Within the world of lapsteel ambient guitar music - admittedly, one that provides very small margins for comparison - STROMBOLI seems like a stylistic outlier. Rather than ponderous or contemplative, STROMBOLI's take on ambience is evocative of the synthetic fang-baring of Italian slasher-flick scores from the mid-60s. On top of that, STROMBOLI's uncharacteristically aggressive approach to rhythm feels more akin to a dance-punk act like Liars, kicking against the notion that ambient music cannot move at any pace other than 'glacial.'
"Low Radiation" is a track from STROMBOLI's upcoming debut EP for Maple Death Records, and it briskly captures an almost punk attitude to which STROMBOLI seems hell-bent on associating with ambience. A coarse, repeating beat, which sounds like small pockets of air eploding in rapid succession, gives "Low Radiation" an immediacy that is very atypical for a genre that is historically more aligned with ponderous journeys through tone and waveform than a fast-approaching horror. "Low Radiation" is an immediately graspable package that still manages to meet one of the most important requirements for ambient music: that it sounds accidental, having emerged from your surroundings through the blind luck of some uncontrollable natural process.
Here's a weightless number from the previously unbeknownst to me Teresa Winter, bubbling up from a forthcoming tape on Reckno (and one of the first vocal-laden albums on the mighty label, if I'm not mistaken).
Bouncing forever down a hall of mirrors, Teresa's featherlight vocals and braided synth flutes echo Vashti Bunyan and Geoffrey Oryema. The chorus lands a hook where no hook should stay – hanging like a glow-worm amidst a multiverse of voices. Meltier still, the gorgeous coda takes devotional singing, distant brass and a cascade of Ravel-esque piano – over all too quickly.
Teresa Winter's album Oh Tina No Tina is out soon on Reckno. A little bird tells us some advance tapes will be available at the Peckham Independent Label Fair in London this Saturday - get down there!
Swahili are a Portland based five-piece whose debut LP was by and large a fusion of industrial drone and distorted, naturalistic beats. Inspired by the paranoid futurism of Philip K. Dick's Valis, Swahili are now shifting more towards the bright, synthetic pummeling associated with Vangelis and the silver age of science fiction soundtracks that he helped kick off. The results have been something akin to a nerve-damaged Tom Tom Club: exquisite, funk-inflicted pop music fused onto boundless, synthesized landscapes.
“Vestal” is a single from Swahili’s upcoming album Amovreux, and the track proves that the group has the energy to show off discotheque charisma over the course of an unflagging, six minute rhythmic loop. Frontwoman Van Pham's voice has the force to keep up with the throbbing rhythm behind it, while remaining maneuverable enough to evoke an almost elegiac sense of spirited wonder.
In her video for "Vestal", Portland-based artist Vivian Hua has mapped Swahili’s rhythmic psych-pop to a swirl of psychedelic imagery, comparable to early videos produced for the Pink Floyd, and mildly evocative of the drugged-out paranoia associated with Dick's novel.
The thing I love about someone like Scott Walker is how apparent his jarring experimentation is made by the fact that it's set against such a traditionally appealing voice. Walker is probably capable of making the most vile screed sound like a Gregorian lullabye, but he slaps it on top of some of the most uncomfortable music imaginable. Chicago's Rob Jacobs - who this post is actually about - works a similar angle from its opposite end. Jacobs' instrumentation has a lot in common with that of someone like Vashti Bunyan: it's soothing, intellectual folk music based around chord changes that skew slightly more towards awe-inspiring than obvious.
Jacobs' voice, on the other hand, is rather weird.
The result is a wonderful asymmetry between the celestial forest folk unwinding across the instruments and Jacobs' alien - though clearly practiced - ululations. Jacobs’ music has the feeling of a wonderfully ornate, brass-wrought antique which still serves some function in a contemporary setting (imagine, for example, if Leonardo DaVinci had invented a seven foot tall machine that performed all the same tasks as a MacBook Pro). Nowhere is the appeal of Jacobs' lilting, contemporary folk more apparent than on the beautiful “Golden Flower”, which you can listen to below.
Cascine's most singular release of 2014 for me was the first EP by the worldly Yumi Zouma. I ended up seeing them three times live last year and each time, they proved to be an act who were just as good or even better onstage as on record. And now in March, Cascine will put out the sequel of sorts, EP II, and going by the freshly arrived "Catastrophe," it sounds like this second EP will be just as magnetic. That same warmth that emanated from all the songs on their first EP is immediately present as soon as "Catastrophe" starts with lilting guitars that are the epitomy of gentle (sounding almost ukelele-like) and a fluctuating synth that sounds like the beginning of The Who's "Baby O'Riley." Following in the tradition of off-kilter Yumi Zouma videos (see those for "The Brae" and "A Long Walk Home For Parted Lovers"), the video for "Catastrophe" (done with BANGS) features an array of people in various settings seemingly passing out or falling asleep and it all seems to be masterminded by a girl typing intently on a computer. March 10th can't come soon enough!
On "Demon's Hand" Hannes Ferm updates the Cambridgeshire via faierie's dust charm of Syd Barrett for the Pitchfork set. Ferm - who records music as HOLY - betrays more than a bit of Real Estate's city-weariness, albeit skewing slightly closer to haunted forests than suburban swimming pools.
Ferm, who resides in Umea, Sweden, sings with the kind of British folk music innocence that masks satanic horrors in films like The Wicker Man and The Omen. The inmovability of the drums is offset nicely by the sparse, effects-free guitar and subtle whirl of a keyboard drone, which almost resembles a tin whistle. The highlight of the track is the squealing backing vocal.
It's great to hear guitar music that doesn't evaporate in the midst of aggressive reverb – where everything is laid bare. It's a brave way of presenting music, as it requires the artist to have full confidence in all of the parts they've laid down.
HOLY's debut album Stabs is out March 11 via PNKSLM Recordings and Ny Vag Records.
Lotic, who dwells in Berlin and is a recent subject of Bjørk's admiration, has put out "Heterocetera", the first track from his Tri Angle Records EP of the same name. It starts off with what sounds like violins being played at the speed of light, careening, peeling, and veering. Some glugging, rebounding, and clomping drums come into play to give "Heterocetera" a skip in its step, yet the unstoppable intital backdrop still lingers and prevails. At the end, all the components sag and wind down to a close as if they can't exert anymore.
The first time I consciously encountered the work of Montréalais Jesse Osborne-Lanthier was in the summer of 2013 when he curated a couple of nights of the Foreign Affairs festival at Haus der Festspiele in the pretty, curiously bourgois western side of town (where no one from the Kreuzberg/Neukölln expat bubble ever seems to go), together with his friends and NFOP regulars Alex Zhang Hungtai aka Dirty Beaches and Bernardino Femminielli. The same year, a new project popped up, immediately grabbing our attention: Femminielli Noir, Osborne-Lanthier's stupendous proto-techno collaboration with his fellow Montreal mate. By now, the artist has settled in Berlin's not-Neukölln-but-close-enough formerly eastern neighbourhood of Alt-Treptow, where I visited him the other night to talk about his new and old hometowns, upcoming projects, and his involvement in the NFOP-presented Berlin Current, CTM Festival's platform for emerging experimental music by artists living within the city limits. Read the interview below.
Jesse Osborne-Lanthier will perform alongside Wilhelm Bras, Ketev, RSS B0ys, Kucharczyk, and Olle Holmberg at CTM Festival's Beta II night at Yaam III on Saturday, January 31. For more infos go here.