Here comes the second part of our end-of-the-year best of list including recent works of Lee Gamble, Chris Herbert, Robert Curgenven, Olan Mill, Loscil, Otto A. Totland and then some more.
(If you missed the first part, make sure you check it out here: Best of 2014: Part #1 (50-41))
Steven R. Smith (perhaps best known as a member of Hala Strana) is an American musician, instrument-builder, and printmaker. His main instrument is guitar, both acoustic and electric, although other exotic sounding instruments like the hurdy gurdy, bouzouki, fretted spike fiddles, and assorted ethnic instruments have been incorporated into his work.
He has released two albums these last years under his Ulaan Passerine moniker. If we would’ve had a list last year, his first release named ‘Ulaan Passerine’ would have definitely be on it. All we can do right now is to spread the word about his latest record, which totally fell under the radar. Could easily serve as the perfect soundtrack for your worst nightmares, with the large scale of his instruments it makes you feel uneasy and whist at the same time.
Melancholy, simplicity and honesty at its best, like a gust of warm wind coming from the coldest and darkest parts of Norway. Could be the perfect companion for lonely souls spending Christmas time alone, since it’s powerful enough to convince yourself that you can end this year gracefully.
Otto A Totland’s modern compositional elements are most widely recognized as half of the Norwegian duo Deaf Center, where his melancholic, intricate piano work provides haunting relief to the beds of noise and deep strings from Erik K Skodvin. This is Totland’s first full-length release, his previously brief vignettes are now expanded into a fully personal realization of his own style. (Sonic Pieces)
‘Sea Island’ is a collection of new material composed and recorded over the past two years. While many of these compositions were performed live extensively prior to recording, others were constructed in the studio and are being heard for the first time here. Musically, the album represents a range of compositional approaches. Murky, densely textured depths of sound are explored with subtle pulses and pings woven within, contrasted with composed or improvised moments of acoustic instrumentation making a move into the foreground. Certain tracks make rhythm their focus by exploring subtle polyrhythms and investigating colliding moments of repetition and variation. Though staunchly electronic at its core, instruments such as vibraphone and piano make appearances, and layers of live musicality, improvisation and detail appear in the looped and layered beds of manipulated sound recordings. (Kranky)
Also, it looks like we are using the same font type!
When you see a cover like this, you know where it’s coming from: Preservation’s Circa series.
Talk West is one of Dylan Aycock’s numerous projects hailing from Tulsa, Oklahoma. For this act “he has distilled his otherwise diverse bag of musical tricks down to only a pedal steel (of couse you may hear some mutilation here and there). Improvising over this single instrument, Talk West unearths brief sketches that might conjure dust-covered imagery of the American Midwest. The music is reflective of a simpler side of American music and history, but it teeters on the edge of experimentalism just enough to stir you from your hypnosis and give cause for pause.” (Dylan Aycock)
While you’re checking out ‘Black Coral Sprig’, make sure you read our interview we made earlier this year with Andrew Khedoori, the founder of Preservation. There is even more music in there to discover.
Be it Olan Mill or Pausal (together with Simon Bainton), Alex Smalley has something enchanting for us every year. This time he slightly returns to the aesthetics of ‘Home’, keeping it more simple and silent, providing enough space for his gentle drone waves to wash everything away.
“The etymology of the expression ‘half seas over’ comes from the notion of a ship being so heavy that it sits low enough that small waves (half seas) wash over the deck of a ship. Over time it has changed from meaning ‘halfway across the sea’ to ‘halfway through a matter’ by the late 1600’s. This really heightens the elements when we consider the more modern usage of ‘intoxication’. The sound of Olan Mill could easily be symbolized by the sea, with its great vastness, power and magnificence. But then again, it could also be that the subtleties, the intimate parts beyond that sheer size of such works, lies in the little waves, the ‘half seas’ that wash over us. ‘Half Seas Over’ is the sound of an artist absolutely at the height of his immense powers, encompassing dreams in auditory form for us lucky sailors.” (Home Normal)
…just make sure you don’t sink, it’s rather dangerous.
[Recorded Fields Editions]
If someone is in touch with Krzysztof Penderecki these days, you should really share some of Curgenven’s last work with him. You bet he would love ‘SIRÈNE’ as much as we do. Same goes for ‘They Tore The Earth And, Like A Scar, It Swallowed Them’. It was rather difficult to choose from these two enormously epic pieces that have been released this year. However, the massive drones of SIRÈNE are not exactly new as they consist of unprocessed pipe organ recordings collected from the last 30 years.
