whether you take his break-through glitchy Multila or subsequent Anima, consisting of just one single hour-long track, Delay has always been a playground for Ripatti’s most diverse creative thinking. The astonishing imaginativeness and openness to many other genres – from field-recordings-based ambient to IDM to industrial – was most prominently documented on his previous record Tummaa which incredibly emphasized the eclectic nature of his Vladislav Delay direction.
However, Ripatti is totally on a different place on his latest full-length Vantaa (Raster-Noton) named by a town which makes up the Helsinki Metropolitan Area and is on the verge of being autonomous from the capital city, but also being an integral part of it. Delay’s sonic Vantaa similarly oscillates somewhere in-between. Two worlds are forming around Vantaa, but inside of it even more. The moist, humid fogginess suggests a cold, but human touch: something you can really approach, touch and feel with parts of your body. Those sounds, as in watery Lipite, drizzle to the ground and soak into an already damp mass. Delay evolves these perceptions with patience and delicate detail. There’s neither sound which is unnecessary, nor is there a beat which would be meaningless – every note has a mission of intermediating this calm, wet wet world.
On the other side of the spectrum is a cold synthesis of computers, amplifiers, transformers and unnamable electronic toolkits which guarantee that everything sticks together. In Delay’s world these are not just the tools; electronic equipment is an equal member of his minimalist work. A perfect example of such technicality and industrial chill is the title-track Vantaa based on a simple slow-mo beat which thickens and gets more complicated and simultaneously artificial.
The abstract cold of Finnish minimal techno is best documented in subsequent Lauma (the excerpt streams above) built on stones of a challenging, but impressive beats which get denser and even more difficult to swallow. Lauma represents the most oppressive track on Vantaa and Delay gets extra points for the brave and terrific accomplishment of this uneasy task. The attempt of digesting those long eight minutes becomes more terrific with every new motive and becomes a terror as Lauma nears to its end.
Luckily, Vantaa is not about contrasts as simple as white versus black. Take tranquil, repetitive Narri which sounds everything from your uncle repairing his boat to a paddle stirring the surface of cold lake. Many moments on Vantaa are so beautifully smooth thanks to their ambiguity and numerous explanations of not only the source, but more importantly, the result. Vantaa is more a synthesis of various Delay’s musical spectrums than a patchwork of beat-driven ambient. The key element which holds his newest album together is an emotional and sonic integrity and the different tendencies suggest diversity. Strong and demanding piece of dynamic, imaginative minimalism.
Hearing the first notes of For, the sound of Nils Frahm's new composition comes strangely unexpected given his generally accepted image of a contemporary classical pianist. Along with his peers, Ólafur Arnalds, Dustin O'Halloran among others, Frahm prefers form above technical brilliance and swims in a flow of something what can be called post-minimalism. There are neither vivid and brave orchestrations in a vein of Arvo Pärt or John Cage, nor are Arnalds' or O'Halloran's arrangements as daring and provocative as John Adams' or Henryk Górecki's. Surely, the young generation doesn't call the elders to a battle; they evolve a concept of simplicity and emotional clarity – something needed in nowadays overcrowded world.
That’s why For and Peter, two improvisational compositions from limited vinyl Juno (released today on Erased Tapes), come bit unexpectedly. For consists exclusively of dark, organ-tinged analogue synthesizers imprisoned in never-ending harmonic loops and simple melodic loops. Frahm’s mind raises to a more hopeful, blue hills and descends back into sedated comfort of dusk. The reason why For deserves an attention is its liberation of all those clichés about synthetic music; Frahm preserves the composition from falling into cold, inhuman territories. I believe that he reaches this strange warmness either by the patience which is present in every harmonic modulation or in the calm evolution of the motive and in the very selection of the synthesizers which recall the embracing sound of pipe-organ. Finally, he has already demonstrated his affection towards electronics on 7fingers, his collaborative effort with cellist Anne Müller and Juno just follows the suite.
But this time, he’s alone with his synthesizers – no other instruments are put in the mix – and Peter Broderick as his recurring muse. After all, the mystery of the cozy nature of For may dwell in its devotion to a particular person and an underlying emotion: the classic source of beauty in music. You may perceive For (and the entire EP Juno) as a surprising experiment; but it’s rather an expression of a personal feeling through an automatized device controlled by human fingers and living, creative mind.
Before Erik Skodvin, this time performing as Svarte Greiner and Alexander Rishaug pack guitars, computers and their magical electronic equipment into the suitcases and start their European mini-tour, the duo decided to prepare some kind of appetizer for those who can’t wait to hear all of their tricks live. Simply called mini-album SGAR contains four (possibly improvised) compositions bearing all of the four combinations of their names which sound as preludes to something greater. These are fragments of their usual motives: Svarte Greiner’s quintessential oppressive darkness and Alexander Rishaug’s typical lush mistiness.
ARSG, the introduction into their first collaboration, sets a greyish, unreadable tone. A basic rhythmic pattern comes to a scene, accompanied by layered echoes and mild drones in the background. It won’t be a spoiler to say that the composition doesn’t evolve much during those seven and half minutes of mysterious nothingness: Greiner and Rishaug play a game of patience and uneasy monotony. However, even without an action or a pre-set plot, which are both missing, ARSG doesn’t fade into unnecessary flatness. Subdued strokes of percussion and manipulated, unnoticeable drones offer assistance to that indestructible, static rhythm and create a shelter for those scared of the omnipresent, foggy greyness. SGAR is an unexpected, uncanny, beautifully packaged (in a minimal and cryptic design typical to Sonic Pieces) and much welcome promise of something greater to come.
