Stray Theories – All That Was Lost

Stray Theories, aka Micah Templeton-Wolfe, creates emotion through music. Even Though We Sleep was a favourite of mine back in 2012 (I used the title track to close Jaykits Volume 7). As a collective body of work, it was short but perfectly formed. The follow up, Those Who Remain, was strong but sadly, it was five years ago. There’s was a 6 track EP in 2014, We Never Left, and a smattering of remixes and collaborative releases since. Therefore, a new album was greatly received.

All That Was Lost contains all the key elements that underpinned the emotive quality of the first 2 albums. Opener, How Long, sets the scene for what’s to follow. A pulse/a beat, sits just beneath the surface with the keys providing the heart. Challenge floats my own proverbial boat and is most reminiscent of Even Though We Sleep. It breaks down around the 3 and a half minute mark into a darker film-score style. Night State evokes thoughts of the dark hours, almost breaking out into a tribal rhythm but thankfully never actually doing so. Leave and, particularly, Begin are pure emotion and would soundtrack any sunset. Embrace builds and threatens to kick off but ultimately winds down despite the temptation and expectation. All Our Tears, with its’ keys and strings, leads into album closer Us. Us is the most electronic piece on the album and is similar to the work of Hammock and Good Weather For An Airstrike but without the crescendos those artists produce. To be honest, every time I listen to All That Was Lost I hear something new to love, something different that catches the attention. The sign of an album that will have longevity.

Micah has a skill, he draws the listener into his world through relativity short pieces (short for the ambient genre that is – who says ambient music needs to be long and drawn out to fully immerse the listener?) Here is a feeling of space created in a small area. It’s lush, it’s full, it’s warm, often understated but always beautifully produced. Sitting here on a train to work, looking out at an overcast view of our capital, I find All That Was Lost an ideal accompaniment. It’s good to have Micah back, don’t be a stranger now.

Buy on Bandcamp:

http://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=2144550205/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/artwork=small/transparent=true/

Listen on Spotify:

Jon Hopkins – Singularity

Jon Hopkins was an important part of my transition from house music lover to ambient head. Contact Note and Opalescent were 2 of the albums I played religiously. His Art of Chill compilation (try finding a reasonably priced copy of that!) was also a wonderful late-night mix. Move forward a few years and Insides started a move towards more electronic compositions, whilst still nodding towards his previous releases. Immunity was far more club based and this was echoed by his Essential Mix for Radio 1. The Asleep Versions EP that came with Immunity appeased lovers of ambience. So, for his latest release Singularity there was an expectation of something more grounded in 4/4 beats. This is partly true.

To use an old football analogy, this is a game of 2 halves. The first half of Singularity contains some ‘bangers’, for example Everything Connected. From Track 5 onwards the album has a totally different, more downbeat feel. I think it was Uncut magazine that thought the album fizzled out a bit after track 4. For me, it was the complete opposite. I was waiting for that change.

The title track and album opener would’ve made a great first tune during the epic house days of the late 90s. A long synth, a rising breakbeat and bang, it kicks off around the 4-minute mark. Emerald Rush was one of the tracks showcased in advance of the full album release. A gentle start, this time building to a more mid-paced 4/4 affair. Ot is similar in style to youAND:THEMACHNIES, which is no bad thing. Neon Pattern Drum has a stuttering intro before the pattern set by the first 2 tracks continues. It paves the way for peak time Everything Connected, which is a monster. A 10-min dancefloor epic finally winding down around the 9-minute mark. This is the track that Immunity promised. It’s big.

The album then pivots and the Jon Hopkins I love resurfaces. Feel first Life is a lush piano led piece then eventually incorporates a choir. It would sit comfortably on the annual Café Del Mar summer compilations. It was such a welcome reprieve. COSM is Hopkins in Contact Note/Opalescent times. Echo Dissolves is a Nils Frahm-esque piano piece who’s key is its’ simplicity. The backdrop to the track builds on occasion, but never boils over. Luminous beings lifts the tempo to that of the first half of the album but it has the feel of winding down through its’ melodies. Like when the DJ has peaked and it’s time to bring the situation to a close. After 7 minutes, there is a textbook Jon Hopkins break before the 4/4 resurfaces. Album closer Recovery is aptly named. Light keys bring Singularity to a close in a perfect way.

