the lexicon

a writing portfolio by Alexandra Savvides

Archive for the ‘Album Reviews’ Category

Children of the Wave – Carapace

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This music has space in it, around it, beyond its borders. It’s about traces and remnants that are left behind from something that once lived, something that held quarters inside its walls. For want of a better word, it feels delicate, this Carapace.

Though the duo responsible for these sounds cut their teeth in bands as diverse as the folk-pop oriented Major Chord and noisier Front of Van, their resulting collaboration takes little from these origins except for a true love of meshing a variety of aural echoes together. The difficulty, then, is finding a suitable entry point to begin to describe the luscious flow this album has. ‘Something Good’ is perhaps the best place to start, though this realisation doesn’t come immediately, it takes several listens, indeed almost ten, to appreciate the gentle majesty of this track. It’s disjointed – thoroughly so – but recalls some glorious folk-pop moments of yesteryear complete with an extra beautiful, indescribable touch that manages to transcend any particular notions of the here and now.

There are field recordings, too, but Carapace is not swamped in them. Fragments of kora, violin, melodica and glockenspiel enter the proceedings – all performed and integrated with such grace that they end up floating over you like some sort of quaint dream, a fleeting memory that doesn’t return until the play button is pressed again. Fortunately the melodies never escape the billowing chambers, but grow ever more with each listen, slowly and gradually taking the place of the experience that its creators had when making this record. Intimate and quirky at the same time, the strains of ‘Happy Bats’ marry a gentle strum with a reverberating hum, layers upon layers of sound nestled within the walls of the song.

All too soon, the proceedings end with ‘Should There Be Violence?’, the epitome of the Children of the Wave experience. It feels as if there are at least three separate songs within this final opus, a sprawling experience that takes over thirteen minutes to fully unfold with a lengthy void between each movement, as it were. For all the languid moments though, Carapace seeps into the real world and exudes a vibrancy that’s simply astonishing to behold. The shell is no longer a cage to store these experiences but a fully fledged home; a place that can be returned to time and time again to explore the delights within.

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Written by lexstatic

January 14, 2009 at 10:07 pm

Posted in Album Reviews

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Max Tundra – Parallax Error Beheads You

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Overt frivolity is not really common in the context of ’serious’ music. Yet, it is there in abundance with the third release from Max Tundra, the pseudonym of choice for multi-instrumentalist Ben Jacobs. There is no doubt that this recording is the most sincere, polished work that he has delivered to date.

The ten tracks on Parallax Error Beheads You are – essentially – elegant pop songs. Smatterings of electronics and exquisite production aside, Jacobs distinguishes himself from a myriad of imitators by being an electronic musician who can write a pop song, as opposed to a simply writing a pop song with electronic elements. The pace is frenetic from the start; ‘Gum Chimes’ sounds like a harpsichord frolicking noisily with a video game, ‘Which Song’ is like a sound card heaving its bleeps on overdrive. Layers of synths and squeaks clamour for space amidst each composition, offset sweetly against Jacobs’ charming voice.

With lyrics as silly as “I found a girl on Google image search / She was in the background of a picture of a church” within the first three songs of the album, it would be easy enough to write off Parallax Error Beheads You as a simple excursion in surface-level observations and sweet, unassuming melodies. Yet deep within unfolds a complex, eclectic manner of composition.

It’s the sort of eclecticism that won’t go unnoticed – Jacobs programmed the album on a Commodore Amiga, and the album is available in a limited edition soup can with digital downloads (don’t ask, listen) – meaning the end result is more of a love or hate affair than a tranquil, casual acquaintance. His songs are something akin to a man possessed; that is, possessed by recording songs off the radio on the same side of a cassette tape over and over again. There are, perhaps, a few too many ideas here to make everything work, though when Jacobs pulls it off, it makes the six-year gestation period of this album seem very, very worth it.

Written by lexstatic

January 2, 2009 at 9:26 pm

Posted in Album Reviews

AGF – Dance Floor Drachen (AGF Produktion)

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It is no longer pertinent to think of a normal music distribution model, nor is it to expect a standard method of acquiring these aforementioned sounds in 2008. AGF’s latest release exemplifies this more so than any other of the ‘free but please donate if you like us’ examples set by Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails. Dance Floor Drachen is a manifesto of sorts, a call to a disenchanted and disengaged listening public that at once toys with the idea of financial dues payable to their favourite artists, and the constant desire to obtain something for nothing.

