Posts Tagged ‘minimal’

Bad Paintings – 28th June 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

My introduction to Elk came a couple of months ago, when I accepted the invitation to see US touring artist Dylan Rodrigue and travelling companion Sie Sie Benhoff playing a few streets from my house. How could I refuse? I wasn’t disappointed by any of the acts, but that night, Elk were a revelation.

Elk is essentially the project of 21-year old Leeds based multi-instrumentalist Joey Donnelly. According to the accompanying text, his brooding and beguiling work on debut album Beech marries up the sound of Daudi Matsiko, Florist and Talons with the lyrical depth of Phoebe Bridgers. Being unfamiliar with any of these – and pardon my existence in a cultural vacuum – I’m judging Elk in isolation and on their own merit. This doesn’t seem such a terrible strategy. Elk’s music emerges from isolation, but also a place of otherness.

Live, Elk is Joey with his brother, Mikey, and it’s Mikey who’s the mouth and the presence, the chirp and the banter. Joey is practically mute, almost embarrassed. He’s the very epitome of shy and retiring. This comes through in his music, too. And such beautiful music it is, too. Words almost fail. In my review of that live show, I drew comparisons to Sigur Ros and commented on Elk’s ethereal post-rock leanings. They’re in evidence here, too, but it’s perhaps important to also note that Elk don’t share the twee, ersatz fable-like trappings of the Icelandic precursors. Yes, it’s fragile, folksy, post-rock, but it’s very much distinctive and affecting without being affected.

Beech contains just seven tracks, and is spare and concise in every way: the arrangements are minimal and uncluttered, with room to breathe in these inward-facing sonic spaces. These are songs that send shivers down the spine, and yet it’s incredibly difficult to articulate the precise source of their effect – which is of course precisely the key. The best music just creeps up on you, reaches in and touches the innermost parts by subliminal, subconscious routes. The fact the music of Elk is so understated is integral to its emotive power. ‘Stupid World’ begins as a simple acoustic composition, with Joey’s plaintive voice hinting at Neil Young and J Mascis, as much in its sad introspection as anything.

It’s quiet, hushed, the very definition of introspective. And it’s truly beautiful.

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Elk - Beech

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Kranky – 7th June 2019

James Wells

The press release informs us that ‘Jacob Long’s reductionist rhythmic ambient vessel, Earthen Sea, ebbs towards a more purely elemental state on his second excursion for Kranky, Grass and Trees’. But what does this mean?

Long’s approach to the album involved “simplifying things as much as possible,” and the result is an album that’s so simplified as to be almost intangible in its minimalism.

Rhythms are mere ripples, echoes of soft pulsations and clicking microtones. ‘Tidal’ as a descriptor carries connotations of immense, powerful surges and propulsive currents, but here, I’m referring more to the soft lapping of lazy foam on a soft, sandy shore on a still, warm day. The steady flow induces an almost hypnotic tranquillity as the sea remains still and the earth moves almost imperceptibly.

The track titles are less contradictory than self-negating and suggest a sense of uncertainty as their central premise: ‘Existing Closer or Deeper in Space’ and ‘Spatial Ambiguity’ are representative, and are also indicative of the sonic vagueness of Grass and Trees. For all of the pastoral imagery the title invokes, the music (and individual tracks) present more of a preoccupation with space: not just outer, but inner, the infinite space of the mind.

Its effect is to soothe the aching labyrinths of that inflamed infinite space with soft, organic tones, resulting in a work that feels like it’s been sculpted from nature. Not natural, but the natural world re-ordered to mirror the internal flows of the mind and body.

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Earthen Sea – Grass and Trees

The accompanying text records that ‘n is a collaboration between close friends Nathan (London) and Neil (Devon). The first album is a collection of seven words which were sent by text and used to inspire and direct the playing and production’. And so, we have insight into the title and the process, but what matters is the end result.

Delicate notes, distanced apart in time, hang in the air, dripping slowly like drops of water from an icicle. And so ‘Trust’ forms, slowly, gradually, imperceptibly, a ringing note at a time; the mood is optimistic, but tentative, fragile. Deeper, fuller, piano notes creep in, but remain at a distance.

‘Subtle’ certainly fulfils its title’s promise, and while there is a gradual growth of an ebb-and-flow, the form is very much forged from soft, rippling notes from beneath which incidental bumps and scratches occasionally emerge.

The power of music like this is the infinite room given for the listener to interpret, ad to project: to fill the vast expanses of space with their own emotional response. I’m as guilty as the next music critic of describing music as ‘haunting’, but what does tat actually mean? For me, it’s about a personal resonance, the way a single note, hanging in a suspension of reverb, evokes memories and feelings, likely completely unconnected in any way to the music itself. But, when the mind is given subtle stimuli which encourages introspective wandering, sensations buried and locked away suddenly rise to the surface, free of the constrictions of linguistic association.

