Colleen: A Flame My Love, A Frequency (LP, Thrill Jockey, October 2017)

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If, like me, you know Colleen (aka Cecile Schott) from records like Les Ondes Silencieuses and The Weighing Of The Heart, you’d probably be quite surprised that this album ditches the viola da gamba and, seemingly, all other acoustic instruments entirely. Apparently she’d started out adding a Critter & Guitari pocket piano synth into the mix, couldn’t make things work, and ended up producing it entirely on the boxes-with-knobs. The result sounds quite a lot like Raymond Scott’s 1963 curio Soothing Sounds For Baby, only with more modern production and with Schott’s wonderful, restrained vocals (on 5 of the 8 tracks). This is a good thing, of course. Highlights include Another World, which indeed a genuinely otherworldly little ditty, the evocative Winter Dawn, and especially the entrancing title track with its plangent drone (listen out for the wonderfully melting noises in the higher harmonics that emerge mysteriously from the synth’s circuitry) in some barely-audible  and a vocal line that speaks volumes in barely two dozen words.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Petar Dundov: At The Turn Of Equilibrium (4LP+CD, Music Man, May 2016)

Aw, now, this is kind of lovely. It’s techno at its most melodic and hypnotic. The tunes are front and centre of everything here, the beats sitting and the back and just gently propelling things along. In fact, it’s kind of pushing the line between techno and a kind of proggy trancy synth music. The tracks are long (most of the over ten minutes) and the sound is full and the mood is warm and relaxed. (A friend said it reminded him of Ellen Allien & Apparat’s Orchestra Of Bubbles, which is quite a good call.) I have a sneaking suspicion that this is deeply and fashionable and liking this isn’t going to earn me any cred at all, but you know what? I really like this.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Techno.

Tarquin Manek: Tarquin Magnet (LP, Blackest Ever Black, December 2015)

This starts out magnificently. Sassafras Gesundheit — quite apart from being an amazing title — is a 13 minute workout centred around an infectious circular melody on some kind of analogue-sounding synth, a jazzy burbling bass clarinet, and a kind of scratchy fiddling. This is all enhanced with a packed toybox of bangs, clanks, bloops, and squeaks. Plus, he’s riding the faders shamelessly. All in all, it’s deliriously good fun.

The other four tracks here are all a good deal sparser, and I have to admit that I struggle to find them engaging. The shorter ones (one is just 85 seconds) feel like interludes, and they’re all pretty effects-heavy. There’s plenty interesting going on, it’s just that it all feels like a little bit of a let down. But I don’t mind, because (let’s just say it again) Sassafras Gesundheit is pretty special.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Zarelli: Soft Rains (LP+CD, Seriés Aphonos, February 2015)

Fascinating… Nuclear armageddon never sounded so good.

The vocal on this decidedly retro treat is a 1975 recording of Leonard Nimoy reading Ray Bradbury’s gently post-apocalyptic 1950 short story There Will Come Soft Rains, which begins as a description of life in a futuristic automated house (internet of things, anyone?) but gradually reveals first that the human occupants are missing, and then (spoiler alert!) that they have been incinerated in a nuclear blast (leaving behind only the silhouette of a charming domestic scene burnt into the side of their white-painted house). The story itself quotes the 1920 Sara Teasdale poem of the same name, written in the aftermath of the ‘Great War’ and reflecting on how nature won’t mind at all when humankind violently obliterates itself.

The music is by Welsh multi-hyphenate Carwyn Ellis and features a lot of lovely analogue-sounding synths, with occasional acoustic guitar, xylophone, and floaty psychedelic breathy female voice. It’s pretty firmly grounded in the ’70s (although I did notice a couple of contemporary touches, such as the bassiness of Smoking, Waiting). It’s mostly pretty lush, with a warmth that goes beautifully with Nimoy’s matter-of-fact delivery as the grisly truth emerges through the description of robotized domestic routine, although there is a tension which builds slowly towards the dramatic fire scene with its pulsating action-movie soundtrack.

I think it’s fair to say this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m rather loving it right now (apart from the bit with the sad dog, which is sad). Plus, the sleeve is rather gorgeous — and has inspired me to start sticking images in these posts. (Of course, this is no Ballad Of Bilbo Baggins. R.I.P., Mr Nimoy.)

I bought this from the label.

Locust: After The Rain (CD, Editions Mego, October 2014)

Aw, now this is a treat. Mark van Hoen and Louis Sherman have made an album rich in analogue synth sounds. There’s something very 70s about this music — there are bits which sound strikingly like Vangelis — but there’s also a very hopeful feel. It’s a kind of nostalgic futurism. It also has melodies, harmonies, and timbres which I’m going to have to describe as gorgeous. The last 90 seconds or so of the lead sort-of-single I’ll Be There, with just a hum, a heartbeat, and a heartbreakingly lovely minimal melody, is about the most gorgeous thing I’ve heard in a long time. It’s not 100% easy listening, with the stereoscopic pans of the Sky Black Horses creating a somewhat disorienting effect… although that just serves to enhance the uplifting spirit of album closer Won’t Be Long. Yep, this really is a rare treat, and one I can’t seem to stop myself indulging in.

I was bought this from Juno. They call it Ambient / Drone, which seems a little odd.

Jonas Reinhardt: Powers Of Audition (CD, Kranky, March 2010)

This is a good deal sillier than most of the records I talk about here. It’s tempting to describe it as a guilty pleasure, but I don’t really feel very guilty about it. Reinhardt is all about the synths, and creates wonderfully warm analogue music with layers of synths and drum machines, plus a good unpinning of bass and an occasional sprinkling of guitar. The instruments are vintage, and so is the sound, which is a defiantly proggy krautrock. But it doesn’t sound particularly dated: there are modern rhythmic touches, and the production is very fresh. There is a nicely even tone to the record, with a driven tempo like a heartbeat that races through the more up-beat tracks but still pulses insistently in the more laid-back numbers. Great fun.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Leftfield, whatever that means.