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eyes cast down, Divinations

February 26, 2015

ecd_divineyes cast down speaks in a quietly assured voice on Divinations, a suite of five pieces designed to be used for “inner work, healing and relaxation.” It’s something of a self-compilation, the first four tracks having previously appeared on multi-artist albums on the Free Floating netlabel and the last a recording of a live set composer Greg Moorcroft performed in 2012 and augmented in post-proudction in 2014. They come together here in a very pleasant, seamless and utterly relaxing flow. There’s no need to turn down the volume; Moorcroft’s pieces are naturally quiet, patiently carved in long, hushed pads and drones. His gossamer layers sit lightly atop one another, and even his most complex mixes of sound or percolations of texture land as more than a calm ripple. Which is wonderful. “Exquisite Divination of Patterns” sets the overall tone straight away with slowly circling ambient whispers, lightly Dopplered and paired against gentle keyboard notes. Moorcroft notes that this track marks his first use of soft synths. You’d never know, and you wouldn’t care; it’s enough to get carried off by the current of sound. And once you’re in it, you’ll stay there for the full voyage. Through the soft surroundings of “Crystalline” and on into “Radiant Perception.” This is where Moorcroft gets his “loudest” and the sound reaches its most active point. The sound here pulses, sounding a bit like a bowed instrument in spots. It’s got an interesting, almost hollow metallic edge and truly asserts itself over the meandering washes beneath it. Moorcroft goes heavy on the layers here, and the effect is nicely hypnotic. Acoustic guitar takes the forefront on “Snowdance in Starlight.” Moorcroft uses the instrument’s resonance beautifully, hitting hard, Hedges-reminiscent bass notes and letting them ring. Again, the layers here build, bringing the sustain and echo of the guitar into a constantly shifting background wash. “Ensō” is the live piece, nearly half an hour of complete immersion. Moorcroft laces in some bird sounds and prayer chant to further deepen the flow. On the chants, his voice is just a touch raspy–in a good way–and intimately close to the mic. It has the feel of ceremony, and the comparative coarseness of the voice contrasts the softness of everything else. A great way to spend half an hour.

I have been listening to Divinations quietly throughout several full work days, and left it looping in the Hypnagogue office. While I do recommend breaking out the headphones to get all the detail work, this album truly excels as an atmosphere enhancer. Whether you use it during your mediation or yoga or just letting it tint the air as you go about your daily routine, this is a release you’ll come back to. Absolutely worth listening to. Excellent work from eyes cast down.

Available from the eyes cast down web site.

 

beat.dowsing, rising.current

February 23, 2015

beat_risingThe joy of discovery is one of the little pleasantries of the reviewing life that keeps me at it. Case in point, my recent introduction to the music of beat.dowsing, aka Carl Martin. His new release, rising.current, is a blend of downtempo attitude and triphop grooves with a little jazz influence thrown in for good measure. Straight out of the gates, “Renegades” lays down a classic jazz backbeat and Rhodes-like keyboard chords and proceeds to just get groovier from there. While rising.current doesn’t simply stay this course, and sometimes wanders into slightly less solid territory, it does maintain a very fun and funky air throughout. “It’s Up to You” jumps out on a bass keyboard riff that oozes classic R&B cred. Triphop vocal drops and some sharp lines on the conga keep it very, very cool. Please set the volume to full for this one. And speaking of bass, when “Undeniable Sequence” slicks its way in with an oh-so-cool low end and snazzy cymbal taps, if you don’t think you’re about to watch a ’70s cop show…well, then you’re probably not as old me. This track has a clean, small-combo feel to it. It’s tight as hell and a lot of fun to listen to. “Heatwave” absolutely struts its way through its four minutes on stage, underscored with soft pads that reveal themselves nicely at the end. The mis-steps here are few and negligible; “Non.time” starts out slow and smoky, nudged ahead by a shuffling beat, but then hits a forcible shift in tempo that feels like a bit of an experiment gone awry. It’s like the track is arguing with itself about what it wants to be. The listener’s focus is pulled in non-complementary directions. It just doesn’t work. “Bird.tribe” just gets too cluttered in its own glitchy weight to appeal to me. The majority of rising.current is so silky smooth and enjoyable, those moments quickly get lost in the flow.

