Friday, November 4, 2016

Progressive Electronic

I thought the "progressive electronic" subgenre was all synth washes and computer sequences--a continuation and virtual replication of the work Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, and Jean-Michel Jarre had been doing in the 70s and 80s. But I was wrong. There is an exciting and thriving field of 'progressing' electronic music out there--and I am glad to be entering it.
     Like any (and every) musical genre (and subgenre), individuals and groups are want to further define, categorize and label musical 'types' with their own names. And I know the "electronic," "electronica" and "progressive electronic" realms have plenty of sub-categories under their umbrellas, so I want to honor and try to be inclusive to all of the offspring and offshoots herein, but I'm going to just call the music "progressive electronic" in hopes of recognizing any and all musics that have continued to explore and innovate the uses of electronics in the creation of music. Electronic keyboards, engineering sound effects, and computers and computer technology have enabled artists, composers and musicians to manipulate sound in ways that are only limited by the imagination (which, in my opinion, has no limitation). Therefore, it is not surprising that experimentation in the field of electronic music has continued to progress over the past 100 years. Out of the work of Nikolai Tesla came Theremin and other electro-static sound emanations that were later explored by avant-garde classical composers like Karl Stockhausen and John Cale. Audio tape manipulation led to such things like the reverse voicings used by The Beatles as well as the Mellotron and "Fripp in a Box" (looping) and sequencing while splice, delay and other editing techniques became popular within the psychedelic movement. Sound engineering pioneers like Robert Moog, James T. Russel, Terry Riley, Brian Eno, Kodak's Steve Sasson, Fairlight's Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie, Roland's Ikutaro Kakehashi, Tom Oberheim, Sequential Circuits' Dave Smith, and Bob Carver made huge contributions to the modern sound that can still be heard today--especially in digitization and sampling, standardization of equipments, and computer-basing of sound engineering. And, of course, one cannot over emphasize the contribution that the advent and advances in personal computers gave to the era of the home-made musician and home-produced song, album, and video.
     While many choose to separate Progressive Electronic music into two basic groups or "schools"--the Berlin School from which TD, KS, Kraftwerk and Manuel Göttsching came and the Dusseldorf School from which Can, Faust and Neu! came--I would also like to cite the influences of the the styles of Brian Eno's "Ambient Music" and Jean-Michel Jarre's techno-computer led experimentations to the conversation if not the list. Terry Riley, Walter/Wendy Carlos, Manheim Steamroller, Kitaro, Tomita and Vangelis also deserve recognition and credit for their electronically rendered classical music and classical music-influenced renderings that occurred concurrently or even previous to the German "schools."
     The most vibrant descendant of the original Progressive Electronic artists of the 60s and 70s currently thriving is the Ambient Music scene--which also yielded the much-maligned New Age music scene. I must mention that there has also been a fairly recent renaissance of a growing number of Berlin School-inspired imitators as well. The original Ambient Music scene included such artists as Brian Eno, Dueter, Klaus Schulze, Peter Baumann, Rödelius, and Kluster and inspired a new generation of ambient/"New Age"artists in Steve Roach, Iasos, Thom Brennan, Robert Rich, David Lanz, Harold Budd, Jon Hassell, Mark Isham, Suzanne Ciani, Patrick O'Hearn, Yanni, Micheal Jones, David Arkenstone, David Darling, Ludovico Einaudi, Enya, Dean Evenson, Gary Stadler, Peter Kater, Coyote Oldman, N. Carlos Nakai, the Gordon brothers, David and Steve, and many, many others.
     Today we have the likes of Alpha Wave Movement (Gregory Kyryluk), Zero 7, Marconi Union, Thom Brennan, Boards of Canada, Alva Noto (Carsten Nicolai), Ryuichi Sakamoto, Christian Fennesz, Radio Massacre International, Telefon Tel Aviv, Minilogue, Dadub (Daniele Antezza and Giovanni Conti), Steven Wilson, No-Man, Sigur Rós, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Ghosting Season, Ulrich Schnauss, Ulver, Hammock, Oneohtrix Point Never, Thom Yorke, Carbon Based Lifeforms, Stellardrone (Edgaras Žakevičius), Solar Fields, Marconi Union, Redshift (Mark Shreeve), Sequentia Legenda (Laurent Schieber), Tim Hecker, Alio Die (Stafano Musso), Jacaszek, Juliana Barwick, Bersarin Quartett (Thomas Bücker), Pawel Fiedys, Julia Kent, James Blake, Julia Holter, Julien Neto,  Lee Gamble, Thomas Fehlmann, CFCF, Holy Other, Nicolas Jaar, Mount Kimbie (Dominic Maker and Kai Campos), Raime (Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead), Ginormous (Bryan Konietzko), UNKLE (James Lavelle and Tim Goldsworthy), Fever Ray (Karin Dreijer Andersson), and so many others all experimenting with creating music and/or distorting sound using electronics.
     There is also a large branch of the electronic music movement that has chosen to dive deeply into the dance-hip hop-beat direction--like techno, house, rave, industrial, dub, acid jazz, downtempo, dark ambient, progressive ambient, and so many others. Trevor Horn, Anne Dudley, Aphex Twin, KLF (Jimmy Couty), Soul II Soul (Jazzie B), The Orb (Alex Patterson), Massive Attack (Grant Marshall and Robert Del Naja), Moby, William Orbit, Ben Watts, Paul Okenfeld and so many other live mix-master DJs. While I recognize the tremendous contributions the dance-oriented branches of the electronic world have made to progress the electronic music, I have chosen to leave them out of this Progressive Electronic page.

