Lusine – Arterial (Ghostly, Single, 2014)

It’s not often that I review singles; mostly that’s due to the nature of Ambient music and the distinct lack of them (although I suppose in a way quite a few Ambient and Drone releases could be considered “singles” purely by track count, but I digress) but also because it’s not hugely often that artists really come out with individual track releases that I find exciting enough to indulge writing on. Lusine’s Jeff McIlwain has a special place in my heart as many of you may know, however, so how could I let something like this slip by?

The title track of an impending 4 track EP due to arrive in August,  it’s a deliciously fresh way to let us know that Jeff’s still alive and keen to produce music. Arterial is his first EP since 2010’s Twilight set of mixes, but unlike that particular release and most of his other EPs also, it appears we’re going to be introduced to wholly new content rather than rehashed album versions, which is great news for annoying fans like me. Showcasing the style he’s been refining under Ghostly’s protective wings for the last 10(!) years, Arterial is a little bit of a mulch, predominantly building on the big builds of recent The Waiting Room but with some interesting twists. Whilst those cute little clarinet fragments and sliding electronic whoops that have become cemented into his trademark still form a big part of the track’s early moments alongside the drum machine, it’s eager to show that this isn’t just another Microhouse one trick pony as it manages a carefully orchestrated build in textural and emotional complexity.

Its core shifts to a mildly more serious focused synth shuffling, the riff doubling down in this slow-burning but surprisingly epic climax, slipping in to the dark expanse of night. The slurred meanderings of chopped vocal nothings and driving MIDI claps fall away in a crackling rift that changes the tone of the piece right as the Sun sinks below the horizon, but once this urgency has passed all of the initial swirling textures circle back into the mix like moths to a flame, some resurgent beauty found in this dark heart.

God I can’t stop listening to this; at the same time it commands this high-volume, meaty aura that’s really thickly groove inducing and all-consuming in its most energised and complex state, but at the same time it’s got this sly and elusive beauty lurking in the shadows behind all these rampant riffs and heady basslines. It’s got a really cathartic and escapist feel that’s both relieved in its freedom but also vaguely concerned at the consequences of its actions; I like that sensation, because it feels like it’s a bastardised reworking of some early, more delicate Lusine work that’s been given this huge boost of digital energy in a very different direction, and it doesn’t quite know how to deal with it.

The EP drops on August 5th and you can preorder the 10″  or digital version from Ghostly International here.

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Auburn Lull – Hiber EP (Geographic North, 2014)

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For the first time in a long time and after a relatively relaxed but emotionally tumultuous week, it’s time to get back into the late night review groove with a stunning awakening in Auburn Lull’s first musical output in 6 years. I’ve been meaning to get round to Hiber for a little while but now seems the opportune time; as Auburn Lull rise up out of their hiatus my own flow reverts; with university now conclusively finished and a terrifying wall of unemployed free time approaches, it seems our roles are being reversed, exemplified in this delicate, 20 minute EP.

“Moterm” shows almost no signs of having been away, booting up instantly in a jovial wave of bouncy synths filling the empty void with their sparkle and energy, that voice of enthusiasm reverbing merrily in the sparse, cavernous, dry chamber of the creative well. It’s a wonderfully brief and cute way to open the release as it evolves instantly into the much more measured “CA1” which dominates much of the EP’s timespan in of itself. The naivety is replaced by a cruel reality as the bright and bubbly pace of the opener diffuses away in this sad, elongate beauty filled with string drones and wavering synth lines. There’s a lightness to it still but the immediacy is lost and it’s an old and tired fugue for large part, its sunlight an old and faded, hollow sort of sound, wise beyond its years but also cynical. Its evolution is careful and measured, migrating through crests and troughs of emotional despondence as it proceeds through its haunting journey.

“CA1” does eventually fade from view and thus ending the A-side of the cassette on a rather low point considering the opener, but the B-side is quickly brought back round with “Sosna”, a similarly short and sharp introduction that throws the door wide open with a thick and commanding synth drone and snapping alterations in its flow as its pitch adjusts, jerking from one track to the next as if attempting to banish the interstitial silence as harshly as possible. The proceeding title track “Hiber” is a welcome relief, then, especially in that it doesn’t attempt to take on the melancholic expanse of the A-side. It arrives in bursts of filtered piano, distant tinklings of smeared sound that shimmer like the Sun on a pond but seem to also translate the murkiness of the muddied waters on which they exist, fuzzy and warbled as they are, flowing in and out as banks of cloud dim our view until night falls and forces us into closer “Static Partition”.

It may actually be my favourite track of the album, returning in circular waves of passionate and needy melody; at first they grow strong and impress upon us their overwhelming display of emotion, choking us with repetitive performances of hard and sad strings that slowly spiral out into an altogether less texturally complex and rather resigned diminuendo, shaking and quivering at its synth tips. Flushes of sound rake across its surface too; passing currents of gentle static, wobbling reverbed echoes and distal, delicate tympany in some slow percussion just add to the reluctantly miserable symphony. I suppose it’s a beautifully deceptive record really; introducing itself on surprisingly empowered riffs but quickly devolving and demonstrating a deep-set fugue, it’s a creative pit devoid of activity beyond what we see and deeply aware of the void that surrounds it, it fills the chasm with echoic and reverbed pulses of instrumentation in an attempt to rekindle the fire. It’s a graceful and not too depressing listen that’s actually quite refreshing in its luxurious simplicity.

You can listen to the EP in full at the Geographic North Soundcloud here.

Fennesz – The Liar (2014, Single)

For the last 6 years, fans of Christian Fennesz’s electroacoustic music have been waiting patiently for a new solo full length album since Black Sea was released on Touch Records in 2008. Whilst there’s been plenty of collaborative music in the meantime (soundtracks in AUN and spontaneous compositions in 2012 EP On Invisible Pause, to name a couple) I/we have been hankering for some unadulterated Fennesz and finally, after recent whisperings of a new LP on the horizon, we get anticipatory pre-release single “The Liar”, and what a behemoth it is.

Said to be the spiritual successor to 2001 epic Endless Summer, Bécs already looks like it’s skipped over the incrementally mellowing music of his last few records and taken us back to his more abrasive roots with this track. Opening to crushing blasts of mangled guitar it’s already far removed from the subtlety of the synth drones of recent works as it segues into cathartic rushes of obliterating guitar noise and drone. That persistent rhythm first set forth is increasingly buried under more and more layers of warped sound, preventing the transmission of this sonic beacon by smothering it in as many false truths as possible. But despite the ferocity and the surficial menace there’s also something more, deep below, some barely audible shimmers of light drone that sing beautifully in the backfield as though to play Devil’s Advocate and bring balance to the equation.

It’s a tragic and rending piece that remains bullheaded and stubborn till the very end, riding out the storm of tempestuous noise and grinding guitar as it slowly and calmly repeats the same crunching chords from beginning to end despite the opposition. Quite the conceptual piece and quite the stunner; I never expected something this brash but I must say I’m blown away, it’s intoxicating. If this is any indication as to what the forthcoming album will hold I think we could be in for one of the best albums of the year. Stellar.