Review

P&C recommends: Philip Daniel, John Hayes and Jacob Pavek by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

Already this year, we have been treated to some spectacular offerings from a vast array of musicians hailing from far-flung places across the globe. Looking back, there are many gems that left a lasting impression, and we are taking a moment to reflect on those releases which have recently gone out into the world, as we now give them the time and consideration they deserve. As always, we are spoilt for choice with a broad community of makers producing high quality work that is often quietly startling. Here we will be looking back on three albums released earlier this year, each beautiful and distinctive in its own right, but as always pulling together those common threads.

One trend that continues to hold on into the new year is our current obsession over soft, delicate old piano with muted felt-tinged timbres, and the creaks and tics of the piano action that are revealed in high detail with this quieter aesthetic. Undoubtedly, there is an intimacy to this sound that works with so many of the colours and moods that the piano conjures up and it indeed adds texture and interest, however at times this is at the cost of dynamic interest. While the albums we are considering here have moments where this effect is used to great advantage, it can often run the risk of diluting the effect with overuse, much like playing through an entire suite in pianissimo.

In saying that, softer sounds are sometimes exactly what best serves the spirit of a composition. This is true for Philip Daniel who is able to wring out a broad range of musical outcomes on his latest offering ‘Between Us, Chapter 1.’ Using a 100-year old Steinway grand piano with felt between the hammers and the strings, the composer recorded the piano for this album in one take, yielding an end result that is excitingly spontaneous that and is anything but flaccid. The way Daniel uses quieter tones to draw in the listener relies heavily on the compositions themselves, rather than letting the dynamics and timbre do all the work. The melodies and textures themselves already have so much to say that the quiet piano style becomes a device that focuses attention.

This collection of songs it seems is but one half of a greater collection: a story told in two chapters. The first six of these tracks appearing on this release are haunting and delicate, with standout track ‘Between Us’ getting under the skin with visceral string tremolo, like the murmuring inner monologue of an uneasy mind and a fluttering heart. With a free-wheeling piano melody that contrasts, this track is bittersweet with beautiful decoration in its grace notes and runs. ‘Selfoss’ is lyrical, with solo strings bowed with slight hesitation and delicacy, while opener ‘Minor Ventures’ is fluid and spontaneous, with a wonderful dialogue between piano and strings.

Next, John Hayes wholly commits to this stripped back feel with his full-length release spanning over twelve tracks, titled ‘By The Woods.’ Absorbed in a single sitting, the stark delicacy of the piano sounds he works with do create something of a trance state, as the mind burrows in, parsing the sonic landscape for detail and nuance. If anything, these tracks feel like orphaned film scores, crying out for a visual to give them a sense of form. By themselves, they are perhaps a little too stable, with no great surprises, though they are passionate snapshots of a broad range of emotional states.

Standout track ‘Here’ sounds like the tune of a lonely wanderer and Hayes weaves a sonic narrative through his melodic storytelling that is quite compelling, while ‘Towne’ contrasts with its hazy ripples: a brooding, cumulative effect building to sensory overload. Tracks such as ‘Given’ and ‘Marin’ take us through the gamut of typical piano evocations with their melancholic, bittersweet sensibility, while the rhythmic feel of ‘Ascend’ and opener ‘Another Word for Happy’ provide counterpoint with a whimsical, carefree spirit and soft, sunny melodies.

Finally, our third album ‘Nome’ provides a welcome relief to the pallid tones of old, dying pianos. Composer Jacob Pavek invites listeners to respond and create their own world within these sonic offerings as responses to feelings and memories. From the very first moment of this album we are greeted with full, pounding chords from a bright, sonorous piano. There is a richness in the harmonics that gently bleeds between each wave of sound, with a lush density of sound so thick that one barely notices the synth and strings swelling up underneath until the piano drops away. There is a real slick sense of professionalism in the end product, with a well honed sound palette and a strong ear for producing and arranging.

While it is the craft with which Pavek constructs his work that makes a strong first impression, it is certainly not skin deep: looking more closely, the compositions themselves are beautifully wrought. The title track is a wonderfully sensitive performance on solo piano, tinged with regret, while ‘Love/Marriage’ makes use of a seductive chord progression to great effect with its beautiful turns of chromaticism. ‘Crocus’ begins with a murky sustained piano melody, as notes bleed together with a gorgeously arranged string section that is weathered, expressive, and with a real sense of spirit and soul. The final track ‘Pulse’ also leaves a lasting impression and begs for further exploration to understand its layers. There is a dense complexity to the sensations embodied in these sounds, like mixed emotions.

Inevitably, the constant flow of quality releases will always overshadow our hunger for new music, no matter how insatiable our appetites. It is startling the myriad musical possibilities that emerge from even a single genre or musical community as we see here with three very different albums, unified with a common love for piano. What a thrilling idea to think that musicians and composers continue to engage with this centuries old instrument, often bringing it into context with synths and modern production, or just as often, exploring the possibilities of the instrument itself, through prepared piano  techniques, and by revisiting older instruments whose wisdom is to be revered and celebrated.

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Encores 2 by Nils Frahm by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

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Encores 2, released on January 25th, 2019, is a second EP out of two in following up Nils Frahm´s 2018 album, All Melody. Frahm is known to be very productive, so it hardly comes as a surprise that the album ended up bigger than planned. In the composer’s own words:

The idea behind Encores is one we had from before All Melody; to do three releases each with their own distinct musical style and theme, perhaps even as a triple album. But All Melody became larger than itself and took over any initial concepts.
— Nils Frahm
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Encores 1 and 2 being separate entities is intriguing, both stem from the same musical creation but the former consists of 5 tracks for harmonium and solo piano. Encores 2 thus sets a different mood, we have four ambient tracks starting with serene, piano-arpeggio based Sweet Little Lie and building up to the 12-and-a-half minute-long Spells. The nicely titled, disarming track A Walking Embrace is a personal favorite. As was the case with All Melody, listening to this music is like glancing upon an impressionist painting and while stepping closer, realizing how fluid and yet distinct it is, how something that gave a simple effect at first has in fact been manipulated from its original tone into a whole other creature, a familiar sound which still can’t instantaneously be perceived and identified as a single musical instrument. The layers create a dimension that is rare to acheive without coming off as saturated, but that is just one of Frahm´s rare talents. One reason possibly being the religious use of organic sound, no matter how he ends up maneuvering it. This trilogy of releases, in fact, includes a human choir, but utilized very much like a human-made instrument. If the secret to the perfect fabrication is to throw an inch of truth to it, Nils Frahm does the same in his soundscape by surrounding the maneuvered with the raw while finely cleaning up the borders of the two. Another reason is the impressively perfected dynamics when there is a lot going on in the music (which, although not always comprehensible at first is actually, always), the instinct that Frahm seems to have been born with, knowing every time, exactly just up to what point a voice needs to come through. A beautiful 4-track release worth every bit the same attention as All Melody and Encores 1.