In a way, the original title of ‘Turner’s Tempest’ (The Internal Meta-Narrative of Turner’s Tempest As He Is Tied To The Mast in Order to Create the Direct Experience of the Drama Embodied Within a “Snow Storm – [wherein a] Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth making Signals in Shallow Water, and going by the Lead. [is rendered by virtue of the claim that] The Author was in this Storm on the Night the Ariel left Harwich”) perfectly demonstrates the atmosphere of this album: a long, neverending wave of celestial drones. Unfortunately it does end though… but at least you can always start over.
Chris Herbert is dedicated non-musician creating highly-textured, improvised pieces initially via live performance and working alongside local artists in developing sound installations reclaiming the city’s post-industrial spaces. (Not sure how can you call someone a ‘non-musician’ when they make such beautiful music like this for instance.)
“After certain life events, the windows, already scant, within which to make music were diminished to tiny slivers. Rather than feeling frustrated by this I realised the most radical thing I could do was to accept the limitation and exploit it as an asset. There simply wasn’t time to investigate new approaches or technology. The best way forward was to use techniques I felt fluent in and be prepared to capture anything of value, regardless how small or seemingly inconsequential.” (Chris Herbert)
“Sharing some stylistic affinity with his previous records, which excavated his deeply personal history with UK jungle and rave, and techno, this new work dives even deeper to reveal a singu- lar and intimate musical vantage point, shifting to approaching music as projection, state, hallucination, an other place. In ‘KOCH’, we experience an artist constructing a future after time spent deconstructing the past.
In the music we witness such dimensional abstraction, zooming between epic macro scenery and claustrophobically close detail, disorientation and absolute focus. Rhythms fuse together and phase apart, club tracks tunnel into an anxious wilderness, with themes and textures emerging as threads throughout the record, wormholing between each track.” (PAN)
“Jon Porras creates drone music with a refined sense of atmosphere and remarkable forward motion. Regardless of the tools he uses, be it guitars and stacks of amplifiers or modular synthesizers, Porras creates cavernous sound-worlds that are as inviting as they are alien, shifting his focus entirely to electronic synthesis, using a wide array of analog and digital systems to exponentially expand his sonic palate. The resulting sounds are silhouettes of distant rhythms, abstracted traces of techno wastelands that come in and out of focus like an urban, post-industrial sprawl being overtaken by fog.
Porras constructed and arranged the tracks as an architect would design a building, thinking of the sub-bass as a foundation, percussion as walls and support beams, and white noise and oblique melodies as the light filling the open spaces. Rather than writing passages or song structures, he focused on designing sounds from the ground up, building gestural movements with these sculpted slabs. Through this technique, patterns and musical phrases emerge in subtle and surprising ways. This theme of architecture and design is reflected in the album cover, which was taken at Maison La Roche, a villa designed and built by Le Corbusier.
Light Divide reveals Porras as a restless explorer, constantly finding new means by which to create expansive, impressionistic music. It demands close listening, and stands apart in Porras’ solo and Barn Owl discography for its intense attention to detail.” (Thrill Jockey)
Hiss Tracts: Shortwave Nights
‘Shortwave Nights’ is the debut album by Hiss Tracts, a new duo featuring David Bryant (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Set Fire To Flames) and Kevin Doria (Growing, Total Life).
“The sonic preoccupations of Bryant and Doria are well-known and well-documented across many highly acclaimed recordings over the past fifteen years, from the organic, group-based, semi-improvised collage albums of Set Fire To Flames to the glimmering, immersive minimalism of Growing and the more maximalist full-spectrum noise works of Total Life.
The album defies categorization by terms like ‘drone’ or ‘ambient’ and it does not easily slip into any of the predominant subgenres that have proliferated around studio-based soundscape work in recent years. Insofar as drone is a touchstone, this has mostly to do with the approach to mixing, which tends towards a transcendent/trance-inducing integration of elements into a unified, saturated, wall-of-sound stereo field. The album contains no beats or programming and very little that is identifiably loop-based or overtly sampled and sampler-driven. Occasional deployments of digital signal processing remain firmly in the service of Hiss Tract’s overriding framework and commitment to analog sources and human instrumentation. This is not an electronic record, nor does it sit comfortably at either the pastoral or spooky/sinister poles of any ambient or ‘whatever’-wave spectrum; it can perhaps best be placed within the broad lineages of post-industrial and musique concrète.
Meditative and visceral, humming with the electromagnetic atmosphere through which all manner of frequencies, transmissions and surveillances pass and collide, it strikes an evocative balance between sonics captured-channeled-harnessed vs. composed-sculpted-performed, with an almost documentary rigour and restraint that nonetheless remains profoundly charged and engaged.” (Constellation)