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Monads – Porya Hatami

Here is the mystery of Monads. It is, by design, not an album of tunes, or even of nice, appealing drones. It is a collection of experiments in sound design, playing with frequencies and the odd bulges, strange eruptions, and frayed edges that emerge when sound itself is subjected to expert duress. It appears on the LINE label, which specializes in rarified noises that would puzzle many of my friends. It is an album that, save for one track, might be a shock to the system of anyone who comes to it from the melodic, pastoral beauty of a previous Hatami album such as Shallow. It is the kind of album where the review ought to be about all the special equipment and arcane techniques employed to wrestle the novel sounds out of the ether.

And yet….and yet it remains strangely musical, an album to which I find myself returning more than I thought I might. It evokes an enduring fascination. And that gets me wondering again what it is about recordings that most of my relatives would not concede to be music that nevertheless draws me in.

It helps that the sounds, odd, abstract, and alienated as they are, are never grating. The tonalities generated are varied, organic, and interesting and often in their own way winsome and tuneful, like an alien orchestra making music that escapes our cultural horizons. The soundscape is strange, but not creepy – only 7 (Verblendungszusammenhang) sounds anxious. (At least to my ear; I have learned that the threshold of other family members can differ from mine.) 8 (Kurdish Folk Song) is rather beautiful in texture and indeed somewhat song-like, provided the song is sung by space whales in the subterranean oceans of a moon orbiting Jupiter. It leaves me with a sense of wonder. The first key, then, is just to listen with attentive and open ears to the sounds themselves as they prance and swoop and loom, and to enjoy the specific pleasure of their textures, even as they sound like nothing at all but themselves.

And then, along with the textures, there is the ongoing sense of churning, wandering movement. There are, no beats or regular rhythms, yet nothing is still and the nature of the movement keeps shifting not only between, but within tracks. Take 3A, a track that burbles forcefully with barely audible deep frequencies and bubbles insistently with a kind of turbulent air pressure. There is indeed no narrative, but there is a sense of life, of urgency, of something stirring in the depths. The next track, 3B, keeps a murmur of the deep but shifts the focus into the buzzing air, stuttering firefly-like over a calming hum as odd whistles swoop in obscure squiggles. The background of hiss of 4 (Phonetic) reminds me of a river heard in the middle distance, but in the foreground percussive gusts swirl; after a while a rather train-like rhythm appears, and deforms, and vanishes again, too brief and abstracted to seem referential, yet nevertheless a moment where something familiar-seeming rises from the mist. The opening turbulence of 6A might sit somewhere between the howling of winds and of creatures, yet the closing section feels more like a lap steel guitar played by zephyrs.

I do not mean to suggest that the album is programmatic, or to impose my own mind’s groping for this-worldly points of reference onto the material. I do not at all have the impression that the sounds are actually meant to paint objects in the world. And yet in their laying bare of primal sonic layers they at times feel like archetypes, evocations of a kind of basic energy trying to take form, evocations that speak of the ways that such energy swirls or buffets, howls or hums, looms or stutters in the fabric of reality. And in this sense the various sounds do feel to me rooted in the world. I am left thinking that if the album is about anything it is about the glories to be found in sound itself, in the myriad ways that energy can move through molecules and make beauty, ways hardly exhausted by all the more conventional tunes ever written.

Released back in April, Monads is not the most accessible Porya Hatami recording, but it may be one of his best. Check it out on LINE and stream it at Bandcamp.

 

 

         Awakened by Decay – 1 Mile North

This recent release floats up out of a yawning gap, so let’s back up the story a little for anyone who lost the thread. 1 Mile North’s first album, Glass Wars, was a collection of pretty guitar cogitations a little reminiscent in places of some of the quieter moments on How Strange Innocence, the first album by Explosions in the Sky from a year earlier. At the time it was one of quite a few of its kind floating around at the gently lyrical end of the post-rock spectrum. It was the second album, Minor Shadows, released two years later in 2003, that made me sit up and take notice. While somewhat similar in feel to its predecessor, it achieved an increased tautness and sense of purpose and space, moving deftly from sparse beauty to wistful, melancholy drift to occasional pockets of darkness. It did not sound quite like any of its rivals, and it remains one of my most-returned-to albums from the post-rock binge that filled a chunk of my hard drive around that time. It’s a lonely, fragile, contemplative work, and the haunting opener “In 1983 he loved to fly” is to my ear perhaps its finest moment.

