Cosmic Mind Warp, Lysergic Space/Lysergic Dreams

cmw_lyssCelebrate the heyday of IDM and the joys of dropping acid on Cosmic Mind Warp’s double hit of weird electronica,  Lyser9ic Space and Lysergic Dreams. On the IDM side, we get the very liberal use of lengthy spoken snippets to go along with thick, trippy beats and swirling electronic atmospheres. For me, there’s too much of the spoken stuff. It’s a personal preference, and I know they’re there to tell part of the story, but they rarely seem to be used in a way more creative than being a straight-line narrative in any given piece. The exception is “Lysergic Muttering Blues,” where two odd voices, which may not be saying anything at all, hold a lengthy, if indecipherable, conversation over a warbling, spaced-out melody. At other times it can be distracting. The woman chortling and speaking during “The Tunnel” makes me want to–actually need to–jump to the next track. I wish the device had been used more sparingly, because some of it is walking over good, interesting music. The opener, “They Can Tell Us We’re Crazy” is an energetic, bouncing thing with a whiff of electro-pop. “Auto-Dimensional” uses reverse echo and long drones to create its hallucinogenic atmosphere, and feels like it could take of to other lines of thought. That’s also an issue here–CMW cram 12 tracks into 40 minutes, leaving each exploration just a few minutes to have its say.

Lysergic Dreams is a companion album that uses the tunes from it predecessor as a stepping off point. Per the Bandcamp page, “Each track is the result of its counterpart on the earlier album being fed back into Ableton 9 and converted into a series of MIDI notes … before undergoing many manipulations & mutations.” It’s meant to be the more ambient side of the project, but outside of a couple pieces that feel like they’ve been mildly Paulstretched, the work here is pretty active. “Dream Number 2” manages to stand out with light bell tones over sparkling pads, and “Dream Number 3” has a tap-along rhythm and a subtle melody. The 15-minute “Dream Number 10” works itself into a weird and wicked tangle of tones with a bit of a suspense-movie vibe to it. Not my definition of ambient. “Dream Number 8” is apparently one of those dreams that just screams loudly in your ears. It’s an instant blast of sounds that hits like a fist and doesn’t let up. The only way this is “ambient” is if you set the volume to “1” and sit yourself down two rooms away.

Neither of these releases sat particularly well with me. I wish that Lysergic Space had placed more emphasis on the music and less on the narrative, and Lysergic Dreams sort of misses the mark for me in general. I like the thought behind Dreams and the way it works with the first album, but these aren’t albums I’d hurry back to. Give a listen and see if you can get into these Lysergic doses.

Available at Bandcamp.

Michael Reiley McDermott, Music from Ephemeral

mrm_ephem.jpgArtists can find inspiration and sound sources in an infinite range of things. For composer Michael Reiley McDermott’s Music for Ephemeral, it was the flap of birds’ wings. As he notes on his Bandcamp page, he “found … hidden worlds of sound in the quick bursts of flapping sounds that last only a second in our time.” The hidden sounds get manipulated, stretched, and stacked to create four movements for a ballet. This intrigued me, because the work skews toward a very minimal, drone structure that one would think belies the idea of it being used for dance. (Visit the video link below to see just how wrong that line of thought actually is.) As for listening, McDermott’s structures unwind and spread with a rich organic grace, rises in intensity coming naturally up out a flow in simple curves and receding back to the integral mix. “Part 1” is constantly underscored with a sound like running water or, more likely, the susurrus of countless wings. Beneath it can be heard light touches of piano and a lingering drone. “Part 2” uses a variety of microsounds, and for much of its time it sounds quite like listening to the patter of rain. A steady metallic beat and soft voices arise out the sounds–again, emerging quite naturally out of the existing structure. The sonic textures thicken as McDermott chops and slices his samples, letting them grow quite aggressively into an in-your-face wall that cuts out suddenly. “Part 3,” a short palate cleanser before the 25-minute finale, returns to a very quiet place, almost little more than a series of electronic exhalations allowing us to recover from the assertive ending of “Part 2” and melting themselves into the start of “Part 4.” McDermott notes that in this final movement he wanted to create “…a hail storm of granular sounds that rain down…” As it evolves, it sprouts various tendrils of sound, from spatters of electro-crackle to waves and gulls to the hum of strings, all grounded in a high, slowly oscillating drone. It gets quite complex, with a lot of interplay between the sounds, but nothing is ever out of place or fights against the oddly harmonious atmosphere that’s created. It’s not a particularly soft sound, but between its easy flow and the mesmeric influence of the drone base, it can certainly set your mind drifting for a while.

Listeners whose tastes run toward drone and conceptual/experimental work will more easily find a point of entry into Music from Ephemeral. Its sparseness and use of small, granular sounds can be challenging, but listening to all of it evolve and unfold is intriguing, especially in a close listen.

Video of the ballet can be found on Vimeo.

Available from Bandcamp.

