Tagged: ambient

It’s a thin line…

DEVINDISANTO

Devin DiSanto
Tracing A Boundary
TASK RECORDS TR001 CD (2013)

This is an odd one. At first, this sounds like a fairly standard airy slab field recording. Someone, presumably DiSanto, is going about his business. We can hear the sounds of people and traffic in the background, and what sounds like DiSanto rummaging around. Occasionally there are more dissonant sounds, a loud hissing, for example, which suggests some other activity. There’s the odd twang of a guitar and ukulele at around the 35 minutes mark. Not exactly the most dynamic thing I’ve ever heard, but actually quite engaging. There’s looseness to it, a lack of focus that renders it pretty engaging, not engaging the deep listening way that you might listen to a more intense nature recording, but the kind of pleasure you get on those afternoons when you can hear the neighbours bustling around in their backyard and you can’t help but eavesdrop.

Yet there are several things that hint this might not be as lackadaisical a recording as you might expect on first listen. The first thing is the number of musicians credited on the back of the CD. Trumpet, trombone, two guitarists and a ukulele – not to mention a bass clarinet credited to DiSanto himself. Then there’s the fact that, as well as these musicians, a group of different people are credited as ‘performers’. Finally, there are the periodic vocal interventions from Desanto, mainly announcing lengths of time. So, for example, at around the 13-minute mark, he says ‘Eight minutes’.

What is going on? If I’m honest, I have no idea. But I like it. It’s as if Disanto has assembled his musicians for a Wandelweiser-style quiet performance, but one where the process of setting up and preparing to play is as important as the playing itself. By doing this, it unpicks the conventions of this kind of performance. It seems to conflate the bustling, workaday nature of preparation with the intense focus of the playing – an act which itself combines as it does the physical acts of plucking or bowing with the intellectual activity of listening and responding to other musicians – into a single plane of action.

Or it might be something completely different. There’s no talking, for one thing – apart from the aforementioned vocal interjections – which undermines my thesis that we’re eavesdropping on preparations for a performance. It’s all very mysterious. But it is a playful mystery, like Tom Waits’ ‘What’s He Building?’ as performed by the cast of The Good life. It’s something that invites us as listeners to join the dots that DiSanto has left for us, pushing us to bring our own view of what we think this piece should be. An enigmatic, beguiling and yet strangely satisfying work.

Progressive? Moi?

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Skadedyr
Kongekrabbe
NORWAY HUBRO HUBROCD2536 CD (2014)

The press release for Kongekrabbe is, it has to be said, slightly over-the-top and prone to hyperbole, although the idea of a twelve-piece democractic/anarchistic band from Norway is an exciting one. It’s difficult to deduce from the publicity sheet whether this is improvised in the studio or not: there is mention of two musicians being ‘the driving force behind the inventive material on [this] debut album’ and also mention that ‘the members of the band rehearse and arrange all the music jointly – without notes, but with wide-open ears and eyes’. Maybe I should just listen?

A noisy introductory piece leads into an almost ska-driven track, ‘Linselus/Due’ which also fleetingly recalls some dreadful 60s bands with its use of wordless vocals, a mad kind of Swingles Singers, if you know what I mean. These voices, a little more focussed this time, also appear in ‘Kongekrabbe’, the next track, weaving through some precise and careful brass arrangements. It calls to mind not only the dense arrangements of Terje Rypdal’s early works, but the jazz band Azimuth, and perhaps odd moments of Henry Cow (which is high praise indeed).

‘Partylus’ arrives like a demented ragtime song, before swiftly turning the corner into a more minimal moment which is then interrupted by the arrival of a brass band who are pushed aside by some violinists. In fact it’s hard to shake off the idea of musicians being elbowed aside by the next musician; the track is a kind of endless procession of moments that are never allowed to develop, are merely interrupted and pushed aside, although a female singer is allowed to outstay her welcome. It’s a confusingly structured and thought-out piece that to these ears lets down the album.

‘Lakselus’, which concludes the CD is a more intriguing piece which slowly develops from abstract soundscape into apocalyptic noise then unfolds into a new musical spectrum underpinned with percussive rhythms and then distant piano. The by now expected wordless vocals make an entry and spoil this otherwise standout piece.

