Posts Tagged ‘Mellow’

Christopher Nosnibor

Pierre Massé, the man behind the Paramestre project, threatens ‘Electronic-ish music with human vocals, guitars (played by a human), and far too many effects (along with a healthy dose of digital manipulation)’. It’s an intriguing proposition, and is it even possible to have too many effects, at least when used well?

As Massé explains in the liner notes, ‘As stated by the opening track, it is nothing “perfect”; there are artefacts from tortured source material, there is noise, there are glitches from randomized effects processing, and there is no pitch correction. But there is also warmth, groove, melancholy, and hope. I hope you find something that speaks to you amidst it all.’

This is, to my mind, a succinct summary of why any artist creates; in the hope of there being a shred of commonality with the receiver in the work. But, at the same time, creating not with the audience at the forefront of the creative process. This, ultimately, is what differentiates art from entertainment. The latter is primarily commercial, designed for the (perceived) audience. Art exists for its own sake, and any audience it attracts finds it.

Rippling post-rock guitars with an almost Spanish vibe cascade softly over a dislocated beat that bumps and bounces and flickers on the aforementioned opening track, providing a supple, mellow backdrop to Pierre’s dreamy, soulful vocals, and it’s a smooth, Gallic air that permeates the lilting synth pop of ‘Elle’. It’s pleasant, but it’s not an instant grab by any means, and much of Conditions Initiales feels in some ways exploratory, tentative. It isn’t that the songs themselves feel incomplete, because they certain don’t: it’s more that one feels Massé is still working towards a sound that is one he’s entirely comfortable with, that translates his sonic ambition into the final recorded output.

‘Conceal/Reveal’ goes a shade darker, but it’s the subdued waltz of the seven-minute ‘Madeleines’, with its echoing sampled background conversation that creates a subtle but clear level of juxtaposition, that really draws the listener in, in search of its evasive heart amongst the layers.

And it’s when Massé goes still darker and brings thudding beats to the fore that Conditions Initiales really becomes interesting: ‘Carry’ and closer, ‘Endless’ are both sparse but feature more prominent percussion, the latter worthy of favourable comparisons to Depeche Mode.

Understated as it is, Conditions Initiales contains no shortage of detail, and it’s an intriguing debut that hints at even better to come.

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Jam Records/343Records

Christopher Nosnibor

Misophonia is the third solo outing for Third Of Never guitarist/founder Jon Dawson, and it’s certainly quite a departure from his main musical vehicle. Instead of mining a seem of driving rock with clear ‘classic’ roots in the vintage greats, Misophonia is an exercise in dreamy floaty, droney electronica, punctuated with some magnificently mellow, understated guitar work.

Everything is drenched in infinite reverb, and has an aura of ethereal otherness and distance. On ‘Lighter Fluid’, a child’s voice cries out amidst crunches and crackles of static, while ‘Coffee From a Stranger’ is a sliver of whimsical country slide that chimes and tinkles and fades in and out of focus. There are dark undertones and dank rumblings to be found on ‘David Lynch Owes Me Money’ as well as distant instrumentation and a rising tension.

Birdsong, glitches and extranea feature heavily across the album’s fifteen short segments which segue into one another to form a near-continuous abstract drift, and the story behind the album’s development during the recording of Third of Never’s last album, Austerity, as told by Dawson himself, is interesting and useful in proving some context:

“I started the Misophonia project during the sessions for the Third Of Never album Austerity, which turned out to be a real bruiser,” Dawson said. “As a way to cleanse the palette between sessions, I started scoring the events of the day using drones, soundscapes, and piano. Listening back to it now, it seems as if the proceedings had taken a tense tone.”

It resonates: while taking isolated walks, like many, I have noticed birdsong more. Perhaps not because there are more birds or more songs, but because the roar of traffic and planes and general noise is diminished. Then, against the backdrop of such quiet, distant engines and other sounds stand out more. I’ve heard fewer sirens, but suspect that’s because ambulances and other emergency vehicles have no traffic to clear, not because of a lack of emergencies. Context counts, and it makes sense to clear the mind with something completely unstructured and soft while bashing out hefty riffs by way of a dayjob.

‘Someone is Walking Toward the House’ is filmic, but also captivatingly haunting, as a picked guitar motif drifts across a low-end grumble, while the final piece, ‘The Age of Anxiety’ pins a rarefied atmosphere to a sad, lonely piano that echoes into emptiness. And it hits home: we are all there, surrounded by nothing, just sound in space and we cling to whatever we can. This is indeed not only the age of anxiety, but the specific point where life threatens to overwhelm us.

