The six installment from french experimental label Laaps comes in the form of ‘Freedom Is Its Own Kind Of Salary’, an eight track album from London based artist Valance Drakes, whose prolificness in the studio over the last ten years has seen him release on a multitude of notable labels including; Detroit Underground, Cut N Paste Records and Kaer’Uiks.
Drake’s production style seems to effortlessly skirt a multitude of genres, with ‘FIIOKOS’ offering sections of experimental, ambient, breakbeat, and IDM. Playing with an array of different textures and soundscapes, ‘FIIOKOS’ succeeds in exemplifying Drakes’ craft as an experimental artist. It sounds considered and mature; the work of an artist who has really found their groove and can call upon years of technical expertise when putting production pen to paper. I could listen to this album all day.
Laaps is certainly a label to keep an eye on, with half a dozen top quality physical releases in their catalogue, despite having only been conceived in January of this year – each output is fronted by a 200 limited edition vinyl run, with a CD-R run of the same number (some going considering the obstacles 2020 has presented them!). All extremely strong concepts and well worth a couple of hours of your time, with the recent ‘Literature’ by Tomotsugu Nakamura being one of the highlights for me.
The same team behind Laaps are also behind the project Ikki Books; a fine art concept which brings together visual and aural artists to produce a published book and accompanying soundtrack. Wonderfully creative and again, well worth checking out.
As May draws to a close it’s time to reflect on a busy month of new releases. Global lockdown, for the most part, continues to be upheld. Here’s a short edit of some of the best music released in May (disclaimer – there could have been another ten posts!)
‘Mist Coming Down’ – Rime Trails (Self-Released)
Little can be found online about Rime Trails, an elusive ambient producer from Denmark. Over the past few years, a handful of releases across Shimmering Mood Records and Afterlife Ltd (plus some self-released works) have led to clusters of fans across the globe. ‘Mist Coming Down’ is Rime Trail’s latest offering – a delicate and considered 5-track ambient E.P. which traverses through sections of blissful piano tones and powerful, atmospheric synthscapes.
‘Of memories and hopes’ – Fallen (Lontano Series)
A Lontano Series release was the first ever feature on Kaninhal and as label head Andrea Procu continues to deliver treats for the ears, a recent offering from Fallen (AKA Lorenzo Bracaloni) once again stands out. ‘Of memories of hopes’ is an eight track album, soundtracking the story of a man who sets about attempting to understand his life and confirm whether the life he has fought for is really what he wants. He decides to take an eight day break, to reconnect with himself and what makes him human. Powerful stuff, especially when considering current circumstances and a story i’m sure many of us can draw parallels with.
Bracaloni impresses with his ability to convey emotions throughout each of the compositions. For example, ‘The Man I Am’ projects feelings of melancholy and reflection, whereas ‘Room with a View’ feels hopeful and uplifting. A real class act of a release.
‘Abstraction’ – Ralph Kinsella (Self-Released)
Debut release from Scotland based Ralph Kinsella displays a production maturity of an artist with years of experience under their belt and long discography to boot. Currently living in a remote location, Kinsella cites detachment as the thread linking the ‘Abstraction’ together. For me , the release is tactile and soothing – feather-like guitar chords are the highlight throughout, contrasted against a backdrop of manipulated (somewhat industrial) synths and otherworldly sounds. Available as a free download and one to watch for sure.
‘Rituals’ – Arnaud Le Texier (Affin)
I first saw Le Texier play in Newcastle, a little over ten years ago. It’s fair to say he leaned towards a slightly lighter sound back then, but over the years he has developed into one of the most prolific producers in the modern techno circuit. His three-track E.P. ‘Rituals’ marks a return to Joachim Spieth’s Affin imprint, responsible for releasing some of the best techno of recent years (stand out releases from Ukranian Svarog are jewels in my vinyl collection). In ‘Rituals’, non-compromising peak time techno is the order of the day – the tracks almost growl. Punchy, hard, fast. Brilliant.
Le Texier co-runs the Children of Tomorrow label, which seems to mirror the artists impressive production rate. Their podcast series is now over 50 editions old and the perfect opportunity to hear Le Texier at full throttle. I also often revisit his set recorded for the Erratic podcast in 2016, which you can find here.
‘The Abuse of Hypnosis in Dance Environments’ – Notzing (Edit Select)
Another label synonymous with shaping the contemporary techno sound is Edit Select, a project founded in 2007 by electronic artist Tony Scott, who also djs and produces under the same moniker. Fast approaching 100 releases, the ES discography presents itself as a lip-smacking smorgasbord of contemporary techno, featuring industry figureheads (including Mike Parker, Mark Broom and Antonio Ruscito) plus pushing the earlier careers of some of today’s most prominent DJs and producers (SNTS and Alfredo Mazzili for example).