If Skadedyr can roam their ‘broad musical landscape’ a little less, and perhaps talk to each other more about the type of music they want to play, they will produce even more original music. As it stands it’s a little bit pick’n’mix at the moment, underdeveloped and unfocussed, but exciting nonetheless.

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Gushing Cloud
Beat Wings In Vain
USA INTANGIBLE CAT CAT-18 CD (2013)

Whilst the press release for Skadedyr mentions ‘an appreciation of psychedelic, progressive and outrageous’, that for Gushing Cloud’s new CD prefers the ‘realms of groovy electronic, thoughtful ambient, and noisy/experimental.progressive rock music’. It’s hard, however, to hear much of interest on this CD, which mostly sounds like bedroom synthesizer doodling.

Simplistic programmed grooves and beats underpin simplistic approximations of Tangerine Dream guitar and/or keyboards, which meander on towards promised aural epiphanies which never arrive; instead, each track drops away into another rhythm which gradually returns to the starting point.

The hyperbolic press release’s comparisons with Eno and Faust do nobody any favours, neither does the claim of ‘an organic earnestness’, as though some kind of honesty, truth or well-meaning intention might make the music good. This is dull, second-rate ambient noodlng that needs both disrupting and focussing to get anywhere with. When I say that I mean it has neither the chaotic freshness of Faust, nor the kind of focussed process or concept which often underpins Eno’s own work. I have no idea what Gushing Cloud is trying to do here, and I don’t think he has either.

Silence: plenty to say but a better and more powerful form of expression is needed

Official pack shot from http://depressiveillusions.com
Official pack shot from http://depressiveillusions.com

Echo of Emptiness, Silence, Depressive Illusion Records, CDR cut 1061 (2013)

For an album titled “Silence”, this recording turns out to have plenty to say over some 49 minutes. This is atmospheric and creepy black metal from Russian duo Echo of Emptiness. It can be an ideal record to play late at night if you’re in the mood: it has a very dark and intimate feel and you can easily think yourself the only human existing on this tiny planet as you listen to this music of melancholy and loneliness. The band’s sound is distinctive: the guitars seem to have a very compressed shrill and steel tone almost reminiscent of very reedy woodwind instruments even when playing tremolo. The texture of the music is furry and crispy at the same time. The vocals are a mix of grim BM style and clean-toned and the members sing in English.

The album consists of seven tracks but the ones that will be of most interest are tracks 2 to 6 as these are a mix of black metal and ambient. The other tracks are purely ambient tone pieces: wintry, cold and minimal, with no more than a bass melody or ominous sub-bass drone being audible, they perhaps take up more space on the album than listeners might like but I suppose their length is in keeping with the album’s themes of hopelessness, depression and shuffling off the mortal coil.

While they have a good sound, the black metal tracks tend towards slow and plodding in pace. There’s not much energy in the songs and for a good part of the album they drift in the grey zone between comatose and barely sitting up. A big part of the problem is the limp drumming, thin and soft in sound and not featuring much variety in playing, let alone power and speed. The vocals carry all the emotion and anguish and veer dangerously close to melodramatic hysteria. Songs like “Melancholy” resemble mini-operas in the way the voices alternate between BM and clear, as though a conversation in a dark cave is in progress. The band’s potential is revealed on “Exhausted by Life” when at long last the music speeds up but even here this has the unfortunate effect of revealing how much EoE misses out on not having a strong, focused and driving rhythm section.

I realise the album aims to recreate the feeling of suicidal depression, the lack of energy and motivation that accompanies it, and the fragmentation of identity but EoE have a lot of work to do to convince us listeners that their work is worthy of our time. The guys have atmosphere down pat and a good sound, and they show ability in experimenting with sound and mood. They need to work on developing a more powerful sound with forceful percussion that pushes the rest of the music and inspires them to create and play urgent music with a large range of emotional expression.

I don’t get much sense of the angst and pain of living with depression, and the torment it causes to sufferers. That is something the album should have tried to capture.

