Review: Pressed And – Imbue Up (Crash Symbols, 2011)

This is definitely one of the most sigularly different albums I’ve come across lately. Operating on peripherals of electronic music, released on Crash Symbols, one of the freshest new cassette labels in the underground US scene (closely affiliated with Holy Page, I suppose), Imbue Up by the mysterious duo Pressed And (Andrew Hamlet & Mat Jones), breaks the borders of electronics psychedelia as most of us heads are used to (usually by the usual, worn out “new psychedelic electronic music = drone” association) by the adventurous, spacious and incredibly engaging combination of chillwave atmospheric and broken dubstep/UK garage beats – something I at this point like to call “chillstep”.

The unassuming and modest album artwork does not reflect the myriad of sounds this cassette offers. It took me a few repeated listens for this tape to click, but finally, upon some fifth or sixth listening, it clicked – and I was absolutely hooked. The opening track, “Fire Shelf”, sounds like something straight outta deep London undergound with a bit more gangsta, laid-back atmosphere added. Echoed and bouncing vocal snippets relieve the tension and the ambient interlude in the beginning sets the relaxing, yet explorative mood to the entire experience. But the high point of Imbue Up is “Etching”, a 7-minute sound journey which begins like your usual Kosmische Musik suspect finally breaking past the trappings of prog electronics and discovering many more genres, adding nearly danceable, stoned beats and beatific washes of heavenly moans into the eclectic mix. Total bliss. Other tracks on the album follow the similar, multi-layered path – bass-driven, melodic, vocal sample filled synthesized zones occupying the space between the beach and the club – sometimes more danceable, sometimes less – like the shortie, but goodie “Soul Muffin”, which just asks for a series of dancey remixes.

I have a feeling (among many others, as quoted on this album’s Bandcamp page), that this duo is destined for greatness. Imbue Up is a cassette that goes far beyond the trappings of both -step and -wave based genres, to create something richer, more spacious, infused with an undeniable ambient legacy. Watch these guys. They are bound to make quite a stir in the electronic scene.

Stream the album on Bandcamp

Sean McCann’s new label – Recital

If you are familiar with the work of (already) legendary Californian ambient composer Sean McCann, then you might have heard the news about his new label, Recital. Though operating since 2011, beginning with the “preparation” release – McCann’s own Prelusion CD-R, the label truly came to life in February 2012, with the release of three inaugural albums. The first release is the vinyl collaboration between Sean McCann and Matthew Sullivan (head of Ekhein tape label) named Vanity Fair, which presents the best of two worlds, fusing crumbling, delicate textures, delicate and modified found sounds and field recordings and synthesized passages.

“Vanity Fair” by Sean McCann & Matthew Sullivan from sean mccann on Vimeo.

The second release by Recital is Micromegas, a CD-R by Matthew Erickson, also going by the moniker Radiant Husk. The album is a collection of looped tenor saxophone improvisations mixed with overwhelming tape drone. Certain influences of minimalism and 60’s drone music can be traced on this release, with its slowly enveloping, ever-shifting compositions based largely on repetition.

MOSS ST. from Zach Iannazzi on Vimeo.

The third, and probably the most surprising release is Evening Song Awaken by Troy Schafer, the midwestern multi-instrumentalist affiliated with such diverse acts as Second Family Band or Burial Hex. His solo album is a departure from ambient and psych folk areas into modern classical suites, filled with emotionally charged violin passages and contrasting fierceness and pastoral bliss. Is Troy Schafer’s CD-R an indication of what path Recital will take in the future? Time will show. In the meantime, enjoy the sample and buy all three releases from the label.

Review: Ensemble Economique – Crossing the Pass, by Torchlight (Dekorder, 2011)

No surprises here for the fans of Brian Pyle’s genre-bending solo project: the Californian sound sculptor again succeeded to provide a thick, beat-driven ritualistic psychedelic soup much in the style of his previous LP, Psychical, but this time it’s even more droning, more mind-altering and more detailed. Pyle brings his game onto a new level while changing a few rules – subtly, but noticeably.

What the listener can notice while listening to the new LP is the complete lack of vocal samples – while on Psychical they were critical, often greatly contributing to the overall atmosphere of the track (like the heavy Jamaican accent blabber on “Red For the Sun”), on Crossing the Pass… the creation of syrupy atmospheres is provided by droning, snakelike synthesizer lines set against drum machine hip-hoppy half-beats which loop tirelessly throughout entire tracks, creating an inseparable sonic tapestry with multi-layered drones. The textures are even more layered than on the previous album, so it might be hard to get a clear image of the whole album during the first few listens (actually, it might be quite hard to get a totally clear view of this album ever, so textured it is). Crossing the Pass, by Torchlight sounds like someone secretly playing Lustmord records during a drugged-out hip-hop party, where everyone is too high on cough syrup to realize the dark, mysterious sounds coming from the speakers and intermingling with the beats are not their own brain’s creation, but someone else’s. The crowning moment of the album might be “To Feel the Night as It Really Is”, which, with its sampled (?) drum rolls and downery atmosphere sounds like a B-side by DJ Shadow at his most experimental and atmospheric.

