Category Archives: Ambient

Bret’s top albums of 2014

Here are the bands I listened to endlessly throughout the year.  The music that stirred my soul, got my blood racing and made me drive fast on the freeway.

Cheatahs

Cheatahs

CHEATAHS BY CHEATAHS (WITCHITA RECORDINGS)

Cheatahs‘ S/T first album amazed me with their take on gloriously noisy shoegaze. I bought up their first EP’s and eagerly await their The Sunne EP in February. They’ve have already released lead track Controller on Soundcloud.  The feelings these Brits evoke are blissed out and energetic with a heady mix of melody and distortion.  Listening to  Cheatahs all these months later I’m still blown away by the immediacy of their performances.

[Cheatahs] hit all the notes that turn me on with heavily distorted guitars and quiet vocals as counterpoint to the noise.  With all the effects and volume you’ll also find a sense of pop melody throughout, with some exceptional instrumentation.

Further Deeper

Further/Deeper

FURTHER/DEEPER BY THE CHURCH (UNORTHODOX)

The Church return with Further/Deeper, their first without founding member Marty Wilson-Piper and their first with new guitarist Ian Haug.  Every song is lush, with a subdued beauty and menace. The mostly mid-tempo songs possess an energy that is undeniably captivating.  They’ll be on tour in the States in  February and the Highwire Daze boys will be at the El Rey Theater show singing along.

cynic_album__cover__kindly_bent_to_free_us

KINDLY BENT TO FREE US BY CYNIC (SEASON OF MIST)

I somehow missed the release of Cynic‘s Kindly Bent To Free Us after reviewing their three previous releases.  How these two guys combine metal, jazz, electronica and clean vocals with progressive arrangements is simply magical.  The new album is another example of emotional and rocking music performed by intelligent and talented musicians.  On Youtube you can watch their evolution from Florida death metallers through to the amazing genre-defying band they are today.

Engineers

Engineers

ALWAYS RETURNING BY ENGINEERS (KSCOPE)
Mark Peters and his Engineers band  come back after several years with Always Returning.  Peters recorded the songs in analog for a warm organic feel.  He’s also done two albums with electronic producer and Engineers member Ulrich Schnauss that are worth seeking out if you appreciate the meeting of these two talented and thoughtful musicians.

Always Returning is full of pretty songs that would float off in the clouds if it weren’t for the talents behind their making.  There’s a sense of sadness and longing permeating the album giving many songs a compelling emotional weight.”

exodus cover

BLOOD IN, BLOOD OUT BY EXODUS (NUCLEAR BLAST)

Exodus kicked my ass this year with Blood In, Blood Out, a return to focused form by the Bay Area thrashers.  With founding singer Steve “Zetro” Souza back in the fold, the band are at the top of their game.

Food For The Worms is how you’ll feel after being battered and bruised by the last song on Blood In, Blood Out, a go-for-broke song that alternates between stupid-fast beats and heavyosity that still remains accessible.

 

Fairweather

Fairweather

FAIRWEATHER BY FAIRWEATHER (EQUAL VISION)

DC’s post-hardcore darlings Fairweather dropped out of  sight for a decade only to rise like a phoenix fully formed, as if they’d never left.  Though the members may be older and wiser, the songs on their Self-Titled return still contain the fire and passion the band instilled in their sound from their beginnings.

[On the song No Flags Fly] “The band surprise with a soulfullness in their instrumental interplay as well as a bare-it-all vocal performance by [Jay] Littleton.

The Glitch Mob unmasked

The Glitch Mob unmasked

LOVE DEATH IMMORTALITY BY THE GLITCH MOB (GLASS AIR)

The evil beat scientists that are The Glitch Mob crafted Love Death Immortality in their dark basements, feeding off the Big Beat spirits of their ancestors to make one of the funkiest albums of 2014 with some excellent vocal contributions from Metal Mother, Aja Volkman, Yaarohs and Sister Crayon.

“…[T]he trio of ediT, Boreta and Ooah have punched up the more visceral elements of their past efforts, bringing to mind The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and The Crystal Method.  If you hear the young punk vitality of Liam Howlett, then the trio are doing something right.”

Photo credit: Wil Foster / rockcandyphoto.com

Information Society Photo by: Wil Foster / rockcandyphoto.com

_HELLO WORLD BY INFORMATION SOCIETY (HAKATAK International / MVD

_hello world is the fun(ky) return of Information Society, less interested in hairstyles and splashy music videos and more focused on moving booties.  Even if you didn’t care for their 80’s pop  hits, if you’re a fan of synth pop, Information Society show the youngsters how it’s done right. Not with auto-tune and computers cutting and pasting preset sounds but by actual drive, heart and talent.

