Hanetration – Murmurist EP (2014)

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It’s not unusual these days to listen to music that expresses its tiredness of modernity and the certain rituals and habits we become locked into, day in and day out; it’s a fairly universal desire to not be constrained by the limitations of working hours and the daily grind, all of it feeling so meaningless and soul-destroying. Hanetration’s latest EP Murmurist is not the first to tackle this theme and certainly won’t be the last to do so, but his unusual take on IDM and Ambient sound design makes this release just a little different from the rest.

Opener “Morning” rises slowly as we come to, warped and distorted drone lines making minimal progress in these early and dim hours. They shift and swell over one another gently, slowly and surely dispelling the darkness that’s accumulated through the night as well as coming to terms with the prospect of the day ahead. There’s a definite melancholy expressed here, one that longs to stay in bed for a little longer and not have to get out for work, but the minimal beats that eventually emerge cement the reality of the situation and we have to soldier on. “Begin” is where the covers are finally kicked off and the foreground drone sequences are put to the wayside temporarily, with light glitch rhythms and tympanic miscellaneous electronica rolling round and round forming the repetitive heart of the piece. These habitual motions pause and dim briefly near the halfway mark, a slight divot or hiccup in the usual routine that disturbs us briefly but we return to the loop soon enough.

The day speeds past in a blur of uneventful and meaningless activity in the 37 second interlude of “Fly”, separating the two halves of the EP with its hollow and brainless tapping; nothing of merit has happened in the hours that we fill between sleeps and this highlights that strongly. The painful “Wither” returns those melancholic, warbling drone lines from before, spinning out slowly and miserably as we feel our life-force slowly dribbling away and the distinct lack of energy and enthusiasm we have for continuing this mindless enterprise. It’s heavy and mournful and perhaps the most downtrodden track. Lastly, closer “Sundown” comes around entirely too quickly, another day melting away. It’s by far the most evocative and interesting piece for me, supplementing glowing drones with an almost tribal pseudo-melody, a thin and hesitant, jerky riff creeping out of the tired and mechanical ritual we resume before bedtime. There’s a deep tiredness and resignation here as the drones become overwhelming, thrumming in their rich crescendo as the bliss of sleep washes over us, ready to restart the cycle all over again.

I like this EP a lot; it feels a lot more consistent and relatable than his last effort on Timelapse as well as being rather more fully formed from a conceptual standpoint. Whilst there’s nothing especially unique in the theme that’s not really a valid criticism, especially when the music itself is rather unusual and so thoughtfully crafted. The interplay between the wishful, sad drones that yearn for something more and the mechanistic, deliberate rhythms of the daily routine is beautifully played out as the story of the EP unfolds, and since it’s free and only 20 minutes long I can’t think of a valid reason to not listen to this gorgeous little number.

Vhr-1.7 – Lost Angle (Eilean Records, 2014)

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Komatsu Kei, aka Vhr-1.7, is a Japanese sound designer, focused on researching sonic textures and “accidental intents”. I often have a hard time coming to grips with albums produced in a fashion that seems more focused on generating the greatest array of textures possible with, it seems like, little to no regard for how each of the pieces comes together as a whole. Lost Angle doesn’t quite conform to my admittedly heavy handed bias but it certainly feels like some important emotional facet and thematic concept has been lost here that makes it a little hard for me to love.

Opener “Lake Side” introduces us to this fascinatingly detailed textural world but ultimately unemotional cerebral experience, opening to delicate looped fragments of birdsong that become slowly crushed and warped as the piece progresses, marrying themselves with the crunching emergent drone as our little pleasant corner of the world becomes cloaked in night and turns into something wholly more eerie. It’s just a shame that it gets dragged out for so long; six and a half minutes in span where half that would have been sufficient. It’s here that the album also becomes separated into its two distinct and repeating halves; the first, the glowing drones and dense, oppressive, miscellaneous electronica, and the second, the sparse and quiet introspective moments of delicate synth ambience that yearning title track “Lost Angle” takes. The synth is jaded and oscillating, supplemented by thin waves of hopeful and ethereal drone as it seeks to remember what was once lost.

“Meon” is even more dark and crushed than its predecessor, rolling out in fragile meanderings of minimal synth movements and stuttering drone to fill the void. It feels like we’re under the microscope, gazing rapt at the molecules floating aimlessly about in the vacuum and occasionally nudging one another, slight disturbances throwing chaos into this tiny and delicate world. This sparseness is never invoked in the same capacity again, although there are some interesting counterparts; “Kalon” brings a moment of reprieve with processed wind and rain and passing car noise filling out its introspective moment, lazy guitar twangs quietly and gently rising through the wist. “Tope” is perhaps the last instance of contemplation, haunting a café afterhours and hearing the clatter of the preparation for tomorrow as it spins out almost clichéd piano tinklings from its smokey corner, something almost film noir reminiscent.

