Tag Archives: instrumental

Offthesky – The Beautiful Nowhere

The Beautiful Nowhere is just about as delicate as an album can be, without any of the implied weakness that often accompanies the description.  The Surface of Your Sin, the opening track, begins with a few notes struck from what I can only assume (from reading the press release and then researching just what on earth it was) is a kalimba. Prior to that, I thought it was a gu zheng; which I mention purely to demonstrate the subtle skill in which sound has been allowed to bend around the listener’s own ideas or concepts.

Quite often, a song will construct a fairly specific concept or story, even if at times it’s purely through mood and maybe an indication or two of emotion; neither mood or emotion is absent on The Beautiful Nowhere, yet it’s so organic that it’s almost pliable, almost reshaped as you listen to it.

As textures build and/or expand, strings, vocals and effects quietly create space that is both ethereal and earthly. I have a pre-disposition for flights of fancy as it is, so I love it when music creates an atmosphere that lets my imagination take a few liberties with what I’m hearing (and for the record, that earthy/ethereal quality translated for me to liberties that ranged from images of slow moving, yawning giants who made the ground tremble with footsteps, to tiny insects with flickering wings; and even just the lovely simplicity of feeling the warmth of the sun through a clouded sky).

The album title may reference nowhere, but I imagine it’s what you’d hear if you put your ear to the ground and listened to the hum of the earth, the natural sound underneath the structures we’ve built – which has the same capacity to be simultaneously stark and refined, ancient and newborn, warm and cold, willing to yield to hardworking hands yet remarkably uncompromising, rife with spirit, of things yet to come, and rich with old tales.

The Beautiful Nowhere is available in limited quantities through Hibernate – on CD  (with packaging hand-made at order), and vinyl, with immediate digital download accompanying both.

S4E

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Benjamin Finger – For You, Sleepsleeper

Sometimes the title of a release eptitomises the music in a fairly overt way; other times it’s a little more subtle (or seemingly completely irrelevant, but that’s beside the point). For You, Sleepsleeper is a little of both, that is, it’s overt and subtle in being an indication of the music contained therein.

While I’m not here to explore words and the various subtleties of context → inherent implications, it’s something I can’t help noticing and appreciating; particularly when it ties so neatly in with how I have personally interpreted the tone of the music.

For You… can be both an ode and a gift  – an ode to what has come to pass, and a gift for what may come; and perhaps while Sleepsleeper might suggest tranquility and a level of unawareness, on this album it’s decidely burgeoning, giving me the sense that this is the ode to what happens not when you wake, but become aware.

The core of the album lies in the ambient electronic realm, and the tracks shift from trembling energy to warm tenderness through layers of organic instrumentation and field recordings. The overall effect is that the heart of this album feels centred and at peace, but at the same time, in vision and sentiment, various thoughts, ideas and emotions are brought to the foreground.

These are often quite animated and even occasionally a little scattered, as though there is so much in the world to discover and be curious about, excited by or frightened of, but ultimately to embrace – sometimes through delicate indulgence, and other times with swift and reckless eagerness.

Drowned In Elbows has a gorgeous, understated jazz melody that is wistful and serene; though the electronic element is more pronounced and quite energetic, together it almost becomes like watching life and all its wonders flash before your eyes – stood still in that centre of calm, sights, sounds and memories rush forward and disappear, leaving behind a glimmer of nostalgia as something new begins.

For You, Sleepsleeper is available through How Is Annie Records and Tigernet.

S4E


Young Person’s Guide to Kyle Bobby Dunn

I’m going to have to confess to two things straight off the bat:

  1. When I first saw the name Kyle Bobby Dunn, I made all manner of immediate assumptions about being in for some straight up country music. Which I don’t like.
  2. When I realised it was instrumental ambient drone that has a total duration of nearly two hours, I thought oh no, it’s worse!

Wrong. On both counts. It’s necessary for me to note these things because I like being surprised, and I probably wouldn’t mention at all that I expected this was going to be a challenge for me to listen to if that indeed had been the way things turned out.

Young Person’s Guide is possibly about as spacious as music can get, literally and figuritively. Spanning two discs, its twelve tracks run from anywhere between two minutes (Last Minute Jest) and 17½ (opening track, Butel), with a median of 10 minutes. Statistics aren’t necessarily important, of course, but they are relevant in so far as I often lose patience with minimalist instrumental pieces after about two minutes; yet here I didn’t. I’m going to try and figure out why (and therein lies the actual challenge).