There’s a techno dance party you might want to go to, and if Arnold Schwarzenegger tells you to ‘Get your ass to Mars’ you should listen.  The Prize is all pumping beats, buzzing synths and popping bass, with Kurt Harland singing ‘I’m coming up from the ground with my eyes on the prize’ like he’s trying to overcome some herculean challenge.  If the challenge is to get the listener to dance, then he’s succeeded.

J.D. and Jessica Wilkes of the Dirt Daubers Photo by Bret Miller

J.D. and Jessica Wilkes of the Dirt Daubers Photo by Bret Miller

WILD MOON BY J.D. WILKES AND THE DIRT DAUBERS (PLOWBOY RECORDS)

J.D. Wilkes and the Dirt Daubers started out the year right with their jumping rhythm and blues album Wild Moon. Wilkes also heads Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers but this is his new baby.  Joined by wife and bassist / vocalist Jessica, drummer Preston Corn and guitarist Rod Hamdallah (also of the Shack Shakers) , Wilkes sings, plays guitar, bass and harmonica on a collection of riveting and rocking songs about good love gone bad, bad love gone worse and all the things that make life worth living with an understated aw shucks delivery that is inviting and enjoyable for even people that aren’t normally fans of the sound he’s keeping alive. And Jessica’s sass and sway is a wonder to hear, and pleasantly surprised at this new voice in roots rock.

Here’s what Wilkes had to say in an interview we did at the beginning of the year when asked who he was thinking about when writing and recording Wild Moon:  “I guess Little Walter, Ray Charles, a little Creedence, a 60′s rock and blues and R&B thing.  There’s something intangible, there’s something like a Ouija board: you never know what you’re going to get out of it.  All these personalities coming together in the middle.  There’s something odd and cool about this record when you listen to it.  Its a weird, dark feeling you get in the end, you can’t put your finger on it.  I get that over and over, even though I took a trip back after recording it because I was sick of hearing it.  Then I went back and listened to it and it gave me a weird, cool feeling, its kind of dark and strange and dreamlike.  I’m glad that still comes through, even after hearing it to death.

Days of the Fallen Stars

Days of the Fallen Stars

DAYS OF THE FALLEN STARS BY JUNIUS (PROSTHETIC)

On Days of the Fallen Stars, Junius inspired my to write a short story instead of a standard album review.  Their uplifting yet dark rock sound is epic in scope and in a live setting absolutely thrilling.  Play their music loudly and revel in the soaring vocals and muscular performances of Junius.

He breathed in deeply the smells of freshly cooked meals, of perfume and musk, felt a pleasant chill as the trees and plants exhaled their life-giving oxygen.  Then the trumpet announced the arrival of the night and the audience got to their activities with a crash of cymbals.

Lightfoils Photo by Shawn Brackbill

HIERARCHY BY LIGHTFOILS (SAINT MARIE RECORDS)

On Hierarchy Lightfoils wrapped me in a warm blanket of lush melodies and female vocals.   Lightfoils excel at blissed out vocals and guitars set to punky and punchy bass and drums, the band manage to bring something new to the shoegaze genre.

Here’s what drummer John Rungger said in our interview:  “The basic tracks for the album were recorded with us all in the same room, playing the songs. Something that doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should nowadays. I think it gives it an organic base that translates through to the rest of the music.

Machine Fucking Head 2014

Machine Fucking Head 2014

BLOODSTONE AND DIAMONDS BY MACHINE HEAD (NUCLEAR BLAST)

Machine Head continue to amaze with Bloodstone and Diamonds, their first on Nuclear Blast and with new bassist  Jared MacEachern.  It’s also their highest charting album to date.  Epic doesn’t even begin to describe the songs on the album.  Progressive in the best sense, Robb Flynn and band leads the listener on a journey through hate and hope, with heavy yet fast instrumentation and intelligent lyrics and impassioned vocals.  Bloodstone and Diamonds reveals new facets every time you listen.  

Photo Credit: Shawn Brackbill

Nothing Photo by: Shawn Brackbill

GUILTY OF EVERYTHING BY NOTHING (RELAPSE RECORDS)

Coming out of the hardcore scene, Nothing‘s Dominic Palerno wanted something different for his new life after his time in prison.  Inspired by the shoegaze bands of the 90’s he began Nothing.  With the release of Guilty of Everything music fans the world over are sure Palerno is on the right musical track with his beautifully noisy new songs.  They’re touring constantly so be sure to be on the look out for this amazing new band.