One of the bravest works this year is undisputedly a collaboration between two of Bedroom Community’s wizards (and musicAddicted’s beloved artists): industrial noise-maker Ben Frost and classical composer Daníel Bjarnason. This Reykjavík-based duo took Andrei Tarkovsky’s quintessential surreal classic Solaris and created a new soundtrack for it – for passion and artistic need. For this movie released in 1972 Tarkovsky originally used Johann Sebastian Bach’s organ chorale in several different places during the film (most prominently and fittingly opening the entire movie), accompanied by synthesizer-led arrangements by Eduard Artemyev. As much as the movie is sparse, claustrophobic and symbolic, its musical accompaniment is uneasily minimalist, appropriately cryptic and impenetrable.
Frost & Bjarnason took a heavy burden of exchanging these timeless, minimal, but often repetitive and incoherent pieces with their own score: richer, more dramatic, and most importantly, very different. Somehow avoiding the full challenge of exchanging the entire soundtrack, duo performs their work with cut, fragmented footage of the film which becomes more a pastiche of perceptions and hallucinations than a full story of danger and lunacy.
Reyja, the first composition released of the upcoming Sólaris (out November 7th) works in a similar modus operandi. Its sparse subtleness is as thrilling and uneasy as it is scarily void. These long periods of near silence, or just one note carried on by a bow lightly touching one string are difficult to approach and initiate a flow of images which may connect to the plot of the movie. Sudden burst of dissonance then hints a drama by the corner but similarly to the actions in the film, these are just flashes of delusions and puzzles of lunacy. And as soon as you get used to the graduated tense, it releases and vanishes into another period of nothingness. Reyja is an apparent omen of a darkness soon coming to swallow all around. But the truth is that it has already filled the listener from within.
Italian pianist Stefano Battaglia decided to record his first album as a trio in 2009 when the coincidence of Lugano’s Auditorio Radiotelevisione Svizzera became available for this musical body and ECM's founder Manfred Eicher decided to produce this record. Battaglia, who debuted on ECM with exhaustively complex play between smart jazz and freer classical tendencies on Raccolto later went into more experimental waters documented on his collaboration with Michele Rabbia on Pastorale: valley between brave avant-garde and bounding sacred music. Battaglia and Rabbia magicaly pieced the best bits of these two anti-poles together and set a high standard for subsequent Battaglia’s records.
The River of Anyder flows in different times in different worlds. Battaglia, double-bassist Salvatore Maiore and drummer Roberto Dani escape into ever-green worlds of never-land once described in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, Tolkien’s self-invented Middle-earth or Sir Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis. Luckily, no worries are needed, Battaglia’s trio don’t swim in the waters of new-age. These reference points are more an ideologic framework which defines their approach and the overall atmosphere which ranges from sacred, noble calm to Eastern-spice movement. Both of these directions are complementary, rather than contrasting and set a warm tranquility of olde days so reminiscent of many pseudo-historic and silly-fantasy movies with surprisingly fantastic soundtracks.
One of the strongest pieces on The River of Anyder is free-flowing Ararat Dance, heavily influenced by Rumi, 13th-century Persian poet. Ararat Dance is self-fulfilling: the main motive is as repetitive and mixolydic as you might expect from Middle-east inspired melody. Battaglia’s musings around this seduction are effective: he presents best of his experience with night-bar, but also grand stage jazz, he modulates the rhythms and structures, augments the melody and varies the harmonies to present the ecstatic essence of dance. These are not just movements of fingers or hips; this is emotional catharsis of a mystic in a trance. Battaglia’s free-flowing improvisations are as affecting as Dani’s flamboyant percussion work and Maiore’s bubbling murmur of bass. The River of Anyder might not be the most impressive jazz record of 2011, but its particular fragments, such as this enlightening trip to mystic Middle-East, are satisfyingly blissful.
The concept of minimalism is old as the mankind itself. After every flamboyant, ostentatious and showy style came something simpler, clearer, more ascetic. As much as classicism freed baroque from its dark, heavy, exuberant ornamentation, 20th century minimalism simplified neo-romantic pretentiousness. Those antagonistic passions to simplify then pre-combine, straight-up and then round-off are somehow too interwoven with each other. But the stylistic unity, almost imperative of stylish omnipresence are gone and, fortunately, enable the art to go more ways than just one of inter-changing emotional complex.
Geir Janssen, who has been performing under his Biosphere moniker for more than two decades is making an interesting U-turn back to his minimal techno beginnings. It’d be inaccurate to say he comes back to his minimalist roots since the idea of sparseness and sonic austerity has always been the bottom line of his careen. The evolution dwelled in his desire to explore new areas of electronic music. His perception of techno – slow, monotone and serene pulse of supercooled body (Microgravity) – led to epic warmth of cinematic electro (Substrata), which was later stripped down to the clicks and clacks of highly unapproachable ambient (Autour de la Lune).
That “come-back” to minimal techno was surely catalyzed by the selection of his impeccable concept. Exploring the sonics, architecture and security of Japanese nuclear plants, often built on dangerous places by the sea, under clashes of tectonic plates. Given the list of Japanese disasters, the subsequent album might have been eruptive drone, a kind of frightening setback into the challenging, but simultaneously hazardous desires of mankind. Such aesthetics would be too heavy and predictable; Biosphere is a man of not just concept, but also very personal approach and smart capture. So it’s no surprise he goes deeper; not into the depths of earthquakes or into the statics of these nine selected n-plants. He dives deep into the sonic nature of the processes made in the plants.
