Sound Impression: Branches by Square Peg Round Hole

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Square Peg Round Hole is a percussion-driven instrumental trio based out of Philadelphia, PA. Members Evan Chapman, Sean M. Gill, and Carlos Pacheco-Perez all met while studying at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and formed the project around the inventive use of drum kits, vibraphone, samples, found objects, synths, and vintage analog keyboards to develop a style that draws on elements from post-rock, electronic, ambient, and contemporary classical motifs. Coming off their exhilarating self-released album Corners in 2013, it was the band’s second record, Juniper (2016, Spartan Records) that garnered them some national attention. Composed in rural Maryland and remote Wisconsin, the album unveiled a more abstract, introspective approach but still retained some of the directness and vibrancy of the debut as it was recorded almost entirely in full live takes.

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Sound Impression: By the River by Valotihkuu

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A day spent meandering along the banks of a quiet river in the company of only one’s own thoughts and the sounds of gently lapping water, rustling leaves, or a crackling fire. It is a respite and a renewal our modern life rarely affords, but for about 40 minutes, one can travel to such a state of mind with By the River by Valotihkuu, an ambient project from Russian musician Denis Davydov. 

“During the album recording sessions I limited myself to a certain setup: electric guitar, looper, delay/reverb pedal and a 4-track portable tape recorder. This helped me to concentrate on expressing the moods instead of being distracted by the necessity of choosing the instrument and timbre. Each track was a result of a single recording session. By means of sound I tried to express some sort of a “stream” feeling; that’s why it was important to me to stay in this state myself, not to ruin the general picture and make the album as solid as possible.”- Valotihkuu

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Sound Impression: Shifts by Shida Shahabi

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Following up her quietly stunning 2018 debut Homes, Swedish-Iranian pianist/composer Shida Shahabi returns to Fat Cat Records’ 130701 imprint with a wonderful new release called ‘Shifts’ coming out next month. Born in Stockholm to parents who fled the Iran-Iraq war, Shahabi began studying piano from the age of nine and grew up surrounded by a diverse plethora of music from Mozart & Tchaikovsky and 70’s Persian pop to MTV and a broad swath of genres including punk, grunge, shoegaze, and post-rock. It is her piano that once again features prominently on ‘Shifts‘, specifically her beloved JG Malmsjö upright refracted through close has also miking techniques and subtle tape delay treatments, however for the new record, Shahabi opens up her compositions to make room for contributions by cellist Linnea Olsson with whom she first performed at a show at London’s Union Chapel in 2013 and who is known for her own solo albums and her work with such artists as Peter Gabriel, Sting and Ane Brun.

“Some tracks were made in a single day and other material took weeks. The only thing I brought with me in the writing process was that I didn’t want the writing and sound to be as focused on the piano as it was on the album. It feels like that was a good frame to have, even though some tracks still ended up having a piano focus. I wanted also to work with longer lines and more abstract/ minimal arrangements on this one.”Shida Shahabi

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Sound Impression: Views From Sixteen Stories by Alaskan Tapes

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Withing a few short years, Toronto-based musician & composer Brady Kendall has cultivated his Alaskan Tapes project from a fledgling collection of singles & EPs exploring the liminal spaces between various compositional forms and ambient atmospheres into one that produces beautifully realized complete albums that draw well-deserved praise from listeners and fellow musicians alike. His latest, entitled Views From Sixteen Stories, is an especially fine one even by the high standards he has established for himself.  It is one of those records that just seems to hit the sweet spot right from the off.

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Sound Impression: Going Home by Ai Yamamoto

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Originally from Shizumi, Kashiba City in Japan’s Nara Prefecture, Ai Yamamoto is a composer & sound artist who has been making music in Melbourne, Australia since the early 00s including work with such artists as Lawrence English and Ben Frost.  This month she makes her debut on Los Angeles based Dragon’s Eye Recordings with a welcoming sonic journey back to the quiet spaces, forests, and rice fields of her hometown entitled Going Home (帰郷). The album is essentially a long form track divided seamlessly into four parts that convey her musical interpretation of an experience that is both uniquely personal and universally relatable.

Going Home (帰郷 ) brings you a pair of big wings to fly and takes you on a journey of Nostalgia where you feel warm and comfortable. Everyone looks back and thinks about their hometown where they grew up, and sentiment or emotions are all mixed––from bitter to sweet––but you still feel home with smiles. This is a music diary and a journey of ‘where you are from to where you are now.’”Ai Yamamoto

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Sound Impression: Varða by Hugar

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Taking its name from a series of guideposts used by Icelandic travelers to navigate in times of extended daylight, Varða roughly translates to “cairn” in English, a reference to the tiny rock towers that serve as trail markers and memorials on the pathways of the wayfarer. The duo of Bergur Þórisson and Pétur Jónsson envisioned such a trek on their second full-length and debut for Sony Music Masterworks as Hugar.

“Similar to those piles of rocks, the songs are like small cairns on the album. It’s not about the destination though, but rather this never-ending journey, which the whole record represents. There was never a plan to make our first album; it just happened. This time around, we set out to make a record that functioned as a whole piece where everything was related. It’s more polished from beginning to end.” – Bergur Þórisson

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Sound Impression: LC01 by Low Chord

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Low Chord is a new experimental ambient project from Ontario-based producer and multi-instrumentalist Scott Orr and musician Gareth Inkster. Their first release debut next month on Orr’s Other Songs label with an EP entitled LC01. It is a finespun medley of “non-linear compositions” formulated with analog synths, lo-fi field recordings, and beautiful nylon string guitar by Orr intertwined with Inkster’s sparkling improvisations on piano.

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Sound Impression: Constellations (ou comment arrêter le temps) by Tambour

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Tambour is the musical project from Simon P. Castonguay, a Montreal-based composer and self-taught multi-instrumentalist who also has a background in film studies and has done work in the world of theater.  This summer sees the release of Tambour’s third album which was written largely in the fall of 2017 at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and features performances by the Mommies on the run string quartet (Mélanie Bélair, Mélanie Vaugeois, Ligia Paquin, Annie Gadbois) and Pietro Amato (Arcade Fire, Bell Orchestre), who also engineered the record, on french horn. Entitled Constellations (ou comment arrêter le temps), it is meant as both a reflection of the passage of time as well as a window  into Castonguay’s own recent past. The album’s subtitle translates to “or how to stop time” and that is what he does through both the format and compositions that make up the record.

“This collection of five tableaux sees Castonguay reflecting on notions of time ; its passing, the time we have and the time that we don’t, the time we take or choose not to ; time spent waiting after something or someone ; our perceptions of and relation to the world around us (and the stars beyond). Playing with these notions, Castonguay chose to play with the form of the record, configuring the listening experience as one continuous listen from start to finish. The listener is invited to lose themselves in time, and not focus on the bounds of individual tracks.” – Moderna Records

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Sound Impression: Seascapes by Jane Antonia Cornish

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Having immersed us in the empyrean beauty of the cosmos with last year’s Constellations, BAFTA award-winning composer Jane Antonia Cornish turns her gaze from the heavenly to the pelagic on her new record, an exceptional new collection of cyclical works for piano, strings, bass guitar, & electronics entitled Seascapes. Once again, Cornish achieves a consummate balance between painterly eloquence, cinematic grandeur, and refined minimalist expression as she captures the vastness and wonder of her chosen subject framed in contemplative stillness.

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