Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Armen Nalbandian Trio - Manchester Born (Blacksmith Brother Music)

Armen Nalbandian has recently turned 30. The career of this improvisational and experimental jazz musician spans over a decade of over 600 original compositions and performances. Born in Manchester, England, Armen has dedicated his life to music, recently rising to the position of Musical Director of California's Fresno Art Museum. A protégé of jazz legend John Hicks, Armen has experience playing with members of the Classic Coltrane Quartet, Ornette Coleman Quartet and Charles Mingus' ensemble. For Manchester Born, Armen comfortably settles behind Fender Rhodes, while Kevin Hill joins him on the upright bass and Brian Hamada on the drums (I just love his brushed ride cymbals). The collection of ten tracks is upbeat and light, transforming musicians' inner moods into gliding fingers, plucked strings, and gentle taps. This child of contemporary jazz skillfully folds the familiar influences into an interpretation curated for a modern ear. The playful and organic sound instantly reminds me of the limitless possibilities that can be achieved with just three instruments, leaving me afterward humming my own improvisations to the rhythm buried in my mind. Armen's latest solo album, Young Kings Get Their Heads Cut Off, is an abstract and experimental improvisation for prepared Fender Rhodes, full of distorted reverb, controlled delays, noisy feedback and altered hammers for a unique percussion, all recorded live with no post-production - John Cage would have been proud. |

Skalpel - Konfusion (Ninja Tune)

Being in the mood for future and nu-jazz, I throw on Skalpel into my rotations. Igor Pudlo and Marcin Cichy are the crate diggers out of Wrocław, Poland. Juxtaposing lifted jazz memories from old Polish records (circa 1960-70) along the broken beats sourced from the same material, Skalpel lays out a path much often traveled, but rarely with a precision of a GPS-like time shift. The music flows naturally while holding on to its history rooted hooks and jabs. The instrumental loungy sound borders funky trip-hop, but is undeniably jazz infused with samples of Hammond, saxophones, and laid back drum strolls. Konfusion is Skalpel's second album on Ninja Tune, following along the heels of their 2004 full length debut, self titled Skalpel. I really like this quote from label's page : "Very much one for jazzers, beat heads and strong cigarette smokers, Konfusion is an album to soundtrack your espresso breaks and to play so that you don't have to read Jean Paul Sartre." The sixties and seventies were pretty tough on the Polish folk. With the Communist party of the Soviet Union instituted over the government in a post WWII country, free expression, especially American influenced jazz music, was somewhat of an underground movement. Skalpel performs a tremendous service to the audiophiles around the world by resurrecting dusty sound of artistic freedom. Recommended if you like Jaga Jazzist, Bonobo, Amon Tobin, Unkle, and DJ Vadim. Break this one out for another spin if you missed it on the first cycle. |

Monday, April 21, 2008

Under Languid Lights - Diver Demo (self)

There are only three short instrumental post-rock tracks on this demo from a German group based out of Köln (Cologne) and Düsseldorf, calling themselves Under Languid Lights. The mood is airy, upbeat and lighthearted. There are no brooding crescendos, apocalyptic messages, nor melancholic images. Instead, each track on the Diver Demo offers a controlled melodic progression that folds neatly within an individual story. But forgive me for just a moment to digress and talk about the packaging. Yes, it's that important. Every cover of the demo is handmade artwork and is undeniably unique. If you check out the photos on the band's myspazz, you'll witness the process of package design and creation, each piece personally labored over. Somehow that adds that much more value to each copy, in not just in eyes of a collector, but music lover as well. In this digital world of limitless copies and aliased illusions, this little touch matters. And if it was the cover that got me to listen to the album, before I chose another album from a queue of submitted uploads... then it worked. And now I've heard the demo a dozen times and enjoyed it enough to tell you about it. Of course, the music will speak for itself. This time a little louder.

Two and a Half Questions with Under Languid Lights

What makes German post-rock unique?
I don't think there's anything uniquely German about the post-rock bands in Germany. The bands have such different styles that range from a light and experimental indie-sound as found in the music of SDNMT all the way to the dark, heavy sound of Long Distance Calling. I think post-rock is not so much a genre that you can identify by a certain sound that is persistent throughout all the bands. It's rather a way of dealing with your individual background of rock-music, which is common to post-rock bands of all countries.

