Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ernesto Schnack-- A Work In Progress

It's difficult to summarize what is best about Ernesto Schnack's guitar album "A Work in Progress". It's tempting to go on for too long about the incredibly meticulous compositions, so clearly influenced in equal measure by so many genres. But going on about composition at the expense of Schnack's playing style, a melding of classical fingerpicking, jazz chord building, and contemporary percussion, would be remiss too, and of course to rave about only those aspects ignores Schnack's ear for melodies and counterpoint, and so on, ad nauseum. Suffice it to say that every track on this lush album deserves multiple listens-- all this, from a single acoustic guitar.

First track "Build" begins with a pulsing, soft drone. Over it sings a mellifluous repeated phrase that grows in strength and complexity, blending all of the visceral elements of a guitar--the scratch of a string, a tiny harmonic, the sharp percussion of hand rapping against wood-- that grow and then hum into reverberating silence.

Second track "The Single Purpose Room" unites intricate rhythm patterns in complex time signatures with deep bass and a haunting melody to create a carefully deliberate, masterful composition.

Track three, "Pierrot" is mournful, nostalgic waltz with a darkly unravelling middle section, a magnum opus for the sorrowful solitary clown. Schnack captures vividly the many personae of the stock character: the lovelorn and lost, the slightly sinister, the complicated comic.

Fourth track "Minimize" is a labyrinthine track that displays an impressive range of timbres with buzzing bass notes that intermingle beautifully with the sharp, bright mid tones. Track five, "The Griot", is more melodic. However, it too has an incredible dynamic, beginning mildly, escalating sharply into a conflicted, minor B section, and resolving back into a lull.

Track six, "I'm Getting Old", has deep roots in rock and heavy metal, employing sharp, twangy phrasing against a driving, constant bass that is accentuated by rhythmic slaps against the guitar body. Notably, that pulse is silent for a brief phrase where only the high melody is heard, and when the rest returns, it's to an orchestral buildup, the high harmony singing like a dulcimer.

"We'll Always Have Siberia" is biting and restless, a man pacing an empty, spartan room. The counter melody is a numbing, wintery backdrop to an icily piercing, staggeringly lonely melody. Eighth track "An Eloquent Goodbye" preserves the same loneliness, thawed: another empty room, another man, but now he sits in a resigned reverie.

The ninth and final track, "Post-", snaps away from lonely, creeping instead with all the cock and swagger of an alley cat along a dramatically detuned E string. Amidst the bravado is a sincere, touching movement, tinged with melancholy. The track (and album) ends in the jazz vein with an aural wink.

All in all: a beautiful album that delves deeply into the guitar as a vessel for the creation of music; it surprises, never bores. Whether or not a listener is a fan of guitar-driven music, this one is a must-not-miss.

Available at Ernesto Schnack's site, digital album €5 or more, physical release €8 or more.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Unsung -- The Paint

"The Paint", an album by rapper Unsung, is chock full of thoughtful, piercing lyrics, wonderfully juxtaposed against a fantastic menagerie of sounds. As talented artists often do, Unsung cinches together an array of genres to create his own elusive style.

"If You Are Still Here..." opens the album with coolly ambient, open chords. The piece crescendoes into a pulsing, rhythmic piece, complete with shuffling scratches, nicely rendered synths, setting a meticulous pace for a thoughtful hip-hop album.

A lone, steadily beaten block brings in second track "Constant", and then Unsung's words burst into consciousness, delving straight into the listener's mind and calling upon powerful images of childhood and desperation that is bolstered by a melancholy electric piano.

Third track "Moments Ago and Before" marches in with a deceptively charming piano harmony, but the tone  is more aggressive, the thoughts more declarative. It shifts agitatedly into "Still Life Features" (Prod. by Tapureka), a driving, rare piece that weaves dubby, distorted sounds with snares and trembling synths into timeless forms.

Track five, "Broad Shoulders of the Earth", glimmers with industry, full of oily color and texture, and "Briny" wields a sly, alley-catlike jazz backbeat and then constructs a vivid word poem in dizzying fast lazy drawl: "They only whisper secrets I could never keep/ Because no trusting mouth of my friends/ Meets a trusting ear on me."

Track seven,"That Dark Works Perfectly", begins more laid back in tone than the tracks before it, building and storing a mass of frenetic energy that culminates in sung vocals that are at once self-conscious and sublime against a sorrowfully revolving keyboard and a booming beat.

Warm, organ-like notes begin eighth track "...I Will Wait", a quietly ambient instrumental piece that gently lulls the listener into an entirely different listening pattern. It leads seamlessly into "Head Coma", a track that starts out placid, grows cheerfully insistent, and finally becomes a catchy groove over the abstracted but powerful words.