It’s not that the more upbeat half of this album isn’t good, it’s just that I am older now. I rarely listen to dance music and when I hear it now it sounds alien to me. The first half of the album, I would’ve loved even 10 years ago but now I struggle with. Jon Hopkins is still a great producer and Singularity is still a great album. It’s just that, in my life, there is a time and place for this rather than anytime, any place.

Warmth – Parallel

I love Warmth, there I’ve said it. You know what you’re getting with Warmth before you listen to it. Warmth is Valencia based sound smith Agustín Mena and also aptly named as that’s exactly the feeling engendered by the 3 releases to date. Previous releases Home and Essay set the groundwork, Parallel, the 3rd album, is not exactly a radical departure. It is perhaps, ever so slightly darker in tone but still inherently Warmth: minimal, atmospheric, repetitive, dreamlike soundscapes. That’s a collection of adjectives that epitomises what I love about the ambient genre. Incidentally, Essay Revisited is also worth checking out as there are some cracking remixes on the album, whilst still maintaining the vibe of the original. With Parallel there is a formula at play – moody 2-3 chords drawn out with a supporting synth. It is simple repetition and it works perfectly. I should qualify, that a ‘formula’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is actually one of the key strengths of this release.

Album opener Reflector is a beautiful wash of warm sounds with waves crashing in the background. Receiver is similar with a slight shift in mood. The title track is possibly the darkest moment on the album. I say darkest but I really mean a little less light. The tone is ever so slightly deeper but it is almost imperceptible.

To say the album piggybacks across styles is perhaps pushing it a bit but there are subtle changes in the feel from the darker opening. The track Spherule reminds me of certain tracks in Aphex Twins Selected Ambient Works Volume 2. The key is simplicity and why alter what works? Concave and Convex are so similar that they just blend into each other without attention being brought to this fact (as the titles suggest). With Concave, the crashing waves are back – an ambient stalwart.

Album closer, Saros, is the only track that differs much from its predecessor. The only difference is through the addition of, what I believe, is a field based recording (of what I don’t know). Again, it is very subtle and does not have any impact on the overall feel of Parallel. It does stand out, but ever so slightly.

This is a music for sleep album if ever there was one. No surprises, no downsides, just sheer tranquillity. Beautiful stuff.

Buy Warmth – Parallel:

Ian Hawgood & Giulio Aldinucci – Consequence Shadows

Ian Hawgood teamed up with Giulio Aldinucci to create the phenomenal Consequence Shadows, released at the start of 2018. This followed quickly on the back of Faintly Recollected but is sonically very different from its’ predecessor.

Even before donning the headphones to listen to this, the tone of the album is set. Firstly, the title suggests this is an outcome, perhaps borne of a dark event. If something has a consequence then there is generally a connotation associated with it. Secondly, the black and white long exposure shot that forms the album cover evokes memories of solitude and decay and perhaps something that is not easily attainable, all set against a fairly unwelcoming horizon.

On first listen, as with a lot of ambient work, the album appears relatively straightforward in approach. However, the more listens, the more different layers reveal themselves. Those layers fit perfectly with each other creating, in my view, an almost faultless album. The stalwarts of ambient music are present: fields recordings, stretched/echoed guitar work, keys and drones. No single component is ever overused, each one placed exactly where it should be.

Many albums in this genre can be considered ‘samey’, hammering home the drone and not shifting style from one track to the next. However, this is an album that begins in relative darkness and moves towards the light. Album opener, Embarking Shadows, starts in an unassuming manner, but then an ethereal, almost choir like overlay brings this track to life and sets the scene for the remainder of the album.

Only Microns is a stuttering, Aphex Twin like, ambient piece that is underpinned by a haunting set of keys. This is darkness and light existing together. The Wasted Consequence brings it back to down a notch, if that was possible, still preserving the keys which made the previous track such a moment of beauty.

Album closer, Other Ashes, in total is approaching an astonishing 40 minutes. It is a hope filled behemoth created in collaboration with Belgian artist Stijn Hüwels who undertook the remix work. Although one piece is the original and one is the remix, they are 2 very different tracks. The original changes course around the 7-minute mark when a light synth envelops the track along with some well considered field recording work. After 10 minutes it returns back to the darker drone that began the piece. Again, dark and light in a single track, albeit it a long one. The Stijn Hüwels remix remains true to the original but has less peaks and returns. A nice end to the album as it drifts out.

The album may only be 5 tracks long including a remix but it is a beautifully considered body of work. Highly recommended.

