Album review: transit by Orbit Over Luna

Orbit Over Luna is the ambient/post-rock/organic downtempo music project of Shannon Penner, a multi-instrumentalist, composer, sound designer and animator in Toronto, Ontario. OOL has released a number of EPs and singles which feature an appealing, atmospheric sound and that are somewhat unique in the genre for prominently integrating Asian influences. On July 25, he released his first full-length album called ‘transit’, which turns out to be a beautifully crafted and virtually flawless initial foray into pure ambient territory, a real gem.

The entire album is laid on a pure, minimalist ambient foundation and is delicately embellished with the selective addition of other sounds such as looped guitars, subtle percussion, and piano. There is a serene energy to every piece and the album feels balanced throughout, never becoming dull or languid.  We have seven tracks, each with an eloquent and evocative title perfectly suited to the soundscape it represents: ‘the breathing of roots’, ‘saturnine’, ‘chambers of the sea’, ‘sungazing’, ‘Ylla’, ‘un jardin des cieux’, and ‘in the decay of shadow’, and each one unfolds patiently like the resplendent and unhurried blooming of a flower.

Those of you who follow Orbit Over Luna on social media may recall when Shannon announced that he was “stepping back” from OOL, so it was really a double surprise when a full length album came out soon after and simultaneously forged a new musical direction. So, what sent Shannon down this new creative path and led to such a complete album coming out so soon after his short hiatus? I had an opportunity to ask him just that and here is what he had to say.

“I found that I still needed, and I use that word specifically, I needed to still do something music related. Going through my computer, looking at things I had started but not finished and demos and such, I found a couple things that I had recorded with no thoughts at all about turning them into a final pieces. They were just experiments in tone and textures. I threw them on my phone to listen to and because of all of the anxiety in my life they had a very calming effect on me. I dug through some more and found that I had enough for an ep. This got me thinking and because the pieces are not as intricate and involved as my other music, I was able to record a few more and not get obsessed and focused with them. The tracks have at the most 2 things playing. It was pretty freeing for me. I then found that I had come up with enough music for a full length!”

Understanding this background only deepens appreciation of the album. Even the title, ‘transit’, echoes the creative modus operandi of the album as it can be seen to refer to passing over or through the difficult period that Shannon describes. Whether he continues this direction or returns to more structured pieces remains to be seen. But it is sufficiently clear at this point that his artistic drive will push him to continue to create and whatever is next will be something to look forward to.

It is also worth noting that Shannon has also created a separate graphic for each one of the tracks with imagery and subtle cues appropriate to the mood and theme. This is something that you will particularly notice if you play the digital version in a media player such as WMP or iTunes, just further evidence of the thoughtfulness and creative focus that went into creating the album.

If you enjoy serene, pure ambient music this album is highly recommended. And if you are already familiar with Orbit Over Luna, you will appreciate the beauty and depth this adds to his growing body of work.  Featured here is track number 3, ‘chambers of the sea’.

‘transit’ on the Orbit Over Luna Bandcamp site

Orbit Over Luna on Facebook

As lovely as a tree: ‘The Waning Branches’ by Porya Hatami (on Wist Rec)

Morus trees, commonly referred to as mulberries in western culture, have been known to appear occasionally in mythology, stories, rhymes, and even the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh. And now we can add to that a lovely long form piece from sound artist Porya Hatami called ‘The Waning Branches’. The music is part of a multimedia work that seeks to chart the growth and sudden decline of a single morus tree in Sanandaj, Iran through the mediums of cartography and sound.

The sound aspect is comprised of just under 19 minutes of minimal ambient music with subtle elements of drone and field recordings woven into the mix. It is quite lovely, especially in the closing minutes as the tone becomes both ethereal and melancholic. The visual element is part of a very attractive environmentally-friendly handmade physical CD package that can be ordered through the Wist Rec label featuring photographs, drawings, maps of the local region, and beet juice ink grown in the assembler’s garden.

Ordering information for the CD package at http://wistrec.com/the-waning-branches-ep/

Album Review: “Antecedent Conditions” by Threethings (on Rural Colours)

Guitarist Ben Worth is a member of the post rock outfit Kontakte, a band with an impressive cinematic range that runs from a distortion-heavy wall of sound to delicate electronica. Later this summer, however, Ben will be releasing a very ambient-oriented solo effort under the moniker Threethings which will be available as a limited edition CD issued by netlabel Rural Colours.