How did you come up with the idea of making personalized packaging?
Our drummer David Caspar (The Secret Window) is also an assemblage-artist. He used to make customized sleeves for mix-CDs that he made for himself and was always talking about making every CD unique once we should record some of our songs. Now we had to find a way to make 250 copies pretty quickly and not taking a day to make a single CD-sleeve. So we came up with the idea to apply an individual grounding layer to the sleeves and screenprint all text and graphics onto it afterwards. This still matched our wish of handcrafting the sleeves but gave us the possibility of "mass-production". And besides it was a lot of fun and made our hands green...

Will we see a full length album soon?
We hope so! All of us have real-life jobs or are going to university. At the moment we invest almost every minute of our spare time to contribute to the band. Right now we are focusing on playing shows and will probably be touring in late summer and fall. We might use the boring gray German winter to write enough new songs to be able to record an album in early 2009. We already have plans for the artwork!

Above mentioned names

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Field - From Here We Go Sublime (Kompakt)

Slapping the terms like "trance", "minimal", and "techno", may quickly dismiss this album's true essence. But these labels shine some truth on what the music has to offer. The album undeniably employs 4/4 rhythm, which, I suppose, classifies it as techno; its minuscule musical progression begs for the minimal adjective; and its repetitive and hypnotic structure, no doubt puts people into trance. But that's just on the surface. Beyond the deeper layers, Axel Willner, who goes by the name The Field, employs tiny sampled, hiccuped, locked loops, that create the music all on their own, as if the needle was stuck in skipping groove. Yet, From Here We Go Sublime is not a banging stomp of grinding beats that you may imagine it to be. In fact, it is relaxing and surreal; it is a child of ambient and techno; it is sublime. Landing the album on Kompakt Records couldn't be more appropriate for Willner. The German label has released numerous minimal gems in the past years, from Thomas Fehlmann, Gui Boratto, Klimek and Richard Voigt. And who could deny Kaito's skillfully approach to simplicity in his Hundred Million Light Years. The reviews you may find on The Field are mixed. It may seem that skill is underplayed, when loops go on forever with barely any manipulation, as if an amateur discovered the fun in Ableton's sample locking, layering and filters. But it is that minimal progression, the buildup without the dynamics, the riding trip into narcotic fractal, that works well for Willner, time and time again. My favorite track is A Paw In My Face, because at the end it becomes "unstuck" and my brain unplugs as if the switch flips off in my electric chair. | |

Ott - Skylon (Twisted)

Ott's second album begins with an ambient interlude saturated with ethnic sounds. But at about a third into a 12-minute track, the bass drops into a pleasant reggae-infused dub that always gets me bopping my head. But who is this Ott, with only one other previous solo release on Twisted Records? Why, he's the producer behind Hallucinogen's In Dub, of course. He also worked with Shpongle, The Orb and Brian Eno. With a huge list of collaborations and studio work, Ott is at the top when it comes to quality production. And Skylon is no exception. Dropping the above mentioned names should give you an idea of psychedelic ambient sound that dominates the album. And so my dry and nostalgic longing for psychill is instantly rejuvenated. Skylon prominently stands among my all time favorites by Simon Postford and Ron Rothfield (Raja Ram, 1200 Mics), downtempo tracks by Infected Mushroom, as well as earlier works by Shulman. And you too, without a doubt, will recognize the staple pitch-shifted vocal manipulation, time stretched flanged beats, and lead arpeggios fed through low-pass filters. All of the above works very well within the super dubbed out, delay-heavy, world-music-infused tracks. Definitely grab this for above mentioned names, as well as Younger Brother, Phutureprimitive, Tripswitch and Bluetech. Favorite tracks: The Queen Of All Everything, Roflcopter and an absolutely beautiful A Shower Of Sparks. | |

Mountain Mirrors - Dreadnought (self)

