Review: Expo ’70 – Hovering Resonance (Sound of Cobra, 2012)

We begin 2012 with a carefully balanced one-sided 12” vinyl from Justin Wright, originally Los Angeles, later Kansas City based guitar-wielding cosmic courier, who plays an updated, expanded take on Kosmische Musik, where six strings and analog synthesizers go hand in hand with a mission to create vast, psychedelic mindscapes. Why balanced? Because of its one side, on which there are two tracks, both making up some 24 minutes – which probably should classify this release as a “mini-album”, but maybe even an EP.

The opening track, 15-minute long “Hovering Resonance”, is a showcase of Expo 70’s trademark elements: a massive, distant, and pulsing synthesizer drone sets the mood for an endlessly looping and overlaying guitar hallucinations constatnly evolving and fluctuating in the form of Le Berceau de Cristal era Ash Ra Tempel style soloing. Last, but not least, Wright throws a slow beat, yet unstoppable beat into the mix, like a clock marking the changes in this ever-unfolding piece making it sound nearly like very slowed down, drugged out ambient techno jam.

The shorter piece, “Moon Raga”, changes the mood from a “cosmic-shamanic-desert-plateau-guitar/synth-ritual” mood to a more down to Earth, somewhat “traditional” Orient-inspired mood, replacing LSD with hashish. The bassy synth drone pulsates throughout the piece, looming in the background like a vintage electric organ sustained on the lowest note with Arabic drum instruments taking the spotlight. But instead of going on a rampage with maniacal drumming (like Popol Vuh would do on their In den Gärten Pharaos, the drums play a steady, unchanged beat (like the electronic heart of the previous piece). Sinister metallic noise explodes in the back every now and then, adding an unsettling, a little uncomfortable vibe to the druggy, floating experience of the EP.

Apart from many, many Kosmische Musik revivalists there are just a few who really stand out with their visions of music and their idea of taking their sound to the new levels while staying true to their ancestors. These include Expo ‘70, who takes the guitar-synth harmony of Manuel Göttsching and updates it with a roughed up, spacerockish imagery, Le Révélateur, who perfectly catches the sunny, proto New Age side of German synthesists and Food Pyramid, who flat out rock with their clean-cut, Neu!-infused krautrock. Are we entering the new krautrock era? I certainly hope so – Justin Wright is paving the way.

Cedar Skies – Torrid Break, Tepid Skies

Delicate and round-edged, very summer-influenced and recorded during a heatwave (yet released during winter) organic ambient pop  beauty from John Zahorian a.k.a. Cedar Skies. Simple, even minimalist beats go so very well with the sunlit melodies and silky vocals. Get some warmth (by the way, the temperatures are hitting a new low here in Poland lately, and apparently it’ll be even colder) for the winter time!

Cedar Skies – Torrid Break, Tepid Skies

Snowmine – Laminate Pet Animal

Not the usual Weed Temple stuff, but it doesn’t make it any worse, does it? Catchy, stamp-yr-foot tunes from a Brooklyn based quintet who make vaguely tribal, lush, somewhat ambient influenced psychedelic indie pop. A bit like Animal Collective, except less chaotically ecstatic and more carefully arranged. Check it out!

Snowmine – Laminate Pet Animal

Review: Smyth – Senescence (Sunshine Ltd, 2011)

Floridian label Sunshine Ltd. specialize in all-natural, smeared ambient music which appears to be directly influenced by the philosophy of Brian Eno regarding music making and life itself. Smyth, the one-man project of sound explorist Jared Smyth, is no exception, with his Senescence offering a stripped-down, simple, almost minimalistic approach known from Eno’s Music for Airports.

The tracks on the cassette, which contains beautiful artwork related to nature and cyclic changes (seasons, life and death etc.), are not as much conscious, melodic construction but rather appear to be a result of generative processes applied to the sounds. Spacious, high-pitched drones are only rarely accented by the swells of synthesizer bass, resulting in seemingly completely random, but in a disciplined, “bound-by-the-rules” way. Another standout element of the cassette are the field recordings, which are reverbed and modified to create a delicate, crumbling, glitchy tapestry which enhances the natural feel of the album. Distant sounds of leaves rumbling blend seamlessly with sparse, minimalistic melodies.

Another standout quality of Smyth’s cassette is the amount of work put into the sound. The meticulous work put into creating the album’s oneiric soundscapes calls for the listener’s attention right after putting tape into the deck. In a scene where everybody and their mother make drone/ambient now, with many “musicians” (as my friend noted some time ago), releasing pretty much anything they can fart out on a c-10 limited to 15 copies on some ultra-underground label, labels like Sunshine Ltd and artists like Jared Smyth (and David Andree, whose cassette I’ve reviewed quite some time ago) bring a ray of light. Highly recommended for all fans of all-natural, dreamy ambient.