B&E begins in a pleasant mid-tempo, their wall of sound getting knocked down to an anxiously mellow segment reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Animals album before tearing into their instruments for a heart-wrenching finale that will leave you gasping for breath.

seasurfer band

Seasurfer

DIVE IN BY SEASURFER (SAINT MARIE RECORDS)

Since learning of Saint Marie Records this year I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every album I’ve bought and reviewed (see Lightfoils, SPC ECO).  Their Static Waves compilations are a treasure-trove of excellence, now there’s three editions to delve into, the third physical release including a third disc of Slowdive covers.  German trio Seasurfer’s Dive In was my first purchase and I immediately fell in love with their drama and flair and dynamic arrangements. Singer Dorian E.  has range and control of her voice and her delivery is confident and sassy, the perfect foil for band leader Dirk Knight’s textured guitars and Mikel Wegener’s chunky bass.

Rose Berlin Garcia of SPC ECO

Rose Berlin Garcia of SPC ECO

SIRENS & SATELLITES BY SPC ECO (SAINT MARIE RECORDS)

In a year of amazing music SPC ECO has been busy. They released Sirens & Satellites, The Art of Pop, The Art of  Pop Remixes+ and the Nocturnal EP and 2+2=5 free downloads plus many singles.  The duo of  Dean Garcia, formerly of Curve, and artist daughter Rose Berlin juxtapose ice and fire throughout the songs on Sirens.

Make Me Say is brutal and bloody guitar slashes and crunchy rhythm loops, Rose purring and cooing like a mantis before taking off your head.”

Terrestrials

Terrestrials

TERRESTRIALS BY ULVER AND SUNN 0))) (SOUTHERN LORD RECORDS)

Terrestrials is an EP credited to Ulver and Sunn 0))) featuring contributions from multi-instrumentalist Daniel O’Sullivan, who performed with Sunn 0)))’s Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley for the band’s 200th show in Oslo, Norway in 2008.  The band jammed at Ulver’s studio and Ulver’s Krystoffer Rygg pieced together the performances with bassist Anderson, O’Sullivan adding trumpet and keyboards and Rygg contributing vocals along the way.  O’Sullivan has since joined Ulver. The end result is an  atmospheric, ominous and involving journey through the psychedelic reaches of space.

Eternal Return puts some of Ulver’s atmospheric dark beauty into the alloy with O’Sullivan’s languid keys softening  O’Malley’s sharp guitar strums and drones.  As the music surges, violins and trumpet float in.  At about the halfway mark the arrangement segues to a looping and vibrant synthesizer and Rygg’s velvety voice.  The finale drifts in with sawed violins, percussive guitars and menacing atmospheres.  Quivering strings fade out at the end.”

Eddie Spaghetti Photo by Bret Miller

Eddie Spaghetti Photo by Bret Miller

GET THE HELL BY SUPERSUCKERS (ACETATE RECORDS)

The Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band in the World, The Supersuckers, are back with their most rocking album in years, Get The Hell.  Their first without founding guitarist Rontrose Heathman, and first album with current drummer Christopher Von Streichan and new guitarist Marty Chandler.  Singer/bassist Eddie Sphaghetti and Dan “Thunder” Bolton lead the charge and wail on the future classics Something About You and Pushin’ Thru.

Supersuckers’ Get the Hell is focused on boot kicking, middle finger raising and sing-along anthems sure to please the most jaded of music fans.

Family photo by Cassandra-Bialek

Walking Bicycles family photo by Cassandra-Bialek

TO HIM THAT WILLS THE WAY BY WALKING BICYCLES (HIGHWHEEL RECORDS)

The Chicago quartet Walking Bicycles are back with their most focused, angry and cathartic album to date in To Him That Wills The Way.  Noisy, catchy, danceable music, Walking Bicycles sound like no one else.

Here’s what guitarist and founder Julius Moriarty said in our interview about Walking Bicycles’ balance of noise and pop: “We have always tried to walk the line between weird and catchy.  If both exist within a track then there can’t be too much of either.”

