Croatian Amor – The Wild Palms (via nude selfie, 2014)

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Artists and audience rarely get to experience a real sense of intimacy with one another; the listener is often allowed a frank insight into an artist’s emotions as expressed through their music but it’s difficult for the artist to get anything in return. Croatian Amor’s Loke Rabhek recognised this one-sidedness and decided to only make his latest release available…if you send him a nude selfie. Admittedly I came by this album the cheat’s way through a leak but I like the notion of giving something more personal and intimate than money in reward for music, although at the same time the prospect does make me a little queasy knowing an unknown number of nudes are going to be stored away on Loke’s computer indefinitely.

Regardless, our personal display of intimacy is reciprocated with a certain quiet and sparse familiarity in the dismal, low-key synth lines, piano fragments and processed guitar that primarily create this record. Opener “The Madness of Summer” invokes some of the feelings of cabin fever and heavy, sleepless nights trapped in a muggy and humid lo-fi fuzz, our minds ticking over restlessly as we fret on how much sleep we’re going to get as the synth riff ticks over slowly and endlessly. Sleep finally seems to be granted to us in followup “Forever Wild Palms” as the pacing is crushed, with minimal piano tinklings draped in a fuzzy layer of subconsciousness welcoming us into the dark and uneasy dream world.

This disquieted sleep turns into the ethereal setting of “There Is Always Tomorrow”, with distal synth drones floating mysteriously through thick cassette fuzz. There’s a certain present hopelessness and darkness that’s allowed to manifest unchecked now that the conscious mind is no longer able to quell its worries and concerns, but there remains a lingering belief that whatever is wrong may still be righted in a new day. It’s perhaps one of the strongest pieces of the record alongside its companion “Everything Must Go”, which seems to contain something of a late 90s Psytrance or Progressive Electronic vibe in its destroyed but playful rhythms, teasingly migrating through the destruction to breach the surface as distorted echoes of their former selves, remnants of a time long since passed. It feels like a call to abandon the belief that the things we love are going to come back, a reminder that there exists a shinier future ahead but only waning nostalgia behind us.

The final two pieces of this short, 30 minute excursion are perhaps something of a weaker display than what we’ve seen thus far in my opinion; longest track of the album “Angels of the Afternoon” pushes the limits of repetitive acceptability that the other tracks dared not approach as it spins out admittedly suspenseful swirling fragments of processed guitar strums and piano snippets, but this heaviness and menacing synth drone fabric is allowed to continue without significant evolution for nigh-on 7 minutes and honestly I find it tiring. Luckily, closer “Only The Strongest” does pull things back a little bit in its very empowered movements of energised guitar riffs and jangling electronica, surfing the rush of the noisy crowd we hear peeking through the distortion at the beginning. It’s been a productive sleep, perhaps, since it feels like we’ve processed and digested something in doing so and overcome some particular internal emotional struggle, ready to face the tomorrow we dreamt about.

I love the uniqueness of this concept and the controversy it seems to have stirred up in people, with many questioning “artistic integrity”, others saying things like “true fans will buy the music regardless” and generally talking about how demeaning it all is. But I think it makes a pretty great point not just in regard to the disconnect between artist and listener but also how we’ve seemingly become fearful of our own bodies collectively, scared of having other people see them and not trusting others with images of it. Humans have been paying for sex for a long, long time, lots of people vehemently shun that as well as, apparently, using it to “pay” for music. A clever concept, and it’s not bad on the music front either.

 

Selaroda – Polytexturalism (Sanity Muffin, 2014)

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Released in January this year, Polytexturalism is the 4th full length album of indie Californian project Selaroda, a little outfit that I’ll concede I hadn’t heard of prior to their email. I’ve been sitting on this record for a few weeks now because of my recent busyness but there has also been a delay due to my increasing disappointment with each successive listen of this. I don’t like opening by saying that I’m a bit disenchanted but I think it’s important to get it out the way.