 

Refuge by Ô Lake by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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French composer Sylvain Texier’s recent release ‘Refuge’ is the first release for his instrumental project Ô Lake and is a finely orchestrated album of evocative, mood driven music. With hints of synth and other texture, there is a lovely sound palette that builds and develops across eleven tracks spanning a range of sonic scenes. Meditative and slightly forlorn, this album is a work of instrumental beauty: quiet but moving, silently sweeping us away in its dreamscapes. 

‘Refuge’ begins with its title track: a gentle glow, delicately laced with noise, while hints of pencils running along a page create a texture with a spontaneous feel. This sets the scene for a rising, hopeful piano motif, as a brume of strings wafts gently in between, gently building before an abrupt ending, as we are left hanging on the edge. Next, ’Reveries Op. 1’ gently lulls us with its homely, meandering piano musings. A subtle lick of synth doubling adds a nice touch of depth to this old creaky piano as it wanders in its dreamlike state.

Following with ‘Portrait of Solitude’ there is a touch of cinematic cliché with the sound of raindrops, setting a backdrop for a slow pensive piano track. The track finds its feet as the minimal percussion kicks in with a woody, reverberant sound, before being washed out once more by the rain. Beginning with a reverent piano set against gradually thickening strings and a hint of haze, ‘Holocene’ is a slow builder that is a compelling, arresting listen and is a standout on the album. It is tonally rich, and with a driving rhythmic pulse that is insistent and visceral.

‘Conversation’ opens with a curious rustling sound that is slightly metallic, and strangely moody. A piano figure stretches out across this subtly undulating sound texture before strings join, lending a sense of gravitas. Like a lonely, late night walk, ’Silhouettes,’ with its blurred edges of sound and resonant old piano is a slow, pensive piece. It is dreamlike and beguiling but concludes with a slightly haunting final chord, leaving us with a sense of tension.

With a weary, tired sounding piano, ‘Morning’ is like a fragile beauty; whimsical but sad. Like turning the key on an old music box, there is a sense of intimacy that this song creates, as if this tune came to life just for you. The next track, ‘November 17th’ has a rippling, flickering surface of enchanting polyrhythm like raindrops on the surface of a still lake. When the strings kick in, it is the sweetly singing vibrato of the violin soaring above that lends this track its poignant, moving quality. 

‘Interlude’ offers a moment of stasis amongst otherwise restless piano ripples, with block chords of piano echoed by string quartet, creating a sense of weightlessness before moving on to ‘The Leftovers’ which instantly draws you closer. It is intriguing with its repetitive motif broken by changes in harmony, before strings take this piece to another place entirely. Finally, ‘Epilogue’ tacks on the end as quite a different sound with a synth glow, dark pulse and an urgent electric piano. It is a driving force with a commanding presence that concludes this album with an explosive final moment: distorted guitar smeared across an ostinato that builds to a fever pitch, leaving a lasting impression long after the dust has settled. 

Textier has excellent command of the instrumental forces he wields, and a terrific sense of restraint that lends his work a real maturity and ease. This album is an accomplished, polished collection of pieces that are truly transportive and transfixing. Each song is its own microcosm of mixed, complex emotions, conveyed with sincerity and integrity belying a great ideal of passion behind the crafting of each one of these songs. 

 

Commune by Kin Leonn by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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Kin Leonn’s debut album, Commune, falls welcome on curious ears. Leonn is a young voice in music, Commune being his first full-length release in association with Kitchen Label. But his sound is a quilt sewn of familiar and obscure inspirations alike, and comes together in a warm and wholesome result for the listener. Hailing from Singapore and residing now in London, Leonn has a wealth of musical backgrounds, from modern classical to abstract electronic, and from easy-listening keyboard and piano to experimental ambient and noise-based soundscapes, all of which can be heard as influencing factors in the sounds of Commune. The album as a whole listens as an anthology of what is possible on the canvas when one has so many paints to choose from, and across all ten tracks it seems Leonn applies every color in his own individual way.

With such evocative song titles as Shinrin-yoku (parts I and II) and Noumenal, even glancing at the tracklist of Commune can catalyze an imaginative journey for listeners. Of course once the music begins, this journey evolves rapidly into a multi-faceted kaleidoscope of genre-bending sounds both acoustic and synthetic. A key characteristic gluing all the varied atmospheres of sound together, though, is Leonn’s ability to provoke emotion with his playing. Whether utilizing abstract found sounds, laying heavy on a sweeping synthesizer chord, or plucking out distinct piano melodies, everything on Commune is done with the utmost care for emotional impact.

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Moments of this album may be reminiscent of sweet summer days in one’s childhood, or perhaps of darker times when the light of hope was dimmer than normal. Some may find themselves pointedly reminded of an individual, maybe a close friend or relative whose significance in their life is quiet yet great. These are the ineffable nuances Leonn is able to reach out and touch, and indeed even bring directly to the minds of his listeners. While in this respect I almost beg for songs to have a cinematic pairing, there is definitive potency in the notes themselves without any visual accompaniment, that when let to wander across a blank mind they paint their own images sharper and clearer than any filmographer might hope.

And I implore those who are able to invite the songs in Commune to paint their own pictures for you. It’s true that with closed eyes, the sounds of Leonn’s playing seem to strike the canvass of the mind with a vast array of colors, some of which even escape definition of the eye and are found only in with ear. To this end, the music of Kin Leonn’s Commune should not be missed.

 

BTTB – 20th Anniversary Edition by Ryuichi Sakamoto by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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Ryuichi Sakamoto has had an immense impact on the world of music from the 1970s to present day. Practically pioneering the Japanese scene of electronic music as a member of the band Yellow Magic Orchestra, and going on to compose an extensive catalogue of film scores, he is a household name at the very least. He has additionally worked as a music producer, actor, visual arts collaborator, and activist, and has been awarded a long list of honors and awards from Golden Globes to MTV Breakthrough Video awards to recognition by the French Ministry of Culture.

Now, under  the renowned Milan Records, Sakamoto releases a celebratory 20th Anniversary Edition of BTTB, a pensive and notably introspective addition to his eccentric and bizarre catalogue at the time of its release in 1998. The new 20th Anniversary Edition offers all the original tracks in a newly remastered form fit for the 21st century. It also brings a brand new music video to the table for the Japanese hit “Energy Flow”.

Personal and intimate music—somebody (an anonymous somebody) sitting alone in front of the school piano early in the morning, weaving a melody, exploring harmonies. Music that gradually fills a space with high ceilings that contains the wafting presence of rain. But music that leaves gaps where necessary. Once in a while, we need music like this and this way of being...no, perhaps all the time. We need it as much as we need hot black coffee at the break of dawn and a cat napping next to us in the afternoon.
— Haruki Murakami

At the time of its release, BTTB (acronym for “back to the basics”) stood out as less aggravated, less wild, and ultimately somewhat underwhelming when compared to the other works Sakamoto had been releasing at the time. However in the present moment, looking back on the album offers a new clarity to these solo piano compositions that may have been missed by the wider audience in 1998. Following a biographical documentary of Sakamoto, “Coda,” released in June of 2018, the 20th Anniversary Edition of BTTB seems smartly fitting of all Sakamoto’s albums to reintroduce into the music world. While most of his works through the years have been aimed outwardly, seeking to push new boundaries in music and explore what is possible, very nearly to the limits of what audiences were prepared to accept as listenable, BTTB was one of the few works that looked inward, breathed slowly, and offered a mirror to listeners rather than a portrait.

