Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

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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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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