For me, Progressive Electronic is one of the most difficult subgenres of music to review. The differentiating characteristics of each song and artist are dependent on variations of tempo, instrument choice (such as the use of 'drum/percussives'), and, of course, the moods created by the music. However, the moods so often conveyed through Progressive Electronic soundscapes are usually either floating/ethereal or traveling/driven, without much variation from the two. Thus, I have found myself hesitant to do many Progressive Electronic reviews--especially song-by-song, movement-by-movement reviews. A lot of what I hear is, of course, rendered into categories according to who they sound like (to me). Yet, there is an awful lot of Progressive Electronic music that I have grown to love. I want, therefore, to be able to extoll the praises of these albums in order to promote the artists creating the beauty from which I and others can so benefit. The act of trying to put a review into words just feels intimidating, even daunting. Perhaps I just need to find another, more creative way of using words. Because Progressive Electronic music is often 'soundtrack' music for me, the most common and comfortable written form I have is to tell the story--to describe the visual sequence of events that a particular song conjures up for me. If anything, this makes for entertaining reading.

In compiling a list of albums to recommend I find myself, as usual, most interested in extolling the modern musicians who have chosen to pick up (or continue to carry) the torch of electronic music. However, more than perhaps any other subgenre of progressive rock music, I find the quality of modern sound recording and engineering preferrable to the archives of releases from the 1970s and 80s--which, then, makes my job easier in creating a list of albums to recommend that contains only 21st Century album releases.

Favorite 21st Century Electronica Albums:

1. ALIO DIE & LORENZO MONTANÀ Holographic Codex (2015) Another one of Stefano Musso ("AlioDie")'s very successful collaborations, Holographic Codex explores some meditative, contemplative soundscapes that continue, for me, to evoke sacred religious sites--especially those of Christian and Muslim sacred and secular traditions.
     The opener, "Muns de Etrah" (6:58) makes me feel like I am walking around the streets and alleys of a some Arabian city in the middle of the day, always seeking the shadows with their possibility of cooler temperatures to find respite from the midday heat. (10/10)

2. "Hydra e Vers" (5:16) reminds me of a visit to the ancient mosque in Cordoba, Spain, when the facilities were virtually empty and yet the strains of voice and instruments in practice could be heard reverberating, as if from distant rooms, throughout the vaulted rooms and hallways. Islamic "call to prayer" type singing (heavily treated) with heavily treated piano and other soundscape-filling synthesized sounds make for a very neutral, very supportive ambience. (10/10)

3. "Akvil" (9:35) sounds strikingly similar to the cords struck by Larry Gordon to open the first song, "The Dance #1" but then of the pace and tempo of "5. Meditation #1" from the 1981 Eno/Laraaji collaboration, Ambient 3: Day of Radiance. In the third minute there arises some deep bass chords and several octaves of chimes taking the song into a more meditative direction. The emotions conjured up with this music are not necessarily pleasant but, instead, more evocative of shadow imagery and emotions. (9/10)

4. "Silent Rumon" (15:16) present fifteen minutes of pure disconcertment. The musical strains are unsettling, sometimes even disturbing or scary. Truly a masterpiece for bringing up the shadow side of our being. (9.5/10)

5. "Egetora" (5:24) a kind of nondescript but not unpleasant song; not plain, good but not great. (8.5/10)

6. "Cinta della Breccia Divina" (15:14) treated organ, synthesizers and plucked string instruments with some droning sounds alternating among several octave ranges. (9/10)

7. "Eternal Wisdom" (6:12) is the most uplifting song on the album--and what a relief! After such heavy, murky ambivalence, it is such a relief to experience such a spiritual uplift--almost like a resurrection; radiance, beauty and redemption. A wonderful way to end the album. (10/10)

94.26 on the Fishscales = five stars; A; a true masterpiece of progressive electronic music.

2. KLAUS SCHULZE Kontinuum (2007) Though I found myself fascinated by the albums of Tangerine Dream in the 1970s, I never really became a fan. I think that I always thought that the production was weak, murky, even cheezy. Now I hear a 21st Century Electronic Prog album by maestro Klaus Schulze--using 21st Century technologies and recording advances--and I am blown away. Had the TD/KSchulze albums of the 70s had this engineering and production they would be on my frequent playlists. 
     Despite Schulze's use of familiar song structures, these three epics are nearly flawless:  engaging, creative, melodic yet creepy or quirky when they need to be. From the first notes of "Sequencer" (10/10) I was sucked in and did not want to tear myself away. The same feeling occurs with each replay. It is a true masterpiece of the sub-genre--maybe the one that I would play first were anyone to ask me to play a track best exemplifying the Klaus Schulze sound.

1. "Sequenzer (from 70 to 07)" (24:54) begins with a gorgeous computer keyboard sequence that just suck you in and keeps you there. For fully eight minutes little major changes, yet I'm still there, in the music. Wordless vocals join in brilliantly causing major and minor key shifts to the main melody with their own pitch changes. Another ten minutes passes like this before things begin to fade out and shift toward a new, spacey background synth. A pause and then a couple of new synths play out the rest of the song in some eery minor key. Starkly cold--like being on the moon, alone. Amazing! (10/10)

2. Euro Caravan (19:41) begins with some low notes while some odd/eery ENO Ambient 4: On Land-esque noises flit around in the background like fairies flying around. After two minutes of this a lone male voice enters singing in a heavily treated voice some nondiscript words à la LISA GERRARD. A very DEAD CAN DANCE-like soundtrack song. In the sixth and seventh minutes the vocals take on more of an Arab religious tone, style and feel. Then at the 9:45 mark one of TD/Schulze's signature bass synth driving sequences enters as the keening voice slowly fades further and further to the background. At 11:25 enters another signature sound from olden days: a computer/synth originating 'drum'/rhythm sequence. The new, playful, mostly-bass synth hits playing around over the top keep the song driving forward--into the distant future (the same very distant future that these guys were playing in during the 70s). At 14:10 the rhythm and the haunting ghost-voices flitting in and around the soundscape become more insistent, more driven. At 17:30 the song's male Arab keening-sounding voice returns, though he disappears for the final minute as the song's initial faerie voices return to take us out (or, truly, into the next song). (10/10)