With the addition of the new music video for Energy Flow, BTTB is a genuine and powerful installment in Sakamoto’s extensive and ever-growing collection of artistic successes. The music video, entirely colorless, has in itself a beautifully stirring, haunting organic element to video shot without a human soul in sight. Mixing in Sakamoto’s affinity for field recordings with the original track, the visual elements have a parallel style to field-recorded audio. Motion exists in a wonderfully static form throughout the various shots, and sort of visual hum is created in the pacing and subject matter of the video as a whole.

Without a doubt, BTTB’s 20th Anniversary Edition is a revitalization of a wonderfully pensive album created by, simply put, one of the greats in modern music. In the context of a new century, the music takes on further potency than it originally had, and is a delight to hear from beginning to end. BTTB - 20th Anniversary Edition releases in full on March 1st, 2019.

 

Atermus by Tom Blankenberg by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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Dusseldorf native Tom Blankenberg has led a life surrounded by music. Finding work in production, sound design, film soundtracks, and advertising, he has since settled into creating music for himself, and for us. On February 15th, his newest album titled Atermus is set to release.

Opening with beautifully pensive, sophisticated yet friendly tones, Atermus leads the album with a blend of classical, jazz, and free-form minimalism styles that is satisfying in its diversity. Rarely sitting in a key for long, each track floats nevertheless smoothly and often sans rhythm across the album. What structure there is to grasp is mellow and comfortable, almost effortless, as if Blankenberg has been practicing his entire life to play these notes on the recording, just for the listener.

Thematically, Atermus hovers in a unique limbo between transiently care-free and starkly apprehensive. These two sides of the coin can flip within a line of melody itself, let alone multiple times across a single track, exhibiting the expert gracefulness of a musician purely in control of his sound. Sometimes with grandeur, other times with melancholy, Atermus gives an impression of fluidity in emotion that echoes life itself. In one moment the quick flutter of bright piano produces hopefulness and high spirit, then the next flutter descends to painfully sweet minor chords bringing that hope into a form of regret or subtle disenchantment.

Blankenberg’s music has a spellbinding looseness to it which is integral to the sounds of Atermus. Each of his compositions flows outward the way speech does in conversation - reactive, progressive, sometimes abstract. These compositions don’t feel like compositions so much as an account of stream-of-consciousness thought. While many writers and performers of contemporary classical music actually sound calculated and careful in their works, Blankenberg sounds at ease, unconcerned, and relaxed. It is a pleasant experience, like listening to a story told by a wise, elderly family member who may add his own flair to the details each time it is told. By this token, Blankenberg’s Atermus deserves praise for its uniqueness in this respect, as well as in the level of skill shown in this minute detail of the album’s sound.

In short, Atermus is a gorgeous and inquisitive soundscape, with countless rises and falls in the overarching story it tells. To find out how the story ends, though, you’ll have to wait until February 15th and give Atermus a listen of your own.

 

About B. by Tim Linghaus by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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About B. by Tim Linghaus is a captivating collection of reprises, fleeting ideas, and musings which accumulated during the recording of Linghaus’ most recent album memory Sketches, (which piano and coffee had the pleasure of reviewing upon its release in April of last year). Now, on January 18th, Linghaus has presented this unique smattering of tracks, none longer than three minutes and 37 seconds and many at or under the one minute mark, as a culmination of “B-sides” from the previous album.

The album is playful in its arrangement, leading with two tracks roughly 30 seconds long that paint brief but vivid images spurred by their evocative titles. Almost all of these songs sit on a full-bellied bed of electronic fluttering and arpeggiated trills, giving the music an otherworldly feel. As listeners sink their teeth into the later and longer tracks, acoustic instruments become present, primarily including Linghaus’ piano melodies, but also accented with cello by Jean-Marie Bø and Sebastian Selke, and later with saxophone by Leon Sebastian Haecker and violin also by Jean-Marie Bø. These instruments ground the listener in what would otherwise be a syrupy dreamscape with little if any auditory landmarks to track one’s progress throughout, beautiful in its own merit. Linghaus, however, gives distinct impressions with these acoustic points just like a photograph finds focus in a singular field of view while the rest of the image fades in blur.

And this album is very much like leafing through a box of old photographs, unearthed perhaps accidentally, but entirely irresistible to keep from diving into. Former piano and coffee reviews of Linghaus harp on the intense visual imagery he creates in his music – a feat at once perplexing and entirely central to the potency of his musical abilities. It is without any apology that the album About B. utilizes this very effect in the style of flipping through photo after photo, and briefly yet wholly reliving the distinct emotional atmosphere that surrounded and imbued that past. The titles of the tracks themselves could just as easily be written on the space at the bottom of a polaroid: “Crossing Bornholmer,” “Snow at Franz – Mehring – Platz,” “Empty House,” “Chased By Two Idiots,” etcetera.

Also greatly akin to self-recorded visual memory like family photo albums, these tracks are often dappled with abstract yet familiar background noise. The rustling of papers, the creaking of wood, movement as if from the next room over. These give off an attractive feeling of wear-and-tear to the songs that physical keepsakes often accumulate, making the analogy between track and photograph even clearer.

Linghaus has breathed life wonderfully into songs that in other circumstances often never see the light of day. About B. is a testament to the value of what is personal, and what can inspire memories of what is personal in others. Whether or not you choose to dig up your own set of nostalgia while listening to this album, expect the same feeling to result. One of drifting, sweetly reminiscing, and wandering from the ‘now’ slowly backward into the ‘what was.’

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Remember Tomorrow by Clemens Christian Poetzsch by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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Second full-length solo release “Remember Tomorrow” by German composer Clemens Christian Poetzsch is a rare gem that cements this artist’s status as a true triple threat, possessing great talent in each of his focuses: composing, playing piano, and producing. The piano tracks capture a tender, thoughtful performance of compositions that are comfortingly familiar, yet filled with subtlety and an understated sense of drama. His production further elevates these compositions with hints of synth, strings, and ear-bending oddities that push the musical forms, highlighting their most thrilling contours and deepening their darkest depths.

From the very beginning we are immediately swept up in pointillistic musings in opening track ‘Spheres,’ with fragmented clusters like islands floating amongst sustained tones. As all the dots join together and the music begins to cascade, it is stirring, with haunting shifts of harmonies flickering by. Next, gentle doubling of the piano and a slightly heavy reverb give ‘Tokio Nights’ a weightiness and plenty of dimension, as synth slowly becomes more present and reaches a point of climax as it eclipses the full frequency spectrum.

‘Rufe’ is a visceral, thundery rumble in the background and a wash of synth colour; stark streaks foreground the composition in open harmonies as the timbre seamlessly shifts from brass to strings. ‘Ascending’ oozes an opulent charm and stately gorgeousness; a rapidly rippling reverie of colourful broken chords evoking a sense of flight. The following track ’11 Step’ has an idiosyncratic, jittery groove with a simple left hand riff and a meandering melody in the treble. It has a crystalline purity in its youthful exuberance, and a certain spunk to its cartwheels and leaps.

