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The Month's Electronic Music: Looking Inwards
Christian Eede , May 3rd, 2017 12:48

Christian Eede shines a light on some of the best recent records from the more relaxed end of the electronic music spectrum, while also reviewing records from Wilted Woman (pictured), Kara-Lis Coverdale, Juniper and more

Wilted Woman

While collating the list of records to be covered in this latest edition of Hyperspecific, the third for 2017, I began to notice quite how many astonishing ambient records had been grabbing my attention of late, and with the word count bestowed upon me for these columns, as well as the simple fact that I unfortunately can’t quite cover absolutely everything I’d like to in every column, I thought it would make sense to use this month’s opening gambit to shine a light upon some of those records that have been forming my listening away from the club.

Chiefly among those is a stunning new collection from Bill Kouligas’ PAN label, entitled Mono No Aware. Taking in 16 tracks from some familiar faces, as well as some artists entirely new to the label, the record borrows a Japanese phrase for its title which roughly translates as ‘the pathos of things’, and contained within are plenty of opportunities for reflection. Each track weaves beautiful loops to hypnotic effect like all of the best ambient music. Highlights come in AYYA’s ‘Second Mistake’, the first officially released track by a new Polish producer, which recalls the heart-aching majesty of MssingNo’s ‘XE2’ in its windy bassline. Yves Tumor’s ‘Limerence’ follows up on the promise of his 2016 debut on PAN (although it recently featured on his debut record) with feathery synths, played off against the sampled recording of a woman playfully discussing with her unheard partner whether they should get out of bed. A thunderstorm enters the mix before the protagonist returns with more laughter and some choice words on the realities of ageing. It’s deeply touching in its simplicity, tapping into thoughts that many listening can hold a mirror up to and find that empathy hinted at in the compilation's title.

The first release on Kranky from Justin Walter since 2013, Unseen Forces, sees him explore the more psychedelic end of ambient music. Putting to use the EVI, a rare wind-controlled analogue synth, the trumpeter employs a mostly improvisatory process across the album, something which he describes as “exploring melody through intuition”. Opener ‘1001’ sees the EVI and Walter’s trumpet merge seamlessly in a collision of melody and drones. The title track takes on a jazzier tone, pianos, synths and Walter’s trumpet pummelling you in the nicest, gentlest way possible. ‘It’s Not What You Think’ stands as the record’s centrepiece, soaring for the skies with its four-chord sequence repeated over and over, amongst various sombre layers of melody created by Walter’s synth of choice. What’s so astonishing about Unseen Forces is that its nine tracks never feel directionless despite Walter’s decision to pull the record together from a process of improvised experimentation.

Casting back further, the new compilation from Optimo Music, entitled Miracle Steps (Music From The Fourth World 1983-2017) and compiled by label owner JD Twitch as well as Scottish DJ and member of the 12th Isle collective Fergus Clark, collects together various new age and ambient compositions from the early 1980s up to the present day. The record borrows its title and central theme from the ‘fourth world’ concept devised by Jon Hassell in 1980 bringing together western music practices in ambient music with more far-flung traditions from across the world. The resulting compilation is a collection of stark, often spiritual music, with common strands of percussion and wind instruments running through its 14 tracks despite the 34-year gap encompassed by the music featured. O Yuki Conjugate’s ‘Cloud Cover’, originally released in 1987, is a brooding piece rooted around voice flutes and distant wind chimes, while opener ‘Plight’ from Jorge Reyes shines a light on the pre-Hispanic instruments that he, and others such as Pep Llopis and Suso Sáiz, rooted his work around. Rapoon’s ‘The Same River Once’ is trippy, mesmeric hand-drumming repeating unabated through its 10-minute runtime, growing more and more compelling with every cycle. As Fergus Clark says in the record’s liner notes, “the undercurrent tying each piece together is this deeply personal feeling of intrigue and mysterious elation,” and every track on the record taps into a deeply intoxicating plain of euphoria, the lines repeatedly blurred between human and computer, at a time when many of those featured on the record were first getting to grips with technological advancements.

Wilted Woman - Diary Of A Woman
(She Rocks!)

