Derek Piotr – Raj

Derek Piotr - Raj

On ‘Raj’, the third release from Poland’s Derek Piotr, the music featured throughout is a very vocal set of experimental and beat oriented compositions that draws much of it’s content from the voice which is processed and arrange, sometimes acting as a part of the beat itself.

This is my first introduction to Piotr’s music but before I began this review I went back to his previous two releases, ‘Agora’ and ‘Airing’, both of which show Piotr’s subtle but nevertheless, progressive movement through his vocal practices and the digitalized aura that at all times surrounds his work, that being his heavily processed but otherwise organic approach to the broad genre that is electronic music. Throughout Piotr’s previous releases it is apparent that his music has always been hard to pin down and on ‘Raj’ it is even more difficult. In a moment of harsh glitching and hot digital distortion (Spine, Grave)  I want to call it noise, during the bits of eclectic beat-oriented madness (‘Amendola’) I am reminded of dub and minimalist techno, throughout the menacing atmosphere that fills the album I want to call it dark ambient, and even then there are so many other genre’s one could tack on to ‘Raj’ yet there is no single point in time on this album in which any of the aforementioned genre tags could fully describe it. With all of that said, Piotr’s third entry is an undoubtably complex effort, brimming with abstract beats, unexpected shifts in direction, and unusual song structures that can be as uninviting as they can be accessible.

Musicians, particularly electronic musicians of Piotr’s kind have always expressed some interest in the manipulation of the voice and the use of it as an instrument but it hasn’t been until recently, within the past few years that is, that this vocal processing, this sound shaping of the voice has become a seen and used by musicians as a tool for creating beats, melodies, and song structures. Musicians like James Blake, Vladislav Delay, and AGF (whom Derek Piotr has collaborated with) can all be heard using vocals as the primary instrument, alongside synths and the whir and glow of the computer in the post-digital age.

Unlike many electronic musicians, Piotr does not so much work within the perimeters of electronic music as much as he exploits them. The otherwise polished sheen of digital music becomes distorted; ripped free from its most “proper” uses. You can hear the static glitched out synths, pitch shifted tones, and chopped up beats all moving at varying speeds, and Piotr’s own disheartening vocal embellishments that are arranged in a rather eerie way over the industrial, menacing soundscape that fills this album. The minimalist compositions and echo of the cold beats remind me of Andy Stott’s two 2011 EPs prior to his move toward a more polished sound on his 2012 full length.  It’s a very visual type of music and I think this aspect has been made even more apparent by the two music videos that accompany the tracks, ‘Sand Defacing All Surfaces” and ‘Grave’.

Piotr’s constant vocal manipulations paired with the desolate digital atmosphere shows a lot of ambition and potential but I do feel like there are many times where these elements come off as more of a burden for the listener than a unique aspect of his work. The vocal manipulations become especially grating along with the repetitiousness of the albums tracks. I found myself thinking it would be nice to hear Piotr’s own raw voice, removed of the guise of his editing skills. While individually, most of the tracks aren’t something you would listen to as independent pieces the album does pick up on that aspect in that, holistically it works very well, perhaps because the music is so conscious of what it is, even without an established concept.

The tracks are minimal, bare, stripped down, skeletal, and sometimes repetitive; there is a strain of despair and desolation that runs throughout each track. There are moments on this album where this moodiness works much to Piotr’s advantage in that it leaves me feeling unease, never feeling content or comfortable in knowing where the next track or sudden shift in direction might take me; never a moment where I felt like I knew what was going to happen next, which proves to be one of the best aspects of this piece of music by the end of the album. In the end, as experimental and impenetrable as ‘Raj’ may initially sound, there are many moments interjected throughout where the album can feel very accessible, even for audiences unfamiliar with Piotr’s unorthodox approach to electronic music.

