Fluorescent Heights – Tidal Motions (2013)

Steven Ramsey aka Belloqshhhhhhh from tape label Constellation Tatsu wrote to me recently (I say recently, several weeks ago now) with some very gracious free downloads of their recent January tapes batch (available here). Some were better than others and I dont have the time to cover all of them so I wanted to focus on one of the shorter releases of the batch and also my favourite.

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Fluorescent Heights released an album 2 years ago that I have wanted to check out and have been recommended multiple times called Tourism; sadly I never got around to it although I was promised an album bathed in warm synth drone and nostalgia, so I was looking forward to getting to check out their work for the first time with this release and have a similar experience.

“Day” opens the album to the warbles and wobbles of bubbles alongside gently unfolding yet piercing drone. It’s actually extremely reminiscent of some of the work Belong have done ala October Language just with a bit more grace and a little more fidelity, but it still retains that deeply familiar nostalgia and that sense of memory revival, like you’re looking back wistfully at a perfect summer day from your youth, a bleary haze of sun and surf that was perfectly, pleasantly relaxed. It moves gracefully into the shimmering, looped synths of “Blue Island” and we sit entranced for the next 5 minutes as we listen to their thin and faded melodies cycle endlessly. I’m not sure a big fan of this track, I think it’s possibly the weakest part of the album for me, but it begins to reinforce the notion of the tides and their endlessness, that the same surf that once lapped your toes on holiday years before continues to do so in the same fashion now and forever.

After a somewhat abrupt end (again repeated in later tracks which I find rather disappointing), “New Sun” appears and, while it once again takes a somewhat repetitive tone there’s something much more pleasant and somehow simultaneously unsettling in its carefully and delicately evolving tones. The fundamental melody is always there but those fine synths duck and glimmer in and out unnervingly. Of course the repetition of the tides continues through into the more “Blue Island”-esque “Holiday Mirage” as it brings back those similarly crystalline synths; that same feeling of frozen time reoccurs here with its quavering bright notes of piercing sunlight tumbling through aged neurons.

The closer of this rather short album “Reaching The Open Ocean”, which also happens to be the longest track of the album, arrives sooner than I’d like after only 20 minutes, but its endless synth drones and additional length do make a nice compensation. The waves crash in slow motion and for the next 7 minutes we’re paralysed by the gently oscillating technicolour vibes that this album has carefully built up and spun out, and even when it cuts off abruptly it doesnt feel quite finished, leaving a brief moment of silence for us to sit contentedly in the warm hues lingering over this record and finish contemplating our own memories before we need to return to the real world.

The album feels unfinished but I think, well, I hope, it’s deliberate, a little note to remind us that such memories and experiences can always be appended, that there are always future past memories to be had and those blissed out moments we relish are to be had once more. Its gauzy synths and blurred drones slathered in reverb and entertaining just a hint of low-fidelity succumb to the cliché that many similar albums fall to but Fluorescent Heights manage to pull it off without being cheesy; definitely one to recommend if you’re looking for something short and sweet.

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Apparat – Kreig Und Frieden (2013)

Well, one week away from civilisation later and I’ve spent a lot of my free time listening to and mulling over Modern Classical musician Apparat’s latest release Krieg Und Frieden, a soundtrack to a theatrical interpretation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. 

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Lately it feels like I digest and process so much music, with much of that in the name of this blog, that it loses its meaning and significance at times, becomes a grind. I like to take my time over an album, consider its nuances and really get to enjoy it before I feel comfortable with writing words, but I get worried that I focus too much on looking for great music that I can sometimes overlook the genuinely good stuff that just falls into my lap. After some pretty careful inspection, I think this is certainly one of the best albums I’ve heard in some time, and yet even after many listens I can still only talk about the music at face value.

We open out to the pair “44” and it’s alternate “44 (Noise Version)”. The opener introduces us gracefully with some sombre violins before switching to the much more electronic and considerably more cathartic noise version. Its 6 minutes of carefully crafted guitar drones rise and fall, leaving you caught between feeling hopeless and then optimistic with rich swathes of rising drones outpouring emotion before plateauing and then subsequently bottoming out into darker recesses as they grind and churn along.

There is another side to this Electronic-cum-Modern Classical album though, and it’s introduced with “LightOn”. The drones are cooled off for the time being, relegated to the background (not that they make much of a recurrence throughout), and are replaced with thick jittering basslines and bastardised orchestral instrumentation, culminating in a curious mashup with the (admittedly dull) vocals placing the cherry on top.  The second of the two vocal pieces comes in right at the end in closer “Violent Sky”, which happens to be one of my favourite tracks of the album. Once again, the electronic undertones are much more prominent here but it also makes excellent use of piano, which forms the cornerstone of the track and helps build a varied tapestry when coupled with the more progressive aspects of the music whilst the enigmatic vocals spin out above;

I’ve seen you all along

The place they call it home

Come on down beneath the violent sky”
Its curious and repetitive riffs and vocals just seem really earnest and passionate, and while it isnt exactly a stretch to call this and “LightOn” a little out of place when juxtaposed against some of the other tracks of the album, I actually think they work surprisingly well as part of the whole. Plus both of them are perhaps the best paced and most brilliantly rising tracks of the album, with “Violent Sky” just continuously pushing forwards on a bed of quickening percussion and determined piano.

