Posts Tagged ‘Gentle’

5th April 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Ontario-based singer, guitarist, songwriter, and visual artist Clara Engel has been keeping busy: Hatching Under the Stars is their thirtieth release, and follows just over a year on from Where a City Once Drowned – The Bethlehem Tapes Vol II.

Engel’s songwriting style is subtle and understated, but there’s detail in the arrangements, and they imbue each composition with undercurrents that belie the soft, smooth surfaces. Many of the songs on Hatching Under the Stars share a common theme that links in with the title, with oviparous creatures – mostly birds, as represented by ‘Oiseau Rebelle’ and ‘Old Feathered Devil’, but also the occasional reptile (‘Baby Alligator’) – dominating an album riven with wildlife, ranging from ‘Little Blue Fox’(foxes are notorious raiders of nests for eggs) and ‘Any Creature’.

The instrumentation is sparse across the album’s nine lengthy songs (most it between six and eight minutes in duration), placing Clara’s exquisite voice as the focal point, although there’s a delicate and wistful-sounding slide guitar break and the song builds in both volume and depth in the second half.

‘Oiseau Rebelle’ is slow and haunting, the elongated notes undulating approximating an otherworldly birdsong that sends a chill down the spine. Departing from the album’s overarching thematic, the acclaimed early Modernist artist Marc Chagall is the dedicatee of ‘Preserved in Ice’, a sedate, reflective piece built around a cyclical guitar motif augmented by woodwind.

‘Let me out of this cage,’ she pleads in a soft croon on the eight-and-three-quarter minute ‘Old Feathered Devil’. ‘Let me run around the growing lake / until the morning comes / and I’ll be on my way.” It sounds like a sly deception, somehow, and Engel’s lyrical mastery lies in their ability to slide into different personas. Deftly, and by stealth, they ‘become’.

The version of ‘Little Blue Fox’ here is a completely different recording from the ‘Little Blue Fox’ EP: over a minute longer, it’s slower by miles, and more ethereal, subtle harmonic notes peak above the rolling picked strings while distant beat rumbles almost subliminally in the background.

While Engel’s majestic vocal is the most captivating feature on the album, it’s the way they work it around the quietly hypnotic musical motifs that makes Hatching Under the Stars so special, and listening to the album and allowing it to flow through conjures a reconnection with nature. Listening now, locked down and closed in, recalling stumbling over a urban fox on my way to work early one morning less than a month ago, the creatures of the wild feel like another world.. but as Engel reminds us on the final song, ‘The Indifference of Fire’, ‘mystery will carry on without me’… and so does life. And through it all, nature always wins.

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James Wells

And after weeks of torrential rain, temperatures so far below the seasonal average if feel more like a different season, we suddenly find ourselves not experiencing just warmer weather, but day one of a burning heatwave set to last for… two days.

Imbeciles may scoff about so-called ‘global warming’ because they fail to grasp the fact that in some places, like Britain, the melting of the ice caps doesn’t mean we can grow bananas, grapes and coffee beans in our window boxes, and that instead, tropical storms are going to batter us while the coastline shrinks beneath rising sea levels.

So, what do we know? Thanks to the press blurbage, we know that ‘HIN is the new ambient/electronic project of Jerome Alexander, best known as Message To Bears, along with his school friend Justin Lee Radford, also known as The Kids And The Cosmos’. We also know that the ‘Warmer Weather EP’ is HIN’s debut release.

The five songs on offer here are mellow to the max. The beats are so laid back they’re practically soporific, all the tones so soft-focus as to be tantamount to dissipating vapours in a clear blue sky on a hot summer’s day. Yes, this is definitely a hot summer’s day soundtrack. But it’s also completely smoothed out, depersonalised, chilled to the point of total blandness, the Mr Whippy of ice cream. What is there to say? Can I have sprinkles and a flake with that soft vanilla?

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HIN

Kranky – 6th April 2018

It was Alexander Trocchi, often referred to as the ‘Scottish Beat’ with whom the phrase ‘cosmonaut of inner space’ who seemingly has the strongest connection, largely on account of the fact that this was how he often referred to himself. However, it was in fact coined by William Burroughs, who said, “in my writing I am acting as a map maker, an explorer of psychic areas, a cosmonaut of inner space, and I see no point in exploring areas that have already been thoroughly surveyed”.

This is pertinent, as the press release which accompanies the functionally-titled No. 4 – Belgium-based composer Christina Vantzou’s fourth full-length for Kranky – explains how her latest work ‘ventures further into the uniquely elusive and evocative mode of ambient classical minimalism which has become her signature: a fragile synthesis of contemplative drift, heady silences, and muted dissonance. In regards to the new album she speaks of focusing particular attention on the effects of the recordings on the body, and of “directing sound perception into an inner space.”’

More often than not, I will dismiss the contents of any accompanying verbiage in order to engage with the music unswayed by sales pitch or theoretical position. However, there was something about the context of this album which resonated, and – not wholly intentionally, I should stress – informed my listening and analysis. One may assume that ambient music is ambient music. But no: there are those vast, swirling, cinematic ambient works which explore immense spatiality; there are those works which gather and collage sounds specific to a given time or place, or both, and which are concerned in some way with location, be it geographical or temporal; and then there are those inward-looking explorations which filer through the libraries of the mind and memory. This very much sits in the latter category, with Vantzou’s sparse, minimal compositions possessing deeply haunting qualities, with the notes echoing into the deeper recesses of recollection.

The titles ascribed to the eleven compositions which comprise No.4 are all vague yet strangely evocative. ‘Doorway’; ‘Staircases’; ‘Some Limited and Waning Memory’… so non-specific, and precisely for this reason, so resonant. Within the personal lies the universal and between the spaces between the softly echoed piano notes, the subtle, drifting strings, the soft washes of sound that drift like vapour and gradually dissipate into the air.

Tranquillity descends. Under Vantzou’s aural guidance, I find myself reflecting on my own inner space and conjure images and recollections of experiences linked – however tangentially – to those spaces named in the titles. A bulbous bass pulsates on ‘Garden of Forking |Paths’ and I’m transported back to my father’s long, sprawling garden – and because the bass sound is reminiscent of The Cure circa Faith – specifically Carnage Visors – I’m back to when I discovered this music, age fourteen or fifteen. I visualise dappled orchard sunlight and smell grass clipping. This will mean nothing to you, but by allowing myself to drift inside, I’m feeling that interiority that Vantzou’s work intimates.

In times past, I may have felt embarrassment as taking such a tangential approach to a review. But music – and the response it elicits – is not scientific. To analyse this objectively would be futile, and worse still to strip the soul from its very heart. No.4 isn’t an album to listen to, so much as to feel.

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Christina Vantzou – No.4