(New EP Review) Samson Stilwell- Signals

Samson Stilwell is a poet and sound artist based in Portland, OR whom you may have previously caught on Freeform Portland hosting the Soundspace radio series with Ben Glas. He used to be in an ambient/experimental group called Opals, and now, in 2017, he’s put out Signals, his vinyl/digital commercial debut for Sounds et al.

Like his quizzical, elliptical poems, rich in their evocation of memory, Samson’s pieces are defined by their strong sensory details, whether they be the whispering loops that send nervous shivers through “Raphael, Esther”‘s drone or the field-recording of a silent walk in “Autumn Sliver”.  For Signals Samson delves through an eclectic slew of atmospheres, some glitchy and bordering on noise, some more in the vein of serene drone, assembling a familiar whole still without hinting at any particular focus or high-concept. As in Tessa Bolsover’s photography for the release, there is a sensitive, organic vibe to it all; there need not be any specific meaning to search for in any of these pieces, other than to see them as concise snapshots of the beauty of being alive. You take in the skillfully-layered composition of tactile electro-acoustic sound-manipulation/arrangement, and you end up hungry for more– the albums clocks in at just over twenty-minutes. One to take in carefully, and most certainly the first in more great stuff to come.

You can catch the final leg of Samson’s west coast tour with Roarke Menzies in Portland at Beacon Sound at 8 pm tonight, tomorrow in Seattle at Wayward Music’s Chapel Performance Space at 8 pm (with Norm Chambers, aka Panabrite), and on Saturday in Vancouver, BC at Quiet City at 8 pm.


(New Album Review) David Fyans – Trübhand

David Fyans is a sound artist from Scotland with a seriously underrated catalogue of experimental electronic music with a droney, textural slant. January’s Time in Bronze, a long-form generative piece made with a modular synth system ought to be among the must-listens of the year for ambient and experimental heads, but equally impressive and perhaps more worthy of attention in this moment is his first CD release for Amsterdam’s always reliable Moving Furniture RecordsTrübhand.

“Trübhand”, a word that translates to mean “clouded/obscured hand” has, as the author notes, multiple connotations that relate to this collection in different ways. The saying “the one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing” comes to mind. One intuitive interpretation that arises from it is the obscured nature of the hands’ activity in the course of recording music and sound art such as this. Subtle modulations furrow an evolving soundscape out of a drone, and if the listener is not present for a live performance, it might not even occur to them that what they are listening to is not exactly an instrument being played per se. Two pieces comprise the album: “(Left Hand)”, “(Right Hand)”.

In any case, the album was inspired by a period of exile in Northern Germany; the depression of being away from home was worsened by the flatness and blandness of the landscape. Fyans would, at night, imagine mountains and valleys taking shape in it. These two pieces mirror Fyans’ nighttime flight of imagination– in both “(Left Hand)” and “(Right Hand)”, a steady drone is transformed through minute changes and sheer duration. “(Left Hand)” mines celestial calm, a slow flyby over rolling waves of grass, while “(Right Hand)” is a slow-burning dark ambient monster that scales jagged peaks.

Fantastic dronescaping from a master– can’t recommend it highly enough.

(New Album Review) Long Hallways- The Way Home

The name alone of The Way Home, the new full-length from Portland-based post-rock group Long Hallways contains multitudes. For Americans like myself, home has definitely been looking better. Even the city I call a second home is changing rapidly– easy-going old timers are getting edged out by hip new money, quality live music bills by dance nights and the hype-train mentality. Fingers are pointing, but at the end of the day the culprit is something at the core of our American ennui: if it’s different, it’s bad, the end. This struggle springs to mind intuitively when I listen to this surging, emotive, yet textural and thoughtfully-composed album from the Hallways (their first to be put out on vinyl), one of the most eclectic post-rock bands active these days. If you’re looking for an example of some evidence that Portland still puts out a fair amount of quality exploratory music, look no further…

The quiet-loud dynamic of third-wave post-rock can grip your heart with the best of them, provided the right musicians are at the helm. Daniel Staton’s scorching guitar tone and the thundering pulse of Nicholas Stott and Joseph Chamberlain’s rhythm section give “March of Knives” and “A Butterfly on the Battlefield” the epic feel of a race against time. But it’s Dayna Sanders’ slow-motion flourishes on keyboard and Elise Wong’s violin and cello that truly give it another dimension and hint at the unspoken story within– “Elegy Too Many” and “Crystal Forest” make that pretty clear. Josh Burd’s artwork, a misfit with bloodshot eyes rooted in place like a rickety house on a quiet street, fits the vibe perfectly.

For Portland readers: if you are curious to hear these songs live, you will want to be in attendance tonight at the Tonic Lounge at 8 pm for the 2017 NW Post-Rock Collective Showcase. Long Hallways will be joined by Volcanic Pinnacles, Human Ottoman, Seattle’s You May Die In The Desert, and A Collective Subconscious. It’s the album release party for The Way Home, too! Hope you can make it.

(New Album Review) Robert Farrugia- Slow Morning

Robert Farrugia’s Slow Morning, for Archives, starts up, and ebbing drifts from synth, guitar, and piano crawl across the face of a vast, still seascape. This is a music for looking back, and looking back alone, seemingly.