Minimalist is the word: n is sparse both compositionally and sonically, with a hushed ambience rendering the sparing works in a way which accentuates their quietness. One wouldn’t listen to a work like this and highlight a standout track, although ‘Awe’ marks something of a departure from the barely-there spatiality with a fuller sound comprising long, turning, drifts of sonic mist and chirruping birdsong – something which returns in the final track, ‘Truth’, which is uplifting in its tranquillity as I’m reminded of the sounds of early spring, the trilling chatter a confirmation that winter’s gloom is finally losing its grip and light and life can blossom once more.

N is a wonderfully simple, yet meticulously considered and exquisitely executed work, which contains and emanates everything and anything you want it to.

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n

Grappa Musikkforlag – 24th August 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

I used to watch a fair few horror films when I was younger, but don’t get to so much these days: my wife isn’t a fan, and, moreover, I can’t watch movies and listen to music at the same time. Spending my evenings reviewing means it’s the movies that have had to give. But when I did have the time to watch horror movies, I always preferred the films that unsettled the mind rather than overloaded the senses with in-yer-face viscera and gore. It isn’t necessarily that I like to be scared: I just like to be mentally challenged, and the imagination is a powerful thing. For the same reason, I usually prefer to invest the time in a book rather than TV show or movie. Greater effort tends to yield greater reward, and what’s more, the mind can conjure scenes far beyond the scope of any film set and special effects.

The mind’s eye is a terrible thing, but also a wonderful thing. Just look at your dreams: they’ll likely present vistas beyond anything you’ve ever seen in any movie. And even if not, these scenes are your own, rather than something pre-presented, the product of someone else’s imagination.

Rooms & Rituals is an album which engages the mind and encourages it to explore the darker recesses. The compositions are haunting, to the point of being outright scary. tapping into the deeper realms of the psyche, teasing out the horror of disquiet, and poking around in those dark, uncomfortable places. The voices are those of no less than ten female singers, although not necessarily at the same time. This is, indeed, a choir like no other.

‘Steamsaw’ sets the tone: dark, ominous, rumbling thunder and fear chords drifting almost subliminally… It’s minimal, and it’s a discomfort you can’t quite put our finger on. But it’s there, it’s real, and it gnaws at the pit of your stomach. ‘Pulser’ is eerie. Voices, disembodied, and as if rising from the grave, amidst unintelligible guttural utterances from the underworld, shrieks, and industrial pulsations and the occasional, sporadic clash of grating undifferentiated noise conglomerate to forge something stomach-churningly tense.

‘Ritual #3’ is a series of bleeps and tweets over a low-end rumble, and is reminiscent of some early Whitehouse, minus the trebly shouting. ‘Rise; is a voice lost in a gale, the sense of dislocation, distance and isolation rendered palpable in the drift. ‘Hymn’ pitches vocal melody that’s evocative, haunting, almost a Celtic folk piece, against a gnawing hovering synth hum, and elsewhere, ‘Gleam’ goes gloriously minimal, trilling organ pulses providing the backdrop to ethereal vocals that drift skyward.

Collectively and cumulatively, these pieces move and unsettle the listener, bringing a sense of dislocation, and disorientation. It creates a space for pondering. This is art.

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Trondheim Voices

Shhpuma – SS028LP

Christopher Nosnibor

Perihelion may be MIR 8’s debut, but the collective consists of respected veterans of the musical underground, with a lineup consisting of Andrea Belfi (drums, percussion), Tim Wright (computer, electronics), Werner Dafeldecker (function generators, bass) and Hilary Jeffery (trombone).

For those unfamiliar with the term, and / or too lazy to look it up, perihelion is ‘the point in the orbit of a planet, asteroid, or comet at which it is closest to the sun’. If the notion of translating the experience of such a journey into sound seems more than a challenge, then MIR 8’s approach is very much non-literal, with the album’s four expansive movements formed from spectral abstraction, leading the listener on a journey which is cerebral rather than physical.

Sparse notes chime, ringing out in the near emptiness. A mournful trombone note stretches out and elongates to near unrecognizability. This is a work of minimalism in terms of volume and spatial exploration, but in terms of things going on, a lot happens, just at distant intervals. Eerie, otherworldly notes ripple and ring into one another against indeterminate hums and drones. These are not linear compositions, the structures vague and informal and without regularity or definite shape. Everything exists within the incidentals, and everything is incidental.