The imagination on the level of atoms evokes abstract didactic movies filmed in 70s and 80s for the masses to see the exceptional progress of modern science. What was once an unimaginable sci-fi becomes now every-day routine. The mixture of naïve enthusiasm, informed coolness, dedicated curiosity and scientific detachment are best defined in one of the longest composition Genkai-1. The omnipresent beat below the electronic mass is as sharp as it is soft. As if Biosphere intended to say that the nuclear fusion is so common and ubiquitous that we barely percept its inner beauty. That beauty arises from its dangerousness and abstractness which catalyze fantasy in search of some greater force. Such is the appeal of the entire N-Plants which is imaginative piece open for many explanations and warm with Biosphere’s unchangeable signature. Minimal, sparse, exact.
When the Midnight City was released as the first single from M83’s latest effort Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, I was quite enthusiastic about Anthony Gonzalez’ new-old sound. The quintessential poppiness of the main hook unconsciously invokes happiness mixed with hopefulness, or rather, emotional buoyancy. The leading motive is simple but effective; what is easier to remember and whistle around than a simple and elegant melody with no unnecessary turns and fade-aways with a fluid and natural movement forward? That’s the essence of intelligent pop: smart simplicity and a simultaneous capture of the attention. The chemical and partly uncontrollable reaction of body and brain to a melody is a bottom line of pop music. Lyrics, layers and final sound are all vital, but the crucial role is an effective introduction and unforgettable chorus.
The first listen of the entire album (streamed at Urban Outfitters page) was a disappointing experience: Gonzalez was unable to go on the rapid and breathe-taking spirit of the first three songs, ever-evolving Intro with Zola Jesus on the climax vocals, above mentioned Midnight City and 80s-teens-on-ecstasy anthem Reunion. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming soon slows down and decomposes itself into intermezzos (Where The Boats Go), preludes (Another Wave From You), fragments of ideas, hymns (Soon, My Friend), poppy one-trick-ponies (OK Pal, Claudia Lewis) and so on. Especially the second disc is short of strong songs with the exception of bit saccharine Splendor and rapid Steve McQueen; the decision of releasing twenty-two songs on two discs comes as a slight shock after shorter, but much richer Saturdays=Youth.
However, M83’s sixth album ends as grandiose as it started seventy minutes before. The main motive of emotive piano, live, touching strings and loads of robust percussion is present in the DNA of many of these songs and Gonzalez builds it gradually undercover. The presence and in-built emotional scale is the pivotal essence of Outro. Its start is much anticipated and the evolution is made to the highest effect; the unchangeability of the theme and the structural permutation as well as the gradual evolution reminds me of Philip Glass’ blue-mark masterpiece Glassworks. Outro amazingly sums up the entire Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming and enhances many of its pitfalls. Here Gonzalez nicely demonstrates his cinematic-leaning abilities and an ear for the emotion of tangible, genuine nostalgia. Such a pity he hasn’t evolved these qualities to a more consistent and bold work.
Acoustic chamber music is a tricky affair. It doesn’t have the immediacy or universality of contemporary pop music, nor can it count on the veil of electronics and other trickery to help disguise its fragile guts. The music offers itself formidable and bare, ready to experience close encounters of the intimate kind. Azita Youssefi, a Chicago-based artist with Iranian roots, has been working in this artistically challenging area since her 2003 debut Enantiodromia, which initiated a lengthy process of crystallising her soft approach towards music at the same time as building a solid and reasonable passion for experimentation with form and concept.
In the context of contemporary jazz-leaning singer-songwriters, Youssefi is perhaps most akin to the likes of Norma Winstone and the solo excursions of Julia Hülsmann. Disturbing The Air, her latest full-length, presents the artist at her most minimalist and austere; eschewing the guitar, drums and percussion which featured on her previous releases, here Youssefi sings about loneliness alone, backed only by her grand piano. It’s an exercise that not only proves that she is able to evoke an emotive, jazzy feeling without the help of saxophone, clarinet or double bass, but also her strong devotion towards making art that stands as a statement.
Disturbing The Air is partly about searching, or more specifically ascertaining an identity: Youssefi is a strong, emotional woman, and not afraid to show it. Most of the lyrics here locate her musings in the darkness of the night, conjuring a velvety, shadowy atmosphere with vocals ranging from a silky alto to a piercing (not altogether convincing) soprano. This nocturnal yearning and lamenting dominates the album, which flows never less than smoothly, almost as if the piano was the only acquaintance to whom Youssefi could relay all her sorrows.
Read the rest of the review on Wears The Trousers and listen to this touching song September.
Simon Scott come back into his early shoegazing period through lengthy turn-offs and years of silence. This blog is pretty much obsessed with all forms of his artistic expression: every one of them is fully consistent with his obvious inclination towards uncompromising, omnipresent concept. If it is an idea of a quiet, repetitive music made for falling asleep (brought on Silenne release), or an unexpected desire for singing out his sorrows (Depart, Repeat; first of Sonic Pieces’ seven special vinyls), he always captures the inner blueness, finds an appropriate harmony on one of his guitars or basses and builds a body of lines, echoes, reverberations, layered beauties. Bunny (out on October 7th), his second album for an excellent label Miasmah oriented on dramatic, droning music, follows this suite, but somewhat upside down.