Opener “Moonlit Cloud Visions” sort of carves out this almost Blade Runner-esque vista with its dark synth pulses and droning bell toll to signify the album has begun; there’s just a hint of that Carbon Based Lifeforms vibe for a brief moment in the way it shimmers into life through minor keys before carefully evolving in the latter half into a retro minimalistic number. It’s a decent piece but it does symbolise the rather stylistically defocused nature of this album; followup “Pharaodioh” is the junction between the opener and the rest of the record, a sharp interlude marking the onset of the long-form tracks to come in its whistling winds and radio static and downtempo grooves.

“Lavadrum vs. Aquascape” is a futuristic and psychedelic tympany of warbling and flanging synth riffs coated in a sugary low fidelity fuzz, pulling itself out of the mires of time in thick layers of meaty synth drones and squashed, aquatic beats. It’s actually largely content to simmer, resting in troughs of relatively mundane experimental synth noodlings, which is pretty frustrating because the crescendos are quite beauteous affairs, sliding on expanding currents of energised drone; the rest is simply too aimless to be enjoyable. The initial moments of “Kustenweg” make me want to return to the previous piece but if you hold out from the overbearing bombast of the opening, the warped synth lines make room for delicate piano and shimmery synth tinklings in the latter half of what is probably the most well rounded and fully-formed piece of the album, it’s a beautiful little number for sure in its foggy, starlight punctuated gazing.

Whilst the naming convention seems nonexistent, “Syng Reboot NuCo e-S ~ selim (lockgroove dub)” does seem to take the piss just a little bit, like some overenthusiastic Autechre emulation; shame that the music in this near 13 minute monolith doesn’t quite match their quality. Formless vocal coos serenade the opening sequences before too much happens for me to begin to adequately describe. It flits between a variety of different random chapters, entertaining semi-crystalline mushes of formless synthesiser lines, dabbling in processed guitar dub at one point and even a cacophonous foray into computerised and mechanical chaos later  in the piece with some looped warning alarm, or similar, and drum machine spiralling wildly out of control before collapsing into the circular hissing and clicking of a record’s locked groove. It’s a bizarre and frustratingly unpredictable experience to me.

“The Cemetery At Old Yeomet” is a welcome reprieve from the dysfunctional ramblings of its predecessor, finally abandoning the synth and replacing it with distal and humbling guitar; it makes no immediate sense given the previous content of the album but it’s hardly surprising at this point. It’s a long track as well, 7 minutes in span, the vast majority of which is taken up by these pretty gorgeous guitars, but for no reason whatsoever it bottoms out suddenly to be replaced by washes of static, reverbed voices and strobing television or radio station hopping. It’s maddening that this ending was just shoehorned onto such a delicate piece, especially when closer “Epilogue” rounds the album out on a low-key piano solo!

I guess the title should have been more of a giveaway; Polytexturalism genuinely does live up to its name but sadly I fail to see its appeal. It’s got some nice concepts and I like the more intimate, acoustic moments a lot; heck, I like the minimal drone moments in a few of the core tracks as well, but it really doesn’t come together as an album in any way. Half the tracks feel disparate within themselves and I cant grasp any sense of overarching cohesion stylistically or conceptually other than that it’s supposed to be a deliberate melting pot of various textures. It’s a pretty thin case if I’m honest, and although there is something about this record that makes me come back I think it’s purely because it’s so off the wall as opposed to being an interesting, quality release.

If I haven’t put you off too much, you can check out the album for yourself on their Bandcamp.

Benjamin Finger – The Bet (Watery Starve, 2014)

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Benjamin Finger is back making music again following his unusual field recordings dominated release last year Listen To My Nerves Hum,  a storytelling piece that charted his migration across Europe and the hardships of upheaval. I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t the album’s biggest fan, it didn’t really bowl me over or anything like that; I thought it had something of an alienating quality despite its attempts at introspection and empathy. So I was naturally a little hesitant coming into Finger’s latest The Bet, which strikes an even more experimental line of attack than its predecessor.

