Jasper TX – An Index Of Failure (2013)

Jasper TX’s 9th and last album under the moniker, An Index of Failure.

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It’s always interesting seeing and hearing what it is that doesn’t make the cut; naturally musicians create a much larger array of tracks in preparation for an upcoming release but the large majority probably dont make the final cut for whatever reason: feelings of inadequacy or non-cohesion with the rest of the album, whatever. What is particularly interesting is that Dag Rosenqvist has decided that the last record he will ever produce under this alias is one of offcuts and deadends from previous works, and it’s surprising not only how well it works but how poignant it turns out to be (hindsight or no).

We start with the aptly titled “Abandon”, a short and delicate 4 minuter and for those of us, like me (sadly) who are not particularly well acquainted with the Jasper TX sound it’s a great and poetic introduction to the album; there are Post-Rock undercurrents in the soft guitar work (something that will come on stronger later on), soft background drones and an eagerly rising stature that take the track from softly spoken beginnings to more confident endings. It’s only a short and soft burst of volume but it’s enough to dispel those feelings of worthlessness. It shift gears into what is perhaps my favourite track of the album and perhaps of this year so far in “In All Your Blinding Lights”.

I just love the name of the track, the premise it presents; “In All Your Blinding Lights”. Is it in reference to the city, the never-sleeping labyrinth of towering glass and steel? The myriad of networked roads and the cars and streetlights that populate it? Or is it more introspective, the overbearing persona of an individual. Personal interpretation comes into play of course as we are made familiar with a piece dominated by guitar-driven drone, barely moving fragments of sound accompanied by buried and processed vocal wails and moans, these organic elements merging and becoming one with the artificial sound of the underlying melodies, one with the lights. It ends starkly, the music fading quickly away to be left alone with the disjointed human moans.

We get plenty of time to mull it over as the truly Post-Rock inspired mid-album beauty “Rivers Flow” eases into existence, its 12 minute duration allowing for the opportunity to ruminate as it effortlessly gears up on glacial piano strokes. Its as slow to evolve and as apparently stationary as its namesake, the still waters in the slow main body of the watercourses and the infinite patience of Mother Nature as she slowly manipulates the landscape. Time begins to speed up as grittier electronics arrive and big drone walls begin to power the track; the humanly imperceptible but cumulative attrition of Deep Time made apparent in one cathartic surge. We are only allowed a brief glimpse, however, before the mournful and isolated piano takes the mantle back and continues its peaceful and isolated work alone; it truly is beautiful.

“A New Language” follows up with an equally slow-moving melody but one that is also inherently darker; distal rain can be heard landing and creaking the gutters while the electronica revs up and carves a vista of slightly abrasive drone, like a dark night punctuated by the smears of falling raindrops. A barely audible, lo-fi wind cuts through the noise, just barely weaving its way between and making it through the dense textures, the wind of time and change, before it too is lost and we move into closer “Days Above The Tide”, what I class as perhaps the weakest part of the album and possibly the least cohesive.

The raw acoustic guitar is a little at odds to the processed electroacoustic aspects we have seen previously but this piece is supposed to be that final optimistic closer, the shedding of doubts and worries above the high water mark as Dag lands on new musical shores away from this project. There are still strong Post-Rock vibes and admittedly it does mirror “Rivers Flow” as it strengthens to a bold crescendo of coarse drone and drums in the core of the track but ultimately it’s the most driven and yearning piece of the album, and I can’t help but feel that it’s just a tad out of place.

But “Days Above The Tide” ends eventually, its guitars and drums and drone reduced to silence and the subsequent termination of Dag Rosenqvist’s adventure with Jasper TX. This “Index of Failures” highlights something important; sometimes we make choices to cut things out of our lives, the tracks that don’t make sense in the context of our existence, and it’s possible that we may regret them, but once it’s all said and done and we come to the end of our days just like Dag has with this project I think we begin to realise possibly how trivial those decisions were in the grand scheme and how foolish we were to spend time agonising over them and languishing in regret. They aren’t failures, they’re just choices; erroneous or not, there’s never any need to add any weight to them. Normally that realisation is far too late coming.

Keep Shelly In Athens – Recollection (2013, Single)

Last year, on a random, uneventful Monday night, I spent £5 on a ticket to go and see a band that I’d loved for a long time live; Keep Shelly In Athens. I even did a writeup on it (HERE) not just because I do for most of the live performances I go to but also because it was excellent; these guys have been producing quality Chillwave since 2010 and I’ve loved them right from the get go; whether it’s their earlier “elevator music” vibe of blissed out 70’s ambience ala In Love With Dusk or their more poppy, lo-fi synth dripping work from Our Own Dream I was smitten and enthralled. To learn that they were producing their debut LP this year was incredible news to me, and when this fresh single was released the hype only grew.

