Byron Metcalf, Inner Rhythm Meditations

metc_irmMost of Byron Metcalf’s work tends to be percussion-forward shamanic rituals that thunder into your soul to great effect, an invitation to grab hold of your primal power, saddle up your spirit animal, and take it for a ride. On Inner Rhythm Meditations, the drums settle back to chart a milder cadence as Metcalf, ably abetted by flutist Peter Phippen and Erik Wøllo on guitar and synth, taps into that part of your soul that just wants to move fluidly, sway gently, and celebrate being here. There are none of the usual passages where Metcalf just roars away on the skins–and believe me, I love those parts of all of his albums–but the constancy of the drums and other percussive elements, reassuringly holding down the proceedings like a collective heartbeat, are perfect accents to Phippen and Wøllo ‘s ambient flows. To a large degree, this is kind of Phippen’s show. Metcalf provides the steady, grounding life-beat, and Wøllo crafts the deep, breathable atmospheres, but Phippen is the one who takes your soul by the hand and leads it off to the higher places to let it soar around a while. The three-part chemistry is magically effective, and each component absolutely holds down its own role. Metcalf’s array of percussive voices square off nicely against Wøllo’s signature guitar sighs on “As Clouds Dance,” and Metcalf places each in its specific spot, setting the listener in the middle as the piece folds outward.  This track is a solid spotlight for Wøllo as well, between those sighs, some bright sequencer work, and short but soaring solo lines. The aptly titled “A Perfect Place” is a melting thing that effortlessly blends a hypnotic beat, long pads, and slowly curling guitar chords with singing flute.  Phippen sits out for a while as the other two lay down a very comfortable bed, then steps in to sweeten up the place. There’s a little sliver of cool attitude to it, skirting the familiar boundaries of a Native American sound with maybe just a suggestion of jazzy flair. Metcalf’s criss-crossing tones here are sublime, peppering the air with sharp, tiny sounds to offset the rich low bounce of the frame drum. At the end of the album, Phippen’s work on “Presence of Longing” goes a long way toward making this perhaps my favorite track. At the very least, it is the most deeply affecting and a perfect exit. Part of what makes it remarkable is how much of a back seat Metcalf takes. His role, largely, comes down to the simplest of strokes, a single slowly meted out note that holds the space as Phippen courses over ambient washes from Wøllo, which are also quite understated. The overall quiet of the piece lets the nuanced emotions of the flute pierce straight into your soul. Beautifully meditative. I could loop just this track and be content.

By making a slight change of approach to his usual style, Metcalf has crafted an album that stands out in his already impressive catalog. Inner Rhyhtm Meditations lacks none of the personal power of his more aggressively shamanic outings; instead, it achieves that same soulful connection and transcendence through the power of rhythmic repetition and blending the drums with mind-easing washes. What takes this over the top is how he then lets Phippen and Wøllo take turns shining at the front with their own voices and styles. This one has a permanent home in my list of personal favorites, and sits comfortably at the top for me among Metcalf’s albums.

Available from Byron Metcalf’s web site.

Erik Waterkotte & Ryan Huber, …and Now They Are Gone

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I get a pretty fair amount of music from Ryan Huber, and each time I receive another release, I can be sure that what I’m going to hear will, to a noticeable degree, be different in approach from what came prior. Granted, it’s usually pretty dark and always has a strong impressionistic aspect, but he’s never content to do the same thing over. On …And Now They Are Gone, he teams up with artist and field recording gatherer Erik Waterkotte and descends into a purely atmospheric space of impressive grimness and near-industrial heaviness. Needless to say, if you’re not looking for experimental work that largely eschews a musical approach and opts instead for a shot of pure viscera, this is not the place you want to be. It’s a an eight-song, 38-minute bit of sonic spelunking into shadowy spots where things creak, gurgle, hiss, and slowly close in on you. It can be claustrophobic, but at the same time, the spaces the duo describe in sounds compel the closest possible examination. Where I find the album at its most potent, oddly enough, are those places when it hits its most sparse. Slow-moving, minimal constructs such as parts IV and VIII (all tracks are titled “…antag: part ____”) reconcile into bits of dark respite, less about grit and texture and weight than a drawing down of the listener’s consciousness to a deeper place within the flow.  These sections balance the pieces that pack a bit more fist. Along the way, Huber and Waterkotte opt for a hard stop at the end of tracks, a technique that doesn’t always work here. And it’s clear to me that some folks would be totally put off by things like the insistent dial-tone electronic pulse that hammers at your head for the last several seconds of part IX. I know it threw me off the first few times. But, as noted, …And Now They Are Gone is not for casual listeners. Huber’s work never is. For listeners with an ear for experiment, or ready for a bit of out-of-body disconnect, albeit in a dark and gritty way, this short ride runs deep.

Available from Bandcamp.

