36 – Sun Riders (2014, EP)

36 - Sun Riders (3SIXSEVEN003) - cover

Only a few weeks into the new year and 36’s Dennis Huddleston has already graced us with a new 7″ EP, Sun Riders. Thankfully, it’s only 3 tracks long (or in my case, 3 with an additional bonus track), which is perfect for my time-pressed existence at the moment.

Opener and title track “Sun Riders” reacquaints us with the music that 36 produced in his last full length Shadow Plays, echoing the same sparse and vaguely morose but certainly haunting thin drones onlaps as, say, “Heather Spar”. It hovers closely to the predisposed theme of the album: some yearning childhood desire to explore the stars. There’s a certain innocence and sadness captured within as we look back on those ambitious dreams of our youth when everything was big and exciting and possible. But who needs to be an astronaut when you can explore the stars through the sound of music?

“Enshrine Exit” slowly peels back the sound as we seem to increasingly descend into 36’s youth, the dangerously wavering drones still maintaining a certain level of modernity within his own sound but now accompanied by a faint fuzzing and low fidelity raiments as it slowly circles our aged, thematic Sun. This weathering creates an entirely different approach to the sound; the aging of it seems to give it a certain greater depth and weight and dimension that the drones alone dont support, the slow fraying of those past dreams and desires as the growing realisation of its impossibility slowly crushes it. It ends abruptly before its time to make way for a fractured, spoken word sequence at the end, the crisp and clear female enunciation of numbers (three, six and nine all feature prominently) not far removed from the sound of a pre-launch countdown.

“Hyperbox” is something of an anomaly when it arrives, compared to the more closely related previous two tracks. A welcome anomaly mind you. The toybox approach 36 introduced in his debut Hypersona is back once more in stunning form, tapping, tinkling, gliding and shimmering its way along in a naively beautiful display, like light refracting off the crystal of some elaborate mobile turning slowly overhead.  Or perhaps the imagining of stars whizzing by as seen from the delicate capsule of some space faring vessel. Make no mistake, it’s one of his most uptempo and compelling tracks to date, and it’s gorgeous.

Finally, “Night Light” rolls in delicately to collapse the pace of “Hyperbox”, assuming you have the bonus track. It’s like the recounting of endless sleepless nights staring at the ceiling as the slow xylophones roll by, but there is an underlying menace and anxiety to this peaceful and beauteous foreground in the form of oppressive and dark backing drone, rolling and oscillating in the backfield with just a hint of lo-fi distortion to coarsen its edges. Perhaps its even the juxtaposition of nights of our youth vs now; that young version of ourselves at peace and well rested compared to the older version who is restless with the weight of responsibility. Or maybe I’m just projecting.

It’s a great little EP, clocking in at only 11 minutes or so, and whilst perhaps not quite as emotionally variable as a longer full length there’s still enough content to get your teeth into, and it’s wonderfully crafted and mastered on top. Just a nice, short EP for when you need your hit of wistfulness on the go.

Whilst I dont necessarily condone it, someone has uploaded the entire thing on Youtube, and it you like what you hear maybe you can go to his Bandcamp page and pick it up for yourself, it’s really cheap.

Sádon – Fire/Water (2014, 2xEP)

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Another new release (or pair of releases) fresh off the shelves of the BLWBCK label, this time by the St. Petersburg duo of Sádon, which not only is suspiciously close to label mates Saåad in terms of name but also within the music itself.

The big reveal comes in with the crushing opener of the first EP Fire, with “Desolation”. Monumental guitar drones throb and growl, although that is by far the biggest understatement you could make in describing them, since they come thick and fast as a wall of oscillating, punishing, cathartic noise, accompanied below by slow chords smeared out into crystalline drones that fray at their edges, like tattered flags left out in the elements too long. It’s stark and mean and foreboding, and sounds so much like Saåad it’s disconcerting, but it’s intoxicating nonetheless. Followup “Condor” turns us away slightly to prevent us thinking they’re perhaps out to duplicate a certain sound with a rather harsh melody of lo-fi acoustic guitar and mysterious, moaned vocals distorted in a similar fashion. There’s a certain element of the original character of both elements retained, something vaguely menacing and disconcerting, pushed under a rug of low fidelity processing to wrap it in a certain level of mystery, added to especially in the closing moments of rather playful solo guitar.

