Locrian & Mamiffer – Bless Them That Curse You

12/02/2012 § Leave a comment

Each Locrian release is an unpolished gem. A murky, hard-edged jewel which speaks nothing but matte meanderings to most listeners. But if you manage to infiltrate the gateway to Locrian’s essence, to break open the crust of their projection, you’ll find rays of sonic luminescence within. They are a band who play via tumultuous disharmony but whose substance is built on subtlety. This collaboration between Chicago’s Locrian and Vashon’s Mamiffer takes their exploration of minimal art to new depths. Gone are the ten minute, lead-thick ramparts of sound; the long, piercing sharded solos and the looping, never-ending churns of feedback. This time round, we’re not having it handed to us on a platter. Bless Them That Curse You is not only an exercise in exploring your own preconceptions of the band, but transforming them, regenerating them and being truly open to what’s in front of you. It is about the strength of melody as much as the strength of noise, the similarities of extremes and the universal midpoint. It is about travelling to the core of something to understand its nature, its cause, its campaign.

On the surface a collaboration with Mamiffer – known for their piano-led ambiance, alternative rock and experimental melodies – seems like an unusual pairing. But the symbiosis between the two helixes on an extremely deep level, their understanding of each other’s inner nature being what makes the project so successful. Here, both ensembles are not out to just make music, but to cut slices from their own marrow and pass them to the other for translation. As such, BTTCY is more a work of ambient than it is of noise, more of fragility than extremity, and one that operates in a variety of different modes. It is a very intriguing undertaking indeed, but one which daren’t show its message to you immediately. There’s a shyness and stress to the real content here, and only repeated coaxing off of its layers will show it to you.

The beginning of the work showcases the harsh drones of the Locrian we’re familiar with, but before long these dampen down into something calmer and softer altogether: the raining, pattering piano chords of “Corpus Luteum”; the static, ghostly fuzz within “Lechatelierite” and the shimmering distance of melody within the title track. We’re even given a tracing of female vocals for the first third of the mammoth closing piece, “Metis”, before Locrian ratchet up their defence mechanisms once more as the sonic behemoth of “Amaranthine” groans and screams into the highly dark and unsettling finale, “The Emperor”. BTTCY is perfectly balanced on each side, bookended by thick noise at the beginning and end which coats a highly soft and delicate centre section. The album is almost like some kind of sonic valley: steep unscalable walls on either side sloping to a lush and tender middle. Maybe it’s not so much of an album as an exposé.

At times it’s difficult to see exactly who’s in control. Occasionally the wavelet of a piano track commands our immediate attention, only for us to discover we’ve been missing a subtle drone-like hum underneath it the entire time; or a thick glass-like section of ambiance will be little else but a window through to some subtle, gleaming guitar within. BTTCY plays around with image and power as much as it does your experiences of it: the sounds are as important as the spaces around them, and both band knows how to perfectly balance their forte. It is an impressive fusion of understanding and ability.

This is not an album which can be tied down or typecast though, it is a thoroughly independent piece of music. It will have the last laugh just when you think you’ve understood it. Epic in feeling as well as in construction, it pulls together multiple branches of drone, ambient and experimental music but lets them interact together on a minimalist level to complex effect. It bears a particular truth and reality within its centre – and this truth is not just of sound, nor expression, but of pneuma: the breath of clarity. BTTCY shows us the vital importance of self-knowledge, and both halves of this collaboration have chosen to share theirs admirably.

Rating: 4.5/5

Lawrence English – The Peregrine

01/10/2011 § Leave a comment

“Wherever he goes, this winter, I will follow him. I will share the fear, and the exaltation, and the boredom, of the hunting life. I will follow him till my predatory human shape no longer darkens in terror the shaken kaleidoscope of colour that stains the deep fovea of his brilliant eye. My pagan head shall sink into the winter land, and there be purified.”