What Misophonia offers is the opportunity to step back, reflect, and create much-needed mental space.

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30th May 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Having begun May with a new release in the form of Beyond Life, an exploratory ambient work in the form of a single twenty-six minute track, Ashley Sagar ends the month with a follow-up, and counterpart of similar scope and scale.

If the title suggests something a bit new-age, a bit hippy, trippy cosmic, and a bit pretentious, the music is contains isn’t anything of the sort, although there is a certain haze of mysticism and perhaps a sniff of incense about the album’s slow-drifting atmospherics.

There’s a faint scratching pulsation, like a metal object scraping against scratched glass, that grabs my attention early on: the arrival of slow, sedate, rolling percussion– possibly conga or similar hand drums – provides a new focus for the attention, and changes the tone considerably. With a rhythmic structure providing a framework and solidity, the piece becomes less overtly ambient and abstract. Shifting further over time towards cyclical, non-percussive rhythms transports the listener into a softer pace, before an unexpectedly weighty segment around the eleven-minute mark where the beats crash in and dominate, however briefly.

Thereafter the looming shadows are longer and darker, with rumbling low notes and heavy drones underlying Ian Mitchell’s delicate picked guitar notes and the returning percussion, along with one of Sagar’s distinctively strolling basslines. It may be subtle and muted, but its presence builds depth beneath the numerous shimmering layers which ebb and flow.

The segments are short and the transitions relatively swift, which gives The Temple… a strong sense of movement, movements that’s effortless and natural, since the parts flow seamlessly into one another like a stream flowing through a varied landscape, cascading from a spring-line, down a hillside and through a woodland. This may not be the most fitting metaphor, but you get the idea, and it’s perhaps telling that my mind is drawn to the natural rather than the spiritual, and I’m drawn to the distant horizon as the final notes throb and ripple to the fade.

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3rd May 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Ashley Sagar is a man with his finger in manifold musical pies, spanning the semi-ambient droning improv of Orlando Ferguson to the thumping Krautrock grooves of The Wharf Street Galaxy Band. It’s Sagar’s willingness to experiment, and to try anything once that’s a significant factor in his interest as a musician. What’s important for anyone engaging in experimentalism is the acceptance that degrees of success and failure may vary along the way, and it’s with no embarrassment that I recall sharing a stage with him and Namke Communications’ John Tuffen for a hastily-assembled improv set built around a sort of sequence and structure that was actually ok, but not what any of us had really anticipated.

Anyway, under lockdown and unable to play his distinctive wandering basslines live with any of the eighteen or so bands he performs with, Sagar has delivered his second solo album of the year, in the form of the soft ambient work that is Beyond Life, which comprises a single track with a twenty-six minute running time.

It begins with slowly rhythmic vibraphone tones that reverberate softly into a warm atmosphere. Immediately I begin to question this: is it a vibraphone? I’m not strong when it comes to mallet percussion instruments, or synthesised emulations thereof. Equally, I can’t trust that my perception of a ‘warm atmosphere’ isn’t coloured strongly by the unseasonably warm and sunny weather paired with the unusual quietness outside on such a balmy evening, where I’d ordinarily likely be at a gig and the street and back gardens would be chocka with people between pubs and stoking early bank holiday barbecues.

As my thoughts drift, so does the music, and although it doesn’t grab my full focus, is does very much permeate my reflections as I go inside myself, recalling a life before all of this, a life when life was actually life, when, however much going out and being among people may have been a cause of anxiety, it was an option, and live shows provided the opportunity to be among likeminded individuals coming together to escape into sonic domains.

And so here we are, all isolated together, supposedly, in a state beyond life. Sagar provides a subtly-structured soundscape to ease these contemplations along, quietly shifting from one tone and texture to another, from light and airy to low and sombre, piano notes ringing out into the emptiness.

The streets are empty. The pubs, hotels, gyms, shops are empty. The sky is empty. The world is empty. We are all empty. And Beyond Life is beautiful.

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Kranky – 10th May 2019

Cristopher Nosnibor

As with its predecessor, Konoyo, Anoyo draws its inspiration from traditional Japanese music, but very much reconfigures it not only through an ambient lens, but through Hecker’s own unique musicality.

Anoyo is very much a sequential, linear work, to the extent that the song titles create poem, and also a form of micronarrative:

That world / is but a simulated blur

Step away from Konoyo / into the void

Not alone / you never were

This sense of narrative also extends to the overall listening experience. ‘That World’ begins tentatively, tightly-wound strings picked, twanging. Washes of sound, reversed, flit like will-o-the-wisps as the tapers run the wrong way and slow, warm pulses flesh out the immense spaces between the notes. It’s ambient, and it’s (superficially) background, and quite hypnotic, but not without points of interest: in fact, while it’s easy to simply allow it to drift past, turning up the volume a way and concentrating reveals almost infinite details and ever-shifting forms. This is where Tim Hecker stands out in his field.

