Paavoharju firstly impressed us with their impeccable debut Yhä hämärää - mixture of acoustic, experimental folk packed in lo-fi esthetics, sung and performed entirely in Finnish. Dully, almost vulgarly labeled as freak folk, this musical collective from north-east of Finland expressed their emotions in playful stream-of-consciousness, rich on diversity and imagination. Teaming again with Fonal, home for Finland’s most original artists, such as Islaja, Eleanoora Rosenholm or Sami Sänpäkkilä (Fonal’s founder), Paavoharju came back with Laulu laakson kukista, one of 2008’s most surprising and complex albums. Playing with 90’s euro-pop, French chanson, Finnish folk, cinematic, instrumental music and bits of toytronica, Laulu laakson kukista presented Paavoharju as a bunch of brave experimentalists. More importantly, their music is not just about playing and tempting: it’s a stream of emotions - raw, intense and crying - that need to be heard. Heard aloud to overwhelm.
In just few days, Paavoharju are releasing Ikkunat näkevät EP, a collection of rare and unreleased tracks with a first appetizer - its title track. Ikkunat näkevät belongs to their slower, more dreamy tracks, but still, more accessible in the way Laulu was. It features grieving, lamenting vocal with roots in Finland’s rural folklore. Its clear structure and slow build are nicely interconnected with Paavoharju’s usage of classical instruments - piano and violin - which make this more a classical folk ballad than band’s typical electro-acoustic experiment. Ikkunat näkevät is a nice introduction to Paavoharju's calmer and more romantic soul.
Zola Jesus is back earlier than anyone would have guessed after last year’s release of her amazing Stridulum saga. First, she put a count-down on her website, then the announcement of new album was made. Conatus (lat.) is used in philosophy and metaphysics to refer to things, mind, thoughts that incline to go on living, even thrive. Nika Roza Danilova is well-known for her philosophical tendencies; mostly in the direction to existentialism and late romanticism. Therefore, Conatus (released on September 26th) may be not only deepening of her ideas, but also some kind of lighter and more optimistic view of life: growing and flourishing.
However, Vessel, first single out of Conatus sound everything, but not lighter or more positive. Depeche Mode-like marching rhythm and lite-industrial percussion open the song with Danilova’s multi-layered humming. When reviewing her older song Poor Animal, I wrote, that Danilova is gradually moving closer to the alt-pop scene. Vessel finds her radicalizing the sound once again, but softening the structure and thus making an intricate and attractive hybrid. Her stark vocal are even stronger and the build-up to the cathartic end is both surprising and eagerly expected. Vessel shows Zola Jesus at one of her darker moments: sparser in her expression and heavier in the sound. Vessel is an absolute win. (Download for free via SoundCloud.)
Marcus Fjellström, Swedish composer and multimedia artist, can’t hide his inclination to cinema and theater in his imaginative music. After last year’s landmark Schattenspieler, an extraordinary release on Norwegian label Miasmah, he put together a pastiche of eighteen fragments under the concept called Library Music. Noir, dramatic and brisk emotions are inseparable part of his compositional language that wallows passionately in orchestral motives inspired by ’50s psychological thrillers and horrors. Rather than B-movies, these themes are more a pieces influenced by musique concrète, expressionism and avant-garde of the first half of 20th century. Sacred mixed with highly lusty, dramatic mashed with grotesque.
Fjellström's mixtape In Between, compiled for Fluid Radio, journalistic home for ambient, drone and neo-classical music, confirms these theories once again. No surprise, that he included Kreng's astonishing Wrak, one of this year’s most breath-taking avant-garde composition and Erik K Skodvin's Neither Dust, with its acoustic approach to darkness. Aphex Twin's apocalyptic Icct Hedral appears twice on In Between: once it’s the original, synthetic version out of …I Care Because You Do with the emphasis on rapidness and hugeness. Icct Hedral comes back again in its rebuild by Philip Glass, where the Glass-ian minimalist, repetitive arrangements for strings complement the eerie sound of electronics on its way to hell. Among other highlights is Night Life In Twin Peaks by Angelo Badalamenti – composer you would surely expect on Fjellström’s mixtape, and Philippe Petit's haunting Night Elves Jukebox.
