Archive for July, 2012

I’ve wanted to review an album by the prolific Jack Hertz for a while, and the timing of his latest album, “Speleo” is just right. Jack runs the Sound for Good netlabel, where profits from sales of downloads and CDs go to charity. Eagle-eyed readers may recall me talking about Sound for Good on my earlier review of William Spivey and Aos Crowley’s “Absence of Matter“. It’s notable that, in just four months, already the label has reached its sixth release.

The album’s notes state that the recordings “are inspired by and dedicated to the amazing subterranean worlds of the underground.” There are four tracks, ranging from 10 to nearly 17 minutes long. “Mineral Dreams” starts with a thin, reedy pipe; a slow minor chord draws out, and vocal textures are laid over a pulsating drone. The music is exceedingly atmospheric, transporting the listener into a descriptive environment in an effective way. Around 4:30, soft synth notes percolate the air like the glint of crystals. The track shimmers along, an occasional repetitive motif fading in and out after 10 minutes or so. The second cut, “Dusk at Stalagmite Forest” is eerie; a high chord is pitchbent across the soundfield, to be overlaid by uncertain synth voices which hang suspended in the air; a distant bat/bird-like call can be heard from time to time. The track has a great air of loneliness.

“Endless Cavern” has a gorgeous opening, jagged synths tinkling and jangling over luscious thick pads. Long notes shoot off into the darkness, disappearing quickly into the cavern’s void. There’s fabulous use of the stereo soundfield here. Around 4:30, everything seems to tilt sideways and then rebalances itself again. Coils and springs dance around the periphery like sprites. A gentle rhythmic pattern is introduced just after 8:30, driving the listener further forward. This one’s my own favourite; the whole album will bear repeated listening, though, as there’s so much to discover here. “Cave Pearls”, the final track, has breathy pads drifting across a two-chord structure. It has a warmer sound than the previous three, with vast, dense notes layered thickly atop a soft rhythmic pattern. A multitude of different tones, some open, some closed, create a huge sonic tapestry. It’s absolutely superb.

“Speleo” is a complex and rewarding journey, and I’ll certainly be revisiting it many times.

Label: Sound for Good   Cat: –   Artist: Jack Hertz   Price: NYP

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Roberto Massoni‘s “Diter:0” is the first album to be released on the Docil netlabel, which is based in Argentina. According to the Internet Archive, the label may previously have been named Data. The label also has a SoundCloud page with some additional tracks. The description on this release’s webpage (as translated by Google) describes the music as being “created from the kindness and acceptance of happiness”.

At just over half an hour long, the album moves from one slow, perfect slice of beauty to the next. “Ruido” starts uncertainly, before lush chords are placed across an over-driven guitar rhythm; male Spanish vocals add the final icing. “Enero” has gentle guitar notes above a tantalisingly complex structure, all the more odd for having a wonderful naivety to the music. On “Descalzo”, electrical hum is juxtaposed with long, soft pads and soft tinkling bells, creating the perfect contrast.

“Distro” has hazy chords, sizzling and shimmering above a thick bass pattern, sinewy guitar notes travelling neatly above and creating a beautiful dense effect. A soft, train-like rhythm propels “Mismile” forward, with long ethereal pads and stereo guitar notes spilling out all across the aural horizon; it’s difficult to choose one, but I think this may be my favourite track here. The soft chords in “Acuoso” move around more restlessly, never quite settling. It’s the only track here with no real resolution.

The mechanical sounds of “Carrousel” are set wonderfully against light guitar strums and muddied, nostalgic piano notes; thick synth chords pull the track along. This music definitely deserves to be used in a film. “Tresam” opens with simple guitar, its reverb laying a gorgeous backdrop of chord changes to anchor haunting piano notes. The last track, “Honso”, is also the album’s longest, at just over five-and-a-half minutes. A lonely breeze of thin guitar notes hovers over distant ambient piano. It’s quite melancholy.

This is a free release that I would have gladly paid for if I’d heard it playing on the radio or elsewhere, and it’s a lovely way to fill 30 or so minutes.

Label: Docil   Cat: Docil 01   Artist: Roberto Massoni   Price: Free

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It’s always exciting when a new netlabel launches. Petroglyph Music is a fresh Norwegian label which intends to focus on ambient and experimental music and their subgenres. The label currently has two releases under its belt, having been launched just over two weeks ago. Some of Rune Martinsen’s earlier work can be found under the name Abhorrent Beauty; Øystein Jørgensen has also recorded fairly prolifically under the Ambient Fabric name.

To say that the minimalist cover of “Mysterium Cosmographicum” gives nothing away would not be totally correct. Indeed, it’s perfectly fitting in the case of such a satisfyingly dark ambient album as this, where the music is built upon a deep sense of isolationism and unease. Some of the track names refer to astronomical matters, and where this is relevant I’ve added links to Wikipedia for further information.

The title track immediately draws us into a desolate and uncomfortable space, dark textures stretched out, first to one corner and then all around. “SN 1604“, the longest take here at 9:04, is cold and unforgiving, its deep thuds in complete contrast to the waves it beams across the cosmos. “Ion” is very mysterious, phasing and swirling under ripples and sizzles which shoot off into the ether, like objects untethered by gravity.

Somnium” takes us to the album’s midpoint. It’s ominous and foreboding, with black drones under high-pitched, desperate skittering tones. This is almost musique concrète, and the effect is both baffling and dizzying. Perhaps the most conventional cut, “Spacewaves”, begins with drone and pulsating keys; high static shapes rise over an aural field of rotation.

My favourite track here is “Kuiper Belt“, with its breathy space pads unfurling over coiling bass stabs, effects, and an occasional bell-like clang; it feels barely under control, and bristling with malevolence. “Steel Rain” opens slowly with dark pads and plucked piano strings, rumbling and dramatic under metallic tones. Finally, “No Return” kicks off with question and answer synth notes, leaving a dark final trail on an exhilarating 43 minutes.

