the lexicon

a writing portfolio by Alexandra Savvides

Posts Tagged ‘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

Hanne Hukkelberg – Little Things

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Hanne Hukkelberg

There must be something in the water in Norway, given the amount of truly impressive music emerging from there. Hanne Hukkelberg’s debut album is a prime example – a solid mix of jazz sensibility, instrumental experimentation and whimsical pop. Contributions from fellow Norwegians such as Jaga Jazzist and Kaada only add to the appeal of Hukkelberg’s debut.

Hukkelberg’s voice is soft and beguiling, able to flow effortlessly along the melodies she crafts, from samples collected whilst riding her bicycle around Oslo, to sounds from found objects. The unmistakable hums of a pinball machine, turning bicycle wheels and scratching dishwashing brushes make up just some of her collection of found sounds. Each element is tightly woven into her compositions paired with deft tinkerings on piano, glockenspiel, violin, banjo and accordion resulting in particularly impressive climaxes on songs like Do Not As I Do. Here, her voice seemingly weaves in and out of the melody deftly trying to avoid the beat as she sings cautionary tales – “It’s not possible to teach a kid by preaching / when you do the opposite”.

The initially discordant Balloon gives way to an elegant string section, allowing Hukkelberg to achieve the very best from her voice, sounding like she is tracing the path of the balloon she lost to the sky soaring towards the heavens. Comparisons with Björk are inevitable, and somewhat unfortunate, because Hukkelberg is truly a unique artist deserving of her own recognition.

Written by lexstatic

March 17, 2008 at 6:01 am