Have a look at the videos that accompany two tracks from the album:

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Overall Rating: 6.8

Favorite Tracks: ‘Flow Through Light’

Recommended: AGF, Vladislav Delay, Andy Stott

Released: 26 February 2013

Links: http://derekpiotr.com/raj/

-Tyler Thompson

Giles Corey – Hinterkaifeck

Giles Corey - Hinterkaifeck

After the indefinite hiatus of the genre-defying two-man band, Have A Nice Life, member Dan Barrett began releasing music as Giles Corey, a singer-songwriter / folk project that, with the first release, diverged from Barrett’s previous endeavors, focusing less on genre hopping and more on remaining consistent in one area, that being Barrett’s craft for applying this dark, atmospheric presence to his work, in this case folk music. With Giles Corey Barrett binds together lyrical topics on suicide, history, and the supernatural into a tale that is irresistibly enveloping.

While Giles Corey could be thrown into the category of folk music without much thought, Barret’s idea of folk is a bit different than the sound the genre has become synonymous with. Barrett’s style of music, much like his endeavors in past projects has this huge sense of depth to the recordings. Throughout, there is a gloomy melancholic aura that is often accompanied  by nihilistic lyrics, vocals ranging from longing howls to the abrasive, processed drums, and resonant droning chords that seem to echo on forever; a polarizing combination that made the first installment in Giles Corey’s discography a must have for fans of folk and even the extremes of black metal alike. Although different from Have A Nice Life and Nahvalr, in many ways, the project still retained some traits found within those previous projects, namely Barrett’s soft spot for the reverb and delay drenched aspects of shoegaze music and the sprawling influence of drone music, a trait that was revisited, this time wholly as the project moved toward the long-form minimalist drone and binaural experiments of last year’s ‘Deconstructionist’ album.

It’s no secret that Giles Corey’s first album wore it’s experimental tendencies on it’s sleeves but the project’s next album, ‘Deconstructionist’, a release consisting of three songs, each passing the twenty minute mark, was a piece of music that did away with any kind musical structure, this time fully embracing experimentation which, as a result would isolate the fans of the more folky tracks from the project’s debut. Luckily for those who didn’t enjoy Barret’s plummet into the conceptual mood piece that was the ‘Deconstructionist’ this new EP, ‘Hinterkaifeck’ is a return to the haunting style that gained the project it’s attention in the first place.

One thing that made Giles Corey so appealing was Barrett’s story telling. With each release Barrett has offered a backstory to accompany the music; it was a decision that called for participation, allowing the listener to immerse one’s self within the music as oppose to simply listening along. As with these previous releases, the title of the EP, ‘Hinterkaifeck’ offers some pretext to the music, referring to an unsolved event that transpired on a small farm in which, on the evening of 1922 six people were brutally and curiously murdered with a pickaxe. It is a minor piece of information that without knowing does nothing in terms of adding to the mythos that Barrett has built around this project but when looked into gave me something to chew on, offering another perspective into what Giles Corey is about thematically.

On this new EP Barrett’s dishearteningly somber vocals and lo-fi production techniques are ever present. Where the last release was a three track sprawling epic these three shorter tracks on this EP still manage to leave plenty of room for some explosive and epic moments. Thick acoustic guitar chords and distant vocals make up the beginning of ‘Guilt Is My Boyfriend’ before exploding into a fuzz-drenched mess, essentially summing up what Giles Corey is at it’s most basic, pop with a wash of melancholia. The songs on ‘Hinterkaifeck’ show Giles Corey progressing in very much the same fashion as was heard on the self titled album. It isn’t nearly as groundbreaking but being what it is, a decent set of new tracks, it should tide you over until the next full length release.

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Overall Rating: 6.8

Favorite Track: ‘Guilt Is My Boyfriend’

Recommended: Visit Enemies List Home Recordings website for similar artists.

Released: 21 February 2013

Links: Check out this live set of tracks from a recent tour here.

-Tyler Thompson

Congregations – Circular Ruins

‘Circular Ruins’ is the post-humous release by Congregations, a project that featured a rotating line-up, the only constant member being edmonton ambient musician David Ferris who is also a member of drone / jazz trio TAIWAN whose first album, ‘Belladonna’  was reviewed early in the summer.

