Month: August 2018

David Lynch & Kristine McKenna – Room To Dream – Book Review

Authors: David Lynch and Kristine Mckenna
Title: Room To Dream
Publisher: Random House
Release date: 19 June 2018
Pages: 592

In our dark ambient community there should be few people unfamiliar with the name David Lynch. The soundtrack to Eraserhead is still wildly popular 41 years later, with a recent re-issue selling out in no time. The Eraserhead soundtrack is a testament to Lynch’s natural understanding of dark ambient atmospherics. These rich textures and layers of drone, wind, and industrial noise evoke a dark vision of the not so distant past and, on an emotional level, a sense of claustrophobia and social anxiety. Going forward to 2007, Lynch worked with his in-house sound engineer Dean Hurley to create The Air Is On Fire, a thoroughly dark ambient music experience which was created as a soundtrack to accompany his art exhibition of the same name. While these are certainly not the only two times Lynch has dabbled in what amounts to dark ambient, they are solid proof of his dark ambient sensibilities.

Since the release of Eraserhead in 1977, Lynch has been slowly climbing the ladder to cult superstar status. His relationship with the movie industry, film critics and fans is one that is constantly changing in dynamics. Love him or hate him, most people that have experienced enough of his work to properly judge have some strong opinion. This has never been an issue for Lynch. He has almost always worked in a way that puts the integrity of the final product as the only important concern. On the very few instances that he’s strayed from this goal, he’s learned his lesson the hard way, becoming even more committed to his internal vision with each passing project.

The current, and possible life-time, culmination of all his experiences comes in the form of Twin Peaks: The Return. The revival of this series, twenty five years later, put Lynch into the spotlight in a way he hasn’t experienced since the success of Blue Velvet and then the original Twin Peaks series. Mulholland Dr. got people talking, but it was more of a slow-burner, taking years for many people to come around to its aesthetics and sensibilities. Twin Peaks: The Return had no trouble with its launch. Lynch has graced covers of popular magazines over the last two years and his body of work is being discovered by many new and younger people. Simultaneously, his older followers are taking the time to re-evaluate their feelings about his other works.

In this climate and at this point in his career, now seems to be the perfect timing for Room To Dream to hit the shelves. Though we likely all hope to have many more productive years for Lynch, we must realize the world is a violent and dynamic place. There is no time like the present, and Lynch has luckily deemed it necessary to sit down and give us the best details to-date of his life and experiences in it. Those ten years between Inland Empire and Twin Peaks: The Return have given Lynch the rest he needed, but also gave him time to properly evaluate what he wants to be remembered for in this world after he’s dropped his body. That really shows in Room To Dream, it’s easy to see that Lynch may not be on the exact path he envisioned, nevertheless he is confident in his past and eager to see what the future holds.

People searching for an answer to the final episode of Twin Peaks: The Return will find no solace in the pages of Room To Dream. Lynch has repeatedly stated, in regards to numerous projects, that telling us his version of “the truth behind the story” would be doing a disservice to the viewer. And indeed I’ve returned to Inland Empire, Mulholland Dr. and Lost Highway so many times that I’ve long since lost count. Even last night, re-watching Inland Empire for the 20th+ time, there were new ideas and possibilities jumping out at me.

However, those interested in what made Lynch the man that he is today, and why he decided to take this direction with his art, will find a treasure trove of information. In Room To Dream each chapter has two sections, a biographical format by Kristine McKenna sets the foundation for the narrative, giving us many quotes from the people relevant to Lynch during each given period (Everyone from Dennis Hopper to Michael Cera). McKenna is able to speak with authority on these topics, as she has been one of Lynch’s most trusted interviewers throughout the years, and has previously written a number of articles on the subject of his life and work. The second part to each chapter is then written by David Lynch. Lynch reads the previous section, then gives further details, caveats, and corrections to the “popular narrative” of his life and the meaning/direction of his various works. Since we are able to hear Lynch’s take on the topic it gives us the best of both worlds, a standard biography which is paired with a sort of memoir/autobiography.

There were disappointments and failures along the way, like the crumbling of the mesh that held Dune together, and the subsequent critical backlash. But Lynch bounced back from Dune with the masterpiece Blue Velvet, and he bounced back from the death of the Mulholland Dr. television show with a feature film version that many consider his magnum opus. Room to Dream takes us through these ups and downs and gives us an idea of Lynch’s thought process when navigating these projects and life-changing events.

