viernes, 30 de marzo de 2012

Nicholas Szczepanik - We Make Life Sad

Genre: Ambient, Drone, Experimental
Label: Weme Records

'We Make Life Sad' is a powerfully haunting transmission from Chicago's Nicholas Szczepanik - and a very strong choice for fans of The Caretaker or Indignant Senility. In contrast to last years well received 'Please Stop Loving Me' suite, this side for Belgium's WeMe is more concise, refined into ten chapters of gauzily textured samples, zombied digital synth tones and processed strings which hover and shapeshift like slow-moving hallucinations. Like we say, there's an undeniable conceptual allegiance with The Caretaker's foisty shellac ambience and introverted loop spirals, but like Indignant Senility's compelling 'Consecration Of The Whipstain', the magic herein lies with Nicholas' ability to breathe extra life into the samples, foregrounding their rich melodic nuance and tactile textures against a murky, lowlit background which draws the ear through the heavy red curtains to a cavernous and dark hollow behind. If it was mere plagiarism we'd say so, but it's not, and we look forward to spending time with this LP in our musty old attic listening space.

miércoles, 28 de marzo de 2012

Danny Norbury - Bluebeard

Genre: Neo Classical, Instrumental
Label: Wist Rec

The “Book Report Series” was conceived as way of involving the shifting state of literature with a community that would not only help to highlight the significance of a book’s physical form but also allow one to glean new, immediate connections between differing art forms.

martes, 13 de marzo de 2012

Nova Scotian Arms - Cult Spectrum

Genre: Ambient, Drone, Dark Ambient

Nova Scotian Arms has concocted a sprawling, sophisticated catalog of winding compositions and dizzying drones. Grant Evans, who is also 1/2 of Quiet Evenings and co-curator of the Hooker Vision label, is the brains behind the entire operation. Throughout numerous releases he has shown a consistent ability to keep listeners guessing as he explores endless sonic territories. With Cult Spectrum, Evans is drowning himself in a hazy aural sea. 

Like much of his work, there is a very distinct mood on Cult Spectrum. This is funereal music that is stretched to its breaking point. Distant galaxies are buried underground in a delicate mix of sounds that are as cosmic as they are organic. This duality is at play straight-off with the masterful opener, "Gathering/Composition." Soaring in crystal skies on beds of hiss, each strained note from Evans' Rhodes piano that emerged from the murk is an anchor keeping the song and the mood gravity-stricken. It works to perfection, drawing in the listener immediately. 

Tape loops and radio interference deliciously muddy the waters of Cult Spectrum. The 16+ minute burner, "Emulsion," combines all those and more into a cacophonous stew. Acoustic guitars circle around and die in the swirling synthetic drain. Each wave emerges in stages as Evans shows considerable compositional skill in the way the piece is put together. With "Overcast Strumming (1st Delay)" comes a melancholic, skyward glance. Electronic corridors take shape and find a simple beauty through tonal dichotomies. Blurred drones are puncuated by bursts of fuzz, working in tandem to find that sonic bliss. 

If Cult Spectrum is Nova Scotian Arms' biggest stage and loudest statement then the message is coming through loud & clear. Grant Evans is a force to be reckoned with. This is the sound of dissonance sculpted and shaped into something far greater and leaves its mark long after the final, ghostly seconds of "Hearse Overdub (Decomposition)" fade away. Evans is digging a tunnel, heading straight for the sun.

lunes, 12 de marzo de 2012

Grouper - Violet Replacement

Genre: Ambient, Drone
Label: Self released

Grouper’s Violet Replacement performances are long form ambient pieces comprised of tape loops, field recordings Wurlitzer loops and submerged atmospherics, mixed and processed live from an array of dictaphones and tape players.

martes, 6 de marzo de 2012

Julia Holter - Ekstasis

Genre: Experimental, Electronic, Psychedelic
Label: RVNG Intl

Like a lot of home-recorded music in the indie sphere in the last few years, Ekstasis makes heavy use of atmosphere. There's plenty of reverb and vocal tracks are braided together into drones; it's the kind of swirly production that's good for hiding mistakes. But nothing Holter does feels random. This album is above all careful, and its deliberate construction allows it to work on a different plane from most music that scans as "ethereal." Ekstasis is not the sort of oceanic wash you lose yourself in; instead, Holter's music has a way of snapping tiny moments and small sonic gestures into focus.Ekstasis is above all smart, and it makes no apologies for it.

Holter's work exists at the intersection between pop and "serious" music. The mayor of that particular corner is Laurie Anderson, and there are obvious parallels between the two. You can hear Anderson in Holter's flat, chant-like inflection, which allows her music and lyrics to do the emotional work. You can also hear it in her love of simplicity and approach to mixing traditional instrumentation and electronics. Another touchstone is the dark magic of Klaus Nomi. It's not just that the tracks like "Fur Felix" bear a similarity to Nomi tracks like "Keys of Life", there's also an undercurrent of ritualism and theatricality in Holter's music. Ekstasisis certainly mysterious, but not because meaning is hard to pin down; it's more that there are so many possible meanings, so many places to focus your attention.

Listening to Ekstasis, I keep thinking about how it differs from music that feels superficially similar. The music of Julianna Barwick, for example, has liturgical overtones, bringing to mind stone and glass and voices rising in cathedrals. Barwick wants to tap into something beyond words. But Holter's music sounds like it was assembled in a dusty library a floor or two below the sanctuary. It's a few shades darker, but it's also based on ideas first and intuition second. Despite using vocoders, drum machines, and electronics, it feels "old" in part because Holter so deliberately connects her music to the distant past. On her debut album, she did so by basing her songs on a play from ancient Greece by Euripides; here, she pulls words and scenarios from literature and mixes them with her own idiosyncratic approach to words. The songs include quotes from the likes of Virginia Woolf and Frank O'Hara. A line from O'Hara's poem "Having a Coke With You"-- "I look at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world"-- animates "Moni Mon Ami", nestled amid the twinkling synths, strings, and keyboards that sound like harpsichord are original lines like "Hours become years when you're gone!"

Where Holter's Tragedy felt more like a tapestry, with vocal tracks mixed in with instrumental bits and interludes, Ekstasis leans toward proper songs, and it palette is more uniform. "In the Same Room", despite its chintzy drum machine and mechanized hand-claps, is actually a drama unfolding in close quarters. "In this very room, we spent the day and looked over antiquities. Don't you remember?" to which the other character replies, "Do I know you? I can't recall this face but I want to." You see it play out on paper on the lyric sheet and it feels like a linear exchange, but Holter twists the voices together and the narrative folds in on itself. It's there as pure, gorgeous sound if you want it-- you don't need to know what the songs are about to immerse yourself in this record-- but the deeper you go, the more the songs open up.

"I can see you but my eyes are not allowed to cry..." is a lyric from "Goddess Eyes", a new version of a song that appeared on Tragedy. It's a line from the Euripides play that inspired her first album, and it's delivered in processed voice reminiscent of a vocoder. So we have a 2,000-year old phrase run through a device that makes a human sound like a 1970s version of the robots of the future. And at the center of all this time travel stands Julia Holter, pulling in references and sounds from everywhere and shaping them into a music that's both haunting and life-affirming, something to make you dream and think.

lunes, 5 de marzo de 2012

Loscil - City Hospital

Genre: Electronic, Ambient, Drone, Abstract
Label: Wist Rec

Sound report on Malcolm Lowry’s novella “Lunar Caustic”.

The “Book Report Series” was conceived as way of involving the shifting state of literature with a community that would not only help to highlight the significance of a book’s physical form but also allow one to glean new, immediate connections between differing art forms.