Four tracks recorded during sessions for Unpatterns their 2012 full length (also on Wichita) comprise Simian Mobile Disco’s A Form of Change EP. Like the LP, there is a sense of space and, in places, ambiance afoot that opens up the sound spectrum; Form of Change rids itself of a bit of the busier passagework found in their early recordings. This may cause the pieces to be a bit less visceral in impact; but the economy of means allows for one to position these pieces somewhere between downtempo dancehall and ambient IDM, a fertile ground that, prior to this year, wasn’t really in SMD’s bailiwick. The change of musical approach works handily.
Kill Rock Stars is offering several alternate takes of the late Elliott Smith’s songs via their BandCamp site. Below is an embedded stream of a more spacious and vocally distant rendition of “Ballad of Big Nothing.”
Kawabata Makoto is best known for his work with the group Acid Mothers Temple, a post-psych noise rock collective that can melt paint off of walls with the amplitude of their recordings. When the guitarist joins forces with accordionist and vocalist à qui avec Gabriel for the album Golden Tree (Important Records), he creates an entirely different sound world.
The album consists of three extended duets; one, “Solid Torus,” lasting in excess of half an hour. Balancing with long held tones on the accordion, the guitar lines provide an uneasy counterpoint that, while less subdued than the torrents of fuzzed soloing one hears on AMT releases, is no less focused. Indeed, there is a sense that the energy Makoto is keeping in reserve could at any moment be unleashed; released like a tightly coiled spring. Instead, most often balance is sought by both parties, with guitar harmonics and the occasional feedback flirtation blending with the accordion’s treble register drones and ephemeral clusters. à qui avec Gabriel also has a beautiful soprano singing voice, which she sometimes lends to the proceedings in sustained lines and repeated tones. Golden Tree is at its most beguiling when vocalized tones, sustained guitar lines, and accordion drones dovetail together in an intense dovetailing of dolphin-like song.
Bryter Layter is the synth duo of Joseph Raglani (who records for Kranky) and Mike Pollard (who records for Arbor). This is their second release (their first, Imprinted Season appeared on Arbor in 2009). Like many recent analog synth sets (particularly those of the short run variety) Bryter Layter isn’t averse to soundscaping and even occasionally luxuriating in a warmth bed of synth drones (see “Second Light”). But before one relegates them to the “synth drone” set, there are also several cuts here that focus on small wisps of melody, accumulating them into linear tapestries that bustle with motion and revel in the power of the ostinato. Indeed, “Understanding Independence” adopts a graceful balletic groove, over which are laid in succession several memorable and diversely hued melodies. “The Shadow of Your Smile” – which in no way resembles the standard by the same name – instead is filled with anthemic music for an alien imperial court: the type of sci-fi soundtrack that you wish more of the original analog adopters had thought to make. Recommended.
A friend to Sequenza 21 and Improv Friday contributor, J.C. Combs composes electronic music that traverses between experimental and ambient terrain. He has a new release, The Chrome Castle and an Overgrown Lawn, available on his Bandcamp page.
New Jersey’s own Seth Haley records electronica under the moniker Com Truise. With a name that tropes on an eighties icon, it’s not too surprising that his source material reference dystopian sci-fi soundtracks, early synth pop, and a splash of trippy dark wave for good measure. Now, I know that, at this point, some readers might be warily edging their mitts towards the mouse. After all, this referential material is potent stuff to overuse: weaponized in the hands of the wrong creator. Fear not.
Thankfully, Haley keeps the various reference points in balance on Galactic Melt, his latest full length for the Ghostly imprint. Unlike the film actor whose name just might be morphed into Haley’s audio incarnation, Galactic Melt doesn’t seem overexposed. Haley provides enough thoughtfully mediated distance between the source material and its current day handling that the music (happily) never lapses into nostalgia nor stoops to broad parody. Recommended.
Check out a stream of the new single “Ether Drift” on the File Under ?Tumblr page.
Plus, courtesy of our friends at RCRDLBL, grab a download of album track “Brokendate” below.
Michael Gordon’s musical reflection on 9/11, The Sad Park, is an interesting variant on another piece written for the Kronos Quartet to commemorate the terror attacks: Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11. Gordon’s source material is culled from spoken word recordings made by the teacher of his son’s Pre-K class: responses to the attacks as seen through the eyes of innocents.
But whereas Reich used taped voices of first responders and spoken-word reflections of its aftermath as recognizable, harrowing, landmarks, Gordon eschews using source recordings in an overtly referential, or even recognizable manner. Instead, with the assistance of composer Luke Dubois, they are digitally sculpted into ghostly apparitions; distorted to blur the excerpts’ message in favor of allowing their impact to operate on an emotive and sonic, rather than textual, level. Surrounded by quartet writing in the post-minimal ostinato manner, as well as sustained, siren-like lines that form a kind of keening, mournful refrain, The Sad Parkis an unsettling threnody.
It’s interesting to note that in NPR’s 9/6 blog post about The Sad Park, the responses in the comments section diverge widely. Some feel that it is an affecting piece, while others pillory its use of children’s responses as exploitative. I guess one can engender controversy without inflammatory cover art.
At 22, James Blake is already making significant headway, both as a producer and as a recording artist. His aesthetic juxtaposes two at first seemingly disparate musical styles: dub-step electronica and moody indie pop torch songs. This may annoy those who dislike such variegations. But in Blake’s hands, this amalgam is far more than a one-trick pony. He successfully uses the glitchier elements of dubstep to punctuate the uneasiness of his ballads, using alt-electronica signatures to fascinating expressive effect.
The blurring of stylistic boundaries and layering of “selves” found in the lyrics is well depicted in the video for “Wilhelm Scream,” one of the LP’s most memorable tracks (embed below).
Brooklynite synth trio Sophie Lam, George Bennett, and Mark Dwinell comprise Forma. On their self-titled debut LP (which I’ve heard as digital tracks but is also available on vinyl), they channel facets of IDM, kraut rock, minimalism, and ambient synthesized drones to stirring effect.
Eschewing track titles, the group numbers the cuts “Forma 197,” “Forma 237A,” et cetera. And while this avoids programmatic associations, it’s a telling indication of how organically, despite these disparate influences, the constituent pieces form a coherent whole. Swaths of analog synths and whorls of Farfisa organ combine into washes of harmony; punctuated by bleeping drones and underpinned by softly articulated beats.
True, there are a plethora of acts currently trying to combine vintage gear with postmodern aesthetics in latter day avant pop process music: Forma just does it better than most. Recommended.