Talking up rock, slightly dipped in psychedelic dementia, and roasted with a metal torch is a first for me. So it must mean something. Jeff Sanders's third album, Dreadnought, is a total surprise to me. I think the most unbelievable fact is that I really like it. And I never thought that I would enjoy music, the influence of which came from metal artists like Anthrax and Metallica. Prior to writing, Jeff has played in a cover band, until the bug of creation finally bit him. All the years gliding over riffs and familiar chords finally paid off. With the help of a couple of friends, Jeff formed Mountain Mirrors, and set out to produce his "twisted acoustic rock music from the woods of Massachusetts." The instruments are skillfully controlled, the mixing quality is superb, and even and the lyrics are haunting [I say 'even', because you know how I feel about lyrics]. Bottom line is this: either Dreadnought is a very special album, or this genre of music has grown on me after hours of playing Guitar Hero. I'd like to think that the former is true. One way to find out - check out this album and tell me what you think. Jeff's additional current influences include High on Fire, Opeth, Mastodon, and Megadeath.

Jeff is kind enough to share with you the Dreadnought Promo. |

Two and a Half Questions with Jeff Sanders

What have you learned from playing in cover bands?
I got to learn some of my favorite songs... which definitely helped teach me to write songs. I also learned how hard it is for 4-5 people to stay on the same page...for everyone to be committed and always give 100%. There's a lot of compromise involved for everyone to get their share and feel part of a band... like, in order for me to get my "Mister Crowley" played, I had to learn a Marilyn Manson or Korn song or some shit to keep the balance strong... it's all good though...

What is the drive behind giving out your album in MP3 for free?
I just want people to hear Mountain Mirrors. I don't have a single on the radio or whatever... I also want people to know they're gonna get a solid album. Not just a bunch of filler... You can listen to the whole thing as many times as you want. Share it with friends, burn it to CD. You shouldn't get "tricked" into buying music based on some publicist's bullshit. Only music you feel in your heart after repeated listens deserves your hard earned money and support. Maybe I'm wrong. lol... but it feels right and that's all good. :-)

What is special about Massachusetts?
The best part is it's so close to New Hampshire. :-) LOL, I guess it's the perfect balance of woodlands, ocean towns... and Boston is awesome. |

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Two and a Half Questions with Andrew Coleman

Describe your separation from music produced under Animals On Wheels alias and under your real name.
The original idea was to present 'Animals on Wheels' as a pretend band and then do 'solo' projects under my own name. Silly I know... Nowadays, I am still waiting for the next AOW album to come together. I have a vast selection of unreleased tracks but finishing off an actual release seems really tricky. There can sometimes be a fine line between self-criticism and self-hatred.

Talk about your experience composing a soundtrack. How does the visual art guide your music and vice versa?
I need to see something visually to work out the direction of the soundtrack. Colour, mood and texture; but I don't need to know if there's a story. Colour has always played a big part in my internal music making world. I don't know if it's synesthesia, more likely just a cog in the abstract thought processes that go on whilst creating. I have always found the idea of writing a lyrical song near impossible. I'm far more likely to see a green-blue glow in a song than consider any kind of conceptual narrative.

What else are you up to these days?
I'm looking into ways to distribute my music at the moment. My love/hate relationship with CD's is all hate these days so I have very little interest in releasing on that format. I am also rather cynical about the way a lot of indie labels work in the UK so I'm wondering if cutting out middlemen and going the DIY route is the way forward. My ideal scenario would be to offer up my unreleased back catalog as mp3's for cheap download and then use any income to fund a limited vinyl release with fancy packaging. I love the idea of hand made covers... Unfortunately, I don't know if that's viable - people don't seem so keen to buy music these days. |

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Clark - Turning Dragon (Warp)

