Halftribe – Backwater Revisited

I can always rely on Ryan Bisset (aka Halftribe) to deliver an album that totally speaks to me. Also, a label (Dronarivm) that includes Brock Van Wey (bvdub), is likely to present a joy. Backwater Revisited is definitely that. Most of this summer Halftribe (along with WarmthWildlife) have soundtracked my sleep over the summer.

Backwater Revisited, the 4th album by Halftribe, unsurprisingly comprises instrumental landscapes underpinned by lightweight drones. It follows hot the heels of 2018 For the summer, or forever, which was one of the musical highlights of 2018. It’s fair to say a Halftribe release is much looked forward to at Jaykits HQ.

Backwater Revisited kicks off with Tuning Out, which immediately evoked memories of my teenage (late teenage) years and particularly a Creation label act called Sheer. A simple pulse, a repetitive growl, a piano layer and distant vocals create a dark but enticing opening. What follows, over the course of the remaining 12 tracks, is pure beauty. Drones, stretched whispering vocals, keys and softly plucked, heavily filtered guitars predominate as is perfectly evident on More than Autumn.

The entire album never feels hurried. There is always this feeling of space and, despite the relatively repetitive nature of some of the tracks, it never feels overly long. The track lengths are kept to a minimum, only breaking through the 6 minute barrier when the album goes Off Kilter. Curiously, this track really reminds me of I’m not in Love by 10CC. You can make your own mind upon about that. Ideosyncrasy, changes the key but not the mood. It is darker but still maintains the feel overall. I could wax lyrical about the remainder of the tracks on Backwater Revisited but they are primarily variations on a theme. This is no bad thing at all, as for soundtracking sleep there are no surprises. After all, even Dark Side of the Moon has Money to shake the listener from their stupor. Interestingly, the least effective album track is the title track. There is little to lift the drone that forms the basis of this piece. A special mention should go to the fluttering keys of Kaja and the majestic closer Linear with the sound of the dawn chorus.

This will no doubt feature in many end of year lists. It’s already in mine.

The Wonder Years 1995-97 Epic House

In a break from norm, I’ve been replaying my old house music mixes on my work commutes….

‘Epic House’, is the ‘self-indulgent’, ‘overblown’ genre that had the dance music press up in arms back in the mid 90s. It is true, that this genre was the dance music equivalent of prog-rock. Long winding intros, a smattering of beats then breaking down into an apparent infinite time. I can remember looking around dance floors during a synth break, laying eyes on a sea of faces wondering if the sound system had packed in, or was it the faintest hum of a rumbling baseline or drumroll (remember them?) that would sometime, very much later work, its way into earshot. These tunes often didn’t breakdown once, but multiple times. Purveyors of long tunes Blue Amazon, created a suite of epics such as ‘No Other Love’ & ‘And Then The Rain Falls’ which almost spent as much time in the breakdown as they did in its 4/4 state.  Mixing became a little lazy, as DJs started putting intros and outros together, meaning less thought went into the mix, but also yet more time was spent in the breakdown. More vacant stares.

It may sound as if I’m a critic of the genre, on the contrary. For me this was a happy time in dance music, excluding the early renaissance parties at the Que Club and Bakers, this was probably my happiest. I still smile thinking of Sasha’s 12 Nights Of Summer in Leeds and the set Sasha & Digweed played at the Phoenix Festival in 1997. Whilst my friends were out watching David Bowie, I consumed the full 5.5 hours of that event, curiously finished with the Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’. The Renaissance stately home bash at Allerton Hall was another ‘epic’ evening. Nigel Dawson et al. playing beautiful sweeping house only to be interrupted by Paul Oakenfold peddling the same stuff he’s still playing today (he is as I’ve listened to his Live at Stonehenge Mix). Finally, BT produced the monumental ‘Ima’ which included, for me, one of the greatest records ever made – ‘Divinity’. If ever there was a journey in a record, that was it. Ima also included ‘Loving You More’ (Sasha played 2 mixes of this, at over 20 mins, regularly during 1995). Good times!