Loco and "Weird" Al Yankovic

“Weird” Al Yankovic

MANDATORY FUN BY “WEIRD” AL YANKOVIC (RCA RECORDS)

There are a few constants in pop culture: talentless “artists” appear daily with a flick of an auto-tune machine and synthesizer preset to sell clothes and fast food, and one “Weird” Al Yankovic will make fun of the pop songs that these supposed singers and bands churn out.  He’ll also write some funny “homage” songs played in the style of someone, on 14th studio album Mandatory Fun Al tips his hat to Southern Culture on the Skids and Foo Fighters, as well as hoary oldies Crosby, Stills and Nash and Cat Stevens.  My favorite though, is First World Problems done in the style of The Pixies.  When Al rants about how the barista forgot to make a design on his banana latte you just have to laugh.  One of the best lyrics Yankovic has ever written is to Blurred Lines, here called Word Crimes, a song that is both hilarious AND educational.  Sample lyric: “You should never/ Write words using numbers/ Unless you’re seven/ Or your name is Prince”.  “Weird” Al Yankovic makes pop music palatable for those with intelligence, humor and self-awareness.

Photo by Jeff Elstone

Zola Jesus photo by Jeff Elstone

TAIGA BY ZOLA JESUS (MUTE RECORDS)

One of the most stunning albums of the year came from 25 year old Nika Rosa Danilova, aka Zola Jesus.  Her most accomplished album to date, Taiga references the coniferous ancient forests that cover 1/5th of the world and over northern Russia and Siberia.  The album is filled with soulful and textured electronic and live instrumentation and Danilova’s bold and emotional vocals.

Dangerous Days is catchy and often light, yet has a delicious and dark under current of churning and scraping synths that bring solidity to the song.  Danilova sings sultry and soaring, drawing you in to her world.”

diothisisyour1_375x164

This Is Your Life expanded album cover

RONNIE JAMES DIO – THIS IS YOUR LIFE BY VARIOUS ARTISTS (RHINO RECORDS)

Anyone that calls themselves a metal head or fan of rock’n’roll should know the name Dio.  Ronnie James Dio passed on to the great stage in the sky but his legacy lives on in the lives and spirits of musicians the world over.  This Is Your Life is a tribute to the great man and a thrilling listening experience.  The album is also a great introduction to bands in the heavy metal arena as they all do a fantastic job of channeling the soul and positive energies of Dio.

I confess to knowing nothing of Adrenaline Mob but their take on Black Sabbath’s Mob Rules is killer.  I mean, this song wails, kicks ass, all those metal clichés.  The song was Sabbath’s attempt to remain relavent in the punk era is clear in the fast pace and raw power and the suitably named band distill all the fury of the original and spit out flames. Amazing guitars at the end too.”

(by Bret Miller)

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Burnt Belief

burnt belief etymologyEtymology by Burnt Belief (Alchemy Records)

Jon Durant is an American guitarist and producer and is the owner of Alchemy Records. He’s played with the likes of King Crimson bassist Tony Levin and pianist Michael Whalen.  In 2011 Durant and Porcupine Tree founding bassist Colin Edwin  worked together on Durant’s Dance of the Shadow Planets album and joined forces as equal collaborators as Burnt Belief for their self-titled debut.  On their follow-up Etymology they are augmented by the drummers Vinny Sabatino, Dean McCormick and Jose Duque.

On opening track Chromatique the drumming is energetic, skittering and funky, Durant’s guitar work is textured and draws the listener in, building tension until almost the end when he really lets loose like a light rain turning into a violent storm.  Dissemble follows, with an interesting drum pattern and strings that evoke desert winds, Edwin playing a dubby groove.    Precis takes a minute to get going, Durant and Edwin circling each other on their instruments, Durant layering riffs and textures throughout.  On  Hraunfossar the duo include what sounds like a flute in their dubby mix, delicate guitars build tension and just when you think its all going to get big and loud, Edwin lays down a juicy bass line that just oozes out of the speakers and the song coasts to the end in a slow groove.

burnt belief band shotNot Indifferent starts out slow and quiet and for the first half of its 12 minutes threatens to fizzle out into nothingness if not for Edwin’s slithering bass.  But then the whole mood changes when clattering percussion and an electronic bass pattern are then introduced and Durant joins in with layered guitars: angry and vibrant and delicate and soothing, piling the various approaches on until you find yourself nodding along.

On Squall Durant and Edwin sound like they’re having fun riffing off of the various rhythms and each other, Durant providing one guitar tuning after another, all spinning and harmonizing with a violin sound giving the song an exotic yet funky air.

