SOUL FEEDING: a list-with-review of the best releases of the month, selected by our editors.
Colin Self – SIBLINGS Album Review
Artist: Colin Self
Label: RVNG Intl.
Colin Self is one of those artists that are ascribable in the panorama of sensible and communicating music, although music is not the only field in which he works. Indeed, the vastness of realities he deals with has allowed him to build an eclectic personality that is expressively complete and very current.
Sticking to what we’re here for, we cannot avoid mentioning his collaboration with Amnesia Scanner in AS Truth mixtape for “AS Brieth”, his presence in the Holly Herndon trio as open act for Radiohead’s world tour in 2016, or his award received at the Donaufestival in 2017 for SIBLINGS, a theatrical live performance that now gives name to his latest album we’re reviewing below this long ass intro. The word “SIBLINGS”, as Self himself (eheh pun) points out, stands for an attempt to re-interpret family bonds throughout not actual blood ties but shared feelings that go beyond mere obviousness.
This almost hour long album is in fact really dense and rich of contaminations, spacing from a multitude of genres that reflect Self’s eclectic formation. Many of the tracks feature a spoken intro that skillfully gets incorporated into the song. Surely here the usage of lyrics or even simple human cries is something primary.
“Story”, “Quorum” (featuring Aunt Sister) and “Stay With The Trouble (For Donna)” are definitely sortable among the most captivating songs. A fair aggressiveness is what characterizes them most, they’re bold and they never lose the boost from the first second to the end. There is one though, “Emblem”, that is particularly brilliant and shows Self’s versatility at its best. The feminine vocals set an angelic and enchanting aura that happens to become a little bit more standard for a while, sticking to the classic scheme of a traditional song that, however, goes back to the initial dreamy situation when the voices merge together in a choir, always maintaining a constant energy. Dynamicity might, therefore, be the keyword that better defines this work, an uninterrupted, relentless dynamicity that permeates the whole album.
By Margherita Rho
Ian William Craig – Tresholder Album Review
Artist: Ian William Craig
If someone little accustomed to the genre asked me a good new record to start listening to ambient music, I would without a doubt recommend Thresholder by Ian William Craig.
The Canadian musician moves away from musique concrete, giving way to the idea of processing the recorded sound, passing through The Disintegration Loops by Williams Basinski but arriving at an unprecedented, extremely expressive and exciting result.
Born as a commissioned work based on quantum physics, black holes, and space, this album seems to put the listener in touch with a universal and unknown forces. The technique is that of Basinski: he uses looped tapes to create distortions, effects and new suggestions. The original soundtrack, however, is different here: first of all, Craig’s voice, who has a classical training in singing, is in this album flanked by a Prophet ’08 synth and an acoustic guitar.
Artificial or natural, mechanical or human: it is not important. On the contrary, Craig’s compound voice and tape machines become one thing, like a musical instrument that he masters with confidence and expressiveness, a bit like turntables for Philip Jeck.
The magnetic layers overlap creating a suspended, ethereal and celestial effect. There is something spiritual that recalls sacred songs tradition, evoking a sort of mystical vision in an ancient cathedral, where you have the perfect feeling of extreme physicality, a textural feeling that can transmit the harmonic reverberations of an organ and the human voice echoing through the church. But there are also more chaotic moments, such as the drones of “Sfumato” or the beautiful “Some Absolute Meas”, where a tangle of electronic sounds finds a solution in the emergence of a delicate and emotional singing that recalls the most experimental works of Jónsi . Ecstasy guaranteed, listen to believe.
By Francesco Cellino
Kelvin T – Unlock Voice Album Review
Artist: Kelvin T
Album: Unlock Voice
Label: Absurd TRAX
“Maybe, if there’s a soul locked inside a sound, can I teach the synths and the drums to scream at me and cry through the speakers? If synthesizers and samplers (no matter whether they are hardware or software) can talk, would they scream at their masters or sing while crying?”
This is the promise behind Unlock Voice, Kelvin T’s debut album.
If with Sedative, his latest EP, the Hong Kong producer, as a subject, used his gear to find out his identity, musically speaking, inspired by his favorite artists (like SOPHIE and Arca), this time he inverts the route, and he himself interrogates his means to create music, turning them into the subjects of this new artistic experiment.
But how does this approach influence Kelvin’s music practically? From a composition point of view, the tracks are generally built starting with only simple synth or drum pattern looping, and then more elements get progressively added (or subtracted) as the patterns go through several micro-variations. No abrupt changes nor drops dictated by a free-flowing creativity, but rather calculated addiction and subtractions of a mind in search of every sound’s hidden breaking point. Maybe beyond that is where the soul, the voice of inanimate (hardware and software alike) lies.
