Lucy Claire | Scape Works [1631 Recordings]

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The third and final installment in Lucy Claire‘s “Works” series is a beautifully conceived EP that takes her music out of the confines of living room and studio to integrate with a variety of soundscapes. In a rather fresh take on the concept, she has taken an especially interactive approach which, when combined with her keen sense of narrative and use of binaural recording techniques, creates a series of vivid, immersive and pleasantly disorienting scenes. The magic is in the layering and juxtaposing of the many field recordings used in each piece and then contriving musical reactions to each setting.

“a Lisbon tram journey
a walk through an old ship building yard named Bucklers Hard
a car journey across the Pennines in a hail storm
a walk along a towpath in Dorset
a hike to a castle in Schwarzwald, Germany
a walk in the New Forest…”

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Illuminine | #3 [Ferryhouse Productions]

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Kevin Imbrechts may be from Belgium, but there is something unmistakably Icelandic in the character of the music he creates as Illuminine, a kind of atmospheric and enigmatic beauty.  No wonder Sigur Ròs sound engineer Birgir Jón Birgisson took an early interest in his work and invited Imbrechts to the band’s  Sundlaugin studio where he completed the recording of first album and went on to record the next two. Of course, there are other prominent strands in the DNA of his sound – melancholic neoclassical in the vein of Ólafur Arnalds or A Winged Victory for the Sullen (whose Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie has become a collaborator) and electric guitar which traces back to Imbrechts’ admiration for the more introspective work of avant-garde instrumentalist Buckethead citing ‘Electric Tears’ (Metastation, 2002) as an influence.

All of these elements are manifestly present on the newly released #3 which turns out to be the most personal Illuminine album yet as Imbrechts reveals it concerns a very dark chapter in his life during he was struggling with anxiety and panic attacks as well as being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Harrowing as that may sound, he says that writing the album was “the best therapy possible” and that it turned into a sort of “secret sound diary” which he molded to reflect the daily cycles from dawn to anxious, sleep-deprived nights and back to hopeful dawn again.

“It’s my own ‘channel’ to communicate with the world, to express feelings. Everyone can and should project their own ideas and feelings onto the music. Instrumental music is more powerful than vocal music with clear lyrics; it’s much more telling. I want to share this with the world, as I think people have to talk about these issues. It’s not easy to talk about it, but it helps.” – Kevin Imbrechts 

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Sound Impression: 88 by Cédric D. Lavoie [Preserved Sound]

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Based in the market town of Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, Preserved Sound has always been a friendly label to artists who create unique intersections of modern classical, jazz, and experimental ambient music, often featuring unconventional approaches to instrumentation.  Some of the more noteworthy recent examples include Tess Said So, Covarino/Incorvaia, Adrian Lane, and Trigg & Gusset. This month the label will add a new name to the catalog that fans of the aforementioned should very much appreciate – Canadian composer and founder of the Mismar ensemble Cédric Dind-Lavoie. His forthcoming solo album on entitled 88 originated on the piano and was then fleshed out with bowed & plucked upright bass as well as a keen focus on the use of discrete percussion and sound effects.

“Everything started on the piano. I also explored recording techniques emphasizing the sound resulting from the mechanics of the piano and my fingers on the keyboard. These sounds are rarely acoustically audible, but add an intimate and intriguing aspect to the recording… ​I also thought about hiring string players to play on some of the tracks but eventually decided to take on the challenge of playing everything on the upright bass, to achieve a darker and perhaps more unusual string section.” – Cédric D. Lavoie 

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PREMIERE “Eliza (Variation 5)” from A Shade Under Thirty by Stray Ghost [Phases Records]

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For the better part of a decade, self-taught multi-instrumentalist & producer Anthony Baden Saggers  has been releasing music as Stray Ghost both independently and on such respected boutique labels as Hidden Shoal, Time Released Sound, and 1631 Recordings. In a couple of weeks, he will be able to add Phases Records to that list as the London-based imprint is shortly to release his latest opus entitled A Shade Under Thirty. The title is an overt nod to the kind of milestone the album represents for the artist as he surveys his own past, present, and future while reaching out to forge a meaningful connection to his audience.

“The maturity he has recently talked of reaching at the age of thirty, leaving behind the young man he once was, is mirrored in A Shade Under Thirty by his vision of the world at a pivotal moment, his piano picking a path forwards through European disintegration, climate change and life in the digital age. As he says himself, ‘I don’t just want people to listen… I want them to feel.'” 

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PREMIERE: “Þægindi” from Close by Mark Wardale [Bottle Imp]

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After two full-length albums and a trio of EPs under the moniker of Row Boat, musician/composer Mark Wardale is about to release his first work under his own name. There is an amusing bit of self-deprecating cheek when he cites irreconcilable differences with himself in reference to the change, but when it comes to creating imaginative, ear-catching music that spans multiple genres, Wardale is as serious as ever.

To listen to ‘Close‘ is to enter a world where neoclassical, ambient, and post-rock elements are intertwined, infused with Scandinavian character, and ornamented with eclectic sonic flourishes. While the same could be said of the music of Row Boat, the new record marks a noticeable shift toward modern classical elements and cinematic flair as the ambient & post-rock atmospherics are employed much more sparingly. In addition, Wardale demonstrates his growing compositional prowess by weaving a cohesive tale in which the narrative of each track supports a greater one that flows through the entire album.

