Tag: Ambient (Page 1 of 2)

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

Rainy Daze – Ambient Mix

Here’s a little dark ambient blended with some lighter ambient tracks to make the perfect atmosphere for a rainy summer afternoon. Inspired by the new Mount Shrine album, I was looking for something that would keep that sort of vibe going. Tape loop distortion, glitchy ambience and lush field-recordings come together for a melancholic yet serene experience. Skeldos, Taphephobia and Leila Abdul-Rauf all feature some minimal vocal elements for added flavor.
Almost 2-hour seamless mix by Michael Barnett
Enjoy!

Playlist:

01. 0:00:00 Mount Shrine – Lifeless Indoors
02. 0:12:40 Dead Melodies – Remnants of the Missing
03. 0:17:50 Teahouse Radio – Death would find my halls and flood them
04. 0:21:30 Skeldos – Ilgės
05. 0:38:05 Taphephobia – Thunder Over The Boardwalk
06. 0:44:05 Leila Abdul-Rauf – Light Rising
07. 0:48:15 Moss Covered Technology – Sea #4
08. 0:58:30 protoU – Falling Home
09. 1:04:40 The Prairie Lines – Stay Elegant Lose Your Mind
10. 1:09:10 Vortex – A New World
11. 1:12:10 Kloob – Magic Tea Fields
12. 1:18:30 Alphaxone – Environment
13. 1:24:05 Foresteppe – s04e08
14. 1:31:20 Pool of Light – Dim
15. 1:33:40 Halftribe – Still
16. 1:36:45 Bonini Bulga – By a higher thought

Tapes and Topographies – Signal to Noise – Review

Artist: Tapes and Topographies
Album: Signal to Noise
Release date: 17 August 2017
Label: Simulacra Records

Tracklist:
01. Answered in an Echo
02. Rain in Our Room
03. An Illustrious Career
04. Painted Bird
05. Resplendent
06. In Stockholm, Where I Saw You Last
07. Wiretaps
08. All the Ports are Empty
09. Signal to Noise
10. Both of Us, Regardless

So I must admit I’m running a bit behind on this one. I was first introduced to Tapes and Topographies as well as their label Simulacra Records last summer with this release, Signal to Noise. I immediately fell in love with it, but I like to give an album time to sit with me for a bit, especially if the artist is new to me. So, by the time I realized that Signal to Noise was possibly my favorite album of the summer, it was already well into fall. So now summer has returned, and with it Signal to Noise. As the heat crept up, this CD found its way right back into my player on long drives.

As Tear Ceremony and Sonogram, Todd Gautreau has been releasing albums since the early ’90s. But Tapes and Topographies seems to be a much newer project, with five total releases dating back to 2014. Signal to Noise is the third of these, and just prior to writing this I realized his latest, Opiates, will also definitely need to be heard thoroughly and likely covered here. To say Signal to Noise was my absolute favorite album of summer 2017 might be a stretch. But, it certainly has stuck with me in a more personal way than most of what I encountered through the year.

What will become immediately clear to the listener upon diving into Signal to Noise is that it is seeking to evoke a sense of nostalgia. I would argue that it is a heavily melancholic, but nevertheless cherished, nostalgia. The sort of feeling you get walking back into some childhood home, but its now overgrown and rotten, or less intensely, a home that has new occupants with a new color paint and a new mailbox. The memories are still just as beautiful, but the time has passed, the world is a different place now. Each time I revisit Signal to Noise, these feelings present themselves freshly, as if I am experiencing it again for the first time.

Songs like the opener, “Answered in an Echo”, are quite direct in their prodding of our subconscious. The track starts off with a high-mid ranged drone that gently sweeps through field recordings of some park on a summer day. Children are playing only feet away. Parents chat amongst one another more quietly. But there are other elements to “Answered in an Echo” which are more experimental and take it into a more interesting place for someone like myself that is not overly interested in drone heavy releases. I would make a comparison, for dark ambient fans, to the way that Elegi has incorporated a wide variety of instrumentation and techniques to create something that is at once nostalgic, peaceful, and experimental. There are different layers of drones, field recordings, and likely other actual instruments, which I haven’t specifically placed.