Chris Clark is growing on me. In 2001 we got introduced to Clark through Clarence Park. In 2003, we saw him evolve with Empty The Bones Of You. Body Riddle was the 2006 release when Christopher Stephen Clark simply went by his last name. But in 2008, Clark is Turning Dragon. This is a much harder, slamming, compressed thud, that keeps the heart pumping, and the brain tweaking. Five years in the making (guessing by the fact that previous LP was simply an archive of earlier and unreleased material), Clark is the front-runner of the experimental drive merging dark IDM and ferocious beats, where the genre thrives. The first half of the album employs a welcoming onslaught of pounding 4/4 beats. Turning up the volume, I'm reminded of the early warehouse events where the bass slapped off the cold walls. But does four-to-the-floor formula immediately categorize as techno? Slapping the latter term may understate the complexity of the production - it is very far from minimal or repetitive approach. The detail may surprise even the fans already familiar with Clark's perfectionism. Further into the album, Clark breaks up the rhythm, and keeps on grinding. To share in the brutal intensity that hurts so good, Clark has offered an Album Sampler [see direct links below]. If you enjoyed the ride, seek out the December '07 vinyl, Throttle Promoter, or hit bleep dot com for instant digital gratification. Recommended if you like the darker side of Autechre, Funckarma, and AFX.

Download Clark - Turning Dragon - Album Sampler [Part 1] [Part 2] | |

DJ Shadow - The Outsider (Island)

OK. Fine. I admit. I missed this one. I don't know how it happened. Either it didn't make a big splash, or I got stuck playing Endtroducing... I guess both are true. Meanwhile, Josh Davis, who slammed the above mentioned monumental debut back in 1996, returned a decade later with a third DJ Shadow album. The Outsider may surprise (and/or disappoint) any DJ Shadow fan. The album has only a few instrumental tracks, and it's pretty hip-hop heavy, featuring a long list of West Coast rappers, including Keak Da Sneak, Federation, and Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest. Davis is based out of Bay Area, so it would be almost impossible for him to ignore the hyphy movement. Speaking to The Skinny magazine, Davis said, "... it was really exciting when it came along and rather than do what I would probably have done in the past and go 'well gee, I'm a guy who mainly works with samples, so I guess this is just gonna pass me by,' I embraced it." Half way through the album we get a taste of blues, followed by an upbeat instrumental piece, and soon Davis drops a couple of indie tracks, featuring the vocals of Chris James from Stateless. Luckily for me, I dig the West Coast hip-hop sound. And I was equally impressed with the indie rock sound. But The Outsider may turn away the die hard fans. I guess the days of record digging may be over for the DJ Shadow that we know [and love], and as Davis matured, so did his desire for quality studio production. Favorite tracks: This Time (I'm Gonna Try It My Way), Backstage Girl, and Erase You. |

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Life Toward Twilight - I Swear By All The Flowers (Bottle Imp)

Tiny vinyl crackles are quietly put to sleep by a music box lullaby. The simplistic nature of I Swear By All The Flowers urges against dismissing the album too quickly. And so I dig. Bottle Imp is an independent label specializing in genres like glitch, breakcore, ethereal and darkwave. Its four first official releases are from a single artist, plus a recent addition to its roster, BLÆRG. That first, prominent name, is Life Toward Twilight, a Detroit based solo dark ambient and post-industrial project of Daniel Tuttle. Tuttle is the man behind the label as well, which features an archive of previous net releases available as a free download. But the record that I’m listening to is far from any of the above mentioned genres. It’s ambient atmospheres, dirty hisses, and analog noises as if they were recorded from... ah, yes! All of the sounds indeed were recorded from antique sources, like grandfather clocks, music boxes, old factories, steam trains, and yes, even wax cylinder recordings! I am a proud owner of a Victrola myself, which I occasionally wind up to marvel at its analog technology of sound magnification. An entire album made of such bits and pieces, with an old detuned piano, is a truly haunting experience. A meditative echo of the past. Voices of a forgotten era recorded by the magnetic fields of earth. This is an experimental album you’ll play over and over, and then talk to your friends about. Reminded me of The Refractors, Elegi, and Deaf Center. |

