EMR

independent electronic and experimental music

Dementia and Hope Trails – Pure Magical Love

 

 

Dementia and Hope Trails – Pure Magical Love (Rainbow Bridge Recordings)Image

I just deleted a 500 word review of this tape because, as I just tweeted, I don’t really know how to review most ambient without making it sound like generic ambient and then putting IT’S REALLY GOOD at the end.  That’s what my initial review was, basically.  So I’m going to be more direct this time.  There’s no point in accurate, detailed descriptions or reading unnecessary meaning into this music.  Justin Marc Lloyd uses an array of reverb, delay, chorus and looping pedals with his guitar to make lush, rich, sublime ambient music.  At times it moves slowly, like the vast, glacial ‘Haunt’, that makes me think of huge, uninhabited vistas.  At other times, sweet, sweet guitar arpeggios frolic amongst themselves, playfully coaxing tears of both joy and sadness in a bittersweet flutter of emotion.  On ‘Star Road, Rework’, the sound disintegrates into buzzing and noise, giving a refreshing reminder of Lloyd’s other projects.
In recent years there’s definitely been a rise in the number of artists using ambient forms to convey deeply emotional music, and Justin Marc Lloyd is one.  Since the collapse of his Sensible Nectar project into various fragments, Dementia and Hope Trails is the one I’ve been following closest, and this is his best work yet.  Pure Magical Love is a deeply pretty tape.  It is moving.  It is bittersweet, or what I regularly refer to as happysad.  It makes me happy to be alive, and happy to be able to feel the contrasting emotions of joy and sadness, and be able to appreciate one more strongly because of the other.  There’s another DAHT coming this year and I can’t wait.

Get it here.

The Glimmer Room – The Wind Blows Summer from the Trees

The Glimmer Room – The Wind Blows Summer from the Trees (A-Frame Media)Image

Of all the things I have ever produced, creatively, in any medium, the piece I am least proud of is my review of The Glimmer Room’s 2004 masterpiece Grey Mirrors, in which I attempted to portray one of the most profoundly beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard largely by describing the musical elements.  This explains why it’s taken me a year to feel confident enough to write this review, which is also an attempt to rectify that error.
The problem with creating a masterpiece is that it inevitably ends up being the comparison point for every subsequent work by the artist.  In such a light, both 2008’s progressive sounding Home Without the Journey and 2010’s hypnotic I Remain, whilst both strong, didn’t quite hit the spot in the same way as Grey Mirrors; the Diary of Occurences EP, also released in 2010, with its sparser, more melancholic sound, was the nearest record to meet such lofty expectations.
What it is about Grey Mirrors that really stands out is how expressive the record is.  Whilst most music is just that, music, occasionally a record comes along that seems to be a place or an emotion (or both), somehow captured in aural form, as if the normal aspects of music are irrelevant or even missing all together: that’s not a chord sequence you’re listening to, it’s somebody literally playing a feeling on a synth; instead of a field recording, it’s actually a gateway to the time and place the bird was singing.  Needless to say, it was to much delight that I found that same magic within the music on The Wind Blows Summer from the Trees.
The beautifully bound booklet that comes with the album is a diary, of sorts, of Condon’s life over the year it took to record the music.  For the most part, it is not a happy read.  Andy has reached middle age.  He wonders whether his life has peaked, or if he has missed the boat all together.  The daily grind pummles away at his health and his creativity.  It’s difficult for me to read.  Not only is it heartbreaking to see somebody I like and respect in such a horrible place, but at times it reflects my own experiences all too well.  When he writes “times like these make me wish I could stop and leave it all behind; no more Glimmer Room… I hatch a plan of how I will walk away”, I am reminded of the many times I have considered giving up music all together.  At other times the diary reveals more personal information that I know of most of my friends.  Like I say, an uncomfortable read.
Still, things come together for Andy, as he begins to record the album, and regains his confidence again.  He realises there are ups and downs in life, and one becomes stronger from recovering from those downs.  The reason I have gone into such depth discussing the diary is that it probably does a better job of describing the mood of the music than I ever could in my own words.  Not just because it is personal to the artist, but because the music and diary as so utterly linked that every written word seems to have an accompanying note of music.  The album swells from ups to downs; from stark, aching sadness, to warm, comforting joy.  This is the first Glimmer Room record without any percussive elements, and it’s a direction that works well.  The shimmering synths that form the bulk of the record are perfect; the composition so expressive; there really is no place for anything to drive the album onwards any more than it naturally flows.  A carnival interlude in the middle of the record matches the moments of wry humour in the text (my favourite moment is “sod being a spider”), and field recordings punctuate the music at all the right times.  It is, of course, a sentimental sounding work, but Andy Condon does sentimental music better than anybody else out there.  Past traces of new age, progressive “EM”, Berlin School and breaks have been put aside for what is, more than anything else, a Glimmer Room record.  The Wind Blows Summer from the Trees is just that: the sound of a year in the life of Andy Condon.  Needless to say, I love this album.