3. Thor (Thunder) (31:47). The music here does not quite match its title, in my humble opinion. Instead, it has a very sparse, Blade Runner-like sound and feel to it--at least for the first seven and a half minutes--before the computer rhythm track begins. Then the lead synth begins to show some teeth--and support keyboard sounds fill the sonic universe in a more cosmic majestic way. At the eleven minute mark a very fast paced synthesized 'tambourine' joins the music, accompanied by some more wordless vocal keenings à la LISA GERRARD. This continues for ten minutes with little or no significant or emotional shift until at the 23-minute mark the rhythm 'instruments' cut out, leaving us with a kind of shifting progression of chords of mellotron voices over which which a solo voice and occasional synthesizer single note their ambiguous, androgynous melodies. To the end. (8/10)

Not enough development and variety on the album's last song, and yet the album as a whole is a perfect update of some of the best sounds and techniques of the pioneers of electronic music. Only, here, they benefit from the technological advances in sound production and music recording.

93.33 on the Fishscales = 5 stars; A; a masterpiece of progressive rock music.

3. ALIO DIE  Honeysuckle (2011) Though not a huge fan of the overdrawn opening song of this album, I can say that the other 50 minutes are absolutely stellar. This may be my favorite Alio Die album and one of my Top Five Progressive Electronic albums of all-time.

1. "Honeysuckle" (24:00) Wooden flutes, old organ sounds, old metallic and organic acoustic hand percussion instruments, and a constant though protracted fading in and out of 'focus' gives the opening 24-minute epic and title song of this album the feel as if one were walking around--both inside and outside--an old monastery, only, perhaps three to five hundred years ago. A truly magical and evocative experience. My only criticism is that the overall length may be a bit too much; even a walk around St. Peter's or Hagia Sophia needn't take 24 minutes--nor would the minstrels inside be performing the same droning song for that length of time. I think. (8/10)

2. "Innamorato" (9:19) opens with a very familiar BRIAN ENO Ambient 2 or 4 feel to it--only this one may be better than the original. It's gorgeous! Zither, harp or other finger-played stringed instrument performs the foundational sound with some kind of 'almost-trumpet'-like sound looping within the weave while the harmonics drone, echo, and reverberate without. (10/10)

3. "Honey Mushroom" (40:00) is a suite of three parts which opens with at least five instruments contributing thread lines to the construction of the overall musical weave:  chimes, zither, organ, synthesizer, and bagpipe-like horn. The ethereal sound produced as result is gorgeous, mesmerizing, and truly enchanting. I feel as if I could fall under the spell of any one of the instruments but as a whole, in this weave, they are irrefutable. Unlike the opening number, there is enough developmental flow in the first movement of this suite to make it interesting and never boring.
     The second movement is slower, thicker, heavier, thicker, despite the more active play of the muted chimes over the top. There is a much more pronounced and slow moving wave-like low end here--harmonics or strums of a treated zither, I'm not sure. And a very engaging melody of longing and imploring seems to come from these harmonic overtones. Incredible!
     The third movement opens with a drone-like note in the unusual place of the upper registers of the harmonic mix--and it is sustained--almost like a large alabaster 'singing bowl' is being played. For the first three minutes, the background of various chimes, organ bass tones and zither are supportive but truly at the call and beckoning of the singing bowl in front. Then there is a subtle but pronounced shift as the drone of the singing bowl softens and recedes slightly, giving the zither and other sounds a little more prominence.
     Overall, "Honey Mushroom" is an absolutely brilliant piece of music--entertaining, satisfying, and never overstaying its welcome despite its 40 minutes. (10/10)

93.33 on the Fishscales = five stars; A; a true masterpiece of Progressive Electronic music.


5. STELLARDRONE Light Years (2013) Stellardrone is the name that Lithuanian artist Edgaras Žakevičius has been using to release self-published music over the past ten years. While Edgaras' output has been at a fairly pleasing level from the start, it feels to me that until this album, Light Years, each of the Stellardrone albums has provided me with a bit of a rollercoaster ride--a lot of great songs pitted with the valleys of some weaker ones--songs that feel underdeveloped or 'cheesy' in their simplicity or in the choice of computer synthesized sounds chosen therein. Light Years is the first Stellardrone album that I absolutely love start to finish. There is no song-skipping here, no weak songs, only shifts in dynamics and speed, provocations of dreaminess or movement and adventure.

Five star songs: 1. "Red Giant" (3:15) (9/10); 2. "Airglow" (5:16) (10/10); 3. "Eternity" (6:21) (10/10); 4. "Light Years" (6:04) (10/10); "Comet Halley" (3:42) (9/10); 8. "Ultra Deep Field" (5:44) (10/10), and; 9. "Eternity (Reprise)" (3:33) (10/10).

Four star songs: 5. "In Time" (3:47) (8/10);  6. "Cepheid" (4:32) (8/10), and; 10. "Messier 45" (2:26) (8/10).

92.0 on the Fishscales = five stars; A; truly a masterpiece of modern electronica.

