15/03/2009 § Leave a comment
Artist: Instant Movie Combinations
Title: For the Travellers Sadly Walking in Ever Mist
Label: Cold Graey
Genre: Dark Ambient
01 Moon, Sea and Shipwreck
02 Jungle Book
04 The Master’s Pipe
05 Catalepsy n1
Cold Graey seem to be having bad luck with their website, don’t they. There I was, about to infiltrate their Aladdin’s Cave of information regarding this release, but the bloody thing’s gone offline again. And it really would be useful to have some information on this album because the promo doesn’t say much at all. “For the Travellers Sadly Walking in Ever Mist” is not so much an album of music or even an album of drones: it’s one long, drawn-out whirr. It’s so inconsequential – even as a piece of ambient – that I think someone should have a word in the ear of Cold Graey and tell them there’s been a disastrous error down at the recording studios: instead of recording a lush, tranquil hour’s worth of dark ambient homilies, IMC have mistakenly recorded the murmur of their dying fridge, leaving listeners and reviewers at a loss to say something poignant about it.
The packaging comes in two parts: the CD digipak itself and a separate set of photos, presumably of the musical creators. I say ‘presumably’ since it’s hard to make out anything about the pictures at all. Three blurs on a piece of photographic paper don’t give much away, though the first has eyes so I imagine there’s a person attached to them somewhere. The visual theme of the digipak resolves around buried treasure, opening outwards to display three original paintings depicting the first three tracks. Underneath the central flap is a piece of parchment with the names of tracks 4 and 5 on it and the note that these are “not for use with the main part of the album”. Apart from a nod to the artist [‘Eisstelle’, apparently] there are no further credits. No legal notes, no thank yous, no band information. Maybe IMC didn’t want Eisstelle to be named either in the interests of artistic enigma, but she threatened to pull her work from the album. I imagine that’s how it went.
The first track, “Moon, Sea and Shipwreck”, begins with a single, sustained chord on a synthesiser. And then continues. And continues. For the whole seven minutes of its duration. Then “Jungle Book” kicks in, which is nothing but a light, throbbing drone pulsing for another seven minutes, followed by “Canoe”, another drawn out chord for a further seven minutes of ambient dreariness. If it sounds like I’m missing something here, I’m not. It’s so piecemeal in its content that it doesn’t even classify as minimal ambient. It’s nothing but the sound of a humming turbine, an electric fire on high setting, or a suicide victim dying on their car horn. Thankfully, if you play the first three tracks simultaneously it sounds like an orchestra tuning up, so at least you get more than one note at the same time.
You’ll have noticed by now that the track titles have absolutely nothing to do with the song content, but wait, there’s more to come. “The Master’s Pipe” is a full twenty minutes of monotone buzzing as if someone’s left the phone off the hook or a food mixer churning away in the background. There is no variety, no depth and no doubting its inescapable mundanity. However, you could play it on loud to attract stray cats or put a blindfold on and pretend you’re in a submarine. IMC have been so generous as to give you – their valued listener – total interpretative freedom so you can attach absolutely any meaning to their ‘music’. They may as well go one further and make their next album five tracks of silence.
“For the Travellers Sadly Walking in Ever Mist” closes with “Catalepsy n1”, a further twenty minutes of humming before the hour’s adventure comes to an abrupt close. Yes, it may have been 63 minutes of musical nothingness, but is it any good? There’s no doubt that the album is relaxing but only inasmuch as it’s difficult to feel anything about it at all. It’s so uneventful and free from meaning that it manages to venture beyond boring and into a realm of near non-existence. I’m slightly impressed that any band could put out an album like this, and though it is almost comforting to know that what you’re listening to is so thoroughly undemanding on you as a listener, no consolation can be given to the artist for having any degree of skill or imagination to put this across. It’s not Derek Jarman’s Blue in musical form. It’s not a Miro painting translated to soundwaves. It’s an hour of vacuous, wispy buzzing, and if the music feels this little about itself, who are we to dissent.
15/03/2009 § Leave a comment
Artist: Al Conti
Label: Shadowside Music Publishing
Genre: New Age
1 Daughter of the City
2 Desert Nights
4 Seven Veils to Midnight
6 A Thousand Tales
7 Palace Gardens
8 Gold and Spices
9 Eternal Majesty
10 Heart Triumphant
I supposed it was naive of me to think that not every genre has a scene. I was thinking – or maybe hoping – that new age music wouldn’t have one, but whatever the new age scene is, Al Conti seems to be dominating the top end of it. Scheherazade has garnered praise from various corners of the new age world, not least ‘album of the month’ three months running for New Age Reporter. That’s not necessarily because of a lack of entries in the genre but because Scheherazade is quite a classy piece of work. I’m sure the new age clubs and tea emporia are bustling with eager Luddites thrilled at hearing this music in its intended setting whilst eyeing up the bead and dreamcatcher displays.
