the lexicon

a writing portfolio by Alexandra Savvides

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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.

Written by lexstatic

January 14, 2009 at 10:07 pm

Posted in Album Reviews

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Children of the Wave interview (Cyclic Defrost)

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The transcendental essence of Children of the Wave’s debut record Carapace does little to prepare you for the gloriously eccentric, wildly contrasting characters that are behind this recording.

Mark Rayner and Daniel Flynn are the duo responsible for the ethereal sounds emanating from Carapace’s aural space. A reductive definition would label a carapace a shell – a term that suggests tender regions hidden beneath this exoskeleton. At the same time it also presents the possibility of a void, or an absence left by something that once lived within its hardened borders.

There is a mystique of sorts that surrounds this word, a concept that defines the album more than any individual song, any particular ’sound’ that a critic might label this release with. There are a few clues, but not many, in the bands Rayner and Flynn are (or have been) involved in. Rayner’s rockier Front of Van and Flynn’s Sleeping Pilot and folk-pop Major Chord projects are relatively different to one another, making Children of the Wave all the more intriguing.

Usually the story goes something along the lines of band members meet, band members bond through common interests and influences, and finally, band members record debut album. Not so for Rayner and Flynn, a veritable odd couple from their own admission (yet as is usually the case, they share more in common than either of them could know).

Initiating our correspondence, Flynn forewarns me of his musical companion. “Mark is a compulsive liar and rather unstable mentally. All you have to do is listen to some of his Front of Van stuff and you’ll understand. Having said this, his music intrigued me and although I found it very abrasive I was oddly compelled. I took him on initially because I felt sorry for him – and I was intrigued by his sad music.”

It’s a curious way to start our acquaintance, but nothing short of captivating. “Oh and he’s not such a bad fellow to hang out with” he adds, as a small token of appreciation for his musical companion.

Rayner paints a prettier image of their humble beginnings. “Dan and I have known each other for years. I’d always enjoyed the soul of his music, a certain sweetness or sincerity. He was playing a folk, pop, country kind of thing with Sleeping Pilot whilst I was playing in a raucous experimental rock orientated project called Front of Van. We always spoke about having a jam together, yet it all seemed kind of ludicrous as our worlds were so different. Eventually, 3 or 4 years ago we did, we recorded it and Dan did some mixing and a few weeks later gave me this music that really surprised us.”

They are determined to highlight their differences and point out each other’s flaws, but such is the consistency of their record that none of these divides become apparent in their music. It’s the bridge between pop sensibility and ambient, abstract noise that is most compelling, and given the pair’s respective musical backgrounds, this successful combination shouldn’t be too surprising at all.

Determined to outline his motivations, Flynn again turns to amusing put-downs and witty one-liners. “Mark is a very sad person. I made a decision to change him. To do this I had to make him believe we were going to ‘blend’ our styles of music together. The truth is, you listen to the album and you notice it has many melodies – it is mellow and intimate. I WON. Yes, I converted Mark over to my side of the musical force.”

This character was becoming harder and harder to read. So now to Rayner – his musical epiphany was not grounded in unmelodic elements as much as Flynn might think. In fact, it began in dislocation. Moving to Traralgon, two hours outside of Melbourne, he found the combination of a lacklustre radio service and few acquaintances provided the impetus to pick up various instruments. “I’d go into my spare room and just do these experiments with sound, feedback, a bit of toy keyboard and bass guitar and whatever sound making device I could find and put it down to 4-track. I knew it wasn’t music but there were some musical elements.”

“I’d play it to my friends who played in bands and they wouldn’t get it. I had no idea there was this scene out there of experimental music, so it all seemed kind of worthless…I was too incompetent or lazy to learn to play music properly so I just dived into that and it’s just evolved through Front of Van, who got one of my 4-track experiment tapes, and now into Children of the Wave.”

The transformation from abstract noise to contemplative, otherworldly pop has much to do with the swathes of field recordings and ambient sounds that weave their way throughout the band’s debut. Nestled deep within their compositions rather than sitting triumphantly on top of melodies, these sounds were mostly sourced from Rayner’s month-long visit to Kakadu. “I had all these incredible recordings of bats, creeks, wild dogs, birds and the like. They seemed to fuse really well with Dan’s melodic sensibility, his guitar loops, glockenspiel, Casio etc. So we decided to continue on a very sporadic basis between our other bands, not really sure what we were doing, just enjoying the process.”

The recording sessions were (according to Flynn) initiated and driven by Rayner. Again, the dissident voice speaks: “I was merely staring at him wondering if this was going to be a complete waste of time.”

Fortunately, it wasn’t. “When Mark went home, however, I found myself fiddling with these weird sounds and thinking ‘well he’s not here now, I can do whatever the hell I want!’ So I began organising the sounds and mixing them (and adding to them) in a way that was kinda similar to how I produced my own ‘pop’ music. I think that’s the interesting thing about Children of the Wave – Mark comes up with these strange ideas and I help translate them into something altogether more listenable!”

