Posts Tagged ‘Ambient’

Green Recordings – 30th November 2018 (Big Mouth)

A Gradual Decline is the debut album by CUTS, the audio-visual project of composer and filmmaker Anthony Tombling Jr. It follows the release of the EP ‘A Slow Decay’, which came out in October. The titles suggest a trajectory, an overarching theme, and Tombling’s preoccupation with environmental issues and global warming is the key here. “We are living in the age of the Anthropocene and it feels like everything is in decline,” he says.

He explains the process and inspiration as follows: “I have tried to make a record that feels like it’s all come from one place. My only musical influence on this was William Basinski’s ‘Disintegration Loops’. Not the music, but the process. The idea of a decline in sound really suited the concept of this record. All this music and instrumentation trapped in this declining digital signal. I wanted it to sound brittle and precarious. I also wanted to avoid doing overly dark material, opting instead for something that was more fragile, melancholic and even hopeful in moments.”

As such, this is a concept work, and a concept that’s conveyed by the medium of chilled-out electronica, propelled by quite mellow beats. And while there is a melancholy hue to the instrumentation it doesn’t exactly say ‘potential collapse of civilisation’ or ‘global warming: aaargh, we’re all fucked’. This is no criticism: it’s hard to reconcile the now with the future prospects was talk about endlessly but never seem to reach. Even positioning the Anthropocene is problematic, although using the increasingly popular placing of post-1945 as the marker, with that year being tipped by the Geological Society as The Great Acceleration in terms of the impact of human activity on climate and environment as the defining feature of the current geological age, is perhaps instructive in the context of Tombling’s comments that “we’re in a moment where extinction is regular. I wanted this record to reflect these frailties.”

The press release promises ‘11 widescreen, electronic compositions in response to global political and environmental breakdown,’ and explains how A Gradual Decline addresses the planet’s current fragility using actual field recordings of ice collapsing from glaciers’. This isn’t apparent in the music itself, and a lot of A Gradual Decline given to quite simple, straight-ahead electronica, and while there are warping synth washes to be found hither and thither, it’s gentle and genteel and doesn’t instil a gut-churning sense of panic. Then again, some of the pieces are quite stark and spacious.

The album’s trajectory is – as the title suggests – gradual. The pace slows and structures become increasingly loose and delineated, beats more fractured and fragmented as it progresses. It’s fitting: the slide into increasingly turbulent weather isn’t something noticeable on a day-to-day basis and on a global scale, rapid change is relative.

But by the time the listener has drifted through the rippling piano rolls and low-stuttering pulsations of ‘Maboroshi’ and the dilapidated slow-drone ambience of ‘Fear of Everything’ which suddenly vanishes to nothing after thirteen minutes of formless drift, the sense of journey becomes finally apparent.

A Gradual Decline is an album that makes more sense and grows in appeal with time to absorb and assimilate, to reflect and to refocus. Given time, A Gradual Decline makes sense. Its just a shame we don’t have the luxury of time to save the planet.

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CUTS - A Gradual Decline

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OUS – OUS017 – 30th November 2018

Christopher Nosnibpr

Juxtapositions… oppositions… rippling waves of abstraction shimmer in broad washes while darker current bubble beneath… but the mood soon turns ugly as the bubbing low end becomes a churning throb and the soft waves harden into sharp-edged shards and extraneous sounds interrupt the smooth edges.

On ‘Feel Safe’ time and sound warp and blur: the time signature is but an illusion, an allusion to time rather than any true marker, and the naturally-occurring rhythms which emerge from the interweaving notes are constantly shifting, at first disorientating but gradually the while weft and warp becomes an aural blanket that softly smothers the senses and envelops the listener.

Nemeček conjures so many layers and with such subtlety it’s often hard to appreciate just how much is happening simultaneously. The soft rolling bass and drifting, cloud-like mid-ranges of ‘Organs’ become subject to crackling interference toward the end of the track, while ‘Incidents I’ is a disorientating oscillation.