Antye Greie’s (AGF) fifth album strays little from the experimental template set on her first record Head Slash Bauch, on which she converted HTML into abstract “electronic poetry”. Greie subtly blends strands of minimal techno and avant-garde abstraction with considerable warmth – even if it is behind the cold veneer of her reflection on the value of music. Simply gaze at the track titles for any length of time and attempt to piece them together for an indication of her mindset on this. ‘Ripping This Track’, for instance, has Greie sampling an unnamed Hollywood action film to strengthen this proposal further.

Much of Dance Floor Drachen is also Greie’s musings on the link between sound and language, concepts of glossolalia and other such linguistic elements. ‘If You’ is as danceable as it is thought provoking, charting the peculiar construction of the song with a repetitive ‘if if’ that keeps time as well as posing the key question of the album.

‘Than Reconsider’ was a track originally written for Luomo but never released, and sets a pulsating wobble against her clear vocal, a rarity for an artist who enjoys cutting, mashing and quantising her voice as much as she does her beats. It’s as much Ellen Allien as it is Miss Kittin, and all the more evocative for it even if Greie’s aesthetic is more about the temporal space than anything else. After all, how can anyone put a price on the intangible nature of sound?

Dance Floor Drachen is available as a ‘free’ download from AGF’s website here

Written by lexstatic

October 26, 2008 at 10:02 pm

Posted in Album Reviews

Agnes Szelag – No Summer or Winter (Aphonia Recordings)

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Agnes Szelag, one half of Oakland’s Myrmyr with Marielle Jakobsons, presents a short release of just four songs on No Summer or Winter. Her work as a solo artist focuses on the relationship between sound and visual media, and the whirling yet crunching undercurrent to the first track ‘Lato’ sets the tone for the piece. At just under twenty five minutes the compositions on No Summer or Winter are allowed enough space to grow and fortunately don’t outstay their welcome.

One of the difficulties of appraising Szelag’s work is deciding where (or even if) there are boundaries between the performance space and the home listening experience. ‘Man Made Weather’ in particular seems built for the former environment – a movement that lapses into languid cello after being prefaced by swathes of noise and processing. Though No Summer or Winter wasn’t written specifically for such a purpose, it somehow seems intrinsically linked to a place outside of where her audience listens from. ‘Inside and Out’ does tries to bring the sensation back though, all hazy synths and soft textures. There is some delicate cello work throughout the EP, but nowhere near as fluid and organic as it appears on her work with Myrmyr.

As No Summer or Winter unfolds over repeated listens, the progression is made clearer. It becomes almost a dialogue between the summer and winter seasons Szelag composed it in, uncovering fragments of processed vocals that act as clues to the shifting world outside. There are some exquisite moments here – even if it does feel sometimes as if the confines of the art installation are closing in.

Cyclic Defrost

Written by lexstatic

August 20, 2008 at 8:46 pm

Nico Muhly – Mothertongue (Bedroom Community)

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Nico Muhly is now known as a prodigious talent – from his work both as composer and collaborator – thanks to several well-documented takes on his role working with Björk, Philip Glass and Rufus Wainwright to name a few, plus several profiles in publications such as The New Yorker and The Times.

So from the outset, Mothertongue may seem like an intimidating album before even taking in its ambitious description. Merging classical music with a study of the human voice, Muhly’s follow-up to Speaks Volumes is divided into three movements, linked stylistically through Muhly’s dissection and composition of the voice. The first movement begins with ‘Archive’, all cacophonous voices and disorienting sounds. Tone, intonation and resonance are all important here, as a rabble of voice snippets speak the remembered fragments of Muhly and singer Abigail Fischer’s childhood memories. Street addresses, phone numbers and social security numbers burst forth from Fischer’s lips atop a delicate string and woodwind section.

Fortunately, Muhly’s compositional skill never allows the voices to become overly dominant; there is still enough space for the classical elements to shine through amidst the various clicks, lip smacks and assorted mouth noises he chooses to build up along the way. ‘Hress’ is perhaps the most pertinent example – the voices are integral to the composition but they never compete for attention with the instrumentation. Muhly arranges the voice in such a way that regardless of the listener’s ability to understand or to make logical sense of the words, the emotion and non-linguistic meaning are articulated far more than would be expected.