Notzing is a sound artist from Madrid and returns to the label for his second release in quick succession. ‘The Abuse of Hypnosis in Dance Environments’ is a hard-hitting dance-floor-ready five tracker, with remixes / interpretations from Mod21 and the inimitable Oscar Mulero.
Volunteer Coroner (aka Preston Weippart) continues his search for the strange with his latest release ‘Black Plastic’, a four track E.P. featuring a collection of boundary pushing noises and spoken word. Something of a master in creating music that sets the listener on edge, this is sound experimentation at its finest.
Welcome to the sounds of Kate Carr. The Australian-born, London-based experimental artist who uses field recordings, sonic mappings et al, to explore the relationship between the natural and man-made worlds we find ourselves inextricably linked with.
Over the last ten years, Carr has quietly forged a career as an artist and curator, presenting her sound in the form of live performances, commissions and installations whilst also passing her knowledge on through lectures and workshops.
I first came across Carr in 2016, when she released ‘It was a time of laboured metaphors’ on boundary pushing US tape label ‘Helen Scarsdale Agency’. A return to the imprint occurred fifteen months later with ‘The Story Surrounds Us’ (I didn’t get a lot of sleep in Mexico is particularly beautiful) which in turn sparked a further personal interest in Carr’s sound.
Her latest release comes in the form of long form ‘Where to begin’, which began life as a shorter piece commissioned by the BBC. Released on Carr’s own imprint ‘Flaming Pines’, accompanying release notes can be found below.
‘This work was originally a shorter piece commissioned for the BBC show The Verb. I was asked to make a piece about loneliness, and I made a work which focused on the act of writing a love letter, as an activity we do alone in an attempt to connect with someone else. I have reworked this into a longer piece over the past few months, and because it seems to resonate somewhat aptly in this moment, I decided to put it out now. It is made from fragments of read love letters, sent to me by a wide range of people, and in several languages. Musically all sounds are created from recordings of falling glass beads hitting various surfaces, and instruments, in addition to close up recordings of the friction of pen on paper, and the textures of paper’.
Available on CD and digitally through Carr’s Bandcamp page. Further reading / listening can be found here.
Manchester based ambient artist Ben Rath releases ‘Be Well’ on Unknown Tone Records, an eight-track digital LP which will be the last musical output from Rath for ‘the foreseeable future’.
This gives the feeling of being a very personal release for Rath. Not much detail is given on his decision to stop making music, but track titles such as ‘Please don’t be afraid’ and ‘A safer place’ underpin the sentiment of a farewell. The former is the opening track, and ‘Be well’ begins with robust ambient soundscapes. Light-as-a-feather synths float effortlessly, interspersed with introspective samples. ‘Dear Enemies and Friends’ sets a slightly more sombre tone, as Rath continues experimenting with field recordings and samples.
Gentle acoustic guitar is introduced in the third track, ‘I Never Recovered’, set against a backdrop of earthy field recordings. Emotive and reflective, it is here that the listener is reminded of Rath’s abundant skill with more traditional instruments. Guitar makes way for piano in ‘Sympathetic Joy’ as beefy, arpeggio-esque compositions ring out, almost akin to church bells. ‘Deliverance’ is more conceptual, with more abstract / experimental sounds explored and ‘Chimes’ offers a musical entremet, with soft bells the only sound for over a minute.
These bells continue briefly within the first section of ‘A Safer Place’, before atmospheric drone is ushered in – elongated synths create a dream-like state. Rath saves his longest piece for the finale; ‘Holy Mother Drone’ is a ten minute ode to textured ethereal ambient.
A truly beautiful album, showcasing Rath’s clear talent as a multidisciplinary musician and a shame that this appears to be his last work for the short-mid term future. Available digitally via the Unknown Tone Records Bandcamp page.
Slightly late to the party on this one (released March 27th) but stumbling across Finnish born sound artist Cucina Povera (aka Maria Rossi) and her latest album Tyyni was one of my favourite discoveries to date. Following previous releases; Zoom in 2019 and Hilja in 2018, Tyyni pushes Rossi to a more studio-based experimental sound.
The record begins with ‘Salvia Salvatrix’, where Rossi’s voice sets an almost sacred tone. Powerful, warped synths lay place as a somewhat distorted backdrop – the chaos ensuing whilst spoken word remains calm and unnerved. In ‘Anarkian kuvajainen’, Rossi’s vocals begin as an instrument, complementing a droning synth and glitchy mobile phone transmissions. As the track progresses, a dream like verse is introduced, which allows the listener to slowly drift to an almost meditative state..
