Posts Tagged ‘Sparse’

Misanthropic Agenda – 20th June 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

I’ll admit, I was struck by the name when this landed in my inbox. Success! With an insane number of submission emails day, I don’t even open most, let alone play the albums attached. But then I learned that PWIS is Nathalie Dreier – who’s interesting for her visual work as well as her audio – and Dave Phillips, who’s To Death I covered last year – which deepened my intrigue. And it’s one hell of a cover, too.

Meaning What Exactly? is quite a different proposition – from pretty much anything, in truth. Presenting four lengthy compositions, it’s fundamentally an electronic album, but it’s far more than that, or anything. The title is a challenge, a query, a – what I keep hearing as a phrase in my corporate dayjob – a ‘provocation’. It comes down to ‘exactly’. The word is weighted; even without explicit emphasis, it feels emphasised, vaguely stroppy even. The addition is the lexical equivalent of a hand on hip, a raised eyebrow, a scowl, a sneer of condescension to a worker from another department who has no facts. ‘Yeah, do your research, bitch’, is what it says.

And who really knows what it means, or what anything means? Exactly. And what this album means – exactly – I can’t quite fathom. The titles conflict with the contents, at least, based on my lived experience, on my reception. They say it’s a ‘dialogue mixing treated field recordings with organic acoustics and digital sources, brought together in long trance-inducing sessions of meticulous audio de/construction and philosophical debate’. But how much of that is apparent in the end product? Well, that’ debatable.

‘Pangolin’ is otherworldly eerie: a booming drum echoes out through a shifting reverberation of spine-shaking synths. It doesn’t readily evoke aardvark-like creatures, apart from perhaps in the final minute or so when Drier’s monotone vocals are replaced by snuffling barking sounds. It’s weird, but then, what did you expect? I don’t know what I expected, if I’m honest, but probably not this. This is dark, disorientating, disturbed and disturbing, and even more challenging for the absence of context. Meaning is the end product of intent, of purpose, and there’s no clear indication of where this is coming from, meaning we’re left to face the strange with no guidance.

A grinding bass and muffled, muttering voices, whispering about fish all build to a hellish tumult of murmurs and doom-sodden low range hums and thrums, and nothing feels right. It’s awkward, and unsettling. You – certainly I – don’t really tune into the words delivered by Drier in her suffocating spoken word passages, not out of disregard or disrespect, but because all of it comes together to create a claustrophobic listening experience. Meaning What Exactly? is not an album you sit and dissect, or sit and comfortably disassemble or analyse. I find myself, instead, contemplating the meaning of meaning.

‘Us vs Us’ plunges into deeper, darker territories, with a grinding, driving bass worthy of Earth, propelled by thunderous sensurround drumming, with purgatorial howls echoing all around. It’s heavy, harrowing, and it’s that simple, tribal drum style that defines and dominates the eerie eleven-minute closer, ‘The House is Black’. The house is black and the atmosphere is bleak: the vocals are mangled and distorted and play out against a murky, fragmented, fractured backing, to unsettling effect. The beats are sparse, subdued, distant, yet taut, crashing blasts and ricochets. You make it want to stop. The clock is ticking. Your chest tightens. The nerve rise, jangling, fearful. It’s like walking through a graveyard at night, knowing there’s someone lese shuffling around nearby. Make it stop, make it stop!

A crackle, a crunch. What is this, exactly? Perverts in White Shirts don’t only excavate darker domains, but scour and gouge their way into the darker, deeper territories where tension pulls tight and tighter still. It’s the sound of trauma, of suffocation. Meaning it feels like a direct passage to the depths, meaning it’s dark, uncomfortable, like it’s almost unbearable at times. Meaning it’s good.

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Constellation – 20th May 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

The first collaborative full-length album by Automatisme (the Canadian musician and conceptual artist William Jourdain) and Swiss field recordist, ambient musician, visual artist and writer/academic Stefan Paulus, Gap/Void is nothing if not a deep, immersive sonic experience.