The fragility is hidden under layers of drones, murmurs and resonances of his heavy, whirring sonorous guitar and bass. Sometimes there are fragments of vocals, present on the initial composition Radiances or Angelo Badalamenti-like dark mysterious dissonances in the opening AC Waters and Labano. But the closing song Drilla uses all of these tricks in a different order, with fresh perspective and interesting effect. It builds a pulsing droning mass during a penultimate track Gamma to peak in the first minute of Drilla and then dissolves into lighter, brighter and smoother emotion. It sounds as if Scott decided he had enough darkness and needed a change: dramatic in its initial delivery and appealing in the evolution. The echoing guitar motive is picturesque, almost like from a book of pastoral scenes. That smooth melodic line sounds more than familiar: half of it must have been inspired by The Little Drummer Boy. At least unconsciously. Its peak is a simultaneous defragmentation of the entire surreal scenery and not only Drilla, but also the entire album Bunny falls back into confusing mist which is intensified and abruptly cut by a quick fast-forward effect. Scott decomposes Drilla into its atoms and as he reaches the smallest particle, he escapes into silence.
Not only Bunny sounds cinematic and uncompromising, but it’s also a strange expression of escapism and in the same moment contrasting inner imprisonment. Most of the songs are murky and the only lightness is sarcastic humour reminiscent of Lynch’s or Trier’s movies. However, Scott’s come-back into melodic instrumental shoegaze is welcome and successful. Never mind the pace or regularity of his releases, the message is essential. And the delivery, not only the concept surely belong Scott’s artistic strengths. (Hear Bunny in its entirety on Miasmah’sSoundCloud.)
Tim Hecker unveils new fragments of mystery behind his monolithic and massive album Ravedeath, 1972 which is surely one of the most staggering albums this year. (Hear its spectacular opening song The Piano Drop here.) The abrasive sound of synthesizers, droning basses and broken sketches of piano melodies not only materialized his addiction to defragmentation and creative destruction, but also uncovered the soul of music as if you looked into an open scar and saw through the blood and meat your own ivory-white bone. Hecker’s vast drones and surges of noise cut directly into that very bone and split it into two opposites: beauty of the art and morbid ugliness of its form creating an attractive beast. Now Hecker undresses those frightening and oppressive motives out of their noisy draperies on a collection of nine sketches released as Dropped Pianos (out onKrankyon October 10th).
Sketch 5 is the first appetizer and fulfills all the expectations on a noncontinuous nature of sketches which serve as a improvised base for more coherent and fluent expressions. The piano flows through dark areas of few dissonances and several murky shadows. Entirely played in minor key, Sketch 5 nicely captures the grim atmosphere of Hecker’s work, but still, without innumerable electronic manipulations and multi-layered drones sounds somehow more natural and more human. It’s probably caused by the sound of single piano which is unconsciously associated with such emotions and Hecker’s style just underlines these movements. Dropped Pianos is going to be a nice counterpart to a greater story of destruction and undressing of a music. Well done.
It’s impressive how much inner tense and gradation can be packed into one single composition which was performed with no plan, no score, no training. It may be a document of great talent; or a statement of unceasing urge within creative mind; or a symbol of inner darkness and uneasiness. Black 6, the outstanding peak of a collaboration between pianist Volker Bertelmann, better known as Hauschka and Icelandic cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir, is pretty much everything of these speculations and even much more. The thrill present in the first touch of bow on the string suggests an evolution of darkness; the subsequent layered drill of the same bow just confirms the initial suspicion. Hildur builds one motive over another and creates a thick, air-tight mass of sound which leaves a space just for a repetitive insisting piano accords mixed with a hits by a percussion sounding prepared piano. This mass rises for six minutes full of variations, tiny twists and repeated appeals for mercy. Black 6 doesn’t collapse to uncover its inner beauty; Guðnadóttir and Hauschka release the tense patiently to unveil that talent and chemistry are not enough. Spontaneity and emotional devotion to music win. And so do we – their audience.
Hear another piece, #294 from their live album Pan Tone which is out on magnificent Sonic Pieces.
Some voices sound as though they are predestined for a particular style of music, the colour, scale and idiosyncrasies of their timbre associating with something that has come before and unconsciously prompting categorisation. With the best of them, though, then comes something strange, unheard and new that nullifies this automatic process. Take PJ Harvey, whose ability to shift from guttural rawness to piercing highs has given her freedom to adapt to any form that takes her fancy, or Karin Dreijer Andersson, whose high-pitched, grotesque wail combined with her freeform phrasing gives her dark art a thrilling, intentional mystery. Nika Roza Danilova, better known as Zola Jesus, also has one of those voices. If there is something like a destiny, Danilova’s velvety alto was intended for dark, highly emotive ideas that bear a piece of tragedy, a quart of resistance and, crucially, a shred of wonderful decadence. But there’s also a strong impulsiveness and truth to be found in the melodrama of her songs, and it’s this which makes her music somehow more honest and easier to identify with.
