Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven (2013)

First release of the experienced electronic artist Daniel Lopatin on the exclusive Warp label, R Plus Seven.

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I’ve never been an OPN man personally; every album of his that I’ve heard has always been a confused jumble of sounds and ideas; piercing, emotionally deficient electronic/ambient that meanders along at its own weird pace. It was especially obvious in his collaborative album last year with Tim Hecker Instrumental Tourist, where Hecker’s neat, exacting dreamscapes collided disharmoniously with Lopatin’s crazed and illogical wafflings, dragging the entire album down in a confused haze of half-completed jams. I didn’t, therefore, have high hopes for this new album, but as it turns out I’ve found myself progressively falling in love with it.

Opener “Boring Angel” introduces itself on a bed of organ drone, something which makes its way into the fray on occasion throughout the album. Carefully it builds up, spreading its wings with synth arpeggios that suddenly jump in tempo and start strobing. It’s certainly far from boring as the track unwinds itself, slowly phasing out the electronic melodies and reverting back to the blissful organ ambience from the start. It moves a little awkwardly (admittedly this is a leak so there are some possible faults) into the tropical “Americans”, and it’s like something lifted out of a Secede album. Flashes and flutters of MIDI samples weave in and out of the mix, children’s voices and “ahhhhh”s propelled with jovial percussion, before the track bottoms out in the middle and grinds along in a rising haze of dark drone and glitch beats where it once again changes track and decides to return to the lightweight sampling from its start, with crazed and syncopated percussion fighting for its chance to be heard in a brilliant closing statement.

“He She” moves into somewhat more menacing territory during its 1:34 duration, cruising along at a relatively unadventurous pace before finally cutting off into “Inside World”. Some might find the sickeningly increasing frequency of MIDI samples here somewhat unappealing, but its quiet ambience interrupted with bursts of sporadic samples are like heartbeats or breaths of life into the track, introducing currents of music and trying to revive the dying organism. The disjointed snippets of violins, voices and songs are like the intermittent firings of neurons bridging and remembering, trying to reignite and restart themselves.

As we reach the mid album one of the better tracks appears, “Zebra”. A semblance of rhythm finally appears in this quasi-EDM piece with its strong synth attacks and smeared vocal cries. It comes and goes, cycling through these glitchy riffs and the more drone focused periods of calm, but there’s never a crossover; like the zebra’s stripes it’s always black and white, the delineation between dance and ambient, between calm and energetic, is a strong line in the sand. Interestingly it appears that calm wins out, as for most of the latter part of the track the vigourous electronica dies away and low-key ambience takes over.

This respite of calm thoughtfulness continues on in the especially quiet and introspective “Along”, cruising along effortlessly on a bed of unobtrusive drone for its first half and only slightly creeping out of its shell around 3 minutes in as chimes and panpipe samples cut through, and snippets of birdsong and water drips float in alongside. Again it has a strong Secede vibe to it, and almost a Balam Acab-esque attitude towards the very end as we get a few dark beats in the fray. But this peacefulness doesnt last long as we’re thrown right back into the deep end with chaser “Problem Areas”. Possibly the most driven piece of the album so far it sustains a repetitive wet synth riff going throughout, tacking on those MIDI vocal glitches and other spurious chunks of electronica as and when before flatlining into a wall of organ drone.

“Cryo” makes sure we have something to cool down to before the final two tracks, which is most definitely necessary. Its cold bells and drone and distal shimmering synths balance that energy out once more alongside thick, slowed down drum beats as we move into penultimate “Still Life”, a dark and oppressive track. It’s hard to get a bearing on what exactly OPN is trying to put across in any of his pieces really but in this one especially so; sometimes it crawls with a claustrophobic darkness filled with heavy bass beats, other times a more serene attitude is taken with droning vocals and light shimmers of synth. Then out of nowhere in the core of the track is a surprisingly rhythmic sequence of thick percussion and piercing minor key riffs. It’s a bit all over the place to tell the truth.

Finally we get to the last track of the album, and one of my favourites, “Chrome Country”. Its spacious 70’s synth introduction is gorgeous as it’s accompanied by pleasant piano skitterings and the blurry MIDI samples of child vocals, a nice cooldown at the end of a confusing and complex affair. It still feels extremely detailed and introspective though, relishing these moments of quiet as it languishes on intermittent beds of electronic sound, not planning on doing anything extravagant before it bows out to a brief interlude of impassioned organ playing to finally finish the album off where it started.

I guess this turned out somewhat lengthier and less emotionally resonant than I initially anticipated because R Plus Seven, like all of his other albums, still leaves me questioning what I’ve heard and somewhat dubious as to the cold precision of the electronic, and in many ways in a processing state as to the texture and sample barrage I’ve just been subjected to. The short conclusion is that I like this, a lot; it comes across a bit stark and meandering (very meandering at times), but there’s a cheekiness in the balance of energetic sampling and cool drone that makes this album extremely compelling at times as we have to wonder continuously just what he’s going to throw at us next.

