Monday, April 30, 2012

Fenn O'Berg - In Hell

These dudes are on another planet when they play. It must have been pretty invigorating or confusing for those in attendance of these live recordings. I was thoroughly impressed. But it's exhaustive to listen to this more than a few times (much less 12 or so, which is what I managed). The electronic and sampled landscapes are so diverse and rich and dizzying. Not for the noob, this one. I wrote a meatier review of this meaty thing, at The Silent Ballet.

The wealth of sounds and directions this trio comes up with in a live setting is on another level, but with repeated listens the lack of structure wears the veil down. Much like one can only watch the Sixth Sense once or twice before its magic dries up, In Hell’s improvisational performances feel masterful, yet wear thin after the first few engaging listens. It’s recommended to savour the very first listen, and tuck this beast away for another wormhole ride some time in your distant future. Your distant, dystopian, dark-metal- ambient listening future.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Olan Mill - Paths

My first review for A Closer Listen! And what a dandy.

Poignancy with brevity. That about sums up the ambient chamber duo Olan Mill, a pair from England who compose strictly in the winter time. “Bleu Polar” picks up right where their debut Pine left off with gorgeous etchings of violins and guitar (and some voice!) slowly drifting through the seams. It’s a lovely and sombre connection between the two albums, making way for some different approaches. “Springs” opens with sober and lush piano work and is the only track to feature this instrument. Pine featured a bit more piano, but the story goes that Paths is a product of two live performances that Alex Smalley and Svitlana Samoylenko recorded: one was with Peter Broderick, the other with Hauschka. Smalley admitted being intimidated by these two impeccable and talented pianists, so Olan Mill ended up dropping piano almost all together for the show. Perhaps the self-imposed limitation helped them step up their compositions a notch.

Smalley spent many years working as a music therapist in a maximum security mental institute, and the music he creates is more of a personal respite (in the summer he works on the euphoric drone project Pausal). In listening to Paths, one might detect a bit of the dread and madness that accompanies such a profession. “Amber Balanced” ratchets up the anxiety with a rough edged drone peppered with heart wrenching violin work. Field recordings and backward plucks and errata help grant the piece a sense of helplessness in the face of devastation. As the ending to side A, this track essentially razes the landscape and wipes the slate clean before having to turn the record over.

Each track on Paths delivers a decisively different feeling, and that is its greatest strength. The album can drift by as one song, but the details are full of lush stories to discover. “Eye’s Closed (for Rube)” is an ode to Smalley’s late grandmother, and is apparently the first Olan Mill song written in the summer time. It has much more of a Stars of the Lid vibe due to its multiple layers of vibrant violin melodies intermingling. It makes for dynamic listening to hear the confident swing from despair to optimism occur several times over the course of one album. There is no doubt that though Olan Mill’s overall sound is one of sobriety, pause, and deep emotional memory, it expresses a desire to connect, to break down barriers in the listener’s mind. Above all Paths is ridiculously gorgeous and cannot be missed by the lovers and poets of the listening world.

Mirroring - Foreign Body

Another artist dear to my heart is Grouper. Ever since Julia and I saw that show of hers in an old church I have never been the same. I believe I've hated standing at shows ever since this one. Trancing out in a pew is second to none as far as concert set and setting goes. And thus, I have enjoyed this album a bit, been confused some, got distracted a lot by crying children in the night. This album has come at a highly transitional time for my life as a young parent.

Fans of Grouper's Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill rejoice! Liz Harris's "breakout" album (for the indie masses, at least) was an experiment on her part to let her voice be more clearly heard above her signature drift-scapes and sonic storms. But like spotting a white dolphin in a muddy river, it was a one-time glimpse, as the Portland, OR resident next released Alien Observer/Dream Loss, which sank her voice back into the haunted murk. Enter Jesy Fortino, the Seattle-based song writer known as Tiny Vipers. Her melancholy folk guitar and near-Patti Smith voice make for a genuine complement and balancing weight to Harris's experimentalism (and a voice up in the mix). Thus we have Foreign Body, a collaboration where both women were responding to each other in person and one that truly behaves cohesively. The album warms up with the very Grouper-dominated "Fell Sound", and then Fortino's voice and guitar are the main draw on "Silent From Above." It is as if the artists each took a turn getting their feet wet, and so it is on the third track "Cliffs" that we hear the leap in the stylistic fusion. The acoustic guitar lingers in space as if taking a series of labored breaths before gaining the courage to press on. Once it develops its momentum the album's deepest journey begins, placing both women's voices amongst various landscapes and textures. "Drowning the Call" is also a must-listen, and is perhaps the best lullaby fans of drone and ambient may hear this year. Harris's voice has never been more comforting and reassuring, and as the vocal duet drifts in unison it's easy to feel at peace. "Mine" brings Fortino back to the fore, and as the album's most challenging piece it best expresses the idea of a "foreign body" with feelings of great distance and solitude. It would be a shame if these two didn't make another Mirroring album, because while varied and well-blended, Foreign Body feels like the first step to higher peaks. The two artists are a natural fit, and the contrast between the wash of sound paired with a pointed starkness is an intriguing world worth exploring deeply.

If These Trees Could Talk - Red Forest

If I'd chosen to pursue music as a lifestyle these days, I'd probably be in a band like this. Atmospheric, progressive post metal. There is a special place in my heart for If These Trees Could Talk. I've skyped them and I've listened to their music a lot (have some vinyl too, which is significant because I don't have a huge collection). It was really hard to review this record because it sounded a lot like the last one and I did not want to come down too hard on the guys. I tried to be constructive, point out the positives, but Red Forest just isn't exciting enough for me. I'm growing immensely as a person and I want my music to take leaps and bounds, too. My expectations are high! Oh, woe is fandom.
A snippet from my longer review

If trees could talk, they could send for grizzly bears wearing armor made from invasive oysters and thistles. They could appoint eagles to drop bombs of sulfur and geysers to erupt in city streets. If they could stop us from being so irresponsible, they would be so evil we can't even imagine it. That's what I want this band to sound like! It’s no mystery that ITTCT is a guitar-driven band (there are three of them, after all), but the end of this final song is where everything gets really exciting (is that a double bass kick? Yes!). Everything comes together. This is post-metal with true purpose, refraining from fatty filler, coalescing with a confident shout before disintegrating. If this band is moving in this direction, I highly anticipate what’s coming. For now it's status quo.

Listen to the album here:
If These Trees Could Talk - "Red Forest"

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

36 - Lithea

Back in the swing of review writing I am. Here's a tasty album that might not be for everyone, but who doesn't ever feel lonely? This album is all about feeling ALONE, but the hope and optimism peeks through many of the cracks. Read my full review, from which this is a portion:

Dennis Huddleston releases everything on his own label and creates all his artwork and content. He clearly has his bits together and is steadily improving with each of his releases. Lithea at times feels like a mixed bag, but it constantly sounds like there's a river nearby while orbiting a galaxy. This juxtaposition of elemental pieces gives the album a sense of supra-physical existence, like this is a real place but only in the mind. It's the kind of music that is gorgeous one minute, and the next it's forcing us to realize we're wearing meat suits; it seems to reek of mortality and fantasy at the same time. The striking reds, whites, and blacks of the cover image reflect the relative dynamism here compared to the bluer hues of the previous parts of the trilogy. Either that, or I am easily influenced by color, and Huddleston's design sense has me wooed. Nonetheless, a resounding simplicity guides 36, and with Lithea the artist continues to hit his groove by injecting more personality and heartache into his music.