Scheherazade, Al Conti’s third work, is based very heavily around the theme of Arabia, fully represented in its melodies and artwork. The latter is rather modest in its execution, bearing only the slatted eyes of some jilbaabed nymph and a desert skyline. Inside the digipak, Al stands moodily – and frighteningly – close to a lit torch in a basin while wearing one of those traditional Arabian waistcoats that seemed to do terribly well in Lawrence of Arabia or down at Archway Kebabs. The press release that came with the disc is worded with staggering prolixity but at least it gives you enough time to concentrate on the man behind the muzak, if you could be bothered to read all the way through it. It seems that Al had a lot of exposure to the erotic folk tales of Arabian Nights when he was younger, hence the inspiration for this album. I certainly would have preferred that over the copy of The Joy of Sex on my parent’s bookshelf that always seemed to fall open to page 48, which, beset with diagrammatic drawings, is probably the closest anyone will come to seeing their own conception.
Scheherazade is a very toned down and subtle work. There are no energetic, bombastic rhythms mashed out on tabulars, or the rousing battery of Asian percussion: each song is done with a subtle style and different layers of grace. There’s a lot of variety in the album though it excels in the slower and more sultry moments such as the calming Dunyazad and the mystical Palace Gardens. Conti knows how to to create mystical atmosphere and the album’s certainty not lacking in inspiration or methods through which to transmit it.
Even though Scheherazade employs a lot of instrumentation, not all of this is unsampled. There is a heavy use of guitar, violin and piano, whereas other instruments such as the udu, sitar and hurdy gurdy appear to be synthesised. Yes, this is no surprise for many artists in the genre but at least Conti is able to do it without it sounding too contrived, putting the instruments in where they fit rather than intentionally jabbing them in to fill out the album’s variety and sleeve notes. Thankfully, this doesn’t detract too much from the quality of the music: Scheherazade is a highly atmospheric piece for those who wish for their incidental music to be undemanding, ethereal and emotive. It may pale in comparison to bands like Vas and Irfan, but it’s impressive what the imagination of one man is able to conjure.
01/03/2009 § Leave a comment
Title: Across the Empty Night
Label: Final Muzik
Genre: Ambient / Post-rock
01 Third Dream
02 My Silence
04 As a Child
05 Another Life
07 Scarlet Night
09 Fading Tears
Although I’m not a big fan of All My Faith Lost, their sister band is a slightly different matter. Apart comprises of Francis and Viola from All My Faith Lost and takes the duo’s music in a far more ambient direction, relying heavily on acoustic guitar, cello and synthesiser. The band describe their music as sounding like “something fragile” which is a pretty accurate description, given the delicacy of the music. Many of the songs are not woeful pleas for help or swollen, self-involved conceits, but shy and hazy melodies composed in moments of great uncertainty and frailty. It’s the sound of a scribbled personal thought not meant for outside attention, a demure emotion wanting solace: it is music composed to sound deliberately naked and vulnerable.
Across the Empty Night bears a heavy theme of reclusiveness. The artwork on the piecemeal CD carries pictures of windows on all of its surfaces, veiled in thin curtains washing in and out of their frames. There’s an idea that a lot the music here is comprised from personal desires and wants, composed in wanton seclusion. The theme of the window links well to the music since a lot of the tunes on Across the Empty Night are light, airy songs, though with a sediment of tribulation underlying them. The clean guitar sounds, cello and vocals are reminiscent of a perfect cross between ambient music and light rock, and it’s very atmospheric stuff, especially if you’re a fan of the ethereal genre.
The album is at its best in numbers such as “Another Lie” with its troubled lyrics and deep vocals, and “Scarlet Night”, whose skipping and coltish synth melodies are quite beautifully charming. Indeed, when Apart compose music from the heart its very obvious and the second half of the album is the strongest as a result. However, on the rest of the album there’s a sense of too much emphasis on emotion – too much coercion – and quite a dew of the songs end up sounding stewy and glutinous as a result. Maybe Apart don’t have quite enough negativity and pain going on in their lives to make a full album’s worth of this kind of music without it sounding slightly overdone, and though Across the Empty Night does well in its closing songs, the first few are rather force-fed, its like listening to the creation process of musical pâté de fois gras.
