36 – Dream Tempest (2014)

One of the overwhelming sensations found in 36’s work over the years has been, in his own words, a sense of “glowing melancholy”; myself, I would have described it as a sense of inseparable nostalgia. There’s always been a component in Dennis Huddleston’s music that seems filled with wist and regret, yearning for a return to simpler and younger times. His latest and 6th full length LP Dream Tempest doesn’t seem to divert too far away from this as it ensconces itself in childhood daydreams and tries to force out the disappointing reality of adulthood.

And so the title track opens the album on twinkling turnings of a delicate synthscape, faux violins rushing to fill the dark interstitial void with an ominous thrumming. Ominous it is, but tempestuous it is not, and almost disappointingly no track on the record breaks out into a calamitous tumult of sound that the namesake would suggest. That being said, the tempest itself manifests in more subtle forms, worming its way through the undercurrents; “Sun Riders”, the title piece of his previous EP (of which every track appears here) warbles into view with celestial but earthbound ambitions, floating on naive and rather submissive drones, the hopes and longings of a child fascinated by the dream of space. A little later “Tired” drifts in on smudged fragments of field recordings and Basinski-esque drone snippers, a downtrodden and bleary number reflecting from a hypnagogic place on those childhood hopes.

Sometimes we’re allowed to peek into the mind of that lost child though, and it’s far brighter and more refreshing than the melancholic and wistful sequences entertained in the retrospectives. The gorgeous “Airglow” lightens the atmosphere from the early trio of rather oppressive pieces with a short and lightweight interlude filled with thin synths, before toppling into the beauteous toybox tinklings and thick, cosy drone currents of “Play”. It’s a surprisingly meaty and focused track, lost in its own carefree and irresponsible world, oblivious in its naive tunnel vision. Perhaps the last bastion of this sound appears in the almost playful, but rather uninnocent, empowered toybox sequences of “Hyperbox”, unfolding rapidly as multiple layers of delicate but quick instrumentation, tactical windings and soft vocal coos shimmering out of the urgent mix.

The latter half of the album chases this eager little number and begins to settle back down into what I would call more familiar territory as things collapse into the softly shifting drone territory of the later pieces. “Perfect Numbers” signals our throwback piece for this album, employing the classic recitation of random numbers over eager, arpeggiated synth riffs before migrating into the downtrodden movements of “Redshift” as we watch our old dreams accelerate away from us in the measured, smeared waves of growling drone. Not forgotten though, as “Always” is keen to remind us in its expansive and cathartic fugues of dry, dense, grinding drone and regretful opening moments of trumpetal verses, altogether submissive and acceptant of its fate but still holding on to that wonder of what might have been, forever.

Fortunately Dream Tempest seems to display a return to more fully realised and conceptually clear form for 36 after the rather flimsy themes of Shadow Play, but there is still something holding me back a little. Much like its predecessor it feels oftentimes more like a strong suite or collection of singles rather than a unified whole; it’s not until the latter half until I feel like I can appreciate the cohesion as the tracks settle into their idiosyncrasies, whilst the first half seems to flounder a little in indecision and flip-flop between sonic styles before converging into a more allied entity. Still, it’s an enjoyable and immersive listen with its fair share of spellbinding, emotionally tugging moments.

You can stream the album for free as well as buy it for a modest sum at the Bandcamp page.

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.

The Top 20 Albums of 2013

Hard to believe that another year has been crossed off. Much has changed since our last list, for HearFeel and otherwise, and I almost don’t want it to be over. 2013 has been a fine, very fine actually, year for music and it’s been a tough one hashing out the list this time. But I’ve struggled through all this excellent music to provide once more the official Best Of from HearFeel. This is purely subjective and personal, and you wont find too many of the year’s biggest albums on here, but everything on it is something I consider top quality.

As always, I just wanted to thank everyone who has taken the time to not only view the site but everyone who has subscribed and taken the time to message me their thoughts and especially music. It means a lot and if it weren’t for the feedback and the continued mails from some great labels and incredible artists, I doubt I would remain as enthusiastic about maintaining this little project. So, here’s to 2013, what a great year it’s been, and let’s all hope that next year can follow in its footsteps. Without further ado, the list.

(Links to HearFeel reviews under the album name where appropriate)

1. Lusine – The Waiting Room

No list of mine would have been complete without Lusine at the top. A powerful Ambient Pop meets Microhouse release which finally sees Lusine employ vocals and pulls it off superbly. One of my favourite all time artists and so accessible, perhaps one of the most underrated Electronic artists on Ghostly’s roster.

2. Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus

Pushing the boundaries of Neo-Pysch and alternative electronic dance, there is nobody out there that quite sounds like these guys right now. It’s their heaviest, thickest release to date, and certainly their most rhythmically driven. Alienating and metallic, but intoxicatingly brash. Some criticism to be levelled at their awkward segues but a very strong album nonetheless.

3. Tim Hecker – Virgins

Could anything ever top Ravedeath, 1972? It was a tough one to followup but Virgins manages to stand its ground by employing tonnes of startlingly clear live instrumentation in perhaps his most head-scratching and thought provoking release yet. The piano is the scalpel of choice this time round, dangerously sharp and harrowing.

4. Raffertie – Sleep of Reason

Perhaps one of the most surprising releases of the year for me; hovering on the edges of Dubstep and Art Pop, Raffertie’s debut is a bit nebulous and doesn’t quite know where to hold itself, but compensates with insatiable basslines, crooning vocals and lush guitars. Intelligently crafted, subtly experimental and utterly groove-inducing.

5. Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe

It truly was love at first sight for me. The way that Barwick manipulates her voice and interfingers it with vast clouds of indistinguishable drone makes for an album that can shift from warm and peaceful to anxious and fearful at the flip of a switch. It’s difficult not to get caught in its emotional fog but I cant imagine anything I would want to do more.

6. EUS – Sol Levit

Challenging the meaning, the purpose, of life and what it means to be alive is no mean feat, but EUS channels the hard realities of loss and musings on the afterlife in vast swathes of potent drone and lush violin and piano sequences. It wasn’t an easy pick but this album is so heartfelt and earnest it’s pretty difficult to ignore. Big, but in a refined and introspective way.

7. Roly Porter – Life Cycle of a Massive Star

“Big” isn’t the word that comes to mind when detailing the scope of this vast Noise and Dark Ambient behemoth. Spanning a mere 30 minutes, Porter expresses this vast astronomical cycle to perfection in that short time, from the calm drone tracts of deep time and stable periods, to the tumultuous, chaotic and noisy sequences following birth and destruction. Indescribable.

8. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest

Another difficult pick, but who can deny BoC’s ability to create compelling and readily identifiable releases no matter the quality? Choosing to employ more percussion than any of their previous albums, TH creates a future nostalgic record centered in some post-apocalyptic universe, with bleary 60’s synth notes cutting through the more sophisticated modern electronica. Fascinating.

9. Witxes – A Fabric of Beliefs

An early album from this year that has managed to ride the wave and avoid demotion, saving itself thanks to its ability to juxtapose abrasive guitar and electronic dominated melodies against more ethereal synth drones and careful ambient sequences and field recordings. Incredibly detailed and texturally rich release touching on the nature and need for religion.

10. Jasper TX – An Index of Failure

Yet another one that has endured from the earliest parts of the year, Jasper TX’s final album under the alias is every bit as painful as you’d expect. Summoning deeply rooted Ambient melodies he places them in a Post-Rock framework to create powerfully poignant and expansive pieces that blossom with a slow and wistful sadness

11. 36 – Shadow Play

Sadly not able to breach the top 10 this year following Lithea’s success, Shadow Play is his most ambitious and intelligent release to date but suffers from an incoherent coherence in that, it tries so hard to be and mean something, that it just doesn’t quite achieve it. Some of his best Ambient singles and some incredible Drone sequences but could have kept it together better.

12. Grouper – The Man Who Died In His Boat

For those fans of Liz Harris and her continuing work as Ethereal Folk persona Grouper, I doubt this album will come as a surprise. It does however nicely straddle the divide from her older, more Lo-Fi and more Folk lead albums and her work like AIA which has a stronger Dream Pop focus. Perfect compromise between vocals and instrumentation.

13. Saåad Orbs & Channels

Saåad are beginning to define for me a particular brand of heart-wrenching Drone and Dark Ambient that involves the deep processing of growling guitars and the distant wailing of voices. Every track sounds like it’s suspended in some vast room with much unseen space hinting at the political and social undercurrents retained within. It’s thick and meaty and I love it.

14. Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven

Taking a swipe at the homogeneity of Electronic Dance whilst avoiding criticism for aimlessness at the same time is tough, and OPN couldnt do it. But there is something in the torrent of MIDI samples and whirling miscellaneous electronica that’s thoroughly compelling and almost naive in its sound that I find interesting in its irony.

15. Kiln – meadow:watt

A remnant of Ghostly International’s old roster, Kiln have brought me hope that more unconventional music still remains somewhere in their heart. Kiln fans will be pleased to note that this follows very similar blueprints to their earlier releases, with lackadaisical and jovial minimal electronic and IDM to the max. Just fun, sunny and lightweight, perfect for Autumn listening.

16. Aaron Martin/Christoph Berg – Day Has Ended

The best splits are those that have two artists that are practically indistinguishable rather than totally disparate. Day Has Ended charts a beautiful procession from day to night from someone burdened with depression and desperate for alone time, reflected in the simply gorgeous minimal violin and piano seamlessly migrating from one artist to the next.

17. Daughter – If You Leave

First record I bought this year; while my enjoyment of this album has somewhat waned over recent months, I still do love the slightly lilted and accented vocals and their empowered but not dominating supporting Folk instrumentation. It knows when it needs to be stripped back and go one-on-one, forging more minimal and heartfelt soundscapes.

18. Jon Hopkins – Immunity

While I’ve never been entirely sold on the premise of this album and the fact it welds two very opposing Dance and Ambient electronic strands together rather awkwardly, I like a lot of the core aspects. Some of the big-beat tracks are positively club ready, whilst some of the latter, easier going tracks are just fantastically blissful.

19. Apparat – Krieg Und Frieden (Music For Theatre)

Soundtracks almost certainly work best in their given context, but that doesn’t stop them being great pieces of art alone. Apparat has created some amazing pieces of Modern Classical and Ambient music here, fusing piano with glitch, noise, synth and even some astonishing vocals right at the end.

20. CHVRCHES –  The Bones Of What You Believe

Don’t deny me this one guilty pleasure. Every year I have one; last year was Carly Rae, this year it’s the Scottish Electro-Pop of Chvrches. Ok, it’s not the most ambitious or progressive release but there’s a tonne of great singles in here that follow the same catchy blueprint that’s hard not to get caught up in. OH O-O-OH, OH OH OH, O-O-OH

Very honourable mention to Raum – Event Of Your Leaving, which I sadly have not had time to properly enjoy. Would certainly be a Top10 contender though I feel.

If that’s still not enough for you, here’s 80 more on my Rate Your Music page.