Etymology closes with Charlatan, Durant stabbing his guitar between treated hand drums and Edwin’s jazzy rhythmic interplay, getting spacey with odd synth effects. Durant’s epic harmonized guitar leads bring Etymology to a satisfying and uplifting end.

(by Bret Miller)

LINKS:
Facebook
Alchemy Records
Colin Edwin’s page
Jon Durant’s page

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Engineers

Engineers_-_Always_ReturningAlways Returning by Engineers (KScope Records)

Until speaking with electronic producer Ulrich Schnauss for an interview for the last album A Long Way To Fall, the music of Mark Peters and his band Engineers had flown under my radar. Little did I know how much I’d love his music.  The band is multi-instrumentalist Peters, Schnauss  and drummer/keyboardist Matthew Gilbert Lindley (who releases music as “Gilbert“).  Always Returning is full of pretty songs that would float off into the clouds if it weren’t for the talents behind their making. There’s a sense of sadness and longing permeating the album giving many songs a compelling emotional weight.

engineers band shotOne of the many incredible songs on Always Returning is Fight or Flight where synths swell and wash over the song, electronics perco-lating and dancing throughout.  One of the most blissful songs you’ll likely hear for years to come. It Rings So True showcases a mesmerizing guitar lead, lightly accompanied by keyboards, Peters’ close-mic’ed voice drawing you in and building suspense and mystery.  The final minute of the song is an understated prog rock masterpiece.

Drive Your Car begins with pretty piano and Peters’ quiet vocals, acoustic guitar and swirling synths join in, rising into a rocking climax with a buzzing electric guitar lead dueling with an energetic piano performance.   Innsbruck presents a tight and bright guitar pattern that is played off of by Schnauss’ keyboards and powerful drumming by Linley.  The song is reminiscent of New Order’s instrumental Thieves Like Us with its cautious optimism and colorful outbursts of guitar and piano.

Smiling Back is a hazy nostalgic song with echoes of early Pink Floyd in their slower more introspective moments.  On Smoke and Mirrors Peters’ piano and guitar and Schnauss’ motorik synth loops meld wonderfully.  A Million Voices is a straight-up rock song, though one coming from the corner of synth-pop, Peters’ whispy vocals float through a peppy beat, shiny keyboards and a thrumming bass guitar.

Closing Always Returning, the title track offers so many memorable melodies that I found myself humming the piano refrain this morning. The song somehow sounds both sad and uplifting until the final third where the guitars, bass and piano riff off each other fading into the heavens.

Peters and Schnauss have also collaborated on two albums under their own names.  Both albums released on Bureau B, link below.

(Review by Bret Miller)

LINKS:
KScope
Facebook
Bureau B Records

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SPC ECO to release Sirens and Satellites on Saint Marie Records 9/9/14

Dean Garcia, formerly of Curve and daughter Rose Berlin release their fourth album this September.

SPC ECO are a duo from London, they formed 8 years ago and have released 5 albums and 7 EPs to date. S E record and produce all of their albums from a small home made studio in North London. SPC ECO consists of vocalist / lyricist Rose Berlin and multi instrumentalist / Producer Dean Garcia. They have been making music together for more than 20 years. Rose is Dean’s daughter, Dean is a maverick record producer with an illustrious, diverse and colourful career performing, producing, composing and recording with a wide range of very well known artists (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dean_Garcia).

Rose-pop2-crop2-1024x682Rose is a Sound and Light artist and recently graduated with a first class honours degree from Camberwell College of Arts. Rose experiments with the potential for sound and light to be used as atmospheric mediums, her intention is to bridge the gap between art and music. Rose sees her voice as an atmospheric instrument and uses it to take you to a world of your own. Rose is a gifted and unique artist with a strong creative grounding within music and sound recording that dates back to her very early years recording songs with Dean in their front room studio. Their musical pairing was simply meant to be. S E is best described as an amalgamation of experimental and genre bending musical ideas, although diverse it’s always recognisable due to the S E branding of Rose’s distinct voice combined with Dean’s ability to wrap multi fractal sound around her.

SPCECO-Sirens1000xSirens and Satellites is SPC ECO‘s 4th full studio album, like any well designed – provocative music you are undeniably and mysteriously lost in its glow from the moment it drifts into your consciousness. This effect is not a fleeting moment of beauty but all encompassing throughout the entire record, the album unfolds like a great book, the songs effortlessly merge and flow leaving you in anticipation of the next song right until the very end. As with previous S E recordings there has always been collaborators involved, this time around S E team up with Jarek Leskiewicz, who has co-written / co produced half of the Sirens album. Dean connected with Jarek via an impromptu Facebook chat from there they decided to work together and quickly began sound pooling ideas back and forth, three summer months later and Sirens and Satellites was realised.