A trip to London several years ago brought Lawrence English into contact with JA Baker’s book The Peregrine, one of only two pieces penned by this little-known author. On picking it up and reading a few words on the hunting practises of the barn owl, English commented, “before I finished the paragraph I knew I needed to own this book”. It’s easy to see why. The novel covers in explicitly personal, articulate and poetical detail Baker’s experiences obsessively following a pair of peregrines from early autumn to late winter in the landscape of East Anglia. Little is known about JA Baker at all – who he was, where he worked, what his other interests were, or even his true name – apparently he gave nothing of himself away. The book had such an effect on English that he centred a 12″ vinyl album around it, and his ambient work of the same name is a heartfelt homage to Baker’s publication.

Such selflessness was apparently the main thread of his writing. More intent on his cause than himself, English reports, “at no point does the idea of humanness come to dominate”: Baker appeared to see himself as little more than a medium, an envoy, a passage for nature that could be shaped and folded by his experiences. He was nothing but a channel in the landscape with a deep understanding of the frequency of his surroundings on a highly subtle level. The same could also be said for English’s own music. This album is an extremely downplayed piece of work indeed, giving us tier upon tier of smooth, cold ambience, but laid so crisply and thinly upon one another that their seams are almost entirely imperceptible. English created The Peregrine intentionally in such a manner, not spoon-feeding us with meaning and suggestion but letting us entirely work our own edifications, experiences, and natural desires into his piece. It is the freezing point of the colder months in musical format, beckoning our own interpretations.

Initially, the album is not a work to be heard but felt, indirectly sensed, not presupposed. The Peregrine hinges on minimalist changes all pinned down by harmonic, elevating, ethereal ambient chord progressions. Occasionally English will throw very slight touches of other instrumentation in, but the majority of the work is one long, sustained free-float through a cold ambient landscape. The music is not so much about discovery, but about reminder, the reawakening of the discovered. There is a sense of totality, of familiarity all the way through, English’s uplifting choral ambience making us feel all the more enlivened and positive.

The Peregrine is very much a soundtrack piece though. It is the song of flight, the song of air’s essence, the song of freedom. It is about not moving while remaining static, of transport through thought as well as movement. Unfortunately, as a piece of work which changes very little for the 34 minutes of its length, it may be a little too inactive for most of us. It reveals its great twinges and subtleties casually and conspicuously over time but they are so minimal that most of the album will come across to many as overly similar. For most of us there’s a danger that it’s simply too inactive and changeless to be consistently interesting. This is not ambience with spice, with core, with a beginning and an end. It is one axle of an ever-spinning cycle of nature, two interchangeable halves of a circle. Some parts never feel truly complete while others come across as airy, heavenly environs in which we have left our past self.

To me though, this album is not so much a compliment to the work of JA Baker, as an introduction. The is doubtless English’s intention since he has used the descriptions and the imagery of the novel to map out the sound of the album, and he hopes it’s one which will inspire others to pick up the words of the author themselves. As a standalone work of ambient it’s maybe too transitory: the beautiful sounds herein may be uplifting and in a sense, purifying, but if we don’t possess the same pages of reference as English does, the album comes across as too sparse in variety and content to inspire multiple playthroughs. However, this may well be English’s last laugh – on reading Baker’s book we may find hidden messages and passageways open themselves to us, enacting the imagery of both this musician and his inspiration. It’s a clever concept, and one which English would be all too delighted for us to explore.

Rating: 3.5/5

Locrian – Dort Ist Der Weg b/w Frozen In Ash

01/09/2011 § Leave a comment

Locrian are one of the few remaining ambassadors of the actual. Ever since their earlier, experimental days when they were releasing two-track splits and demos over cassette, they’ve never given the impression that they were in a formative stage, that they were finding their feet. Locrian hit the ground running from day one. And now, several albums down the line, the intensity of their sound and the genuineness of their essence haven’t been lost at all. If anything, Locrian are still on a road of expansion. It’s as if with every bar of their output the band are drip-feeding us piecemeal quantities from a dark colossus of emotion, one which never seems to be depleted: an ever-engorged, ever-strong and self-supporting axiom of personal distress. Their catalogue remains unstatic, a crusade which has been thoroughly mapped out with no fissure of uncertainty or overindulgence to crack their lacquer of self-knowledge, but it’s one which we’ll only ever travel at their pace. There are still surprises in store.

