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Micky67 (Glasgow)

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The Glass Bottom Boat
The Glass Bottom Boat
Offered by UKMusicFiendz
Price: £14.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Carta - "The Glass Bottom Boat", 3 Feb. 2009
This review is from: The Glass Bottom Boat (Audio CD)
It's a shame that just when I get the opportunity to review Carta's majestic debut, "The Glass Bottom Boat", their record label Resonant decides to call it a day. Still, the nine instrumentals and one vocal based track featured here have brought some much needed colour and warmth to these cold, unfeeling winter months.

The brainchild of San Franciscan guitarist Kyle Monday, who has called upon his close knit community of musician friends to record his vision that has been in the works since 2002. Members of Charles Atlas and Subtle feature prominently, as Monday directs his troupe through a series of trance-like grooves.

There is a panoramic quality to Carta's musicianship with a perfect balance found between the guitars, piano, percussion and the string and brass instrumentation. No musician takes centre stage; each member has a part to play in the overall picture. The elliptical guitar part on "Legomenon", for example, forms part of the rhythm whereas other bands prefer to place the guitar centre stage. The old adage, there is no I in team comes to mind, as this sentiment echoes loudly within Carta's rich, almost impregnable tapestry of sound.

The interplay between the trio of guitarists on both "Kavan" and "If Not for You Then Not for Me" sets the mood for much of the album. All three are content to play delicate, subtle chord sequences, complimenting one another rather than fighting to be heard. Often times, each part is layered intriguingly, creating arrangements that are alluringly off-kilter and sit slightly to the left of standard rock progressions. Such reciprocity is the thread that holds Carta's wandering compositions together.

Of particular interest are the songs that start sparsely but end up in more aggressive areas by the end. The brooding "South Circular" is a prime example, as is the fluid "Perdido", with the band displaying a telepathic understanding of each others movements. You can imagine Carta performing these live, all it needs is a slight nod from Monday and the band shift tempo unanimously with the greatest of ease. Building a chilled atmosphere over several minutes, Carta depart to a more energetic momentum on "South Circular" as guitars gain urgency with light distortion in tandem with the incrementally aggressive percussion. "Olivia", meanwhile, is notable for the way it sounds as if it was deliberately recorded just out of earshot, the muffled percussion and spectral guitar textures complimenting the album's intriguing artwork that seems to display a distant, forgotten land.

The magical title track is undoubtedly the highlight (though other reviews wrongly point out it disrupts the flow of the album). It shows that Carta are not perennially concerned with instrumentals. Starting with a gorgeous pattern of clockwork-like guitars sweetened by aching cello, Sarah Bell's beautiful, elfin vocals are simply breath-taking and come with a guarantee to send shivers running down your back. It is all geared towards a grand finale, as all members of the band come together culminating into an almost shoegaze style encore.

Bereft of the torrents of distortion most instrumental acts like to use, gimmicky solo parts or over-blown, theatrical vocals, Carta's compositions are classy and elegant. Many bands hide their limitations under clouds of effects. But then few bands can play like Carta; their progressive, predominantly instrumental music is effortlessly a cut above the rest.

Price: £12.27

3.0 out of 5 stars Callers: "Fortune", 3 Feb. 2009
This review is from: Fortune (Audio CD)
Callers, a Brooklyn, New York quartet, call upon the considerable vocal efforts of Sara Lucas, a singer well versed in New Orleans Jazz traditions, and Ryan Seaton's raw, coarse and folk-inflected guitar style.

"Fortune" doesn't offer up any instant gratification, you really need to sit down with this record and give it the time and respect it deserves. Those who do stick with it will find that it slowly unfurls into a rewarding and engaging album, with little nuances that you might not have picked up on before coming to the fore.

They're at their best when they allow their tempered aggression to flow. "More Than Right" being a prime example, surging with Lucas' bluesy, sirenic drawl, thumping, earthy percussion and Seaton's deliberately measured harmonics. The album title track also represents a similar smoky, dingy blues/jazz club atmosphere, with Lucas' voice again impressing, resonating with shades of Grace Slick.

"Rone", on the other hand, highlights a different side of Callers. It's a floating, folky ballad in the vein of Vashti Bunyan, where Seaton particularly excels with a virtuosic acoustic solo banked a top gorgeous shimmering electric guitar harmonics. Such efforts recall that of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac. The hymnal "Ste. Genevie" closes "Fortune" rather suitably, wrapping mantra-like vocal harmonies around a beatific acoustic template, proving lack of immediacy shouldn't detract from the quality of an album - if anything, it should be considered as a mark of a great recording.