The latest dispatch from Berlin’s Wilted Woman, her first 12” following a series of cassette releases across the last few years, arrives with a maelstrom of glitchy electronics. Opening track ‘Trudeau (Dither)’, named so one imagines after the Prime Minister of Canada where part of this record was recorded, doesn't so much grab attention, but rather demands it. 8-bit melodies dart off in all directions, manipulated and time-stretched before settling on a more calming, hypnotic loop in the track’s second half. It’s a fitting introduction to a record that is centred around machines and the assortment of strange sounds one can produce simply from experimenting.

Diary Of A Woman frequently settles on alluring melodies though. ‘Tick’ carries a charming groove in its chugging drums and synth workouts while ‘Somehow’ once again keeps the tempo at a simmering pace, its gorgeous, cosmic bursts of melody offset against freaky, loose hardware jamming. Four of the record’s tracks are said to see the producer commit to record a selection of live favourites. Seemingly born out of some deeply engaging improvisation within her live sets, one can only imagine how these tracks come even more alive when performed in the live arena.

Cloudface - VARIATIONS

The first release on a new cassette imprint from David Reynolds’ Cloudface project, VARIATIONS takes in seven shapeshifting Korg experimentations from the Vancouver-based producer. The label has been birthed with the intention of sharing, in Reynolds’ own words, “a series of process based ambient explorations”. The pieces contained within the record appear to be born of improvisational processes carried out by the producer as he goes to work on the Korg Mono/Poly’s arpeggiator controls, resulting in sounds that are simultaneously deeply off-kilter while also sounding like the perfect flotation tank soundtrack. Perhaps the most recent comparison point would be Huerco S’ striking 2016 album For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Always Those Who Have).

Opener ‘3 step’ burrows into your mind with its earworm loops, remaining barely changed in its eight-plus minutes, relying on the hypnotic qualities of repetition to leave a mark. The record follows in much the same vein creating various different loops from Reynolds’ instruments of choice with ‘Venus’ standing out as a particular highlight due to its parallels with some of the most reduced and gorgeous of the Chain Reaction label’s output, particularly calling to mind some of the work of Vainqueur on the imprint. More than anything, VARIATIONS is the sound of a producer simply displaying just what he can create when experimenting with a single tool at hand, and experimentation is the key here. As the statement released alongside the cassette states: “Focus remains but complete concentration is not required or particularly necessary.” It seems that further releases from Reynolds’ new label will see him get to grips with other instruments in his arsenal and if the results are as good as this first record, you can expect a lot more great music in the future.

Juniper - Aramaic EP

On fine form as ever, Meandyou’s latest record sees Juniper return to the fold for their first full standalone release on the Manchester-based label. Following on from a strong appearance on Greek label Nous’ #3 Black record late last year with ‘Movement From The Fade’, the duo’s Aramaic EP sees them continue within the same territory, channeling electro elements in opener ‘Indigo Children’ while ‘Life Source Negative’ following it is spacey. It's divergently bright and eerie, with an unintelligible vocal sample looping throughout, adding to the discordant elements that come together to create a gorgeous, dance floor-focused cut.

‘Edicts Of Ashoka’ plays with arpeggios in a way that distinctly ties in with Meandyou, the label having crafted a particular sound palette across its seven releases so far, a somewhat impressive feat given the number of producers the label has worked with thus far. Rounding out the record, ‘Crystal Analysis’ is notably bass-heavy in parts, offering a final moment of solace in the otherworldly settings that the record’s tracks conjure up. It’s their finest record to date and the first step in what will undoubtedly be another excellent year for Meandyou with records on the way from Herron and J.S.Zeiter.

Various - Tropical Drums Of Deutschland
(Music For Dreams)

Compiled by Düsseldorf’s Jan Schulte, Tropical Drums Of Deutschland takes in a selection of under the radar percussion experiments recorded in and around Germany mostly during the mid-to-late 1980s, with a lot of the music featured on the compilation taking in distinctly new age elements in cuts such as Om Bushchman’s ‘Klang Fangt An’ and Argile’s ‘Tagtraum Eines Elefanten’. Influences on Jan Schulte’s 2016 record as Wolf Müller, alongside Cass, entitled The Sound Of Glades, can be found across the compilation too, in off-kilter sound effects and wildlife samples.

