Mkaio – A Far Off Horizon (2012)

Long time coming, for which I apologise, Mkaio’s A Far Off Horizon LP.

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“Deep in the mountains of Hawai’i, buried under pine needles and brush, a cracked and worn cassette tape was found.”

Uh oh. This is a snippet from the rather length description that Mkaio has written about his album on its Bandcamp page; I’m not a fan of artists waxing lyrical about their own work and writing heady, poetic descriptors, it just sounds ridiculous. I don’t want to sound particularly damning but that single paragraph and the album art (seen above) have definitely been a contributing factor in my avoidance of this review. That and the rather inordinate length of 1 hour and 17 minutes.

Admittedly, it’s not a dreadful start with the title track opening, but there is a long way ahead. It and the followup “The First Kiss” are rather woozy, stereotypical chillwave tunes with clear synths and a distinct warmth, but do feel a bit distant. “The Gold Was On You” begins to introduce the vocals that we find littered intermittently throughout, and that chillwave sound begins to become even more ensconced. It really is painfully obvious that this is a bedroom-produced piece and sadly that ship has sailed, that fad has passed; now it just feels kind of cheap and cheesy. But it’s ok, because the track is nicely rounded off to the gentle lapping of waves on the shore.

“Happiness is smoke in my lungs

Gimme just one toke and I’m done”

starts “Tried and True” in a quasi-rapping style which might not actually be that bad if not for the fact that it, like most of the tracks on this album, spins out for far, far too long. Over 6 minutes of the same riff and (clichéd) repeated lyrics is quite dull. But this first half isnt all bad, there are a couple of decent tracks; “Summer Heart” is a rather relaxed instrumental track that breaks the album up quite nicely with its easygoing beats, and “Light At The End”, although long, has some sweet, circular synths that evoke those sunlight seashore memories I think this album is sort of angling for. The second half begins with a track so drenched in the chillwave aesthetic it’s almost stifling; sadly what it also brings with it is once again that semi-rapping approach to the lyrics and some faux record scratching faintly in the background; frankly it’s downright cheesy and every second makes me understand where this album is coming from less and less.

It doesn’t make sense that tracks like that can be followed up by other tracks like “Fall For You” which are actually well done, toned down and have a modicum of restraint and intelligently designed beats. The vocals are absolutely the weakest part of this release so when they’re even just a little obscured by reverb as they are here they are actually tolerable. Then again, as I understand it, the tracks here were recorded over an extensive period of time, possibly two or three years, and it really does show. Despite that, “Brush of the Cheek” continues in a good vein for another few minutes with a purely instrumental track; repetitive for sure but pleasant and soothing.

“Maui” returns to the side of the album that once again makes no sense and causes it to lose all sense of cohesion; unintelligible baby gurgles alongside bright synths? And then it’s chased up by “Is This Love”, some kind of half baked Bob Marley reinterpretation which does absolutely no justice to the classic in any way. I have a very cynical approach to tracks like these, where people take material other people have done already (and frequently done very well) and adapt it for their own devices, simply because so frequently it just does not work, much like here. The vocals aren’t bad, sure, but it just sounds so cheap, the electronics really denigrate the music. Fortunately the end is in sight, but we do have to get over an 11 minute closer before then.

“A Prelude” is a nice ambient interlude to segue us into the final tracks, and it actually moves pretty gracefully into the terrible “Sunsets”, which is really depressing. The rapping, why. It just is absolutely not necessary and I’ll never understand why he chose to take that angle on so many of the tracks, it’s quite honestly embarrassing. The actual content, musically, is actually decent, and that’s what pisses me off about this entire album; there’s some potentially good tunes buried in here that are just smothered by mediocre singing. Lastly, we come to the aforementioned 11 minute closer “Adagio For Jen” which, once again, takes a turn for the frustrating as it spins out delicate synth drones across its duration. It’s actually a really nice way to round the album off, I’m just saddened that it couldnt be more like this or at the very least somewhat more consistent throughout.

It’s too long, too tryhard, perhaps even a little bit full of itself. I never really felt that I knew where the album was coming from and truth be told I was pretty overwhelmed at the content and how inconsistent it was; it’s clear that this was produced over an extensive period of time because some tracks are obviously much more polished than others and have a very different personality to them. It doesnt come together well but there is room for improvement, and it’s not entirely terrible, but I’m just not digging it.