Danilova’s voice is also the one thing that inextricably connects the quite different styles of her three albums to date: a thread pulled taut thorough the gritty lo-fi moods of The Spoils to the more polished goth-electro sheen of Stridulum II to the transparent electro-pop of Conatus. And just as her musical focus has moved from the untreated sound of uneasy home recordings to professional and thoughtful production, so has Danilova’s vocal expression grown and matured. With the Stridulum project having found an interesting niche within an alternative pop scene always hungry for a balance between stylised art and raw spontaneity, Danilova compounded her appeal in interviews with nods to philosophical doctrines, other intellectual works and low-budget European art-flicks. Conatus goes one step further, incorporating philosophy into its very name, and the album as a whole can be interpreted in terms of endeavour, a natural human inclination towards not only living but to growing and thriving.
It’s through this theme that Danilova manifests her latest metamorphosis, for the nihilism of The Spoils and the existential doubt of Stridulum are all but gone; logically, Danilova’s sound has inched further along the spectrum from dark to light. Exceptions to this rule are just two: the opening, minute-long ‘Swords’ and lead single ‘Vessel’. Listening to ‘Swords’ is like sweeping through a gallery of sketches of potential songs pinned to the walls with grim echoes of Danilova’s voice and pre-programmed percussion, while ‘Vessel’ deposits itself somewhere between the smooth, synthetic elegance of Depeche Mode in their prime and the raw black energy of re-invented Portishead. ‘Vessel’ is also the only piece on Conatus where the inner darkness reaches an intense and satisfactory peak in the form of a beat-led breakdown. From a musical perspective, the rest is much more tender and smoother.
Read the whole review at Wears The Trousers and listen to Zola Jesus’ actual single Seekir.
In many cases the greatest power dwells in avoidance or a complete absence of force, urge or any form of power. In the case of A Winged Victory For The Sullen getting rid of any pressure and force resulted in a natural and fully effortless sound combing emotive and simple melodies played by classical instruments with strangely tranquil and harmonic drones transformed into embracing warmth.
Yet, strangely named We Played Some Open Chords And Rejoiced, For The Earth Had Circled The Sun Yet Another Year is possibly the least representative song of the whole album and still, it’s the most beautiful. As the opening song, it bears the hard mission of setting the tone, preparing a listener for those forty-four forthcoming minutes and offer few hints – bit secret, bit excited – about the main aim of the album. We Played Some Open Chords posses all of these qualities and adds a bit more. It has the most evolved melody line in comparison to the following six compositions. And how delicate and simply lovable it is! It’s reminiscent of Dustin O’Halloran’s more mature compositions on Vorleben and Lumière and still, it’s somehow nicer and smoother in the welcoming and soothing way, not sentimental.
The harmonization here is also quite sophisticated as the piano shifts from major into minor and back to emphasize and inter-connect two faces of this album: that romanticizing, diffused and simple one (as heard on the epic A Symphony Pathetique and Minuet For A Cheap Piano) and the sounder, more complex day-dreaming (Requiem For The Static King Part One, All Farewells Are Sudden, Steep Hills Of Vicodin Tears). On We Played Some Open Chords the duo takes these two compatible contrasts and plays with them into enjoyable effect with external sounds of guitar and tender drones transformed into touching ambiance by Adam B. Wiltzie and an assistance from Icelandic cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir. A Winged Victory For The Sullen (out on Erased Tapes) belongs to this year’s essential ambient & classical albums. The reason is that the atmosphere is just the beginning with a beautiful musical story inside.
Sigur Rós have proven many times that their music is the ideal soundtrack for anything pure, fragile, emotive, dreamy or any positive adjective that is associated with their adventurous, expansive music. On 2007’s Hvarf/Heim the quartet focused on their homeland Iceland and wandering through it with the primary aim of bringing joy and beauty of art to all the human beings on this cold island. The movie is as eclectic as their colourful music; the main stars are not only members of Sigur Rós, but it’s every person that appeared on their concert and expressed any kind of emotion. From smile to tears to surprised amazement asking “who are they?”
Four years later in the middle of their silent period comes Inni (out November 7th), which is in deep contrast with the debut movie. As the name suggests, Inni is directed inwards, into the minds and hearts of the band. Looking inside results in numerous elements which make the movie much different from the first one: black and white chamber atmosphere strengthened by omnipresent close-ups and intimate slow-motion footage. These four post-everything stars are seen deeply concentrated on their hobby, passion and job: transforming emotions into tones, melodies and complex music.
The live version of Festival is a perfect example. It starts out of silence with just a single bow on the string and Jónsi’s falsetto. The slowed down nature makes Festival even more absorbing; every note comes with a hesitation to deliver it perfect in the most right moment. While the first part portrays the singer somewhat afterwards – expressing his mourning happiness to the emptiness and silence – the second part comes all of a sudden with a full composition of instruments and their perceptions. Now it’s not about the singer’s loneliness; he’s accompanied by his band-mates in a mission to reach a perfection. Catharsis. Simplicity in chaos. Inni is not a look forward for the new future of their music. It’s a stare inwards to see another version of yourself. An epic stare. (Be sure to check also this impressive video for Festival)
What makes a horror movie so compelling, almost fatally attractive? Liters of blood, loads of scream and tons of guts? Probably not. The unpredictability and slow gradations are the key elements, but what is the essence of horror? Waiting to see the face of devil who started up this game and plans to terminate it definitely? The uncertainty and guilty pleasure of freeing up the boundaries of fantasy and letting it come with a perversely and dangerously own and intimate form of the evil seems to be the right answer for me.