Get it here.

Inappropriate King Live – Datboonbaat

Inappropriate King Live – Datboonbaat (Rainbow Bridge Recordings)

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The problem I have with noise is a more excessive version of the problem I have with most types of music: sameyness. Most of the bands I became a fan of as a child are notable for their striking diversity (this is where I boast about being a twelve year old Future Sound of London fan). Put simply, most of my favourite records are those that cover a broad range of moods, styles and sounds. And sadly, most noise tends to be quite restrictive in that regard. Not a criticism of it, as much as an explanation as to why I tend to be happy with the relatively small selection of cassettes and CDrs on my shelves.
An important cassette for me in this collection is Tectonic Grind by Sensible Nectar, the all-encompassing alias Justin Marc Lloyd used a few years ago before fragmenting into an increasing number of projects. The tape contrasts shimmering textures with squealing noise to wonderful effect – sometimes just noise, sometimes beautiful ambient guitar work, often a mixture of both. Not only do the quieter sections act as a relief, but they also provide a context to allow the noise to be quite startling and challenging – something which I haven’t really felt since that first “holy shit what is THIS?” moment which comes with everybody’s first Merzbow track. Since then, the aforementioned fragmentation has meant Lloyd’s releases have been more uniform – the guitar drones coming out as Dementia and Hope Trails, the noise first as Pregnant Spore and, more recently, under his own name.
It is no surprise, then, that I thoroughly enjoyed the latest Inappropriate King Live release, Datboonbaat. IKL is the artist’s sound collage project, piecing together field recordings, found sounds, and various pieces of musical debris. The first side, in particular, blew me away. If there was such a thing as ‘noise’, as opposed to ‘harsh noise’ (and there might be, although it doesn’t seem to appear much these days), it is present throughout Datboonbaat. Distortion, from low frequency grumblings to high pitched squealing, fades in and out throughout the record, forming the glue that holds the entire piece together, without the feeling of being told to fuck off, or being punched in the face (as so much harsh noise does). Instead, it’s a textural backdrop that makes sense in context of the rest of the album. The collage nature of the tape is most evident with the occasional appearance of familiar sounds: particularly when ‘As Time Goes By’ floats in somewhere near the end of side one, ‘What is the Fucking Book of Notes’, accompanied shortly after by unidentified hip-hop. The second side, ‘What is Surrounded’s End. Who’s Hands. I am a Minority. A Ministry. I Segregate Myself.’, is accompanied almost throughout by what could be radio transmissions, or taped television, or possibly overheard conversation. And these sections of abstract sound art are punctuated, unforgivingly, by industrial beats: a dark, techno pulse punches through the lo-fi mix at points on both sides of the tape, adding an extra dimension often missed in this kind of music.
What really makes the tape special for me, however, is the melodic work on the first side. At three separate points, Lloyd utilises synths to really make this tape stand out. In the first few minutes, a haunting drone reverberates beneath squelching sounds and high frequency oscillations; further on, an almost euphoric section sees swelling synths pitted against those industrial beats. The highlight, for me, is near the end of the side, when a truly beautiful, melancholy synth passage comes in, fighting against growing waves of distortion. The saturation, coupled with the heart-wrenching chords, gives this section an emotional punch that is almost exhausting.
Datboonbaat, for me, is what experimental music should be about. It takes the listener by surprise, and offers an array of things: rather than sitting comfortably in one place, it offers noise, ambient, industrial, field recordings and musique concrete, and in its own way, turns them all against each other to make something different, interesting, and beautiful. It’s been done before, but nowhere near often enough. A wonderful tape, and highly recommended.