At just 34 minutes long, "Fortune" is succinct, but you'll be left in no doubt as to the talent this particular troupe possesses, carving out their own intoxicating niche, while recalling music of yore. This reviewer can't help but recall various labels of the past, especially Joe Boyd's essential Witchseason imprint, as Callers seem to embody the spirit of everything that label stood for. Western Vinyl deserve a mention too, they're developing a legacy of their own that already includes Slow Six, Balmorhea and now Callers. It could be that, in the future, this label will be recalled in the same hushed tones usually afforded to the greats of the 60's and 70's.

Price: £5.53

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Asmus Tietchens - "h-Menge", 3 Feb. 2009
This review is from: h_menge (MP3 Download)
Developing an obsession for experimental electronic sound design at an early age of just seven years old, Hamburg born Asmus Tietchens has spent his career continually stretching boundaries, dissecting and exploring the possibilities of tape machines, sound generators, crude electronic devices and (in his earlier material) the Minimoog. With over 50 recorded documents, Tietchens music has spanned several styles including industrial, prepared piano experimentation, synth pop and, most importantly, musique concrete.

Musique concrete, despite its avant-garde nature, has influenced popular music since at least the 1960's. The foundations laid by Stockhausen and Koenig has had a profound impact with numerous examples including everything from Pink Floyd's surreal "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" album through to the work of modern day technicians like Autechre, Aphex Twin, Matmos and lately Machinefabriek.

"h-Menge" (or "Eta-Menge") is the final installment of Tiechens' Mengen Series. The first four parts ( Alpha, Beta, Delta and Gamma) were housed on the Mille Plateux label, while 12k offshoot Line can count the remaining pieces "Epsilion-Menge", "Zeta-Menge" and now "Eta-Menge" on its impressive back catalogue.

Tietchens' mercurial sound design ability (he teaches Acoustics at Hamburg University) sees a continuation of his experiments with white noise and sine tones on "Eta-Menge". His modulations are totally self-produced, devoid of any synth, computer or MIDI enhancement, which he claims "paralyses" him in his quest to present musique concrete in its purest form. The electronic pop style found on his four Sky Records releases during the 80's left Tietchens frustrated by the restrictions of that genre. He longed for a return to the abstract climes of his earlier material. The Mengen Series, it would appear, is a reaction to that.

On face value, Tietchens' sound here is a cold and sterile fusion of irregular patterns, mathematical algorithms and sound abstractions. The result is often jarring, disconcerting noise, atonal electronic gurgles and metallic-tinged haze - the antithesis of easy listening music. The opening trio of compositions ("Teilmenge" numbers 43A, 47 and 49) will likely lose half-hearted listeners at the first hurdle, with their harsh noise and sub-zero atmospheric characteristics. Tietchens has been on record before describing that he does not create moods, tell stories or convey any particular message except an aesthetic one. Yet repeated listens of a piece such as "... 43A" will reveal some buried secrets, such as the lonely drone/melody that begins to materialize under all the dissonance. "...47", in particular, develops from an eerie silence intercepted by warped robotic voices into a measured rhythm, where dark polluted clouds of sound envelop the whole piece.

Those with a little more resolve and who stay with Teitchens will soon come to the beautiful water drip ambience of "Teilmenge 44A". Despite its origins this piece creates an intimate relationship with the listener capturing the sounds of a melting glacier as the tones emitted resonate through cold chambers and passages of ice. The recurring, soothing sounds are soon brought to life as Tietchens stirs some shuffling, metallic clangs into this composition that imitate a spluttering, stop-start piece of industrial equipment. Also, towards the end of this piece, I am near certain I can make out some sort of processed chant, almost child-like in nature, but it is there buried deep under layer upon layer of abstract sound. "Teilmenge 50" is another highlight, by now the listener will have developed an understanding of Teitchens' style. Dropping things back to the algid temperatures found at the start of this disc, the sound shifts, microtones and abstract ambience created via a ghostly resonance concocts an odd sense of solace that is augmented by comforting scanner sounds.