The digital release benefits from the inclusion if ‘Incidents II’ which segues into ‘Incidents I’ and is a slow-building beat-backed blast of thunder that swells to epic proportions, and while the mellifluous sonic nebulae are as expansive and kaleidoscopically immersive as they come the dense, deliberate beats an booming detonations of sub-bass provide a sense of structure and form that focuses the attention back in. That isn’t to say the form places Recurrences fully foreground, or that the compositions even hint at linearity: they drift in and drift out again without having an overt direction. And all of this is good.

Recurrences is constructed as an ambient work, and its semi-abstract form and drifting layers of soft-focus vapouresness more than fulfil that criteria: that there’s more besides and beyond doesn’t detract from that ambition, and Recurrences is something of a masterclass in advanced ambient which occupies background, foreground, middleground, and twists the psyche all at once.

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Recurrences

1st October 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Velvet Teeth was originally released as a 200 only limited-edition CD through the October issue of TQ Magazine, which is the kind of publication that gives coverage to the likes of Ceramic Hobs and Drooping Finger – not so much competition for Aural Aggravation, but a channel with a shared goal of giving coverage to the kind of acts most won’t, assuming they’ve even heard of any of the artists. The funny thing about niche music is that it has a fairly hardcore set of devotees, and there’s a kind of disparate, disconnected community that’s less of a scene and more of a rhizome-like underground network. And while a lot of fairly niche stuff may still only have a potential market of around 200, it’s often amazing just how many oddballs there are hiding in the cracks demanding the work of some bands that on the surface seem so obscure that even their mates haven’t heard of them. Chlorine – the musical vehicle of Graeme Hopper – certainly has that wider appeal, and moreover, most certainly deserves wider exposure and the opportunity of a larger audience.

Velvet Teeth is experimental in the most explicit sense, a sequence of fragmentary sonic collages. The longer pieces roam around murky depths with ominous fear chords obscured by laced shrouds of sonic fog. ‘Manlines’, with its down-tuned, sinister vocals and groaning, droning dissonance, and ‘The Scenic Route’ exploit dimetric tonalities and the prominent separation of frequency ranges, with rumbling, almost subliminal low-end providing a base for niggling treble. The six-minute ‘Low Hauxley Tide’ pushes further on the resonant low-end pulsations, a low, tidal throb providing the main body of the piece. It’s kinda mellow, but kinda shiversome, too. There’s a creeping fog of darkness that pervades both the piece, and the work as a whole, which creates a certain sense of separation. It’s simultaneously immersive and engaging, but there’s a feeling that you’re not quite in the same room and there’s a force-field preventing entry.

‘Who Pays for This’ is a spine-tingling mess of scrapes and jangles, muffled, slowed speech that’s just on the cusp of indecipherability, and elsewhere, ‘Bubbewraps’ is woozy, wibbly, vaguely disorientating. The album as a whole is built on a loose, drifting fluidity, with compositions that aren’t so much compositions as sonic coalescences which occur as much by chance as design.

Uncomfortable, awkward, unsettling… these are the positive qualities of the oddity that is Velvet Teeth.

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Chlorine - Velvet

Hallow Ground – 16th November 2018

James Wells

While the majority of the releases on the Hallow Ground imprint which have come my way have been pretty noisy, the Gloryland EP by PLYXY is notable for being extremely mellow indeed. Pressed into heavyweight red vinyl (and available digitally), with three tracks on side one and two on side two, it’s something of a vintage-style EP.

Nothing really happens over its duration, and one might conclude hat while the digital version achieves optimal immersion and absolute ambience, the vinyl version gives the listener reason to move in order to flip the record, meaning they’re tugged from their soporific torpor for a moment. With a digital promo, I find myself drifting… drifting… heavy-lidded and drowsy.

