September 30, 2012
As if ties to Punch Drunk, Young Turks and countless 12”s on a host of other labels over the last year isn’t enough, Bristol man Vessel has now landed himself a deal with purveyors of all things electronically moody, Tri Angle Records – a perfect home for Gainsborough’s dark, veiled soundscapes. His first release for them (and first official full length), Order of Noise, is a consolidation of the young Sebastian Gainsborough’s work to date, with more than a little respect shown to his new home.
It’s hard to tell whether Gainsborough’s recent Tri Angle surroundings have had a deep impact on his sound, or whether his new ethereal direction pre-empted the move itself. Either way, the ghostly layers and clouds of dark ambience that filter through Order of Noise certainly owe a debt to label mates like Holy Other, Balam Acaab and oOoOO.
Opener ‘Vizar’ sets the tone, its sweeping pads and long, droning harmonies creating an unearthly ambience. The disembodied vocals that define much of the Tri Angle sound make an early appearance, with Gainsborough using them subtly and to good effect.
‘Stillborn Dub’ incites comparisons to the German minimal producer Pole with its spaced out delays and clattering, lo-fi and low-filtered percussion, while ‘Silten’ is a hypnotically dragging piece, full of glassy synths and snatches of wordless vocals. ‘Images of Bodies’ is spaciously minimal techno with a first glimpse of Vessel’s characteristically deep bass tones, before ‘Lache’ brings a chaotic intro into focus with a perfectly timed beat drop.
The influences of dub are heavily in attendance on Order of Noise (check out ‘2 Moon Dub’ or the echoing ‘Aries’), and there’s even a touch of high energy Euro-house on ‘Plane Curves’.
Gainsborough’s more experimental efforts are largely successful too. The franticly building ‘Court of Lions’ and ‘Scarletta’’s explosion of grainy synths and scattered rhythms particular highlights, and there’s a touch of Hype Williams at their most distant on closer ‘Villaine’ – bookending the album perfectly with ‘Vizar’.
It’s a strong debut for Gainsborough, managing to twist his own unique compositional style perfectly to fit with Tri Angle’s ethos – a label that’s successfully positioning itself as the number one source for this particular strain of narcotised, ethereal production.
Read this review in context over at HYPONIK
December 27, 2011
Following on from 20-11, here be the top 10…
10. The War On Drugs – Slave Ambient
Beautifully languid Americana from Philly’s finest.
9. Evenings – Lately
Some ambient instrumental genius discovered over at Evening’s Bandcamp page.
8. James Blake – James Blake
The much-lauded, self-titled debut from Blake deserved its plaudits.
Brilliantly creative and esoteric rock from the outlandishly productive Soft Powers
6. Emika – Emika
One-woman producer/singer Emika created one of the year’s most forward-thinking bass music albums.
5. Summer Camp – Welcome to Condale
London duo combine pastiche with a sixth sense for melody, while proving themselves pretty handy live too
4. Pinch & Shackleton – Pinch & Shackleton
Some exquisitely composed and ambitious bass music from the two masters of the genre.
3. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
By far the best hip-hop album of the year, Black Up is dark, brooding and oozing effortless originality.
2. Balam Acab – Wander/Wonder
Ethereal, ice-cold and majestic stuff from the Tri-Angle Records man with the visual nature.
1. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for my Halo
Essentially Eclectic’s love affair with Kurt Vile is no secret, from tumbling superlatives about live performances to a more than positive review for Smoke Ring for my Halo. It’s no surprise then that the long-haired Philadelphia man tops the tree in our round-up of 2011.
November 21, 2011
“My music is made in the complete opposite way that chance composers made music. It’s all very calculated” explained Alec Koone in an interview with Pop Gun recently. Koone may not be a name familiar to those not acquainted with the spectral tones emanating from Brooklyn’s TriAngle Records stable. Even his stage name Balam Acab might only ring very faint bells in the dustier corners of the mind. Yet the Pennsylvania-born producer has been quietly creating some of the year’s greatest music direct from across the pond.
