bvdub — Yours are Stories of Sadness

As mentioned in our last post, we are focusing on Sound In Silence, "a small diy record label based in Athens, Greece" that specializes in ambient, drone, shoegaze and other quiet sounds. I'm working on putting something a little bigger together on SIS, so in the meantime I wanted to take a look at the label's other recent release to go along with Andrew. This second CD from the December batch takes the microlabel into the bigger time, featuring one of the better known and most prolific artists in the ambient music world today, bvdub. For those that don't know, bvdub is the moniker of Brock Van Wey, a San Francisco based producer who began as a DJ in the early SF rave scene. It wasn't until a move to China last decade that he began to make his own music, picking up the ambient techno thread that the 1990s Bay Area helped define.

It’s funny, as I had just recently said to myself that I should do a few posts focused on the work of bvdub, after hearing one of his tracks on Sam Hockley-Smith’s Discreet Music, his excellent RBMA Radio show. As he described it, bvdub’s music feels like the soundtrack for the period after your pet has passed away. While it was used as the reason why someone didn’t want to listen to his music, I thought of it as a great little blurb to make people want to listen. One of the great appeals to me of bvdub’s music is its ability to conjure up neither the darkness nor the tranquility that ambient usually evokes; instead, a sadness and melancholy emerges from his tracks, two emotions that ambient music is not known for, but which we need spaces for as well. While we tend to love the artists and works that imagine or interact with physical space, bvdub reminds us that ambient music is just as powerful when it explores those inner, mental spaces.

Right on cue, bvdub’s recently dropped Yours Are Stories of Sadness, a fittingly melancholic title for the emo chill king. This record was actually self-released digitally by Van Wey in September of last year; in spite of its recent vintage and digital only status, it has garnered a good deal of acclaim, landing on Rafael Anton Irisarri's superb #NOT THE BEST AMBIENT ALBUMS OF ALL TIME list that compiled some of the genre's essential releases. Sound of Silence stepped in and gave this one the physical release it deserved. Befitting its digital beginnings, it is an album that is stuffed to the gills, featuring 19 tracks and 1 hour and 20 minutes of music. While I am not a bvdub scholar by any means, this one seems to eschew his recent tendency to compose long, hour-plus tracks, condensing those epics into 3 and 4-minute miniatures.

Across the range of 19 tracks, there are a few distinct templates that emerge. At times, it harkens back to Selected Ambient Works-era Aphex Twin, with soft keyboard notes and simple patterns looping in and around one's head. Check out "06", as it's gentle music box sound makes it feel like the perfect song to fall asleep to, the highest compliment here at Pound for Pound. At other moments, a Huerco-like smog descends on things, as woozy synths take hold and obscure the small sounds and details happening. Suddenly, the haze lifts to reveal a cosmic bliss, with waves of textured pads sweeping you up to float in the ether. At its most interesting, it sounds like a screwed and chopped trance or opiate EDM; anthemic synths are slowed down and . What makes these tracks and moments so interesting isn't the glacial pacing, but rather the absence of an underpin to those traditionally joyous chords; there is no arpeggiated bass or big kick drums or a trippy vocal sample. This absence evokes an intense melancholy, as one slowly realizes those sonic signifiers of anthems and peak hours and ecstasy are empty ones. There is no climax, just 

Van Wey's own description of the album provides a perfect lens through which to read these tracks. As he explains, the title comes from something that a hired girl told him at Shaoxing karaoke bar in the wee hours of the morning. This unsettling comment would provide the inspiration for the 19 tracks, which "are flashes of memories from that time... broken fragments, and spaces in-between... each a portrait of instances I have remembered that moment, each its own place and time. Every time I remembered that moment in the years that followed, I made a brief tribute to the beginnings of that realization, and the starting point for my mental wanderings that followed... putting that initial realization to sound, before going the rest of the journey in my own head." He goes on to add that "Unlike all my other works which are meant to be in the foreground, these are meant to stay in the shadows... to be the quiet and subconscious soundtrack... each not a story, but just a moment... that moment you realize."

Listen to the excellent "02," which strikes me as a a sonic memory of forgone rave days. The track begins with a layers of deep, gorgeous chord that sing and swell and breeze, creating a soft, lush backdrop. After repeated listens, those chords gradually come to sound more and more like human breaths or murmurings, everyday noise. Out of this quiet racket, around the 1:40 mark, you hear the faint emergence of what sound to me like glacial, echo-y trance stabs, those simple yet anthemic chords that have defined dance music's most popular genres over the last two decades. However, placed on top of that ambient backdrop, they lose their sharpness, their vitality, their joy; instead, it feels like you are listening to a 30th generation mixtape from some long-forgotten rave, as the sounds and clarity have been deteriorated, leaving one with only this warped artifact and faint memories. It's wonderful and heartbreaking at the same time,

I've come to think of bvdub's sound as a psychedelic ambient, playing off of the mind-altering aspect of that word, as it brings you into inner space more than the world itself itself. They can be thought of as instrumental ballads, songs that remind us of loss, whether it is of a Chinese club, love, our youth, a lost space, dance music's history. Perhaps bvdub's music is a space to mourn, a soundscape that lets each of us remember and in doing so put those memories behind us, to move on to build new ones.

This one is a no-brainer for anyone interested in ambient music today, a unique take on that speaks to the genre's ability to construct mental spaces as well as physical ones. For those who like what they have just read and heard, head over to the Sound In Silence's Bandcamp store, where you can get a copy of the limited edition CD (300 total) the label released at the end of last year. It's a lovely and lovingly constructed package, well worth the $12.81 (€12). I'd also highly recommend taking a look through bvdub's own Bandcamp, as Van Wey is as prolific as they come and releases much of his music digitally himself. 

FJORDNE & stabilo — Andrew

From approaching silence to finding the sound inside of it, I'm so excited to introduce a new label to Pound for Pound, a perfect follow-up to our last post. Sound In Silence is about as perfect and perfectly obvious choice for us as possible, specializing in ambient, drone, lower-case sounds. As the label's bio tells us, "Sound In Silence is a small diy record label based in Athens, Greece. The label was established in spring 2006, trying to release exclusive high quality new music by a wonderful international roster. All releases are in limited editions, presented in collectible handmade packaging with beautiful cover designs." It's the latter aspect that might appeal to me the most right now, the handmade, DIY nature of the entire operation. While Sound In Silence has been around for a decade, there have been only 35 releases in that time (with 20% of those coming in the last year alone); that mix of the handmade and the unhurried reinforces the sense that this is an entity operating at its own time, on its own time, undisturbed by markets and trends.We're going to take a look at the label's two most recent releases this week and then dig into the back catalogue in the near future. For anyone who reads this site, I am confident that any of their releases will be right up your alley; therefore, I highly recommend heading to the Sound In Silence Bandcamp and get a jump on things by buying a few albums and supporting another amazing ambient entity.

I wanted to start this focus with a look at Andrew, the recent split EP featuring two longer tracks from Stabilo and two shorter etudes from FJORDNE. It is a good indication both of the complexity of sounds that the label curates, a sort of more than meets the ear aesthetic, and its cosmopolitanism, as evidenced by the Greek-based label highlighting to relatively obscure Japan-based artists on this CD; this No Borders practice is essential today, happy to see it at the heart of labels I love.

Both artists were new to me, so I will rely on the label for more info on the two. Stabilo is the solo project of Hiroshima-based Yasutica Horibe, a member of the post-rock/shoegaze band Speaker Gain Teardrop. Beginning in 2002, Horibe has been releasing solo electronic music as Stabilo on labels such as U-Cover, Novel Sounds and Mimi Records. FJORDNE is the solo project of Tokyo-based Fujimoto Shunichiro, through which he has released 6 albums and 1 EP on labels such as Kitchen Label, White Paddy Mountain, Dynamophone Records, and Ryoondo-Tea. Both artists mix acoustic and electronic instruments, although Stabilo's music seems to begin from the electronic side while FJORDNE's emerges from the other side. 