Second movement ‘Wonders’ couples harpsichord and shifting time signatures in order to describe the experience of jetlag, exploration, temporal shifts – a “soundtrack for a cabinet of wonders”, as Muhly puts it. It’s a challenging field to try to cover over just three compositions, and doesn’t work as strongly as the first or third movements because of the scale of the material he tries to cover. ‘The Only Tune’ works better, exploring the sounds and patterns of folk songs in his inimitable style.

Mothertongue is an incredibly ambitious work, and its beauty is able to shine through from Muhly’s meticulous layering of complex voices, instrumentation and context.

Cyclic Defrost

Written by lexstatic

August 19, 2008 at 12:01 pm

Near The Parenthesis – L’Eixample (n5MD)

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Unlike several electronic artists who happen to be blessed with prolificacy, Tim Arndt continually delivers incredibly polished and lush material on his instrumental releases as Near The Parenthesis. The majority of his previous work has been met with extensive critical acclaim and for good reason – it’s delicate, instrumental electronica interspersed with an incisive and thought-provoking approach that is as easy to listen to in the background as in the foreground.

L’Eixample is no different to his previous work in this respect. It’s self-assured and confident, without being brash. Taking inspiration from his travels through Barcelona and the modernist architecture around the L’Eixample district, the album is distinctly grounded by these experiences but never restrained by them.

Echoes of Seefeel are littered throughout, and Ulrich Schnauss also gets a look in with the dreamy atmospherics and shoegaze remnants that make up a fair amount of the album. However, Arndt has a voice all his own as he marries synthetic elements with acoustic instrumentation. He has such a way with melody that the two are never really distinguished as separate entities, which is a stunning achievement.

The emotional connection to the music is undeniable, particularly on tracks such as ‘A Brief Walk In The Sea’ which relies on a tacit collection of scratchings, squeaks and synths to conjure up the images that the title suggests. The intermittent scuttle of ‘Modernisme’ lapses into an effortless, languid melody while the divine moments on ‘Cerda’s Plan’ with piano and drum machine matched beat for beat provide lovely jump-out moments that Arndt may explore on future releases. L’Eixample is a release that will slip under the radar for many, but for those in the know it will sure to be one of the highlights of Arndt’s back catalogue, and a strong contender for one of the loveliest releases of 2008.

Cyclic Defrost

Written by lexstatic

August 12, 2008 at 3:32 pm

Alexandre Navarro – Arcane (SEM Label)

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Previous to his debut-proper Arcane, Paris-based Alexandre Navarro spent much of his career as a producer connecting with electronic and synthetic elements across assorted releases on traditional and net labels. Yet despite these initial forays, Navarro is first and foremost a guitarist – and it’s clear from the opening strains of ‘Time’. Delayed loops sashay across each other, their warmth and melody cascading into a melange of sheer beauty.

In a similar vein to Antony Harding (July Skies) and Robin Guthrie, Navarro highlights the fragility of common experience, memory and yearning in his otherworldly compositions. Pedals, valve amps, organ and flute create this discernible sound, with field recordings also entering the fray a little later on. At times, the fragility of Navarro’s instrumentation is eerily apparent, especially on ‘Awaken’ as effervescent static threatens to overtake the delicacy of his guitar progressions.

‘Flying in a Dream’ is resplendent in its duelling echoes, making light work of the intense fluctuations around the intermittent samples. Towards the end, the multifaceted title track acts as a reprise (of sorts) of ‘Time’, a ridiculously simple melody coated in lashings of reverb. It concludes with the immediacy of water running – a beautiful, if predictable way, to end the album neatly. So when the real finale ‘Bulles’ begins, the heaving tones almost scare the gentle tempo steadily built up over the album into submission, forcing it to scurry away across the temporal space.

However, the hidden track is the most peculiar of all, a dark, almost danceable number that collects a shifting melody alongside a scrunching jazz beat. Tantalisingly short, and at odds with what came before, it is immensely satisfying and makes the journey toward it all the more astounding. Arcane embeds itself into your consciousness, acting as a luscious bridge between visceral and cerebral experience, and cements Navarro as a truly gifted composer.

Cyclic Defrost

Written by lexstatic

August 11, 2008 at 4:43 pm