Throughout the narrative there are few truly negative statements made about Lynch. This doesn’t seem to be an omission so much as a reality. By all accounts, Lynch is a ray of sunshine and a pleasure to be around. But like in so much of his body of work, things aren’t always as they seem. While it seems absolutely true that Lynch is a delight to be around, he also suffers from a great deal of social anxiety. We need look no further than his debut film Eraserhead, seeing the tribulations of Henry Spencer as he attempted to navigate social norms. These differing extremes, being the nicest guy in the room and also being the most self-conscious, may be partly responsible for one of his Lynchian trademarks, showing opposing moods and atmospheres pushed to their very limit and then fused together in a chaotic orgy of raw emotion and symbolism.

Emotions abound in Room To Dream for the reader. The way we are able to experience the feelings and stories by these many many people whose lives have been changed for the better by Lynch is quite heart-warming. But, we also get the negative vibes. I can’t help but feel a real disappointment, knowing Ronnie Rocket will likely never see the light of day. Knowing how much footage was destroyed in the editing of a certain film, and how many of those deleted scenes could have made it back into a director’s cut. But again, these ups and downs are part of the journey with David Lynch. Who doesn’t remember the elation of hearing the announcement of a third season of Twin Peaks? Only to be followed by an announcement that Lynch had pulled out of the project. Then the subsequent campaign by the actors to get the film/show back in motion. It was a turbulent process, and yet somehow it was almost magical.

Room To Dream isn’t the key to all the secrets behind Lynch’s filmography. The closest you will get to that is the haphazard attempt by so many film students seeking to fit his work into some category, genre, or psychological framework. What you will get from this book is a renewed appreciation for Lynch’s body of work, not just in film, but also in music, painting, drawing, print-making, sculpture, photography, etc. Room to Dream is about showing how Lynch has, in fact, given himself room to dream. Just as his films so often give the viewers “room to breath” in those long and mundane sequences, we see how Lynch’s life has been plotted out in a similar fashion. After a lifetime’s work, Lynch finally has room to dream and we will all certainly be awaiting the day that his works will grace the screen once more. In the meantime, though, Room To Dream uncovers a plethora of various works that we may have missed by Lynch over the years. I suggest you keep a notepad close by when reading this one, there will be so many things to check out later to further enrich our appreciation for Lynch not just as an auteur of the film industry, but as a first-class artist across countless forms of media.

Review written by: Michael Barnett

Room To Dream is available in hardcover, e-book and audio-book formats, with readings by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna.
https://soundcloud.com/penguin-audio/room-to-dream-by-david-lynch

Mortiis – Secrets of my Kingdom: Return… – Review

Author: Mortiis
Book: Secrets of My Kingdom: Return to Dimensions Unknown
Release date: March 2018
Publisher: Cult Never Dies / Crypt Publications

Mortiis is a name that needs little introduction in the dark ambient community. His work on Cold Meat Industry in the 1990s helped to spawn a new genre, which he called dark dungeon music at the time. What was once a light scattering of artists creating music in this style has, over the past few years, turned into a blooming community of eager artists and listeners. These sounds have slowly been re-labeled as dungeon synth.

After years of keeping distance between his Era 1 sound and his current industrial rock sound, Mortiis has recently reexamined his Era 1 material. Understanding its impact and realizing its value to the dungeon synth community Mortiis has since started the process of re-releasing all material from that first era. New vinyl and cassette editions have been crafted for his Era 1 releases. All these vinyl editions have had their cover-art reimagined by David Thiérrée.

Secrets of My Kingdom: Return To Dimensions Unknown is the final element in the re-invigoration of Mortiis‘ Era 1. The first edition, originally titled just Secrets of My Kingdom, was released in 2001 on Earache Records in a limited leather-bound edition of 850 copies. By that time Era 1 was becoming a fading memory for him, and The Smell of Rain was driving him into new and uncharted territory. Nonetheless, those 850 copies found homes. Since that time, the book has continued a life of its own in the second-hand trading/selling world. Through this year, especially with the recent bloom of interest in Dungeon Synth, the original book was easily selling for $150+ in the used book and band merch markets. With all this excitement around the world about dungeon synth, multiple featured Bandcamp Daily articles, exponentially growing Facebook groups and message boards, high quality new record labels being established, Mortiis decided to reexamine this book to see if it still had potential and relevance 15 years on. Deeming its pages worth discovery by this new dungeon synth community, Mortiis went about the process of updating and re-releasing the book.

