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.