Pepo Galán

Strange Parentheses by Pepo Galán by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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Having already set himself up for quite the challenge in following up the gut-punch that was Human Values Disappear – his heart-wrenching, unbearably memorable album from last year – Spanish composer Pepo Galán decided not only to one-up himself, but to smash down the doors into yet another dimension of his own talent. Throughout his latest release, Strange Parentheses, Galán is challenging our expectations of ambient drone albums, seeming completely at ease in this newly unearthed space, as the listeners get to relish in the same tangible universe of emotion from before, with the added element of silky, delicate vocals.

After the introducing Harmony Fields Reverse, a bursting cascade of sound throwing me every which way, the gently familiar S A M O A follows, instantly establishing itself as one of the strongest points of the album with its soft sense of home. Pleasantly mixed with the warmth and care of the piano (by Sergio Díaz de Rojas), Sita Ostheimer sings with a voice like Katie Melua, so close and surrounding, I feel as though it comes from within. There’s a paradoxically grounded airiness to the whole track, painting the music a lofty, smooth golden, waving like a silken sheet in the wind. The track is well-crafted and perfectly executed, building to a non-imposing grandiosity that leaves me humbled, and aching for more.

The album takes a much colder, more industrial turn with the urban soundscape of Dead Fish On The Shore, with the sound of something shattering in slow motion, the incessant fluttering of a helicopter, much too close above you, a deafening force. The theme continues with In A Straight Line; a surreptitious clamor, at first glance just a noisy street, but I feel myself straining to hear something specific through the noise, knowing there’s something there I need, no, must understand. I feel it slip away from my grasp as the noise is slowly canceled out, replaced by a watery tumult, and I am forced to let it go – an easy feat, as the glittering sea engulfs me, allowing me only glances of the city, suddenly so very far away.

The title track ropes me into a surreal landscape, with gravelly noises, grit and aggression; I see something fighting to get out – I see movements as if from within a skintight tomb, struggling to break free. Not human, not inhuman, something in between. The intensity makes me want to avert my eyes but I fight the urge – there is something raw in the insanity, something calm in the chaos, and I need to absorb it all. I get my reward as the struggle turns inwards and a growth takes its place, as the ringing intensifies subtly, climbing higher and higher, and when it finds a delicately hopeful tune it sighs deeply and retreats back into a soft slumber.

The second half of the album allows for even more variation in sound and texture, with the naked honesty of Barco Amor (Naufragio) and Bleeding Eyes, and two tracks that were both written in 2015: High Seas Tempest offering a more aggressive approach with heavier influences and bigger turns and curves; it’s one of the more extravagant tracks with a delicately vintage foundation made modern with the droning and the experimentation with (un)natural sounds. Respectively, Almost Alone In This Life reminds me most of Galán’s previous flagship album, perhaps mostly because of its thought provoking title and truly lonesome sound.

Ending with U Broke Me, an intense urgency in the airy, pained vocals surrounded by ripples and whirring, Galán shows once more of his ability to explore his own sound without painting too much outside the lines – the album never loses its direction but still offers a wide range of emotion and nuance. I can’t say I’m surprised the album was so immensely enjoyable, but I’m delighted to say that this latest release can truly stand proud next to its predecessor.

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Human Values Disappear by Pepo Galán by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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In the beginning of November of last year, Spanish composer and multi-instrumentalist Pepo Galán released a new ambient experimental album called Human Values Disappear. The album is a strong commentary on the daily struggles we find ourselves in – the loss of decency and mutual respect, leading to a society where we’re too busy focusing on our own shortcomings that we forget or neglect to see what goes on all around us: a world in chaos, painted by distrust and dishonesty. With the help of Lee Yi and David Cordero, Galán has created this album in an effort to portray the haunting road we’ve begun travelling, and it is as poignant as it is disquieting.

The title track, featuring Lee Yi, is a gripping one, sorrow painted intensely across each long note – the droning and clattering perfectly explain both inner and outer turmoil of any human being in today’s world. The wind screeches, waves are crashing and the track ventures into a melodic ringing where unpredictable smattering paints pictures of forest fires being drenched by flighty showers of rain – I hear the horns like warning signs to stay inside, close the doors and the windows, forget you were ever here.

Following this intense track is another cacophony of ringing, as We Are All Welcome Here featuring David Cordero sets off. It starts off gentle but climbs fast into a whirlwind of sound, like a thousand birds shattering through the painted glass windows of a church, and everything moves so slowly. The ringing intensifies in perpetuity it seems, and the changes are slow and fastidious, nothing is left to chance. As the ringing drifts off it is replaced by the eerie Old Testament, a low dissonance accompanied by small bursts of input – like communicating with something that’s not quite real, but utterly calming none the less; a sense of something neither good nor bad, but alive and inquisitive.

After a short intermission with the mesmerizing melody of Half Moon, another collaboration with Lee Yi follows, as Almost Alone In This Life tells of that connection with something eternally far away, the distant memory of the values we once had, trying desperately to recall and re-establish. There’s chugging like that of a train on a railroad, telling of a movement ever forward; there’s gritty, hungry noise of mayhem as constant distractions from this goal – but we have to power through, we have to reach that place where we can find each other again. Sacred Autumn comes next, with a powerful ignition of ominous and emotive strings, building steadily towards that intense ringing – the sounds move straight through you, like the wind pressing on your chest when you stand on a cliff with your arms outstretched – it’s terrifying but you feel so awake.

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Then we find a healthy familiarity in Few Dollar More, with hopeful scribbling, chirping and rustling, accompanied by the gently grand droning telling of this urgent decay of our world going under. With this track, the album comes to its conclusion, and though it is a petrifying tale, that eternal grain of hope is always on the outskirts of your mind, soothing the worst of the angst. Galán’s creation is as beautiful as it is important, and I can only hope it will be the reminder many of us need, to take a second to actually look at the lives we are living and the choices we are making.