May’s Top 10
Posted In: Barn Owl – Shadowland, Charles-Eric Charrier - Oldman, Evan Caminiti – When California Falls into the Sea, Higuma – Pacific Fog Dreams, Jóhann Jóhannsson - The Miners' Hymns, Jon Porras - Undercurrent, Kyle Bobby Dunn - Ways of Meaning, May's Top 10, Mountains - Air Museum, Richard Moult - Celestial King For A Year, Tokyo Bloodworm - Palestine
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The track list in this mix says it all really. Another sublime selection of music from our favorite albums for May.
The list is in no particular order of preference:
Richard Moult – Celestial King For A Year
Following the release of Ethe on Deadslackstring last year, composer, painter and poet Richard Moult returns with Celestial King For A Year, this time making his debut on Second Language Music.
Currently based in rural Scotland, Newcastle-born Moult is an artist with a prolific musical catalogue and has taken part in various bands and ensembles, such as Irish psychedelic folk band United Bible Studies and Dorset experimentalists Plinth. Appearing here solo, Celestial King For A Year takes its name from a poem of Moult’s and originally began life intended for a string quintet, eventually being stripped into three pieces of stirring neo-classical ambience.
When composing the album, Moult was driven to create a work both spiritual and spacious, drawing inspiration from a Christian chant which goes back to the venerable faith’s earliest origins, named Old Roman. He achieves both goals and within three tracks and thirty five minutes, Moult imbues in even the most atheistic listener a sense of the fear and hope surely felt by those generations of people who lived lives as hard as they were short, gathering in the darkness of post-empire Rome to find small relief in the spiritualistic rituals of Christ. – More info
Barn Owl – Shadowland
Down through the centuries the Barn Owl has been recorded in folklore more frequently than any other type of owl. Ancient writings usually frame the Barn Owl with an ominous status undoubtedly because it is a bird of darkness, and darkness often implies the presence of shadows, evil, or perhaps even of death itself. Indeed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, no doubt aided and abetted by poetic usage of the Barn Owl as a favourite “bird of doom,” many people deemed that the shriek or call of an Owl flying past the window of an invalid would signal impending doom.
These mangled myths and troubled tales are now encouraged and exaggerated by the release of “Shadowland”, a new three track EP by Barn Owl. Fluid Radio regulars will no doubt have lapped up the recent esoteric enlightenment on offer from the exhilarating solo albums by the founding fathers of Barn Owl; Jon Porras and Evan Caminiti. Plus the celestial annihilation that radiated from the last release by Higuma, Caminiti’s other side project. And surely no-one could have allowed last year’s storming metallic-drone monster of a soundtrack by Barn Owl, Ancestral Star, to pass under their radar.
Opener Void and Devotion sets a mood of menace and cataclysmic spirit with its simple cyclical chord repetition that is reminiscent of a child’s music box or a gent’s pocket watch, mimicking how its appeal might be manifested in the soundtrack of a horror film or a spaghetti western. Fatalistic low pitched frequencies and contorted vocal chants resonate as a quasi-religious synth modulation goes about its evil work. Finally ever increasing rays of warbling guitar vibrancy, which distend and compress the distortion envelope, add a baleful depth and emotion to this catastrophic canticle. – More Info
Jóhann Jóhannsson – The Miners’ Hymns
Power… Is there any geopolitical issue more intractable, any economic or environmental question more omnipresent? Our homes and places of business require warming, our iceboxes need cooling, our purchases must be transported, our nighttime endeavors must be lit. Yet the extraction of energy resources is a complicated, dirty, often dangerous business, which — not incidentally — pays quite well. Interests converge or conflict, difficult questions are put aside for the next election cycle, and physical, sometimes ecological violence results. Or worse. Our lot today is the sum of all choices heretofore; choices that were made under different assumptions, outdated value structures. The expression “carbon footprint” is, in historical terms, quite new, so it is probably fair to assume that the flooding of Maldives was not a primary concern throughout the Industrial Revolution. OPEC is a similarly recent phenomenon.