O(f)verandas, (Adrift)

ofver_adrftThere isn’t much more to say about (Adrift) by O(f)verandas (Bernard Iannone) other than: if you want a half hour’s worth of quiet, mist-flecked drone work intent on quieting your mind, here it is. Iannone fills his lines with edge-of-roughness textures that never blur their easy beauty, and his backgrounds are active and filled with small, interesting sounds. Night sounds, manipulated voice, and odd, animal-like growls hide inside “(Shadows on the Grass),” creating an eerie scene. “(Time Becomes Space),” the longest piece here at 11 minutes, slips into true ambient space, a whispering thing that lightly hooks into your brain and brings it along on its slightly glittering, droning ride. Again, there is plenty of small detail work to take in, especially as the piece draws to a close.

For a short ride, (Adrift) gives you plenty to listen to. For drone work, it’s pretty active, but always retains its low-key feel. Well worth checking out, it puts O(f)verandas on my listening radar.

Available from Sparkwood Records.

Eleven33, Chasing Light

E33_chasingGrab this bliss. Eleven33’s Chasing Light has been tapping my happy button every time it comes up over the many months it’s been waiting for this review. Rob Fleming’s blend of post-rock and electronics has a bright, narrative edge–call it cinematic, since he does, and he’s right–that’s utterly infused with feel-good. He says that the music is “sequenced in a way that take the listener on a journey and there’s a real flow to it all … Innocence, hope, heartbreak, darkness, resilience, and triumph…” And believe me, you’ll feel it all, yes you will. Mostly, though, Fleming treats his listeners to energetic, hook-loaded post-rock potency that begs you to take it out for a drive at high speed and maximum volume. It’s very alive and very thoughtful.  While the album opens brightly in the brief-but-beautiful, piano-lead “First Light,” the first big charge comes on the album’s second track, “Hope Hurts.”  Stepping off from quiet phrasing on keys, it rises with the arrival of guitar into a heartfelt roar of emotion. It’s got a solid post-rock flavor with just a hint of pop easiness to it. A real attention-getter, but where Fleming absolutely dials me in is with the chugging, techno-accented groove of “Undercurrent.” Cool guitar lines cross and float crisply over a synth pulse. Just catchy as hell, melodic and invigorating. He also hits moments of soaring beauty: “Beacons” carries a ring of hope, riding on vocal pads, flashing guitar reminiscent of U2’s Edge, and a stirring shine of optimism. Throughout the album, Fleming shows that he knows the value of a good break, pulling back his intensity at times to give his listeners a bit of a breather before firing it straight back up for maximum effect.

I have listened to Chasing Light many, many times over the last several months, and I’ve never grown tired of it. On its own it’s a consistently amazing listen, varied enough to hold my attention without straying too far at any given point from the noticeable base framework that forms Fleming’s style. So it can be familiar, but never repetitively so. Throw this into a shuffle, and its undeniable brightness and energy pops in like a fresh shot of feel-good every time, every song. A great release all around, one that will stay in my personal permanent rotation. Get it now, and get happy.

Available from the Eleven33 web site.

R Beny, Full Blossom of the Evening

rben_fboeFor the most part, Full Blossom of the Evening from R Beny (Austin Cairns) is full of soft-edged drones, ambient structures that melt past like fading clouds, and passages with a glittering vivacity. The album offers up nine short expressions, the two longest clocking in around the eight-minute mark. For me, although I like almost everything on this album, it is at its best in the longer, more droning tracks. It opens in that space with the title piece, immediately surrounding the listener in warmth. Pad-driven and calming, it evolves later with bright chime tones that will be revisited throughout the album, and field recordings. The change is so gradual and natural, there were times in early listens when I checked to see if I had shuffled to a different track. “Three North Faces” is another misty blanket of sound, classically amorphous and drifting and deeply layered. The big, crunchy drone of “Blue Kings,” which closes out the album, is deliciously rough at the edges, a wall of tone hissing in your ears as it slowly shifts and flows. Cairns is equally effective in his more active pieces. “Light Leak” gives us ringing, metallic dulcimer tones similar to what we hear in “Full Blossom of the Evening,” hitting like a spatter of raindrops across an interlace of shifting pads. “Glisten” takes a similar path, but more simply melodic. Pads like a mix between strings and low woodwinds draw a line through the chimes, and Cairns folds in electronic gurgles and warbles for texture.  We hear it again in the next track, “Ridge,” but taken one more step in subtlety downward. The chimes ease lazily through and those extra electronics are nudged toward the back but still present. As much as I enjoy this album, there are a couple of missteps for me. “Lupine” is a tangle of tones that rises in intensity to an almost-grating edginess. It’s unfortunately placed second on the track list, which makes for a very hard change of gears coming out of the softness of the title track. I may have noticed it less, or objected to it less, if it came elsewhere. Although I very much enjoy “Three North Faces,” it kicks off with a very rough edit–it may be a production choice to have it jump in the way it does, but it sounds like a bad edit and, given how smooth and low-key the track is overall, that start does the piece a bit of disservice. Similarly, the sudden stop at the end of “Ridge” is certainly a choice, but I don’t know if it was the right one.

