Here’s a sneak peak at the new 7” single being released by Grouper this week. After having released the gorgeous double album A.I.A: Dream Loss/Alien Observer earlier this year I didn’t think Liz Harris could do much better in 2011. This is lovely though, and is in the more song based style that had surfaced in the relative clarity of Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill. It still manages to maintain that distinction though, I always know a Grouper track when I hear one and that’s something which is pretty unusual these days. Water People & Moving Machine were recorded last Spring during Harris’ residency at the non-profit Ballroom Marfa arts centre in Texas, they have sold out in pre-order the original run of 500 but it will be available for download later this week, and you’ll be able to get it through Boomkat.
London based guitarist Ben Chatwin’s chosen moniker of Talvihorros gives you a reasonable idea of what to exepct from the project. Indeed there is plenty of bleak atmosphere here, and his last record Music In Four Movements was inspired by concepts of death and images of drowning, something which you can read a bit more about in my interview with Ben from January. Where that record was torturously bleak and filled with fittingly grand musical strokes, large sweeping strings and stark ominous guitar parts, Descent into Delta is more low key.
This track ‘Alpha’ is a perfect example as it builds gradually with overlapping drones which envelope into waves of noise underpinning Chatwin’s delicate free form acoustic plucks and giving the whole thing a very amorphous feel. It swells and wavers back and forth with a depth of feeling which is sometimes missing in such styles of music. The concept of the record may have something to do with this, as what originally began as a series of live improvised takes were edited into a sequence which traces an internal journey from anxiety to serenity. You can hear this too as things progress, for instance the harsh buzzing distortion towards the end of ‘Beta’ is offset by twinkling twangs beneath it. Then the more isolated guitar on ‘Theta’ is underpinned by what sounds like a train thundering past at speed, but the sample is stretched and mutated until from those noisy beginnings it drifts in to a low key ambience. Closing track ‘Delta’ is a crystallic swoon of guitar, with none of the harsh tones as it slips silently into suspended motion and Chatwin is joined by a subtle viola to cement that drift. This is another intriguing and quietly grand musical statement from an artist gathering an increasingly impressive ouevre. You can stream and purchase the album now through Hibernate Recordings.
The first solo album proper from former Y’all is Fantasy Island frontman provides a rather different proposition than 2009’s low key release Awnings. The latter was wilfully avant-garde, a decidedly lo-fi maelstrom of purring vocal loops and mechanic samples which almost seemed engineered as a direct reaction to the effortless accessibility of YiFI. For me, it was an often misguided if admirably vast and playful collection of tracks, but it failed to capitalise on Stafford’s strengths as a songwriter. Thankfully then Build A Harbour Immediately manages to strike a perfect balance which will satisfy those looking for songs as well as those intrigued by his experimentations with form.
The best example of this balance comes from the fluttering feather like vocal loops of ‘Shot Down You Summer Wannabes’ which are the basis of the whole track and are then adorned with harder gritted teeth lead vocals. It’s not just a pointless exercise in excising instruments though; it’s a warm stuttering wall of neo-soul proclamations, the lead vocal swooning with purpose and feeling. Throughout the record it is Stafford’s voice which is his most potent tool really, something backed up by ‘Frederick Wiseman’, the other loops only number which is a no-tempo pop gem akin to the wavering epiphanies of Julianna Barwick.
Somehow the return of the fantastic Paavoharju managed to escape my attention last month. Here it is though, a brand new track taken from the new EP of the same name, which is otherwise made up of unreleased tracks and alternate takes on previous material. A great track it is too, all swooning strings, waterfall ambience and echoing almost dream like piano chords backing up the majestic vocals. The EP is available now as a T-shirt/Digital Download combo through Fonal Records. Here’s hoping there’s a new album coming soon!
Caught In The Wake Forever - All The Hurt That Hinders Home
Ambient music is a tricky path to tread, and trying to turn a microscope on the compelling subtleties of sound without drifting into background noise territory easier said than done. The key to success is invariably in production more than anything, in highlighting those shifts and textures of the sounds, and this is something which Caught in the Wake Forever excels at. A side project of one half of the Scottish lo-fi folk duo Small Town Boredom, Fraser McGowan is known for bleak acoustic ruminations which err towards uncomfortable documents of self-loathing. Here, on his debut solo release, though the predominantly electronic palette has pushed the atmosphere towards a warmer more reflective sadness. The combination or juxtaposition of acoustic and electronic sounds is far from being an original style, but it works very well here. The mechanic whirs which open the EP slowly give way to sprawling ambience, a kind of barely controlled emotion which is the strength of these recordings when its offset with the patient laconic strumming of the guitar. The delicate beats in ‘Fragments Turn To Dust’ help inject a little bit of subtle momentum in to proceedings whilst ‘Mount Batten Ferry’ has such a gorgeously understate piano line that it just melts in to the bed of static beneath it. It’s perhaps noticeably a debut release as things occasionally meander and it’s not the most memorable collection of tracks, but perhaps it’s not meant to be. In their moment the sounds of this EP are packed with memories, evocative and swollen with reminders of the past, which can slide away peacefully within minutes. All The Hurt That Hinders Home is a beautiful reflective escape from the here and now.
Here’s another stunning new cut from ‘WANDER/WONDER’, the debut album from producer Balam Acab. Based on this along with other previously revealed album tracks 'Oh Why' and 'Apart', it seems like Alec Koone could well be one of the genuine talents to emerge from the Witch House fad. Indeed if the album is filled with more of these kind of spectral ballads then we could even be looking at one of the debuts of the year.
The Moth and the Mirror have been one of the best bands skulking about the underbelly of Glasgow for years now, so lo and behold this good news that they are finally set to release their debut album in October. Lights in the Sky is the first single to be taken from that and is being released as a free download via Olive Grove Records. It seems like it could well be something to get excited about as well, mixing a sense of wide eyed delicacy with gloomy atmosphere and lurching squalls of dingy guitar to produce something simultaneously quite sweet sounding and yet rather foreboding. You can grab a free download of the track through Bandcamp.