Posts Tagged ‘instrumental’

Pelagic Records – 25th January 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

I’m something of a latecomer to the Mono party, although given their credentials, I can’t fathom for the life of me why I haven’t explored a single one of the nine albums they’ve released over the last twenty years. Too much music, too little time, is probably the only real reason. And, witnessing them live by way of an introduction, my initial impression was only middling: on the night, I found more in Jo Quail’s surging waves of cello and the gritty abrasion of A Storm of Light. But context matters, and I had gone for the other two acts, and so now, with a large gin and a candle for light, I’m ready to approach their latest, the Steve Albini-recorded Nowhere Now Here with fresh ears.

‘After You Comes the Flood’ lifts the curtain on a proggy post-rock crescendo that offers up every shade of grand. It’s a crescendo that doesn’t only sustain, but swell to even more monumental proportions, with layer upon layer of sound and richer, dirtier distortion filling the background.

Quite a deal was made when Mono featured vocals for the first time not so long ago, and the performance of songs with singing seemed to be a major topic of conversation when I caught them in Leeds last year. They’re used sparingly here, and on the vaporous, shoegaze drift of ‘Breathe’, they serve more as another instrument than a focal point.

The string-soaked epic that is the title track again follows what is by now a well-established post-rock formula of long, gradual builds and rapid drops that pull back from the precipice, but it’s so magnificently executed that it would be churlish to criticise. And herein lies the album’s success: much of the material does fall under the broad umbrella of ‘standard’ instrumental post-rock (although acknowledging that Mono were one of the bands who contributed to the creation of a genre whose tag they reject is important), the compositions and their performance are masterclasses in shifting dynamics and delayed gratification. As they lead the listener through ponderous passages of awe-inspiring grace only to reveal towering cathedrals of sound just around the corner, even the predictable forms hold unexpected twists, like the sonic supernova that explodes at 5’39” on ‘Sorrow’.

Steve Albini is perhaps more commonly associated with ‘noisy’ music, but his reluctance to be credited as a producer is a reflection of his abilities as a technician, and the fact he strives to capture the essence of any given band’s sound rather than impose his own vision on their work. With Mono’s method involving playing live in the studio, the pairing makes complete sense, and it’s fair to say that Nowhere Now Here very much captures not only the sound, but the feel of a live show, with the shifting tension, emotional resonance of chiming guitars brooding in the dark, and the exhilarating rush of catharsis that effuses through a truly blistering crescendo. It’s those indefinable, unmanipulable details which make Nowhere Now Here.

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Mono - Nowhere

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3rd August 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

A decade in existence and with three previous albums to their credit, instrumental prog band Tides of Man from Tampa, Florida, deliver album number four. While their first two albums featured vocals courtesy of Tilian Pearson (who, since his departure in 2010 has provided the ‘clean’ vocals for craply-named post-hardcore act Dance Gavin Dance and enjoys a solo career as Tilian), 2014’s Young and Courageous saw the band emerge as a very different, instrumental, entity.

This means that Every Nothing has been four years in the making. It’s an expansive post-rock / prog crossover, with the twelve compositions spreading and exploring in various directions, both in terms of mood and instrumentation. Ranted, the majority of the album weaves reverby soundscapes from chiming guitars, rolling drums and understated, strolling bass, breaking into the occasional sustained crescendo that alludes strongly to the slow-build and big-burst stylings of Explosions in the Sky. And while they do really work hard to delay gratification, to the point that there are moments the album borders on frustration, and much of the album is so much standard template form, when they do break out, as on ‘Old 88’, and the explosive, choppy breaking on ‘Everything is Fine, Everyone is Happy’, which veers into Shellac territory, it proves to be more than worth it.

Elsewhere, the spacious, wistful piano of ‘Far Off’ – a song that exists more in the echoes between the notes than in the notes themselves – reveals a band who are comfortable with giving the structures and sounds room to breathe, and the piano-led ‘Death is No Dread Enemy’ which slows the pace, lowers the tempo and conjures a reflective mood marks an atmospheric shift.

