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!
Back in May Tim Hecker releases the direct sucessor of 2018s highly recommended “Konoyo”. With “Anoyo” Hecker delivers the seamless follower. Both records are in the same context and were also created in the same record session back in 2017.
After his short term debut “Love Streams” on 4AD back in 2016, Hecker returns with a more fimiliar sound. In comparison “Love Streams” could be recognized as his “mainstream” debut, because it’s the most catchy release from Hecker by now. I wouldn’t say that Hecker goes backards with “Konoyo” / “Anoyo” but it feels more like his older Kranky releases. For me, 2013s “Virgins” is still his untouchable masterpiece because it is unique until today. Because the studio work with „Konoyo“ wasn‘t entiretly finished, he decided to release a second album in form of „Anoyo“. Both records based on traditional Japanese gagaku music in which „Anoyo“ is more experimental and also a bit more natural. It starts with the 9 minute opener „That World“. It’s difficult to discern between the analogue and synthesized, a confusion that Hecker has relished in the past. The big strength of Hecker is it to destroy melodies and simultaneously add complexity. With „Anoyo“ it‘s a bit different and also less noisy. A good example delivery the flawless „Step Away From Konoyo“ with it‘s floating tone. The quality output from Hecker is definetly remarkable and leads to another great ambient / drone record. These albums shouldn‘t compared, but taken in together.
Italian composer Caterina Barbieri returns with her third record after the excellent “Patterns of Consciousness” (2017) and the also great sucessor “Born Again In The Voltage” (2018). With “Ecstatic Computation” she debut’s on Editions Mego (Loke Rahbek, Dino Spiluttini, Klara Lewis).
Back in 2017 Barbieri surprised the audience with a fresh analog / modular syntheziser album on the small Imporant records imprint. There is no doubt that “Patterns of Consciousness” was one of the best records in 2017. Barbieri combines blistering melodies with drone elements such no one can do. One of the best examples is the the epic album closer “Gravity that Binds”. A track that starts very gentle and ends with the highest possible peek in the second half. It’s still one of her greatest efforts until now. With “Born In The Voltage” she creates a much darker less melody oriented record that fit perfectly as a counterpart. Her third record “Ecstatic Computation” follows more her musically roots. Album opener “Fantas” shows very good in which direction this journey will go. Barbieri plays excellent with the main elements of the track and only tune very subtle here and there until the track switches to another perfect melody in the second part of the track. Another example is the album closer “Bow Of Perception” that starts with individual synthie sounds first and let them run into emptiness only to pick them up later for a very fine tune. The main part of the record isn’t much less excited but these two tracks are definitely outstanding. Barbieri is also a great live act. I was already convinced of that parformance back in March at Resonanzraum (Bunker, Feldstraße Hamburg).
Paul Régimbeau alias Mondkopf returns with it‘s predecessor records after his excellent 2016 effort „They Fall But You Don‘t“. From the development perspective it was similar to William Basinski’s „The Disintegration Loops“ because both of them has a tragic background story. In case of Mondkopf it’s about the Paris attack back in 2015.
There is no doubt that „They Fall But You Don‘t“ was by far one of the best ambient / drone records in 2016. So the expection about the follow-up could‘t get any higher. Back in April Régimbeau releases the official follow up record „How Deep Is Our Love“ a perfect 4 piece drone record. It closes the gap between the last and the new one seamlessly. One of the best example for me is the second track „Growing“. It provides a similar tone like „The Fall But You Don‘t“ in atmosphere and intensity. From this perspective it‘s more like a traditional drone record compared to the new EP „Time Will Left This World Today“. This can be recognized in track structure and length. The EP will work something different. But not in a bad way, it‘s surprisingly good. In kind of darkness it reminds me at The Haxan Cloak or Vessel. One of the best example is the massive „Rise Of The People“. It could be easily on Vessel’s 2014 excellent „Punish, Honey“. If you look a bit deeper in the history of Paul Régimbeau discography it might be less unexpected. He started his carrer as a producer and DJ so he is very fimilar with electronic music. For me both releases are totally great because of their differences and the own identity of each other.
Ahead of the physical release of William Basinski‘s new record, he returns months before with some intense live sessions of „One Time Out Of Time“. The album subtext is about the sexual union of two black holes. The source material is derived from gravitational waves that occurred when two neutron stars hit each other.
William Basinski’s carrear goes back until the late 1980s, but only in the 21st century he was finally recognized and exalted for his excellent work. 9/11 might changes everything. It‘s not only a terrible day of history, it‘s also the birth of one of the greatest ambient records „The Disintegration Loops“. It’s a fragile ambient set, recorded from crumbling magnetic tapes shortly before 9/11, that he paired with a haunting video of Manhattan’s damaged skyline, shot from his Brooklyn rooftop. After that Basinski released a lot of stuff included cooperations with artists like Lawrence English and Richard Chartier. Back in 2018 William Basinski presents „One Time Out Of Time“ also at the Greatest Hits festival in Hamburg. The location is a great spot for intimate live performances, so it fits perfect for Basinski. The album includes 7 Tracks (1.1 to 1.7) and goes around 40 minutes. His new record is all about space and it feels weightless in almost every tone. Basinski is a master to combine loops and melodies in a perfect way. „One Time Out Of Time“ is also an epic space odessey. A journey in seven different captures. Each with it‘s one signature. For me the album only works as a whole piece except the non album track „4(E+D)4(ER=EPR)“.