‘Is but a simulated blur’ presents a very different dynamic, dominated by irregular percussion. The arrythmia contrasts with the soft wave forms which drape, mist-like around the beats, which evaporate into the air, and the tracks bleed into one another. Things become fuzzier, less distinct, less clearly focused on ‘Into the void’, as piano notes stutter and glitch, warp and bend in the most disorientating ways.

‘Not alone’ brings bold, thunderous drums, but again the beats are erratic and ever-changing in pattern, before melting into the static-rumbling ‘You never were,’ which fractures and stammers like something’s damaged in the playback mechanism, like something in the process is broken, and the effect is disconcerting, discomfiting.

And so it is that Anoyo subtly transitions from delicate and mellow to something altogether more fragmented and more difficult. The subtlety is the key here: it creeps up on you, barely noticeable… and then, by the end, you find yourself wondering how you got here from there.

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GoldMold Records – 10th February 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Once upon a time, everything was tapes. The romanticism of a frustrating and often inconvenient medium has endured perhaps largely on account of the potential impermanence of their nature: how many music fans of the cassette age mourn the loss of a beloved recording on account of a moment’s forgetfulness which resulted in overrecording, or some freak event which resulted in demagnetisation? How many hours spent spooling and respooling tape which had become mangled in the heads, or otherwise stretched or snapped? The albums of yesteryear, all recorded to quarter inch tape, slowly decaying are an integral backdrop to our appreciation of the existence of the sounds they contain.

But is with books in the printed medium over digital text, it’s easier to form a bond with an artefact which feels somehow personal and personalisable. Just as a book with various creases and marks, perhaps even annotations develops a tangible, unique sense of ownership a Kindle edition never can, a playlist can never have the same resonance as a lovingly-sequenced mix-tape with hand-scribbled notes accompanied by a creased post-it or page from a spiral-bound notepad containing a covering note, folded into quarters and stuffed inside a scuffed case. On an emotional level, at least, sonic fidelity counts for less than fidelity to a pure moment, and it’s the thought that counts: those analogue documents of yesteryear can contain the entirety of a crush that dissipates in weeks or the early stages of a lifelong relationship on any level.

While the debates over the nostalgia ‘industry’ continue to rage, it’s fair to say that the renaissance enjoyed by the cassette is not a purely economic one. After all, the costs involved in burning a bunch of CD-Rs and stuffing them into handmade sleeves is negligible, and even though a bulk batch of 100 C30 cassettes can be obtained for in the region of 55p per unit, the time and effort required to dub even a small run of tapes is proportionally greater than any number of CD-R burns. But the changing nature of the music industry means that where it’s at now is in the small-scale, the personal, and the idea that an artist or label has invested time and personal attention on a product imbues the object with an instant emotional resonance.

The debut release from Glasgow’s Forehead – the vehicle of Sean Garrett (said to be ‘the shyest frontman you’ll ever meet’ and mother goose of the Lovely Ladies) – is appropriately named, as it is being released – if you hadn’t already deduced – on (baby blue) cassette, in a limited edition of just 15. It’s also being released as a download of course. Because no artist makes a release exclusively for 15 people.

The blurb notes that the four tracks contained herein ‘have been about for a while but are only being released now, a testament to Sean’s wholly unwarranted modesty’. And yes, the songs are superb, in a sketchy, nervous, hesitant yet achingly sincere way. You get the impression that Garret’s shyness is integral to the material, to the extent that its awkwardness defines what makes it special. And by no means interpret awkward as clumsy: there’s a skilled songwriter hiding behind the sonic fog here.

Regardless of the protracted journey between conception, recording and release, in keeping with the EP’s title, Bedroom Tapes conveys the spirit of 90s analogue enthusiasm. Low-key, lo-fi indie rock songs, reminiscent less of Pavement and more of Silver Jews, define the Forehead sound. This only serves to amplify the nostalgic quality of the release, evoking the excitement of hearing something stubbornly lo-fi, dubbed from a cassette or a record, the grind of a worn stylus on cheaply-pressed vinyl, for the first time.

Forehead also captures the awkward shyness of J Mascis on ‘Honest’, and the swampy plod of ‘Corner Pieces Falling Apart’ bursts into slanted psych-hued noise before crawling off to hide under the table.

 

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