Get it here.

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Xan Alexander – Ouroborus/Memories of Light

Xan Alexander – Ouroboros/Memories of Light (Ouroboros Music)

I first discovered Xan Alexander’s music through the incredible Quantum Waves album on AmbientLive, which pits synthscapes and pure ambience against light percussion and a couple of Berlin School epics.  I therefore found it interesting and enjoyable to hear Xan’s evolution over the years via his two retrospective discs, Ouroboros and Memories of Light.

Ouroboros begins way back in ’95, where we find a very different Xan Alexander.  Opener, ‘Seeing’, immediately sets the tone, with a light sequence, some mid-tempo electronic rhythms and a charming melody.  Like most of the work on the disc recorded betwen 1995 and 2000, it has little to do with expansive soundscapes, instead preferring to take a route which is catchy, light and almost poppy, with its joyous melody and three-minute duration.  There is an almost child-like playfulness and innocence to many of these pieces, which sets them apart from the pretentiousness of a lot of the EM scene.  Particular highlights include the piano-led ‘Earth’ from 1997 and the jaunty ‘Soul Station’ from 1998.  The rhythm-free ‘This Earth’ (’96) and ‘Sunrise’ (’00), and more dramatic, minor-key leaning ‘Energy’ (’98) add variety.  As the disc goes on, the sequences change from slight, background filling sounds and slowly take over the compositions.  By 2002’s ‘Space Age’, an eight minute, sequence-led epic, it is obvious Xan is heading in the direction of more traditional Berlin School sounds.  ‘Echoes’ (’03) has traces of Vangelis in its composition, and a leap to 2007 provides two darker, more atmospheric compositions, including the beautifully dramatic closer, ‘Future Echoes’, foreshadowing Xan’s more recent ambient work.  The difference in style between 2003 and 2007 is almost startling, but fortunately this is where Memories of Light comes into play.

Lacking the handy year-by-year references of Ouroboros, Memories of Light merely states the pieces on this disc were recorded 2002-2008.  The record compiles a few demos and alternate takes from the era, as well a series of related recordings, ‘Storm Bringer I-II’, ‘Klausified I-III’ and ‘Distorted Reality I-III'; plus a selection of other recordings from this period.  Both parts of ‘Storm Bringer’ are rhythmic, almost dancey pieces, led by lively sequences and arpeggios.  The ‘Klausified’ tracks each give a different spin on a fast-paced sequence, two rhythmic, one softer in sound, each with a distinctly 1980s sound to it.  The ‘Distorted Reality’ tracks are more menacing, with pounding beats and thundering sequences.  Many of the other pieces, including the amusingly titled ‘All Roads Lead to Warrington’, follow in similar suit, with elements of Xan’s earlier style blending in with the space age sonics of the Berlin School crowd.  However, some pieces do act as a bridge to the later ambient work, such as the subdued sounds of ‘Wind Chill Factor’ and particularly ‘Dark Angel’, which add mellotron textures, the latter one of a few pieces to remove the rhythm all together.  The move from Xan’s older sound towards this Berlin School approach does, unfortunately, lose a bit of his own unique personality in the music – some tracks here have a veil of anonymity which can come with a very specific sounding genre – and the maintained use of short track lengths does lead to the album becoming tiring before it ends, as opposed to allowing the tracks to build into longer pieces, as often works with sequence based music.  A number of short tracks do help to mix things up, and ‘Memories of Life’, surely one of the earliest recordings on the record, recalls the playful nature of Ouroboros.  Xan even saves the best ’til last, with the eight minute epic closer ‘Beta Lyrae’, which builds up from an ambient intro to beautiful piano melodies, before fading away into abstraction.  This last piece bookends the era nicely, and prepares us for the albums to come.