Beginning with a sombre, slow set up, ‘Echoes’ is all about the moment the music takes flight. It leaps into action with an urgent rhythmic riff on the piano set against a thick smog of deep electric bass, synth, double bass and cello: thick, dark and textured, like scratchy, detailed graphite layered over and over. ‘Neon Leipzig’ showcases some of Poetzsch’s more interesting synth musings, with pulsing, whirring sonorities setting the scene as a background for a bright, sparse doubled melody and a disquieting deep rumble beneath.

The piano has a moment of purity in the following track ‘Reflexion,’ a short solo piece that seems oscillate between patience and restlessness with a simple stepwise melody. Next, ’Zur Nacht’ begins with a gentle repeated piano figure that ripples out, each note bleeding into the next. With a gentle violin floating along, a second voice emerges from the piano, growing in complexity with harmonies filling out the upper range with a beautiful sense of development.

‘Pyrus’ is striking, with tense, thick, bittersweet piano chords that stand like skyscrapers against gently warbling synths. This track is sublime in its simplicity and its refined, plaintive motif. The following track ‘Schimmer’ immediately seduces with its enchanting twists and turns of melody and harmony. This track especially showcases Poetzsch’s wonderful sense of harmony with some interesting, stark choices: some beautifully jarring, and others heartbreakingly tender in the sweetness they evoke in gorgeous key changes and shifts of colour.

Penultimate track ‘Zwei Stimmen’ sprawls out with a sombre moodiness: deep strings ring out, reverberant, stark and dark, as a gentle strain of dissonance tugs at the heartstrings. Here again, the composer’s restraint with musical material is used to astonishing effect, with a very focused idea that is truly refined. The album concludes with a hint of intrigue and elusiveness in closer “Lento,” a slightly tense piano solo with an atmospheric reverberation that echoes on in the mind long after listening.

It is a rare artist in today’s world who can create something that has a sense of the traditional, without being trapped in the predictability of convention. Poetzsch possesses a wonderful gift for harmony; it is the choice of colours that lends his work a quality of the familiar tinged with something beguiling and unique. Adding in the delicate ornamentation a honed arrangement around his piano playing, he has honed a musical voice using traditional harmony, unbound by tradition. It is no surprise this artist embraces ‘Freedom’ as his guiding creative principle, as this feeling permeates throughout his music in a sense of looseness, spontaneity, and immediacy.

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re:member by Ólafur Arnalds by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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15 years ago, he started composing music for imaginary films: he wrote for the imagery conjured in his own head, creating and performing purely for his own bliss. Today you’d be hard at work trying to find anyone in the contemporary instrumental world who hasn’t heard of Ólafur Arnalds, whose most recent work has been celebrated widely – re:member is the Icelandic composer’s fourth solo studio album, and though its title might appear to hint at the past, it has a delightfully futuristic element to it. Largely featured by Arnalds’ Stratus Pianos, developed with the help of composer and audio developer Halldór Eldjárn, re:member offers both complexity and nuance, while never losing Arnalds’ characteristic minimalism.

Though the concept of self-playing pianos might seem daunting, Arnalds had seen it in action while supporting the Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto on tour, so when the nerve damage his hand had suffered from an accident threatened to keep him from ever playing again, a new approach seemed imminent. It started off as a bit of a joke but quickly grew into a bigger idea – two pianos, reacting to input from Arnalds and responding with notes of their own, acting as a soundboard – or a brainstorming session – for the composer to then keep working off of. The unexpected harmonies allowed for an unhinged, uninhibited creative process, and led to an absolutely exhilarating album.

The title track turns out to be an absolutely brilliant introduction to the album: the piano breathes gently, softly coming and going like waves – the strings are introduced, filtered in like sunlight breaking through the morning clouds, achingly slow. There’s nothing inherently sad about it, and still it evokes a twinge in my rib cage – until suddenly it takes off into a new awakening. Glittering drops of dew beneath feathery feet, I imagine some unknown spirit sprinting lithely, weaving in and out of the trees. Two thirds into the track, a jolting drum beat is added in and so, the first of Arnalds’ experimentation with genres has revealed itself.

Following a beautiful collaboration with British electronic musician SOHN, comes saman, showing just how so many of Arnalds’ pieces have a way of making you feel as though you’re coming home to some familiar essence; something you just know you’ve been dreaming about in the early morning hours. The light, unaltered grace of the track is followed by one of the more outstanding tracks – brot makes me feel as if I’m right there in Arnalds’ studio, watching the first few steps of the track’s creation: the pianos working together, answering the musician’s call, the resulting harmonies transferred to emotive strings, swelling and ebbing gorgeously, enhancing the humanity of the track.

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One of my favourites of the album, they sink, has a subtle duality in its build-up: every phrase flawlessly builds into a cascading of notes, glittering vividly across the frame and resettling, taking another breath and going off again – simultaneously, the strings start beckoning you to come back to this place you’ve longed for, growing in enthusiasm. Throughout the entire album, Arnalds’ great talent is impeccable – to do so much with so little, create such impact with seemingly no force, is no small feat. His experimentation with genre can only be considered a massive success, giving the album a pleasantly modern air, not least in ypsilon where the laid-back vibes of the rhythm hints at influences from hip-hop artist BNGERBOY, who helped inspire some of the themes for re:member.

As Arnalds so eloquently puts it in a video about the making of the album, there’s “an element of the unknown in the pianos”, and the unhinged creativity that pooled from the use of these tools can be found throughout the whole of re:member. It’s an important aspect to consider – allowing ourselves to try something new and to keep reimagining it until it becomes something we enjoy; not judge too harshly our first trembling steps, and in the process silencing parts of ourselves we might one day thrive off of. I believe Arnalds truly captured the thrill of unexpected paths, while still staying fully true to himself and his own vision; and in the end it made for one of the very best albums of 2018.

 

The Ocean No Longer Wants Us by Alaskan Tapes by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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Alaskan Tapes’ latest album, The Ocean No Longer Wants Us, is a lush and beautiful ambient soundscape. Mellow meanderings of piano or electric guitar melodies offer a listening experience that does not demand attention but enhances atmosphere; abstract scratches and taps give the album a lived-in feeling much like home videos or personal audio recordings.

When not composing ambient sounds for full length albums or E.P.s, Alaskan Tapes a.k.a Brady Kendall works to create music specifically for film and visual arts. It’s no surprise Kendall’s music has found its way into numerous short films, as the music itself begs to tell a story of nostalgia, loss, dazedness, youth, or a combination of all of these themes. This skilled command of music that enhances existing stories carries well into the recorded albums of Alaskan Tapes.

