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Archive for June, 2012

The newest release on the Ethereal Live netlabel, “Inner Place” is a project by an artist “IX” from Tehran, Iran. This seems to be his second album under this name. The first appears to be “Substratum” on the Russian Subwise netlabel. According to “Substratum”‘s page on Discogs, the first album was released in July 2011. The Russian Otium netlabel lists a number of other projects under different names: Alphaxone, Spuntic, Monolith Cycle and Altitude-X.

The album’s tracks are all named “Transition”, and numbered from “Transition I” to “Transition VIII”. I’ll shorten the titles to just their numbers here for the sake of brevity. “I” is a sweet opener, all wide open chords with slow, pensive changes between non-minor keys. It’s very peaceful and gentle. “II” is a mysterious wash of barely-present ambience, until delayed bells and a gentle hit appear and echo lazily around the periphery. NASA-style speech floats in and away again. “III” is a little bit darker; not dark ambient as such, but with more gravity and edge than the first two cuts. Lapping water opens “IV”, giving way to deep gurgles and tiny, uncertain sounds bobbing along on the surface.

“V” is metallic and droney, placed in a fog of uncertainty and hesitance. An organic synth makes occasional statements in reply to questioning pads. “VI” in contrast is dense, circling like a gigantic black hole or whirlpool, its long ambient tentacles grabbing anything that veers too close to the edges. “VII” is very much dark ambient, unsettling and uncomfortable; a machine-like hum hovers over dark chords, then leaves us as the chords draw out, feeling their way around in darkness like tendrils. The final track, “VIII”, draws the album to a close in an echo-laden environment with almost palpable, shimmering heat. Minor pads drag out, to be replaced by major, under an ever-present oppressive weight.

There’s an odd warm hiss in parts of the album, particularly so on the first track, which makes it sound slightly dated, and hence it’s difficult to tell exactly when the album was recorded. This may have been added deliberately, or it’s perhaps simply an unintended artefact. Whichever is the case it’s by no means an unpleasant sound. Altogether, a fascinating listen.

Label: Ethereal Live   Cat: EL023   Artist: Inner Place   Price: Free

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The BFW Recordings site tells us that Amygdala Projects is the stage name of Hungarian musician László Néder. He has played guitar for 20 years, and aside from Amygdala Projects, he’s also a member of a rock band, TerraLuna. This ten track album, however, is a solo release, and his fourth on the BFW label.

“Galactic City”, the opening track, starts with a long, slow introductory sweep, as a Berlin School sequence bubbles under sonics which sizzle off to left and right. A solid bass groove kicks off underneath as filters open and close. Halfway through, a driving beat kicks in, propelling the track forward relentlessly. The music fades, but then suddenly we’re back in a psytrance groove. It’s a fabulous opener. “Ancient Rite” begins with bells and a female choir; a slow rhythm builds up with guitar and drums. Huge, almost tribal drums appear, then male vocals (Indian, perhaps?) are draped deftly across the top. The track maps itself out slowly, almost feeling its way around the edges of the soundstage.

“The 7th” has a hazy, shimmering opening, with a male voice drone and female speech. Synthetic voices jitter and slither above a heady bass and drum groove, to be subsumed by vocals, now female and in English. “Gene of Machine” is slithering, sinister electronica, skilfully built from blips and coils into an almost physically tangible structure. A deep bass synth carpets breathy ethereal vocals. It breaks down just after the two minute mark, snatches of speech flittering in and out, before the quasi-industrial rhythm takes over again. “Distilled People” takes us half way through the album, delay-soaked guitar and synth laid over a massive pounding beat.

The second half kicks off with “Evolving Lifes”, organic sounds overlapping a sinuous bassline. A quiet electronic rhythm is steadily built up, before being joined by a solid drum pattern. “Substance Z” starts with a very grand synth riff. A wordless female voice takes up the high end. Drums are pinned, Hillage-like, below. “Cauteria” has a ominous beginning, with eerie distorted voices and edgy chords. Another Berlin-style sequence emerges, completely contrasting with the voices. Synths zip under and over the beats as they become denser, folding and unfolding like DNA.

The album’s penultimate cut, “What Do You See in the Sphere?” has an almost martial rhythm. It’s a slow burner, hypnotic and fascinating. Finally, the closer, “Paroxysmal Love”, is the shortest here by far at just over two-and-a-half minutes long. It begins firmly in ambient territory, until a synth pattern and processed vocals overlay an opening drone. The track fades, leaving the listener relaxed after nearly an hour of alternating tension and groove. It’s quite the trip.