However, it’s the music what forces many to stay and torment themselves with fear and uncertainty what kind of beast hides in the shadows of human mind. It’s the droning, slow and patient mumble underneath the entire process of creating fear in the recipient’s mind what guarantees half of the success. Low frequencies combined with unexpected eruptions of dissonances excite the right physical reaction. Gregorian Chores or Gothic synthesizers are just the tools; the bottom line dwells in the long building of a surprise which comes unexpectedly abrupt.
Bobby Krlic, the artist behind The Haxan Cloak uses some of these techniques to his own success, but adds a lot more on these nightmarish foundations. Like Ben Frost he counts on dark deep drones and stark twists in the mood while his wide palette of contemporary classical elements combined with more decadent characteristics of the theatrical work most notably evolved by Belgian one-man band Kreng. However, these comparisons say just the technical part of the story. Oppression of a lunatic cello and resolute percussion work would not reach the horror state of art without Krlic’s deep understanding of how to gradate, then set back and afterwards hit the listener with a full force. This trick is just a one of few other that make his eponymous debut so absorbing.
This temptingly scary affair is being gradually built through more than thirty minutes of classical instruments in symbiotic relationship with heavy electronic manipulations which triumphantly peak in the ominous finale of The Growing. It starts abruptly in the middle of the most terrifying thunder with an uneasy transition into more structured adventure where the underlying processed beats remind of Amon Tobin’s cinematic El Wraith. Krlic is in no hurry to introduce the resolution to the mystery called The Haxan Cloak. Like the opening maelstrom, subsequent vibrating drone and a silence-before-storm-transition, everything takes its time to the greatest effect of nerve-wrenching agony. The Growing does not bring any release, it’s a collapse into depths of inhuman oppression. Jaw-dropping vision of hell.
One of a possible artistic mottoes of Elizabeth Walling, better known as Gazelle Twin may be that the more theatrical you are, the greater art you create. Dramatic gestures, masked persons on the stage, huge layered cinematic motives. Everything set in the direction of supernatural and unusual, as if this world was not enough. Inspired by faux-mysterious shows of Swedish electro-pop artist Fever Ray and influenced by visual art of Max Ernst Walling prepared a release party which fulfilled all the expectations on her dark and purposedly-cryptic artistic alter-ego.
It would be unfair to analyze just her persona – veiled, masked and hidden under layers of a dark bizzare draperies with most of her face covered by a sepulcher veil with just her sharp mouth and lines of two falling black tears visible. Just like the live debut of iamamiwhoami in Goteborg, Gazelle Twin kicked off the show back to the audience which was already drowning in the huge, anthemic introduction of The Entire City (read my review of this album). Since her debut album is rich on strong, standalone songs she had an opportunity to perform majority of this material while not falling into boring transposition of the album versions into the live ones.
One of the most seductive moments came just in the first half of the show with the arrival of a ballad Changelings (streamed above). Gazelle Twin performed this without vocoder-manipulated vocals and let her strong, distinct voice naked in front of those two microphones. Placed in between her industrial, beat-heavy tracks Changelings brought an emotional and sonic relief from the basses and big choruses. Gazelle rather soothed our ears like a siren encouraging us to believe her, come closer and die under her spell. And it happened; she went on with her synthesized drama full of operatic vibratos, two sets of drums and often overwhelming drones.
The only disappointment or more specifically unfulfilled aspect of this gig was the fact that all the tense built during the show and gradually growing thrill didn’t peak. When the audience expected something as huge and breathtaking as the beginning of the concert or industrial anthem Men Like Gods, Walling killed the seduction with a beautiful, but quiet and dizzy version of Joy Division's The Eternal. Her chamber and ascetic version of this dark intimate call for sanity played in high contrast to the show which was more dystopian, futuristic and outward. All in all, Gazelle Twin's release show at Islington Metal Works in London was a promising act of high-concept artist who may have many more aces up her sleeve.
Throughout the first ten years of their career, so neatly summarised on their best-of collection earlier this year, Ladytron never quite achieved either the abstract atmosphere or the psychedelic art-pop essence of the Roxy Music song that gave them their name. Early albums 604 and Light & Magic were long on perfect singles but short on convincing evolution, while the great leaps forward of both Witching Hour and Velocifero came closer to true elegance (in the mathematical sense) but lacked the diverse experimental ingenuity of their muses. Evidently, the missing piece of the puzzle didn’t lie in catchiness, echoing guitars or stark synth lines; the challenge for Ladytron in creating the perfect pop sound they’d always strived for was to develop an assurance of their own capabilities while rejecting any and all self-awareness. Remarkably, they’ve very nearly succeeded with the refreshingly spacious Gravity The Seducer.
While the accompanying visuals are predominantly linked with wide open, desert terrain, instead of the hot, inert air of the Sahara or a cruelly whipping sandstorm the songs feel wonderfully balmy with warm and cool streams mixing together to create an almost paradoxically vivid haze. The dream-pop first apparent in the slower pieces of Witching Hour (CMYC, All The Way) is deepened and softened in the two leading singles. White Elephant, a song that conveys both affection and unexpected kindness with a touch of triumphalism, occupies a new space within Ladytron’s music, a breathy, warm corner cosseted by simplistic but effective strings and one of their most candy-coated melodies to date. Ambulances takes an even gentler approach, easing up the tempo and melting into a dreamscape commanded by the sweet voice of Helen Marnie, but Ladytron wisely refrain from going into unnecessarily misty fields. Yes, the songs here are more atmospheric – an adjective exemplified best by the vaporous Altitude Blues, where Mira Aroyo expresses her somewhat incoherent impressions over a synthetic landscape reminiscent of Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra – but their abstractions are just one element of the dreamier aesthetics at play.
