The last time I reviewed a Tobias Hellkvist release I was wowed by it. Having been privileged to hear it some time before it came out I was already familiar with its intricate constructions and wonderful soundscapes.
This second album, also released on Home Normal, is the perfect follow-up in many ways. It uses similar textural motifs and styles, but plays with some wonderful new additions as well.
Beginning as it means to go on, the first few pieces are elegant beatless works that are full of feeling and a delightfully melodic lilt. Built from soundscapes and drones, there’s a sense that these pieces are composed as opposed to being allowed to drift. They build, ebb, flow and subtly change over time, yet always keep the original sound in mind.
What really sets this album apart for me – and makes it a contender for my album of the year – is the way the entire structure seems to work up to the simply incredible ‘Christmas Rat’. The gradual flow of layers is finally joined by an almost Gas-like 4/4 rhythm that pulsates underneath, never becoming overwhelming, but keeping your head nodding for the duration.
It’s such a subtle, yet significant addition and in many ways is entirely unexpected. I could listen to this piece over and over and never grow tired of the way the chord seems to slice over the top of the beat. Some gentle top end percussion creeps into the mix to give it even more of a techno feel. From there it slips quietly away into a majestic last track that, once again, builds on layers, then gently fades out.
The beauty of work like this? It’s so good you have to go back to the beginning to hear it all again. It’s really quite incredibly compulsive. You could, of course, listen to the last two tracks in isolation, but that would be doing it a disservice.
In essence this is a deliciously put together album of meditative ambient music, yet it manages to sparkle and shine in ways other works never will. It sets itself apart by being beautiful, deep, dense and constructed with skill and passion. A stunning album, and yet another compelling addition to the Home Normal catalogue.
Check it here: Home Normal
Having been a big fan of Sonmi451 for many years now, it’s always pleasing to discover a new release on a superb homegrown label. And Time Released Sound has certainly been delivering the goods for some time.
Bernard Zwijzen’s take on minimalism and soundscape electronica has developed over the years. From his earlier, dare I say it, clicky style, with references to labels such as 12k and artists like Shuttle358, through to a more ambient, ethereal sound.
This work, heavily influenced by the idea of the beauty of nature, is a delicate and otherworldly creation that comes in four distinct parts. Each track references a mountainous peak, and this starting point gives each piece a glacial grandeur.
Although driven by his beatless sound, this is far from flat. Melodic passages give the work movement and sparkle, while the underlying textures and tones keep everything spacious and distant sounding. Simple sinewave notes create a warm overlay to the icy backgrounds, and the blend of the two is magical.
As always with Sonmi’s music, repeat listens provide more and more understanding of the subtleties at work. That sound that wasn’t noticeable on the first listen becomes more apparent with each experience. An enveloping sense of time almost slowing down while listening adds to the depth and breadth of the music. Allow yourself to sink into this and it will provide you wth many happy hours of blissful electronic listening.
All told, this is another quite beautiful release from an artist that I’ve come to admire more and more over the years. A big recommendation, then.
Check it here: Time Released Sound
As one part of Solo Andata, you may well be familiar with Kane Ikin’s music. What you may not be prepared for, however, is the sheer immediacy of this release and all its myriad influences.
Having enjoyed his EP release on 12k, this album proves to be an an interesting and startling counterpoint to that work. This, for the most part, is 12k doing Witch House. And I don’t use that term lightly.
For all it’s trend-driven foibles, Witch House has given the listener a lot to be excited about over the last 3 years. Balam Acab and OoOOoo (or however you spell it…) being two of the most striking examples. Where Kane Ikin trumps them, in my opinion, is the delicacy with which he introduces ghostly sounds into the mix.
This has turned out to be one of the most unusually rhythmic releases on the label in recent times, albeit with an incredibly minimal slant on things. And while the beats are there in abundance, they play second fiddle to the delicious range of tones and textures, whilst underpinning most of the tracks.
The feeling of emptiness and space is beautifully balanced with a keen sense of dense sound design that keeps each track fresh. The melodies are fragile and sparse, but tangibly ‘there’, if you see what I mean.