6. COSMIC GROUND (2016) ELECTRIC ORANGE keyboard player Dirk Jan Müller is the one-man genius behind the Cosmic Ground albums (of which there are now three). With eighty minutes of music broken into four songs here, Dirk openly proclaims his reverence for the Berlin School of Electronic Music. All of the songs are excellent sound recordings of what would have been very typical creations of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze or Manuel Göttsching.
     The four songs here are quite distinct from one another despite the obvious Berlin School influence being in common. Song 1, "sol" (19:23) (9/10) is quite fast paced, driving, and dynamically on more on the high end with some nice uses of organ within the song's weave, while song 2, "ngc 224" (18:41) has quite a long (four minute) introduction section spent without drum-like rhythm while synth sounds play around in the higher octaves before it establishes its steady sequenced rhythm. From there it is quite insistent with some brilliant rises and falls as well as introductions of other synthesized sounds. At the two thirds mark there is a gentling of the song's drive, a softening of the weave, before other instruments threaten and eventually do take over the lead spots in the song before the sequencers and percussives do fade out leaving a couple of minutes at the end for kind of "clean up" ambience. (9.5/10)
      Song 3, "organia" (19:43) opens with, again, a rather long, Blade Runner-ish intro section which, by the fifth minute, eventually begins morph and to tease the listener into believing that something more than waves of synth washes --and yet it's not until 5:25 that any sequencer or mammalian rhythm is established. Even when such a sequenced rhythm is introduced and firmly established, the song still feels slow and sleepy. In the eight minute the pace and rhythm finally feel insistent enough to sweep up and carry the listener, and yet the ebbs and flow of sleepiness continue to rise and fall until in the fourteenth minute I am shocked to feel the decline and disappearance of the sequenced rhythm drive as we descend back into the murky depths of spacey chaos and confusion--where we spend the final five minutes of the song! (8/10)
      The fourth and final song, "altair" (20:09)--my favorite song on the album--opens with an organ-and-synth driven intro sounding as if we are walking through a cemetery in a foggy night with Vincent Price. It is actually quite brilliant! The walk goes on for fully the first five minutes of the song before a creepy little marimba-like arpeggio is establishes a sequential rhythm around which the rest of the song develops and refreshes (organ and synth gradually fade out). The sequence is actually quite creepy--in a kind of Psycho/Jaws way. Very effective! Other creepy incidentals flit in and out while the "marimba arpeggio" crescendos and seems to begin to fade (in the tenth minute). Creepy Captain Nemo-like organ rises to the fore and eventually becomes the sole source of sound for over four minutes. Then synth sounds begin to infiltrate and try to drive back the organ (unsuccessfully) until in the sixteenth minute a Steve Reichian mallet-like sequence begins to take over. By the time the 18:00 mark arrives, this sequence has arisen to become a kind of "Popcorn" sequence--very light and happy. Genius! We've made it! We're out of the cemetery! What an incredible ending to a great album! (10/10)
     I've read other reviewers' claims that "nothing new" is presented here but I have to disagree. I think that Dirk Jan Müller has put in some interesting twists in how he created this music--especially in the brilliant use of organ in the first and last songs.

91.25 on the Fishscales = five stars, A-; a masterpiece of progressive electronic music.

7. THOM BRENNAN Stories from the Forest (2008) Californian Thom Brennan has been experimenting with electronic-exclusive sound making since the early 1980s, releasing numerous albums and CDs but it is not until this album that his music rose above the rest of what to me is New Age background music. The songs pulled together fro Stories from the Forest have an edge, an aggressiveness that commands one's attention. Parts 3 and 10 (the album's 11 songs have no individual titles) are among the finest electronic songs I've ever heard, both packing a wallop emotionally. A lot of the sounds programmed into Thom's songs here sound like various guitar and percussion sounds, treated with effects, of course, yet none are live played on those familiar instruments--all are electronically generated.

Five star songs:  3. "Part 3" (6:44) (10/10); 10. "Part 10" (5:36) (10/10); beautiful and slow paced, 7. "Part 7" (6:59) (10/10); 2. "Part 2" (4:42) (9/10); 4. "Part 4" (9:29) (9/10); 5. "Part 5" (6:46) (9/10); 6. "Part 6" (8:11) (9/10); encroaching into Berlin School familiarity but freshened by all of the incidental samples thrown into the mix, 9. "Part 9" (4:49) (9/10), and; the gentle, peaceful, ambient closer (that still manages to inject a few surprises), 11. "Part 11" (8:49) (9/10).

Four star songs:  the nice opener that fails to give much indication of the jewels that are to follow, 1. "Part 1" (3:57) (8/10), and; the slowed down repetition of previous themes and sounds in 8. "Part 8" (6:30) (8/10). 

90.90 on the Fishscales = five stars; A-; a masterpiece of progressive electronic music.

8. ROBERT RICH Filaments (2015) Californian Robert Rich has been producing electronically generated music for well over 30 years (being part of over 46 album releases) yet this recent release, Filaments, has garnered a lot of attention from both within and without the prog and ambient/electronica communities. Like fellow Californian Thom Brennan, Filaments shows a little bit of an edgier side to Robert's music, challenging the long-time assertion/assumption that his place was as a leader in the sleep/dream/relaxation realm of the New Age musical movement. This music also shows a bit more individual instrumental flare and isolation than most other albums of his, making it feel much more fit to be included among the Progressive Rock music scene.

Five star songs:  2. "Majorana" (10:45) (9/10); 3. "Scintilla" (3:48) (10/10); 5. "Entangled" (10:54) (10/10); 6. "Eulalia" (5:44) (10/10); 7. "Laniakea" (3:54) (9/10), and; 8. "Ætherforlds" (3:54) (9/10).

Four star songs:  1. "Filaments" (4:58) (8/10); 4. "Ætherfields" (5:22) (8/10), and; "Telomere" (9:58) (8.5/10).