11th September will see the release of their first 7″ single through Flingco Sound System, consisting of a cover of Popul Vuh’s excellent Dort Ist Der Weg, and the original Frozen in Ash. Locrian take the canorous, waterlike fluidity of Popul Vuh’s original and give it a barbed tinge. However, this is no mere reworking or interpretation. Locrian’s vision enables them to coax hidden realities out of third-party sounds, to reignite dormant fires; they are able to extract and bring to the pulpit the quietened voice within another’s work. As such, this new exhalation hard-blown into the belly of 70′s Krautrock doesn’t feel forced or unnatural, but that it was always existent, it only took newer, fresher eyes to see it. The rising, spectre-like female vocals are still present as in the original but combined with the pinched, taut guitar tone, the experience is all the more electrifying. There’s a new, more meaningful undercurrent espied in this piece, and its realisation creates a tension for release. As the track builds, the instruments overlap till the guitar takes on a howling, droning scream which serves as a climax until it whithers and calms into a still ether.

Frozen in Ash is one of the finest moments of the band’s catalogue. Opening with a snipped, fuzzed and trebly post-rock feel, mixed with Steven’s pained screams, the band mix, fuse and bastardise elements of drone, doom and rock, all thrown in with the darkness and depth of black metal. Shortly, an acoustic guitar melody repeats percussively over the top while a faster drum rhythm appears and ebbs into the foreground. As the drumming intensifies, Frozen in Ash becomes alive with its own pulse, its own weight, gravity and being until finally everything drops and ceases as we are left hanging in the tipped scales of Locrian’s aural might, left with an immense afterglow of liberation. Locrian know the power of silence as much as the power of noise.

Being 12 minutes in length, you’d be forgiven for being skeptical as to the full effectiveness of this 7″. But Locrian don’t just create music, they create sentience. Every track of theirs carries its own life-force, its own pain and its own benevolence. Within each chord and note pounds the ice-blue nucleus of unrealised and misunderstood pain, folded with layer upon layer of sound and feeling. There is nothing casual to these messages, it’s possible to get lost in their tiers, their labyrinthine halls of devastation. Music of this sort lives and breathes its own being far beyond the gridded confines of genre lists. ‘Less is more’ would hardly be the tenet to suffice here – with Locrian, more is more.

Rating: 4.5/5

Sabi/Kiyo – 71:36

01/09/2011 § Leave a comment

This split release between Japanese ambient artists Sabi and IDM/glitch master Kiyo actually comes in at exactly 71:31, meaning you have an extra five phantom seconds all to yourself before, after or somewhere during this album to fill with what you choose. It’s most likely that you’ll want to use the space for some mode of contemplation which is, after all, what the sounds here are set to inspire. Sabi, known for his living, breathing ambient works, takes the first half of the album, filling it with a hollow, translucent, glistening feel of pure fluid ambience, utilising minimal piano and string samples to perfect effect, whereas Kiyo almost offsets the second half with a more upbeat, energised assortment of IDM and glitch. It’s a union which work on paper, but aurally it feels a little jarring.

71:36 is a re-release by Force Intel of the original 2008 album through Phaseworks, and sees newer and much improved artwork stamping its theme on the music. Force Intel describe the album as “a work of intricate natural beauty” which, for once, is a pretty accurate synopsis. There is something highly organic about this music, highly vibrant, Sabi’s work in particular carrying a unique cold purity, shimmering and pulsating with the life-breath of the natural realm. Kabi’s work in glitch has a slightly more convulsive feel, a rekindling of the agitation of the manufactured modern world from which Sabi has let us escape. In a way, Sabi exploits and explores the bare ethereal consciousness of nature, whereas Kabi forces us into the confused, hexing complexity of more contemporary pacing. It’s a shocking reminder, and an abrasive concept to gel with after the airy, cleansing sensations of Sabi’s work.