In keeping with the loosely-formed Aural Aggravation project to divide ambient works into background and foreground (and whatever shade in between seems appropriate), Gloryland is for me the apex of ambient: I enjoyed it, but was close to sleep around the mid-point. And this is no criticism: we need mellow, and Gloryland is a totally pleasurable listening experience.

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PLYXY – Gloryland

Panurus Productions – 19th November 2018

The title connotes very little that’s immediately apparent. A mass of zombies in The Walking Dead? The blank faces milling around in Asda on a Saturday afternoon? More than anything, I’m inclined towards abstraction, which is precisely what dominates this unusual assemblage. It’s pithed as ‘an 8 track dreamlike journey through electronics, looped field recordings and sampled textures’. It’s a fair summary, although it fails to convey the subtlety and nuance that define Loser Herds, which explores some highly detailed sonic canvases and probes the corners of those spaces.

“This is a test. 1, 2, 3, 4, Error.” It’s a striking start. The voice is close to the mic, and it’s a dry sound, somehow amateur-sounding… It’s at odds with the soft interweaving chimes that slowly rise up in the mix and gradually form supple rhythms that ebb and flow organically. The tracks segue together, shimmering with delicate, subtle ripples cascading multifaceted sonic tapestries. The higher frequencies shine opalescent refractions of light, spinning radiant atmospheres. Welcome to the world of Chlorine, the musical vehicle of northeastern visual artist and musician, Graeme Hopper. Citing Susumu Yokota or Tim Hecker as reference points, Loser Herds is an immersive, layered collection of compositions – although it’s perhaps more accurate to describe it as a single piece in eight parts.

The album takes a strange and ugly turn halfway through, when following the soft glissandos of ‘A Westerly Wind’ and ‘Buskers Night’, a screed of gnarly electronic grinding more reminiscent of Merzbow or Whitehouse clanks in under the guide of ‘Spotify Are Bunch Of Fucking Criminals Who Need To Be Crushed’. It might not be speaker-shredding torture, but it’s likely to be pretty unpalatable to most, especially those seeking the comfort of semi-ambient sonic drifts, the likes of which occupy the rest of the album’s space.

In combining samples with electronics, acoustic instruments feature quite prominently at times, although not always in the most conventional ways. Bewildering and intersecting time signatures paired with warping notes abound on ‘The Distant Breach’, before the epic finale, ‘Forever is Not Long Enough’ draws together all of the aspects of the album to create an immense sound collage that begins gently, but builds incrementally with burrs of distortion and increasing density. Cracking, fizzing overload, woozy cyclical grooves and grating, churning extraneous noise congeal behind an obfuscating gauze of soft-focus fuzziness. It concludes an immersive experience with greater immersion, rounding of a wonderfully wide-ranging work.

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Loser Herds

Supernatural Cat – 8th November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Eerie strings streak across an ominous low-end throb, transitioning expansive vaporous drones with serrated edges on the album’s first track, ‘Hefy Lamarr’ and it sets the ominous tone for the rest of the album, as piano notes hover in rarefied atmospheres with a slow-decaying sustain carried on a cold, dry echo. It’s minimal, sparse, dislocated, disconnected. There are no sonic hugs on Doppeleben. It’s an album that builds walls, force-fields. Nihilism, isolation, introspection… these are the moods of Doppeleben.

So what do we know about the artist? The Mon is the solo name of a new project by Urlo, best known as the lead vocalist, bass and synth player in heavy trio Ufomammut. Doppelleben is The Mon’s debut album, and, as the press release notes, ‘where Ufomammut create mind-expanding, heavy psychedelic, almost other-dimensional sounds, The Mon by comparison is far more intimate, looking inward, as Urlo explores and examines his inner most thoughts through music.’

And Doppeleben is very much an introspective set, which is far from heavy and as such, it is very much a departure from Urlo’s work with Ufomammut. But heavy is relative, and ‘Relics’ still manages to come on like Ministry on ketamine, with distorted, raw-throated vocals hollering out against a backdrop of plodding percussion and howling feedback. It’s representative, but it isn’t: the atmosphere of Doppeleben recreates the claustrophobic intensity of The Cure’s Pornography, while drawing on the stark discomfort that pervaded the alternative scene circa 1979-1983.