Contact: Depressive Illusions Records

La Mort du Soleil: a highly emotional and intense depressive rock album

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Sombres Forêts, La Mort du Soleil, Sepulchral Productions, SP035 (2013)

I reviewed the debut album “Quintessence” by Sombres Forêts for TSP several years ago and since then this Canadian act has had quite sparse output with follow-up albums released in 2008 and 2013. “La Mort du Soleil” seems an introspective, contemplative effort with a strong emphasis on atmosphere and intense emotion. Melody and riffs dictate the nature of the songs with less busyness and more space within. SF main-man Annatar allows the mood and subject matter of each song together to dictate its direction.

The music has a soft edge and a deep cavernous echo effect gives it a three-dimensional sculptural feel. Annatar’s singing is fairly dominant in the mix although his voice can be thin and a bit ragged. There may be post-BM influences in some of the music – certainly the BM tremolo guitars seem less constantly noisy though they are always present. Montreal’s famous children Godspeed You Black Emperor may be one source of inspiration. Sometimes the pace is relaxed, allowing for plenty of emotional drama to burst out. Lead guitar solo break-outs appear but don’t usually dominate the songs where they are present.

By themselves the songs are quite good but bunched together on the album they tend to sound very similar and could just about run straight from one into another; you would not notice much difference between one and the next. Riffs and melodrama are packed into each song densely and considerable anguish and agony are expressed as well. Over 52 minutes, so much unhappiness and personal torment delivered can either be exhausting or a complete turn-off depending on listeners’ mood. Very few songs let rip with explosions of BM anger and rage at an unforgiving and indifferent world that looks askance at individuals’ pain as they struggle through life. There is more melancholy and passive acceptance of dire fate it seems than there is of fury against so much unfairness. One stand-out is “L’Ether” which includes a thumping drum introduction, clear guitar melodies as well as tremolo BM-string texture streams and passages of acoustic guitar wistfulness. Other instruments prominent on the album include piano (especially on one of the middle tracks, “Au Flambeau”) and possibly violin and mandolin in some parts.

All tracks are long – quite a few go past the 9-minute mark – and arguably they could have been edited for length as within them there’s not that much escalation of emotion or other conflict that would result in a dramatic and memorable climax. The songs bang on the turmoil straight away and the emotion stays much the same from then on. Entire tracks are pretty much ongoing purges of sorrow and intense feeling.

For Sombres Forêts, this album builds upon previous work and extends the act’s range much farther into melodic post-BM territory. However many BM acts have progressed from depressive BM to depressive melodic post-BM rock in similar ways so this move for Sombres Forêts doesn’t come as a surprise. I think though if Annatar wants to stand out from the pack with Sombres Forêts and not give the appearance of following the herd, he must now consider sticking his neck out into musical territories far from BM.

Contact: Sepulchral Productions

Red Dust

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Bizarre skull-laden item from Romain Perrot, here performing under his Roro Perrot alias. This diminution of the Christian name is for me one of the more endearing traits of French culture; the way Henri becomes Riri, Estragon becomes Gogo, and so on. I think it’s the way a French mother shows affection for her children. As to that, you may think that only Romain Perrot’s mother could love a ramshackle album like Musique Vaurienne (DECIMATION SOCIALE), but you should bend an ear to this far-out item of disjunctive amateurish guitar noise and unearthly caterwauling and decide for yourself. An electric guitar is mangled and shredded, producing awful tuneless noises and formless shapes, with no attempt made by the player to disguise the clumsy, lumbering manner in which his paws clutch and tug at the metal strings and leaving all “mistakes” and duff notes as part of the finished work. Occasionally the guitar-playing is either fed through a clunky antique reverb unit, or else recorded as though Roro were playing in a deserted chicken coop at four AM – there’s that strange feeling of “distance” that recording engineers try their best to eliminate, and in places this is like hearing a live bootleg of The Magic Band recorded through an old sock. Then there’s the hideous singing, which lurches wildly from nauseating groans to primitive animalistic grunts and strange obsessive repetitions of dumb phrases, much like the mutterings of a raving loon. In all, this is an endearing and very human attempt to bring “rock music” right back to its radical beginnings – assuming those beginnings are aligned, not with Elvis Presley, but with the earliest days of Neanderthal Man. I realise that most listeners will lose patience in about five seconds with these broken non-musical outbursts, but Roro doesn’t care – the insouciance is shown not just in his music here, but also in the titles, which taken together in translation amount to “So what…fuck off…who gives a shit…nothing”. How much more Punk Rock do you want? It’s not the first time that Perrot has picked up a guitar, but this is a great example of his unique craft, simultaneously reinventing and parodying rock music on his own terms.