If anything, this is music concerning space. The space to move around, the space to move into, the space to exist, the space between events and the space that creates freedom, the mother of form. There is as much concentration on the effectiveness and importance of the microcosma between passages, between notes and between feelings as those feelings themselves, and how we can experience so much when doing so little. Space creates stillness after all, and most of the time in 71:36 the feeling of stillness is very much prevalent, whether it be transmitted by the repetitive but beautiful piano discords in “Howling Out With Tight Neons” and “Om” or the flowing, meandering orchestral minimalism of “Sleepy Emerald Vs. He Ostrich”. Sabi’s music does away with the fake humanism of the majority of modern ambience and replaces and regresses it with the song within nature, brought to the fore rightfully once again.

The transference into Kiyo’s second half of the album is subtly done. Kiyo mimics and respects the ambience of Sabi in “Tones on Tail” and gradually, playfully contorts them into his own. From here we see a quickening and a dividing of processes and ingredients and what was once a pure, linear musical trajectory becomes more outward, more scattered and disordered, running away with itself but not really knowing what it’s running to. It feels like controlled chaos, a pulled punch, a frustration, a half-truth. Kabi’s glitchwork is subtle at first, and as the album seasons we have lost all sense of the natural and are deeply lost in the synthetic. “Bear In. Warm-Noiz” is the best example of this, being a piecemeal pastiche of low-grade machine noise, seemingly random melodies and confused cadence. “Noor” refuses to pull us back, burying us deeply into a wayward, blustery electronic static before cutting itself dead.

In spite of the dual aspects of 71:36, it still feels like a whole entity. Sabi’s and Kiyo’s musical styles flow into one another but they do not represent each other or even consolidate. Maybe this is not so much about space but the loss of space and the realisation that we can only see what we have wasted after it’s gone. It’s for this reason that Kiyo refuses to pull us back into the dreamlike trance of ambience through we we started: once some things are lost they are lost forever, not everything can be returned. Sabi’s and Kiyo’s endeavours aren’t a natural pairing so much as an arranged marriage, highlighting the need for true partnerships and disowning the import of force. 71:36′s message is more important than its execution – the beauty of living and the beauty of sound and space are naturally existent, not created. We can’t always improve things by manipulation.

Rating: 3.5/5

Syndrome – Floating Veins

31/07/2011 § Leave a comment

Those familiar with Mathieu Vandekerckhove’s work with Amenra will be attuned to the grittier, coarser and rougher sounds of his sludge-metal oeuvre, redolent of a more realised, darker side. Syndrome, his newest and most experimental project, is yet another feather in the peppered cap of Consouling, the excellent Belgian label specialising in all manner of blackened aural magnitude. This time round, however, Vandekerckhove stands apart rather than shoulder to shoulder with his labelmates since Floating Veins is a more ethereal, brighter, and charming foray in the territory of ambient post-rock with only the occasional nod to drone music slotted in for completion.

Consouling says that Floating Veins ‘explores the very boundaries of introspective music’ which, though I’d like to think that introspective music had no boundaries to explore, makes the music sound a little more tame than it actually is. Syndrome succeeds in affecting us with a multi-layered scaffold of sounds stretched across various genres from barbed, wire-thin guitar-led post-rockish freneticity; whirring, buzzing drones with steady, pulse-quickening drums beneath, and air-light, wispy ambience. Vandekerckhove’s exploration into these areas is always presented with beauty and class, blending together successfully any theme employed, whether it be the droning guitar of the title track; the shimmering, post-rock drenched euphony of Project5 or the darker, more sinister industrial feel of the album’s finest moment, Absence.

