Please note that as of March 30, 2014, Hypnagogue Reviews and the Hypnagogue Podcast are closed to new submissions until further notice. All releases currently in the review queue will get reviewed in time. I appreciate your understanding.
Not to pander, but any friend of Djam Karet’s is a friend of mine–especially if they can rip and groove like DK, which Spoke of Shadows does on their debut, self-titled release. Prog fans take note: this album has the complex structures and algebraic time signatures you adore, ramped up by Mark Cook’s spot-on Warr guitar riffs. (A touch guitar with what is technically called “an assload of strings.”) Cook partners up with drummer Bill Bachman, whom he told to “Play what you normally would not be allowed to play in other bands,” and a host of guest musicians and together they just let it mother-effing rip. Bachman’s heavy metal thunder anchors the work here and drives a spike right through you to hold you in place while the band lights it up around you. It’s pure, well-tempered adrenaline. Cook kills with savage fretboard runs starting right off the bat on “Dominion,” and the energy rarely abates from there. “Harbinger” kicks off sounding very much like Tony Levin’s Stick Men–and trust me when I tell you that is a potent compliment. Hard notes are hammered on against gorgeous, twisting bass runs as it sets up its structure. Tempo shifts and jazzy structures are all over this piece. It’s a great display of the combo of technical skill and rain-hellfire-on-‘em attitude that makes us love prog. I don’t who gets the flaming guitar solo around the 90-second mark, but kudos to you, sir. You may have briefly stopped my heart. This one throttles down nicely at the end, floating to earth on Bob Fisher’s flute. Fisher has a chance to show off his rock side on “Images” by cranking off spitfire trills that would make Ian Anderson blush. On “Tilting At Windmills,” Bachman lays into the double bass kicks as bass-heavy chords rumble the floor. Drops give Fisher more space here and allow the listener a little breathing room. Nice modulation here as the quiet passages get cut off by volcanic resurgences of the metal attitude. As is sometimes the case with prog, there are brief moments when Spoke of Shadows dwell a little too much in art-rock fanciness. The end of “Pain Map,” for instance, drags a bit and makes me think about skipping over it. Compared to the rest of the release, it just feels weak. But the strong parts of the album absolutely outweigh those very few lesser moments. This is a work to dive right into, give it plenty of volume and listen to these superb musicians rip it up. Many thanks to the lads of Djam Karet for bringing Spoke of Shadows to my attention. More, please.
Available from Firepool Records.
With a long history and discography backing them up, it must be said that Deep Chill Network know their drone. Minimalist in structure but designed and layered for solid impact, DCN’s music demands and rewards a close listen. Such is the case on Antarctica 3. From tactile explorations of the world above the ice to snow-blind wanderings through absolute cold and walls of blowing snow, each expedition here exhibits its distinct character. “1937” opens the release with a classic ambient feel. It may be the most welcoming track, with a certain sunlight-on-snow glimmer. Lest you get too comfy, however, “1908” immediately assails you with raking, icy winds and edge-of-feedback tones that hit like sun glare. Things get heavy on “1897” and the 21-minute “1947,” points where DCN hit their most isolationist. “1897” throws up big ice-cliffs of densely packed sound, while “1947” takes its time describing a vast and inhospitable landscape. Despite the weight of these pieces, the persistent near-white-noise underlays that run through Antarctica 3 do their job to lull your brain into a slight and pleasant stupor. It’s that intriguing dichotomy, and its resultant chemical reaction, that is most rewarding here. You can be slightly discomforted by the tone of some of these pieces, but you will always be pulled fully into them. On the other hand, there are waypoints of solidity worked into the journey. “1917” comes in built on purposely clumsy piano notes that wriggle into backward echoes, and “1969” reaches out with its ringing chimes, their resonance fading back to mix with the background drones.
This is, no pun intended, a truly deep listen. Deep Chill Network modulate their layers, varying the density from the gentle hush of a snowdrift to the pure crush of an avalanche–and both sides of the equation work well. Come see Antarctica 3. It’s a dangerous journey, but worth it.
Available from Dark Duck.
