Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cyclic Defrost Magazine

Cyclic Defrost Magazine

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Ian Hawgood – Snow Roads (Dragon’s Eye) / Wolfskin (Hibernate)

Posted: 15 Oct 2009 04:19 PM PDT

Undertaking a parallel listening of these two most recent albums of Ian Hawgood’s, Snow Roads and Wolfskin, has been nothing short of a fascinating, entrancing experience.

Hawgood, an Englishman who has been a long-time resident of both Tokyo and London, presents a unique ambient vision. Where others fall into the potholes of over-simplistic motifs, an excessive lack of speed or momentum, or an obsession with a particular area of electronica, Hawgood steers well clear and keeps the avid listener interested and engaged.

These two ’solo’ albums contribute to Hawgood’s already extensive output, with 31 recordings over the past 10 or so years. His oeuvre is extended further with the release of these albums, and the territory ploughed is one worthy of tilling. Field recordings are overlaid with harmonium, vibraphone, tingsha bells and various conventional instruments. This exotic array of instruments avoids pastiche and instead the compositions embrace a holistic, rounded orchestration that reflects the collaborative playing captured by this music.

On Snow Roads “Southern” and “Specks then Flakes” both recall the varied musics of say Laraanji, Reich, Glass, and Burton/Corea, particularly with the bright, ringing tones that are captured from the harmonium lines. Short tracks mostly comprising found-sound and field recording sources punctuate Snow Roads, with bird calls and twitters, footsteps and water courses evoking a strong sense of the wintry album title. This snippets help keep the focus and momentum of this record and act as a background for the longer tracks.

In contrast to Snow Roads, Wolfskin delves more deeply into abstract ambient yet resolutely melodic composition, with layered effects-laden guitar lines floating amongst synth chords and the crackle and pops of electronic detritus. The title and opening track is particularly deft with the adopted musical elements, and there is an intense focus evident across the record clearly seen in tracks such as “I went to sleep on a headless mattress” and “All these memories are blue type”. Hawgood is not afraid to vary his dynamic levels to a far greater extent than that which often chracterises ambient or even electro-acoustic music, and he is to be commended for this approach. The shifts of not only pitch, tone and timbre but also of dynamic intensity provide a sense of mobility and pace that is refreshing and appropriate.

That Hawgood is capable of releasing an array of quality creative output in such a short timeframe is amazing. The fact that he works as a school teacher and also curates three separate record labels is more than impressive. I look forward to many productive years from him yet…

Melonie Bayl-Smith

Ian Hawgood – Snow Roads (Dragon’s Eye) / Wolfskin (Hibernate) is a post from: Cyclic Defrost Magazine.

Bridezilla – The First Dance (Inertia Recordings)

Posted: 15 Oct 2009 01:12 AM PDT

I really do love when the artwork for an album fits the musical contents perfectly. And so it is with Bridezilla’s debut album, The First Dance. Russian/American painter Alexei Antonov’s ‘Pamagranat’ graces the front of the album, with the band and album names in subtle gold embossing. The image is dark and moody yet simultaneously bursting with domestic contentment and pleasure and a certain degree of sensuality (in its truest sense, not its blandly sexualised connotations). It’s as apt a description of Bridezilla’s music as presented on this album as I can think of.

Bridezilla’s reputation has often rested on the age of its members. However, that novelty is beginning to wear (not least because they’re all actually grown up now!) and so it is important that they deliver music which can now stand on its own, outside any novelty factor. Lead single ‘Queen Of Hearts’ was an early indication that the band were capable of living up to the required standard. In the context of the album, it is a standout but still indicative of the overall quality. Starting with a fairly straight up chord structure, it starts to weave its spell once the first violin/sax drone beams across, then Holiday Sidewinder’s voice seals the deal. It builds to a chorus hook which is understated, but does its job of getting under the skin, all the more effective for its avoidance of histrionics. It’s pretty perfect pop, even coming in at just under 3 minutes.

It is actually that overall understatement which is the album’s greatest strength. A instrumental lineup of violin, sax, guitar, drums and voice is slightly idiosynchratic in the indie-pop field, but could also be prey to orchestral and/or gothic clichés, especially with a voice that can obviously soar. These never surface, however. Instead, things are left just below simmering, Sidewinder’s cooing remaining intimate and inviting. This is best seen on tracks such as ‘Tailback’, ‘Shipping Man’ and ‘Western Front’, but it is an effect built across the entire disc. Not until the final track, a pæan to the question of death on ‘The Last Dance’, do Daisy Tulley’s violin and Millie Hall’s saxophone stretch into more descriptive, filmic evocation, but it suits the track’s contents and is certainly not gratuitous.

The First Dance is evidence that Bridezilla have the ability to step in and fulfil the hype that has surrounded their growth. It is a consistent and strong work. It’s best qualities are those which show that the band doesn’t feel the need to be grandiose, but are confident in their own understated brooding.