Imagine an act like Balam Acab, for example, being put through the reverb wringer and coming out sounding as drenched in echo, delay and drone as you can consider possible. And it doesn’t have a single pitched up vocal anywhere in sight. That alone has to mark it out for a considerable amount of bonus points.
In essence this is a 12k release first and foremost. But the references to other types of music are abundant and simply can’t be ignored. Simply, this is one of the most engaging albums of the year for the 12k imprint.
Check it here: 12k
These releases are in no particular order, apart from the first one which is undoubtedly my album of the year. The rest are evenly placed and sum up the changing environment I’ve been working in and the broader spread of music I’ve been listening to. Of course, the list could have been a lot longer, but one has to set some restrictions for something like this.
So, without further ado, here goes:
A-Lords – A-Lords – Rif Mountain
This album just did it for me the moment I heard it. A blend of esoteric folk and ambient field recordings, it’s about as charming and lush a release as you could hope for. There are some quirky moments, some deliciously pastoral passages and an overriding thoughtfulness that eases you in and never lets go. Truly a super piece of work. Here’s hoping that Rif Mountain release a CD issue of it at some point as it’s only been released on vinyl thus far.
Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972 – Kranky
This was a somewhat easy inclusion into this list. Hecker’s work has always amazed me and the focus and fine-tuning of his sound on this album is nothing short of startling. Using pianos as the main sound source, the ebb and flow of this release is incredible. Deep, dense, uplifting, melancholy and moody in equal measure, there’s more than enough drone here to satisfy everyone’s needs. A powerful and magical album.
Cosmin TRG – Simulat – 50Weapons
A brilliant collection of tracks that spans techno, garage, electronic and soundscape with an easy gait. For the most part this is a dance album, for sure, but it’s the simple thoughtfulness with which everything gels that makes it so excellent in my opinion. Clattering percussion, wonderful chords that are clearly inspired by Detroit and Berlin, groovy swing and timing on the rhythms. This pretty much has everything I like about lightly wonky dance music.
Balam Acab – Wander/Wonder – Tri Angle
I was a bit unsure about the whole Witch House thing to begin with. Just the name was enough to put me off in all honesty and the idea of these massively broken down genre types is something that’s always made me a little nervous. And then, boom, along came Balam Acab’s album and I was smitten. At heart this is pretty much an old school electronica album, but with a more contemporary twist. Dark chords, deep beats and a superb use of vocal samples ensure that this has legs. I was worried it would be a one-listen wonder – how wrong I was.
Machinedrum – Room(s) – Planet Mu
Bet you didn’t think there would be a Planet Mu release in my top ten, did you? Well, Machinedrum took a form of music that I don’t care for at all and made it completely accessible to someone who’s clearly not on the cutting edge of modern dance music. Juke and Footwork are pretty much alien to me really. There’s something about the samples that bugs me and the rhythms just never seem to hold it together enough. I know that’s the whole point, but still, it leaves me cold. Machinedrum took that style and added in acres of warmth, melody, his fantastic take on Detroit techno and lots of other tidy ingredients to make an album that is as listenable as it is danceable. A brilliant and surprising piece of work.
Surgeon – Breaking The Frame – Dynamic Tension
Props to Anthony Child. He’s been there doing it for years, never compromising, never watering his sound down, just doing what he does. The fact that his style of offbeat techno is revered by, in particular, the UK bass scene is no real surprise and here he’s put together a consummate album of heavy beats and incredible textures. From straight 4/4s (well, the Surgeon idea of ‘straight’, anyway) to piercing soundscapes via some wonderfully realised two-step rhythms, this really is an all-rounder of the highest calibre. I don’t even want to think about how many times I’ve listened to it this year.
Stephan Mathieu – A Static Place – 12k
I reviewed this in-depth (in fact you’ll find the link to it right beneath this post) so won’t go on too much. Suffice to say that Mathieu’s arrival on 12k was suitably gorgeous and, although it came out in February, it held my attention for the entire year. Beautiful, thoughtful, lush and expertly paced organic electronic music. Sublime.
