Sunday, December 28, 2014

Reviews of 2014


I've had the pleasure to be exposed to a lot of esoteric music this year, and was privileged to review it here on the blog.

Here's a quick list of the reviews for your year-end reference.




14-02-14 Eclectic Blah by Eclectic Blah

14-03-09 The Good Fight XE by Mr Bitterness and the Guilty Pleasures

14-03-23 Static Metal by The Geeky Disco Experiment

14-04-06 Things and Horologium by Chrissie Caulfield and Stuart Russell (Double Review)

14-04-20 TWO by Brash Flair

14-05-04 Ephemeral (Frameworks) by Fellfoxen

14-05-21 Rothko Room by Stuart Russell

14-05-25 Leading Edges by Helicopter Quartet

14-05-31 Black Dog Blue by Hilliat Fields

14-08-06 Meter Bridge by Meter Bridge

14-08-17 Berlinerisch by The Geeky Disco Experiment

14-11-02 Wires String Circles and Angels by Peter Cline

14-12-14 Random Machines by Herr Absurd

I look forward to reviewing more from these and other artists in the coming months. Happy New Year!

With special thanks to Linda Palmer for providing her original artwork for the blog.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Random Machines

The perception of music lies in the listener's mind, not necessarily the creator's mind. This is evident in the random series of albums recently created by Herr Absurd. As one can find music in Nature and in random traffic patterns, the album Random Machines can be heard as music, but is a collection of randomly generated sound.

Using spoken word taken from this blog, specifically last week's Some Definitions, Herr Absurd recorded it using various strategies to make decisions regarding just about everything for it's creation. He set up each song as a machine. In his own words "a device made to do a certain job and perform various repetitive tasks repetitively. And well. It is not asked to think, theorize or conceive. Merely to do what it does. What it was made to do. What it was commanded to do. So feel free to give these machines characters. The characters of machines."

Prolific as Hell, he continued to turn out random albums all week, following this effort with Indeterminacy Engine, Chaos Computer, and Entropy Device.

These are fun little devices to listen to. Varied with some depth, they are sometimes surprising, sometimes familiar. Surely the art here is in the strategies and design of these machines.

Find Herr Absurd on Twitter, @Absurd13t and on Bandcamp

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Wires, String, Circles and Angels

Compelling and novel sound design fills wires, string, circles and angels, the new instrumental electronic album by Peter Cline.  Each piece is unique, each an exploration into untested territory. A forest of synthetic sound has been produced, with the occasional digital reproduction of acoustic instruments complimenting the anodyne sounds.  I, myself, try to find that balance between the anodyne and the dissonant. Peter achieves this.

As with many things I listen to, this album is not ambient, merely instrumental. Attention is paid to the compositions, which are intended to be listened to, not to float in  the background. That's not to say there is no subtlety in the pieces. As with Peter's musical alter ego candytrash, the rhythmic pieces such as Datacrime and Chinese Red venture into the dance realm, but in a different way than electropop.

When you listen, listen actively. There's a lot going on in these pieces. I can see that some of the groundbreaking combinations will be the stuff of future genres, as it's far ahead of the curve. We have nothing to adequately pigeonhole it today. And I like that.

You can follow Peter on Soundcloud and Twitter, and don't miss candytrash as well.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Mandala 13 1

I'm excited to see that my work Cycle 2 has been used in a video by color spinner A. Minor. This is a shorter version to fit this minute and a half video, and was the version I used in the Electric Future Podcast. Here it is, enjoy.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Future of Electricity

I learned a few things about making a podcast this week, finishing up the Electric Future podcast for August 2014. It's a simple collection of my music, spliced with silly grain delay voice over.

If you'd like to hear it, it's here:






And, thanks again for listening!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Berlinerisch

The pulse of subtly distorted synth greets you upon your arrival to Lietzensee, a tantalizing glimpse of the journey that  is about to begin. This electronic tour of Berlin, The Geeky Disco Experiment's latest effort Berlinerisch.

The pace is set and driving for the rest of the album after the clicking and rocking trance of the opening cut, which reminds of a long road trip at night, all blurred lights piercing the night.

This effort is a little different than  prior efforts, as the artist continues to evolve. These songs drift into electropop territory. Many times listening to the album I nearly expected a vocal to pop up, something dark in German, I'd imagine. The trance is maintained carefully,

Head bopping along through the album, each piece finds a groove, pursuing it to conclusion. The variation of the elements of each song keep it interesting. Crunchy drum samples, infectious bass lines, ethereal keys floating over, all combined to good effect. The artist is seasoned and solid.