Two and a Half Questions with Life Toward Twilight

First of all, what gave you the idea of creating such an album?
Honestly, it was the next natural step for me in my music evolution. I consider myself an ambient artist, and my usual goal is to create a certain vibe and mood. I do not fully subscribe to Eno’s idea that ambient music should not be distracting in anyway. I like to tell stories, and I do that by adding stuff to the foreground of the music, though in very subtle ways. Most of my work in the past is narration to a story I have in my head. I still feel my music works as ambient music, though. I had been dwelling on this idea of making music that is intentionally low fidelity that creates an antique and rusty atmosphere. I love deep drones, but I wanted to move away from that and try something very different. My story is old, and I wanted the music to sound appropriately aged. The rule I set for myself in this recording is that I could only use sound sources that either were from the late Victorian era, or could have existed at the time. Then I mixed them using the same sort of production techniques I used for my older albums. Even the melodies are intentionally detuned and decrepit.

Tell us about the main character of the story within the music.
My protagonist is the ghost of an old man that died in autumn of the year 1908. The music largely represents this man’s memories, starting from his youth and moving all the way to his deathbed. The music is a reflection on his life, loves lost, long travels and sad nostalgia. I imagined it narrated like a fuzzy dream sequence, with no good order or rhythm. When building the album, each track represented an individual experience or memory, with some repeating themes. I usually do not tell the actual story, preferring the music to do that job for me.

Do you really own an wax cylinder phonograph? I’m a geek when it comes to antique technology.
I own a single wax cylinder, but no phonograph. I would love to own one though! I am fascinated by antique sound equipment, as well. When I was putting together the idea for this album, I contemplated a hundred different ways to go about the production. What I really wanted to do was record the whole thing on a wax cylinder phonograph, and then re-record it digitally for production. However, the technical and financial hurdles would have slowed down the production on the album significantly, possibly for years. I decided to recreate it the best way I could with the tools I have, which is ultimately how I get everything done. All of the static is from some very nice wax cylinder recordings. A lot of the background vocal snippets are from home recordings done on wax cylinders. | ltt.bottle-imp.coms

Monday, April 7, 2008

Onra - Chinoiseries (Label Rouge Prod / Favorite)

There is something super addictive in listening to these 32 sketches, each clocking under two minutes long. And the story behind the album is fascinating as well. Onra is a self proclaimed vinyl junkie, who goes on vacation to his grandparents’ birthplace, Saigon. Returning to France with a treasured collection of 30 records (all in poor condition), Onra sets off to layering beats on top of forgotten samples that capture the soul of Viet Nam. Chinoiseries, is a compilation of instrumental hip-hop vignettes, each offering a quick glimpse at the music from this distant land. Although a bit repetitive, too short, and lacking progression, it is the ideas and the approach behind each track that make this a brilliant composition. Still full of crackles and hiss, the raw production will inspire any crate digger to venture further out in search of exotic material. This is an essential addition to any lover of lo-fi beats (please restrain yourself from rapping). And your purchase will also go to a good cause! "All proceeds from the sale of the [CD format of the -ed.] album will be donated to ’La Goutte d’Eau’ association ( to help their humanitarian operations for Vietnamese people." Recommended if you like J Dilla, MF Doom, Madlib, RZA, Flying Lotus, and The Big Payback. Favorite tracks: The Anthem, Relax In Mui Ne, Apocalypse Now, Smoking Buddha... (OK, I’ll stop there. Otherwise I’ll end up posting entire album’s tracklist.) |

Two and a Half Questions with Onra

I think the concept of your latest album is fascinating. Do you think there is a limited supply of such untapped material, and at which point it may saturate the market?
I think southeastern music is really special, there is not a lot of differences between artists, music, instrumentals... It’s different from Indian music where they evolved with their sounds and were not afraid of taking risks. The songs often have the same sound, so I think sampling that kind of music is quite limited. Even if each person has its own touch, the sampling source has so much identity that it will sound a bit alike at the end.

I’ve been quite excited about Chinoiseries. What sort of response have you received overall?
I’ve had much positive feedback, a lot of people understood the concept as I wanted it to be. It’s not just hip-hop beats with Asian music samples, there’s a whole story behind it, and that’s what the people loved about it. I’m really proud of that. I was expecting some attention because this is my third album, my first as solo, and it had a unique concept. There are more people who listen to my music now, and not necessarily hip-hop orientated listeners.

