Basho is a moniker of Portland-dwelling electronic musician, photographer, and swell guy Dominic Voz. On his new self-released EP Japan, the tactile, airy, rambunctious melodies, microbeats, and textural accoutrements of Basho’s generally house-based soundscapes act as tour guide through a blurred maze of crowded streets, buzzing screens, sprawling parks, lazy evenings. The meshing of digital stutters and field-recordings gives that strong sense of simulacra melding with everyday beauty that music press was so eager to label “folktronica”. The truth is that there isn’t a buzzword in existence that can describe the playfully ethereal vibe this music brings out, so forget it. Fix your mind on something between Four Tet and Haruka Nakamura and you should have a good idea of what this one is about.
And hey! Check out this great music video for “Don’s Dream” by video artist Kevin Nagler:
For In the Lens, Australian electro-acoustic duo Solo Andata (Kane Ikin and Paul Fiocco) threw all preoccupation with idiom and mode to the wind to create the sort of more open-ended, slowly-unfurling exploratory work rife with mystery and empty of easy resolution that you can always expect from Taylor Deupree’s 12k. This is the pair’s third appearance on the label, after all (for Ikin, this is the fourth time on 12k).
Look at what their output independent of one another, and you’ll see that both of these guys offer a deeply textural and idiosyncratic take on experimental music; in the case of Ikin, this takes the form of sinuous, crackling, vaguely-techno-influenced soundscapes (see his 2009 near masterpiece Sublunar, and his fine new full-length for Type Modern Pressure), while for Fiocco it manifests as chilly minimalist compositions based on acoustic timbres (check his sole full-length, the excellent Torsions and Drifts, for Meupe). Put them together and interesting stuff results. Six years ago, on Ritual, their collaboration took the form of tenebrous and eerie collages of drones, vinyl hiss, and acoustic textures. But now, on In the Lens, we’re greeted far more airy and loosely-structured.
Obscure acoustic tinkerings, lo-fi field recordings, and relaxed indoor recording-area ambience root vague expressions from guitars and percussive instruments in a sense of the personal, the micro-scale. It’s a humid summer evening and the air around you is thick with the chirps of crickets, the sky with glimpses of swifts and bats. This is the kind of nostalgic feeling pieces like “Separate Lovers” and “Leaden Sky” evoke. The pieces were in fact constructed in large part from forgotten threads, recordings made in a wide variety of environments. It took me a bit to warm up to the album because it is so different from what I appreciate and have come to expect from these two artists both independently and together. However, this is definitely one that grows on you fast. Another great contribution to the modern electro-acoustic/ambient scene from a label that really brings out the best in its community– humbleness organically finding singular moments of beauty.
For his new cassette off Toztizok Zoundz, Sri Maha Mariamman, Dutch guitarist Arvind Ganga takes a dive into the trickier realms of free improv for a series of maddeningly skittering lo-fi experiments with guitar and found-objects inspired by a Hindu temple of renown in Malaysia. I was beguiled most by “Hungry Stare” and “Closed Doors”, which suggested for me the grim sight of destitute souls and greedy monkeys that will greet you the moment you step outside the Holy Space back into the Real World. An interesting collection throughout, and well worth your time. Give it a listen.
Damian Valles is a Canadian multi-instrumentalist and sound artist whose work has long intrigued me. Through guitar, percussion, field-recordings and mind-bending sound design, he can guide you on an acousmatic trip that can be at turns alarming and awestruck. Moreover, similarly to characters like David Newman and Rutger Zuydervelt, his treatments are so immersive and radical that he can often bring you into a alien sonic world. A lot of distance gets put between the source material and the textures that result, and so the lines get blurred, the origins become unclear, and you’re left with something truly mind-manifesting and gripping. His new album for the fine French label VoxxoV, Strand, might be his strongest yet, as well as undoubtedly his darkest.
Strand is bleak stuff– a night bleached monochrome, punctuated with shattering bolts of lightning. There’s less guitar here– it’s all dingy feedback loops and clanging marches. As pieces like “Cause of Motion” and “Shift Work” pull you under their spell, the heady, tribalistic atmosphere recalls Rapoon, Faust, and possible Canadian forebear Alan Bloor all at once. Oppressive bonfires rage on in the acrid air, the landscape around you wickedly transforming before your very eyes. We’re left finally with the final uneasy spurts and glowing drone of “Clay Body / Salt Body”– the cathartic ritual is done, and all we’re left with is the charred remains. A totally bracing and savage dark ambient album and essential listening of the year, to be sure.