The album, called “Antecedant Conditions”, consists of six sumptuously textured tracks of ambient acoustic and electric guitar run through a variety of effects pedals woven into a complex fabric of loops and melodies with occasional field recordings and piano. The press material on the album explains that “Ben strived to find something beautiful in the imperfect and the accidental, the loops contain incidental sounds purposefully left in to maintain the atmosphere of the recording space.”

And “something beautiful” is exactly what Ben has created here. The music is subtly melodic and feels both warm and organic thanks to well placed acoustic guitar and piano keys. Each track unfolds with a geometric randomness in a mesmerizing progression of constantly changing patterns. It is something like the musical equivalent of laying on one’s back in a grassy field whilst daydreaming and watching the sunlight dance through the branches and leaves of a tree.

This is an album that thoroughly rewards repeated listening. You can return to it over and over and always hear a little something new, and you should find the glacial pace, rich textures, and wistful tone very relaxing. While there is an overall consistency of mood and tone, each track has it’s own slightly different character. Whether or not this is by design, it seems the oddly numbered tracks (‘Arc’, ‘Cloud Coda’, and ‘Light Stops’) are a little more dense and have more crackle and buzz to them. The evenly numbered tracks (‘Asphalt’, ‘Cloud Cover’, and ‘Tailwater’) feel a little more airy and pastoral. ‘Tailwater’ in particular has a lovely melancholy vein running through it which is enhanced by the introduction of piano into the proceedings and is an excellent way to close out the album.

It is impressive to see such a nuanced and patient recording from an artist who can also generate stadium worthy post rock anthems. Antecedent Conditions is a beautiful album and we can only hope this is a musical direction that Ben will continue to nurture and develop. “Antecedent Conditions” is highly recommended.

For news and information on the album release, go to http://store.hibernate-recs.co.uk/product/threethings-antecedent-conditions

The cover art is extract from the painting Locust Limb by Toronto based artist Jessica Rode / http://www.jessicarode.com

To sample some of the music, listen here to track number 4, ‘Cloud Cover’:

Aural Method Remixed: ‘The Night Sky Broke In Open Stride As Weary Stars Increased’

Dario Lupo, who creates original music and mixes as Need  A Name has created a remix of  ‘The Night Sky Broke In Open Stride As Weary Stars Increased’, a beautiful tune from the the 2012 debut album by Aural Method.   The original track draws you in with guitars, piano, cello, and brushes and gently builds to a warm crescendo, whereas Dario’s interpretation finds a stillness in the piece and floats in the ether.   Both make for outstanding listening.

Need A Name web site

Aural Method web site

Sunday morning music: A trio of beautiful pieces from Clem Leek

A selection of pieces from the last three albums by UK artist Clem Leek, each featuring a different side of his music, but all ideal for listening on a quiet Sunday morning.   And speaking of Sunday, if you catch this post today (July 21), Clem is offering his releases on Bandcamp at 70% off using the code ‘sundaysale’;  just follow the “Buy” link on any of the tracks below for the featured tracks.

From the 2010 release “Holly Lane”, the lush ambient soundscape of  ‘At the Mercy of the Waves’:

From the 2011 release “Lifenotes”,  the haunting & delicate solo piano of  ‘Breaking Down’:

From the 2012 release “Rest”,  the sublime guitar tones and wordless vocals of  ‘The Lights of  New York’:

Friday listening: Dynamic & emotional post rock from Red Room Cinema

For some great Friday listening, check out this track from the post rock outfit Red Room Cinema out of Tampa, Florida. For their September 2012 release “Apsis”, the band took inspiration the writings of Italian author Italo Calvino and a story concept of the moon collapsing and raining down on earth and used that to create a dynamic and emotional record with an epic sweep that still sounds taut and concise. This is part three of the four-part title track, ‘Apsis III. We Raise Our Eyes Between the Walls of Glass and Steel’. Turn it up and enjoy.

Red Room Cinema on Facebook

New release: Planet Shhh! by Human Pyramids (on Oxide Tones)

Planet Shhh!, the debut album from Human Pyramids on Oxide Tones, has been released and should already be storming its way onto all kinds of best of 2013 lists. Eschewing the brooding and dramatic style that typifies the genre, this album catapults post rock into avant garde territory with an exuberant joie de vivre that proves experimental music does not have to be impenetrable. It is as if some post rockers, a brass brand, and a folk troupe all showed up at the same venue and decided to put on a wonderful mash-up of a show with celebratory abandon. Have a listen here to ‘Alphabet City’ and then check out the full release on their Bandcamp site at http://humanpyramids.bandcamp.com/album/planet-shhh

Sunday music: the atmostpheric guitar soundscapes of Don Peris

Before vinyl was cool and was simply one of the normal mediums on which records could be bought, I remember picking up a lovely debut album by a band called The Innocence Mission, an album of grace and subtle pleasures that has stood the test of time. Don and Karen Peris, the husband and wife team that are the core of the band, continued to grow their body of work to the tune of 10 albums not to mention several EPs.  As if that were not enough, Don has also released four albums of guitar-oriented pieces that are almost exclusively instrumental.   The music is by turns melancholic, nostalgic, elegiac, and hopeful, but always remains inviting thanks to the rich and warm sound of the guitars and his fine melodic instincts.