While “Answered in an Echo” is direct in its evocation of nostalgic memories, the whole album does not guide you so directly. Some tracks, like “An Illustrious Career” are sort of a glitchy form of classical. Soft and peaceful piano arrangements mingle with more strange noises. The connection here clearly being that we are able to remember these beautiful bits and pieces from our pasts, but not all that we remember is correct, and not all that happened is remembered. There is a lot of noise that accumulates through the years, muddying the signal, diminishing its purity. But, the scientific definition for signal to noise is: Signal-to-noise ratio is a measure used in science and engineering that compares the level of a desired signal to the level of background noise. A ratio higher than 1:1 (greater than 0 dB) indicates more signal than noise.

Another favorite to be mentioned is “In Stockholm, Where I Saw You Last”. This one adds some beautiful string instrumentation to the already delightful piano arrangements. This track actually includes very little of the more experimental sounds, focusing almost fully one the classical instruments. It makes for a nice little interlude in the album. It could evoke the feelings and/or memories of something like a moment of clarity. When for once life actually presented itself to you, no riddles included.

I can say equally positive things about the cover-art and digipak for this one. The open window, sun shining in upon a dirt floor is the perfect visual representation of this album’s emotion. A feeling of loneliness, a bit old and worn. But, the album doesn’t present itself as all sadness and despair. The memories are not quite yet gone, the moments live on in our minds, and maybe one day moments so beautiful will present themselves once again. Or is life only ever so beautiful in hindsight?

Written by: Michael Barnett

Simon Šerc – Bora Scura – Review

Artist: Simon Šerc
Album: Bora Scura
Release date: 22 April 2018
Label: Pharmafabrik Recordings

Tracklist:
1 – 10: Action I – Action X
Runtime: 1.2 hours

When I first received the message about this new Simon Šerc album, I have to admit I wasn’t very impressed with the first sentence: “The album is composed exclusively of recordings of extreme Bora wind blowing in Ajdovščina, Slovenia.” I generally am less fond of the idea of untouched field recordings, and similarly, improvised jam-session-turn-albums. I just have a bit of a bias that attending to details for months after creating a foundation inherently makes an album better. But, there are always exceptions to my prejudices. In this case, Bora Scura is an exception! So, getting that out of the way for myself, and hopefully for you readers as well, I’ll get into the specifics here.

This album was recorded on the 5th of February in 2015. In this town of Ajdovščina, Simon Šerc captured this glorious anomaly of nature known as Bora. In the Vipava Valley of Slovenia, for an average of 42 days per year, there are incredibly strong gusts of wind, which can reach 200km/h (124 mph) and in 2010 managed to hit 295 km/h (183 mph). This seems insane to me! These are winds with the force of a full scale hurricane/typhoon, and the people in this region just accept it at part of the weather, presenting itself particularly during the cold season.

Listening to this album, one can’t help but close their eyes and feel like they are right in the midst of this incredible anomaly. I came to dark ambient music for the immersion, and that is why artists like Northaunt and Ugasanie have had such impact on me. Because I love these cold regions with frigid gusts of wind tearing at the trees and houses. That sentiment is very much present when I’m listening to this release. While there is none of the actual “music”, these winds are just so intense that they manage to hold my attention, as well as pull me into the experience.

There are other interesting things to listen for in the album, too. The recordings were not captured in a barren field, with nothing to impede their travels. Quite the opposite. One can hear a variety of sounds here. At one point I picked out bells tolling in the distance. A church? Or a warning signal for the locals? At another point we can hear very clearly doors opening and closing, footsteps on a wooden floor, possibly a barn? There are animals calling out in distress, barely audible. These aren’t the sounds of Atrium Carceri, where we are hearing pieces of a puzzle, potentially key elements to a vast story. But that didn’t take away from the experience for me. I still enjoyed picking out these various sounds. Each play-through finding something new, piecing together in my mind the landscapes of these soundscapes.