The biggest track of the Fire EP “Nameless Soul” follows in “Desolation”‘s footsteps but instead of shoehorning a mountain of fearful, overwhelming loneliness and oppressive catharsis into 4 minutes it carves out a luxurious vista of pained guitar drone, washes of subtle chord changes slowly and almost imperceptibly altering the chaotic and near destroyed fabric of the barely-there melodies. All the while faint and downtrodden vocals bleed out of some void buried beneath the sea of sound, the rolling hills of obliterating guitar. It’s all rather pained and entrancing, and the flip-flopping continues in closer “Dernier Refuge” or “The Last Refuge” as I understand it, which slows the pace to a crawl once again with big, heart-wrenching chords filling up the vast, echoic vacuum that seems to just eat it all up, lightly reverbed the warbling strums on their way to oblivion in this heavy final track.

Except it isn’t, for we actually have another 30 minutes of content ahead of us in the next EP, Water. Opener for this release, the aptly titled “Water Starter”, is rather at odds to much of the material we’ve heard thus far, although it’s rather close stylistically to the previous vocally lead track “Condor”. The lyrics are just a touch clearer and cleaner:

“Life is gonna, going to be

If you give an answer to me”

is repeated heavily during the first half, accompanied by delicate snaps and silky pulses of unusually restrained drone lapping gently on the shores on the piece. A roiling current of noise is barely held back beneath it all, however, and as the track progresses and the piano becomes increasingly clearer the mood becomes darker and more anxious, the roar just submerged under the surface being placated by the gentle lullabies of piano solo, soothing it into submission. It shifts gear into “Born In The Barrel”, which seems to me like it wants to adopt something closer to a Post-Rock style in its slowed crawl of wailing drone and slowly rising, proactive guitar with unintelligible vocals. All of the steam set up in Fire seems to have been quenched and quelled here as we finally hit Sádon at their most introspective.

But even as I say this the even more quiescent “Sleep” rolls into view, practically stripped bare of all its complexity and scale, dialled down to distal and heavily reverbed shushes and rich flushes of languid guitar occasionally breaking through the veil. The track itself is hardly soporific, lending itself less to the act of encouraging sleep and more duplicating its nature, with its detailed emptiness allowing slowed, filtered fragments of outside sensory data to glide into the safe world within as beautiful, idealised worlds glide by while we slumber. Eventually its 12 minute span draws to a quiet close and we’re left with the real final track, “Quit Heaven”. It lives up to its namesake as it tremulously builds layers of delicate, melancholic drone up, layers and currents that beautifully evoke the name of the EP, shifting gracefully as they melt away into one another in a contemplative 4 minutes of careful music. The final fadeout is a little jerky and disappointing, however, but it’s barely noticeable.

On the whole, a rather interesting and well juxtaposed set of EPs, titled perfectly. Fire is perhaps a little inconsistent and less well conceived that Water, which is far more graceful and beauteous and segues well. Fire is more disharmonious and doesn’t seem to have a desire to be pinned down and relies more on the crushing processing to make up for it, which is a little sad. That being said, both are well crafted and well executed and thought provoking.

Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness (2014)

Last year, no, two years ago now, Angel Olsen released her very well accepted debut Half Way Home in 2012, an album built upon the unusual Lo-Fi, Indie Folk and Alternative Pop of her earlier works like her Strange Cacti EP. It wasn’t my favourite album of the year if I’m honest; it introduced her beautiful and unusual voice to me more than anything, but I was never particularly overwhelmed by the sound. That being said when I heard her new album Burn Your Fire For No Witness had leaked I was actually a little bit excited, and that excitement has only grown since I’ve been obsessively consuming this newest release.