Every Nothing is by no means a high-impact album, or a set which even stands out as an exemplar in its field. It’ll never set the world alight, but is solid, and a pleasure to listen to. And that’s probably enough.

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Tides of Man

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

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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DylanCHollyCarlsonlores--1

Dylan Carlson by Holly Carlson

This is it Forever – 28th February 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Capac are an electronic duo, currently based Athens and Bristol. But geography is a state of mind, and while details about the context and circumstance surrounding Through The Dread Waste are limited, the music stands for itself. Yes, it’s supposed to contain ‘ten interpretations of the coldest traditional winter music in the form of dark drone and atmospheric ambience’, but without a priori knowledge of the original versions, all that is left is drone and ambience.

The ‘dread’ ascribed to the ‘waste’ is entirely redundant: waste is surplus, unnecessary, for disposal. Why dread it? The sense of portent, of impending doom… Yes, in a world where there is no time to waste, no money to waste, we may rightly dread it. And yet. The waste: anything waste is unnecessary, and should be confronted, not dreaded or feared. And without value or purpose, anything is waste.

On the subject of disposal, the order page for the physical edition of the album is most telling, containing as it does the following: ‘The physical form and true embodiment of the concept behind Through The Dread Waste… You receive a fire log with a metal plate hidden deep inside. After burning the log, among the ashes you will find your metal plate revealing instructions to access the original constructions of the traditional pieces of music, prior to their deconstruction. Destruction, after all, is a form of creation.’ This echoes a classic and fundamental tenet of the avant-garde, namely the premise that one must destroy in order to create anew.

Postmodernism’s defeatism and acceptance of the death of originality is either the last gasp of the avant-garde, or the point at which is necessarily destroys itself to re-emerge, the creative equivalent of stubble-burning at the end of the cycle of growth and croppage. It would be easy to deride the ‘fire log with a metal plate’ but this is art, and there’s precious little the production and release of music by and large, especially in the mainstream. And this is art which is more than merely willing to be ephemeral, and actually invites its own destruction.

The album’s ten compositions are by no means indicative of a conventional, square set-up, as longer tracks are separated and segued by fragmental pieces. And over its duration, there is a lot of piano, and a lot of space. A lot of space. Through The Dread Waste is a sparse, ominously atmospheric set. This is music to stare into space to. At times, its presence is so sparse as to be beneath detection. The lilting piano, the endless resonant air between them, is captivating, yet so understated as s drift into the ether.

The overlaid and unintelligible snippets of voice on ‘Winter Morning’ call to mind the scratchy, pre-fade in discord of ‘Disintegration’ by The Cure. But here, there is no swampy tune riding in on oppressive drums to hammer it all home. Instead, it drifts into another space, and we consider valiant spaces and parallels. Elsewhere, monasterial voices hover in fogy darkness and drones crackle, from eternity.

As such as it’s a spiritual, transportative, and eventually an immediately accessible release (and not in the same sense of ‘accessible’ which is at the centre of the divisive and heated debate which is raging in the poetry sphere right now). Through The Dread Waste has infinite inroads, and is not abrasive or overtly difficult. Yet equally, it’s not dull or unchallenging. It has melody, and drifts in a way you can get lost in.

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Capac – Through The Dread Waste

Wolves & Vibrancy

Christopher Nosnibor

German label Wolves & Vibrancy is predominantly given to releasing metal, which makes worriedaboutsatan something of an unusual choice. Still, any release by the genre-straddling electronic duo is welcome regardless of who releases it. With two tracks spanning twenty-five minutes, Shift sits somewhere between an EP and a mini-album. And while it’s categorically not metal, because it’s worriedaboutsatan, it does, most definitely, err toward shades of darkness is places. But equally, because it’s worriedaboutsatan, it’s a work built on contrasts and detail.