Although this peculiar way of making music may sound aseptic, I assure you that the results are far from being so. Every experiment sees Kelvin T not only as a mere executor/observer but also as a participant that interacts with the sounds he is testing, like they’re both sentient beings dialoguing with their own inner voices.
But, all philosophical speculations aside, Unlock Voices is also a solid record full of bangers that would heat (and alienate) the dance-floor, whether you choose to dance or explore its conceptual depth is up to you.
By Michele Sinatti
Kurama – Tendre Promesse Album Review
Album: Tendre Promesse
Label: Genome 6.66Mbp & HIGH HEAL
Last year the French-born, Brussel-based producer known as Kurama, released his first EP, Souvenir Perdu, via BRAT Records located in Moscow, which was also the first half of a two-part, Kingdom Hearts-inspired project. (if u don’t know the game don’t even @me)
The English translation of Souvenir Perdu would, in fact, be Oblivion, which is the name of one of the many Keyblades(the weapon used by the protagonist in the game) you can wield in your play-through. As its name and the game lore suggest, Oblivion is the embodiment of a heart made dark by experiencing loneliness, to the point of questioning your own existence, a feeling which was excellently portrayed by Kurama’s trance-y, emocore synths, and deconstructed, metal-ish drum patterns in Souvenir Perdu.
However, in the Kingdom Hearts saga, Oblivion is paired-up with another Keyblade, its opposite, called Oathkeeper, which instead is, according to the game lore, the materialization of a heart which has never stopped fighting and has kept believing in the existence of light even through darkness. Tendre Promesse (Oathkeeper in French), Kurama’s latest fatigue, plays the very same part the second half of his Manichaean project.
Co-published by Genome 6.66. Mbp and HIGH HEAL, the EP opens up with a warlike, synthesizers suite that, despite being completely beat-less, is able to evoke the images of a fiery resistance against an opposing force, and prepares the ground for the album’s climax, the post-trance banger “Code-X”. Although this is clearly a club track, while listening to it, It’s impossible not to think of how well it would fit as the soundtrack for a cyber-fantasy video-game final boss-fight, whence the hero’s party wins against all the odds.
And if good video-games have taught us something in life, is that every endgame battle deserves an aftermath (and a secret ending, if you manage to beat all the f*cking Winnie the Pooh mini-games), and this is where Tendre Promesse’s second half comes to play.
The atmosphere gets placid, almost numbing, all the tension of the first two tracks gets released and it’s hard not to feel a sense of reconciliation while listening to the guitar arpeggios and the celestial pads of the luminous “Oathkeeper”.
Kurama has been able to put together a brilliant work, creating a sonic narrative that easily surpasses its own initial references and becomes the soundscape of a personal, heart-felted saga.
By Michele Sinatti
Objekt – Cocoon Crush Album Review
Album: Cocoon Crush
Label: PAN Records
Cocoon Crush marks Objekt‘s return to PAN Records, four years after his last LP, Flatland, was released. A lax of time the Tokyo-born, Belgium-raised has spent constantly and relentlessly touring, mixing and working on this new, extremely complex work, as proven by the clear stylistic evolution and the improved consistency he has reached with this new work in terms of sound design.
If we compare Flatland and Cocoon Crush, the first difference we can notice is in the mood and soundscape. In facts, while Objekt’s former work was more mechanic-sounding and synth-heavy, evoking in the listener’s mind an industrial and artificial atmosphere, the new album, as also stated on the artist’s Bandcamp profile, draws inspiration from the natural world, with sounds that feel more biological and organic than metallic and robotic. Nevertheless, Cocoon Crush projects the listener in a new world, sonically depicting an imaginary mutant environment.
Objekt managed to innovate his sound while still avoiding every genre label (is it ambient techno? IDM?), and he designed a raw, fierce world that still keeps a very neutral aura. In Cocoon Crush there is no space for the dualism between darkness and light, good and evil: this album portrays an extraterrestrial nature, the birth of an alien life, a greenhouse on a spaceship.
By Carlo Casentini
Nazar – Enclave EP Review
Album: Enclave EP
Label: Hyperdub Records
Hyperdub started as a London thing, but has slowly grown into a recipient for bass music mutation from all over the globe. This globalist attitude is perhaps best represented by the latest EP released by the label: Nazar’s Enclave.
