Richard Ginns – Fall, Rise (Twice Removed Records, 2014)

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Richard Ginns made this record because he almost died. That’s a rather dramatic way to open an introduction to your album, or a review, but his inspiration for this release was being caught in a snowstorm and whiteout conditions whilst in the French Alps. One might very well make the assumption that the music within the record will be heavy, cloying, dark ambient constructions filled with fear and morbid introspection, but the opposite largely appears to be true, as Richard instead focuses on the details and the minutiae of his surroundings rather than the tenuous situation at hand.

Opener “(Fall)” introduces us to the acute minimalism of the album as it immediately dives in at the failing visibility beginning of our story, careful to make note of the distinct lack of textural inclusions within its span, the absence of any useful or meaningful information in our surroundings, obliterated by snow. A hissing static unfolds in the backfield, a cornerstone of many of the tracks, supplemented by processed and fragmented drone elements and field recordings; every gurgle of water and crunch of the snow under our feet suddenly hyper-acute and important. The mind begins to play tricks as well, perhaps, in followup “The Colour of Winter” as it introduces bursts of voices and children’s distant murmurings intermittently, each one snatched away by the wind as abruptly as they appear. There’s something vaguely nostalgic in the sound though, something in the delicate presentation and increasing warmth through the track as its textures peak and birdsong arrives at the end that feels weirdly hopeful and optimistic, like an active retrospection.

This sound is at odds with the expected mournful and depressed air of this album, which does make an appearance despite everything. “Warm Now” feels like the slow realisation of the succumbing to hypothermia as it spins out delicate webs of vaguely menacing and melancholic drones, suddenly low-fidelity and arrived in pulses of activity, moments of lucidity in an otherwise fading mind. They go well with the alarm bells that ring suddenly and shockingly out through this hazy void, and supplement the murmuring of concerned and far-away voices that settle deep in the mix, full of tension and worry as they whisper unintelligible nothings wondering how and where we are. It goes well with one of the album’s strongest pieces, the beautiful 8 minuter “Drifting, Almost Covered” where violin makes a mournful and heavy appearance in its slow drones and increasingly decaying production. The sound of rustling rain and snow becomes thicker and heavier as the piece goes on, an increasing sense of urgency unfolding as the snow gets deeper and our energy is depleted. Truly a striking track.

In between the two is the anxious couplet of “Beneath Out Feet” and “Far From Home”, both entertaining similar sonic tropes as the former merges gracefully into the latter, its slow builds and delicate tinklings making way for more empowered guitar lines and stuttering, rolling glitch noises. Despite the chaos there’s a fragile beauty to both the pieces that’s slowly tempered and ballooning, gaining traction especially in the latter moments of “Far From Home” as things suddenly clear and shimmery, elongate drone notes rise in beautiful and hopeful celebration. It pairs well with the closer “(Rise)” which bookends the album, reinforcing those hopeful moments and abandoning the many fugues summoned up across its duration. There’s a certain elegance and smoothness to the music here; no longer shambling randomly along to the staccato glitch and confused, fragmented drone it glides sleekly on an icy placid drone line as bright little instrumental kisses break its surface, all falling softly away as we return home and to safety at last.

Certainly the context of the album changes its interpretation significantly, especially since it almost feels at times like the sequence of the record is perhaps a little off, or does that perhaps simply reinforce it? The narrative as confused and tumultuous as the ordeal itself? I like this record as an experience, it’s deeply immersive in its storytelling, but I’m not sure I’m quite sold on the individual pieces outside of their home, with the exception of “Drifting, Almost Covered”; out of their framework they’re quite weak and it’s only when the album comes together as a single entity is their value really shown, but otherwise a solid album.

You can find the album on his Bandcamp page here.

Lusine – Arterial (Ghostly, Single, 2014)

It’s not often that I review singles; mostly that’s due to the nature of Ambient music and the distinct lack of them (although I suppose in a way quite a few Ambient and Drone releases could be considered “singles” purely by track count, but I digress) but also because it’s not hugely often that artists really come out with individual track releases that I find exciting enough to indulge writing on. Lusine’s Jeff McIlwain has a special place in my heart as many of you may know, however, so how could I let something like this slip by?

The title track of an impending 4 track EP due to arrive in August,  it’s a deliciously fresh way to let us know that Jeff’s still alive and keen to produce music. Arterial is his first EP since 2010’s Twilight set of mixes, but unlike that particular release and most of his other EPs also, it appears we’re going to be introduced to wholly new content rather than rehashed album versions, which is great news for annoying fans like me. Showcasing the style he’s been refining under Ghostly’s protective wings for the last 10(!) years, Arterial is a little bit of a mulch, predominantly building on the big builds of recent The Waiting Room but with some interesting twists. Whilst those cute little clarinet fragments and sliding electronic whoops that have become cemented into his trademark still form a big part of the track’s early moments alongside the drum machine, it’s eager to show that this isn’t just another Microhouse one trick pony as it manages a carefully orchestrated build in textural and emotional complexity.