Throughout "h-Menge" Asmus Tietchens retains a strong hands-on approach to create his peculiar array of sounds, all the while weaving between varying absorbing environments. Uncompromising in nature, Tietchens strives to create music for those who "insist upon more than easy listening". While that may disqualify 99.9% of the record buying public - unfortunately, we are unlikely to see Tietchens audition for Pop Idol anytime soon. For the other 0.01%, with the proper amount of effort on their part, they will find this record oddly invigorating.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 10, 2013 8:49 PM GMT

Offered by positivenoise
Price: £8.72

3.0 out of 5 stars Calder - Lower, 3 Feb. 2009
This review is from: Lower (Audio CD)
Calder comprise Icelandic duo Lárus Siguršsson and Ólafur Josephsson and create achingly beautiful and melodically rich guitar soundscapes. Propelled by delicate electronics and little whirs and clicks, acoustic guitars mingle with wintry synths ensuring Calder's sound nestles comfortably between `Happy Songs..' era Mogwai and Josephsson's main band Stafręnn Hákon.

"Tuft" is constructed out of fragile acoustic guitar strums and twilight xylophone splashes, meandering peacefully until in floods with heart-breaking impact just when you need it most. The clotted melody the duo fashion is akin to winding a toybox and marveling at its intricate sound. This track in particular will certainly appeal to fans of Keith Kenniff's Helios discography.

There's enough variety throughout "Lower" to keep interest levels from waning, though I do suspect 10 tracks of lush, somber instrumentals may be too much for some. On "Vessel" the duo propels towards Sigur Ros like glacial climes and succeeds, harking back to the days when Jonsi and co. made music this beautiful. Both "Drones" and "Tone" give a sly nod to label-mates Epic45, crackling with field recordings or at least recording hiss that add an extra dimension to the atmosphere of each piece, while adds industrialized electronics, for a more aggressive finale in "Rowd".

Despite the fact the Icelandic music scene has been in full bloom for sometime now, "Lower" shows this small nation continue to burst forth with ideas. This is by no means ground-breaking stuff, but for 45 minutes or so, life just seems to be a little more peaceful.

Epilogue in Waves
Epilogue in Waves

4.0 out of 5 stars Bitcrush: "Epilogue in Waves", 3 Feb. 2009
This review is from: Epilogue in Waves (Audio CD)
Arguably the most anticipated release in n5MD's history, "Epilogue in Waves", the third album from owner Mike Cadoo's Bitcrush project, continues the fine traditions of his imprint, melding an emotional aesthetic to much of his music. Two years in the making, this is his most cohesive and fully-realised record yet, as the Californian-based musician advances the evolutionary nature of the Bitcrush sound.

`The Bitcrush sound' is a key component in this album's appeal. This is clearly the work of Cadoo, no other band or artist can sound like this. Throughout "Epilogue..." Bitcrush switches between warm ambient synthscapes or rich, electronic-laced shoegaze, often presenting tracks that effortlessly braid both styles together. He deftly navigates between both, while structuring them into his trademarked, epic compositions.

Cadoo, in fact, does epic by the bucketload, but it is the seamless mix of organic and electronic instrumentation that is the most striking aspect of Bitcrush on this form. Resonating guitar textures float freely with dreamy synths, as echoic vocals dissolve amidst the electronically-charged live drum sound. In short, those with no prior knowledge of Bitcrush could be forgiven for thinking that this was the work of a fully-fledged band rather than just one man. "Of Days", for example, unusually follows a verse-chorus-verse like structure rising from a tranquil passage of slo-mo beats and clouded melodies into a full-blown `stadium-rock' chorus.

While many artists simply over-load their music with a succession of effects, Bitcrush is different. His music is measured with every tone, note, melody and electronic pulse strategically placed. The electronics in particular, much like the vocals, do not insist upon the listener, instead they augment the overall feel of each track. There is a certain comfortable solace to a piece like "Pearl", for example, that one would associate with a late-night drive through deserted, rain-swept roads. Cadoo spends several minutes developing such a nocturnal atmosphere, the cavernous synth waves emanating with a degree of warmth. Only the forceful volley of percussion halfway through will wake you from such a glorious cocoon of sound.