Carey – Empty Boxes

Bucolic psychedelic folk filtered through the prism of sound collage, ambient and urban aesthetics, because it’s probably what most modern psych folk is about: evocating a pastoral, rural atmosphere in the middle of man-made chaos of glass and concrete. Acoustic guitar plays the main role, but it’s a type of acoustic guitar that loves experimentation and all sorts of sonic decoration. Might take a little time to click, recommended nonetheless.

CareyEmpty Boxes

Review: Piotr Kurek – Heat (Digitalis Ltd, 2011)

The newest tape by Warsaw’s sample wizard Piotr Kurek brings the whimsical, folktronic compositions of Dalia (released under the moniker Piętnastka) to the next, more intricate and psychedelic level. The music here is slower and more “adult”, the childish playfulness of the Sangoplasmo cassette is gone. The sounds on Heat bring the memories of Amon Tobin’s samplescapes, but without the focus on IDM/breakcore element of the equation. Kurek sculpts droning, sometimes even downright noisy collages, amorphous proto-jazz compositions falling into shamanic trance. The tape itself is described as “organ-infused tropicalia and archive amazonian recordings”, which can bring the likes of Sun Araw and Gala Drop to mind. The comparison is not as far-fetched as it might appear at first, and Piotr Kurek appears to be more than happy to quench our thirst for exotic instrumentation.

I’m certain the cassette must’ve been quite a surprise to the people familar with the output of Digitalis Limited, a label known for its take on rather minimalistic analog synth dronescapes, various Kosmische Musik worships and stipped down guitar based raga folk ballads. Because Heat is pretty much unlike anything released by Digi Ltd before: a collection of highly rhythmical, high fidelity soundtracks to oriental spy movies filled with instrumental clutter and vintage electric organ lines. Every little sound, every little beat, every littlest instrument and sample is on fire. The tracks are incredibly diverse too: the still mischevious “Heat”, which sounds like a more mature and a more aware take on Piętnastka’s “School Boy”, dark and foreboding “Time Takes What It Wants” and the massively droning “Organs Slide”, where the numerous, overlapping organ dialogues sound like dubless Sun Araw.

Until his expansion to the cassette labels like Sangoplasmo or Digitalis Ltd, Piotr Kurek was known only to a close-knit circle of EAI, experimental and ambient music aficionados in Poland (and probably a few abroad). The refinement of his sound and the exposure to a new crowd of fans (both because of the labels and because of websites and blogs picking up [and digging] the sound) may hopefully bring him to the spotlight, and motivate him to record more beauty in the near future. Highly recommended.

Review: Hunted Creatures – Summer Tour 2011 Cassette (Dynamo Sound Collective, 2011)

Pittsburghian collective Hunted Creatures (including the mastermind behind Dynamo Sound Collective, Ryan Emmett) specialize in creating impossible to pigeonhole psychedelic collages that appear to be equally inspired by krautrockers like Amon Duul II and industrial pioneers like Throbbing Gristle. Their Summer Tour 2011 Cassette is a short, yet healthy dose of tripped out sounds to lose oneself in.

The two untitled tracks contain a sort of slowly unfolding, electronically enhanced psychedelic melting pot that I absolutely love and which reminds me of the iconic krautrockers’ earliest days, when they would just get together and jam the fuck out (the similar approach to music as here was already applied on Can’s caveman jams from their Prehistoric Future outtakes). What was there however was an avant-gardish approach to rock music, with rock still being at the very core of Can’s experimentation. Here we have an amorphous, non-descript musical being leaving far behind the trappings of such outdated and vague genres as “rock” or “electronic”. Side A is much more on the machine side, gazing fondly at the ancient tape experiments and the abrasive circuit fuckery of early UK industrial acts.

Side B is much more “human” based, with less emphasis on machinery and more focus put into “live instruments” and even the bodies of the performers themselves – the endless clapping in the beginning sets the irregular rhythm for the sparse, droning violin (or a similar instruments), like a very early, dark and unorganized stage of an Amon Duul II jam. The handclaps fade in an out, a silent drone hums in the background, and gradually a rolling, crushing drums come in, together with a phased, fuzzed-out guitar solo, which doesn’t dominate over other instruments (like rock musicians would do), but instead is brought to the level of other background noises, like a faux-oriental sinister electric organ (Farfisa?) line. Like a cherry on top of a birthday cake, the ending brings a wonderful series of random fade-ins and fade-outs of the drums and the guitar, which are abruptly inserted and cut from the “basic” handclaps-violin-drone texture. The cut’n’paste bliss at the very end is a good example how much the sound can be enriched by good post-production and studio manipulation.

Listen and download Sumer Tour 2011 Cassette from Bandcamp