2019 in Review: A Sense of Place & Time

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Each of these sixteen albums is conceptually, thematically or musically connected to a sense of  a particular place or moments in time. While this is a somewhat common motif in instrumental music (ambient in particular), it is absolutely integral in these outstanding works released in 2019. Some are personal narratives and some are depictions of landscape either real or imagined. Others are sonic interrogations or interactions inextricably linked to the locations where they were formed. Whatever their nature, all of them proved captivating and memorable. One might say they represent the very essence of stationary traveling…

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Video Premiere: “Lament” by Sontag Shogun

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While many of us are still savoring the kaleidoscopic panorama of It Billows Up released by Brooklyn-based trio Sontag Shogun this past spring, the band delivered a pleasant surprise along with the turning of leaves in the form of a new EP called Floréal. It is a introspective “mini-suite” in a distinctly autumnal mood that once again finds Ian Temple, Jesse Perlstein, & Jeremy Young in compelling form with their alchemical fusion of foley & tape treatments, organically derived textures, painterly solo piano compositions, and ethereal vocals.

Presented in a cassette tape format, side A belongs to a single immersive composition entitled “Photographs from a moving car” featuring guest vocals by Finnish composer & musician Lau Nau, while side B unfolds in three parts – the moving title track, the collagic “Plaid Lines”, which features the voice of Canadian artist Ora Cogan, and the hauntingly beautiful “Lament” which is featured here in a touching video created by multi-disciplinary artist Joshua Miller using old found footage shot while on a road trip across the United States with his ex-partner.  Though deeply personal in origin, the music and visuals combine to powerfully convey themes of both nostalgia and solastalgia in an especially moving and relatable way.

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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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Travelogue: A Journey With Whitelabrecs

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By my count, Whitelabrecs has come out with nearly 70 releases in the four years since it was founded  by Harry Towell (aka Spheruleus).  For the first three, the label strictly followed a set formula in which each release came out on vinyl-effect CDs in a limited run of 50 copies.  This year, Towell has upped the ante with runs of 100 copies and a new packaging motif designed to emulate gatefold vinyl LPs as well as an expanded range of photographers sourcing the artwork.  What has been consistent from the beginning, however, is a steady stream of  highly engaging releases from a thoughtfully curated roster of artists currently working in the ambient, drone, modern classical, electro-acoustic and folk genres.  The six albums featured here have provided me with a great deal of listening pleasure lately, but they only represent a portion of the breadth and depth of what is on offer, so I recommend allowing oneself lots of time to explore during visits to Bandcamp.

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A Sense of Place: Upward, Broken, Always by Ohio

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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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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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