Bless your funky prog soul, Djam Karet. With Regenerator 3017 you have given me my day-starting/fast-driving/chilling-out-with go-to album. Fronted by the guitar power trio of Gayle Ellett, Mike Henderson, and Mike Murray, who take turns firing off mad licks, Djam Karet hand out power-blues-marinated chops interlaced with moments of pure jazz. After the opening track, “Prince of the Inland Empire,” which I think is the weak link on the release (and which may also suffer from a touch of muddy sound) DK get down to serious business on “Living in Future Past.” It’s a killer jazz fusion romp with the players each stepping forward to strut their musical stuff. There’s no need to clap after each solo, but you just might. From there it’s full funky-ass speed ahead. I eat up the face-ripping blues-rock solos in “Lost Dreams” and “Desert Varnish,” where the fuzz is laid on liberally, and I’m reaching for the volume knob during the take-center-stage power-ballad pyrotechnics that roar up in “On the Edge of the Moon.” I do have to note, though, that the flute-sound (mellotron?) breaks that split some of the tracks don’t always work for me. They’re fine, but it sometimes feels like an art-rock indulgence. However, they pass and then we’re back into the shredding. Speaking of which, as much as I’ve had to say about the lead guitars, let it also be noted that Regenerator 3017 has ample stores of thick, meaty bass runs, courtesy of Henry J. Osbourne–certainly enough to keep this low-end-lover more than happy. Osbourne’s clearly got more than his share of funk in his soul, and it’s on display everywhere–particularly strolling around on “Wind Pillow.” Rhythm section accomplice Chuck Oken Jr gets kudos for anchoring this jam with steady beats and rich fills, bringing the thunder when needed.
Every time I listen to Djam Karet, I’m amazed that they stayed off my radar for so long. But man, is it a good time catching up with them. Thirty years on–and that would be the “30” part of the title–these guys are still stirring up some mighty chemistry and laying down fantastic grooves. Get this, turn it up, and bliss out. These guitars will do your soul some good.
Available from the Djam Karet web site.
You certainly wouldn’t know it from listening, but every sound on Deserts, the debut release from Jalisco, is made from processed AM radio transmissions. Musician Dave Bush manipulates his source material into wispy, long-hanging drones in a pair of matched-length (20:03) minimalist pieces. The work is appropriately sparse, almost to the point of seeming a little static at times. Bush overcomes this by occasionally folding in voices or gently ramping up touches of industrial-tinged rhythmic elements. Changes come like checkpoints as we’re guided across this to-the-horizon vista, and the slow-moving repetition that underscores both pieces does have a hypnotic quality to it. “Desert Two” has a slightly more dynamic quality to it at the outset, but before its halfway mark thins down to a steady low pulse that will absolutely nudge your brain toward flatlining. A repeating phrase on chime-like tones rises up to assist. Deserts doesn’t do much for me as an open-air listen. I’ve tried, but Bush has his stuff dialed so far down it doesn’t rise above background noise. This is much more of a headphone experience. It’s only there that you’ll get the full effect of Bush’s textural work. And, honestly, it took me a couple of listens to come around to the sort of patience I think you need to appreciate these two pieces. They certainly take their time, but in the long run they manage to be engaging. Strap up, settle in, and take the 40 minutes (and 6 seconds) needed to tour these Deserts. The view is pretty nice.
Available from the Jalisco web site.
Ludvig Olsen brutalizes sound samples in his new experimental outing, Trip to the Sewers. If you’re not into bent and mutilated noise, you can stop reading now. This release smacks of an art-school project, the kind of thing where if you don’t “get” it, that’s your shortcoming. I would say that this is far more accessible than his last release, Breathing Seagull, into which I had absolutely no point of entry. Here, at least, he’s infusing some structure in the clatter. “Deterioration” goes so far as to have the suggestion of a beat. The manipulated voices upon which he heavily relies are put to good use. They yawn like strings, growl like beasts, and wrap themselves into semi-identifiable shapes while still being aggressively alien. There are passages packing dark, industrial tones, like “Night Soil.” Here, feedback is partly tamed and laced through what’s either a field recording or modulated static. “Industrial Wastewater” starts off as an imposing wall of noise that feels like it’s got at least one foot in the isolationist ambient camp. Olsen manages to surprise me when he dials the sound back and unfolds the piece into something quieter but no less intense. What I like here (and yes, I said “like”) is that I find myself waiting for him to drop a fresh bolt of noise on me. Instead, the background rises into a beat and the piece takes on a third identity. This track managed to bring me onto Olsen’s side. (I will be the first to admit that after enduring Seagull, about the last thing I wanted to do was listen to more Ludvig Olsen.) Still, this is not an easy thing to get through–but if looked at in comparison to what came before, Trip to the Sewers is a sizable step in the artist’s evolution. It comes off as more thought out, less aggressively avant-garde, yet is still able to keep less adventurous listeners at arm’s length.