Ensemble Economique walks the thin line between psychedelic drone, ritual ambient and instrumental hip-hop, doing the miracle of sounding like all of those genres at the same time while actually not sounding like probably anything else before him. EE is a more electronic, beat-based counterpart to Brian’s “main” band, Starving Weirdos. All hail the new king of psychedelic collages.

ENSEMBLE ECONOMIQUE – Everything I Have, I Give To You from PɨK on Vimeo.

ENSEMBLE ECONOMIQUE – To Feel The Night As It Really Is from PɨK on Vimeo.

Read more and buy digital download at Dekorder.

Review: Nathan McLaughlin – Echolocation #1 (Digitalis Ltd, 2011)

Minnesota resident Nathan McLaughlin has been building a name for himself in the drone scene with his ambitious, multi-part Echolocation series. Released non-chronologically through different cassette labels, McLaughlin connects all the tapes in the series with general overarching ideas and work methods. As it’s explained in the liner notes on the j-card, despite the fact the tracks are largely improvised and there’s just a very minimal amount of editing involved in recording, the tracks took a long time to witness daylight.

Despite being called Echolocation #1, the tape is not the first release in the series chronologically, previous cassettes being issued on Notice Recordings, Gift Tapes and Digitalis Ltd (again). McLaughlin stresses in the liner notes that “they are not numbered based on when they should be released, but rather on how the full story will unfold in the end”. The common motif of a flying bird adorns the covers, with Echolocation #1 featuring a bird on a plain white background.

Since it’s Number 1 in the series, the sounds correspond with the idea of a beginning of something bigger. Both untitled tracks consist of a series of slowly building up and fading drones, bathing in tape hiss. The sounds here are so subtle it might be somewhat difficult to differentiate them from the background noise. Despite the delicate structure, the listener can feel the massive potential of the sounds, muted and restrained, gradually getting more bassy and ominous. The echoed, rising-and-falling structure of the tracks truly reflects the idea of echolocation – of sounds bouncing off objects in order to measure distance or (and maybe that’s the more apt comparison) depth.

Eschewing the notion of ambient being merely “wallpaper music”, McLaughlin creates sounds that can be easily ignored if listened to wrong way – that is, if one plays it while cleaning the house or reading the book it can be easily forgotten and only the loud click once the tape is finished can remind the listener that there was something inside the tapedeck. Once listened to closely, however, with headphones on, can reward the listener with carefully constructed world of microscopic sounds, which are easily drowned under the throbbing, bassy drone.

Echolocation #1 is available from Discriminate and Experimedia.

Visit Nathan McLaughlin’s website for more info.

Mythomaniacs Are Right – There Is No Such Thing As Death, Life Is Only A Dream And We Are The Imagination Of Ourselves

The ridiculously long album title and the cover might suggest some inspiration by the LA post-rock dudes from Red Sparowes, but in fact there is no connection at all – because there is no rock at all. There Is No Such Thing… is a sparse, absolutely minimal album inspired (among others) by German electronic music, both old new and new: on one side, there are obsessive tape loops and musique concrete which channel the spirit of late master Karlheinz Stockhausen; on the other side there is an obvious glitch worship element, which make the tracks sound like a more ambient-treated, detailed Alva Noto at times. There’s also an obvious influence of minimalism, somtimes whimsical, sometimes ominous. Disorienting and challenging, just how I like my experimental electronics.

Mythomaniacs Are Right – There Is No Such Thing As Death, Life Is Only A Dream And We Are The Imagination Of Ourselves

Mediafire link

Buy the tape from Already Dead Tapes

Camel Heads – Camel Heads

From Sao Paulo, Brazil comes a spaciously delicious, ambient-tinged psychedelic guitar badassery of Camel Heads, which offers us a healthy dose of dead man’s desert blues filtered through the prism early Sun Araw-like tropical psychedelia, back when Cameron Stallones was pumping out rolling-fog, drumless lysergic gems. Camel Heads sounds like a series of slow buildups for epic stoner jams. Also visit Camel Heads’ Tumblr for some mindbending trippy pictures.

Camel Heads – Camel Heads

The Sufis – The Sufis

I’d like to say “blast from the past”, but this band is a very much modern affair, so I should rather say “blast into the past”. The Sufis are a Nashville, United States based psychedelic trio which looks back to the roots of the genre: wonderful vocal harmonies, keeping their songs (yes, songs instead of tracks) short & concise, ornamenting their music with basic yet effective guitar effects and absolutely WONDERFUL snakelike Farfisa organ lines. It’s 1960’s all over again. Taste the rainbow!