Posts Tagged ‘Concept’

Bubblewrap Collective – 15th November 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s 2019, but Right Hand Left Hand’s third album leaps us back to 2004. But let’s be clear: this is not a criticism. ‘Zone Rouge’ follows on from their self-titled, Welsh Music Prize-nominated second album, and, according to the press release, ‘tells the story of humanity’s contempt for the earth beneath us, the air above us and the people around us.’ The titles of the album’s 11 tracks each refer to ‘a location on Earth where something bad has happened: An act of corruption against the planet, an act of evil against fellow humans and occasionally both.’ Obviously, there’s scope for this to have been an album of infinite duration with a new track added every three seconds for all eternity, but there have to be limits.

Instead, what we have is a concise and urgent post-rock statement on the state of the planet. Being largely instrumental, the sentiment and intention isn’t immediately apparent or openly conveyed without some kind of preface, ‘Zone Rouge’ doesn’t scream ‘environmental crisis reaction!’ or ‘mass killing’ or ‘war’. A lot of this is pretty smooth, expansive, cinematic, with well-placed but ultimately controlled crescendos. The production is sensitive to the mood and the from, but ultimately, it’s clean, dynamic, textured.

There are departures: ‘Prora’ is a kind of choppy, post-punk funk effort with vocals, and it feels rather incongruous in the scheme of the hefty back-and-forth riffery and heavy atmospherics that pervade. ‘Chacabuco’, featuring Taliesyn Kallstrom of Cardiff’s ESTRONS feels particularly anomalous, being some kind of trippy indie / alt metal hybrid. For what it’s worth, it’s a belting tune and single-worthy in its own right, but stands out like a sore thumb in the context of the album.

At times, it feels like the Right Hand Left Hand doesn’t know exactly what the Right Hand Left Hand is doing, but for the most part, Zone Rouge is a solid post-rock album, pushing into an array of stylistic territories with rare aplomb.

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Right Hand Left Hand

20th May 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

5 guitars follows very quickly the eponymous debut by n, which is Nathan Lyons (concept, guitars) and Neil Physick (software, field recording, processing, arrangements, production, artwork). Its predecessor was the result of musical free association inspired by ‘random’ words: 5 Guitars is less determined by creative process and emerges from more of a conceptual space, in that, according to the accompanying text, it ‘explores the idea of the instruments having their own spirits, benign or malignant, and of a guitar maturing over time then slowly completing its natural life, remembering the past in distant tones’.

This is a work which is very much geared towards the evocative, the listener finding their own place within abstract works and finding the meaning. Only, the listener doesn’t so much find the meaning as project it from their own experience. Does the universal lie in the personal? Most definitely, although 5 guitars isn’t an album that has any grounding in the personal, as much as a space between.

The spirits of the different guitars float into the air, the concept not so much lost in translation as dissolving into vague sonic nebulousness.

Warm, distant drones define the first piece, ‘Red Kay’, which hovers and hums in a mid-range swell which ebbs and flows in a calm, natural way. It bleeds into ‘Effector’, which almost disappears at times, dissolving into the most vaporous, background of ambient.

The narrative and concept isn’t overtly discernible from the music itself: the tracks don’t demark a clear linear progression from mellow tones to decay.

Picked notes are discernible on ‘Tiesco’, but they’re carried in trembling washes that approximate chords but are much vaguer, less defined…. And definition dissipates to nothing amidst the undulating drones which surge beneath the tempered ripples of notes that drift gently over the indistinct, hazy backdrop.

5 guitars is vague, undefined, indirect and unfocused from a listening perspective. And that’s all fine. The concept may not be clear, but has no bearing on the listening experience, and certainly has no impact on the reception side of the project, which is a pleasurable wash of soft tones that more than fulfils its purpose in terms of background.

https://nsound.bandcamp.com/album/5-guitars

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n - 5 guitars

Christopher Nosnibor

Paul K first came to my attention with the release of Glitch Code’s debut album, Gifted_Damaged, a real standout release for 2016 in the sphere of dark electronic pop. Omertà saw Paul venture out as a solo artist last year, and revealed a very different musical aspect: instrumental, dramatic, and in places a bit proggy, it found him explore some expansive sonic territories with impressive results.

