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.
Hello, incredibly pleasant brain massage. With Alio Die (Stefano Musso) laying down drones coaxed out of transformed acoustic sources and vocalist Syvli Alli chanting and keening her way through a slow and graceful ritual, Amidst the Circling Spires reveals itself, particularly over the course of the multiple listens that will understandably become mandatory, to be a masterpiece of electro-acoustic ambient. I may sometime overuse the word “deep” in describing ambient music, but this release is exactly that. Musso’s soundworlds are huge, aurally explorable things that overflow with detail. Tiny crackles, light clatters, and liquid whisperings fill the space between bigger sounds to keep the environment in constant evolving motion. The organic solidity of string instruments, particularly the zither, along with chimes and light hits of percussion, beautifully offset the misty washes of the electronics. And then there is Ms. Alli’s voice, arcing, dipping and soaring in wordless prayer that bends the feel of the release toward sacred music. It is a soul-piercing sound, capturing and conveying a complete sense of meaning that transcends language. It is as moving as it is mystical. She is at her finest–and yes, deepest–on the long, gorgeous track “La Grotta della Naiadi.” On “Crepuscular Birds” she takes on a mournful tone that is still unspeakably beautiful, packing the feel of a heartfelt story being offered to you–and you will be compelled to listen. Musso’s sounds here come across with the gentle rise and fall of a harmonium, backed with wind chimes and the zither sounding more like a dulcimer, the notes bouncing brightly in contrast.
To me, this is a perfect album. It is absolutely moving and makes a true and immediate connection to the listener on a very deep, spiritual level. The detail work, as I said, is masterful. There is not a wasted moment here, nor is anything shoehorned in–and there is a lot of sound going on here and every tiny bit of it is integral to the whole. Even in its darker moments it is soothing and utterly immersive. Willing or not, you will find yourself entering a meditative state as it moves along. It’s best to leave this on loop because it’s a bit of a disappointment when its final note fades. You may not want it to end. I know I didn’t.
Available from Projekt.
Reach for the volume knob. On his debut, Timegazing, Scyye is dishing out tasty, feel-good glitch that wastes no time in getting you moving. What works best on this release is the mix of styles. They don’t stray too far from your standard glitch base, but Scyye definitely stretches. On the one hand, you’ll get the chipset-and-distortion groove of “Overrun.” On another, the slow and thoughtful mix of washes and bass-synth rhythms in “Please Remember.” A cool shuffling beat anchors this piece and ups its lounge cred. “Aqersus” is an instantly catchy riff on sequencer, its nice old-school feel brought up to date with glitch percussion. Add a couple of nice drops and away we go. On “Green Garden Gate,” Scyye offers us his more ambient side, setting warm pads free to drift where they will. Light atmospherics in the background are an excellent touch. It’s a great way to break up the album’s flow, and also leaves me wanting to hear more of what he can do in this vein.
Timegazing has gotten more than its share of repeat plays over here. The mix of styles, the infectious energy, and the playfulness throughout have made it a pleasure to come back to again and again. An excellent first outing. I am ready for more Scyye.
Available from Sparkwood Records.
