Steve Pacheco – ‘Constellate’

Steve Pacheco is a classical music loving artist born and raised in Los Angeles, California. His debut album Constellate (also recorded in LA) was released in 2017 on Belgian label Dauw, and it sold out. The label do quirky cassette releases, in this case a run of 90, so it just takes a few die-hards and they’re gone. In this case, the digital release saves the day. That’s the extent of the background detail i can impart.

Constellate is a warm album, initially emphasised by the dried flower artwork and continued throughout the 7 ‘tunes’. Light/lush drones form the backbone and wrap the listener in a blanket from the outset. Rather than spending time waxing lyrical, using unnecessary adjectives, a few describe the album perfectly:

Soft, melodic, atmospheric, minimal, beautiful.

7 pieces, roughly 45 mins. Compact and perfectly formed. Perfect for sleep, perfect for reflective travelling, perfect for whenever.

I believe there is a new/old album entitled ‘4th’ which i’ve yet to hear. Given the quality of Constellate i’m sure it will be a blissful listening experience.

Ben Lukas Boysen & Sebastian Plano – ‘Everything’

I bought this album on a whim. Browsing through the new releases in Fopp, the staff written (possibly) description of the album intrigued me. What was actually stuck to the album cover escapes me now, but it was certainly enticing enough to buy.  I’m glad I did as this became my favourite album of 2017.

The story is: David O’Reilly created an interactive game called Everything. It is a without borders wander through worlds, taking a view of life from multiple perspectives from an amoeba based level to intergalactic. In the game you learn about life through encounters, making decisions that will impact the future, your future. Sounds deep for a video game? The game itself is a lot of fun, a bit like No Mans Sky but a bit easier to understand.

The soundtrack to the game is nearly 4 hours long. The physical format is 10 tracks with an associated code to download the full 43 tracks. Like Max Richters Sleep, if you listen to the entire 4 hours (which I have many times) there are tracks that are reinterpreted, presumably to support different worlds or perspectives in the game. This provides a familiarity that helps the listener immerse themselves in the music.

Now the music is lush, in the main, and on occasion a little whimsical. It is orchestral throughout and with enough repetition that you remain grounded in the album. It is pretty difficult to talk about individual tracks on this soundtrack as they all go to comprise the body. However, Winding and Unwinding is one of the most emotive pieces of music i have heard in years. It features heavily in the game. Lush atmospherics, swirling keys and a haunting hook creates a particularly beautiful 3 mins within the vast soundtrack. It is reminiscent of Marco Zaffarano The Band, a techno record played out a lot in the mid 90s, if it were pitched down considerably.

This is an album that soundtracked my sleep for a few months. It is an album to disappear into. Let the album bring you back and forth gently. The game is worth buying. You don’t need it to enjoy the soundtrack. I had the album for 6 months before I got the game. When you do play the game after knowing the music inside out, you smile. To me, this is the very definition of ambient or even jaykits.

Federico Albanese – ‘By the Deep Sea’

I discovered Federico Albanese when he released The Blue Hour in 2016. This was a winter i remember because of the music i played religiously during that period. AWVFTS Atomos, Ocoeur Reversed and both Jon Hopkins and Nils Frahms Late Night Tales mixes soundtracked those winter months along with The Blue Hour. The title track blew me away with its gorgeous piano melody. It also coincided with my short lived obsession with photographing the blue hour. This was an early in the year release, if i remember correctly, making the blue hour photography not to onerous a task. I digress.

Federico Albanese is a modern classical composer born in Milan, now residing in Germany. An early student of the piano and clarinet, he most definitely has a sound of his own. When I first heard this album it was unmistakably him. Only 3 albums in, and in a musical genre that is heavily populated, it is a skill to be so recognisable.

Albanese’s work is very musical. Albums in the modern classical genre can lack depth or are a little sterile. Throughout By the Deep Sea Albanese focuses on the piano for emotion and for that we are thankful. I’ve read somewhere that this is his best work. That may well be the case but it is also a smooth transition from The Blue Hour albeit, if possible, more atmospheric. From the opening track ‘682 Steps’ it felt familiar, yet different. With the filmscore-eque feel to it, this is a brooding piece supported by waves on a beach (or heavy rain) and is a welcoming opener. The track is apparently inspired by a path that runs from his mother’s house to a rock by the sea. It is a place he is also imagined Lord Byron writing his poem ‘The Sea’. The next 2 tracks Where We Were andYour Lunar Way are both similar in feel to the Blue Hour title track and are my personal highlights. Both melodic and upbeat yet sombre, a rare combination.

