Brooklyn-based cellist and neo-classic artist Clarice Jansen released one of the most relevant records in 2020. After her critical acclaimed debut „For This From That Will Be Filled“ back in 2018, Jansen comes back with a more Drone influenced record. Different as the predecessor, it‘s entirely written and performed by Jansen itself with a high variety of effects and pedals.
With her new album „The Experience Of Repetition As Death“ Jansen debuts on the well known FatCat records imprint. The record was mixed by Francesco Donadello (A Winged Victory For The Sullen) and mastered by Rafael Anton Irisarri at Vox-Ton studios in Berlin back in 2018. Jansen works with a bunch of stellar artists in the past, including Jóhann Jóhannson, Max Richter, Dustin O‘Holloran and Stars Of The Lid. She also works as artistic director of the well known ACME (The American Contemporary Music Ensemble) to develop modern classical music to the next level. As a solo artist Jansen is an expert to improvising and layering her instruments through loops and electronic effects with a rich series of drone-based sound fields. With her new record Jansen reaches a new level of this evolution. It starts with the massive cello foreground in the opening track „Daily“. It‘s a more neo classical one that‘s divided into two parts and fading perfectly into the second track. „Day tonight“ starts with a dark-tone drone intro. The reference to earlier works from Rafael Anton Irisarri isn‘t unmistakeable. It‘s a balance between darkness and light and the shades between. With „Metastable“ the drones are more present and frightening. It was inspired by the chorus of repetitive beeping heard in hospitals. The beeps here integrate themselves into a single loop. But one of the most dramatic parts of the five pieces is „Holy Mother“. For me it‘s the center and masterpiece of the record. It starts with a dramatic Cello part before the drone elements kicks in. The switching between fore and background is pure beauty. The title refers to the Tibetan name of Mount Everest (Qomolangma). With a runtime about 12 minutes it is also the longest track of the record. It‘s a monument of a track! With the closing track Jansens picks up the tape loops from the opener, but this time with the tape having been subjected to methods of degredation in order to erode the sound. It ends with a quartet of cellos and a warm melody without effects and a perfect fading out. „The Experience Of Reputation As Death“ is a powerful record between neo classic and drone elements. What a journey!
Back in February, the Indianapolis based record label Past Inside The Present signed a new artist called T.R. Jordan, former known as The Greatest Hoax. The Washington based composer debuts with the contemporary classic album “Just For You”. It’s a very unique record about the evolution of personal relationship and the paths they take.
„Just For You“ is an record that fits perfectly in these unpredictable times. It‘s a very intimate and personal one. Nowadays there a lot of contemporary classic albums out there, but only a few of them shines as bright as this one. Produced and mixed by Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below, Ghostly International) and mastered by Taylor Deupree (12K Mastering). The details in arragements and behind the scenes are very impressive. Each track has it‘s own identity. All of it starts with the slowly piano keys of „Unsaid“. This piano leads the track the hole time in cooperation of the ambient base line. Drone meets ambient meets neo classic. „Bruised World“ picks up the mood and sets the piano more in the foreground. Later on additional strings matches perfectly. A very beautiful stripped down / acoustic track. The next one is „Leap of Faith“. A clearly more ambient oriented track that fits perfect as the album main part. Next up is one of my favourite tracks on „Just For You“. „Reflection“ shines from start to finish. On one hand the track is very simple and works with just a few arrangements. But on the other hand these kind of simplicity here is the key. It‘s still the most intense moment of the hole album. The album closer „Rise Again“ and „Still Yours“ are not less impressive and complement the album in a great way. The six tracks presented here are spellbinding contemporary classical overtures of such spectacular beauty they seem destined to score the most humanistic moments of sci fi (Juno Records).
It‘s been a while since the last record from Dustin O‘ Halloran and Adam Wilzie as A Winged Victory For The Sullen was released. Their last effort „Atoms“ was released in 2014 on their long time collaboration label Erased Tapes. For the new one they switched to the larger imprint Ninja Tune. „The Undivided Five“ has a long not terminated creation process that starts in the beginning of 2018.