What do your parents say about the album?
I’m mixed; my father who was born in Viet Nam is proud of it, even before releasing my first album with Quetzal, he was already talking me about it like "When does "Chinoiseries" is gonna come out?". That was in 2006, he always has been excited about this project. My mother, who is french, is proud just like any mother should be proud of her son. At first she didn’t believe in it because she thought it was too particular, and that nobody was going to understand it... but then when she listened to the whole album entirely, she really loved it, she said Chinoiseries is a soundtrack and she has the movie in her head.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Abbasi Brothers - Something Like Nostalgia (Dynamophone)

Dynamophone Records is an independent label from San Francisco, with a roster of artists whose output ranges from experimental to ambient and euphoric electronica. I first got introduced to the label through James Vella’s release, Wake:Sleep, under his A Lily moniker (Vella is also a member of a post-rock group Yndi Halda). It’s no surprise then, that Dynamophone is the label to pick up the Abbasi Brothers as the purveyors of atmospheric, epic, and cinematic music. Yousuf and Amman Abbasi create "sound-scenes" that immediately fill the void left by your daily mundane routines with an intricate, dreamy, and nostalgic sound. Closing my eyes I can’t help but see moving images of nostalgic events that took place somewhere in another life. This is the music for the waving hands on the platform of a leaving train; music for the hopeless bolts through endless cornfields; music for the fallen tears on a park bench erstwhile drenched in rain. The fifteen scenes split into tracks defy the genre classification. Yet the album, two years in the making, clings tightly to the nomination as the modern classical soundtrack of my life. I could also see the Abbasi Brothers fighting for my Best of 2008 list, when the time comes [something I felt from the very first track]. Something Like Nostalgia is scheduled for a release the summer of ’08 worldwide. Highly recommended if you like Skyphone, Deaf Center, Elegi, Marsen Jules, and of course, Clint Mansell. Every track is a gem. | |

Two and a Half Questions with the Abbasi Brothers

Everyone always wants to know about artist’s influences - especially in cinematic music like this. What are yours?
While the full list of influences is very lengthy, our major influences include the Pixies, Archive, Tom Petty, Jesus and Mary Chain, Nancy Wilson (composer), Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Wu Tang Clan, and the Fugees. Basically, music that paints a picture.

Tell us a bit about your work for film.
Film making and film scoring has been a passion of ours from the very beginning. Our goal is to work with filmmakers and producers in the future, on projects ranging from scoring to directing.

What are you nostalgic for?
The songs we make are attempts to isolate a feeling or moment that we experienced while growing up, that affected us in either a profound way, or in a gentler more subtle manner. For example, leaving home for the very first time, or an exciting moment we had with people we once knew. |

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Markant - Infam (Markant)

Digging through obscure archives of older IDM, I come across Infam. Released in 2001, by Carsten Endraß, who goes by the name of Markant, the album appears to be a compilation of two previous vinyl releases by the same named label (all of which were Untitled), plus five exclusive tracks. Based out of Riedering (Germany), Endraß set out to press his own music on his own label, and has been at it since 1997, releasing 30 strictly limited twelve inchers. Those familiar with Markant probably became collectors of his specially packaged records which sold out with incredible speed. And those snapping up the vinyl know what they were after. The vast warm soundscapes of ambient analog pads are distorted with micro programmed beats and glitches. The sound instantly reminds me of my all time favorites - Autechre and Funckarma. And I think that’s all I have to say to give you a good idea of the music (and I mean that in a positive light). This seven year album may sound at times dated, but it is perfect to refresh one’s memory and the nostalgic moments of hearing Autechre for the first time. You will also like this if you follow Yunx, Proem, Phonem, Pole, and the above mentioned artist’s side projects, Gescom and Quench. The last Markant album was released in 2005, titled Feedback. Since then the void seemed to swallow him up. And all is quiet... (site gives 404 error, but that’s all I could find)

Sidewaytown - Years In the Wall (Skygaze Music)

