Monday, April 30, 2007

COLLEEN: Les Ondes Silencieuses (The Leaf Label)

Les Ondes Silencieuses
The Leaf Label 2007
09 Tracks. 43mins20secs

Buy it: CD | LP
Colleen | The Leaf Label

The twist on Colleen’s third album title, which translates as ‘The quiet waters’ but can also be interpreted as ‘The silent soundwaves’, reveals a lot about the content of the record. Gone are the complex electronic experimentations of previous records, replaced with simple melodies and crystal-pure acoustic instrumentation. While Paris-based Cecile Schott had already made a substantial step towards real instrumentation on her previous album, The Golden Morning Breaks (2005), there were still traces of the electronic treatments she had applied on previous outputs. For Les Ondes Silencieuses, Schott relies solely on instruments such as viola da gamba, which she already used on The Golden Morning Breaks, spinet, a relative of the harpsichord, both dating from the baroque period, as well as classical guitar, clarinet and crystal glasses.

Schott’s Radio France commission Colleen Et Les Boîtes A Musiques, released last year, already partly hinted at more delicate and introvert forms than previous work. This new album offers a series of wonderfully emotional and contemplative compositions revealing at long last the chore of Schott’s work in its full glory. Right from the opening moment of This Place In Time, the rich tones of the viola da gamba are layered in harmonic formations, ranging from sombre overtones in the lower registers to lighter nuances in the upper octaves. The pace is voluntarily slow, with silences carefully assimilated into the sonic canvas of the piece. This is a process that Schott repeats throughout the record, giving each composition a particular dimension. The melody of the title track is punctuated with pauses which serve to highlight the emotional scope of the piece. Equally, on Echoes And Coral, entirely played on crystal glasses, the chime-like resonance of each glass and the silences between notes is intrinsically part of the music.

Elsewhere, Colleen creates rich soundscapes by simply layering different instances of the same instrument, most prominently on Blue Sands and, to a lesser extent, Le Bateau, where the viola da gamba, in turn plucked, struck with mallets or played with a bow, is given impressive sonic depth. The sharp metallic tones of the spinet rains on Le Labyrinthe like an invigorating spring shower, especially in its second half where the pace becomes more alert, while a melancholic clarinet wraps its warm tones around the almost medieval guitar phrases on the stunning Sun Against My Eyes and Sea Of Tranquillity.

Colleen has consistently taken brave steps since she first appeared, determined to follow her singular path without compromises. Les Ondes Silencieuses is the logical development of her earlier experimentations. Relying solely on acoustic instruments, a process which she has perfected through her live performances, she creates here a magnificent piece of work, all in nuances and gentles tones, which is undoubtedly destined to eclipse her previous work and inform her journey ahead.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Holiday break

This blog is going to stagnate for the next couple of weeks while I am sunning myself in Cancun (Mexico) and explore some of the Maya wonders that are found around the resort.

Comments will also not appear on the blog while I am away but it should stop anyone for posting reactions to reviews and comments on albums while I am away. I will publish them all on my return, unless I can drag myself away from the sun and sit in front of a computer screen for a while.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

THE BUOYS: Grillo Parlante (Bathysphere Recordings)

Grillo Parlante
Batyshpere Recordings 2007
10 Tracks. 47mins53secs

Bathysphere Recordings

The choice of using an old cinema projector to adorn the cover of Grillo Parlante, the debut album from Midland-based unit The Buoys is hardly fortuitous. Indeed, Chris Cousin, Stu Smiths and Steve Gibbs have all been involved in various projects involving or relating to films. Beside a stint as SofaLofa last year, Cousin is also a regular member in folktronica trio Chin Chin (Deep-Water), electronic outfit Normal Position (Ai Records) and Big Toe. He most noticeably performed at Leicester’s Space Centre last year with video artist Sean Clark. Gibbs is better known for his dub project Vibronics and as head of Scoops and Zion Trains Universal Eggs labels, but he has also composed for theatre and art installations, while Smiths has worked as a cameraman and film editor.

Combining soft ambient electronic soundscapes, occasional found sounds and guitar textures, at times vaguely reminiscent of Robin Guthrie, into quietly cinematic and ethereal pieces, the trio build here a rather convincing series of largely beat-less tracks which fluctuate between introspective pieces, experimental vignettes and sweeping compositions.

On the opening track, Absolutely Nothing, a lone guitar floats just above dense clouds of static noises, interferences and drones. Although it never manages to lift off from the rest, the contrast between the surface melody and the dark overtones in the background sets the tone for the rest of the album. Arches continues pretty much on the save level, but the mood appears to lighten up slightly as a drum sequence enters the scope and give some structure to the otherwise vaporous soundscapes surrounding it.

Beyond this point, the music becomes much more fluid and unpredictable as the band abandon pretty much any concrete rhythmic component. Instead, they rely on much more refined musical forms and, as the pace slows right down, especially on tracks such as the rather splendid Spider, Dehli Handkerchief, Solar, which is sweetened by the gentle vocal layer provided by Chin Chin singer Theresa Connelly, or New.

