Sunday, 31 October 2021

Izioq "Kyokan" (2021)


Three years on from Hey Listen! The return of Izioq comes with a big shift in style as this supposed game soundtrack ushers in moody atmospheres and a restful pace in the wake of its often upbeat, energetic and wondrous childlike playfulness. I say supposed because I can find no information on what game this is for, however it might simply be a creative exercise in writing music to compliment a particular vision.

  Having played the short twenty minute record often while playing Minecraft, I've found its composition to be minimally apt for conjuring a setting. Each track finds its flavor with the bare bones of instruments and percussion required, often leaning into the power of the space between sounds. Tonally they can be quite different acoustic guitar tones offering a contrast to the synth keys and snappy drums heard.

The album art suits its emotional resonance. A setting sun, the end of a day, finality, conclusion. Kyokan feels lightly sombre and melancholy. With no fear, dread or darkness, the music still comes from a place of warmth and safety but its odd poise suggests a sadness that sometimes visits at the end of something beautiful, hence a setting sun, bringing to end a day filled with joyous memories.

Rating: 5/10

Saturday, 30 October 2021

Offermose "Stilhedens Tårn" (2020)


The journey continues, as it always does, now I find myself floundering blindly into a new scene. So familiar, yet built on a different tonality. The engulfing spells of Dark Ambient and nostalgic mystique of Dungeon Synth, channeled through shivering soundscapes, find a convergence on classic synth sounds resurrected from decades gone by. Known as Berlin School, my introduction has come through a musical darkness which I adore. Arcanist was my first and now I'm unearthing more of these broody plunges into the shadowy realms. Hinged on electronic tones, keys and modern conventions that are more often seen as fun and entertaining synthetic instruments than ones to conjure the eerie and ambiguous as Offermose does here.

With all that said, Stilhedens Tårn and its six chapters use this electronic force sparingly, acting more as atmospheric conjurings that journey somberly and morph into satisfying, driving swells of emotion. The haunting whirl of winds, unsettling ambiences and rustling sounds of nature nestle a rich sound design for its synths to bring haunting drones and chilling melodies too. The whole affair feels organic and natural as its potentially pristine synths are dressed down with an aesthetic tarnishing to ground the music in an earthly feeling. It does come in degrees though, Sjælens Ruin finds itself morphed midway by tight synth arrangements, playing out woven around a steady and simple percussive groove of snare and bass kick.

Much of this record lingers on an ambiguous spot, lonely yet beautiful. Meditative and broody but never drifting to far to the bleak, its poise hints at something devious with discernible human voices creeping into the backdrop on occasion. It all unravels with Tvillingeflamme as the pains of a despairing voice are muffled under a sinister vampiric synth. The arrival of a demonic voice and sounds of strikes paints a torturous scene in the imagination as the flame of the song flickers out with a funeral macabre air to it. A stunning way to seal off a wandering set of mysterious musical spells.

Rating 7/10

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Lena Raine & Kumi Tanioka "Minecraft: Caves & Cliffs (Original Game Soundtrack)" (2021)


Following in the footsteps of C418's iconic Minecraft Soundtrack could of well been a daunting task. It doesn't seem to be so for Lena Raine, who has assumed the role of lead composer with no hiccups or birthing pains. Her contributions so far have been both apt and inspiring. The folks at Mojang have made the smart decision to stick with the powers of soft ambiguity and melodic resonance that powered the original music. Lena however brings a different flavor that suits the games spirit yet deters from its electronic origins a little. This new collection of songs stands tall alongside the originals, adding a new and welcomed variety to Minecraft's stellar atmosphere.

With four of her contributions, the influence of great ambient composers is a clear one. The luscious reverberations of minimal yet spellbinding pianos has an immediate parallel to Brian Eno & Harold Budd's memorizing The Plateaux Of Mirror. The airy ambience and spacious echos give magic to the enchanting piano performance. With it, however, comes a more adventures spirit! Chirpy key chops and subtle percussive drives on Stand Tall bring a playful charm. Left To Bloom and Wending brood groaning textural tones into the songs, worming from humble beginnings into dense swells of mood. The latter brings in these dreamy slices of bass guitar, crashing down to earth with slabs of notes. Song four, Infinite Amethyst, perhaps comes closest to home.