Everyone wants to know what or who a band sounds like, where do they fit in? S E can fall within many different genres like Dreampop, Shoegaze Electronic etc but somehow they have transcended them all and developed a genre-sphere of their own. When you listen to songs such as Fallen Stars or Zombie followed by Delusional Waste or High On It it becomes very clear that this band do not believe in musical boundaries and are very much a force unto themselves. Sirens is not for the faint of heart, it’s big, brash, sentimental and noisy all at the same time. This is a record that likes to be loud, so just plug it in, turn it up and let it breathe its magic.

SPC ECO Sirens and Satellites will be released by Saint Marie Records on the 9th of September 2014. Pre-order here!

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The Glitch Mob

Glitch mob coverLove Death Immortality by The Glitch Mob (Glass Air Records)

On Love Death Immortality, the trio of ediT (Edward Ma), Boreta (Justin Boreta) and Ooah (Josh Mayer) have punched up the more visceral qualities of their past efforts, bringing to mind big beat giants The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and Crystal Method.  If you hear the young punk vitality of Howlett, then the trio are doing something right.  The Glitch Mob want you to dance and nod your head.

Mind of a Beast opens the album with guitar slashes and skittering piano & synths then lively drums kick in.  A hard-edged synth line takes you by the ears and throws you into the mosh pit.  Nico Vega vocalist Aja Volkman adds her impassioned voice to Our Demons which starts soulful then becomes something epic, speeding up to a fast pace, dropping out and getting ever bigger, those itchy synths grinding into your psyche. Skullclub will get you dancing uncontrollably with a brilliant blend of rock and electronics.  The lead synth lines become The Glitch Mob’s signature sound on the album, taking the place of lead guitar.  

glitch mob skullsCan’t Kill Us is an industrial stomp with hard-hitting drums and metallic synths slicing and sawing away with a little soulful break just so you can catch a breath.  On I Need My Memory, Back Volkman’s vocals are chopped up for the Mob’s nod to Daft Punk, lighter drums and looser synths are set to a funky beat that will get your hands in the air and a goofy smile on your face.  One of the most captivating songs on the album is Fly By Night Onl,y which features Yaarohs’ lovely vocals.  This dancefloor filler best utilizes the guest vocals, letting her flow direct the song more than the beats.

Love Death Immortality’s closing track Beauty of the Unhidden Heart features the vocals of Sacramento duo Sister Crayon‘s Terra Lopez.  Her quivering and emotional delivery is backed by spacious ambience, chiming strings and booming percussion, a powerful meeting of talents.

Love Death Immortality is a big leap forward for The Glitch Mob.  These new tracks are made to be heard live where the speakers can vibrate the air of a large room.  See them on tour this Spring. They will play Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles on May 10, 2014 with Ana Sia and Penthouse Penthouse. Wear your dancing shoes.

(by Bret Miller)

Links:
Theglitchmob.com
Facebook
Bandcamp

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Sunn O))) & Ulver

Terrestrials by Sunn O))) & Ulver (Southern Lord Recordings)

sunn ulver terrestrialsSunn 0))) played their 200th show at the Oya Festival in Oslo in 2008.  Two days later Ulver’s Krystoffer Rygg invited core members Stephen O’Malley (guitars) and Greg Anderson (bass) along with British multi-instrumentalist Daniel O’Sullivan (who had performed at that show) for an all-night jam at Crystal Canyon, Ulver’s recording studio.  After recording the instrumental jams O’Malley and Rygg edited and worked on the parts, O’Sullivan visiting over the years, adding strings and trumpet.

Ulver’s Childhood’s End album from 2012 reminded listeners that they could indeed rock with their energetic covers of psychedelic bands from the 60’s and early 70’s.  But Rygg and Ulver, with Daniel O’Sullivan joining the band after the Terrestrials sessions, have veered towards a more ambient, piano/keyboard led sound in the past decade.  So it is with much relish that fans of heavier music get to hear Sunn 0)))’s guitars on a release associated with Ulver.

Let There Be Light begins quietly with much portent as strings scrape and effects hum in the aether.  A throaty trumpet is introduced as the guitars build in their electrical crackling, along with the occasional bass thrum.  A piano tinkles in the background, the trumpet blurts and warbles , the guitars drone as if signalling sunrise, an outpouring of pent-up energy.  Then at the eight minute mark, the sounds drop except for a light trumpet burble, and a few seconds later drums roll and cymbals collide, the trumpet exulting in the rising of the sun.