On ‘Shift 1’, the rendering of those contrasts and details is analagous to a pencil sketch drawn with a relaxed, free hand, the shading effortlessly contoured by a smooth, easy, and relaxed wrist action to form soft, organic shapes and subtle movement.

A throbbing, low-to-mid drone swells dark, sombre. The first beats are but scratches. Paired, isolates. Hanging n space amidst the dense swirl. But they pick up – almost imperceptibly at first – and slowly, so slowly, begin to approximate a sedated heartbeat. From the building tension and growing density, just as it threatens to reach a critical mass of claustrophobia, emerges a soft, supple, rippling sound of light. Toward the end, a stippling, dappling pattern of light in the form of an interweaving motif rises on a slow wave.

‘Shift 2’ is more about stark contrast, black and white op-art flickers: the interweaving motif that surfaced, spectral, in ‘Shift 1’ takes on a new dynamic, a new tone, and dominates the front end of composition. The result is the sonic equivalent of a monochrome kaleidoscope, the patterns shifting in time and sequence with disorientating effect. Simultaneously calling to mind the vintage works of the likes of Tangerine Dream, Mike Oldfield and contemporary microtonal experimenters, it’s immersive and powerfully hypnotic. In time, it tapers away, and the temp slows, returning to the heartbeat bass and echoic click, before resurging around the mid-pint to weave a mesmerising sonic latticework.

Shift is appropriately titled given its endless evolution and morphology. In context of their oeuvre, its one of their ostensibly less ‘beaty’ releases, but it’ still displays the dynamism and sense of atmosphere that was have made their trademark since their emergence as premier purveyors of music that crosses post-rock and electronica. And as such, while it marks yet another evolutionary progression and expansion, Shift is quintessential worriedaboutsatan.

worriedaboutsatan – Shift

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Malignant Records – TUMRCD117 – 8th January 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Greek ritual ambient duo, Martyria promise ‘5 stunning tracks of textural depth, sepulchral darkness, and exotic, richly detailed atmospheres’, and are pitched for fans of Dead Can Dance, Funerary Call, Voice of Eye, and Shibalba. I’m not going to feign superior knowledge: I’m only aware of Dead Can Dance from that list, but I have a hunch I know what’s reasonable to expect here. I’m braced for dark, haunting, atmospheric. I’m anticipating compositions which emanate subterranean spiritualism and mystery. And this is precisely what Martyria deliver.

This is dark. Dark in the sense of ominous, eerie. Dark in the sense of foreboding. Dark in the sense of the occult and the otherworldly. Dark in the sense of the unheimlich. Rhythms clatter and patter as wordless invocations float and drift above eternal drones. Dolorous bells herald the arrival of an elongated drone and an ethereal, choral female voice. Bells chime in a whorl of what sounds like didgeridoo as heaving chants and vocalisations conjured from the depths of the diaphragm in monasterial intonations.

At the mid-point of the album, ‘Nekron’, plunges into deeper, darker depths: dank rumblings and distant thunder which registers low on the sonic spectrum, churning at the gut, conjure dark, shadowy visions. It bleeds into the even longer darker, more sinister ‘Nyx’, dominated by cavernous percussion, muffled by distance and depth. It evokes flickering images of candlelit rituals held in carved temples far beneath the surface in secret cave networks.

The final composition, ‘Eschaton’, stretches out over some twelve and a half minutes with wordless vocal evocations and intimations of ancient occultism. It’s not music you can readily understand or cognise: it registers on a level far, far beneath the surface of comprehension. It’s the calling of the earth, the rocks, the trees. It registers and calls to a part of the psyche long-buried. Martyria speaks to the resonant brain, to genetic imprints, to the soul as conveyed through generations of heredity. It speaks to ancient history, knowledge buried through centuries of ‘progress’. Martyria is not a work to comprehend, but to allow to bury its way into the canals of the mind devoted to instinct. Its impact is difficult to quantify or even to explain on a rational, scientific level. And yet, it has impact and resonance – deep, slow-register resonance.

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Martyria – Martyria