A new film — which debuts at the Tribeca Film Festival in Lower Manhattan — addresses a not-insignificant component of the energy question: coal. Specifically the history of coal mining in Northeast England, the affiliated labor movement, and the eventual strike of 1984. Coal is a resource that is conspicuously out-of-favor now, a fact not lost on filmmaker Bill Morrison, who drew from a century’s worth of archival black-and-white footage, depicting cycles that “repeated decade after decade – political rallies, going to work, in the mine, going home, playing, organizing, fighting, and ultimately celebrating at the Big Meeting in Durham.” London-based production agency Forma commissioned the film, and Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson provided the score.
It is named The Miners’ Hymns. The film looks to be awe-inspiring. It bears mention here that this is a “documentary with no narration, dialogue or sound effects, only music.” The 52-minute score provides the only audio for this 52-minute film.
Regular Fluid Radio readers should already be familiar with Jóhann Jóhannsson, and for those who aren’t, the prefix “Icelandic composer” is likely reason enough to listen. Jóhannsson has received awards for soundtracks to Varmints (2010) and Dís (2004), and his traditional releases have received wide acclaim. Even still, he is unnecessarily obscure. (As is too often the case with lesser-known talents, the inclusion of his music in a current blockbuster film seeks to correct this.) – Full info
Tokyo Bloodworm – Palestine
Tokyo Bloodworm’s latest album Palestine is of note for two reasons: 1) it’s really damn good, as in year-end best-of list good, and 2) it is the last ever full length for Moteer records. Before we deal with reason one, a few things about reason two: this should leave you slightly heartbroken. For those who know Moteer’s output, there was probably a little pang in your heart when you read those words. For those unfamiliar with the label, their track record speaks volumes. Consider two things: Moteer released debut albums for both Part Timer and The Boats. Those two releases alone are enough to make a label noteworthy but across all 20 Moteer releases (and even all 10 Mobeer releases really), there is a devotion to quality that really borders on unparalleled. Not to mention how many labels Part Timer and The Boats have bolstered since those first releases for Moteer.
When Moteer began in 2003 it specialized in a sort of minimal electronic music that was being hinted at by artists like Boards of Canada and labels like Fat Cat. Moteer took it one step further; the music was more experimental, almost fragile, the rhythms a little weirder. It was music that required a little more time, but rewarded anyone who took the time greatly. In recent years the scope of genres the label released were all over the place – from Yuri Lugovskoy’s extremely underrated debut, which sounds like dub music performed at the bottom of the ocean, to The Ancients and their brand of psych/surf/folk, to Con Cetta’s micro minimalism. The label moved beyond genre boundaries to find artists that were both experimental but also well articulated in their forms. All of this is to say that even though the releases were more sporadic in recent years, the quality never waned and for that reason alone Moteer deserves a serious pat on the back.
And all of that segues back to the first point; the new album from Tokyo Bloodworm is a damn good one and will likely be creeping up on a few best of 2011 lists. Tokyo Bloodworm’s last release was for Moteer as part of a collaborative album with Brael. It was one of Moteer’s finest moments and an album that one can go back to again and again and still find great rewards. It hinted at what was to come with Palestine. – Full Info
Mountains – Air Museum
We take our word “photography” from the Greek graphos and photos, i.e. “painting” and “light.” If photography is painting with light, Mountains’ forthcoming Air Museums is likely the most photographic album we will hear in 2011.
Mountains are Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp, co-founders of Apestaartje Records. Each maintains a solo catalog, recording as Anderegg and Aero respectively. The musician-mogul template seems to be getting a fair amount of use lately, but this eclectic pairing precludes any clichés: Holtkamp favors Brian Eno and musique concrète, and claims not to be “a trained musician of any sort.” He describes Anderegg as “more the proper musician,” who, prior to attending the Art Institute of Chicago, played acoustic guitar and listened to folk music.
Does the push-and-pull of these divergent tendencies – music for nightclubs and music for campfires – show through in the finished product? Absolutely. Their technique is prodigious: electric guitar, cello, harmonium, harmonica, accordion, piano, and Anderegg’s acoustic six-string all line up as pre-production sources. Tireless refurbishing, stretching, compressing, mixing, and adding the myriad of effects renders the sources unidentifiable … except for the acoustic guitar. Take some of the tracks from their acclaimed 2009 Choral, say, “Map Table,” to name one. The delicate drone-and-guitar sheen verges toward the cosmic brittleness of New Age music, at times uncomfortably so.