The main thing that needs improving in Across the Empty Night is not the song writing but the vocals. Alberto Milani and Viola Roccagli are not bad vocalists, they’re just terribly mediocre. Singing in a soft and mellow fashion is not always as easy as it seems, and if the vocals were improved more the album could be injected with the emotion it so heartily desires. As a result a lot of the vocal lines end up being subservient to the music, which given its tone and colour, makes it probably more fragile than even the band realise. It’s no surprise then, that Another Lie is one of the best moments on the album since the vocals are done by guest singer Daniele Stefanuto.
Across the Empty Night certainly has some good moments and in the right mood it can be quite companionable on a bleak and hopeless night. Though the album does well at some of its more profound moments, it does descend into thin ambient slush way too often to be a rewarding listen from beginning to end. Apart haven’t quite come to terms with the idea that less is more, or certainly haven’t effectively enough, and this does lend the album an essence of fiction. Those who prefer their ambient music to be nothing more than incidental could certainly find this the perfect antidote to a solitary evening, but its flaws are all too obvious when giving it full attention.
01/03/2009 § Leave a comment
Label: The End Records
Genre: Experimental / Rock
01 MahaKali, of Terrifying Countenance
02 And The Sky Which Was Once Filled With Light…
03 The House Of Void
05 From Afar, Upon The Back of a Tiger
06 The Soul Continues
07 A Sea Of Blood And Hollow Screaming
09 Mouth of Flames
The last few years have seen an upsurge in exuberant female vocalists. The End records is one of richest sources for this category, bringing us the likes of Stolen Babies and Ayin Aleph; and now Jarboe, the multifaceted banshee from the Swans, has been added to the growing list. These artists are not the kind to appeal to the masses, but for the discerning listener who thinks they’ve heard everything in what female vocals have to offer. Jarboe has been at this end of the scene for quite a while and now, eleven years after moving on from the legendary Swans, is sculpting a niche for herself in the experimental music category, which she does not only inventively, but modestly.
Mahakali is an unassuming, self-effacing work which doesn’t so much rebelliously work against musical conventions but is far more happy creating its own. Jarboe’s voice is capable of an impressive array of vocal timbres from howls, shrieks and nightmarish wails to soft, sultry whispers with Gothic consonance. The music is tailored to suit the vocals, rather than the other way round, so Mahakali is really a strudel of different musical ideas hinged together by a spiritual theme, revolving around the eponymous Hindu God mentioned in various Sanskrit texts. Exactly why the band have chosen this theme for the album is hardly explained apart from the fact that the idea “just happened” in a rehearsal session. I’m losing count of the amount of artists who are using ancient Eastern history for a focal point on their album’s thematic structure: the lure of old India is certainly an attractive one, but it does feels like a bit of a crowbar concept here.
The array of vocals on Mahalaki doesn’t just involve female ones, there are male vocal contributions from Phillip Anselmo of Down/Pantera, and Attila Csihar from Mayhem, so the variety and calibre is certainly impressive. The music itself experiments with drawn-out, long atmospheric passages using guitar drones and wails, such as the melodic “Mahakali of Terrifying Countenance”, or the rather more disturbing “A Sea of Blood and Hollow Screaming”, that utilises guitar drones and vocal shrieks for a seemingly endless 8 minutes. There are more melodic, even poplike moments such as “House of Void” and “Overthrown” which even veers off into neofolk territory in places, whereas “Mouth of Flames” touches on neoclassical and soundtrack music.
More than anything Mahakali is about creating atmospheres of many different sorts. Its pastiche of emotions will take you down multiple dark routes but there’s no recurring musical theme, the thematic strain being carried by the lyrical content only. Jarboe seems at her best in the more confrontational vocal passages and though she can scream and tear her vocal chords apart for great effect, it’s not quite as bewitching as Runhild from KHLYST or Diamanda Galas, both of whom could be quite respectable inspirations. Indeed, it may be Jarboe’s intention to throw the listener around like a raffle ticket in a tombola but by halfway through the album it becomes quite difficult to care. Yes it’s clever, yes it’s very well done, but it seems to have little spirit, being more of an indulgence for the artist than the listener.
Mahakali doesn’t get too ambitious, always managing to stay within the confines of experiential music rather than avant-garde. It’s certainly not an easy listen but given the quantity of styles on this disc could end up appealing to people along quite a wide spectrum of genres. Metal fans might get off on the harder vocals and drones, whereas ethereal and post-rock fans will appreciate its more creative, lighter moments. Mahakali covers many bases, but probably too many to hold my attention from beginning to end, in spite of its inventiveness. It’s all very well having manifold parts to your influences but some cohesion wouldn’t have gone amiss.