Certainly, this mix speaks volumes on Marcus Fjellström cinematic and theatrical inspirations. Yet, it comes even stronger and massive when actually listening to it. Delve deep into your seat and enjoy this 1.5 hour of pure darkness.
Hiding one’s identity has at least two positive and rather intriguing effects. Not only does it disguise particular characteristics that don’t fit the concept, but also raises curiosity. Although this approach to the hiding of identity isn’t scattered in today’s independent pop-art, costumed and often-grotesque figure still stands out. Additionally, masks direct the attention to the music itself; no longer is the musician’s face important - on the contrary, the art and its delivery is the bottom line of the artist’s existence.
Gazelle Twin uses these mimicry to turn her shy persona into a dark electronic dominatrix, who conjures and subdues. Elizabeth Walling, the creative mastermind of this one-woman project, adores the art of Fever Ray and surrealist painter Max Ernst. These two muses are apparent in the successful joining the idiosyncratic darkness of her sound with welcome accessibility. Certainly, Walling doesn’t create art for its own sake: the gloomy paranoia serves the higher concept as well as the particular emotions Walling evolves. Her masks are just the tools, not the short-sighted attempt to strike.
After Changelings and I Am Shell, I Am Bone, Walling comes with the third single out of her upcoming debut album The Entire City. Men Like Gods is a synthetic wail for absolution with hopelessness rooted deep inside. Walling’s vocals are vocoder-manipulated; therefore she sounds less human, but more like a choir of evil ghosts. Men Like Gods is not just a pain of a soul captured in limbo; Walling raises her voice to highs with amazing effect to express the human play on gods. As if her haunting vocals weren’t enough, tribal drums, dubby basses and industrial synthesizers underline the eeriness of Men Like Gods. Despite the awesome darkness of Walling’s music, her musical future is surely bright. Amazing.
It’s impossible not to come with any particular emotion when hearing anything new about Björk, pioneer of experimental electronic pop. Crystalline, first single from her forthcoming full-length Biophilia evokes adjectives like pure, playful, adventurous, ecstatic. Firstly, this Icelandic conceptual artist starts with beautifully naive glockenspiel which accompanies her stream-of-consciousness and stream-of-melody words “Under our feet, crystals grow like plants”. Then the stream itself swallows you and spits you out after five minutes of theatrically intense electronics, climbing up to the highs of chorus and euphoria of drum and bass. Impressive start!
PS: Without Björk we would’t know that words like octagon, polygon and internal nebula are pretty rhythmic, as if born for a music. Nice. (Don’t overlook disco naïveté's premiere of Crystalline.)
Fans of Lou Rhodes and Andy Barlow’s electronic duo would argue that, in the mid- to late-’90s, Lamb were to drum and bass what Portishead were to a peculiarly English branch of hip hop. Their signature sound twinned Barlow’s chilly beats and wild percussion with Rhodes’s reflective lyrics and idiosyncratic singing, a strange symbiosis achieved only through a continuous process of quarrelling. As wearying as their in-fighting undoubtedly was, retrospective thinking points to that friction as the most probably source of the visionary fervour that fired Lamb classics like ‘Cotton Wool’ and ‘Górecki’, two perfect examples of their precious-yet-unstable equilibrium.
Over time, the icy precision of the duo’s arrangements thawed as Rhodes’s songwriting seemed to gain more focus. Their fourth album, 2004′s Between Darkness & Wonder, brought things to their logical conclusion with the implication that Lamb had become the schizophrenic output of two people headed on divergent musical paths. As is well documented, Rhodes embarked on a solo career of earthy, acoustic folk recordings (scoring a Mercury Prize nomination for 2006′s Beloved One), while Barlow started a few of his own projects along with producing for other artists.