While the origins of many albums are largely unremarkable and barely worthy of reading, let alone comment, Gap/Void is a strong exception, and for that reason, it feels appropriate to quote at length:

Paulus approached Jourdain with a proposal based on his field recordings made during numerous mountain expeditions in the Swiss Alps, the Caucasus, and north of the Arctic Circle—documenting stormy weather, high alpine winds, avalanches, and sounds emanating from glaciers and from the insides of crevices and caves. Paulus created ambient noisescapes from these recordings by splicing and folding them into hundreds of layers of sound: an analog to the geological strata of their geographic sources. The resulting audio mixes, compounding a multiplicity of spatio-temporal excursions, were then further encased in drones using the natural tone series (the traditional zäuerli or wordless yodels of northeastern Switzerland), the monotonic standing drone of Lamonte Young’s Dream Syndicate, and the mass chords of early 1970s Kosmische Musik as points of reference. Paulus sent these extended ambient/noise pieces to Jourdain as source material for the latter’s bespoke Automatisme techniques, where variable tempo and glitch systems forge more overt minimal techno/IDM works.

‘Hey, how about an Arctic trek?’ doesn’t really sound like a pitch for a musical collaboration, and pitched to a TV producer, it would probably have been a series with its own self-made soundtrack – although for TV they’d have probably wanted some celebrities slogging across the barren wastes lugging audio gear or something stupid.

The first of the album’s ten tracks is the twelve-minute ‘Säntis’, where an insistent and overtly synthesised loop thrums against a slow ambient swirl before an insistent uptempo kick drum beat thumps in and for a spell things go techno… before becoming derailed. The tempos are all over, the ebbs and flows run in different times and tempos and before long it becomes quite overwhelming, disorientating as the layers build… and then everything falls away and you’re left with the rumbling sound of the wind scouring the bleak, barren ground. It sounds harsh and inhospitable, it sounds dark and unsettling, and yet it feels less tense and is somehow less agitating than the preceding pulse-quickening sensory overload.

Things do settle a little as the album progresses, and by the arrival of the third track, ‘Uble Schlucht’, we’re into something of a more straightforward Krautrock style, dominated by bubbling synths and motorik grooves. But, at the same time, it’s a soundscape of shifting terrain, of snowdrifts and undulations, crags and cervices.

There’s a restlessness about Gap/Void that means it’s impossible to settle, that keeps you on edge in a way. The compositions – particularly the way the percussion is eternally evolving, in a continual flux, more a series of palpitations and panic attacks than a pulsating heartbeat – are tense, ever-moving, with a flicker-filled urgency that offers little respite.

‘Blau Schnee’ goes all out on the deep bass and low-end murkiness, the beats and bass melting into one another, while ‘Stoos’ goes ultra-sparse and is so minimal it borders on the microtonal, before an off-tempo beat bounds in and trips the wire.

The pieces on the second half of the album are rather shorter, with none over the six-minute mark, but the sound and sensation remain similar, with crackling electronics dominating and beats that poke at the innards – sometimes subtly, others less so. But it never really lets up, and while very little of Gap/Void gives even the vaguest hint of its source and origins, it does convey a certain sense off desolation, of isolation. Soon, we will all live in desert, and it will sound like this.

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Fabrique Records – 29th April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

On her latest project, Jana Irmert shrinks the focus of her thoughts and her music on the microcosmic – although that certainly doesn’t extend to the microtonal. What Happens At Night is an intensely-focused work that places the lens onto textures and tones, and an examination of the relationship between the physical and the cerebral. You may call it a celebration of overthinking, but ‘philosophical’ feels a more appropriate term for her musical meditation on life and death – specifically death and beyond, the part of the life journey no-one has ever reported on and will, one assumes, be forever unknown and unknowable.

The liner notes set out the granular nature of the album’s composition: ‘Like layers of sediment, sounds are being pushed up from underneath, floating away or sinking back to the bottom. At the core of the album lies a question: What will be left of us? While Earth melts, we go on. But eventually, there will be a point in the future where all that will be left of humanity is a thin layer of rock. While this may seem like a deeply gloomy prospect, it also carries a great deal of comfort: the reminder that we are only a small particle in a vast system so big that we can never fully grasp’.

This is the limitation we all live with: the inability to comprehend life without us, what it would be like to not exist. Much of it’s ego, but perhaps it’s also a preprogramed limitation. Everything is dust, and once we pass, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, we become desert, and nothing changes: the world goes on… and on. And that’s a disheartening prospect; for the majority, our legacy won’t extend beyond our lifetimes, and the world at large is unaware of our existence while we’re here, let alone likely to experience any ripples in our wake. But even the world will be finite, ultimately. It will be swallowed by the sun in supernova. But none of us will be here to report on it by then.

What Happens At Night is dark and stark, and with just four tracks and a running time of less than half an hour, it’s perhaps technically only an EP, but feels like an album in every respect.

