Jaykits Vol. 15

It’s the time of the year that my annual ambient mix (The ‘Jaykits’ Series) gets put together. I’ve no idea why I do this in August/September when the end of year would make more sense. Maybe next year I’ll rectify this.

As always, I’ve loved putting this together. A majority of this was formed of the lockdown walks, often in the evening sun. The field recordings were either recorded in my garden or out in the woodlands of Perth (as was the cover photo). The early days of lockdown meant the bird song was just that bit more prominent and easy to capture. Reverb has been added to the field recordings and used throughout the mix.

In terms of the music, selecting the tunes was easy. The first track chosen was the The Slow Descent Has Begun by A Winged Victory for the Sullen from The Undivided Five. The album came out at the start of November 2019 by which time Jaykits Vol. 14 was done. After that the tunes on the mix are presented in some sort of chronological order. Motionfield, Jonas Munk and Federico Mosconi were early year favourites. The rest has been released since the world changed. That is except for the Virginia Astley track. The title track From Gardens Where We Feel Secure is included. I will forever associate that time with her album. A classic from the early 80s that I was lucky enough to discover this year. The mix finishes with Bella Ciao (Version Lenta) from Money Heist. We discovered that show during lockdown. It will long live in the memory.

I very much hope you enjoy.

Jaykits Vol. 15 – 1hr 11mins

Intro – Blackbird field recordings May/June 2020

1. CoastsLoscil

2. Always There Part 9Motionfield

3. Eastern HorizonsJonas Munk

4. Il Tempo Della Nostra EstateFederico Mosconi

5. From Gardens Where We Feel Secure – Virginia Astley

6. All Human Beings Part 3 – Max Richter

7. Blacklight TrailTineidae

8. Fleeting PremonitionASC & Sam KDC

9. Abyss Forms (i) Eluvium

10. The Slow Descent Has Begun – A Winged Victory for the Sullen

11. Visit Me Mogwai

12. Mad Rush Bruce Brubaker & Max Cooper c/w Blackbird field recordings

13. For Now I Am Winter (Nils Frahm Rework) Ólafur Arnalds

14. No Sleep No Dream’- Gia Margaret

15. Bella Ciao (Versión Lenta de la Música Original de la Serie la Casa de Papel / Money Heist) – Manu Pila

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.

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…….