Animal tales not quite so in “Sunken Foal Stories” and “Hippopotamus”

Glyn Biggabush, “Sunken Foal Stories”, Germany, Schamoni Musik, JMM-210, vinyl (2018)

Here’s a parade of rhythm and mood landscapes sampled from various music genres ranging from jazz and lounge muzak to repetitive dark electronic nostalgia loops or African-inspired talking-drum rhythms dressed up in electro-harpsichord frill and spoken-voice movie dialogue, and all from different time periods in the 20th century, all delivered with no overarching context other than these genres and field recordings might represent aspects of modern global culture that have been ignored and discarded as a result of the commercialisation of the music industry. I don’t wish to deride the artist’s choice to make an album like this, but to put snapshots of different music genres together in the way he has in one huge mash-up, trivialises them even more. The album not only lacks direction and energy but eventually through repetition of sampled pieces – and often not very interesting samples at that – quickly becomes tired and boring.

I couldn’t listen to this album more than once – recordings that are little more than the equivalent of cheap quickie sight-seeing tours cramming one hour of this tourist site and another hour of that tourist site, and so on and so forth in the space of a few days get short shrift from me – so I’m afraid this review is very short.

Belp, “Hippopotamus” Germany, SVS Records, SVS013 / Jahmoni, JMM-211, vinyl (2018)

To his family in Germany and the Seychelles, off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, he’s known as Sebastian Schnitzenbaumer but to the rest of us, he’s Belp and in among his music activities he runs the label Schamoni Musik and its dub-oriented offshoot Jahmoni. This album, improbably called “Hippopotamus”, has a strong club atmosphere with dub influences and for much of its running time is very relaxed. Some tracks, like “Potential Noise”, have a very dark futuristic dystopian atmosphere, made even more so by the thumping percussion rhythm and beats, and a noisy edge that can be very brash at times. Others may aspire to edginess and a sound at once smooth and noisy, and an ambience both light and easy and dark and queasy; this album has it all in spades. I only wish the tracks had been longer and allowed to develop their themes and ambience more into truly immersive hellish soundscapes – although one long track “Clinging to a Cloud” is very repetitive and chases its tail a lot, so maybe I shouldn’t complain.

Unexpected highlights in this mutant space electro-dub work are “Transmission”, a highly wintry, blustery track, and “By Beauteous Softness”, an acappella performance by Alexander Schneider of work by 17th century composer Henry Purcell. These two pieces break up the album into two sections, the first section more edgy electro-dub and the second more layered and seeming much deeper and reflective, definitely more melodic and intriguing. Tracks still tend to be short except for the long track “Off Ending” which, in spite of an interesting rhythm, is again repetitive and labours under a heavy-handed groaning organ drone loop. “Time and Again” has a laidback jazzy feel as does also the concluding track “Lost Candidates” which seems to sum up everything that has gone before: jazz, dub and foreboding mood meeting together in a wistful retro sci-fi setting.

This is a well made album, with melodies, moods and rhythms allowed to breathe freely even if they’re not allowed to stay for very long. The music can be surprisingly beautiful and again I keep banging my fists into my head that the album is sooo short!

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