90.56 on the Fishscales = five stars; A-; a masterpiece of progressive electronic music.

9. ALIO DIE Deconsecrated and Pure (2012) Stefano Musso, the genius behind the "Alio Die" albums, is perhaps the only Progressive Electronic artist who is sounding new, different from those that have gone before. Most everyone else sounds like they came out of the 1970s, imitating or carrying forward certain sounds and styles, only using the advantages of advances in technology for sound engineering to their advantage. Though Stefano's frequent foundational employment of zither does produce reminders of Brian Eno's third "Ambient" album--his production of the recording of New York City street musician Larry Gordon or "Laraaji" and his electrified zither playing--his use of layers of synthesizers with re-engineered sounds of other instruments makes for a 'new' or expanded version of the Laraaji/Eno sound. Plus, Stefano's music seems often to be strongly steeped in overtones of the musics of various religious traditions--especially Christian and Arabic. There are many times while listening to Alio Die music that I've thought I was listening to the music inside some vast Christian cathedral (as in the first two songs here) or an Arabian mosque. Also, Stefano's openness to collaboration with other musicians has fostered an ongoing shift and variation in the sounds and styles of his musical outputs; Stefano is not afraid to grow, to take risks, to learn from others, to collaborate, to try new things, and yet Stefano's music is clearly his own--of a style that I can almost recognize immediately upon hearing it.

Five star songs:  the ethereal music of the reverence of religious traditions, 1. "Layers of Faith" (15:47) (10/10); 2. "Obliterated Alcove" (12:10) sounding like a modern day Gregorian chant (10/10); the Celtic-sounding parade of joy and celebration, 3. "Peel Away This Mortal Coil" (9:22) (9/10); the wind-chime infused, Eno-esque ("Lantern Marsh"), 4. "Cerulean Façade" (10:21) (8/10), and; like "Peel Away...," a mélange of world sounds of celebration, 5. "De-Altered" (18:09) (8/10).

The first two songs of this album alone are worth the price of admission as they are two of my all-time favorite electronica songs.

90.0 on the Fishscales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive electronic music.

10. SEQUENTIA LEGENDA Blue Dream (2014) Frenchman Laurent Schreiber has been a life-long fan of electonic music--especially the legendary synthesizer sequencing of the fictitious "Berlin School of Electronic Music" (there is not nor was there ever an actual school of electronic music in Berlin churning out the great artists or albums of the 1970s) and especially of the recently deceased Klaus Schulze. It seems that Laurent had been experimenting with his own imitations and compositions for years but is only now, in the last few years, publishing recordings of his compositions for public consumption--and I, for one, am so glad that he is.
     Blue Dream consists of three long songs:  the 33-minute 10-part suite, "Fly Over Me" (10/10), the 22-minute "The Approach" (8/10) with its driving drum and synthesizer rhythm tracks and shifting synth washes beneath and within, and the 15-minute "bonus" song, "Vibrations" (9/10). All songs are very well mixed and produced (would that the Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze albums of the 1970s had this kind of sound quality) with my favorite being the opener--which is clearly the centerpiece of the album, with the bonus song, "Vibrations," next. While none of the compositions here reveal anything new or innovative in the world of electronic sound technology, the perfect imitation of the masters of the 1970s is a true homage and, I believe, fully Laurent's top intention.

90.0 on the Fishscales = five stars; A-; a masterpiece of progressive electronic music.

11. FENNESZ & SAKAMOTO Cendre (2007) Okay, so, my being a rabid fan of RYUICHI SAKAMOTO goes a long way toward elevating his 21st Century collaborations with the likes of CHRISTIAN FENNESZ into this Progressive Electronic "hall of fame" but, people, just listen to this music and you will understand why these albums belong here:  the sound engineering experiments of Fennesz and Alda Noto are pushing the boundaries of previously explored (or unexplored) dimensions of sound rendering--especially in recorded form. It's like listening to live manipulation of music in its raw wave form: clipping, smoothing, shaving, harmonic shifting, sine wave manipulation--all the things I'd heard The Monroe Institute, The Tomatis Institute, and The Listening Program do with the brain wave therapy recordings they created for the purpose of promoting healing through sound manipulation. This was a mind-blowing experience the first time I heard it and now is one of my favorite relaxation albums. It's a real musical and mystical journey, with the album opening on very positive, beautiful note, but, by the time you venture into the middle of the album--with the mid-section of "Trace" through the haunting yet gorgeous title song--you're in a deeply contemplative "shadow-side" of the album. Luckily, by the time we enter the final song we're climbing out of the doldrums (despite the last song's title, "abyss").

Five star songs: 1. "Oto" (3:52) (10/10); 2. "Aware" (4:48) (10/10); 4. "Trace" (5:49) (9/10); 5. "Kuni" (2:27) (10/10); 6. "Mono" (4:16) (10/10); 8. "Cendre" (3:12) (10/10), and; 11. "Abyss" (5:41) (9/10).

Four star songs:  3. "Haru" (4:42) (8/10); 7. "Kokoro" (4:19) (8/10); 9. "Amorph" (6:01) (7/10), and; 10. "Glow" (7:15) (8/10).

90.0 on the Fishscales = 5 stars, A-; a near-masterpiece of progressive electronic music.