Curious and charming, much of The Ocean No Longer Wants Us has a musical body that swells and dissipates without any acute recognition. Wide and warm synth pads and soft hums of amorphous sound make an extremely cozy bed of sound for the ears. This effect, combined with the sublayer of abstract noise accomplishes a remarkable experience not found in all ambient music. Songs can find themselves in a meditative repetition, and then can so gently bleed into other sections of the composition that a brand new musical motif is occurring without the listener ever realizing the transition. Needless to say, Kendall has a beautiful control of the listener’s attention, and uses it to his distinct advantage in creating even more mesmerizing music – of which The Ocean No Longer Wants Us is no exception.

Whether in need of warm, tape-loop-esque study music, something more artfully composed for aiding sleep, or simply a soundtrack to your next sepia tone adventure, be sure to give the new album The Ocean No Longer Wants Us the listen that it most certainly deserves. 

 

Reworks by James Heather by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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After the smashing success of his debut album from 2017, Stories From Far Away On Piano, British post-classical composer James Heather went on to collect both self-made string quartet versions as well as others’ re-imaginings of pieces from the debut album and his Modulations: EP 1. The new pieces mix Heather’s grounded foundation of gentle, classical piano, with the texture and sensation from more electronic universes; with the addition of ambience and experimentalism, these versions allow for a brand new listening experience.

Reworks’ starts off strong with Echo Collective giving their take on Ruqia – differing from the original track’s light, clean, straightforward sound, the duo’s interpretation is a gritty, raw version, focusing mainly on the ambience surrounding the main theme, with a denser frame of strings, whistling and ringing backing up the candid loop of the melody.

The album progresses in a similar manner, as DJ Seinfeld applies an equally spacious ambience to MHope, allowing the synth to take command: the sounds are braided nicely together, and though the cold decisiveness of the ambience slightly clashes with the emotive piano, it creates a sense of being stuck in-between two worlds – both vibrating aggressively on either side, demanding your full attention. It is followed by the pleasant Biomes as visualized by Aparde, a track allowing for a breath of fresh air – needing no flashy grandeur to make its statement; it stands out none the less. With soft house vibes and a fuzzy submersion, it mirrors nicely the original versions beautiful and equally unassuming nature.

After two re-imagined string quartet pieces, with strings like a warm summer breeze and an awe-inspiring growth in depth and sobriety, the album gets another facelift as the harp gets centre stage: expertly manoeuvred by Mary Lattimore, And She Came Home has been given a phenomenally un-produced and unaltered sound, the warmth of the tender strings making for an unexpected mix with the eerie, fluttering ambience. Sarah Davachi took a similarly minimalistic path and gave Bad Role Model a more profound depth and darkness without over-complication, having the synthesizer mould the tune into her own version.

The last of the Reworks is the intriguingly unsteady platform of Chihei Hatakeyama’s version of Blueprint: every movement seems dampened and weighed down, struggling to express and be heard. It symbolizes the whole album quite well – the captivating essence of the original version still shines through, even run through what seems like endless filters and channels (the desperation of the struggle making it just that much more sublime), and I can’t imagine Heather could be any happier with the new and improved collection.

 

Metropolitan by Madeleine Cocolas by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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Australian born composer Madeleine Cocolas returns with her second album, ‘Metropolitan’, and has made a miraculous transformation of visual inspiration into a diverse and compelling collection of tracks, based off artworks housed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Artfully conceived and composed, this album was made using custom software used to analyse nine artworks Cocolas felt a strong resonance with, and the resulting material was woven together with piano, synthesiser and vocals.

Diving immediately into the abstract with opening track Rothko, No. 16 we are met with a smattering of electronic sounds, like pulsating fragments of birdsong, swooping, diving and ricocheting, before a held synth is joined by pulsing textures whirling over the top. It is bright and enchanting, like a digital sonic rainforest alive with smaller sounds while bigger sounds tower overhead. The track builds and thickens, becoming brighter, until the colours overlap together into white.

Starkly different from the preceding track, Pape, Picture 1953 is dark with fast pulses of synth, eerie voices and glitchy chimes and a loose arrhythmic feel. This aleatory bricolage of sounds flickers through a wide range of timbres with unpredictable sense of disquiet and danger. Following on with Riley, Blaze 1, brightness returns with this Lydian kaleidoscope of rapid-fire synth, which is gentle yet relentless. Joyful and carnivalesque, the sounds are crunchy, and textural, juxtaposed against glassy and gleaming sonorities.

Pollock, Autumn Rhythm No. 30 is a spellbinding sonic re-imagination of abstract expressionistic style that is nothing short of remarkable in capturing both the visual, and the intellectual spirit of an artistic movement. Drips of sound are woody and metallic with xylophone and glockenspiel, and they spill out in scattered, erratic patterns against a background of colourful, angular piano jamming with double bass.

Next comes a piece of immense, unforgettable intensity, Motherwell, Elegy To The Spanish Republic No. 70. Pounding, thumping rhythms feel deep and primal, like a black hole of sound. Then comes a much softer feel in the next track, Hartigan, Blue Bathers with its slightly muted, muffled piano. Broken chords play out in unusual, asymmetric patterns with spaces in between as ripples develop in this slow sonic unfolding.

From here, we move to Kiefer, Astral Snake with wind and crackling sounds mingling amongst the whirring oscillation of synths, like radar. A low, held, brooding bass holds the ground against a mirage of blurred treble melody that slowly meanders in gentle strobing dissonance. Kelly, Spectrum V is a bouncy closed circuit; cantering along with synth beats that skip along in a sustained, slow evolution.

Finally, Kolarova, Letters From Portugal rounds out this album with a feeling of floating underwater with its droning cycles and little whispers of high-pitched synth. With a thread of buzzing noises that is woven through, sounds poke out and become more prominent before fading away, with a constant sense of upward motion.

It is safe to say that the greatness of the works hanging in The Met has been done justice by this gorgeous sound response to visual stimulus. The way sound is used to create evocative sensations that translate into visual experiences in the mind’s eye is just stunning. There is a clear relationship between each song and its corresponding artwork, and indeed a strong connection between each song in the collection; a masterstroke of editing and interpretation – or perhaps ‘curation’?

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#3 by Illuminine by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

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Kevin Imbrechts, aka. Illuminine, is known for composing in the style of neo-classical merged with post rock. He cites his main influences to be the likes of Buckethead, and is an avid fan of slow, instrumental guitar music. To battle one’s own brain, receive a diagnosis and then openly make an album about it has to be considered a very brave act to carry out. Kevin Imbrechts did just that, but his album #3 reflects on his struggles with anxiety disorder and an Asperger diagnosis.

It is quite likely that many of those who are drawn to this genre of music are seeking their own calm in the chaos. Taking the time to listen to some unhurried music with good headphones can help slow down, or gently push away unwanted thoughts, and serve as a testimony that we are never really alone in our struggles. This can even be seen as meditation, which is something that all of us need; bold assumptions as they may.

The tracks on #3 depict time frames within a 24 hour cycle of the life of the composer’s life. We hear the drained of hope insomnia (Aura), the disjuncture, the daydreams, even the frightening clash between obsessions and the level-headedness (Dear, Limerence). Apprehension, Parts 1, 2 and 3 are spread through the album, perhaps like symptoms showing up uninvited, irrelevant of whatever else is going on. There are many fine-tuned layers and fades between instruments that make for a refined coherence of the work.