Previous fans of KSIA’s work will undoubtedly see the similarity between this and some of their older material but there is an inescapable polish here that has never previously been present. The vocals are lush and characteristically bleary and enigmatic, even featuring a slight glitch, and the music is significantly more beat orientated and unusually clear; obviously they’ve wisened up in the last few years and really brought their game faces for their first album. The guitar has become much less prominent and the percussion is what really dominates the skyline.

Anyway, this is less a review and more of a “bringing this to your attention” type of deal, with Keep Shelly In Athens releasing their debut album At Home on September 17th via Cascine, so if you liked this I highly recommend giving these guys a listen.

36 – Shadow Play (2013)

Well I’m finally back from Scotland, in the realm of stable and permanent Internet and free time, and therefore it’s time to review at long last the latest album from the 36 project, Shadow Play.

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It’s funny how, when we actually take a long, hard look at our lives, how much there is that is outside of our control; I think we like to fool ourselves as to how much influence we actually have on the things we do and the things we care about but the reality is that, like shadows, we are controlled by external factors, each one driving us and manipulating us in some way. With that in mind, let us now enter the world that 36 has created on this, his most mature and intelligent album to date.

Opener and title track “Shadow Play” brings forth a Drone sound somewhat unlike anything he’s produced before now, with the possible exception of “Saphron”. These thick, faux-string drones are not the dark and oppressive tracks we heard on Hollow or Lithea, they’re practically optimistic and yearning, if a little excessive at over 9 minutes long. There are still whispers of his old work coming through in the minimal vocals and delicate bleeps but something just doesn’t quite sit well with me; it feels like Uncanny Valley territory as it approaches the familiar but is just different enough to make it strange.

But then the beautiful sadness of “Ofelia” chases it up and we’re plunged right back into nostalgia as the fugue descends and a much more serene and clouded drone fog envelops us and tugs on the heart-strings, balancing quavering synths alongside the lo-fi drone haze. That helplessness certainly comes across strongly here, and the extended track length and repetition make it feel like there’s no end in sight. Yet there is always hope, always an opportunity to break free, something which the delicate “Dawnspace” offers us, quietly feeding buried snippets of birdsong and gently reassuring notes to soothe our troubled souls and blow away the darkness building up.

This streak of great tracks culminates in my personal favourite, and possible all time favourite 36 track, “Breathless”. It reminds me a little of “Shiny Tiny Stars” by Loveliescrushing in the manner which it introduces these pulses, these waves, of ambience towards the listener as well as the heavily obscured female vocal samples. Its tidal nature is paralysing in the same way that I can spend hours just watching the waves lap at the shore; always fundamentally the same but each time slightly different. “Ascension” is something of a curveball in the heart of the album, but a neat one at that; I believe this is actually a reference to the start of the game Bioshock: Infinite, both in the track title and the spoken words that close the piece: “Hallelujah”. Like the game it is a transcendental process; the quirky, grinding synths count down to the hard, juddering acceleration of the vast whining guitars that tear through the core of the track, but ultimately fading away as the atmosphere is abandoned and we see black in the cockpit window, propelling us away from the troubles in “the Sodom below”. It’s a surprising track, but a corker, 36 to the very end.

“Eclipse” comes in like some reappropriated “Arc” from Hollow, a shimmering wall of barely moving light that slowly but surely becomes corrupted by the darkness, a slowly encroaching wash of oscillating beats and a low fidelity fuzz that attempts to erode the purity and literal presence of the sunlight itself. Of course, this never truly happens, as the Moon only ever partially occludes the Sun but it is a shortlived event and once it’s over things simply return to their previous state having ridden through the threat of night in the day, of impending darkness and sadness.

Things start to get a little complicated as we approach the end; the mysteriously titled “Heather Spa” briefly flashes distant and almost indistinguishable sounds at us; at times like some bleary, smeared laughter, others like screams and shouts of a regrettable past made all the more poignant (and probable) by the surprisingly dominant violins. It’s a long piece, as many of them are on this record, and there is still something nagging at me that it’s a little overblown and unnecessarily exorbitant in length but the eerie peacefulness and carefully smothering audio keep us away from the fear and revolt lurking darkly below, and it’s captivating. Finally closer “Dangerous Days” serenades us out on antithetic beacons of shining drone that betray their namesake, once more following that trend of deception and carefully compensating or even completely covering up the true problems and misery.

What’s so unusual in regards to 36’s work is the extreme cohesion and truly thematic nature of Shadow Play; that’s not to say that Hypersona didnt have that child-like naivety or Hollow that dark homesickness, it’s just that they were a bit looser compositionally, with more experimentality and variability in the sounds presented. Shadow Play takes that feeling of uselessness and disconnection from reality and repurposes it, drowns it out and turns it around, and it’s charted perfectly throughout the record’s duration. Don’t be a shadow, letting your life get ruled and manipulated, become the manipulator and take it back, that’s the message here, and a clear one at that. Stunning.