The remainder of the album is a thing of beauty. Piano work that wouldn’t be out of place in a love story epic from yesteryear alongside more melancholic moments. He moves between the calming and the ever so slightly less calming using the aforementioned piano along with other keyboards, a range of guitars and the obligatory field recordings (remember the waves or rain from earlier?) making it even more personal. This is a well considered and well balanced album, Another great album to start 2018, a joy.

Hotel Neon – ‘Context’

I’d never heard of Hotel Neon. I’d read about them in an end of the year album list. One or 2 people said ‘yeah we love that album by so and so but Hotel Neon Context….’ Turns out this is their 3rd album and they hail from my sisters hometown of Philadelphia. #knowledge

Context is a time-based drone fest. Time based as the tracklist reflects different times of the night. I’ve always thought there track names reflect someone awake during the small hours contemplating life, trying but struggling to fight sleep. That’s probably wrong but it’s nice to dream.

This is an album I almost solely listen to sleep to. Although I’ve heard it end to end a few times, I often drift off 3 or 4 tracks in. I feel like a charlatan writing about this album. There are filtered vocals later in the album but I’ve not heard them that often. Certainly, the first half changes are slight and the smallest additional layer can bring the listener back out of their stupor. Like minimal techno/tech house, a hi-hat can bring the biggest response. That is a craft, a skill that only the most confident of artists have. It is what Context is built on. Imagine long interrupted drones, only occasionally perpetuated with a string or a field recording repeated inconspicuously in the background but enough to merit interest and to root yourself back in the present time.

Despite the heavy reliance on drones, this is an album that doesn’t get heavy in the dark ambient sense. Not overbearing, never atonal and only occasionally a bit bleak, Despite the apparent simplicity on what’s on offer listen deeper and there are many layers carefully put together to make the whole. Pretty much the way i like it.

Track 2, 1.57am coming in at a respectable 9+ minutes is a particular highlight, A simple piece that incorporates one of those layers in the form of a horn, stretched out, filtered and repeated. Minimalism at its best.

A wonderful body of work the floats beautifully, certainly the first half of Context. If I could just stay awake…….

 

 

Nils Frahm – ‘All Melody’

The first album i bought in 2018 was the much anticipated All Melody by Nils Frahm. Ever since the video snippet was posted on social media back in November i’ve been eagerly awaiting its’ release. It’s a much more varied album than some of the more intimate affairs such as Screws and Solo and it’s better for it. The inclusion of a 4/4 beat, a choir and a rich tapestry of instruments makes for an immersive listen whilst still maintaining a sombre mood throughout.

Nils Frahm is receiving much more airtime and column inches than in years gone by. Maybe it’s because i have become more of a fan of his music that i notice this. Hearing the track Human Range on Giles Petersons 6 Music show with its soft trumpet and haunting chants was both surprising and a joy given its a sound not necessarily associated with a Saturday afternoon.

Starting with the haunting choir opening on The Whole Universe Wants to be Loved leading into the electronica of Sunson and A Place, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a bit of a departure for Frahm. Further into the album the title track and #2 re-introduce the electronica. Again, never in your face or overpowering, just a gentle nod in the direction downbeat dance music.  Normal service is resumed on My friend the forest and Forever Changeless where some gentle piano work returns. The type of output that has formed a lot of his output over the years, beautiful yet familiar.

The closing stages of the album surface most of the lush textured ambient backdrops. Although Kaleidoscope raises the apparently tempo, it is housed in a synthesiser that keeps the overall vibe that the album has built up.

All Melody wasn’t immediate but over the course of half a dozen listens it became both an extension his work and still familiar at the same time. Very distinctively, Nils Frahm.

All Melody is an album that will lend itself to a live workout. I will find out soon as i see Nils play Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on March 1st.

Update: I didn’t see him in Glasgow because of the weather. The gig was cancelled. Gutted.