While attempting to peice it all together, I began to find it hard to believe that all these different variations of this storm were captured in a single day/night. So, I contacted Šerc to verify that it was all captured on 5 February 2015. He responded:

Yes, all in one day, with two different recorders. The wind gusts exceeded 200 km/h on that day, the next day it was only 150 km/h. But, the hard work started then in the studio, cleaning the recordings…it was a lot of useless/overloaded material…

One can only imagine, when recording 200 km/h winds, how hard it must be to capture almost any usable material. To which his response was:

One day is enough. It’s not easy to record audio outside in that wind. It’s essential to find natural covers to protect the microphones, and myself.

So, Bora Scura may be even harder to consider “music” than the dark ambient many of us already defend as “music”. But, this album has really impressed me. I’ve went back to it over and over through the weeks since I first heard it. At first, I was almost positive I wouldn’t be covering it. But, the album quickly and decisively grew on me, so here we are! Of course, it won’t be recommended to people that prefer their ambient melodic or crisply polished. But for those of us that love to sink into an epic storm, allowing its energy to surge through our bodies, this one should make for quite a pleasing experience.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Melankolia – Vividarium Intervigilium Viator – Review

Artist: Melankolia
Album: Vividarium Intervigilium Viator
Release date: 12 December 2017
Label: Hypnotic Dirge Records

Tracklist:
01. Ambrosia
02. Nyctophilia
03. The Crowning of Autumn
04. Between Heaven and Hell
05. In the Garden Sleeps a Messenger
06. Wellspring Labyrinth (Left Hand ’til Mourning)
07. Requiem
08. Melankolia
09. The Murmur (Succour Midst Sorrow)
10. Annie, Light in a Dying World

Melankolia is the dark ambient / neo-classical project of Mike O’Brien, also known for his work as Appalachian Winter, Veiled Monk and Ritual in Ash. Since the founding of his project in 2009, O’Brien has released three full length album, the last of which, III, came out in 2012 on Quartier23. Melankolia, true to the name, seeks to engulf the listener in a melancholic atmosphere. The strongest, most consistent tool in his repertoire is the piano. Often just a little field recordings and piano work is all that is needed for Melankolia to create a dark, lonely sort of atmosphere.

On their fourth release, Vividarium Intervigilium Viator, Melankolia paid painstaking attention to detail, allowing the creation process to run several years longer than on any of their previous releases. The album was picked up by Hypnotic Dirge Records, a label that specializes in a variety of music, which they call “An auditory palette for the estranged and eclectic”. Unlike on previous releases, Vividarium Intervigilium Viator is completely done by O’Brien himself, with no guest musicians.

Vividarium Intervigilium Viator is a diverse release. There are a number of different styles of music and mood being created here. These albums take a bit more consideration than the standard dark ambient fare, thus I’m reviewing this one six months after release, though I have been enjoying it since December. What makes this release hard to describe for a reviewer, ironically, should be just what would make listeners enjoy it. Tracks like “In the Garden Sleeps a Messenger” have sections that sound like they came right off something like Prospectus I by raison d’etre. Then, moments later on “Wellspring Labyrinth (Left Hand ’til Mourning)”, we hear an intricate texture of darker background soundscape, while synth, piano and choral voices give the track a more fantastical, ethereal feel. Then, on “The Murmur (Succour Midst Sorrow), Melankolia starts with a billowing wind and a guitar, before the piano takes over and O’Brien begins to recite an interesting passage, I assume of his own creation, which talks of the woes and disappointments of human existence.

In all these different sorts of tracks, Melankolia keeps the theme and mood directed consistently toward his goals. The heavy use of field recordings throughout the album adds greatly to its contemplative, melancholic nature. The piano parts all hold an emotional edge, and are reasonably diverse, in opposition to so much of the neo-classical styled dark ambient we hear which incorporates the piano, but not in any skillful or complex sense, often allowing several notes to repeat throughout, never using any actual scales or chord progressions. Not that most of that is bad, I enjoy many of these sorts of tracks, but it feels more authentic with Melankolia than with many of the other examples I’ve heard over the years.