Floating Veins is an all-rounder which manages to straddle many areas and conquer them convincingly, at least from a technical perspective. The sounds are fantastic, no doubt, but in spite of my playing this repeatedly there is still something lacking for me, some sense of energy, some sense of reality, some sense of ingenuity. These days it’s all too common for many bands to be able to delve into multiple areas and pull them off well, but what Floating Veins lacks, if anything, is the ability to carry and transport you to somewhere else. It just doesn’t. The sounds alone are not enough to elevate this to something greater, it’s as if there’s just no heart there.

Vandekerckhove, for his part, will disagree. It could be something to do with the release’s length, 30 minutes just isn’t long enough to generate the intense, long-burning kind of atmosphere that melodies of these genres demands. It really takes time to be soaked into music of this sort and, at half an hour, it’s over all too quickly, we feel as if the rug has been pulled from under us and there’s been no time to get carried away, whether we wanted to be or not. Make no mistake, Floating Veins is an accomplished piece of work and though it sounds fantastic, it doesn’t feel so – in fact, it doesn’t feel of much at all. There’s a lot that could be done with this project, and maybe next time round Vandekerckhove will be able to nourish Syndrome with the enduring richness of which it is currently starved.

Rating: 3/5

Machinist – Of What Once Was

03/07/2011 § Leave a comment

In 1960, one hundred people were invited to the Galerie International d’Art Contemporie in Paris to witness a surreal piece of aural and visual modern art. On offer was the new performance by Yves Klein, the Monotone Symphony. This presentation consisted of twenty minutes of a ten piece orchestra playing a single note, then a further twenty minutes of silence. How can you keep an audience’s interest for twenty minutes when they’re doing nothing but listening to one note? Good question. The answer is simple: by getting three naked girls up on a stage and telling them to roll around in blue paint. It would certainly work for me. And this – the aural aspect anyway – has been the inspiration for the first track of Machinist’s “Of What Once Was” release, Mono Tone In D.

Surprisingly, this homage works works rather well. What Mono Tone in D doesn’t try to do is be cleverer or better than us right off the bat. The first three minutes of the track are indeed its namesake, little more than an unadventurous, plain D monotone, but then the subtleties begin to come in. Other notes start to dance around the piece’s main tone, playing with it and lightening its stale, stolid heaviness; then the darker, heavier rushes of some unseen metallic machinery begin to whirr somewhere off in the background. Dark drones move somewhere far underneath, and chains clank on disused metal drums. Plucked guitar harmonics surround us while the drones squirm alongside, intensifying an increasingly dark experience until an ethereal spirit raises us up above the darkness and we drift away into a calmer, stiller ether.

The second piece of the album is the longer, and arguably more intricate Of What Once Was. This 30 minute improvised track concentrates more on guitar drones, but they’re never too heavy or suffocating to detract from the lighter ambience of the album’s atmosphere. The track opens with a slowly enveloping thick hum which rises and subsides and demands our attention before warping into a melodic, otherwordly stellar euphony, but which still retains its own sinister edge. Slowly, eventually, further droning melodies accompany the euphony like voices, singing and heightening the experience into a chorus. However, soon enough, the beatified voices succumb to an unspoken pain, and groaning into a dull dirge, drift far off into the infinite as we are left with the crashing of waves and the sound of falling water.

The album clocks in at 52 minutes, a respectable amount for a two track offering, but not an unusual length for the drone world. Of What Once Was is all about the subtleties: subtleties which you must allow it to give to you. Repeated concentration is really the way forward here, since this album does demand you to respect it with the same degree of concentration as the finesse with which it was created. Of What Once Was may still be a fledgling when compared against greats such as Maeror Tri or Troum, but there are flashes or brilliance here which at least put it in the same race. There’s a lot to be discovered within its layers: a lot of mystery and a lot interpretation. The myth, as Klein said, is in art.