Here is a night you may not want to end. Despite its ominous title and shadowy cover art, Steve Roach and Kelly David’s collaborative work, The Long Night, is not a particularly dark release. I was expecting something along the lines of Darkest Before Dawn or A Piece of Infinity, but although The Long Night has its share of dark passages, it’s more a vision of the beauty and mystery of the deepest parts of night. There is the cold shimmer of moonlight cutting through clouds, the lightly haunted sense of not being entirely alone among the shadows, the calm quiet of being the only one awake and out in the space before midnight and dawn. Its darkness is the alluring sable of the sky, mysterious but not intimidating. Musically, it’s classic beatless Roach, blending endless bass drones and slowly wavering pads in thick layers. There’s a distinctly soothing quality to much of the work here, particularly in “Calm World” and the title track. The latter, particularly, will slide you into a dream state with warm, hushed tones and gorgeous harmonies. The duo also work in touches of percussion, just enough to texture the surface without having it take over. It arrives first in the distant clatter that dwells in the background on “Season of Nights,” then hits a stride on “The Deep Hours.” On that track, I hear (because I love it) the distinct sound of drums plucked from the tasty loops that Roach crafted for the Fever Dream releases. Dialed down to pulse quietly under the wash and flow of the track, they nicely insinuate themselves into your consciousness, melding with the crackle and curl on analog synth. This track in particular is signature Roach. “Calm World” also gets a bit of tribal percussion before it slips beneath the pads. I wish I could tell for certain where Kelly David’s contributions come in, but given how much I enjoy this release, suffice to say that his role in the overall chemistry is integral. Listening to this album got me to head over to David’s site to listen to his earlier work. I would suggest you do the same. My only bump with this release is that I found the breathy, hissing sounds early on in “Season of Nights” a little distracting and out of place. The sound is too sharp and feels almost dropped into the flow. But it passes soon enough to be forgotten amidst the calmness that follows. This has not kept me from looping The Long Night over and over. It’s a beautiful, meditative release. Put it on your outdoor speakers some evening and let it play in its natural habitat.
A split release originally issued on limited edition vinyl, Modular Anxiety offers two distinct takes on experimental drone music. First up is Dino Spiluttini, whose pieces range from jaggedly angular, clattering constructs and rich, distorted bass to surprisingly smooth drones–mind you, the former more than the latter. On tracks like “Anxiety” and “Crawling,” the sound is aggressive and big, elements constantly interrupting each other in a tug of war for your attention. There’s a semblance of a beat at play. “Downer” and “Wallow Wallow” take the quiet side, nudging pads along slowly. On “Wallow Wallow,” Spiluttini adds some nice rough textures to the sound for added interest. “Weak Love” is a gentle piece of work built on a hissing underlay as a slightly croaking, unsteady melody wobbles out. Quak’s pieces, by comparison, are less dynamic, more droning, and bleaker overall. Things move in slow motion, restatement upon restatement with an almost agonizing patience. “Octagonal Journey” is more like his partner’s work, sounds jumping back and forth in quirkily mathematical manners. Quak loses me completely on “Duet for Modular Brass”; the weirdness is just too deep for my tastes.
You can look at the two sides of Modular Anxiety as being a study in contrast and complement, but for me Spiluttini’s half is the more engaging of the two. Quak’s work feels more like someone figuring out what the knobs do, whereas Spillutini seems more invested in things compositionally. Neither part of this holds a lot of allure for me, personally, but those with a taste for experimental work should find something here.
Available from Umor Rex.
Let’s call this impressionist ambient with a hints of a slightly dark edge. The duo Cosmic Mind Warp lay down a very listen-worthy ride that ranges from perfect spacey drifts to vivid mind-pictures crafted in intriguing sounds. Outside of the errant sound bite that opens “A Swarm of Ghosts” (sorry, guys, it doesn’t work), Zero Beats Per Minute is a smooth voyage. On the soft side, there is the lush and quiet “Fading Into Ether,” the album’s longest track. This is a 14-minute soother in an absolutely classic spacemusic style. Paired with its follow-up, “Zero Mass Particles,” the two creature a very deep 20-minute glide. The pads here shift and cross slowly, the tone stays just warm enough and just on the edge of brightness. Conversely, “Inside the Mothership” comes off as cold, mechanical and angular, the remnant chug and hiss of an abandoned craft. Although there are no beats, as promised, the various sounds at work here go about their business in a dedicated pattern–you know, as machinery does–and creates something of an ad hoc rhythm. Close your eyes and look around to take in the details of this alien craft. “Infinite Void” depends on vocal drops to give it a mildly uncomfortable feel. Or perhaps that’s just my own monolingual insecurity at work. Minor chords and static hisses augment the off-putting mood. CMW will play with your head when you get around to “The Space-Time Continuum,” swirling droning pads back and forth, setting your mind spinning just a touch. Great spatial sense here, and once again the duo bring in a vocal sample, torn and distorted, to give a gently dark tint. Zero Beats Per Minute works very well as an ambient listen, particularly in its softer tracks. But this is one you need to get up close and personal with. The depth of sound is excellent, as is the overall dynamic. The music here slowly carves out well-detailed spaces for you to look around with your mind’s eye. So have a look.