The pace is sedate, but on ‘Scarborough Sky’ the various sounds rub together at an increased pace and affect a creeping tension with subtle dissonances and frequencies which touch – delicately but definitely – on the more sensitive ranges of the human ear, to discomfiting effect.

An interminably elongated note hangs through the first moments of ‘De Orbit’; subtle yet busy percussion begins to patter in the background, distant cymbal crash and as the depth of the sound builds, the effect is like listening to something very loud from a long way away. Heavy, single notes sound out like a ship’s horn from miles out to sea. At some point, the rhythm stops. Detonations rupture still air before bleeding into ‘Event Horizon’. The final track contains the most overtly conventional elements of rock and jazz, with a bas / snare beat underpinning some roaming, spaced-out freeform brass honks. But these elements by no means make for a conventional composition, as the elements exist with the sense of doing so independently of one another, before gradually being swallowed in reverb and muffling.

As a whole, Perihelion is a subtle, nuanced work. It’s distinguished by the attention to detail to the way in which the individual sounds relate to one another, and how their shifting places of divergence and convergence, create different sensations.

 

MIR 8 – Perihelion

Trace Recordings – 8th July 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s virtually impossible to hear or read the word ‘Rothko’ without thinking of the abstract expressionist artist Mark Rothko – at least if you have any kind of cultural awareness. And if you didn’t immediately consider Mark Rothko on arriving here, then either kindly leave, or settle in for an education of sorts. I’d hate to be accused of elitism here, but equally, I anguish on a daily basis over the mass cultural ignorance of our supposedly educated society. Having not been taught something in school or the fact something predates one’s existence is no excuse since the advent of the Internet. ‘I don’t know any Beatles songs – they’re before my time,’ is something I hear depressingly often. They’re before my time, too, and growing up in the 80s and 90s there was no Google. Perversely, the same people who are clueless of their artistic cultural heritage know all about Star Wars and Scooby Doo and Marvel heroes created well before their time. These people are buying into nostalgia kitsch of years which predate their existence. But the chances are that while they’ll happily buy into marketed nostalgia, they won’ grasp real nostalgia or real history.

This, of course, is where the latest offering from guitar / bass duo consisting of Mark Beazley and Michael Donnelley comes in. Discover the Lost is an album out of time, and in many ways bereft of context. And yet, it’s important to orientate oneself in time and space before engaging with this album.

The black and white cover art is the very definition of nostalgia. It intimates the passage of time, the gradual decline of things made. The grass growing tall around the abandoned, rusted car is a representation of abandonment. Time moves on. The man-made world slowly degrades and is taken back by nature, But, during the process, the natural world is sullied by these once valued but now ugly, unwanted items, stains haunting the landscape with echoes of the past. But it’s important to distinguish between the kind of ersatz nostalgia of the mass-market, whereby the Rubik’s Cube and bigger Monster Munch are the focus of a widespread collective reminiscent sigh, and the kind of personal nostalgia which is altogether more difficult to communicate let alone package. Discover the Lost sees Rothko look beyond the consensus market-led strand of nostalgia and tap the vein of the latter in a work that’s evocative and intensely personal to the listener.

There is a grainy warmth to the instrumentation on the album’s ten tracks. The album’s intent may be upbeat, but the reflective atmospherics style of Rothkos’s music is thick with reflection, regret and missing. The analogue tonality of the guitar evokes through sound the sense of something old, worn to a deep patina by people long gone and forgotten. The music is slow, deliberate, haunting, the notes drifting into the air, carried on the echoes of empty rooms, as still as a tomb.

‘Thoughts for Tomorrow’ calls to mind the epic instrumental introduction to Her Name Is Calla’s ‘Condor and River’, but it would be erroneous to describe it as post-rock. It is, however, an evocative and subtly moving piece that resonates, and while the title suggests a forward-facing perspective, it’s nevertheless laced with melancholic retrospection. Strings sigh forlornly over ’Photographs of Then’. Of course, a photograph can only ever show the past, however recent, and often, the image only gains its full meaning or sense of place over time. Context reconfigures with hindsight. Nothing is fully fixed

The dark ambient drone of ‘Time that You Took’ marks a shift in tone. Upbeat it is not. A sinister bass prowls around ‘Truths and Signs’, before the closing couplet of ‘Way to Home’ and ‘You’ offer the light of hope.

The sequencing of Discover the Lost is integral to the listening experience: the tracks stand alone individually, but it’s only listening to them each in sequence that the full effect of the album really emerge. This is the beauty of Discover the Lost: it’s not about immediacy but a slow unfolding and realisation, the emerging discovery.

 

Rothko