Ouroboros and Memories of Light are a wonderful trip through thirteen years of synth music by one musician, and it’s fascinating to see his growth and change over this time.  While a little excessive overall, the two discs come recommended to fans of the modern EM scene; Ouroboros is a joyful and accessible disc, and Berlin School fans will no doubt find lots to love on Memories of Light.

 

4m33s – The Four Seasons

4m33s – The Four Seasons (AmbientLive)

 

In the past I have reviewed some of John Sherwood’s more recent experiments under his 4m33s alias, but here I return to the project’s roots with his Four Seasons collection.  Originally released under the Y-EXP moniker in 2000 as a four disc set – one for each season – the series is now more neatly packaged in two double disc sets, available from AmbientLive (although you may have to get in touch via email as it is one of many 4m33s albums not advertised on the site!).

I discovered 4m33s through the music hosting site ElectronicScene back in 2002, and was drawn to this particular project, as I have always been a fan of evocative, picture-painting music.  Whilst recent releases like Mystical Time Machine have an emphasis on traditional Berlin School sequences and long ambient passages, earlier releases had a trademark sound focussed on a unique use of sequences.  Shying away from the traditional Tangerine Dream/Schulze-aping of much sequencer-based music, the pieces on display here feature an array of light, twinkly synthetic sounds which slowly morph and change over the course of the piece, typically between 10 and 20 minutes.  White noise is regularly employed to steer the pieces away from the melodic and towards the experimental (particularly on Autumn), but the music always returns to its root: usually a repeated joyous, playful melody.
 
Despite this broad description, each individual disc uses the template in a different way to conjour its respective season.  Spring begins with “Seeds”, one of the more repetitive pieces in the series, which gives images of the early stages of new life reading to burst forth, while “Spring Gardens” is a more complex piece, melodic counterpoint suggesting plants intertwining in their new growth.
Summer focuses not on vibrance of summer life, but the intensity of summer heat.  “Summer Heat” is just that: intense and draining, its synths reaching a screeching crescendo, whilst “Summer Rain” is the antidote, a fast moving, refreshing melodic number to combat the high temperature of the opening pieces.
Autumn is the most experimental of the four works, portraying strong winds shaping the landscape and tearing leaves from trees.  Synth growls and layers of white noise are the main focus this time around.  Brief snippets of tumbling melody are caught through gusts of slowly changing noise washes.  Autumn is an experimental record, and makes no claims otherwise.
Winter begins on an entirely different note, with a beautiful melody from the softest sounding synth.  A perfect contrast with the previous record, here crystaline ice structures and delicate footprints are portrayed through intricate melodic lines and just a touch of sadness.  The most enjoyable, and probably most accomplished, disc of the series, Winter ends the Four Seasons on a high note.

Whilst the use of modulation on all aspects of the synth suggests a more generic sequence-based sound, I must emphasise again, this is not the deep plodding or rapid pummelling of standard fare Berlin School music.  John Sherwood has created a unique sound based on synth sequences, one with a warm, earthy feel, which bears a much stronger influence of the minimalists of the ’70s than the over-indulgence that plagues a lot of synthesiser music (indeed, Sherwood counts Reich and Riley – along with Cage, of course – among his biggest influences).  It is this combination of experimental music with enjoyable sounds, catchy melodies and evocative imagery that makes this set worthwhile.  If you’re interested in the earlier days of 4m33s (typically pre-The Ritual), this is a great place to start.

Kerkville – Days

Kerkville – Days (Triple Bath)

A lot of independent music rests on the fact that it’s independent.  A cassette release, or an album put out by a respected indie label, means a lot to some people.  However, some small scale releases transcend that.  There are albums out there which deserve to be heard by thousands of people; albums which rely not on image or credibility, but on musical quality.  Days, the debut album by Mihalis Moshoutis under the Kerkville alias, is such an album.