By the time Grillo Parlante resurfaces, the mood has turned rather pastoral with Forman, giving an insight into a slightly different incarnation of the trio’s musical ability. This is reinforced on Wrist as the band wind down and take leave.

Grillo Parlante has been pieced together with great care and the music reflects a taste for sumptuous yet often minimal soundscapes, with delicate melodies creeping up out of nowhere. The cinematic aspect of the work here is undeniable, and contributes to making this debut album a truly compelling collection of fine atmospheric electronic music.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

SPLINT: Moro (Lampse)

Lampse 2007
11 Tracks. 51mins38secs

Splint! | Lampse

Formed in 2004 by Swedish artist Johannes Lundberg, Splint! bring together some of the finest improv musicians of the Scandinavian scene, including Lundberg’s compatriot drummer and percussionist Jon Fält and Norway’s Gunnar Halle (trumpet, electronics) and Nils-Olav Johansen (guitar, keyboards, electronics). All have served with various avant-garde formations, including a stint as part of Veslefrekk, the earlier incarnation of Supersilent, for Johansen.

The band has often been likened to Supersilent but their approach, which explores more defined musical lines, sets Splint! slightly closer to the likes of Food, Humcrush, or to a lesser extend Wibutee. They however share with the seminal Norwegian quartet a taste for highly contrasting pieces, which is demonstrated at length on this playful debut album.

Claiming inspiration from jazz visionaries such as Miles Davis, Alice Coltrane or Ornette Coleman, Splint! process these with contemporary technology, applying electronics and samples to create a series of rather diverse compositions, ranging from incredibly dense and free to vast atmospheric minimal pieces. Right from the opening track, Halle’s trumpet becomes a clear thread, guiding the listener through cataclysmic clouds of noise and more subtle sonic patterns. On Fooj, he carves a delicate theme as the rest of the band progressively build up delicate layers, but things heat up on the following track, Sintjom, where, caught between dub effects and groovy drums, his lines become harrowingly dense and emotional.

Later on, a sombre veil of introspection descends on Ittobåt, Tannin and Dammas. Small clusters of electronic debris erupt from all sides and gather into minimal electro-acoustic formations before breaking up and assembling again into new intricate knots. At times, processed voices add to the slight discomfort, but soon clouds dissipate again as Fält activates his grooves once again hesitantly on Dappysch before the quartet takes a turn towards chaotic electro-acoustic with Sandyn and Angublans. Here, the soundscapes are more hectic and intense, but the groove remains largely at bay while the band lay down their experiments. The closing two tracks see Splint! once again slipping into more intimate and subdued moods, but unlike before, these two pieces appear more opened and light, with refined soundscapes bringing the energy levels right down.

Splint!’s debut is at once playful and spiritual, with accessible moments and complex experimentations surprisingly well balanced all the way through. As they combine a classic acoustic vision with highly effective electronics, the quartet create here a piece of work which in turn excites, intrigues and fascinates.

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XELA: For Frosty Mornings And Summer Nights (Type Recordings)

For Frosty Mornings And Summer Nights
Type Recordings 2007
12 Tracks. 60mins45secs

Buy it: CD
Xela | Type Recordings

Four years after it was first released on the recently revived Neo Ouija, Xela’s debut album, For Frosty Mornings And Summer Nights has been remastered and given a whole new set of attires thanks to graphic artist Matthew Woodson for its re-released, this time on Twells’s excellent Type Recordings imprint, only a few months after the third Xela album, The Dead Sea, was released.

Characterised by soft electronic sounds and gentle melodies clad with glitches and clicks, For Frosty Mornings was a rather confident debut for a musician who had only recently made the jump from indie guitar to computer-based music, and it has lost none of its substance and shine since. Recorded between 2000 and 2002, while he was sharing his time between a dead-end job in a car part shop and an art degree at university, the album is not quite as ambitious as it successor, yet it demonstrates a impressive level of maturity and control. Twells never sets to impress here, yet his delicate sound formations and evocative melodies, rooted somewhere between the minimalism of Mille Plateaux and the elaborate melancholy of Boards Of Canada, gather much evocative scope and create a soundtrack of understated beauty.

Right from the outset, with the stunning Age Of Monsters and Under The Glow Of Streetlights, Twells firmly establishes the tone of this album and never veers much from it afterwards. This two sister pieces are articulated around gentle melodies and complex rhythmic click clusters, yet they appear disarmingly simple and effective. Later, Impulsive Behaviour or the beautiful Last Breath, with its rich glow and guitar motifs, reveal a similar approach but applied to slightly more minimal and introvert soundscapes. Eselwhere, tracks such as Inbetween Two Rooms, An Abandoned Robot or Booble Hats In Summer showcase much more mournful and dark ambiences where melodies are swallowed by thick sound formations.

This new version also boasts two previously unreleased tracks, A Glance and Dance Macabre, which were recorded just after the regular album sessions and actually fit rather well here with there incredibly detailed rhythmic sections, delicate melodies and sweeping arrangements.

Although recorded over five years ago, For Frosty Mornings And Summer Nights hasn’t lost any of its charms. More purely electronic than the recent Dead Sea, it however shows a high degree of human emotions and is as impressive today as it was when it was first released.

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