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The album Love Song for Broken Buildings (QUIET WORLD FORTY THREE) in fact contains no songs, nor even any industrial-style noise sounds you might associate with wrecked buildings or demolition sites, but instead a suite of charming electronic instrumentals concocted by Kostoglotov, the alias of Daryl Worthington from London. Label boss Ian Holloway was impressed enough by Kostoglotov’s two previous releases to find a home for this one, and he praises the painterly qualities of the music (light and colour) while also situating it stylistically in a general Kosmische / Cluster / Sky Music milieu. It might be apt to imagine Kostoglotov wheeling his camera down a boulevard of derelict houses, and drinking in the visions of solitude and urban decay. There’s a human side to it also; certain tracks suggest that broken buildings are a sanctuary of sorts for him, a place he can retreat in search of solace or meditation, even inviting like-minded friends into the shared space. Personally I like the muscular qualities of the openers ‘Nervous Things’ and ‘Broken Buildings’, whose brevity (two minutes apiece) I would also commend; and the sub-bass throbs of ‘Cement’ have a brooding minimal inscrutability which I enjoy. But I’m afraid I found the rest of the work drifts off too easily into meandering, ambient drones, whose overall sound is just too familiar and user-friendly for my tastes, tuneful and pleasant though it be. From September 2013.

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Another fine piece of retro-prog played in the 1970s style on The Papermoon Sessions (SULATRON RECORDS st1303-2), where the Copenhagen trio Papir jam it up with Electric Moon, the German duo of Komet Lulu and Sula Bassana. For this 2012 session they produced just three tracks, two of which are lengthy star-struck freakouts worthy of their Hawkind and Grateful Dead antecedents, and Mogens Deenfort (from Mantric Muse, Øresund Space Collective and The Univerzals) with his synthesizers has brought additional electronic freakery to the echo-drenched party. ‘Farewell Mr. Space Echo’ is sixteen minutes’ worth of hard proof that the Pink Floyd album Ummagumma continues to hold more sway than the Book Of Kells across certain strains of unreconstructed European hippiedom. ‘The Circle’ is even longer in duration, but less effective somehow; wallowing around in vaguely jazz-tinged soloing for its first half, then sinking slowly into a miasma of one-chord pounding thereafter. The sound is just a shade too cluttered, but I suppose that’s a danger when you bring two long-hair bangle-wearing bands together in the room. Even so, all of these Sulatron releases are recommended if you already have a huge collection of 1970s prog and krautrock, and want to hear it re-expressed even more emphatically than the original creators of the genre could manage.

Depths and Heights

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Very fine item (DEPTH SOUND RECORDINGS ADSR005) by Antidröm which arrived 2nd September 2013. This is the work of UK creator Tim Bayley who produces it all using a blend of second-hand and home-made equipment, which I assume is mostly old analogue synths and drum machines; at any rate, he stresses a hands-on approach to making music, and his avowed plan is to avoid any computer-generated sound sources. Good for him, I say! Net result, a very varied album of original tunes (yes, many strong melodies here) and creepy atmospheres emerging from the swirly synth whirlpools. Brevity is a keynote, he has made a friend of the editing scissors, and none of these instrumentals ever outstay their welcome. Not every single one of his fourteen experiments here is an unqualified success; some of them feel a little sketchy and half-made-up; but he is trying to do something different on each track, and when he gets the combination of elements just right, the results pay large dividends. ‘Rashomon’ is one personal favourite, but there’s much to admire overall. For instance, the way he avoids meaningless drone in favour of syncopation and strange, quirky rhythms, inserting his twisted half-phrases into the musical continuum in ways that are slippery and unexpected. He also steers away from aural clichés, not least because of the self-imposed ban on the laptop and the digital soundfile, and while some of his sounds may appear ungainly and lumpy, they are his own original creations, and that raw primitivism is a big part of the appeal. True, the use of spoken word / voice samples (on ‘Fear’ and ‘Holy Mountain’) might seem a little over-familiar, but these are minor glitches. Although there is an avowedly dark tint to the album, it would be a mistake to pigeon-hole it as “cold wave”, “dark ambient”, or any one of these stupid post-Industrial labels. There’s also the excellent artworks, which are monoprints produced by the American visual creator Grady Gordon, and generated using an advanced form of the Rorschach inkblot which is then transformed, Giger-like, into explorations of twisted heads and strange black skeletal forms. Bayley declares his music is intended to “match the aesthetic of the artwork”, so we have an uncommon case of music and sleeve art working in tandem.