AWVFTS – Long May It Sustain

This sneaked under the radar. Without doubt my favourite album of the last 10 years has been Atomos by A Winged Victory for the Sullen. To me, it’s perfect. I played it daily for the best part of a year. I still play it regularly. If you’ve never heard it, do yourself a favour. It’s an orchestral masterpiece.

This single, Long May It Sustain is part of an Erased Tapes tenth anniversary compilation release, 1+1=X. It includes exclusive recordings from Nils Frahm, Kiasmos and A Winged Victory For The Sullen as well as, I believe, recordings from the entire Erased Tapes roster.

The AWVFTS offering, Long May It Sustain, could sit in the early stages of Atomos and perhaps even enhance something i’ve already described as perfect. The same lush combination of the piano and strings includes elements of both Atomos II and VI (maybe it’s the elusive Atomos IV?)

The Iris soundtrack has kept me ticking over. I did like that, but Long May It Sustain is more the AWVFTS I love. 4 mins 21 seconds of bliss.

Enjoy.

https://erasedtapes.bandcamp.com/track/long-may-it-sustain-2

The 3xLP box set 1+1=10 is released on Record Store Day, April 21st 2018.

Nanook of the North – Nanook of the North

Polish musicians Stefan Wesołowski and Piotr Kaliński form Nanook of the North. I write with faux authority as I learned this fact but 3 days ago. During those 3 days i’ve have very much been enjoying their eponymous debut album. What first grabbed my attention was that the release was by Denovali. Just about everything coming out of the label hits the spot. The label often occupies the slightly darker end of ambient, try Greig Haines for example.

I love an album with a story behind it. Nanook of the North was initially born of an improvised soundtrack they created to the 1922 silent movie of the same name.

In 2012, for the Sopot film festival, they were asked to soundtrack a silent movie. Finally settling on Nanook of the North, as it was a rare 100 year old silent movie that wasn’t considered laugh a minute.  Years after the event, Stefan and Piotr re-recorded the soundtrack in, where-else, but Ólafur Arnalds’ studio in Reykjavik. Over a 7 day period. the result was a multi textured, richly varied but ultimately dark album.

Nanook of the North: A Story Of Life and Love In the Actual Arctic is a 1922 American silent documentary by Robert J. Flaherty. The film showcases the struggles of Nanook, an Inuit man and his family, living in the Canadian Arctic as they try to exist day to day. The challenging nature of the film has led to a score that is both haunting and moving. I say this having not yet seen the movie.

Nanook of the North Movie Poster

Musically it’s a meld of drone, dub techno, analog synths, piano, strings and field recordings including those of some Inuit guests. Given the harsh landscape the documentary is set in, the soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment. From the start of Siulleq the stark emotional darkness drifts in. It continues to roll on until an Inuit Eskimo chant is heard as the synth drops. It immediately feels cold, bleak and menacing. It is very reminiscent of the Rellik soundtrack created by Clark in 2017 for the BBC. In fact, that comparison is accurate across various points of Nanook of the North.

Tulleq comprises of layers of rich synths slowly building. The pedestrian 4/4 beat and piano threaten to burst open in Pingajoq but again there is a breakdown to reveal the piano section in all its’ glory. Sisamaat is a thing of beauty. Atmospheric and poignant, it is one of the 2 main album highlights. Tallimaat is a simple piano piece, sombre throughout, occasionally promising hope but ultimately not delivering. With Arfernat, the mood changes slightly as dub techno is introduced. Pitch this up and it wouldn’t be out of place in a darker techno DJ set. The nature of the synths in this track make this feel more industrial or even upbeat without changing the overall feel of the album.

The dark ambient drones of Arfineq-Aappaat are at odds with Arfernat. The introduction of a piano does little to lighten the mood created. I’m guessing this soundtracked a particularly difficult section of the documentary. The tone continues into, and throughout, the 8 minute Arfineq-Pingajuat. Inuit drumming enters along with the Rellik-esque synths building to another piano drop half way through whilst the synths continue to rumble on the background. The second half of the track is reserved for a slow build but never a full release of tension. A highly emotive piece of music which is the other album standout. Qulingiluaat is an interlude and hardly registers paving the way for the end. Album closer, Qulingat, created using a Korg PS 3200, makes for a fitting climax, slow and desolate.

This album is dark and moving, as it should be. However, on occasion, there are moments of light. It has only been a short time since the soundtrack release, but i am hooked on Nanook of the North. Now, to watch the documentary. I hope Nanook and his family were alright in the end.

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…….