While I do that, take the opportunity for it to be self-evident:

I’ll start by mentioning one of the key things I learned this year, via explorations of various genres that I had  previously overlooked or outright dismissed, was that at times I have difficulty appreciating  subtlety in music. But, in a connection that I’m going to have to forgo explaining in favour of succinctness, the first thing that sprung to mind when I started trying to think of how to talk about such a unique, expansive and yet self-contained, body of work,  was the visual work (films) of Wong Kar Wai.

Unsurprisingly, subtlety is a little easier to detect in visual artistry, because you’re talking about the things that accompany the obvious –  a glance, a slight gesture, a leaf falling in the background…myriad different things that are almost imperceptible but can add up to a single moment creating lasting effect, either in mood, tone, atmosphere or emotion. This album, to me, is the musical equivalent of that form of aesthetic storytelling, wherein you can’t talk about style vs substance because subtlety and style work as substance.

YPG works well enough when kept at a distance and left to act purely as an ambient album. It is, to use inadequately generic terms, soothing, pretty and atmospheric, but it was when I gave it my full and undivided attention that I began to notice something else. Quite a lot of something else that it simply won’t do to describe as complacently. So here’s my stumbling block: how do I convey, in words, the almost elusive nuances in music that work to effectively shift your perception around, albeit in small degress;  and that draw your attention to a seemingly minor sound that would have gone completely unnoticed had your attentions been – even fleetingly – elsewhere?

I really can’t, because it meant the stories I heard evolved with each listen, and I feel certain that different people will notice different things. Consider a song  to be a character unto itself, one that lets you get to know it slowly but surely, and that perhaps these characters are capable of revealing different aspects to each and every person that spends a little time with them.

Those are, I should point out, some of the reasons I made a direct link to the films of WKW. Time and space are slightly different entities in them. Often the sequence of events, while never requiring outright deciphering, aren’t entirely linear; so as a member of the audience you need to participate in the story, move forward from simply being an observer and, in particular, learn to understand the subtleties of each character to get a good idea of the whole story. The key is, though, your understanding of others is generally developed by way of how well you know yourself. Ultimately, perhaps that is why this wasn’t the challenge I expected it to be, for what is getting to know someone or something if not, in part, a little journey of self-discovery as well?

That is how I hear Young Person’s Guide.

This album can be purchased via Low Point. You can also listen to selected tracks at Low Point, or via SoundCloud.

 

S4E
(Maybe one day I’ll be infamous for being able to make almost everything about me).

 

 



Neil Milton – Elements

Those of you who have read posts on S4E more than once or twice may have detected a pattern, or rather a penchant I have for the connection between nature and sound, or a particular yen for the sound of weather in music. No surprises, then, what caught my attention about Neil Milton‘s latest release, titled Elements.

Before I get into that, though…

If the name sounds familiar, it’s possible you know it from a variety of musical projects, including post-rock band Troika, ambient project beneath us, the waves and/or Scottish indie music label too many fireworks, which has releases by artists Flying Matchstick Men, Laeto and Titus Gein to its credit. Now four years since its last release, too many fireworks is back, offering expanded versions of favourites as well as a number of new artists and releases to pique your ears and interest. Pay a visit to the label here and do a little exploring – well worth the time.

Elements, one of the first new releases from the label, is a 5-track EP composed by Neil and, as the name might suggest, explores aspects of five elements. As I’ve mentioned before, many albums have seasons and elements ascribed to them in order to convey their general tone and mood – few actually embrace and explore them in the way that Elements does.

The EP begins with air (Or The Dragonfly), a piano-based piece that matches its namesake well; light, subtly fluttering and calming, much like I remember the walk to school used to be on cool spring mornings – I used to pass through an alleyway with high galvanised iron fences on each side, dandelions grew rampant and large numbers of dragonflies swayed and darted about. (Ok, so I was a little wary of them in my youth, but both time and music can make these memories fondly comforting).

earth (Or (Warszawa) is next, another piano based piece and surprisingly more minimalist that the first. Sparse and measured to an almost painful degree, yet each note is decisive and clear – it makes me recall autumn just before winter sets in, capturing the moment between rain forming and falling.