Fans of Dakota Suite are used to expect sadness and slow blue atmosphere with every new release. Slowcore or Sadcore - these are just the approximate names of the genre Dakota Suite work within. Dream pop, shoegaze and ambient are another fragments of their blue, grievous face. After a collaborative album with Emanuele Errante, trip through contemporary classical music to droning, electronic ambient, Dakota Suite explores new territories. The Hearts Of Empty is their (quite subconscious) response to doom jazz - sub-genre mastered by excellent Bohren & Der Club Of Gore.
Fortunately enough, Dakota Suite neither imitate, nor adapt to overall sound of dark jazz. The Hears Of Empty, despite its hopeless name, is a serene, almost light release. Playful percussion, repetitive, but clear lines of piano and dreamy vapour over it are pleasingly positive and open to listener, almost wanting to embrace them. Described by Chris Hooson, their main creative force, as a “late night smokey jazz,” The Hearts Of Empty is contently fluid and imaginative release. Yet, its best piece is saved for its near end. The Black Pyramid is opened by a loose, relaxed piano melody, which is repeated few times with refreshingly cute variations. The looseness and freedom of the piano makes it tasty and easy to remember, while the humming, groovy bass increases the catchiness. The Black Pyramid is a slow, sophisticated composition, both moody and strangely cheerful. I hope Dakota Suite will come back to dark jazz very soon.
Nils Økland has firstly caught the attention with folklore-inspired album Monogram, his debut on prestigious ECM label. Solely based on his chattering, flexible violin and fiddle, Monogram presented a monolithic and detailed insight into the folklore material of olde times in Norway. However, these weren’t verbatim interpretations of local songs - Økland brought improvisations and his own point of view on those works. Monogram is beautiful for its freedom and free space created by Økland’s deep academic and also practical knowledge in many kinds of Norwegian folk music. Therefore, he’s able to present his own understanding of the music with ease and fresh wit.
His new piece of work for ECM is more focused and specific: interpreting the rich work of Norwegian romanticist composer Ole Bull in collaboration with organist and theorist Sigbjørn Apeland; all happening on Bull’s own island Lysøen, situated near Bergen. Following Økland’s passion for improvisation and own re-interpretation, Lysøen is once again freer piece with lots of influences and, of course, intense outlook on Bull’s own work.
La Mélancolie is present twice on the album - it’s second version is more appealing and captivating. Whereas the first take is a psalm-like cry for violin and piano, both playing more like two solo instruments, this second version is richer and more seductive. Instead of slow building the atmosphere, both Økland and Apeland fall into deep melodrama with fascinating harmony and inner cooperation between both instruments’ free movements. La Mélancolie is an emotional experience of a grief and tense in folklore music. Lysøen - Hommage à Ole Bull is another must-hear document on old Norwegian folk. (Be sure not to overlook this insightful classical review.)
Violoncello posses an absolutely addictive sound. Try to hear any kind of a melody played by various instruments and cello ends up as the most appropriate tool for retelling it. The reason is that cello, among all the other classical instruments, is the closest to the human voice. And it’s not only the range which makes cello so suitable for singing any type of melody. Colour and the technique of pulling the stroke resemble the unique shades of voice and the physical need for breathing. It’s not surprising then, that every-time cello appears, its sound softens the music and makes it somehow warmer and more familiar.
Exactly these characteristics are used to the highest effect by Peter Gregson, a young cellist and composer from the UK. After an intriguing debut EP Terminal, he’s back with two new compositions intended for ‘Short Circuit’ Festival. Despite the shortness of his career, Gregson has already collaborated with Steve Reich, Scott Walker or musicAddicted’s favourite composer Daníel Bjarnason. More impressively, Max Richter and Jóhann Jóhannsson join this first-rate list with two new compositions that appear on aptly named release Richter/Jóhannsson.
