Monday, June 22, 2009

Comfort – Sleep Talking Shared

Groups that decide to combine the acoustic and the electronic in their work generally draw heavily from one and add the other as an afterthought. Italian duo Alessandro Baris and Leonardo Chirulli take a much more balanced approach. On the rock side their bass/piano/drums framework is as complex and far reaching as any Tortoise jazz/rock essay. Rather than resting on this level tracks like “The Missed Environment” rework the script to include microtonal violin loops, hissing electronic percussion and synth textures. While it calls to mind works by Crescent or Radian, Comfort’s sound is much more expansive and not as dry. Tracks like “Florian” and “Iceberg” successfully combine hints of classic 60s soundtrack, 70s European jazz and modern digital effects in one cool, detail-rich flow. And though their scope is broad and guests many the duo is careful to let instruments breathe and silences matter. There is no abused space and each track comes with a fresh new secret waiting to be discovered.


Anduin & Jasper TX – The Bending of Light

With a more than a dozen recent releases on labels small and smaller, including last year’s wonderful Black Sleep on Miasmah, Dag Rosenqvist’s Jasper TX has been careful not to slip into a single-minded way of doing things. His ability to describe the desolate with either acoustic melody of dense drone comes to bear in this collaboration with Virginia native Jordan Lee’s Anduin alias. Using a Carl Sagan description of a black hole’s formation to unify their musical theories the duo create a mood that drifts between awe and resignation in the face of such raw but emotionless power. The first suite of three tracks is more dependent on the electronics that swallow, compile and compound tones, allowing only faint pulses and distant notes to emit. The album’s second half is comparatively sparse with the musical elements rising to the foreground like the debris left to orbit the gravitational well. It’s a work of stark beauty that serves as a worthy entry to both gentlemen’s discography.

SMTG Limited

Baja - Aether Obelisk

Not the splashdown into pop waters of, say, a Caribou, Daniel Vujanic is nonetheless dipping his toes in the pool with a few more lyrics on this fourth release. Baja signals the continued cross wiring with an introductory cough and wolf slide on the acoustic guitar that’s pierced by a sine tone on "9 seconds." From there on vibraphones and 70s flutes rub against cut-up drum patterns and vocal edits. Vujanic neatly interchanges noise and melody roles, creating competition and dissonance that evolves into harmony. For example "Graph-viak" unexpectedly flips from post-Drum n Bass froth to oddly 80ish pop song without breaking rhythm. Last year’s Wolfhour had a similarly broad palette of sounds, though this year’s model works it’s transitions and shifts with greater subtlety. “The Story of Fissa Maines” starts as a taped monologue unspooled from a noisy source and segues into a venue-changing woodwind cue that itself merges with an electronic pulse and piano figure as “Prism Break” starts. It's an album of (lovely) surprises that never lags or lulls.

Other Electricities

Fridge – Early Output 1996 – 1998

That this trio of London kids was still in high school and essentially just dicking around with a cassette 8-track when Trevor Jackson began releasing their explosively imaginative post-rock experiments on his Output label is humbling. It’s well known that they’ve gone on to glory with Four Tet and Adem; and a reunion in 2007 that produced the new album Sun whetted the appetite for more. Culled from sessions that yielded two full lengths and a handful of singles comes this blend of Tortoisesque musculature with swatches of cheap electronics and cheeky melodies for drapery. Sam Jefffers’ unschooled and deeply intuitive drumming was the loose backbone that let Adem Ilhan and Kieran Hebden drop noise guitar and droning keyboards wherever their hearts desired. Standouts like faux-dance groovy “Lojen,” Mogwai-winking “Swerve and Spin,” and the patient 808 epic “Anglepoised” prove the breadth of ideas and influences that continue to serve these gentlemen today.

Temporary Residence

Various – Enjoy the Silence

Taking a cue from the Kompakt Pop Ambient compilations, Japanese label Mule Electronic celebrates five years of bliss with its own collection of serene themes. Veterans like Strategy, Jan Jelinek and Thomas Fehlmann, who trumps even his IMPS remix from earlier this year with a wonderful piano-in-a-whirlpool bit, sit next to eagerly ascendant artists. Kuniyuki Takahashi, who records as Koss, takes a regal piano theme and adds slightly unsettled ambient noise to generate something lovely and a little unnerving. Sweden’s Minilogue continue to develop their non-dancefloor side with a lengthy synthpad churner that is treated to hide-and-seek polyrhythms from several sources. Peter M. Kersten’s Lawrence track is a simple and effective balance of a few echoing elements with a thread of playful vibraphone stringing them along. It isn’t as fluid a collection as the Kompakt offerings, but still makes a splendid label overview and bookend to their German counterpart.