There are many sensations throughout their compositions, a result of intensive overdubbing and layering to give a particularly visceral texture. Banging heaters, whirring fans and thwacked bins could all produce disastrous sounds in the wrong hands, but not with these two at the helm. As Rayner recalls: “One of the first tracks was ‘The Underwater Song’, as was ‘Happy Bats’. I would just arrive at his house bringing with me whatever stupid sound making device or musical obsession I was focussing on with Front of Van, lower the volume and intensity and without thinking just spit it out. Grabbing whatever’s at hand in some kind of sound making, musical frenzy.”

With their love of such a diverse set of instruments, from violin to kora and back through the harmonium, it would have been easy for their compositions to err on the side of cacophonous, a mash of sounds having a temper tantrum. The result is fortunately far from this, and Rayner credits his musical companion with subduing the ‘rubbish’ and filtering out the more melodic elements. “A lot of the time however Dan would just have this wry pained smile on his face like I was tormenting his dog but didn’t want to be so impolite as to tell me off.”

This sound, then, owes much to the vivacity of Animal Collective, and the tenacity of far too many folk-pop troubadours to name, but for all these reference points, the duo share very few influences. Differing opinions are raised again when Rayner points out he and his musical companion have little common ground, musically at least. “When I look through his CD collection I struggle, it’s full of boring folk dudes. The other day I gladly pulled out Nancy Sinatra and explained how amazing Lee Hazelwood was to him. Herbert, Squarepusher, Fela Kuti, Anthony Pateras, Qua, Merzbow; he’s got no idea who these people are.”

Neil Young appears to be the only point of reference that links these two together, at least within the aural space. But it seems to be the most serendipitous of influences on both of them – it’s there in the breezy “Something Good” that unfurls after a good two minutes into something as achingly pretty as one of Young’s finer moments like “Expecting to Fly”. Upon further contemplation, this curious segue in “Something Good” that turns an ambient excursion into a fully fledged folk-pop number is totally and utterly reflective of the two men who created it. Their stop-start notions and mid-sentence cutaways are ideal templates for this musical palette.

Like any music lover who desires to share their most intimate moments in song, Rayner feels that there are more introductions that need to be made, but he is quick to hold off these suggestions on further thought. “I was trying to tell him today about Fennesz and how amazing Endless Summer is, so I’ll bring it around next time. But I kind of don’t want to turn him on to this stuff because he’s approaching working with experimental techniques in such a sincere, melodic, earnest and idiosyncratic way that I don’t want it sullied by outside influences.” He readily admits that this wasn’t all a selfless gesture; “I’m learning so much about melody and mixing.”

Rayner also credits much of their distinctive sound to mastering engineer Byron Scullin, who has worked with All India Radio and Midnight Juggernauts. “He knows so much about technique, approach, plug-ins, computers…it makes your head spin. He’s also a sick bastard and we share a very similar (read: juvenile) sense of humour.”

“We both credit Byron with really elevating our music during the mastering process, strengthening the bottom end and both broadening and thickening the sound. We were very happy with the results. We really wanted someone who understood textures as well as more musical elements…he gave us credibility and made us sound more wide screen which I hope is now the Children of the Wave sound.”

There is still the niggling thought of the carapace, the tentative shell left behind at some place in time which is now permanent. A mark on the landscape. They both think the other was responsible for this word – this phrase – that seems to bring them both together. “As for Carapace, Dan says that I arrived one day muttering about it, you can actually hear me wailing it at one point on the album.” Rayner continues. “But I swear it was he who raised it with me. When we were thinking of a title for the album we returned to it because it seemed like the perfect metaphor for what an album is. These are the sounds, approaches, emotions, memories of a specific time in our lives. We have since moved on, working our next exoskeleton and left this CD behind – this carapace.”

Moving on is a recurrent theme for both of them. Flynn enacts a similar modus operandi when asked about this double meaning encapsulated in one word. “A carapace is essentially the evidence of life – frozen in almost exact form – but has now moved on. An album is a lot like that.”

“I like thinking about this concept when I think of Children of the Wave. Mark and I spent 3 years making this album and it was a side project for both of us. Children of the Wave quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) existed on the outskirts of our lives during that time.”

“When I listen to Children of the Wave now I have a strong sense that I was never in control of it – that it came about in its own way. I believe that about music. Some music is very controlled and other music evolves almost like it has an agenda of its own. I imagine that’s how the next project will emerge.”

Flynn interjects with another thought on his own approach to music. “I want to create a world for people while they listen to the music. I want to transmit a piece of my experience, via the speakers, to other people so they can perhaps create something new or think of a new idea or daydream about something or trip out…anything.”

Rayner jumps in here. “I view music as an expression of self. I’ve found it really difficult and challenging with Children of the Wave because it represents a side of my personality that I’m not altogether comfortable with offering up to people so easily. So releasing the album with its elements of vulnerability, melancholy and sincerity has been a little difficult. That said I was looking to move away from the noisier bombast of some of my other projects, so in a sense it was entirely the reason I wanted to work with Dan in the first place.”