The Fermi Paradox sees Kirkpatrick expand on this – immensely. And expand is the word: this is expansive both conceptually and sonically, and he explained that ‘the album is about the theme of isolation, exploring our place in the universe and questions “are we alone?” to the perspective of social isolation through social media… It looks at the space race and the billions spent on wondering if we are alone in the universe vs. the juxtaposition of so many lonely people on our own planet.’

As such, The Fermi Paradox ranges from the macro to the micro, casting an eye to the farthest reaches to the most inner of anxieties. So while in terms of what it delivers, The Fermi Paradox isn’t a million miles from its predecessor, in terms of intent and focus, it’s a very different beast from Omertà.

Such isolation is something that’s immensely relatable: I’ve found myself in discussions with a surprising number of people, many with anxiety issues, conflicted over social media. It’s a different kind of paradox from the question of alien lifeforms the title refers to, but nevertheless, it’s a paradox. The dependence on the endless stream of posts and comments is countered by the despondency the belief that your own life is no match for others’, the sense that other people breeze through life, happy and carefree while your own life is fucked. Any sense of connection feels flimsy, secondary to a sense of disconnection and inadequacy. And what happens when, just for five r ten minutes, your phone goes silent: no texts, no notifications? The silence you’ve been craving is a howling void of emptiness.

It’s with ponderous piano and soothing strings that ‘Anomaly’ opens the album, and it’s mellow but twistedly poignant. It’s clear that Kirkpatrick knows how to tug at the emotions without words. The motif that runs through ‘Sagan’ makes me think of ‘Forever Autumn’ from ‘The War of the Worlds’ – surely one of the most heartbreaking songs ever committed to tape. Or maybe I’m just a sap. Nevertheless, regardless of whether this is about the music itself or my response to it based on, its drift into lilting piano and achingly sad strings is simply beautiful.

It’s on ‘Ecce Homo’ that Paul reaches into expansive territory, a cinematic, layered progressive-style piece with soaring chorals and supple rhythms, it drives, but also meanders. At times, as on the opening of ‘Exegesis’, Kirkpatrick slides into near-ambient territory, but for the most part, it’s about sedate, spacious soundscapes, defined by rolling, soft-edged bass. As the album progresses, the song titles suggest a shift from the more inward-looking to gazing out into the cosmos.

Are we alone? Always. Intensely. But with The Fermi Paradox, Paul K has produced a magnificently-crafted soundtrack to play into the void.

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Hyperdelia – HEX002

Christopher Nosnibor

It seems to be something almost unique to the world of experimental and avant-garde music, that the titles are directly descriptive, functional, literal. Imagine if the practise was adopted in the genres of rock or indie. How would releases like Angsty shit ripping off the Foo Fighters, Adolescents who are pissed off because we can’t get laid and Ten three-minute derivative jangly guitar-based songs about life in college be received? Actually, they’d probably still sell infinitely more units than releases like this, but the point of differentiation is that this is art, and commercial considerations really are not leading factors in determining the work or its release into the public domain.

We learn that Womb is ‘a musical narration for abstracted ears and bodies – engulfing a listener simultaneously in subaquatic sonic environments, distant dreams of childhoods, memories and voices from the unknown: where time and space fold into each other.

The initial material of field-recordings of nature and body sounds, interviews and compositions has been re-recorded and re-amped underwater in a swimming pool – and has been re-arranged (partly by way of the impulse responses of the pool) now for stereo home listening.’ And so we’re very deeply into literal territory here.

It’s watery and muffled, womb-like every second of the way. ‘Cocoon’ sounds like someone typing – quite slowly, unsteadily – while slow ambient music with whale song and slow, arrhythmic beats pulse, all heard with cotton wool in one’s ears. ‘The Garden’ is a long, slow ebb and flow of elongated dronage, spiralling contrails of vapour and mist, an eddying vortex of mid-range that twists ethereal, occasionally rent with bulbous belches of sound which echo out beyond the reaches of perception.