Adrian Elmer

Bridezilla – The First Dance (Inertia Recordings) is a post from: Cyclic Defrost Magazine.

Omo – The White Album (Loaf/Inertia)

Posted: 15 Oct 2009 01:12 AM PDT

It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to steal the nickname of one of history’s all-time most famous albums and use it as the name of your own release. Both Omo and their more famous forebears play a version of pop music, and the covers of both albums are, unsurprisingly, mostly white. However, there most of the comparisons end. Omo might have stolen a title, but they’re not about to ride the coat tails of any one. This White Album is nothing like the other.

Omo are a duo of Berit Imming and David Muth. They make songs with roots in the minimal electronic edges of post-punk. Berit’s vocals carry a similar mood to The Flying Lizards’ Vivien Goldman, with a slightly Euro-accented, posh-Brit monotone, though it doesn’t seem to wear thin as Goldman’s did after the one-joke wore off. Instead, she is able to intone advertising copy for some sort of underwater apparatus in ‘ROV’ while a mildly bitcrushed rhythm, synth drones and marimbas pulse in the background, or she can actually produce pretty harmonies for ‘Oversized’ (the lyrics of which remain pure Dada – “let me eat this tart / before it falls apart”). The amount of diversity the duo manage to come up with is impressive, particularly considering that each track uses a minimum of sounds, generally of an analogue synthetic leaning. The odd guitar is also used, such as in ‘Tea Break’, where it is joined by a polite conversation over tea rendered as free-form poetry. Elsewhere, scientific texts (’Her Body’, about bird biology) and personal thought processes (’Hairy Bastard’ and ‘Turtle Neck’) give rise to lyrical content. The latter reminds me of Japan’s Buffalo Daughter with it’s pulsing guitar, only with Muth’s male vocal drone instead of girl harmonies. The album’s biggest highlight is ‘Advantage’ where Imming commentates a tennis match in deadpan sing-song as a Kraftwerkian pulse beats in the background and a killer synth hook wiggles its way into your subconscious, before stuttering to a increasingly broken lead solo.

As with many Loaf releases, The White Album is quirky and hugely likable. It has a retro-ness to it but could only have been made with the aid of 21st century processing technology. It has little in common with the fashionable sounds of now, but would fit comfortably into alternative radio playlists. Pop and experiment, minimalism and over-the-top affectation. It probably won’t join its namesake at the top of all time greatest album lists, but in a fractured post-modern market there’s no reason it couldn’t find an audience who consider it with as much affection.

Adrian Elmer

Omo – The White Album (Loaf/Inertia) is a post from: Cyclic Defrost Magazine.

K Mason – K Mason 2 (Evils) (Self Released)

Posted: 15 Oct 2009 01:11 AM PDT

K Mason treads an interesting path along the fringes of the freak/improv underground and more traditional musique concrête. There is none of the sense of the lo-fi of the former and a far more traditional musicality than the latter, but strands of both can be seen tugging against each other, creating a tension which sustains his extended explorations on K Mason 2 (Evils). It’s Keith Mason’s debut album and only second release following an EP in 2001. It’s considerably well formed considering the scarcity of material and relatively long gestation time between works.

The musique concrête elements are most apparent in the introductions and outros to the tracks. ‘Of 2 Evils’ begins with a series of musical non-sequiters on synths, guitar and percussion before settling into a dark, bass-driven groove, which is where the switch to a more psychedelic atmosphere takes place, complete with guitar feedback and wigouts alongside weedy organ drones. He rides the pulse for the remaining 5 minutes, odd whispered and crooned voices interspersing the otherwise instrumental buzz. ‘Bows & Arrows’ finds its musical impulse more quickly, it’s lethargic beat underscoring chanted vocals about being in the Boy Scouts. Moody, cinematic background strings and strange field recordings pull against the bludgeoning repetition while the bass riff, again, takes control and becomes the main pulse of the track. The final couple of minutes are random, aquatic guitar noises from a completely different planet. ‘VTR’ introduces spooked buzzes and phantom voices to the mix, building a musical intensity that is only released by the introduction of rhythms half way through its 8 minute duration. Final track ‘See The Sights’ is guitar bluster from the outset, a doomy sludge with eventual mellow shoe-gaze vocals before settling into a gritty folk groove. It doesn’t quite stay there, of course, winding its way around 11 and a half minutes of mood and guitar noodling.

K Mason manages to contain what could degenerate into directionless self-indulgence across the album’s four tracks. His playing is always inventive and never falls into established clichés, a particular achievement on the guitar with its saturated history. K Mason 2 (Evils) is well worth tracking down and provides yet more evidence that neo-psychedelia still has lots of space for interesting explorations.

Adrian Elmer

K Mason – K Mason 2 (Evils) (Self Released) is a post from: Cyclic Defrost Magazine.