Label: BFW Recordings   Cat: BFW181   Artist: Amygdala Projects   Price: Free

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Matthew Barlow is a guitarist and ambient synthesis sound artist living in Asheville, North Carolina. He also hosts a radio show called “Notes From the Underground” on Asheville FM. At the time of writing, he has five releases listed on Bandcamp.

“Fields” has two tracks, and is just shy of half an hour long. Both are named after letters of the Greek alphabet. On his Bandcamp page, the artist describes the music as being “created & inspired largely from processing two 15 min sessions of electric guitar recorded to tape”. The album is available to buy as a limited edition cassette (only 5 remaining), and can be streamed and downloaded freely.

The first track, “ψ” (Psi), fades in with a gorgeous ambient wash, gentle guitar textures glimmering off to one side, and opens out into a lovely haze of sustained chords. Glittering guitar work is laid over the top, and the chords move from major to minor, and from simple to complex, under soft high delayed notes; the chords slowly shape themselves into dark ambient drones. Delicate guitar work shifts across the high end, creating an immense wall of sound. The drones drop out, leaving us in a bright, ethereal space. It’s breathtaking.

Track two, “ϕ” (Phi), starts with a deep drone and ominous cavernous sounds, before a slow seven-note pattern appears and begins to repeat. There’s a much darker atmosphere here than on “ψ”. Just after five minutes in, a pulsing rhythm starts, and it echoes and bounces around the soundfield. Deep dark drones draw out, pinning the music down with their sheer mass. It’s dark, yes, but almost like being wrapped in a cocoon; it’s not uncomfortable listening at all. The music fades with a whine, and is suddenly gone.

We’re left with one question: what have we to make of the track titles? “Sci-fi”, perhaps? A Ramachandran plot? Only the artist knows for certain. Whatever their meaning, this release is highly recommended.

Label: Bandcamp   Cat:     Artist: Matthew Barlow   Price: $5 / free

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True story: Les Scott (a.k.a. Neu Gestalt) and I live in the same city, and worked in the same organisation, and yet we’ve never met. “Altered Carbon”, his début release, was an astonishing tour de force. Indeed, it’s one of my five favourite electronica albums ever. “Weightless Hours” has been three years in the making. That’s a long time by any standards. Given how much I love his first album, I hoped so much that I wouldn’t be disappointed. Thankfully, I had nothing to fear.

“Toxicology” begins with lapping water and breathy shakuhachi over band-passed crackles and phased synths. A glitchy pattern breaks out, underpinned by an immense bass. Simple piano notes are then draped over all of this, creating a fabulous contrast of acoustic and electronic instruments. It’s a cracker of an opener, signalling in advance how the album might develop. “Abandoned Cities” has a cinematic oriental feel, with melted shakuhachi notes warping themselves around a highly structured, intricate rhythm. On “Cold Wave”, a bright chiming pair of stereo synths lead us into a shuffling, loping beat, lurching relentlessly forward under reverb-drenched stabs and icy flickers.

“Saturn Park”‘ is the most rhythm-driven track here, liquid keys burbling as the beat is fuelled by odd synthetic springs and coils which fit perfectly. Again, there’s piano, though with much more reverb, and wide panoramic pads. Sublime music for daytime train travel, as the listener follows both an internal, and external, landscape. “Winter” is truly beautiful, soft notes suspended in pointed shards of ice as the music stutters and shivers; tiny aural snowflakes fall to left and right as a gentle beat builds. The half-way point in the album, “Sub Rosa”, is reluctant to give up its secrets; a pad shimmers above water and a highly complex organic rhythm, which crackles and spirals off into the distance, then somehow reassembles itself.

The second half begins with “Curtain of Rust”, which gives a nod to electronic music of an earlier decade, though this is dragged firmly into the present by an almost mathematical beat. It’s dense and multi-layered, with shakuhachi making a reappearance over a gentle series of metallic riffs, contrasting elegantly against the sound of water. “On Haunted Shores” evokes the ghosts of industry, as dead machinery pulls its sound across the decades into the present; it grinds and clicks, a forgotten memory projected onto a lonely, dark shore of minor pads. These two tracks together are the most reminiscent of “Altered Carbon”, albeit with more emphasis on rhythm, though with similarities in texture.

My favourite track here is “Aerial Eleven”. This is electronica at its most sublime and artistic. I defy anyone who says the genre has no soul to listen to this and not change their view. Beginning with a distant rumble, a muffled keyboard lays down a few plaintive chords. Suddenly we’re inside the most luscious environment imaginable. Fluffy pads push slowly forward and back against the gentlest of rhythms. Languid shakuhachi notes come and go. Metallic coils, organic noises and processed birdsong slither off to the sides. The effect is absolutely stunning, and unlike anything else I’ve heard.