Feeling like an outsider, "a stranger on sideways", and inspired by Sigur Rós live performances and their unique constructed language, Markus Baltes builds his own world, calling it Sidewaytown. Instead of brooding shoegaze, Baltes adds edgy guitars and creates Germany’s first skygazing post-rock, layered with his vocals. After years of trial and error, in frustration of previously failed attempts, Baltes thrusts himself into a studio with Markus Stock (Ulf Theodor Schwadorf), to rerecord his opus. At first the album seemed a bit blend to me, but the more I listened, the more I picked out the melodies, and the story unfolded. I definitely prefer to be blown away by an album from the start, but there are also some instances where the intricate details can be marveled upon only after repeated and detailed examination. Like a sip of wine that initially overwhelms, yet upon additional tasting opens its bouquet for your buds to dance to. So does the story of Sidewaytown unfolds. In addition to Sigur Rós, Baltes names My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Oceansize, and David Lynch to be among his many influences. Support the artist by buying the album directly from the official website. |

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Ólafur Arnalds - Eulogy For Evolution (Erased Tapes Records)

Majestic, graceful, gorgeous and sublime are only the first few words that come to mind when I listen to Ólafur Arnalds’ debut on Erased Tapes Records titled Eulogy For Evolution. Iceland scores once again, with another composer feeling right at home with many instruments - piano, organ, and a melodica. Bring in the strings - cello, viola and violins - and you’ve got an acoustic ensemble for the melancholic sound easily compared among countryman Jóhann Jóhannsson and, of course, Max Richter. Just when you’ve slotted the chamber sound among the modern classical genre, Arnalds throws in some drums and all of a sudden you’re listening to progressive post-rock. The last pieces on the album are exceptionally emotional, starting off with a solo violin performance and building into a progression full of surprises - so I won’t ruin it here. I especially like how the piano recording is separated in the stereo field: the sound of key action preemptively heard in right channel, followed by the hammer striking the string in center, and the soft dull stomp of a pedal somewhere in the left. I rate the album with AAA - Astonishing Acoustic Aural experience. No wonder it showed up at the top of many Best of 2007 lists. Did you happen to miss it? Rapidly elevating to the highest ranks among the contemporary composers, twenty-year-old Ólafur Arnalds is definitely the name to watch in the upcoming years. A must in any collector’s library. | |

Two and a Half Questions with Ólafur Arnalds

Your music is saturated with emotion. Can you share your thoughts on inspiration, in terms of feelings, events, as well as artists, both contemporary, and obviously classical.
Inspiration is always a complicated thing to talk about. Everything inspires me on some level and it is very hard to tell which things have the most effect. It is very hard to realize for yourself what makes you do what you do, you just do it, you know? Sometimes i dont even think about it, i just do it and it comes automatically. I think that is one kind of inspiration, the one you dont notice, something that is more just hidden inside you, and it comes from everything around you; your friends, the music you listen to and whatever you experience. It doesnt even have to come from the outside.. it can just be some impulses in my body that tell my hands to move in a certain direction on the piano.The other kind of inspiration is the more obvious one. When I can actually feel this really big inspiration inside me. I have maybe experienced something and I feel like you just have to write some music right now, and before I even start, I know how it will end. I know completely how it is going to be. For me, that inspiration usually comes from movies. I love the art form that is films and some films are just like music. So beautiful, and i just want to turn them into music.As for artists i can mention Arvo Part, Max Richter and Javier Navarrette in contemporary artists for example, but of course there are many others. As for classical, my favorites are Dmitri Shostacovich, Bella Bartók, Messian, Bach and countless others!

There is a lot of cross over these days between modern classical, post-rock, shoegaze, ambient, and of course electronic. What are your thoughts on the evolution of music, and how would you classify your own?
I guess mine could be classified as some sort of cross-over between contemporary classical, post rock and ambient electronica.. But i don’t like putting names like that on my music, it usually gives people the wrong picture.. I think there is a lot of very interesting music today. I like how we always invent new types of music but always keep playing the old styles, so instead of it being a direct evolution where one thing takes over from the last one, it’s just getting more and more.. which is very convenient for a nerd like me who likes almost every possible type of music.