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On Green Heights (BASKARU KARU:26), we have a trio of Japanese greats producing a rather strange form of synthetic art music, one that resembles healthy chunks of slimy seaweed served up in a thin vegetable stock, to be consumed by the hungry diner out of perspex octagonal bowls, while futuristic monorails pass by overhead. The lovely Ken Ikeda is here generating gorgeously musical major-key drones with his DX7 synth and his SD404 string decoder, which I assumed was a groovy piece of expensive equipment but which turns out to be a very primitive home-made instrument made from rubber bands and nails. Tomoyoshi Date’s name is new to me, though his 2008 album Human Being for Flyrec looks like an interesting investigation into the interstices between suburban and natural environments, and he brings his toy piano, organ, vibraphone and piano to the picnic, along with some field recordings. The layers of this kelp sandwich are held together by the intense but nearly-invisible jets of feedback which steam from the no-input mixing board of Toshimaru Nakamura. These five variations on the ‘Balcony’ title are all highly enjoyable, verging on the tuneful without ever breaking into a structured melody, and there’s never an unexpected or alarming sound to disrupt the tranquil mood. Maybe a little too tranquil; some of this music, especially the first three tracks, verges on the cloying for me with its saccharine combinations of pleasing tones and faux-naif, dumbed-down playing, particularly from the toy piano of Tomoyoshi Date. However, tracks four and five serve up a bit more in the way of intrigue and mesmerising sound art. ‘Balcony III [gamma]’ contains a long, puzzling stretch of noise which we could interpret as a ghostly walk through a factory, where the mechanical movements have been transformed into harmless, child-like variations. I assume it’s the added layer of field recording here which makes it sound less claustrophobic than the artificial glass bubble of tracks 1-3. ‘Balcony III [delta]’ satisfies this listener on some deeper level because Toshimaru is apparently being allowed more space to do his muscular abstractoid thang, and for a good chunk of its ten minutes this track invites us to discover the aesthetic delights of passing a hoover over the surface of the moon. Things go slightly awry in this lunar domestic scenario when the vacuum-cleaner short-circuits, and agitation lets fly. Despite some moments where we descend into rather tasteful ambient cliché, this track is the winner for me. From 5th September 2013.

Nature & Organisation

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Adrian Shenton & Banks Bailey
Wrapped In Clover
UK PHONOSPHERIC FOUR CDR (2012)

Between nature sounds and singing bowls, this CDr begins. Four tracks of little chirping birds mixed with synthesised sound and atmospheric ambient music. There is a pressed flower on a laminated card inside a limited edition of 50 copies. With a Spring note it has the ambiance of a lush green parc as a place to chill out. Gargling water sound throughout the CD easily gives the music a flow, made by nature and coloured by the musicians. But the pianos (synth?), played on most if not all the tracks, kill the mood – bringing you back to muzak, along with the singing bowl, which is also prevalent throughout this album. On the whole, there are some good ideas which could be developed with the field recordings or in Brian Eno’s spirit, but there is a sense of naivety taking hold, in some hippie genre, that doesn’t always fit with the intention.