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As I prepared this year’s top 20 list, I discovered that several of my favorite releases this year were not full albums, but brief EPs. Including them in the top 20 albums list felt a bit like trying to compare novels and short stories, so I decided to list them separately. These were my top 5 favorite EPs of 2016:

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It’s been a quiet 2016 at Music is Good. Professional commitments have left some regulars with less time for blogging. But we’re still listening. Here are my top 20 albums for 2016. I excluded compilations (though Orbital Planes & Passenger Trains, Vol. 1 from Serein, Into the White from Dronarivm, and Eleven into Fifteen from 130701 all delighted me). As ever, this is the best in my subjective judgment of what I heard and liked, no more, and the numbering is less important than the chance of helping someone find something good that they missed. This year I am treating EPs separately, in a second post.

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25. Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

Waxahatchee - Ivy TrippIvy Tripp is DIY singer/songwriter that draws on Katie Crutchfield’s punk past.  Lyrically, the album continues her exploration of feminist ideas, and uses her experiences, or more specifically her mistakes, to demonstrate how a strong, independent woman is formed in today’s society.

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14

Dec

2015

Review: City of Brides by En

By David Smith. Posted in Ambient, Drone, Electronic, Reviews | No Comments »
City of Brides by En

City of Brides by En

En’s last album, Already Gone, (review here) was notable both for its distinctive palette of sounds and for its cohesion. It offered a succession of tracks of increasing length, culminating and resolving in a 20-minute meditation on Elysium, the mythical Greek isle of the blessed. City of Brides (the title of the new double LP and of its closing track – another eschatological tinge, I wonder?) is less linear. Indeed it thrives on a restless exploration of shifting and contrasting sounds, skipping from noise to clarity, from stasis to rippling motion, from soft to abrasive as we wander from moment to moment and from track to track. And yet there remains a sense of deep unity, as if the various tracks are somehow probing the same question, prodding at the same possibility.

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Inscriptions by Wil Bolton

Inscriptions by Wil Bolton

I didn’t plan to write a review tonight. But the CD was playing and it caught me up and carried me away and I had to write…

Wil Bolton’s music is part of the texture of my world. I always enjoy his releases to one degree or another, but a handful of them have risen from “this is nice” to “this is one of my favorite things”. The expressive chimes of Time Lapse and Chimes for a Wall Drawing call forth wonder and remain in my listening rotation years after their release.

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Arovane - dwell_tevvel_structure

dwell_tevvel_structure by Arovane

Germany’s Arovane has been putting out some striking ambient material of late, including the recent dwell_tevvel_structure on the UK label …txt recordings. I have no idea what a tevvel is, and neither does Google; it’s an anagram of velvet and bears a passing resemblance to the Dutch teviel (“too much”), but who knows if that is relevant. Dwelling, in the sense of settling down and taking time, and structure, here in the form of careful layers of sound, are both terms that illuminate the music on this album. The album consists of four long sound pieces (ranging from 14 to 20 minutes), each with its own distinct character yet tied together sonically in an arc that suggests four movements of a whole. The first opens with a gently undulating drift and fluttering patters of brightness – perhaps it’s the cover art, but I find it hard not to think of sunlight sparkling on waves.

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1

May

2015

Review: Still by M. Ostermeier

By David Smith. Posted in Ambient, Reviews | 2 Comments »
Still

M. Ostermeier – Still

 

The Tench label is definitely about quality more than quantity, with a mere seven releases over the last five years. All are worth attention. The last before the current release was Porya Hatami’s Shallow, over a year ago. The latest is from label head M. Ostermeier, and its title, Still, succinctly yet accurately captures its mood.

Listening to this album the first half dozen times I found myself having to repeatedly reorient my horizon of expectation despite the apparent consistency of its palette. The album opens with an oscillating hum, over which a slow piano meditation begins, soon accompanied by a background of small creaks and rustles. The sound put me in mind of the intimacy of Nils Frahm’s Felt, in which the creakings of the piano itself are an important presence that adds to the emotional intimacy.

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Shallow Remixed

Shallow Remixed

Porya Hatami increased his profile in 2014 with a string of excellent releases on various labels. Shallow was my favorite album of the year, and I am still listening to it regularly a year after its release. (Review and stream here.) It was therefore intriguing to learn that a remix album was in the works, with contributions from notables such as Loscil and The Green Kingdom. Would it extend the listening pleasure or render the sublime mundane?

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