Track ten, "Wake for Waves" is sinister, curling like black smoke around bass and swelling into the floating words and trembling notes."Under a Lemon Tree" begins sharply and then continues in the same vein of rich word poems that recline languidly over their own vivid imagery: "Our hands are printed words with cursive overtones fingers straight but twist around each other ivy on the face of stone."

Twelfth track "Old and Dead" begins quietly, at first jesting lightly with distorted vocals, molding itself into an agile poem.

"Thomas, Full of Fireflies" exhibits a transcendent, meditative beat, humming a lament into a scant reminder of a gospel; "Cloud Cover" sits loftily above it, using ever-so light rhythms over quiet eulogies that render impressions of nostalgia and loss.

"Empty Stage", a resigned farewell to an invisible audience, slips off into silence; it's a formidable veneer to finish this album of countless lyrics, recollections and patterns.

All in all: Unsung moves his listeners through his stage, at points jolting them into awareness only to becalm them into silence. He escapes tired conventions of endless loops and repetitions by crafting gradual buildups that culminate in vividly evocative poetry.

Available on Unsung's Page, name your own price. Unsung is also on Facebook.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Danseizure-- This is Danseizure

At once energetic, ambient, and brimming with both field recordings and original sounds, the appeal of Danseizure's LP "This is Danseizure" lies in his ability to grasp the ephemeral, detailed mystery of countless moments, all in the span of ten tracks. 

Opening with a riotous cacophony of birds over a stunningly euphonic drone, first track "Naturlike" emanates from a deeply rustic and calamitous but calming place, and there's a fecund, joyous simplicity in the shimmery tones that dapple above the woody percussion. 

Track two, "Satellite Dish Crumbling Wall" shares some common threads with the first track, but tackles a far different soundscape. Turbulent, resonant, and restive, the piece relies on a rolling beat, a clipped, boxy bass, and simmering little high notes that soundtrack the juxtaposition and uncomfortableness of the urban experience. 

Third track "Blue Sunshine" veers away from its more pensive predecessors and boasts a danceable, clubby beat. Peppery handclaps and a winsome synth pulse with a bold fluidity. By adding forested textures upon textures, the track manages to make a listener feel at once relaxed and energized. 

"Who put your nose out of joint" dives into a soundscape much darker than previously explored on the album, using distorted field recordings and a deep, spine-tingling drone. A pinched synth provides an uncomfortably high contrast against the deep bass, and a militant beat further moves listeners out of their auditory complacency and into a prison-like hollow. Despite the darkness, there's a forbidden-fruit sort of temptation in the drone, an ungraspable aural thread that permeates the beat and ends with a whimper.

"Holes in Walls" is much less heavy-hearted than "Nose out of joint". It shifts into a more mechanized world that's full of brassy synths and queasy little counter-melodies working through scattered electronic blips.

"No ideas but in things (feat. Ryan Van Winkle)" blasts into being, with destructive buzzing transforming into deep organ distortion. Ryan Van Winkle's superb, smoothly spoken word poem feels right at home in this dark din that fades back into distorted nothingness.

Seventh track, "Take what you want" is a completely shameless homage to the insipidity of prayer hotlines. At once viciously amusing and sad, the track captures the desperate hopes of the misguided, and the following track "Out" explores a similar loneliness, albeit through a single, simple piano. Its melancholy theme and meandering melody are at once evocative and ever-so familiar.

Ninth track "Berlin" opens with an off-kilter percussion. Light electronic piano patters like rain over the drumbeat. Distorted conversation filters through in the background, creating an open, disjointed impression, and electronic bass hums like thunder and fades out like a passing storm.

Final track "The world is a sad sad place" offers a sorrowful melody and counterpoint borne by twin synths lacing one another. However, the driving beat seems to criticize the anguish, encouraging action and engagement with the world instead of helplessness. It's a fitting end to an album that wanders through joy and suffering with equal courage.

All in all: it seems that Danseizure is able to find inspiration in just about anything, and his depth of understanding shines through in his sincere, meaningful LP. Each track is an evocative representation of a place or an idea, and his field recordings, original sounds and borrowed words augment his ideas. Some tracks are pop-tart worthy, while others are dark, deep explorations of places few others would dare to go.

Available at Invisible Agent (a net label full of very talented people), free to listen on-site and available for digital download, $9.90.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tay0-- Names and Numbers

"Names and Numbers", the most recent album available from Tay0, is a fulfilling and exciting aural experience that showcases brilliant bass and percussion-led tracks. These pieces at once generate vivid imagery and span a spectrum of styles.

First track "Jodrell Bank" opens with strong percussive elements and a faint buzz, relying on soft, rattling beats that morph into bass pulses and ominous drones. A quiet synth that feels at once hopeful and maligned interplays with the sharply glitched elements of the track.

