remote_ thoughts | contemporary electronic

Tobias Hellkvist – Everything Is Connected – Home Normal

Posted in Reviews: Electronic by remotethoughts on November 7, 2012

Tobias Hellkvist - Everything Is Connected

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

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Sonmi451 – Four Peaks – Time Released Sound

Posted in Reviews: Electronic by remotethoughts on November 7, 2012

Sonmi451 - Four Peaks

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

Kane Ikin – Sublunar – 12k

Posted in Reviews: Electronic by remotethoughts on October 30, 2012

Kane Ikin - Sublunar

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

Remote_ Thoughts 2011 Top Ten

Posted in News by remotethoughts on October 30, 2012

Remote_ Thoughts 2011 Top Ten

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.

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Ian Hawgood – Live Performances Japan 2009 – Under The Spire Recordings

Posted in Reviews: Electronic, Reviews: Organic by remotethoughts on June 28, 2010

Ian Hawgood - Live Performances Japan 2009

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.

Taylor Deupree – Shoals – 12k

Posted in Reviews: Electronic, Reviews: Organic by remotethoughts on June 28, 2010

Taylor Deupree - Shoals

Artist: Taylor Deupree

Title: Shoals

Label: 12k

Cat No.: 12K1060

Format: CD

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.

Sonmi451 – Ruis – Slaapwel

Posted in Reviews: Electronic by remotethoughts on June 22, 2010

Sonmi451 - Ruis

Artist: Sonmi451

Title: Ruis

Label: Slaapwel

Cat No.: UNKNOWN

Format: CD – Edition of 500 copies

I think I mentioned the other day how much I like Sonmi451. Well, blow me down if there isn’t another release out today on the lovely Slaapwel imprint. Taking the form of a limited CD with a Louis Reith print and an accompanying free download (so you can get your teeth into it straight away) or, if you prefer, a straight digital download. I know which one I prefer…

To a large degree this is a release that is perfectly capable of making its own case for why it’s so fine. Simply listening to it is liable to be more than enough persuasion for most people (and rather excellently, there’s a sizeable preview on the website) but I really feel that this one should be drawn to your attention.

Taking the approach of being a sleep enhancing or inducing piece of work (after the name of the label, one would think) this 32 minute track is an absolutely sublime slice of hypnotic ambient goodness. Dense, but never overpowering, the main sequence of tones and chords is like the best kind of lullaby – all melancholy and deep – and the tinkling sine-wave sounds that provide the melodic content really set them off beautifully. Add in some washes of grain and static in the background and you’ve got a track that seems tailor-made to appeal to the likes of me.

In some ways you could say it doesn’t develop very much, and I guess that’s true to a small degree. But that’s really the wrong way to approach it as the shifts and delicate changes in the background give it way more movement than you might imagine the first time you hear it – although to be fair it only took me one listen to be smitten and now I’m on my third run through. Repeated listening really does bring out the subtlety and loveliness and I can really see this becoming an indispensable release for those nights where I just can’t seem to get any sleep. And believe me, there are plenty of those at the moment!

Treat yourself to a slice of ambient electronic heaven and help spread the word about just how superb Sonmi451 really is. Bravo to artist and label.

Rameses III – For José María – Under The Spire Recordings

Posted in Reviews: Electronic, Reviews: Organic by remotethoughts on June 20, 2010

Rameses III - For José María

Artist: Rameses III

Title: For José María

Label: Under The Spire Recordings

Cat No.: SPIRE030

Format: CD

Under The Spire’s prolific schedule over the last year has made it hard at times to keep up with what’s coming out. But the sheer number of gems released has more than made up for that and this CD EP from Rameses III is another that I consider very much up there with the best of them.

Clocking in at 17 minutes, it’s a piece of music that’s composed with a real ear for detail and depth and their combination of piano, strings and processing lays a strong foundation for the nicely structured work that follows.

Beginning with a drop-dead lovely piano section, you’ll soon find yourself engaged and lulled by the almost classical beauty of the progression. At this point a spoken Spanish vocal is added into the mix and it really sets off the lightly melancholic feel of the intro.

From there the piece expands into a string laden, mildly drone-based (although not too heavy) mood and grows in stature and drama as it moves onwards. Again, there’s a slightly classical feeling about the sound and the added field recordings in the background are somehow haunting without being intrusive. The subtle shift of the layers is gorgeous as they wend their way between each other, never hindering or dominating and everything sits clearly and crisply in the mix due to the immaculate production.

It all comes together to provide a mellow and hypnotic voyage into the realms of organic electronic music and has a charming sense of pace and form. Beautiful all the way through, it flows with a delicious easiness and will demand you listen again straight away (I listened to it at least 3 times in succession with each subsequent experience highlighting a new moment to be savoured).