On first listen, I would have said that it was half ambient drift (Stabilo), half classical piano compositions (FJORDNE); pleasant enough, but nothing that struck me as anything more than background music that you would hear on a Spotify Music To Help You Study playlist. Ah, how wrong first impressions can be! This one has been a slow burner for me, as it didn’t really take hold until I had listened to it multiple times. Interestingly, its short duration initially was a main problem, as the album felt too brief to really dig in; however, because it was only 22 minutes of music and I have no real social life to speak of, I was able to keep coming back to it without feeling daunted, like I had to commit a sizable chunk of time to it. Through repeated listens, I began to notice the background of this background music and was blown away. These quieter sounds that elude notice suggest a layered space, that as one gets better at listening closely, one will notice a deeper and more complex world was right there all along.

In Stabilo’s case, this means two tracks of a shoegazed, monolithic fuzz that gradually erodes over the course of 7 minutes, as piano notes, field recordings, glitchy clicks and cuts and dark drones wear away at the totality. Closer "Alison" is the highlight for me; it's the darker of the two tracks, as the haze feels more ominous and thicker on this one. Perhaps because of that thickness, more sounds are able to emerge over its duration. The first half of the track, with its water and wind sounds, give the feel of being on the coast seeing the dark clouds forming and knowing that a storm's coming in. But while the volume and activity increases over the second half, the storm never materializes; instead, these beautiful, plaintive piano notes ring out, suggesting not a sudden storm but a slow heartbreak is unfolding. It's wonderful stuff that confirms this is an artist to pay attention to. 

FJORDNE's track are the true revelation, as what at first sounds like nostalgic piano music that you'd hear in a Woody Allen movie during a sappy Manhattan scene turns out to be a gentle clash between the classical and modern, pretty and ugly. The lovely piano notes find themselves gradually subverted over the course of 3+ minutes, as bleeps, noises and even human voices strike notes of discord. Listen to  "Aquainted" ASAP, as it is my favorite track on the record (right now at least). The best description I can give is that it sounds like a live concert recording of a solo jazz piano recital, with the sounds of the lobby and a classical concert happening in an adjacent room leaking in to the mix. It reminds one of sound's ability to evade, of how there is sound even in silence, setting up a gentle, but productive clash between genres. It's really nice and unexpected and worth a listen.

Head over to the Bandcamp store to get your own copy of the release. I'd highly recommend grabbing a physical copy, as not only is the music top-notch, but it is a beautifully packaged object with a stark cover design. As of this writing, there are only 20 left of the edition of 150; if you want your own, buy it right now. For those who can wait, it will be available as a download once the CDr sells out. As always, I can't stress how important it is to support this type of music and the people who making it available. We'll have more to say on Sound In Silence, see you back here in a few days.

 

David Sylvian — Approaching Silence

David Sylvian, "Approaching Silence"

David Sylvian, Approaching Silence

I think about silence all the time these days, perhaps an odd admission from a site devoted to sound. I'm not sure whence my fascination with the concept comes from, but it probably sits in the sweet spot of various topics that intrigue me like retreat, utopia, acoustics, architecture, sound and music. Or perhaps more importantly, my own increasing sensitivity to noise and its deleterious effects as a pollutant has provided the impetus to seek it out. I hope to delve deeper into the concept in the coming months, in conjunction with an increasing look at its complement, noise. For now though, I want to highlight one idea that has become clearer by thinking through the concept of silence.

It begins, as most of my thinking does these days, with John Cage. While Cage is synonymous with silence through his book of that name and his infamous 4'33" piece, he is actually the one who made clear its non-existence, its impossibility, with his anechoic chamber story. As he wrote in one of his Indeterminacy stories, "It was after I got to Boston that I went into the anechoic chamber at Harvard University. Anybody who knows me knows this story. I am constantly telling it. Anyway, in that silent room, I heard two sounds, one high and one low. Afterward I asked the engineer in charge why, if the room was so silent, I had heard two sounds. He said, 'Describe them.' I did. He said, 'The high one was your nervous system in operation. The low one was your blood in circulation.'" Even in a space designed to eliminate noise, one cannot find silence. Yet, despite this condition of impossibility, the concept itself serves as an inspiration, a goal, a vision to move towards. It is this abstract goal that mirrors Eduardo Galeano's definition of utopia as a "the horizon.When I draw nearer by two steps, it retreats two steps. If I proceed ten steps forward, it swiftly slips ten steps ahead. No matter how far I go, I can never reach it.What, then, is the purpose of utopia? It is to cause us to advance."

There's something about that sense of movement that resonates with me right now. I think its appeal lies in the inherent necessity for action that underlies motion, which runs counter to the traditional notion of utopia. When one thinks back to the classical utopias from Thomas More on, there is a stasis to them, a lifelessness of laws and rules and pre-existing plans; it seems to me that we need a more active, dynamic, bottom-down approach to utopia, one which emerges from the movement of groups of people who come together. That feeling of action feels particularly important right now, as we all struggle with feelings of being overwhelmed and paralyzed by the sheer horrors of our country. Or perhaps this sense of movement draws our attention to that border region between the real and the imagined, the status quo and utopia, that messy space-between that is under-explored but utterly essential.

I don't think it is a coincidence that this sense of movement is essential to sound and music. When one thinks about the power of sound, one of its essential aspects is its ability to move, to leak out from its immediate environment. As Steven Connor writes, "Rather than moving from source to destination like a letter or a missile, sound diffuses in all directions, like a gas. Unlike light, sound goes round corners. Sound work makes us aware of the continuing emphasis upon division and partition that continues to exist even in the most radically revisable or polymorphous gallery space, because sound spreads and leaks, like odour." ['Ears Have Walls: On Hearing Art'] I love this idea, of the elusiveness of sound, of its ability to bring the inside outside and vice versa, its existence in a sense in that liminal space we were just referring to. 

All of this also put me in mind of music that refers to this sense of approaching an ideal state, whether Mist Connection's wonderful "approaching stillness" mix for us or the album above, another classic ambient work from David Sylvian, Approaching Silence. Released in 1999, it is a unique work in Sylvian's discography, as it is actually a compilation featuring works he made for two separate art installations. The first two tracks, "The Beekeeper's Apprentice" and Epiphany," accompanied the 'Ember Glance' installation, a multi-media work made in collaboration with the artists Russell Mills and Ian Walton; the work was exhibited at the Temporary Museum in Tokyo Bay, back in September of 1990. Amazingly, someone has put together a website that gives us background and images of the installation, reminding us of the beauty of the Internet. The third and final track, "Approaching Silence," accompanied the multi-media work 'Redemption, which was' installed at the P3 Gallery, Tokyo in August of 1994. 

Naturally, we are going to highlight the latter because, well, I mean, look at that title! It's a 38+ minute piece that features two surprises: one, it doesn't approach silence that closely and two, it seems to work quite well as a work outside of the gallery context. What it does give you is a lovely piece featuring Sylvian's synths and the guitar loops and delays of King Crimson's Robert Fripp. The duo create an oceanic track that builds and recedes, moving skillfully between moments of crackling quiet and dissonant noise. It fits perfectly in line with so much of the stuff we share here, with its epic length, its penchant for texture and drift, its purposelessness. My favorite moment(s) emerge intermittently throughout the piece, when a faint vocal recording of Fripp breaks out of the background drone, sounding almost like wires got crossed and we are suddenly picking up someone else's phone conversation. They are these soft, crackly reminders of the potential that lies behind and within silence—the ability for new and other voices to be heard. 

David Sylvian & Holger Czukay

David Sylvian & Holger Czukay, "Plight (The Spiralling Of Winter Ghosts)"

David Sylvian & Holger Czukay, Plight + Premonition

From the Can meets PiL collab, we move to another fascinating krautrock meets postpunk collaboration; in the late 1980s, Holger Czukay teamed up with the guitarist and vocalist of the band Japan, David Sylvian, for a pair of brilliant, improvised ambient records on Venture. Japan operated for about a decade, from early 1970s through the early 1980s, moving from glam rock to experiment with electronic music and help give birth to the UK synthpop you probably danced to this weekend (Duran Duran, Soft Cell, Spandau Ballet, Culture Club). While I can't say much about Japan beyond what I read and the few things I have listened to, their openness to new influences and willingness to operate to the beat of their own drummer foreshadows Sylvian's distinguished post-Japan work. It's a body of work, particularly the instrumental ambient explorations, that I have been wanting to highlight here for awhile, as a lot of what we post bears his influence. I'm not sure how well-known Sylvian's work is known today, but his name doesn't seem to get thrown around much; I think looking back at some of his albums will get everyone hooked and might even allow for a new generation to be influenced by his sounds and restless experimentation.