Western Horn opens with bass moans, drum thumps and guitars slowly jangling as something darkly compelling develops in the mix.  Eerie metallic effects flitter and swell, Anderson’s bass thuds ominously and sounds are piled up like anguished moaning and crying voices.

Eternal Return puts some of Ulver’s atmospheric dark beauty into the alloy with O’Sullivan’s languid keys softening  O’Malley’s sharp guitar strums and drones.  As the music surges, violins and trumpet float in.  At about the halfway mark the arrangement segues to a looping and vibrant synthesizer and Rygg’s velvety voice.  The finale drifts in with sawed violins, percussive guitars and menacing atmospheres.  Quivering strings fade out at the end.

(by Bret Miller)

Links:
Southern Lord
Terrestrials on Bandcamp
Sunn 0))) Facebook
sunn.southernlord.com
Ulver.com
Ulver Facebook

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Junius

junius Days_of_the_Fallen_SunDays of the Fallen Sun by Junius (Prosthetic Records)

The man was a creature of shadow, of the world created by the obstruction of a light source, of the dark lands, of the early morning and the twilight.  Even the moon cast light and sometimes that was too much for him.  He reveled in the dark places yet understood the necessity of light.  When others got depressed over the shorter days he eagerly awaited that time of the year.  On those, and truly, all other days, but these times the most, of dying leaves and colder days, he picked a clear view of the sunset.  He knew when to find his perch and thought of the variation of colors and play of contrast in the clashes in the clouds as the orchestra performed a prologue to the story ahead.

Junius-Sutter-e1299615297870As the last piece of the sun was firmly tucked into bed, he settled in as the expectations of the night took over not just himself, but of his part of the world.  From his vantage point he watched the people go home from work and change their persona with their clothes, prepare for frolic and
bacchanalia or business meetings over dinner.  Lovers greeted in each other’s arms, or friends grasped hands before armoring themselves for seeking new mates, or to be entertained by acting and music, or some planned the conquest of a country.  He breathed in deeply the smells of freshly cooked meals, of perfume and musk, felt a pleasant chill as the trees and plants exhaled their life-giving oxygen.  Then the trumpet announced the arrival of the night and the audience got to their activities with a crash of cymbals.

After the heat of the sun on the earth was expended, the man would look up a the lights above, wondering if there were others in these distant places who enjoyed the symphonies of the dark places.  As a cloud passed over the light of the moon the man embraced the shadows until the next nightfall.  All was right in the dark.

(by Bret Miller)

Links: 
Junius.com
Prosthetic Records
Facebook

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Alcest

alcestshelter1_400xShelter by Alcest (Prophecy Productions)

Listening to the new album by Alcest, you might get the impression they’ve been listening to a whole lot of Sigur Ros.  Alcest leader, singer and multi-instrumentalist Neige and drummer/percussionist Winterhalter travelled from their home town of Paris to Iceland to work with Ros’ producer Birgir Jon Birgisson, using Amiina, the string section featured on a few Ros albums.

Neige was inspired by the idea of shelter, his being the sea.  Everything about the album Shelter is warm, comforting and uplifting with mystery and dramatic melodies sure to gain them many new fans.   A bright, optimistic feel is heard from the short opening track Wings, which leads to Opale‘s heavenly vocals and chiming guitar work.  While the lyrics are sang in French, the message is clear.  Le Nuit Marche Avec Moi features beautifully plucked guitars backed by a chorused guitar that sounds like keyboards.  Neige’s vocals are sexy and drawn out in a sense of longing.

alcest2013Voix Sereines starts slowly with a strummed guitar, evolving into a catchy rock ballad with light string accompaniment by Amiina.  Then the pace quickens and the guitars electrify and distort for a cathartic finale.  Neige’s vocal approach changes to suit each song and in the blustery guitar effects of the darkly beautiful L’ Eveil Des Muses his voice deepens and his pace slows to accentuate every nuance for maximum dramatic effect.

The title song is also the most accessible, with a stately drum beat, percussive piano and epic guitar work.  Neige’s vocals make you believe anything is possible, that all is full of love.  Away has some nice acoustic guitar and features vocals by former Mojave 3 and (recently reformed) Slowdive member Neil Halstead.  He’s joined by Amiina as Winterhalter taps on his snare drum for a wonderful little ballad.