For those familiar with the original version, everything you may have liked about the content will still be intact. All the original illustrations by Juha Vuorma and Mark Riddick have been retained, as well as all the original text. But this edition has been expanded in many ways. Readers will immediately recognize the new, aforementioned cover-art by David Thiérrée. The book starts with some reflections on the original book and it’s re-imagining, before jumping right into the original material. This is then followed, starting on page 154, with a large section of original notes, handwritten lyrics, and unused texts. These are all direct photocopies of the original texts/sketches, and they are given explanation where needed for context. There is then an extensive interview with Mortiis, covering many topics related to his Era 1 work and its legacy. There are also interviews with artists Juha Vuorma, Mark Riddick, and David Thiérrée; as well as Mortiis‘ contemporaries Forgotten Kingdoms, Balrog, Chaucerian Myth, Proscriptor of Equimanthorn and Absu, Tomas Pettersson of Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio, and finally Albert Mudrian of Decibel magazine. The book closes with 26 illustrations by David Thiérrée which are based on the texts in the book, and were used for select Mortiis performances in 2017.

I didn’t truly appreciate the Era 1 work of Mortiis until well passed it’s prime. Like many, I didn’t fully discover dungeon synth until this most recent boom in popularity. Then, like so many others, I began working backward, discovering the material which has found such a warm place in the hearts of Mortiis fans for over two decades. Even Mortiis had to go back and sort of rediscover/reevaluate his own material, after so many years of disregarding Era 1. Whether you believe Mortiis sincerely returned to Era 1 out of a genuine longing to revisit his roots or, alternatively, you think this is all an opportunity for a cash grab, I don’t think this issue should matter too much to those genuine fans of Era 1 Mortiis. My opinion is that he is being genuine and is very pleased to see such renewed interest in his early work. But even if he isn’t being genuine, we cannot deny that it is wonderful to have access to new cassette and vinyl editions of some of his classic albums. A new edition of Secrets of My Kingdom will be very welcome to newer Mortiis fans that discovered the original book, but found that they could not possibly afford to curate a copy for themselves. It will also be welcome to any longtime fans that may have sold, lost, or destroyed their original edition, and have since had a longing for its return.

Critically, Secrets of My Kingdom: Return To Dimensions Unknown has its ups and downs. The original text by Mortiis isn’t necessarily the most eloquent or engaging material. Reading through the poems, I’m not surprised that Mortiis continued with his music career and set this written medium aside. Nevertheless, the original text accounted for the sales of the original edition, and is the main attraction for this reissue. What Mortiis lacks in poetic technique, he makes up for in depth of content. Those that are interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the greater story and framework behind Era 1 Mortiis albums will find this collection indispensable. The second positive element, and a reason I was interested in buying a copy, is the addition of context and commentary. Reading Mortiis‘ reflections on this book, years after its inception, and seeing how it has impacted others helps give new fans a better idea of Mortiis‘ history from an emotional standpoint, rather than technical. I was also very impressed with the work of David Thiérrée on the vinyl re-issues, so I was eager to see the final section of the book with his graphical interpretations of Era 1 events, characters, and scenery. I would have liked to see Thiérrée’s illustrations in a larger format, rather than two per page, but this is understandable, as Thiérrée likely intends to sell these works as original art and so his section of the book should be seen more as a catalog of his Mortiis works rather than a section of full size prints, like we would expect in a proper art book dedicated to his work. In regard to the physical book itself, I haven’t held the original, but I gather that the original leather-bound edition may have looked a bit nicer than this new – hardcover but not leather-bound – edition. Of course, this can be easily explained away by a preference for availability over obsession with quality. The fact is that a second leather-bound edition likely wouldn’t have seen as many copies manufactured, and would also have cost a good deal more to purchase.

