Selaxon Lutberg – Symboli Accidentali (2013)

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For the third album under the Selaxon Lutberg alias, Andrea Penso has come back with a new release titled “Accidental Symbols” with the express purpose of demonstrating to us the impact that certain life events have upon us in our early years. Not only how these events affected us at the time but also further down the road as we become adults and these opinions and thoughts begin to solidify. At least, that’s the idea anyway, an insight into Penso’s formative years through Ambient music.

We open with the illustriously titled “Untitled 1” – all the tracks are similarly untitled – to a little wiggle of fluttering synth, an odd injection of life into an otherwise melancholy matrix of subsequent dark drones and cloying, reverbed, slow guitar. There’s a thick sub-bass that permeates the piece also, a deepseated rumble carefully ebbing and flowing as the processed guitar loops continue their depressing migration above. There’s a Douglas Adams quote that I feel is marginally appropriate here;

“In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move”.

It feels like Penso is mirroring this sentiment as it fills with something akin to depression and teenage angst, contemplating the worthlessness of existence. “Untitled 2” comes right in to pick up the pieces but does not serve to lighten the mood, simply diffusing the tensions created. It’s only a short interlude, a little intermission filled with fuzzy drones, but it’s enough.

“Untitled 3” has a light on the horizon. Through the thick, jaded organ fog come these little slivers of light, some utterly unrecognisable instrumentation cutting through the fugue in gentle waves in these slowly looping pulses. The whole track is sparse, unchaotic, almost menacingly peaceful, like the fringe of some past battle site. There’s no wistfulness here, only fact, just a somewhat clear memory that has for some reason stuck, something in the slowly clearing air after a period of mourning. As we move into the mid-album with “Untitled 4” this hazy lightness continues on, becoming progressively more prominent in these, what sound like, tired tape loops. There’s still a lingering sadness in the slow, thin melodies but it’s clearing now.

It’s getting menacing and darker again in “Untitled 5” however; a cycling bass beat starts kicking through the track like a heartbeat, a creepy sustained rhythm that the unsettling field recordings and wavering organ drones thrive off. Gradually, second by second, the whole thing moves in a great wave as it gains height and mass, growing in volume and power, some threatening event creating tension and questioning realities progressively escalating. It eventually plateaus off in a moment of hesitation and then it’s gone, the moment passed. And “Untitled 6” also passes this moment off as anomalous as the album picks right up where it left off. Looped vocal fragments come through strongly and have a surprisingly powerful influence on the direction of this track, even though I think it is an unnecessary introduction.

Fortunately “Untitled 7” does away with the gratuitous female intrusion and strikes a generally more evocative tone by suppressing the sound of the human voice, instead injecting it into the mix as distal and echoic splinters of noise sounding ghostly and ethereal, like trying to remember a long forgotten face and conversation. They blend seamlessly with the background noise of our mind, these glacial, thick drones probably composed of heavily distorted organ, mirroring the difficulties we have in retaining memories as they rise up in heavy waves with the voices, desperately searching our memory banks but ultimately overshadowing that which they seek in the first place. Finally “Untitled 8” picks up the mantel to lead us out, away from Penso’s early years and into his adult life. The summary of all those agglomerated moments brought to bear in the closer. Bent, drawn out guitars are detectable once again, leading out their own micro-drones alongside the more powerful organ, but both merging together at times to further instill this idea of change and influence. It is a depressing finisher though, a casting glance back at our young lives we’re leaving behind and feeling pangs of regret and a desire to return, this nostalgia and sadness creeping over us in these slow drone washes.

Is it possible to get a sense of what these events in Penso’s early life were? Not really, but we are given an insight into the emotional rollercoaster that it was. Largely we either look back at the better moments with a pang of wist and a desire to return, but also the more sad and lonely moments with those same sensations and a certain desire to avoid that feeling again. We’ve learnt enough in these formative years, it’s finally time to move on and start using that knowledge. It’s clearly a deep and heartfelt release but it’s hard to see the framework and while easy to emapthise with, not so easy to sympathise with. Not as enthralling on repeat listen but decent nonetheless.

Album to be released on the 15th November via Denovali.

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Teen Daze – Glacier (2013)

It’s odd that, for all the Chillwave I’ve explored over the past 3 years, Teen Daze have never been one of the bands I bothered putting any time into, until now as they come along with their fourth full length LP Glacier.

