Another month, another one or two roundups. But man, my listening life just keeps getting better and better. I just wade through heaps of goodness each month. This month we feature some new artists and some established ones, as per usual. Please check out their work and try to absorb some of my enthusiasm.
Chronotope Project – Dharma Rain
This is an established ambient act I’d been meaning to check out for a while, and, well, look what I’ve been missing! This three-track album is a glorious display of classic ambient styles. “Dancing Wu Li Masters” is perfectly titled, with rhythmic, energetic sequenced synths underpinning vaguely Asian-sounding pads. Perfect ethno-ambient on par in quality with David Parsons’ output. “Oort Cloud” is a nice trip to space, with nebulaic clouds of pads swooshing around. The final track, “Dharma Rain”, takes us back to that calmly Asiatic feel, with sarangi-like melodies and gamelan-ish percussive sequencing. Such peaceful music, beautifully composed and recorded, from which any fan of the likes of Parsons and Robert Rich will derive a great deal of pleasure.
Schemawound – Come On, Ghost
Netaudio fave Schemawound presents a very interesting recording that is an exploration of rhythm, juxtaposing heavy, ominous beats with occasionally very subtle music, to the point where the hip-hoppy beats basically dominate the affair — sort of like if you turned down the music on the Future Sound of London’s Dead Cities album. Fortunately, these are some pretty cool beats. The title track is probably my favourite, quite spooky with ringy piano and a very groovy funk beat, though the groovier “Computer Take Me Somewhere Else”, which combines a subtle beat with electronics that sound like Vangelis’s background noises for the Bradbury Building, is also very cool. Other tracks are heavier and noisier, such as “Exit Bags”, as noisy as a 22nd century dance club. The overall feel is claustrophobic and tense. This is a really good experimental electronica album.
Janneh – Live at Raisio
This live recording by well-known netaudio ambient figure, Finn Janne Hanhisuanto (check out his discography) and his brother Juha is some great spacey prog ambient that brings to mind a whole host of good things, most often the likes of Jon Jenkins but also a lot of earlier seventies and eighties synth music. “Dark Matter” is totally classic space ambient, with a light pulse underneath some sweet cosmic pads. “Stellar Nursery” takes us into Manuel Göttsching territory as melodic guitar solos softly over delicate sequencing. The vintage synth sounds of “Mystic Mountains” would not be out of place on a Klaus Schulze album, and the totally spacy vintage prog synth soloing throughout “Matter of Antimatter” is a ton of fun. “Free as a Comet” has a later-period Oldfield vibe (Songs of Distant Earth) featuring some more tasty but subdued lead guitar playing. A very fine release that mixes classic space music influences with a slightly modern feel; this is one live experience I would love to take in.
John Bassett – Unearth
I’m not so into singer-songwriters these days, but this one caught my jaded old attention right away — in a good way. Bassett is a member of prog-rock act KingBathmat, and he sure knows how to make some classic psych folk-rock, that’s for sure. The closest comparison that springs immediately to mind is Roy Harper, mainly because of a certain timbral resemblance in their voices. However, there’s also a vocal resemblance to Steve Hogarth of Marillion Mark II at his subtlest. The production choices on this album are superb, with tons of late-sixties style British psych touches like the echoey piano on “Stay Away From the Dark” and lots of jangly guitar. The songs are sort of groovy in a melancholy, strummy way. Being who I am, I enjoy the darker, moodier numbers like “Unearth”, which has some interesting chord changes. “Something That’s More Worthwhile” stretches out out a bit at 8 minutes into light prog territory. A classy release that rides the line between revisionist psychedelia and modern progressive rock, with echoes of classic folk singer-songwriters. Glad it came my way.
Detectivework – Panfocus
I’m getting a lot of experimental submissions these days, which is good for taste expansion, considering that I’ll usually choose something drifty and purdy on reflex. This album does contain some pleasant moments but is also quite challenging. Drones are the base for a very creative set of tracks that are comprised of “no live instruments, no vocals, no synthesizers. only samples from movies and some digital elbow grease”. Well, that must be some friggin’ elbow grease, because this is not at all a collage effect. It sounds like a unified and carefully composed set of pieces, sometimes droney, sometimes glitchy, but extremely listenable. I’m pretty sure I hear the Aguirre soundtrack popping up in one of the tracks, the lovely “The Light Underwater”. But this is not pilfering, it’s repurposing, which is not at all the same thing. I’d feel rather chuffed if someone used my soundtrack music this way. Not that anyone has or ever will ask me to compose soundtrack music, alas.
Aairria – Metastructure 4.198ks
Aairria is the musical persona of the fellow who runs the Rain netlabel, which has put out many fine recordings. However, he also releases an impressive amount of his own stuff, which is expertly produced abstract ambient. This is not music meant to soothe and caress — it’s more a challenge for the mind as we immerse ourselves in a series of dark ambient soundscapes that also hearken back to some of the bleaker experiments of mid-seventies Tangerine Dream, particularly about halfway through the 30-minute “Silicon Oracle”. “Root Access” is a great example of “quiet music”, where the volume level is so low that the effect of the drones is almost subliminal. “Ultraswarm” is pure glitchy, fuzzy, staticky sound art and a fine example of understated noise music. There’s a lot of this sort of music about these days, but few do it as well as Aairria, so check it out if you are adventurous.
Ascendant – Source Transmission
This album is doing quite well, and it’s obvious why. A collaboration between experienced ambienteers Phase47 and S1gns Of L1fe, it manages to satisfy on many levels; it’s got elements of space music, IDM and pure ambient blended in a pleasant stew that is good for ambient background uses, for the lounge or for close listening. With this kind of stuff, uplifting melodies, sweeping use of pads and groovy but unobtrusive beats are the keys to providing a satisfying listening experience, and Ascendant hits all the marks. The obvious comparison is to the Ultimae roster, particularly Solar Fields, especially on trancey numbers like “Elliptical Memory” and “Solar Sea”, but there are also pieces that hearken back to the classic era of sequencers, such as “Milky Seas” and “InStasis”. A great debut for this act that will make them a force to be reckoned with in the field of “IDM”/light techno styles with an album that manages to be danceable and grooveable but also smart and spiritual.