Sunmoon – Nightsky EP

01/05/2010 § Leave a comment

Artist: Sunmoon
Title: Nightsky EP
Label: Essentia Mundi
Genre: Dark Ambient/Minimal

Track Listing:

01 Nightsky I
02 Nightsky II
03 Nightsky III
04 Nightsky IV

The opportunity of euphonising the sky at night is a challenge all too tempting to many of those working within dark ambient. Sunmoon is the one-man project of Sorin Paun, a lonely-sounding Romanian who likes to spend his time experimenting with sound swatches in order to represent organic and mechanic instrumentations. Nightsky is very much its namesake: it is Paun’s homage to, or translation of, the feel of night-time; focusing not necessary on the dour, sinister or unsettling elements often attached to it, but the wonderment of its creative force, of space, of starlight and of power. Paun is intent on picking out his observations from these elements and plotting them on a musical state. But Nightsky is not necessarily a journey but a level representation, a worked canvas on which all the elements can be seen but with little to be discovered. There are no layers, purely depth.

The artwork to the package is pretty unsurprising, depicting nothing but a starlit evening, but I almost admire its frankness. Sometimes it’s actually easier for bands to attempt to convey their music through clever icons and images rather than being plain, but just having a nightscene as the album’s image is oddly refreshing and familiar. Out of all the CDs that came with the last HH media pack, Nightsky stood out visually because it was so relateable. I’m getting sick of watercoloured symbols, rubbishy Photoshopped artwork, forested clichés and nondescript drawings by talentless “misunderstood” artists. There’s something honest about the visual side of this disc, and Sunmoon travelled up a notch in my estimation before I had heard the first click.

And click it does. Nightsky is really divided into two parts. The first has more of a dark ambient feel to it and the second travels further into mild glitch and IDM territory. Clearly this is an influence and crossover from Paun’s other multifarious musical projects, but its done in a toned-down and suitably abstract way so that it still feels appropriate to the album’s message. Nightsky booms with deep dark ambient drones, clatters with mechanical glitches and gabbles with indecipherable sampled speech way in the distance. The marriage of industry employed is splayed out sufficiently enough so as not to busy the listeners but give them enough time to appreciate whatever’s going on, and there is rather a lot in the whole 40 minute EP. Nightsky clearly takes its influence from bands like Lustmord and Shinjuku Thief while giving them a lighter and less viscous coating.

Make no mistake though, Nightsky is hardly meant to make you feel as if you’re traversing the boundaries of the Oort cloud or revelling in the crushing intensity of exploding nebulae. More than anything it’s Paun’s understanding of the night sky, his associations and rendering of it. It is mostly an inactive and uninteresting EP, being not so much a work of communication but an experiment in personal understanding. It is not a grand or enveloping piece of ambience but a linear presentation of one man’s perception. If you enjoy the repeated throb of Where The Back Stars Hang or the airy washes of Biosphere you may find something of merit in Sunmoon. But with ostensibly little on offer but gesture drone samples and IDM clicking, I can’t help feeling that the only person this is of true value to is Paun himself.

Lacus Somniorum – Tideshaper

01/05/2010 § Leave a comment

Artist: Lacus Somniorum
Title: Tideshaper
Label: Cyclic Law Records
Genre: Dark Ambient
Track Listing:

01 Tideshaper
02 An Intangible World
03 Hinterland
04 Beyond All Things Is The Ocean
05 Point Of No Ascent
06 Phasis
07 Sentient Abyss
08 11°22’N 142°36’E

The past few months have been very difficult. In a sense I’m still trying to get my head round the red shift that’s taken place in what was a concrete and unquestioned routine of living. I took it for granted way too much. Within a matter of weeks, all the things which cemented and defined me were stripped away and replaced with new versions: where I lived, my job, my relationships. I underestimated them, I think. The majority of these were altered by choice but it took a very long time to become settled afterwards, I’m still not by a long way. But maybe I don’t enjoy being settled too much. The thought of comfort is obscene to me. I’m never completely happy, always volleying back and forth between what I want next and what I thought I should be.

The musical effects of this were quite diminishing. I ended up listening to only a handful of bands obsessively and I still do. My finickiness reached unsustainable levels. Lacus Somniorum was the start of my re-awakening into dark ambient, and it’s a highly effective and welcome one. The collaboration [or, as it says here, the “splendid” collaboration] is a partnership between the renowned Ghustaf Hildebrand and Amanda Votta of the folk/ambient band The Floating World. I’m a complete submissive when it comes to dark music with female vocals, and ambient is certainly not excluded. I’m all the more hungry for it. Female vocals are too sparse in the dark ambient scene and it’s a realm which is ripe for exploitation. The dark ambient acts that pull it off know that less is certainly more, and Lacus Somniorum are no exception to this ethos.

Lacus Somniorum’s MySpace page depicts a sleek and fresh-looking black and teal digipack proudly flashing its disc. The thing looks smooth, frictionless, like a box fashioned from leftover Stealth Bomber parts and which gamma rays can’t penetrate. In reality it’s not quite like that. Sorry to put the good people down who packaged the thing in the warm hum of their own factory, but I had to check twice to see whether I’d actually got the same album. The Ouroboros is following me around too. It lurks behind the CD in this digipack and around every corner of my life at the moment. I can’t escape the bloody thing. Maybe someone’s trying to tell me something. Well, apart from the miserable bastard at Crazy Pig in Covent Garden who wouldn’t snort a sentence at me, let alone make me a bespoke ring of the Ouroboros when I asked him to in December. Wretched git.

Musically, Lacus Somniorum treads exactly the kind of ground that I love when it comes to dark ambient music. The collaboration employs a mixture of synths, flutes, wails and drones that puts them almost in a ritual ambient territory reminiscent of bands like Herbst9 and Aghast, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter had been at least a partial inspiration here. LS don’t concentrate on putting forward a message with their music so much as a setting, and with each track they attempt to drop you into a bleak ethereal place which is as serene and it is enervating. Yes, a lot of the tracks are highly similar but then they should be, and Tideshaper is a perfect journey from one side of an unearthly dystopia to another. Each number is either punctuated by wonderful hostly diatonic wails or smoky flutes which give a distant, lonely and mystical essence to the music.

If there’s anything which slightly detracts from an otherwise satisfyingly rounded album it’s tracks 5, Point of No Ascent, which is not only a let-down but something unforgivably silly. I remember Hadit’s Omenya similarly spoiling itself through the inclusion of the ‘creepy music box’ sound effect that pings and tweets on for several minutes. This piddling little irritation does make it less easy to take the disc seriously. It tears you out of the abyssal plain it has created, rips you from the pleasurable daymare of its dirges and reminds you that this is just an album after all. Shame.

Nevertheless, those down at Cyclic Law haven’t done themselves a disservice here. Tideshaper is an exceptionally promising coloration and one of the best ambient surprises I’ve come across for a long time. It has the rare ability to instantly drop you into a familiar and welcome dark setting without paddling out the clichés or getting too tiring. It may not be as ingenious as similar works by the likes of Troum or Maeror Tri, but in a time when dark ambient is becoming increasingly stale it’s good to have an album which reminds listeners of what we liked about the genre in the first place. Tideshaper is, for the most part, a modern homage to those respected roots of dark ambient, and an admonisher of what we treasure there.

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