‘Teerenpeli’ is possibly the most ‘modern’ sounding track – a minimalist-style tribal drum loop is present throughout and sampled recordings (simulating trickling water, crickets, thunder claps and echoing bird calls) glue the composition together with a naturistic undertone. Side A finishes with ‘Varjokuvatanssi’ – all instruments are stripped away and a haunting monologue is partnered only by quiet spoken-word background murmurs.
‘Polyton Nurkka’s’ distorted synth and heavy kick juxtapose gentle keys and Rossi’s melodic vocals, and in ‘Haaksirikkoutunut’, the record shifts again to a more abstract place, where structure makes way for sporadic drum pads, peppered with a manner of different samples and recordings.
‘Saniaiset’ allows Rossi’s voice to be pushed to the foreground once more, with half-spoken and half-sung lyrics intertwined to the backdrop of a church bell-esque ringing synth, to stunning effect. Rounding things off with ‘Jolkottelureitti’, scaled synths sweep throughout the 8-minute track, whilst Rossi grants the listener one last show of her beautiful vocal range.
Not normally one for picking a favourite track, but the opener ‘Salvia Salvatrix’ really stood out for me. It’s where Rossi’s stunning vocal range is possibly most highlighted.
Further reading (and discography) can be found here, whilst a mix recorded by Rossi for alternative music store Bleep, is also well worth a listen.
The latest addition to the impressive discography of ambient / experimental Porto-based tape label, Eastern Nurseries, comes in the form of ‘A Blue Wing’, an emotive three tracker from Canadian Rifles (the solo moniker of label head Rui Andrade).
The label first came to my attention in July last year, when Andrade released the second EP from the then fledgling label – ‘Of course I still love you / Geranium’ a limited run two track tape, whose interior was sprayed with the 2003 fragrance ‘Hugo Boss Baldessarini’ (the scent of a long lost lover perhaps?).
Since then, EN has operated at the indie-like efficiency I love and admire, releasing seven E.P and L.Ps in as many months. Initially, Andrade predominantly issued his own works under the Candian Wings moniker, but recent outputs by Nonchalant (‘I wish I could be somewhere with you’) and Lift Aym (‘Rare Earth Exposure’) have hinted at a slight change in direction.
In ‘A Blue Wing’, Andrade uses layer upon layer of powerful drone soundscapes. Opener ‘Two Women’ begins almost contemplative and somewhat ethereal, in contrast to the powerful, atmospheric title track which follows. To round things off ‘She proceeded to blindly tell fragrances apart at the airport duty free’ to me evokes a certain sadness, perhaps distraction, from an upcoming journey away from a loved one.
Perhaps just my viewpoint, but I seem to pick out several references to love, and more so, loss in a number of the releases that make up EN’s discography. Some subtle, in the instance of ‘Old and New Bridges’ by HRNS and some much more upfront; ‘I saw his plane taking off to the clouds’ by Tbilisi based FH HF.
As highlighted with other independent tape labels, the whole package is brought together beautifully. Releases are complemented with artwork in different mediums (photography / collage / graphic design). For ‘A Blue Wing’, Andrade uses a beautiful piece by designer Laura Costas (unfortunately I couldn’t find any further information – will continue the search).
‘A Blue Wing’ is available digitally via the Eastern Nurseries Bandcamp Page. We eagerly await their next release and wish Rui and all affiliated to the label a safe passage through these difficult and uncertain times.
Release number seven on Wigan (UK) based experimental tape output Steep Gloss, comes in the form of ‘Can you ear me?’, a boundary-pushing seven track collaboration between interdisciplinary artist and musician Brandstifter and word-and-sound artist (Dirk) Huelstrunk, collectively known as Antibodies.
All seven tracks see Huelstrunk’s skittish poetry given centre stage, with Brandstifter creating a complementary soundscape each time, with the use of unusual instruments, erratic noises and rhythms. All culminating in what sounds like the inner ramblings of a psychotic state.
‘Send Receiver’ is a short intro track – a taste of what’s to come if you like. A strained spoken word beginning sweeps along with an under current of near acid like synth. A minute in, the words make way for the awakening of a sketchy orchestra, a variety of noises providing almost sensory overload. Title track ‘can you ear me?’ does an amazing job of building tension right from the off. A quiet, tribal-esque drum rhythm is solitary for around a minute, until Brandstifter again begins to introduce an array of conflicting noises with Huelstrunks input coming in the form of elongated oral drones. The ‘buzzing fly’ also adds another layer of unease.
‘Mic robes’ begins with an almost distressed sounding monologue, which progresses into manic laughter, with the accompanying soundtrack stripped back to an almost medical metronome. Calm before the storm perhaps?
Indeed. If the previous three tracks were good at building tension, then ‘dis cushion’ is all about uncomfortable apprehension. The ‘mad man’ has become angry and the solemn, somewhat contemplative monologues make way for screams, shouts and everything in between. Again the music is abstract and minimalist – doing an amazing job in providing a jittery backdrop to the intermittent ramblings.
