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Dustin Terry and Tim Risher, composing as Unearthly Red, offer up their soundtrack fragments for a nonexistent film on Purgatory. In 18 short tracks covering an hour, the work skews toward the dark and experimental. Atmospherically speaking, it’s spot on, rusted through with industrial clamor and the glitchy grind of faulty hardware. It gurgles at you in throaty, indecipherable tongues that leave you uneasy at having heard them. The pieces are short, so they hit, leave an impression, and run. The tone of the album overall is guided by its proto-cinematic viewpoint, ensuring that even though its components come in bursts, we don’t end up with a scattered musical mindset. As is often the case with Risher’s collaborations, Paragaté, for example, what you get here is two composers offering up their own pieces along with a few that where they’ve come together. The differences stand out, and help to make the album work. Risher’s tracks tend to be the floatier of the two, as with “Before the Storm,” which pairs long drones with jarring metallic clatter. Comparatively quiet compared to other tracks here, they’re still dark and shot through with a sense of being ill at ease, designed to leave you with a sense of dread. Well, in most spots. Late in the album, when the story is headed toward resolution, we get the almost oddly upbeat “Under the Skin.” I like this track, but it sounds like Risher held onto some of the techno-based rhythms from the last Paragaté release, Pattern of Light, and repurposed them here. Terry, who records as Void of Axis, is the more directly visceral of the duo, serving up deeply dark offerings like “Quiet Springs” and “In Sickness,” two pieces that use a somber minimalism to firmly ping your discomfort buttons. He also gives us the roll-the-credits piece, “Remorse.” Belying its title, it pulls in bright chords and a cool beat, providing the listener (and, ostensibly, the viewer of the non-existent horror film) a respite from the heavy darkness of the last hour. When the two come together, things can get grittier and more experimental. “Dissonance” should test your tolerance levels a bit, with its repetitious snarl of electronic noise. On early listens, I was ready to hit the Skip button on this. But give it a few minutes, because when the sound drops out, a thick wash of pure atmosphere will roll in, and it works.
Purgatory was not an easy album for me to get into. The heavy industrial wallop of the early tracks threatened to put me off, as they sometimes seemed a little gratuitous. (They’re not.) It was the rich environment, dark and unpleasant as it is, that kept bringing me back in to have another viewing of this imaginary film. You’ve got to like things a little on the creepy side, but it wouldn’t hurt you to spend some time in Purgatory.
Available from Bandcamp.
I am of two minds when it comes to Lil’s The Space Between, a mix of found sounds, processed vocals and electronic accents. One mind wants to classify this collection of sonic pastiches as an exercise in minimalism or something like it. Phrases repeat, elements recur, and a kind of running-in-place sense takes hold, which admittedly draws focus to the small details that composer Marcin Tomczak puts in place. The other mind gets tired of running in place. Tomczak’s collage style too often feels exceedingly random to me, like he’s making it up on the fly. Which can be fine–I have no problem with improvised music, although this is not what The Space Between is. But before too long, I start wishing for more of a sense of resolution. “Sputnik,” for example, uses a vocal sample of a singing woman, hitting the same series of notes over and over as the sounds around her change. And I wait for it to resolve out, which it doesn’t. It seems like the mindset is “let’s see what this sounds like with…this. And then…this.” And then it ends. Let me say that while I can’t describe what it is I’m waiting to hear, I can say that I get impatient waiting for it. “Amablis Insania” at least gives me an arc, rising from drones into a chugging steampunk sort of rhythm, then winding back down to quiet. Problem is, in the middle we hit that run-in-place feeling. Again, I am all for minimalism, but when it’s so stagnant that the lack of forward progression takes you out of the listening experience, that’s a problem. The title track is 24 minutes of changing scenery. It helps to bring an appreciation for experimental music to this one. Because I appreciate attention to detail, I’d have to give Tomczak high marks there. He juggles a lot of small sounds through the album, and especially on this track, and they work within the framework of what he’s doing. At issue for me as a listener is: I’m not sure what he’s doing, and so he loses me before the end of the album. Listeners more into higher-level musical thinking may hear it differently. Give it a try.
Available from Spectropol.
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.