There’s a dolorous chime of a bell and a shrieking anguish of tortured spirits trailing like comets fading through the sky at the start of the album’s first piece, ‘Particles’, and everything simply floats and drifts. It’s ambient in the conventional sense: it’s background, you don’t really pay close attention while it’s playing, but it does subtly slant the mood.

‘Ashes’ is but a drifting fragment between the megalithic pieces on either side: it’s barely three minutes in duration. If ‘Dust is the Rust of Time’ is sparse it’s also dense, and a sedated heartbeat pulses uncomfortably throughout, amidst shuddering, gasping breaths of panic. You feel the anxiety at the passing of time; what have you achieved, and what will be your legacy? How will you be remembered in a world without you? It’s a tense, dense, gloomy sound, and you come to realise you are nothing, you’re simply here to go, and one day you will be but dust. Deal with it. And yet… It’s not a question of there being something more beyond, as such. And yet… ‘Stratum’ closes, and it’s the splash of waves and the quiet roar of a buffeting wind and the slow sound of the dust settling as incrementally, life returns to earth in slow, sedimentary layers, and each layer fossilises a period in time for all eternity. You may be dust, you may be forgotten, but in some form, are eternal in the earth.

Irmert articulates nothing specifically or directly here, but instead, What Happens At Night provides a sonic backdrop which invites contemplation.

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Four years in making, Toronto artist Barzin is releasing his fifth studio album Voyeurs In The Dark. That the album is more cinematic in its scope and conceptual in feel than his previous studio albums can be attributed to the time he spent over the past several years composing the soundtrack for the independent film, Viewfinder.

Voyeurs In the Dark retains that cinematic quality, and at the same time infuses the music with elements taken from Jazz, electronica, rock and pop. Having primarily explored the quiet side pop and folk in his previous four albums, Barzin has expanded his musical palate, broadening his sound towards a more an experimental direction, while still retaining his preoccupation with exploring the  internal landscape. The uniformity of sound that characterized the previous albums has been abandoned for the expression of differing aspects of the self that at times hold opposing views and desires. This is best represented in the image chosen for the cover of the album, which depicts three figures in one body. The album seems to be the expression of not one unified self, but the various aspects of the self.

Voyeurs In the Dark sees the artist plot a seductive, contemplative route through city haze, shuttling between graceful glimmering interludes, with wonderfully atmospheric songs at every stop. On new single ‘It’s Never Too Late To Lose Your Life’, Barzin has a affirming and urgent tone, shade turning into shapes and motion.

About the track, Barzin explains, “I guess you can say I was chasing my own private white whale when I was writing it. I was trying to create from a place of not knowing. I didn’t want to know what the hell I was talking about. If something started to make sense to me, I knew I was on the wrong track.

The Sufi poet, Rumi, wrote many years back that we must make room inside of us for these unwelcome guests that visit us every day. Not only did I invite the guests to come inside, but I asked them to stay and make an album for me. I have no idea what I/they made, but it was an interesting experience to create something that felt foreign to me.

I think this song and this video is a good example of what happens when you let the “other” take the wheel and drive the car”.

Watch ‘It’s Never To Late To Lose Your Life’ here:

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17th April 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s something quite surreal about the imagery of ‘eye gymnastics’: it’s highly visual, yet at the same time, beyond physicality, and as such, it possesses a cartoon-like quality. This surrealism extends to the cover art, too: what exactly are we looking at here? It’s the debut album from a Lithuanian duo consisting of Viktorija Damerell and Gailė Griciūtė, who first came together in 2018.

And so it is that these clues are also representative of the music: the words are strange, fragmented, abstract – but also not, with improbable and incongruous images, and the album’s first piece, ‘Eye Gymnastics’ could be something of a signature tune for the pair. It’s sparse, the beats subtle, distant, subdued, yet insistent as they pulse through eddying swirls of semi-ambient synth drifts, through which a spaced-out, vocal dreamily intonates lyrical abstractions. If surrealism has a certain preoccupation with dreams and the subconscious, then on Nothing Supernatural, Eye Gymnastics plunder that inner realm for inspiration and render it in such a way as to remain to the vagueness, the indistinct focus of the fugue state, the disconnects and strangeness of dreams, and recreates the way those sensations and images echo, hauntingly, in the waking hours which follow those most vivid of nocturnal experiences.

The title feels vaguely ironic in the context of the disconcerting, dislocated vocal treatments of the ominous and eerie ‘Tree Tops’, where a glitchy, industrial beat clatters in thick and leaden. Then again, it’s dark pulsations feel as much the product of a troubled mind as of anything supernatural.