Instrumentaion is expanded for fire (Or The Waysider), where strings are introduced for a gorgeous waltz that feels ripe with memories – it hints at, but never quite falls into melancholy. water (Or Between Rocks and the Sea) is a genuine highlight – absolutely beutiful and captured my imagination immediately. In short, I felt like I was on a train journey from the seaside to the mountains, the landscape familiar and holding those memories from the waltz, with the rain that was gathering during earth softly falling against the glass as I passed them by (of course, myriad different stories and reasons why to fill the suitcase I travelled with).

The EP finishes with aether (Or Alasdair Gray) – who is a Scottish writer and artist, google tells me. I know only what the wiki tells me about Alasdair Gray, but I do know a touch about the fifth element. Wheras air, earth, fire and water are terrestrial elements, subject to change and temperament, aether is the element above our sphere, and supposedly incapable of change. Quite fitting, then, that the very first thought I had when listening to Elements, is that while separated into individual pieces, as a whole the work doesn’t simply match the seasons, but instead suspends and enfolds them.

By which I mean that though I have obviously ascribed my own attributes to each piece, they are free of them at the same time, and while it may be so that Elements could be called ‘glacial’ in its movement at times, it is neither inherently cold or warm, rather, it simply is, and I get the impression it’s more than capable of adapting to any season, for each element is ever present, just at times in varying degrees.

Elements can be purchased via iTunes and Bandcamp.

S4E


Irata – Action-Packed Post-Rock for Spy-Ninjas in High Speed Car Chases

…and somewhere there’s clowns

I’ll be the first to admit that, for as much as I like the genre, post-rock has a few problems. Without going into too much detail, it’s laregly owing to a few common cliches and the greater stumbling block of being able to effect long-term engagement (particularly with instrumental post-rock). I mention those (albeit briefly) because it’s nice to come across an instrumental post-rock act who, by and large, avoid those problems.

Having recently discovered the label Silber Records, I took it upon myself to explore a few other titles in their catalogue. (First, the lovely China Mountain by Lotte Kestnerreviewed over at [sic]). Next up on my “hit-list” was Irata‘s self-titled debut, which I admittedly approached with equal amounts of trepidation and anticipation. Trepidation owing to the aforementioned issues; anticipation owing to Silber’s own description:

Irata dwells in the world where drone, post rock, & metal unite into a giant monster to kick your ass. Guitars, drums, bass, & saxophone form this instrumental group from Greensboro, NC.

It is, at least, a combination that sparks intrigue, as my taste for projects blending drone into the mix has only been recently developed.

Ok, so what you can expect is some well-paced and energetic instrumental pieces that appear to draw heavily on action over emotion – which for me means it rocks without draining my energy. The riffs hook easily and there’s no unnecessarily extended or drawn out builds into cinematic-like climaxes (where often – even without lyrics – one can come away with the feeling of being a tad emotionally manipulated). These guys get straight into it and give it all right there. It might be just me, but I can see this being a great soundtrack to an action movie with tons of car chases and spy tactics. And ninjas. (Yes, there is some subtle subversiveness in this here music. Also, I just like ninjas).

You’ll get the post-rock, the metal and the drone, seasoned with the occasional touch of blues, shoegaze and even a light sprinkle of Middle Eastern influence. If it suffers from anything at all, it’s a bit of a tendency for repetitiveness, but at least the pace is swift enough to be able to carry it.

I’m often fascinated by the titles some post-rock bands will bestow upon their songs. Again there’s a common tendency to issue them with unnecessarily overlong and convoluted names that perhaps serve as an attempt to better clarify the story or concept with the listener… But I’m looking at this tracklisting and I have to say I find the comparitively succint Clown Rehab far more fascinating – my imagination has run away with it already (last seen wondering about the effects of clown addiction, whether or not one who suffers from it would hide big red noses and floppy shoes in various places about the house. It might seem like I’m making fun – I’m not. Consider it more having fun with what I’m being presented with; which I actually think is cool that I can do 😉 . If one was to actually take a more philosophical approach, one might consider it to be a reference to the often implied notion that the happiness of a clown is a facade, and perhaps there is an addictive quality to maintaining that).

So there you have it, taken it on the nifty action packed level and let your imagination do some wilder things than mine; or study it all a little more deeply and find your own rewards.

You can grab Irata’s album here.