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Main
Ablation
AUSTRIA EDITIONS MEGO 160CD (2013)

Main have been active since the mid-1990s with lots of good ambient releases. Their music is full of drone and reverberation, static noises and extended percussion sections. This new release on the Mego label is somehow looking for a new direction. Tracks I and IV are very much a mix of Musique Concrète like Main’s classic ambient style. Of course this release was recorded in GRM Studios in Paris which is not entirely incompatible with these two tracks. That said, the other tracks are divided into levels of sounds, varying from the quiet and reverberating to the resonant, as if everything were fading away and lost in wave after wave of echoes. However the composition is more precise than most classical ambient music, with lots of changes in direction and sudden shifts in the organisation of the sounds and its reverberation. Main has been composing this type of music for many years now, giving the impression of new perspectives on classical music inspired by Brian Eno. It does have a bit of a 90s sound though, a special kind of research on resonances within the echoes and distant frequencies.

The Calling of Hell: where Hell exists in far realms of the universe

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Alturaz, The Calling of Hell, Soulthief Musick, CDR (2014)

A most curious object this CDR from San Francisco act Alturaz has turned out to be: it’s inspired by black metal ideas and concepts but all instruments are either organ or other keyboards. The quartet of tracks runs to just under 18 minutes so listeners might expect there’s not much on offer. You would be wrong: this is creepy Gothick-sounding atmospheric music that nods in the direction of old horror movie soundtracks made for films about proper bloodsucking daemons and not pallid Robert Patterson parodies of current Twilight film franchise fame. Alturaz is a solo project by a musician who helms a perhaps more conventional (?) BM act called Wikkid.

The recording opens with a slow spooky droning organ piece based around a very simple chord sequence, against which a more sprightly organ melody may dance in short bursts. Picture yourselves entering a tall, grim and grey cathedral, the stone walls of which depict carved figures of sinners in hell writhing in silent screaming agony under sadistic punishments dealt by demented devils. We continue on to a deep darker-than-dark space atmosphere piece of low murmur, the odd synth splash and a blank wall of nothingness. As this amorphous piece progresses, it gains a more definite if very plastic shape and a brooding atmosphere. The music becomes a twitchy pulsing, silver-shimmery alien skeletal critter, all long fragile limbs with fine veins of rhythmically swishing ichor. It is a beautiful and delicate beast yet there’s something deeply sinister in its darting movements.

If you were expecting the CDR to depart on a triumphant though maniacally evil note, you’ll be disappointed: the outro track is short and barely there, a most understated and minimal drone mutter barely rising above the black formless plasma murk that births it. No better way to leave listeners stranded in deep space with no means of escape or survival than this coldly indifferent desertion can be conceived of.

In its own understated way, this recording poses a portrait of Hell as a place of dark brooding silences and overbearing dread. The use of simple repetitive drone, drawn out and relatively unembellished, creates an oppressive black atmosphere and a feeling of malevolence. Alturaz combines serenity and mesmeric sounds into a dark trance music. I only wish the whole thing had been longer for listeners to savour something of an unenviable experience of being plunged into this forbidding universe and left there forever.

Contact: Wikkid, wikkidblackmetal@gmail.com

A Life Examined

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cindytalk
A Life Is Everywhere
AUSTRIA EDITIONS MEGO 167CD (2013)

The musical path of Gordon Sharp (now, for all intents and purposes Cindytalk…) winds a considerable way back along the time coast. I half expected to find an entry for him in George & DeFoe’s ‘International Discography of the New Wave’ sourcebook. And sure enough, his first (?) band The Freeze with the “Psychodalek Nightmares” seven inch is within the pages of this mighty tome. You’ll notice I used the word “path” with reference to G.S., as “career” almost suggests an unbroken tick list of achievements. For me, he seems to flit wilfully in and out our our consciousness and is as slippery and elusive as Harry Houdini employing a Romulan cloaking device. Well, in the last couple of years, Sharp/Cindytalk has decided to remain within our spatial co-ordinates and Editions Mego has been his latest stopping-off point.