Days could easily be acclaimed simply on the fact it is made entirely using guitars (other than a brief piano performance hidden within track 7, ‘Next to Me’).  However, this is merely something to consider futher when contemplating the quality of the music contained within the album.  Moshoutis is a composer of great talent, expressing drama, quaintness, sadness and joy through his use of guitar.  Sometimes, it is very straightforward and stripped back, such as ‘On the Lake’s minimal classical stylings, while sometimes it pushes towards the experimental, such as the ambient-esque processing involved in ‘Rise of Ys’, a particular highlight of the album.  Closer ‘Days’ is an uplifting end to the record, which fits nicely after a previous series of more downbeat pieces.  ‘Keeping It’ is a high paced piece based on acoustic arpeggios, while ‘Vault’ is a more dramatic number, more in line with post rock than ambient or classical guitar music. 

What is astonishing is that all ten tracks on Days are high quality: not a second is wasted.  Some of the most outstandingly beautiful instrumental music I have ever heard is contained on this disc, and no greater complement can be given to a record.

Jack Anderton – Archives I & II

Jack Anderton – Archives I & II (Jerky Oats Records)

In the past year or so, Jack Anderton has become known for his two popular albums, The Moment and The Missing Couple, which combined electronic synth music and sample-based collage ambient with choral vocals and acoustic guitar work. Released in the summer of 2010, these two archive releases feature highlights from the wealth of material Anderton recorded before The Moment.
Archive I: Ambient Acoustic is based around the style of elegant, slow-moving atmospheric music Jack Anderton spent some time creating using an array of unexpected instruments; instead of creating ambient music using synths and heavily treated drone work, he instead approaches the genre armed with an acoustic guitar, a keyboard and a television. This lends the collection a soft, intimate feel that is more human than most ambient music, yet no less evocative. Somewhere Sealed features gently strummed guitar and layers of vocals, both wordless and intoning the title, and samples from a television documentary. Its uplifting feel is given a note of sadness when the documentary fades in with “…but it was a poor exchange for the destroyer of so many lives”. The balance of dreamy warmth and wistful sadness is present throughout the collection. Closing In and Air Pockets are definitely more on the sad side of things, while Shiver and Shaken twinkle with layers of beautiful guitar work. There is quite a diverse stylistic variation throughout the record, regardless of its simplistic approach, with a variety of keyboard and synth work appearing, and on Asleep at the Wheel, which Anderton describes as ‘throwing the kitchen sink at it’, strange wailing samples and dance beats. The archive ends on the fitting End of an Age, with a subdued feeling of drama. Although the albums these songs came from may have been a little overloaded with material, Anderton has managed to condense them down to a perfectly concise collection that proves how adept he is at working with a minimal setup. The record acts as a precursor to the more expansive ambient acoustic sound he produced on The Missing Couple. Beautiful.
Archive II: Electronic takes a very different approach which, a scattering of tracks aside, is a less personal affair, but contains higher production values. After the ambient acoustic sessions, Anderton decided to attempt creating more traditional ambient/ambient techno music and, over a series of albums, came up with a lot of material of interest. This is collected here, and begins with the dreamy Noyer, which is connected to the first archive in spirit, but explores this washed-out sound through layers of fuzzy synths and mid-tempo drum loops. Naturally, this is a considerably more varied work than the first archive, as exampled in the second track, Too Early, which is a breakbeat piece with a definite groove to it (a sound explored elsewhere on Trust). Tomb Under the Moon and Caligny fall furthest into the moody electronic music category, with light clattering beats and grim sounding synths that are a light year away from the friendliness of Anderton’s early work, but just as evocative. The much lighter sound of Spires; Echoes and Funicular indicates their close proximety in recording to the sessions that led to The Moment, and they are relatively similar in style and mood, featuring field recordings and more upbeat synth loops. Of all the tracks, Flair is the most telling, with its layers of synths and samples sitting alongside acoustic guitar playing that acts as the perfect halfway house between the two styles of recording, and showing that no matter how different the approach, there is a definite consistency in ideas between all of Anderton’s releases.
Both albums feature artwork helpfully highlighting from which album the individual pieces originate and the year of their recording, and many of the MP3s feature id3 tags with snippets of information in the comments section. The two archives act both as wonderful albums of their own right, and good introductions to those who may wish to explore the artist’s earlier work (which can be found on Last.fm, uploaded by Jack himself).