Australian experimental / electronic artist Ben Frost releases his first new record since “Aurora” from 2014. The new album “The Centre Cannot Hold” was co-produced by Steve Albini in Chicago. If you look back at the predecessor “Aurora” you can find similarties like the excellent pounding “Venter”, but the new records goes way further.
The way he creates music is very special in a disturbing way! That becomes conscious if you visit a live performance by Frost himself. Fortunately Ben Frost plays two years ago at Hamburg, Kampnagel as part of the ePhil Extended. If you have the change to see him live, you have to visit a concert. The live shows are totally mindblowing! The new record is a step further, it is a tremendous record from start to finish. How disturbing “The Centre Cannot Hold” could be, is already known if you listen to the first track “Threshold Of Faith”. One of the true strength on the new one is the density in quality. Ben Frost succeeds to top the great predecessor “Aurora” (One of my favourite records in 2014) in a tremendous way. Clearly the music of Frost is totally independent and in 2017 there is maybe only one compareable record from Jushua Sabin, the awesome “Terminus Drift” (Reviewed in March 2017). It is very difficult to marks highlights on “The Centre Cannot Hold” but there are some exceptions apart from the opening track. “A Sharp Blow In Passing” shines in the second half when the starlight synthy comes to the foreground! “Ionia” starts as a slow one and builds a drone framework only to explode in the last part. “Entrophy in Blue” operates in a different way. It has it’s own very dark post-apocalyptic touch to complete this new masterpiece. There is no doubt that “The Centre Cannot Hold” is one of the best records in 2017!
Nowadays we live in an fast moving world. Our everyday life is stressfull, challenging and always changing. With “Lignin Poise” the Seattle based artist Benoît Pioulard draws a musically statement. It works perfectaly to relax and hide your environment.
The strengh of a good ambient / drone record is to explore different tones. The variation isn’t very notable but the details shines from every corner. “Lignin Poise” cunjunct classical drone elemnts with a bunch of field recording parts. His previous works were released on the Chicago based experimental label Kranky (also home of Stars of the Lid, Tim Hecker, Loscil). The music from Pioulard is comparable to the works of colleague Rafael Anton Irisarri, so it’s not astonishing that both also works together and Irisarri mastered “Lignin Poise”. And yes, that’s very notable! “Lignin Poise” seems like a addition to Irisarri’s own record “The Shameless Years”. As I already mentioned in my review for “The Shameless Years” Irisarri has his complete own identity to create ambient music. In this regards Benoît Pioulard follows a similar approach. I’m not as long in this genre like other people but it looks that this year is really special in new ambient and drone music. This year goes to the end in the next days, so the typically years end lists hits the web. For me “Lignin Poise” should also find a way into it because it is another extraordinary drone record in 2017.
Daniel Victor Snaith has many names in the music business. He started his career as Manitoba in 2001. But after being threatened with a lawsuit by Richard “Handsome Dick” Manitoba, Snaith changed his performance name to Caribou. He is also knwon as Caribou and Daphni.
Since 2001 he released 8 records and a bunch of EPs and Singles. As Daphni he discoverd a more club friendly environment compared to Caribou. He also collaborates with artists like Four Tet, Floating Points, Joy Orbison or Jamie xx. In the last couple of years Snaith pushes his career as a DJ. He playes as a main actor on the Fabric Live series or the yearly iteration of the Warehouse Project in Manchester. With Daphni, Snaith started back in 2012 with the debut “Jiaolong”. “Jiaolong” combined club music with elements of world music in an intresting way. Outstanding are the two album cuts “Ye Ye” and “Ahora”! His new one “Joli Mai” is less extraordinary than “Jiaolong” but not less interesting. Yes, it’s still club music but it goes more in the IDM direction of electronic music. This was clarified by album openers “Poly” and “Face to Face” while the softly bass driven “Carry On” could also appers on a past Caribou record! “Vulture” shines with a unusual Blade Runner like sequence in the middle. Because of the great rhythm driven feeling, “Joli Mai” shines on almost every single track. Another great, nearly flat house track is “The Truth”! It is realy great to have a new Four Tet and a new Daphni in just one month.
Two years after “Morning/Evening” Kieran Hebden alias Four Tet returns with a new album on it’s own imprint Text Records. His last record from 2015 was completely different compares with his predecessors in almost every way.
“Morning/Evening” was a two track only album. Both tracks has an extra ordinary runtime around 20 minutes. But that’s not the only special thing about this one. The incluences on “Morning/Evening” follows Kieran’s indian roots. That’s very notable on the Bollywood-styled intro from “Morning Side”. If you red my review from 2015 you know I’m not a big fan about the new direction. So, what’s happend on “New Energy”? His new one goes definitely back to the roots of the melody inspired Four Tet records. There is no doubt “Free Energy” is his best one until his masterpiece “There Is Love In You” and that’s a great success. “New Energy” starts with two of the best tracks on the record. The slow down beauty “Two Thousand and Seventeen” opens the flow perfectly until “LA Trance” focused more on a driven beat/bass sample. The bass here reminds me at some tracks from his single compilation “Pink” from 2012. Very nice! “Free Energy” follows the path of relaxed beats on almost every track. Another example is “Lush” with his catchy background feeling. “SW9 9SL” is a small exception, but not in a bad way. It starts with a catchy bass / club feeling and takes a break in the middle until the focus goes back in the end. A similar effect generated the final track “Planet” and marks a perfect completion for the record. “New Energy” contains 14 tracks and has almost no lengths. Well done Kieran Hebden!