Wacky Southern Current, 6

wacky_6The last time I reviewed Wacky Southen Current, I noted that something about Marco Cervellin’s music made me feel like I wanted more out of it. That was then, and is now, and I have to say that it does not leave me with that wanting feeling. A cool half-hour of post-rock tunes, 6 is catchy, bright, and full. I can’t believe I’ll be the only one to hear a Lennon/McCartney vibe coming out of the ridiculously hook-laden lines and changing faces of “We Had Many Fights Along the Way.” It’s just fun and joyful, especially when Cervellin cuts loose on guitar late in the track. There’s also some sweet slide going on throughout the track that makes me happy. The pure optimism of “Girl With a Future” and its toe-tapping rhythm grabs the listener right away. There’s a hint of 70s West Coast rock in its structure. Another late-arriving guitar solo lays out spicy licks and runs over heady drums as the rhythm section keeps things tight. “Not Afraid (of Spiders)” starts off sounding like a chamber music piece transported into a post-rock setting. Its very formal piano line opens things a bit stiffly, but Cervellin then slips in strings, drums, and more to loosen it up. When the break comes, the song openly evolves into something smoother. I like almost everything on 6,  but could do without the high dramatics of “End of the Hansa.” The repetition of its three-note setup line feels like Cervellin’s not sure he should let it leave the starting blocks. Big drum fills that do nothing but play up the drama don’t help. It’s just a too-heavy thing in the middle of pieces with easier, more enjoyable flows.

So this must be the “more” I was looking for when I last listened to Wacky Southern Current. Nothing’s lacking here, from style to hook to let’s listen to that again. Cervellin plays most everything on the album and nothing sounds forced or phony. (Okay, sometimes the drums feel a trifle too programmed.) It’s just a batch of quick tunes with a full-on ensemble sound, and it’s a blast. Turn up the volume and enjoy.

Available from Bandcamp.

Matthew Florianz: Nocturne – Soundtrack for Science Briefings

florianz_noctMy initial impression of Nocturne – Soundtrack for Science Briefings  by Matthew Florianz was that it was thin. Even for an ambient album, it felt like it lacked depth. As it looped through several listening sessions, however, I realized that although that thought never quite left my head, I was still getting quietly pulled into the music. For long stretches of its 93-minute run, Nocturne – Soundtrack for Science Briefings gets whisper-quiet, turning from a classic spacemusic sound to barely there, meditative ambient. Florianz mixes in sequencer runs and other small flourishes at points that nicely break up the flow. Between those points he’s inclined to lay out the more minimal pathways, with breathy pads and spiraling lines that exist just below the surface. It’s the kind of stuff that makes this a very effective headphone listen. Although it may seem contrary to say so, while Florianz’s quieter  constructs are as calming as one might like in this kind of music, I find that by and large it goes by without leaving a larger impression. I know I’ve heard it, and I could listen to it again, but at no point does it make me need to listen. It’s one thing to get lost in an ambient/space album; it’s another to have a moving enough experience to immediately hit play again. I do enjoy the leg of the journey formed by “Dark Matter” and “Life.” In both piece, Florianz plays with slightly different versions of putting a slow-moving arpeggio over washes and pads. It’s that solid-versus-ethereal motif that works so often for me. “Life” blossoms out into a pad-based vision of stellar distances. The first half of “Do we live in a multiverse” is one of the album’s most immersive spans. This is where Florianz really reduces the sound down to a next-to-nothing state. Very light chime tones at the outset place waypoints for the unsure path ahead. From there, it gets very sparse but remains in constant, softly churning motion.

This is a good album to put on quietly after you’ve done your headphone explorations. It’s very ambient for the most part, content to just drift around the room. And while I don’t often comment on titles, I do wish Florianz had found a less antiseptic name for this album. Although it’s true to the music’s origin as soundtrack pieces for videos exploring the “unexplained mysteries of the universe,” I can say that the title made me hem and haw about whether I even wanted to listen to it. Hopefully it doesn’t turn listeners away, because it does offer some good ambient and spacemusic visions.

Available from Bandcamp.

Neon Shudder, (viii) Neuromantic: The Communion of Nature and Technology

neon_neuroI’ll keep this brief since we’re talking about four tracks and  fifteen minutes of angry chipset and nostalgia heavy on appreciative irony. Neuromantic from Neon Shudder delights in its throwback sound, and for a short offering it can be somewhat fun. Neon Shudder apparently stuffed Trent Reznor into an old Nintendo to get the dark groove of “Cargo Cult,”  the album’s opener. The familiar tinny snap of electronic drums drive it forward “Kill or Be Killed” sounds like the theme music for an 80s console game I wish I’d played. Crunchy distortion and a meaty bass line give it a grinding quality. “Not To Be Fucked With” escapes from some forgotten New Wave clubs courtesy of vocals from Randi Hubler of the duo Reapers. It’s a gritty electro-pop tune with a darkness reminiscent of Depeche Mode after they realized they weren’t happy. Electronic drums from Onslaught Six (the other half of Reapers) lends extra power to its punch. “The Tragedy of Being” is upbeat, with the warble of 8-bit processor music to its melody.

