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.
樹海/sea of trees is an excellent compilation of tracks from mostly Japanese electronic producers from the netlabels Future Disorder (based in Colombia) and On Sunday Recordings (based in Japan). The album has very generously been offered free to download from soundcloud, and this sprawling collection is worthier of one’s time than most netlabel compilations, as the array of styles here is a little dizzying, and certainly also evidence of an openness in their approach and their hearts. While On Sunday’s output tends to concentrate on glitch and ambient techno, Future Disorder’s contributions run the widest gamut in terms of genre. sea of trees spans ambient techno, witch house, minimal wave, glitchy ephemera, electro-acoustic ambient, vaporwave, and quite a few who seem to overlap more than one of these idioms (Kenji Kishi and Jamie J. Ross’s contribution “Standing Tall” comes to mind); what unites these disparate tracks is an aesthetic pregnant with a sense of mystery and longing. For that matter, Future Disorder is a self-described Aokigahara record label.
There are many highlights to this collection. The Los Angeles duo Talking DÆMON sound like the tormented emotionalism of HTRK propelled by a dizzying synth riff out of a Sakamoto film score. Soma Hayato ingeniously spools beats from field recordings on the lovely “Jaburo” while Ryosuke Miyata (also of the excellent Organic Industries) takes a beatless approach to electro-acoustic ambient sounds on “Sweet Double Suicide”. Code4 and Fjell trip deep into foreboding dreams, one with the help of a suffused hip-hop beat, the other with synth strings and an eerie refrain on piano. Whatever vibe you happen to tap into here, you will definitely get hooked onto some new talents if you check this one out. Highly eclectic and highly recommended.
Ragamatic, a project in which North Indian classical music has been wed to electronic production, is helmed by Weilheim in Oberbayern artist and musician Reiner Heidorn. Previously, Heidorn’s sitar had been joined by friend Saraswati Veena’s production work– however, as of late, Heidorn has been flying solo.
Though Auditus may occasionally remind some of the wobbly downtempo atmospherics of worldbeat-style ethno-fusion musical entities like Transglobal Underground, Heidorn’s approach is to focus on showcasing the tones of his instrument and to do that, he parses down the surrounding production; consequently, the album’s pulse is more meditative than most ethno-electronica. One could say that Auditus is truly experimental ethno-fusion, because Heidorn has made a brave shot at fusing a minimal aesthetic of electronic production with traditional music. Heidorn’s technique is lovely and accomplished and there are many production successes to be found here: the slinky atmospherics of tracks like “Tempestus” and “Flumineous” are bound to embed themselves in your memory. Auditus is a highly promising debut and strongly recommended to all fans of ethnomusicology.
Dimitar Dodovski’s output sits on the divide between pure ambient music and cerebral electronica. He has a style that borrows from strongly contrasting schools in electronic music production, yet is wholly harmonious: nervy disturbances from glitch and IDM-branded techno send a polyrhythmic electric pulse through the spacious pads and distant bass of dub techno. Dodovski’s new mp3 release from Shimmering Moods, “In Every Direction”, and its accompanying remix from the always excellent sound artist Porya Hatami come off almost as an exercise in testing the arbitrary boundaries between rhythmic electronic music and sound art. The glitchy spattering of Dodovski’s mix is more hypnotic than danceable, but even the trance cast by this track is rendered almost unrecognizable by Hatami’s highly imaginative remix, which saturates the track underneath a cloud of hiss and delay. Hatami also makes the interesting choice to insert some piano flourishes over his remix. Highly original and highly recommended.