Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Curved Light - Flow and Return (Constellation Tatsu, 2019)

Another perennial favorite label of mine is Constellation Tatsu, the Oakland-based purveyors of finely-hewn monolithic soundscapes.  The label’s paradigm of batch-based release schedules leads to periodic doses of gorgeous textures in both the aural and visual orbits.  The Winter 2019 batch is a quartet of goodness, peaked by this lovely salvo of sound from Austin’s Curved Light (a.k.a. Peter Tran).

Flow and Return exists on many spheres: Tangerine Dream-esque oceans of sound, expertly-sequenced synth dramas, and ornately decorated dronescapes.  Most of the pieces clock in at under two minutes in length, but there is a tremendous amount of content packed into each minuscule capsule.  “Brightlea” wanders in with a warped yet lush sensibility, before morphing into the shimmering ocean of “Sea Change”.  A crackling glitch carries “Glacial Float” along into the melodic sunset of “Crescent / Visions in Eclipse”, which is a five-minute mini-masterpiece.

The endless beams of energy continue to pour from Tran’s synth-infused limbs over the course of a total of fourteen different pieces of music.  Present are shades of the previously mentioned Tangerine Dream, as well as the gurgling textures of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and the arpeggiated melodies that seem to weave their way into the oeuvres of many of the Austin electronic wizards with which he rubs elbows.  Yet Tran throws a whole lot of himself into his music, such that it ends up becoming a synergistic brew that transcends his influences and bears his unique stamp.

Bathe in the cascading sonic textures by warping over to the Constellation Tatsu Bandcamp, and snap up the entire Winter 2019 batch, why don’t you?  You’ll thank me later…

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Cosmic Range - The Gratitude Principle (Idée Fixe, 2019)

There has been a slowly brewing storm hovering over Toronto for over a decade.  The storm has many fronts, tendrils of cloud that roll outward and then collapse inward again.  The maelstrom comprises talent, musicianship, songcraft, camaraderie, gratitude, and love.  This is The Cosmic Range.  The members of this crew share a deep sense of mutual respect; they have maneuvered individually and in many collaborative configurations over the years but convene to conjure sweet sonic love together as a unit.  Now they’ve unveiled The Gratitude Principle for our fortunate ears to salivate over.

If one must name a leader of The Cosmic Range, then Matthew “Doc” Dunn comes to mind, yet there is serious groupthink present in the execution of this music.  Kieran Adams, Jonathan Adjemian, Isla Craig, Andy Haas, Mike “Muskox” Smith, Maximilian “Slim Twig” Turnbull, Brandon Valdivia and Dunn are true collaborators.  They are a unit, espousing a love for the music that unfurls naturally from their bodies.  Together they unleash a cosmic, fiery, jazz-inspired groove that bobs and weaves to avoid pigeonholing.  Demolishing genre, and instead choosing to birth new forms of composition and improvisation, the group bash their way through six evocative and entrancing pieces of music.

Leading off with “Palms to Heaven”, the Range immediately set in motion a flurry of dark, free jazz-inspired shadows.  Craig’s wordless vocalizing invokes the presence of sinister beings, as the group improvises a throbbing rumble beneath her.  A hint of respite arrives with “Breathing Water”, in which a delicate flute melody leads into a percussive groove that calls forth dub forms filtered through the clear lens of consonance.  “Eyes for Rivers” is transformative to those unprepared.  Stabbing deep to the core of our lizard brains, the warped sax and damaged electronics trigger a deep emotional response.  It’s unrestrained imagination at its finest, a Lynchian nightmare come to life.

Easily my favorite piece, “The Observers” shines brightly with a jazz-funk glow.  The unstoppable rhythm and ripping solos are mind-bending, to say the least.  It’s an unrelenting blast of incendiary bliss.  “Rivers for Eyes” is a snake-like trip to another dimension, a collective improvisation that sails toward mysterious shores.  The Gratitude Principle closes with an eponymous piece, one that unfurls with a swinging pace.  The patient cadence builds toward a grand climactic statement that finds The Cosmic Range tearing a hole in space-time, with just enough momentum to throw us off our orbit.  It’s the perfect ending to a stellar collection of music.