Grab it at Bandcamp. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Meter Bridge

The serene snow owls on the cover of the debut EP from Canadian artists Meter Bridge might be misleading. They seem to be cute little things in a bank of clean snow, but perhaps they were put there to watch. Perhaps the owls were meeting for to exchange information in the remote wilderness. What do they watch right off of the screen there? Are they surveying for national security, or is it something a bit different?

From the first cut of Secret we here the chorus of whispers of those out in the dark, a strangled shout of a world full of deception.  The cloak and dagger continues in Glimpse, a pulsing synth bed provides the background for a hushed meeting in clandestine secrecy, with promises of information. Kite is sent up as a distress signal, while that Marvelous Proposition just might pay off. Guidance asks for advice, while  the love theme of our spy flick is Missing You, a song of absence. And those Tiny Lights, just what are they? The themes remind me of Eno in a good way.

I enjoyed the arrangements of voice, electronica, and guitar. The analog feel is definitely there, and the title earns it's electronic dance music moniker. Retro and future meet, in hushed tones, to dance in a quite place. I found it spare in just the right way.

You can pre-order it on bandcamp right now. Release date is September 2nd, 2014. Find out more about Meter Bridge on their website:  www.meterbridge.ca

Sunday, June 22, 2014

EFC's Summer Music Challenge

The Electric Future Collective have come up with another music challenge . In the past the challenges have been varied, from technical challenges of using a set of samples to simple themes to write to. This challenge is again a theme based challenge, submitted by my co-collaborator @3dtoros. It's a simple theme of summer, rather welcome to me on this second day of the season.

The process is open in this challenge, allowing artists freedom to compose as they like to the theme at hand. The collected pieces of this challenge will be released on Bandcamp on the Mobiusspin label. Tracks can be up to ten minutes in length, and downloadable in lossless quality from SoundCloud.

You can find complete rules on the Music Challenge page at SoundCloud. Check back as the dates may change as needed. Come join us!

UPDATE: The dates on this challenge have been extended for two weeks. The deadline is now July 7, 2014. Hope you can participate!

Here's Luke Clarke's contribution to whet your whistle:

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Black Dog Blue

A true expression of the ambient genre, Hilliat Fields's EP Black Dog Blue will be released tomorrow.

I found the compositions to be steady, painting notes in a field of piano feedback. The effect is much like an organ, as the chords play out in simple pulses. Some of the compositions recall Hilliat Fields earlier work, the more extensive album Aphelion, which explored guitar tones in much the same manner.

The album has a slightly dark edge to it's chord choices, which are not quite anodyne, and lead me to  contemplative thought. A good background to writing. The pieces are simply numbered rather than named, lending the pieces the anonymity that seems to pervade the album.

These pieces are unlike much of Hilliat Fields's work, which is more of a dark pop in nature, haunting beautiful vocals. For more structured pieces, my favorite remains 2011's Heavy Metal.

You can find it on i-tunes tomorrow.  Follow @hilliatfields on twitter, and also find a wealth of other music on the website hilliatfields.com.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Leading Edges

Upon first listen of Leading Edges by Leeds progressive artists Helecopter Quartet, sit in a quiet place, with no distractions. These are soundscapes intended to be perceived, not allowed to fade into background ambience. There are things occurring in these pieces that may demand your attention.

Distortion, feedback, subtle dissonance, and sumptuous beauty all play parts in these journeys. Their effort represents a conscious move away from a typical band format to an interaction between  two imaginative sonic artists creating worlds as yet unknown. Execution of the material is as interesting and surprising as  I've ever seen. I was continually reminded of the soundscapes created by King Crimson at their best, playing off of each other and building together these new vistas.

The Way It Never Was opens the album with a sawing violin loop, as the duo weave a tapestry of fear and longing, making me recall past efforts when the artists were with Catscans. The piece swings progressively through sections resembling landscapes, exploring the small corners of an alien world, violins like bird  calls populating it.

There are two versions of Refuge on the album, and I have to say that I prefer the original mix to the remix at the end of the album. I'm not a fan of added beats in remixes, and although done well, I felt that they detracted from the sonorous original, which I found both beautiful and a little disturbing.

110 brings us a subtle drone as backdrop. It showcases the melodic  leads, providing the space in which the duo play off of each other subtle brilliance, rendered in distortion and feedback.

The first synth notes of Trailing Edge are slightly dissonant, providing a framework of nervousness, soon occupied by the soaring violins, subtly punctuated by pulsing guitar. Glistening in the end as the pair trade roles, violin providing the big backdrop, as the guitar comes to the foreground.