OÖPHOI & TAU CETI Celestial Geometries (2001) Synthesizer masters Oöphoi (Gianluigi Gasparetti) and Tau Ceti (Enrico Cosimi) have created here a truly remarkable collection of interspace or interspatial soundscapes. Celestial Geometries is an album cast entirely of songs composed of atmospheric space sounds. The music here reminds me much of the noises used to fill interstellar space scenes in films like the Ridley Scott Alien series in which the director/composer is trying to capture the stark feelings of emptiness that the void of soundless space might present. There is also an influence expressed from musical traditions of the 1980s like BRIAN ENO's On Land and Apollo albums, only the songs here are more drawn out (the way we all probably wanted Eno's songs back in the 80s to be). Verily, each song represents an eery adventure that challenges the listener to stay centered in oneself and grounded in the realities that are known to us. With the accompaniment of this music, the isolated, solitary listener can test the boundaries of his or her consciousness and let the imagination run wild. Not for the faint of heart but brilliant for those experienced with meditation, trance, and hypnosis.

Five star songs:  the beautiful 2. "Cydonia Plains" (7:01) (10/10); the spacious 1. "Arsia Echoes" (9:28) (9/10); the unsettling 3. "Valles Marineris" (11:04) (9/10); the peaceful, 4. "Chryse Planitia" (7:28) (9/10), and; the scary, hyperdriven first third of, and calmer, "you have reached your destination" final half of 5. "Isidis" (13:03) (9/10).

Four star songs:  the eerie, "who's out there!" of 6. "Candor Chasm" (6:44) (8/10), and; the heavy, vocalise-driven, almost-monastic-feeling and ultimately peaceful 7. "Tholus" (12:46) (8/10).

88.57 on the Fishscales = stars; B+; a near-masterpiece of Ambient/Progressive Electronic music.

REDSHIFT Life to Come (2015) Redshift is a Berlin School-influenced electronica band from the United Kingdom that was founded by Mark Shreeve and originally was made up of five collaborating artists but has been pared down to a solo act. Life to Come is Mark's first Redshift album since 2008. His often unsettling music ranges from almost techno-rave to horror soundtrack music. Along with driving computer-sequenced rhythm tracks the music is often quite busy with sound effect incidentals--like Halloween scare music. It is also often quite evocative--even imitative--of old TANGERINE DREAM music.

Five star songs:  2. "Vampyre" (11:39) (9/10); 3. "Mission Creep" (8:48) (9/10); 4. "Bloom" (5:31) (10/10), and; 5. "Slam" (12:59) (10/10).

Four star songs:  1."Soft Summer Rain" (10:17) (8/10); 6. "Circling Above" (8:25) (8/10), and; "Life to Come" (6:13) (8/10).

88.57 on the Fishscales = a 4.5 star album; a near-masterpiece of Progressive Electronica.

ALVA NOTO & RYUICHI SAKAMOTO Insen (2005) This and 2002's other collaboration between Carsten Nicolai and Ryuichi Sakamoto, Vrioon, are the first two albums that I had ever encountered in which computerized editing techniques are purposely used to produce pops, clips, glitches, and other obvious computer-'enhanced' percussive effects. Sometimes Carsten's work is used alongside Ryuichi's fully present track of classical minimalist piano play  (e.g. 1. "Aurora"), and sometimes they are used to affect it (e.g. 3. "Logic Moon") and still other times they are used to affect a second track of piano while still allowing a clean, straightforward piano track to play through (e.g. 2. "Morning" and 6. "Iano"). Unfortunately, much of Ryuichi's minimalist playing is highly discordant, overly spacious, and lacking any catchy melodies. On the other side of things, there are several songs in which Carsten's computer noses and edits are sequenced to provide quite nice rhythms and melodies (3. "Logic Moon" and, especially, 4. "Moon").

Five star songs:  3. "Logic Moon" (6:50) (10/10); 4."Moon" (10/10), and; 6. "Iano" (6:47) (9/10).

Four star songs:  1. "Aurora" (8:51) (8/10); 2. "Morning" (5:28) (8/10); 5. "Berlin" (6:34) (8/10), and; 7. "Avaol" (2:56) (8/10).

87.14 on the Fishscales = a solid four star album; B; an very good album that I recommend any adventurous music listener to try out--and an album that I do happen to prefer over its predecessor, Vrioon.

TIM HECKER Ravedeath 1972 (2011) Canadian Tim Hecker is another long-time techno and electronica composer and performer who has been rather prolific with eight album releases and nine EPs over the past 16 years. Ravedeath 1972 is interesting for the the way Tim and engineer-and-sometimes-pianist Ben Frost have processed the sounds taken from an Icelandic church organ. No song stands out as amazing or incredible (and quite a few are emotionally stagnant and forgettable) but the sound engineering is memorable.

Five star songs:  10. "In the Air (parts I, II, & III)" (12:21) (10/10); 5. "No Drums" (3:24) (9/10); 6. "Hatred of Music I" (6:13) (9/10); 7. "Hatred of Music II" (4:22) (9/10); 8. "Analog Paralysis, 1978" (3:52) (9/10), and; 9. "Studio Suicide, 1980" (3:25) (9/10).

Four star songs:  1. "The Piano Drop" (2:58) (8/10); 2. "In the Fog I" (4:52) (8/10); 3. "In the Fog II" (6:01) (8/10), and; 4. "In the Fog III" (5:01) (8/10).

87.0 on the Fishscales - solid four stars, solid B; a very good album well worth recommending to others.

ALPHA WAVE MOVEMENT Earthen (2015) Another collection of beautiful space/New Age songs from Gregory Kyryluk--this time with a Terran focus. Gregory is here employing some new techniques with sequences changing pitches and notes being bent and warped, however, his old habit of using exceedingly long periods of time to let sounds, themes, and sections develop is once again present here. The sounds are beautifully engineered and crystal clear (when he wants them to be), and the journeys are pleasant and satisfying. My one complaint is that I don't feel a lot of emotion conveyed in both the melodies and the development of the songs--there is very little feeling of tension buildup to a 'conflict resolution.' "Pusleforms" is a very pleasant song as it does transition and build after the first third of the way into the song, but even still there is not enough internal tension and build to feel that the artist brings us to peak of the conflict and then a satisfying resolution.