Lush, spacial, and delicate are a few of the descriptors that could be used to describe the ambient beauty that is Congregations first and last album. ‘Circular Ruins’ is massive without being crushing or oppressive. Tracks such as ‘Found In The Ravine (Zain)’, You Are Trembling’ and ‘Hayley’ are brimming with a sea of sounds; sounds reminiscent of voices, of wind flowing through tunnels, of the slow static hiss of a tide briefly washing ashore and retracting back into the horizon but still although relatable it remains so disconnected from any of these things, left only for the imagination to interpret, to wonder what thing makes such bodies of noise. Dense low-end drones ride throughout many of the tracks while cascading spacial swells soar above them, the likes of which seamlessly weave in and out of one another, at times merging and separating, becoming one and becoming nothing. At times I think I am hearing strings, church bells, a symphony of instruments, or a choir of women singing but in reality all of this is being created by one David Ferris and still, I find it so easy to get lost in the aural beauty of this short lived project.

The dynamics on this release are certainly impressive and it’s hard to believe that this project is the work of one musician, even so I feel like the addition of more contributors could have added greatly to expand the variety of what this album is, which sometimes feels as though the tracks are bleeding into one another. Regardless, there isn’t a lot for me to say in terms of the negative aspects of this album.

From the beginning of the album with the delicate piano and melancholic rise and fall of ‘You Are Trembling’ to the album’s final lush conclusion on “When We Call” all of the sounds in between resonate a wavering beauty that is not of anything wholly pertaining to this world or any known thing. What is found are glacially paced, glistening free form bodies of sound. Circular Ruins is overtly natural in sound; the field recordings that are placed throughout the album bring a nice touch of life to the spacey fog of ambience that envelops you.

Overall Rating: 8.2

Favorite Tracks: ‘You Are Trembling’, ‘Found In The Ravine (Zain)’, ‘Hayley’

Recommended: Listening to a muffled choir of angels singing underwater within the vacuum of space.

Released: 20 August 2012

Links: Visit Congregations on Bandcamp

-Tyler Thompson

Borealis – Voidness

Borealis is the solo project of Hesse Somfay, part of the Origami Sound collective who describe themselves as “an ever growing collective of artists and labels aimed towards introducing the highly subjective concept of quality emotional electronic music with an emphasis on eclecticism” – a statement that I find to be largely true within the music of Borealis and associated acts like Hmot and Nocow, the sound of which is concentrated largely on the ethereal and meditative nature of IDM godfathers Boards of Canada to the moodiness and the skeletal structure evocative of Burial.

Voidness is something of an epic, an electronic odyssey into something personal but also distant and strange. Clocking in at 1 hour and 15 minutes Voidness serves as an electronic exploration that delves into and builds off of the genres of earlier contemporaries.

Most of the tracks on Voidness are simple which is best heard on Orphan Fire, a song includes a repetitive overtly minimalistic structure which would normally be boring but it all fits together so well in the context of the album, what the music here is trying to accomplish. Like a futurist sharpening a set of kitchen knives, the beats are sharp and angular sounding but they are almost always arranged in such an interesting way. Tracks like ‘Intravenous’ show off the spontaneous nature of Voidness as loud explosions of metallic clanging often erupt at seemingly random times. The arrangements are futuristic and favor simplicity and mood while the beats are strange, never out of time with each other but more so off-kilter, irregular rhythms that bring a spontaneous element to an otherwise straight-forward album giving the otherwise ultra sleek sound that is Voidness something natural, something human and deliberately flawed.

Borealis’ makes a kind of electronic music that in a way is very much his own and while it may be unique in an out of context kind of way, comparatively ‘Voidness’ takes quite a large chunk of inspiration from musicians who have already pursued what Borealis is doing here. What I think listeners will pick up on first are those pitch-shifted disembodied chipmunk-esque vocal samples that have been used to death by nearly every future-garage / dubstep musician. Although there are some obvious borrowed ideas the effort and attention to detail within ‘Voidness’ is uncanny and definitely worth a few listens.

