Posts Tagged ‘Folk’

Oh yes…. Known first and foremost as the lynchpin of instrumental band Earth, Dylan Carlson has become one of alternative music’s most ambitious pathfinders. It seems beyond appropriate, then, that Carlson’s new solo endeavour is titled Conquistador. The five-track record channels the indulgent drone of Earth while traversing uncharted sonic terrain. Listen to the album’s first single, ‘Scorpions In Their Mouths’.

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Dylan Carlson by Holly Carlson

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Gizeh Records – 2nd March 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Tomorrow We Sail are a classic example of the kind of band who exist outside of their geography. Based in Leeds, the six-piece aren’t generally renowned as part of the local scene or prominent gig-wise, but have a reach that exists in the ether of the virtual world and into mainland Europe. Four years on from their debut, the collective have evolved their brand of folk-infused string-soaked post-rock into something even more unique.

Subdued, strolling beats and rolling piano provide the rhythmic backdrop to the nagging strings and aching vocals on the opening song, the six-minute ‘Side By Side’. It breaks into a sustained crescendo after just a couple of minutes, but it’s more a case of upping the volume and the intensity than hitting the soaring peaks which characterise so much ‘classic’ post-rock. And perhaps this is the key to the differentials which separate Tomorrow We Sail from their peers, and indeed, any other act. The Shadows is a careful and poised album which exploits the dynamic tropes of post-rock but in a contained fashion. There’s certainly nothing as expansive or sprawling as 2015’s ‘Saturn’, with its twenty-minute duration, or even the single ‘Rosa’ from the first album with its thirteen-minute running time. The Shadows is altogether more concise and all the more intense because of it. Moreover, the context feels different, the slant altered somewhat.

In some respects, the context is that this doesn’t feel like a ‘Leeds’ album. Even when the city was post-rock central a decade or so back, with iLiKETRAiNS (as they were then styled), Vessels and adopted Leeds friends Her Name is Calla all over everywhere, there was nothing this folksy or parameter-pushing as The Shadows, an album which expands the limits of post-rock. ‘The Ghost of John Maynard Keynes’ really pitches the folk aspect of the album to the fore, with a chorus of voices giving the almost shanty-like folk tune a lilting aspect.

There is unspeakable, throat-tightening beauty in the piano-led minimalism of ‘To Sleep’ which calls to mind the very best work of the now-defunct Glissando, and at the same time harks back to their debut.

The Shadows is a well-balanced collection: understated, delicate, melodic, it exists, as the title alludes, in the spaces between light and dark, exploring with deftness and sensitivity the infinite shades between.

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Living Music Duplication – 17th November 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Thor Harris continues to keep himself more than vaguely occupied in the post-Swans era, and also continues to demonstrate just what a versatile percussionist he is. The collective, centred around Harris, who not only contributes diverse and eclectic percussion, but also wind instruments including some of his own devising. features at its core, Peggy Ghorbani on marimba, and Sarah ‘Goat’ Gautier on marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, organ, voice, mellotron and piano.

Anyone on the market for Swans-style brutal percussive bludgeoning should leave now. Thor and Friends are pitched as an ‘avant-chamber ensemble’, drawing on ‘the classic Minimalist composers including Terry Riley and Steve Reich, but also amalgamate such diverse influences as Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, Moondog and The Necks around a polyrhythmic core of mallet-struck instruments, primarily marimba, xylophone and vibraphone’.

There’s a lighthearted, skipping melodic heart beating beneath the eddying synths and weirdy whistles and subtle strings which are all interwoven into one another on the hypnotic and ever-shifting ’90 Metres’. Ominous and eerie tones and echo-heavy chimes dominate both ‘Creepy Carpets’ and ‘Dead Man’s Hand’, while elsewhere, ‘Mouse Mouse’ explores a more playful side, manifesting as a sing-sing tune that has an almost nursery rhyme / lullaby feel to it.

In the fucked-up, brutal world in which we find ourselves, where it’s everyone for themselves while each and every citizen is shafted by governments and multinationals and consumerism, kindness does feel subversive. And in their own quiet way, Thor and Friends offer their own subversive resistance. It’s a gentle, mellifluous collection of compositions which are neither overtly contemporary nor steeped in traditionalism. It’s this sense that the music exists out of any place in time, and that it doesn’t obviously connote any concrete physical space that makes it so very appealing.

