After a lot of back and forth with myself over the last year about whether or not to keep doing this, I’ve decided to reopen the site to submissions AS OF February 1. That doesn’t mean now, and it doesn’t mean any time BEFORE February 1.
ALSO, and this is important, whether you have submitted work in the past or not, PLEASE go to the new Contact/Submissions page and read MY NEW SUBMISSION POLICIES. I have burned a lot of mental energy in the past worrying about keeping people waiting for reviews and I just won’t be doing that to myself anymore. If you choose to send something–and it’s your choice–I promise I will eventually get to it. But first, go read the submission policies.
Thanks for your patience over the last year.
Palancar invites you to dwell in a state of quiet contemplation and “reminiscent reflection” on his latest drone-based release, Counting Raindrops. That being said, there are different kinds of contemplation and reflection, but don’t worry–Palancar (aka Darrell Burgan) will walk you through them over the course of an hour. You can go very, very deep inside yourself in the misty whispers of “Headwaters.” This is Counting Raindrops at its quietest point, gorgeously ethereal and soothing, yet kept in constant motion by small shifts of sound and detail. Here, a little sequencer line briefly cuts in a sense of beat; here, a strong pad rises up for a moment, just to fade back into the fog; here, the quiet patter of rain–or is that just a soft electronic crackle?–catches your attention. Perhaps your contemplation is a bit darker. Then you’ll be at home in “The Rain is Full of Ghosts Tonight,” with its crack of thunder, theremin-like wails and pall of a moonless night. Burgan leans on the intensity late in the track, building a big wall of aggressive sound that just–stops. Interesting choice. I admit to had to grow on me, but now I like it. “The Child Ephemeral” also churns its way into a grim rawness with edgy drones tearing into soft pads over and over. That should suit your sullen mood, too. On the other end, there’s the title track, washed in the sound of a light rain and finding its way to a quiet piano melody, the descant notes falling perfectly. This is the track I’ll be sitting on the porch with some evening, getting lost in thought. It’s the balance of ambient gentleness and more forceful, twilight-dark drones, that make this album work so well. That, and the great degree of detail, which has always been a Palancar hallmark. Sounds shift and roll, step forward and ease back, and it all creates a richer sense of dimension. His use of field recordings is nicely understated, with the exception of the drumming spatters that kick off the title track. They hit a bit hard, and pull me out of my reverie for a moment, but soon enough they become a quieter element in a bigger flow. The rain sounds at the end and beginning of the album create a simple dovetail for long looping, which really is the recommended mode of play for this release.
The great backstory to this disc, by the way, is that it was submitted to the earthMantra label anonymously. Burgan is the original founder of the label, but he had stepped away from it. Geoff Small of Relaxed Machinery took up the mantle in 2014 and began releasing new material. Burgan didn’t want his album judged on the basis of who he was in relation to earthMantra, so he had someone else submit it “for a friend.” Small liked what he heard, gave it the yes, and was then thrilled to discover whose work it actually was. Something to contemplate as you enjoy your many listens to Counting Raindrops.
Available from earthMantra.
I have to admit: you caught me by surprise, Larry. My prior experiences with Larry Kucharz’s music have mostly been about quiet, droning electronic structures, with the occasional foray into beats. And while the title Smphncs should have been a giveaway, the appasionato storm of piano notes whirling through the opening of “Elevator Phantasy Waltz” was (to my experience) so unlike Kucharz, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to follow along. But this piece, and the album in general, levels off into a showcase of Kucharz as a classically influenced composer, working his way through adagios and larghissimos and bringing his electronic viewpoint to each structure. I don’t know that I would rank it highly among my preferred works of his, but there’s much to listen to here. When he shifts more toward the quieter side of things, I find Smphncs more to my liking. “Largo 43 (92 No.03A)” is a lush, droning piece, dreamy and warm. “Scherzo 43″ uses light chords to tell its story, a soft touch bringing a string ensemble feel. The 21-minute closing track, “Tremolo 43 (1977 No.07A),” is Kucharz as I like him best, finding a middle ground between a classical structure and an electronic aesthetic. Slow-motion dynamics meet with thick pipe-organ chords, creating peaks and valleys of sound. The quiet moments are pastoral; the passages where the chords take the forefront are stirring. Kucharz masterfully modulates the two sides of that equation, giving the listener a deep place in which to dwell for a while.