Despite not being old enough to legally drink in his homeland (the kid was born in the ‘90s!), Koone’s productions have a woozy feel, one that’s simultaneously warming and icy to the touch. The images conjured by the title of his stunning album debut, ‘Wander/Wonder’, are apt at a very literal level. Burial’s self-styled ‘night bus’ music is given an American tilt by the Pennsylvania native, with visions of wandering around the state’s wide open spaces, wondering at its contents.
If you’re yet to hear Balam Acab, let me try and explain what to expect (hopefully without prejudicing opinion too much). First of all, the name itself Koone took from a Mayan demagogue who was said to have used his powers to end a drought. Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that Koone’s sonic imagery is one of ice and water. It’s had reductive descriptors such as ‘witch house’ and ‘drag’ thrown at it, but these don’t help. Beats undulate like waves rocking an unconscious figure afloat on a vast sea (this is not just linguistic hyperbole, listen to ‘Apart’ from ‘Wander/Wonder’ and try to say otherwise), compiled from crisp, dry drum hits that usually come to rest in the lower echelons of the BPM scale. Great washes of synth and other discernable drones sit above these, with extended, warm bass notes smoothing the mix. And on top of it all are those aching vocal samples. Vocals are key to Koone’s work, while at the same time being obscured and unintelligible. This is no new production technique: countless artists use vocals as layers, building dense timbres without spotlighting their communicative meaning (it would be impossible not to refer back to Burial again at this point). Uniquely however, Koone’s angelic vocal samples are almost exclusively time-stretched and pitched way up the frequency range, coating his icy beats in a thin and unspoiled layer of snow: not Kanye West’s chipmunk soul, or the washed out echoes of Holy Other, but ethereal: spectral calls from distant voices, more yearning than eerie.
Last year’s ‘See Birds’ EP was the first release for both him and for Tri Angle Records – a tailor-made home for Balam Acab’s music, one full of like-minded contemporaries who share a creative approach: How to Dress Well, oOoOO and Clams Casino among them.
Koone comes from a generation that sees little division between influences, where ethics and compositional methods are inconsequential when sifting through the ether and pulling inspiration from Madlib’s hypnotic beats here, or Grouper’s ghostly vocal weaving there. Prioritising ambience over song structure or any form of narrative, these atmospherics are the raw foundation on which Balam Acab’s music is based. In an interview with Altered Zones earlier this year, Koone cites hip-hop and R&B as obvious starting points, but also the influence of drone music and folk on his work – these last two fully evident throughout ‘Wander/Wonder’.
There is also an unquestionable UK influence. As well as the obvious Burial comparisons previously made, and the production crossovers with label mate How To Dress Well, some elements of earlier Four Tet – not least the metronomic beauty of ‘My Angle Rocks Back And Forth’ from the ‘Rounds’ album – are clearly audible in the majesty of Koone’s music. Ninja Tunes associates Super Numeri’s had a love of all things ‘found sound’ and were keen users of the watery tones that permeate ‘Wander/Wonder’, and the supremely crafted ambient works of ISAN share much of its mood and gentle sway. Whether the inspiration is conscious or not, the otherworldly tone drifting through Lukid’s ‘Forma’ album has a direct lineage through ‘See Birds’ and beyond, and, although not strictly a UK influence, the bubbling geysers and crunching snow of Bjork’s ‘Vespertine’ find a new home in Koone’s soundscapes.
His remix choices are also impeccable. Lana Del Rey’s siren song ‘Videogames’ got an almost childlike reworking a couple of months ago, complete with breathy vocal lines and twinkling harps, while Twin Sister’s ‘Kimmi in a Rice Field’ dismantles the ‘80s synths of the original and reconstructs it with sweeping strings and tuned woodblocks, showing that the young producer is not afraid to expand his sound and build on his compositional skills.