Martin says he’s been at this for 20 years under various aliases so while I’m late to the beat.dowsing party, I am definitely glad to have finally made his auditory acquaintance. rising.current is one of those releases that I’ll slot into my uptempo playlist and groove on whenever it comes up. Definitely worth checking out.

Available from Noisyvagabond.

Prospero, Agnostikon

February 23, 2015

prospero_agnoIn my book, you should only make statements about your work such as “…designed to scramble the interface between the mind and molecular matter to offer new views and points of multicolored perspective” if you can back it up. Well, if anyone can, it’s trippy groovemeister JC Mendizabal in his Prospero guise. Today’s lesson: the mind-bending sound-spaces and hijacked dub influences coming at you on Agnostikon. Designed, it would seem, with hypnosis in mind, this release relies heavily on echo and repetition, blended with underplayed but infectious rhythms to bring you to a pleasantly altered state of mind. Mendizabal pulls from what seems like an odd and deliciously random sound-set, dropping snipped voices and modem burbles into the mix to snuggle up to his microbeats and wavering chords. A track like “Evanescent Forms” feels like it’s constructed out of crystal, glimmering and delicate and composed of myriad facets catching and reflecting light, drawing you inexorably into it. “Metabolic Cycle” follows suit, with tiny, spinning droplets of sound spiraling off a backdrop that lopes slowly along. For your deepest dose of minimalist trance, look no further than “Wild Visitors of the World.” This swirl of manipulated vocal samples, tapping percussion and notes that ping-pong back and forth in your head create a fantastically chaotic mash that nicely pummels your brain into submission. It’s the intricacy of Mendizabal’s work that always fascinates me. It’s like a crazily orchestrated storm of detritus, cast-off pieces of this, that, and the other thing which he expertly herds and shapes into undeniably cool forms. The individual elements can be tiny, but they become a swarm, and that swarm just surrounds you. Rhythms become pulse, the noise is an atmosphere. In my mind’s eye it’s like a huge lattice of sound, with spaces for the listener to pass through to be more fully within it, to really look at all the things that are happening in a constant, shifting flow. That is, if you can focus on it while your conscious mind checks out. Another rich and weird work from Prospero. Treat your head to this tasty brain food.

Available from Black Note Music.

Robert Rich, Filaments

February 20, 2015

rich_filAs I listen to Robert Rich’s Filaments for the nth time, and quite gladly so, I catch myself once again closing my eyes and dropping into a state of listening bliss induced by a blend of pinpoint-perfect, classic sequencer lines and fluidly curling washes. The underlying retro feel is a large part of Filaments‘ charm for me, but Rich infuses it with such depth and detail that the overall experience is fantastically new. Still, as “Entangled” gracefully switches from its piano-and-wash opening to sprout fresh electronic vines that weave into a complex matrix, I get that rush that turned me into an e-music fan in the first place. And then Rich slowly dials back the sequencer to give more prominence to the quiet bed beneath it—and does it again at the end of the track; that’s a whole other side of what I enjoy about this music. Or when “Telomere” launches into its light-speed sequencer ripple, having very slowly ramped up its velocity, ushered along by a patient bass riff stepping up the scale. That’s a jolt of pure spacemusic joy, but listen again here as Rich balances out both ends, melting that energetic riff into a soft, cleansing wash to close the journey. My headiest bliss, however, comes from the passages where Rich busts out the pedal steel guitar and unleashes big, yawning chords that slide along the neck. It’s the highlight of “Majorana” for me, a dynamic sound with a Tangerine Dream feel, these blasts of sonic wind howling over tinkling electronics. The guitar returns in a softer guise on “Eulalia,” fulfilling the same role but less aggressively. Here, it sings in harmony with underlying pads as the sequencer metes out the rhythm. “Scintilla” and “Aetherfields” combine to create the more shadowy stretch of the album. “Aetherfields,” in particular, effectively pairs a rough grind of electronic sound with piano. The brighter side wins out by mid-track to become a soft glide of crossing notes, complementary and meditative.

