Motion Sickness of Time Travel – Ballade For A Buck Moon (2014)

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The 27th release of Rachel Evans’s Motion Sickness of Time Travel project, Ballade For A Buck Moon, is an album I’m finding tremendously difficult to talk about. I’m a bit rusty and having something of an off day when it comes to writing it seems, and the right words and thoughts don’t seem to be flowing forth for some reason. Which is a shame because despite MSOTT’s prodigious but at times rather disappointing discography, Buck Moon is a really interesting little number that’s been a pretty, subdued little release for me to enjoy these last couple of weeks.

Buck Moon, along with the other 10 albums currently in the series, is the latest installment of celestially inspired music from MSOTT, with each record in the Ballade series titled for and named after the Native American designation for the full moon of each month in the year, Buck of course being July’s. The content of the album doesn’t seem too far removed sonically from the works I’ve heard from MSOTT before; synth summoned drones dominate with some sprinklings of delicate electronica interspersed throughout to give it some sense of motion, attached to occasional waves of lo-fi processings giving it some welly, and all of it deeply ethereal and hauntingly delicate.

Something that I find particularly interesting is that, despite the album having a number of discrete phases and sequences, there’s nothing preventing you from jumping in at pretty much anytime; that’s not a criticism, I think it’s definitely possible to dive in anywhere and not feel like you’ve missed out on anything, because much of the album wallows in very similar progressions of sparse, organ-like drone engaged in competitions of diminishing volume and activity levels. Quivering currents often lie beneath the more actively driving drones, squeezing out thin movements of distorted vision, the trembling mirage of the Moon through a telescope or the twinkling of its accompanying stars, jittering through atmospheric distortion in the clear Summer skies. It’s just that there’s not huge amounts of evolution here to get caught up in is all.

There’s an unavoidable sense of isolation here I feel as well, of incredible loneliness and separation, like we’ve deliberately distanced ourselves to watch the rise and progression of the Buck Moon specifically. Or perhaps it’s simply a side effect of night, a feeling of seclusion and quiet disconnect from reality and civilisation as people retreat to bed through the witching hour, us alone left to our own devices, to feel that deeper connection to nature that so many of us are losing in our steel and concrete shells. This sensation grows strongly through the later parts of the album, where hauntingly beautiful wafts of ethereal, echoic and distant vocal coos come washing through the mix, soft prayers of thanks to Mother Nature singing out alone, especially potent following the more confident and moderately more empowered/louder sequences through the mid-album as we come more to terms with that isolation.

I do have some concerns though; I think the album is really beauteous and interesting to listen to as it ebbs and flows, the Moon moving through the trees and the clouds, but it never really feels climactic and the evolution feels almost absent. I’d love there to be some sense of progression other than the rotation of the Moon from horizon to horizon but it often doesn’t feel like there’s much meat in between that, no really strong, overarching emotional progression from a personal standpoint, our thoughts and actions and perceptions warping through time. That being said, I love the way it becomes sleepy and fragile in its closing chapter, dying slowly as it sinks over the now lightening horizon and marking our turn for home and hearth as the lo-fi pulses stop appearing and the thrumming synths collapse into daylight. It’s a sparse release to be sure, and I would say that it actually demands to be listened specifically at this time of year, preferably at night and outside where you can couple it with that warm Summer breeze as you gaze skywards. Peaceful and charming, I like it.

Burial – Rival Dealer (2013, EP)

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Where do I even start? It’s been some time since exploring Burial’s catalogue; Untrue has never been a favourite album of mine and I’ve been previously underwhelmed by some of his other EPs, but it would appear that something has finally clicked into place with his latest effort from the famous Hyperdub label in  Rival Dealer. Maybe it’s simply a matter of right place, right time, but Rival Dealer hits all the spots and more, and I just can’t get enough.

The title track opens this three piece EP with a 10 minute timespan and good god is it incredible. “I’m gonna love you more than anyone” is sung through the already empowered melody, a dark synth lead piece the likes of which I’ve never heard before. It sounds like tortured strings singing through a thick drum machine bassline, lo-fi fuzz and snippets of mechanical noise, a stuttering and staccato performance that evokes images of some film noir chase scene. The rushes of sound, the deeply processed vocals, even the somewhat imperfect nature of the mixing, are all perfect. Suddenly it melts away at around the halfway mark in a pulse of disturbed electronica and switches into its second phase, one where 4/4 beats are king and the beats become less slippery and coy and more abrasive and progressive. Even this falls away as we enter the closing minutes of the track and it’s perhaps the most beautiful so far. Ambience reigns supreme in this slow motion melancholic period of grace, delicate female vocals confessing that they’ve “been watching you” through the distortion, and that “this is who I am”. The whole piece is also about acceptance of the relinquishment of a relationship, the realisation that things can’t go on forever, especially in the final phase of sung vocals.

“Hiders” is an unusual piece but somehow manages to work everything together. Fans of Burial might very well not be a fan of this, significantly more Pop influenced, piece; there’s a peacefulness and even euphoria here in the glowing walls of running water and shimmering synth drone sequences, the light crackling of fire and the jangling of jewellery. It kicks up the pace in the latter half as it moves away from these slower movements into a more uptempo number with the drum machine setting the cheesy but satisfying rhythm. It’s happy, joyous, although it leads darkly into the final track “Come Down To Us” with tracts of murky noise and stuttering glitch.

