Posts Tagged ‘Guitar’

Gizeh Records – 31st August 2018

The Great Lake Swallows is a collaboration between Canadian cellist Julia Kent and Belgian guitarist/tape machine manipulator Jean D.L. The former came to my attention some time ago, and her nuanced style of playing had yielded some compelling works. Jean DL, however is an unknown quantity to me, and I came to approach the release without any real preconceptions. I leave it with none either. It’s ambient and droney, but offers infinite layers. The Great Lake Swallows doesn’t really fit anywhere in terms of genre, and this is very much a positive. Sometimes, music simply is.

The Great Lake Swallows is a graceful and co-ordinated suite in four parts, and finds the duo creating sonic interplay that displays a certain musical connection, even telepathy. Collaborations of this type, which find musicians with such different approaches (and modes of instrumentation) requires a certain intuition to achieve coherence.

Its brevity contrasts with its scale and scope. The four tracks have a total running time of a shade over 25 minutes, but the aching cello bends and melts over hushed, brooding atmospherics to create compositions of great atmospheric depth and imbued with great significance. At times manifesting as dark portent, others seeping sadness without words to describe it, the layers build and pull at the senses almost subliminally.

The press release informs us the album was recorded in Charleroi, Belgium in 2015 during a video installation with Sandrine Verstraete, and that the music was created using field recordings, processed guitar and cello and serves as a soundtrack to the video of the same name. And the soundtrack qualities of the compositions are very much evident: the parts bleed together to forge a single, continuous piece, which slowly and subtly transition between place and mood.

On ‘Part 3’, a low throb slowly oscillates beneath the ebb and flow of strings that weft and warp, before ‘Part Four’ forges an expansive vista of surge and swell, as ghostly voices echo in the shadowy background. The effect is haunting, but also beautiful and as a whole, the work is deeply evocative. The Great Lake Swallows doesn’t just occupy space, but creates it.

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Humpty Dumpty Records – 11th May 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s quite the introduction: ‘Jérôme Deuson is an unstable musician’ is the opening sentence of the press release that accompanies his seventh album as aMute. But how many musicians are stable? And what even is stability? Is anyone entirely stable? Is it even a desirable state? So often, creativity emerges from a state of inner turmoil, or tempestuous emotional flux. There are, of course, infinite shades: this is just to peel back some of the layers of the initial and likely awkward response to the statement.

Some Rest is not the millpond calm the title may imply: it’s only some rest, not total rest, and in truth, the rest here is minimal, on an album that’s clearly the work of a restless soul.

The album’s structure and sequence is unusual, opening with the longest composition by far: the title track is almost eighteen minutes long, and transitions from a delicate swirl of strings through a vast, shoegazey post-rock vista to an expansive, driving rock workout. While there are strains of feedback amidst the humming melodic drifts and samples which echo, almost buried in the mix, and the whole thing builds to a sustained crescendo, it’s still a more sedate experience than its predecessor, the tempestuous 2016 album Bending Time in Waves.

Side two begins with the gloopy, bubbling ambience of ‘I’ve Seen it All’ before sliding into eerie dissonance on ‘Dead Cold’, which exploits ringing chimes which give way to softer, picked guitar and a more tranquil, melodic space, disturbed only be the vocal, processed and burred with distortion. It’s sort of melancholic, sort of trippy, sort of dislocated, sort of abstract, sort of shoegazey in a trilling organ swamped in echo sort of way. It’s all amplified into a fizzing digital funnel on ‘The Obsedian’, which features Christian Bailleau, emerging as a grand, slow-moving and mournful piece reminiscent in some respects of Dylan Carlson’s more recent work, exploring as it does the pitch, tone, and timbre of the guitar in near-granular detail. Closer ‘Maria’, with hints of early Pink Floyd, is similarly drifty, dreamy, trippy, echoey-warped, and it tapers away into vaporous clouds.

Because of its ever-shifting nature, and its sonic range, Some Rest provides only the briefest of respites for the listener to relax, creating as it does an atmosphere of flux and continual movement.

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aMute

Room40 – RM481 – 13th July 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Norman Westberg’s first full-length album since the termination of SWANS in its most recent configuration marks something of a departure, both in terms of sound and approach. Having previously recorded his solo works by what he calls his ‘one take; it is what it is’ method, After Vacation is a project of evolution, and also of collaboration, with Lawrence English acting as producer, weaving together the parts to create rich layers. The press release refers to Westberg’s ‘web of outboard processes, with delays, reverbs, and other treatments all transforming the sound of the instrument’s output. And yet After Vacation feels like so much more than this, as the guitar itself fades into the distance beneath the effects. The results are evocative, with careful details overlaid onto the broad washes of sound which define the compositional forms.

The album begins in expansive and haunting style, with what sounds like brooding, atmospheric orchestral strings and tense piano, but the shadowy shade of ‘Soothe the String’, like all of the album’s six pieces, features nothing but guitar. And with it Westberg creates lustrous layers of sound, drifting sonic mists and hazy hues. ‘Sliding Sledding’ forms an immensely deep, slow-turning swirl that moves like vapour, through which single notes ripple as they echo and fade.

The individual compositions are formed through subtle shifts and delicate transitions, and offer distinct and separate moods. However, they melt into one another, to create a vast vista of soft-edged ambience.

The title track which draws the curtain on the set marks a departure from the rest of the album, as Westberg picks at his guitar in an almost folksy fashion, and it sounds like a conventional guitar, although it’s accompanied by an organ-like drone that hovers in a long, unchanging note, which gradually rises to the fore as the plucked notes fade into the distance.

There’s a certain comfort in this conclusion, bringing the listener as it does to more familiar ‘guitar’ territory while still emblematising the experimental, treatment-orientated approach to reconfiguring the sound of the instrument.