The last piece is an epic soundscape. This Hothouse is obviously not quite safe, and makes me wonder what grows amid its tangled branches in the entropic heat. A great journey as the piece evolves slowly over the next nine minutes or so, building to cacophonous heights of distortion to the emergence of the things which perhaps should not be.

All in all, an excellent effort. It's worth your time to sit and listen attentively to it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Rothko Room

As an Art major in college, I spent a lot of time studying the Abstract Expressionist movement of the mid 20th Century. For many people, it was the last straw of Modernism, they couldn't understand Pollack's dense and detailed dribblings, nor could they understand the simple fields of colour offered by Mark RothkoI loved it, however, and even though I loved subsequent movements, I find myself drawn to these revolutionary works as they speak to me. I've spent time in front of Rothko's monumental works, allowing the feeling to seep in, considering beyond the simplicity of design, finding the landscape of plane and space within. 

When English composer Stuart Russell began creating works based on Rothko's work, I was more than intrigued. What better subject for an ambient album? Rothko's work and ambient sound would surely work well together, and as Russell posted the pieces in development on SoundCloud, I felt that he'd captured his impressions of the works very well indeed.

The album, taken as a whole for me now for the first time, is very easy to sit through. The long sonorous notes, the subtle and gradual timbre changes, the thick field of sound match the colour fields of Rothko well, I think. My only regret is that I have nothing more than a couple of small pictures of Rothko's here in my apartment. I keep thinking that I'd like to take this in front of one of Rothko's works and combine the sound with the vision. However, travelling all the way to the Tate to see the actual installation that inspired it would be prohibitively expensive for me.

This album will be released any day now on Xylem Records. If you love ambience and synthetic sound, or the work of Mark Rothko, I can recommend it highly.

You can follow Stuart Russell on Twitter at  @stuartr_comp  and check out his page Stuart Russell Composer. You can also find his works on SoundCloud.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Ephemeral (Frameworks)

Fellfoxen is a composer from the United Kingdom who produces cinematic atmospheric pieces, often imbued with drama. The pieces are usually very short, ideas put into focus and distilled to a concise vision.

This effort is no different in that respect. Ephemeral is a collection of short cinematic themes, all leading into one another in a cohesive whole.

This EP is very short, under ten minutes in length. Certainly the concept could be taken out to a full album length. But the songs are quite beautiful, and the clarity of Fellfoxen's vision is strong. Certainly released as a "name your price" EP, one has no call to complain of the length. I found the idea rather refreshing, and listening was like a journey as one piece leads very neatly into the next. The songs could be put together as a single cohesive whole.

The instrumentation is clean and clear, and I found it sylvan in nature. Natural sounds of wind  and birds are added to the mixes, reinforcing the cinematic quality of the music. Another thing I found refreshing is the tendency to only use a beat where it fit. So many try to spruce up their ambient works with needless beats, which detract from the intention of the rest of the music, and diminish it. Fellfoxen has none of that on this EP, and I enjoyed it greatly.


A good short listen.



You can find Fellfoxen on Twitter as @firstfoxen , on SoundCloud, on Tumblr and, of course on BandCamp.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

TWO

Chicago duo Brash Flair, comprised of Kristin Johnston and  Joshua Wentz, put out their second EP simply titled Two this month, and I was asked to give it a listen. I did so, and found it enjoyable enough to review it. In all of my prior reviews, I've had some insight into the artist prior to the review. This was not the case with Brash Flair, however. So it was a Google expedition as well for me. I discovered their Facebook page, which was quite informative in their process.

And it's interesting, a mixture of whatever works, incorporating many diverse sources from samples to software synths, and everything in between. Kristin's beautiful voice is set against a rich, and yet spare at times, background of interesting sound design in every piece. I found myself listening to the pieces several times to listen to the samples  instrumentation, vocals, and effects processing. A very engaging active listening experience for me, and enjoyable.

The first tune, Good Morning, is a fitting start. Starting with a simple, very bassy pulse, the electric piano tone provides it's simple structure. Like much of the work, the setting is sleepy and almost surreal.

I really loved Blanket of Blue  which uses samples of a rainy day in a Chicago apartment as it's basis. The piano softly holds down the piece, couching Johnston's vocal in a dreamy contented space. Perfect for a summer rainstorm. In the video for it, the art of Kriss Stress is used, from the jacket art for the EP.



Your Line is an infectious electro piece, an esoteric  collage of sampled vocals over a rich background of synth, sample and ebowed bass.

Simple and spare, with pocket piano and appropriately simple guitar Sleeping has a beautiful vibe. As usual, the dreamy, sumptuous vocals float beautifully in the mix.

Ready is a piece in a rolling fast 3/4, featuring simple tenor background vocals from Joshua, which offset the Kristin's lead nicely. It wraps up the EP well.