Five star songs:  the beautiful, lazy, sleepy-dreamy, 5. "Helios" (12:53) (my favorite on the album) (9/10); 3. "Pulseforms" (10:25) (9/10); the early ENO-esque play with slow attack and decays, 4. "Source" (13:09) (8.5/10)

Four star songs:  1. "Immerse" (13:03) (8.5/10); 2. "Earthen" (11:45) (8.5/10), and; the neo-Berlin School slow sequenced nature sound-enhanced, 6. "Forest" (7:43) (8.5/10).

Again, all of this music sounds as if it could have come off of an early DAVID & STEVE GORDON album except for the incredible sound production here (which is why I rated slightly upward on most of the songs:  though I felt as if I was hearing nothing particularly new or exciting, it was all extraordinarily well recorded and engineered).

86.67 on the Fishscales = a solid four star album; B; well recommended to others--especially those looking for particularly well-produced sound.

GHOSTING SEASON The Very Last of the Saints (2012) This is one of the most interesting new pieces to come across my desk. Though this music might be officially classified as "Deep House" or "Techno" or "Progressive Ambient" or something from the world of all-night dance parties, these Brits have not only created some nicely refreshing music but have a gift for creating interesting song titles, as well--which can make a huge difference when trying to draw a new audience into a song. Plus they have come up with a stunning album cover--not to mention some great songs.

Five star songs:  the hypnotic 1. "Ghost Drift" (8:29) (9/10); 3. "A Muffled Sound of Voices" (featuring Knox) (5:32) (9/10); 7. "Lost at Sea" (2:32) (9/10); 10. "13" featuring Birds of Passage (8:37) (9/10).

Four star songs:  2. "Far End of the Graveyard" (8:42) (8.5/10); 4. "Follow Your Eyes" (featuring Gregory Hoepffner) (4:52) (8/10); 5. "Lie" (4:34) (8/10); 6. "Through Your Teeth" (5:46) (8.5/10); 8. "Time Without Question" (8:33) (8.5/10); 9. "Pio" (5:47) (8.5/10);

86.0 on the Fishscales = solid four stars; B; an album worth recommending to others with an ear for electronic music with a little dance beat.

MARCONI UNION Beautifully Falling Apart (2011) Here is a band that really knows how to create relaxing and beautiful soundscapes--the kind you want to go to sleep, make love, or even meditate to. The meat of the album is like a modern extension of the sometimes unsettling and ambiguous Brian Eno soundscapes of the On Land/Apollo era.

Five star songs:  1. "Breathing" (8:02) (9/10); 3. "Blue Collar Parade" (8:13) (9/10); 4. "Losing the Light" (7:18) (8.5/10), and; 6. "A Shower of Sparks" (7:44) (9/10).

Four star songs:  2. "Slow Collapse" (4:52) (8/10); 5. "Beautifully Falling Apart" (8:01) (8/10)

85.83 on the Fishscales = solid four stars; B; a very good album of Ambient/Progressive Electronic music that is highly recommended for all to try.

CARBON BASED LIFEFORMS Twentythree (2012) Most listeners and reviewers of this album extoll the music's ability to take the listener far away, into other states of consciousness. I agree that this music has that feel and capability--though not every song. The music here is much more in the realm of Ambient than most of the music I review, the songs very slow to develop, but develop they do, and, unlike other bands, these guys know how to establish soundscapes that draw you in, make you comfortable, even distract or take you away from the goings-on in one's immediate environment. I would call these guys masters of their craft.

Five star songs:  1. "Arecibo" (9:21) (9/10); 2. "System" (7:32) (9/10); 3. "Somewhere in Russia" (8:37) (9/10); 8. "Held Together by Gravity" (8:05) (9/10).

Four star songs:  the surprisingly eerie, 7. "Kensington Gardens" (6:24) (8.5/10); 4. "Terpene" (5:57) (8/10); 5. "Inertia Implant" (10:34) (8/10); 6. "VLA" (10:01) (8/10);

By the way, nice titles and nice album cover.

85.625 on the Fishscales = a very solid four star album; B; highly recommended to those who like very good Ambient music.

STELLARDRONE Invent the Universe (2010) This album is one of Lithuanian Edgaras Žakevičius' earlier releases. It has some real magical melodies to hook the listener in, but one can also see in the relative simplicity of the compositions that Edgaras was still developing confidence and experience. This simplicity sometimes works for him, sometimes against. At this point in his recording/production career I think too much time was being considered for very slow, very deliberate development and decline (or retrogression) while too little time was spent on layering, multiplying themes, and incidentals. Very smooth production, though.

Five star songs: 9. "The Edge of Forever" (4:05) (9.5/10); 1. "The Belt of Orion" (6:26) (9/10); 7. "An Ocean of Galaxies" (8:22) (9/10), and; the slow developing 3. "Maia Nebula" (12:38) (8.5/10).

Four star songs:  2. "Crystal Spheres" (4:10) (8.5/10); 4. "Approaching the Heliopause" (5:32) (8.5/10); 5. "Millions of Stars" (5:14) (8.5/10); 6. "Pale Blue Dot" (6:13) (8/10), and; 8. "Infinite Void" (6:33) (7.5/10)

85.56 on the Fishscales = solid four stars, B; a very good album of progressive electronic music that is recommended for patient, open-minded music lovers.