Stuff this one into your daily shuffle for a quick shot of cool. I like Neon Shudder’s commitment to the style–his love of it shines through every note. It may come off a little cheesy for some, but embracing that is what lurks at the core of this artist’s work.

Available at Bandcamp.

Fiona Joy, Signature – Synchronicity

fiona_sync2Fiona Joy doubles down on the beautiful songs from her 2015 release, Signature – Solo, by bringing in guest musician to help open them up and “fully realize” them on Signature -Synchronicity. Often, I would hesitate to review a kind of re-do/remix of something I’d already written about, but this is more like a re-celebration of those solo pieces, and the roster of guest musicians–including Will Ackerman, Eugene Friesen, Jeff Oster, Tony Levin, and more–is a pretty potent draw. For this album, Fiona re-recorded her piano lines at her home in Australia, and much of the additional work was done at Ackerman’s Imaginary Road studios in Vermont. The differences between the two albums are quite subtle. (In some cases, quite honestly, I had to go back and check my library to make sure I hadn’t just reloaded Signature – Solo.) She doesn’t have the guests take over these pieces, she has them gently accent what’s already there. On “Grace,” for example, a song which she has now covered four times–including twice on this album–Oster’s fluegelhorn, Freisen’s cello, and tárogató (a woodwind) from Paul Jarman all slip in beneath the leading piano and vocals at different points. Their contribution is smooth enough not to ripple the song’s still, crystalline surface. A snappier “chill” version of the song appears later, upbeat and bright, with percussion from Jeff Haynes and guitar lines coming from (I believe) both Ackerman on acoustic and Marc Shulman on electric. Once again, these extras fold nicely into the song like they had been there all along. The revision of “From the Mist,” one of my favorites from Solo, more fully realizes its classical music soul with the addition of strings and Irish whistle. It retains its delicacy, and its pause-friendly structure, where each hesitation is like a stop in a dancer’s step and the next moment, its continuation. The whistle and strings seem to bring a more organic sense to the piece, and it’s lovelier than ever. Fiona’s dreamy vocals on “Once Upon Impossible” are as ephemeral as a warm breath on a cold morning, there but for a moment and fading. The piano here has a music box feel, each note its own statement, winding down in places where Fiona again perfectly uses the meaningfulness of a pause. On “Fair Not” the additional instrumentation comes on much stronger, driving the piece’s internal emotion to dramatic heights, giving its story more of an arc than ever. Strings from Freisen and violinist Rebecca Daniel push this along, appearing at first in a gentle accompaniment to the piano, as though taking its hand to lead it to this more vivid place. Fiona teases the piece’s newfound power a few times before bringing the heft of the ensemble fully into play. Tom Eaton adds moments of thunderous percussion toward the end. A powerful piece that, while lovely as a solo, really finds its voice here.

Signature – Synchronicity is a perfect complement to the original album in the series, adding to the beauty of each song without overpowering or over-rethinking them. The gentle addition of fresh sonic colors to an already complete work is handled intelligently and respectfully, and everything here benefits from it. Superb contemporary instrumental work from a cast of top genre talent.

Available from Little Hartley Music.

Schmaidl, Between Awe and Rawness

schma_aweComfortably experimental and laced with manipulated vocal samples and the occasional catchy beat, Schmaidl’s “Between Awe and Rawness” is an album that is sometimes a little hard for me to wrap my head around, but it keeps making me need to listen more to suss out what I’m digging about it. Some pieces hook me more than others, but all of them offer something to think about. NASA radio chatter from a liftoff makes up the core of the opening piece, “Forward Mobility,” laid in over a steady and springy two-note bass pulse. It’s one of those pieces that finds its strength in a minimal simplicity, with fresh elements carefully laid in. It never reaches any kind of notable density, but lets the spoken piece do most of the heavy lifting. After takeoff, Schmaidl plays with its tempo, stretching just a little. If you can stand the fact that the dominant background sound in “Heartbeat” sounds less like a heart and more like a busy signal that refuses to give up, you’ll eventually (a bit too long in coming for this listener) hear it gel rhythmically with the sounds and lines around it. The latter sounds are light and glistening, floating things playing around that anchoring tone. The locomotive rhythms of “River 1997” evolve into a suggestion of 80s electro-pop, thanks to the inclusion of a sharp clapping track. Once again, the piece is simple at a surface level, but that simplicity also forms an effective hook. By contrast, the heavy plod of “Cities,” which precedes it, works perhaps not quite as effectively, but something its hammer-fall insistence kind of works for me. The only place where Schmaidl runs the risk of losing me completely is in the high-velocity, dissonant piano tangle of “Rearward Tension.” Glitch percussion speeds along beneath it, trying to keep pace.It’s just too frenetic for me to get into, especially as compared to the slower, less complicated pieces around it.

While Between Awe and Rawness is not an album I need to hurry back to, based on my own tastes, its ever-changing nature, the scope of approaches from track to track, and the thought-provoking sound palette make it a very interesting listen. It’s not for everyone, certainly, and it does go a little heavy on the vocal drops, but if you’re into music you’re going to want to think about while you’re in it, give this a listen.

Available from The Committee for Sonic Research.