"An Island, A Peninsula", meanwhile, nods to those early Sigur Ros comparisons with its torrents of arcing guitar and revolving, crashing percussion, while the taut Joy Division-esque bassline of "Epilogue in Tides" shifts the melodic focus from the layers of heavenly synthesizer and guitar. Cadoo, it should be noted, is also adept when it comes to changing the pace of his records, many albums often suffer from lack of variety where bands take a good idea and run it into the ground. Not on "Epilogue in Waves" though; whether it is the euphoric William Orbit-like ambience of "Prologue" or the pulsating end of "Pearl", the Bitcrush experience remains riveting due to Cadoo's guidance.

Of course, all of this is underpinned by the level of emotion we've come to expect of n5MD. But then Cadoo has been leaving clues all along, even the `Bitcrush' moniker hints at a man/machine existence, an existence where man controls such devices to his advantage -- and this is where Cadoo's Bitcrush project excels. Whatever your take is, "Epilogue in Waves" is clearly the soul of the Bitcrush machine.

Alone In This Dark Romantic Night
Alone In This Dark Romantic Night

4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Lunar Landscape, 3 Feb. 2009
Right from the opening strains of this Ep, it is clear that there is something special about French collective Beautiful Lunar Landscape. Recalling the start of King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man", eerie drones and organ sounds drift from speaker to speaker during the intro of the incredibly titled opening track, "Projected In This Beautiful Lunar Landscape Imagining This Glorious Chaos As A Ghost Of Myself". It soon morphs into a sprawling, interplanetary guitar experiment as frenzied percussion and spookish Theremin sounds launch this track into another dimension. As the band slowly lessen the pace and gradually move into an ambient passage, you are left wondering, `what the hell just happened!'.

But then, further investigation into the Bordeaux-based band reveals that BLL are an immensely talented bunch. It is difficult to pinpoint their sound, there is so much going on throughout the four mini-epic's on this Ep. For a start there is the gargantuan waves of distorted guitar work that nods to Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, which literally can rattle your speakers, while there is a distinctive Portishead influence which weaves its way throughout the whole Ep. Then there is the appreciation of the dynamics of all those great shoegazer bands, while swirling mellotron sounds recall 70's prog rock bands; you know the dinosaur groups that is supposedly not cool to like anymore?.

If you have ever wanted to hear what Portishead would sound like melded with a shoegazer aesthetic, then listen to the title track of this Ep and wait the whole five and a half minutes to hear some of the most incredible double kick-drum percussion this side of Slayer's Dave Lombardo.

It is not just the instrumentation that points to a progressive influence, however. Song titles such as "Crystalised, Facing This Empty Screen I Wish The Film Could Never End", suggests more than one band member has a fondness for Yes albums or those wonderful kaleidoscopic double gatefold sleeve LP's from the 70's. The track itself, is a slow and brooding effort, that soon cuts to some male/female vocal parts and then to a mystical sounding spoken word part. It all soon subsides with some Greenwood inspired guitar chops and then falls into a monolithic assault of ear-shredding distortion and powerful percussion. It is absolutely, spell-bindingly brilliant.

Final track, "Tomorrow, I'll Be Born Inside An Eternal Beginning", changes tact relying on mournful synths and tentative guitar work to start with. When the drums do kick in, along with a space station style countdown sample, you are left mesmerised by the expansive and wide-reaching nature of the sounds BLL can create.

At 25 minutes long and spanning just 4 tracks, Beautiful Lunar Landscape has created some breath-taking moments. In fact some bands have had 10 year long careers and still not came close to hitting some of these heights. Simply put, this is a stunning debut effort.

Rivers Arms
Rivers Arms
Price: £12.17

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Balmorhea - River Arms, 3 Feb. 2009
This review is from: Rivers Arms (Audio CD)
Just occasionally it can be refreshing to take a step back from the world of instant messaging, chemically enhanced food and mass marketing. There is a certain solace to be found away from your television, your stereo or, dare I say it, your laptop. This belief brings me concisely to the music of Texan duo of Rob Lowe and Michael Muller, otherwise known as Balmorhea. Eschewing electrically enhanced equipment completely in favour of percussive and string instruments, Balmorhea engage in folk, classical and ambient styles to present fourteen moments of pure heartfelt emotion that have the ability to take the listener far away from their everyday life.