I would recommend this edition to any true fans of Mortiis‘ Era 1 material. There is a wonderful array of material to enjoy here. Even if you have already read the book’s original text, this new edition comes with so much extra material that it should still be worth the purchase price. I haven’t sat down to a deep reading of the original text, but I enjoy reading a few passages here and there, especially while listening to his Era 1 material. The large sections dedicated to interviews are really helpful for giving older fans a look at Mortiis current mindset on Era 1, but they also give the younger fans a deep look at where Mortiis fits into the great world of music. If all this sounds enticing, then I highly recommend Secrets of My Kingdom, but if you are likely to feel that the original text isn’t up to par, and also don’t care much for the added insights, then I would recommend you stick to books by authors that have dedicated their lives to creating fiction. This is, undeniably, a book for the dungeon synth community.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Templum N.R. – Memoirs of the Recoilers Pt. 1 – Review

Artist: Templum N.R.
Album: Memoirs of the Recoilers Pt. 1
Release date: May 2018
Label: Aural Hypnox

Tracklist:
01. Bowels of the White Rose
02. Through the Liquid Mirror
03. The Unseen Tailor
04. The Towering Wall
05. Black Dust Enfolding
06. Hymn Two, Seven, Three

Aural Hypnox is one of the greatest hidden gems of the dark ambient world. To those in the know, collector’s editions sell out in a matter of days. It seems that most everyone from the dark ambient community that stumbles across Aural Hypnox quickly finds something to love here. One of the most concrete and noticeable attributes of Aural Hypnox is their focus on ritual ambient, as well as the attention to detail on their physical productions. Through acts like the legendary Arktau Eos and Halo Manash, among others, Aural Hypnox has built a solid fan-base, from their remote home-base of Oulu, Finland. For those unfamiliar with the northern Scandinavian region, Oulu is pretty far north. In fact, aside from Murmansk and Norilsk in Russia, Oulu is the most northerly city on Earth. Further adding to the intrigue of Oulu is their community-wide experiments with new technology, called a “living lab”. With its founding going back to 1605, Oulu seems to have some intense conflicting extremes.

For this strange, unique, and esoteric project I think it is best that Templum N.R. explain their goals and the meaning of the project’s name for themselves:
“Templum N.R. is a temple dedicated to Nightside Revelations and in this temple other worlds, parallel universes and realities are present both in sound and vision. The repertoire of the group consists of telepathic resonances received while travelling in the Spheres of Otherness and is presented through obscure electronics, eternal & eerie melodies and droning, swallowing textures. The material of the Temple will travel deep inside the listeners subconsciousness and foster the understanding of a Formless Sacrifice. The Otherness is unleashed in the surroundings inhabited by the group’s output.”

The releases of Templum N.R. show the intersections between technology and ancient traditions in a most glaring way. Their first two releases Spectrum CCCXC: Transitio and T.o.V. Improvisations XCII-XCIII show a side of Templum N.R. which is more in line with the rest of the Aural Hypnox roster. A sort of droning ritual ambient. But, Spectrum DCXCIII: Poison Portals started showing a more experimental side of Templum N.R. Especially on the track “I Am His Sacrifice”, Templum N.R. introduced the use of unusual vocal sections. “I Am His Sacrifice” took us on a journey to a remote cabin which has more to it than it would seem. This odd vocal style has been made even more prominent on Memoirs of the Recoilers Pt. 1. Templum N.R. have also added a new element into the mix with all the vocals for this release being contributed by “Madame Eternally Nameless”.

You can hear on the music video for “The Unseen Tailor” how these various elements come together to create quite a unique experience. The cassette comes with a fold-out insert which gives us all the lyrics for the release. There is a nice combination of foreboding, poetic beauty, futurism, numerology and darkness here, all blended into this short but potent release. While the album only totals about twenty minutes play length, it is nonetheless a rewarding twenty minutes. As should be expected of Aural Hypnox, this cassette comes in a beautiful packaging, created by Aural Hypnox sister company Primeval Vision.

For those that have purchased any Templum N.R. merchandise over the past year or two, you will already know that Templum N.R. prefer to keep their distance from the digital world, and they have devised a subscription system for receiving newsletters and exclusive content via snail mail at intervals throughout the year. I recently joined this list and was graced with the c40 cassette, The Chasm of Desiccated Beings. This drone heavy release features an original track “Meditation I” on Side A and an “Inorganic Twin” remix of it on Side B. For those that are eager for more from them, this is certainly a way of finding it. Here is the official statement on their Discogs about this:
“There will be no official presence of Templum N.R. in the global system of interconnected computer networks. If you would like to receive traditional paper newsletters, unique artworks & exclusive audio tapes of the group, please join the official Templum N.R. subscription list. Contact via email for details.”
(Note: I don’t have their e-mail, so maybe it’s best to wait for the paper subscription form, which should come with any of the new Templum N.R. releases.)

