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:

*Like inb4track on Facebook for streams, cursory postings, and updates*

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

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

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

Water Gun Water Gun Sky Attack – Slew

Water Gun Water Gun Sky Attack is the solo electronic project of Tim R. de Reuse based in Denton, Texas who is also a contributing member of The Hai having released music and remixed the work of other members. ‘Slew’ is perhaps WGWGSA’s most realized work to date. There are a lot of sounds to be heard on this release and therefor there is a lot to cover so dim your monitor.

The style Water Gun Water Gun Sky Attack has built throws so many sounds at you that upon the first initial listen it may be hard to process, it’s nearly cacophonic and overbearing but fortunately the distinct style and progression of the album proves to never be off-putting. Interjected between the more expected completely instrumental tracks are electronic epics complete with nicely performed vocals. The songs themselves have so much substance; a good example being the opener ‘Outlanderish’ that showcases so many changes in direction, each beat appearing to build off of where the last one ended, branching out, constantly morphing and spilling over into the second track ‘Fine’. Track two makes way for the introduction of vocals which have this distinct feeling of sincerity, a round quality to them, I would even go as far as to liken them to vocalist Peter Silberman of The Antlers.

With ‘Slew’ WGWGSA has created a work that pushes boundaries; the most enjoyable aspect is not only his ear for outstanding production as a producer but also some solid songwriting as a musician and his attention to the structuring of the album itself. The beats constantly change with songs crossing over into each other the whole album feels like one long piece of great electronic music. ‘A Good Fake pt. II’ is a 12 minute long electronic epic full tons of sounds that gives the feeling of the music operating like a piece of machinery, this cataclysm of sounds resulting in a mechanical feeling. Beautiful spacey harmonies float about adding depth while the ever evolving beats add movement that holds my attention throughout the entire track, a track the grows in intensity, multiplying in the addition of new sounds with every passing minute. The last 3 minutes are the most intense with the addition of this heavy baselines, sputtering synth, and a really killer drum beat that hits hard.

One aspect of WGWGSA’s style is his ear for shiny futuristic sounds, metallic beats, and most noticeably his use of glitch effects which can be heard on many tracks. One of the best examples is the sputtering effect on “Actiiisciv” which complements the already ever shifting choppy and eclectic beats.

I do enjoy many of the instrumental tracks but I however do prefer the cohesiveness, this feeling of completeness that the vocals provide on these more traditionally performed songs. Tracks like ‘ckers’ just don’t really do much for me, it is not that they are poorly written or completely unenjoyable for me but that they just don’t add anything to the album that isn’t already there and ‘Slew’ is quite a lengthy album. I do applaud WGWGSA for implementing his experimental stylings into the mix, the songs are not so much straight forward but can be more appropriately described as familiar; it becomes something fans of experimental electronic and those who are just looking for some good tunes to listen to can both enjoy.

Until now with the release of ‘Slew’ The Hai hasn’t really blown me away and its not that I think the music they have been putting out has been bad but that it just wasn’t suiting my tastes. It is apparent that the quality of their output; the great album artwork, and the consistency of their numerous releases show that they aren’t substituting quantity over quality and in this case, with Water Gun Water Gun Sky Attack’s ‘Slew’ they’ve established that statement very well. There are just so many different things going on that you could play this over and over again in an attempt to digest it all and still never feel like you’ve completely explored the whole thing.

Overall rating: 9.0

Favorite Tracks: ‘Outlanderish’, ‘A Good Fake Pt. II’, ‘Out From Underground Alive’, Actiiisciv’.

Recommended: Tons of replay value. For more good electronic from The Hai check out Mattir.

Released: 26 March 2012

Links:

Seriously, go check this out on Bandcamp

Also follow WGWGSA on Soundcloud.

Redntoothnclaw

Balmy – Metaverse

Mataverse is the first release by producer Balmy, formally known as Atmosfear.

So I used to have this problem a long while back with listening to instrumental hip-hop and strictly beat oriented music in general. The biggest problem for me was attempting to maintain an interest, not becoming bored with what you are given; that being these linear constructions that I felt would so easily be made listenable with some raps thrown in overtop. Musician’s such as Flying Lotus and Blockhead were some of the first that turned me on to instrumental hip-hop mostly due to their listenability, the idea of hearing their music as established pieces that I could feel involved in and draw emotion from. As musicians their instrumentals seemed to pull everything together allowing me to hear it as more than just a nice background jam which is exactly what Balmy has done for me as well. ‘Metaverse’ is a twelve track collection of tranquil and pretty beats built on samples, lush synth patterns and great compositional arrangements that is experimental and nonlinear enough to listen to as is while still containing enough versatility for ambitious rappers to attempt to spit over. These psychedelic arrangements of pretty synths and sequences of downtempo jazz and hip-hop are perfect easy listening.

The smoothness that the album starts out with is maintained masterfully throughout making for an easy and relaxing listen that shows Balmy knows how to create a good vibe and just stick with it throughout. Even though the music is dominantly downtempo it goes without saying there are plenty of great bleeps, bloops, and unconventional noises to keep you entertained during a number of relaxing events, whether it be just lounging around with your friends, going to sleep, or just listening. All of the tracks remain at a steady pace all ranking in at under 4 minutes, a good length that ensures things don’t get boring.

