Zebra Pulse – Hey, Vay Bae-Bays

Zebra Pulse -  Heh, Vay Bae​-​Bays

Last year, Edmonton, Alberta’s Zebra Pulse released ‘Endings’, a collection of strange, off-kilter tracks which consisted primarily of warped tape manipulations and obscure percussion. It was an album that, although creative and ambitious fell just short of being something great for me. When I reviewed the album I noted that many of the noises and electronic elements just didn’t jive with the drumming as well as I think they could have. Instead, it felt like they were clashing rather than complimenting and took a lot away from what the album could have been.

On ‘Hey, Vay Bae-Bays’, the latest album from the group the band addresses many of the issues that I had with ‘Endings’ and expands on the basic groundwork that can be heard in their back catalogue of recordings. On the bandcamp page, the band advises not to listen “if you are pregnant, have a heart condition, or are operating heavy machinery” and while this cautionary remark may have been tongue-in-cheek the new record reads like a valium prescription. While Zebra Pulse has always been a trippy listen, their latest release is even more sonically fucked up and conscious deprived.

For starters, the recording quality sounds better than that of any of their previous released material. Although, it wasn’t a crippling problem on ‘Endings’ the recording quality on their latest adds a new level of  clarity and depth to the drumming and where the samples and electronic elements once sounded flat it gives the samples more of a layered multi-dimensional sound.

Although these guys have refined their sound that doesn’t mean they’re any less weird or unpredictable than they’ve been. The percussive elements are all still here with all of the off-beat oddities that made ‘Endings’ a good listen but the playing seems to have a bit more direction than I noticed before. Not only has the drumming and noise elements become more tightly executed but the way the band acts as a whole has become more precise. Instead of directionless drum jams and random samples there is a better sense of progression and I think Zebra Pulse sounds more like a band than just a decent session of recorded jams.

The record shows an added attention to the pacing of each of the tracks. The second track, ‘Every Trilogy is a Movie (Parts 1, 2 & 3)’ is a slow moving,  psychedelic haze of pitch-shifted vocals, distorted instrumental loops, and aimless drum sequences while the track ‘Technical Space Composition No. 5’ shows a bit more direction and although chaotic it may be the most structural piece the band has done.

While ‘Hey, Vay Bae-Bays’ isn’t the most structurally sound album you’ll here this year it makes up in originality and unpredictability making this an album that will leave you wanting to come back just to dissect the free form drumming oddities and catch every weird tape manipulation. Even with that said the band doesn’t lose sight of what they’ve been doing, its not like they’ve gone out and created an album that is completely accesible; if there is any indication of what this record is it could be summed up by just the title alone, an eclectic and strange record that is carful not to give up it’s creativity for a more accesible listen. If you’re looking for something completely unpredictable then let it be this.

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Overal Rating: 7.3

Favorite Tracks: ‘Technical Space Composition No. 5’

Recommended: Take a look at the Ramshackle Day Parade back catalogue.

Released: 02 May 2013


Zebra Pulse Bandcamp page

Ramshackle Day Parade

The band’s WordPress

-Tyler Thompson

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


Kolumbus – Fleeting Hope For False Optimists

Kolumbus – Fleeting Hope For False Optimists

Ambient music is something that I have found myself enjoying ever since I discovered and began listening to experimental forms of music. It has become somewhat of a hobby for me; an archive documenting interesting and unique sounds to explore and share. Sometimes the music is absent of any tangible musical properties, often being made up of noise in the form of feedback or static and it is this concept that I find myself to be fascinated with. The idea that noise, typically unwanted sound, can be arranged and layered in such a way that it creates something beautiful and truly unique is an amazing concept. As much as I feel that the previous statement is true there are many times that experimentation does not always work out the way it was intended, this is especially true when talking about ambient music. Sydney-based ambient/drone musician, Kolumbus attempts to explores the concept of arranging sound by making long compositions on his album Fleeting Hope For False Optimists. The album focuses on sparseness and atmosphere, ever shifting changes in sound and direction, and short interludes laced in-between movements. The album is comprised of 3 long songs each divided into various movements.

Ambient and drone music is a style of music that relies heavily on subtleties, ones that challenge the listener to pick up on minuet changes in sound, to engage in the atmosphere, and to listen deeper than what lies on the surface and with this last statement I mean it quite literally. On this release Kolumbus makes a type of ambient music that reflects certain cinematic qualities. The abundant application of synth combined with the distinct use of sampling makes Fleeting Hope for False Optimists seem like a film in some ways. Sampling has become a distinguishable trait within hip-hop and other forms of electronic music, often times being treated as an instrument just as much as a guitar or a drum set would be. Samples are also used to project a mood or make a statement in an otherwise instrumental piece of music. Kolumbus uses it in just that way, juxtaposing the dirge driven synths with news samples about drug use and the zero tolerance policy to create a disposition of sorts; to make his statement clear absent of the straightforwardness that vocals can inflict on a piece of music. As much as the samples work in terms of adding to the cinematic nature I can’t help but feel that their use throughout this music is out of place and far too abundant to not be distracting. Samples should not be used to the point where the music to sample ratio is leaning considerably more toward the latter. Instead they should act as an added effect, used to enhance the experience of the music as oppose to fragmenting it.

