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.