Make Your Own Taste’s submissions processes went into full crisis mode during the summer of 2014; success is hard to handle sometimes, and this site getting onto the radars of musicians worldwide meant that one chap (me) was flooded with so many submissions from artists and publicists that his mind couldn’t handle it, what with this being a hobby and all. Each email means not just reading the email but taking the time to listen to the dang music as well. Slowly, painstakingly, that one chap (me) has been instituting a system whereby he can log, categorize, distribute to guest reviewers and listen to the submissions that are received (which is why, people, streaming sucks!).
I’m back on the roundup tip, though, and here are some great albums that came through my siftings. More to come, as well as an index for all of the capsule/roundup reviews that have ever appeared here. After my vacation, though.
Darren Harper – Movements for an Absent Mind
Prolific and always high-quality ambienteer Harper returns with a typically compelling release on the Soft Recordings label. I actually find this album a bit more “traditional” than his usual more experimental material. This is three long tracks of primarily guitar-based drone ambient. “Movement One – Nowhere, Asleep” reminds me very much of Robert Rich’s Calling Down the Sky, Rich being another ambient musician who makes extensive use of guitar. An excellent 26+ minute meditation of textures that overwhelm the senses. “Movement Two – By Way of Water” is a bit more celestial and gentle in tone, while “Movement Three – By Way of Water” has a more environmental feel, with windy sounds, field recordings and other sounds that come in waves rather than a consistent drone. Harper just has a way of hooking into the tranquil part of our brains, which is why he’s a true master of this genre.
Musicformessier/Cousin Silas – Leaving the I.S.S. (review by Simon Slator)
The space-age sound art of Hungary’s musicformessier joins forces with the aural landscapes of Cousin Silas to create something that’s quite refreshing. This collaborative release takes the oft-trodden, glacial and guitar-based ambient/shoegaze/post-rock style and flings it into outer space. Interestingly, rather than leave the music drifting in the inky void, it remains within the Earth’s orbit — surrounded by arrays of technology that study the cosmos, beams Game of Thrones into our homes and lets people on Facebook know where in the world a selfie was taken. It also turns its cameras towards the Earth itself, capturing the peacefulness of the planet viewed from such a distance. All of this is achieved with luscious waves of synthesizer that have an air of retro sci-fi to them, and some delicately-plucked guitars that chime contentedly. It’s all very relaxing, but also quite picturesque. I’d best not say “atmospheric” — it is space, after all.
Yair Etziony – Delphi
Etziony is on the False Industries label, based in Israel, which is producing some very interesting and listenable psych and ambient. This album features a minimal choice of instrumentation and judging by the titles is meant to evoke the majesty of the Greek pantheon. And it is successful. Etziony uses insistent synth pulses and dark ambient sound art (you know, the roaring, etc.) to convey the fiery arrival of Apollo, while there’s an ominous bass drone used to show the ancient dignity of the “Oracle”. Some pieces, like “Hestia” and “Logos”, are totally abstract sound-art, but Etziony also provides “Phython”, which, with its elegant sequencing and swooping pads, could have come off a late seventies Jarre or Tangerine Dream album. A recording that rides the line between experimental/avant-garde and Berlin School electronica, it’s sure to interest fans of both.
Earlyguard – Solitary Moon
I usually mention Earlyguard’s albums, so why would I stop now? As noted before, his work has moved steadily away from pure ambient toward music more influenced by twentieth century avant-garde composers. However, this four-track album is a remastered 2011 release that shows his ambient roots, more specifically, dark ones. “Luna Approaching” is mostly noise, but of the nocturnal variety, and is more of a mood-setter. “Exploring Solitude” retains the nocturnal feel but is based on a spacious drone of the Darkest Before Dawn (Roach) variety. The 19-minute “Solitary Moon” is dark again, but adds more tonal variation and more of a sense of nighttime magic than of dread. Some great cricket sounds in there too, I love those. And “Ad Infinitum” rounds things up with a piece of classic space ambient, spacious pads taking us on a journey to the nebulae. This is a lovely little journey from the ground to space and another in a series of winners for Earlyguard.