Snap up this swinging collection of cosmic tunesmithery while it’s hot.  Hit up the Idée Fixe website or the Cosmic Range Bandcamp and choose your poison.  It’s tasty!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

FRAME - The Journey (Glacial Movements, 2019)

The Rome-based duo of Eugenio Vatta and Andrea Benedetti began the FRAME project in 1992 as an effort to re-create the atmosphere of a silent movie theater, except that instead of an orchestra playing in real time, they would use electronics specifically assembled to accompany the film.  They improvised in real time in order to give the proceedings a sense of humanness, an organic vibe that provided a feeling of richness and warmth.  A quadraphonic setup, samples, spoken word, electro-acoustic sound, and noises served to immerse the audience in the experience, which became a cross between a live concert and a cinematic performance.  Each event was unique, and the duo prepared loads of recordings, which they’ve assembled, edited and compiled for The Journey.

These soundscapes are intended to be focused around the absence of sound: the silent nature of outer space and of “glacial environments”.  The ten pieces presented radiate outward from the center of our solar system, starting at planet Mercury and flowing toward Pluto and its satellites.  This interplanetary locomotion is tectonically-paced – this is ambient music, after all.  Yet there are micro-events within the undulating drones: a wispy clatter that rises and falls in soft focus in “Venus Frame”, a cavernous gurgle in “Jupiter Frame”, and a shuffling pattern of static in “Pluto and Charon” all serve to disrupt the mesmerizing waves of blissful tonality.

Listening to The Journey is akin to enjoying the comforts of the familiar.  Even as the underlying themes are of silence and alienation, the warm tones send the audience to a positive emotional space.  There is light here, and beauty.

Digital and physical copies of this delightful orbit can be obtained from the Glacial Movements Bandcamp.  Capture one, and drift onward and outward.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Aghnie & Seqta - House of Spleen (Crash Symbols, 2019)

Hey, it’s March and I’ve finally cleared out the pile of 2018 releases that I had on my desk.  Hooray for me!  What better way to dive into 2019 than with a perennial favorite of mine, the Crash Symbols label??  I’m a huge fan of the imprint’s split tapes, and this one’s a real jammer for sure.  Both of the artists featured hail from the Eurasian country of Georgia: Aghnie (real name Ika Jojua) is based in Tbilisi, while Seqta (aka Beska Kapchelashvili) now lives in Berlin.

Each of these producers approaches electronic music on a unique trajectory.  Aghnie embraces a sort of electro-techno hybrid, which finds him relishing synths and loops.  There’s a lo-fi edge to the music – a dusting of tape hiss, a slight fuzziness to the beats – but this lends a sense of warmth and familiarity to the proceedings.  “Stitches,” the lengthiest of the tracks offered here features gorgeously interwoven female vocals that hang in the air like languidly wafting trails of smoke.  On the other hand, we have “Wounds,” a beat-driven piece with a quirky yet highly engaging rhythm.  It’s got laser chirps and an infectious ringing sound that will invade your dreams if – like me – you listen to it frequently.  Near the end, it shifts gears and a series of eerie moans leads us toward the dance floor.

Seqta rolls in on a jungle tip, with a breakbeat-heavy sound that’s snappy and sample-ridden.  With track titles like “Gnostic Riddim” and “Ashanti in K-Hole”, you know what he’s all about.  There’s a ghostly murk and some violent imagery at play, which evokes a sense of danger that isn’t present on Aghnie’s tracks.  There might even be a sample from Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks score hidden in “Hood iz 4ever”, but I can’t be completely sure that I’m not merely imagining it.  I do know that Ashanti’s hook from “Always on Time” is there on “Ashanti in K-Hole”, and it’s blown out among haunting synth pads that make it sound downright sinister.  These are some ace tracks right here!

There are still a handful of these tapes left over at the Crash Symbols Bandcamp, so don’t hesitate – snap one up pronto!