Unbound by any timeline Dustin O‘ Halloran and Adam Wilzie starts with the work on a new A Winged Victory For The Sullen record in spring 2018. The creation process involves many different locations around europe. All of the Orcestra recordings were done in Budapest (Hungarian Radio). A place from history were time stands still. As discribed by Adam Wilzie, it‘s never easy to take a great recording. Many things has come together. It isn‘t planable. Back in Island (Greenhouse Studios) they do some experimental recordings together with Ben Frost. Some works on the arrangements and manipulation of loops. The third recording location takes place in a church in Brussels (Saint-Jean-Baptiste Au Beguinage). They capture the sound of the church by a three set of mics and some speakers. To combine all of that, they to the mixing at Vox-Ton Studios in Berlin. With the help of Francesco Donadello they put all pieces together. But how does it sound? In a short form, fantastic. But that‘s a review so we start with the monumental 8 minute opener „Our Lord Debussy“, were the piano fades in. It‘s a perfect combination between Drone and Neo classic. A journey with many different attempts. It goes on with the ambient tone of „Sullen Sonata“. A more floating, warm melody and string driven track with some up and downs. It leads perfectly to the piano sequence of „The Haunted Victorian Pencil“. It‘s a gorgeous piece of music. After that the album re-creates space, to slowly evolve „The Slow Descent Has Begun“ were strings fades in and changes the tone quite carefully. The next track „Aqualung, Motherfucker“ starts with a wide opening until the piano drops in. The track is seperated in sequences, were drone elements are permanent in the background. „A Minor Fifth Is Made Of Phantoms“ sounds like far away. It‘s a melancholy/sad one that plays with emotions. Sequenzing is one of the main parts of „The Undivided Five“ and „Adios, Florida“ is another perfect example. Nevertheless of complexity it doesn‘t feel overloaded. A late highlight comes with „The Rhythm Of A Dividing Pair“ with a synthie driven melody and a heavy done second part of it. The closing track marks a worthy completion. It sounds like a farewell. Hopefully not to long. In one word: Masterpiece!
Last year berlin based scandinavian composer Erik Levander released a remarkable record called “Couesnon” for Katuktu Collective. Just after one year of absestence Levander returned with “Inåt” on Forwind. Levander is an mastermind for dark ambient drone records and “Inåt” is no exception!
In 2018 Levander surprised us with an unexpected release for Katuktu Collective. The extraordinary dark “Couesnon” was definitely a hidden drone gem from 2018. In a year full of great drone and ambient releases it could be easily missed, but that would be a shame. The 4-Track release is full of amazing tracks, like the opening one indicates. The new one isn’t completely different but it’s definitely more synth driven like the predecessor. The album title “Inåt”, translating “Inwards”, refers to the introspectiveness of the compositions, drawing inspiration from personal struggles in everyday life. Inåt still features a vibrant blend of digital, analog and acoustic sounds. It all starts with the gorgeous heavy Blade Runner like opener “Oförankrad”, a 7 minute dark/drone firework. The follow one “Prövning” is totaly alarming. The distortion and urgent pulsing make it the most taut and alarming piece on the album. With “År av tvivel” Levander reduces the tempo and volume a bit to provide a more oppressive and menace like atmopshere. In some parts it reminds me on the also fantastic Chernobly OST from Hildur Guðnadóttir. The second part of “Inåt” is more ambient and instrumental. “Tomhetens räckvidd” is a deep and emotive instrumental track. Erik combines electronics and woodwind with a restraint and panache that results in a beautiful and understated piece of music. But that’s not all, the album closes with the epic sounded “Celestografi”! Is there any better way to close an album? I guess not. What a journey, thanks Erik!
After a bunch of records for Cut Surface, No Rent Records and Umor Rex the Austrian composer Dino Spiluttini releases with „Heaven“ his most anticipated release until now. With „No Horizon“ from last year Spiluttini already evolve his drone / ambient sound a bit further, but with „Heaven“ he reaches a new high.