‘Yesnow’ is slightly ‘calmer’, with Huelstrunk’s voice twisted and manipulated to create an array of noises and rhythms. ‘Flamengo’ rounds things off on a reflective, but sinister note. I love releases like this – where I find myself creating my own story in which the release soundtracks. ‘Can you ear me?’ allowed me to create my most vivid yet.
Steep Gloss is definitely a label to follow. Although only launching in December of last year, their output so far has consisted of some of the most weird and wonderful experimental music coming out of the UK at the moment. A perfect musical accompaniment to seemingly endless isolation!
Experimental musician Yosuke Tokunaga’s latest output comes in the form of ‘13 Monotonousness’, a 13 track limited edition cassette run on Antwerp-based label AVA (Audio Visual Atmosphere). In the release notes, Tokunaga states that close attention to the ‘sounds, clear isms and perspectives that AVA has presented to date’, resulting in my opinion, as one of the most interesting experimental albums that have come out in 2020.
The album drifts through different moods, with some presenting a somewhat harsh, industrial listening experience (e.g track 6 – Monoto nousness’) and some offering up gentler ambient soundscapes (e.g. track 13 – Monotonousnes s’).
Tokunaga’s back catalogue is full to the brim of all round creative cohesion. More often than not, the music pushes the boundaries of electronic experimentalism and the media format (CD or cassette) is presented in a hand made package, with some nod to the title of the album (for example, 11 buttons contains a small bag of buttons affixed to the outside of the DIY sleeve). Small runs, little details and amazing tangible representations of an artists dedication (and love) of their art. Well worth exploring.
Vierzig Skizzen, AKA Daniel Stuhr, self releases ‘Forgetting’, a seven track album available for digital download or on limited run (20) cassette. Recorded between December 2017 and October 2019, ‘Forgetting’ is Stuhr’s first release since August of last year, when ‘II’ dropped.
The album begins with ‘fall song (quiet)’, a peaceful acoustic affair, where gentle guitar plucks are underpinned by a low recording hiss. ‘from windows’ presents itself with long, powerful drone soundscapes, which are complemented by muffled spoken word recordings.
‘In erwartung’ pushes the album in a slightly more abstract direction, with guitar based loops, sporadically interspersed with distorted mechanical notes. The album’s mid point ‘snow at the bottom of the well’ actually evokes a feeling of cold as Stuhr plays with more grainy and industrial sound layers. A soft 4×4 kick is warmly welcomed in the title track ‘Forgetting’, arguably the most ‘pop’ sounding track on the release, as dreamy, effect-laden guitars return as the most prominent element.
Ending on a much darker tone, ‘Gate Opens’ and ‘(security)’ round things off with twenty minutes of harsh sound experimentation. The former literally sounds like the gates of hell are opening, and all manner of nightmares are spilling out (I’d love to know where the quiet spoken word recording / effect is sampled from / produced). After five and a half minutes of blistering noise, it’s almost as if the gates shut, peace returns and a contemplative ambience ensues. The latter again uses quiet guitar strums to contrast against heavy distortion.
Another great find and some really interesting work coming out on tape from Stuhr.
Kaninhal (Kaninhål) translates into ‘rabbit hole’ and this name was chosen for the blog due to the nature in which I enjoy finding new music the most. Whether it be online, in stores, or discussing music with friends, I’ve made some of my most notable discoveries by following my nose and ‘venturing down the rabbit hole’. I stumbled across a great find yesterday – Adversary Electronics, an experimental tape label based out of Georgia (USA), who have put together a fine discography over the last five years.
Over the last few years, the label has predominantly been an outlet for two artists; Grant Evans and Motion Sickness of Time Travel, but have confirmed that 2020 will see the label will open up for releases from friends and like-minded artists.
The start of February saw the label push out three new releases; ‘Antemortem’ by Volunteer Coroner, ‘Fake Spells’ by Sparkling Wide Pressure and ‘The Pessimist’ by Grant Evans. Volunteer Coroner AKA Preston Weippart has been releasing experimental / drone on a handful of labels over the past 18 months and four-track ‘Antemortem’ marks his first appearance on Adversary. It’s a really well balanced release, with Weippaert blending an interesting mix of field recordings atop of noisey droney soundscapes. Favourite track goes to ‘Carved Into Wood, a Test of Time’ – nicely composed and slightly less industrial than the other three tracks.
I find myself being drawn more and more to cassette labels (particularly those with a more DIY feel). Keeping physical editions limited (and number quite low) and having full autonomy over artist collaboration, design and production is ensuring that these imprints are doing a great job in carving out niches within the Ambient / Experimental genre. I’m really looking forward to seeing what 2020 has in store for Adversary.