And what better way to open the album in the same stellar way as “Acrobat” opened her debut; “Unfucktheworld” bathes Angel’s voice in a simpering fuzz and goosebumping inducing reverb as she peaks in that vaguely hollow vocal style she has truly perfected. The style is minimalistic, sparse, reliant only on similarly processed guitar for melody as she sings enigmatically about, well I’m not entirely sure, failed relationships seems to be the most logical assumption. But it in no way sets the style for the album, as the disparate Indie Rock leads of precursor single “Forgiven/Forgotten” burst into the fray with rushes of abrasive electric guitar and pounding drum kits. In the same way that the opener was a deliberately slow-burning, almost mournful piece, “Forgiven/Forgotten” is a fast-burning, uptempo cathartic rush of sound.

Teen blogger favourite, and admittedly one of mine too, “Hi-Five”, takes a slightly less harsh and driven pace, but keeps hold of the warbling, growling guitar lines.

“And are you lonely too?

And are you lonely too?

High Five!

So am I!”

Angel sings as she overcomes her fears in this romantic piece of fringe Americana; there’s a strange, home town kind of familiarity to the sound, especially when the piano rings out in the closing moments, that just gives it an intimacy and relatability that the last album was missing so desperately. But that’s enough of that; teen angst has its roundabouts as well as swings and “White Fire” crushes the pacing and brings another funereal atmosphere back as the textures are all stripped down to the bare vocals and guitar. It’s stunningly clear and softly sung, and its long (for the album) 7 minute span really highlights her understanding of how to balance her pieces, lending certain lines and verses a bit more resonance as we get left with the distal, lo-fi instrumentation echoing and growling in the backfield.

“High & Wild” is back to blow the cobwebs away again though, it’s not all doom and gloom. Not only does it bring back some of the Rock and Pop facets to the mix it also has Angel’s voice pushed to the limits in its last moments as she lives up to the track’s namesake, singing defiantly and then sending the track spiraling into a crushing void of distorted instruments. And the flip-flopping continues in the ballad that “Lights Out” evolves into, gearing up from its touching Folk roots into a crescendo of Indie Rock guitar and soaring vocals; “Stairs” also does something similar as it opens with a relatively unassuming and frankly somewhat boring melody before it segues rapidly into a fully conceived piece that once more has a euphorically romantic setting.

“Iota” comes and goes unassumingly, not really adding anything to the table that we haven’t already seen already, while “Dance Slow Decades” mirrors its title perfectly, eking out gloriously slow, reverbed guitar and rich piano strokes in its slow-turning light, just gearing up for a more uplifting final few moments as it descends abruptly into the hauntingly minimal “Enemy”. Bereft of any distortion or processing (almost), it’s probably the most direct and intimate track of the album as we get to face off with Angel and her guitar one on one as she sings of a long and tired relationship that seems to be drawing to a close despite their best intentions, but is ultimately in both their best interests. Finally, the stunning closer “Windows” comes in to round things up for us, preferring to stick to her roots a little as we continue the more Folk lead streak of the last few tracks in what is once again another crushingly beautiful and sparse piece. Angel sings hauntingly in these final moments, like probing sunbeams cutting through a smokey darkness of Slowcore instrumentation, asking repeatedly “Are you alive? What’s so wrong with the light?”, questioning why we choose to shut ourselves away.

It’s not out for another month or so (I’ve been a bit cheeky and very premature listening to the leak), but I have a strong feeling this could be one of those early year albums that manages to stick around. It’s got a fantastic balance of styles and a keen understanding of pacing; it’s rarely dull and surprisingly full of suspense: where is Angel going to take this song next? Nothing’s written in stone, it’s very fluid and while much of it is rather depressing, especially in the lyrics, it’s played off somewhat and it never really feels overtly melancholic. A real keeper, very good.