These two LPs with Czukay, in particular, could not fit better into the Pound for Pound thread we are unravelling, as they both feature 2 extended ambient pieces that submerge the listener, create spaces of calm and contemplation, blend found and composed sounds and require deep listening. It's rare for me to cover two records in the same post, but it seemed more appropriate to treat them as a single, multifaceted conversation rather than separate, discrete projects. These two albums were the only releases from this Sylvian/Czukay collaboration that took place over a few years in the late 1980s, plus both came out on the same label in consecutive years. 

Plight + Premonition was the first release, coming out in 1988 on Venture, compiled from a series of sessions that went down at Czukay's studio from 1986-87. It features only Sylvian and Czukay and for me, it is the one that I find myself coming back to the most. Interestingly, when I first went back to these albums over the last week or so, this was not the case, as I found a more immediate appeal in the oceanic sounds of Flux + Mutability. Plight + Premonition benefited immensely from a quiet listening space, as this increased clarity allowed me to appreciate the subtle sounds that emerge out of the deep, dark drone that underwrites all of the music. Give a listen to the 18 and a half minute, wonderfully-named opener, "Plight (The Spiralling of Winter Ghosts)," perfect listening for these brutally frozen days. It begins with an almost-didgeridoo-like drone, which spirals and unfurls over the course of the entire track, sometimes taking center stage, but mostly receding into the background, a growling undercurrent out of which haunting howls, piano notes, guitar, organ swells, environmental sounds and more surface. A passage around the halfway point is beauitful and beautifully haunting, as 

David Sylvian & Holger Czukay, "Mutability ("A New Beginning Is In The Offing")"

David Sylvian & Holger Czukay, Flux + Mutability

A year after Plight & Premonition, the duo dropped a second album for Venture/Virgin Records, Flux + Mutability. It's fascinating to listen to these two in succession, as the duo just as easily conjures up calming and reassuring worlds as dark and foreboding ones. This time around, the duo add a few additional voices to the mix, which helps explain the fullness, almost lushness, of this music, particularly in comparison to its stripped-down predecessor. Both tracks have an oceanic quality to them, centering on Sylvian's atmospheric keyboards that swell and recede over the course of  the album's 38 minutes. Opener "Flux (A Big, Bright, Colourful World)" features flickering bongos, lilting guitars, warbled vocals and even a relaxed flugelhorn deep in the mix, evoking images of a far-off beach party whose sounds and excitement drift to you from miles away. Fantastic stuff.

I decided to highlight the 21-minute second track, "Mutability ("A New Beginning Is In The Offing)," because it sees Sylvian and Czukay joined by our boy Jaki Liebezeit and gives us another chance to hear 2/5 of Can jam with a brilliant but unsung collaborator. What makes this one so appealing is that Liebezeit plays the African flute, giving this one a blissful New Age-y feel that you know we love here. While we could still hear land in the previous track, this time we are completely adrift at sea, rising and falling with the breathy flute, billowy keys and buoyant. Repeated, close listenings had me hearing this calm ambience as the product of 3 distinct voices, songbirds singing and communicating to each other as we float out at sea. It's 21 minutes that you want to last 21 days, beautiful stuff.

We may look at one more record from Sylvian's early ambient period this week, then discuss some recent releases and maybe pick up some early threads that we left hanging. Check back soon and find out; in the meantime, enjoy these two wonderful releases and stay warm.

Holger Czukay, Jah Wobble, Jaki Liebezeit ‎— Full Circle

Holger Czukay, Jah Wobble, Jaki Liebezeit, "Where's The Money?"

Holger Czukay, Jah Wobble, Jaki Liebezeit, "Mystery R.P.S. (No. 8)"

Holger Czukay, Jah Wobble, Jaki Liebezeit, Full Circle

I should probably be working on my best-of list now or coming up with some eloquent words to close out 2016; instead I am going to start a new series of minor posts that emerge out of our recent look at those Nuphonic's Mancuso compilations, as it seems fitting to close the year out quietly, patiently. The thread originates with one of the standout tracks on the David Mancuso presents The Loft Volume Two, "How Much Are They?," a track that brought krautrock & kosmiche into the disco. Literally. It's the product of a European supergroup that featured 2/5 of Can (Holger Czukay & Jaki Liebezeit) and Public Image Limited's Jah Wobble. There is nothing better than connecting the dots and this is a damn good example of a Pound for Pound crossroads, as the experimental musicians of the 1970s who pushed rock to its cosmic limits turned their attention and efforts to doing the same for the dancefloor of the 1980s.

I figured that I would share the results of this one-time only collaboration between Czukay, Wobble and Liebezeit, as it's a rare release and an album that deserves attention beyond just Mancuso's favorite. With the heights these artists reached with their better known projects, it's understandable that this one slipped through the cracks. On the other hand, I am not sure why more of the Can and PiL fans haven't fallen in love with this merging of two of the most interesting "rock" groups ever. Originally released on vinyl in 1982 on Virgin, this version is the OOP, first CD edition from 1992. It features 6 tracks of music that pull from each of the participants' main projects, with an air of experiment to the proceedings with the extended jams, unexpected noises, dubby effects and vocal tics.

For me, the album's second track, "Where's The Money?,"  comes closest to capturing the mutant disco sound that captivated dancers at The Loft; it seems quite close to PiL's sound, bringing the angularity and dissonance of punk into dialogue with the groove of dance music. For me, it's all about Czukay's guitar strums, these little punctuation points that provide accents to Wobble's narcotic vocals and hypnotic bass. Not surprisingly, Jaki Liebziet's drumming holds it all together, providing this massive backdrop to everything else that goes down. The highlight of the whole album, though, might be "Mystery R.P.S. (Number 8)," an 8 and three quarter minute slow burning jam session. As Julian Cope describes it, "‘Mystery RPS (No.8)’ is one of the most strangely beautiful pieces of music. It’s like Stockhausen’s moment form, but with gorgeous, stoned, seductive sounds instead of spiky, confrontational noises. Beguiling is the word. ‘Can you feel the wind?’ indeed. Mmmmm…yum!" Yum indeed.

Let me close this out by wishing everyone a Happy New Year. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; ok, mostly the latter. However, I increasingly feel an excitement and energy as this new year comes in, particularly about music, sounds, art and their power. Thanks to all the artists, labels, writers, DJs and promoters who have restored my energy and provided me with this greatest gift of all, hope; I look forward to highlighting and engaging with their work more in 2017. I see exciting developments coming up here at Pound for Pound, as we build off of our first full year back writing.Thanks to everyone who has stopped by, read, downloaded, commented and clicked an ad. I look forward to continuing our conversation in the new year, both online and in the real world. Here's to a year of beautiful noise and revitalizing silence, to building the hacienda and activating more quiet places, to finding each other and ourselves. I love you all, see you in the new year.

David Mancuso presents The Loft — Volume Two

Demis Roussos, "L.O.V.E. Got A Hold On Me"

David Mancuso presents The Loft - Volume Two Disc One

Dinosaur L, "#5 (Go Bang!)"

Steve Miller Band, "Macho City"

David Mancuso presents The Loft - Volume Two Disc Two

Death hangs over 2016 unlike any year I can remember. Alan Vega, Tony Conrad, Prince, Pauline Oliveros, Pulse night club, Ghost Ship, Leonard Cohen, David Mancuso. It's perhaps fitting in a year filled with such dark political rumblings that death would take center stage. I wish I had the perfect words to pay honor to all of these lives, the perfect words to make sense of this nightmare of a year. I don't. In fact, as you can tell by the lack of posts, I am struggling to say much these days.  Luckily, this is a blog dedicated to music, which gives me a natural counter to silence. All of the names above, through the music they made, shared, spun and housed, offer examples of music's power, its ability to bring us to together, as sounds to break the silence of apathy and hopelessness. 

