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.