Again, Smphncs is not my favorite bit of Kucharz, but it is filled with passages that remind me what I like about his work. He’s been at this a long time, and he’s never been afraid to mix things up a bit. A solid and slightly surprising release from this fine composer.
Available from International Audiochrome.
Patrick Cornelius is the name of the collaborative effort between bassist Patrick Derivaz and violinist Cornelius Dufallo. Their purpose in coming together was to explore the possibilities in pairing instruments of two differing registers in a semi-improvised session. Each composer supplied material, which acted as a stepping-off point. Effects and looping stations were used to alter the output on the fly. After recording, the finished pieces were “assembled,” to use the artists’ own word, out of that material. Derivas notes: “Our creative meeting ground turned out to be a meditative, quasi-hypnotic aesthetic in which variation is slowed to a nearly imperceptible rate.” The seven tracks here, covering just over 45 minutes, have a new chamber music feel, conveyed through a blend of simple intimacy and complex chemistry. Derivaz’s “nearly imperceptible” variation metes itself out in repeating lines and loops that render into a kind of minimalist sensibility. This lets the less rigid improvisations curve and spin and take the listener in unpredictable directions. It’s like a playful perversion of a neo-classical aesthetic, retaining something of the formal air of composition but then tearing into it with discordant runs up the strings, scraping and scratching and challenging the ear with high notes, yet always falling back toward that established baseline. On “The Limp,” for example, a short phrase on high strings is established and set to softly repeat, working its way in and out of the proceedings. Derivaz and Duffalo then ride over the top of it, the steadiness of the phrase holding fast against the freeform explorations. “Not Sure Yet” finds Derivaz setting the foundation with a strolling bass line. Duffalo fills the air with wispy violin sighs and pizzicato textures. “Middle Ages” features another meaty bit of bass as the duo lay out a sort of loping pavane, a tipsy little dance with a light jazz air.
At first I thought Bass Violin was going to stray too far into avant territory for my tastes. To be honest, there are some discordant passages that bring me right to my tolerance border, but I’m always pulled back at the last minute. It’s a pleasure to listen to these gentlemen pulling every possible sound out of their instruments, and the back and forth between them is very engaging. Well worth a listen even if you’re not a new music fan.
Available from Spectropol.
Oh, Kerani, when I listen to your new album, Arctic Sunrise, I can just see you standing at your keys with the wind blowing through your hair as the camera slowly circles around you. The mix of neo-classical influences and sweeping electronics, rife with the dynamics of drama…here’s a by-the-book New Age album, as big as they come, a concept album, if you will, inspired by icy landscapes and Inuit legend. Don’t get me wrong–if you like this kind of thing, it’s all here. Kerani’s piano playing is superb (I mean it) and so full of emotion it just about spills over. Bold string pads swell in full orchestration. There’s a whispered recitation, of course, and a joyful dance of a song–“Aurora Sky,” which is quite a bit of fun.
Arctic Sunrise isn’t the kind of album I’d be inclined to listen to if I wasn’t reviewing, but I will say that fans of Vangelis or Yanni and their ilk will probably dig this. Because you’ve heard it before. I can appreciate the talent at work here, but it wears on me in short order and doesn’t mix up the formula enough for me to want to get through it. New Age fans, please go have a listen and judge for yourselves.
Available at CD Baby.
Someone fetch me a cocktail. Something frosty to sip while I chill out to Out in a Field from Melorman. Antonis Haniotakis is back with 40 minutes of melodic electronica, nicely fleshed out with bits of glitch. “Apricot Fields” sets the tone with a laid-back feel and cool reverse-echo notes that rise and snap off. High, chime-like notes give it a delicate luster, and big doses of reverb thicken up the sound nicely. From there, while there are no big deviations from the form, Out in a Field retains its low-energy vibe and works its way into your system. This is a sway-with-it, bob-your-head piece of work. (When you get to “Watercircle,” you’ll fully understand, bass thumps and all.) “Toy” comes at you with a kind of stripped-back feel to it, a light collection of minimal sound-sets that patiently repeat, more partly dovetailed than layered, with a great touch of texture. I like the way this one stays quiet. Haniotakis gives a nice nod to his homeland of Greece with a shot of Mediterranean flair in the breaks on “Tell Me More Stories.” (Is that a bouzouki I hear? Or something akin to it…) The beat here is absolutely thick with hooks, and you’ve got to check out the detail sounds lurking in the back. Nice touch.