I found the collection cohesive, which I always find enjoyable, as I prefer listing to works from a single artist in a sitting. This really engaged my listening, and I can heartily recommend this EP. I also enjoyed the album art very much, and the package appeals to my design sense. You can find the album for download in many places, but if you order the limited edition CD, you will get this wonderful package with fabulous art by Kriss Stress.



Sunday, April 6, 2014

Things and Horologium

This week I'd like to discuss a couple of musique concrète  albums put together for this year's RPM Challenge. The challenge is to use the month of February to record ten songs or 35 minutes of original music. This is an album's worth of material, and is a great way for musicians to exercise the skills necessary to produce one. For some this is a very simple thing, as they are hugely prolific.

Two such artists are Chrissie Caulfield and Stuart Russell, who have been working in the field of electroacoustic music for some time now. Every year they participate in this challenge, and it's helped to hone their skills to a great degree. I watched with interest as they put pieces together during the challenge, posting them on their SoundCloud accounts to share. This gave me a familiarity with much of the material that had been produced even before the albums were finalized and posted. It was quite entertaining.

Things by Chrissie Caulfield
Chrissie describes in her liner notes that the album was made almost exclusively using samples that she had recorded in the past year. This had given her an extra challenge of trying to produce music from using just these sounds. She used effects and manipulated the samples in interesting ways to produce these tracks. She used one word titles for all of the tunes, and this has a nice cohesive touch to the album.

There are many great moments in this album. Listening to it, I can't help but be occasionally astonished and surprised at what she has done with the source material. Beyond merely as curiosities, I found the pieces quite listenable, and enjoyable. There is beauty in these works, and the skill in which the recordings have been put together is rather masterful.


Horologium by Stuart Russell

According to Stuart's blog post about the album, it is intended to be a study of clocks and time. Indeed, clocks are used as sources in it, and time is certainly an element, both in it's sense as in music, and the manipulation of time in the recording. It uses samples that are not quite as manipulated as Chrissie's, except in some necessary places. Like Things, this album is startling in what the ordinary sound of our world can be used to create music. Again, it is quite listenable, and I enjoyed witnessing it's production as well as the final product.



There are 22 pieces between these two albums, and I enjoyed them all. I found it interesting that on Russell's Drift and Caulfield's Garden Centre Gamelan they were using recordings from the same session, that from when they were visiting a local shop together and tapping on terracotta pots. There are many other similarities in the albums as well. Both have a composition based on a teapot, Caulfield's Teapot, and Russell's Boil. Both use steam as sources, and Russell's Steam uses samples from Caulfield gathered for her Outside album. They are a very engaging pair of albums, and deserve to be examined together.

You can follow them both on Twitter at @Chrissie_c and @stuartr_comp respectively.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Static Metal

Can an instrumental album describe a dystopian world? I think it can, and an example of this is The Geeky Disco Experiment's Static Metal.  A cohesive collection of sound collage and ominous simple melody, it reflects an increasingly difficult world rendered in sound. Unafraid of being dissonant, it's sonic imagery calls up visions of things falling apart, of clockwork menace clicking along, threatening to break down.

The opening cut, Electric Future Collective is such a vision. Using only six samples as a base it lumbers along, building the story of a mechanical future, biology all gone and replaced with an unfeeling artificial intelligence. A strong opening that states the themes of the album. It reinforces the idea of dystopia for me, and was an excellent choice for the first cut.  

The artist describes the album as growing out of an impetus to create using metallic and static sounds, with the definition of static here likely a double entendre, meaning both unmovable and noise. He often uses piano tones as a melodic device, big ominous and simple, blending with noise bursts and clicking metallic beats. It provides focus on many of the tracks. Dissonance is a tool here too, contrasting and complimenting the simple melodies and beats.

The title cut Metal Static hits you with an atemporal burst of noise, a long one at that. This reinforces the idea on this album that these pieces are not necessarily intended to be enjoyable.  That is not to say that they are not listenable, and  the dissonance created is a weave of sound that interacts and interferes with itself interesting ways. Perhaps not for the ears of a casual music listener, but gives an active listener plenty of things to consider.

Drunk Zarathustra builds from a simple rhythmic pulse . It ads a warm bass to reinforce, then builds to a huge conclusion, using tones that remind one of a drill. Again our metallic theme plays out. This cut seems to exemplify much of the collection, and is an excellent single example of the ideas presented.

T.F.A.L. rounds out the collection, and includes a rare vocal, a chant of the existential, which sits neatly in the mix, providing a focus for the infectious rhythm bed. Surely this is a track not to be missed, like the album itself.