Thor and Friends

Front & Follow – F&F046 – 1st September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Having followed Mark Kluzek’s Doomed Bird of Providence for some time now, I was keen to hear the latest instalment. Over the last six years, he and his collaborators have produced a series of concept albums centred around Australian history, all using the medium of dark folk with heavy echoes of Nick Cave. Burrowed into the Soft Sky is very much an album devised as being suited to a vinyl release, and is perhaps the most challenging Doomed Bird release yet, consisting as it does of just two tracks each with a duration of some twenty minutes. While still pursuing what the bio refers to as ‘Kluzek’s obsessive and singular foray into early colonial history’, Burrowed into the Soft Sky discards the vocal element, meaning the narrative, such as it is, is purely musical.

To understand the objective and the context of the album and the individual tracks, it’s beneficial to quote liberally from the accompanying press release.

‘The underlying themes for each track are contrasting yet tie together via their historical context; a period where indigenous Australian belief systems and day-to-day lives were irrevocably assaulted. The song Burrowed into the Soft Sky is based on a passage from Patrick White’s novel Voss. The book is very loosely based on the final (and fatal) journey through the northern regions of Australia by German explorer Ludwig Leichardt. Kluzek took a passage from the book where a comet passes over and Voss, his team and a tribe of Australian Aboriginals engage with and interpret the experience until it is ‘burrowed into the soft sky’.’

How this manifests is in a piece which exits as a sequence of gradually-shifting transitions, sparse and haunting woodwind drifting across an urgent acoustic thrum, while percussion builds, and then draws back again. Around the mid-point it bursts into a sustained crescendo, with sweeping strings cascading over an insistent, energetic beat, but for the most part, it’s less about overt drama and more about the brooding. The closing segment is a dolorous fanfare, with nostalgia-evoking horns sounding out over a slow march that finally tapers to a twinkling glockenspiel that does evoke something approximating a soft sky.

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The press release provides the following explication for the track which occupies side B: ‘The Blood Dimmed Tide is Loosed takes a significantly darker turn shining a light on a pattern of atrocity that took place in the north east of Australia at a time where a dynamic of back and forth, invariably initiated by colonists, took place and culminating in a “dispersal” of a tribe, “by shooting them down – men, women and children, the object being to destroy as many as possible.” This is based on accounts of such events in the book Exclusion, exploitation and extermination: race relations in colonial Queensland (Raymond Evans, Kay Saunders, Kathryn Cronin). Attacks of this nature on tribes were commonplace.’

As indicated, the track immediately plunged into darker territory, uncomfortable, tense tones forging a claustrophobic atmosphere. Strings scrape like nails down a blackboard over ominous fear chords before a militaristic imperial march emerges from a tempest of percussion and screeding feedback. This in turn coalesces into a repetitious throb, imposing and intense, which bludgeons the listener’s senses as cymbals crash violently, and by the mid-point it’s collapsed into a wash of hums and drones, interrupted by clattering flickers and subterranean moans and skitters. The closing section again builds an oppressive mood, the thudding percussion partially submerged by a swell of ever-thickening noise.

A priori knowledge of the context is by no means essential to the appreciation of Burrowed into the Soft Sky. It does of course benefit the listener to have a sense of placement, but given that the correspondence between the tracks and their inspiration / meaning is far from obvious in any case, it’s an album which can readily be heard – if not necessarily ‘enjoyed’ – on its own merits. As a work which wanders through a number of instrumental musical territories, Burrowed into the Soft Sky is interesting and rewarding.

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Symbol Of Domination – 30th January 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The album’s title translates as ‘through difficulties to honours’, and this collection of Iberian folk songs, popular in the late 19th and the early 20th century conveys nothing if not the supremacy of strength of character, and a sense of journey, through adversity to triumph in a way which speaks of the resilience of the human spirit, and the human soul.

The album’s accompanying blurb sets the scene: ‘A travel through the rural Spain watered by our ancestors’ sweat and blood, an approach to the magical Spain with its lights and its shadows, and a gaze in to the abyss of the black and tenebrous Spain with the inner cruelty and brutality of human beings. Pieces of memory, tradition, secrets and myths transmitted over the years from generation to generation, around bonfires, while long working days under the sun or during celebrations. Small samples of popular wisdom which, unlike others already entered into the mists of time and have been rescued from our elder memory before their demise.’