Out in a Field is a quick hit that works best for me when it’s laced into a mix of other similar stuff. There’s not a lot to differentiate it in the glitch/melodic electronica realm, but for what it is, it’s very well done and a pleasure to dig into.
Available from Sun Sea Sky.
Listening to Meltstream should accomplish two things: solidify Steve Brand as a vital name in the current ambient canon, and introduce you to new talent Roy Mattson. (Having listened, I immediately headed off to Mattson’s site to check out his solo work, and I suggest you do so, too.) The duo’s chemistry first bubbled up during a 2007 sound workshop hosted by Steve Roach, and Meltstream is the initial culmination of the work that began there. All in all, it is a lush and gorgeous drift packed with big ambient vistas, wisely utilized field recordings, and skillful organic touches. As it gently makes its way through an hour, Meltstream never feels the need to raise its voice above a confident and confiding whisper. There are times when things get so quiet, I have actually stopped to check if I’d set my player’s volume too low. This, obviously, makes it an excellent open-air listen as it drifts mistily through your space, just another element in the atmosphere; in headphones it becomes a very personal, meditative thing. It’s quite easy to get carried off in these rich flows, but do try to pay attention to the small touches these gents have laced through the work–the dry, hint-of-tribal rattle of shakers, the sharp call of the ocarina, the easy harmonies created by the intersecting pads. The long, quiet space created by “Leeward Shadows” and the title track will give you a solid half-hour of introspective time. “Leeward” shifts, briefly and appropriately, into the darkest stretch of the album. Discordant pads and the metallic clatter of wind-blown chimes give an eerie air. “Meltstream” just wants you to relax in its warmth. This is some fantastic melodic ambient, with the kind of wide-screen sense I love. It opens up feeling big and deep, then glides down to a gentle current of sound.
Meltstream is one of those releases where I struggle to find words good enough to describe it. I was already a fan of Brand’s work, and this collaboration deepens the appreciation. Mattson is someone you should keep an ear on, and this album certainly makes a great starting point. I look forward to more moments of chemistry from Brand and Mattson. In the meantime, I think I’ll loop this for just a couple more hours before moving on. Get this.
Available from Relaxed Machinery.
It is tempting to have this review simply read: Set to repeat. Press play. Because, really, there you go. With its roots in the original Structures from Silence and its pulse taken from the remastering sessions for that album’s 30th anniversary, The Delicate Forever is one of those Steve Roach works that’s designed to augment the space around you or open the space within you, depending on how you choose to listen. Each of the five pieces is marked by its own texture. In the title track, sounds like frozen droplets of ice ping, rattle and reverberate off the soft drones. The drones themselves, throughout the album, have a lightly rasping feel, moving in a familiar inhale/exhale wave. “The Well Spring” is characterized by an appropriately burbling sequencer line. It feels energetic (and charming) coming out of the pleasantly long ride of the opener. “Perfect Sky” drifts along on a sound like some ethereal pipe organ, its complex lines wrestling gently in mid-air. The tones here are sharper than anywhere else on the album, imparting something like an edge of mystery to the journey. “Where Mysteries Sleep” and the closing track, “HearAfter,” get an extra dose of reverb for more depth and dimension and a spacier, dreamier sound. “HearAfter,” in particular, heads straight into the kind of deeper zones Roach has explored on long-form compositions such as “Piece of Infinity” from Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces. A nice touch here is to bring those “icy” sounds from the start of the album back into play. This does two things: lets your heavily sound-sedated brain know we’re drawing to a close, and lays out a seamless transition point as you loop into the next lap of listening.
So here is another episode of Music to Live In from an ambient master. If you fall into The Delicate Forever, and I believe you will, it’s also worth checking out The Delicate Beyond, a full-length (i.e., 74 minute) version of the title track. This whole stretch of music from Roach, inspired by the remastering of Structures…, has been superb. It has its feet in the past but exists quite fully in who the artist is now. This is the kind of music that first pulled into Roach’s orbit, and it makes me glad I’ve stayed here. Set to repeat. Press play. Simple as that.
Available from Steve Roach’s web site.