remote_ thoughts | contemporary electronic

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.

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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.

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.

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.

Tom White – False Ponds – My Dance The Skull

Posted in Reviews: Electronic, Reviews: Organic by remotethoughts on June 13, 2010

Tom White - False Ponds

Artist: Tom White

Title: False Ponds

Label: My Dance The Skull

Cat No.: MDTS03

Format: Cassette – Edition of 100 hand-numbered copies

A limited edition cassette release here from the My Dance The Skull label featuring a simply blissful pair of tracks from Tom White. His musical works continue to go from strength to strength and this is a lovely example of the type of feeling he excels at.

False Ponds is a two-piece work with one track on each side of the cassette and both share a common theme, yet vary the way they approach it. His penchant for loops, guitars and feedback are the main focus and there’s a beautifully gentle tone that sits throughout the tracks. A hypnotic chord strike, not unlike a chiming bell you might say, is joined by absolutely gorgeous guitar melodies that lightly play across the top. It’s a relaxing and slightly pastoral sound and reveals an intimacy and thoughtfulness in Tom’s music that’s never anything but charming.

While the tone remains light, there’s a sense of distance here as well, a depth and melancholy that conjures up images of isolated woods or forgotten gardens. That comes down to Tom’s naturalistic way of producing music with a variety of sounds sources and his improvisational skills. There’s a distinct ebb and flow to the tracks that feels unstructured yet focused.

The two pieces differ in that the A-side is pretty much 100% melodic whilst the B-side uses more found sounds and background tones to create a more earthy, but no less lovely, feel. Static crackles and washes of texture slip into the mix then fade away again leaving you with the insistent main chord as an anchoring point.

Once again this talented young producer delivers a very fine release indeed and one that you’ll no doubt be wanting to sample yourselves if you’re a fan of anything organic and electronic.

Haruki – Snowed In Food Shelter – Klanggold

Posted in Reviews: Organic, Uncategorized by remotethoughts on May 26, 2010

Haruki - Snowed In Food Shelter

Artist: Haruki

Title: Snowed In Food Shelter

Label: Klanggold

Cat No.: KG008

Format: CD

It’s fair to say that I rather like Haruki’s work. Having thoroughly enjoyed both of his recent releases on The Land Of and Hibernate I was excited to hear this new album on Germany’s Klanggold imprint.

Using a range of digital and acoustic sources the most immediately noticeable aspect of this work is the way it portrays a more gentle side of his character. The other releases I’ve heard definitely tended more towards a wide range of sonic elements with, dare I say it, a more playful overall style. This, however, remains tightly focused and concentrates on certain instruments as motifs, the piano and guitar for example, that recur from track to track.

It’s a deeply introspective sounding piece of work, from the tender touches of melody to the haunting and decidedly melancholic layers. It had me looking inwards whilst listening to it and I think it really is supposed to imbue the listener with a tangible feeling of sadness. Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know.

The delicacy with which the piano refrains are played and processed is beautiful and it almost reaches into William Basinski territory at times with a hypnotic flow and grainy sounds. But instead of staying static it uses the gentlest of movements to guide the tracks along.

A hint of bassoon here, a reversed chord there, acres of space for the sound to swim around you, a cunningly unstructured sounding style that I imagine is actually painstakingly put together… all of these things combine to make a very personal album that fans of the quieter side of contemporary ambient electronic music should really enjoy.

Subtle, deep, lovingly crafted. An album of substance from this excellent artist.

Taylor Deupree – Snow (Dusk, Dawn) – 12k

Posted in Reviews: Electronic, Reviews: Organic by remotethoughts on May 25, 2010

Taylor Deupree - Snow (Dusk, Dawn) - 12k

Artist: Taylor Deupree

Title: Snow (Dusk, Dawn)

Label: 12k

Cat No.: 12K2016

Format: 3″ CD – Edition of 63 copies

Taylor Deupree’s latest release in the limited 12k offshoot series is a beautiful work, both aurally and visually, that never gets bogged down in the intricacies of being too conceptual. The premise is simple – using expired Polaroid film he took a series of 63 photographs then swiftly scanned them at different stages of decay before they faded completely to black. Each copy of the album comes with these prints as well as the original Polaroid so every single edition is unique.

The idea of being transient is particularly pertinent as Deupree’s love and study of nature have an obvious link to the idea of change. As ever the music that accompanies these images is deep, delightfully melodic and full of a natural sounding warmth.

Snow (Dusk, Dawn) concerns itself with gentle movement and layering of sounds that shift almost imperceptibly throughout, yet have a steady flow which is rooted (and I use that term deliberately) to the underlying sounds. Much like nature itself there’s an ever present sense of something being there, even if it’s only glimpsed occasionally or at certain times.

Using analogue and digital sources the friendly ambience here is never anything less than beautiful and his uncanny grasp of melodic texture and depth shines through the entire 18 minute piece.

Although a relatively expensive work I think it’s something that’s more than worth seeking out bearing in mind the love and time which has gone into its production. If you can find a copy I have a sneaking suspicion that you’ll find it to be one of his most gorgeous low-key works.

Ryonkt – North Small Town – Hibernate Recordings

Posted in Reviews: Electronic, Reviews: Organic by remotethoughts on May 24, 2010

Ryonkt - North Small Town - Hibernate Recordings

Artist: Ryonkt

Title: North Small Town

Label: Hibernate Recordings

Cat No.: HB14

Format: 3″ CDr – Edition of 100 copies

A lovely new release from Hebden Bridge’s finest label. This dinky 3” CDr sees the very highly regarded Ryo Nakata delivering a signature series of four untitled tracks using his delicious penchant for gentle guitar processing and manipulations.