Without knowing which submission is whose, Vocal bears a typical Richter’s signature. Resembling Glass’s early works, Vocal builds around a simple melody that comes back again and again. It seems that the motive— bit nervous in its urge and pace, but flowing and calming from the harmony perspective — will never get exhausted of its repetition. This is the typical minimalism with traces of serialism. Gregson is wise and experienced enough to make every round of the motive’s arrival different from the previous one and evolve something unique in every part of the theme. As written above and expressed through its name, Gregson’s violoncello sings, cries, gradates the tense and sings again. Whether Vocal is a lament or a simple ballad, it’s an impressive piece of art. I’m pretty looking forward for anything new coming from Gregson. Thumbs up. (Thanks for tip to Gacougnol.)
Sasu Ripatti has an admirably wide portfolio of sounds, moods and genres he works with. Even more impressive is the fact, that every of his numerous projects presents the best you can hear within the area he operates in. Vladislav Delay rules the waters of avant-garde ambient techno, Uusitalo presents his more upbeat version of minimal techno mixed with IDM, Sistol is even more experimental glitch and finally, Luomo shows Ripatti in his most approachable way. Still, it’s pretty adventurous and experimental kind of micro-house with dark beats, deep basses and complex melodies. However, it’s probably what Sasu Ripatti understands as electronic kind of pop.
Plus, his new full-length is going to be Luomo's six album and is set to be released on September 19th. Out of the first three available songs from Plus, Happy Strong sounds the darkest and deepest. Although the basic loop and basses remain the same for its entire eight minuts, Ripatti is good at evolving the flow which diversifies the song and preserves it from falling into boring repetitiveness. Occasional pieces of vocals and quite epic melody are the biggest benefits for the song, but it’s the massive beats and robust basses that make Happy Strong so effective. This Luomo’s new album will be one of 2011’s most important dance albums, for sure.
Marissa Nadler has usually portrayed stories of other women - forlorn, unloved, sometimes already dead - and presented a fragment of their miserable destinies. Of course, every song contained a bit of ambiguity: if Marissa is really singing a fantasied story or the plot is more real than expected. Although characters are not forgotten on Marissa Nadler, her new eponymous album, Marissa herself is more apparent and palpable. The resultant feeling is more authentic and stronger melancholy.
Alabaster Queen is the best example of Marissa’s increased presence thanks to her first-person singing. Along with cute metaphors such as “[you came] to a house with twisted branches, under candle dream, I’ll be your alabaster queen,” Marissa’s dealing with more than an emotion of pureness and romance. Submissive love and total devotion to the loved one are amazingly captured by her sole guitar melody with echoed vocals and sweet, minimalist glockenspiel. Still, it’s the spare lyrics that make the song impressive. Although the arrangements remind of early Nadler, Alabaster Queen is more mature and braver in the directness of the message.
Bohren & Der Club Of Gore take their well-deserved time to create the follow-up to 2008’s astonishing masterpiece Dolores. Certainly, this German quartet is not over-doomed as they prepared 35 minutes of deathly fresh new music. Narcotic rhodes, wasted basses and dying drums are back again to revive the typical eerie darkness. Decade after adopting saxophone to their haunting music, Beileid presents surprising element to the Lynch-esque paranoia: voice.
Beileid's center-piece, Catch My Heart, features vocals from Mike Patton. His inclinations to free-jazz and dark music have always been apparent, so his collaboration on Warlock’s re-working with Bohren-boys is natural progression for him. Less for Bohren & Der Club Of Gore who used vacuum and inner tense to cause tight, but subconscious mini-drama. In contrast, Patton’s soulful moan is explicitly dramatic. The tragic essence of his phrasing and expression nicely complements Bohren’s subtle, comatose jazz. Mild crescendos are multiplied by Patton’s lament with subsequently higher effect. Catch My Heart is a surprising and subduing deadly affair.