“Metalline” has skittering, fractured textures overlaid with piano. Glitchy ticks zip off to the left and right, leaving the piano as a solitary island in a sea once calm, then less so. Metallic sculptures suspend themselves above the water, rotating and reflecting the light. Again, an extraordinary mix of acoustic and electronic instrumentation. “Sheltering Skies” is perhaps the most complex track here. An oriental rhythm pushes on through all manner of electro-acoustic sounds. Phased pads cluster thickly over a clean, delayed synth bassline. Layers of percussion are built up, and long notes are drawn out above these layers. It’s complicated and fascinating.

The final cut on the album, “We Who Walk Through Walls”, in contrast to the album’s title, is drawn in thick, heavy pulses of colour, with iridescent tendrils swaying above their roots in a futuristic glimpse of something unstoppable; never menacing, never rushing, but pausing for nothing and no-one. Dense pads are glued to an organic bass, and the music threatens to break up, but instead grows even more insistent. It’s a fitting conclusion to an absolutely stunning album. The visual icing on the cake is the sumptuous fold-out cover design, which carries some fascinating background sleevenotes together with black and white photography from Les, all wrapped up in an extraordinary design. It’s simply beautiful.

Many thanks to Les for supplying me with a promo copy of the album, which is due to be released on 22 June.

Label: Alex Tronic Records  Cat: ATRCD 143   Artist: Neu Gestalt   Price: $$

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I’d like to start this review on a personal note. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) has been my charity of choice for the past seven years. Every year, we sponsor a dolphin called Rainbow who lives in Scottish waters, and it’s lovely to be kept in touch with her progress. So I was delighted to see this album on Sound for Good’s page at Bandcamp, where you name your price for buying their releases and 100% of what you pay goes to a nominated charity, in this case the WDCS. The label is an excellent initiative from the artist Jack Hertz, who has already helped to support Trees for the Future with the label’s two earlier releases.

The opening track, “Spiral”, starts with an ominous rumble, static, and then an immense drone with iridescent bursts of almost rhythmic organic sound textures. It’s very complex and dense, glimmering like a strange multi-faceted crystal, and it strikes an odd balance between dark ambient and experimental music. The latter half is terrifying, yet utterly compelling listening. Next up, “Flow” begins with a cavernous descent into a soundscape of alien forms chattering and crackling. Dense pads hover and swirl around an axis which is almost impossible to locate. The track lightens somewhat around halfway through, where the music becomes briefly more conventional, albeit overlaid with intricate patterns of what sounds like alien speech. A rhythm evolves briefly before a series of organic shrieks, pummels and crackles draw us to a blistering close.

“Lens”, the album’s longest cut, pulls the listener in with heavily-effected soaring synths off to left and right and a repetitive pattern of ring-modulated tones at the high end. A metallic riff builds above deep lengthy organic swoops and pulsating drones. Everything begins to slide off-kilter around the six-and-a-half minute mark, where glistening complex sequences of notes hang above something more foreboding. Rapidly pulsing notes pan left and right and are joined by a fascinating, almost conversational series of sounds. Metal groans onto metal under a buzzing, driving pattern which zips across the listener’s ears. Mangled chords appear towards the end in a distant bow to conventionality. The experience is absolutely spellbinding.

The penultimate track “Absence of Matter Pt. 1” is something of a slow burner, in direct contrast to its predecessor. An industrial buzz and rotating drone form a core on which organic and metallic sounds tussle for position. The track tilts and shifts, disorienting the listener before suddenly giving way to a synthetic rhythm which drops in, then out, and is replaced by another. Huge glistening leads crawl across the music, in a vain attempt to settle. Its partner, “Absence of Matter Pt. 2”, closes the album with cold, fragile jitters above mid-range, breathy pads which are then swallowed by fractured burbles and a colossal, whirling centre. A glitchy pattern kicks off around half way through, panning rapidly around left, centre and right. The pattern gives way to a bass which copies the rhythm. Vocoded speech patterns then take over this same pattern, and the music is propelled along at a fair pace, until all we’ve experienced disintegrates into complete uncertainty at the eight-minute mark. The album ends as its title suggests: everything solid has left us.

Label: Sound for Good   Cat:    Artist: William Spivey & Aos Crowley   Price: NYP

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This double-CD equivalent from Jarguna is fresh from the Earth Mantra netlabel. With seven previous releases listed in the Italian artist’s discography, this is his debut release for EM.