I think a lot about David Mancuso these days, as his story connects to my own interests on so many levels. Disco, urban history, politics, acoustics, nature, sound, technology—all of these concepts emerge in his biography. I can't really add much to what far more knowledgeable and interesting writers have already said, but I can share this second volume of David Mancuso presents The Loft compilation, as it offers vivid reminders of those sounds that break the silence of apathy and hopelessness. Like its predecessor, this 2CD / 4LP set was compiled by Mancuso and his friend and associate Colleen 'Cosmo' Murphy in an attempt to give listeners a sonic sense of a night in The Loft. This means a disc for the early set and one for the late night into early morning. I wanted to re-thematize the two discs through the music samples above, highlighting the two aspects of the music that reinforce our vision of The Loft as a utopian space and provide an outline for future Lofts—joy and experiment. 

Disc 1 centers on joy for me, as its highlights are great examples of the disco sound that evokes images of packed dancefloors and ecstatic dancers. Give a listen to Fred Wesley's "House Party" and tell me that you are not overcome with the desire to get up and dance, hang with friends and strangers, live and love. This one, off of Wesley's 1980 self-titled album, is a reminder of the fine line that separates Motown, soul, funk and disco. Wesley blurs it in fact, as he was a member of James Brown's early line-ups, George Clinton's Funkadelic & Parliament, and Bootsy Collins' Rubber Band, playing trombone on some of the funkiest horn sections that have ever existed. This track was a disco favorite; its rubbery bass, bright horns, infectious vocals and filthy groove were perfect for those dancefloors and dancers. I don't know how else to explain this, but it elicits the same feeling I get when I see a french bulldog in real life—pure joy, a guaranteed smile on my face. The second selection, Demis Roussos' "L.O.V.E. Got A Hold On Me," is an example of that classic disco sound, which is another way of saying pure joy; synths, strings and soaring vocals come together to create a 10-minute paean to love that reminds you of just how damn good the disco template was. Roussos is not a household name (or at least he isn't in my household), but the Greek singer was in a prog band with Vangelis in the early 1970s before becoming a Europop star later that decade. Sproingy bass and consistent beat keep the gorgeous vocals, violin, clarinet, and electric piano from soaring off into the heavens. Fantastic.

Disc 2 reminds us of just how eclectic and downright weird The Loft could get musically. Deep house moves into latin jazz into dub into downtempo into soul and you don't blink an eye. The two tracks I highlighted are two of my all-time favorites and emphasize just how much Mancuso and The Loft provided a space to experiment and reimagine dance music. We've already mentioned Arthur Russell in the look at Volume 1, but I couldn't help but share Dinosaur L's "Go Bang" as well. I am not talented enough to capture how amazing and unique these 8 minutes are; it's a noise funk banger that is what I imagine disco sounds like on Mars. The liner notes describe the concept behind the track, in which Russell experimented with an early form of sampling, copying the beats from previous songs. Russell came up with a formula to alter the beats every 24 bars; over this structure, the band improvised, coming up with this original version that would serve as the source material for Francois K's better known version. As Chris Menist says in the liner notes, like this early attempt at sampling, "The Loft was in some ways a giant experiment that went right". In that light, make sure to listen to Steve Miller Band's "Macho City," the 16+ minute ambient disco number. Yes, that Steve Miller. The joker who took the money and run one. I implore you to listen to this one, as everyone needs this in their life.

I want to close with one more quote from the liner notes, this one a testimony from the late NYC DJ and producer Adam Goldstone, that connects to one of our great interests at Pound for Pound—quiet.

"The Loft differed from the other discos and parties not only in the type of records you'd hear and the manner in which they were presented (i.e. in their entirety, without mixing) but also in the volume at which they were played. It wasn't about bludgeoning you into submission with decibels there. The music was played at levels that would be considered quiet anywhere else, which not only resulted in clearer sound but also allowed everyone there to really listen to the music instead of just letting it surround them like really loud aural wallpaper. In this way, it was almost as if you had to do some of the work yourself. But it also meant that we were able to sit right smack in front of the speaker, normally a rather foolish idea if you want to keep your hearing, and let the music wash over us completely, yet we didn't have to worry about going deaf, and we could have a conversation right there if we wanted."

I don't have anything profound to say about this, other than a heartwarming sense of connection with Mancuso, The Loft and its many denizens over the decades. The inclusion of The Orb also confirmed a kinship. Thank you David. Thank you for The Loft. Thank you for breaking the silence. Thank you for providing so much joy for so many years. Thank you for providing a space for people to experiment and feel safe doing so. Thank you for everything.

Devin Sarno — Fall

Ok, we are trying to get back into a rhythm here at Pound for Pound, which means we are going to try to post a ton of new (well, new-ish at this point) releases over the next week and end the year with a bang. I want to start this resurgence with Devin Sarno's Fall, a two-track cassette that showed up in my inbox a few months ago and immediately piqued my interest. Sarno's bio noted his musical mission as "a sonic examination of the meditative properties of low-end drone music",  which is pretty much a sext at Pound for Pound. Inspired by everyday noises and silence, his is an exciting project, one that aligns perfectly with our own growing in interest in artists exploring the potential of sound, experimenting with its basic materials to push us to reimagine how we listen and what it can accomplish. 

I actually was actually lucky enough to ask Devin a few questions about the impetus behind this record via email. You have to be sick of hearing me blab, so I want to let Devin's words take center stage in this post. First, he gave some background on his recent work, explaining that "For many years I’ve had a fascination with the everyday ambient sounds around us and how they function as a sort of unconscious soundtrack to our lives. Many of my drone-based pieces of late have been a representation of that concept with the inclusion of field recordings, found sound and the like." It's a project that really intrigues me, this attempt to mix the composed and found, to make music from the unnoticed, to make us aware of our daily environment. In some ways, I hear an echo of our developing concept of ambient as spectral with this emphasis on the unconscious, the unheard, and the unnoticed.

Regarding this recent release, he talked of the inspiration for these two ~13 minute tracks. "The structure of “Entanglement” is akin in some ways to the inward & outward rhythms of breathing. It’s defiant in some respects and (I hope) somewhat seductive in others. In the case of “Running Embrace,” over the length of the track the faintest of melody begins to ride subtly beneath the dominant drone. It’s a steady and slowly evolving piece." Not surprisingly, Sarno captures a lot of the record's appeal, as it reconfigures your ears with its glatial pace, its subtle shifts, its lowercase sounds.

Devin was kind enough to send along an excerpt of "Running Embrace," the album's opening track, so that y'all can get a sense of exactly what to expect. This 4-minute chunk drops you right in the thick of things, a bleak section that conjures up inhospitable landscapes on first listen. I want to highlight one of the most exciting aspects of this album, the paradoxical nature of Sarno's work. What I mean by that is that a music of our everyday ambience ironically attains its full power the more you can get away from that background noise. I had been trying to listen to Fall mostly in cafes and out and about in the city at its busiest moments. It seemed to mirror those spaces, a loud, enveloping din; in fact, my first and best analogy to the central drones was to the sound of an airplane passing overhead for someone on the ground, that muffled roar that anyone who has lived in a city will instantly recall. However, once I started to spend time with it early and late, when the everyday was asleep, a whole world started to emerge. Out of that massive, air pollution drone, suddenly I heard the sounds of children playing, drops of liquid, bird songs, guitar notes, haunting bells and more. It gave me chills when I suddenly realized that this whole world was there, that it just took finding the right vantage point to listen closer to discover it. Perhaps most interesting of all, when you find that quiet space, the music starts to leak into the city; or more accurately, the city leaks into the music, as someone shutting their door or a car horn going off feel a part of Sarno's music rather than an annoyance. I won’t burden this with talk of utopia and my usual spiel, but I will say that the way Fall exists on the border, slipping between terms—composed/improvised, quiet/loud, monolithic/molecular, city/body, material/conceptual—is brilliant and exhilarating, experimental music at its finest. 