Geeky Linkies: @13LFO on Twitter, and The Geeky Disco Experiment on Bandcamp.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Good Fight XE

Sometimes we find a release we'd missed, and then wonder how we'd missed it. For me this year, I'd have to say it was The Good Fight Extended Edition  by Mr. Bitterness and the Guilty Pleasures . I'd heard and loved the original Bandcamp release, and wanted to do a review when I'd discovered this great version with remixes and goodies. It also gives me a bit of an opportunity to gush about some of the things that I absolutely adore about the original release as well. I loved it as I love my coffee, dark and strong.

It's what I might classify as electronic rock, and the album itself can be looked at as a concept album, with a unified theme, and even a story. The theme is determination and the struggle we must all face just to get through this mess of a modern world we find ourselves in. In particular, it's  about the internal struggle to brace yourself against externally imposed self doubt. The lyrics become a mantra, from the hard hitting beginning track "Get Up" to the final defeat of "Give Up". These songs are anthems, surely. And they are anthems that make me want to sing them against the harsh realities that crush us in the antagonism we must all face daily.  In the end our protagonist seems to lose the struggle, succumbing to the external crushing forces, with a chilling vocorder break towards the end. As in George Orwells Nineteen Eighty Four, our protagonist has been beaten down.

Fat synths and guitars mix with infectious rhythm back these mantras. Earworms are often formed, and I find the songs remain with me long after they've stopped playing. I've had "Benediction" in my regular playlists for months now, turning it up almost every time it comes on. Really quite a brilliant rock song, and again, providing me the self absolution that I need to move on.

The new song "Wake Up" added in the middle of the album provides an external struggle. This song can be taken as an anthem against the corporate culture that can oppress us all. A socially relevant piece, that provides an antagonist to the story. A welcome addition to the concept, and it's reflected in the album art which features a clear cut forest and industrial encroachment.

I loved the remixes too. Dust Motes, Blessed Sacrilege, and Michael 'mGee' Gregoire all deserve props for their reimagining of the arrangements. Surely an Epic extended edition.

Find it here: http://www.blocsonic.com/releases/show/the-good-fight-xe. It includes a pretty new booklet, and is available in tasty FLAC lossless as well as other more mundane formats.



Monday, February 24, 2014

Eclectic Blah

I've anticipated this release for months. Although you might think that fusion is really not my thing, my listening tastes for many years have included such wonderful things as Frank Zappa, Robin Trower, and Jan Hammer. Where the intersection of jazz and rock fuse is a very interesting place, as is easily typified by progressive rock. So when I was asked to review the eponymous Eclectic Blah, I was rather excited to be in on it. I found a really nice collection of songs, with solid performances both impressive and eclectic: just the way I like it.

From the opening notes of Spheres, we are informed of what the music will entail. Synths set the mood, with pulsing bass building to the full orchestration as the guitar glistens in, and the subtle but driving percussion fills out a chilly opening track.

Moving on to Tiny Bugs, again synthy goodness brings us in, a pattern on many of the tracks. A soft interplay between parts with the guitars and drums, meshing smoothly.

A nice saxophone whispers to us in In Deep Water, which gives us a sumptuous intro, followed by another solid groove, a toe tapper for sure.

The organ intro in Dreams of Hesse is reverent, quietly powerful as the splash of cymbal announces an equally reverent progression, with the bass holding down a slow driving beat for the guitar's plaintive soloing.

Rich tones meet us in The Porcupine, moving from the walking bass to the strings to the guitars, and showing a heated conversation of instruments. It drives hard to the end, sizzling to a stop.

Take a deep swig of Harvey Wallbanger, which has a style reminiscent of Andy Summers's solo work, a solid jam.

Lazer seems to start out deceptively simple, again building to intensity. Taking it's time, synths are almost a special effect in a jazzy montage that evokes science fiction. As with much of the album, It would make an excellent soundtrack to a Cowboy Bebop episode.

Solid State is big and dangerous. From the pulsing synth in the beginning to the build in the end I'm brought mental images of action flicks. I really, really liked this cut.

Driving Home Slowly must refer to the autobahn, and slowly must be a relative term, as I see cars at night slipping along at a pace through the blackness and illuminated roadway. It winds down the album slowly, bringing us home safely.

Considering the tightness of them, it's good to remember that these pieces are live performances. Improvisation abounds and these exceptionally talented musicians show their stuff, but you might think you were listening to a studio album. The production is impressive as well. Clearly engineered cleverly, they provide a great showcase. Surely a tribute to producer Rainer Straschill's attention to detail and professionalism. A very worthwhile effort indeed.