I fully understand the rose tinted spectacle angle on this but what can you do? The mix I put together all those years ago, still put a smile on my face when I heard it the other week. Here it is. I hope you like.

Cocoon – You’ve Arrived

It’s been a good musical start to 2019: Umber and Billow Observatory were particularly strong releases, as was the immense Verve by Sebastian Plano. However, it was CocoonYou’ve Arrived that peaked my attention initially. What a rich and varied tapestry that it weaves. Taking in, ambient, modern classical, and even a bit of dub techno.

Cocoon, the solo project of Clair Obscur kingpin Christophe Demarthe, is his fourth album on Optical Sound. There is a pulse that underpins this album. Sometimes it veers off into beautiful ambience, other times something altogether more industrial. However, it all works, and all seems to fit together.

Bader is a slightly misleading opening. It promises something completely different than what follows. The album changes style into keys led piece, helpfully title Piano. The initially childlike/later industrial Romantic Distorsion with filtered vocals, first introduces the pulse. A Cure is a banger, pitched that up and it could be played on the more discerning dance floors. On Cab, all the influences come to bear, the childlike nature, the ambience and the pulse. Cindy & Bahn shows the dark and light in equal measures. Instant Valhalla is ambient techno, where echos and reverb predominate. Voyage, sits somewhere bang in the middle of a horror or Sci-Fi movie. Peace 3Mn reminds me a lot of the sound Sasha used on the original Northern Exposure back in the mid 90s. See, I told you it’s all different.

The title track You’ve Arrived is a dark epic. A sedentary pulse provides a structure to the synth. A slow march to the album finale Maos. which is another industrial banger. The album actually closes with Vinyl, which is roughly 3 seconds of static when a needle hits a record.

On the whole, this is not my usual bag but the variety of styles has enough to satisfy a wide variety of musical pallets. Highly recommended.

Sebastian Plano – Verve

Sebastian Plano is an Argentinian composer and musician. In recent years, he teamed up with Ben Lukas Boysen to create, the epic Everything; a 4hr Playstation game soundtrack which was my album of the year in 2017. The release of Verve has not been a straightforward story. 5 years or so ago, his computer and a couple of hard drives, were stolen from his car. Content lost included his latest EP, but also the album that could’ve/would’ve been Verve. Therefore, the painstaking process of attempting to recreate (from memory) the ‘lost’ album began. This was clearly a thankless task and nigh on impossible to do. However, to his credit, what emerged was Verve, if possible an improvement on the lost album?

From the brooding opening of Abeyance, it is soon after that the keys are introduced which is the mainstay and focus of Sebastian Planos’ work. Every piece sounds familiar, an extension of the previous one. The first true standout moment is the title track Verve which again, sounds familiar if you love this genre. My personal highlight is Purples. This is a beautiful swirling piece. I’m watching the sunrise over the hills as Purples is playing. Looking to the left, the pink glow on the snow covered hills, how poetic. Purples can provide a soundtrack to both the start or the end of the day in equal measures. To this point, it is the best tune I’ve heard in 2019. One Step Slower is another that catches the attention. This builds and builds delivering an epic finale. I’d read someone describe Verve a ‘plinky plonk’ music. I guess it is, but considering how many standout tunes there are, this is really good plinky plonk. Exta introduces the strings. A further level of depth to this album. Extrema continues where the previous track left off, more strings, more keys. Volant, almost feels like a lullaby, but a dark one if such a thing exists. The album is closed by the 7 minute Chiaroscuro. Another that builds, eventually fading out, bringing the album to a close, perfectly.

I love this album. The tunes feel simple but you know they’re not. It’s almost a mathematical equation for me: Keys + Strings = Joy. Verve is an early contender for album of 2019.

Pop Ambient 2019

It’s the end of the year and decent music releases have tailed off. The Christmas albums flood the retailers. Buble and Slade are everywhere. One thing I can always rely on is the November release of KompaktsPop Ambient series. The 2019 edition is textbook. Another compilation of such a high standard, a standard that has been the trademark of the Pop Ambient series over the 18 years it has been in existence.