This music is perfect for long lonely nights, sitting by the window reading, watching as the seasons pass, time slipping irretrievably through our fingers. The name Melankolia really tells the tale of this artist’s style. He treads that ground between dark and “regular” ambient very lightly. The album evokes a sadness, but of an indirect variety. We aren’t left imagining lost childhoods or ended relationships. We are not given such a direct sensory nudge. Instead the music leaves me feeling  almost content in my solitude. It is that sort of calm darkness that one finds when all is pitch black, but a single burning candle or night-light. A sense that all the surrounding woes and hardships are fleeting, as are our own fragile lives.

I would highly recommend this release to anyone into the neo-classical side of the dark ambient spectrum. There will be quite active moments throughout the album, but they rarely if ever disrupted me when I am focusing on some other task. The heavy use of field recordings makes this a true pleasure as well, really adding a depth to the sounds of your environment, and their emotional pull on you. Hypnotic Dirge Records released the album in a beautiful 4 panel digipak with an eight page booklet of photography and thought provoking written passages. O’Brien really put together a polish gem with this one. We should definitely be keeping our eyes and ears open for whatever is to come next!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Bridge To Imla – The Radiant Sea – Review

Artist: Bridge To Imla
Album: The Radiant Sea
Release date: 1 December 2017
Label: Winter-Light

Tracklist:
01. Prologue: The Kuroshio Current
02. Tsushima Basin
03. Shatsky Rise
04. The Aleutian Current
05. Hikurangi Plateau
06. Mariana Trench
07. Louisville Ridge
08. The California Current
09. Richards Deep
10. Raukumara Plain
11. Emerald Fracture Zone
12. Fobos-Grunt
13. The Humboldt Current
14. Galathea Depth
15. Epilogue: Ring of Fire

Bridge to Imla is the new ambient / Berlin School project by artists Hans-Dieter Schmidt and Michael Brückner. Both artists are veterans of the wider ambient music genres and have been releasing music under various projects for decades. The Radiant Sea is their first collaboration.

The Radiant Sea is an ode to the Pacific Ocean. The theme of the album is two-fold. It partially is a telling of the Fukushima Disaster in Japan, and a warning against allowing these sorts of disasters to happen in the future. But it is also a love-song to the Pacific, a look not only at its majesty, but also at its ability to heal the planet. Our oceans help greatly in keeping the atmosphere clean, absorbing much of the toxins we create and discard. So, it is, in some instances, the only thing holding us back from fully disrupting our planet’s fragile eco-systems.

The music on the album is quite diverse. There are elements of many different sub-genres within the greater ambient spectrum. Fans of the Berlin School sound will find much to love here. It is also telling that they sought the mastering skills of Robert Rich, as much of the album fits nicely with his tastes and skill-sets. There are certainly elements of dark ambient which rise and fall throughout the album, particularly on the opening track, “Prologue: The Kuroshio Current”, we can hear some deep, menacing dronework which brings to mind the Northaunt opus, Horizons. Throughout the album, as well, we can hear drones which greatly relax the mind and lull the listener toward a sleepy half-aware state of consciousness. Yet, as a whole, the album is less routed in dark ambient than readers will find on most of the releases we cover. However, that isn’t to say that this should be ignored by those listeners which only are interested in that crushing darkness, it touches the genre in many ways throughout its entirety and will have plenty of things for dark ambient lovers to enjoy along the way.

The drones are well crafted and give the album that particularly dreamy feeling, but they aren’t always at the forefront. Much of the album is filled with field recordings, voice samples and instrumentation, which all come together to keep it incredibly entertaining, easily enjoyable as the primary point of focus for listeners. “The Humboldt Current” is a great example of this, with crystalline drones backing a beautiful wind instrument section, which give it a wonderful sort of meditative Eastern feel.

Then there are tracks like “Louisville Ridge” which lean heavily into the Berlin School / electronica side of the spectrum. The track is filled with synthesizer sections which give the listener an almost psychedelic feeling. This psychedelic element crops up often throughout the album, without becoming comical or overused. Often the subtle ways in which drones shift can play with the mind of the listener, especially if they are listening to this as they prepare to fall asleep.

The album becomes an all around success with the help of Robert Rich and the Winter-Light label. Robert Rich was brought in to master the release. Putting his decades of experience in the ambient genre to work, polishing the album to a pristine perfection. Once handed off to the Winter-Light label, The Radiant Sea was given beautiful cover-art, as well as a high quality 6-panel digipak, making the physical release as enticing as its stripped down digital-only alternative.