Available at Bandcamp.
Prospero is yet another musical mask donned by prolific sound artist JC Mendizabal (Kyron, Radio Free Clear Light, Projective Module–all of which have been ). I find it interesting that Mendizabal calls the work here “ambient experimental electronic”–which it certainly is–but doesn’t mention that much of it is also infused with an edge of jazz. As ever with this artist, what we get here is a perfectly orchestrated mix of sounds small,medium and large, from cast-off found bits and vocal drops to mutated gurglings culled from deep within the electronics. Beats come and go at seemingly just the right times, and the sonic scenery, in constant motion, is laid out before us with depth and dimension. I’ve always found Mendizabal’s stuff to be straight-up hypnotic, and that holds true in many of the tracks here. “There Was This Woman” builds its way from a quiet batch of sounds driven by a clubby thump into recursive curls and swirls in heavy layers. A vocal sample gets torn and twisted over and over, a cool drill bit boring gently into your head. The titles track works with simple repetition, also nicely layered, its warbling tones soothing and a little intoxicating. The jazz tint shines on “And Then She Sailed Through the Caves,” coasting along on a Fender Rhodes vibe straight out the 70s. (Check in with your Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea references.) A laughing string-like phrase repeats as an accent. On “Flying People” an intimate trio of drum, bass and keys holds steady in the middle of a swirl of electronic scribbles and some form of mutated chant. The juxtaposition is superb, with the unwavering rhythm section laying down its toe-tapping groove as the electronics swoop and dive around you. The detail that comes from small sound is important to Mendizabal, and his attention to it plays out in tracks like “Excreta” and its followup, “In the Home of Electronic Dust.” Tiny crackles and clicks whisper in your ears, forming beats and textures as they do. The tracks here are quick, with 16 jammed into an hour, and the transitions between them happen fast. It can be a little jarring in spots, but never problematically so. It’s like watching slides. You’re taking one in and schwa-wup, you’re on to the next one with the last still registering. It’s a great blend of styles, beautifully handled, and you have to listen to this up close. There’s so very much going on. Another great outing from Mendizabal.
Available from Black Note Music.
Let’s get the caveat out of the way up front: there was no way I was not going to love this album. Convocation, Borghi and Teager’s debut collaboration, blew me away. Their “jambient” style, blending processed guitar and jazz sax, is deep and soulful and gorgeous and pretty damn near perfect. So what more would I be able to say about Awaken the Electric Air, the live recording of the duo’s set on the Star’s End radio show following a concert at legendary ambient venue The Gatherings? Taking flight for an hour starting at four in the morning, Borghi and Teager lay down smooth, largely improvised tracks that use the tones and direction of the Convocation pieces as a stepping-off point. As Borghi explained to me via e-mail, “the tunes from Convocation that we did were only allusions to the originals, mostly because we just caught a vibe from the outset and stayed with it.” This puts the listener smack in the warm, drifting center of the jambient experience, where the chemistry between these two artists is heightened. Borghi’s ambient washes are ever so deep, quiet eddies of sound in constant motion, and Teager’s sax and flute find perfect expressions to complement them, whether it’s the rapid trills and fiery runs of jazz or long, breathy chords that twist their way through the air. Teager’s a truly expressive player, and his lines will work their way into your soul. Here’s what I suggest: get ahold of both Convocation and Awaken the Electric Air, burn them both into one playlist, put on some headphones, hit “play” and just allow yourself to quietly dissipate into a cloud of unfiltered bliss. This sequel to what I considered one of last year’s best releases just amplifies how very good Borghi and Teager are. This is a must-listen.
Available through various outlets; see the artists’ web site for info.