Agassiz Oscillation Ensemble are a Minnesotan collective that, like Hototogisu and Vibracathedral Orchestra, do not craft songs so much as living, breathing musical spaces. Their impressive debut Workplace Democracy recently came out on cassette from Chicago’s 1980 Records.
There is never any one focal point here, just a slowly contorting mass of clattering percussion and groaning acoustic strings swirling around the grave invective of sometimes-leader Allen-Killian Moore’s imagistic poetry. The album is one long form piece divided into two manageable chunks. To choose a blank canvas and then maximize the overtones with blunt force leaves so much room for the mind to manifest in unexpected ways. Indeed, bands such as these are “psychedelic” in the true sense for their confident, freely-flowing sonic unpredictability. Workplace Democracy is the sound of a haggard brain searching furtively through a thick undergrowth of abstractions. The intuitively-controlled chaos leads up from the roots into the ambiguous glimmer of a checkered daylight. This one comes highly recommended to all fans of psych-drone, free improvisation, and noise.
Helm is Luke Younger, an experimental musician from Britain whose work certainly follows in the footsteps of English pioneers of mind-manifesting electronic and electro-acoustic sounds such as David and Vikki Jackman, Gilbert and Lewis, and Andrew Chalk. The title of his new album of electronic music from PAN records, Olympic Mess, is fitting, given its baffling and admirable sonic scope. Even when held up against the light with the lo-fi outsider minimalism of Younger’s startlingly original 2011 release Cryptography, Olympic Mess doesn’t look too similar to anything else around.
Olympic Mess is inner-space cartography that’s been molded by long and weird days and nights spent trying to make sense of an increasingly atomized world. The spacious and chilly tone of Olympic Mess shows the influence of dub techno, and often gives the feeling of the individual drowned in an urban landscape. Moreover, only-superficially-inexplicable details like the uncomfortably intimate spoken-word piece “Strawberry Chapstick” and the numerous field recordings incorporated into the album continually thrust us back into awareness of the silence and strangeness of our place in reality. Where the hell have we ended up and why has the disconnect between mundane life and our cultural avatars become so heightened? Younger has taken us on a trip that should not be forgotten…
Strom Noir, Slovakian sound artist Emil Matko, makes warm, enveloping ambient with a methodolgy similar to Hakobune’s: through the layering of faint, delayed-to-the-aether tones. Though the best entry point into his discography would be through the mysterious, endlessly trailing ostinato melodies of Dni Stratili Svoju Farbu (Days Lost their Colors), his new album ΕΣΟΠΤΡΟΝ (Espotron: Inner Mirror), released on cassette by ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ early in March 2015, is just as lovely. Matko’s meticulous work has produced blissfully dreamy soundscapes– the early spring to Hakobune and Nobuto Suda’s late autumn. This one is a must-listen for all fans of sound art and ambient music.
Let’s hope that this one didn’t slip past you last winter; Andrew Tomasello is an awesome experimental musician from Portland whose psychedelic take on ambient music reaches a fever pitch of anguished emotionalism on Unraveling. The slow-burning decay of this electric storm, generated via guitar, bow, ebow, and various effects, is beautiful to behold. Highly recommended.
Nhung Nguyen occasionally sheds her moniker Sound Awakener to release material that does not quite fit the goals of the Sound Awakener project. The major success of these occasional diversions, Winter’s Stories, is also in my view one of the major successes of her output thusfar.
Winter’s Stories is a collection of impressionistic neo-classical pieces on piano captured through remote and vague lens. The muted tones of the piano drift through a fog of field recordings and darkly ambient electronic tones without losing definition. Nguyen’s tendency to favor lo-fi recording is employed to very novel affect here; where other experimental ambient sound artists engulf their musical structures with the abstractions of seeming white noise, her approach to the “art” part of “sound art” is to give a feeling of romantic distance to the recording. The piano is seemingly across the street and we are the accidental audience, half-asleep but riveted. The overall affect is strikingly familiar to that of the third piece from William Basinski’s Melancholia, but more fleshed-out structurally, sustained for longer than the breadth of a loop. All fans of sound art influenced by neo-classical will be pulled in by this hauntingly unique release.
Tambour is the moniker of Quebecois composer Simon Piché-Castonguay, whose latest album, Chapitre 1, came out July 2nd on the Montreal ambient sanctuary Moderna Records. Piché-Castonguay’s take on minimal classical uses acoustic instrumentation, but its richly layered textures plunge the listener into an ocean of sustained, swelling atmospherics. The slow tempo and warm strings of Chapitre 1 carry within them echoes of William Basinski, Stars of the Lid, World’s End Girlfriend, and Georges Delerue. Highly recommended to fans of cinematic music, post-rock, and modern classical.
Swedish musician and sound artist Dag Rosenqvist was once the face behind Jasper TX– after the conclusion of that project, he cycled through two more monikers until around 2014 he resolved to push on under his given name. On The Forest Diaries, his new album from the excellent Eilean Records, one can see how far behind he has left the dark (albeit very minimal) electric guitar-focused style of his earlier albums to focus on softer acoustic sounds. Here, for instance, piano and pump organ are the focal points Rosenqvist chose for the music’s anatomy. This change in approach and instrumentation has given his music a more intimate tone.
The Forest Diaries, a piece in ten parts that was commissioned for a multimedia project by artist Jenny Larsson, has a voice that is faded and weary, like the face of a page tanned with age. One aspect of this album that is revealing of the aesthetic for which Rosenqvist aimed is the out-of-tune piano he utilizes on the piece’s coda. That little breath of ringing dissonance gives a little layer of darkness to the wistful theme that recurs throughout the meditation, in between resurfacing from underneath some muted drones of electric and acoustic origins. This uncommonly gentle album goes out to all fans of deep listening and minimalism.