It’s a cracker of a début release for any label, taking the listener somewhere novel and uncharted. I’m already looking forward to listening to the label’s second release, SiJ‘s “Fragments of Memories“.

Label: Petroglyph Music   Cat: Petroglyph 01   Artist: Rune Martinsen & Øystein Jørgensen   Price: Free

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The collaborators on “Epoch” are very well known in the ambient and experimental music fields. Shane Morris is fluent with many percussion and wind instruments, and hardware and software synths. In addition, he co-owns and operates Ethereal Live. Thomas Park (aka Mystified and Mister Vapor) is a prolific musician in the ambient and atmospheric genres, and he also owns Treetrunk Records and its spinoff, Complex Silence.

Aside from this release, the artists have a huge wealth of back catalogue and experience in a number of genres, and are both gifted innovators. “Epoch” is described in the CD’s sleevenotes as being the first part of an epic trilogy entitled “Inspired Evolution”. Only acoustic instruments and sounds were used in the album’s production.

“Epoch” takes us across four geological time periods, initially to the “Cambrian Explosion”. Here, the listener is immersed in almost tangible primordial dampness and heat, with deep bass and long minor shifting drones. Uncertain shapes slither off at the sides; there is a sense of breath being taken for the first time. It’s extremely compelling listening, and a lovely taste of what’s to come. “Devonia”, the album’s longest cut, lays small seeds down under long, ominous notes which furl and unfurl like sonic rope. The soundscape beguiles the listener with a keening, hypnotic repeated motif hanging in the ether above rock-solid didgeridoo drones. Organic splashes and burbles signify the changes in the forms of terrestrial life. This music is incredibly visual; it’s almost as if we are watching a film. It’s a stunning track, and one which I’ve played again and again.

The shortest offering here, at just under nine minutes long, “Triassic Extinction” represents the end of the period of the same name, where at least half of the species on the planet became extinct. The music is sad and sorrowful, with metallic rings spinning to the left and right of empty, thin drones. Tiny organic sounds flounder in a huge, welling space. When the listener considers the events the music attempts to describe, it becomes a moving piece which seems to reflect the frailty of life against gargantuan forces. It’s very thoughtfully done, and extremely evocative.

The final cut, “Jurassic Dawn”, heralds a time of positive change for the earth; we are now in the age of reptiles, which of course includes the dinosaurs. Vast changes take place in the music compared with the previous tracks. Sounds representative of birds and small mammals are here, but it’s impossible to ignore the presence of large, lumbering creatures, their heavy footsteps thudding as they roam across the ground. Open major drones hint at the potential ahead as this period dawns. There is no stasis here; the music morphs and evolves, widening out descriptively as new forms of life are introduced. The percussive footsteps of the dinosaurs provide percussion, but with no rhythm. A didgeridoo raises uncertain calls as it explores its new world of activity amongst the changing shapes of nature’s novel creations.

I have to confess I’ve never experienced music quite like this before. It would be very easy to use the word cinematic, but that simply would not do justice to what is effectively film drawn in sound. It’s an utterly stunning album, and I cannot wait to hear what the duo conjures up next.

Many thanks to Thomas for supplying me with a promo copy of the album.

Label: Lotuspike   Cat: LSM23   Artist: Shane Morris & Mystified   Price: $$

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Jaja – Ascend

“Ascend” is the second solo album by the German musician Jaja (Jana Rockstroh), and is released on the netlabel she co-founded, CYAN Music; its predecessor “Oum” was issued in 2011. She is also one half of the psytrance duo “New Age Hippies“. Jaja describes her music as live electronic compositions, where she plays and arranges nearly everything live on her keyboard, which always makes for interesting listening.

The album is an epic project, clocking in at over two-and-a-half hours. “Aero” has a stately opening, with grand washes of synths pulling around vortex-like under an ethereal choir. “Entity” is dark and dense, with snippets of alien speech floating above huge dramatic chord clusters and a Vangelis-like lead. “Stellae” is the longest track here at 21:00, its massive textures rolling around the soundfield, almost filling every last atom in the air, leading to breathtakingly gorgeous note shifts. It’s utterly stunning.

“Ever” starts quite unsettled, before minor chords lay out almost hymnal tones under static ticks and long, low rumbles, offset by distant piano-like keys; the track is somewhat restless, never quite resolving itself. “Novae” shimmers and shifts elegantly above an undercurrent of dark activity. “Devoid” opens with alien speech as a centre-point, almost percussive in nature; warm spacey chords drift lazily around under light oriental bell-like sounds.

“Once” is a gentle journey, lone notes ringing out slowly above clear skies like an anthem. The music is much more minimal than the previous tracks, which provides us with a great contrast. The long minor pads of “Connect” slowly shift to major and back as unearthly rain bounces endlessly to and fro, and lonely string synths paint sadness. “Talis” has great cosmic roars and smaller metallic coils rotating around thin bellows of keys. Again, there’s no resolution to the music – it shifts and whirls, conjuring a gigantic picture.

“IO” has Jaja’s voice (I presume) talking, then reversed, over slow-moving synths and light piano melodies; a dense stack of notes piles up before fading away. “Rain” is light and almost acoustic in nature. Cello-like strings are accompanied by guitar, weaving an intricate, evocative pattern. The closing track, “Run”, is a solo keyboard exposition, lovely reverb tailing off of single notes; there are no real chords as such, other than those created by the overlapping tails. It’s very pretty, and a lovely finish to a fine album.

Label: CYAN Music   Cat: CYAN 014   Artist: Jaja   Price: Free

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