Left out of the game itself, for now, Ancestry is exciting in its embracing of the darkness. Set for the Deep Dark biome, its pushes into the shadows with deep swells of bass noise and shimmering sounds held only to the light by the echos of a piano that gently pulls the explorer through. Its conclusion is thrilling too as chilling alien voices can be heard, perhaps the voice of the Warden itself? Otherside Is the other track to break the tone. As an in-game record disc, its lively drumming, skipping pace and layered composition somehow holds over a little of that classic ambiguity, as the main upbeat melody and lead instruments feel sent from anothers quirky dream.

Sadly, Kumi Tanioka's three contributions feel underwhelming in comparison. If intentionally sparser songs to pace the games soundtrack, then so be it. To me, they mostly play like stripped down versions of the first four mentioned tracks. The sombre piano performance often wanders into lonely territory devoid of magical reverberations. Its swells of atmospheric pads below don't have the same intensity to blossom the music. They do however sound lush and moving in the peaks which make up a small portion of each song. These compositions just lack that little sparkle of oddity that made C418 and Lena's contributions resonate so wonderfully.

All in all, these songs only add to the game and with this soundtrack released approaching the final part of the update, I am hopeful that maybe each future update will come with some complimenting soundtrack to enrich the experience. The rest of the game has evolved over the years, so why not its music too?

Rating: 7/10

Friday, 22 October 2021

Humanoid "Remembering Universe" (2008)

Reaching out from years gone by, my music archive now has many callings, records that carve their own niche and frequent the mind of this explorer. How I found Remembering Universe is a mystery to me now but I fondly remember the fascination with its cold and sombre astral temperament. As a Metal adjacent project, this acoustic guitar performance and its reverb soaked atmospheres glide from grace into tangles of abrasive complexity not far from metallic onslaught. With flourishes of cosmic sound design wedged in between its blooms of warm color feel chained to the shivering tone of its steel acoustic strings. Despite the name, it feels all so impersonal and inhuman, like an alien observation of wonders found through the universe.

The music is an indulgence of stringed instrumentation. With the textured bends and moody slides of a fretless base guitar accompanying this twelve string acoustic and "synth guitar", the Canadian musician operating under the name Humanoid pulls a warm range of texture and style from a small collection of instruments. Its style and atmospheric execution always felt so distinct to me yet with analytic ears I now hear similarities to the dexterous fretwork of Animals As Leaders & Gru. However this predates both of those, suggesting deeper origins in the Progressive Metal scene.

That is, however, just a footnote on this meandering journey of exotic, Jazzy instrumentation exploring ambiguous melody and distant moods through sways between simplicity and complexity. Its musical arrangements wander aimlessly, perusing its own passing by. Its most structured songs arrive in the four part Passages. It brings onboard distortion guitars for texture and an artsy, expressive drumming performance, devoid of simple beats to rock with, they groan and moan with surges of energy and moments of quite that lull between.

All in all, Remembering Universe is a very distinct project that's hard to put a finger on. Similar to some yet oddly alien, cosmic and cold. Although I have never been too overwhelmed by its company, the inhuman beauty and flushes of atmospheric winds have always called back to me. Its spell is calming and clambers into the background when one is preoccupied. The flow is sporadic, unstructured and its best moments are sprinkled throughout, however they have always warmed me.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, 8 October 2021

Old Tower "The Old King Of Witches" (2021)


Embarking with a renewed spirit and refined aesthetics, The Old King Of Witches is both familiar and surprising. Having established a niche within the confines of Dungeon Synth, this ten track release of three to five minute spells has Old Tower side stepping their current conventions mastered on The Last Eidolon. Now we have what feels like the background ambience to a Horror movie, an impression marked by its ghastly jump scare conclusion on the opening track Wych Totem. At its conclusion a harrowing, tormented scream lunges out of the dark as the song then fades to black.

The following Night's Spell gifts us an astral respite, a contemplative soundscape not adrift from the likes of Steve Roach. From here, the plunge begins as ambiguous atmospheric ambiences and mischievous eerie sound design conspire. Brief reprisals of that astral charm can be heard infrequently but otherwise is lost between its dark, lonely voyages through shadowy caverns and hallowed grounds. It takes on a burdensome delusional experience, as flourishes of unsettled synth drones briefly add disorientation with a psychedelic quality, akin to a tiresome paranoid mental trip. Although the horrors of the opening track are never quite as vivid again, this spooky journey does end with a warmer note as closing track, Temple Of The Blue Sun, brings about a little of that cosmic charm again with its final passing cry.