As with just about everything I’ve encountered from Aural Hypnox, I highly recommend Memoirs of the Recoilers Pt. I. It may be a short release, but every minute is valuable here and listeners will likely feel as content as I have with it, as a whole. Concurrent with this release, Aural Hypnox re-released all three of Templum N.R.‘s previous albums on CD, each with a bit of extra content. It is always interesting to see where Templum N.R. will take us next, and this is once again a journey worth remembering.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Ruptured World – Exoplanetary – Review

Artist: Ruptured World
Album: Exoplanetary
Release date: 7 August 2018
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. The Bright Communion of Primal Energies
02. The Sunken Valleys
03. Future Cries of No Tomorrow
04. The Twilight Hours
05. A Time Without Saviours
06. The Shimmering After-Blasts of Psionic Traces
07. The Voyage of Tarknassus
08. Closing Theme

Exoplanetary follows the story of a scientifically based exploration of the planet Proxima Centauri B. Ruptured World is a sci-fi cinematic dark ambient release created by weird fantasy and horror fiction author Alistair Rennie. Exoplanetary takes Rennie’s knack for writing fiction into new territory, giving us something that feels familiar, and yet new. Most tracks feature spoken-word, which is all performed by Rennie himself. Along with the booklet, this gives the album a lot of material for listeners to absorb, making multiple listens a must. Thankfully those multiple listens have been equally as enjoyable as the first.

The mission plan refers to “select members of the human species”, leading me to wonder about the class warfare that must be happening simultaneously (though this theme is not explored on Exoplanetary). As the 99.9% realize that they are going no where, and Earth will soon double as their grave marker, drifting through infinite space.

On “The Sunken Valleys”, Rennie speaks in his sort of 50s sci-fi movie style voice, explaining the characteristics of the landscape. But, there is even further detail committed to this topic in the 16 page “Executive Mission Summary” booklet, which accompanies both the digital and physical versions of Exoplanetary.

“The Twilight Hours” begins by explaining a bit about the Krivren species, which appears to be a deadly, intelligent race of creatures that populate Proxima Centauri B. Again, here, the booklet goes into even greater detail about this alien race, giving us enough information to start forming images of these creatures in our minds, as well as hearing their communications throughout the track. “A Time Without Saviours” picks back up on this dialogue, this time going into more detail about the routines and actions of this race, and their possible understanding of humanity’s arrival.

“A Time Without Saviours” is likely my favorite track on the album. It slowly builds until we hear some dialogue I mentioned above, then the track turns musical, allowing a slow almost glitchy melody to become the new focus for the remainder of the track. This section is highly evocative of some of my favorite Sabled Sun melodic sections. In fact, probably my favorite thing about this album, as a whole, is its similarities to the Sabled Sun 21XX series. But, here we are more focused on conveying the story through actual dialogue and through the accompanying booklet. Whereas with Sabled Sun there is much more left to the imagination, in terms of specific greater plot details, and the focus is instead on real-time soundscape cinematics (i.e. electronics bleeping, footsteps, doors opening). I wouldn’t commit to liking one or the other style better. I think it’s great to see these themes covered from varied angles.

“The Voyage of Tarknassus” brings together all the elements of Exoplanetary in a concise fashion. We hear a radio tuning into a station, finding a beautiful piano arrangement. This soon shifts to a transmission of the voice of Dr. Hector Macrae, which eventually trails off into a slow droning section. This seems to give listeners time to contemplate the words we’ve just heard and the greater plot of the album, going on for eleven minutes as the longest track. Exoplanetary ends on peaceful note, being another of the more musical tracks. A number of different elements come together here, built upon a peaceful drone and a prominent bass line.

Cryo Chamber continues making their bold moves into varying fringes of the dark ambient genre. Yet again, it seems they’ve made a successful gamble, bringing an artist into the fray with some highly detailed visions for his work. Alongside Simon Heath, this is likely to be a highly fruitful endeavor in the future, just as we’ve already seen here on Exoplanetary, as well as in similar circumstances with God Body Disconnect. Ruptured World must be the best project I could recommend for lovers of Sabled Sun and other cinematic sci-fi ambient releases. There is a little here of everything that makes that sub-genre so compelling. The beautiful cover-art, booklet and layout of Exoplanetary make it all the more attractive. I wouldn’t recommend this as background music, there are plenty of dark ambient albums out there that will blend nicely into your evening. Ruptured World asks more of their listeners, but the reward is worth the effort. Highly Recommended!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Moss Covered Technology – And His Many Seas – Review