By this measure, Air Museum is a significant departure for Mountains. The one-sheet confirms it, describing a fairly significant course correction: “the album manifests itself sonically as their most ‘electronic’ record yet. Air Museum is also their first record that was made in a studio. Working in the studio expanded their possibilities, giving more room for experimentation.” The experiments have paid off. – Full info
Jon Porras – Undercurrent
“Undercurrent” by Jon Porras is visceral like a coma – epic and dense, and with a similarly all-encompassing hold…
The eight weighty tracks balance melodic drone with apocalyptic distorted guitar, a balancing act managed with flair and grace – no easy feat when the guitars sound at times like they wouldn’t be out of place in an art metal recording. This is accomplished by pushing the guitars far back in the mix, behind the foreground, like it was hidden behind mist. Like that mist, there’s a space visible close to you, but moving further than one step takes you closer to an unseen space that could lead to anywhere.
There seems to be mist and fog around us everywhere, now. Barn Owl, of whom Porras is one half of, speak openly of their love of fog as they relate to it in shoegaze and black metal. Evan Caminiti, the other half, has just completed a project with Lisa McGee called “Pacific Fog Dreams” as Higuma. Keen observers will have noted Lawrence English’s 2008 release “Kiri No Oto” (a Japanese phrase which translates as ‘sound of fog’) has just been rereleased on vinyl.
So fog is a reliable muse it seems, especially for those that call San Francisco home, as Caminiti and Porras do. So how does his approach compare to the others?
The logical comparative point would be Higuma, as it represents one branch of the same tree. Whilst Higuma’s releases have a more emotionally oppressive musical characteristic, weighty in tone, Porras has managed to lean on the more melodic side whilst still injecting heft into the sound. Distorted guitars (when used the right way) have an uplifting grandeur and searing immediacy that is unmatched in the musical spectrum, and here they are harnessed in an intelligent and cohesive fashion. The tracks have emotive weight, but the general ambience is one of exhilaration and release.
Nowhere would this be better demonstrated than the ten minute behemothic opener ‘Grey Dunes’ – there’s a reassuringly hertz-y foreground clean texture mixed with gutturally distorted guitar chords up the back, leading into an extended organ-esque outro – some faint and mournful angelic delayed tones in the distance give the track a lift out of the gloom, whilst keeping it in character. – Full info
Kyle Bobby Dunn – Ways of Meaning
Released on the excellent Desire Path Recordings label, Kyle Bobby Dunn’s latest offering, Ways of Meaning, explores a deep and reflective realm, adding an essential chapter to the young yet impressive discography of the Brooklyn-based composer.
The sound palette is, as usual for Dunn, quite reduced, allegedly made mainly of guitar and organ. The subsequent sound manipulations, stripping those instruments from their timbral qualities, leave them floating ghostly in the form of aether-borne drones, conjuring forgotten memories as if congealed in formaldehyde and kept in a shadowbox. The album’s tone evolve from ascetic and mournful in opener Dropping Sandwiches in Chester Lake to majestic and restrained in closer Touhy’s Theme, and the purposeful lack of tactility gives Dunn’s work quite an hermetic yet encompassing quality.
Upon further explorations, it becomes obvious that Ways of Meaning is the work of a very talented musician, whose skills and intents are evident but not overwhelmingly present, creating for each of the six tracks a subdued and enigmatic narrative arc. New Pures, perhaps the most abstract number here, displays at first an almost imperceptible harmonic progression that unfolds slowly and drifts on the surface of a warm bed of bass, moving in and out of focus. The track reaches a subtle but powerful apex when layered loops of string-like instruments come to the fore and soon dissipate in a hazy cloud of dark and menacing broody synths – a compelling demonstration of Dunn’s talent to develop his work with delicacy and effortlessness.