Mr. Sarno was already aware of this. As he wrote to me on an ideal listener, "My hope, always, is that people might have the patience and desire to allow themselves inside the pieces enough to discern some of the subtlety that’s lurking inside of them…much in the same way that I have come to appreciate much of the otherwise unrecognized ambience that swirls around us at any given time." I know that my readers possess these skills, so I just hope that they will apply them to this record. I highly recommend Fall, so head to Devin's Bandcamp store to buy a copy. It is available on cassette in a limited, limited edition of 25 or as a download in the format of your choice. Once you get that, take a gamble on something else, as I have a feeling you won't be disappointed. For more info on Devin Sarno, head to his personal page, where you can hear more of his music, learn about upcoming releases and shows, and learn more about his defunct label Absence of Wax. You can get in touch with Devin on Twitter (@devinsarno), Facebook, or Instagram, if that's your thing. We’ll hopefully have more to say and share on Sarno’s work and other new discoveries, but up next is the second volume of Nuphonic’s The Loft compilation. Talk soon.

 

Huerco S. — For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)

I need zones of indistinction
in order to reach the Common.
To no longer recognize myself in my name. To no longer
hear in my name anything but the voice that calls it.
To give consistency to the how of beings, not what they
are, but how they are what they are. Their form-of-life.
I need zones of opacity where attributes,
even criminal, even brilliant,
no longer separate bodies. (206)

Tiqqun, Introduction To Civil War

It's a strange feeling to champion a music of quiet and chill at a time that demands one scream and fight like hell. Part of me has struggled to resume writing here, as I am uncertain about my convictions, inundated with questions of aesthetics and politics. Can I really talk of a New New Age as the revanchists take us back a century? Is there any reason to chill when we need to be defending and fighting back? Can one talk about utopia when we are in a living hell? I don't know, but as they say, we make the road by walking. 

So, to begin walking, I am going to discuss one of my favorite recent works, Huerco S.'s For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have), and see what it brings up. I didn't just choose FTOYWHN (AATWH) because of how much I enjoyed listening to it; even more important seems to be the fact that it is the work that brought ambient back to the forefront this year. Over the last few months, it has become increasingly clear that another ambient turn is possible. Just in the past two weeks, Pitchfork released a Top 50 Ambient Albums of All-Time feature, which spurred a series of responses around the web. The Guardian and Fact Magazine profiled the New New Age we speak often of here. Hell, even indie dance icons Cut Copy just dropped a 40-minute ambient tape, suggesting that even the hipster dance floor is looking to chill the fuck out. While I had wanted to explore the why on this, I feel the urge now to argue that it should continue in spite of to try to sketch out some ideas towards a politics of the ambient(or is it an ambience of politics?) with this post.Wish me luck.

Huerco S. is the recording alias of Brian Leeds, a Kansas-born, Brooklyn-based producer; we’ve been a fan of Brian’s work for a few years, as his Opal Tapes and Software releases from a few years ago are some of the best cracked, lo-fi techno I’ve heard. I had actually not planned on discussing this album, as I try to focus on work that isn't getting a ton of attention. But, I came to my senses when I remembered that this is not the new Adele record with an army of major label and PR people behind it's fucking experimental ambient record. To celebrate Leeds' new cassette and record label, I wanted to give some thoughts on his biggest release to date and make sure that people are supporting one of the most interesting artists defining ambient music today.

This is a wonderful album, worthy of the accolades and acclaim that it has been receiving since its release (including coming in at #45 on Pitchfork's list). Released this year on Anthony Naples' Proibito Records, Huerco S. gives us 9 tracks and 53 minutes of smeared and blurry ambient music that never overwhelms but always impresses. While this record seems to have gained the most attention, I don't think it is a huge departure from some of the earlier music Leeds made. That lo-fi, bleary, woozy haze from his earlier work becomes even more central to this one; everything feels like it has been wrapped in gauze, muting the earlier noisy outbursts and softening the sharp edges of formerly crisp beats, dissonant synths and confident bass. Take the brilliant opener, "A Sea Of Love," which begins with a synth fog that blankets every sound that comes forth over the next 7+ minutes. Through that murk, one discerns a variety of lowercase sounds—crackles, pops, tape hiss, bass, keys—slowly but surely emerging, revealing a vibrant, unseen world. This is an opaque music, literally and figuratively, both in a lo-fi sense and a resistant to interpretation sense. 

Track lengths vary from 3-9 minutes, but each one unfolds slowly, deliberately, patiently. What is most impressive is the way that Leeds is able to give these beatless songs forward movement, whether through the softest of synth melodies or the tiniest of percussive pulses. Check out "Kraanvogel," where a dubby, submerged bass and a squeaking-bed synth push forward, resisting the white noise-y static that blankets everything. With these ghostly rhythms, it's almost like Leeds has wrapped the dancefloor/dance music in that gauze, creating a haunted house music in the process. That begins to get at the question that has dominated my thinking per usual: what space(s) does Leeds' ambient music create?

It certainly doesn't create the vast, melancholic expanses of Stars of the Lid or the sparse, cosmic ones of someone like Michael Stearns. The clicks, cuts, rhythms, synths and arpeggios suggest that this emerges out of the club, hinting at everything from Mille Plateaux glitch to Detroit techno to Norwegian cosmic disco to Rising High downtempo. Despite these precedents, there is nothing soothing about this music. While the haze softens things, over the course of nearly an hour it also distorts, leaving one feeling woozy, uncertain, a little disoriented. At times, those pulses and piano loops never seem to quite lock in and fall in sync, as if that synth fog has forced the various layers of sound to do their best to find their own way. Even the beautiful, lullaby-like "Promises Of Fertility" ends abruptly, with the harsh cut undermining any soothing effects that had accrued over the prior 7 minutes. Leeds is not re-building the 90s chill-out room. So what do we think he is doing then?

As I listened to the album over this past week, I amazingly began to think that Leeds is speaking of utopia as its key features—opacity, spectrality, dreaminess, repetition —suggest not only another world but also what we need to get there.As the quote above indicates, this line of thinking started with a passage from Introduction To Civil War, a key text from the French communist collectives centered around the Tiqqun journal. Their concept of "zones of opacity" helps make sense of the spaces that Hueco S. has built on this LP; their tape hiss, murky bottoms, lowercase sounds and synth haze create a sonic zone of indistinction, one that does not reveal its complexity or life easily. It evokes less a chill-out room than secret meeting spaces where people come together to conspire, to plot, to connect, to reimagine how bodies can go together away from the pressure of the status quo. For me, this is an essential aspect of utopia in the age of surveillance. For the past decade, there has been a tendency on the Left to prioritize protest, being in the streets and visible. While there is a need for this, there is a far greater need to build up new spaces and infrastructure to build an alternative to the one being protested. 

Philip Sherburne describes For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have) as an album "informed by a memory of club music, which hangs over it like a ringing in the ears." It's a beautiful description and one that got me thinking about a new way of viewing utopia and utopian thinking. The album's spectral qualities, heard in the echo of dance music tropes, submerged pulses and faint rhythms, suggest utopia as a secret world that haunts the current one, whether that is the club, neighborhood, city, country, world. It's one whose development can be sensed at the edges, instilling a sense of anticipation (and fear): "Another world is not only possible, she's on the way and, on a quiet day, if you listen very carefully you can hear her breathe." Perhaps ambient music is that quiet breath that we hear when we listen carefully, a multitude of zones of opacity that hover in the background.

The album's mix of the calm, bleary and bewildering suggests a dream-like world, 9 tracks that offer extended episodes of immersive calm, punctuated by abrupt wakings. It's a sound that moves beyond the common ambient ones meant to help us fall asleep to one that reminds us of the potency, weirdness and sheer creativity of sleep itself. It seems an obvious point, that utopia is about dreaming; in fact it's the main attack on the idea, as it is viewed as nothing more than a fantasy and escape from the reality of the everyday. I want to emphasize the importance of both dreams and sleep nonetheless, both of which are increasingly under attack as capitalism becomes all-encompassing both temporally and spatially. As Jonathan Crary writes in 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, "The imaginative capability of the dreaming sleeper underwent a relentless erosion, and the vitiated identity of a visionary was left over for a tolerated minority of poets, artists, and mad people. Modernization could not proceed in a world populated with large numbers of individuals who believed in the value or potency of their own internal visions or voices." (106) Ambient offers a means of regaining and reconnecting with this state and this power.

