Sunday, April 25, 2010

MDAC017 - Monthly Discerning Audio Chart, April 2010

GARETH HARDWICK - "London 220109"
The ever expanding Under The Spire catalog continues its high-quality output policy with this near half-hour contribution from Low Point label boss Gareth Hardwick. I've only recently received it through the post and have been listening to it an awful lot so that I can include it in this month's review section. I often find that as much as I want to support the label wherever I can, I end up writing a few words about UTS releases when they have near enough sold out! So got in quick with this one.
I didn't need long to decide whether this piece would be included this month, since Gareth is a top artist and I'd already enjoyed listening to the samples on the UTS website. The half hour arrangement of drone washes, guitar sounds, field recordings and carefully drawn out atmospherics is ever-changing and full of slowly evolving detail. Rather than being a linear drone written for background listening purposes, Hardwick has carefully sculpted this piece into something that is interesting and detailed enough to serve for a conscious listening experience. I am aware from the release notes that this is in fact a release of part of a live performance, I gather at London hence the title. It opens up with eerie atmosphere based passages before expanding to that slowly evolving dronescape.
I remember cycling along earlier this week as I listened to this, and being forced to smile that special smile that signifies I'm listening to something that is simply overwhelming. I dare say I'll be coming back to this one a lot over the forthcoming years...

M.OSTERMEIER - "Lakefront"
It only took a few seconds of listening to the samples on the Hibernate Records website before instinctively ordering myself a copy of this superb album. Ostermeier is a new name as far as I am concerned, although I am told that he has another excellent record out on Parvo Art.
I've listened to Lakefront all the way through several times throughout the month and I can vouch that this is a stunning piece of work right the way through. Essentially, you could describe this as an album of piano based moments. Although, such is the painstakingly attentive sound design from this artist there is more than enough additional substance to give it that obvious edge when compared to against many of the piano-based albums that are about. It would in fact be fair to say that this isn't a piano-led album - the piano passages serve as mere moments that are part of Ostermeier's overall sound collage. The album is full of detail and intelligent design - you'll soon get lost in what could easily be one of the releases of 2010. A must buy for any fan of ambient music.

RYONKT - "North Small Town"
Next up on Hibernate is a superb short album from young Japanese artist Ryo Nakata under his Ryonkt banner. This album feels like a miniature sequel to his last release on Under The Spire 'Window To The Room', with its gentle, relaxing collection of drones. However, rather than 'North Small Town' being just a further extention of previous output, it has a couple of unique features.
Firstly, although there are four separate untitled pieces, interestingly they all feel harmonically related. These pieces could perhaps have been arranged into a single longformer but instead, they have been left as four individual segments - each with their own subtle nuances in character.
The drone construction is typical of Ryo's familiar style - deep, atmospheric, but always melodic. He has also used a very slight hint of field recordings as with his Under The Spire release. Although, with this record they heighten as the album draws to a close on 'Untitled 4' with what seems to be a snow footprints recording.
The other key ingredient to this short album is the provision of mastering duties from Jannick Schou. He has brought an element of power to Ryonkt's drones which add a new slant to his work. I found that in 'Window To The Room' the drones were quiet and gentle which would induce a sleepy listening state. Schou has really added that element of power to these works to encourage more constant conscious listening, whilst still allowing the listener to reduce the volume at will for a more restful state.
More superb work from a superb artist. What more would you expect?

Ian Hawgood's Home Normal label is a trusty port of call for most who are keen on the modern ambient scene as he has a forward thinking music policy and selects works from some of the best sound designers in the world. This is whether they are familiar names like Jason Corder's Offthesky project or works from Hawgood himself, or whether they are new and emerging names. Tobias Hellkvist is more of an emerging name - at least as far as I am concerned, and here he turns in a solid ambient/sound design albums that is up there with some of the best material to come out on the label. Hellkvist has crafted a truly magnificent album spanning from gentle soundwashes, through lush guitar accents and other instrument manipulations. The album serves up a varied palette of sounds that will keep you interested and likely keep you going back for more helpings for years to come. There's been a lot of stuff out on Home Normal this month, and in particular, this for me is a 'must purchase'.

FABIO ORSI - "Winterreise"
Italian drone master Fabio Orsi has had this album out on Slow Flow for a few weeks now. I only got round to downloading it at the beginning of the month and I've been enjoying this one all month. 'Wintereisse' is an album of six parts, fusing unusual and almost choral drones with gentle field recordings and hushed instrument sounds. Orsi is an obviously talented artist with an interesting approach to ambient music, who is able to make his drones feel that extra bit different and unique. The one thing that I am very much looking forward to, is listening to this winter themed album in context later in the year. The one thing with writing a season-based piece of work is that by the time a label can release it, it may come out off-season, as with this. But this is a solid effort anyway - you'll still enjoy it during the summer and my goodness, it will sound excellent when winter eventually comes round again...