Girls Just Want To Have Fun – Bioshock Infinite OST

Now, I know what you’re thinking; Girls Just Want To Have Fun? Really? In what way is that pertinent to HearFeel? Ahh, well, all shall be revealed if you listen to the above link, preferably as I have been doing these last couple of days and just putting it on infinite loop and letting that baby run. There’s something just really…cute and happy-go-lucky about this interpretation and the whole fairground-esque vibe with its steam organ that makes this just really addictive and I JUST CANT GET IT OUT OF MY HEAD.

I havent played Bioshock Infinite, although I have every intention to do so, and yet I can somehow see this fitting perfectly into the whole ethos of that game, with its seemingly utopic, vintage facade smothering a darker underlying story; plus I think this track appears on a beach scene, so it manages to pull off that whole fairground/seaside stall aesthetic with its steam organ. It’s actually a fantastic reinterpretation and I’m oddly hooked on it for reasons I dont fully understand.

Sundrugs – Hidden Scenes (2013)

Soon to be released debut album of Sundrugs with Hidden Senses on the BLWBCK label.

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With an opener named “Pandora’s Box”, something magical is going to happen, you just know it. And so Hidden Scenes emerges from the darkness in a simpering wash of piercing drones that expand painfully to introduce the album, opening the box to the secrets within. Almost immediately “Moving Borders” begins to take us into new and darker directions now that the box has been opened, weaving layers of dense drone into a spine-tingling, continuously evolving fabric of sound that is at once both restless and undisturbed, like the almost imperceptible passage or motion of distant objects even at speed, the slow creep of hundreds of miles seen overhead from afar.

It’s easy to see why these Sundrugs is on the BLWBCK label with “Void’s Anatomy”, a track that holds incredible similarity to Saåad’s style of music with its pained, almost human, drone wails, these creepy pulses of carefully engineered sound that almost breathe with life float in and out of the mix. “Radio Depth” is an obtrusive and somewhat unwelcome breach at first, abruptly terminating the previous track with the squeals of a radio being tuned, throwing disjointed fragments of transmissions out before slipping quickly into something much less sonically obtrusive.

In fact, going back a little, “If You Call That Living” features the aforementioned French Drone duo Saåad and it’s nice to see a reinforcement of the sonic style continue as the dark and heavily processed wave samples crash slowly and mightily and the drones remain somewhat on the dark side of neutral. “Desert Tales” removes those waves and has a much drier feel, its electronic overtones somewhat more granular and grating that the smooth, sleek, dark drones of before, the original guitar sound peeking through the oscillating distortion and giving us some ground through the swirling whines and high notes towards the end.

“You Know That Place” clocks in at a mighty 12:51, easily the longest track of the album, and it’s a curious piece. It retains the same basic fingerprint in its vaguely coarse drone pulses but there is something more reminiscent of Stars of the Lid here in its peacefulness and carefully repetitious melodies, the soft swells of drone easing the barely moving underlying textures along. It has that same perfect nostalgia and feelings of yearning that SotL distill in their work but Sundrugs manages to almost make it more beautiful and precious, leaving behind that pining sensation and instead languishing in the still bright and fresh memories. “Euphoria Euthanasia” brings us back into more familiar territory and if anything slows the pace down even further as the tone takes a turn for the somber; whilst its drones are far too bright to be miserable the speed and general attitude just give it a conscientious and introspective vibe.

And so we progress into the final movements of the record with “Just Leave Your Backdoor Open”, an oddly thin yet rich track that pares back the number of textures to a sparse few wavering drones before doing some odd processing in the second half which creates (to me at least) a rather disorientating and enveloping atmosphere through its stereo effects. Lastly, closer “Warm Like December’s Sun” manages to live up to its name as we float ghostly through its similarly thin, bright drones in the closing moments of the album.

It’s a curious record from start to finish I think, but the more I sit down and really pay close attention the less I actually want to say about it. I was previously content with letting it spin out easily for its 40 or so minutes, not quite being able to put my finger on what exactly I found comforting and soothing with it, and while looking at it more intensely hasnt lessened my enjoyment of it somehow I did actually find myself somewhat bored by the end. It’s vaguely disappointing that the best parts of this album are those that seem to emulate the styles of other artists but it’s still a very decent album in its own right.