In his web bio, Don has this to say about his background and approach: “I studied classical guitar in college and have spent the subsequent years enamored with the poetic voice of this humble instrument. I also love the atmospheric tone that can be created by the electric guitar. I use a 1954 Gretsch Electromatic hollow-body, a Gretsch 6120, a numerous assortment of 60’s Guild nylon-stringed guitars, my 70’s Guild D44 steel string, a noisy Princeton Reverb amp and a recycled 3/4 size student cello.”

Here is a set that Don put together on Soundcloud featuring three of his pieces, two from the most recent album, “The Old Century” and one from the 2006 release “Go When the Morning Shineth”. It certainly makes for some wonderful listening on a Sunday afternoon.

http://www.donperis.com/

Friday listening: The summery sounds of Signal Hill

Jangling guitars, sophisticated drum patterns, frequent time changes, and great melodies. These are all part of the recipe cooked up by Los Angeles California’s Signal Hill which makes them a perennial favorite of mine and an ideal choice for some Friday tuneage.

The band just released a stellar new LP in April called “Chase the Ghost” (find it here on Bandcamp) and all these elements of their sound are on display on the track selected for release as a single, ‘Collide Us’:

‘Van Gogh Sky’ which appeared originally on a 7 inch release with All India Radio and is also included on the new LP. The title reminds me of the time when I first had the chance to see an original Van Gogh in person. Despite having seen his pictures of his paintings in print for years, I was not prepared for just how boldly the colors and textures popped off the canvas and their is a similar vibrancy in this music.

New Release: “People Do” from John Lemke (on Denovali)

July is turning out to be quite a month for new releases. Now available in MP3 format and for CD & Vinyl pre-order is the full-length album “People Do” from John Lemke, whose EP “Walizka” we featured in May. The brand new preview track, ‘Illuminations’ continues in the same vein, an intoxicating blend of acoustic instruments and subtle electronica fused together to form a uniquely sophisticated and rhythmic sound.

Artist & ordering information at: http://www.denovali.com/johnlemke/

New release: “With Love” by Ex Confusion on n5MD

Tuesday was the release day for the brand new full length effort on n5Md by Ex Confusion, the musical nom de plume of Atsuhito Omori. Whereas the preview track ‘Two Things’, featured in May, weaves it’s magic with acoustic guitar and subtle ambient effects, the title track, ‘With Love’ relies solely on a wonderfully resonant piano to transport the listener to a place of wistful beauty and gives us a hint of the subtle variety and pleasures in store on the full album.

Complete album and ordering information available at http://n5md.com/discography/212/With-Love

California Dreams: Two impressions through time-lapse and music

Time-lapse videography combined with top-notch ambient and post rock music is becoming something of an emerging art form and all evidence is that they make for a near-perfect marriage. Featured here are two outstanding productions that share in common the backdrop of famous cities in California, USA. One is atmospheric and otherworldly in its beauty, the other is more lively and urban. Both are beautifully done and will likely have you rewinding for multiple viewings.

The first is an utterly breathtaking video described by filmmaker Simon Christen as “a love letter to the fog of the San Francisco Bay Area”. The soundtrack is courtesy of The Album Leaf (Jimmy LaValle). You are shortchanging yourself if you don’t watch this in full screen HD and will convert you into a fan of both artists if you are not already.

Simon Christen on the web: http://www.simonchristen.com
The Album Leaf on the web: http://www.thealbumleaf.com

Adrift from Simon Christen on Vimeo.

The second has a more urban feel as filmmaker Colin Kennedy treats us to a journey along with professional skateboarder Danny Garcia through the streets of Los Angeles in the hours of twilight. The musical selection, ‘Pyrakantha’ by Balmorhea, perfectly captures the muted energy of a city caught between it’s bustling daytime and glittering nighttime personalities.

Colin Kennedy on the web: http://www.colin-kennedy.com
Balmorhea on the web: http://www.balmorheamusic.com

Balmorhea – Pyrakantha [official] from Colin Kennedy on Vimeo.