RELMIC STATUTE - "Abscon (5.L) Ditus Ianua"
I'm still always keen to keep an eye on netlabel releases, as I know that there are some talented artists out there who are happy to give their music away for free. However, when I discovered that Relmic Statute has an album out on High Linear Music, I was particularly excited. Dave Horner, a British artist, has had releases on a few labels including the likes of Hibernate and is renowned for his live performances. His music is tape-loop manipulation based and fuses finely-woven deep drones with field recordings and instrument takes. This album features four mid-length tracks that span through these sound sources in an exploratory fashion, taking your head through a cloudy, lulling journey as you listen. The opening piece is awash with restful beauty and evolving layers of sound and is a track that I am particularly fond of - but the favourite has to be 'Exploratory Notes' as the guitar use in this is just mindblowingly beautiful. The fact that this album is free means that this really can't be overlooked if you're interested in extremely good ambient music.
SUSTAINER - "Distancia"
An unfamiliar name emerged on the Audio Talaia netlabel earlier this month as this two track E.P from Sustainer is available for free download. The fact that mastering duties were done by Ian Hawgood was enough to seal the need to at least listen. And these two mid-length pieces certainly don't disappoint. Two shimmering ambient drones that are sure to push all the right buttons available free of charge to anyone who should want them in their music collection. I check the Audio Talaia label every couple of months and give the back-catalog releases a listen to see if there's anything I've missed out on - and this release in many ways is amongst the labels finest audio excursions to date. Sustainer is a name I have added fondly to my list of artists to keep watch on and I look forward to future projects from this talented Spanish artist.

ASUNA & OPITOPE - "Sunroom"
'Sunroom' sees the collaboration of the industrious Chihei Hatakeyama and musician Date, treating us to a feast of sunny electro-acoustic ambient pieces. I first listened to this album on a day off, as I cycled through local villages on a hot sunny day. Unfortunately, my tyre burst when I was six miles from home...As I waited for my lift to arrive, I remember wandering around the countryside whilst listening to this album - thinking, this is likely to be my summer listening companion for quite some time.
In parts, this is a light melodic drone affair, delicately punctuated by gentle electro-acoustic instrumentation. At other times, the instrumentation takes the lead to provide almost song-like melodies.
Although with similarities, as far as this record is concerned, this is a different direction for Hatakeyama. With Date, he explores the instrument based route as the main ingredient to this sun-drenched excursion. Only in the last track 'Column Of Air' are we provided with an example of the sort of drone work that is typical of Hatakeyama.
This is a bright, optimistic and summery ambient album that comes with my strong recommendation.

DAMIAN VALLES - "Bow Echoes"
I was aware of Damian Valles' presence in the Under The Spire back catalog and although I have been able to flick through samples of the release on various distribution websites, I have missed the boat in terms of purchasing a copy. If karma exists however, then I must have been particularly well behaved of late, as Valles has released a wonderful album on one of my favourite netlabels, Resting Bell. It's without doubt one of the very best albums to come out in the netlabel scene of all time and it is an album with the strength of character to stand up aside works by the likes of Fennesz, Pillowdiver et al.
The key to a good ambient album could be depth, personality or simplicity; it could be many things. In the case of 'Bow Echoes', it is its varying palette of electro-acoustic tones, drones and recordings. This record is absolutely brimming with character from the sun-drenched opener to the dreamy ambient drones it closes on. The audio speaks for itself and from first listen to this, you'll soon agree that Damian Valles is a name to watch out for in the scene. Even further enhancing this Creative Commons netlabel release is the addition of an accompanying video for the first track.
This is a very very fine netlabel release package overall - it would be criminal to miss out on this one.
PAWN - "A Hum Of The Library"
I'm sure it annoys people that I write a couple of paragraphs that could be enough to encourage a purchase of an album, only for you to find that said album has since sold out. However, how could I not include something as good as this? And besides, when I began writing these mindless ramblings on this very blog some time ago the initial purpose was to basically list the ten albums I have personally enjoyed. Well this has been something of an instant classic and I'm sure it's not just myself who'll be saying this. Pawn is the work of Japanese artist and in this particular album, he teams up with gifted British cellist Danny Norbury for the track 'The Book That Is Never Read'. Norbury's composition is simply beautiful as ever and tinged with the depth of melancholy only the cello can conjur. The rest of the album sees mainly short pieces ranging from delicate piano deconstructions, field recordings and lulling drones. Closing 'A Hum Of The Library', is a nine minute drone with a constant ventilation hum. Overall, the works cover a range of ambient styles and the library-themed narrative is strong and interesting. This album was extremely limited and sold out very quickly - any future output from Pawn is to be met with high expectation if this is anything to go by.

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