While there are some significant leanings towards ambience and hypnotic drifts imbued with an ‘otherly’ feel, elsewhere, snarling, growling electronics dominate a number of the tracks, with ‘Sadness and Joy’ being really quite heavy, with a gloopy bass that whips and whirs and fizzes. ‘You Destoy Me’ epitomises this industrial darkness: the murky drumming pumps away with the palpating tension of Nine Inch Nails’ ‘March of the Pigs’, while the multi-layered vocals whisper and echo dark thoughts, and the relentless pulse of ‘Let it In’ is harder and harsher still, the bass drum a booming throb, the snare – such as it is – a smash of distortion. You don’t want to let it in: no, you want to shut it out, make it go away. It’s not pleasant, it’s uncomfortable, claustrophobic, suffocating. Sparse and spooky, ‘Bitter Night’ bridges the territory between Young Marble Giants and Throbbing Gristle.

It’s unsettling, a creeping burrowing into the brain, as if overhearing someone’s internal monologue. This is not what you’d really call a ‘relatable’ experience, at least for the majority. It’s not full-on horror, but it is chilling, challenging, eerie, unsettling. But it’s also compelling, hypnotic, and a quite remarkable debut.

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Neurot Recordings / Gilead Media – 8th October 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Less is more. This is something that few bands appreciate or understand half as well as Kowloon Walled City. And less doesn’t have to mean less intense: if anything, it’s a major factor in the ‘more’ element of the equation. Instead of hitting the listener with hard volume, relentless drumming, and gnarly distortion, Kowloon Walled City distil emotional pain into something simple and direct, and in doing so achieve optimal impact.

Their last album’s crushing weight derived not from its pace or even its volume, but its sense of space. Instead of filling the air with big noise, each chord crashed down hard and rang out into silence. In that space, Singer/guitarist Scott Evans’ vocals conducted pure anguish and blank nihilism. No throaty metal stylisation or posturing, just a kind of shouting – a shout of pain, of psychological torture – the torture of existence.

It’s the space between the sound that they’ve explored in the evolution of their fourth album, Piecework – their first output in six years. Make no mistake: Piecework is fucking heavy. It packs some utterly gut-punching, seismic riffs that drive hard, and when they hit, they’re utterly pummelling. But it’s the bleakness, and the blankness, that’s most affecting, that really hits the hardest. In the first instance, it’s simply so raw, so unprocessed. With the vocals clean and up-front, it’s the humanity that’s at the fore.

Not that there was any fat on Grievances, but with Piecework they pare it right down to the bone, and then scrape away a little more. Whereas most of the songs of its predecessor sat around the five or even six-minute-plus mark, Piecework packs seven songs into around half an hour. In cutting back so hard, the effect if heightened as the grey walls close in tighter, faster, more likely to bring a crushing end. The effect is cumulative, and there are no clear standouts on Piecework, only a sustained slug driven by a low, lumbering bass. It’s a bass that really churns the gut, and it has a physical force.

The production captures this dark, dense force perfectly, conveying a sound that feels live, that feels real. Wish you were there? Hell yes: we all need a bit of fortune, and Piecework is both beautiful and harsh. When they bring it down to nothing but a single note hanging in the ear, I’m reminded of latter-day Earth, and it’s clear that space and time matter.

As the press notes tell us, ‘Evans was dealing with the loss of his father during the writing of the album. He found strength in the women in his life, especially his maternal grandmother, who worked at a shirt factory in Kentucky for 40 years while raising five kids. The album name (and title track) is a nod to her line of work—and her quiet resilience.’ The lyrics are at once abstract and packed with images. There are no specifics, only scenes, and they’re bleak ones, of claustrophobic confined spaces, of deathbeds.

And it’s no criticism that this feels like an album of graft: the rhythm section ploughs on, and on, relentlessly, as if their duty is pure graft, digging, digging, digging. In the same way that early Swans was the sound of punishment, so Piecework is a soundtrack to the brutal reality of production-line capitalism.

The album’s predominantly slow pace is not the sound of rapid mechanisation, but of soul-sapping drudgery, the crushing weight of negative progress. There is no respite, no detours to bathe in moments of human kindness, the idea that for everything, there are glimmers of light and optimism. No, Piecework is an album with no let-up, in the way that Unsane are unrepentant, unremittingly grey in their outlook and execution. It hammers and bludgeons away at the senses and prods hard at the frayed nerve endings, the space and dead air speaking to the emptiness that hits us when the noise stops. Life is short and life is cruel, and Piecework is the perfectly merciless reminder of that.