Full-Source – Full-Source, The Nothing, Empathy’s Last Stand, The Lantern the Ghost and the Sea, Eyes Wide & Empty Hats, Farewell These Unknown Suns

Ten years ago, I stumbled across a fellow Future Sound of London fan who was making music.  His name was Tim Dwyer, and he used the name Full-Source to release this music.  Despite the tracks being lo-fi pieces of little more than demo quality, there was a spark of originality nestled within them that had me hooked.  Over the past decade, I’ve followed the varied (and sometimes confusing) tos and fros of Full-Source, and have been lucky enough to be involved in the project at various points.  In September of this year, Tim announced he was putting the name to rest after a final album.  So I thought it was time to cast a little more light on the project, and review the ten years of original, unpredictable music that have been put out as Full-Source.

Full-Source (Demo)/The Nothing (Second Thought Records)

Although long out of print, I can’t go by without passing comment on the debut self-titled album from 2002.  Almost entirely instrumental, and mostly based around ambient techno with a distinct computer game influence, it was leagues ahead of those early demos and paved the way for The Nothing.  Some of the tracks on it even rank among my favourite Full-Source numbers to the day.  Injoctal Frep and Primer play with intertwining synth melodies to make a distinctive sound, 1810 (Leaving Orbit) sets the stage for albums to come, and Segmented Frozen Past introduces a (soon to become signature) toy piano playing a pensive melody that has become my favourite Full-Source track of all.  Anyway…

The first track on The Nothing begins in a fairly unassuming manner, vocal samples, stuttering beats and background vocals not much different from the previous album.  However, something happens halfway through.  The rhythm picks up into a steady shuffle, layers of synths swirl around, and the vocals very much take the fore.  Is this… synthpop?  The deal is sealed on track 3, Android, with its vocoded vocals and distinctly 80s-influenced synth backing.  In fact, only three tracks of the 16 on The Nothing are instrumental, marking a change towards a song-based style which would prove successful enough to become permanent. 
Synthpop isn’t a broad enough term to describe the whole album, although it covers much of it – Nothing is Another Today, We Are Mathematics and Prior To being particular highlights.  Elsewhere, a Smashing Pumpkins influence rears its head, especially in Dwyer’s vocals, which are still occasionally in their formative stage.  The more adventurous pieces on the album are sometimes the less successful, including Seventy Five, which strips the sound down to a very bare sounding piano and vocal, the baffling instrumental Wishing Wanting Missing and sparse outro Shutdown (Reprise).  These are the only real missteps on the record, however, and for the most part it is a thoroughly successful work. 
Retaining the dark core and adventurous spirit (the toy piano makings three outings here) of Full-Source’s ambient techno beginnings is the key to the album’s success: instead of being little more than a synthpop throwback, The Nothing skews the genre into unchartered territories.  Sure, placing a solo piano piece next to an electronic anthem about mathematics might sound strange, but Full-Source does strange better than most.