There isn’t much to separate the pieces style wise as they’re closely linked thematically, but they each give you a slightly different meditation on that mellow, almost pastoral ambient sound that’s so pleasing to the ears.

With subtle builds and layering he transforms what comes from his fingers into a tender and emotive journey that will enchant you if you’re a fan of the label or artists such as Ian Hawgood. Each moment seems to capture a blissful, yet somewhat melancholic feeling that will, ultimately, leave you feeling at peace and (in my case certainly) very relaxed. The unforced melodic element always captures me with his work – the understated way he takes the mundane parts of life and turns them around aurally. You can feel his sympathetic and loving relationship with the guitar in every lick that transforms into texture.

This form of music is so very ‘now’, yet so timeless and Ryo has added yet another beautiful work into the pantheon of organic electronic music.

With only 100 copies produced I’d head on over to Hibernate and grab one before its too late.

Fourcolor – Letter Of Sounds – 12k

Posted in Reviews: Electronic, Reviews: Organic by remotethoughts on October 15, 2006

Fourcolor - Letter Of Sounds

Artist: Fourcolor

Title: Letter Of Sounds

Label: 12k

Cat No.: 12K1038

Format: CD

It’s fair to say, I think, that Keiichi Sugimoto is not only prolific, but something of a master of his genre of music as well. It doesn’t seem to matter which of his guises he’s working under, he always just seems to get it right. Whether he’s producing as Fonica, Filfla or as part of four-piece act Minamo, there’s a subtlety and very Japanese beauty to everything he does.

To find that the new 12k release is from his Fourcolor project is great news indeed as ‘Air Curtain’, his previous CD for Taylor Deupree’s label, was a delicious slice of low-key, melodic electronic lushness. Similarly, ‘Letter Of Sounds’ is a work that seems infinitely delicate, yet more than robust enough to stand the test of time.

By opening with the sheer exuberance of ‘02’ it quickly becomes apparent that we’re dealing with a serious album. His use of organically-based sounds which are then constructed into shimmering layers of electronic music is enchanting and, once again, we find him using the sound of guitar harmonics to punctuate his tracks.

Simple, charming chord structures form the basis for a lot of the work here and they have a pleasingly old-school feel with just the right amount of Techno-style soul to keep the purists happy whilst injecting it more traditional instrument sounds. He never saturates the tracks though, and always gives the tones enough room to weave around the crisp rhythmic elements that creep in from time to time.

In fact there’s enough room on the second track ‘Rowboat’ to allow female Japanese vocalist Piana to breathe some lyrical life into the track. Her voice acts as a superbly fragile accompaniment and it’s great to see yet another artist who isn’t afraid to use the voice as yet another tool for creating sound, as opposed to relying on it for unnecessary and obvious emotional content.

When he picks up the tempo later into the album there’s an even greater hint of Techno that shines through. You get the sense that he’s a fan of the Motor City sound and some of the rigid structures and tight metronomic clicks definitely give a nod in that direction. He always adds in his unique melodic chords though and that’s the true strength – there’s always beauty – even when, as in ‘Leaves’, he adds an experimental leaning to the track… in this case a resonant and insistent test tine which gradually builds throughout the track.

Sugimoto should be treasured for his consistently excellent and charming work and this release will certainly go down as one of my favourites.

Chris Herbert – Mezzotint – Kranky

Posted in Reviews: Electronic, Reviews: Organic by remotethoughts on October 15, 2006

Chris Herbert - Mezzotint

Artist: Chris Herbert

Title: Mezzotint

Label: Kranky

Cat No.: KRANK101

Format: CD

When I first heard this album I was completely bowled over by its sheer beauty. Chris Herbert has provided, for me, one of the albums of the year without any question simply because he’s managed to blend Electronica, drones, organic texture and honesty into one simply marvellous CD. </span

Kranky’s a good label anyway… we all know that (well, I assume we do, anyway)… but the quality of their releases over the last 2 years has become so damn fine that I’m slightly worried that won’t be able to keep up this level of sheer momentum in the future. For now though I’m revelling in the fact that they keep releasing CDs of this calibre on a regular basis.

Herbert’s sound is immediate, yet subtle. The first time I heard its fuzzy textures I knew I was in love and yet it’s since become my most listened-to album of the year (thanks Last.fm for giving me a rough idea of what I’m actually tuning in to!). It’s rough around the edges, but I think that’s all part of it. Hints of distortion, a sound out of place here, a crunch there… that’s the charm of it. He doesn’t hide the fact that it’s not perfect and I for one would like to congratulate him for that. Too many artists are utterly obsessed with everything being exactly right and whilst that has its place I suppose, it’s good to know that people still do it the old fashioned way.

The layers of texture that he’s created are dreamy and intense and provide a scintillating ambient backdrop for the more rhythmic or melodic elements that drift into the mix. When it gets more rhythmic (and I use that term fairly loosely) it becomes ever-so-slightly reminiscent of Loscil getting stuck in the studio with Gas… yes, it’s that good.

Short interlude pieces link the main tracks together to form an engaging narrative throughout and the fact that they sound varied is testament to Herbert’s wonderful production technique.

Essentially you could compare this to several other artists – Gas, Tim Hecker, Loscil – but it’s because it comes across as a blend of them that it works so well. It’s an album of the year situation for me and I have to recommend you get yourself a copy of this as it’s just quite simply brilliant.

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