Artist: Moss Covered Technology
Album: And His Many Seas
Release date: 30 April 2018
Label: Facture / Fluid Audio

Tracklist:
01. – 08. Sea #1-8

Moss Covered Technology is an ambient project out of the United Kingdom. There really doesn’t appear to be too much more information available about specifics of the man behind the music. We can gather a bit of personal information, and a window into the intent of this album from the album’s blurb on their Bandcamp, which reads: “And His Many Seas is a personal voyage, as the artist’s father was suffering from cancer at the time of the album being written. A well-traveled man, And His Many Seas sets sail to quietly conquer and navigate another unexplored, painful continent: the frightening landmass of coming to terms with his father’s illness, steering through the trials of life as well as acting as a dedication to his father’s love of traveling. The illness itself heralded the beginnings of a new journey. Recalling the feel of the Arctic Ocean.”

So, And His Many Seas is an ode to the musician’s father, and an attempt to recreate the sort of awe and wonder of the voyages he took throughout his lifetime. But, I was drawn to this release, aside from its physical splendor, by the melancholia and chilling darkness which seems to be hiding just beneath the surface. Masked by the glory of nautical explorations, the region in which this imaginary journey embarks toward is just as important. Heading into a cold and unforgiving arctic climate, Moss Covered Technology connects with us on a more troubling level. This can be seen as a sort of allusion to the bittersweet journey of the miracle of life always moving toward a bleak and inevitable death.

From a technical perspective, And His Many Seas can initially seem like a pretty straightforward drone ambient release. But the multiple play-throughs keep bringing out new and interesting elements that I hadn’t previously experienced. This, to me, is always a sign of a great passive ambient release. Something that I can listen to multiple times, even in a single day, without feeling a deep disgust for repetition and monotony tearing at me. Tracks like “Sea #5” have a bit more active elements, bringing the senses of courage and exploration to the forefront, while tracks like “Sea #1” linger in more subtle territory. “Sea #8”, the album’s finale, takes us into some very peaceful and introspective soundscapes. The drones are light and shimmering, while we are treated to a pleasant undercurrent of field recordings.

When I first found this album it immediately jumped out at me and was begging me to get a physical copy. A label that I haven’t often crossed, Facture / Fluid Audio, brings this album by Moss Covered Technology to a magnificently crafted physical release. Every aspect of And His Many Seas preparation was considered and crafted with the utmost attention to detail. The CD is housed in a hand made book-bound cover, lined with paper from Florence Italy. The CD also comes with vintage nautical Nories tables from around the 1920s, vintage Elisha Kane Arctic Exploration inserts (ca. 1869), nine double sided A6 prints, and dried flowers. All this is placed in a hand-cut envelope which is individually stamped and numbered. That’s a lot of stuff to talk about for one release! Of course, opening the package was about as exciting to me as the music itself. I spent a good thirty minutes looking through all the inserts and reading all the explorer cards while listening to the CD for the first time.

I would highly recommend And His Many Seas to fans of the more subtle forms of ambient / dark ambient. This release will certainly fall into ambient territory, but there really is enough melancholy here to warrant a dark ambient zine’s coverage. If the exquisite attention to detail on this physical release isn’t enough to draw you in, the album is also available as digital only, but I really recommend seeking out a copy of the physical release. There are at least a few left available direct from Moss Covered Technology, but I doubt they’ll have time to gather dust. Moss Covered Technology is a great example of the versatility of these genres we cover, and an excellent introduction to the Facture / Fluid Audio discography.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Leila Abdul-Rauf – Diminution – Review

Artist: Leila Abdul-Rauf
Album: Diminution
Release date: 13 April 2018
Label: Malignant Records / Cloister Recordings / Black Horizons

Tracklist:
01. Diminution
02. Life Leaving
03. Causeway
04. Abjure
05. Wayward
06. Self-Recognition (For Pauline Oliveros)
07. Hindsight
08. Light Rising

Leila Abdul-Rauf is a multi-talented musician out of the San Fransisco bay area. She’s contributed to a rather large number of musical projects, including: Hammers of Misfortune, Saros and Vastum to name a few. Through these projects she’s delved into a wide range of music from doom and folk metal in Hammers of Misfortune to post-industrial in Ionophore. But, on her solo albums, as Leila Abdul-Rauf, we have heard much calmer and more atmospheric music.