I read some pre-release marketing that describes this instalment as a departure for the series. A ‘change of pace’, more experimental/avant-garde. To me it’s not. It feels the same as, at least, the last 4 releases, certainly to my untrained ear. I’m very happy about that as I love the Pop Ambient series and its subtly evolving ways. If you’re not familiar with the brand, focus on the Ambient part of the series name. Many of the genres big guns have been part of Wolfgang Voigt‘s Pop Ambient over the years. Some are present on this release, eg. Leandro Fresco to pick out just one.

This years collection has a very strong beginning. From the sprawling Alles Wird Gut opening by stalwart Thore Pfeiffer through the filmscore-esque strings of Coupler‘s A Plain Of Reeds to my personal highlight, the heavily filtered angsty vocals of The Uncertainty Principle by Black Frame, it is clear that this is another special release from Kompakt. Kenneth James Gibson delivers another swirling drone adding tension as the track develops. Morgen Wurde provides Schien Immer, a track that could accompany any space programme, it’s big and it’s beautiful. The album then enters a particularly dark phase. A sweep that includes Gregor Schwellenbach, Last Train To Brooklyn and Max Wurden. It’s easy to get lost in this section. It provides a certain structure to the mix (it’s about this point I realise it’s mixed rather than merely sequenced). Special mention to Last Train To Brooklyn as its twinkling and reverb lift the middle section gloom (slightly). Thomas Fehlmann delivers a fairly structured piece. A soporific rhythm leads into a trademark Leandro Fresco ambient wash (I’m writing this whilst watching the most amazing sunrise-perfect). Yui Onodera provides Cromo 3. Strings at their best. Only 3 minutes long but an attention grabber. Aden by Triola is the weakest piece on the album. It is better suited to a Cafe Del Mar album rather than Pop Ambient. To close, Max Wurden gets a second outing with the wonderful Core, a glorious ending.

All hail Pop Ambient, 18 years old and still as good as ever.

2018 Album List

I’ve spent a lot of 2018 revisiting old music, call it my age or a lack of imagination. Talk Talk, King Creosote and the Cocteau Twins consumed a lot of the year. As did my new found love for The War On Drugs (first to the party as always). Anyway, 2018 did provide some wonderful albums. Here’s the obligatory end of year list:

I’m writing this listening to the great Pop Ambient 2019 release. However, this came a little too late to make the cut.

1. = VeriditasHelios

1. = OccasusGoldmund

I flipped back and forth over which of Keith Kenniffs albums I preferred. I came to the conclusion that they couldn’t be separated. To me this could be one of the best double albums ever released but bringing out Occasus in the spring and Veriditas late summer meant there was a supply of glorious ambience throughout the year. The albums also reflect the seasons. Veriditas contains Eventually which was by far my favourite tune of 2018. Occasus comprises pure melancholy throughout. I’ve heard both albums virtually everyday since I bought them. I will remember 2018 through these 2 masterpieces.

3. All MelodyNils Frahm

This was worth the wait. A variety of styles forming a near flawless body of work. Nils is a genius. Shame the gig in March was cancelled due to the ‘Beast from the East’. Maybe I’ll see him next year as his world tour comes back to Scotland. Full review here

4. From When I Wake the Want IsKathryn Joseph

I saw Kathryn play this album in September and it was an intense experience. As near an exact replica of the album as you can get. An amazing singer songwriter with a voice sitting somewhere between Bjork and Kate Bush.

5. All That Was LostStray Theories

A beautiful album from an artist that can do no wrong. No drones just beautiful melody. Micah is a genuinely nice chap to boot. A back catalogue worth checking out.

6. ParallelWarmth

Drones ‘n’ stuff. An album to entice sleep. Warmth are well named. A blanket of ambience.

7. Bottle It InKurt Vile

Only found out about this later in the year. Woozy, blissful and catchy. Tunes from this album still run through my head.