Despite the visual nature of his music, Koone is reluctant to go down the arty video route for any of his tracks, and while photos of him are drastically blurred, you get the impression it’s through a genuine desire to stay anonymous and disconnected rather than the trappings of hipster cool. Unofficial, fan-made videos set to his music exist (the clip for ‘Oh Why’ perhaps the best of these), as well as the bizarre juxtaposition of ‘See Birds’ on an advert for L’Oreal starring Beyoncé.
It will be fascinating to see how Koone manages to convey the isolation and space in his work when he takes Balam Acab on the road this winter, beginning in the suitably snowy American northeast. Perhaps the addition of the female singer Koone promises for his live set will add a little human emotion to tracks from ‘Wander/Wonder’ and ‘See Birds’, whether that’s seen as a good or bad thing. However live audiences receive him, Balam Acab has, in ‘Wander/Wonder’, a contender for 2011 album of the year safely under his belt.
Read this feature in context over at HYPONIK
November 16, 2011
Welcome to a new feature on Essentially Eclectic, Sonic Images, celebrating the great alliances that can potentially occur between images and music.
There is no deep meaning or social commentary relevance to any of these posts, just simply stare at the given picture and play the provided songs and enjoy their possible mutualism.
[Opening the photo in a new tab should make it bigger]
Kria Brekkan – Wildering (suil version)
Pole – Silberfisch°
Shells – Pastels
Balam Acab – Now Time
Evenings – [Lately] See You Soon
Teebs – LSP featuring Austin Peralta
Dntel – Pillowcase
Blue Daisy – Fallin (feat. Heidi Vogel)
Bjork – Aurora
October 12, 2011
It’s been a while since the last EE Mixup (in fact, it was a Sunday way back in May), but with the browning of the leaves and the greying of the skies the time has come for the annual Autumn collection…
It’s no secret that Warpaint are a favourite at Essentially Eclectic, so any excuse to play the California quartet is fine with us. This ‘My Guy’-referencing version of ‘Billie Holiday’ is comes from the recent deluxe edition release of last year’s debut album The Fool, and features some deft reworking from Pulp’s Steve Mackey.
This floating slice of piano-tickling ambience from Virginia native Nathan Broaddus, working under the name Evenings, comes from the producer’s second stunning collection entitled Lately. I urge you to get hold of the whole thing at the Evenings bandcamp HERE.
Damon Albarn’s latest project saw the Gorillaz man and a few cronies (beatsmiths Actress and Dan the Automator among them) head to the Democratic Republic of Congo with the intention of collaborating with local producers and making an album in 7 days. The resulting release, Kinshasa One Two, is an intriguing chapter in the seemingly never-ending story of Western exposure to “world” music (eurgh), as the collaborations are largely electronic in nature. Although only reflecting a miniscule corner of Central African musical styles, it’s nonetheless an interesting collection, and this infectious opener sees Albarn himself trading verses with Tout Puissant Mukalom & Nelly Liyemge.
A strong, strong contender for the EE ‘album of the year’, Balam Acab’s Wander/Wonder is an astounding 8 tracks of yearning, sighing, slow-paced electronic ear candy that should mandatorily be in every collection come the winter, where its crackling beats and ghost-in-the-night vocal samples will be yet more haunting then they are now.
Arriving late at the St. Vincent party, it was initially hard to get my bearings. But slowly I began to warm to Annie Clark’s idiosyncratic form of melodrama, helped largely by the fantastic production work on recent album Strange Mercy. Here’s the soothing title track.
It’s no surprise that another EE favourite, Kurt Vile, was once a member of The War on Drugs. Vile’s languid style was obviously forged in the band’s fire, alongside frontman Adam Granduciel. ‘Brothers’ is from the Future Weather EP, a fitting precursor to this year’s fantastic Slave Ambient album.
Note: On first impressions, the new Bjork album, Biophilia, would have a couple of strong contenders for this list. Having only had it for a couple of days however, it seems inevitable that those couple of tracks will be changing daily for the next couple of weeks. Watch this space for an update…