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.
Deep, dark and delicious, Michael Meara’s Nocturnal Panorama is a 47-minute excursion that demands you take the trip in headphones. Three mid-length drone pieces work to describe “Mars and other cosmic entities” and in doing so, take us on a bit of a trip inside ourselves as well. Perhaps it’s not fully accurate to call it “drone,” although much of the disc certainly dwells close to the border. The opener, “Chryse Planitia,” builds from the sharp pluck of bass strings and their resultant resonance, along with what sounds to my ears like volume-modulated guitar chords. So it’s more dynamic, in that sense, than its two companion pieces. Meara lets the resonant sounds stretch out into the backdrop, and the solid, sudden plucks hit the mark as perfect punctuation. The other two tracks delve more firmly into drone territory. The anchoring sounds are gone; there is just the drift through shadowy spaces. But even at that, Meara’s sounds are more in the ambient vein than they are true drone. Unlike drone, where time is extremely stretched, and the music equally so to the point of apparent near-stasis, these pieces have more of the slow but noticeable movement of ambient, the grace of breath. As the label notes, these are guided tours through certain landscapes. As such, they possess a stronger dynamic aspect, an aural descriptiveness that comes through quite clearly. “Cepheid Variable” brings in a vocal pad, low male voices that offer a sense of some grimly sacred chant. It continues and completes the movement toward–but again never quite fully crossing into–drone. It’s the recognizable, metaphorically physical aspects tucked into the music that keep it just to the ambient side of true drone. Where we tend to respond to drone on a more subconscious level, this music keeps us below the surface but within reaching distance. It is a place between, and this is exactly where Nocturnal Panorama needs to be. It is where it truly succeeds. This is a very deep voyage that needs to be taken often.
Available from Aural Films.
I was listening to Neal Gardner’s We Are Infinite in my day-job office, as I tend to do with review material, and a coworker who stopped into my office said, “Is that classical music?” I said no, but realized afterward that what I could have said was, “Sort of…at the moment.” There is a certain classical influence at play in some of the music here, but there is also electronic minimalism, hints of lounge, and spacemusic influences. The album changes faces several times, and each new look is equally attractive. The approaches can be sparse, as with “Horizon on the Shore Eternal,” with its forlorn piano melody picking its way slowly across intermittent and intriguing slow tides of wayward sound. Or as with “Requiem,” where Gardner drops hammer-heavy, funereal chords on the listener while string pads soften the background. Weighty and sad, yet beautiful. (And here’s part of where that classical tone comes in.) But they can be uptempo and playful as well, like the tenuous pizzicato that forms the base of “Memories Fade, Dreams Recursive,” over which Gardner lays another pleasantly simple piano melody. Breaks and drops change up the pace, accenting the feel and the flow. They can be hushed as the flow is steered briefly out to space with the title track. Textbook spacemusic touches filter in here, starshine pads tracing horizon-to-horizon arcs. Whatever mode he enters, Gardner hits it spot-on. We Are Infinite retains a nice emotional depth and connection to the listener through its shifts. You never doubt that you’re in good and capable musical hands. The change-ups make sense and keep things fresh and interesting. Gardner’s piano playing is fantastic and it’s a real pleasure when it takes the lead. The good news is, everything else is as well done. A great release that deserves all the repeat play it’s going to get.
Available from Bandcamp.
On his sixth release, Transcend With Time (aka Mark Mendieta) blends New Age music with themes of “isolation, frustration & despair.” While the results aren’t quite as sad as that may sound, When Emotions Fade does pack its share of melancholy, but its contemporary instrumental framework, tempered with a bit of post-rock in places, is solid and pleasant to listen to. Mendieta is equally adept on guitar and keys, so the disc switches focus easily. The piano takes the front on the touching ballad “Somber Rains,” supported by string pads. I love the tone of the piece, rich with a sense of longing, but I could have done without the rain sound the start. It’s not a bad thing, so much, but the way it cuts out suddenly doesn’t sit well with me. Aside from that, Mendieta’s playing pulls me right in. The guitar is at its best in the spotlight on the post-rock-flavored pieces. “Dreary Conclusions” has a bit of a shoegaze overtone, minor chords and a slightly dragging beat that stirs up some sympathy. “The Disappearance” sounds like it could break into a Metallica song at any moment. It’s got that metal-ballad finger-picked run-up going on. It’s the post-rock pieces that work best for me on When Emotions Fade. They feel more honest and they’re downright catchy. Speaking of which, the slight jazz flair of the Spanish guitar in “When Mystery Arises” is perhaps the most hook-laden thing here–and may also be the one piece that belies the whole isolation, etc., theme. How can you be in despair when you’re snapping your fingers to such a funky time signature?
When Emotions Fade opens a bit too lightly for me, but soon blossoms into a listen that’s worth repeat visits. Superb musicianship, an honest feel, and a very fine blend of styles pave the way.
Available from Bandcamp.
