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.
Canadian gothic synth-pop trio Austra are naturally most recognizable through the distinct and vigorous vocals of Katie Stelmanis who also takes care of songwriting. Subsequently this makes her seem a leader of the group and somehow hides the prominence of two of her similarly talented band-mates: bassist Dorian Wolf and drummer and programmer Maya Postepski.
Maya’s one-woman project Princess Century (strange name, isn’t it?) focuses on her primary instrument: drums and electronic arrangements. Crummy Bones, one of her early demos, demonstrates Maya’s passion for stark rhythms and bursting beats which reach the strict sound of a machine gun. Bits of late 70s krautrock are traceable in the monotone raw bass line, inspirations by early industrial which drew from krautrock are hidden somewhere deep too. The cold washes of old-school synthesizers and analogue organs move the song towards its climax and despite their cool nature make Crummy Bones somehow more human and tangible. If this is just a demo, I’m really curious what will come after more focused work. Postepski’s feel for sharp rhythm and brisk melody is more than promising. (Download the song viaWears The Trousers' SoundCloudprofile.)
What happens when two genial minds pair and create something together? In pop music it could end as a collision of two strong egos, but in the case of Hildur Guðnadóttir and Hauschka the worst scenario might have been just a lack of chemistry. Mastering the violoncello and composing solely for the single string instrument from Hildur’s perspective is much different from preparing the piano and working on a scale from symphonic orchestra to house music inspired by classical one. However, what connects these two musicians was much more intense than the difference between them. Playfulness and desire to explore undiscovered possibilities (or seldom heard) is a common characteristic of both artists as well as their experience in collaborating and working simultaneously on solo and group objects.
#294 is the first fragment of their improvisational concert in London last year. Its distinctly non-linear structure allows both artists to endeavour, entertain and play with their part with no collision or disharmony coming. Even though the composition is played with no score #294 consists of persistent waves of thrill and release; as if their minds were telepathically coordinated. Of course, their common language is music with the words exchanged for tones. Hauschka’s use of piano as a percussion instrument is charming, but the moment when he starts play it in a traditional way is the real beginning of #294 which was being built from cello vibrato with rushes of his prepared miracle for more than two minutes. What firstly sounds as a variation on a particular motive is soon thrown away with a stream-of-consciousness-like drive and vigour. #294 is just the first composition from the upcoming album Pan Tone (released on September 23rd) which contains the recording of the entire concert. Once again, another brilliant contribution to Sonic Pieces' extraordinary collection.
After an upbeat pastiche of imaginative dance music and warm ambient captured on outstanding album There Is Love In You, Kieran Hebden, better known as Four Tet, is set to release a 59th contribution to Fabriclive series. Four Tet’s compilation of 27 tracks contains mixes and songs from his collaborator Burial, Ricardo Villalobos or Floating Points, but more importantly, he comes with three yet unreleased tracks.
One of those unheard-before is above-streamed track Locked, eight-minutes long meditation that closes the entire Fabriclive mix. Typically for Hebden, it features a massive but translucent beat and touching groove that are later accompanied by a synthesized melody of guitar and few idyllic flutes. Locked features one of Four Tet’s sweetest melodies that evolves, morphs, quiets and grows again during its approximately six minutes. Still, below the lovable melody Four Tet works with percussion and bass in a playful and lively way to reach a living, organic song created by machines. Symbiosis of these two antagonistic elements is more than amazing in Four Tet's hands.
Ben Chatwin who performs as Talvihorros is a man of conceptual projects with a deep affection for guitar and pedals. First, he caught wider attention with his second full-length Music In Four Movements which was basically four variations on droning guitar existing somewhere between ecstasy and agony. Epic evolution of a simple motive was then captured on following EP called Guitar Improvisation II; true to its name it consisted of a single improvisation with unexpected turns and uneasy nature. Epicness and even greater emphasis on a concept remain the main characteristics of Talvihorros' upcoming album, Descent Into Delta (out on Hibernate on August 26th) which deals with changes in waves frequency between a state of mind in gamma waves, when the mind is awake and delta, when humans sleep.