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14th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

I’d take cheap red win over red, red wine any day: back in the early to mid-90s as a poor student (back when such a thing existed), Liquorsave – the off-license department of Kwik Save, who at the time were selling their No-Frills baked beans for 3p a tin – it was possible to purchase a bottle of Hungarian red wine at 12% ABV for £1.85. It was actually better – by which I mean not only stronger, but also fuller-bodied – than the £5-£6 bottles of French wine. Nowadays, cheap mis under a fiver, but I’ll still stand by budget wines from the right sources, and in the absence of pubs, people, and life in general over the course of a year of lockdown, cheap red wine has become a friend on a par with strong Polish lager.

Anyway: on ‘Cheap Red Wine’, Muca and the evasive, semi-illusory Marquise paint a laid-back, smoky picture from a minimal sonic palette, evoking the spirit of smoky basements bars of times gone by. It wasn’t so long ago you could find somewhere down some stairs that was open till 1 or 2am and sip a bottled beer or a whisky and feel like you were somewhere else while people smoked… but time is relative. Nevertheless, the easy-going, laid-back jazzy vibes of ‘Cheap Red Wine’ evoke a pretty deep nostalgia, and it hits harder than the song itself, which is simple, melodic, reflective, landing somewhere between Amy Winehouse and Portishead.

Based around a simple acoustic guitar and Muca’s magnificent vocal that drawls, but isn’t quite lazy per se, ‘Cheap Red Wine’ builds to incorporate layers of strings and a wandering electric guitar solo, and conveys a heavy ache of emotion, too. An understated instant classic.

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Panurus Productions – 2nd April 2021

Sometimes, an understanding of process helps in shaping the appreciation of a musical work. Sometimes, it doesn’t. When presented with Only Then by Left Hand Cuts Off The Right, I can’t decide either way. The album contains two longform tracks – the twenty-five minute ‘2 – 6 – 17’ and the thirty-five minute ’23 – 6 -19’. Both were recorded live, and showcase a blend of improvisation and composition. The track titles do, unsurprisingly, mark the dates of the performances, both f which took place at the legendary Café Oto in 2017 and 2019.

On the former piece, a scraping drone hovers somewhere in the distance, relentless, nagging, always in the background but always within the reals of awareness: you simply cannot tune it out. Atop of this, there are crackles, scrapes, flickers, scratches and microcosmic, microtonal glitches, and gently tinkling picked notes casting sparse scales and oriental motifs, with the zither providing a unique, and, to western ears, exotic flavour. Over time, the details dissolve and blur into a metallic scrape that gnaws at the senses as allow, slow, undulation persists long after any trace of melody had dissipated, swallowed by currents of dissonant sound.

Slow-hammered xylophone notes emerge and steer toward the end of the first piece, and then stop: cue a cascade of applause which reminds us that this isn’t a studio work and that this happened. Not just that live performances used to be a thing, but, quite simply, that the audio contained here is not a studio-controlled contrivance, but an event that happened in real-time. Something about that realisation is strangely affecting.

Coughs and splutters and a general clamour of voices preface the fall to silence and the first echoing sounds on side two. Audience behaviour is so telling: the respect (or lack of) given to a artists whose performances are on the quiet aside can make or decimate the enjoyment for may of those present. Here, Left Hand Cuts Off The Right command over half an hour of hush. From clattering drips and clangs, the track builds from sparse sound echoing into emptiness, slow-dropping notes decaying into a soft ambience.

As to the technique and the technical aspects, the press release informs that ‘both sets were created with zither, melodica, synthesizer, bent electronics, field recordings, mbira, tape loops, percussion and effects. Side A comprises of 6 improvised sections each with specific performance, composition and sonic parameters. Side B is centred on 2 pre-recorded compositions which are mixed and performed live and interspersed with improvised sections for set sound sources.’

It’s actually quite difficult to unravel precisely what this means, beyond the fact that often the composing, improvising and performing processes overlap – informing one another as new works are created. And while the live performance of prerecorded pieces interspersed with improvisation and improvisation within predetermined parameters are clearly different disciplines, ultimately both methods combine a certain element of random with planning. Moreover, while delivered as works in the ,ids of an eternal evolution due to the nature of their form, these pieces as performed and as recorded are not works in progress, but works in their own right.

Only Then captures a moment – one I suspect many of us wish we could return to right now.