Empathy’s Last Stand (No-Source Recordings)

Ah, Empathy’s Last Stand, a self-described concept album about the epic journey of a confused space man and a gigantic world dominating RADIO.  The story that links it all together is thoroughly confusing.  As far as I can tell, the album starts with a mission to send an astronaut into the future, which happens to be a point where Earth is ruled by something called RADIO, which has enslaved all of humanity.  Somewhere along the line, the astronaut manages to destroy RADIO, while sacrificing his life in the process.  If that sounds all a bit much, wait until you hear the music.
This is not the Full-Source we met two years prior.  Gone are the 80s synths and hook-filled choruses.  On the opening two songs we are subjected to an array of samples, synths, and, notably, live instruments: guitar, drums, bass, thumb piano, and of course vocals.  The sleeve lists a lineup of ten musicians, each supplying instruments as and when required.  The core of Full-Source is still Tim Dwyer, but the personnel on Empathy’s Last Stand fleshes out the sound magnificently.  The range of instruments and the songs blended into a continuous mix do a great job of living up to the story’s grandeur.
As for the songs themselves, there is a typical range of styles on show, from lo-fi indie pop (Paper Colony) to solo piano (Old Box) and shoegaze (The Significant Other).  A Witch Hunt Holds No Boundaries cuts up piano and vocals in an intimidating fashion suited to its title, while The Absolute employs the Massey College Choir to bring a post-rock scale dynamic to the album’s closer.  The Difference Between Everything and Up Stem both provide and more electronic sound which ties in with Full-Source’s past.  And I’ve only discussed half of the album, there’s lots more to explore.
In short, Empathy’s Last Stand is a monumental work from a crazy imagination.  Dwyer’s concept never overreaches his grasp (although it threatens to once or twice in the second half), the music is varied without ever losing coherency, the songwriting is imaginative and often mesmerising and the whole album just pulses with a truly alive feeling.  It was my album of the year in 2006, and I think it has only improved with age. 
Utterly essential.

The Lantern, the Ghost and the Sea/Eyes Wide & Empty Hats (No-Source Netlabel)

It took four years for Full-Source to return with with album #4.  Following the short Red Sky EP, a brief and excellent return to an upbeat synthpop sound containing the wonderful It’s Not You It’s Everyone, The Lantern, the Ghost and the Sea is a sharp contrast to its predecessor.
Not only has Full-Source been stripped back to just Tim Dwyer once more, but the arrangements have been stripped back to a very acoustic sound.  Ten of the album’s songs were written on the Kalimba thumb piano, and the instrument is the album’s musical focus.  It combines with the now familiar toy piano and glockenspiel, and subtle electronics to form a genre which Dwyer calls toytronic.
The Lantern, the Ghost and the Sea is definitely an album of songwriting.  The melodies are pretty, and many songs contain memorable hooks – or two, in the case of Into the Crowd.  Land-Locked Sea leads the indie-pop sound, Until Morning twinkles with melodic arpeggios, and a re-recording of The Nothing’s Prior To reveals it to be a rather sad, beautiful lament beneath its original bleeping synths.  Closer When We Lived in Mountains is the album’s only callback to the electronic roots of Full-Source, a five minute piece of haunting ambient.  It’s impossible to make a fair comparison between the album and earlier works like Full-Source and The Nothing, as it is so heavily rooted in indie-pop and acoustic music.  However, Dwyer has not lost any skill in this transformation, and The Lantern, the Ghost and the Sea is a lovely small-scale work, containing many beautiful songs.
Never one to leave decent music unreleased, Tim has put out the remaining songs from the album’s sessions as the first half of Eyes Wide & Empty Hats.  While the songs could be described as ‘more of the same’, this would do the individual tracks an injustice.  Eyes Wide is built upon a charming acoustic guitar loop, while Skyscraping and Screenplay expand upon the haunting loneliness that the original album hinted at, and the tracks are a little more electronic in sound.  The second half of the record consists of a series of remixes of tracks from Lantern.  Most of these are enjoyable and give a hint of how Full-Source would sound were Tim Dwyer inclined to work in rather different genres: Second Thought gives Prior To an ambient makeover, and most entertainingly Yohei Inomata turns Into the Crowd into a storming house track.  The record is a disjointed affair by its very nature, but is uniformly strong from start to finish.