While the name appears to have a Scottish resonance to it, Balmorhea (pronounced Bal-ma-ray) takes its inspiration from a small Texan town where Lowe spent many a happy summer, during his childhood. It is Balmorhea's ability to tap into such nostalgic memories that gives many of their compositions an edge over their contemporaries. "Lament", a soft descending piano piece radiates with a forlorn melancholia as a microphone (perhaps unintentionally) picks up almost every sound within the recording studio. The sorrowful strings help to elevate the impression of forgotten memories. "Barefoot Pilgrims" follows suit, the tentative piano arrangement plays over a foundation of softly plucked acoustic guitar, as a violin seems determined to assume the foreground while hinting at loss and regret.

In a recent interview Lowe discussed the influence of the varying seasons on Balmorhea's music and this has transcended onto "River Arms". A song with a title such as "The Summer" may evoke images of blistering heat, glorious sunshine and crystal blue skies, but Muller and Lowe approach this from a different angle. Echoing Jim Morrison's sentiments in The Doors classic "Summer's Almost Gone", Balmorhea make use of reflective acoustic guitar and distant cello to conjure images of the twilight of a summer's day, when everything is peaceful and the sky gradually begins to turn a purple dusk colour. The gorgeous delayed guitar, longing cello and urgent piano template of "The Winter", on the other hand, builds purposefully growing in stature, from an initial whisper of sound into a mélange of furious instrumentation, as if the duo are intent on mimicking the intensity of a storm.

"Grey Tapering Ash", perhaps my favourite, is a breath-taking piece of smoldering blues-folk. The gripping, interlocking guitar infused with field recordings of railroad sounds spin a story that not even a million words could tell. Only the fragmented sound collage of "Contexts" disrupts the flow of this near seamless record. Chances are though, that you will have been mesmerisied by the preceding "Baleen Morning" and will be too dazzled to care. Undeniably beautiful, "River Arms" is the sort of album that would excel in just about every setting (barring a nightclub, of course). There are certain healing qualities to Lowe and Muller's impermeable compositions that are tightened by a heady mix of resplendent harmonics, keening piano and engaging string arrangements. A breath of fresh air.

The Goodbye Radio
The Goodbye Radio
Price: £15.79

4.0 out of 5 stars Arc Lab - The Goodbye Radio, 3 Feb. 2009
This review is from: The Goodbye Radio (Audio CD)
Though Arc Lab's 2007 release "No Spectre" displayed potent levels of production prowess, the emotional aspects one has come to expect from an n5MD release didn't quite reach the same mark. On his second outing for the Californian imprint, Torontonian Medard Fischer has struck the perfect balance between the two aspects. Authoring a certain career best piece of work, if not one of the most original releases in the IDM field for some time.

"The Goodbye Radio" runs very much like the title suggests, as if Fischer is slowly guiding us through a variety of channels or stations on the radio spectrum. Confounding the set-in-stone rules of a stagnant IDM genre, hisses of static, soft piano sonnets, distant, grainy monologues and tranquil orchestral segments all weave their way throughout Fischer's rich, intricate tapestry. To say the variety on the 50+ minutes of music here is remarkable would be doing Arc Lab a disservice. The way so many styles are uniquely incorporated is downright ingenious.

"Transients" establishes the mood early on mixing radio interference with grainy, melodious drones, soft twilight tones and indecipherable speech, as if the radio dial has absent-mindedly been left between stations. From there, Fischer ushers us towards the serene pairing of "Reflexives Part 1 & Part 2". The first part introduces a soft piano led melody and sombre orchestration, while it's accompanying second part finds Fischer adding subtle electronics and soulful chimes and tones.

In keeping with the radio concept, "Song for Oleg" is a haunting electro pop number, as Fischer spins that dial towards a style that vaguely resembles his label mate Tobias Lilja. While, "I Wish I Could Tell You" pleasingly mixes chilled male/female vocals with a velvet synth backdrop to produce what can only be described as the album's radio friendly unit shifter.

The fact that these differing styles are seamlessly blended is testament to Fischer's production capabilities, a lesser musician may well have folded under such an ambitious concept. Given these sentiments, the strange "Recidivist Waltz", a medieval sounding harpsichord piece, and the poignant "Like Conquistadors", augment the overall flow rather than hinder. If anything, they add a personal touch, as if Fischer has invited us to trawl through his listening habits. As the closing number "Departure Music" fades into quiet, the only cause for concern on this release is possibility of a cryptic message in the album title (and indeed the last track). On this form, we really can't afford to lose Arc Lab.

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