Voidness is a highly emotive piece of work that brings a necessary emotional aspect and level of intimacy to electronic music that is often seldom heard. The album takes the listener on a moving journey through the crossfades of the digital polish of electronic music, a certain physical viscera and interweaves the two together. While some may feel that Borealis is borrowing too heavily from his contemporaries this is definitely an overlooked piece of electronic music that deserves a higher seat in the electronic of 2012.

Overall Rating: 8.3

Favorite Tracks: ‘Womb’, ‘Unseen & Uncalled’, ‘Not Of This Reality’, ‘Intravenous’, ‘Wearied, We Keep Awake’

Recommended: Check out the rest of the Origami Sound catalogue.

Released: 13 July 2012

Links:

Check out ‘Voidness’ on Origami Sound’s Bandcamp

Redntoothnclaw

TAIWAN – BELLADONNA

TAIWAN is an experimental recording artist from Edmonton who creates a breed of ethereal jazz infused ambient music that harkens back to the sound of forgotten direct to VHS romance and horror movie soundtracks. While the music is already creepy enough there is an added eeriness from the tape crackle and hiss to the spot on replication of such an obscure sound; BELLADONNA is a 30 minute 18 track foray into the sounds of something lost and forgotten in time, something strangely romantic, familiar and alien, and nostalgic yet new all at the same time.

While the idea of replicating old film scores and bringing a modern twist to them is nothing new (see Zombi, Bohren & der Club of Gore), the type of music that TAIWAN replicates and how similar his interpretations are is where this album shines. TAIWAN’s lo-fi aesthetic and attention to detail in recreating such an obscure sound is surely an art form within itself.

The sounds on BELLADONNA are mostly cheesy Casio style synth arrangements. TAIWAN’s sound is very 80’s-esque inspired new wave, kitschy with what would be the sonic equivalent of some old VHS tapes, forgotten in someone’s basement, the tapes damaged by so many floods and worn out by constant fast forwarding, rewinding, and playing. All of the tracks, although different in style are tied together by their easy listening sound from gritty detective noir themed jazz to sensual piano ballads. It evokes a powerful nostalgic response bringing back memories of wooden paneling and grainy discolored photography, memories that even if one had never experienced are still able to evoke a sense of mystery and wonder that is just as visceral.

The album’s sound is contributed heavily to the phenomenon of nostalgia; instead of rejecting these old sounds it embraces the archaic, taking it back and reworking it into something partially new and listenable even if it still deliberately holds ties to the past. Part of me really enjoys this aspect of replicating, or more accurately this reworking of something old and obscure into something even more strange yet part of me wonders if it would be possible to expand on something like this. The future, a concept TAIWAN openly rejects is quickly closing in and I wonder where the project is going to go when it is confronted with the idea of just that, the future.

TAIWAN has turned drone and ambient music, two genres so focused on a futuristic sound into something old yet new at the same and while I do feel that this stylistic decision is extremely limited in a world where time is quiet literally speeding up I can’t deny the uniqueness that BELLADONNA possesses and the firm hold that these curious and eerie tunes have on that nostalgic longing for the past that everyone possesses from time to time.

Overall rating: 7.0

Favorite Tracks: ‘B04’, ‘B05’

Recommended: Meat Force

Released: 11 November 2011

Links: Listen to Belladonna on Bandcamp

Redntoothnclaw

Teotl Expansion – P:1

Teotl Expansion is a duo specializing in minimalist piano compositions, similar to the likes of fellow purveyors of glitch based ambient music such as Alva Noto, Fennesz, and Tim Hecker their debut ‘EP’ consists of three chopped up glitchy tracks that provide the listener with a breed of easy listening that never feels boring.

The music Teotl Expansion make could be easily described as simple or minimalistic and while that may be true the description itself is too simple for its own good because beyond the clean droning washes of spacial beauty and piano arrangements is something far more vast and complex. The duo has made one of the most prominent instruments, an instrument that is associated with, perhaps lost to music of the past and shaped it into something new using instruments pertaining to a more modern identity.