The structure of the album can only succeed in terms of flow due to the whole natural, real-life truth of it. In general, the music has the thick, ear-filling texture of many slow-rock equivalents, but with many notable highlights to it. Some of them being, well, every second recorded of Hannah Corinne Boswell’s angelic, perfect-pitch singing voice. The orchestration of Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie (Stars of the Lid / A Winged Victory For The Sullen) in Dear, Utopia is impressive and worth mentioning as well. Imbrechts sometimes makes his main motifs with downward-going minor scales (Alas, Orpheus, the strings in Dear, Limerence, Dualisms #3), something that has been known in the music history to express sadness. Whether intentional or not, it serves its purpose nicely.

This initiative needs to be recognized, not only for the sake of putting added respect into the work but because it might in fact encourage others to honor their own journey – whichever the resemblances may be. If music can be described as “healthy”, #3 definitely falls under that category, both individually and for spreading empathy. It is not to be confused with sadcore, hence the documentary aspect to it. We can thank Imbrechts for speaking the truth, and to openly and univocally document it in the music.

 

Meander Scars by Gavin Miller (with Aaron Martin) by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Blake Parker

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Meander Scars strikes instantly with a feeling of deep archaic roots. Guitar strings are strummed, and their vibrations ring out over a mild glow of background synthesizer and echo with such cavernous beauty it seems ancient. As the music grows, the listener finds themselves feeling almost out of place, like they are peeking into the private lives of the gods that shaped this earth, views of their tinkerings and bumblings about seeming undeserved, even stolen from the universe.

Perhaps that is a little dramatic. But the sounds of Meander Scars are themselves bathed in drama and emotion. The album was not, in fact, composed or performed by the makers of the world, but by Gavin Miller, with the feature of Aaron Martin on four of the eight tracks – or rather, one of the two versions of the four-movement composition the album presents. It is unsurprising that such intensely rich and dusty music would come from Miller, a musician wearing various hats from one half of the duo Worriedaboutsatan to writer of Drowned in Sound. In this particular offering of songs however, Miller sheds some of the preconceived sounds from his previous solo works and allows a gorgeous pairing of acoustics and electronics to come to life like a dance, with the guitar and other acoustic elements leading the motions.

Much of the album brings to mind the bleak-but-beautiful desert sounds of José González, the peacefully unstructured meanderings in musical thought of Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports,” and tip-of-the-tongue familiarity to the feeling of a well scored cinematic experience, perhaps set in the American West. The music of Meander Scars weaves these and other ineffable elements into an intelligent and supremely wonderful sound. Decisively, this release accomplishes something difficult to describe but easily considered amazing.

 

Pequeñas Melodías by Federico Durand by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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Most of us can agree that any art form can be heightened with the help of another: we often connect, consciously or not, images to sound and vice versa. The vision behind initiative IIKKI is just that – a carefully calibrated combination of musical and visual artists are encouraged to work together, their dialog eventually resulting in two physical imprints – a book and a disc (CD or vinyl). We’ve previously spoken with IIKKI’s founder, Mathias Van Eecloo, back in June when the label was releasing their sixth edition – and they’re keeping busy, as they’ve just recently released IIKKI 007, Pequeñas Melodías.

The visual part of the project is made by the collaborative duo Albarrán Cabrera: the photographers Anna Cabrera and Angel Albarrán, working together in Barcelona, constantly seeking to portray and perhaps expand the line between real and unreal. Using multiple tools, materials and processes to reach a new platform of expression, the duo’s work has been shown in multiple galleries from all over the world. Having truly found a perfect mixture of pleasant while still thought-provoking, Albarrán Cabrera’s half of the project is a breath-taking book of photographs that touch on autumnal nature, double-exposure, darkness and light – with generously earthy tones and soft themes, the book is an absolute delight to look through, and it helps me linger in this quickly passing autumn, as frost starts clinging to my balcony windows.

The other half of the project is held by Federico Durand, an Argentina-based musician who has been releasing several albums via an array of labels, such as Spekk, Home Normal and 12k. A deeply poetic soul, Durand’s previous albums have touched on several different themes, but the core of his music always leans towards warmth and intimacy – simple yet eloquent melodies; expression through minimalism. The music for Pequeñas Melodías was recorded in La Cumbre, Argentina, on tape loops and cassettes, and just like his project counterparts, Durand utilized several tools and instruments to acquire the vibe he was after – with music boxes, synthesizer, acoustic guitar and a modular sampler, to only name a few, the album he has crafted is intense in sound while still maintaining that dignified simplicity to his pieces.

The first track on the album introduces clearly the overall theme of warm crackling and peripheral noise to the point where the melody is almost secondary; it is followed by the innocent bells of El Jardín de Rosas Antiguas, its delightful melody all but given a face – it seems to echo with a vibrating sense of life, and I am led through a rose garden, drawn by the sound of dew drops on petals, mesmerized and engulfed. Las Estrellas Giran en el Pinar teases me with a beat that never comes, the noise from the equipment hinting at a drop: and so the loop becomes hypnotizing, never losing its grip on my attention – though slightly frustrated I am mostly impressed by the feat.

The acoustic guitar gets the main role for a few minutes, and accompanied by a circular rustling, the intimacy of Los Juguetes De Minka Podhájská is palpable. The love that Duran puts into these small, unassuming melodies cannot be mistaken – it can be found so clearly in the warmth of Anís, like the early sunrays through a dusty window; or in the childish curiosity of Canción del Reloj Cucú, the unhindered exploration bringing me back to Duran’s earlier project Pavel, his musical portrayal of traditional children’s stories – “innocent and eerie at the same time”.

While IIKKI encourages both music and book to be enjoyed separately, there is no mistaking the fact that the project is no mere coincidence – there is time and effort put into every step of the collaboration, and it shows clearly when the music gets to backdrop the photography. Without taking away attention from one another, the music and the visuals complement each other to the point where I could hardly have imagined them alone – and I’d like to think that that’s one of the main goals with this entire initiative.

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Solitary High by Lavalu by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

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Dutch musician Marielle Woltring, aka. Lavalu, released her solo album Solitary High on October 5th this year. Woltring has a lot of experience performing her music live, and has years of touring under her belt. Composing under the artist name Lavalu since 2004, she has studied and played the piano since the age of three, getting well acquainted with all of the bigger names of the piano repertoire. On Solitary High, she makes the shift from performing with a band to being on her own with her voice and the piano.

Lavalu draws some of her inspiration from artists such as Radiohead, Roisin Murphy, Fiona Apple and Björk – this is audible in her style of singing and is guaranteed to please those who keep a special place in their hearts for alternative 90’s music. Considering all that, a good way to enjoy Solitary High is spending an hour lying down, listening to it with good headphones and the lyrics printed in hand (no digital distractions!), as many of us would and still might spend time with our 90’s musical heroes.

The first track, Waiting, has received a considerable amount of attention around the web; it has a beautiful flow to it, the melody and accompaniment nicely divert between contrasting and finding each other. This is a main element of Lavalu’s compositions, but she makes a point of keeping the accompaniment classical and the vocals pop.