Rating: 4/5

Bee Mask – Elegy for Beach Friday

03/07/2011 § 2 Comments

Chris Madak has been involved in Bee Mask since 2003, and has rounded up over ten full length albums and an impressive greater number of singles, EPs and compilations. In between recordings he likes to spend his time designing new pretty cassette tapes for his work and sculpting elaborately illustrative press releases for his music. Elegy for Beach Friday, for instance, has been described as “a dazzling and infinitely dense time capsule of mind-altering Martian sound fields and psychedelic dimension bending”. I get the strong feeling here that Chris is throwing us a curve, especially as his full colour, full print semigloss cardstsock rubberstamped matte white soft polybox-presented Shimmering Braid was described as traversing “new extremes of ghostly bass weight, mind-splitting acoustic illusion, and frostbitten architechtonic contour”. One thing’s for certain, Mr Madak enjoys his adjectives almost as much as his ambience.

Unfortunately, since the e-rise of Heathen Harvest threatening the non-rise of a relaunch, I don’t get to see physical presentations anymore. But I’m sure that Chris has something pretty special lined up for that side of things. Or so I’d like to think. I’ve seen the latest releases through Deception Island looking more pedestrian with blank, crystal transparent cassette tapes enshrining the newer releases, maybe times are getting hard after all. Elegy For Beach Friday, for its part, is not so much a new album though, but a compilation record that drags out of the loft several old recordings, rejigs, remixes, remasters them and seamlessly strings them together on one new release. Mr Madak has reworked a lot of his old unheard material and given it a new lease of life and a new coating with several contemporary twists.

Elegy for Beach Friday is very much a self-contained work of ambience. Here, Madak lays aside most of his drone-based influences and softens things to create a lighter, more ethereal ambient album that relies mainly on genuine instrumentation rather than the watery, thin washes of synthesisers which we’ve all had enough of these days. Utilising guitar, piano, percussion, electronica and tape loops, Elegy has its own definite structure from start to finish. The album presents us with, and drowns us in, its own ambient waves through the use of whole-track crescendos and decrescendos, and uses different effects and instruments to create each. The central point of the album, “Askion Kataskion Lix Tetrax Damnameneus Aision”, is possibly the most intense, with soft drones and canorous synths creating a throbbing undercurrent for some voice-like loops that gasp and moan over the top. The celestial “Book of Stars Vibrating” creates a fitting downturn before the ultra-prolonged “Stop The Night” which sees a full ten minutes of static, shimmering ambience which holds us down and freezes us in place before releasing its grip before the excellent “Scarlet Thread, Golden Cord”.

Even though it skips around various stepping stones in its own stream of ambient drone, Elegy never stays in the same place for too long, which is both to its benefit and its detriment. Ambient is an incredibly difficult genre to make interesting, especially with so many people bloating the underground with their own bedroom-created sonic drivel, and Bee Mask does certainly make Elegy an interesting and textured release. However, the meandering of the album is probably a little too frequent and in my opinion the best ambient or drone works are those which feature a paucity of change between the numbers. Atmosphere is best explored slowly, and as a result I couldn’t help feeling that a lot of the depth had been removed from what could have been a fuller release.

Chris Madak has certainly done a grand job with Elegy, and it’s good to see a whole variety of different things done well in this album. For those who like exploring the different sounds and scents of ambient drone, this will grab your sensors and fail to let go, but for others it may prove a little too much of an aural nomad, scanning different sonic plains without really belonging to any. As such I’m not left with the feeling of completeness or placement that I could be if the subtleties had been probed more fully alongside the ruthless reinvention of the old pieces, pulled kicking and screaming off the tape shelves and brought into the unforgiving light of 2011′s remixes. Elegy For Beach Friday may be one of the better works of ambient I’ve come across recently, but its too unsure of its own identity to carry enough persuasiveness or interest.

Rating: 3.5/5

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