The glitchy ambient compositions that musicians such as Tim Hecker and Fennesz have pioneered are present within Teotl Expansion’s sound although while similar Teotl Expansion keeps things much simpler, not so much in playing, the layered piano based patterns are fairly complex but the music is limited mostly to these glitchy piano melodies as opposed to atmospherics and textures. Although I do enjoy the idea of using a limited sound pallet, their choice to refrain from ambitious and unnecessary sounds, at times the simplicity of the music this duo creates does make me want to hear what they could achieve by implementing textures and other sounds into their work. The duo does a nice job at making an old instrument sound so modern while keeping things simple and while it is organic in a way, their were a few moments where the compositions began to grow uninteresting. While glitchy techniques do change things up and help keep my interest one can only listen to a variation on a theme for so long. The third track, “Geodesics” features much more progression than the other two tracks by breaking away from the structural layered patterns that were present on the other two tracks and featuring more synthetic tones.

We’ve all heard these sounds before; these serene piano melodies that our ears have become so accustomed to, sounds that do not pertain only to one style of music but one that spans genres. We can easily identify with them but it is only now within the context of modern times, by digital means that we can hear them take a new shape and sound, we have the ability to mold them into something new and vastly expand upon what we’ve grown so familiar with, tired of even and this is what Teotl Expansion has proven to be capable of with this 3 track EP. The name of this release suggests what I am assuming is a possible series of sorts; what that series entails I am not sure, however, Teotl Expansion’s debut EP is a nice taste for what is hopefully an exercise in a continuous pursuit to mesh classical instrumentation with a modern sound which the duo already does so well. This is definitely one of the most original EPs I have heard this year so I anticipate to see what this duo is capable of with further releases.

Overall rating: 7.4

Favorite Track: ‘Geodesics’

Recommended: Glitch based ambient bliss similar to Alva Noto, Ryuichi SakamotoTim Hecker, and Fennesz

Released: 15 June 2012

Links: Check it out on Bandcamp

Redntoothnclaw

Graham F – I’m Warm

This four track EP is the second release by ambient musician Graham F. Much like the album cover, the whole of this album is surrounded by separate sounds spiraling into each other, swirling together to create a sound filled colorful synths and mostly structureless ambient music.

‘I’m Warm’ features an eclectic mix of sounds; samples, field recordings, and thick analogue bleeps and bloops that really do the name of this recording justice. The synths are rich featuring bright swells with bassy undertones riding almost unnoticed beneath them. The first track reminds me a lot of ‘Emeralds’ with a collaging of sounds that overwhelm the listener as it carries over into ‘A Step In Two’ that brings a little structure into the mix with more defined bass and disjointedly arranged synths. The third track is full of more of the same floaty swells, riveting tones, and pulsating synths but again adds more definition by bringing the elements of the music closer together, getting them to interact a bit more where they did not on previous tracks. ‘I’m No Longer Warm” is the most beat oriented of all four and really unleashes some of the built up tension that results from the indirectness of the other tracks. This is an EP I highly recommend listening throug in one sitting given that all of the tracks run into each other, each one setting up the next; it kind of works as a mini epic of sorts, each track becoming more organized and fleshed out, building toward a finale until the final track which features some solid beats and the realization of what Graham F has been working toward throughout the EP.

‘I’m Warm’ shows a departure from the largely beat influenced music heard on the ‘Night Lights’ EP with this new release focusing on the atmosphere and progression throughout four tracks that doesn’t always satisfy so much as it does meander. The nice sounds are there, the synths are resonant and appropriately layered making for nice textures but the music just doesn’t quite flow or bring these components together. It would be different if Graham F. were creating a completely formless piece of music but the music just teases at becoming a unified entity which never actually happens until the final song. In certain parts the EP lags a little but where ‘I’m Warm’ shines is with it’s bright and cheerful tracks, all of which give off feelings of nostalgia and child-like wonder that I can’t help but like

Overall rating: 7.0

Favorite Track: ‘I’m No Longer Warm’

Recommended: Emeralds. Listening to loops of waterfalls and faint memories of wanderlust.

Released: 09 December 2011

Links: Chill out on Bandcamp

Redntoothnclaw