Denovali being one of my favorite labels for a variety of experimental music, and though the two albums that I'm writing about now aren't the newest releases in the Denovali catalog, they are two exquisite examples of why the label is such a reliable source of great music, and why myself and many others will go back to them again and again, often with blind allegiance.
I've written about NYC-based composer Mario Diaz de Leon's excellent project Oneirogen before, and his latest album, Kiasma, is a further exploration of the dark, hidden spaces present in everyone. While there has always been an element of droning metal to Oneirogen, it is much more prominent this time around. This is evident from the opening track, "Numina," as the guitars step to the forefront and let the synths and electronic ambient elements flow underneath the washes of amp-driven distortion. I think it's safe to say that the ambient electronics, which do in some cases dominate the other sounds, are being used as the foundation for this record, even as they are sometimes relegated to play second-fiddle to Diaz de Leon's masterful guitar work. The most important thing to keep in mind while listening to and experiencing this record is that Diaz de Leon is a composer, and what you're hearing has most likely been carefully orchestrated to sound exactly as it does. That's not to say that improvisation doesn't play it's part - this is highly experimental music that is in many ways quite unique, after all. But through the 7 songs that make up Kiasma, I always feel like Mario knew exactly what he was doing when recording this monster of a record; while obviously a virtuoso instrumentalist, he's also an amazing artist, manipulating sound with the very best, and expressing a wide range of feelings and moods with an array of different atmospheres. In my previous review of Oneirogen, I called the music "cinematic," and that is again a word I would use to describe what you'll hear; indeed, it feels like a visual element could only improve the experience. I'm embarrassed to say that even though NYC is only a couple of hours from me, I've not been to an Oneirogen performance, but I do recommend that you see Mario play if you have the chance. Being able to see Oneirogen live, with the full compliment of any visuals that Mario might use, must be a near-overwhelming experience. I can't say enough good things about this record. It gets my highest possible recommendation.
SaffronKeira is also one we've covered before, is also back with another incredible album of experimental electronic and ambient sounds, and like the Oneirogen record above, is one that I cannot say enough good things about. Tourette is another concept album - while the previous A New Life albums dealt with the various stages of development of human life, the theme of Tourette seems to concern the intricacy of neurological disorders and diseases. In fact, intricacy would seem to be a prevailing theme in all of SaffronKeira's music. From the cover art, to the packaging, to the music itself, there is perhaps no artist making this sort of music today that is as articulate as Eugenio Caria. These songs are highly rhythmic, but the rhythms and beats are crafted and played out in a very subtle way, so that while they are always present and always critical to the overall sound of the songs and of the record as a whole, they never distract from the more prominent textures. Because the name of the game here is atmosphere. SaffronKeira's atmospheres are dark, but not exclusively so. Exploration and movement are inherent within the ambient fabrics that Caria weaves, but you never really feel as if you're being taken to a dark place. The feelings conjured by the music are often dark, but there may be light at the end of the tunnel - hope, if you will. ("The Hope" is the name of the album's closing track, and also the record's best song.) This feeling of willing hope is what seems to give the record its cohesiveness, which in the end is one of the most remarkable things about it. Even if you don't know where these songs and sounds are taking you, you know it's a worthwhile trip that you won't ever regret taking.
For more information on these artists and their records, and to to buy the music, get it straight from the label here and here. To save money on shipping, those in North America can go to Experimedia. Vinyl is obviously the recommended format, because not only are Denoval packages exquisite (180 gram vinyl that always sound simply stunning, heavy gatefold sleeves), but they also contain those convenient download codes.
Seattle-based shoegaze/dream-pop duo Golden Gardens might be a new name to regular HSS readers, but I'm ready to introduce you to the dreamiest band you've heard in ages. You can thank me later. The pair consists of Gregg Alexander Joseph Neville, the multi-instrumentalist genius who constructs shimmering soundscapes over which Aubrey Rachel Violet Bramble weaves her subtle vocal magic. The sounds contained in "Narcissus" are neither the overly dense fuzz-pop that often fits into the "shoegaze" world nor are they minimalist pieces. Golden Gardens take great care to craft balanced and memorable songs that have elements of artists like Stereolab, Slowdive, or even a bit of Portishead at times, but never feel like mimicry of another artist's style.
Golden Gardens' strongest suit is their self-restraint. Many bands who work in more ethereal forms of music tend to just let each song bleed all over itself, with each sound existing in an uncontrolled universe. While the music retains its fluid nature, Golden Gardens clearly have taken great time placing each note and each vocal line exactly where it needs to be. Subtlety is absolutely key here, as it can often be the line between artistic excellence and self-indulgent excess. I certainly feel that while the album may be a reflection on infatuation and perhaps even self-love, Golden Gardens' sense of identity is strong without giving in to the temptation of bloated, heavy music.
While the album lingers for a brief twenty-minute span, the highly accessible nature of the music and the incredibly catchy tunes make it perfect for repeat listens on lazy afternoons or relaxing evenings. This album will be released on June 11th, but you can listen in full right now. Be sure to visit Golden Gardens' bandcamp page or check out the Neon Sigh website once it's officially released next week! Until then, enjoy the stream and let us know what you think!
Black Tie, the latest from Norwegian dark ambient artist Erik Skodvin's project Svarte Greiner, has been grabbing my attention off and on for weeks, and though it immediately, upon first listen, wrapped its tentacles tightly around me, over the past week or so its embrace has become so powerful that it has changed me in some way that I don't think I can fully understand. At least not yet.
The album is divided into two distinct movement- side A is the title track, and side B is called "White Noise." "Black Tie" is perhaps the darkest and grimmest Svarte Greiner moment yet, wholly uninviting and uncompromising in its direction. It starts off very slow and almost hushed, but that doesn't last long. As the track develops around echoing, droning ambiance, discordant strings (cello, I believe) enter the picture and slow-motion chaos erupts. Crashes of distorted bass build a barrier around the listener, refusing to let you out of what you've stepped into. Once you reach the end and the disorder that has defined your trip has settled down, you know you're stuck, and you're not quite sure what to make of your surroundings. As "White Noise" begins, you open your eyes and realize that you've awaken in a field of gossamer - not entirely uncomfortable, but still uncertain. The reverberating synthesizer drones that characterize this track sound like all hope may not be lost, that there may after all be an end to the madness.
What's truly amazing about this record is that no matter how ambiguous and downright noisy and hazy it gets, it always feels like an organic experience. That's a term that means different things to different people, and I'm not sure how to clarify what I mean, except to say that it sounds completely hand-made. You can hear the hands strike the instruments and turn the knobs, and that's why I really can't get enough of this album. It sticks with me, and to me, providing sustenance for an otherwise damaged soul.
So full of promise, tension, and ultimately heartbreak, the uncertainty of this record will hypnotize you and leave you considering the possibilities. Perhaps everything is somehow going to be okay, despite the ominous darkness above. Or maybe the end is imminent. At first, I was willing to bet on the latter, since Skodvin himself has referred to his music as "acoustic doom," but it's impossible to be sure with a record this difficult. Either way, you'll know that the manner in which you've looked at the world has been inherently flawed, that you've been missing something all along - something that might not be any clearer to you now, but at least you know it's there.
It's the first Svarte Greiner album that Skodvin has released on his own label, Miasmah. It can be had from any number of places. Most notably, in North America, go to Experimedia to get it, and from Boomkat in Europe. Available on LP, CD, or digital download.