I had expected, quite honestly, to really dislike Trip to the Sewers. And I don’t. I’m not going to hurry back to it for more listens, but it allowed me to look at Ludvig Olsen’s work in a new and better light.
Available at Bandcamp.
I have listened to and enjoyed a lot of Zero Ohms’ work over the years, from solo albums to collaborations, so it is absolutely without hestiation that I tell you this is the best thing he’s ever done. This is an album I never want to end, an ambient flow based around flute and electronic wind instrument underscored with warm drones. I just want to put this on and ignore time, get completely lost in the rich sounds and let it draw me into a state of pure meditation. Along with his soul-warming slow flows, Ohms folds in subtle touches, like the hushed night sounds peering out from below the washes on the first two tracks. It’s a thoughtfully used element that helps to deepen the dimensions of the work. There is also a great balance at play between the electronics and the breath-based instrumentation. When Ohms takes up his flute to play it unprocessed, we get the intimate whisper of his exhalation in our ears as the notes course over us, a reminder of the human, the organic, amid the enveloping electronic mist. And that playing is so very gorgeous. Patient and graceful, soulful and touching. It truly shines on “Glimpsing the Eternal,” spinning out beautiful, lyrical lines and then settling back to let the underlying ambient drift wrap itself around the listener. This is not the place where I want to draw comparisons, but this track does take me back to an album I loved in the 80s, Larkin’s O’Cean. It has that same deep honesty, that pure sense of soul. While your initial encounter with Process of Being should involve headphones to take in the fantastic detail work and to really experience its overall intimacy, this is also a work that should be allowed to fill your living space at low volume, to salve your mind while sleeping, to play on as endless a loop as you care to allow. This is a genuinely stunning album, and when I say I don’t want it to end, it’s not reviewer hyperbole. I mean, I have let this thing run for days and listened to nothing else. Happily. This is a masterful piece of work that excels in its perfectly understated beauty, and it is a must-own release for every ambient music fan. Easily one of the best ambient releases of 2014. Congratulations to Zero Ohms. Process of Being is nothing short of wonderful.
Available from Spotted Peccary.
I quite enjoy Erik Wøllo’s signature sound, even though in past reviews I have mentioned that I feel it can make new releases come off as too familiar. That being said, I’m happy to toss that consideration out the window as I sit back and launch into yet another round of listening to Timelines. And, oh, my friends, there have been a lot of repeat listens. I am going all-in for more of the wailing guitar singing out across broad, descriptive sonic vistas. I am very much on board for the windswept washes of sound and romantic piano fills. I am once again diving headlong into the simple bliss of digging an Erik Wøllo album, over and over. On this release, Wøllo started with melodies picked out on acoustic guitar, then built up from there. As always, the layers are perfectly piled together, complex forms crafted out of loops and infused with melodies. For me, what works best on Timelines are small touches of texture Wøllo brings in to differentiate this release from others. For example, the way jazzy brushstroke drums add a cool flair to “Pathfinder,” paired with analog-glitch rhythms and gossamer pads. It’s a smooth blend of beat and drift. On “Color of Mind,” beautiful acoustic fretboard work lays down a core that’s as steady as a sequencer–if Windham Hill made a sequencer. And you know, I just can’t help myself–every time that signature guitar sound rises up out of nowhere, headed for the far horizon on a solid wave of sustain, I get chills. It always works. There are stretches in “Along the Journey” where that sound meets up with Oldfield-style trills and the effect is nothing short of soul-stirring. It ranks right up there with my favorite Wøllo tracks.
So, yes: Timelines is familiar territory for Wøllo fans, but as always it’s a very pleasant place to visit. Emotional and filled with sonic imagery, it absolutely demands repeat listens. Superb work from a true master of the craft.
Available from Projekt.