Reflecting on Old Tower's previous sound design, the difference here is staggering. The temperament of its esoteric suggestions and the brooding ambiences of emotional unease are ripe for the imagination to run wild. The balance is charming and satisfying, feeling complete as a collection of songs. I'd also bring praise to the album art too. Corpse paint is a tired tradition but paired with the creepy skeletal fingers and candid nature of the photo, its suggestion of stumbling across a beast in a cave is fantastic and really ties up what this record is about. You can picture that cursed creature lurking around for eight of these ten songs. The Old King Of Witches is a very well inspired and executed concept.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, 7 October 2021

The Alan Parsons Project "Tales Of Mystery And Imagination" (1976)


Having sat with this debut album for some time now, Its easy to see why I Robot, Pyr△mid & Eve were recommended as Alan Parsons best work. Tales Of Mystery And Imagination would of been impressive for the times but experienced from its predecessors shadows, the classy songwriting pulling on a broad range of 70s styles sadly fumbles out of the gates. Its hallowed poetry recital intro leading onto dated robotic voices feels a little awkward in its infancy however flashes of genius are heard often too, The Raven, The Cask Of Amontillado and To One In Paradise, all are fantastic songs. In fact much of the record has the Alan Parsons sound intact but its fumbling moments seem to exacerbate the difference between it and the following.

Where the cracks appear is on its lengthy The Fall Of The House Usher. Its five parts represent many ideas that Alan would go on to compose again. Stitched together as one unified thing, it lumps along awkwardly from tense and brash Classical orchestrations of terror and tragedy, into psychedelic thunderstorms led by hypnotic synths. The music passes through a string of Pink Floyd akin guitar inflections back into distressing string sections promoting unease and brittle tensions. It then sways back into a Progressive styling with exotic instruments and colorful melodic arrangements, only to be dissipated back into a nightmare cacophony of claustrophobic strings and demonic drum strikes that ends all too abruptly.

The two sounds contrast each other and break up half the record with a sense of confusion. It does however skimmer with brilliance but in attempting to meld such bold ideas, the consequences are vast. Tthe musics spell feels so disrupted by this rude awakening of hellish Classical instrumentation. It had become a large focus that diminished the album experience and illuminated its other blemishes. That being said, at the core Alan's brilliant songwriting delivers similar ideas heard later. They however have a less vibrant production to bolster the beautiful compositions and thus the whole record just feels inferior. Had I started here, my opinion may be all too different.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Chevelle "The North Corridor" (2016)

 Impressed by this years Niratias, I thought I'd step back five years to give the Illinois Rock outfit another try. The North Corridor is their eighth and lacking the context of their evolution, it really comes of like a plagiarist execution of Tool in their prime. Aggressive grooves, atmospheric incursions and psychedelic echos of Lateralus and 10,000 Days dominate just about every song here. Enjoyable, if its your cup of tea.

With every spin it passes me by, a competent set of songs yet lacking a sparkle, mainly as every break out moment lingers in the shadow that other band. Getting past this lack of originality, the influences are interesting. Obviously the Progressive and Alternative Metal flavors run strong but the record is rife with harsh syncopated grooves. Bludgeons of chromatic palm mute chugging, backed by its dense, warbling baselines fire inline with pounding drum strikes frequent many a song with these simplistic slabs of primordial dance. Often it serves as a jump of point for the rest of the music to evolve, delving into bursts of psychedelic, reverb soaked lead guitars to wail into the distance alongside other progressive tangents.

Pete Loeffler's presence upfront is massive, a tug of war between emotive spoken inflections and throat wrenching screams that strain and shout with quite an impressive intensity. He punctuates the music well, often orchestrating the musical shifts with his conduction. It is of course a performance treading in the foot steps of Maynard Keenan. Practically every idea executed feels complimentary to the Tool back catalog, on one track where he deviates, Punchline, singing like Trent Reznor.

In all its similarities, Chevelle execute with classic, making engaging music with much to offer. Riotous yet contained landscapes of aggression and frustration. My issue with The North Corridor is its dull production. Everything feels distinctly grayscale. The guitar tone seems brittle and rough, the bass warble is massive but lacking charm, it feels a little brute force. The drums are decent but on some tracks seems a little out of balance in the mix. Ultimately, all its elements are present but just seem to teeter on the demo quality edge with its rough aesthetic and dull tone.