‘Old Hall’ is a track brimming with tons of spacey futuristic sounds that is truly a treat for the ears. Tracks such as ‘Woob’, ‘Space Cruise’, and ‘Space Lounge’ have this old dusty record feel that harbors a sense of nostalgia and sounds like they would fit right at home playing during an Adult Swim bump. All of the tunes feature samples derived from traditional instruments which makes it hard not to get caught up in trying to analyze every aspect of the music and the sounds sampled to create it; these quick snippets of guitars, orchestral instruments, bells and chimes, all so warm and familiar. It happens so quick that it is almost subliminal but at the same time you don’t not want to pay attention.

An impressive album full of enjoyable mellow tunes that although sounds like you may have heard this before (Cosmogramma) you’ll definitely want to hear it again… and again and keep hearing it just to be able to digest it all. If you’re into Flying Lotus or Long Arm this will be a treat.

Overall rating: 8.3

Favorite Track: ‘Protura’, ‘Old Hall’

Recommended: Flying Lotus and Long Arm.

Released: 06 February 2012

Links: Mellow out on Bandcamp

Redntoothnclaw

Vasko – Enough Enough

Vasko is the solo recording project of Brian Sopher, a Columbus, OH musician who has busily recorded, produced, and released music as Glasslung, Folted and has performed as a duo in drone / noise project Hintergrund. ‘Enough Enough’ is Brian’s first dubstep release as well as the first EP under the name Vasko.

I missed my chance / procrastinated in reviewing this when it was released late last year but nonetheless, I feel like this should be talked about and deserves a review regardless of whether it is still relevant.

On this EP Vasko’s style of dubstep is a dark and disjointed journey thats plays off of it’s minimalistic influences. The song structure is skeletal, basic, built on deep sub bass that tectonically shifts beneath an aura of ambience resulting in something sleek and futuristic while having the same mystery and curious appeal as some dusty lost tape recording. There are large spacial synth swells that produce this overarching feel of something expansive or maybe even cosmic but at the same time everything still remains restrained being careful not to overwhelm. The overall mood is calm even though there is this surrounding unease, a sense that not all is right and that beneath the soft airy synths is something deeply sinister. Everything is neatly organized but still has the organic feel of a piece of drone music where it forces one to pay attention and pick out parts of the music taking away something ambiguous and new to each listen.

The album begins strong, ‘Touching Till’ is a sensual pursuit of bass heavy rhythms that features a sample that repeats throughout the track. It may be just me but I get this slight R&B influence as well, not only on this track but on the EP in it’s entirety. The beats are thin sounding, and at times seem to fall out of time with each other. Its a primitive approach, stripped down to a wiry sound, one that is as dark and mysterious as it is comforting. I could honestly listen to it over and over again. One of my favorites, ‘Women’ is a beautiful feast of synth sounds that contains little in the way of beats or dubstep and for what it is, it is just fine. There is a tasteful palette of delicately layered synths that does enough to make up for the sparse beats.

The album closes with ‘Traumzeug’, a stark interpretation of post-dubstep that at times outshines the classification itself. There is this distant metallic clanging that keeps the beat throughout ‘Traumzeug’ bringing out this feeling of anxiety, building tension that never sees release and ultimately leaves you waiting for something that never comes. Relying heavily on a minimalistic approach I can’t help but feel like there were moments where the music became repetitive and felt stagnant which I can imagine is always a  concern when creating something like this. Fortunately the songs are a good length, never going past the five minute mark ensuring that if things do become boring they aren’t boring for long.

The focus of Enough Enough tends to favor atmosphere over beats and like much of Brian’s work prior to Vasko, it has this same strong ambient presence that runs throughout the songs on this EP which makes for a fairly even blend of relaxing ambience and minimalist dubstep in an attempt to challenge the listener with a few unconventional sounds.

Overall Rating: 7.9

Favorite tracks: ‘Touching Till’, ‘Conveyor’, ‘Women’

Recommended: Futuristic; fans of UK garage and Burial will have no problem getting into this.

Links:

Brian’s Soundcloud profile

His previous work as Glasslung

Dementia & Hope Trails – Parts of the Sea I & II

Dementia & Hope Trails is the solo project of prolific experimental musician Justin Marc Lloyd. Justin has performed in a multitude of bands and projects and has been releasing a constant stream of visual and musical content for some time.

Some people will argue that the idea of consistently releasing material comes at the expense of said material lacking in quality. At times this theory does prove to be true, especially when taking into account the tradition of productivity that is so abundant in musical circles such as drone, ambient, and noise which have been made all so susceptible to these accusations. Fortunately, Dementia & Hope Trails proves these accusations wrong; given the amount of content and even more so the quality of it ‘Parts of the Sea’ holds it’s own rather well. The first part of this double album features six tracks while the second half are three much lengthier racks, two of which reach past the 20 minute mark with the entire album coming to a nearly whopping two hours. Because of this I think it is important to keep in mind that like many other drone and ambient projects this is an album that is best experienced in one full uninterrupted listen (mood lighting optional).