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Norman Westberg - After Vacation

Hubro – HUBROCD2578 – 7th October 2016

Those who have heard Kim Myhr’s 2014 album All Your Limbs Singing (or his collaboration with Jenny Hval and the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra) will find Bloom a rather different proposition. In place of 12-string explorations which sit between American folk and 60s avant-garde, electric guitar and electronics fuse to create something quite intriguing. There are lengthy passages which sound like formless noodling, a single chord strummed and subject to tonal variations, running through permutations of effects on a pedal board to achieve different equalisation, gain, overdrive. But while the five tracks on Bloom are clearly of an experimental and seemingly improvisational bent, there are definite structures and a sense of composition, with washes of electronic sound and layers building over one another.

‘O Horizon’ turns the focus toward rhythm, while also building ambience through long, hovering guitar sustain. The one thing Myhr does not do frequently is play the guitar conventionally: he does, however, demonstrate just how massively versatile the guitar is as an instrument. Where he does strum, as he does with a clean tone on ‘Swales Fell’, uses a zither to achieves a sound somewhere between a harp and a sitar, the notes tumbling and fluttering in gentle cascades. The scratchy tonalities and rich textures which emerge through the shimmering summery shades of ‘Milk Run Sky’ create a balance and contrast. It’s on this final track that Myhr plays most conventionally, but still filtered through a psychedelic, kaleidoscopic prism.

Bloom is a rare beast, in that it’s an album which is very much about technique, and about the effects and sounds that exploratory techniques can create. But at no point does Myhr become excessively self-focused or lose the listener.

 

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Room40 – RM474

Christopher Nosnibor

Sometimes, this reviewing business is personal. How can it not be? Surely no-one can get into music reviewing without being a mad rabid fan of music above all else. Sure, some may do it for the ligs, but in a non-paying market, first and foremost, it has to be for the love. Yes, I speak personally here. I’m certainly not in it for the money.

I’ve been a fan of Swans since I was in my teens in the early 90s, after being passed a recording of Children of God. It’s an album which will remain with me forever, for so many reasons, not least of all the juxtaposition of thunderous intensity and elegant beauty. I was quick to seek out – and spend my money on – their back catalogue, with Cop proving to be nothing short of pivotal in my musical education.

But as much as I developed a bewildered admiration for Michael Gira both as a lyricist and an artist in the broader sense, I also came, fairly quickly, to appreciate the guitar playing of Norman Westberg. His playing was stark, minimalist, brutal, and seeing him perform live in the current incarnation of the band only cemented my respect. I can’t think of a guitarist less concerned with heroics, who better appreciates the idiom that less is more. He’s nonchalant, cool, peeling off shuddering chords at infinite decibels and grinding out the same riff for what feels like an eternity requires discipline and appreciation of the bigger picture, but more than anything, it has impact.

MRI is not about grinding repetitive chord sequences and squalls of feedback, and as such, reveals another side of Westberg’s guitar playing. If anything, listening to MRI has only furthered my appreciation. Building droning ambience from oscillating feedback and eternally sustaining notes which hum and simmer, MRI is subtle, soft and understated.

In fact, MRI is very much a response and intentional counterpoint to the punishingly high-volume output he’s spent much of his career producing. As the press release explains, MRI is the result of Westberg’s encounters with the heavy medical scanning technology following his recognising diminished hearing. “I started to notice a loss of hearing in my right ear,” Westberg explains, “and decided that it was high time that I had it checked out by a professional. The audiologist confirmed the uneven hearing loss and recommended an MRI. The purpose of the MRI was to make sure that there was not something other than my own aural misadventures causing the uneven loss.” Described in the press blurb as ‘a coda to this experience’, and as ‘a collection of reductive rolling guitar pieces that are embedded strongly in the American Minimalism tradition’, MRI was recorded in 2012, and appears here remastered, post-produced and augmented by a brand new piece, ‘Lost Mine’, recorded in 2015 as an echo of the processes that led to the original recordings.

MRI doesn’t sound like a guitar album, but in many ways, that’s one of its great strengths. It’s testament to Norman Westberg’s unconventional approach to playing the instrument, and reasserts his significance. But, perhaps most importantly, it’s a wonderful and extremely soothing sonic experience.

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Norman Westberg – MRI at Room 40

Humpty Dumpty Records – HMPTY030 – 5th February 2016

James Wells

Sometimes, there is simply no substitute for volume. Marking something of a change of direction from his previous Amute albums, Jérome Deuson has embraced something that could be considered more of a ‘rock’ aesthetic in cranking everything up to 11. But this isn’t a question of indulgence. It’s about the transformative nature of volume. It’s the volume of the sounds which determine the way the notes and tones interact on the pieces on Bending Time in Waves. The dominant instrument is guitar, bathed in reverb and pushed to the max to forge vast cathedrals of sound. You might loosely call it shoegaze, or slacker indie, or simply ‘alternative’, as we did back in the 90s. And there’s very much a 90s feel to Bending Time in Waves, an album capable of the same kind of temporal discoordination as induced by My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless.

Beneath the tumults of guitar, there are some pounding drums, but like everything else, they’re partially obscured, semi-submerged amidst a tidal wave of treble, a screed of overloading sound that fizzes and crackles and fuzzes. Winsome slacker introspections played delicately and ponderously are transformed by the ear-splitting volume, crackles, and pops of cracking transistors and hisses of feedback. Soft swathes of soaring strings cascade in and out again on tsunamis of reverb-soaked guitar. Quiet moments of reflection, hushed and sincere swell outwards exponentially, threatening to obliterate Deuson’s fragile psyche.

It’s disorientating, bewildering, overwhelming. But there are some nice songs to be discovered, underneath it all.

Amute

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