Slower in tempo, second track "Wintermute" displays a mosquito-ey synth supported by a watery and diverse percussion. It fits, strangely enough, very well with following track "Behold tha Lamb", a piece that builds itself around a booming spiritual woman's voice preaching. By working her voice through the chaos of synths and an upbeat rhythm, there is a somehow symbiotic blend between the two seemingly unamalgamable styles.

"Backscatter" moves away from the characteristic upbeat rhythmic patterns of before, using eerie echoes, a hint of bass and a slight smatter of random blips to surround the listener with chilling sounds. Sound-rays like distant sirens creep up and down the spine amidst the frenetic blips, proving that it's somehow possible to emulate the sensations of going through a backscatter scanner with sound. 

Easing us back into a more comfortable, more high-spirited beat, fifth track "Names and Numbers" features smoothly expanding hums and gently tinkling little synths whispering above twisting mids that unwind and finally detune. Following up is the well-recorded "ModoKun (Live 01092010)". It opens with a deep booming rumble and unwinds into impressive, frenetically paced drums, which are well-bolstered by an airy synth.

Track seven "Bubblegum Beats" encompasses a number of vibes: first, it opens with a solemn synth and beat. Then cleverly played, enthusiastically cheerful video game beats hop over soda slurping and sunny plungs. Finally, the track darts into a synthesized beat breakdown, while vocals gleefully tell us: "Oh that's so sweet. It's so melodic. It's so tuneful, and accessible; this is Bubblegum Music!" 

The final track "Flyover Country" is more serious, sincere, and shows off once more Tay0's ability to paint complex visuals with his sounds. The track's elevated sonic movements glint and gleam, making for a well rounded track that feels like a view of earth and sky at a travelling pace. The fadeout comes as a gently ascending takeoff, leaving listeners satisfied.

All in all: Listen if you are desirous of strong rhythms and bass without sacrificing ambience, and if you're in the mood for a wonderfully varied album that makes excellent use of transitions. The album has a fantastic balance of lighthearted upbeat grooves and sobering moments, and is a mature, attentively created collection. 

Available on Tay0's site, free download. Find more on Soundcloud.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Leonardo Rosado (Subterminal)-- Dream On

It is impossible to listen to Leonardo Rosardo's "Dream On" and remain unmoved. The light touch with which Rosado lovingly blends his recordings is so captivating that, although the album is a scant 20 minutes long, the listener becomes irrevocably wrapped up in it as a willing participant and floats dreamily through its sounds. 

Beginning with a deep, quavering drone, "Rebuilding the Dream" features warm wooden pulsings, gentle water drippings, and achingly light, hovering pitches. The radiant tension wrapped up in these sounds is a muted melancholy, a shuffling wariness, shifting in and out of focus.

"Dream On" hums deeply and evolves into an opening, welcoming drone. Two soft percussive elements knock brush against each other, birds chirp, and . Dripping with rich affection, Rosado's sounds are as softly blended as watercolors and as vibrant as a photograph. Electronic glitches interrupt the frequencies like fragments of missing memories, feet and keys stumble through, and a high pitched ring echoes into a fadeout.

Unlike the sundrenched prior tracks, "Wiped Out" sputters to wistful, restless life with static and cold metallic whirs. Distant, perfunctory heels stepping impregnate the track with darkness, and the footsteps morph into misshapen copies of themselves, leaving only a tiny, blemished drone that acts as a pinhole of light over the hollows that threaten to extinguish it entirely.

"Sleepless Murmur" captures all of the uneasy gloom and resignation of the insomniac tortured by anxieties half forgotten. Night oozes through in a deep bass, and the inky midlevel drones are held aground by low pitch. The resultant watery dirge seems to take on a life of its own that wishes equally for sunlight or oblivion. The track's lack of shimmering field recordings sets it apart from the others, further adding to the semi-conscious impressions of sound.

All in all: "Dream On" is a beautiful introduction to an artist whose work is exquisitely difficult to pigeonhole. The sounds present are warm, swelling with joy and sorrow, and Rosado entwines them all together intricately, inviting us, rather than pushing, to listen with an open mind and receptive soul. 

Find "Dream On" on Audio Gourmet£.40 for download (or free here). Find more of Leonardo Rosado's 'wordsoundscapes' on his Tumblr.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

SRM-- In Transition

"In Transition", the 18 track offering of a madcap mix of progressive rock, humor, soundtrackery, and ambience, somehow manages to gel together and form a cohesive glimpse into the brain of its creator (whom I imagine/hope to be a bit of a mad scientist) Steve Morton, aka SRM

First track "Smells Like Pork (Tastes Like Chicken)" is completely, fearlessly irreverent and absurd, flaunting flashy synths and samples of dogs barking and flatulence. It serves as the album's advice to its listeners to prepare for a strange variety of tracks.