Purl – Deep Ground – Silent Season
This could be my favourite release on Silent Season full stop. It’s a superb blend of everything I love about ambient and deep, deep techno. By turns dubby, ethereal, lightly groovy and just plain beautiful, this is a piece of work I keep on coming back to time and time again.
Walls – Coracle – Kompakt
This is a somewhat late addition to my list. I really liked their first self-titled album, but this didn’t quite grab me in the same way. Then I managed to catch them live a few weeks back and they were utterly brilliant. It completely changed my perception of this album and I’ve been avidly listening to it ever since. Washy, but robust, groovy, but somehow restrained, when these tracks kick off they are absolutely wonderful. If you haven’t heard it, it’s definitely something to seek out and enjoy.
Demdike Stare – Triptych – Modern Love
I don’t know whether this one is cheating as the vinyl versions came out before, but this CD is definitely from 2011 so I’m counting it anyway. Besides, it’s got plenty of new bonus material and that makes it new in my opinion. Demdike Stare’s sound is all about atmosphere and unlikely sound sources. I say unlikely, but that’s probably not strictly true, as there’s an incredible palette of obscure field recordings and world music that’s drawn upon to create some mind-bendingly good tracks. Beautiful, dark, incredibly deep and full of attention to detail, this triple CD collection of electronic music is exquisite in every way.
An early contender for album of the year here from the marvellous Stephan Mathieu as he joins forces with 12k. It’s another gorgeous solo outing exploring the realms of the soundscape in a deliciously atmospheric way.
Created using a set of 78rpm recordings of early gothic and baroque music, Mathieu then set about manipulating and transforming these sounds into the ghostly and wistful collection of music on A Static Place.
From the off there’s a calm and almost pastoral lilt to the ambience with dusty textures and layers of hiss hiding behind some truly beautiful tones. Gliding serenely and using the innate sense of musicality from the originals this work is at once very modern, yet at the same time a glimpse into a world gone by.
Variation comes by adding differing passages within the tracks and the seemingly effortless way the luscious is blended with the haunting really is a treat for the ears. There’s a sense of unhurried charm that really comes to the fore when you allow yourself to be truly immersed, preferably with headphones in my opinion.
Each piece weaves a slightly different spell and the overall effect is of an otherworldly place that we’re being permitted to sink into for a short time. The layers are melodic, always, but with hidden depths that range from bass hum through to a light dissonance which keeps things varied.
A magical slice of work, then, and something for lovers of the purest beatless music to enjoy over and over again. Truly sublime.
Check it here: 12k
This is the first of two releases I’ve come across on the Dutch label Moving Furniture. Starting in 2008 with a series of CDr releases the time is now right for them to move into the world of manufactured high quality CDs. And my first review will concentrate on this gorgeous work from Rose & Sandy.
Far from being the female duo that the name might imply, Rose & Sandy is, in fact, Ruaridh and Dave Donnelly. The names may be familiar as Law’s work as The Village Orchestra is certainly well known and liked around these parts, whilst Donnelly’s Production Unit mixes and membership of Marcia Blaine School for Girls ensures a high pedigree for this work.
Taking a somewhat more chilled out approach than the acts in question this 40 minute slice of delicious ambience uses guitars and subtle electronics to provide a mournful and melancholic listening experience. Gentle, distant guitar strums and a distinct sense of melody offer a reverb-drenched soundscape that ebbs and flows throughout. There are clearly defined passages here with one part using a background tone that speaks volumes, without ever impinging itself on the single notes that are layered over the top. Small loops of sound play insistently while sad chords come and go, joining the mix for a short while before making way for more overt landscapes of texture that creep around the edges.
Then stillness, quiet, a brief moment for contemplation before the sounds slowly build up for the lovely finale. A spiral of looped guitar, a dash of lo-fi distortion morphing into a dreamy drone towards the end. Sumptuous.
Stripping back their collective sounds, this pair of musicians has constructed a rather beautiful and evocative journey into depth and musical narrative. As such it gets a hearty recommendation.
