Blue is the color and blue is the mood of Down to the Sadness River by Emilía, a new collaboration between Lee Yi & Vanesa Jimenez (aka Meneh Peh). The album is being released on the multi-disciplinary Rottenman Editions which was founded by Jimenez and where you can also find their 2012 recording under the moniker Niñocometa along with Yi’s lovely Motet EP from earlier this year. The album’s description alludes to “a painful life” and “a suffering past, tragedy and the slow search of the long road to stillness” and while the artists respect their own privacy regarding the details, there are poignant clues in the song titles and there is certainly nothing held back in the haunting intensity of the music.
Guitar loops drawn in long, slow arcs across a crepe-thin curtain of sound and a backdrop of pastoral field recordings. Never claustrophobic, there is ample room to move & breathe among these temperate and mellifluous drones and ample time to ponder as they slow time to a lethargic ebb. The comfort of light in a dark room. This is A Persistent Lack of Ambition by Duister, aka Carlos Maquieira released earlier this year on El Muelle Records, a label based in Málaga, Spain. Was the poetic stanza cited in the liner notes cite inspiration for the music or is it a guidepost for listening? Perhaps both. In any case, this is a lovely opus that is easy on the ear and stimulating to the mind.
My story begins very simply: I could speak and I was happy.
Or: I could speak, thus I was happy.
Or: I was happy, thus speaking.
I was like a bright light passing through a dark room.
(Louise Glück, Faithful and Virtuous Night)
Since this blog began only a few odd years ago, we’ve seen the emergence of some wonderful new labels which are now fixtures on these pages – Eilean Rec., Moderna Records, and 1631 Recordings to name a few. But there is plenty of room for new voices and new ideas as evidenced by the recent arrival of Subtempo Records on the scene. The label founded last year by Rocco Tyndale will be focused on “left-field leaning, classical and electronic” music coupled with a strong focus on visual art and an emphasis on creating “long lasting pieces of art” and their first physical release is a delightful EP by Alejandro Bento, a self-taught pianist from Spain who also records electronic music as Axel Toben. Ripples is a triptych of solo piano pieces accompanied by a remix contributed by award-winning producer/composer Robot Koch. The heartfelt sentiments that come across in the music are just as Bento intended.
“These songs speak of origins and horizons. But most of all, they speak of love, friendship and care, of presence and joy. They speak of following the heartbeat and believing in one’s self and in others.” – Alejandro Bento
As soon as December nears, those of us who write about music begin to feel the urge to reflect on the year and start making our favorite album lists. But if we can resist that siren call for a bit, we’ll often find some real gems in the flurry of releases that typically appear in the weeks leading up to the winter solstice and perhaps make one last new discovery. For me, such is the case with the work of Lee Yi, a jazz guitarist from southern Spain with extensive studio experience which he now employs to create some truly beguiling ambient & electronic music.
Calmly transportive. Blissfully adrift. Hazy and translucent. A listening journey with four exceptional albums from around the globe that delve into the idyllic side of ambient and electronic music created by The Green Kingdom (USA), Chihei Hatakeyama (Japan), Warmth (Spain), and James Murray (UK).
Under the alias of Sustainer, Barcelona-based sound artist Alex Alarcón has a penchant for transforming the seemingly mundane into imaginative and exotic musical works. On Radiolas, released last fall on Room 40, it was shortwave radio recordings from the Mediterranean and North Africa. And on Taps, which closed out 2015 on Tessellate Recordings, it was the resonance of household objects struck with rubber mallets. For Medicina, recently released on Eilean Rec., Alarcón was drawn toward the background music of his youth, sounds that many others might find all too easy to dismiss or deride.