Finally, in the repetition, the slow movement, the stasis, one begins to develop a different sense of time, one that escapes the standard pop expectations. It avoids the easy thrill and attunes one to the joy of small changes that can build into something vast and powerful. A new temporality is just as necessary to utopia as new spaces, as a comfort with the long and slow are a prerequisite for the task of building; without patience, not only will it be impossible to build up new spaces, it will find us replicating the immediate, no waiting times of our current 24/7 world.

Anyway, if you read this site, I imagine you already have a copy of this record. If not, I highly recommend getting one and experiencing the work of one of the most interesting artists exploring the concept of ambient today. This is definitely one that deserves to be heard on vinyl, in all its warmth and static; both Bleep and Boomkat have it available as I write this. For the digital set, grab the files at the Proibito Records Bandcamp for $10. One of the impetuses for this post was Huerco S.'s new record label, Quiet Time, and his newest release, QTT4, which for $13 gets you two copies. I'd say that anything Leeds releases these days is a must-hear, so grab the tape while you still can.

Hang on to each other...

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-la-la Band, "Hang On To Each Other"

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-la-la Band, Horses In The Sky

I am not sure what to say friends. I didn't sleep last night, or rather I slept a weird dreamless sleep waking up multiple times, like my mind and body were on alert, knowing that something was wrong. I am now sitting in a cafe on a rainy day in the city I love with the knowledge that Donald Trump is President. I alternate between desolate numbness and hard-to-breathe anxiety, sleepy exhaustion and tingling fear, heartbroken sadness and raging anger. I am afraid of the future, uncertain of the horrors that lie ahead, the actions necessary to mitigate those horrors and the answers to create an alternative.

However, now is not the time to worry about those things, it is a time to mourn and heal. Not surprisingly for someone who writes about music, when I am at a loss for words, I turn to my favorite sounds. I had no doubt today of the perfect soundtrack for this bleak moment, A Silver Mt. Zion's 2005 LP Horses In The Sky. For those that don't know, A Silver Mt. Zion was an offshoot of the legendary Montreal postrock group Godspeed You Black Emperor!. I've always thought of the group as the pop version of GYBE!, as the songs get shorter and more structured with lyrics taking a more pivotal role. I've always turned to this album, their fourth, in times of political distress, as it has the rare ability to both capture the pain, anxiety and destruction of this neoliberal age and to offer a glimmer of hope by reminding us of the power of the collective, dreams, love. It's numb music, it's anxious, exhausted, afraid, angry, sad. It's also ecstatic, defiant, funny, sweet, loving, creative. You could call it protest music; I'd go with utopian music, but that's just me. It is a reminder that the same year this was released George W. Bush had just been elected to a second term, Republicans controlled both houses of Congress. It is a reminder that 5 years later we were in the streets of London, Cairo, NYC, Oakland, Philly, Madison, Chile, Greece, Spain. I hope that it can console you this week.

I am going to leave you with the lyrics to "Hang On To Each Other," as I believe deeply that they offer an opening for coming to terms with yesterday's results, resisting the next 4 years and beginning again to build the haçienda. Find each other. Love each other. Look out for each other. Support each other. Hang on to each other. 

We all got born so afraid
We still search for words to describe that pain
And cling to each other
Like pigeons in the rain
And nuzzle over feathered breasts
With beaks all worn and cracked and stained

Hang on to each other
And hang on to each other...

So this one's for the lost ones
And the dead ones and the ones who fell away
All our busted brothers
Tumbled lovers spitting at the rain
We all got born so afraid
And still search for words to describe that pain

And hang on to each other
Hang on to each other
Hang on to any fucking thing you love...

Birds toss precious flowers
From the murky skies above...

Hang on to each other...

In Love and Solidarity,

Pound for Pound

Pete Namlook ‎— The Definitive Ambient Collection

Crypt Corp., "Greenpoint"

Sequential, "Die Sonne"

Hearts Of Space, "Drawn"

Pete Namlook, The Definitive Ambient Collection

Sorry for the delay in getting this post up, but we have been experiencing technical difficulties ever since that hacker attack on Friday. Am I saying that these hackers were enemies of ambient music and the chill-out room, dedicated to maintaining a world of anxiety and crappy EDM drops? I mean, I'm not not saying that, at least until further evidence emerges to disprove the theory that we were the main target. But, to quote my man Woody Guthrie, all of you fascists bound to lose. In response, we will continue Operation: Recover Commenter Star's Collection with another Rising High Records classic, Pete Namlook's The Definitive Ambient Collection. Namlook is a name that we haven't mentioned here yet, but his shadow looms large over a lot of the music we discuss. I'm going to hold off on a biography for now, as we plan to share much more of his work, both as an artist and label head, but know that he is one of, if not the key figure, in the ambient turn of the 1990s.

While I chose this one mostly because of Star's comment, it also happens to be a good way to jump into Namlook's vast discography as the release was designed as a sort of greatest hits compilation. This 2LP/1 CD, released in 1993, was the first of two volumes collecting the German producer's early (mostly) beatless work across its many aliases. It's 11 tracks that cover everything from dark ambient to nautical dub to slow trance to ethereal spacemusic to a sort of Middle Eastern house, offering a great opportunity to hear the breadth of Namlook's talent and grab some insanely rare B-sides. The CD is arranged as a continuous mix, which gives it a more seamless feel than that sort of diversity would lead one to expect.

I've tried to capture that range in the samples above, with an emphasis on Namlook projects that aren't as well-known these days like Silence and Air. Crypt Corp. was Namlook's hard trance project with Peter Prochir, which released 3 EPs in 1993. This 6 and a half minute song begins with a mournful, violin-like drone; as the song unfolds, deep bass and twinkling percussion accent it beautifully. About halfway through, a rush of distorted bass notes up the pace and intensity; the drums get harder, synth notes bubble up and evaporate quickly. It feels like you are being sonically sucked into the whorling drone vortex. With about a minute left, you find yourself on the other side, alone with the melancholic drone. It's especially interesting to listen to this with the other two songs featured on its initial release, "It's Getting Strength" and "It's All Around Us." Those are rave-ready, a good reminder that Namlook came to ambient through the dancefloor and warehouse.

Two tracks from his Sequential project with Christian Thier give the compilation a dark center. "Lost At Sea" uses water field recordings, whispered vocals and dub effects to get you on edge. "Die Sonne" lets you emerge out of the water, but the deep, rumbling drone underneath alerts you to the fact that you are now in a different type of abyss. Singing synths seem to be calling out, nearly shrieking, for help. Superb. Finally, Hearts Of Space's "Drawn" closes the record out with something completely different; while the shortest track at a little over 4 minutes, it might have the biggest impact. I can't think of a better way to describe this than as skymusic, the sound of the clouds and birds lift you up and let you drift off. It covers ground (air?) we've already covered, with waves of swelling synths, but it does so so beautifully that you need to hear this right now.

Ok, more Namlook to come, as well as new jawns and other exciting stuff is on the way. 

softest — hidden guitar & water music

Here it is finally, the review of the new softest LP that was prematurely posted this past weekend. After my initial embarrassment at such a mistake, I have come to not only accept but enjoy the fact that the bar is so low now; I mean, as long as I can pull off a coherent thought and complete my sentences, this one is an improvement. We're going to try to do better than that though, as hidden guitar & water music deserves our best. Here goes...

It's a small (musical) world indeed, at least here at Pound for Pound. As you hopefully know, we recently discussed a new label Heavy Mess, which was started by braeyden jae. As we noted, braeyden was the founder of the Inner Islands label, which is now run by Sean Conrad, aka Ashan, the artist behind the most recent Heavy Mess release, Death Is New Life. To draw the web tighter, braeyden is not just a cassette label mogul; he also performs under the softest moniker and what do you know? He has a new release on, you guessed it, Inner Islands! Beyond the wonderful sounds emerging from these labels and people, there's something inspiring and exciting about the interconnections of so much of the New New Age stuff, what appears to be the emergence of another West Coast scene. I hope to do what we can to support that scene, connect it to other like-minded labels and artists and . The obvious move is to continue to review all of the wonderful releases that they are producing, so with that, here are some thoughts on hidden guitar & water music.

hidden guitar & water music is the fifth release of Braden McKenna's softest project, all on Inner Islands. McKenna is also the person behind the WYLD WYZRDZ, the now-defunct solo psyche drone project that was responsible for some of the earliest Inner Islands releases. Discogs references a "New Weird Utah" scene, which obviously caught my attention; I mean, how did we not know about an entire state in the New Weird America? I have no excuses, but just know that I am on the case. Anyway, this new one, hidden guitar & water music, is actually a single track, albeit a 36-minute one, and a digital-only release (sorry tape heads!). Before I ramble, I should actually describe what you will hear.