Bridge To Imla delivered a strong debut. An album which could have only been created by artists with a lifetime’s experience in the field of ambient soundscapes. The album is equally as delightful when given full undivided attention as it is when played in the background, as an augmentation to some other activity. After this strong debut, we can hope to see more albums like this in the coming years from these two gentlemen. Until then, there should be many hours of enjoyment as one floats along on The Radiant Sea!

Written by: Michael Barnett

Rafael Anton Irisarri – The Shameless Years – Review

Artist: Rafael Anton Irisarri
Album: The Shameless Years
Release date: 25 August 2017
Label: Umor Rex

Tracklist:
01. Indefinite Fields
02. RH Negative
03. Bastion
04. Sky Burial
05. Karma Krama
06. The Faithless

Rafael Anton Irisarri releases a monolithic exploration of hominin calamity.

Ambient music falls under a distinct spectrum of effect. Some artists evoke alternate mental spaces, others provide a space for listeners to reconcile themselves to the present world, and many accomplish a bit of both. New York’s post-minimalist composer Rafael Anton Irisarri has traversed several ends of this spectrum, but his latest effort comes as an austere acknowledgement of the human experience in all of its dismal magnitude. The Shameless Years stands as one of Irisarri’s most honest and passionate releases to date.

It’s hard to avoid falling into despair when looking at the world’s current state of affairs, but Irisarri has no intention of denying any unhappy realities. Through gargantuan dream symphonies, The Shameless Years imparts a coming-to-terms story over-arched by lamentations about mankind’s regression into an audacious era.

These six tracks remain shrouded in murky soundscapes, non-linear structures and dynamic plateaus. However, “Indefinite Fields” is immediately the modulative might of The Shameless Years. Spellbinding refrains navigate through a maze of oceanic white noise, gently pushing along synthetic hypnotism and seismic chord changes. The following “RH Negative” further front-loads the album’s melodic qualities, capturing the desolation left in the wake of intolerant outlooks. Irisarri stacks layer upon layer of rumbling sub-bass and distorted guitar strains on a cinematic lead as clanking percussion pushes it to an overwhelming climax of melancholic splendour.

Though the meat of The Shameless Years revels in nebulous gloom, Irisarri still wears his heart on his sleeve as he grapples with his finality. “Bastion” heralds the album’s descent into droning immensity, simultaneously pulverizing and assuaging the senses with its blend of refined arrangement and aural oblivion.

Irisarri’s vast orchestrations partly spring from the recognition that he has now outlived his father at only 40 years of age, the resulting textural cushion allows listeners to ride a transcendent crescendo towards profound acceptance of their limitations within a chaotic universe. “Sky Burial” returns to melody as quasi-choral inflections soar above suffusive meanderings, but Irisarri stays true to form by never fully locking into a form. His amorphous notation gives a cosmic perspective on existential turmoil.

The Shameless Years arguably reaches its most impactful territory with two collaborative pieces with Iranian ambient storyteller Siavash Amini. Though contrasted in their approaches, these songs raise an overpass linking two countries separated by violence, war and fear. Amani and Isarri are united by their middle-eastern heritage, yet the path between Iran and New York has become marred by horrific adversity. Their tandem effort shines a light of dismay and empathy into a wounded world — embodying the groans of the afflicted and the ache of those who would intercede.

“Karma Krama” juxtaposes angelic swells over cavernous feedback walls and abrasive static undertones, spotlighting the plight of the disenfranchised and the negligence of the privileged like a train-wreck happening in slow motion. Every layer forms a more detailed portrait of the struggle to preserve innocence, and its culmination signals the full realization of pandemic sorrow in a time where nothing is sacred and life is cheap.

Massive upsurges acquire a softer touch during the final and longest track. A fragile melody ushers “The Faithless” in, and out of its 13 minutes, offers the most vulnerable cut on the record. Distant noise-scapes and eerie bass gradually give this moving line buoyancy within its subterranean atmosphere. The song surfaces from the depths with deliberate grace via inconspicuously added drones, suspending itself over a foundation of shimmering arpeggiations and murmuring sound collages. After the final percussive clicks echo out, listeners are left to ponder their sonic journey.