ALPHA WAVE MOVEMENT A Distant Signal (2002) Using a lot of synth washes over programmed sequences and computer drum and bass tracks, Gregory T. Kyryluk (AWM) makes some very relaxing, spacey music in the vein of Sequoia Records founders, DAVID and STEVE GORDON, soundtrack artist, VANGELIS, or New Age legend, JONN SERRIE. Sometimes Gregory's music a little cheezy and "Buddha Lounge" like but it's always pleasant, melodic, and engaging.

Five star songs:  8. "Portal Full of Stars" (7:32) (9.5/10); 3. "Liquid Cosmos" (6:53) (9.5/10); 2. "Distant Signals" (7:32) (9/10), and; the Buddha Lounge-like, 5. "Outward Bound" (6:55) (8.5/10).

Four star songs:  1. "Mapping the Heavens" (6:03) (7.5/10); the space funky, 4. "A Place of Peace" (7:26) (8.5/10); 6. "Centauri Memories" (2:48) (8/10); the Blade Runner-like, 7. "Requiem for C.S." (3:28) (8/10); 9. "Plasma Cloud" (4:10) (7.5/10); 10. "No Man's Land" (6:29) (8/10), and; 11. "Lunar Sunrise" (2:14) (7/10).

82.73 on the Fishscales = a four star album; B-; recommended for fans of New Age, spacey soundtrack-like music.

EDGAR FROESE Dalinetopia (2005) The old wizard still has all the chops--plus a mastery of melody, chord shifts, and rhtyhmic constructs that will hook the listener in--and I mean in deep. Though there are a lot of clichéed and saccharine sounds and 'tricks' that Edgar uses--as well as modern computer keyboards (I'm sorry: a computer sampled piano is not a grand piano)--there are enough instances of pure magic (magic that only a master of his craft can make) to make virtually every song an experience of pure pleasure and awe. Plus there is an incredibly wide range of diverse sounds, styles and instruments used throughout this album. It is truly miraculous to have such amazing freshness between any single song and the others on this, a progressive electronic album!

Five star songs:  1. "Daleroshima (6:47) (9.5/10); 2. "Dalozapata (5:19) cheesy Buddha lounge trip hop beat with jaw-dropping melodic and instrumental riffs (9/10)

4. "Dalerotica (6:57)
5. "Daliesquador (5:57)
6. "Dalumination (9:24)
7. "Dalagalor (6:54)
8. "Daluna (7:13)
9. "Dalysisiphus (7:48)
10. "Dalinetopia (7:48) 

Four star songs:  3. "Dalamuerte (5:26) acoustic guitar and electric guitar, slow with no beat (8.5/10)

BOARDS OF CANADA Tomorrow's Harvest (2013) A band of two since their beginnings back in the 1990s, Scottish brothers Mike Sandison and Mark Eoin have a modest output in terms of studio albums with each gathering its own fan bases to the point that fans will argue tirelessly over which album, which style is better. Were one to be able to treat each album individually, for the sound and emotions evoked from each, one might find one's time and energy better spent.
     Tomorrow's Harvest was the first BoC album I heard (and bought) so I might have a bias toward it, but I do find that I like the others as well, each in their own way. TH feels more like separate and sometimes isolated pieces as if for movie/video soundtrack--not unlike Brian Eno's "Music for Films" albums. The integration of totally computer-generated sound/music with other individual instruments like drums, bass, and other keyboards makes for very interesting and more 'human' music with which we, the listeners, can make more human connections.
     My one complaint with the collection of 17 songs, is that being totally instrumental, it is sometimes difficult to remain attentive and to notice when songs might switch or run into each other; my brain keeps letting the music fade into the background.

ALIO DIE & SYLVI ALLI Amidst the Circling Spires (2014) Stefano Musso's collaboration with vocalist Sylvi Alli results in a successful melding of trained voice with Stefano's ethereal often meditative soundscapes. The collaborators were mostly able to avoid the more jarring or abrasive impact on the ears and mind that the human voice has--especially when it is used with words from language--by having Sylvi do a lot of wordless vocalizations.


RADIO MASSACRE INTERNATIONAL Emissaries (2005) Steve Dinsdale (Keyboards and Drums), Duncan Goddard (Keyboards and Bass), and Gary Houghton (Guitar, Synth)

JACASZEK Glimmer (2011)

BERSARIN QUARTETT brilliant modern classical music recorded in ambient electronic stylings.

MINILOGUE Blomma (2013)

Five star songs:  1. "Everything is all you've got" (21:00) (10/10);

2. "Atoms with curiosity that looks at" (18:06) (/10); 3. "Forgotten Memories" (12:22) (/10); 4. "Existensberattigande" (13:58) (/10); 5. "Nor Coming nor going" (8:52) (/10); 6. "E de nan hemma'" (45:25) (/10); 7. "Mellan Landet" (16:49) (/10); 8. "Evaporerar ut fran sitt gomstalle" (9:18) (/10)

Four star songs:


HOLY OTHER Held (2012)

I have to express my special thanks to YouTube's "SpaceAmbient" for helping to make me aware of so many ambient, space, atmospheric, electronica, downstep bands like Stellardrone (Edgaras Žakevičius), Solar Fields (Magnus Birgersson), Aythar, Sonus Lab, Aural Planet, Mikteck (M), Mellow Sonic, Richard Bone, Dreamstate Logic, AllenHand, Sakke, Lauge, Aleks Michalski ("Axen"), Jón Hallur, Captain Panic!, InternalEye, Avatus, Systek, The Intangible, Gateway 721, MogueHeart, Jack Sell, Andrew Odd, George Sundancer, Nynja, and Max Million as well as myriad 'old-timers' who continue to practice their craft (on newer technology).

No comments:

Post a Comment