The lyrics on the album are nice and poetic. In general, they are not too literal and not ambiguous either, apart from the final track, Too Much, which differs from the rest not only for the fact that it is a cappella but because the lyrics seem to be a separate poem, a direct break-up letter. Other notable tracks are Bare, with its peculiar melody and minimal left-hand background. Longest Dawn has a more dramatic feel to it and a nice 6/8 rhythm, making it stand out. Milk and Swaying are the tracks that perhaps give most of the 90’s nostalgia – something about them reminds me of the likes of Massive Attack. In fact, there is a resemblance with the dark, beautifully sad tone of Elizabeth Fraser’s voice throughout the album; a vibe that has so often been attempted to imitate, but rarely paralleled as naturally and effortlessly as with Lavalu. A real treat.

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Fragments of Scattered Whispers by Endless Melancholy by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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With several releases, both self-made and via labels such as 1631 Recordings and Hidden Vibes, Oleksiy Sakevych’s solo project, descriptively named Endless Melancholy, teamed up with Dronarivm and released his latest album, Fragments of Scattered Whispers, on the 9th of November. Coupled with impeccable cover art by one of our favourites, Gregory Euclide, and mastered by Krzysztof Sujata, the musician behind Valiska, the album is a beautifully crafted inward look, gently tugging at the listener’s deeply hidden memories – filled with remarkable transitions and movement of style and sensation.

After a shuddering intro to the album, with soft cries in what seems like a war zone, the album’s heavy-weight is introduced without hesitation between the tracks – Postcards is immediate and ever-present, with an unpretentious lightness contrasting the heavy, slow backdrop. The gentle melody swings securely back and forth, offering a sense of assuredness, lulling us into the second part of the track. An elaboration of the same confident kindness, I feel almost as if the track asks to take me with it – it’s a perfect melodic embodiment of “PS – I wish you were here”, and the underlying, subtle melancholic tendency grasps unforgivingly at the pit in my stomach, as the track ends on a slightly more disheartened path, as if the journey indeed took a turn, and the postcards stopped arriving.

The album moves steadily between themes: after the noisy nature of Will You Be There, we are taken in by the softly nervous embrace of In Transition From Anxiety To Acceptance – Sakevych truly shows the power of a fitting title – where the build-up of the restless looping is finally replaced by one slow, deep breath, and I am engulfed in the warm rush of rumbling droning. It is most apparent here how the artist has grown from his previous releases – a sense of caution can be sensed throughout his first works, a slight hesitation in expression, but this has been thoroughly replaced by a fearless method of “laying it on thick”: allowing for the contrasts to tell the story. The noise and the grit is there for a reason, and must be allowed proper space as well, something Sakevych has certainly embraced.

The transition to Her Fragrant Beauty passes almost unnoticeable, but the track is quickly scaled back into rustic, distorted piano, lending a paradoxical sense of eerie familiarity; like seeing a stranger in one’s most sacred place – not intruding but not entirely welcome, either, as the curious but gentle hands touch your photographs, your memories, wiping off the dust and bringing them back into the light.

The album moves gently towards its end, with the achingly slow unfolding of Slumber Waves – a track that isn’t hesitating, per se, but is truly contemplating each step; this allows for an unforced grace, the dignity of a voice that needn’t shout to be heard. Washed Away By Slow Currents brings it all together then, the shuddering ambient wails swinging into each other with that same unquestionable grace, and I find myself in the rare instance where the music conjures no words at all – I am washed over by feelings that I truly can’t find a way to describe, only a warmth in my chest and an emptiness behind my eyes. My whole being is encumbered in the soft grasp of the ending notes, as the lingering, light-hearted melody bids me farewell with twinges of corruption hinting at a sub-layer of melancholy – the same melancholy that appropriately seems to simmer around the edges of any and all of Sakevych’s magnificent art. Managing to hold such sombre themes without letting the music become something cold and disheartening is a true feat, and one that Endless Melancholy has undoubtedly come to master.

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Homes by Shida Shahabi by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

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After spending a lot of time and energy on a variety of projects, Swedish-Iranian composer Shida Shahabi felt fed up with the complexity and technicality of the music she had been involved with, and ventured on a path, to her, untraveled – a more honest, less produced way of composing. This led Shahabi to her debut solo production, built entirely around the piano, situated in the most intimate of settings – ones’ own home. Appropriately named, Homes is an album where depth and substance trumps ambition and technology; “These little pieces are really just about playing the way you play things and letting them sound the way they sound”, says Shahabi, “Accepting limitations and allowing yourself to create the musical states and ideas that you have without over-thinking, commenting and criticizing too much.”

This simple but utterly self-exposing way of composing culminated in a glorious collection of tracks. Jumping right into the thick of things, Abisme starts off without ado, an undeterred elegancy in the flow of the movements. The highly individual footprint of the composer is immediately introduced – it’s like a language, completely owned by Shahabi, lending the music a sort of soul or personality, instantly evident and utterly apprehensible. The piece softly wanes and settles onto a darker path, the one monotonous tone in the background growing subtly and increasing the uneasy sensation. Alone, in my own home, I should feel perfectly safe – and yet I’m overcome with an urge to call out, not knowing if I want an answer or not.

The eerie feeling is not long-lived, as the romantically simplistic swell of Smygkatt settles around me instead – a blissful loneliness takes hold of me now, as I imagine some distant stranger, dancing a lonesome waltz in their own kitchen, perfectly at ease. After the intelligently jolly Petula, a track that stands out with its vintage vibes, comes one of the major attention-grabbers; with a playful sense of running up and down the walls, Pretty In Plums has an intricate pattern looped and gently built upon, with no sense of rush or obligation. The piece stands boldly and securely, knowing the attention won’t be turned elsewhere – and truly, it’s impossible to look away. The piece perfectly symbolizes the unpretentious simplicity Shahabi was going for.

Later in the album we hear a glittering intro leading into a heavy handed, heavy hearted piece, as Vassen elaborates slowly and cautiously: like someone laying their arms out, asking to be seen. Every step seems carefully calculated and there’s a fearlessness in the trembling – with every minute the confidence grows and I am mesmerized, fully captivated, by the raw honesty of having someone lay their soul bare, with no impersonal glorifications, no attempts at grandiosity.

After the range of emotion throughout the album, the Afterword sums it up quite well, sounding like someone trying to convince themselves; going this and that way, doubt landing like a feather only to be blown into the air, and slowly settling once more. Homes certainly seems like a glimpse into someone’s everyday life – the simple sways of emotion, the day-to-day, small but noticeable differences in feeling and expression – and I can only say that I am grateful to have been allowed a peek into Shahabi’s home and mind, and hopeful for whatever she will go on to do next.

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Los efímeros by Ulises Conti by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Björk Óskarsdóttir

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Ulises Conti is an Argentinian composer and sound artist. He has a track record of much interdisciplinary work and musically does not stay within one genre. He has produced music in the style of IDM, ambient and field recordings as well as solo piano pieces –not to mention his soundwalks and concerts for an audience of one. Los efímeros, or The Ephemeral Ones is a classical, tonal style composition for a chamber group of 15 musicians; violin, viola, cello, contrabass, French horn, trombone, trumpet, bassoon, harp and timpani. It consists of 10 small movements, recorded in the auditorium of the Usina del Arte in Buenos Aires. The work was composed on the occasion of actress/director Mariana Obersztern’s theatrical work Oberek.