Second track "American Idyll" encompasses an entirely different feel and mood-- it's dominated by wonderfully twangy electric guitars and a tapping bass, which lends itself to a shuffling, gritty Americana tone.

Track three, "Progress and Livers" is charmingly reminiscent of 1980's prog rock. A snappy synth and picky guitars are laid over a quick drum beat, making it a fun, danceable piece. 

Downshifting in tempo, "Fishfin" is a much softer, more somber experience. Moody percussion and chiming synths dominate, and woodblocks add a unique touch. The track is aptly titled: it's at once smooth and sleek with all the prickliness of scales. Following up is "180", which is made up of grungy, bass driven guitar tones and insinuatory vocals, making it the darkest track on the album.

Abruptly, SRM switches gears into "Really Cheesy Theater Theme", a track which is indeed as its title suggests-- cheesy surfer punk soundtrack music that sounds right at home in a beach party film. The track is so strangely placed that it fits right in, a delightful shift back into the bizarre. 

Standout track "Anna" returns to a twangily tuneful jazzy guitar and scratchy synths, peppered with Latin percussion. The piece breezily sways and crackles with magnificent vivacity.

"Trippin'" is slower in tempo and dominated by bass and hushed cymbals. The voice samples are at turns poignant and sardonic: "We assure ourselves that our destination will be Heaven", "I'm having the most perfect hallucination!, "Please help me. I've taken LSD". They lend a surreal quality to the atmosphere of the piece, proving that SRM can be thoughtful without taking himself too seriously.

It gears us up for track nine, "Sorry Danny", driven by a tuba-like tone, and it's a rollicking, fun dive into SRM's soundtracking forays. "Headlong" features whirling, gyrating synths and knocky percussion and is  a perfectly fitting mood piece for building suspension, and "Luncheonette of Death"'s flashy telephone synth is interwoven with piano-like pizzazz, adding a sort of smiling tension to the mix. 

Twelfth track "'Jasper did once, but he don't no more'" is another notable departure into more serious territory: it's tough, punchy, percussive, deep, and shifting-- another standout track.

"Midnight Tarmac" is a more traditional electronic piece-- lively, bouncy synths and a snappy bass dominate. It's light cheerfulness is balanced by the following track "'Here they come!'", an appropriately ominous mood creator. 

"Snouts in the Trough", an interpolation of chimes and humorously clever synths, marks a return to SRM's zesty and playful tone, while "Sunset" is more relaxed and ambient, using a humming, organ-like synth and a tiptoeing bass in a gradual crescendo of sound. 

Seventeenth track "Iron Lung Blues" is disquieting at first, and then bluesy as labored breath transitions into a decidedly high energy track that cheerfully bounces along, merrily poking fun at smokers.

Final track "Smells Like Pork (extended dance remix)" is a fitting conclusion to the album. It remains faithful to the original version, but showcases more bass and instrumentation, all the while still remaining as wonderfully weird as before.

All in all: SRM proves that he's versatile and capable of wearing many hats: some silly, some serious. Many of the tracks here are outstanding, and the whimsical, fun ties that keep the album together are strong. Everyone is sure to find at least a few tracks to their liking, even the poppies, and giving the full album a listen through is well worth it, just to witness the dazzling spectacle that is SRM's instrumentation.

Available at SRM's website, free download. Also available on CDBaby, physical copies for $6.00, downloads for $5.00. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Kadaj Da Kid-- Portrait

While Kadaj Da Kid primarily describes himself as an instrumental hip-hop artist hoping to pass on beats, his tracks on his latest album "Portrait" are strong enough to stand on their own.

The first track "Violet Eye" opens with a rolling, soft electric guitar-like synth, augmented by a quiet bass; these sounds provide a frame for the laid back yet soft beat. 

Deeper and more brooding than the first track, "Eternal" has a sense of quickening in its midlevels by using a looping synth that spirals around the central beat. The track manages to sound minimalist yet rich, allowing listeners to focus on the patterns that emerge.

Third track "Frozen" is almost orchestral, with a lilting guitar, light piano chords, and a light piccolo sound, punctured by an occasional electric guitar. The beat is deep and laid back, and is well complemented by the bright tones. Kadaj Da Kid holds onto the mood with the next track: marked by a handdrum-like beat, "Pearl Swan" is a mysterious, well syncopated track that incorporates the sounds of light, floating synths, keys, and a rolling percussion. 