Folk music, by its nature, tends to be narrative, but also dramatic and allegorical. While the lyrical content is, admittedly, entirely lost to me, the sentiments conveyed by these ambitious reshapings of traditional compositions remain intact, and, using contemporary rock instrumentation Aegri Somnia succeed in rendering them powerful and moving in an alternative context.

To unravel the workings of this project, which was pieced together over the course of some five years, some biographical detail may be useful: formed by Cristina R. Galván “Lady Carrot” from the Castilian folk music scene and Nightmarer from the avant-garde metal projects As Light Dies and Garth Arum. Aegri Somnia is a folk / dark wave duo from Madrid, Spain.

If it sounds like a curious hybrid, Ad Augusta Per Angusta is proof that it’s one that can work well. It’s loud, dark, metallic. It’s contemporary, but also timeless.

‘Seran’ launches the album with an immense swell of theatricality, huge swathes of post-metal guitar propelled by a spiky drum machine bringing force and layers of drama to the gothic symphony.

‘Señor Platero’ is a beautiful, graceful folk song – played in a full-throttle metal style. The guitars burn, slabs of molten lava over which Galván’s operatic vocal soars s if swooping from the heavens to grace this interzone between the earthly and the ethereal. The loping drums and serpentine vocal of ‘La Niña de la Arena’ is high-tempo and high-power, but features some neatly executed techno-industrial percussion breakdowns. Entirely incongruous with the origins of the material, such features serve to highlight the versatility and absolutely timeless nature of traditional folk music.

Elsewhere, on ‘Charro del Labrador’, the violent, top-end-orientated drum track duels with a chorus-heavy picked guitar line to create a sound that will resonate with anyone who’s heard – and enjoyed – a bootleg containing demos by The Sisters of Mercy from circa 1984. I’m probably writing for myself alone at this point, but this is by no means an album exclusively of interest to old goths. Far from it.

The album’s sound is dominated by big, grainy, up-front guitars with a thick, metallic edge: sometimes almost overbearingly so. That’s by no means a criticism per se: the production values are unusual, in that the guitar sound is as ‘unfiltered’ as it is up-front, a shade messy, and prone to burying everything else in the mix, including the vocals. All of this adds to the potency of Ad Augusta Per Angusta, an album which yields rewards through perseverance. Exactly as the title foretells.

 

Aegri Somnia

Makkum Records – MR17 / Platenbakkerij Pb 006 – 17th November 2016

James Wells

In these times of accelerated media and an exponential growth in the volume of mew works being cast out into the world, it’s often easy for lesser-known items from the past to be lost to history, to be buried and forgotten. And yet the archive is an eternally rich source of gens which so deserve rediscovery. This album – released simultaneously on 10”vinyl, CD and download – is very much a labour of love. The origins of its existence lie in the past: Komitas Vardapet penned a cycle of pieces for piano – Six Dances – based on Armenian dances, in 1906.

Makkum Records’ Arnold de Boer writes how, on hearing Keiko Shichijo perform Vardapet’s compositions, he fell in love with the music, and how Internet searches revealed other performances of Six Dances but none which touched Keiko’s. and so he made it his mission to capture Keiko playing the pieces, and how it came to pass that Keiko played them on a Steinweg Nachf piano, built in 1880, in the Geelvinck Hinlopen Huis in Amsterdam, a 16th Century house along the city’s canals in December 2014.

In using such a vintage instrument, the recordings are imbued with a deeply ingrained and palpable sense of the origins of the work. ‘Unabi’ sounds like a child learning ‘London Bridge’: the notes are not so much tentative as prone to wandering, but there’s something compelling about the seemingly innocent disjointedness which sometimes creps into the refrain.

The looping motifs of ‘Shushiki’ are delicately charming, and draw the listener’s attention with their easy grace. The heavy timbre of the low notes at the beginning of ‘Het u Araj’ is compelling, and Kieko captures the spirit of the composter’s direction to perform the final piece ‘Shoror’ .The performances are wobbly, wonky, yet delicate and sincere, and this is an integral part of their mystical, dust-coated appeal.

 

Komitas Vardapet - Six Dances