Clarice Jensen: For This From That Will Be Filled (LP, Miasmah, March 2018)

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for some cello-based drone music, and Clarice Jensen has provided four rather dreamy examples of it here. The first track, bc, was composed in collaboration with the late and sorely lamented Jóhann Jóhannsson, and sounds very much like a tribute to William Basinski, so that’s ticking a whole bunch of boxes for me already. Cello Constellations was written for her by composer, theoretician, and inventor Michael Harrison, and does some uncanny things with harmonics and tunings and multi-tracking. On the flip side are the two parts of the title track, which are Jensen’s own compositions: the first is a spiky little number made of staccato and feedback; the second is a slow-burner that is straight up drone for about its first four minutes, before gradually a melody starts to emerge, and somewhere around the ten-minute mark it briefly and miraculously achieves a sort of Lark-Ascending-style lightness. I must admit that, on my first listen, I wondered whether this album might be a little… academic, maybe? But since then it’s really gotten under my skin. Perhaps not essential listening for all, but for connoisseurs of the sub-genre, one to treasure.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Modern Classical / Ambient.

Marcus Fjellström: Skelektikon (CD, Miasmah, January 2017)

Cover art for Skelektikon

A nicely spiky bit of modern classical shizzle: lots of urgent-sounding strings, a bit of clattering percussion, layers of atmospheric electronics. The mood ranges somewhere between the sinister and the spooky. There are bits where the melodies seem eerily familiar — I could swear that Aunchron is quoting something super-famous but I’m too ignorant to place it. Much of it sounds touchably intimate, though there are interludes a distant feel like it’s re-sampled from scratchy vinyl (there’s one bit that reminds me ever-so-slightly of Matthew Herbert’s Recomposed take on Mahler). All-in-all, jolly good stuff (although the haunting closing number, Boy With Wound, gives you nightmares, don’t come running to me).

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Dark Ambient / Drone / Metal.

Svarte Greiner: Moss Garden (LP, Miasmah, November 2016)

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Erik K Skodvin out of Deaf Center. The last release I bought (although there’ve been a couple I’ve missed) under the Svarte Greiner alias was Kappe way back in 2009 (before I’d started this blog). I’m happy to report, though, that this is stunningly good. The A-side, The Marble, starts out as a sort of dark, drone, ambient, full of slow doom-laden cello semi-melodies and atmospheric clicking and clanking noises. And then about halfway through this… noise appears, it’s hard to describe, it’s sort of halfway between a buzzing and a fluttering, and it sort of jumps out of the mix and then gets sucked back in like some sort of insectine monster trying to break through a membrane from another world, or something. And then there’s this otherworldly shimmering noise, and — well, I’m not going to try and describe it sound-by-sound, but it’s amazing. The B-side, Garden, goes big on the spacious, resonant clangs and chimes and is also amazing. This is intensely atmospheric without ever being melodramatic, it’s sparse without being spartan, and it breaks significant new ground in a territory which I though I knew quite well. A controlled and powerful masterpiece.

I bought this from A Number Of Small Things.

Kreng: The Summoner (CD, Miasmah, January 2015)

This is one of those records I love a little more every time I hear it. The opening is almost unbearably quiet, there’s something tiny rustling in there that you strain to hear. Of course, this is an obvious set-up so you jump when the big scary noises happen. It’s a move straight out of the horror movie rulebook, and that’s an obvious influence here. The label’s blurb references György Ligeti, but I think a more apt comparison is actually Krzysztof Penderecki, and obviously I’m basically thinking of the screeching strings of The Exorcist here. There’s also a touch of the Pan Sonics to the powerful rumbling bass swells. Together, that’s a pretty potent combination. The tracks are almost named for the five stages of the Kübler‒Ross model of grief — I say almost because I don’t remember The Summoning coming between Depression and Acceptance. That track features Amenra, who wikipedia tells me are a Belgian post-metal band (so I’ve learnt about a new genre today, which is nice), and who bring an impressively doomy guitar sound and the closest we get to vocals, in the form of some black metal style screeching. While not subtle, this is a hugely accomplished piece of work, every note and every effect feels vital (this is a big step forward from 2011’s Grimoire, whose black humour and theatrics feel slightly cheap by comparison). The three-and-a-half minute closing track is an atmospheric piano number, and the subtle key changes shifting between major and minor are just perfect.

I bought this from the Sonic Pieces / Miasmah store.

Eric Thielemans: Sprang (CD, Miasmah, April 2014)

Eric Thielemans has made a record using, it seems, almost entirely classical percussion instruments — but not in the way that you might expect. It’s light on the drums, preferring the softer sounds of xylophones, woodblocks, chimes, and I believe (though I wouldn’t swear to it) scraping noises made on the inside of a piano. There’s a pleasing balance and interplay between the melodic and rhythmic elements. There’s little obvious formal structure, and the playing has a light, improvised feel which often teeters just the right side of chaos. The recording and mixing has all been done very carefully, separating the crisp clip-clop of a nearby woodblock from the muffled chiming of a distant marimba. One striking moment the whistled melody on Garden, which sounds very human and vulnerable amidst the clattering and the scraping and the banging. But perhaps the most pleasing surprise for me is how, while being complex and layered and contemplative all that, this record is also wonderfully playful. It’s 11 tracks last just 42 minutes, and it zips along, and each time it finishes I’m left wanting more.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Modern Classical / Ambient. (When did they lose ‘Home Listening’ from that designation?)

Kreng: Grimoire (CD, Miasmah, June 2011)

So, yes, first of all: Pepijn Caudron has chosen to record under the name Kreng; the album is called Grimoire; the label is Miasmah; the sleeve is entirely black and grey, has a grainy headshot of what might well be a corpse on the front, and makes extensive use of a blackletter typeface… if you want to say “ha ha, goth!” then I will understand. And you might have a point: the first track is composed of scary-movie breathing and scratching noises, a rough buzzing sound, a hellish bassy throb, an ethereal swell of brass, and a posh British voice saying things like “let go of the Earth” and “go towards the light”, and it very much sets the tone for the whole record. Elsewhere, we get knocking sounds which could be a grandfather clock, a heartbeat, or the grim reaper beating at your door; spooky neo-classical drones focussing heavily on the lower end of the register (cellos, bassoons, and double basses abound); baroque chamber music getting slowly eaten away by a low-end distortion effect; funereal piano, courtesy of the seemingly ubiquitous Nils Frahm (who also mastered the album); shuddering, industrial percussion; Caretaker-style hauntology; what could be the introduction to a particularly bleak early Nick Cave number, only here the guitars never kick in and the vocals are replaced by throat singing; in fact, everything any fan of dark ambient / modern classical crossover music with something of the night about them could ask for. It’s constructed with great skill, and hangs together as a piece despite the range of styles. Obviously, I think all this is splendid. I guess the questions are: can we take it seriously, and are we meant to? For the most part, I find that I can, and in places find it genuinely sinister. There are elements — notably the operatic soprano, all dissonant runs and melodramatic portamento — which strike me as deliberate black humour (though really, who knows?). But, of course, there has always been an interesting relationship between horror and humour: by exaggerating the macabre to the point of ridicule, we are able to laugh at our fears… but in the end, we know that death with get the last laugh.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Dark Ambient / Drone / Metal.