8. Tranquility Base Hotel & CasinoArctic Monkeys

I was unsure of this at first. A complete change of direction as they do from album to album. Over the summer this grew on me and became a favourite – Mark speaking….

9. Consequence ShadowsIan Hawgood & Guilio Aldinucci

My first purchase of 2018. It’s dark, really dark. A huge building sound. Only 5 tracks including a 20 minute original/remix combination. A beast of an album.

10. KinMogwai

What can you say about my favourite band. They never disappoint. Whilst this soundtrack didn’t reach the heights of Atomic or Les Revenants, it was a very good album including another vocal following on from Every Country’s Sun. Scotland’s finest.

Helios – Veriditas

I was getting a little concerned. Each of the last 4 years have produced an album that I’ve been obsessed with, played almost daily, often daily. Mogwai, AWVFTS, Max Richter, and last year Ben Lukas Boysen and Sebastian Plano with Everything. August was nearly over and there had been albums i’d liked, liked a lot, but no de facto album.

August 31st saw the release of Veriditas by Keith Keniff, aka Helios. The aforementioned albums, from the last 4 years, all tell a story. They either soundtrack a movie, a sleep pattern, a game or are just sequenced to perfection as with ‘Atomos’. Veriditas, in my mind, isn’t a story, with no narrative as such, but is a wonderful collection of highly emotive music, delivered in a variety of styles. Incidentally, it has been a great year for Keith Kenniff as he was also responsible for Occasus via his Goldmund project. However, that is for another day.

From first listen it was clear Veriditas was special. From the opening tones of Seeming the listener is wrapped in a warm blanket of ambience. By track 4, the amazing Eventually, the listener is immersed in sheer beauty. In fact, tracks 3 (Dreams) and 4 alone make this album worth owning. Eventually evokes time gone by and then the horns emerge towards the middle of the piece and take it in a different direction completely to a swirling synth of an ending. Dreams produces tears and smiles in equal measure. The power of beautifully considered keys.

It is difficult to speak in detail about specific tracks on Veriditas as I am way too ignorant on the tools used to do them justice. What can be said is there is a beauty I haven’t heard on many albums this year. Even the darkness of North Wind isn’t overly oppressive. The guitar work on Upward Beside the Gate accompanied by a haunting backdrop displays another side of ambience, showing a master at work. Silverlight, is warm with the main section drifting in an out. Additional layers keeping the listener in the moment. This is music for sleep however, i’ve often found myself engaging with the music at night rather than drifting along with it.

Veriditas is music for night time made at night. Take a bow Keith Kenniff, thanks for making 2018 all the better.

Listen on Spotify:

Kathryn Joseph – Perth Theatre, 17/09/18

I went to the gig having listened toFrom When I Wake the Want Is a handful of times but not knowing Kathryn Joseph the performer particularly well. I’ve loved getting to know the album and the chance to hear it performed in its entirety, in my hometown was a must.

If you never heard Kathryn Joseph she has a very distinctive vocal. Slight vocal tremors are present and my wife reckons her sound sits somewhere between Kate Bush and Bjork, which seems pretty accurate. There is a child like quality to her voice which is very endearing as well as very effective, especially live.

The sound of wind (?) plays as the audience fills up and settles, eventually forming the intro to album opener ‘IIII’. Kathryn walks on stage, doesn’t look at the audience, sits down at her piano stool, adjusts her amazingly theatrical dress, whispers just about audibly, From when I wake…..’ and begins. Initially facing away from the audience, she is reflected in the mirrors that surround her carefully considered and highly effective stage setup. When the title track begins she turns to perform directly towards the audience. Her face partially illuminated, it is one of the many memorable moments created during this performance.

