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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.



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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Here is my top 20 music releases for 2015, with no claim that they are somehow objectively the best or that I listened to everything anyone else did. I have found things that delighted me on other people’s lists, and the point of the exercise is not to replicate or compete with those lists but to highlight some things you may not have found, things that might delight you. The sequence changed every time I made a shortlist, so take the numbers with a pinch of salt – all of them could be at least plus or minus 5 on a given day.

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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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I didn’t listen to everything this year. Neither did you. I have no objective way of knowing that these are (or are not) the 20 best albums released this year. Neither do you. But these are the ones I most loved and most want to spend more time with next year, and who knows, maybe you’ll find something special here too, something you missed but can connect with and find riches in, something off your usual menu that you might come to be thankful for. If that happens even once, the list will be worthwhile. And as always, if any of the musicians drop by, thank you for the work, care, commitment, and creativity represented below.

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Any list implies criteria, but let’s eliminate some obvious candidates. This is not a list of the most original, or significant, or skilled, or successful releases of 2013. There is so much that I simply did not listen to that those kinds of judgments are out of reach (for me as for everyone else). Instead, I asked myself: if I were to be separated from my music for a month or two and could only keep 20 albums from my collection with me, all released in 2013, which would I choose? This approach keeps me from adding or skipping things because I somehow feel I ought to. Worthy or not in the ears of the world, this is what I liked most from this year’s releases. Listen in; who knows, you might like it too.

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Here it is finally, my list of the best of what I found among 2012’s new releases. (I found a lot of great jazz from before I was born too, but that’s another story.) I no more listened to everything out there than anyone else did, but these are releases from 2012 that I listened to repeatedly and expect to be returning to in 2013 and beyond. The exact order is arbitrary and could change on any given day, though albums are probably roughly in the right quarter of the list. I’ve included at the end an honor roll of another 20 that did not quite make my list but were also greatly enjoyed. After all, I think the main function of lists like this is help folk find things (at least that’s how I use all the other lists out there).

#1 Pjusk – Tele
Norway’s Pjusk have become one my favorite ambient/electronic artists on the strength of three stellar releases. Tele (full review here) takes us deep into the glacial cold of northern Norwegian landscapes – the tracks are themed around layers of rock and ice. Deep in the earth, we are taken on a dark and resonant atmospheric journey that ends in light and life. Creation is not all sunlit beaches, and this release gives us a masterful aural tour of its frozen recesses.

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This is the second and concluding part of an interview with Jayne Amara Ross and Frédéric D. Oberland of the Parisian band FareWell Poetry. Read the first part here.

Jayne, are there any moments in the album where the shape the music has taken added something to your sense of the poetry you had written?

Yes definitely, we try to create pieces where each individual element (the poetry, the music, the films) stand alone but work as a whole also. When we have done a good, thorough job every element should enrich the other. It is only when all the mediums align behind the same very precise objective that you get that feeling of something whole, and enveloping. I wouldn’t, however, rely on the music to give meaning to the poetry or the films. Music is able to sublimate and carry meaning but not to impose it. At its best, it can be the wondrous, intoxicating glue that holds everything together. In all my films, including those that I have made outside FareWell Poetry, music is a really important part and I have always shared a privileged dialogue with the musicians that I have worked with. You can also go really wrong when you add music to film, you can easily trip yourself up by making the wrong choices. Having a close relationship with the composer, and learning to communicate in their ‘language’ can help prevent this.

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In the closing months of 2011, a new band from Paris called FareWell Poetry leapt from obscurity to a prominent place on various best-of-2011 lists, thanks to their arresting debut album Hoping for the Invisible to Ignite. (Read a review and stream the music here). Weaving together spoken word, a literary narrative backdrop, film, and compelling, slow-burning instrumental soundscapes, the album combined a high-art conceptual seriousness with an accessible musical appeal. It evidenced a capacity to delight and move and fascinate while appealing to the intellect as well as the gut, allowing the listener to be carried away by the guitar crescendos or ponder the poetic allusions or both at once.  Jayne Amara Ross composed and performed the poetry and directed the accompanying film. Frédéric D. Oberland (whose recent collaboration with Richard Knox, The Rustle of the Stars, is also excellent), contributes guitar, fender rhodes, piano, harmonium, soundscapes. Stéphane Pigneul on bass, Eat Gas on guitar, Stanislas Grimbert on drums, and Colin JohnCo providing analog electronics complete the line-up. Jayne and Frédéric kindly agreed to talk to us about how the debut album came about, about the band’s creative process, and about plans for the next release.

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There seems to have been a recent flurry of new creative partnerships between established solo artists working in the generous borderlands between neo-classical, electronic, and ambient music. In fairly quick succession we’ve been treated to lovely debuts from A Winged Victory for the Sullen (Adam Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran) and Oliveray (Nils Frahm and Peter Broderick), with the first Orcas release (Benoît Pioulard and Rafael Anton Irisarri) on the horizon. Now add to that list Aaron Martin and Dag Rosenqvist (who has most commonly recorded as Jasper TX). Their debut album as From the Mouth of the Sun is to be released at the end of January on Experimedia, and is recommended listening.

Sitting in a Roofless Room

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