Mule Electronic

Our Brother the Native – Sacred Psalms

Pared down to a duo OBTN seem to have discovered a slightly more lucid spirit guide to follow on this third full length. Joshua Bertram and Chaz Knapp, both barely into their 20s, are still adventurers into and melders of twilit global musical forms, but with a firmer grasp on the western pop trope. Easy but accurate comparisons to Animal Collective’s earlier acoustic and ecstatic campfire songs paint part of the picture. However, for every song like opener “Well Bred” that thrives on adrenaline and a layered choir of voice and horns there is a “Sores” that has a simple and mournful folk song atop the bongo/sitar/gamelan exoticism. Certain tracks have a jammed-out feel where competing found sounds and meandering samples eventually stumble across the song proper. “Behold” has a repeated lyric that states, “there is no use in holding back / this is who we are,” and that is as good a self-descriptor of OBTN’s approach to music making as any critic could ascribe; best just to relax and enjoy the overflow

FatCat Records

Animal Hospital – Good or Plenty, Streets + Avenues

As a Boston area engineer Kevin Micka has built his reputation as a first rate loop guru. Guiding guitar, drums and other sound sources through a maze of electronics he creates vivacious streams of notes that change colour with each new collision. The vivid playfulness of The Books is called to mind as a comparison. For all the high-resolution detail and clever juxtaposition of sounds Animal Hospital falls prey to a problem that plagues many sound-happy artists. The building, building, building up of many tracks never actually becomes anything more than a foundation to a song. Certain pieces like, “March and June” with its systolic beat, whirring resonance and cooing vocals promises to swerve but never changes its arrow-straight path off into a vanishing point. “Barnyard Creeps” is a late-comer that breaks that tradition and uses a gnarled guitar form to force directional shifts. Micka’s knack for interesting textures and complementary colours make the album an easy listen, but one that fails to leave lasting impressions.

Mutable Sound

Aughra – Proof of Dark Matter/Light the Lights

The dark ambient subgenre has not been so strong since the mid-80s/early 90s when creatures like Zoviet France and Rapoon slithered over the British heartland. While Aughra’s Brent Eyestone doesn’t stick exclusively to those deep shadows, a good number of them fall across his full length debut. Opener “Et In Arcadia Ego” neatly crosses the mid-90s Bristol wires of Flying Saucer Attack and Portishead by sitting a nest of fuzzy guitar noise atop a slinky drum machine beat. Things get a little more clockwork on “Machinelike Registration of Proximity,” a corroded goosestep by Schwarzeneggerian toy soldiers. The title suggests a certain balance, and the second half of the album finds the murky medium of marsh gas electronics obfuscating distant sheets of guitar heat lightning. Aughra’s quiet menace seems to exist as a dream world version of Eyestone’s work with Forensics, a less-than-obvious metalcore quartet given to tasteful loud/quiet dynamics. The metal may be deteriorating from its immersion in aquatic electronics, but it still has sharp edges, waiting.

Magic Bullet Records

Black Dice – Repo

The hodgepodge collection that was 2007’s Load Blown marked this Brooklyn crew’s skip over to their Animal Collective buddies’ label. The focus on Repo remains on the healing/disorienting power of the loop, though with a little less dogmatic minimalism. Opener “Nite Creme” illustrates how their brand of noise rock has tapped in the energy flow of American hardcore, siphoning DIY energy and ragged experimentalism into a real time jam. Black Dice prefer the wink to the frown, however. Cousin Panda Bear’s acclaimed Person Pitch could be summarized as “Good Vibrations” for Kraftwerk fans, but Repo, though related, defies reduction. Oddly nostalgia-inducing turntable stabs, off-speed/kilter vocal loops, and what sounds like a sentient pawn shop with Pee Wee Herman at the till only offers a preview of the mayhem. The whacked kids show vibe reaches it’s peak on “Lazy TV” which sounds like The Wonderful World of Disney on the best hash brownies money can buy. For the older and funkier set “Ultra Vomit Craze” simulates James Brown’s discography bit-reduced into an old school Gameboy. Those who like their noise angry or austere may be put off, but if they drink the punch they’ll be fine.