The Shameless Years feels endless until it’s over, mirroring the harrowing dichotomy between alarming rapidity and agonizing sluggishness that defines the human experience. Glorious arrival points last forever until they fade in the same way the slowburn of reticent ruminations seems indefinite until unforeseen escalation whisks it away… and it all ends before one has time to truly comprehend what they just experienced.

Multiple listens and a continuous internal dialogue about the subject matter are required to fully appreciate the calamitous odyssey this album harbors within its sprawling sound collages. Its exploration of mankind’s frailty and failures compasses astride a conciliate raft of abstract sublimity. The Shameless Years is not only a bulwark of post-minimalist music, but a stunning account of the deepest insecurities of Rafael Anton Irisarri and his most lofty appraisals of stricken generations.

Written by: Maxwell Heilman

protoU & Hilyard – Alpine Respire – Review

Artist: protoU & Hilyard
Album: Alpine Respire
Release date: 25 July 2017
Label: Cryo Chamber

Tracklist:
01. Alpine Respire
02. Blood Grass Sojourn
03. Cave Lights on the Bay of Bengal
04. Boreal Distillate
05. Final Refugium
06. Elwha Snowfinger

Alpine Respire is the latest addition to the quickly increasing set of collaborations by protoU. protoU was first introduced to the greater dark ambient community through the brilliant release Earth Songs, in collaboration with now husband, Dronny Darko. Earth Songs still gets tons of play here at This Is Darkness HQ, “Riparian Forest” being one of my favorite dark ambient tracks in recent history. Earth Songs was followed by her first two solo releases, Lost Here and Khmaoch. Both of these albums showed her inclination to keep to the subtle side of the genre. Creating music that is often quite pleasant sounding. More dark in a sense of solitude and introspection than in the malevolent or occult sense. Her recent collaboration, Stardust with Alphaxone, took us into space, giving us a tour of the cosmos through the dark ambient lens.

Alpine Respire, in the same fashion as it happened for protoU, is the debut release on Cryo Chamber by Hilyard. Bryan Hilyard has already been making his rounds in the ambient / dark ambient communities for several years. His previous works have been field recording heavy, with an overarching focus on nature. Much like protoU, Hilyard finds the sweet spot between ambient and dark ambient music, making for albums that are at once peaceful and meditative, but ever so slightly eerie and melancholic.

Coming together for this release, protoU and Hilyard seem to have already had a decent bit in common. So instead of two styles clashing and creating some unlikely outcome, we are instead presented with something that seems natural, free flowing and polished. As if the duo had been working together for years. The music keeps a constant focus on nature, particularly the colder forested environments. Alpine Respire, in its literal definition would mean something like the breathing of the high mountains, or some similar sentiment. Taking the sounds of the album and the gorgeous cover-art into consideration, this definition seems to fit their vision accurately.

The album opens with the title track, “Alpine Respire”. My very first impression of this track was as surprising as it was delightful. I, even after hearing it 10+ times at this point, feel a strong connection between this and the opening track from Sigur Rós self-titled debut album. The drones are dense and slowly evolving in the background. The foreground is laden with eerie higher pitched sounds. This whirlwind of sound all seems to come to a climax around the two minute mark as the drones subside and there seems to be a celestial voice (or maybe just some well-placed synth) giving a sort of exhale. As the energy begins to rise once more there are so many sounds to capture the imagination, allowing listeners to take their interpretations off into various directions. This opener sets the perfect mood for the rest of the album. The balance between darkness and light, eeriness and comfort, devastation and peace, constantly plays itself out beautifully.

“Blood Grass Sojourn” starts off droning and subtle, then slowly moves into more active territory. A plethora of field recordings taking the foreground. Crows cawing, winds rushing, flecks of indeterminate sound oscillate between left and right as the drones begin to construct a thick wall. As if falling under the pressure, we begin to hear the movement of large rocks, like they are being crushed by the drones. There is a strength and depth to this wilderness being conveyed. The tones of something that sounds like Tibetan singing bowls gives the impression that this is almost a religious experience. But this is no modern religion. If religion it is, then it is that of our ancient forebears, those that respected and feared the Earth itself for its brutal nature.

