In 2006, multi-instrumentalist Michael A. Muller co-founded the Austin-based ensemble Balmorhea which went on to create six full-length records and numerous EPs over the past 13 years while touring globally and producing original scores and track placements for TV & film. Now, Muller makes his full-length debut as a solo artist with Lower River, an album which began as a sound experiment in 2018 that spans from the Oregon coastline all the way to rural southern Italy and the remote fishing villages of southern France. It is an engrossing musical travelogue that is both abstractly referential and deeply introspective, a self-described exploration of “place where time, space, and self are occluded”.
“With a tape recorder in hand, Muller chronicled his journeys through sound, contemplating along the way what it means to deeply listen amid a modern narrative underwritten by distraction. Merging his field recordings with original compositions recorded in his home studio in Austin, Lower River is a sonic venture into other worlds and into the depths of one’s own mind; a study in engaging with sounds that don’t easily slot into pre-existing notions of what a album ‘ought’ to be.”
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Taylor Deupree and Corey Fuller are certainly no strangers to one another. Deupree is the founder of the 12k label on which Fuller has made numerous appearances as part of the duo Illluha with Tomoyoshi Date and, most recently, as a solo artist with the stunning ‘Break’ released earlier this year. And, there have been collaborations they have been involved in together, perhaps most notably ’Perpetual’ (2015, 12k) along with legendary Japanese composer & musician Ryuichi Sakamoto.
During all this time, however, they had never worked on a full album together as a duo, that is until now with the debut of Ohio. The name of the project is dual reference to the US state where both artists were born as well as the first song they developed for it, a cover of the Damien Jurado indie classic. Though they now live & work hemispheres apart (Deupree in New York & Fuller in Tokyo), the realization of their common birthplace yielded a clear point of departure and a shared vision for the conceptual road map to their beautifully drawn new album called ‘Upward, Broken, Always‘. And, while there are aspects of this record that will resonate with comforting familiarity to listeners of their other works, there is a bold presence and disarming directness here that feels quite new and refreshingly different.
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“The homesickness you have when you are still at home.” That is how Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht pithily explains the meaning of solastalgia, a word he coined as a way of conveying the “feeling of chronic distress caused by negatively perceived changes to a home and its landscape”. Others have referred to this feeling as “climate grief” or “Anthropocene anxiety”. Unlike the more related concept of nostalgia, which is a longing for places and memories in our past, solastalgia speaks the the pain we feel in the here & now as the environments in which we live are face threats from rising sea levels, destructive storms, pollution, and over-development.
It is a poignant neologism that acknowledges that so much more than money, property and convenience are lost when the places we call home are under duress or undergo negative transformation. The impact on communities, landscapes, and ecosystems can have profound personal, societal & cultural effects as well as violating the sense of place that resides at the core of our very well-being. It is point that is being driven home in a personal way as this review is being written in Virginia while a ferocious category 4 hurricane churns in the open Atlantic keeping millions of us on edge for days on end waiting to see whether and where it will inflict its damage.
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CEEYS is a portmanteau coined from the names of the primary instruments used by brothers Sebastian & Daniel Selke to perform their minimalist modern classical compositions – the cello played by Sebastian (‘violoncelle’) and Daniel’s piano and vintage synthesizers (‘keys’). Their latest album now out on the Neue Meister imprint is the final chapter in a triptych centered around growing up in Europe’s largest prefab estate in Berlin-Marzahn-Hellersdorf, East Germany and living through the dramatic political & cultural changes that transpired during the collapse of the GDR and the reunification with the West.
The album is called Hiddensee, referring to the small but picturesque holiday island in the Baltic Sea just west of Rügen, a “sweet little land” (‘Söte Länneken’) with an unspoiled beauty that attracted such artists & intellectuals in the early 20th century as Albert Einstein, Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, and Sigmund Freud and which served as both a popular vacation destination and a haven for dissidents throughout the GDR era.
“After the Peaceful Revolution in 1989, the subsequent fall of the Berlin Wall and all through the 1990s, the area kept its contradictory atmosphere of vibrant euphoria and underlying melancholia. As we strongly felt the need to incorporate all different aspects of these turbulent times into our work, we decided to release them in a series of records over the next years to come. While CONCRETE FIELDS was dedicated to our childhood behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s, WÆNDE was a collection of impressions regarding the sudden fall of the Wall – the moment of change that is shaping us to this very day. Now we turn to the no less intense 1990s – for us, those years bring to mind family trips and our sheer amazement for the vast beauty of the world.” – CEEYS
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Kinbrae is the musical project of twin brothers Andrew & Michael Truscott based in Edinburgh and Dundee, Scotland. Their signature sound is at once evocative and experimental, mixing brass, acoustic guitar, percussion and musique concrète to create works rooted in a sense of place utilizing both ambient and contemporary classical elements. The liner notes for their 2015 release Coastal Erosion succinctly described it as “sonic map making”. It is a concept they continued with 2016’s Tidal Patterns (1631 Recordings), which was inspired by a year spent on the Hebridean lsle of Coll and againg with their most recent release, Landforms, which is themed around Scotland’s longest river, the mighty River Tay, as well as its surrounding landscape and the impact growing up on its banks had on the two brothers.
The album unfurls like a cinematic travelogue that takes in the river from its origins on the slopes of Ben Lui in the west to its eastern tidal reaches near Perth as it approaches the North Sea. It is a meandering 120 mile journey through a vast catchment presided over by iconic bridges, sprawling countryside, and bustling towns. To help create an expansive sound worthy of the album’s central protagonist, the Truscotts collaborated with Ben Chatwin (aka Talvihorros) who provided additional instrumentation as well access to his Edinburgh studio where they were able to experiment with adding modular synthesizers and effects into the mix.