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Lustmord + Nicholas Horvath – The Fall / Dennis Johnson’s November Deconstructed

Sub Rosa – 20th November 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

According to the press release and liner notes, The Fall is a deconstruction of November by Dennis Johnson. My knowledge of the source material is limited to the same, which explain that November was written for solo piano in 1959, and is the first example of minimalist music composition – and that it was also the inspiration for La Monte Young’s The Well-Tuned Piano (1964). This may or may not be useful information, as may or may not be the fact that this collaborative effort strives to ‘reduce Johnson’s original November to its core element and place it in a landscape of complimentary sound. And as such ‘echo’s [sic] November but with further resonance’.

It’s a sixty-six minute work split into four segments numbered I through IV, with classical pianist Nicolas Horvath playing the piano parts, while Lustmord brings the atmospherics. How that translates is that the album’s first piece is a full twenty minutes of instrumental piano work, played slowly and delicately, with an acre between each note as it drops and hangs in the air against a backdrop of a fierce gale that buffets against a microphone. If you’ve ever tied speaking to someone on their mobile phone on a windy day, you’ll be aware of how the gusting air’s buffeting creates a sense of disturbance, an interference. Around the midway point, the disturbance shifts from being breeze-like to a deep, surging groundswell, something dark and resonant, an amorphous sound that rumbles and expands, then fades and returns in waves, ebbing and flowing slowly, and all the while, the sparse piano plays on.

And that is pretty much it: slow, deliberate piano – individual notes, struck a bar apart – and a distant rumbling backdrop that fills the empty space, sometimes barely, leaving little but empty air, others more densely, a wash of sound filling the air with levels of abstraction. At times, like rumbles of thunder, and others, like unsettling fear chords and an ominous vibe, but never anything concrete or tangible.

It isn’t much to go on, and while it is atmospheric and intriguing, it’s not entirely enthralling either, and I suspect the same is likely true of the original, a work that’s more concerned with concept than reception – something that can be done, and so is done, and example of avant-gardism promoting the project for its own ends rather than a something to necessarily be appreciated. There are things to appreciate, as it happens: The fall counterpoints ominous and graceful nicely, while also paying tribute to and raising awareness of a seminal work that’s been largely forgotten, eclipsed by other works by other composers, with Dennis Johnson’s renown falling far short of the likes of John Cage and Philip Glass. And on that basis, and on the basis of the original work’s true significance, this is worth tuning into.

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Ideologic Organ – SOMA034

Digital release date: July 3/10 / Physical release date: mid August 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Ideologic Organ label owner Stephen O’Malley effuses over Ai Aso’s ‘immaculately crafted form of minimalist pop music skirts the edges of tensity with the manner and with the skill of a tight rope walker, calmly balancing repeatedly at every step, with a combination of surety and the risk of a slip, a fall, and an unknown uncoiling of events’.

Pop may not be a genre commonly associated with he label or the Sunn O))) founder, but Ideologic Organ do have a track record for venturing beyond the expected and showcasing some unusual talents, and Ai Aso is definitely one of those, as the nine tracks on The Faintest Hint demonstrate. Legendary Japanese rock band Boris accompany Aso on two of the pieces, but if you’re expecting powerchords, keep moving on.

Picked acoustic guitar alone accompanies Aso’s voice for most of the first song, ‘Itsumo’, and indeed, much of the album, and even with the multi-tracked vocal, it’s a simple, spartan, and intimate recording. The guitar and voice are in the room with you. And they touch you accordingly.

‘Scene’ is more post-rock, a slow, quivering bass chord echoes out against chiming guitar notes and Ai’s soaring ethereal voice calls to mind Cranes at their most delicately haunting, but also at times is simply a shy humming that’s endearing in its understatement and apparent reticence.

Sometimes, quietness and sparseness simply seem to equate to sadness, and the low, mumbling low-note repetitions of ‘Gone’, despite the words being unintelligible, emanate an aching sadness, while in contrast, ‘I’ll do it My Way’ carries something of a playfulness, not to mention a certain Young marble Giants lo-fi bedroom indie vibe. The straining electric guitar discordance that disrupts the singsong easiness of the song toward the end is a nice touch. She trills, swoops and croons on ‘Floating Rhythms’ in a way that sounds like she’s singing to herself – and this intimacy provides a large part of the appeal.

If there’s anything about The Faintest Hint that may suggest ‘amateurish’ to some, that’s certainly not the reaction from my ears: Aso’s minimal approach to songwriting and performance gives a rare immediacy, and it’ss unhampered by conspicuous production. It’s touching, intimate, and special.

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