“I think I was thinking more about process initially. I thought we could create some gentle atmospheric music that maintains experimental elements yet also melodic ones, without one completely eclipsing the other. I’d given no thought to the emotional investment, however in the process of creation and possibly more so now, I’ve realised it is unavoidable.”

The emotion within this remnant is paramount. Rayner admits he was confronted by the feelings stirred up and captured on the record for posterity. It’s not necessarily to do with the style of music they laid down, or the events surrounding the recording at the time. “It’s not necessarily catharsis – that was probably in my noisier projects. I think Tom Waits said ‘it’s not always about making a fist, sometimes it’s about opening your hand.’ Carapace is the opening of our hand.”

On Carapace, the shell is not so much the absence of something that once was, but something you take with you – this curious, joyous, playful journey that lives on wherever you take it – unless it takes you there first.

Carapace is released through Sensory Projects/Inertia.

Written by lexstatic

December 31, 2008 at 9:01 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

Flying Lotus – Los Angeles (Warp)

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Earlier this year, Flying Lotus – aka Steven Ellison – visited Australia to play several shows across the country. Before that, though, he gave a talk to producers and music aficionados alike at Sydney’s CDR night. In the darkness of Hermanns, Ellison talked about Los Angeles and his love/hate relationship with the city that provided the inspiration (and title) to the album.

Los Angeles is one of those rare achievements where the first listen through sounds as exciting and as gorgeous as the twentieth (which I’m sure, I must be up to by now). It is by no means a cathartic experience; it throws up much more than it could possibly hope to resolve, but by all means this is a part of its enjoyment and, we must hope, its longevity. Los Angeles has the sense of the external; a sort of hybrid somewhere between a sonic journey across the city itself mashed up with the soundtrack to the clubs at its very core.

1983 and even the Reset EP by comparison, were much more intimate – not at all domestic, but the sentiment and feeling behind them were definitely elsewhere. The shift in approach is evident in the first strains of ‘Brainfeeder’, phasing in and out a bit like the disorienting beauty of ‘Tea Leaf Dancers’. The furiously crafted, almost trademark Flying Lotus hip hop beat of ‘Breathe . Something/Stellar STar’ slams up against its own smooth groove, the first hint of the relationship between the city and the producer. Smaller interludes across the album take on a filmic quality, scratching their way into epic imagery.

Towards the end of the album, vocals kick in on ‘RobertaFlack’, as Dolly’s voice straddles across undulating percussion in a flawless progression that echoes the warmer moments on 1983. The unmistakeable squelch of ‘Auntie’s Harp’ – referring to his great aunt Alice Coltrane – is full of glimmering, arpeggiated hooks. It’s a near-delirious sentiment that harks back to the earlier feel of break-y ‘Comet Course’, tying in again another reference to Ellison’s musical heritage by sampling John Coltrane.

As tempting as it is to separate the tracks from their context, to do so is to lose a vital part of Los Angeles‘ vitality. For all the murkiness here, Ellison never loses sight of the brighter, shimmering side that is so fundamental to the Flying Lotus sound, and of course, to the city itself.

Cyclic Defrost

Written by lexstatic

August 6, 2008 at 2:50 pm

Leila – Blood, Looms and Blooms (Warp)

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Leila’s Blood, Looms and Blooms is like an invocation to the senses – a hand that reaches out from the complex, gnarled roots adorning the album cover to pull you into the realms of playful imagination. Leila Arab’s debut for Warp, her first release in over seven years, excites in its lushness and challenges in its diversity. A measured, perfectly crafted progression from fantasy-like beginnings through to a deeper, darker midsection is Leila’s key achievement, managing to tie in a range of guest vocalists seamlessly across a range of styles.

No aesthetic seems too far fetched for Leila; ‘Teases Me’ evokes a soulful, seductive hymn as Luca Santucci’s vocal rides along waves of bass, twitters and cymbal sparks. Further on, jaunty ‘The Exotics’ lapses into a mini-operetta whilst the cover of ‘Norwegian Wood’ is rather excellent simply because it so cleverly subverts the original without removing the key to its familiarity. Terry Hall’s vocal at first sits oddly beside the whimsical seaside feel of ‘Time to Blow’ yet sounds intrinsically at home after repeated listens. ‘Mettle’ is perhaps the most obvious link to the swagger of her mid-90s trip-hop origins, drenched in clanging guitars and heavy acerbic bass.

Leila’s sound is so incredibly full – which is in part due to the exquisite production. Every nook and cranny of the aural space is filled to bursting with intense detail. It is there with the faint sound of a piano reverberating through an expansive hall on ‘Young Ones’, a yearning that lingers long after it is enveloped by a rowdy applause. Again it rears its head on ‘Mollie’ as tweaks and twinges whirl their way to an exquisite climax. Finally, the delicate duet by Martina Topley Bird and Terry Hall on ‘Why Should I’ brings Blood, Looms and Blooms to a close, and with it, an intense desire to revisit Leila’s fantasy world all over again.

Cyclic Defrost

Written by lexstatic

July 2, 2008 at 10:19 pm