“Waiting for a Call From the Unknown Part 1” is the longest cut on the album, running at just over 36 minutes. Long slow drones set the pace for the first four and a half minutes, before being joined by a single note repeating pensively over the drones as they begin to circulate restlessly. Dark synths begin to weave in and out, and mysterious burbles float around the soundspace. There’s a sense of slow, tentative movement as a quiet rhythm starts around the nine minute mark.  Twenty-two minutes or so in, it seems as if contact might be made, but there’s no certainty.

The second track, “Dark Side of Calliope” is the shortest of four, but still weighs in at nearly sixteen minutes. It’s discordant, and dark as the title suggests. Great swells of synth washes veer off to left and right; there’s little in the way of comfort here. Long metallic drones clash with one another in a struggle of titanic proportions. Around half way though, chords begin to form, and the mood lightens, though only a little, as the sound changes from conflict to a feeling of wonder. As we float towards the end, it really feels as if we’re suspended in the vast coldness of space.

“Commutator” starts out on something of a lighter note. There are some major chords here, overlaid with percussive metallic sounds and long bass rumbles. But there’s something very otherworldly about the music; something not human. It’s almost as if we’re inside a giant machine, witnessing activity taking place that’s too difficult to comprehend. A rhythm begins around a third of the way in, and starts to shape the music into something we might be able to understand. The beat grows thicker and denser, propelling the track forward with malevolent intent. Snatches of alien speech appear, vying for our attention against a scattershot, almost Berlin School synth sequence.

The closer, “Waiting for a Call From the Unknown Part 2”, is the second longest track on the album, at just shy of 32 minutes. An eerie drone throbs underneath a minor chord and they begin to fold and unfold, like a double helix. Around the sixth minute, the drone and chord fall away leaving us with breaths and organic noises. The buzzing of unfamiliar machinery pans rapidly left and right, disorienting the listener before suspending us in darkness. Seventeen minutes in, and it feels as if the awaited connection has finally been made. Communication takes place; there’s an exchange of knowledge and information as two species, light years apart, share their experiences. The album closes with a bright, positive view towards the future.

Jarguna explains in the notes that the album is “a distillation of my musings when I focus my thought on empty spaces, the Universe, and its mysteries”. For me, it strikes a fabulous balance between space music and ambient, though leaning heavily towards the former.

Label: Earth Mantra   Cat: earman194   Artist: Jarguna   Price: Free

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Saito Koji – Again

Saito Koji is a musician currently living in Fukushima in Japan. His latest release, “Again”, his seventh on the Resting Bell netlabel, consists of eight tracks, each of which is three minutes long, just like its predecessor, “Guide”. An article about the artist on the website Current tells us that “since the nuclear disaster in March 2011 in Fukushima, Saito Koji composes pieces based on distorsion [sic] and much more powerful ‘noise’ guitar sounds”, which gives us an indication of what to expect; for me, at least, that description doesn’t do justice to the music here.

The opening track, “Alone”, is a wash of power-driven guitar drone, three chords to the left and mirrored to the right, with feedback tails, repeated again and again. The chords are major rather than minor as the title might suggest. It stands as a fine opening statement of intent. Track two, “Aurora”, is blissful experimentally-tinged ambience, hazy and shimmering, hovering perfectly in the air.

“Dog” is a huge processed feedback loop of sheer, pulsing energy. I’d be happy to listen to a much longer version of this to see it evolve further, but it’s amazing as it stands. Then “Joy” leads us towards the EP’s halfway mark with a gigantic, stunning wall of metallic sound, perfectly in tune, which sears its way into our ears.

The second half kicks off with “Magic”, another wash of simple chords, driven to their maximum to create a simple, yet ethereal beauty. “Sunset” has massive peals of chord pairs firing off to the left and right in a huge tapestry of reverberant noise.

The penultimate track “Touch” has an almost aching sense of loss. A slow pulse is centred amidst a vast sonic barrage of long, strung out guitar chords, which shift ever so gently from a simple chord to a complex one. “Wash” takes us to the end of the music with an almost overpowering glow of gorgeous heavily-processed guitar which soars from one chord to another, then back.

It’s astonishing how much high-quality music can be placed into 24 short minutes. Every track fades out; there’s nothing jarring or unpleasant in anything here, though listeners may wish to keep an eye on volume levels, which are high. But the whole thing is quite a remarkable experience. I definitely want to listen to other releases by the artist.

Label: Resting Bell   Cat: RB108   Artist: Saito Koji   Price: Free

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