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.

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Sundrugs – Hidden Scenes (2013)

Soon to be released debut album of Sundrugs with Hidden Senses on the BLWBCK label.

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With an opener named “Pandora’s Box”, something magical is going to happen, you just know it. And so Hidden Scenes emerges from the darkness in a simpering wash of piercing drones that expand painfully to introduce the album, opening the box to the secrets within. Almost immediately “Moving Borders” begins to take us into new and darker directions now that the box has been opened, weaving layers of dense drone into a spine-tingling, continuously evolving fabric of sound that is at once both restless and undisturbed, like the almost imperceptible passage or motion of distant objects even at speed, the slow creep of hundreds of miles seen overhead from afar.

It’s easy to see why these Sundrugs is on the BLWBCK label with “Void’s Anatomy”, a track that holds incredible similarity to Saåad’s style of music with its pained, almost human, drone wails, these creepy pulses of carefully engineered sound that almost breathe with life float in and out of the mix. “Radio Depth” is an obtrusive and somewhat unwelcome breach at first, abruptly terminating the previous track with the squeals of a radio being tuned, throwing disjointed fragments of transmissions out before slipping quickly into something much less sonically obtrusive.

In fact, going back a little, “If You Call That Living” features the aforementioned French Drone duo Saåad and it’s nice to see a reinforcement of the sonic style continue as the dark and heavily processed wave samples crash slowly and mightily and the drones remain somewhat on the dark side of neutral. “Desert Tales” removes those waves and has a much drier feel, its electronic overtones somewhat more granular and grating that the smooth, sleek, dark drones of before, the original guitar sound peeking through the oscillating distortion and giving us some ground through the swirling whines and high notes towards the end.

“You Know That Place” clocks in at a mighty 12:51, easily the longest track of the album, and it’s a curious piece. It retains the same basic fingerprint in its vaguely coarse drone pulses but there is something more reminiscent of Stars of the Lid here in its peacefulness and carefully repetitious melodies, the soft swells of drone easing the barely moving underlying textures along. It has that same perfect nostalgia and feelings of yearning that SotL distill in their work but Sundrugs manages to almost make it more beautiful and precious, leaving behind that pining sensation and instead languishing in the still bright and fresh memories. “Euphoria Euthanasia” brings us back into more familiar territory and if anything slows the pace down even further as the tone takes a turn for the somber; whilst its drones are far too bright to be miserable the speed and general attitude just give it a conscientious and introspective vibe.

And so we progress into the final movements of the record with “Just Leave Your Backdoor Open”, an oddly thin yet rich track that pares back the number of textures to a sparse few wavering drones before doing some odd processing in the second half which creates (to me at least) a rather disorientating and enveloping atmosphere through its stereo effects. Lastly, closer “Warm Like December’s Sun” manages to live up to its name as we float ghostly through its similarly thin, bright drones in the closing moments of the album.

It’s a curious record from start to finish I think, but the more I sit down and really pay close attention the less I actually want to say about it. I was previously content with letting it spin out easily for its 40 or so minutes, not quite being able to put my finger on what exactly I found comforting and soothing with it, and while looking at it more intensely hasnt lessened my enjoyment of it somehow I did actually find myself somewhat bored by the end. It’s vaguely disappointing that the best parts of this album are those that seem to emulate the styles of other artists but it’s still a very decent album in its own right.

Saåad – Confluences (2012)

Recent LP from a new discovery Saåad, a French ambient and drone duo.

And no, I have no idea how to pronounce that.

Confluences is a concept album forged around the meeting of two French rivers, the Aríege and Garonne, as exemplified by a fountain (the St. Michél fountain). Naturally water and its many distinctive tones are a big feature in this album, which revolves around field recordings captured from not only the fountain but the water courses themselves. They are not alone however, as they are supplemented greatly by thick and complex drones and guitars, specific phases of sounds that last for 5 minutes apiece to separate the singular track into 4 parts.

It’s been raining all day here, that same kind of dismal, frustratingly consistent rain that has almost no variation in its velocity, rate or pitch, the kind of weather that keeps the sky an ashen grey and forces it to get dark at about 2 in the afternoon. It’s kind of appropriate (perhaps even ironic) that I’m sitting here listening to an album that mirrors these sounds whilst doing a hydrogeological project (or was at least); at the right volume I can scarcely tell the difference between the water running off the roof above my head and the rain pattering the ground outside, and the gurgling field recordings emanating from my speakers. It’s an album that follows a molecule of water or a mote of silt along the course of a river, from its underground beginnings as it wells up to form a trickle of a spring, to the development of a stable stream to a broader, slower river channel which merges with its sister course into a single entity, as demarcated around 10 minutes in as a rising tumult of churning water samples. The course then continues to its final destination, the sea, where it meanders and fragments into a myriad of channels as complex field recordings dominate before disappearing into the surf.

I like the way that Confluences is not confined to this idea of these two very specific river systems meeting, however. If I turn the lights off now and allow the music to blend seamlessly with the rain outside I can imagine a different kind of confluence, one of the natural meeting the deeply unnatural, the urban landscape. Water gurgles through guttering, small pools form in imperfections on the impermeable concrete surfaces, rivulets braid and wind their way down the roads towards culverts where they make their own rivers, human designed rivers. The samples on Confluences could have been taken out in the heart of the countryside or right here, outside my house, but what is important is that it makes no difference either way; water is water, wet is wet, the same rules still apply no matter if we are look at the river (macro) scale or the road (micro) scale, the natural or the artificial.

If you bought the limited edition cassette you’d be greeted by a bonus B-Side track “Spiritual Dilution”, which is perhaps even more transportive than the first; comprised solely of field recordings it’s difficult to describe how it can be both deeply meditative and relaxing yet somehow on edge and disturbing. Soft pulses of drone ebb and flow under the rushing water as generated by pitch pedals to create an unsettling atmosphere and things seem to puncture the water’s surface throughout; hands and feet, perhaps, or maybe also some unnameable creature wading and splashing through. Lying here in bed immersed, lights off, I wont lie to you it is extremely unnerving and chills me to the core, and I’m in love. I’m often thoroughly disappointed in Field Recordings albums but this track delivers everything I could ask for.

I’ve been listening to this album all day and I am deeply concerned for my 2012 Top10 right now, I seriously think we have a competitor near the top. It’s not often I say this about an album I’ve just met but I’m absolutely floored by this release. This is Drone and Field Recordings at their most refined.