Farewell These Unknown Suns

Dwyer’s description of Farewell These Unknown Suns as sounding, for the first time, like a Full-Source record is an apt one: there is no great stylistic jump this time.  While, overall, it fits in with the style explored on Lantern…, this is a more electronic work (actually more in keeping with Eyes Wide than anything else), which incorporates subtle elements of earlier Full-Source styles, in more ways than one.  The playful instrumental Dinner Table Conversation dates back to early recording sessions from 2001, while the debut album’s masterpiece Segment Frozen Past reappears here in a more stripped back, acoustic setting in the form of Segmented Past.  It’s a wonderful, respectful reworking of the original, and the synth sounds in the background help remind us that Full-Source began life as a very electronic project.  The reworking of Leaving Orbit is almost as successful, and these nods to the past add to the sadness that inhabits the record.
The album begins with the childlike feel of Lantern… with poppy singalongs such as Surrounded, but soon things take a slightly more melancholic turn.  Sun Showers’s beautiful plinky arpeggios are dripping with sadness and loss, Autumn seems to mourn the loss of summer rather than bask in the orange and red beauty of the season, while Sun Divide begins with a collection of reverberated percussive sounds, giving the impression of being recorded in a cave, before the synthpop sound last heard on The Nothing rears its head for the last time, adding a sinister feel to proceedings.  Fascinatingly, the ambient style continues on Night Hymn, which is only a shade of reverb away from being an Off Land track.  Following this downbeat run of songs comes Farewell, which closes the album – and the project – with a sense of exhausted triumph.  A slow hip-hop and piano loop beat runs through the piece, over which Dwyer sings a run of goodbyes.  In typical unpredictable Full-Source style, instead of an explosion of emotion, the piece collapses into a strange mess of toy piano sounds (what else?) and ends on some distortion: fittingly, the album ends on a feeling of “…oh”.
There’s a definite feeling of progression over the course of the album, and in hindsight, some of the opening pieces seem a little weak in comparison to the album’s fantastic closing section.  Despite that, the fourth Full-Source album is an excellent and fitting close to the project, and one that leaves me with a feeling of some sadness.  Having listened to every Full-Source record in the process of this review, it’s a shame to think there shan’t be any more new material coming in the future.  On the plus side, Tim Dwyer leaves the public with a tight, concise run of four albums, with a few EPs thrown in for good measure, that never loses its step.

So, here’s to the (segmented frozen) past – please do check out these records, they’re worth your time.
And here’s to the future – there’s a new Off Land record on its way, and who knows what other projects Tim Dwyer will start up!
Goodbye, Full-Source.

Check out this music on the official Full-Source website.

Seren Ffordd – Veils, Shadows

Seren Ffordd – Veils, Shadows (Hypnos Secret Sounds)

Anybody familiar with the work of Welsh sound artist and ambient fellow Seren Ffordd will find no surprise that Veils, Shadows begins with a slow moving, sinister drone. Like all of the sounds on this album, the opening track, fittingly titled Slow Passing, is sourced entirely from acoustic sounds: horns, guitar, percussion, vocals, glass and so on. Seren Ffordd has a way of treating and manipulating these sounds that keeps the listener’s interest throughout his longform pieces, never subtmitting to dark ambient clichés. Slow Passing is reminiscent of Christoph Heeman, particularly his works with Current 93 (the book soundtrack In a Foreign Town, in a Foreign Land immediately springs to mind).
Elsewhere, the album works at a different pace. Far from taking the drone template and applying it to the whole record, Seren Ffordd introduces an array of rattling, shivering textures at the beginning of River of Souls, before warping them almost beyond recognition in its second half, joined by distant harmonies which add an increasing sense of unease; Distant Paths is based around sparse percussive loops (made, I believe, from guitar samples) which give a feeling of a procession passing by somewhere just out of sight, tribal and almost ritualistic in its primitive sound.
Things return to a more drone based sound for the title track, although a cacophany of disembodied voices drives this final track rather than the softer tones of the album’s opener.
Despite its relative variety, Veils, Shadows is a work of a singular vision, and is not for the faint of heart. This is lonely listening for secluded locations, and all the better for it. Drawing to mind hints of imagery lost behind fog and beneath shadows, its abstract sounds make this ambient album essential listening.

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