Filaments is one of those right-in-the-wheelhouse albums for me. I have always loved the combination of sharp corners and smooth curves. And with my first electronic loves coming firmly out of the Berlin School, when you tuck some solid guitar work into the mix—well, you’re on your way to being a perfect album for me. There’s certainly no lack of detail here, and headphone listening is most definitely recommended. Rich is a composer who makes every sound matter, and the careful construction of each piece here ensures that your immersion in Filaments will be total. A superb release from one of the masters of ambient and electronic music.

Available from Robert Rich’s web site.

dreamSTATE, Ephemeral City

February 15, 2015

dream_ephemI don’t hide the fact that although I’ve been writing about ambient music for more than a decade, I cannot for the life of me create the stuff. Seriously, you sit me down at a synthesizer and tell me to make music, and I’d probably put an eye out. But with the latest offering from dreamSTATE, I can dabble a bit. Ephemeral City is a mix of album and app, a set of infinite loops controlled by a slider that allows you to balance the mix and flow between three soundsets at a time. The soundsets change across time, and always offer light, “medium” (for lack of a better word) and dark apsects. For example, at one point you can alter the flow of Alley/Slowlight/Bassilica, then look again to find you’re mixing Cantus/Slowlight/Roller. Once you’ve set yourself a flow, tap the screen and watch morphing cityscape photos from ScottM2.  Ephemeral City also lets you set the speed at which the visuals change, and a timer will tell it to turn off anywhere from 15 minutes to 8 hours after you start.Ephem1 So what about the music, since this is, after all, a music review site. It’s classic drifty ambient stuff, big pads moving in glacial rise-and-fall shifts. It’s excellent background material, and with the timer, also makes for a nice way to drift off to sleep. Obviously, it’s almost limitless in what it can and will sound like, so that’s fun to delve into.

While the dreamSTATE web site refers to Ephemeral City as a new paradigm in albums, and it may well be, the idea has been implemented elsewhere–notably, for me, Steve Roach’s Immersion Station. The difference, I think, is that while the latter was created more as a dynamic “what can you do with it” concept, Ephemeral City is more about recreating the album. Remixing as opposed to mastering, if you will. However you approach it, it’s not bad $3 investment.

Available from the dreamSTATE web site.

Joe Frawley, Satyrinae

February 15, 2015

frawley_satyrTo the uninitiated coming into Joe Frawley’s Satyrinae, the opening track, “Threshold,” would suggest a lovely album of quiet, reflective piano pieces, perhaps with some light embellishment. But, you see, you’re just standing on the…well, the threshold, and Frawley is waiting for you to step inside. As a purveyor of “dream projections [and] memory experiments,” it’s Frawley’s modus to offer up an establishing motif and then use that to craft deeper, perhaps weirder, and quite unforgettable pieces put together from parts and moments, some from that establishing material, and some from…well, anywhere, really. By the last minute of “Threshold,” which really does have some fantastic, jazz-tinged piano work, as sounds distort and the environment shifts and shimmers around us, we begin to understand that we are headed elsewhere. Satyrinae is filled with signature Frawley touches, from sounds that waver like a reflection in a water-coated mirror to carefully sliced vocal samples turned into instruments to narrative soundbites that ring with a voyeuristic intimacy. “Waterclock Secrets” pulls all these things together perfectly. Frawley takes repeating, wordless notes from vocalist Kay Pere and lays them out in Reich-like repetition in the middle of a waking-dream landscape. Michelle Cross’ voice, of which I have written glowingly in the past, brings soul and longing to the first half of “Hold Up the Light.” Later in the track we get that touch of memory-based voyeurism as a woman talks about “having that dream again.” As is often the case with Frawley’s work, we are tantalizingly given just a piece of it, then left to fill in details for ourselves. In the background, Cross’ voice gets sliced and layered as before, moving the piece from song to vignette. On “Whisperalia” we come back to the slightly unadorned piano. This particular instrument is another recurring element in Frawley’s work. However he records it, it comes away with this wonderful, slightly muted but still tinny sound, and it’s lovely. There is a frailty to it, a feel of age, and in its rich echo, a subtle sense of loneliness.