You’d be hard-pressed to pick a favourite such is the quality on display throughout the entire record, but Sanza’s ‘Sounouh’ stuns with its minimalism, while Schulte’s own edit of ‘Hey Tata Gorem’, which also appears in original form on the compilation, is a driving, low-slung drum workout that would certainly get bodies moving on the most open-minded of dance floors. Elsewhere, while the origins of the music found across the compilation are clearly stated within the record’s title, fans of the new age experimentations found in much older Japanese ambient music - Midori Takada’s Through The Looking Glass for example - will find a lot to like in this expertly curated selection of tracks.

Various - Turn On, Tune In
(Lullabies For Insomniacs)

Izabel Caligiore’s Lullabies For Insomniacs label has released some astonishing work in its short life so far having debuted little over a year ago with a record of gorgeous ambient pieces from Sugai Ken and followed it up with three further releases from mostly unknown producers. Turn On, Tune In collects tracks from some of those who’ve music Caligiore has already released alongside a number of other new faces to the label. Opening out on the faintly paganist abstractions of The Magic Carpathian’s ‘Thalassa’, the inclusion of such descriptors as ‘neofolk’ and ‘neo trance’ in the record’s Discogs entry becomes immediately clear, the track built around the ding of bells. There’s an unavoidable air of ritualism in its components, the relaxing chiming of bells sitting at odds with the ominous drone that runs underneath.

Unearth Noise’s ‘Immortality Spell’, following it, is more straightforwardly calming, while retaining the cultish weirdness of its predecessor. Sugai Ken’s contribution ‘Bantotenmoku’ glistens evoking images of a serene Japanese garden, perhaps taking us closest on this record to the kind of soothing feeling one might want from a lullaby. Georgia follow up a distinctly impressive run of recent releases with ‘Mist ∞ Skat’ which is as playful as it is graceful. Million Brazilians’ ‘VI’ draws for woozy, psychedelic guitars and ceremonial drums, like a meshing of ambient and post-rock. With Turn On, Tune In, Lullabies For Insomniacs continues unabated as one of the best new labels currently operating, and with an ever-busy release schedule on the horizon, it should hopefully be a name that more come familiar with as the year progresses.

Kara-Lis Coverdale - Grafts
(Boomkat Editions)

Her first solo release since 2015’s breakthrough Aftertouches cassette, Kara Lis-Coverdale’s Grafts is a 22-minute piece in three spectacular parts. Across the record, the multi-instrumentalist folds in minimalist, ambient and folk influences, bringing together electronic and acoustic compositional techniques to hypnotic effect. The record sits side-by-side with the aforementioned Cloudface and Lullabies For Insomniacs records in employing loops to really gracefully, and subtly, make their mark.

Parts of Grafts recall the meandering beauty of some of Terry Riley’s finest works, with reflective, delicate melodies soaring through much of the record’s first half before dissolving away to reveal a droning chord sequence underneath. With this playing out for much of the record’s remaining eight or so minutes, the record grows all the more stunning in its ability to continue to tug at heartstrings as proceedings become further understated, almost monotone. Like much of the best minimalist compositional pieces, Grafts’ loops could happily continue for much longer without dulling, and even at 22 minutes, you’re left wishing that they would go on and on.

Kilchhofer / Hainbach - Acosta

The first in a series of split releases on the Marionette known as Little Mary, Acosta brings together producers Kilchhofer (making his second release on the label) and Hainbach (whose work is pressed to vinyl for the first time here off the back of a number of cassette releases) to contribute a side each. Opener ‘Aska’ from Kilchhofer sets the tone with dainty xylophone melodies and the din of a more monotone electric guitar, before ‘Russ’ following it sends proceedings off in a more meditative direction, with melodies that sit somewhere on the spectrum being ambient reflection and fuzzy psychedelia, whilst an almost motorik beat chugs away underneath. ‘Suckfuell’ pairs a kalimba with jaunty handclaps and offers further rumination.

On the flipside, Hainbach further impresses on the funereal ‘By The Motorway, By The River’ while ‘Heart Of Darkness’ takes on a decidedly more portentous hue. Even in this light, it retains an air of opulence that hangs over the whole record, orchestral arrangements shining at the midpoint, the track blurring the lines between analogue and digital. All of Acosta’s tracks sound suited to the score for a particularly grand-scale stage production. That’s not to suggest any essence of melodrama, but simply to point out just how extravagant and expressive the arrangements are across the record’s eight tracks, both producers complimenting each other’s works very finely.