Hakobune – Dead Leaves Crumble (2013)

I must admit that I am sceptical when approaching prolific artists; his 3rd album this year and 20th over the last 6 is certainly an elevated level of output but it seems that Hakobune has not suffered in the slightest as he unveils his latest guitar-lead drone work, Dead Leaves Crumble.

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It’s funny that we’re reminded of uncomfortable truths in occasional, infrequent waves, alarming reminders of undesirable things we try to keep ourselves away from and thinking about. I’m talking about mortality at this point, perhaps one of humanities biggest fears. I don’t want to go into too much detail but this album and its concepts have come along at a particular time when I’ve been thinking greatly about the fragility of life and of those that I care about.

With that we’re introduced to the first of this album’s two tracks, “Salvia Greggi Broken”. Named after a small flowering plant found at altitude, it harbours none of the airs of beauty and humility of this little flower. What it is is a delicate masterpiece of slow motion intrigue and sadness. Built on a bed of guitar drones and thin pulses of sparkling currents it ebbs and flows, the decaying leaves browning and shriveling, blowing helplessly in the wind. It’s a sad sight to behold and Hakobune keeps us trapped in death’s gaze for 15 minutes with this piece, unwavering in its resolve and continually cycling through the same notes in a paralysing, hypnotic stare. Here at the edge of Summer it’s difficult to remember what Autumn last year was like, a colourful display of decay and collapse that this track finds itself at the heart of, with the bare emptiness of Winter at the doorstep.

The second track of the album, the title track, also follows the 15 minute limit imposed by the former, but this time round we face a piece that breaks free of the dark and claustrophobic confines. The drone in many ways is the same; carefully and almost imperceptibly looped sequences gently rising and falling and creeping along at a glacial pace, but there is a subtle shift in the atmosphere and in how the drone shimmers and reverbs that gives it the sensation of yearning and progression. The fact that Hakobune has done little to the music itself except raise the pitch and give it a slight flutter and not keep it flat and anechoic echoes how potent slight changes in Drone music are and how delicate the line it treads is. “Dead Leaves Crumble” is the flip side, the hopefulness and desire to move on, knowing that there will be another Summer and another opportunity to see the flowers again following the sadness of Autumn.

In the 30 minutes of Dead Leaves Crumble, Hakobune actually takes us through a surprising rollercoaster of emotion, if you’re willing to put in the effort. It may not seem like it on the surface but through the minimal and effortless drones conjured here he tackles the darkest fear of all, death, and then its aftermath. He reminds us that we just have to keep on living, and indeed how the world continues on without us whether we’re ready or not, and before we know it those dark months have passed us by and the good times of Summer come round once more.

Kyle Bobby Dunn – Boring Foothills of Foot Fetishville (2013, Single)

Another day, another long and curiously titled release. Introducing the latest single from Kyle Bobby Dunn, “Boring Foothills of Foot Fetishville”.

Stars of the Lid are a particularly well known and well loved project in the world of Ambient music. Their distinctive style of crystalline, reverbed guitars, drone and smeared orchestral instrumentation filled a niche in the genre and has often been emulated due to not only its success but effortless beauty. More has been said and felt through this minimalist, classical inspired music than most, more texturally and rhythmically complex works. After they separated in 2007 (although they still tour) some artists have taken it upon themselves to continue where SotL left off, and few are doing it with more grace than Kyle Bobby Dunn.

After his 2010 release A Young Person’s Guide To, Kyle has slowly refined this honest emulation, with his two albums last year being the most crystalline and delicate to date. If this recent single is anything to go by I think it’s fair to say any new album is probably going to continue following this trend.

Some of the tags Kyle has put on the Soundcloud page provide a useful insight into the track before we’ve even pressed play; #desperatelyinlove, #hopelesslyinlove, #feet, #feetcheese, the message is clear; we’re willing to put up with people’s quirks and oddities (ie smelly feet) because we care about them, or we would if we had someone to put up with, and this semi-resignation seeps through in the music as well. Swells of thin, reverbed guitar and violin ease in and out of the mix accompanied by richer underlying drone pulses. It’s painfully quiet, the sunbeams floating gently through the closed curtains and warming the room, the muffled rustling of bedsheets and the slow, unlaboured breaths of sleep. It’s a still and early hour before the day starts where we’re allowed to feel either blessed or alone, there’s no bias in the music. Some might find the glacial pace and minimal instrumentation isolating and melancholy, others warm, cosy and replete. It’s masterfully done.

There’s nothing not to like here, and I feel that even those who perhaps are unfamiliar with the genre and perhaps even sceptical of it would find something enjoyable. Find yourself some headphones and a quiet spot and drink it in, let yourself express whatever it is that needs to be felt and just let the delicate drones wash over you.

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