I have been quite taken with Joe Frawley’s work since I was first introduced to it, and Satyrinae certainly further cements that appreciation. Experimental yet accessible, his work challenges us not on a listening level, as in how much of this experiment can you take? but on a listener level. How do we listen to music? What about it affects us, and why? How comfortable are we peering in on someone else’s personal narrative, even when we know it’s fictional? The repeat listens that Satyrinae is likely to get should help you find your way to these answers. Beautiful work from Joe Frawley, as always.

Available at Bandcamp.

Byron Metcalf, Steve Roach & Rob Thomas, Monuments of Ecstasy

February 13, 2015

metcalf_monumentThis, it seems, is a very good time to be a fan of tribal ambient. Over in the southwest corner of the US, electro-shamanic pulses are flowing like rivers ready to ferry us straight off to the lower worlds. I will not question whatever planetary alignment has effected this; I am quite content to immerse myself in it. First it was Byron Metcalf and Mark Seelig’s superb Intention, then it was Steve Roach unearthing some lost goodness on The Ancestor Circle, and now—is it unbecoming of me as a reviewer if I just say “Wow” here? Because now we have Monuments of Ecstasy, which takes the already well-established and incredibly potent chemistry between Roach and Metcalf and throws in didgeridoo master Rob Thomas (Inlakesh) to serve up future-tribe grooves at their best. With Thomas and drummer Metcalf firmly rooted in the organic truths of breath and hands, Roach gets behind the controls to bend circuitry into deep prayers. The balance is gorgeous, equal doses of smoky, humid atmospheres and vibrant, tech-driven energy. And the sliders keep moving between the two; each of the six tracks finds it way through these stages, and each hits its absolute stride when all of it is in full effect. “Monuments of Trance” is a fine example, opening on long curls from Thomas’ didg, underlaid with faster pulses and traditional yelps and snarls. Metcalf’s drums rise into the mix, ramping up the intensity while Roach folds in electronic washes and everything melts down into a quite effective sonic tranquilizer. And when the pieces throttles back to a long, rolling wave-form and the ridge, you know you’re just waiting for the engines to fire up again–and they do, on a signature Roach sequenced-percussion groove. “Primal Analog” jumps out the quiet ending of “…Trance” on another cool sequencer pulse, giving the modern side of things the forefront for a while. Now, I realize that Roach did not break out his favorite bass guitar to lay down a righteously funk-worthy slap line to start “Molecules of Momentum,” but the feel is certainly there. This is Monuments of Ecstasy at maximum velocity. Thomas’ fast-breath work here is so very good, sharp rasps punching through the flow. And this track is seriously deep, built on so many layers of small sounds that completely fill your head. The title track comes up out of a Thomas’ menagerie of animal sounds and guttural snarls to unfold into something reminiscent of Roach’s outings with Erik Wøllo. A soft, repeating keyboard riff sings over the wash. Nice melodic touch to offset what’s been, up until here, more of a surge-and-flow situation. After all, they do have let you catch your breath eventually, right? My only less-than-drooling-over-this comment about Monuments of Ecstasy is that the final track, “This Place On Earth,” feels like it’s just allowed to sort of limp out. Not that I expected some sort of big, crescendo-filled denouement, but it almost leaves the thing feeling unfinished. Honestly, I checked the track listing on the CD cover to make sure I hadn’t completely burned the disc into my player. This, however, is an extremely minor quibble when held up against to the bulk of this release, which has quickly and firmly slotted itself into my top tribal releases of all time. I love this album. I play it loud. I lose myself in it, over and over. It strikes every primal nerve in my body, and it sets me journeying. This is serious medicine, and you need to take it, too.

Available from Projekt and the Steve Roach web site.

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