As an Angolan raised in Belgium, Enclave is Nazar’s very personal attempt to deal with the civil war – and its aftermath – that tore Angola apart. The producer here explores themes of violence, war, destruction, but also hope and resistance, imbuing the typical Angolan kuduro with his personal experience. The result is what he calls “rough kuduro”, a darker, shattered and, yes, rougher take on the genre’s upbeat features. It’s also a way to criticize in a context where street protest is unsafe or forbidden.
The mood is already set through the tracks’ titles: “Warning shots”, “Airstrike”, “Konvoy” and “Ceasefire” need no further explanation. Throughout the entire EP, the sensation is that of experiencing war and misery from a safe bunker in the battlefield. Icy synth lines pair with distant voices, drums are enriched or mutilated by warfare soundscapes, distorted voices and spoken word accounts of the conflicts make the record sound like an aural documentary and memoir.
No track features a standard kuduro beat, if not briefly before being submerged by explosions and cocking-shooting guns. The opening and closing tracks are the less frantic, with the latter one including a sample of Nazar’s father reading a newspaper of the war days. “Enclave” and “Konvoy” are experiments where kuduro percussions, grime synths, techno 4/4 kick drum, and noises are restlessly blended. “Warning shots” feels like a rave in the battlefield, while the cold and spooky “Airstrike” teaches us how the sounds of gunshots and gun cocking may vividly evoke pain and suffering instead of merely being a grime trope.
Merging collective history and personal memories, Enclave is a tremendous EP that shows how electronic music can (still) be confrontational and reflect on social topics.
By Lorenzo Montefinese
Rosalía – El Mar Querer Album Review
Album: El Mar Querer
Label: Sony Music
Rosalía is one of the most talked artists of the moment. Winner of the Latin Grammy Award 2018 with “Malamente”, the leading single of her last album El Mal Querer, flamenco artist, pop star: the Spanish singer is not easy to label, and this is heavily reflected in her work.
El Mal Querer is, in fact, an impactful encounter between traditions and innovation. The distinctive flamenco sound that characterizes the album is enriched by fashionable electronic sounds, spoken interludes, and a general avant-pop approach. As opposed to other recent reinterpretations of traditional musical style (e.g. the maximalist dancehall music of Bad Gyal), Rosalía manages to modernize flamenco maintaining a really minimalistic sound, where her wonderful voice always prevails on the instruments. This is what makes this album so special: it’s not just old music washed-up by the latest clichés, it’s Rosalía’s personal take on flamenco, and it’s renewing to the point it could be considered a new genre, with new canons and rules that she dictates suavely in her latest, beautiful opera.
Moreover, her approach to music makes flamenco perfectly suitable for an international audience, as proven reflected not only by the viral global marketing campaign that accompanied the release of the album but also in the masterfully crafted video clip for “Malamente”. In the video, references to ancient Spanish traditions and religion continuously alternate with street life scenes, creating a content that appeals to both local and international viewers.
The narrative of the album, articulated through eleven “chapters”, together with Rosalía’s talent, makes it a certain success, and an heavy challenger for AOTY.
By Carlo Casentini
Various Artists – DAGIAN Album Review
Artist: Various Artists
Label: HIGH HEAL
Feeling overwhelmed and tired, lately? Well, put your mind at ease. The Paris-based label HIGH HEAL has the right medication for you since they’ve recently come out with a new compilation entitled DAGIAN. The mastering, as it happened with their previous compilation, Pharmakeia, bears the signature of Lorenzo Targhetta, while the beautiful artwork was realized by the visual artist Laetitia Bech.
The main idea of this selection is, in all likelihood, to give the listener a chance to redeem himself and abandon to the healing power of this ambient-ish and soft tunes, which manage to sound spiritual and very moving. Even more so, they label themselves as a “gathering of soulmates to heal through music”, so you can’t really go wrong with this.
The compilation grows very slowly, gradually, beginning with “Baleful Love” by Ange Halliwell and Corporation‘s “Transilvania smile”, an extended track characterized by jarring synths, as sinister as melancholic, that creates a conflictual, unresting atmosphere. While Dj Offshore‘s track marks the first step into melody, a major divergence comes with the fourth track by For You Katrina, with its imposing choirs that reverberate with strength over harmonies.
jjjacob‘s ‘Tribulation’ then gifts you with five minutes of authentic emotional relief before Imer6ia leads you to a slightly new mood with her IDM beat, gloomy and light. A lovely muffled kick pushes you forward, simple yet very effective given the nature of this compilation, while Lester massive vocal manipulation and ascending melodies guide you to pain relief. Brilliantly placed among the others, Lukann‘s track, with its hesitating vibe that resembles a doubt, it’s the perfect setting for RUI HO‘s ‘Reel’ to fit in. Rain sounds and numerous sound layers, complete the ritual of purification while you’re walking sunk in your thoughts, closing the circle-structured set of tracks with accuracy.