Actually, on second thought, the title probably gives it away; this record is an extended ambient track that blends field recordings of water doing various things (gurgling, dripping, raining) with soft guitar and synths doing others (droning, drifting, fogging), which all adds up to create a soothing, immersive environment, an audio equivalent of sinking into a warm bath after a long day. This is probably ambient music at its most core, as it certainly builds a liquid environment, while maintaining the ability to be both focus and wallpaper, depending on your mood and when you listen. Actually, that sense of rising and receding nicely captures the dynamic of the album, which probably isn't surprising considering the fact that water plays the central role. Over the course of the 36 minutes, water dominates one's attention, while the electronic creates a shoegaze-y haze in the background; during other passages though, one picks up on the guitar notes and chords, the deep drones and pads, while the water serves as as a rainforest-like white noise backdrop. It's really beautiful stuff actually, but you need to give it the time to unfold. Above is an excerpt that Sean has graciously shared with us that gives you a chance to experience the first fifth of the track and will have you wanting more. 

Anyway, I can't say that I planned it, but this record feels like a natural follow-up to our last post on William Ackerman's Sounds Of A Wind Driven Rain and discussion of lullabies, sleep, ambient music and spaces of respite. I must confess that in the hundreds of times I have listened to this since I got a copy, many of those times were before or during sleep, which is my highest compliment these days. It's not just the peacefulness of the bubbling, burbling water and the spaces it evokes (baths, lakes, pools, oceans), although they definitely do the job. It's also the soft guitar drones, which drop a shoegaze haze over everything, creating a dream-like vibe that can't but help suggest sleep and rest. Like all of the best lowercase music, this small, quiet sounds make you seek out places where you can be in peace and hear, places of retreat and respite.

I think what most interests me about the record is how it sits on the border of field recording and ambient/drone music. While I love the reductive search for a genre or medium's specificity, there is something exhilarating about a work that blurs those lines, that finds the liminal space between. In this case, Braden has created a floating space that draws out the musicality of nature and the naturalness of the drones; it's a fantastic hybrid one that effortlessly blends the natural and synthetic, the real and the imaginary, the composed and improvised. What would we call this liminal zone? I'm not sure, although the label's description of the track may suggest an answer: ""forces that are hidden in plain view. another world, wavelength, nowhere." Do you hear the echoes of utopia in those words? Another world, hidden, waiting for us to listen closely to discover all that is happening quietly on these different wavelengths.

As you can tell from my ramblings, this one has definitely had an impact on me. I highly recommend that you check it out and see what thoughts and dreams it brings you. It's a digital only release, so you can grab it at the label's Bandcamp for the insanely low price of $3USD. I mean, that is less than you pay for basically everything today and this actually will give you pleasure forever. For those who dig this, I highly recommend digging into the Inner Islands catalogue more; check out our review of the label's other recent digital-only release, Channelers' Arden Tapes. Also, check out Braden's new-ish Heavy Mess cassette label, which is quickly establishing itself as an essential outlet for the best in ambient, New New Age and the just plain experimental. Check out our thoughts on the label's recent ones—Ashan's Death Is New Life and Gossimer's Close the Circle, Lay the Stoneshere and here. Then, buy and buy.

Back to the 1990s next, talk soon.

 

 

William Ackerman — Sound Of Wind Driven Rain

William Ackerman, "A Child's Song"

William Ackerman, "Lion's In The Sky"

William Ackerman, "Ponchartrain"

William Ackerman, Sound Of Wind Driven Rain

Well, it appears that the damn Scheduled button as bitten me in the ass again. I realized today that readers have been staring at a rough draft of a future post for the past few days, as I accidentally published a half-written, half-assed review of the great new album from softest. I am blaming my stupidity on the delirium that has resulted from getting on the Wentz Wagon and not on my stupidity. Anyway, apologies to braeyden, Sean, Inner Islands, and all of beautiful readers. To make up for the snafu, I will try to double my productivity rate this week and spread all of the chill-out music you can handle. And yes, I see the irony of working hard to talk about chill-out. Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

We're gonna start by heading back up Windham Hill to check in again on its founder, William Ackerman; I can't think of a better way to bring the chill to start the week than with his music. We recently took a look at his first album, In Search Of The Turtle's Navel, a solo guitar work that straddled the line between the American Primitive Guitar and New Age. Today, skipping ahead two decades, we look at his 1998 Sound Of Wind Driven Rain LP, which doesn't really get mentioned much in discussions of his best work. I'm a fan though, as it's a great example of how is work evolved. If that first album was an attempt to find his own voice and transcend his influences, this is the results of those early experiments, as Ackerman has found his sound by this time and lost the anxiety of influence. You get a wonderful melding of folk, jazz, classical and world music that is actually kind of hard to classify. That sound gets labeled as New Age, which Ackerman did not accept; it seems like a good shorthand though for knowing what to expect, as this is a acoustic, melodic music that evokes both a state of calmness and, as the title makes clear, the environment and its spaces. New Acoustic might be the best term for it, but it isn't really a phrase that gets thrown around much and seems to suffer from the same vagueness as the New Age label. Sonically, it is probably closest to folk music, with hints of jazz and classical, all centered on Ackerman's mellifluous guitar playing, either alone or in dialogue with a few others. Perhaps one could think of it as a soft(ened) or smooth(ed out) American Primitive Guitar, as the dissonance of that earlier genre is gone.

I think what makes Ackerman's music so intriguing is the melancholic edge to it, as its soft sounds and gentle beauty hint at a sadness, one that perhaps emerges out of the calmness the songs produce. Take "Lion's In The Sky," the album's fourth song. As he writes in the liner notes about it, "The apostrophe is intentional. This peace was written to convey the feelings of separation and missing someone." Not exactly the feel-good vibes one associates with the New Age. Sonically, that sense of distance and heartbreak is conveyed beautifully over the course of the song's six and three quarter minutes, as Ackerman's playing grows reticent and sparse at times, trying to find the right words to span the gap and connect. When the sharp notes of Philip Aaberg's piano ring out for the first time nearly 5 minutes in, it's almost jolting; they are just as sparse and searching as the guitar, reaching out to acknowledge the distance, hoping that is enough. It simultaneously feels heartbreaking and hopeful, an acknowledgement of the world that separates us and that drive in us to bridge it. Wonderful.

It stands in contrast to the record's second song, "A Child's Song," which Ackerman tells us was "meant to be a guitar lullaby until my friend Samite was inspired to write his part. I can't imagine the piece as a solo any longer, a lullaby needs a human voice singing about comfort and protection." Ackerman plays a parlor guitar on this track, a smaller one that was popular in the late 19th Century, which gives the song this nasally or twangy sound that makes me think of someone jamming at home or on the front porch. Ackerman mixes sharp, clear, picked notes with warm, resonant chords. Halfway through, Samite, a Ugandan flautist and percussionist, begins to sing and immediately you agree with Ackerman's notion that a lullaby needs a human voice. Samite's voice is everything, a gentle falsetto that feels dream-like, like an ethereal voice that speaks to us as we sleep. I have no idea what he is singing, but all I know is that I want him to sing to me every night for the rest of my life. Finally, check out Ackerman's ode to "warm nights in New Orleans" on "Pontchartrain," where looping bass and guitar notes provide the backdrop for Paul McCandless' smooth as hell English horn cries.

