Pauline Anna Strom: Trans-Millenia Music (2LP, RVNG Intl, December 2017)

I normally steer clear of reissues and retrospectives and the like: I struggle enough finding time giving enough attention to all the new music I want to listen to. But this one kind of sucked me in. A compilation of material dating from ’82–’88, it’s floaty synth stuff that I guess you might call new age, except that hardly does it justice. There’s something about the noises she coaxes out of her machines and the way she puts them together that can only really be described as other-worldly. And although I guess the sound palette is pretty identifiably eighties, most of these tracks seem pretty timeless (the most obvious exception being the cod-Japanese Bonsai Terrace, which would smack a bit of cultural appropriation by today’s standards, besides being a bit cheesy). Rather beautifully packaged, too. I’ll even forgive the glaring typo in the album name.

I bought this from RVNG’s bandcamp page.

Bing & Ruth: City Lake (CD, RVNG Intl, November 2015)

I utterly swooned over Bing & Ruth’s Tomorrow Was The Golden Age last year, and I wasn’t the only one. So I was pretty excited to learn that RVNG were re-releasing their 2012 debut. The same elements are present here: David Moore’s wonderful piano playing ranges from intense torrents of alternating notes to delicate simple melodies, there is a fuzzy ambient backing from the clarinets and the double basses, the odd synth hum and mostly wordless vocal, and those heart-breaking harmonies. It’s noticeably less polished than TWTGA, and the received critical opinion seems to be that this makes it a lesser work, but I’m not so sure: there’s a charm in the occasional rough edges. And I rather like the way this allows itself to rock out occasionally, most notably in the dissonant crescendo of Tu Sei Uwe, which brings the first half of the record to a raucous climax. I’d say this is equal bit different (which, of course, makes it very, very good indeed).

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe & Ariel Kalma: FRKWYS Vol. 12: We Know Each Other Somehow (CD+DVD, RVNG Intl, April 2015)

Is it just me, or have there an unusual number of exciting collaborations happening recently (and not just on this intriguing FRKWYS series)? This pairs young experimentalist Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, mostly on various modular synth type creatures, and old-time experimentalist Ariel Kalma, mostly on sax, flute, and didgeridoo. The result is pretty impressive. I find the record draws me in with three relatively (!) focussed tracks: Magick Creek is tied together by a sample of a stream, over which Kalma’s sax and didgeridoo and Lowe’s bird-like bleeps and bloops circulate; Mille Voix is dominated by a striking voiceless chant, and is probably what would happen if Gregorian monks made secular drone music; Gongmo Kalma Lowe is underpinned by a clattering percussion line. The effect is… well, it’s hard to avoid the word “meditative” (and it’s no surprise to see on the accompanying sort-of-making-of DVD, Sunshine Soup, that both parties, seemingly Kalma in particular, are that way inclined) but in a very centred way, without any of the flabbiness which can plague new-age music. The next three tracks get progressively more demanding, with Miracle Mile being is probably the most minimal here and clocking in at nearly 19 minutes. I’m willing to admit that this don’t always grip me: if I’m in the zone, it’s great, but if I get distracted, it can be hard to work my way back in. Still, it’s a fitting culmination to a rich and deeply rewarding listen.

I almost wish I’d got the vinyl version, which ends there: I think it would help concentrate the mind. As it is, the digital release (which is on Google Play Music and probably elsewhere) has an alternative version of Mille Voix, distinguished mostly by being almost three times the length of the original (and very welcome for it, as this is a very splendid piece of music); and both the digital release and the CD (which is what I bought) end with a short and disconcertingly chirpy little flute-and-buzzy-synths jig called Palo Alter Reality.

(Aside: I’d been listening to this record for several weeks, and studied the sleeve art, and watched Sunshine Soup through, before I realized where I recognized Lowe from: he was the star in Ben Rivers’ and Ben Russell’s excellent semi-fictionalized ethnographic movie A Spell To Ward Off The Darkness. I should have spotted this earlier, really, as both his look and his voice are quite recognizable. Although there is no Norwegian black metal on this record.)

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

Bing & Ruth: Tomorrow Was The Golden Age (2xLP, RVNG Intl, October 2014)

I’m going to find it tough writing about this without going all swooningly lyrical. This gorgeous double LP is swathed in warm, twinkling piano which gives me a lovely warm feeling right from the first notes. Then there’s the contrastingly simple but beautiful melodies played on either piano, clarinet, or strings. The harmonies and the subtle changes of key are just perfect. The production and the vinyl cut have a wonderful warmth and clarity. In fact, everything about this record seems somehow just right. It tugs on the heartstrings without ever becoming cheesy. And if you think I’m gushing too much, I urge you to go listen to it yourself: I can’t imagine anyone not falling for the charms of this utterly charming music.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic, which is pretty weird.

The Body: I Shall Die Here (CD, Rvng, April 2014)

The Body are, it seems, a Portland-based duo who might be characterized as being on the experimental end of black metal. Apparently, they felt they were in a rut, so their label hired Bobby Krlic, better known as The Haxan Cloak to produce this record, and add a bit of his industrial drone techno magic. Apparently, the band and the producer didn’t get along. Whatever, the result is effective. As well as the doomy distorted bass and the incomprehensible shrieking you’d expect, there are some rumbling string action, some electronic shizzle which is presumably provided by Krlic, and some samples of people seemingly contemplating suicide in the face of terminal illness and other such cheery things. I probably shouldn’t have as much fun listening to this as I do.

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