Eventually, DAGIAN has a contemplative flavor and thought-provoking moments without being too demanding, giving room to ethereal sounds and heartwarming atmospheres. An effective remedy for your momentary spleen and a great follow up to Pharmakeia.
By Andrea Alfieri
Vessel – Queen Of Golden Dogs Album Review
Album: Queen Of Golden Dogs
Label: Tri-Angle Records
We could have expected anything from Sebastian Gainsborough aka Vessel. After exploring dubby, cracked techno on Order Of Noise, and DIY post-industrial dance-non-dance music on Punish, honey, he returns for his third long player surprising us all.
The result of eighteen months of solitude in rural Wales, Queen Of Golden Dogs is a painstakingly crafted album where the classic meets the contemporary, chamber and choral music having intercourses with Vessel’s own brand of shattered, post-club music. Here you’ll find sumptuous (yet often dissonant) strings arrangements, harpsichord interludes, vocalizations, and choral singing – plus a sung version of a poem written by Fernando Pessoa; at the same time (and sometimes it means at the actual same time) Vessel blasts us with hypersaturated, maximalist synth lines and neurotic and joyfully convulsive percussions.
It’s a relentless ebb and flow between this polarization and everything in-the-middle, and Vessel proves himself a master of narrative as the juxtaposition of tracks creates a dynamic flux with no safe foothold. Think about the transition from the tribal clattering of “Argo (for Maggie)” to the melancholic strings and childish vocals of “Zahir (for Eleanor)”, or from “Arcanum (for Christalla)”’s baroque harpsichord to the tumultuous drumming and synths of “Glory glory (for Tippi)”. And appreciate how the spooky singing on “Torno-me eles e nau-e (for Remedios)” smoothly fades in what is arguably the most engaging track of QOGD, “Paplu (love that moves the sun)”.
Not narcotic and smoky as on his first record, not brutal and nihilistic as the second, Vessel seems to have left the inescapable doom that dominated his previous work behind.
QOGD is a coincidentia oppositorum, a work where classical and avantgardist, melodic and cacophonic, stillness and frenzy merge creating something new.
As Vessel himself said, QOGD “is an exploration of living a life devoted to uncertainty, curiosity and change”. I dare say it also is a merging of worlds, a whole new organic creature that broadens the horizon of musical, aesthetical and conceptual possibilities.
By Lorenzo Montefinese
ZULI – Terminal Album Review
In past years, we have read with interest and curiosity about VENT, the Egyptian club night that has hosted important international artists in the capital city, from Amnesia Scanner and Mumdance to Ben Ufo and Huerco S. No less important, the enthusiastic group of promoters behind this party had the merit of giving space to a group of Cairenes artists, developing a local scene in a city and in a nation traditionally distant from world clubbing maps.
In this context, VENT co-founder and producer ZULI is certainly a key player. Terminal is his debut LP and is released for Lee Gamble’s UIQ, like his very first EPs. Grown up as a DJ, samples are at the basis of his compositions, but this time ZULI tries to better define his style, taking distance from most danceable club music: meanwhile, he points out that “melodic stuff” is the main focus of this work.
It is an album that probably recalls Cairo only because he lives and experiences the city, but this does not mean that it is a caricature of what we commonly associate with the Arab world. So do not expect a Middle Eastern version of drum’n’bass or vocals on Arabic scales over deep beats – to be clear, he is not Omar Souleyman. Furthermore, ZULI’s artistic approach is absolutely contemporary and open to all contaminations: ambient, hip hop, chill step, sound collages, experimental electronic pop, and other more melodic forms.
Throughout the record basslines made of long and powerful notes are the background to trap vocals or sung melodies that sound almost alien. In the middle you can find distorted and frenetic synths as in “Bump”, or vaporous and melancholy moments as in “Stacks & Arrays”, and still a thousand other shades. Every track lives on its own, also thanks to several artists featured on the whole record. The result is a little confusing, but it’s easy to forgive him because the whole release sounds wholly refined and never redundant: another proof that ZULI is one of the artists to watch out for in the next few years.
By Francesco Cellino
Artwork by Francesco Battaglia