A Life Everywhere l.p./c.d. is his fourth for the label and is an arresting melange of audio snapshots of fairly indeterminate origin, where the processing element (post production) is pretty much king. Though the approach here seems to veer towards the more organic/naturalistic school (see Annea Lockwood or Stylus), instead of the cartoonized/rapid-fire juxtapositions beloved of many. “Time to Fall” and “To a Dying Star” are immediate attention grabbers, both sharing common ground by using what appears to be the sound of the incoming tide on a shingle beach. Both pieces could easily serve as perfect backdrops for M. R. James’ “O Whistle and I’ll Come to you my Lad”. In particular, the scene involving Professor Parkins’ first encounter with unknown forces on that deserted shoreline. This has to be the Jonathan Miller adaptation – accept no imitation! 1

“My Drift is a Ghost” is I guess, the most rhythmic and appears to extract/magnify all of the traffic slipstream synthesized by Kraftwerk on Autobahn. Then there’s “Interruptum”, which merges the sombre largos of Tangerine Dream’s Zeit with certain facets of Graham Bowers’ outlandish symphonics. Looking at my initial jottings/scrawl regarding the closing “On a Pure Plane”, I seem to to have written that “the contents of a massive aviary have become hysterical with the introduction of several birds of prey…” and, playing this screechy and claustrophobic beast just one more time, I see no reason to apply the Tippex…stet. Being unfamiliar with Sharp in this incarnation, I fully expected an exercise in cumulo-nimboid ambience. The jade in me thought of that as a soft option for those with a ‘history’. However, this weird tableau that unravelled before me relays a story of an artist who is clearly pursuing his own visions with precious little interference from the world outside his window.

  1. Editor’s note: I second that emotion. The version by Neil Cross and Andy de Emmony screened on BBC2 in 2010 is a travesty.

The Infinity Dub Sessions: an uneven set of dark desperate dub techno minimalism

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Deadbeat and Paul St Hilaire, The Infinity Dub Sessions, BLKRTZ, CD BLKRTZ008 (2014)

Although this CD represents their first studio recording together, the two artists Deadbeat aka Scott Monteith and Paul St Hilaire aka Tikiman have collaborated in live situations on and off since they met over a decade ago in Montreal and discovered a common interest in dub music. On this album, the duo have gone for a dark minimalist musical approach on songs bound by a theme of the stress of modern life and how one can find comfort and purpose in a hard world where machine rhythms and routines dictate our thinking and behaviour.

There’s a sense of desperation in the opener “Hold On Strong”, a relentless and bleak if understated pulsing track. Reggae influences are strong in this song and on all other songs: they are in the rhythms, the voices and the music and lyric structures. What listeners might not expect is the cold and subtle, near-industrial nature of the sounds nor the open black spaces within each and every piece. A strong sense of urban alienation and a feeling of a cold, seemingly forbidding yet alluring and seductive hyper-technology that dominates life are present. An unseen eminence grise, sensed more than heard or felt yet pulling the strings here, might be moving slowly and confidently in the deep dark background.

Hope and frustration mix in tracks like “What the Heck Them Expect”, notable for its superficially lazy-loping rhythm, and “Working Everyday”, a repeating mantra of resignation and despair over an insistent looping rhythm that lures you into its dark trance world: this is the strongest track on the album in spite of (or maybe because of) its never-ending Moebius-strip structure. Sparse, seemingly empty yet yielding ever more from its depths, this soundtrack to work drudgery might just be in danger of advertising for it; the two dub musicians should not push their luck too hard. The constant repetition is both asset and liability: a couple of later songs on the album drag the whole thing down with repeating loops of unremarkable music and lyrics (“Rock of Creation” and “Little Darling”) though some of the sound effects can be good. Closing track “Peace and Love” brings an impression of hope over despair with an emotionally moving rhythm, a strong beat and
equally affecting melodies and lyrics.

It has its ups and downs and I’m sorry to say they’re in the ratio of 50:50 for this style of dark minimalist dub techno. The music is beautifully constructed with gorgeous sounds, a clear three-dimensional ambience and memorable rhythm structures. It’s weak in the song-writing department with too much repetition in most tracks which sometimes give an impression of not knowing how to climax and then get out of the way quickly. I’m sure though the two musicians will continue working together in the studio because the sound they have is too good to leave to just one album. I confess I don’t listen to much dub and reggae at all but I think I know a quality act when I hear one and these guys definitely have the potential to be leaders in their genre.

Contact: Deadbeat / BLKRTZ