“Boreal Distillate” seems to be on par with the aforementioned “Riparian Forest”. protoU and Hilyard pack this track, once again, with field recordings. There is a downpour which lays the base for the track, augmented by thick slowly evolving drones. The rest is filled out with the occasional sounds of wildlife. There is not a ton of activity here and we are urged to take a meditative approach to listening. The track works perfectly in passivity, accompanying the mind as it is left free to wander. If listening actively, we are able to picture ourselves trekking through some great old forest, as the rains permeate our clothing. If placed in the background, the gentle beauty of the music does little to side-track from any other goal, be it reading, studying, writing, etc.

Photograph used courtesy of barefootjake.com

The album concludes with “Elwha Snowfinger”, which is a perennial snow field located near the Dodwell Rixon Pass, which is 1452m/4763 ft high and separates the watersheds of the Elwha and Queets rivers in the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State in the USA. This track reminds me a lot of the many works of Ugasanie. There is a thick almost overwhelming layer of drone-work setting the foundation. Upon this base we here strange sounds, likely field recordings, but the context and meanings are hard to discern. This gives the track an eerie sort of feel, as if one is wandering aimlessly through a white-out at a bitter cold high elevation, fumbling for shelter, nearing hypothermia and the inevitable final outcome of death.

Alpine Respire is a perfect fit on Cryo Chamber. It has all the attention to detail one would expect of this label. The field recordings are crisp and give life to the entire album. The drones are varied, sometimes taking on hollow natures other times so dense that they literally seem to crush boulders. protoU and Hilyard make a fantastic pairing, their skills seem to be relatively overlapping, as are their goals. This album is overflowing with field recordings. For listeners that love to hear the elements of nature transported to their speakers, this is the perfect album to add to their libraries. the drone work is also top-notch. The combination makes for some brilliantly dark ASMR enriched music. It is the perfect companion to a late night of reading, a stroll through nature, or a critical session of active listening on a high-quality headset. I, for one, will surely be returning to this album very often.

Written by: Michael Barnett

Siyanie – Mystery Of Life – Review

Artist: Siyanie
Album: Mystery of Life
Release date: 21 July 2016
Label: Zhelezobeton

Tracklist:
01. You Are Self
02. The Moment of Truth
03. Circling Eternity
04. Invocation
05. Chant for Beauty
06. Deep Tenderness
07. The Sky is Not the Limit
08. Everflowing Stream
09. Shine If You Will Pt. 1-3

When I got this album, I opened the envelope, put the CD to the player and felt like taking a nap. And it was a pleasant nap. This Russian duo doesn’t push the limits of the genre, but their creations are nicely prepared and quite relaxing.

The two musicians are known from their other projects, as both Vresnit and Neznamo are already recognized members of the ever-growing Russian ambient/experimental family. Mystery Of Life is their fourth album, including the collaboration with the mentioned Neznamo. I know that our page is called This Is Darkness and Mystery Of Life is somewhat distant from the pitch-black or grey ambiances (check the cover), but there’s a certain form of depth which most of the shades of ambient share. The spirituality, the detachment from the mundane world. But, while dark ambient artists often wander through the wastelands, sometimes in the literal meaning, sometimes as a metaphor of the dark corners of the human soul, the artists like Siyanie (Russian word meaning “radiance”), search for a harmony with nature, a contemplation in a peaceful solitude.

It’s nothing new musically, you won’t find anything that you haven’t heard on the albums by Alio Die, Mathias Grassow or Klaus Wiese. In this form of ambient it is even harder to create your own, personal path than in dark ambient, so the trick is to capture the perfect atmosphere, that won’t bore or tire the listener, that will let him be immersed in the blissful contemplation. Serene, but not shallow. The body may lie on the bed or in the grass, but the spirit is traveling astrally to the world beyond. And they manage to do it, I find the album relaxing after a hard day, but not in a mindless way, there’s a whole open space for reflection here. The other important thing for such music is to avoid falling into the new age trap. And they succeed here as well, although there are moments when they balance dangerously close to the edge of triviality. Perhaps the album is a little bit too long, the album is not able to catch my attention for the whole duration and a few tracks seem like they are filling the gaps, but I can’t deny that there are some magic moments here, like the fourth composition, “Invocation”, with the growing tension, deep drones of the Eastern provenance and the sublime sounds of sitar. It’s worth mentioning that all tracks (except one) were recorded during live performances. If I didn’t know, I wouldn’t guess, they sound awesome. So if you don’t expect anything crucial to the genre, but rather look for a completion of your spiritual ambient collection, this one might be for you.