„Heaven“ is a work of contemporary church music and shows some similarities in style with Tim Hecker‘s „Virgins“ and Loke Rahbek‘s „City of Women“. The work on „Heaven“ started back in 2015 by Spiluttini‘s discovering his mother‘s preperation for death. During a visit to her home in 2015 he was led into the local church and shown the adjacent places she had reserved for their urns. The tracks on „Heaven“ together consist of an analogously personal and anticipatory negotiation with death. The opener „Body at War“ started with a nervous, blustering piano and a church organ, while „Weakened Centurion“ starts with some distortion after the melody fades in. Partly derived from organ recordings made in the same church, the album frequently enlists Arvo Pärt‘s compositional method of tintinnabuli. This time Spiluttini combines it with pads, harps, fluttering organs and swooping choir. This kind of swooping choir you can find on „Touch Isolation“. The intense of „Heaven“ is all around the record. It‘s a highly emotional record with some twists and conflicts. „Heaven“ revolves within dramatic and everchanging vignettes. There is no doubt that „Heaven“ is one of the best ambient / drone records in 2019. Highly recommended!
Italian composer and former Nine Inch Nails member Alessandro Cortini releases with “Volume Massimo” the follow-up to 2017s “Avanti”. It’s his debut on Mute Records. “Volume Massimo”, combines his fondness for melody with the rigour of experimental practice that follows on from 2017’s universally acclaimed album “Avanti”.
With “Volume Massimo” Cortini switches to a more melodic, polished sound compared to his previews works for Hospital Records between 2013-2015. This will be shortly known after the first tracks into it. It starts with the classic synthesizer driven “Amore Amaro”. It set the direction on “Volume Massimo” clearly and Cortini himself described it as following: “The best way to listen to it, is at maximum volume”. In generall the new album sounds very accessible. Unfortunately this leads to an uncommon issue. Besides the album opener “Amore Amaro”, the massive album core track “Batticuore” and the darker toned “Sabbia” there are less outstanding moments on “Volume Massimo”. This does’t mean you can’t enjoy this record, but in the end it isn’t Cortini’s best work until now. But it wasn’t that easy because of his gorgeous predecessors “Sonno”, “Risveglio” and the two track EP, “SPIE”. Therefore tracks like “Passatempo” and “Est” are still Cortini’s best. All of this sounds a bit disappointed if you look at “Volume Massimo”, but if you know him from his live sets there is still a chance that all of it sounds better in front of an audiance.
Berlin based composer and audio technologist, Mei-Fang Liau alias Floating Spectrum debuts on Temporary Residence. The Taiwan-born artists creates their own intimate world. Combined with synthesizers, everyday household objects and unique software loops made by Liau herself, „A Point Between“ truly sounds like a vision.
Originally inspired by a dance performance for which Mei-Lang Liau created the audio works. It was about the recurring cycles of nature, how life emerges, flourishes and eventually decays and metaphorically, how human emotions are associated with these ever-changing phases. That performance builds the roots of „A Point Between“. To create this kind of album Mei-Fang Liau relied on a self-made, fractal-inspired software synthesizer called Polyphylla, which simulats the way in which nature creates very complex and organic forms. „A Point Between“ starts with „The Early Green Outburst“ a surreal minded intro track. This kind of atmosphere was also catched by the second track „Rising Tide, Nourished Soil“, with a bit more space. It sounds like an entry to another world. One of the two album highlights is the immersive „Inner Island“. It sounds like a scream you can‘t ignore when you listening to it. The other one is „Falling Apart On The Dreary Field“ a dreamy, pulsing and intimate track. The lone outliner is „Eruption“, for which Liau build a generative sound system that turns visual data into sound. In this hybrid sound system, sensitively fluctuating analog signals, fine tuned data analysis, and human intuition perform together as one coherent living being. „A Point Between“ is the ability to collect and shape such abstract sonic organisms into richly textured, immersive works of art. Such an uncanny work of emotional depth.
With „Demora“ new label assignee Luis Fernandes debuts on the Lawrence English imprint Room40. Demora means „delay“ in Portuguese. Depending on the way you use it on a sentence, it can also mean that something is taking to long or it‘s making someone wait to long for someting. In case of „Demora“ the wait was worth it.