There’s quite a strong Free Folk vibe emanating from this album at times, which is rather refreshing since it’s not something I come across very often. Opener “Faintheadedness” is a short and warped introduction to this soundscape, flowing effortlessly on gentle piano strokes and chopped but harmonious coos and moans before bowing out to the organic tumult of clanging triangles and assorted metallic instruments. This childlike attitude is immediately lost as we slip into the oxymoronically titled “Kids Dreaming Landscapes (That Might Have Astonished Parrots)”. What the content of these parrot-astonishing dreamscapes is we’ll perhaps never know, there’s an evasive and brooding atmosphere that seems to separate us from this subconscious world, the track filled with the shifting sands of carefully migrating drones stacked upon one another, distal shouts and cries sometimes breaking through the thick oppressive surface of the piece. The piano still grounds us and leads us out and away at the very end once the fog has lifted and we’re turned away.

That sort of alternative Folk side of things reappears on the slow and minimal turnings of mysterious “Rosencrans Exits”, the piano all smeared and warbling in this mindful mirage filled with hushed female whisperings. It’s a gorgeously delicate track, almost too good to be true; intimate and careful at its core, content to meander and not follow any established path: free. “Sulfurous Fog” flips this on its head and twists things around, suddenly desirous to introduce rhythmic elements wrapped in a much darker framework, establishing a distantly thudding synth line to propel the track through the skittering, warped glitches, echoic drone and faded feminine hums far in the distance. It’s a kaleidoscope in the dark, subtly bending and distressing that which can hardly be seen in the first place, and it’s almost like “Bad-Luck Planet” flips the switch and lets us see what we’re missing out on as it carries the disjointed but ultimately driven lines of melody out of the darkness, the twitching, chaotic mass available to see with some greater clarity as it ticks and jitters along uncomfortably.

“Nasal Breakdown” is a refreshing diversion from the aimless chaos of the previous couple of tracks, a beautiful and delicate mid-album interlude that removes all sense of confusion and randomness in its slow and measured piano and gorgeous reverbed vocals, not sounding too dissimilar to the beautiful Otavasiset Otsakkaha by Nuojova from 2012, another album that touched similar Free Folk vibes in the same vein as these tracks. Sadly the reprieve is minimal and “Angel-less Halo” is perhaps the most twisted piece so far, with words and conversations quite literally bubbling up through a muddied mix; like a radio between stations it jumps from fragmental guitar sounds to the thudded bassline of some far-removed, alien EDM piece for a few moments as it makes its bizarre journey across the airwaves. It eventually runs out of battery power and judders to an abrupt end and we’re turned once again to another enigmatically beauteous piece in “Time Steps”, the album continuing to flip-flop between disorder and peacefulness as those intimate coos float ethereally out of its heart, stable and stationary entities to deflect the occasional rushes of light static and tympanic beats.

Penultimate “Care In Motion” can’t let us down now that we’re so close to the end, and you’re right, it keeps this yin-yang approach up as it twists and distorts everything that was good about “Time Steps”, smothering the harmonious attitude and bringing the darker male voice at the back of the last piece closer to the action, whilst throwing on a blanket of swirling, misshapen, fragmentary instrumentation to poison its heart. Yet not everything is lost, for its closing moments seem want to reverse some of the destruction and speak out briefly, a final ray of light in the jumbled, uncomfortable dreamworld before we shift gears into closer “Horizonless Brain”, unquestionably the weirdest track of the album. The unlimited nature of our imagination is seemingly unveiled as Finger throws every conceivable texture he can at the wall; the distant throbbing of some pounding bassline matches the miserable, delicate guitar lines and cruising constant of the background drone, fed all by the writhing mass of disjointed, glitched instruments at the fore, only to close on a bizarre parting shot of deeply active, heck even danceable, synth.

I’ve written a number of conclusions that sort of come down pretty hard on the album but I think that’s unfair; I know, despite my purple prose I still do come away from this album with a sense of inconclusion and disappointment, a feeling that I’m missing some vitally important facet of this album that’s the key to unlocking its jumbled randomness and enjoying it. Sadly it’s too dysfunctional and aimless for me to really get into, once again wanting to force us away and hold us at a distance as we watch its partially-crystallised ideas unfold, frustrated that those beauteous Free Folk excursions are not more prominent and that its chaos didn’t feel so harshly deliberate. On on the cusp of falling in love but it’s still a ways off yet for me, unfortunately.