Written by: Przemyslaw Murzyn

X-Navi:Et – Machina Nova – Review

Artist: X-Navi:Et
Album: Machina Nova
Release date: 16 May 2017
Label: Eter Records & Beast of Prey

Tracklist:
01. Machina Nova
02. Neo Primitiv
03. Weltschmerz
04. Pseudo
05. Nonsens
06. Fiasko

X-Navi:Et was born as a side-project of Rafał Iwański, one of the members of HATI collective. Although I’m not sure if I should still use the term “side project”, as currently X-Navi:Et seems to be more active than the main project. Rafał focuses on it in terms of both recording new material and playing live. The last HATI album was released in 2015 – in the meanwhile we got Vox Paradox material, an full length album called Technosis and now Machina Nova, a CD including also Vox Paradox, which was previously available on tape only.

HATI is a three person ensemble, so it is sort of the sum and essence of three ideas and views on music. With X-Navi:Et we have an insight into a single artist’s creative mind. But I have to admit that – on the contrary to Dead City Voice or Brain Overloaded – this CD gets pretty close to the HATI spirit. First of all, this time he travels far from the (dead) cities. Far from the turbulent, modern world. The music on Machina Nova happens to be turbulent as well, but more in a tribal, atavistic aspect. It all starts with the flute imitating the singing of the birds and then turns into the struggle between the drones, the ethnic instruments and tribal drums. This first track, Machina Nova has a strongly Eastern feeling, however weirdly it may sounds, but it’s like the primitive ritual, yet delicately saturated with Orthodox traces. It’s like living in a village, having your own primitive gods and beliefs, yet you see the towers of the first church that has just been built on the horizon. Machina Nova. The New Machine.

I love how the folk and ethnic sounds intermingle with the electric, drone textures, as they go hand in hand. A struggle, yes, but fair and balanced. Both parties have the same chances, you don’t have the feeling that one aspect dominates over the other. Also it has to be said, that Rafał doesn’t use the ethnic elements in the typical way, you know, like many others do, in quite a cheesy manner reinterpreting on synths the simple melodies they’ve heard somewhere. The melodies on Machina Nova may not be very sophisticated either, but they’re something different – they’re filtered through a modern and creative soul of a person not only having different, wider technical possibilities (because a lot of sounds have been created using real instruments, not electronic surrogates, just like folks were doing many centuries ago), but also having an open mind and awareness that the music is timeless. Some sounds may seem old, but if you use them in a proper context, this fact becomes insignificant.

All this refers to the first six compositions, forming the Machina Nova segment. These are probably the most catchy pieces from X-Navi:Et so far, just check the melodies on “Weltschmerz” or “Neo Primitiv” (what an apt title). Of course it is all based on adding loops until the track reaches its climax, but it sounds really cool. The compositions 7-12 are taken from a tape released by the Wounded Knife label in 2015. These are closer to cities, but quite vague ones, suspended in time and space. You get a bit of industrial harshness here, without any extremities, obviously, but you’re not on a forest meadow anymore, around a bonfire, rather you are in the sewers under a dystopian megalopolis, where ancient rituals are still practised. Yeah, I know I’m simplifying here, but you get the idea. Still, a tribal feeling is present here and there as it is Rafał’s trademark, just like this “neoprimitiveness”, a certain idea around which all Rafał’s projects are built. Like in the amazing “E System X” piece. On the other hand, you’ll get a jazzy trumpet in “Machina”. So… expect a mix of organic and electric, the ancient and the modern. And the unexpected.

Written by: Przemyslaw Murzyn

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