Rating: 6/10

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Spellling "The Turning Wheel" (2021)


In search of new sounds and experiences, I've found a record strung out with familiarity yet blindingly powerful in its execution of inspiration. It works for me, something I could swiftly get into and mull over these last few weeks. Chrystia Cabral, the brains behind the Spellling name, lends her immaculate voice to a timely orchestration of genre influences adjacent to the world of popular music. She is a powerhouse of breathy expression, rooted in classic soulful stylings. Her range is wide, diving with a masculine low on Magic Act and sailing to a childish, playful resonance on Little Deer. With each of these arrangements offering up a different temperament, she is the beacon that shines and guides us through these twelve offerings as they grow increasingly atmospheric, occasionally peering into a brittle darkness.

I could easily rattle off lists at this point. With a backbone of warm baselines, Organs, Pianos, String, Horns and strong vocal harmonization parade upfront in a variety of compositions that usher in many vibes. Pop music of the 60s, Soul, R&B, a little Jazz, Chamber Pop and Lounge too. There are subtle electronic influences worming there way in too. Always sounds more like an 80s Synth-pop ballad and after the slow brewing Awaken, aligned strongly with Classical ideas, the album starts to open up. Emperor With An Egg accrues various waveform instruments alongside its Classical instrumentation and the following Boys At School at school hints at Synthwave vibes which blossoms on Queen Of Wands, a track akin to Chelsea Wolfe's Pain Is Beauty. Its use of wobbly, eerie, spooky Horror synths a sensibility here that resurfaces, seemingly at odds with the mood of Sweet Talk. Little moments like this are littered throughout, sounds that seem out of context but work wonderfully.

I could go on but essentially we have bright and clear instrumentation arranged wonderfully with beautiful aesthetics and expressive instrumentation that despite showing its influences, feels entirely distinct as the web of influences weave together. The record sets out feeling more Soul and Baroque pop oriented but swells of instrumentation gives it a Progressive edge that blossoms as the songs continuously explore, bringing in more instruments, sounds and aesthetics as it goes on. Its melodies too often feel interchanged between these style, ushering in just the strangest sense of ideas in action. One can almost see the blueprint yet its outcome feels completely inspired and magical, without any design.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, 4 October 2021

John Carpenter "Ghosts Of Mars" (2001)

From the eternal memories of youth still calls a siren. Blistering through the noise of a late night binge, after crashing in front of the television for early hours entertainment, the music caught me off guard. Initially impressed by the presence of Ice Cube, it wasn't long before my inebriated self was memorized by its mechanized Industrial Metal soundtrack. Within a few songs I realized I was here for the music, as it was clear the zombie Sci-Fi Horror show set on mars was one heck of a flawed beast.

Not John Carpenter's finest moment with the pen or camera but this was my introduction to his accompanying instrumentation. Legendary to all in the cinematic world but this is one rarely mentioned. Since I saved up to get my hands on the CD soundtrack, its called me back to every now and then. Today was one of those days and with the opportunity to ponder on what words I would share here, it became clear that the nostalgia of childhood games and Frank Klepacki's timeless soundtracks to Command & Conquer share an aesthetic and spiritual overlap in patches.

As the complimenting mood setter to a bizarre and dystopian movie, it has to frequently switch temperaments, from action sequence to calms for dialog. This means its 90s Industrial percussive pallet swings into passages of ambiguous, noisy instrumentation and sound design between the barrages of Metal guitar. It does kick off with a bang however! The title track, Love Siege and Fight Train providing thrilling fast paced action and romping guitars fit for the onscreen voilent zombie onslaught.

Its the variety that births some really unusual ideas with Carpenter's collaborators Scott Ian of Anthrax, Steve Vai and even Buckethead! Somehow a little classy cheesed up Saxophone playing is worked in too via Bruce Robb as his playing and lead guitar licks often act as a voice above the brooding bass guitars and rattling drums that make up the hostile landscape. It sways between band performances and electronic arrangements, forging a disjointed soundtrack to a bizarre movie.