As is often the case, the highest praise I can give R Beny is to say that “Full Blossom of the Evening” has me quite ready to hear more. This album has consistently delighted me as pieces from it come up in shuffle and, with the noted exceptions, has made for very palatable repeat/looped listens. There’s plenty of beauty here, and it speaks to there being a wellspring of much more.

Available at Bandcamp.

Steve Roach, Spiral Revelation

roach_spiralListening to Spiral Revelation is like watching electronic mandalas get spun out in the air in front of your mind’s eye. It’s another outing of hands-on analog synth craftsmanship from the master himself where intricate skeins of sequencer trace their paths across a floor of quieter pads. There is constant energy at play, not always in hyperspeed sequencing, but often just in a vibrancy of tone and the emphatic, angular ping and rebound of the synths. Roach harnesses the consciousness-quelling powers of repetition in every track so that by the end of this hour-long voyage you’re both chilled and invigorated–which is a pretty good trick. While everything is rooted in the titular spirals of sound, each track has its own distinct face. “We Continue” carries a feeling like a slightly sped-up version of a Structures from Silence track–the soft, welcoming chime tones across a flowing bed of pads, all of it accented with quick electronic gurgles for extra texture. Roach melts it flawlessly into the fluttering atmosphere of “Unseen Hand” and increases the velocity a bit. The energy ramps up and all of the analog pleasure centers are firmly struck with the space-cruising “Finger on the Pulse.” This is core EM style with its rigorous sequencing and rapid-fire pacing, the play of low tones against high. I will always be a sucker for that Schulze-style bouncy metallic bass tone that resonates through your body, absolutely defining the Berlin School sound. The title track is a deep 20-minute voyage and has quickly become one of my favorite Roach pieces. (And in a discography this deep, that’s saying something.) It builds from a central phrase that never fades, but instead has a constantly shifting atmosphere built around it. There’s something pleasingly melodramatic in its tone, and Roach slips it back and forth in the mix, sometimes letting a light percussive line take the front briefly. He shifts tones, bringing new sounds and feels into the mix organically. They just appear, then fade. Maybe we hear them again, maybe we don’t. It breathes in this way as it goes about its hypnotic business. Once again, even though it’s head-soothing, it’s got a steady energy and great velocity.

One thing I noticed and appreciate about Spiral Revelation is that Roach never turns it to a dark, moody zone. Often in his energetic work he feels the need to shift gears, go grimmer and slower, if only to pull the listeners back out again. That doesn’t happen here; it’s a consistent assault of sequencer-driven spaces, a future-looking piece of the past that reinforces the power of classic EM. After many plays, Spiral Revelation continues to pull me in, and down, and away, and is likely to get many more listens going forward. This is masterful.

Available at Steve Roach’s web site.

 

Dead Melodies, Subtle Imperfections

deadm_subltDream-shrouded post-rock that fluidly melts into stretches of glassy ambient, Dead Melodies’ Subtle Imperfections is a laid-back set of songs surrounded in lush sonic atmospheres. Lead by Tom Moore’s acoustic guitar on most tracks and featuring vocal contributions from singer Oneira, this album can be as deeply explorable as you like, or you can just let it wash over you. Both, I find, are equally enjoyable. I did have to check whether the Bluetooth connection to my speaker had gone bad during the heavy distortion at the start of “For A Wonder,” but as the piece smoothed out and Oneira’s wispy, half-awake voice sung softly to me, I understood–sound is going to get played with here. Moore uses Oneira’s voice throughout in various mutations. It’s heavily echoed and stretched thin as wind on the drone-based “Hidden Seeken.” It coos from a light distance on “It’s Too Late.” It slithers out with Björk-like phrasing against the viscous, bass-heavy movement of “Indigo Requiem.” While the voice is a consistently compelling element here, it’s Moore’s elegant, foggy, droning atmospheres that do the heavy lifting and pull us easily along. And the details run deep. “Lakes” offers strong string pads, delicately placed micro-sounds, field recordings, and more of Oneira’s manipulated voice, heavy on the reverse echo. Piano fronts “Glimmer in the Darkness,” its echoed lines set against rolls of thunder, night sounds, and distant voices. Moore lays down the piece’s main phrase, lets it fade to the background, and brings up the atmospherics–then does it again. Listen closely and it seems you can still hear the sustain of the piano’s lowest notes like a soft hum.

Subtle Imperfections is a fantastic listen, its eight songs (seven and a reprise of the opener) built on tight lattices of well-chosen sounds and impeccably handled effects. Oneira’s vocals, as noted, are used perfectly any way Moore decides to apply them. They add to the album’s out-of-body feel and ghostly landscapes. Go grab this now and set it looping.

Available from Sparkwood Records.