Check it here: Moving Furniture Records
Artist: Yann Novak
Cat No.: LINE_045
Format: CD – Edition of 500 copies
I don’t even really know how to describe this incredible release as it has formed a constant background to my life for the past four months – through bad times and good. It’s been there at my lowest ebb and just as much a part of things when life began to turn around for me. So I guess I’m not going to be overly objective about it. But then, that’s not why you’ve come here, is it?
The first time I experienced this work I was aware that it was something special and with each consecutive listen that feeling has grown and grown. I have absolutely no idea how many times I’ve played it but it’s been on at least once virtually every day since I got it. To me that’s a recommendation enough as it’s very rare that something affects me as profoundly as this (and, as an example, I could cite discovering Celer and Bvdub as other defining moments over the last few years).
I love Yann’s work anyway and have enjoyed everything I’ve heard thus far but this release really takes it to another level in my opinion. All the hallmarks of his keen sense for music and sound design are here, but it’s the distillation of one of his key works, ‘Relocation’, that proves to be a defining moment in his musical career for me.
Relocation.Reconstruction takes elements from the aforementioned installation and limited CDr release and forms it into a genuinely brilliant 42 minute work that has timeless written all over it, and by condensing the beautiful and the dissonant into one whole it simply accentuates exactly why this form of music can be enjoyed over and over again.
A drifting, icy ambience permeates every second and the initially discordant opening soon gives way to a more melodic and gentle tone – and yet that moves into an incredible and startlingly deep passage where all of the most intense elements of the original recordings coalesce into a magical and otherworldly soundscape. It’s as uplifting in many ways as it is subtle and the highly evolved balance of dark versus light shines strong and true. Bass rumbles delightfully underneath the core sounds, providing a balance between mid and low frequencies. The shimmering, ever evolving layers are the equivalent of an aural tonic that will soothe you and envelop you.
The way the individual parts slowly flow into each other is so perfectly executed that, by the time you’re fully immersed in the current section, you can’t seem to recall exactly how it segued from the previous passage. The change is so subtle and so expertly realised that it leaves me, frankly, breathless.
I love that this music uses implication as a way of suggesting themes. While the ‘relocation’ part of the title is reasonably well documented by the artist, it allows you the scope to concoct your own version of events, your own narrative, if you will. That’s why it works so tremendously in virtually every situation I find myself in; travelling, working, feeling blue, feeling joyous and so much more.
If you’ve got this far through my review you’ll have quite possibly noticed that I’m rather enamoured with this release. I’m more than enamoured really… I’m completely smitten. It’s a work of substance and a deep understanding of how powerful the most low-key and subtle music can really be.
After a year of wonderful releases this is, without doubt, my album of the year.
Label: Ahora Eterno Records
Cat No.: AE003
Another delicious cocktail of sound here from Ryan Connor under his Sublamp guise, and a superb introduction for the Ahora Eterno label from Argentina if you’re not already aware of it.
Wistful drones and melancholy drifts of sound combine to make a compelling, enchanting and deeply beautiful collection of earthy organica. Similar to his previous and outstanding work for Dragon’s Eye this has a knack of sounding imperfect, yet perfect at the same time… the occasional hint of dissonance, a clashing note here and there, but always with a melodious feel that swathes everything in a very human warmth.
Sometimes guitar-based, sometimes electronic, the music is often accompanied by natural sound recordings and, in fact, my highlight of the album is the utterly magnificent ‘The Hauntingshell I’ which features a heavy dose of field recordings. Wind and clattering metal meld together to create a mini 5-minute narrative that allows the imagination to run riot picturing exactly where the recordings were taken. I favour a desolate arctic environment, although I could equally imagine a desert-scape with windswept dunes and rocky crags.
Whatever you picture in your own mind, be sure that this album is a refined, tightly honed object lesson in expansive, yet subtle sound design.
Beautiful and at times stark, this really is a majestic piece of work.
Artist: Ian Hawgood
Title: Live Performances Japan 2009
Label: Under The Spire Recordings
Cat No.: SPIRE029
Format: CDr – Edition of 150 copies
Ian Hawgood gives us two very good reasons for why he’s such a highly regarded producer and live artist. Recorded in Japan during 2009, the two tracks that make up this release are trademark examples of how his sound transfers to the live arena.