Dolphin Dream Pyramids – Féline
This act is from the Ottawa/Gatineau area of Canada, not known for electronic music, although one of our favourites, the mighty ambient god Altus, doth reside there. While a number of hip descriptors are used to tag this free album on Bandcamp, this is in fact an icy cool collection of real ambient music (I refuse to say anything is “chill” or “chillout” or “chillwave” or whatever that hell that is). There’s a detached feel to this music, though it’s based on ecstatic undulations of processed sound (I think there’s some slow-down action going on, which I’m actually a fan of). To throw the usual references out there (they often apply, after all), “Pyramide de corail” is a bit Vidna Obmana-y with its waves of celestial cooing and roaring. However, some tracks do have an experimental edge, such as the distorted “Premier baiser” and the pure glitch music of “Féline”. This is another album that crosses over several experimental ambient genres but has a nice cohesiveness and an eerie feeling that is consistent throughout. Definitely worth a download.
Jay Penaflor – Incentive
I covered Penafor’s first EP a while back. I have a soft spot for this Aussie’s take on neo-psych. “Citizen Sane” sounds like vintage Aussie 80s revival psych; it could have come right off The Church’s Remote Luxury, with trebly acoustics strumming over sunny synth pads and languid vocals. This style is the basis for each of the four tracks; strumming rhythms, subtle electric parts, pretty pads and Penaflor’s assured, measured vocals and lyrics with some very interesting imagery (not boy/girl singer-songwriter nonsense). It’s unassuming but very pleasant and well-rendered music. He’s a songwriter to watch; he may have a neo-psych masterwork in him somewhere.
Bastard Mountain – Farewell, Bastard Mountain
I worry when I see I’m about to listen to some modern roots music; it’s either going to be twee or mumbly indie crap. So I was quite pleasantly surprised. This Scottish act’s music, while it does contain some ragged indie hallmarks, contains genuine atmosphere, with lots of psych-folk and psych-rock elements, which is quickly evident on the opener, the creepy duet, “Meadow Ghosts”. “Drone Armatrading” has an overly cute title but is a really nice combination of dark ambient with a folk instrumental. There’s some lovely string playing here. The combo of folk/alt-country reverby sounds with moody male/female co-lead vocals on songs like “Something On Your Mind” is very current but expertly rendered; well, it’s current around here (Canada) — if you like, say, Great Lake Swimmers, you’ll dig this, but fans of old type acid folk will love it too — say, of Comus and bands like that. It will also go nicely with your Espers/Decemberists albums. I’m especially pleased that the band felt no compulsion to put a single upbeat track on this album (closer “New Boy” almost approaches it, but not quite) — the mood is consistently melancholy and autumnal, which I dig. If you like modern roots music on the experimental end of things, don’t miss this one.
White Origins – Fog Music (review by Simon Slator)
Aural Films’ Fog Music series is still going strong after sixteen releases, and they’ve just released perhaps the most curious and remarkable one yet. It comes from a one-man “project” called White Origins, the ambient/minimal arm of Kentish musician Rikki Sho. What’s curious about it is that, where others have used synthesisers, guitars, field recordings and a plethora of other instruments, this one uses only the kalimba, digitally stretched and processed into a ghostly and gossamer yet highly original sound, played with so many twists and turns that it keeps the listener alert through its enveloping tones. It’s haunting but also pleasingly meditative.
Remarkably, while almost all entries in the series have come from prolific drone artists like Cousin Silas, Ade Hodges and Scott Lawlor, this installment is Rikki’s first ever drone piece, and it successfully holds its own amongst an incredibly strong series.
Sound Awakener – Shape of Illusion
This is a very interesting album from a Vietnamese musician who has the opposite approach to long-form: short-form! This is 24 little instrumental vignettes. There is some precedent for this, of course — two recordings by maverick Bill Nelson come to mind, Simplex and Chance Encounters in the Garden of Lights. Simplex has 28 tracks, I believe. Anyway, it is very interesting to have the mood change so rapidly, since each piece is only about a minute long. Still, it’s amazing how quickly mood can be set in a minute, as in the ominous “Last Picture”, the appropriately icy-sounding “Frozen Eyes” (Blade Runner reference perhaps?) and the 22-second Baroque piece, “Run”! In terms of the compositions, a lot of them remind me of the incidental music from 1970s Doctor Who episodes! Yes, that’s meant as a compliment; that was the legendary BBC Radiophonic Workshop, you know. You can’t really pick a favourite when the pieces of music are coming so fast and thick, but let’s just say this is a fascinating mental exercise, and many of these pieces are compelling enough that I’d enjoy hearing them expanded to realize their full potential. It’s a free download too!