Bissonnette and Wenngren – The Meridians of Latitude and the Parallels of Longitude (2011)

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Wow. Certainly quite a mouthful, the title of this release. I had to double check it to make sure I got my meridians and parallels the right way round. This is a drone album from the minds of David Wenngren, aka Library Tapes, and a long time favourite of mine Christopher Bissonnette.

Two weeks ago I (foolishly) caught the last train out of Euston on my return journey from KSIA, a train that did not return me home fully and left me stranded in the cold, dark and wet confines of Northampton station’s platform 2 for three hours. To make matters worse, it was 2am at the time.

Sitting on that cold metal bench was, let me tell you, one hell of a tough experience. I was uncomfortable, cold, shattered and the prospect of home and bed was hovering tantalisingly on the horizon. Yet there is something about anticipation, especially the eagerness to get away from something less than pleasant, that makes time behave oddly, frustratingly. Times slows to a painfully aware crawl, unaided by your frequent glances at the clock, and in that situation where there is little in the way of distraction or entertainment the wait is maddening.

But its funny, isn’t it, that when you’re on a long journey you just stare out of the window for ages. It’s that odd sensation of being in limbo; you’re in transit, in between places and with precious little else to keep you occupied, you gaze in resignation at the passage of the outside world. Time doesn’t work properly while you’re in this little bubble but it’s a different kind of broken; it expands and contracts, with seconds feeling like minutes all smearing in to one another, and when it’s all over you have no recollection of what transpired and it all seems like a blur, like it all happened at once. This is exactly the aura Meridians exudes.

Rich and densely textured drones hover and roll over each other. Violin fragments add another layer of depth to the drones and to that uneasy nature. Bissonnette works his magic by adding his own hyper-processed samples and recordings; curiously organic noises of unknown origin, creakings and cracklings, a gentle fuzz. There’s no clear direction, there’s no clear structure, there’s no clear cut concept of what is being portrayed or imagined. All there is, is precisely defined and polished sounds that heave and thrum, contracting and dilating as our awareness (or perhaps interest) of the world around us weaves in and out.

I’m still not sure how to feel about this; I guess I’m still hanging out for a new, purely Bissonnette release, but there is a claustrophobically introverted vibe here that is both familiar and unsettling.

6.5/10

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Slow Magic – ▲ (2012)

Yes I know this particular symbol is heavily associated with so-called “hipsters” (thanks Tumblr for that stigma), but Slow Magic’s debut LP ▲ (or Triangle if you prefer) is…ok well it is a bit indie I suppose because of its chillwave tag, but this is actually a pretty sweet little release.

Summer’s closing in on us now (even though it certainly doesn’t feel like it here in the UK), but we’re all starting to build our Summer playlists, starting to wind down as the end of exams and ultimately, term, appears on the horizon, and it all nicely coincides with freshly squeezed Summer tunes from a plethora of genres. Chillwave is perfectly suited for your impending Summer listening; a hodge-podge of casual, 80’s synth fused with downtempo dream pop beats and floaty vocals. This sweeping generalisation doesn’t apply too badly to ▲.

“Corvette Cassette” begins our short but sweet listening experience; with ▲ clocking in at just about 25 minutes long it follows in the vein of many chillwave releases and acts more like an EP in appearance, although it does squeeze a good deal into that seemingly short time. It actually starts off pretty well, especially if you haven’t heard the entire thing before. Cutesy, distorted samples with some pulsing bass slaps and shuffling and shaking ambiguous background elements. “Toddler Tiger” rolls in on lo-fi synths and contains some  nice keyboard moments as the faux piano intermittently joins the fray.

“Feel Flows” zipping synth lines roll over a bed of hazy bass slaps and fragmented vocals, and “Youths” also continues the light and carefree vibe with it’s samples of children laughing and playing (not unlike Boards of Canada, just about 1000x less creepy). It’s a gauzy, lightly lo-fi feel with just a hint of distress, like a slightly worn out memory.

“Moon” reminds me a bit of what Young Magic did earlier this year in the latter half with Melt; strongly 80’s influenced, low-key synths with an incredibly spacious and slow sound, just nicely counterbalancing the slightly more uptempo beats but not diminishing the warmth. “Circle” is my out and our favourite though, picking up the same vibe as “Moon” and bringing in the same chopped vocals from “Feel Flows” but spinning out some fresher beats; still smothering them with a layer of fuzz but bringing in some percussion with more attack later. Despite it being quite enjoyable and certainly groove inducing, it does sort of emphasise the somewhat recycled sound and the unfortunately short nature of this album. The last two tracks of “Sorry Safari” and “Music” don’t really add much else really, although “Music” is a decent outro, slowing down the pace and just tying up the loose ends.

So it turns out ▲ doesn’t really hold up to close inspection too well, but for some nicely chilled background music for your barbecues, your trips to the beach, your poolside listening, look no further.

7/10

Nicholas Szczepanik – Please Stop Loving Me (2011)

Eurgh, apologies for my slackness of late; it’s been a hectic week of work and bookended by extremely long nights out in London (well, one of them was mostly spent in the dark, drab confines of Northampton station, but that’s a different story), and between that and sleeping it’s not left me massively motivated to talk about any 2012 albums. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any I want to talk about though (after Wednesday’s exam I’ll write something up on Slow Magic’s new LP), but in the meantime I wanted to continue my drone + late-night blogging with this fantastic release.

Drone, when done well, is excellent. There is something deeply satisfying about listening to these amorphous, shapeless and often arrhythmic creations; it takes a special someone to breathe life and emotion into these minimal, seemingly structure-less musical pieces. It’s a delicate business though, trying to get the right balance in terms of length and overlapping of textures; too long and it gets dull, too short and there’s not enough time to let the pieces expand. Too much content drowns out the message, too little and it’s not dense enough to leave an impression. Szczepanik is clearly a man who knows that he’s doing then, because this is damn near perfectly balanced.

What I anticipated would be a very melancholic and introverted release given the title is actually shimmering and bright, beautiful ebbs and flows of shining drone that sound bold enough to almost be orchestral practically demand to be played at high volume, not because they’re quiet but simply because it feels like the right thing to do. It’s like Nicholas is professing his love rather than shunning it and he wants to shout it out, but does so through these glistening walls of sound instead.

In some ways, that’s the best way to do it; drone is such a raw genre, it really transfers emotion in a much more natural way compared to many other forms of music, in my opinion. This slow, bright melody may take a long time to play out but its intentions are clear from the beginning, and over the course of its expanding and contracting journey you just can’t help but feel immersed in its optimism and hopefulness. There is no dead space and neither is it super dense, it feels just right; drone swells shift and change gracefully, overlain with fractionally faster, lighter elements to give it a level of activity. But it is the last 10 minutes or so that are the most magnificent; just one long protracted drone note that just hangs there for an eternity, a stunning, radiant crescendo that warps time and plays tricks on your ears; the careful addition of background elements imperceptibly changes the sound, making this implausibly long musical sigh go further and longer.

At 50 minutes a pop it does demand a bit of time, but I have now dedicated 6 hours to this album in the week I’ve owned it and it somehow manages to get better with every listen. Heart-wrenchingly beautiful, just excellent.

9.5/10 (now that doesn’t happen every day)