Shelter closes with Deliverance.  Beginning very quietly, guitars evoking a contemplative mood., violins join a background guitar melody as Neige sings high and wistfully.  The song builds to a hackles-raising plateau, filling  your head with visions of  fireworks and flames or waves crashing on rocks or some other bold elemental activity as the echoplexed guitars sing like a choir to the stars.

(Review by Bret Miller)

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Vàli

Vali_-_SkogslandskapSkogslandskap by Vàli (Auerbach Tonträger / Prophecy Productions)

Presented here is the type of recording that this critic will be playing incessantly long after the initial review – and when the year comes spinning to its foregone conclusion, Skogslandskap by Vàli will surely be a surprising yet logical choice when the time arrives to create a Top 10 List of 2013.  Vàli is a Norwegian composer whose instrumental folk tapestries are enchanting to behold. Relaxing and cinematic, the 15 tracks contained within send the listener on a journey through the sentimental and the obscure.

A fragrant potion of acoustic guitar, keyboards and cello, the composer Vàli will sweep you off your feet, and into state of absolute bliss. Fans of acts such as Empyrium and Neun Welten are sure to delight in what Vàli has to offer, while all other adventurous music aficionados looking for a masterwork of imagination and intrigue should check into the sonic halls of Skogslandskap as well.

From the gorgeous opening strains of Nordavindens Klagesang, the Skogslandskap experience is sure to captivate the senses and send your imagination in flight. Running 45 minutes in length, the richly rewarding Skogslandskap is a magical time well spent. Tracks such as I Skumringstimen, Langt I Det Fjerne, and Stein Og Bark are perfect examples of the quiet majesty featured within Vàli’s wondrous art.  When the blast beats and the demonic screams of the modern era rage beyond trite, wander into the world of Skogslandskap by Vàli and prepare to be thoroughly dazzled by the sweeping reveries at hand. You may want to linger within its gorgeous landscapes for a lifetime.

In addition to the lingering sonnets of Skogslandskap, be sure to check into Vàli’s previous album Forlatt to uncover the first chapter of the composer’s visionary expeditions in sound.

(Review by Ken Morton)

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Havnatt

EtterlatteEtterlatte by Havnatt (Secret Quarters)

Havnatt is the exceptional neofolk collaboration of vocalist Cecilie Langlie and guitarist Tom Simonsen, whose other heavier projects include the likes of Omit and Vagrant God. Last year, Havnatt’s superb debut Havdøgn was released through the Secret Quarters label, receiving a good deal of worldwide acclaim. Starting out as a work commissioned by the family of the late Norwegian author Tormod Skagestad, Havnatt has risen into a thriving entity well worth seeking out. Etterlatte is the name of their brand new full length, an astounding masterwork of sheer artistry once again featuring the vibrant writings of the noted Skagestad.

Once the gorgeously melancholic strains of the first track Sovande Gard (Tolkning 1) commence, the listener is whisked away into the world of Tormod Skagestad as lushly interpreted by the Norwegian duo known as Havnatt. Even if the lyrics are a mystery because they are presented in a different language, the intrigue and mysticism to be found in the stunning vocals and wistful instrumentals will leave you breathless. The exploration through idyllic darkness continues with tracks such as the haunting Et Blinkfyr Våker I Vest, the gorgeous title cut Etterlatte, and the sweeping single Var Je Solblesten leaving a lingering impression.  Another highlight is the grand finale Folkevise, clocking in at over seven euphoric minutes, showing Havnatt at the very height of their creative invention.

Cecilie Langlie of Havnatt -  Photo Credit: Tom Simonsen

Cecilie Langlie of Havnatt – Photo Credit: Tom Simonsen

Cecilie Langlie delivers a wondrously expressive performance, and remains a vastly underrated vocalist who transcends time and genres. Tom Simonsen guitar work is subtle yet rapturous, with an imagination that is beyond compare. Other instruments weaving throughout the lush soundscapes include piano, clarinets, violins and cellos, among others. Etterlatte is epic and ambitious, while retaining an intimacy that will sweep even the most cynical music critic off their feet and into an extraordinary state of tranquility.

The CD version of the album comes with a beautifully crafted 28 page booklet with hand drawn illustrations for each of the tracks. Tormod Skagestad’s original lyrics have also been reprinted in the booklet with permission from the Skagestad family. Also available on ITunes and CD Baby, Etterlatte is required listening for all seeking a splendid respite from the mundane. Highly recommended!

(Review by Kenneth Morton)

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