Gamma/Beta, the first “single” from Descent into Delta, nicely illustrates these changes and alterations. Typically for Chatwin, this song consists of several acts which are interconnected by a morphing, unstable guitar drone under the uncountable echoed layers of guitar and bass. In contrast to Tim Hecker and pleiad of his ambient drone-addicted contemporaries, the darkness of Gamma/Beta is warm and charming. It’s probably caused by the natural sound of guitar strings which always find their way through the droning mass. Even when Chatwin counts on the heavy bass and the inner tense inside, the composition doesn’t cross the border from melancholy to depression and persists in the area of pleasant mourn. It’ll be more than interesting to hear it placed into greater context of Descent Into Delta. For now, my mind is fully thrilled even though it should be in Gamma/Beta state.
It’s impossible to say what’s more important or essential about iamamiwhoami's artistic appearance. Is it the music? Jonna Lee, Claes Björklund and their crew (whose members have stayed in hiding for more than a year and half) are musicians whose previous career was always about composing and singing or producing, respectively. Or are the bottom line of iamamiwhoami their videos? Those imaginative, film-like, sometimes shocking, another times soothing footage of a mandragora, man in white briefs, animals and nature as the missing component of our post-industrial lives? Or is it the special way of a communication? Talking to their fans just through months of silence, then a release of a new single with accompanying video, some cryptic message left on an unsearchable site and then silence again?
For the main aim and sense of this blog music is the underlying key to the greater understanding of iamamiwhoami’s presence. Not only does their sporadic way of releasing new songs with no studio album in coming break the rules of contemporary pop music, but it also maps their artistic evolution – something that belongs to the most obvious subjects of their persona. Evolution of ideas and musical emotions in contrast (and concert) to the evolution of a human. Of course, all of their motives are in highly symbolic way narrated through supernatural characters living on the border between fairytale, horror and a cold reality.
The same works for their music: synth-pop with so many ingredients that it’s not electro-pop anymore. Clump, their new single illustrates this eclecticism and evolution nicely. Here, iamamiwhoami go back to the more vigorous sound of their earlier singles O and T, but replace their straightforward catchiness with urge and dominance over the listener. Unlike most of their singles which are built of slowly-evolving introduction - often just instrumental - and opening passages (think of O, Y, ; John), Clump begins immediately. “I never dreamed I’d need someone like you" in the first line is a traditional usage of contrasts in their lyrics which foremost deal with then and now. But while the earlier songs were heavily saturated with a fear and doubts about love and life of a musician, Clump is more self-confident and resolute. She’s not uncertain about herself anymore what is aptly documented in another passage: “You never had a true friend like I.” Of course, that you are we, her listeners.
On the other side, the dissonance of heavy synthesizers and reverberated vocals somehow destruct this light approach and move the song into darker spheres – both in sonic and lyrical way. Clump is mostly about Lee as a musician and her fans as a group of her lovers. Because it’s not so easy and simple to produce quality, non-mainstream music frequently while freeing yourself from self-awareness of pop’s immediacy. Pop artists are in hard role of balancing symbolism with simplicity, but preserving catchiness effortlessness of melody and structure. This aspect also explains iamamiwhoami’s left-field nature and impossibility to reach bigger audience – they are too “complex” for mass. These themes of re-inventing yourself and dealing with the difficulties of creativity are intrinsic elements of the lyrics; in Clump it’s the very last verse: “Cannot wait until I see your smiling faces / And our love will be misunderstood.”
Choosing clump as the name seems more than fitting as the word means not only “a small, compact group of people" – people to whom their music may concern, but also "a small group of trees or plans growing closely together" – one of iamamiwhoami’s most frequent metaphor for fans. The ambiguity of Lee’s words is appealing too. Count the ways one could understand these words: "Cannot wait until I get my hands on you / we can do the things we said we would.” I believe that Clump is a prelude to the upcoming concert in Goteborg. Still, the raw energy and dissonant subduing of iamamiwhoami is more than delicious with Clump being one of their most impenetrable singles.