Like any good piece of epic work, whether it be literature, film, or in this case music it is careful to begin things slowly which is apparent in the first track. Track two starts to pick the music up; ‘We Sent Hearts Soaring’ is a massive, beautiful soundscape brimming with the normal lush ambient swells, spacey echoes, and a catalogue of many other strange, uncommon, and ethereal sounds that make for a lush but calm track.

Another standout track, “Hazy Love Drifting Down A River” airy washes of slow moving chords flood over the listener. Eventually it all builds into a loud monolithic construction, intensely so, although not in such a way that it is unlistenable or intrusively noisy but in a self-liberating way that is not so structurally different from a Godspeed! crescendo. While listening, getting lost in the dense clutter of sound it is hard to forget that all of this is being created on the spot and when it comes to improvisation, proper attention to detail is crucial in not ruining the delicate pace and tonal atmospheric qualities of what one is attempting to accomplish. There are plenty of laid back repetitious moments as to be expected but Justin does well in making sure not to bore the listener making sure to implement a good deal of recognizable sounds and by that I mean sounds that actually sound like they are being made with an instrument.

Justin’s colorful visual aesthetic transfers over in his music, sometimes to the point of being saturated in a colorful palette of sound. Seas of shimmering reverb, crushing slabs of psychedelic noise, organ-esque synth tones, and cascading volume swells that seem to go on forever all add to the complexly layered construction of these songs. Some of the textures on ‘Still Replaying’ are so vibrant and colorful that it makes it hard to believe that ‘Parts of the Sea’ was completely improvised all in a single take on guitar with no overdubs when it was recorded. Some of the songs actually sound like they were composed, written out prior to being recorder. The sounds on these albums are like tearing into a pack of gummy worms, they’re colorful and delicious except in this case the gummy worms last nearly two hours and are the size of a mountain. Maybe that was a bad analogy…

‘Sunflower’, which is probably the most progressive track on the album in that it is constantly evolving and building to a climax. Although it ranks in as the second longest track at 24 minutes it is possibly the most accessible piece of music on the album. Although I feel that ‘Sunflowers’ is probably the best track (my personal favorite at least) I do feel that the guitars may be a little too trebly, especially for a track that lasts 24 minutes. Sometimes it can be grating for those who are not as familiar with noisier elements in ambient music, especially taking into account the recording style which sometimes contains peaks in volume. There are so many sounds on this sprawling epic of a release that it calls for multiple listens in order to fully digest the product of something so expansive. The final and longest track, “I Miss You, Don’t Fall Asleep Yet” is a cathartic journey of transcendental ambience and psychedelic noise. It eventually mellows out into a looping state of modulated drones. As the track continues more guitar tones get thrown into the mix of the composition building off of each other, reverberating and echoing up to the end of the album where distant vocals can be heard singing the title of the song.

As much as I just want to praise this album and not say anything negative about it, ‘Parts of the Sea’ is not free of it’s shortcomings. Although I cannot respect the spirit of this style of music and the improvised nature of it enough, the fact that it was improvised is somewhat of a flaw. For being completely made up on the spot the music is great, more than great actually but I feel as though it is not fully realized. It makes me wonder what Justin could have done if he had recorded other tracks overtop of what he had or manipulated the end result in post-production. Choosing a recording style, especially one like this is a crucial decision that sometimes opens up possibilities and other times restrains the musician causing them to work around whatever negative aspects that come with it This is of course a very small flaw seeing that end result sounds like a realized piece of music and as I mentioned previously, some parts of the album actually sound like they were written prior to recording as though they wren’t improvised at all.

The album starts off simple enough, some pretty ambient soundscapes, nothing out of the ordinary for ambient music but then everything takes a left turn and about halfway through the second track you realize that you are on a very different kind of ride, something so different and futuristic that it will surely take more than one listen to digest. It is all constantly changing, always moving, seamlessly shifting, deconstructing and reconstructing itself in so many ways. At times is is soothing and at other times it is apocalyptic and frightening, a formula for an instant classic. ‘Parts of the Sea’ is always something different with each listen and is almost never uninteresting or boring. There is very little I can say about this negatively. This is surely the result of trial and error, passed time, hours of messing around, doing things wrong and not giving a fuck if it is correct in the normal sense of what is considered “right” in music; this is indeed the work of a musician who has nearly perfected his craft.

Overall rating: 9.8

Favorite Tracks: “I Miss You, Don’t Fall Asleep Yet”, “Hazy Love Drifting Down A River”, “We Sent Hearts Soaring And Sailing At The Same Time” “Sunflower”

Recommended: Similar to attempting to stay awake in a house full of carbon monoxide while consuming an overwhelming amount of candy and ultimately failing. Progressive and futuristic. A monolithic audible depiction of spacial and apocalyptic visions. In the “about” section of the Facebook page it describes the music as being like “if This Will Destroy You actually destroyed itself”.

Links: 

Violent Threads

Justin Marc Lloyd

Facebook Fan Page

Click the links below to download both parts for free:

Part of the Sea I

Parts of the Sea II

-Redntoothnclaw