Moving from cooler tones, fifth track "Postscript" features a bass vocal sample elevated by warm, appealing keys that is underscored by handclaps and a bass drum to round out the tone. "Dusk" has a similarly calmative resonance, featuring another bass vocal sample and a sturdy beat that pulses without disturbing the smoothness of the sounds. Nicely syncopated glitchy noises flutter around softly, infusing the track with a twinkling essence.

Track seven "Dawn" is fittingly energetic after the calm of "Dusk", with a sharply assertive electronic synth synching up with a strong, dominant beat, and  "Believe" returns to smoother grounds, but maintains a lively quality, melting beat with synth-trumpet-like staccatos and a humming loop.

The deep, bouncy bass of ninth track "Deja Vu" nicely mirrors the percussion, and the track cleverly creeps through its tones, showcasing organs, keys, and a hint of electric guitar. 

Tenth track "Cosmos" is a marked departure from the rest of the album, relying on ethereal electronic tones underwritten by a shuffling beat. 

Final track "The Dark Arts" features a vocal sample and a driving beat, making it the most aggressive and emotional piece on the album.

All in all: Kadaj Da Kid has made an offering of engaging, catchy beats and instrumentals. Even independent of vocals, Kadaj Da Kid's sounds showcase a talent for both variety and steadfastness, and the ability to create thoughtful, crafted foundations for hip hop instrumentals.

Available on Kadaj Da Kid's site, name your own price.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Dubh-- Fractured Broken and Beautiful

Dubh's resonant, evocative 18 track album "Fractured Broken and Beautiful" shifts and glides through a spectrum of sounds using samples, synths, and beats to map out a somber album. His ideas are well rounded by shimmering moods and great depths; it's a phenomenal album for the pensive from start to finish. 

"Hello" fades listeners in with a rolling thrum, and through the murk a clipped sample greets and beckons. The album's watery beginning manages to outdo expectations of typical introductory first tracks through beautifully created sound collections. 

Distorted piano fuzz plays in the margins of the next track, "Without Pain", guiding it through the kaleidoscopic, forested sounds that feel as though their origin comes from the listener's own chest. We're then shifted into "You Will Find", a track that hums and shimmers, twisting hauntingly through its deepening of sounds. Particularly enjoyable is the faintly syncopated rhythm section that intertwines with the light sample.

As we climb deeper into the album, fourth track "Reality at Any Point" beats and throbs-- its sounds are nearly tangible. One of Dubh's major talents seems to be his adept handling of the sounds he creates; he allows his ideas to linger, fade and crescendo at exactly the right moments, never overpowering his ideas. "Geography and Chronology" showcases this talent, as piano, gentle windlike sounds, and sampling keep from dominating one another. 

Sixth track "Small Things" has a timid quality that recollect visions of drowned wind up toys forgotten but not yet gone. Next, "Fracture Broken and Beautiful" incorporates that same magical timid piano quality to it, but deepens itself with pizzicato bass underscores. The track glimmers and creeps and swells-- it's beautifully emotional without being maudlin.

Breaking listeners out of the reverie with extraordinary bass echoes, Dubh fades in "And We Do Not Know". The distinguished rhythm keeps the track gratefully pensive and moody rather than eerie or disquieting. Deftly, Dubh has moved his audience from the previous wilting mood to one of restlessness and quiet action. "Truth Becomes" continues in this vein and is more glitchy and clipped. Particularly lovely are the piercing, stretched piano tones against the scant rhythm.

Tenth track "Inside Ourselves" is a more muted, grave experience, using somnambulant mids rather than throbbing basses. The piece feels like an organic growth and intermingling of its own sounds rather than a painstakingly crafted idea.

"Musette" has a guitarlike theme that pulls away from the more restless feelings, and elevates the mood to a reflective, clear state of mind, and "Angeltech" layers light and dark, pricking the senses with rhythmic ticking, enigmatic voice samples, and a slightly foreboding bass.

Thirteenth track "Mild Methodology" is anything but mild-- it's a dark, pacing return to restlessness, but the cleverly timed drum rhythms keep the track from becoming unnerving, and immediately following, the aptly titled "I'm A Cyborg" features distorted organs and a plodding beat.

Track fifteen, "Unbecome" features an soft, beautiful accordion-like synth, but is more dictated by its rhythms-- another shifting beat that leads the tone. Soft midtones round out the piece, making it feel simultaneously large and intricate. The restlessness is quieted here, and almost banished in "Silence is Full of Music", a track that opens with a regal, church-like appeal. Chanting synths with a pattering bass and percussion line strengthen the track's charms, and the continually evolving resonance throughout deepens and unifies the individual sounds.

Penultimate track "The White Box" marks a return to a more mechanical theme, and a dark bass is elevated by sweet, lilting bells. The track evolves into itself, maturing in a matter of minutes.

