Christopher Willits – Opening (Ghostly International, 2014)

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Last year, fellow Ghostly International signee Scott Hansen of Tycho unveiled his latest LP Awake, much to my dissatisfaction. After becoming increasingly more band-oriented over the years and especially welcoming guitarist Dusty Brown into the fold, it felt like Tycho had abandoned much of his original electronic character in favour of bland percussion and over-represented guitar work, allowing his own synth lines to become crushed and inconsequential. Luckily, it seems like Christopher Willits has produced the album that I wished that Awake was in his gorgeously flowing Opening.

Opener “Vision” is the bleariest and perhaps the most replete piece of the record, opening us to the emerging beachscape through thick MIDI chorals (oft repeated through the album), softly chirping local wildlife and thick, blissful drone lines that demarcate the horizon with their soft light. It’s all very plain and unassuming; beautiful but quietly and selflessly introspective, slowly waking to the vista unfolding before us and evoking some sense of satisfaction. “Clear” continues this forward progression, gaining some more traction and allowing the synth riffs a little playful space. The pacing is still luxuriously slow, however, with only the merest hint of propulsion emanating from light percussion as the drones shift and migrate away from their centre of obfuscation.

It’s almost as if Willits feels like he’s letting things get the better of him and the music is perceived as getting away, since “Ground” appears to almost stem the tide of increasingly growing instrumentation by relegating the lightly riffing synth into the far backfield and neatly out of the way, squashing whatever remnants are left behind into a thickly smeared reverbed haze. Some suggestion of evolution and breakout is tantalisingly played out in a few shuffling beats and a rising wave of increasingly urgent drones but it’s caught and the track fades quickly. The suppression continues into “Now” as well, initially enveloped in a thin layer of glitch fuzz to supplement the crushed melodies and recurrent chorals. There’s a certain downtrodden wist detectable here as the piece unravels, metamorphosing into a bigger and more expressive mass of big synth drones and assistant but intermittent percussion; a jovial facade to the underlying melancholia, perhaps?

Or perhaps not, as “Connect” rolls in and takes things to sweet new heights, introducing the acoustic guitar with some clarity for the first time alongside some playful Tycho-esque synth flutters and chaotic but empowering miscellaneous electronica. It proceeds rather tentatively at first but slips into a beautifully intimate and emotionally probing guitar solo of exquisite delicacy that just makes the entire track, a soft profession of desire and relatedness sold through its organic motions, all coy and sensitive, hesitant. The vast and uncertain vista of followup “Wide” ruminates on whether or not that display of affection was such a good idea, spinning out many of the familiar synth riffs and smeared choral samples we’ve heard thus far into endless, repetitive oblivion, mulling over the same things again and again, fruitlessly. It’s a little dry but a nice pulse of instrumentation towards the end makes up for it, a little surge of hope amidst the fugue.

We’re finally taken out of “Wide”‘s misery in closer “Release”, the summation of all our confined emotional consideration through this album and its cathartic abandonment. It’s the satisfied yang to “Vision”‘s yin, a twilight hour closer that rests contented in deep drone minimalism and the recorded snippets of the surf washing against the inside of our mind, the tide of sleep returning after this productive day. Sweet, faint guitar work melts out of the sun-kissed lo-fi haze that sugar-coats the closer, a faint smile on our lips as the album sinks into sleep. It’s a fragile and minimal emotional journey we’re taken on through Opening, but one that absolutely has a clear storyline and a satisfying resolution, migrating effortlessly and imperceptibly through lonely and hopeless fugues before seeing the opportunity and acting upon it, being a little bold and throwing this dissatisfyingly lonely and resigned existence to the wind, saying goodbye to the early emotional insecurities and finally becoming comfortably in its own shoes.

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Miguel Isaza – Uji (Eilean Recordings, 2014)

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As Autumn descends upon us here the days begin to get just a little bit colder, just a little bit more grey than they would otherwise. It’s been like that for most of the weekend and even if I had found the time to write this review up over the last few days I think I would have preferred to wait for a day like today, one where the last vestiges of the warm, blue skies are allowed out before the leaves turn and fall and the temperatures disappear. Miguel Isaza’s Uji hails from a more Mediterranean setting, it would seem, so it only makes sense that I match the weather and my feelings to its home.

This homely warmth is expressed in the lightweight opener of “El Monte Suspendido”, easing us in with the soft chirrups of birdsong and cicadas and crickets, the buzzing backdrop of any classical Mediterranean abode. Gentle xylophonic motions give it some progression through the twilight saunter, our suspended mountain blotting out the stars ahead of us. This idea of the dreamscape is brought forth in “Suesos del Templo”, the temple of dreams. Field recordings and delicate pools of drone are the predictable mainstay of the piece, supplemented by thin electronic scratchings and distant clatterings, shadows tidying and reorganising things around us as we sit and watch the lights shimmer and twinkle in the dark founts, piercing synth lines scything through the darkness.

Many of the natural and homely sounds that Uji evokes are somehow made to feel unfamiliar and even creepy in each of the unfolding, mysterious pieces that it is populated by. “Canto Para Una Nube” creaks and shuffles ominously, electronica also twisted into artificial shapes. It turns to the dark sky and attempts to leave the chaotic world behind it, reaching upwards in its barely moving drones and light glitch stutters, heavy and encumbered with the weight of life. It’s waiting for its sibling, “Trozos de la Luna” to creep through the thick wall of vapour that dominates the atmosphere, a glimpse of the watchful Moon hiding behind. The effect is rather transportative, focusing instead on very electronic and computerised sounds squeezed out of a technical space, forced to adhere to a more organic design in their sporadic and spontaneous muffled, warbled lurches out of the drone veil.

“Lamento Primaveral” is perhaps the most tantalisingly evolving piece of the record, slowly melting out of its hibernation as it awakes to slow footsteps and busy clatterings, life returning to its otherwise quiet and uncomplicated world. The local wildlife slowly wells up in a wave of energy too, growing in activity and energy as warmth floods the system and ekes out all the little creatures from their hidey-holes. Perhaps the onset of Spring is here, as the world of “Oda Al Diente De Le¢n” arrives, which is entirely untranslatable (and ode to Le¢n’s tooth??). Regardless, as the longest track it’s afforded plenty of growing room and makes the most of it, emerging from very sparse sounds into a world of thick accordion drones and playful birdsong, a growing wave of beauteous enthusiasm that takes shape in wistful, bright sequences before fading away.

The closing “No Nacido” or “Unborn” is a surprisingly dark track to close on, especially following the lightness of the preceding piece; guitar lines stumble through a new darkness erratically, even menacingly, with initial owl calls setting the scene for our nighttime excursion. Cold and sleek drones develop and rush through the mix, and with the soft clanking of chains form a sign of our inability to break free of a dark secret kept hidden through the Winter months and now laid bare. A cold wind whips through its final moments and plunges us back into a fugue as the album disappears.

Miguel’s Uji dreams of a world on the edge of life, sitting and waiting for the right conditions to appear before the initiation and reestablishment of new life can begin, but I have a suspicion that Miguel’s Mediterranean world filled with new life is not that of a seasonal transformation but one of insemination and the introduction of new human life into the world, a dream that probes our thoughts on the possibility, the viability, of raising a child in this world of ours. The dream sequence tells us much and more but at the end of it the child remains non-existent, only a sad possibility yet to become reality. A surprisingly dark listen once you’ve plumbed its depths, I feel.

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.