Read the rest of my review on Wears The Trousers while listening to amazing song White Gold which would be a perfect fifth single.
Where is the border between simplicity and complexity of music? When can we speak of schmaltzy romanticism and when is the music sincerely emotional? What are the aspects of smart and sophisticated minimalism and when does it sink into dull nothingness connected by notes like dots lying besides each other to make an ordinary line? And finally, can we speak of contemporary classical composers as of late-minimalists or are do some artists follow the silent calm of Satie just to simplify their job?
Unsurprisingly, answers to these abstract and maybe bit unnecessary questions depend on the particular music that is subject of such examination. As the contemporary scene of pianists and other solo-instrument artists saturates and most of their music even simplifies, two things help to orientate. Reasons for their usage of minimalism – every piece of music should have some reason and goal; aimless music is suspicious of needlessness – which lightens the purpose for the selected aesthetics. Second examination is the artist’s background and insight into the classical music in its complexity.
The purpose of this introduction is to set reasons why Nils Frahm's new album FELT should not get lost between tons of simple, mediocre piano work that overflows from numerous indie-classical-blogs. First listen to his new composition aptly named Snippet doesn’t show much – easy-going melody accompanied by repetitive left-hand murmur with hisses and rushes of keys hitting the strings of piano. Frequent shifts from major to minor consonances and evolution of the main melody freshen the silent tranquility. The silence itself is the key essence of Snippet emphasizing the fragile, immaculate nature and, at the same time, underlining the ease and simplicity as a concept of the entire album. Even though this is far from being a ground-breaking idea, Snippet transforms it into its greatest asset.
As much as the murkiness is permeated into the black & white picture of a dying, desolate tree in a dark mist, the same amount of darkness, if not even greater, is a typical signature of a Swedish artist Dag Rosenqvist who performs as Jasper TX. Even without hearing any of his compositions over the last six years, names of his previous albums speak volumes: A Darkness, Black Sleep (his outstanding debut on influential imprint Miasmah), A Voice From Dead Radio. His new album follows this suite of dismal atmosphere; The Black Sun Transmissions, released again on Fang Bomb, builds not only on his typical drones, but as the name suggests, features fragments of murmuring broadcasts, chops of Morse codes and ear-tearing signals.
Here, Rosenqvist mixes the technical metaphors of synchronous and asynchronous types of communication into the musical mass. The purpose of his new works seems to be to underline the inability of straightforward and meaningful communication between humans. Morse codes serve just as symbolic mean for giving an essential, mostly S.O.S information which is a question of life or death. On the other hand are radio broadcasts which are just given; the listener can’t change the message of the channel he tuned up. He can stay and listen or turn it off, but no compromise is possible. There’s no other option or alternative; the decisions are extreme and definite. What is even more striking, there are no hints of voices or other human expressions; there are just compressed hisses and transformed whirrs.
Rosenqvist places this fatality into a glum environment of guitar and bass drones which present some kind of a misgiving. Weight of Days, the most approachable composition on The Black Sun Transmissions grows out of the opening piece Signals Through Woods & Dust. The first song ends in an unstable, uneasy calm which catalyzes nightmarish fear of what comes next. Weight of Days somewhat releases this tension but the underlying omen of deep murmur stays unchanged. Aaron Martin, musicAddicted’s favourite experimental cellist, takes care of the melodic part which is a repetitive set of melancholic harmonies appearing and dissolving in the mist over again.
His cello’s wails may evoke Gothic psalm, but it’s something more: the repetition expresses the impossibility to change the fate, to evolve into more perfect and solid being. As if Aaron and Dag wanted to portray a world where things don’t grow and change – they just exist and than die. Such tragic and disturbing idea is expresses through delicate and serene touches of the bow on the strings with dark echoes of guitar and low frequencies behind. As the cello vanishes into oblivion, oddly soothing glockenspiel appears along with few hushed tones of trombone, played by Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø. Weight of Days is a fascinating omen: deep and mournful.
Simon Scott makes another artistic shift on his upcoming album. His name is most often associated with shoegaze gods Slowdive with whom he recorded two defining albums - Just For a Day and Souvlaki – and afterwards left. Then came more than a decade of silence which was followed by abstract ambient-drone solo debut Navigare (Miasmah) which documented his departure from former drummer job and found Scott painting hallucinogenic blots with his reverberated guitar and bass. Some short releases came later: more ambient EP Nivali;, lullaby-oriented Silenne composed for falling asleep; and unexpected limited vinyl Depart, Reveal where he unveiled his singer-songwriter talent.
Darkness and shades have always been an inherent part of his music as well as never-ending need for re-invention. Now we find Scott embracing Miasmah again and following the suit of obscurely existentialist artists such as Kreng or Kaboom Karavan. Black-humour seems to be the most prominent influence for the concept of his second full-length named Bunny (out on October 7th). See the cover, hear the doom-jazz flavoured groove, experience the layers of massive dizziness. That’s what Radiances, the first song from Bunny, sounds like. Even though this looks like what he did on Navigare, what you hear is quite different. Heavy drums with a shoegazing guitar and drowned vocals bring to mind early 90s music while the epic, relentless nature of Radiances pushes the song even further. Where My Bloody Valentine or Ride would switch to another song, Simon Scott is evolving his echoing guitar agony into extreme, untouchable obscurity. Radiances is a heavy piece of music which won’t let you sleep; it’ll haunt you like the eerie cloudy bunny. But still, it’s just in your mind.