Paw Tracks

Last Days – The Safety of the North

While there’s a good portion of instrumental rock that gets ascribed the “cinematic” tag, Graham Richardson may be the only artist who embraces it to the point of structuring an album after a script of sorts. Safety of the North focuses on the experiences of a young girl named Alice whose family leaves the city for a simpler life in the north. “May Your Days Be Gold” is a song in Alice’s voice that swells with the promise of nature. The good cheer, marked by ascendant acoustic guitar, gentle piano and heartbeat electronics, gradually gives way to doubt and darker times. On “Life Support” the piano theme is subsumed by the crackle of static and what sounds like unmanned shortwave. By “Nothing Stays the Same, Nothing Ever Ends” hope gets lost in a snowstorm of noise but reappears in the melancholy strings after it subsides. In man vs. nature it’s clear that Richardson will not pick a favourite.


Tomasz Bednarczyk – Painting Sky Together

Simple melancholy, without the benefit of swelling strings or children’s choirs, is a delicate thing to achieve in music. On his previous Room40 release Summer Feelings Poland’s Bednarczyk dismantled and reduced simple piano themes to find deeply hidden melodies. Now at the ripe age of 22 he both opens up his library of sources and trusts negative space even more. “Freckled Cheeks” is toy-like in its simplicity and flecked with digital grit from someone’s sticky fingers. On “Tokyo” Bednarcyzk finally leaps into outer space, turning to field recordings of water, bicycles and a walk through a bird sanctuary to aid a jittering, backwards running oriental theme’s descriptive strength. “January” loosens a hold on precision, sounding like a bank of sampled moments from the album let run on random. Bednarczyk inarguable pinches elements from pioneering electronics artists (Fennesz, Oren Ambarchi, BJ Nilsen), but he brings those little pinches together in a way that is all his own. It’s praise-worthy work from a gifted young artist.

Room 40

Balmorhea – All is Wild, All is Silent

As on last year’s Rivers Arms this Austin outfit prospects what is possible with a classical left hand married to a folk/rock right. This new album wanders inland from the riverside until it reaches a point in the desert’s dusty eminence. “Settler” heads the charge with a “wagons ho” gallop showing off the dynamic interplay of guitar, violin, cello, bass and piano. A wordless vocal and counterpoint chorus of handclaps makes it impossible not to smile along. Even quieter moments, like on “Remembrance” and “Night in the Draw” with it open range banjo, eventually open up into sky filling exuberance. Jesy Fortino of the criminally overlooked Tiny Vipers makes an appearance on “November 1, 1832,” lending a haunted vocal to a simple piano theme. As with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ film soundtracks, Balmorhea manage to describe and compliment the western landscape without employing shopworn Morricone-isms. Let them run wild through the night.

Western Vinyl

Various – Pop Ambient 2009

A growing trend in the ambient world towards Erik Satie-like neo-classical minimalism is confirmed on the newest installment of Kompakt’s popular series. The piano, or electronics made to sound, informs nearly half of the twelve lovely tracks. After Klimek’s cascading clarion opens the window little plinky drifts waft in. Sylvain Chauveau’s “Nuage III,” borrowed from his recent Type Records release, is an august theme for wandering thoughts. As gentle, though with a slightly sinister undercurrent, is “Hindemith” courtesy of label boss Wolfgang Voigt’s long dormant alias, Mint. Even Tim Hecker, veteran guitar fractioner, vaporizes a piano theme into a sonorous cloud. Also fully infusing the full sound spectrum with watery ebbs is Marsen Jules, who has been relatively quiet (no pun intended) after two masterful City Centre Offices releases. Unsurprisingly the sequence of tracks turns the collection into a seamless work of quiescent art. I turn thumbs up to turning down.