The final track, "Cimmeria" is disorienting but rewarding, if the listener can relax into the track's vocal samples, scattered patterns, and winding mechanisms. The tiny piano that haunts the listener's ear again and again are like final glimmering rays of light before day's end. It's a fitting close to an album that demands complete surrender and rapt attention. 

All in all: Resonant and gorgeous, this album is one that you can sink deeply into without any residual effects of unease-- instead, upon finish, you might find yourself feeling an energy and clarity lacking before. Listen for the beautiful piano and amazing accordion-like sounds. It's a wonderful album for sitting and staring out a window on a rainy day, or for providing a soundtrack to a task requiring solidity of mind and concentration. Not for pop-ulists, but definitely a must hear.

Available on Dubh's site, physical copies (cool vinyl look!) ₤10.00 or more, digital for ₤5.00 or more. See also Dubh's Facebook page.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Open Submissions!

Hi all,

As many of you know, Dovetail is a project in its infancy.

I'm looking for submissions by artists who have taken the time to put together a collection of songs online for download or stream. The collections can be full albums, EPs, sketches-- whatever works! I'm shying away from single tracks (for now) as listening to consciously curated collections of tracks gives me more of an opportunity to listen deeply.

That said, ANY collection will do-- and this project is not limited to only electronic/ambient artists! I'll listen to anything: rap, country, heavy metal, pop, rock, spoken word, you name it.  I embarked on this project in the hopes of not only exposing good music to anyone willing to listen, but also to teach myself how to listen passionately to all sorts of music, even if the particular genre has yet to catch my attention.

So come on, don't be shy! You can leave a link in the comments or find me on Twitter (@katieweed). Whatever works best for you works best for me.

My promise: to listen wholeheartedly. I lock myself in a room or listen with noise canceling headphones and let the sounds seep into my brain. I listen through at least twice, often more. I look for the unique, ear-catching, evocative moments. I pay attention to what's being said and what's not being said. I'm fair, I like variety, and my goal is to listen without pretense or prejudice.

That said, if for some reason I choose not to review your music after a submission, I will let you know as soon as possible, and have no problem discussing and reconsidering.

Aiming for ~1 review per week, so get sending! Don't be shy!


Monday, March 14, 2011

Alka-- A Dog Lost In the Woods

We wander into Alka's album "A Dog Lost In the Woods" with the first track, "Blueberry", a cheerfully ambling expedition that begins with a steady bass and a brightly syncopated percussion, and rounds out with a humming, dreamy treble.

The second track, "When You Abandon Your Youth", nicely commingles bass with charmingly messy synths, a jumpy percussion, and a twangy guitar. A faint melody tugs at the heart, but the upbeat walking tempo and the clever rhythms keep it from being drab or dark.

Track three, "Collocation", is a brilliantly ambient piece, with enchanting bell-like timbres and a deceptive beat. Alka is particularly exceptional at weaving percussive patterns that evolve and twist throughout his tracks, rather than relying on a change in melody in order to help his songs evolve from section to section.

The fourth track, "I Am a Wreck" begins with a throbbing, soft bass, electric noise, and whispers of high synths that round it out. A sudden shift into harp-like strings elevate the track from its bounciness. The following track "Lucent" has a harder appeal; it pulses rather than thrums. Synths grind and percussive elements pop against a deep bass. The track feels sensuous-- the sound textures are so rich that they're nearly tangible.

"Separate", the six track, opens with bells and faint, distorted vocals. The emerging pattern feels light and tuneful but balanced, and the vocals are eagerly received as an important part of the track, rather than a noisy distraction.

"Immolated" is the otherworldly combination of a tinny rhythm that's supported by a deep bass and gyrating trebles. The noises contract and crunch satisfyingly.

Particularly great moment: "Solip" feels distinctly metallic and schizophrenic, but it somehow manages to feel wonderfully weird and benign rather than menacingly alienating when Alka introduces an ethereal treble into the mix.

"Alpha Pilos" is a notable departure in tone from the tracks preceding-- funky synth that drives the track rather than the trebles or syncopating rhythms. The synth is a simple loop but manages to keep the audience captivated and grooving on it. Its upbeat synthesis of weird sounds is catchy and almost hypnotic, and the track transitions nicely into its segments without losing feel. Another personal favorite.

"Israel" combines a steady, hard beat with electric blasts and a  tinkly, music-box-like chime, and ghostly little harmonies flicker throughout. It's darker and more otherworldly, eerie piece that manages to keep from feeling alienating.

"What Will Become of Your High Existence?" marks a return to the earlier elements of the album, combining intricate rhythms with metallic elements, deep bass, and legato synths. This piece, however, feels a bit more serious than those preceding, and is an exciting and deep foray into sound.