Leila Abdul-Rauf creates her dark ambient(ish) music in a way that delivers a more musical, song-based result than much of what you will see covered here. The trumpet and vocals play a major part in this difference. Her haunting yet beautiful vocals lend themselves to some of those Blue Velvet vibes. It is easy to envision that dark club where Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) first witnesses a performance by Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) over an ice-cold Heineken. Of course, the trumpet certainly helps produce this vibe. The connection can also be made by the way Leila Abdul-Rauf is creating music that is thoroughly dark, without ever feeling too languid or depressing. This is likely part of the reason the album is being promoted as early morning solitude music; a nod to the interplay between light and dark that flows through the album.

Leila Abdul-Rauf does a great job of building these visuals into the sounds. Unlike some releases we cover, Diminution doesn’t appear to follow any set narrative. It’s not supposed to tell us one specific story. Instead, we are given a sort of mood-enhancer. Diminution plays best at those late-night hours, after much of the world has retired for the day, or in those early morning moments, dew still glistening on the leaves, as the sun begins to peak out upon the horizon. This is a sort of midnight music. A sound that isn’t particularly depressing, but is certainly not happy. The track titles and lyrical content of the album, as well as the cover-art, all feed into this mood. Titles like “Life Leaving”, “Self-Recognition”, and “Hindsight” all lend to a feeling of reflection and contemplation, of the acceptance of loss and death. But, this isn’t a brooding lament, instead it seems to look at these concepts from a more constructive perspective. For instance, the opening track, “Diminution”, uses the combination of trumpet and piano in a way that draws equal parts serene contemplation and sorrowful despair. This formula emerges for me throughout the album, making it something I love using for lazy driving music. Following a dark highway home at night, or cruising aimlessly through some national park, Diminution is able to enhance the vibe, bringing out a well of divergent emotions.

Photo by: Allan I. Young

“Light Rising” – Paradoxically seems like one of the darkest tracks on the album. The thing that puts it into this context for me is the doom-laden repetitive sound, which gives a sort of black metal or dungeon synth vibe to the track. The track begins and ends with this isolated sound, but throughout “Light Rising” Abdul-Rauf uses her voice and trumpet to give it that lighter contrast. The vocals on this one give me the greatest reminder of something we would hear in Twin Peaks, that dark synth-pop vibe which Lynch has helped to cultivate over the years. Though, of course, here we get a much slower pace and a significantly more atmospheric vibe. For me, this balance between some more active genres, like synth-pop or jazz, with the more subtle sounds of dark ambient and neo-classical comes together perfectly on Diminution. We get the closest we can to the experience surrounding a Lynchian film, with the visual elements melting into the soundscapes to create a dark and cinematic atmosphere where sound can replace visuals altogether.

“Self Recognition (for Pauline Oliveros)” is, as one may guess, an ode to the highly influential musician Pauline Oliveros. I have not personally spent a lot of time with Oliveros’ music. But, shortly after her death in 2016, I read a rather thorough article about her impact on the music world. There are obviously a great number of reasons for Leila Abdul-Rauf to find inspiration in the work of Pauline Oliveros. Her presence was felt heavily in Leila Abdul-Rauf’s San Fransisco bay area, particularly through the San Fransisco Tape Music Center, founded in the ’60s. But her work in the, at the time, untrodden frontier of experimental electronic music would be one of her most notable lifetime contributions. “Self-Recognition” provides a thoroughly enjoyable “deep listening” experience which would likely make Oliveros proud.

 

Photo by: Nathan A. Verrill

The success of 2015’s Insomnia, her sophomore release, through Malignant Antibody, was due in large part to the musical content. But, there was also no shortage of praise for the cover-art, a painting by Mark Thompson. This time around, Matthew Jaffe contributes some of his beautiful artwork to the project. This painting of buildings in background, fronted by a thick fog which enshrouds trees and what could be either gravestones or shrouded figures, make for a brilliantly atmospheric cover-art. This artwork is given further justice through the vinyl variants; one of which is solid black and the other is gold with black swirl.

Art by Matthew Jaffe – featured on vinyl insert

Leila Abdul-Rauf brings back everything we loved about the highly-praised Insomnia. But, this time around the music seems even further refined. I would recommend Diminution to any fans of dark ambient with more active elements such as vocals and trumpet. This one will not be particularly jarring to the passive-preferring listeners either. With near universal praise again this time, it seems we can be expecting a good many more years of musical output from this highly talented individual. Not to mention all her other musical projects. Highly recommended!

Written by: Michael Barnett

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