As it happens, two Chillwave records have come my way in a short timespan, this record and Brothertiger’s sophomore album Future Splendors. I did recently pan the new Brothertiger album though for one very good reason; it’s stagnant. This is an issue that comes up time and again with many artists within the genre and one of the reasons why it’s often considered to be dying; so many artists who remain within its confines have no longer taken it upon themselves to bother with progression. It pains me that there is so much scope left within Chillwave that nobody is making much use of it. That is except, Teen Daze.

Glacier opens to the lovingly mellow sounds of “Alaska” and I already know this is going to be a beautiful and different listen. Soft swells of piano are assisted by swathes of softly reverbed vocals, cruising easily before a few downtempo rhythms are brought to the fore in the latter half where it picks up a little speed and energy. The engineered percussion is carefully hidden beneath some distally tolling synth note and enigmatic female voice before guitar comes into the mix towards the end. It’s a surprisingly driven piece at the end, but hovers more on the Ambient Pop boundary than anything else. “Autumnal” comes in swiftly with a largely warmer attitude; a playful synth riff and some sparkling drone in the backfield make this a surprisingly bright and lush track, a little bit of percussion giving it some momentum through the cooling days. Here, here is the epitome of the Chillwave movement; easygoing beats, downtempo atmosphere, a hint of warmth, just cool.

So far we’ve had nothing really indicative of the album’s title, but “Ice On The Windowsill” has the potential to change that. It’s chilly and restrained vocals barely audible in the mix but there’s a sense of encroaching coldness in this piece as the drums become increasingly relegated, replaced by light cymbal splashes and thin synth excursions.

I will fall into you,

I have fallen in love

Repeats the vocalist, serenaded by these gloriously downtempo beats. It’s wistful, desiring the soon to come cold times approaching and the opportunities to simply stay indoors and watch the frozen world from the cosy reprieve of the bedsheets. “Tundra” flies open to some organ-like wall of hovering sound, slowly introducing electronica snippets and guitar into its soundscape and carefully the melody begins to emerge from this otherwise frozen wasteland. Fragments of life and activity in all its multiplicity slowly becoming known and increasingly prominent in this unusual piece as arpeggiated synth sequences, something that would otherwise smack of being an interlude if it wasn’t nearly 5 minutes in length.

“Flora” oddly enough is introduced with something sounding akin to a katabatic wind, some noisy and distant abrasive current of stuttering air blowing fresh snow from the mountaintops. It’s quickly relegated, however, and a more electronic melody is brought back to where it belongs. Alas, it’s not such an interesting piece as the mid-album continues to sound a bit stale with its barely audible birdsong and running water suppressed under what sound like the propulsive melodies of a country coming back into spring, really upbeat and empowered. The ending is sublime though as it rises up in this cacophonous roar of noisy feedbacked synth before terminating abruptly.

“Listen” is the last bastion of vocals on the album (of which there are admittedly few) before we tumble into the final tracks. Once more they act more as textural assistance as opposed to definitive and deliberate lyrics in their own right. The whole affair is very low key and unsurprising, keeping a nice, gently beat going throughout while we’re distantly serenaded. We’re encouraged to listen but it’s just so hard when we can’t make it out, although that of course is the point. Eventually it sort of peters out which is perfect since it moves straight into the longest and best piece of the album, “Forest At Dawn”. The rhythmic devices of the past are replaced by this positively tape music inspired piece; a gorgeously crafted loop of lo-fi synth slowly grows as the light filters through the trees. Everywhere we look we see the same unending expanse of trees and leaves coming into view as they become illuminated, tickles of shiny synth beams and upwellings of vocal cries make for one stunning penultimate track.

This attitude thankfully continues into the similarly gorgeous closer “Walk”, encompassing a similar style of repetitive loops but taking it so much more slowly and carefully, each pulse a distinctive step that’s savouring the sights and enjoying the moment. At first glance it feels melancholic but it’s only when each of the notes is heard in their appropriate sequence and not just on their own when the entire entity becomes more beautiful and more hopeful than it would otherwise suggest. It’s so sparse and lo-fi and so precisely measured in its progression that it’s making me well up a little bit. This wash of lightweight granular noise begins to seep in and our vision blurs in these optimistic closing moments of the album before the sensation fades away forever.