A final thought: I am embarrassed that it took this song to consider the concept of the lullaby, perhaps the first piece of music any of us hear, one devoted to soothing and helping children fall asleep. In thinking of the lullaby and this album, I feel like I have a better handle on what we are highlighting here at Pound for Pound. I want to propose them as important examples of a strain of ambient music, one that creates sonic spaces of comfort, protection and rest. In an age of anxiety, precariousness and insomnia, it becomes an increasingly urgent and radical sound in my opinion; to create spaces of respite, where one can get a good night's sleep, connect and listen to others, relax, and most importantly dream, free from worries and insecurity. This strain unites music like the ambient techno of the chill-out room, the New Age and its recent return, nature field recordings, lowercase music, smooth jazz, soft rock and so much of what we seek out these days. I think it explains or connects some of the recent music we have been posting, like A Forest Moon, Ashan, Ackerman, Epoch Tapes, which all look inward to my ears, suggesting home and building spaces of comfort and safety. We don't have a name for this strain yet, but it will come in due time. In the meantime, expect many more examples from past and present, as well as a new layout potentially. 

Image: Andrew Howley

Image: Andrew Howley

Mysteries Of Science ‎— Mysteries Of Science

Mysteries Of Science, "Virtual Wake"

Mysteries Of Science, "The Interweave Conundrum"

Mysteries Of Science, "Diffusion"

Mysteries Of Science, Mysteries Of Science

Since we are almost in danger of becoming contemporary and of-the-moment, it seemed like a good time to dig back into the archives and highlight a (possibly forgotten) classics. We're going to try to weave a few different musical moments together over the next week or two in our effort to use the past and present to chart out the future, so wish us luck. Naturally, one of those past moments is one of our favorite periods, that glorious early 1990s era when ambient ruled the club or, at least, was given a small room off to the side. We'll take what we can get!

This one, in a convoluted way, is another path out of the Freezone, that SSR Records compilation that we looked at weeks ago and have imagined as an actual physical space subsequently. I had initially planned to discuss Moby's Ambient, the album from which "Myopia," his contribution to Freezone 1 - The Phenomenology Of Ambient, came from. That one was released on Instinct Records in 1994, one of a trio of records that helped take the dude from rave fixture to dance music star to insufferable celebrity. While I was listening to that one, I started to dig back into Instinct's discography, since it was one of the key labels from the 1990s that brought the ambient turn to life and lo and behold, we redisovered this cosmic acid classic. Seriously, my friends, skip reading the next few paragraphs and download this immediately; this is that grade A, steal your face cosmic shit that will reveal new worlds and galaxies.

Since I assume everyone listened and is skipping these paragraphs to dive in, I can just mail this description in. Mysteries Of Science is the alias of Dominic Woosey, strike that, this is one of more than 20 aliases that Woosey used over the course of a career that appears to span the first half of the 1990s. Woozy only released 2 LPs and one 12" as Mysteries Of Science; but if you nail it right away, no need to overdue it. And Woosey nailed it on his first try with this self-titled LP, Mysteries Of Science. If I were to try to categorize the album's sound, it would be something along the lines of cosmic acid ambient; those three terms capture the three general sonic movements that Woosey makes: soaring, Berlin School-y sequencer flights, creeping, winding bass, and the ethereal, almost-static pads. This is spacemusic in the best sense, providing a soundtrack to a journey into the desolate and unknown; this journey provides moments of both complete bliss and sublime tension.

Check out the phenomenal opener "Virtual Wake" to hear all three sounds/movements interact. It begins with about 30 seconds of swirling squeals. At this point, the synth bass comes through and your life will never be the same. Woosey creates this echo-y dub acid line that brilliantly gives the sense of vastness, of being dwarfed by an environment. It is both beautiful and anxious, perfectly sublime. That acid sound will come and go over the course of the next 9 minutes, dissipating into growling, droning bass or replaced by drifting, soaring string-like synths or lush, melodic keys. At more than 10 minutes long, the track has the room to breathe and lets the listener really drift off to explore inner and outer space. Phenomenal.

Another track has a heavier vibe, as those uplifting synths are replaced by marching band-like bass drum, wailing siren-like synths and deep bass. It's an interesting track, a nautical techno that gives all a real sense of rising and falling, both through those buoyant sirens and drum-only passages. Finally, the album's closer, "Diffusion," is a wonderful example of chill-out music at its finest, 12+ minutes of the most gentle, soft pads that you just float away into the clouds on. Around 5 minutes in, knocks of percussion emerge, like a reminder to not fall asleep, that you want to be present for all of this. The pace stays chill af throughout, making this the perfect ending to an essential ambient record. Enjoy, more chill af stuff on the way.

Gossimer — Close the Circle, Lay the Stones

I want to keep the Heavy Mess momentum going and take a look at another one of the new label's most recent releases, Gossimer's Close the Circle, Lay the Stones. In our eternal quest for cross-post connections, this one is a slam dunk. Gossismer is the work of Jennifer Williams, who you will remember as one-half of the band Orra. The other half? Sean Conrad! Ah man, that feels so satisfying. Anyway, while this is my first time hearing Gossimer, this is not a new project. Williams has been making music as Gossimer since the summer of 2012, with a few official releases and some self-released live material and demo tracks in the ensuing years. Beyond making great music, Williams is also an accomplished writer and poet, with work published in various journals and anthologies.

Gossimer's most recent, Close the Circle, Lay the Stones is the seventh release on Heavy Mess, maintaining the high quality control and its slightly skewed aesthetic. Hmm, slightly skewed might sound insulting, but it is not meant to; what I mean is that the label seems to be adept at defamiliarizing, upsetting one's expectations. We touched on this with the Death Is New Life review, as that record seemed to allow a darker undercurrent to emerge with the Ashan sound, to upset my preconceived New New Age expectations if you will. While I didn't have any expectations with Close the Circle, Lay the Stones, the opening tracks suggested what the Gossimer sound was—an updated pastoral, psyche folk, bringing to mind Shirley Collins or The Pentangle. You hear Williams' beautiful, slightly haunting vocals over finger picked guitar notes and you feel like you get it. But, then after the first two tracks, her voice disappears, the songs stretch out, tempos slow to a crawl, guitar notes get sparser, noise, drones and static starts to emerge out of the background; you can still hear those folk beginnings through all 6 tracks and 48 minutes, but they feel like they are warping right before your ears. It's really wonderful stuff that gets better with each spin and ever closer listening.

Of course, with multiple listens, you start to realize that that initial reading of the opening tracks wasn't quite as accurate and straightforward as you thought. Give a listen to the sample above, as I think it captures perfectly this subtle estrangement that makes the album so wonderful. "Stranger Family" has the framework of what I think of as the Gossimer template—lush acoustic instrumentation, dark lyrics, beautiful, emotive vocals, looping guitar notes, deliberate pace—that creates a gothy psychedelic folk. But, closer listening reveals exhilarating moments of dissonance, as the machine gets into the garden. Perhaps my favorite example comes around 40 seconds in; just as the guitar notes loop and pick up steam, a sudden burst of feedback briefly punctures the pastoral vibe and leaves the listener unnerved. Love love love. There's a (probably unintended) structure to the album with 3 sets of similar length 2-song sets, moving from the 4 and half minute openers to the 7+ minute middle section to the epic, 11+ minute closers. Those final two sections/4 songs need to be heard, especially "Close the Circle," a 11 and a half minute gem that mixes minimal guitar with ghostly ambient sounds to create the highlight of the album for me. 

This release is everything I look for from a new label, as it subtly expands my own listening and introduces an artist that deserves a much wider audience. It gets a definite recommendation and not just for fans of folk; anyone interested in adventurous music should buy a copy right now. Head to the Heavy Mess Bandcamp store, where you can buy Close the Circle, Lay the Stones as either a limited edition cassette (+free digital download) for $7 or as a digital album in the format of your choice for $5. Like I keep saying, there can never be enough labels exploring the sonic edges and buying this music is the only way to assure ourselves that we will get more of it. Once you have done that, check out the Heavy Mess main page for more info on the label and their soundcloud for more music samples. For the social media kids, link up with braeyden and the label on Twitter and Instagram. For more Gossimer, check out past releases at the Bandcamp store and grab more sonic samples on soundcloud; for more on Jennifer Williams and her fiction writing, head to her main page! That should all keep you busy while I work on the next post. Ok bye.