Throughout the album there are liturgical reminiscences, evident in Statuit which sounds at times like the tearful improvisations of a lonely church organist, or Canyon Meadows which resonates like a spectral decomposition of a change ringing ensemble. The longest and penultimate track, Movement For The Completely Fucked, remains close in tone and intentions to those themes, but shows also more scope in its harmonic development. The lulling organs swells have a strange hypnotic effect on the listener and open vast territories to eventually create a near-mystical emptiness. – Full info
Higuma – Pacific Fog Dreams
The lowest rate of church attendance in the United States occurs in The Pacific Northwest and this vast territory constantly reports the highest percentage of atheism; this occult phenomenon is most prominent in the part of the region west of the Cascades. Current findings reveal that 25% of the population in Washington and Oregon believe in no religion at all.
Religion plays a smaller part in Pacific Northwest politics than in the rest of the United States. The religious right has considerably less political influence than in other regions. Political conservatives in the Pacific Northwest tend to identify more strongly with free-market libertarian values than they do with the reactionary principles of religious social conservatives.
“Pacific Fog Dreams” contains seven sonic slabs of tonal theory that dare to document the experience of “cosmic consciousness,” including the musicians own acoustic account of their ventures into this inward realm. Caminiti creates exquisite walls of celestial guitar to form an emotional meta-drone that echoes and exposes; instinct, intelligence and anxiety. Shifting between honeyed compositional phrase spirits and an electrified sensuality of thrummed annihilation, this sonic symposium reveals questions about the false opposition of the soul and substance. – Full info
Charles-Eric Charrier – Oldman
“Oldman” by Charles-Eric Charrier is certainly something of a departure from the previous album released on Experimedia, “Silver”…
Whilst “Silver” was cerebral post-rock, the new approach sees the artist, seated with a bass, in the middle of a room surrounded by mikes, sans any accompaniment save some sparse bass overdubs, and what seems like some occasional strings or “colour” by partner Beatrice Templé. The approach is brutally honest – a strong characteristic of the record is the sound of the artist breathing in and out, and the sound of hands swiping across the strings, the chair creaking and seemingly the sound of the air moving around the room.
I’m a deep lover of solo bass as an instrument, and once I was past the seeming 180-degree turnaround in musical style I was completely sold on the absolute sincerity in sound. Absolutely no hiding anything with this approach, you’re actually in the room with the artist.
As nothing is hidden, when multiple tracks are being used there are overlapping room sounds – the aforementioned breathing and creaking multilayered over each other is almost like mixed texture/field recording, it’s that tactile. The mikes are hot, white hot, and they pick up every movement and sound Charrier makes. You can hear him whispering to himself.
Musically, the vibe is one of jazz, but as with “Silver” the punk aesthetic fairly seeps out of every pore. The multilayered bass meandering is articulate, emotive and daring, going everywhere and nowhere at once; Charrier displays an amazing ability to stay within melody without overtly demonstrating one. Joint Venture, who are releasing the album, describe the music as “somewhere between instrumental folk and popular tale, African blues and haïku, “chanson française” and contemporary music.” All of which does it justice, but it still fails to convey the singular sound and attitude of it all. – Full info
Evan Caminiti – When California Falls into the Sea
Geologists predict that California will eventually slide away into oblivion in about 50 million years. The Pacific ‘tectonic plate,’ which carries the western sliver of California, is sliding past North America at the rate of about five centimetres per year. One day, ‘Las Californias’ will slide underneath the earth’s crust somewhere near the Aleutian Islands, but don’t start panicking just yet.
Alert audiophiles soon fathom that Caminiti’s ambiguous album title carries no reference to continental drift at all. The song titles and press release indicate that this hazy lyrical guitar led lament is a critique of urban geography and of the “late-capitalist” society that is forced to search for space to live in within its decaying environs. In a shift away from his customary attempts at a musical recreation of the natural landscape, here we see the focus put on to a study of the precise laws and specific effects of the metropolitan geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of the individual.
This tranche of tonal dexterity attempts to teach people to see beyond the broken glass, urine puddles, derelict buildings, drug dealers, detritus, and cacophony of modern living. These mazy, sardonic, caustic and pessimistic riffs hover effortlessly across the faded landscape of “The Golden State”. Riddled with a postmodern sense of melancholy, paradoxically a beguiling sense of mischievous happiness exists in this surface of these sentient strings. Retrospective rhythms and considered chords urge us to seek out and discover a sense of awe and beauty in the everyday things that we take for granted: the very ordinariness that we walk past a thousand times, ignore and never pause to contemplate. – Full info