Donato Wharton’s new piece of music can be best described with words like subtle, spare, tacit. This Cardiff-born artist is artistically more focused on production for theatre and sound designing and therefore he comes just rarely with his own solo material. If you expect theatric grotesque or cinematic landscape, A White Rainbow Spanning The Dark will surprise you. Warton’s new EP doesn’t reflect his day job and presents the artist in more experimental position. The main assets he plays with and tests is long silence versus short noise, melody against atonality, vast space in contrast with narrowness.
Although these contrasts seem like grand themes, he approaches these subconscious theses of A White Rainbow Spanning The Dark in a minimalist manner. These experiments take just twenty minutes and are performed on acoustic guitar backed by field recording while Wharton plays with frequencies, sound amplitudes and echoes reached by classical analogue way of reverberation.
Minimalism and spareness provide A White Rainbow with strangely intimate feeling. Mostly the guitar parts are soothingly warm and so close to the microphone that the listener feels as if he was standing inside of Warton’s guitar. Also, the layers of background noises, guitar plucks and unexpected rushes of high frequencies generate additional mass of resonance that sounds as a solid, indivisible substance.
Still, the most effective songs are those with the greater dose of Wharton’s tender guitar. Ink Mountains is possibly the most complex composition using guitar not just for playing the basic harmonies and creating fluid melody; here Wharton experiments with the string itself, all the colours and shades it posses. Although it isn’t an exploration of guitar’s possibilities, Ink Mountain provides interesting difference to the ambient nature of this EP’s rest.
A White Rainbow Spanning The Dark is often more abstract than the above-mentioned experiment with layers of unidentifiable sound creating pulsating and calming ambiance. A Thousand Miles Of Grass uses few tones of guitar for reaching such omnipresent tranquility, while closing Mind Like a Snow Cloud is even absent of it and features just this undefinable mass of subtle tones and uneasily vast space of nothingness.
All in all, A White Rainbow Spanning The Dark is an interesting experiment, but too often too flat with no evolution. Ideas appear and vanish unexpectedly without reaching some kind of importance or higher sense. Three minutes are not enough for the evolving of Wharton’s ideas as so this EP sounds too tame, almost plain. On the other side, the warm and calm nature of this album, along with Wharton’s know-how in using the right amount of layers create a decent contribution to Serein’s special vinyls collection. Donato Wharton's EP follows Colorlist's one with Nest and Hauschka contributing to Seasons 2011's project in the coming months.
The Caretaker can’t do no wrong, or so it seems. Initially inspired by haunting and legendary scene of a massacre in empty ballroom from Kubrick classic horror The Shining, The Caretaker catalyzed terror through ostensible calm. But haunted ballrooms are history, a bit. James Kirby analyses music as a set of memories, fragmented, incomplete, shaded, obscure somewhere on the bottom of one’s mind. Amnesiacs, Alzheimer’s patients, people with disorders affecting their memories - those are Kirby’s objects of research. In comparison to neuro-scientists or psychologists, Kirby’s results aren’t sets of tables, graphs and theories that wait for validation. Rather, it’s a collection of several excellent releases that are both eerie and splendid, disturbing and soothing.
An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, his new full-length sounds more delightedly and complacent. Particular psychical illnesses don’t cause any aches to body and mind and so is his new album stripped out of pain, troubles and difficulties. Just old-fashioned idyll of 20’s and 30’s easy-listening music. Camaraderie At Arms Length is the longest track here and evolves above mentioned motives to the strongest effect. This piece for solo saxophone is bizarrely glorious, almost happy about its loose melody and peculiar strings and winds in the background. James Kirby breathed fellowship and friendship into this song and these are charming ideas. Although the satisfying mood could be explained with various positive names, camaraderie is fitting.
The cut at the end of it even increases the effect. The secret is to play all these songs on repeat and the end connects fluidly to its beginning. Lovely metaphor to the loop that suffering minds live in. An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, one of 2011’s best records, can be purchased on Kirby’s official page.