Tuesday, July 31, 2007

ASCOLTARE: B.E.A.M. (Tripel Records)

Tripel Records 2007
08 Tracks. 50mins49secs

Ascoltare | Ascoltare B.E.A.M. | Tripel Records

From complex glitched up electronica with occasional orchestral tendencies to digital hip-hop and sample-heavy collages, Cambridge-based Dave Henson continues to evolve on the fringe of the electronic scene, applying his own unpredictable vision at will. This is an ethic that is also applied to Tripel Records, the imprint he co-founded with fellow Cambridge residents and musicians Andrew Coleman, better known as Animals On Wheels, and UM’s Peter Gregory.

For his latest project, Henson ditches the rich soundscapes of Visceral Vendor and the sample-heavy textures of Fatty Parts For A Good Match and Mutiny In Stereo for minimal techno formations in the tradition of Basic Channel or Sähkö. B.E.A.M. is split over two contrasting formats, five tracks collated on heavy vinyl and four additional pieces made available for free as digital downloads on a purpose-built Myspace page, establishing an interesting parallel between the retro futuristic appeal of UFO and exopolitics, which inform the project, and the past/future context of the formats. B.E.A.M. is darker than its clean-cut beats and grooves suggest. Behind sparse rhythmic screens hide dense, meticulously layered soundscapes of found sounds, statics and noises occasionally which coagulate into brittle melodies and repetitive motifs, adding to the impression of gravity that slowly builds over the course of the project.

Right from the opening bars of Exo On Ferrick, which proudly asserts ‘Let’s jack, that’s it, move those hips’ over dubby loops and distant clicks, Henson sets the tone. As he progressively adds substance to the beat and fills up the rest of the sonic space with reverbs, the piece gains density and abrasive vigour. The epic Semjase In Excelsis, which follows, is a much more complex and progressive affair. Developed over ten minutes, it rises somewhere between noise and music concrete to gather pace as the beat settles and additional loops are added. Although Henson relies on a considerable amount of disparate elements here, he introduces them one at a time, carefully avoiding overlaps to maintain the austere feel of the piece.

Passed the thick clicks and dub formations of Asket’s Ship, B.E.A.M. veers closer to the minimal techno it draws from, especially on Flatwoods and Sky Fishing, the two closing pieces of the LP, and on Deft Disk, the first of the thee MP3s. Here, Henson relies more strictly on radical 4/4 beats and rarefied musical forms, but the last two MP3 tracks reference more sophisticated atmospherics, returning to bleaker, more threatening, soundscapes.

With his latest incarnation, Ascoltare’s Dave Henson combines the ethic of minimal techno with his own aesthetic to create a very convincing collection of sharp electronic music. Although more preoccupied with the dance floor than on previous work, his mastery at assembling pertinent soundscapes and placing them in context confirms him as one of the most interesting and overlooked talents of the UK electronic scene.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

PORN SWORD TOBACCO: New Exclusive Olympic Heights (City Centre Offices)

New Exclusive Olympic Heights
City Centre Offices 2007
14 Tracks. 35mins29secs

Buy it: CD
Porn Sword Tobacco | City Centre Office

Named after an isolated shop somewhere in his native Sweden, near the studio where he records, Porn Sword Tobacco is the musical project of Henrik Jonsson, a musician hailing from the town of Gothenburg in Southern Sweden. His eponymous debut album, delivered on German imprint City Centre Offices in 2004, introduced his delicate blend of electronic soundscapes and beautiful melodies, and its follow up, Explains Freedom, published a year later, only served to reassert his sound.

With his third album, New Exclusive Olympic Heights, Jonsson assembles his most cinematic and accessible collection of music yet, at times developing sumptuous pieces over just a minute or two, at others stretching narratives a bit longer. Melodies swirl around warm atmospheric expanses and crackling beats while acoustic brushes and soft electronic washes blur the contours of Jonsson’s miniature epic vignettes. Pieces such as opener Tools For Trains, Giftwrap Yourself, Slowly, Do The Astrowaltz or U.S Saloon Props 41/59 are faraway beacons shrouded in dense layers of fog. As melodies echo in the distance, rising above the clouds only to be swallowed again in dense opaque atmospheric swathes, Jonsson creates a surprisingly cosy and gentle collection of tempered electronic textures.

At times, the heavy cover lifts for a moment, providing much more fertile grounds for luxurious orchestrations and elegant melodic themes to flourish. While Cubical Fever, with its library music influences, or Pappa! Min Karlek Ar Gravid retain some elements of melancholy, the tone is lighter, more in focus, while On En Hyllning Till Cyckeln, Jonsson carves a sweet romantic interlude with the graceful crystalline tones of a lonely piano which seems quite at odds with the more elaborate pieces but intrinsically belongs here as a particular mid-way point between the various influences found on this album.