What’s left are the tracks with a little more oomph and bluster; “Occasion” turns “Meon”‘s microscopic delicacy around and disperses its fragility in its own rushing and luxurious dronescape, becoming kaleidoscopic in its glittering and fragmental tinklings, a deep moment deconstructed in a thousand slices with a thousand more possible outcomes. “Para” meanwhile brings back some of that suggestive menace of the opener but sends wailing and thickly distorted human voice up through the beacons of the urgent electronic foam above, their distress palpable but lost in space and time. The closer of “Meoncentric Theory” is perhaps my favourite piece of the record, however, carving out possibly the best structured and most evocative track thus far in a wash of thick drone and patterned, neo-psych reminiscent synthesiser, the slow and heavy handed macroscopic world interacting with the minute chaos of the microscopic, of God over Man.

It’s a decent enough release, to be sure, but I find it so hard to get into the groove and align myself with its emotional intents; everything is so coldly precise it really feels alienating and even in its most intimate moments it feels like we’re only allowed a fraction of a peek inside its disquiet mind. I realise it’s not necessary for an album to display a sense of continuity and overarching theme but I still like to feel that there’s a story I can latch onto, and with the lack of sympathetic moments here that thematic loss really hits home. I love a lot of singular moments on this, but as an album it really has a time of maintaining my attention.

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – Songs of Forgiveness (Baro Records, 2014)

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Jefre Cantu-Ledesma has been a relatively influential name in the world of Noise and Drone music for the last seven years or so, producing sometimes twisted, but always evocative, thick vistas of mulched sound; his 2010 release Love Is A Stream is widely accepted as his best work and certainly one of my favourites also, melding Fennesz-esque Electro-acoustic destruction to glorious sequences of glowing, romantic Drone. It seems strange the, for a man who has  produced albums named Shining Skull Breath and Speaking Corpse to produce an album like Songs of Forgiveness which, one could argue, appears to have more than a few fingers in the Vaporwave pie.

I’m hesitant to outright call this a Vapourwave release though, since by and large it doesn’t seem to subscribe to the “aesthetic” of which Vapourwave has built for itself, one of retro nostalgia and the deconstruction of  aged commercial and background music for conceptual purposes, even if perhaps it does have some of the idiosyncrasies. I mean, it’s hard not to make some connections right from the off, as Side A spins out 10 minutes (in its first sequence) of dreamy, reductionist guitar and slowed drums, all encased in a gauzy haze of pink reverb. That sort of echoic, VHS vibe that Vaporwave seems to exude isn’t too far removed from the hypnagogy of its quiet and circular reflection. Things abruptly get mixed up in the second half of Side A as the stable and repetitious initial chapter is switched out for one that admittedly is almost identical in its riff but more distal in its reverb and more decrepit and damaged, little skips in the melody and currents of grating low-fidelity abrading its passage.

Side B, predictably, is more of the same tired riffs rolling over each other, although whilst there is a hint of original damage shining through from the first side as expressed in a warbling and tattered backing drone line, everything else seems to be just that little bit clearer and brighter, the original distortion and speed reduction dialled back just enough to let the melody come through just that bit clearer. As it shifts into its second chapter it does so rather abrasively, phasing into its next lot of circular riffs through pointed and obnoxious laser beam synths, each one rolling into a stuttering and grating mass. That being said, once the interlude has cleared it moves into a rather pleasant and drifting set of downtempo riffs that are content to see us to the end in a wash of lazing, mellow reverb. The ending is surprising then; a final third sequence that comes out of nowhere with an extremely minimal guitar line and intermittently abrasive intrusions that squeal and writhe through the mix like a detuned radio, whilst the entire entity slowly fades to black and closes the curtains finally.

If there was to ever be a reinvention of William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops as Hypnagogic Pop, this would probably be it, carving out its beauteous and mellow loops in a placid haze of wistful and acceptant reverb. Whilst in some capacity they’re comparable, of course Cantu-Ledesma’s own constructions do not rival that of Basinski’s, and I’m really uncertain as to the stopping power of this release. It’s charming and beauteous in its own way, and I do find it a pleasantly relaxing record for downtime listening, but it just feels deeply shallow and hollow to me, drawn out for too long and with too little meaningful content. The electronically grating moments are also rather damaging to the overall mood as well I feel. It’s an interesting but largely underwhelming experience for me.