Montag – Hibernation

Clearing the cobwebs off his desktop before the release of his new full length, Antoine B├ędard, who is a Quebecer once again, explores winter textures on his self-produced the Hibernation e.p. Going Places from 2007 saw Montag collaborating with M83, Beach House and others to bracket in his pop and electro influences. The seven track (+ one bonus) mini album leans more on the digital sketchbook side of the bracket, with vocals on only a couple of pieces. “Nord” is a recurring title, split over three tracks, and has a wistful elegance that begs for a long lens shot of the “lone female figure skater on frozen pond” ilk. The rest of the vintage keyboard thematics are likewise soft focus, and at times a little uninspired. The standout is “Inner Thought About Kuujjuaq,” the aforementioned bonus track, a vocal performance that nicely fits the current trend of music that explores an 80s sound that actually never existed. It’s a nice little timewaster of a download, but by April you’ll be ready for something warmer to help you forget the winter.

Paper Bag

Zak Riles – S/T

The Grails boys have a real flow going over the last couple of years. Besides the group’s two full lengths and e.p. since 2007 multi-instrumentalist Emil Amos joined Om and re-issued his Holy Sons solo album. Now guitarist Zak Riles (whom Amos also collaborated with in Dolorean) has thrown his solo album into the ring. Grails fans will recognize the Middle Eastern/Eastern European flavour of Riles’ ringing steel strings, but he kicks things off with a lovely bluesy fingerpicker called “Pacific Siren” that trisects the Blackshaw/Fahey axis. The titular siren calling faintly over the waves is a nice touch. “Confluence” is a pale horse-riding western doom number worthy of Ben Chasny’s Six Organs. But the meat of the album is Riles’ raga/drone suites that don’t exactly induce calm meditation, what with the storm warning cymbals and panicked toms. With its broad shoulders and open-skied vistas it’s a fine muscular addition to an ever-expanding canon of modern guitar works.


Aethenor - Faking Gold and Murder

In Sunn O))) Stephen O'Malley adopted the whole element of robes and fog not only for its visual impact, but also for its attachment to ceremony and ritual. So bringing Current 93's David Tibet in as a collaborator on the newest installment of the Aethenor project makes perfect sense. The low end rumble and sweet voiced recitations hold parallels to the Murder Ballads collaboration between Mick Harris and Martyn Bates in the late 90s which saw a marriage of dark ambience and folk balladry. These pieces, however, also have some wonderful wildfire drums and lingering percussion flare-ups courtesy of Nicolas Field and Alex Babel. Alexander Tucker makes an appearance to let a little hint of light touch the gray edges. Whether you find Tibet's magickal sermonizing austere or knee-slappingly goofy is partly the make-or-break here. Either way there are enough threads of gold glittering through the dark bedrock of the four pieces to overlook any unconverted lead.


Intrusion – The Seduction of Silence

As one half of Echospace (Along with Rod Modell), Steve Hitchell scored a massive hit out of the box with The Coldest Season. That is if super-minimal oceanic electronics with beats so sparse they risk evaporation can truly be called “massive.” As Intrusion he travels with a more traditional portmanteau of dub beats, though they are still well insulated for the winter chill. Opener “Montego Bay” is not exactly dubstep, but its uptempo footprint is reminiscent of System and Jan Jelinek’s spacier moments on the ~Scape label. Paul St. Hilaire, who is fast supplanting Horace Andy in the guest reggae artist role, appears on “Little Angel” and “Angel Version” to allow his vocals to faintly bleed into the mix. “Intrusion Dub” shuffles over a straight up 4/4 beat that will have purists scratching their dreads until they give in and dance. Echospace fans will maintain a contact high from the waves of fluttery sighs that drift through “A Night to Remember.” If your climate is more conducive to snow forts than sandcastles this should be your seasonal choice in dub plates.


M. Templeton & aA. Munson – Acre Loss

Mark Templeton enters the landscape, and the landscape enters him, and on and on. His cyclic synthesis erases logic that suggests cutlery is non-musical or that a guitar loop isn't living in a tree outside your bedroom window. Templeton lets indoor and outdoor sounds through a revolving door of wavering electronics and fragile melodies to create a kind of "day in the life" portrait of young man as prairie electronics artist. Collaborating with Templeton on the DVD portion of Acre Loss is fellow Edmontonian and filmmaker aAron Munson. The visuals, which also served as backdrops at festival concerts such as the 2007 edition of Mutek, suit the abstract/referential balance of the audio. Ice and snow are layered over leafless branches and frosted windows. Human figures are shown in glimpses or fragments. Only on pieces like “1 is to one as…” are things slowed and steadied enough to pause and observe, which in this case is the ritual of coffee making, a process that is echoed in sound moments throughout the album. From sound one it is one of the most evocative and complete marriage of audio and visual elements I’ve seen in many years.