Now that I have picked it apart a little bit I’ve started to see the places where it is weakest, but it has made me appreciate the beautiful moments all that more. Chillwave isn’t all about the beats and the tropical, summery attitudes it’s so often ascribed to, nor the deliberately obfuscated vocals, it’s about cool downtempo atmospheres and easygoing melodies we can get a sense of nostalgia from. Glacier craves the Summer sun as much as any other Chillwave release, make no mistake, but unlike others it acknowledges the frigid and slow beauty of Winter that we must inevitably pass through, and its presence only makes the recurrence of Summer all the more welcome. Clever, intimate and superficially uncomplicated, I like it a lot.

Shame it’s on such a shit label

Segue – Blue (2013)

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It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster these past 10 days where I haven’t been posting, filled with deadlines and workloads and drunk nights. Rest assured there is a backlog, this album being one of them, but I decided I wanted to write about an album that I found a bit more relatable, a bit more relevant to these recent days. Segue released an album at the start of the year, Pacifica, a Dub Techno affair with a strong sub-tropical, downtempo vibe, and I was expecting something similar from this release as well, but was pleasantly surprised to find a much more sparse, Ambient dominated album creeping out of the mix.

We open with “Centrifuge”, a track that perfectly sets the mood for the album to follow. It cruises effortlessly on a slowly climbing bed of Loscil reminiscent drone, shimmering beams of wavering light to accompany the unusual oscillations of some softly shaken instrument, like a glass filled with sand, this little abrasive current of shushing sound counterbalancing the mournful and slow procession of drones proceeding below. It’s contents are clearly separated and indeed separating throughout the course of the track, the only two facets of the sound becoming increasingly distinct from one another as they whirl around the machine. “Winter Warm” takes a different track and begins to pad out the soundstage a little bit, with bleary images of distant waves crashing amidst equally reverb-drenched tolling synth notes. The air is heavy and cold but there is a personal warmth and sense of security here as we watch the waves crash on the beach huddled in our coats under an overcast sky.

“Karma” brings back powerful Loscil vibes once again, reminiscent of his Plume days with this barely evolving, hazy piece; as beautiful as it is, it is somewhat unremarkable. Thin textures slowly circle the plughole, wrapping those piercing synth drone notes once again over one another, the warmer undertones buried away and married to a lo-fi underbelly filled with light glitches, cracks and pops in the uneven surface. It goes away pretty quickly though into my favourite and longest track of the album “Be The Enemy Of The Bad”. It proceeds carefully, hesitantly, slowly building a delicate loop from something akin to one of those little toyboxes, assisted by some far removed rustling and scrapings, a figure circling in the backfield, not willing to come closer. This war of attrition is not won alone however and eventually we’re assisted with the return of denser accompanying drone sequences to pad the track out and give it some help. The eventual crescendo never really arrives but the point has been made as the forceful organic instrumentation eventually overshadows everything with its assertion before it slowly backs out.

The appropriately titled “Sublime” begins to diffuse some of the tension building up through the mid-album. It’s difficult to describe as the track begins to take hold; warm drone currents wash away the thoughtless repetition of the last track and replace it with a new and comforting message. It becomes a sheltered haven of delicate instrument fragments and towards its closing moments the slow strokes and picks of an acoustic guitar help round off the optimistic vibe and cosy atmosphere set out before us. The followup “Taken” is positively the most lightweight, even upbeat, track of the album, it’s guitar returning once more to create a more jovial atmosphere alongside birdsong snippets and warm stringed drones. Like “Winter Warm” it mirrors the concept of the Winter but throws a warmer, softer light on otherwise grey proceedings as we actually grow the enjoy the cold and wet days where we have to remain indoors, contented, not doing anything.

The final track of the album lands on the mysteriously titled “Morally Subsidised”, featuring the well known IDM artist Pleq. Compared to the album that has led up to its closing moments, “Morally Subsidised” is a surprisingly stark closer, losing some of the throes of reverb and ethereal drone and replacing them with more crisp electronic tolls and glitch swathes running intermittently up through the track like bubbles of energy in this otherwise rather quiet and cold system. That being said it’s not devoid of character and still leads us on with the same minimal progression as the rest of the lot.

Blue may not be the album that will leap to the forefront of many people’s minds when they think of the more memorable albums of the year, not even for myself, but it’s a nice and uncomplicated listening experience without expectation and fuss. There is a temptation to call its bare-boned, careful progressions boring, and I can see the reasoning, but I like the intimate attitudes and attention to detail this album clearly details. Love went into crafting this, to get us to remember the peace and solace in the impending Winter nights that we’ve forgotten about since last year’s. We might find ourselves torn and somewhat melancholy about the prospect but try to remember the crisp air and long nights this album evokes, and the homely warmth that accompanies it.