Under The Spire releases are limited in quantity and although I’m not 100% what the run is on this I’d certainly recommend getting over there and checking it before they disappear. It’s a truly lovely CD and one that definitely gets a big thumbs up from me.

Sonmi451 – Spectrum – U-Cover

Posted in Reviews: Electronic by remotethoughts on June 19, 2010

Sonmi451 - Spectrum

Artist: Sonmi451

Title: Spectrum

Label: U-Cover

Cat No.: U-COVER037

Format: CDr

Ah yes, Sonmi451. I’m really pleased to hear some new work from this artist as I’m a bit of a fan it must be said. All of his releases thus far have seen a heck of a lot of airtime on the Remote_ portable music system (otherwise known as an iPod) and this one doesn’t look as though it’s going to change that state of affairs one bit.

His work has always had a lightly ambient touch and a melodic feel – just listen to ‘A Phosphorous Spot’ for example – but has tended towards a gently rhythmic approach along the lines of some of the clicks & cuts material; intricate, yet flowing and with a nice balance between 4/4 beats and a classic electronica style. This album strips pretty much all of the percussive elements out and delivers an out and out ambient selection that works on all the right levels.

Taking the opening track as an example it features a deliciously slow and gradual build up of layers with an almost subliminal way of fading in the tones. A wash of grainy chords, a high string here and there and a feeling of free flowing, floaty depth combine to make a hypnotic and incredibly relaxing atmosphere.

From there he varies the sounds and layers to form a series of intrinsically linked experiences that seamlessly glide into each other, sharing motifs and ideas but never actually copying them.

Uplifting yet melancholic progressions and drifts maintain the low-key style and the occasional clicky sound or static tone will enter the mix, but it uses them to accentuate the purely beatless sound design rather than dominate it. Chimes, twinkling pianos and touches of glistening melody as well as some lovely natural sounds enhance an already deft palette and you end up with an album that’s as much in the ballpark of artists like Celer or Taylor Deupree as it is in the previous Jan Jelinek style mold.

A charming and beautifully put together piece of work overall and certainly something that marks an interesting development of the Sonmi sound which I’ll be very keen to hear more of in the near future.

Ambient lovers form an orderly queue as this a really good one.

Tobias Hellkvist – Evolutions – Home Normal

Posted in Reviews: Electronic, Reviews: Organic by remotethoughts on June 16, 2010

Tobias Hellkvist - Evolutions

Artist: Tobias Hellkvist

Title: Evolutions

Label: Home Normal

Cat No.: HOMEN015

Format: CD

I’ll start by saying that this isn’t just one of my favourite albums on Home Normal, it’s one of my favourite albums of the last year. Sometimes you just hear something that nails it for you and this is very much one of those releases.

Hellkvist’s sound is a lovely combination of the organic and the electronic which gels together to give you a dense, evocative and enchanting collection of ambient tracks. From the opening moments of the first track I could tell this was going to be something special with its chiming sounds and fluttering guitar licks. The simple way it grows and expands sets things up beautifully for rest of the album.

Each piece has a different feel although the overall theme is one of pastoral calm and an intimate sense of melody and texture. From ‘Patience’ with its long, drawn out sounds and shimmering guitar through to the more robust, but no less lovely drones of ‘Arms’ you can really feel the attention to detail and love in every second. You’ll find the drifting soundscapes to be absolutely packed full of life (literally in some cases due to the effortless use of natural field recordings) but never too busy. Everything has its right and proper place, be it a fluttering wind sound, a babbling stream or the sunny and warm chords that extend the pleasure for minutes at a time.

Later on it becomes more overtly drone-based but it never loses that sense of structure or compositional strength that makes it such a compelling album. The last two tracks in particular are just divine with ‘The Ladder’ using a 12 minute period to creep gently into your mind and start playing with your sense of time – did it last for an hour? Or was it 5 minutes? Who knows? All I care about is the journey it took me on for the duration and, my word, it was truly beautiful.

‘Sore’, the final track, delves into a kind of Celer style sound with a refined layer of texture resonating gently until around halfway through when it simply fades out. I thought things were over but then a reprises glides back in and you’re left with a splendid and perfectly realised ending to a tremendous album.

The aforementioned Celer reference certainly holds true and you can definitely hear a musical kinship with Ian Hawgood (appropriately enough) but there’s something else this really reminded me of at times – not necessarily in actual style, but in some of the sound design. An album by Another Fine Day on Beyond Records way back in the mid ‘90s. If you know it at all you may well hear what I’m hearing and if you don’t know it you should go and check it out anyway. Suffice to say it’s one of my favourite albums of all time.

It’s a blissful piece of work that I go back to time and time again and certainly an easy contender for my album of the year. Marvellous.

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