I8U – 10 –33 cm

From Holst’s The Planets to Eno’s Apollo composers have glanced spaceward for inspiration and grandeur. Montreal’s France Jobin goes an extra step by turning outwards then inwards to explore ideas of String Theory, the title being the theoretical size of strings that make up... well, everything. Music, or purely expressed sound, is a logical art form to tackle these complex ideas as little else exists in time and space quite the same way. The seven pieces have a scientific precision and clarity, placing each tone and texture in an aural description of nearly dimensionless particles. The vibratory interactions of these particles or strings stir high end frequencies that snap together like microscopic jigsaws and waves of drone that describe a closed or looped model. Slipping just out of silence into the auditory field intensifies a reflex to lean towards the discovery of curious phenomena. Whether or not Jobin’s work inspires you to more deeply consider reality it can be enjoyed for its wonderful minimalist construction.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Surgery 82

Agf.3 Sue.C - Mini Movies (Asphodel)
The Boats - Words Are Something Else (Home Normal)
Loess - Burrows (n5MD)
Konntinent - Degrees, Integers (Symbolic Interaction)
Sleep Whale - Little Brite (Western Vinyl)
Riceboy Sleeps - S/T (Parlophone)
Porn Sword Tobacco - Everything Is Music To The Ear (City Centre Offices)
Charity Chan - Somewhere The Sea And Salt (Ambiances Magnetiques)
Starving Weirdos - Into An Energy (Bo' Weavil)
Icarus - Sylt Remixes (Rump)
Various - Iceberg (CCCLTD)
Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto - Ensemble Modern (Raster-Noton)
Joelle Leandre & Quentin Sirjacq - Out Of Nowhere (Ambiances Magnetiques)

Track Listing

Agf.3 Sue.C - Geneva [0:00]
The Boats - This song has been intentionally left blank [4:12]
Loess - Thresh [7:39]
Konntinent - It Was Almost Effortless [10:33]
Sleep Whale - Sleep Whale [15:39]
Riceboy Sleeps - Daniell In The Sea [20:16]
Porn Sword Tobacco - Spectrum Campfire [27:00]
Charity Chan - Sea Nocks [29:57]
Starving Weirdos - Everything Glass [32:13]
Ivan Pavlov - KEET'98 (oxy mix) [39:48]
Galerie Stratique - Icebourge [45:05]
Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto - Broken Line 1 [49:07]
Joelle Leandre & Quentin Sirjacq - Hallucinations [55:09]

Listen to Surgery 82 click here

Monday, June 01, 2009

Surgery 81

Ada - Adaptations (Kompakt)
Antifilm - IO (Statler & Waldorf)
A Broken Consort - Box of Birch (Tompkins Square)
Peter Wright - Snow Blind (Install)
Plastik Joy - 3:03 (n5MD)
Fennesz, O'Rourke & Rehberg - The return of Fenn O'Berg [reissue] (eMego)
Mankind - Ice Machine (Ambiances Magnetiques)
Soccer Committee & Machinefabriek - Drawn (Morc)
Kleinschmager Audio - Audiology (Rrygular)
Luke Hess - Light In The Dark (Echochord)
Aus - After All (Flau)

Track Listing

Ada - Forty Winks [0:00]
Antifilm - Heavy Petting [7:12]
A Broken Consort - A Sundering Path [10:46]
Peter Wright - Follow the Leader [20:24]
Plastik Joy - True Norwegian Black Metal [26:04]
Fennesz, O'Rourke & Rehberg - We Will Diffuse You [29:53]
Mankind - Post-Colonial [40:00]
Soccer Committee & Machinefabriek - Magpie [43:37]
Kleinschmager Audio - Eclipse [46:22]
Luke Hess - Reel Life [52:29]
Aus - Fake Five [56:56]

Listen to Surgery 81 click here