The beats are glitches, pulses, crackles and thudding heartbeats, incongruously urgent and pacey and at odds with the sedate sonic swirls that hover and hang, Samples, muffled and heavily filtered, are abstracted amidst twittering birdsong, wide-sweeping drones, ominous fear tones and unsettling extranea.

The focus is beyond soft: it’s submerged, out of reach. Everything about Womb is warm, supple. There is a sense of depth – immense depth that extends beyond sound to the absolute core of being. A slow immersion that works its way inside, Womb is both meditative and introspective, and while it’s very much conceptual, it succeeds independently as a soundwork.

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Kajasa Lindgren – Womb

Cat Werk Imprint – CW11 – 8th February 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The inspiration for Olivia Louvel’s latest album (fantastically presented, like its predecessor, in a DVD size digipak) casts an arc way back into history. Louvel, it transpires, was fascinated by the lives of Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I – two queens who existed simultaneously on the same island, during the 16th Century – a period dominated by men. Two queens who, powerful and celebrated in their own lifetimes as well as posthumously, would never meet. And so, on Data Regina, Olivia Louvel sets herself the challenge of addressing their simultaneous yet entirely separate, disparate narratives of these two bitter rivals, and presenting distinct voices as she charts their adversarial relationship.

The twenty years during which the two queens reigned simultaneously were fraught, tempestuous ones, punctuated by battles on the Anglo-Scottish borders, disputes and reconciliations, and ultimately saw Mary Tudor sentenced to death and executed.

Effectively two works intertwined – ‘The Antechamber; and ‘Battles’, with the latter comprising a sequence of relatively short instrumental pieces positioned between the longer ‘songs’ – Data Regina is no polite period drama in musical form. It most certainly doesn’t correspond with the popular Elizabeth-slanted syllabus readings of the period, or correspond with the backdrop generally presented on degree-level modules taught on ‘Elizabethan’ and ‘Renaissance’ Literature (the Renaissance was late to reach Britain in relation to the rest of Europe). Herein lies an immense problem, of course: how can we learn from history when so much of the past is unknown, shrouded in layer of mystery and obfuscation as the result of political (self)interest? Would the present be as fucked as it is if we all had a better knowledge and understanding of history? Maybe, maybe not. The age of Elizabeth I, of Shakespeare, of – my preferred man of letters, Christopher Marlowe – is a long way in the past.

Data Regina an album of dark, haunting electronica, which stands in a league of its own: it has no obvious reference points in music, history or elsewhere. It’s a bold project, for sure, and Louvel admirably achieved her ambitions with a work which conveys its intent without becoming overly mired in explication and cumbersome narrative segments which disrupt the flow.

Louvel sets the tone – both musically and in terms of narrative – with the dark swell of ‘Battlefield’. Vaporous in its atmospherics, the track combines echoey beats which clatter and rattle around between resonant, woozy basslines and sparse, drifting notes. ‘My Crown’ weaves a haunting spell, slow pulsating electronics and mournful strings first float and then rise to a tense climax. At times, juddering electronics and stuttering, glitchy rhythms spasm and render scenes of claustrophobic intensity, Louvel’s detached, icy vocals eerily menacing. The pieces – they don’t follow clear or conventional song structures – are intense sonic explorations of character and voice.

‘Langside, 1568’, is a dark, dolorous interlude, the fractured vocalisations preface the marching drums which dominate the barren landscapes of ‘Deploy’ and ‘Battle’. It’s uncomfortable, queasy listening, the elegance and grace of the sparse compositions and Louvel’s voice countered by a discomforting undercurrent that runs throughout. It’s by no means an easy, accessible work: in fact, Data Regina is dark and turbulent and often uncomfortable, but it is deeply compelling.

 

Olivia Louvel - Data Regina