Gesellschaft Zur Emanzipation Des Samples: Circulations (CD, Faitiche, June 2009)

One of the things that overly earnest indie/alternative types like to say is this: it’s all about the music. What a load. I’d like to advance the following as a reasonable working hypothesis: not one thing, in the whole history of human endeavour, has ever been all about the music.

I’m throwing out this poorly-developed idea as a preamble for the claim that The Society For The Emancipation Of Samples is clearly not all about the music. It is a project explicitly designed to examine ideas of sampling and copyright. To that end, Faitiche boss Jan Jelinek (at least, I’m pretty sure it’s him, although “the author himself purports to be an anonymous member of the G.E.S.”) played pop songs in public spaces and recorded them along with the environmental sounds. Thus, “they contain not only the ambient sounds of their specific point of origin, but also a discrete and distinct recognisable moment”. So far, so conceptual… what about the actual music, eh? It’s a pretty decent example of a sample-based ambient collage type of thing. There are 20 short tracks, which means I never really find myself getting immersed in anything, they are presented more as pleasing curiosities to be inspected. It might not quite live up to the weight of the blurb around it, but it’s a satisfying listen.

I bought this from the label.

Danny Norbury: Light In August (CD, Lacies, June 2009)

Norbury combines delicate piano and soaring cello, and does so in a charmingly melodic fashion. He shows no ambition to soar to the heights or plumb the depths, but the music is sincerely emotional. If I sound restrained in my praise, it’s because this is possibly a little restrained for my taste. Reviews have compared it to Peter Broderick’s Float, but it lacks that works scale and cohesive structure, and is instead (as far as I can tell) a collection of ten chamber pieces. I first came across Norbury when Robag Wruhme used his Speak Memory to open his splendid Kompakt mix Wuppdeckmischmampflow. I’m disappointed that he seems more effective in that context than on his own album.

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

Monolake: Silence (CD, Imbalance, December 2009)

If you don’t like Monolake (and there are fools out there who don’t, you know) then this probably won’t win you over. If you do, this will do very nicely thank you. Complex, stark, endlessly involving, and atmospheric, this is ultra-minimal headphones techno at it’s best. The thing that struck me most about this, compared to previous releases, is the influence of Plastikman, especially of his (literally) awesome Closer — particularly obvious on “Reconnect”, which is surely a nod to “Disconnect”.

Incidentally, this also has a gorgeous sleeve. There is a perfect little short story inside the gatefold, which you can also read on Robert Henke’s site. It seems to be about some rather lost seeming explorers — whether in the Antarctic, or on some lonely alien planet, it’s not quite clear — and it sets the scene for the record beautifully.

I bought this from Juno. They (quite reasonably) call it techno.

Rameses III: I Could Not Love You More (CD, Type, September 2009)

Awww, my headphones are hugging me.

The basis here are long, droning string-like sounds, which pulse at something like the rate of a fast but not frantic heartbeat, and modulate over a much longer period whilst still being recognizably rhythmic. Around that we get touches of lap steel (which can’t help reminding me of the KLF’s Chill Out), very gently jangling guitars, a melodic bass hum, and occasional wildlife sounds. It’s all very ambient, yes, but it never struggles to keep my interest. It has a serene quality to it — it feels a bit like the closing bars of a great romantic symphony, where all the frantic energy has been spent and the dissonant elements have resolved into an uplifting, euphoric transcendence… only there was no symphony, and the closing bars have somehow been stretched out to almost an hour without for a moment losing the warmth of their embrace.

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

Vladislav Delay: Tummaa (CD, Leaf, September 2009)

In which Sasu Ripatti takes techno apart, puts it back together all wrong, and ends up with something weird and a bit wonderful. It’s like someone is doing lego on acid, and instead of a car they have ended up with something weird and spidery and liable to fall apart at any moment, but somehow rather cool. It has technoish beats, and it has echoing dubby clanking noises. But they’re not sequenced conventionally, and they’re certainly not pinned to a linear 4:4 structure. There’s also a lot of live instruments, both percussive and melodic. Most of the tracks top ten minutes, and there is a lot of apparent meandering — but there’s also evidence of very careful manipulation and editing and this ensures that there’s never a dull moment. Maybe it’s actually the techno equivalent of Eric Morecambe’s pianist: all the right beats, but not necessarily in the right order. Intriguing.