The final track, "Sky, Face Down" is a mellow, shuffling piece sprinkled with bells and plucked strings The faint hint of keys is uplifting and serene, and the shift into an electronic blip variation peppers and livens the track. It's a fitting "zoom out" of the soundscapes that we've heard.

All in all: The changing percussive beats are sure to make any listener revel, and this album is a cheerful and complete enough synthesis of its elements to please even those who prefer pop. 
As an added bonus, listeners pick up on more fun nuances with repeat listens. It's a great album for active and passive listeners alike-- notice as much (or as little) as you like. 

Available on Amazon.com for $8.99 or on iTunes for $9.99. 
You can find more at Reverb Nation and Sound Cloud.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Kurt Lorenz-- The General Analysis of Nature EP

"The General Analysis of Nature", the first EP by artist Kurt Lorenz is a challenging and fascinating undertaking of five tracks, each of which plays as a micro-journey through a realm of physics. Separate, each track is a complete idea that is realized by extrapolating a sound-element that acts as a guide. Together, the tracks commune and interweave as microcosms of the multifaceted scope of the nature of the world.

"Magnetic Moment" opens with a mysterious, hoppy looping synth. The synth acts as a conveyance through the track; Lorenz lets his sound linger and then bursts it open by bringing in a dark, intense bass synth and a driving percussion, all the while impelling the listener to hear that continually gyrating theme. The track is an omen of what's to come and an exciting first offering that blends synthetics and physics and pulls the listener through a corridor of sound.

"Eigenvalue", the second track, is introduced by an oscillating, unsettling synth that tunnels through the ear like a worm. That insidious sound is underwritten by a steady rhythm and light, airy synths. The piece whirls through brain like a dervish. I had a sense of ants in an open field at dawn, working madly in their tiny, intricate worlds. This track is successful because of its combination of the large and small-- the oscillating synth, the strong beat, and the major themes. All move together smoothly, albeit uneasily, but Lorenz has another surprise in store for his listeners: roughly two-thirds into the track, just as the listener begins to settle in with the sounds he's been surrounded by, a voice sample overlays those sounds, intoning: "For we have become a people, indeed, a whole world dependent upon the technology, the enormous sophisticated complex technology that we have created. Yet despite our depending on it, most of us know next to nothing about how it works or how it fails to work." The sense of unease that permeates the ear suddenly makes sense: in a world where art and music are so augmented by technology and where that technology has become an integral part of the creative process, what happens if that same technology collapses?

"Resonant Sway", the third track, begins with a method that is similar to the preceding tracks: a singular sound (in this case, a looming liquid reverberation) that opens the piece acts as a unifying thread. Here Lorenz layers a more upbeat, almost danceable rhythm under his thread, and listeners are treated to a surreal, arboreal experience. When the "sound thread" fades away, one feels a sense of arrival and abandonment and it's as though he's been tunneled into the depths of a forest and left to experience its offerings in solitude. It makes for a simultaneously disquieting and somehow pleasant experience.

The fourth track, "Soliton", opens with an organ-like synth, and this time Lorenz gently introduces the percussion and a bright but soft synth as transport. After the jarring, percussive experiences of "Resonant Sway" and "Eigenvalue", "Soliton" feels gentle and uplifting. The listener becomes joyously aware of Lorenz's ability to soothe as well as unnerve. This particular journey feels astral, subliminal, and steady.

The final track, "Alfvén" is evocative and pensive, with bells and a string-like synth acting as a vessel through its layers of sound, combining dark and light, mechanical and musical, busy and calm. The track dissects itself and places itself back together again. It's an intricate and deft distillation of the restless mood of the EP, and a beautiful coda to the album as a whole.

All in all: deeply thoughtful. Lots of layers to analyze, fun for the listener who enjoys connecting with sounds and physics. Want to propose a theory as to the general meaning of a pattern? Try out "Eigenvalue" or "Magnetic Moment". Want to meditate? Go for the eerie underworld of "Resonant Sway" or the beauty of "Soliton".  Again, not for the pop of heart, but for the thoughtful person who likes an aural puzzle, this EP is a pleasure to hear, again and again.

Available on Kurt Lorenz's website, name your own price. See Kurt's portfolio at www.kurtlorenz.com.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ambienteer-- Ataraxia

The opening and title track "Ataraxia" by artist Ambienteer ascends from a quiet drone to an ethereal hum of sound that overwhelms and elevates the listener. A prominently displayed treble is beautifully underscored by ululating midlevel sounds and a subtle but beautiful basso reminiscent of African chants; together, the pieces float together to form and- re-form discords and resolutions. At over 11 minutes long, this first track sets a perfect tone for what's to come with the rest of the album: subtle charms and darkness that intermingles with lucidity. 