What follows is as near a perfect replication of the album as possible. Musically and vocally perfectly aligned. There are a couple of moments where the sound of wind (or some other background sound) returns to form a bridge between tracks, the album is 45 mins long but the performance was 1hr after all. During one bridge Kathryn gets up, takes a couple of sips of wine whilst facing away from the audience, puts the glass back in its holder, sits down and continues her spellbinding piano and vocal work. During the second bridge she turns some of the mirrors round so they now produce light rather than reflections. It’s all very theatrical, but adds to the spectacle. Again, she has a couple of sips of wine, sits down and continues.

The hour absolutely breezes by and before you know it, Kathryn is smiling and mouthing a ‘thank you’ to her now standing and applauding audience before she swiftly disappears off stage. A wonderfully confident performance of one of my favourite albums of 2018. My personal highlight was ‘Weight’, ‘The weight we were, the weight we are, all of my heart broken, black and blood lines…‘ This runs into the emotional closer, ‘^^’, which continues to play in my head on the journey home.

Thanks to Kathryn and Horsecross for bringing that performance to Perth. The other #mondaynightthing sessions have got a lot to live up to.

Jaykits Vol. 13

The 13th annual Jaykits mix. Some old, some new, always ambient. I hope you enjoy.

Intro: Summer Sunrise Field Recording

1.    ‘At Last (Becalming the Storm)’ – DJ Healer

2.    ‘Reflector’ – Warmth

3.    ‘Embarking Shadows’ – Ian Hawgood & Giulio Aldinucci

4.    ‘Radiant’ – Halftribe

5.    ‘Gone’ – DJ Healer

6.    ‘Long May It Sustain’ – A Winged Victory for the Sullen

7.    ‘Embrace’ – Stray Theories

8.    ‘A Season In Waters’ – From the Mouth of the Sun

9.    ‘Ég heyrði allt án þess að hlusta (A Winged Victory For The Sullen Rework)’ – Johann Johannson

10.  ‘I Knew It Then and I Know It Now’ – Tone Color

11.  ‘As You Know’ – Goldmund

12.  ‘We Were There’ – Federico Albanese

13.  ‘Fundamental Values’ – Nils Frahm

14.  ‘Feel First Life’ – Jon Hopkins

15.  ‘Sisamaat’ – Nanook of the North

From the Mouth of the Sun – Sleep Stations EP

It’s been a few years since I first heard Woven Tide by From the Mouth of the Sun. It was one of these albums that blew me away immediately and has continued to. There were so many different styles on the album, but all ultimately creating lush ambience. I can still remember the day I was listening to the album on a hot summers day, laying in my hammock. At the start of this summer, Aaron Martin and Dag Rosenqvist, released their latest project – Sleep Stations EP. Cue, much excitement at Jaykits HQ. Over the course of the last 2 months this EP has had, pretty much, daily outings. There were epic moments on Woven Tide that aren’t present on Sleep Stations. It is a more mournful affair, but no less emotive. It’s an EP, so it’s short by definition. However, the evocative nature of the work isn’t diluted by this fact.

The guitar intro of About the Birth of Stars is soon enveloped by the violin and synths. It is very reminiscent of Opening track of A Winged Victory for the Sullen for their soundtrack for the French movie Iris. Almost whimsical, it soon moves into the strings that pepper the EP. The mournful Reaching When Nothing Is There evokes memories of a time gone by. The stars theme continues (we have the birth, life and death of stars on the EP), ‘..life’, curiously is the track with the least ‘life’ on the EP. It’s minimal and gentle and serves as a bridge to the title track. Sleep Stations is a drone with floating strings emerging halfway through, disappearing and reappearing, keeping the listener in the moment. This piece particularly brings a dreamlike texture to the EP. About the Death of the Stars is a string led piece of melancholia with the piano playing second fiddle. In an album of limited ‘moments’ this is easily the peak. EP closer – A Place We Cannot See – brings the keys to the fore. Whilst not exactly upbeat, it ends the EP on a less sombre note.

From the Mouth of the Stars continue to release beautiful material. If you want an intro to the act, Sleep Stations is as good a place as any. I would however, strongly suggest tracking down Woven Tide as it’s quite something.

It’s been a good summer of music.

Listen on Spotify: