Binmatu – CRYSTYLYS (2013)

New release from Jonas Gruska aka Binmatu on the Kvitnu label, “CRYSTYLYS”

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I can hear it now, the waves lapping through the open window. It’s 11pm but the nights are so light here that I can still see perfectly well outside, streetlight or no. Not that I need to see the waves to know they’re their, I can tell from their distinctive sounds, the sloshing and breaking of the crests on the rocks. Binmatu means with this release to alter our perception of sounds, to remind us that at their core they are nothing more than jitters in molecules, than perfectly predictable and well understood fluctations in air pressure from the object to our ears.

CRYSTYLYS is presented to us as 7 tracks each 4 minutes apiece, with no track names or other remarkable features to demarcate the differences between tracks other than the music itself. Already there is an air of mysticism hovering over the album, as well as something rather more clinical, and then the music starts. Much of the bio talks about how this album is supposed to be a psychedelic and transportative atmosphere and I can believe that as the first track opens to a collection of slowly repeating electronic verses, rising to a sustained, shimmering, oscillating crescendo of wobbly synths beneath whining, growling drones. It creates an illusion of progression whilst actually remaining completely stationary.

“II” continues that trend, carving a subtley different atmosphere from a fairly similar cloth; the underlying synth is deeper, darker, and the previously overwhelming foreground drone is dialled back, but that same clinical repetition remains, like some kind of ghostly, ethereal siren slowly rotating and foreshadowing some disaster in slow-motion. “III” hits absolute-zero in this succession, barely climbing above a sub-bass whisper, comprised of nothing more than a glacial bass drone layer and a thin, slowly cycling waif of piercing noise floating above the surface, like a star rising and falling in the infinite black of the night sky.

Binmatu is slowly paralysing us as we go along, slowly turning the speed and complexity down to craft these mesmerising soundscapes. “IV” is indescribable, an audio-visual paradox; it barely moves, switching slowly between two notes, yet the slight variability in the volume throughout as it imperceptibly climbs and falls is enough to keep it weirdly compelling. “V” is my favourite, mostly because it’s rather a curveball; composed of clicks and glitches rather than solid slabs of sound it marries two sets of slightly unsynchronised, slightly differing blips and charts their progress as they increase and decrease in velocity, always getting close but never quite touching (asymptotic). It’s at this point that I guess the album reminds me a lot of the sort of work Pixel creates, although rather more sparse and with less of a focus on rhythm and musical theory.

There’s a certain kind of palindromy occuring here as “VI” kicks the glitch of “V” into overdrive, no longer taking the slow and easygoing attitude and instead smearing the clicks together into an almost helicopter like sound as they rev up ready to take off and fly overhead. And at first glance closer “VII” breaks that palindromic concept, but if you listen closely you can just about make out the rattling and quivering in the notes, the glitch tumbling so fast that everything is blurred together into a near continuous single note. It’s clever really, highlighting the fact that drone, amongst other sounds, is nothing more than huge waveforms or lots pressed so closely together that the human ear cannot discern one distinctly from the next.

This isn’t music for the sake of music, it’s sound for the sake of music, carefully calculated and honed wavefunctions that breakdown the natural process that is the transmission of sound waves and our human perception of them and turn it into a scientific and analytical idea. It’s an album that keeps us in check and reminds us that what we call music has a rather subjective definition and that at the end of the day, it is still nothing more than an agglomeration of sounds and noises and that those are nothing more than the perfectly predictable and well understood fluctations in air pressure from the object to our ears.

Ps, you can listen to the album in full from their Bandcamp in the player below:

Richard Haswell – Asteroids (2013)

Upcoming release on Rhubarb Music, Richard Haswell and Asteroids

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Releasing 22 albums is no mean feat, and yet this is exactly the number that Richard Haswell has produced over the course of his career, under his own name as well as a couple of aliases. Admittedly, I’ve only heard of Richard and his work (under the Rhubarb pseudonym) but I’ve never actually listened to any of his work, so Asteroids is my virgin encounter with his material, and I’m pleasantly surprised for someone who appears to operate out of his home and record on his laptop (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Now, I’m a bit, ok a lot, out of practice when it comes to reviewing music that contains lyrics. It’s been some time since I’ve had to unravel the intricacies of lyrics and it hasn’t been an easy reintroduction with Haswell, whos songs are laid out more like stories in some cases as opposed to that more typical poetic or rhythmic meter. I must say, it’s quite nice not to have the endlessly repeated, entirely predictable verse-chorus-verse structure once again. Unusually titled opener “Jarvik-13” is a really impressive start to the album and introduces is immediately to that storylike or almost conversational attitude on a bed of meaty lo-fi guitar and nicely propelling percussion. It’s bold and determined and unlike on later tracks, Haswell uses a second set of quieter vocals to give his message a boost in strength and credibility as opposed to the later personal comfort and affirmation. Here he is seen to take the moral highground, as he says:

“But I was never one to vent
I’ll just quietly remember every word you’ve said
This will feed my motivation”

That kind of home-grown vibe really does seem to come through on “Routinely Armed”, which oddly enough is not the longest track in playtime yet contains more lyrics than any other track. There’s an oddly flat and anechoic tone to Haswell’s voice, as always supplemented and reinforced quietly by himself in the background, a form of aural reinforcement and comfort. There’s lots of skittering percussion here as well as crooning, wailing guitars as Richard takes a possibly political turn in his work as policemen are mentioned as the track enters its final phase, but even throughout it becomes clear that he is unhappy as he talks of humanity and “lording [it] from your pulpit”, quite apt for these politically terse times.

Tracks like “The Distance Between You and I” have something of a Post-Rock feel to them with the vast guitar-drone leads, sparse content and slow builds. Even the vocals feel muffled and lo-fi to help build that mood. The more I read the lyrics sheets, the more I think that the “relationships” I mentioned earlier are not between a person but more an entity, as possibly hinted at in the political undercurrents of “Routinely Armed”. As the defocused, lo-fi guitar goes into a sweet breakdown I cant help but feel like Haswell’s references to “former glories” and gulfs and the thickening of his skin that he’s aiming his sights not at an individual but at a group, that former agreements and relatedness has been lost and he’s beginning to see the subtle changes that have generated this gap in opinions.

We have a late-album instrumental track actually in “The Water Poet” which is appreciated. Admittedly I would have been happier to have seen it break up some of the meatier tracks of the album a little, bridge a few gaps with some nice interludes, but alas. I’m not mistaken it also uses an unusual instrument listed as a “cardboard Appalacian dulcimer”, which has a jovial, tinkling sound not too dissimilar from a harpischord, which does seem a little odd juxtaposed against the grating, noisy guitars and high electronic warbles of “Surfacing”.

I was told by Richard that closer “The Thinner The Ice” was widely accepted to be the best track of the album from what feedback he’d received and I’m in some ways inclined to agree. It’s quite a slow moving piece that relies much more heavily on the acoustic guitar to create a more downtempo attitude not seen much in the preceding album, and seems to help bring us closer to Haswell’s voice, make it a bit more intimate. It’s also something (in my mind) of the continuation of the thread picked up by those other seemingly politically orientated tracks like “The Distance Between You and I”, raising references of hungry sharks whilst also admitting to the desire to forgive and forget but seeming to resign to the fact that it is too late as he closes with the eerily poignant lines:

“This is damage
This is permanent damage”

I’m probably way off track here and we probably are dealing with a cut-and-dry album that talks of the pangs and pains of relationships as opposed to all these political undercurrents I feel like I’m introducing for my own personal gratification, but whatever way you chose to approach Haswell’s album, whether that be from the heartbroken, love-damaged relationship perspective or the eerily similar political aspect, you can’t deny that this is a finely polished and intelligently crafted album that manages to plant itself nicely between the familiar and the ever-so-slightly uncoventional, and pulls it off very well indeed.

AUN – Alpha/Heaven (2013)

AUN’s 8th full length album soon to be released on the Denovali record label, Alpha/Heaven.

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There was an interesting discussion that I was reading earlier today about the amount of time that people seemed to think was necessary to sink into an album before coming to a conclusion. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot and something I’ve yet to decide upon; I make it mandatory to listen to an album at least 3 times before a rating/review but sometimes I feel this isn’t enough, especially when I feel that I have to force an album upon myself (ie, review submissions). Some of the time I’m introduced to albums I really love right off the bat and am happy to plug a lot of time into, other times I’m not so sure.

I’m going to come out and say it, there’s not point beating around the bush here, I don’t like this album, and that’s ok. I can’t like everything and I’ve made clear that this site is nothing more than personal opinion as opposed to critical review. Perhaps it is, as I have mentioned, due to the lack of time I’ve invested in this album that I don’t appreciate it fully, but I feel that, at the present moment, this album is relatively unremarkable and, frankly, boring.

AUN does an alright job at invoking atmopshere throughout, it must be said, but what I feel he isn’t so good at is maintaining a level of consistency and interest. This album is an hour long and during that time I very rarely feel emotionally invested in what this album has to say. As it stands at the moment, I have no idea what the overwhelming theme or concept of this release actually is. Some tracks, like “Vulcan”, “La Luna” and “Voyager” seem to point towards a more alien and spacious affair, employing fractured, disjointed vocals, thin electronic drones and oscillating synths. “La Luna” stands out in particular with its minimal, ethereal echoes and delicate construction, as well as the opposing closer “Return To Jupiter” which comes across surprisingly strong throughout its 10 minute duration in its rapidly rising and falling quavering synth notes and driven percussion.

But there is another side to this album that doesn’t really fit into that whole space ethos; the opener “Koenig” and much of the tracks that immediately follow it (“Returna”, “War Is Near”, “Viva”) don’t exactly match that aesthetic and either simply cruise along and not do anything in particular or add to the atmopshere (“Returna”), or move in completely opposing directions as they introduce beat structures and rhythms (“Viva”). Which makes no sense considering the rest of the album seems to take the tack of, as previously mentioned, this space-exploration/alien theme. Perhaps this is what the title alludes to; Alpha and Heaven as opposed to Alpha and Omega? Religious ideologies in the first half vs scientific in the latter? I’m not sure.

What I suppose I’m trying to say in a roundabout, extremely wordy sort of way is that I don’t feel like there’s a solid, continuous, logical train of thought throughout this release. Ok, there are some tracks that more than make up for the rather lacklustre beginning (especially the closer and the beautiful interlude of “Peacecalm”) but I can’t help feel that AUN is, like I am now, waffling a little bit. It’s a long album and I don’t feel compelled to listen to it, it’s one of the albums I’ve been putting off all week. It’s frustrating to think that there are such gems in it like “Return To Jupiter” when the album as a unified whole is pretty uninspiring. It is what it is, make of it what you will but I found myself bored and distracted throughout.