Oberek is a piece for a piano, woman, audience and orchestra. It revolves around a woman lost in time wanting to find herself. She interrogates herself about her past and future – in short the work is about her introspection and reflections on the “circularity of time and creation.”

The album’s ten movements bear names in the style of classical music; starting with an overture and finishing with an elegy. The word “ephemeral” seems like an oxymoron to the topic of “classical”, but that might be a mere coincidence. Another interesting angle on the album concept is the cover, a page of sheet music titled Los Efímeros by Ulisses Conti but the music written on it is not the one on the album.

Obertura is a pensive, 3 minute introduction to the piece; it’s eerie and has an ongoing theme of a major 2nd, shifting between the strings and being expanded to the rest of the group. This is an intriguing and, well, a non-beautiful movement that makes very subtle changes of the colour of the sound. Preludio sounds born out of the same soundscape of the previous movement and then ascends in volume and intensity towards its end.

After the first two movements, Virelay wraps you into a warm blanket. The title origins from a French verse form, and here we have long phrases that vary between icy, harmonic violin strokes and a “reply” with a more romantic, warm sound to it, all answered to by the winds and accompanied in a minimal way by the harp, which frames it all in. This is one of the best album tracks and could easily touch many listeners with its breath-like phrasing.

Next we have Lied (a German form of song), performed beautifully by a solo French horn. It really is written and performed like a song for voice, it is just very pleasant in all terms. Interludio, string pizzicato accompanies winds. There are bouncy syncopations, a low profile but dramatic. This has most likely been a great fit for the theatrical work.

Divertimento by definition is originally meant to be “for amusement” as it was played at social occasions but there is nothing funny about this one. It covers a little more than a minute and a half, a “spooky carousel”-waltz with an anxious atmosphere, accompanied by some human whispering on playback. Soloists take turns carrying the main motif between them until it withers into the air.

Fantasía is the high dramatic piece here. Perhaps it fitted well to Oberek, but as a stand-alone piece this is not the album’s best. It lasts long, with the tension and volume staying quite similar apart from the very end, same is to say about the slow vibrato of the strings. It would have been intriguing to see what would have become of this one with a more nuanced and less pressured sound. The harmony and melody as written are naturally dramatic, so the challenge here would have been to make said nuances out of it. But, perhaps, that was the statement.


Promenade is a perfect follow up, minimalistic horn solo, introspective and beautifully played. A stunning melody – to call it Promenade might hint at the composer’s known Walk and Listen tours or “soundwalks”, where a group of participants go on a silent walk through a city, focusing only on the surrounding sounds.

Impromptu is a very interesting movement, with an angelic soundscape of the harp and the strings that switch between harmonics and subtle, welcoming tones and some extra hissing sounds which then accompany a wind’s melody that might have come straight out of an 18th century Italian opera. This is just brilliant.

Elegía is moody and beautifully performed by the lower strings in particular, the balanced sound between the players and the composition itself are absolutely rich with colours. As the title suggests, this is a sorrowful piece. The beginning carries a feel even of Schönberg’s Verklärte Nacht or Shostakovich’s 9th string quartet (II. mvt) but the phrases are swelled out, extended, pulled apart, the agony buried in the ground. It intensifies towards the end and finishes off with a bang.

In some cases, artists who do what Conti does, i.e. change styles between albums, seem to do so in order to make some kind of a self-approving statement; to be unpredictable. In other words, it is often an effort of mere gymnastics to keep the audience curious. In Conti’s case it seems more likely that he just genuinely wanted to compose a classical-styled piece and so he did. The compositions and personal projects speak volumes, there is no space left for a made-up artist/brand identity. There is skill and there is experience, there is a fresh, artistically thinking mind and this is obvious.

Los Efímeros is a study on musical depth, where Conti explores with great appetite the different dimensions of the chamber orchestra form. The composition flows nicely between movements. One of the best releases of 2018.

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Saint Octave by Steven Doman by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Edward Willoughby

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American composer Steven Doman’s new release Saint Octave is a selection of instrumental, ambient textures spread across nine tracks that are beautifully subtle and calming. The seeds of inspiration for this music were planted in 2016 during a road trip, in which Doman left his home in Los Angeles bound for Québec, Canada, finally settling in a small seaside town called Rivière-du-Loup. Here, the composer was able to reconnect with nature, while studying French and diving into learning analogue synthesis. Over 2017-2018, this produced a fruitful creative output, creating music for Grace Singh’s documentary film “Le Dernier Souffle” and the Netflix documentary “Wild Wild Country” which forms the basis of this album.

Beginning with Afloat, sounds gently and gracefully leap from one moment to the next, as if dancing across lily pads in a lake of tone colour. Synths pulse, awash with colour as harmonies drift by, bright but slightly moody. Cédrière leads on with an old, clunky piano taking the lead, sounding almost as if the strings are being struck with soft brushes, rather than felt hammers. There is a delicacy to this sound which gives great character and depth to the timbre of the piano, shaded with distant harmonic frequencies. The steady rhythm of the piano mingles with synth that sounds somewhere between tenor flute and saxophone, with glimmers of melody stitched throughout. Next, Sun Dog opens with slowly bowed cello that is buzzy and brooding. Chunky chords ring out across the harmonic spectrum with the cello taking the lead over rippling sustained chord textures of blended synth, piano and strings.

Moving into the middle of the album, Frame features another piano sound with a personality all its own, with the metallic, brassy nature of the strings adding a subtle tinge. This track is soft, gentle, delicate and haunting, augmented with mellow bass synth and sound texture composed of resonant, spacious, reverberant creaking sounds. In contrast, the piano in the following track Snow Buntings is a much more delicate, fluttering texture, very much like falling snow. Listening closer, the delicate filaments of piano texture seem to sound like crystals as they coalesce into snowflakes. Following on with Gale, a slightly melancholic little tune, we find ourselves in a daydream with layers of sound and a beautiful depth of synth pads.

Perrennial features piano with a much more creaky sound to it, though its tune is pleasant, with a warm tone and a twinkling glimmer. Meanwhile, Moss is an experience of heightened senses amongst a feeling of lonely stillness. The solitude of this track is felt through delicate noises that leap to the fore, with a slow and brooding character in its haunting, echoed delay. Finally, La Grève leads the final sonic gesture beginning with a distant synth glimmer with the brightness of stars streaking by at light speed. Alto musings of viola meander among the grounding quality of piano chords which ring out beneath. 

One of the most satisfying aspects of this album is the way the composer is able to create a sense of variety between the tracks while still using common elements between them. The timbre of the piano especially varies from track to track, with each song having a piano bearing its own sonic signature. Paired with sound elements reminiscent of varied woodwinds and delicate synth, the album expertly walks the line between unity and variety.

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