New Exclusive Olympic Heights is a much more sophisticated and accessible record than its predecessors, yet Henrik Jonsson retain the essence of Porn Sword Tobacco by constantly emphasising the atmospheric nature of his music, making it both a logical step forward and an new opening in his career.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

COPPÉ - Fi-lamenté (Mango & Sweet Rice)

Mango & Sweet Rice 2007
19 Tracks. 77mins06secs

Mango & Sweet Rice

Coppé has been delivering her finely tuned miniature epics with astonishing regularity since her debut self-titled album was released in the late nineties, working with an ever increasing circle of friends and collaborators along the way. After spending a few years in Arizona and Hawaii, Coppé returned to Japan in 2002 following the death of her father and has since established her Mango & Sweet Rice imprint in Tokyo, where she has also been seen regularly performing live.

Following last year’s double anniversary album 9+10, which collected rare tracks and remixes as well as new tracks, Coppé could have opted for a well-deserved rest, but instead, she got straight back in the studio to work on her eleventh album. The result is Fi-lamenté, which clocks at no less than nineteen tracks spread over nearly eighty minutes of elegant electronica on which the songstress applies her unmistakable voice in soft Japanese and English brushes. Once again, numerous artists, met during various tours or on the web, have answered her call, each weaving their own digital strand into her musical space. The album opens with the gentle tones of Black Water Melon, produced with Spoomusic’s Ariel Gross and Dave Ramen, and the scintillating Nicola with Dutch artist Kettel. Plaid contribute a lush new version of last year’s Lavender Oil, Mickey The Cat dresses Alien Mermaid with a delicate groove and rich soundscapes, and later, former Jah Wobble engineer Cai Murphy wraps a delicate blanket of found sounds around Coppé’s sweet voice on the frugal I Live In A Lava Lamp. Perhaps the most surprising contribution of all is found on the title track, where long term friend and musician Terry Driescher uses a sample of Coppé’s mother singing Utai, a traditional Japanese vocal form.

Very much like on previous albums, Coppé constantly jumps from one mood to another, dealing playful, atmospheric or haunting cuts with equal dexterity. With Bristol-based guitarist and producer Fred Moth, Coppé layers sparse drum’n’bass beats, electronics, breezy vocals and slurping noises into a light-hearted sonic vignette, Bristol Rain, before switching to the much more peaceful Broken Kaleidoscope with Demi Batard and the sun-drenched Just Want 2 B Me, shaped by Krautiopharm. Later, Coppé becomes all moody on the sumptuous and evocative I turn, with Parker and Dight, who create here one of the standout tracks of this album.

Coppé makes music with her heart, grabbing each new opportunity with passion, soaking up influences and eagerly pushing the boundaries of her music. While she ultimately calls the shots, she is happy to stand back and let other musicians guide her into their own realm. Fi-lamenté is one of her densest and most impressive records yet, and as she continues to surprise and captivate, she still manages to create music that sounds like very little else around.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

VARIOUS ARTISTS: One Point Two: More Digital Listening Music From Rednetic (Rednetic Recordings)

One Point Two: More Digital Listening Music From Rednetic
Rednetic Recordings 2007
14 Tracks. 72mins58secs

Rednetic Recordings

In the last five years, London-based imprint Rednetic have delivered a steady stream of elegant electronic records. While the label’s scope has considerably expanded over the years, the focus has largely remained on classic electronica. The label was set up in 2002 by Mark Streatfield and Joseph Auer, and the first release was Streatfield’s debut album as Zainetica, Escaping Dust. Since, Auer, who had then moved from London to Tokyo, released the Kyoto Tokyo 2001 EP, and further releases by Utility Player, The Vizier Of Damascus, Inigo Kennedy, Tommy Bass and Boltfish co-founders Will ‘Cheju’ Bolton and Murray ‘Mint’ Fisher, amongst others, have firmly established the label as one of London’s best imprints.

In 2004, the One Point One compilation collated tracks by some of the above artists together with offerings from Ochre, Sidechain and F.E.A.R. Three years on, the second instalment in the series harvests a further fourteen tracks of classic electronica and techno, with contributions from Mint, Tommi Bass, Liberation Jumpsuit, Infinite Scale, Boc Scadet, Joseph Auer, Sunosis, Zainetica and many more.

Very much like its predecessor, One Point Two spans a vast array of genres, from the elegant electronic swathes of Boc Scadet’s She Spoke Of The Sky, Zainetica’s Awaken or Sunosis’s Leap and the ambient expanses of Polestar’s Retro Future, Infinite Scale’s Cell Out or The Vizier Of Damascus’s Murmurs to the Detroit-infused offerings from Cheju’s Hubl or Inigo Kennedy’s Faraway Towns to the old style techno of Tommi Bass’ Electro Glitch 2007 and the acid funk of Liberation Jumpsuit’s One Night Stand.

The album kicks off in gently mood with the delicate formations and beats of Mint’s Queasy, but things sharpen up quickly, first with the electric charges inflicted by Tommi Bass, then with the dirty electro funk distilled by Liberation Jumpsuit, before Boc Scadet applies lush dreamy textures and brings One Point Two right back into melodic mode. A perfect reflection of the path followed by Rednetic over the last first years, the album then alternates between delicate pieces (Polestar, Infinite Scale, Joseph Auer) and more upbeat moments (Utility Player, Cheju, Inigo Kennedy).