But back to the natural progression of the album; “LightOn” is chased up by the darkest track of the record yet, the curiously titled “Tod”; British people may be familiar with the expression “on your tod” or in other words on your own, and this track certainly has a hopeless, isolated atmosphere to it. Its unfortunately short duration is filled with melancholic drones, forged by stringed instruments or by electronic means it’s impossible to say, although the processed guitar does make an intrusion and helps keep the piece mean and abrasive.

The gorgeous “PV” outshines everything this album has to offer though, in my opinion. Its tortuously tantalising buildup uses delicate layers of a sparse orchestra and thin electronica to creep along before it goes stratospheric, building up to an initially surprising crescendo with the establishment of the almost cute synth riff that forms the foundation of the track patterned with grating sine waves and slowly introduced stringed instrumentation. Its journey is carefully and precisely mapped out over some 4 minutes before it finds its feet with the more majestic horns making an appearance and a great percussive bassline is lain down and we see those thick guitars return, all the while with some soaring trumpet warbles in and out of the freshly confident melody. It’s fantastically crafted and extremely compelling.

The more classical, perhaps even medieval, sounds that I sort of expected this album to establish are finally introduced in “K&F Thema (Pizzicato)”, with its very curt acoustic guitars and violins and various other stringed instruments paving the primary melody before being accompanied by more droning sections and then piano, the initial melody and instruments being swept up in their wake as fresh textural elements pile on. The followup and presumably inspiration for the pizzicato version is “K&F Thema”, which sees an initial abandonment of the more staccato melodies previously employed and an uptake in more rounded and shaped sounds, tinkling in on a xylophone before being carried by the swelling orchestra behind as the violins and drums pick up and carry the track before bottoming out suddenly.

Talking about the emotional content of this album is difficult for me because, well, I suppose I enjoy it more for its craftsmanship than the message(s) it’s trying to impart. I feel like not knowing the context of this album is probably quite significant, since I’m sure it’s emotional overprint is much more obvious when accompanied with the theatre production it was created for, or even if I knew the plot of War and Peace. I enjoy its variability, its ability to jump from sobre and melancholic to bright and curious at the flip of a switch using subtlety nuanced instrumentation, how its able to bring together so many textures into a coherent whole and create a excellent marriage of electronic and more classical ideologies. It’s a clever album, certainly something I’ve underplayed but I’m so tired and creatively drained I dont know how to say it.

Nac/Hut Report – Angel-like Contraction Reverse (2013)

New LP from underground Polish Experimental group Nac/Hut Report with Angel-like Contraction Reverse.

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I feel like recently people have been sending me albums to review because I’m “nice”; truth be told, the albums that I review here are frequently the ones that I want to listen to and have enjoyed listening to, hence the bias. When people send me their work I normally shift the onus onto them to prove something to me and my reviews become more critical and challenging as a result, and some people have become somewhat sour over my more critical writings on their work when what they were really looking for was some softer words. So when a band comes along advertising themselves as Experimental, Industrial and Underground I begin to feel somewhat uneasy, and I was concerned that I wouldnt like this album and thus be unnecessarily mean in anything I did write. Do Nac/Hut Report belong on HearFeel? Probably not; these genres of music are not ones that I subscribe to readily, and have little experience within. The prospect of listening to Industrial albums depresses me and I put off listening to this album for a while; admittedly Angel-like Contraction Reverse is not actually as bad as I initially anticipated, it isn’t my cup of tea.

The album would be much better if it did two things: 1. not be so repetitive and used more textures other than the processed guitar/rolling synth beats they use continuously and 2. stopped even trying to sing. I appreciate the fact it is supposed to be abrasive and embrace discordance but the vocals are very offputting; the English spoken parts have a very unusual lilt to them that makes them feel very dull and flat, like she’s tried to make something interesting out of them and be harmonious but cant quite make it. The staccato guitars as well are so frustrating, they form such an integral part of every track that they became very stale once you start to get towards the mid-album. That being said, I’m fairly certain it is purely down to the subtle changes in lyrics that actually set apart some of the tracks; much of the album shares identical rhythms and beat structures and while that does go to help the flow of the album it is rather tiresome.

The creaky guitars of the opener “Junkstarrr” and the deliberate beat pulses of noise and electronically derived percussion match the surprisingly soft vocal quite well, it was a better introduction to the album than I expected and it’s probably one of the better tracks here. It segues abruptly into the more chaotic squelches and squeals of “One Last Time” but sadly the vocals let this down a great deal, they lack the emotional punch to bring this track together. It could be so much better if they obscured them under a digital haze. Almost exactly the same sound of this track is repeated later in the album with “Rotten Times Burn Down”, as well as in the penultimate “Dolls” although here it seems to slow to half speed and float and bob along with much more ease than some of the tracks.

There’s just too much repetition and, dare I say it, not enough abrasion here to keep me interested. The beats at the start are interestingly syncopated and the vocals not too annoying, but both of those things begin to become increasingly more repeated to the point of frustration. The same thin, staccato guitars are repeated throughout with a depressing lack of variety and the vocals are dull and emotionless, and since these two components comprise most of the album it means that I just cant enjoy this.