There are some defining moments in Kolumbus’ compositions that I find myself enjoying but, to my disappointment they don’t last long. The drums that come in during the first song ‘The Internal Wars’ create a fantastic mood giving one the feeling that something apocalyptic lies ahead. Unfortunately, the foreboding feeling is short lived because before it can be realized they stop short, echoing away to become lost under waves of rising synth. They just stop without warning which forces me to assume that Kolumbus was unsure of where to go with the rest of the track. Many of the songs on here work in this same non-linear aspect; a song will go on before mellowing out into these cinematic Godspeed You! Black Emperor-esque gaps. Albeit, unlike Godspeed there isn’t a whole lot of substance here.

‘Allusions to Electronic Illusions’ heads in a beat oriented direction and although they don’t do much in the way of anything innovative or groundbreaking the beats are an enjoyable element added to the otherwise ambient overtones. Toward the end, the track eventually mellows out, adhering to a more sensual ambient sound.  The tone Kolumbus achieves with this sound is a beautifully crafted well structured piece of music. Voices drenched in reverse reverb rise and fall along with a body of gorgeous spacey noise. Kolumbus forms something alive with emotion and a plethora of palatable sounds yet distant and hollow at the same time, projecting a sense of something oceanic and vast.  I could honestly listen to this part exclusively for the 9 minutes that the track goes on for. If Kolumbus had pursued this sound throughout the rest of the album I feel like ‘Fleeting Hope for False Optimists’ would have been a more enjoyable release but as I said before, the defining moments on this album are few and far between.

The final song, ‘In Our Dying Dreams’ starts out with a simple repeating bass beat. The beat meanders for far too long, even for drone music but it eventually pays off as the track picks up and the symphonic violin-like swells are introduced. Halfway through the song some vocals can be heard reciting something akin to spoken word poetry. The rest of the track redundantly recycles the beat until it suddenly stops, replaced with some tribal beats that loop bringing the track to a conclusion.

The name of this album seems fitting seeing as most of the sounds on this album attempt to create a brooding sense of atmosphere but at the end of it all I can’t help but feel like this attempt falls short. Even with lots of swells, various noises, samples, and some beats this release manages to remain very minimalistic, and not in a positive way. Fleeting Hope For False Optimists comes off in a way that it lacks substance; I found myself wanting more, something richer. It seems like there is so much potential but it is all lost, buried beneath loads of unnecessary meandering and scattered across 36 minutes of music that doesn’t go anywhere, at least not for me. Fleeting Hope for False Optimists shines in a few spots but cannot help but become consumed by the uneven and fractured structure of this music.

Find Kolumbus on Bandcamp here

Overall Rating: 4.6

Favorite Track: Allusions to Electronic Illusions


Aetx – Sea Music

Aetx makes a form of self described “psychedelic drone” whose music focuses heavily on looping and layering distorted vocal samples in combination with effected instrumentation to create a rather sinister sounding atmosphere. His debut 4 track EP, “Sea Music” documents these sounds.

The EP opens with “Hallowed Bright“. An airy and soothing track comprised of bells that clang together while soft humming drones lurk beneath – one that hit me immediately as a standout track. The tastefully effected vocal sample that loops throughout takes center stage as a particularly enjoyable highlight that makes this track a great opener. The rest of the EP departs from the “airiness” of “Hallowed Bright” with the light and wispy vocals being replaced by a darker presence. Although I would have liked to hear more of the softer sounding vocals it is a well balanced decision and makes for a nice contrast.

It is Aetx’s use of samples and his ability to bring them together as a reoccurring theme throughout the album that makes his music unique for me. His samples are often used as instruments themselves, looping again and again and forming an identifiable rhythm. On “No Mind” a man’s voice can be heard, down tuned and unintelligibly repeating itself as though to create a rhythm while the sample of another man’s voice rambles on, preaching about spiritual self, materialism, and soul. The sample seems so perfectly in place and so relevant to the music Aetx makes. It is this ability, his way of structuring these sounds mainly using the vocal samples as the foundation for his songs that makes the music so arresting. However, ironically enough it is also one of the negative attributes of his music as well. All of these chopped up samples and noises are intriguing and fun to explore at first but become tedious after hearing them repeat over and over. I especially felt this way when listening to the track “Arm Yourself“. The sample is so high in the mix that it became distracting from some of the other elements of the music leading it to become somewhat grating to listen to after hearing it repeat itself so many times. This minor problem, however, was not enough to keep me from enjoying the rest of the EP.

On the final track, “Execution” Aetx continues to show his penchant for textures and layered vocal samples. The track is comprised of industrial clanging all the while something chaotic begins to brood beneath. Intensity builds and as the track progresses people can be heard arguing, erupting in a torrent of screams and shouts. If there is any indication that Aetx knows how to evoke a response from the listener it is on this track which ends the EP on a rather chilling note.

It is these vocal samples of flawed beings endlessly repeating themselves, these humming drones and shrill noises that claustrophobically lurk beneath, and this attention to detail that cohesively brings together all of these elements that makes “Sea Music” an enjoyable experience. All in all Aetx’s first EP is a solid debut brimming with unique sounds and character.

Overall Rating: 7.9/10

Favorite Track: “Hallowed Bright

Recommended: Those who enjoy drone with pop sensibilities. Fans of artists on Triangles Records.