With a light rap of sound, the artist snaps the listener out of that floating reverie and into the second track, "Augment", which introduces light, jangling percussive elements and a slowly creeping movement that never goes into the directions that a listener might expect. "Shiftless" descends back down, submerging the audience in a murky array of thoughts. Although the track has few distinct elements, the piece feels unfathomable and pensive. 

In a phenomenal moment (my personal favorite), Ambienteer deftly moves his audience into an arrangement reminiscent of a cathedral hymn-- big, organ-like sounds plod steadily to collide with electronic bells and bring a shiver down the spine in "Reclamation." The artist suspends his sounds, allowing them to grow and assume their place, rather than pulling them away from the listener's perspective too quickly to be digested. 

Then, with only a slight pause, the album takes a noticeable shift: a mechanical windup sound brings in the aptly-titled track "Music Box". Thankfully, Ambienteer avoids parroting the shrillness of a true music box by interweaving the light chimes that one would expect with a propeller-like synth and the recurring rasp of the wind-up mechanism. 

"Barium Falling" marks a return to the drifting drones and uneasy resonance, and "Murmuris" continues where it leaves off, and pulls with it sorrowful, almost fugue-like chords punctuated by jarring, wintery field recordings and a persistent, eerie sound of wind.

The final piece, "En Coeur En Hiver", is a befitting and beautiful end to this richly dark album. It's uplifting and nostalgic, but its deep drones and static compete so that the listener is gently forced to stay grounded, neither sinking nor floating. Instead, the listener is acquainted with the sound of a heartbeat, and a sense of sleepy, begrudging renewal of alertness to the less ethereal world outside.

All in all: this album will make you want to pause, rewind, and re-listen to its subtle messages and exquisite moments. This is definitely another album that demands an in-depth listen; it's not for the pop-hearted or the easily bored, and it may make those in cold places wish to crawl back into bed. But for those who wish to have a love affair with a very lightly structured and richly paletted soundscape (and maybe bliss out to their music visualizers for a time), this offering is sure to more than satisfy. 

Available on Ambienteer's Website, name your own price. More sounds from Ambienteer are available on his personal site: http://www.ambienteer.com/ .

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The First Review-- Ember Music, Vol. 1

(Caveat: one of the artists on this album is my partner. Not telling which, though.) 

This first release by nonprofit label Ember Music is the rare find among multi-artist compilations that plays like a cohesive album rather than the disjointed offerings of its individuals. From the pensive introduction ("Huntitled III" by musician Murat Esmer) to the dark, haunted coda by New Englander MobiusB, the listener is led seamlessly through tracks that manage to differ vastly from one to the next without sacrificing unity. The album plays not only as a whole, but as an intelligent and detailed statement. We are taken on a dark, occasionally gloomy, but always thoughtful tour through this collection.

Highlights from each track include:

Murat Esmer's expressive field recordings beckon the listener in with hypnotic footsteps and a pervasive piano.

Carl Sagan's Ghost continues where Esmer ends off by pulling the listener through a dreamy collection of watery synths and strings.

"Neigh" from Known Rebel picks up in tempo and mood, drawing a common thread while introducing rhythmic elements.

Sole vocalist Akisma manages to bring a strong, moody performance to an otherwise unvoiced album in "Comfortable Ignorance", marking a turnpoint in the narrative.

Kurt Lorenz continues the thread by combining a driving beat and intricately textured synth layers on "Filament".

Mr. Sandbags combines pulsing rhythmic elements with ambience in "Defect Pattern".

Saffron Slumber transitions away from any harshness by arranging a transcendent, floating composition of a rare timbre in "Glade" which somehow manages to remain unique while recalling the common elements of the album.

The track "Views from a Slow Moving Train" by Savaran advances the journey with an eerie, alienating resonance.

Nordmach regrounds the listener with soft harmonies and melancholy distortions of daily life in "Krista".

TraisKin expounds on the themes brought forth, maintaining an unsettled atmosphere and reintroducing considerable darkness in "Alice: Longitude 180".

Slaphappy Mortician helps the listener towards the inevitable denouement, descending into a deep bass in the track entitled (fittingly) "Nothing Left to Say."

MobiusB's "Ouraborus" aptly completes the album by combining dark synths and a bracing guitar, (and, delightfully, a tuba!).

All in all: the album is an exciting debut from its promising artists, and should not be overlooked. If you're in the mood for poppy and cheerful music, come back another day. But, if you like moody, ambient electronica that brilliantly displays evocative field recordings, this may be for you. 

Available on iTunes at $9.99, CD Baby for $6.99, or on Ember's Website for $6.99.