I bought this from Boomkat. They categorize it as Basic Channel / Dub Techno, though I’m not sure I agree.

Peter Broderick & Machinefabriek: Blank Grey Canvas Sky (CD, Fang Bomb, December 2009)

Aw, now, this is fantastic. Peter Broderick’s delicate and richly emotional strings and pianos meet Rutger Zuydervelt’s electronic droning and clicking, found sounds, and production trickery. And they sound like they were born to go together. It’s at once very human and completely alien, defiantly experimental and completely natural. There’s a fair range of styles, from gentler tracks (Rain has vocals with actual words; the closer, Homecoming, is centred around a delicate piano work played by Nils Frahm) to more leftfield explorations (Blank Grey is nearly 14 minutes, and comprising several movements, bringing in a radio collage dominated by the reassuring tones of a BBC sports reporter, an urgent minimal piano line, an interlude of mostly scratching noises, and a mysteriously ambiguous finale of a processed string loop and strange echoing voices). I can’t get enough of this. Superb.

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

Ólafur Arnalds: Dyad 1909 (CD, Erased Tapes, December 2009)

Strings and piano combine with occasional ambient washes, devastating electronic thumping sounds, and computer vocals to excellent effect. This was written as the soundtrack for a dance piece, and is unashamedly dramatic. But it stands very well on its own. Some of it feels like modern classical. Some of it feels like ambient. Some of it feels almost like IDM (and Til Enda reminds me of Venetian Snares’ classically inspired Rossz Csillag Alatt Született album, with the clash of frenetic violins and breakbeats). Moody and magnificent.

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

Nils Frahm: Wintermusik (Erased Tapes edition) (CD, Erased Tapes, December 2009)

I am finding a tendency to overuse words like “lovely” here. This short record of compositions for piano (with accompaniment on celeste, reed organ, and some kind of tapping I can’t identify) is, though, lovely. The three tracks each move between liltingly playful and hauntingly wistful. The third, Tristana, makes up over half the album, and is the most contemplative: it is also utterly bewitching.

I bought this from Boomkat. They describe it as Home Listening / Modern Classical / Ambient.

To Kill A Petty Bourgeoisie: Marlone (CD, Kranky, September 2009)

Intriguing and rather lovely. This record gives us sparse and heavily processed instrumentation which touches on a rather fuzzy, buzzy kind of laptop folk at times, and spirals off into drone at others. But it also gives us dreamy indie-pop vocals — and some pretty catchy tunes, too. If this sounds a bit like post-rock, say Electrelane maybe… well, I guess that’s not completely wrong, but it’s far from right. For one thing, the vocals are more delicate (Cocteau Twins being the most obvious comparison, although parts remind me of the woozier ends of Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks soundtrack). But mostly, the soundscape is a lot slower and a lot more manipulated. A lot more Kranky, in fact. When I first started listening to this, I worried the vocals would be too twee. But very often, a song will have two minutes of this — a rather warped pop song, but pop nonetheless — before the vocals fade out and the track spirals off into five minutes of a lush analogue hum. Which suits me fine.

Incidentally, the Kranky website tells us that To Kill A Petty Bourgoisie are Jehna Wilhelm on guitar and vocals, and Mark McGee on electronics and sound manipulation, plus a number of guest artists (presumably here supplying the frequent strings, at least).

I bought this from Boomkat. They say that this is Indie / Rock / Alternative.

Harmonic 313: When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence (CD, Warp, January 2009)

I think that Mark Pritchard was having a good deal of fun making this. Which is good, because I find it a good deal of fun to listen to, too. The first thing that strikes me are the big, throbbing, wobbly bass notes. Not always a good sign for me (I never quite got dubstep), but here there is so much else going on: crunchy and intricate beats, IDMish syncopation, old-skool synths, occasional bits of lo-fi sound collage, floaty almost ambient interludes which don’t lose the record’s focus, some high quality rapping from Phat Kat & Elzhi on one track, clever use of a good old Speak & Spell on another. None of these elements are revolutionary in themselves, but they are deftly assembled, with a refreshing lightness of touch, and to this ageing Warp fan they add up to a very satisfying (and satisfyingly buzzy) whole.

I bought it from Boomkat. They describe it as Beats / Downtempo / Wonky.