Fear chords ripple, delicate notes drip and drop over slow surges of dark density which rise and swell through interminable sustain. ‘Hate One I Hate’ sounds like Earth circa 1992 covering ‘One Hundred Years’ by The Cure. Devoid of percussion, the glacial synths and thick, crawling guitars coalesce for create a spine-stiffening tension.

With clattering metallic drums battering away in the background, ‘Blut’ grinds hard at a bleak post-punk seam, landing somewhere between Movement era New Order and Downward Spiral era NIN, with hints of Visage’s ‘Fade to Grey’ thrown in for good measure. It’s compellingly intense and makes optimal use of a handful of chords in a descending sequence.

In contrast, ‘Her’ offers a bend of shoegaze haze and Bauhaus-hued art rock as it washes blank curtains of synth and monotone vocals before a cascade of slide guitar swerves its way into the mix. And yet never could it be as far removed from country as the notes bend and glide and slide to fade.

Low, slow, and dark, there’s an oppressive density to Doppeleben which is hard to define and even harder to let go.

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The Mon – Doppeleben

Soundtracking the Void – 5th October 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Collectively and individually, Gavin Miller and Thomas Ragsdale (worriedaboutsatan, Ghosting Season) have produced an impressive volume of work – although perhaps even more impressive than its quantity is the consistency of the quality. They’ve always been something of a yin/yang pairing, and the individual differences are integral to their collaborative works. So, while Ragsdale tends to bring the beats and beefy bass, Miller is the man who contributes wistful soundscapes and delicate atmospherics. The fact they’ve released solo efforts within a few short weeks of one another not only highlights their productivity, but affords the opportunity to compare and contrast the similarities and differences of their musical approaches.

Honley Civic Archives Volume 1 marks not only the first in a prospective series, but something of a departure, being almost entirely beat-free (there’s a distant clattering on ‘Pick Up Sticks’ but it’s almost buried by the sonar bass frequencies), and adopting from the outset a soft, piano-led sound and an elegiac tone.

In contrast to Gavin Miller’s near-simultaneous solo release, Shimmer, Honley Civic Archives Volume 1 is a much more overtly ambient work: the electroacoustic elements are filtered by synthesis, so while Miller’s ambience contains elements of shoegaze right at the fore, Ragsdale takes abstraction as his form, and runs with it. Many of his signature elements are in evidence: layered electronics, strings, and field recordings are all carefully interlaced to forge a sonic cloth as delicate and intricate as lace. However, the vocal samples lifted from film and radio which can be found in abundance on other recordings and in his live set, are as conspicuous by their absence as the beats.

In abstraction lies evocation: with so little overt or explicit signposting, the listener’s mind wanders free through the intangible forms. Without any temporal location in sonic terms, it’s left to the lister to fill in the gaps of space and time. But the titles of the compositions are referential, with several making direct reference to nursery rhymes – ‘Pick Up Sticks’ and ‘Four and Twenty’, for example. They remind us that so many of these rhymes have a darker undercurrent. Elsewhere, ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ lifts its title directly from The Shirelles’ 1960s hit. Sonically, there’s no relation, but again, the sentiment of the title connotes a certain sadness, even anxiety: vintage pop lyrics, too, often cast shades of darkness when you scratch the surface and wipe away the bubblegum delivery. And it’s creeping darkness that pervades the slow, deliberate sonic expanses of the more dolorous passages of this album, of which there are many.

And so Honley Civic Archives Volume 1 provides the conduit for the listener to engage with their own interiority, exploring at leisure and from a distance, the images and scenes conjured by the mind’s eye in response to the sonic provocations. There’s something disquieting and disorientating about Honley Civic Archives Volume 1 – an album you feel first, and hear some time later.

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Thomas Ragsdale - Honley