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.
Inspired by the script for an indie science fiction film, Anton by brothers Daniel and Mikael Tjernberg is not the sort of release I’d normally sit down and listen to. This is not to say it isn’t good. The problem is that too often I feel like I need to have the visuals that go along with it to really get it. The brothers hit their thematic landmarks without question. The opener, “The Hunt,” is drum-driven and proceeds at a galloping pace, chased along on dramatic strings. Maybe, without the accompanying visual context, too dramatic for a casual listen. “Postapocalyptic Landscape” strolls along on a slightly jerky jazz feel and you can see the accompanying tracking shot from some character’s perspective. (You know, the kind that then switches to a face-on shot of the character walking, and then back.) “Hero” builds on swelling, bold strings ready to blow the wind through anyone’s hair. Anton is a little too bombastic for me, and the mix of styles, while probably nicely tied into the feel of the film, wanders a bit much. Still, it’s worth a listen. The Tjernbergs are excellent composers and musicians. This is a case of something just not being my style.
Available from Waerloga.
“An ambient exploration of sounds and light,” says the website, and I couldn’t agree more. Designed for headphone listening but equally effective left to float in the open air, O is graceful and warm from its first note, and proceeds from there to just wrap itself slowly around the listener. By the time the first track, “Crop Circle,” has softly faded away you should be suitably calmed, if not downright sedated, and nestled in comfortably for the rest of your trip. The layers here are not deep; it’s more that each element is lightly woven through the next, given over to a short but beautiful coexistence before they make way for each other. In less certain hands this could result in a thin sound that would be unattractive. But here it lends to the gossamer quality of the music and the glittering tone. Spun through the tracks here is a lovely sense of patience. Pads stretch and notes hold and things fade slowly. It’s a nowhere-to-be feeling that’s augmented by the warmth of Sobocan’s tones and the ability to aurally “watch” these things glide and shimmer. There’s no need to call out individual tracks here; it’s all a seamless whole once you’ve been subsumed into the flow. Perhaps the pinging chimes of “Ponder” could be mentioned for the way their organic sound nudges you back to awareness, or that “Kalki” has a slightly dark edge to it, but it’s playing right now as I’m writing, and I’m quite content to talk about the release in terms of its gentle, esoteric, mildly mind-altering effect.
I question, but only lightly so, Sobocan’s choice to use some tones that border on, if not feedback, a high-pitched test pattern sound. (Listen to “Page 2.”) Although they work tonally, the effect of the sound is distracting and what I don’t want in the course of this pleasant ride is to be distracted by a comparatively harsh sound. But, like most things here, it fades off to let a new sound speak and the thing keeps going. On loop. Always on loop. A fantastic, intricate and beautiful set of works from Bubble. Listen to it now.
Available at Bandcamp.
What we have here, friends, is a quick batch of glitchy oddness that has taken me a while to get into–but, like many of the odd-at-first offerings I get, Tim Held’s glitch-based Alb(L)um has found a tentative place in my ears. “Part improvisation and part random chance Alb(L)um’s key components were created by running percussive and melodic sequences through a synthesizer hooked up to various boutique guitar pedals,” says the artist’s site. Held created a batch of five- to ten-minute tracks using this process, then “scoured each track and sliced out sections he liked and then built songs around the selected sequences.” So we’ve got a bunch of disparate elements being stitched and soldered together to create beats and riffs that play with a familiar structure while being unmistakably unfamiliar and somewhat random. Controlled chaos, if you will, and Held controls it in some interesting directions. Spoken-word drops lend some old IDM cred to the thirteen quick pieces here, and mighty doses of wubwubwub bass make some tracks-“Duncan’s Duality” in particular–feel like dubstep’s weird cousin. “Blip” gets downright industrial. Fat, speaker-rattling bass tones and a processed muffled shout come away like Trent Reznor got his hands on some really good acid. (On another listen, I felt like I was picking up a leftover Suicide vibe.) “This Is It Baby” is a subverted club song. It keeps its thudding, unchanging beat and growling bassline, pounding themselves into a hypnotic haze as a voice repeats “Crazy universe” over and over. This is a full-volume-or-nothing affair, a fun track that just wants to be your best friend. Your maybe-scary, something’s-not-quite-right best friend.
Alb(L)um is going to scare off a lot of people very early into its 33-minute run. It’s freaky and fast and won’t sit still. The sound samples can be raw and harsh and they’re not exactly gently melded together. But take a chance–turn up the volume, open the mind, and let Tim Held’s art try to beat you into submission.
Available at Bandcamp.