Announcement of Feist's new album Metals was preceded by few semi-cryptic videos and a play with colouring the b&w cover art with the right shades of white, grey, brown and black. How Come You Never Go There, the first full song out of Leslie Feist’s fourth full-length posses much more tones and variances of the same colour – calm and amusing ease. The relative simplicity of instrumentation reminds of her break-through Let It Die and the emphasis on the electric guitar brings to mind her contributions to Broken Social Scene's records (most prominently her beautiful Lover’s Spit). Her vocals are even more relaxed than ever; Feist is obviously enjoying singing. It seems that she’s even closer to the jolliness of soul and relaxed phrasing of jazz. Still, Feist posses her own charm of casualty which is everything but not easy and ordinary. Despite the apparent calm, How Come You Never Go There is a pure entertainment with word-plays, most noticeably the word with homonyms and rhymes. However, the first song of Metals seems to be a grower: first few listens uncover just the comfort zones of Feist which we already know; the excitement of her new material is mostly caused by the fact it’s her. On the other side, can’t this be enough or maybe everything demanding listener may need? Joyful and sincer enjoyment of music in the most smart way? Metals is out on October 3rd.
The impressive set of musicians connected to project A Winged Victory For The Sullen grows; its founders Adam Wiltzie of Stars Of The Lid and Dustin O’Halloran invited cello princess Hildur Guðnadóttir (who, in the meantime, releases another collaboration with Hauschka) who provides their eponymous debut with her opiate cello stroking. As if it wasn’t enough, Peter Broderick widens the strings’ spectrum with his violin. Among other pieces on the forthcoming album (Erased Tapes) this personnel has created the sacred sound of this freshly published composition Requiem For The Static King Part One. In comparison to earlier reviewed Steep Hills Of Vicodin Tears Requiem is shorter, deeper and more robust. From the perspective of song’s structure it’s less layered and the calm euphoria of Steep Hills is much more tranquil with crossing borders of grief. Certainly, the idea of requiem indicates its implicit mournful melancholy with a bit of eulogy-flavoured ingenuity. Dedicated to Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, the first part of Requiem For The Static King is their another sensible and touching step into emotional contemporary classical area.
Ladytron were once known as revivalists of electro-clash (do you remember of their classic Seventeen?), but their ambitions were higher; inspirations by My Bloody Valentine-sque shoegaze came later (on third Witching Hour) and a shift into slower and darker Gothic synth-pop followed on Velocifero. The quartet releases the tempo again on their fifth full-length Gravity The Seducer. Influenced by Brian Eno-like synthesized ambient these Liverpudlians make a trip into more meditative and reflective areas; still, don’t expect ambient Krautrock of Neu! or haze of Harold Budd. Ladytron preserve their drive and glamorous approach towards accessible and elegant electro-pop.
The fourth single Mirage from Gravity The Seducer is another proof of their smart style with intense flavour of dream-pop. The desert where all the mirages occur in Ladytron’s case is a metaphor to relationship, of course. However, the flute-led melody and groovy tempo nicely evoke something more exotic and fantasied what is well paired with the ambiguous lyrics about “you do not exist / you’re mirage.” As always, Mirage is an easy and catchy song, but on the other hand, it’s a piece of sophisticated and chick simplicity.
Depression, its difficulties and effects are a common theme for artists. As if the severity of their incurable trouble needed its own expression. Or as if the burden of their talent cut through their skin and forced the artist to materialize its heaviness. It’s hard to say what was first and uncover the causality between mood’s disorder or depression and the art. Reading through Virginia Woolf, Edgar Allan Poe or listening to Portishead evokes the idea that depression and unusual gift for art come hand in hand. They stimulate to awesome results and then destroy the artist.
Depression is the main theme of Daniel Thomas Freeman's debut album The Beauty Of Doubting Yourself. Right from the beginning – even before hearing its first tones – the name shows the complicated relationship between the illness and the patient. Freeman, who was suffering from strong depression for many years, tries to find a beauty in his distress. On one side this may be a strange form of dolorism, but I rather suspect that the name of his album expresses his effort to look back into the years of the greatest suffering with detachment. As if he was saying that those times were hard, almost impossible to live through, but the life was his very own and will never be substituted for something better.
Elegy And Rapture (For Margaret) is the penultimate track on The Beauty Of Doubting Yourself and its most straightforward. Freeman as a one third of ambient-drone outfit Rameses III is well-experienced in compiling thick layers of heavy drone and layering abstract noises into the beds of classical samples. Yet this composition is much more accessible and in one word: graceful. The initial murmur of a steady strings’ harmony induces peaceful atmosphere which is later evolved by a short fragment of a melody played by a duo of violins. The pulse of the horn in the background along with the tender reverberated guitar evoke the milder work of Canadian-born eclectic composer Kyle Bobby Dunn. The calm tranquility of Elegy And Rapture (For Margaret) amazingly reflects its main message: Freeman’s dedication to the late years of his mother who died more than ten years ago. Even though this ten minutes long composition is the most traditional piece on the entire album it’s an experience of mysterious serenity and mournful splendour. Still, The Beauty Of Doubting Yourself deserves your full attention since it’s one of the most emotional and complex experimental records this year.