Rednetic have gained confidence with every release, and the label’s audience has been growing accordingly. This second compilation brings together the many flavours of Rednetic and provides an ideal entry point for one of the most consistent independent imprints around.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

RETINA.IT: Semeion (Hefty Records)

Hefty Records 2007
13 Tracks. 69mins21secs

Buy it: CD
Retina.IT | Hefty Records

Lino Monaco and Nicola Buono first met in the mid nineties while they were both DJs in a club in Naples, Italy. They began making music as the Qmen, before turning to more experimental musical forms as Retina.IT. This resulted in a first series of EPs and an album, Volcano Waves 1-8, for Chicago imprint Hefty, all published in 2001. Since, there have been sporadic releases, including a few compilation appearances, a handful of remixes, an album released under the Resina moniker, and a second, self-titled album, released in 2003 and 2004 respectively, on their own Mousike Lab imprint.

Semeion is not a totally new body of work as most of the thirteen tracks collected here have previously been published on various EPs released between 2001 and 2006. Only two tracks have never been released before, and a third one was commissioned for the soundtrack for a video by Claudio Sinatti, which was presented at the 2005 edition of the Videominuto festival.

Monaco and Buono create elegant minimal electronic formations over typically linear beats, with occasional found sounds softening the overall angular approach. Retina.IT often build their compositions around very few elements at a time, focussing primarily on the impact of each sound on the mood of a piece and how each new component affects its balance. Yet, with so little to play with, Monaco and Buono manage to craft rather funky and hypnotic little numbers with irresistible grooves tucked away in every corner. Tracks such as Pick, Uranio or Violynth force their way through futuristic dance floors with rather sharp electronics and angular rhythmic sequences, while elsewhere, the pulsating beats and bass found on Zilencer, Per Assurdo or Civilta Meccanica, combined with sparse noises evoke experimental early sixties TV sci-fi.

At times, the pair take stock, step back and invest their energy into slightly denser compositions. On Apeiron or T-UFO for instance, they carves complex rhythmic formations deep into beautiful haunting soundscapes, revealing a more meditative and atmospheric side of their music, while On Zucchine Alla Scapece, these hypnotic washes are applied in more subtle fashion as the pair work a lone drone against which they hang delicate processed vocal samples to emphasise the melancholic tone of the piece.

Semeion presents an interesting cross section of the work produced by Retina.IT in the last six years. While the band has remained rather the shadow of bigger electronic acts, Semeion demonstrates the consistency of the music produced over the years and how the pair have developed and strengthened their sound.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

SPACEHEADS AND MAX EASTLEY: A Very Long Way From Anywhere Else (Bip-Hop Records)

A Very Long Way From Anywhere Else
Bip Hop 2007
08 Tracks. 57mins21secs

Spaceheads | Bip Hop Records

The first collaboration between British sound artist Max Eastley and experimental duo Spaceheads dates back to 2001, with the album The Time Of The Ancient Astronaut, released on the ever-excellent French imprint Bip-Hop. Six years on, they reconvene for this second instalment of dense experimental music.

Eastley began to experiment with sound and machines in the late sixties, focusing particularly on natural elements such as wind and water, with great importance given to chance and accidents in his work. He has worked with various other experimental musicians, ranging from Brian Eno and David Toop to Peter Greenaway and Thomas Köner, and has exhibited his sound installations around the world.

Formed of Andy Diagram (trumpet) and Richard Harrison (electronics and drums), Spaceheads is an unconventional duo that evolves at the frontier of avant-garde jazz, noise and rock. The pair began working together in the late eighties in Manchester, first as part of various jazz formations then as a unit. They have since released a number of albums and performed all over the world.

When working with Spaceheads, Eastley plays a monochord instrument of his fabrication called the Arc. Combined with Spaceheads’ aural feast, Eastley’s sonic secretions create a tensed atmosphere that develops throughout the album, from the daunting owl calls of the opening The Chamber Of Statues and the spatial echoes of Every Thought Is Buried In Time to the intense layering of sounds that punctuates the title track. Diagram and Harrison appear to work around Eastley’s inputs, at times wrapping his eruptions in delicate swathes of electronics, at others in layers of dissonance. There is an intricate dialogue developing all throughout the record between Eastley and Spaceheads resulting in a series of dense soundscapes. While there is great intimacy in the exchanges, the scope of this record is rather ambitious, even for such an experimental record, with the trio often veering close to vast cinematic structures. It is therefore all the more impressive that they continue to pay extreme attention to even the minutest details of a piece.

The mood is generally subdued and introspective, with very few open rhythmic sequences to provide relief from the various sound assemblages, but the trio push into more dynamic terrains on Love Lends Wings To Our Desires and the twenty minute epic title track, on which Harrison plays a much more predominant role. The album concludes with the hectic Escape, which once again provides Harrison with fertile grounds on which to apply dense drums sequences.

The tracks featured on this album were recorded during two very different sessions. Four tracks were captured live on Frioul Island, off the coast of Marseille in the south of France, while the rest was recorded in a shed in the village of Brawby, North Yorkshire, the common link being the remote aspect of each location. The resulting recordings show surprising uniformity of tone and are a testament to how fruitful the collaboration between Eastley and Spaceheads is.

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