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PREMIERE: “A Walk With Mr. J” from Ancestral Dances by Luis Berra [1631 Recordings]

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Search as you might across the web, you won’t a great many words about pianist/composer Luis Berra. In part that may be because his debut album (‘Piano Creatures‘, 2017) came out only last year. To some extent, however, it appears that the Italian-born musician, who currently lives & works in Bavaria, simply prefers to let his piano do the talking. Whether teaching at a music school, performing on a stage or in the lobby of a luxury hotel, or recording in the studio, it is how he tells his stories and he does it with an eloquent and mellifluous voice. This is abundantly evident on his sophomore outing entitled ‘Ancestral Dances’, a splendid solo piano record that gracefully soars, sways and pirouettes through a dozen narratives spun from ivory keys and wooden hammers.

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Video: “Universalis” by Hammock

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On their first full-length studio album since the deeply elegiac ‘Mysterium’ a little over a year ago, the Nashville-based duo of Marc Byrd & Andrew Thompson known as Hammock find themselves following a “vertical, upward movement back toward the light”. This progression from the low places of grief toward beckoning illumination is subtly depicted on the cover of Universalis and the hopeful, healing tone of the music echoes that trajectory while hearkening back to some of the most beloved recordings in the band’s canon as well as some of their early influences. For example, one can hear the sweeping atmospheric balladry of ‘Raising Your Voice to Stop an Echo’ and the glacial stillness of ‘Maybe They Will Sing for Us Tomorrow’ alongside the orchestral neoclassical grandeur of their more recent works.

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Alexandra Stréliski | Inscape [Secret City Records]

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Composer & pianist Alexandra Stréliski is an artist of Polish Jewish origin who grew up between Paris and Montreal. She made her debut with the 2010 album Pianoscope, but has gained many more listeners through her work featured in the films of Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”, “Demolition”) and on HBO (“Big Little Lies”, “Sharp Objects”). After a chaotic period of upheaval in her life, she has emerged as a solo recording artist once again with a delightful new album called Inscape, a meaningful portmanteau combining the words “interior” and “landscape”. Stréliski is refreshingly candid regarding the very personal nature of the record and how she hopes it will connect with others.

“To me, ‘Inscape’ was an existential crisis. A year where everything capsized and I had to go through various interior landscapes – hectic, beautiful and painful at the same time…A piano, on its own, is a very vulnerable thing, and I want to share this moment with the listener.” – Alexandra Stréliski 

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PREMIERE: At the Same Time from The Eleventh Hour by Anne Lovett [1631 Recordings]

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It would seem Anne Lovett literally has music in her blood. Though currently residing in London, she was born in Normandy, France, a birthplace she shares with Erik Satie. Her family is a musical one, her father being a luthier and her mother a dancer. Anne herself picked up piano at only three years old and developed an interest in composition early on. She went on to study at the Conservatoire Supérieur de Paris as well as the Royal Academy of Music and later at King’s College, London. Since graduating, she has performed at prestigious venues and festivals throughout Europe and been heard on classical broadcast radio. If you have listened to her debut solo album Beyond (and Below), you already know she is both an electrifying pianist and an imaginative composer. On her partially crowd-funded second album entitled The Eleventh Hour, however, she balances her virtuosity & passion with poignant introspection to create a stunning new opus in collaboration with members of the London Contemporary Orchestra. 

“The main narrative of the album was conceived during a period when intense shifts were taking place within our society which had a deep impact on the composer. The result is a deeply felt work that mourns the loss of a spiritual home as well as reflecting a dazed comprehension of the world having been permanently tilted on its axis. Best described through the Japanese concept of Kintsugi or “broken beauty”, ‘The Eleventh Hour’ is a heartbreakingly beautiful contribution to the modern classical genre. The thirteen tracks are all meticulously crafted and ring out with a dark luminosity, like an elegy to our troubled times”. – 1631 Recordings

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PREMIERE: The End Approaches from Lonely Satellite by Lena Natalia

LN_Lonely_Satellite_coverA native of Chicago where she is currently based, composer, producer, and musician Lena Natalia spent several years living in Paris and, indeed, much of her music manages to capture that elusive je ne sais quoi and aura of timeless elegance and melancholic romanticism that the mere mention of the city evokes for many. While that remains true on her forthcoming album Lonely Satellite, the new record also finds her displaying new facets to her work right down to the eye-catching cover and the message it conveys.

“The intent is that the cat and the device are both, in fact, “lonely satellites,” seeing each other from their own, very distant vantage points. They are two beings making a connection; there is a sense of longing. They are also both satellites in the sense that they are solitary objects separated from something, somewhere else, while always remaining in each other’s orbit.” – Lena Natalia

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PREMIERE: Longest Dawn by LAVALU [1631 Recordings]

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Just a piano and a voice. But not just any piano or any voice. The kind of eloquent and expressive piano that stops time and a charismatic voice that stops you in your tracks with its fierce vulnerability. It is this arresting juxtaposition of influences ranging from Satie & Debussy to Fiona Apple & Regina Spektor that defines the latest album by composer and musical force of nature LAVALU. With its intimate presence and starkly beautiful minimalism, Solitary High distinguishes itself from the jazz-pop crossover sound of her critically acclaimed ‘Now’ (2009) and the theatrical music she composed for Het Pauperparadijs (The Pauper’s Paradise)

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Sound Impression: The Great Lake Swallows by Julia Kent and Jean D.L. [Gizeh Records]

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The Great Lake Swallows is the seventh entry in the Dark Peak series from Manchester UK’s Gizeh Records and introduces a very special first time collaboration between Canadian cellist Julia Kent and Belgian guitarist/tape machine manipulator Jean D.L. Recorded in Charleroi, Belgium in 2015 during a video installation with Sandrine Verstraete, the album’s long elegiac arc comprises four movements, chapters if you will, in a single riveting whole punctuated by brief caesuras that mark subtle shifts in the narrative.

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