The Maltese musician has taken much of inspiration from post-rock as well neo-classical and ambient; that showed on earlier efforts like Half-Light and it shows here, as well. Some techno-feels creep into “Pulses”, and deep, syncopated rumbles lend a mood akin to submerged electronica to the opener, “Currents”, but for the most part it’s gauzy, layered ambient– cloudy and meandering, but not directionless. There is a weightiness to it, a sense of being caught between two extremes, and not entirely sure of which to let take the lead. Put on the centerpiece track “Coastal”, an epic downcast-gazer for grey skies and whipping, chilly winds and you’ll see where I’m going with this. The closing track, the similarly elliptical and melancholic “Haze” is a collaboration between Farrugia, his brother Matthew on cello, and Archives label head Warmth. Kudos have to go too to Brian Young for the album art photography, which hits the texture of the album on the head perfectly in a visual form.

Really nice stuff from an artist who’s found his stride in a totally unique style of ambient music that ultimately holds you transfixed.

(New Album Review) David Evans- Suddenly Woken by the Sound of Stillness

A cozy sonic journey more or less perfect for nighttime reminiscence: David Evans’ Suddenly Woken by the Sound of Stillness, off Flaming Pines. Nothing too moody or alarming… it’s an album of field-recordings made on a trip along the Trans-Siberian Railway. Suddenly Woken by mastered by Lawrence English.

The singularly comforting rhythm of the click-clack of wheels on tracks, distant music, and ghostly, submerged processed sounds evoke the sense impressions of the traveler drifting in and out of consciousness through the long nights. For a travelogue undertaking such as this, Suddenly Woken gives a notably vague sense of place– the journey was definitely not approached from an intellectualizing “ethnographic” slant. What makes the document so affecting is the way that it gives off the romance of traveling alone, but an abstract part of it hard to put into words, like getting unknowingly lulled in the repetitive sounds of a car or plane’s ambient environment. Evans noted that more than once in the trip, he would fall asleep, but then wake up because the train had came to a stop in the middle of the night: the “sound of stillness” roused him awake. Time passes differently when you’re in transit– something hard to put into words that Evans’ collage straightforwardly conveys.

An oneiric sound artifact, sensitive and pregnant with mystery, just like the choral samples and drone that close the ending section to “Irkutsk to Moscow”, endlessly planing.

(Mini-Album Review) Wasting Seasons- Things Go Away

I’m excited to announce, just a week after the Loom mini-album CD-R, the premiere of another long-in-the-works release from David Fylstra’s project Wasting Seasons: Things Go Away. This limited CD-R release is comprised of a track containing elements field-recorded in Columcille, Pennsylvania in summer 2013 in addition to studio recordings from 2013 and 2015.

The soundscape contained herein captures a crucial and not-too-frequent biological event: the end of the 17 year life cycle of cicadas on the Brood II clock (among fifteen broods of periodical cicadas are known to still exist). A periodical cicada spends most of its life underground, feeding, biding its time. After 17 (or for some broods, 13) years, the adult form finally emerges from the soil, mates, lays eggs, and dies, all within about two months from burrowing up into the light. During this period, in July 2013, David brought his laptop and a mic into the woods, as the adult cicadas were starting to die off. The recording was processed and added-to with sounds from noisemaker toys, melodica, acoustic guitar, and effects pedals. Things Go Away is meant as a sonic reflection on the impermanence of things, of the cicada’s strange, mostly-subterranean life, only fully realized in its final hour– it is a dark and beguiling meditation indeed.

Like any sound art piece, Things Go Away challenges your preconceived notions about listening in some subtle ways. The chorus of cicadas calls is so thick and diffuse, you might not recognize it at first, in the same way that you might, walking in the woods, suddenly becoming aware of the ambient sounds of a nearby city, though they always were there, just pushed to the back of your mind. It is not hiss from the recording medium you are hearing, but an invisible army of creatures singing in unison, some of them for the last time. The noisemakers being to clatter and rattle, joining in like so many other insects. The slow wash of a plane passing overhead becomes like a surge of feedback. Then the ghostly broken chords from guitar start up, conveying a cinematic feeling of dread and wonder at the strangeness of life itself. Just mesmerizing, and woefully short. Give this one a look, right now!

(Quick Take) Halftribe- Daydreams in Low Fidelity

Manchester’s Halftribe mines a ethereal techno vibe rife with tactile, dubby pops and clicks to lovely effect on his second full-length Daydreams in Low Fidelity, off ARCHIVES, run by Spanish producer Warmth. A label like ARCHIVES (who put out Purl’s fantastic Form is Emptiness last September), truly goes to show how much a good cover design/artwork/photograph can bolster my (or anyone else’s) interest in a release. In this case, the hazy, soft-color cover photo was taken by Brian Young, who works with custom filters to come up with a distinctive gazey visual feel. It’s definitely a far cry from some arty low-light club– this is headphone music meant for outside, walking around or sprawled out on the grass. Obscured-by-distance field recordings of kids at play and chirping birds are situated comfortably alongside masterful use of samples (see the title track for that, in particular) and glitchy micro-sounds. A real pleasure to take in– gentle but never lulling.

Conjoining Currents: Dub Techno, Dream Pop, Shoegaze