Following the strong reception for his debut release, Source of the Hardware, which featured the artist in live performances, William Gregg hunkered down in his studio to put together his sophomore effort, Epiphenomenon. When I reviewed Source, I commented that I looked forward to hearing what Gregg could do with a deeper focus. That bit of musing is fully answered here, and the answer is that he turns out a rich, beautiful set of electro-acoustic pieces perfect for long-term looping. Overall, the tone is soft and very spacey, into which Gregg inserts his earthbound instrumentation. “Luminarian 5″ puts a halting piano melody against rise-and-fall washes, then spatters the backdrop with echoing found sounds to create a mildly unsettling atmosphere. “Epicycle” is another piano-accented piece, but without the gritter treatments. It’s like a gentle adagio in space. “Planete Rouge” and “Dream’s World” bring crisp, ringing guitar notes into the mix. The first is dreamy and light, the fingerpicked acoustic melody playing patiently and pausing to let spirals of electronic sound pass. The other pushes forward on a springy sequencer line and a folk-music feel from the guitar. Harmonics add a nice touch. On the closing track, “Ur-Th,” the guitar embraces a dark and serious tone, but it’s still warm and…well…earthy. The bass strings resonate throughout, giving off a slightly sad tone as they step downward. The pads here are big, swirling things, a little hypnotic and quite calming. Gregg hits a straightforward spacemusic sound in spots as well, with the classic bounce-and-flow of “Negative Entropy” moving into the deep pads of “Starlight.” This straightforward space piece has a rich low end that counters a glittering higher side. The way these two tracks seamless move one to the next is a sensibility that plays across a lot of Epiphenomenon; there’s a great sense of flow here in the way Gregg strings together tonally similar tracks. “Praeludium II” and “Flight” are another good example, sharing the texture of plucked strings, allowing the pieces to glide together based on that commonality. With that in play, the release proceeds without a bump to jar the flow.
And here’s the kicker: Gregg composed all twelve pieces over a three-week period and recorded in a single four-hour session. Have a listen to Epiphenomenon and you may not believe that to be true. But don’t worry–on the repeat listens that are likely to follow, you’ll come to accept it. This is even more than what I was expecting from William Gregg.
Available at CD Baby.
Slip through the veil and enter Paulina Cassidy’s dreamy, faerie-flecked world for a while. Fifteen atmospheric pieces that straddle the boundaries of ambient and dream pop wait for you here, with soft vocals chanting beneath heavy layers of echo and effect. Flitting by in just under an hour, Sugar Wingshiver‘s individual tracks offer brief visions, but they’re fully formed and engaging. While I don’t normally review lyric-based releases, Cassidy’s breathy delivery and deep treatments of her words, on most tracks, render them down into less distinct melodic elements–instrument rather than word. As she sighs through “Luna Sea,” I know there’s a story being told but it’s more about the way the cadence of her voice melts into the slow-moving song under them. (The inside of the CD cover offers the lyrics.) In places, however, the story does take the forefront, as with the pairing of “Voodoo Lily” and “Loup Garou.” Snaky bass and heavy echo bring Lily’s story to life; “Loup Garou” stalks through a misty landscape with a distinct feeling of mystery and moonlight. It’s one of the best examples of what Cassidy is doing with the music here, building it largely on a backdrop of soft washes and grounding it with tapping hand percussion. “Bird On A Mission” uses this, along with short phrasing on the low end of the piano, and ties into into rhyming wordplay. Cassidy varies the approach in places with purely instrumental cuts, like the beautiful and too short ballad “In A Labyrinth of Light.” “Fire In Our Eyes” render the artist’s voice into sighs and cries and underscores them with a pulsing beat and stuttering electronics.
Sugar Wingshiver is another excellent release from this unique artist. Take this journey.
Available from Projekt.
Far Go is subtitled “Raga and Ambient Studies,” and Al Gromer Khan absolutely delivers a hearty batch of both across a dozen engaging tracks. Exotic world flavors and infectious beats make up one side, deep meditative drifts provide the other, and more often than not they meld in a deliciously peaceful coexistence. Khan tends to give them equal space, punctuating passages of warmly flowing pads with the crisp, bright twang of the sitar, the sharp rap of clay pots and tabla, and the pleasant, bending gulp of drums. Tracks such as “Procession for Vilyat Khan” and “Black Raga” are great examples; both are slow, seductive dances lead largely by percussion. As the background fills with misty washes, Khan’s sitar curls through them with serpentine grace. Its sound is deliciously bright and solid, a dancer glimpsed through a lotus-leaf haze. “Gambhira (The Inscrutable)” carries a similar feel but wraps it in a gauze of shadow. The drums are heavier, almost tribal, and the tone is mysterious, right down to its back-out-of-the-room fade. To take in the more ambient side, head for the blend of “Urbanicum (excerpt)” and “A Strange Kind of Peace.” The first is the darker of the two, a slightly shifting drone with a nice low end. It uses its scant three-minute run to lull you into a relaxed state, then hands you over to the warm, dreamy flows of the other. Light chime tones punctuate the sound. I would loop this track for meditation purposes; it’s pretty much perfect. After spending the better part of an hour chilling you out, Khan returns you to the surface with the funky, strolling (no pun intended) beat of “I Walk Everywhere.” The deep sound of a stand-up bass completes the rhythm section, and Khan grooves over it on sitar. A nice close to a very good release. Far Go is the kind of disc you can set playing quietly in the background and it will grab your attention where you need it to; for the rest of the time it’s content to soften your space and improve your mood. A more attentive listen reveals the practiced complexity of Khan’s stylings and the way he weaves his sounds together. This is definitely one that deserves a listen.
Available from the artist’s web site.
From its first vicious bass snarls, bestial wails and tortured cries, Funerary Call’s The Mirror Reversed, Part 1 establishes its intent to make you uncomfortable, then spends 45 minutes or so showing you how. While Funerary Call certainly does the dark/black ambient thing right, I found myself getting a bit bored with it after a while. It’s dense and heavy and grim, and the artist modulates those sensations well enough, but it never seems to do much or go anywhere. From a genre standpoint, it does its job; it makes you uneasy and creates a big, dark world of sound. But nothing really stands out or tries to makes it more interesting than other dark ambient releases I’ve heard.
Those who like this genre may find more to enjoy. For me, it’s a pass.
Available from Cyclic Law.