The closer then is ushered in and presented as an inherently dark number is a complex leviathan of mixed sounds and emotion. Sometimes capitalising on the moody drones evoked in the title track it creates expansive vistas of hopeful sound, other times slipping into slinky sitars to give a slightly more off-kilter feel that, coupled with deep basslines, generates an inherently more creepy atmosphere. Vocals are a huge component of this piece, often times being used more as a textural fabric rather than as clearly defined voices, but they set the tone and message of this piece. “Don’t be afraid” is repeated frequently in an alarming voice; “this is the moment where you see who you are”, and an important speech by transgender filmmaker Lana Wachowski at the very end all make this a track about embracing not only yourself but the opinions and views of other people, accepting that we cant please everyone but we can be happy within ourselves so long as we accept who we are. The final phase in particular is an evocative sequence of sultry percussion, beautiful vocal soars and expansive synths that overcome the hardships of our darker moments.

It’s so astonishingly well paced and well constructed it’s really difficult not to get sucked into this release. The vocals are repeated but are mixed up enough throughout to give a real sense of personal evolution and keep the pieces fresh, and their processing matches the tone of the tangentially evolving melodies perfectly. I think the themes of sexuality and personal acceptance are certainly an important facet of this release but for me it’s more the journey than the message; I simply cannot stop listening to it. The way he juxtaposes the paralysing dark sequences with those concerned voices against the joyous, light filled movements is simply beautiful to behold, and if you’re in any way a fan of Dubstep, Garage, Techno, Ambient or all of the above, I would highly recommend checking it out.

You can listen to all the tracks for free at Hyperdub’s Youtube Page

Painted Caves – Surveillance (2013)

This week could not have been any worse; I can be thankful that I’ve had little to no lectures. Besides a sore throat, crushing headache and coughing fits, I’m now partially deaf in one ear, which makes listening to music something of an interesting challenge. That being said, it is high time that music be reviewed, so here we go. Surveillance, by Painted Caves.

I think the concepts played out by this album are relatively obvious, and don’t really need spelling out. Paranoia, the feeling of being watched and monitored, it’s something that should be on everyone’s minds in this day and age if it isn’t already. Not only are we caught on a thousand digital eyes as we leave the house, we are tracked across the internet as we hop from site to site. Painted Caves want to make this clear and I think it comes across strongly. We leap straight into “Never Alone” with flat and stark percussion driving home the mean, arrhythmic, mechanical drones that underpin the piece, these shadowy figures that lurk in the backfield just out of sight but not quite out of mind, faceless and creepy. The glowing glitch stutters in the latter half transmogrify into more determined rhythmic beats into the gorgeously dark “Flesh On Tape”, the slow flicker of CRT displays in the dark as a bass beat establishes itself and a distant synth riffs roll through the mix in waves of activity, following. The slow, consistent melodies begin to fragment and distort, pick up tempo and volume as the fear sets in; we try to run but the cameras switch endlessly; we’re always in the sightlines.

“Leningrad” presents a comparatively harsher tone as saw-waves abrade the piece during its opening sequences before we slipstream into more Minimal Techno movements. Cool, dark, bass heavy beats creep alongside these fluttering fragments of electronic noise and drone. It’s a slow arc of sound, like a city bathed in twilight just itching for the Sun to finally relinquish its grasp and embrace nightfall. Its polyrhythms stand poised almost on the edge of chaos; it’s clear there’s a barely restrained excitable beast of sound lurking just below the surface. It finishes as unceremoniously as it starts, fading out into the abyss and welcoming in “Event Boundary” in its stead. Again, another track that seems to cruise along on the edge of safety, barely restraining itself as it slowly rises on a bed of scurrying electronica and static arcs.

“Shadow Gamelan” has something of an early-Biosphere vibe to it with its reverb heavy minimal electronic instrumentation soundscape. Pulses of sound call out from somewhere deep within the void and go bouncing off the walls, voices calling out but going ignored and unanswered. But then as we progress new textures join the fray, signals going back and forth between lost souls, some sense of companionship in this lonely and forbidding darkness, echoing off one another. They retreat as friends into the once again more driven “Loft Life”, I suppose a better way of saying “basement life”. But refuge at home is little refuge from prying eyes, as we well know. Despite this, tales are being spun and plots being made in the dark, slow beats being spun out like they were in the early album, but this time quieter and with more care so as to avoid detection. The sound is flatter than before, muffled and stifled by thick walls and heavy air, shimmers of grinding noise rolling over the top.

Closer “Stalker” arrives after only 25 minutes of runtime and it’s the best and grittiest piece of them all. Have the roles been reversed? Has the stalked become the stalker? Those heavy synths walk strong footsteps in this the most empowered of all the tracks. Whistling electronic beams cut through the piece, like distressed digital bird calls, and then distant and processed voices churn away, barely audible above the thick drone fog that permeates the track. It continues in this vein for sometimes before the mark is lost, the voices disappearing into the night air and the hunt is off, the music subsequently falling apart as it loses its sense of purpose.

Despite what I’ve said, I don’t think this is an album about emulation, about becoming evil and becoming the stalker following the study of evil, I think it’s the natural progression from brazen and out-in-the-open monitoring to more obscure, secretive means. People objectify being watched so openly out in public at all hours of the day by the government, but they still want to, so who’s to say they wont do it in secret? After all, it’s not a problem until somebody finds out about it, right? I think this album says a lot about the current state of affairs when it comes to our privacy and lack thereof. It’s another short one but it says everything it needs to within its curt 32 minutes, and it’s extremely accessible.