That was all part of the creation process of „Demora“. His intention was to create one piece of music with a constant flow. So, that‘s no wonder that „Demora“ was created in only one take. The flow of the improvisation gave room for Luis to play around with the structure and refine the sounds. Armed with a modular synthesizer the journey starts with the album opener „Rising Edge“, a rough and scratching intro with a long build up melody. It floats perfectly into the second track „Fractured Harmony With Pulse“. It‘s one of the highlights on „Demora“. As the title described Luis Fernandes gambles with a pulsing synthesizer in such a perfect way. It remindes me on the last records from Catarina Barbieri. The middle section of “Demora” takes place by the similar album tracks “Demora Pt.1” and “Demora Pt.2”. While part one creates a completely new structure with it’s slow and glimmering harmonies, part two catches up the melody from the second track and build something new. It’s here that Demora shows how beautifully crafted it is, how the details aren’t just details. The details aren’t there to distract you from the main thing, they are there for you to embrace the core and follow the same flow, the same path, that Luis did. The album closes perfectly with the outro of “Refracted Cloud”. To explore all of the beauty from “Demora” it’s essential to hear it in one take. It sounds like a masterpiece in the class of 2019.
Belgium based artist and longtime Kranky member Christina Vantzou released her fourth record “N4” back in 2018 for the famous drone / ambient label (also known for artists like Tim Hecker, Loscil and Stars of the Lid). Vantzou’s music combines classical and ambient elements. Now she also released a reworked version, like her records before.
With her last record Christian Vantzou creates her most ambitious one until know. “N4” is a timeless and wonderful record from start to finish. “N4” took shape across roughly two years, incorporating a diverse array of musical and conceptual collaborators, including fellow Kranky artists Steve Hauschildt and John Also Bennett (of Forma) as well as Angel Deradoorian (ex-Dirty Projectors), Clarice Jensen, Beatrijs De Klerck, and members of Belgium’s Echo Collective. Her signature of smoky dream sequences and texturally rich electro-acoustic shines all the time. Sometimes the listener doesn’t know any transition between the tracks. The records starts with the fading intro of “Glissando for Bodies and Machines”. It’s the perfect first impression of a very harmonious and coherent record. Just “Some Limited and Warning Memories” is an excellent example for that. Is it possible to play a piano more sad and emotional? The created atmosphere here is simply amazing. With the reworked version from Milan W. the behavior is a bit different. It’s a more haunting and pulsing track without leaving their roots. The other reworked versions aren’t very different, but more similar to the album. Until now I do not know any artist that combines classical elements and drones in such a perfect way like Christina Vantzou. That’s very impressive!
One of the most spectacular albums from 2018 comes from Kelly Moran. With „Ultraviolet“ the American composer delivers an unexpected success and her first release on Warp Records. Produced with the help of Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) Moran creates his most ambitions work until now.
After the two predecessor records „Optimist“ (2016) and „Bloodroot“ (2017), „Ultraviolet“ was the third record by Kelly Moran. Her music spins between genres like classical, electronic, minimalist and jazz. The experimental approach is unmistakable and could be easily compared to other drone / ambient composer like Tim Hecker, Oneohtrix Point Never or Mondkopf. In many of her compositions, Moran utilizes electronic musical techniques in combination with the John Cage-pioneered technique of the prepared piano. For „Ultraviolet“ Moran described it as following: „I am trying to obfuscate exactly what the piano sounds like. The whole point is to make it sound different“. The album delivers a wide, arresting array of stylistic influences, from jazz and dream pop, to classical composition and black metal. To pick an highlight isn’t easy, but „Helix“ shines from start to finish. This year Moran returns with a re-work EP from „Ultraviolet“. Most of the tracks from „Origin“ are well known but they comes in a new form. But three of them are completely new. „Love Birds, Night Birds, Devil-Birds“ are one of them. With the Japanese touch in style it reminds me a bit to Tim Heckers last effort „Anoyo“, an also excellent record from this year. With „Night Music“ she also delivers a very reduced piano track. Very beautiful as a closing track. Finally the EP starts at the point were the album finished. Very impressive!