Its core shifts to a mildly more serious focused synth shuffling, the riff doubling down in this slow-burning but surprisingly epic climax, slipping in to the dark expanse of night. The slurred meanderings of chopped vocal nothings and driving MIDI claps fall away in a crackling rift that changes the tone of the piece right as the Sun sinks below the horizon, but once this urgency has passed all of the initial swirling textures circle back into the mix like moths to a flame, some resurgent beauty found in this dark heart.

God I can’t stop listening to this; at the same time it commands this high-volume, meaty aura that’s really thickly groove inducing and all-consuming in its most energised and complex state, but at the same time it’s got this sly and elusive beauty lurking in the shadows behind all these rampant riffs and heady basslines. It’s got a really cathartic and escapist feel that’s both relieved in its freedom but also vaguely concerned at the consequences of its actions; I like that sensation, because it feels like it’s a bastardised reworking of some early, more delicate Lusine work that’s been given this huge boost of digital energy in a very different direction, and it doesn’t quite know how to deal with it.

The EP drops on August 5th and you can preorder the 10″  or digital version from Ghostly International here.

Leyland Kirby – The Death of Rave (A Partial Flashback) (History Always Favours The Winners – 2014)

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In 2006, Leyland Kirby under his rather prolific V/Vm alias created a titanic 9 hour release entitled The Death of Rave (with another 9 or so of bonus material), filled with Dark Ambient and noisy Drone creations built from twisted relics of rave tunes and beats. To be clear I’ve not listened to The Death of Rave, since its timespan is just beyond ridiculous, but Kirby’s habit of manipulating music for his own purposes piqued my interest in this case and luckily he’s returned to create something wholly more digestible, taking what I can only assume are some of the better or more meaningful moments from the original and putting them into this much more bitesized release.

That being said, simply because he’s taken some of what I can only assume to be the more personally meaningful moments based on the track titles doesn’t necessarily mean that the music itself is entirely cohesive; many of them share little with one another except that they are populated with an overbearing wall of distressed noise that seems want to suppress any melodic content below, not that there is a great deal of it. It’s hard to believe that any of the pieces presented here originated in a club and rave environment; opener “Monroes Stockport” is a slowly creeping mass of expanding drone sequences and listless glitch awash in a sea of reverb, no trace of some bombastic, drug fuelled sound in sight. It shares little sonically with any of its album companions however, carving its own niche just like the rest, which is, I suppose, admirable. Perhaps “Smithy & Dave the Rave” is comparable, with its loud walls of expressive noise mirroring some of those earlier drones, the difference being that the curtains part to peek at a beautiful and delicate synth melody hidden within, its fondness and elegiac tones quickly stifled but never entirely quelled as the piece decays into a sad and shimmery silence.

There are some shards of perhaps the original, inspired melodies captured in a few tracks though; “Marple Libradome ’91” is the best example of this as it propels itself on a bed of deep sub-bass and distant, faded, throbbing basslines, hidden beneath a carefully manipulated synth melody smeared into oblivion and barely detectable through the drone fuzz that it’s become, barely clinging onto life. There’s a pace and urgency to this one that is perhaps lacking in many of the others, a sense that time is maybe running out before it’s sonic appeal is lost forever. The tribal and electro-mechanical abominations that “Big Eddies Van – Bowlers Car Park” evoke show similar tendencies towards some original work; it’s an oppressive piece that I really don’t enjoy but one can’t deny that it has fascinatingly rhythmic shakings and rattlings of unknown description that stutter the track along, supplemented by the heavy and echoic movement of some monstrously ticking clock.

The other tracks all follow variations on a theme but with their own spin on the crushing drone that realises their visions; “Moggy & Wearden” is a rather openly nostalgic piece that proceeds the opener with big but jaded and distal drones that have sort of lost their impetus in their long trip through time, coming through as bleary and ancient vistas of smeared sound that’s oddly serene in presentation, but that’s where the lightweight material ends since “Acid Alan, Haggis & Scott” obliterates any sense of melody as it cruises on dark currents of bass and mean, crushed noise walls that seem to juxtapose the fond wist of rave we’ve heard thus far and embrace its abandonment within its chaotic and cathartic space. The closer “XR2 mk1 Sale Waterpark” takes a similar line as it takes off instantly in its eviscerating, jet engine explosion of initial noise, softly shifting as it evolves to highlight the more delicate and naive synth shimmers that mirror it below and the wailing, depressing noises it turns into. Its clearance leaves us with a tired and old drone remnant below that does nothing other than fade to black, a melancholic fragment that can do nothing except die.

I like that Kirby explores both sides of the coin here; he accepts that Rave is dead but there is still some wistfulness of those golden days of electronic music he fondly remembers from his youth, stoned hazes of impossible sounds and experiences. But he also highlights not only the brash and impromptu nature of the culture/music itself but also its abandonment in favour of normal clubs, a shift in perception that seems to have occurred remarkably quickly and how it’s faded from public consciousness. I’ve listened to it a lot but I think it’s more because it’s a fascinating sonic experience rather than out of actual enjoyment; in reality it’s a rather disjointed and incohesive affair but it’s filled with such textural detail it’s hard to avoid getting sucked in when every listen provides something new to latch on to.