“For this record we wanted to expand ourselves sonically to combine brass parts with synths, electronic textures and manipulated field recordings to create an expansive orchestral sound. Movement of Light was one of the first songs we wrote for the record and from early on in the recording process we thought it was well suited to open the album. Collectively these water based tracks come together to form the overall ‘Landforms’ album, mirroring the way in which water itself forges natural features on the land, helping to give the music a sense of place. ” – Andrew Truscott
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Richard Skelton is an artist from northern England, UK whose work is deeply immersed in landscape and nature. To date he has released over 30 EPs and albums of music, and has produced work for exhibitions, performance, feature films and documentaries. His latest work, entitled Border Ballads, was recently released by Corbel Stone Press, a publishing house which he co-runs with wife & creative partner Autumn Richardson. The first part of the title refers to the location around which the album is themed as well as where it was recorded, the well-watered border country where Scotland and England meet. It is an evocative place and one that makes fertile territory for Skelton’s vivid sonic explorations. The second part of the title is a clue that this is one of the most lyrical recordings in his canon, favoring concise melodic structures over the sprawling, glacial soundscapes that feature in much of his recent work.
“Skelton has spent the last two years living on the rural northern edge of the Scotland-England border, a boundary demarcated by various watercourses – among them the Kershope Burn, the Liddel Water and the River Esk. This hinterland topography has informed a series of musical recordings which, in their brevity, stand in stark contrast to the long-form compositions for which he is more usually known. Nevertheless, there is a sense that these twelve miniatures are fragments of a larger whole, such is their unity in tone and timbre.”
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After dazzling us last year with Solan Goose, the soaring inaugural entry of his poetically inspired Orkney triptych, composer, producer & multi-instrumentalist Erland Cooper and his talented supporting cast return in 2019 to continue the story with another transportive musical portrait of one of the planet’s most enchanting places. Entitled Sule Skerry, the new album shifts perspective from the sky above the Scottish archipelago and its avian fauna to the sea below and the people whose lives & stories are inextricably linked to it. Once again, Cooper commands the expedition using piano, Minimoog, tape loops, field recordings, & electronics supported by his fabulous live ensemble consisting of Anna Phoebe (violin), Jacob Downs (viola), Lottie Greenhow (soprano) and newly added member cellist Klara Schumann withatmospheric embellishments added by Leo Abrahams on ambient guitar.
It’s a record about the sea, our relationship with the outside world, forces outside of our control but it’s also about creating a nest within that, nurturing and protecting our own sea havens, those sheltered bays, those safe places. Always returning back in some form, as we step in and out daily.”
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“I grew up between these hills, under the sun…”
Founded by Taylor Deupree in 1997, the 12k label now has spanned two decades refining its distinctly conceptual approach to experimental music with the intent of providing “a conscious counterpoint to the information overload of the 21st century”. Over that time, one could argue 12k has become more than just a label. It has become both a platform and a community for a group of creators with a shared aesthetic while embracing the distinctive qualities of their respective artistic voices. One of the guiding principles that Deupree has followed in nurturing the label and growing this community is to “evolve constantly, but slowly”. He has achieved this by continually curating new artists into the fold with an especially discriminating ear. The most recent of these is Michael Grigoni, a composer & multi-instrumentalist originally from the Pacific Northwest, who now lives in Durham, North Carolina and records under the name M. Grig.
Grigoni specializes in dobro, lap steel guitar, and pedal steel guitar and it is his layered, atmospheric approach to these instruments that brings something new to 12k’s sonic domain while managing to fit perfectly into its vision. Having produced several EPs and done a fair amount of film & session work, Mount Carmel is the first full length album by M. Grig and employs an approach that derives from his study of ethnomusicology while attending the University of Washington which introduced him to ethnography.
“Ethnography is a method for field-based research developed by anthropologists. The method involves spending time with people and learning about different ways of being in the world and taking notes while you do so—jotting impressions, observations, feelings, snippets of speech, sketching maps, landscapes. Putting experience to paper in the moment again and again over a lengthy period of time—for months, sometimes years. This sensibility colors my music; this layering of ideas, feelings, and textures. Something emerges, or is discovered or revealed, through this process. Combing sounds made with an instrument with sounds recorded in the field, blending and enfolding these sources, is deeply satisfying and grounding for me.” – M. Grig
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“A week before leaving, I bought a dictionary and phrasebook…”
Under the moniker of Celer, American musician, writer, & photographer Will Long has released a staggering amount of material – a wide assortment of drones, soundscapes, sketchworks, and processed loops. No doubt his many followers each have their own favorites, but personally I always find his work most compelling when he creates deeply immersive on-location narratives such as Sky Limits (2014) which presented a sense of daily commuter life in urban Japan, or Two Days and One Night (2016) which wistfully retraced the steps of an elderly uncle’s tragic visit to Tunisia in the 1984.
Long’s preternatural ability to capture scenes and emotions in a kind of musical amber and then turn it into a story comes to the fore again on Xièxie, in which he takes us on a journey from Shanghai to Hangzou on China’s high-speed rail line. Like a cinematographer who slows fast-moving action on celluloid for dramatic effect, Long turns the journey into a mesmerizing soporific reverie punctuated by scene-setting cues like the bustle of a busy station or the whir of a speeding train. To deepen the immersion, he narrates the excursion in the liner notes with all the eloquence of a novelist.
“Covered in rain, during the days and even the nights, Shanghai was lit in a glow, a mist turning to a constant grey fog. Buildings lined with neon and LCD screens flashed, and from around corners and behind buildings, the night was illuminated much the same as the day. Cars separated the classes, their horns voices punctuating the streets, as pedestrians in groups loosely scattered the streets, talking and walking on speakerphone…”
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