Initially created to be released on Pete Namlook’s FAX label, this collaboration between Material Object and Phonaut instead became a tribute to the electronic-music legend, self-released after his death in November 2012. On his bandcamp page, Material Object notes Namlook’s deep influence on his style; in this hour-and-twenty minute journey, tribute is paid in full. What awaits here is simply mesmerizing. Part 1 opens with a mash of disparate sounds that clash and tangle slightly before resolving themselves into a sort of cadenced pulse. Inside of five minutes, the solid basis is laid down, a patient dynamic is established, and all that’s left to do is let go and listen. Background sounds turn to washes, and the washes take on a kind of softly mechanical feel, the hum of unusually quiet machinery. Part 2 stands out as the shortest piece, an interim between the first half hour and what’s to come–45 minutes of absolute blissful immersion. The spiral into kiss-your-brain-goodbye begins as Part 3 slips in on white-noise pulse, glittering pads, and a fast pseudo-beat meted out in small thumps of sound. That is one of the great parts of this excellent disc: there are no beats per se, but the duo do an amazing job of turning layered, repeating phrases or pulses of sound into rhythmic elements. Your body responds to them regardless. They are as irresistible as they are insistent and understated. It’s a very cool feeling to be in a slightly dissociated mental state, courtesy of these misty drones, and to be aware that you are, in fact, swaying just a bit with the rhythm. This slides neatly into Part 4, which at first flattens the pulses out into long drones, still heavy on the hissing mist. There’s a physical shift that happens with the listener here, a movement from the active response of moving with the music and into a passively responsive, meditative state. I recognize that this happens with many ambient/electronic works, but there is something more emphatic about it here. The transition, in both music and listener, is simply beautiful. The drones here are warm and fluid, the current easy and comfortable. A mid-track change brings in bright chords and a chant-like vocal sample. As a rhythm slowly re-establishes itself, the piece becomes a bridge to the final movement. I really like how the pair use a simple bass pulse to finalize the transfer. Part 5 complete the shift with a nod to Namlook’s techno/IDM background. This one can’t really be called a drone. Rather, it cranks along on sequenced notes in an almost unchanging, Morse Code-style cadence. Under it swirl warm pads and subtly moving parts. The sequencing becomes hypnotic and brings us back to that active involvement in and response to the sound.
This is an amazing release. The sound is deep and very dynamic, one of those examples of how making good drone is not an exercise in simple tonal stasis. The infusion of rhythm is handled perfectly and the ride is superbly modulated. I would own this just for Parts 3-5; that stretch alone should be considered required listening across the community. The more I have listened to this, and the more time I have blissfully lost within it, the more I have come to appreciate it. Do not miss this release.
Available at Bandcamp.
After almost a decade away, Arovane returns to unleash some snappy glitch work on Ve Palor. These dozen tracks fall into a fairly standard structure where the glitch is supported by cool melodies, with the slower, unbroken pace of the “song” working to offset the rapid-fire patchwork of the electronics. “Leptr” is a great example. The melody is kept low in the background, humming and sighing its way along against spatters of glitch and an insistent beat. The title track hits it, too, with the melody laid out in light tones like a muted steel drum laced beneath an irresistible beat and curling gurgles of electronoise. The blend is flawless as Uwe Zahn plays with the dynamics and density. “C LL T” is crisp, with bright overtones and a drawn-out pad, just a little buzzy around the edges, drifting along underneath it. “Deev” curves in on a snaking bass line that takes the forefront. Surprisingly, the singleness of tone doesn’t get old. There’s plenty going on underneath to hold it up. This is pretty much how it goes; Zahn’s glitch constructs are complex, with even the barest scraps of sound making a difference, and the melodics ease their way into your brain. For me, there are places where the frenzy of sound goes a bit too far into chaos, but Arovane smoothly pulls things back into line and carries on before I have enough time to really complain. While Ve Palor doesn’t add much new vocabulary to the glitch lexicon, it’s a solid lesson in How It’s Done.
Available from n5md.
Take a post-rock framework, stretch it lazily across time, then wash it over with a hissing, soft wall of noise. This is what you get on Secret Pyramid’s lush and thoughtful Movements of Night. Darkly dreamy and packing a certain opioid quality in its mesmerizing flows, this release finds an engaging middle ground where recognizable beats and and identifable melodic structures meet amorphous, mind-displacing atmospheres and everything just gels perfectly. Much of the work here sounds based in guitar drones. Right out of the gates, “A Descent” peels off slowly strummed chord phrases and spirals them away into a rising drone. A ghostly vocal line half-swiped from dreampop deepens the feeling. Keys figure into the mix as well; listen to the dirge-like, repetitive phrasing at the core of “Move Through Night,” sending its own resonance off into the gloom to build on it. “Escape (Fade Out)” lays down almost lounge-like electric piano chords–but if this is lounge, it’s where the lotus-eaters hang out, vaguely remembering and deep in their glossy dreams. Then there’s “Closer,” a big, ambient-style piece that achieves a sort of slow-motion minimalism courtesy of a phrase that states and restates itself in thickening sonic greys. It’s nicely dovetailed into the brighter space defined in “To Forget.” I like the dark/light juxtaposition of these two works. The sound on Movements of Night is very textured, mostly coarsened up with light distortion or touches of static. It manifests in an edge-of-white-noise mist that aids the ongoing, gentle subjugation of your mind as you listen. You’re nudged into introspection, and you’ll gladly go along with it. Musician Amir Abbey packs a lot of feeling into these short works, and each passing moment serves to enhance and amplify the hypnotic effect. His use of slow repetition plays up a certain air of stasis, of moments half-frozen for closer examination. Headphones on and away you go. An excellent release from Secret Pyramid.
Available from Students of Decay.