‘Piece For Shruti Box’ is a twenty minute track that’s as hypnotic as it is stirring. There’s something about the sound of this instrument that has a majestic quality, the harmonics working to add the subtle phases and shifts in the tone. From a lone note as the intro the piece soon builds up into a veritable shruti symphony never straying away from the essential fact that it simply doesn’t need any other sounds to make it better. Effects are gently added and then taken away, extra notes glide in creating a dense yet surprisingly light and airy texture. Pans from right to left then back again are all the movement you need as it reaches a gorgeous climax before fading back to one note and then drifting away. A truly magnificent work.
‘Piece For Windchimes’ is similarly focused on a single sound source but has a distinctly different feel. Whereas the shruti box creates long drawn out notes, the wind chimes are more fragmented and prone to a more random set of sonic circumstance. Of course it’s no less of a beautiful sound (one that has always appealed to me I have to say) but there will no doubt be some people that feel the windchime is an ambient staple that’s been overused over the years.
And that’s true of course. But this treatment of such a time-honoured sound breathes new life into by embracing the imperfections and inherently weird rhythmic tone. The way the piece has been processed live actually adds another dimension to it but leaving in the occasional stuttering click or obvious sample swap. It makes it much less obviously ‘new-age’ and allows the artist to play with it in numerous ways.
Whether he’s tweaking the filter or the pitch, the timbre or the effects, there’s a surprising liveliness here that carries the track onwards until the unexpected and abrupt ending. I must admit I felt quite bereft once it had ended as even though the sounds are treated in a mildly experimental way, there’s still an undeniably relaxing feel to the whole thing.
Another winner from Under The Spire and more proof (if it were needed) that Ian Hawgood is one of those artists that is consistently superb. Snap it up as there are only 150 copies.
Artist: Taylor Deupree
Cat No.: 12K1060
I remember saying in my review of Taylor’s Northern album that his key solo works don’t come along very often – well, to be fair there have actually been a fair few Deupree releases over the past few years, collaborative or otherwise. That doesn’t change the fact that a new full length on his own 12k imprint is a really special event and worthy of close attention.
Shoals gestation period has allowed it to take on a fascinating form of its own and the differences between Northern and this are tangible. Whereas Northern was part of his more accessible (if that’s the right word) period of organically-based, less overtly electronic releases Shoals takes a considerably less immediately melodic approach to the compositions.
I have to say that for me this is, along with Stil, my favourite full length album by Deupree. Sometimes you just know when something is right and here he’s combined the almost static drone feel of Stil with the layers and perfectly captured imperfections of Northern’s more earthy sound.
The four pieces that make up Shoals should be considered one journey in my opinion. They each work together to create a captivating flow which holds the attention for the duration and with an immense palette of samples, instruments and recordings it’s never anything less than enchanting
There’s still a natural sense of melody here, don’t get me wrong, but it’s blended with a background feel that seems to find a tone or texture and hold it, allowing the overlaid sounds to provide most of the movement and structure. The title track is a beautiful example of that as it remains focused for 12 minutes while providing a sparkling array of incidental tones and feelings to shine through the mix – bells, electronic drips and drops, subtle guitar strums and field recordings. This style really does form the basis for the whole album apart from the second track which has a sound that harks back much more to Northern with its light and hypnotic acoustic guitar refrain and plenty of found sounds.
It’s all about the tension between the real and the unreal as the forces of electronic processing collide with warm, human sounding textures, undeniably pretty moments and yet an undertone of barely disguised experimentalism. That’s why it’s such a surprisingly dynamic album to listen to – although you’d no doubt call it electronic minimalism in some ways, it’s actually full to brimming with exciting flavours of sound that can be enjoyed over and over with each additional listen adding new layers of understanding.
Created and produced with an incredible ear for detail, Taylor Deupree’s Shoals is a real feast for the ears and another indispensable addition to your music collection without a shadow of a doubt. Quite superb.