I’ve heard a lot of amazing music come from Iceland, and know of some artists who dream of "moving to Iceland, locking the doors, and composing for days on..." What role, do you think, your hometown, and geography in general play in musical composition?
To be 100% honest.. not much.. Of course Iceland plays a big part but i think it’s much more the community and the people around me than the view from my window.. I wrote a lot of Eulogy for Evolution on an electric keyboard in my parents’ dark, dirty garage. Not much nature there. |

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Evol Intent - Era Of Diversion (Evol Intent)

What an album! Last year I raved about DJ Hidden’s massive The Later After release [also my Best of 2007 selection], and now I’m being slapped with Era Of Diversion by a trio out of Atlanta calling themselves Evol Intent. With "love" spelled backwards, the group members are Ashley Jones (The Enemy), Nick Weiller (Knick), and  Mike Diasio (Gigantor). You may have seen these names before on some hard d’n’b labels like Barcode Recordings, Renegade Hardware, and of course their own label, Evol Intent. The debut album includes tracks featuring amazing choppy, dark and crispy IDM breaks, solid hardstep drum’n’bass, abstep, and a selection of super tasteful breakcore. The release mixes in tracks featuring the lyrics by J Messinian (James Fiorella) and drilling spitting rhymes by Cypher Linguistics. And that’s not all! We also get a treat from Ewun and a Spor remix. Look, I need just one hard chop to the throat a year. And in 2008 I loose my breath with Era of Diversion. Yet as I grasp for air, moments away from asphyxiation, I get a kick in the groin. These boys just don’t play nice. Seriously. If this is what drum and bass is becoming, then I’m ready, even as I’m lying on the floor in the fetal position. And for god’s sake, spend some money on a woofer and turn that [low frequency loudspeaker] up! In addition to the above mentioned names, pick up this album if you like SPL, Counterstrike, Technical Itch, Limewax, and Current Value. |

Nico Muhly - Speaks Volumes (Bedroom Community)

Somewhere on the outskirts of Reykjavik lies an Icelandic label formed in 2006 by Valgeir Sigurðsson. Bedroom Community is a collective of artists from around the globe focusing on high quality aesthetic music. Its roster at the moment includes above mentioned Sigurðsson, Sam Amidon, worldwide hailed Ben Frost for his experimental noise album, Theory of Machines (my personal Best of 2007 selection), and our current subject, Nico Muhly. Muhly is a Vermont born NYC resident with a Masters in Music from the Juilliard School. Born in 1981, his biography is already full of collaborations with recognized modern composers like Philip Glass. My brief biographical note will not do Muhly justice, and The New Yorker has done a much better job of it in its article, Eerily Composed (link below). As for Muhly’s music... well it Speaks Volumes itself (pun intended). The first label release breaks through with gorgeous modern classical chamber composition. With Muhly on the piano, and with an exquisite touch of cello, harp, clarinet, trombone, and yes, some electronic treatment, we get a glimpse into composer’s soul through his emotion filled debut. Muhly begins a new chapter of postminimalist sound, overshadowing the stuffy halls of contemporary classical, struggling to keep its aging neck above the flood of modern ideas. Muhly’s forthcoming release, Mothertongue, a composition in four movements, is due out in May ’08, on Bedroom Community. Recommended for the likes of Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich, Max Richter, Sylvain Chauveau and Ryan Teague. Favorite track: Keep In Touch.

Read Eerily Composed by Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, February 08 | |

Two and a Half Questions with Skyphone

See my previous review of
Skyphone - Avellaneda (Rune Grammofon)

It took about four years for your next release. Why did you make us wait?
That wasn’t the intention. We actually started out with a plan of doing a fast album, but civilian life had other plans for us.

What are some of your favorite toy instruments?
Aren’t all instruments toys? But, well - we have different tin boxes, a mechanical device operated with paper we cut holes in, kids glockenspiel, toylike keyboards and even a nasal flute.

Is your PowerBook a percussive, wooden, or a string instrument?
Most of our tracks are processed one way or another, so basically its all of the mentioned. I guess it would be easier to separate the instruments mentioned above based on the applications used. |