I find Scott Ian's contributions to be the best. Big noisy slabs of meaty distortion riffs having the Thrasher work a little out of his comfort zone to birth a couple booming syncopated riffs at the apt time. Its often what everything leads too as we pass through barren landscapes of mechanized percussion and ambiguous synth arrangements. Steve and Buckethead are like ghosts in the wind, alien voices drifting in and out on the way to the next action sequence, where Ian arrives, hitting hard.

As much as I love the experience, I have to be critical, the record is odd and jarring, things sound a little stiff and forced at times as its lead instruments try to meld that classic shred guitar flavor on top of its unearthly electro-industrial fusion. Many of the tracks lack structure and just serve as texture of the on screen tension. For some reason though, none of this bothers me. I think it slipped right into a space of curiosity in my musical journey at a time when I was ready to hear more of a sound I've now explored deeper. I also love the movie, its an odd one that tries to be tongue in cheek. A young Jason Statham is present doing his thing and a then legendary Pam Grier too! This movie tried to be a lot and It didn't resonate with many people. I'm glad to have stumbled onto, its another oddity in my collection that I'm happy to share!

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, 2 October 2021

Lil Nas X "Montero" (2021)


With the monumental success of the chart topping, record breaking Old Town Road, the Georgian rapper Lil Nas X has had the musical worlds attention thrust his direction for some time now. Typically critical voices cry the loudest, claiming him a one hit wonder but this record certainly proves that wrong. Now we can joke he is a one album wonder for now, as Montero is simply fantastic, a vibrant album experience, strong from front to back with a very accessible Pop Rap aesthetic brightening up a wealth of self expression and topicality to deepen its warm, welcoming vibes.

In general, these songs are short and snappy, getting to the point swiftly, wrapping themes up with catchy hooks. Production wise, the music never leans to hard into anything but goes all over the place, softly diversifying. Dead Right Now and Industry Baby steer into Trap territory, addressing relations with his father and following it up with a self affirming track bolstering his ambitions. His Country Rap infusion returns on That's What I Want with a bright chirpy chorus delivering an infectious hook over soft sunny chorals. Not exactly the most original composition but he does the idea justice.

From here the songs increasingly ramp up my personal interest, Scoop swoops in simple melodies and jiving percussion giving light to the quirky ad-libs. This track gave me some serious Rodeo vibes with that Travis Scott style production. Quite the fun and creative stint before One Of Me drives hope a fantastic hook with the plain faced "I like this, I don't like that" lines. Such a simple way to illuminate the ridicule of voiced opinions that whirl around individuals thrust into the limelight. Lost In The Citadel ushers in uplifting, poppy Alt Rock guitars as the record starts to pivot to more guitar oriented aesthetics. Paired with tight percussion and deep baselines in straddles Hip Hop from a distance as the lines blur wonderfully.

Then with void we hear Lil Nas X depart from that entirely on an epic sung song, expressing pains and vulnerability while some how working the "Hodo hodo" ear worm in. As his voice opens up the dark and brooding instrumental behind him starts to build slithers of light as the soft drive of muted drums and pounding bass lead to a wonderful sense of revealing the beauty in his singing that was always present. Stunning song. Don't Want It oddly gets away with shifting back to a Trap flavor for Life After Salem to deliver the albums broodiest track. Led by a gristly acoustic guitar it routinely sails into the darkness with swells of Post-Rock guitar and subtle stabs of sinister Gangster's Paradise strings nestled, lurking in the backdrop briefly.

Between the likable Pop and Trap tracks, that bring their own identity, the team producing the instrumentals work in some fantastic music quite distance from that formulae. Its exciting, interesting and very expressive with Lil Nas X singing and rapping with a lot of substance to embrace. It all amalgamates to a stunning conclusion as Miley Cyrus hops on to lend her powerful voice to the albums epic closer, Am I Dreaming. The way the two individually step onto the track in their verses hits like waves, as tension builds up with the duo weaving their voices in a dramatic conclusion, crying "Never forget me". Goosebumps.

Its hard not to be bull about this record. Its arrangement is fascinating, steering from the accessible into expressive songs pulling from areas not often associated with Hip Hop. This might be one of the most enjoyable experiences this year. I'm left with thoughts of wondering if its magic might diminish with time? I think one or two songs could suffer that fate but there is so much brilliance on display. Whats best is a feeling of optimism moving forward. This wasn't just a collection of well crafted appeals but inspired songs moving in new directions. Lil Nas X has the diversity here to really open up and surprise in the future, in my opinion at least.

Rating: 9/10