It’s the first time that I use samples on my sound works, but I found interesting to bring to life these sounds from old artists from the 60’s and 70’s, mainly orchestral composers from muzak, light music, easy listening, elevator music, or whatever they like to call it. These are music styles sometimes discriminated by media and actually forgotten. I can remember the amount of hours I spent as a child listening to these tunes on my parents car stereo, turntable or tape player. So this is an homage to my parents too, because it was one of my first encounters with recorded music. – Alex Alarcón
Take a look at the breadth of the 1631 Recordings catalog and you might find it hard to believe that the imprint was launched less than a year ago. Granted many of the releases are reissues and compilations, but they are impeccable selections of both albums and artists that deserve a wider hearing. Balancing these out are original releases that are among the finest in the genre and this travelogue takes a journey with four of the latest featuring CEEYS (Germany), Bruno Sanfilippo (Argentina), Roberto Attanasio (Italy), and Library Tapes (Sweden).
Perhaps the shimmering, sun-drenched sound of Lucho Ripley‘s music owes something to his location in Candás (Asturias) which sits on a tip of northwestern Spanish coastline beneath the Bay of Biscay. Conversely to the opaque, moody atmospherics towards which many ambient guitarists gravitate, Lucho paints in vivid watercolor sounds that radiate joy and light and he has splashed these all over the canvas of his latest recording Mirakler presented by the Fluttery Records label.
“As the cover by master watercolorist Joe Cartwrtight seems to suggest, Mirakler is a study of light. The light outside and the light within. The light JMW Turner so incessantly pursued in his paintings. The light of extraordinary events or maybe the simple joy of a summer evening on a small seaside town. It’s for the listener to decide.” – Fluttery Records
Born in the historic and culturally-rich city of Pamplona in Spain’s Basque Country (home to the Festival of San Fermin and the infamous Running of the Bulls) , Iván Muela began to learn the piano at the tender age of 6 before hearing the siren call of the electric guitar in his teen years and spending several years touring around the country with a progressive metal band. Now based in London, this talented composer and musician continues to combine serious musicianship with an intrepid spirit of exploration in his approach to modern classical music which can be heard on his album Unsound just released on Fluttery Records.
“ I wanted to create some music that would integrate technology as part of the compositional process…There was a certain romantic feel in the production process; by trying to explore uncommon instruments, tools or techniques, I wanted my music to breathe, to feel like it’s moving. The music contained in Unsound is full of ironies and contradictions. Sounds that took weeks to achieve are ornamenting spontaneous piano improvisations; thorough studio production alternates with simple field recordings I made while walking home with a worn-out Walkman in my hand” – Iván Muela
A quiet space and a good pair of headphones are recommended for this group of albums that share an intent to capture signals, noise, and resonances and sculpt them into fascinating sonic narratives. Featuring Sustainer, José Soberanes, Kate Carr, Arovane, & Porya Hatami.
Slaapwel Records is a small record label strictly focused on music to fall asleep to. It was founded and run by Wim Maesschalck (Wixel) from 2007 to 2012 and featured such ambient & experimental music luminaries as Dag Rosenqvist (Jasper, TX), Greg Haines, Peter Broderick, Simon Scott, and Seaworthy. With Wim’s blessing, the label returns in 2015 with Stijn Hüwels as its new caretaker and a new entry in the catalog from Ghost and Tape:
“Since I loved the label from the beginning, I accepted with no hesitation and started my search for sleepy tunes. I heard Heine Christensen aka Ghost and Tape was very interested in making a Slaapwel-album. Heine and I got in touch, and so it began! It took some time, but here we are: very proud to present you …a perfect Slaapwel soundtrack, not only as the reawakening of the label, but also one that will guide you from awake to sleep. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I do” – Stijn Hüwels
Astralia is a three-piece band from Barcelona, Spain. Their first full-length album, Atlas, was released in the spring of 2014 and a year later has been re-released in three special vinyl editions making it a perfect occasion to revisit the pleasures of this outstanding record which, in hindsight, would have been deserving of a place among my top post rock picks of last year.
Everything about Atlas exudes organic beauty – the graphic art, the song titles, and the sonic vistas which rely almost solely on outstanding musicianship and mastery of analog dynamics. The trio format leaves nowhere for any instrument to hide, but that plays to the strengths of this talented group.