In Radio Sea, Adzuki (Tokyo-based sound artist Kadzuki Ikegaya) has found by way of billowing white noise and enveloping pads an immensity perhaps at the halfway point between the epic synth soundscapes of Tesu Inoue and the earlier, more abstractly experimental efforts of Tim Hecker. The mystery of the sonic territories surrounding your regularly scheduled programming is navigated slowly and steadily, delicate details always surfacing to the foreground. Fragile melodies buoy in wave after wave of saturated textures that trail off with a sense of contemplation. In short, these meditations often represent digitally-based sound design at its most evocative.
Adzuki may not be a well-known figure yet, but we may expect that to change soon– time to get on this guy’s stuff! Another excellent curatorial choice from Amsterdam’s Shimmering Moods.
A few moments into Vespers, it is clear to hear that this newest effort from The Oo-Ray (Portland-dwelling cellist and sound artist Ted Laderas) represents a huge stylistic shift. Groaning timbres and ghostly treatments give this one, originally a cassette-only release from last December via New Ruin Tapes, an imprint of my friends Lifelike Family, the vibe of dark ambience and drone-noise. I know that the glare of summer is full upon us now, but you listen to this and you’re pulled back in the spaces of a moonlit winter night, your only companions the silent trees, a distant owl. The shifting, foreboding shadows of Side A form an emotional dynamism with the more peaceful, yet still uneasy, steady swells of Side B. As electro-acoustic sound art that organically evokes both a feeling and a whole sonic environment with imagination and sensitivity, this may be one of the best offerings from The Oo-Ray, a guy whose stuff consistently stands out. Listen:
Oslo-based netlabel mainstay Benjamin Finger is one of the few electronic musicians around these days definitively worthy of the label of “true original”. And yet his self-professed list of influences is a dizzying, only superficially incoherent array from Autechre to Oneohtrix to John Zorn that says quite a bit (without saying too much) about the manic textural eclecticism of this guy’s work. Here’s someone who’s into just about everything you could be into in music, and then re-assembles what he gets out of music as something so utterly vivid and dynamic, seemingly not beholden to any idiom in particular. There was the jazzy, then ambient, then spattering collage-electronica of 2011’s excellent For You, Sleepsleeper, off How is Annie Records. Then in 2015, there was the gently ebbing, tactile, modern-classical-influenced Amorosa Sensitiva, for Blue Tapes. And if you had any doubts that his new EP for Sellout! Music 9,5 was going to be something easy to pigeonhole, just look at that cover. A dog taking a crap. On putting music in a box without actually caring about it. On giving music a numbered score. I love it.
9.5 is all neon confetti and bubbling, bouncing textures. On the single “Pˈɒp mjˈuːzɪk”, a pounding nightclub rhythm gradually ascends into reverie alongside breathy sampled vocals and psychedelic swirls. The general vibe continues as something considerably more calmed-down on the extended mix of “Party Corpse”, a warm, starry-eyed ambient techno soundscape that serves as the perfect lead-in to the resplendent noisiness of the candy-colored closer “Orange Monday”. There’s some really ingenious use of sampling here that can’t be denied, but honestly it’s all so darn pretty and, well, fun it would be hard to know where to start in picking out all the expertly-juxtaposed elements. Now, take a gander at the music video for “Pˈɒp mjˈuːzɪk” first. Enjoy.
The slow diffusion of morning light across a cloudless sky: this is the feeling that characterizes Patagon, the newest full-length from Oliwa, Argentinian electronic musician Sebastian Oliwa. Oneiric keyboard melodies convey a sense of a slow awakening, of a landscape being unveiled. You can hear in aspects like the panpipe-voice used on pieces like “Orkeke” more explicit nods in the general direction of the ethno-ambient universe of Steve Roach and others, but what is often most striking is the warmth and weighty torpor of the effects employed. Clouds and waves roll. Mountains rise up, then are pushed down again. Memories last a long time, then they gradually unravel.
It’s all really gentle, gorgeous stuff that shows great compositional economy: a simplicity that reflects a certain open-heartedness. In short, the panoramic nostalgia of these ambient pieces maintains a fairly strong emotional pull as it drifts into fog. I think you need to give this a listen right now.
On his new album as Cloud City Cars, Magic Guard, Ryan Lawrance McGreer, co-founder and chief designer for my favorite Portland label, Lifelike Family, dissects hauntological synth vibes and techno to create something altogether much more jazzy, much more playful and irreverent than what fans of modern electronic music might be used to. Woozy melodic lines on and vaguely off-kilter down-tempo drum machines have a chilly, retro-futurist beauty to them while still reminding us that this whole music thing is supposed to be fun and that experimental music is supposed to be experimental to boot. A tilt-shifted panorama of a science fiction highway in the sky. Reminds me of Delia Derbyshire in parts. Hey! You need to check it out! Like, pronto! You’ll thank me, I promise.