New Music Review – Helicopter Quartet – Ghost Machine

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Band: Helicopter Quartet
Album: Ghost Machine
Genre: Post-rock, ambient, dark ambient
Social Media: Facebook/Twitter/Bandcamp

Listen:

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One year ago I reviewed the album, Leading Edges, by Leeds dark ambient duo, Helicopter Quartet. Leading Edges was dark, dismal and oppressive, but with a post-rock leaning in some of the songs, which created this, thankfully, not stock post-rock sound that’s being pushed everywhere these days. And so, one year on from Leading Edges and Helicopter Quartet have released their new album, Ghost Machine. Let’s start things off by saying that, the dark ambient is fully out on this release, darkly teeth gnashing and snarling with the frightening viola and synth tones produced by Chrissie Caulfield.

The oppressive and dreary nature of the songs on Ghost Machine has been turned way up and never have these two sounded so doomed. Romanze is looks like it would be right at home in a post-apocalyptic soundtrack, very akin to that of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but without the monolith run times and bombastic build-ups. The guitar from Michael Capstick and the viola work on this track are so damning and remind me eternally of East Hastings by GY!BE, but dronier and less driving than that track. Because of this droning, it can be rather hard to listen to casually. To truly enjoy this track, or any of them, you have to be paying attention, or at least not doing anything that takes up to much RAM, because this music requires your attention.

This mood strikes me as the kind of atmosphere that this album is hitting. All of the tracks seem a lot longer than they really are, but this gives a feeling that each of the creeping sounds in each song has a chance to grow. Cortege, is the best example of these dark tones shifting and growing throughout the song. The guitar contrasts with the massive and constant booming here and even the viola has moments of not sounding likes it’s been bathing in complete despair. This track travels in a lot of different ways in a lot of very subtle manners. The booming on this track did make me wish for a bit more percussion though, as a tool to help break things up a little bit.

Even with so few instruments blaring off in this mix, it sounds like a lot is going on, but I think there’s room in there for more, nothing large and obnoxious, but something subtle to help space things out.

Just like last time, subtle is what these two are here to do – Each song starts with a little idea and grows from there in a carefully considered way. The title track starts with something being dropped and dragged along some strings and it grows from there. It’s like a machine winding up and getting ready to haunt your ass. When this song is ready to haunt your ass, about halfway through, it lets you know and catches you off guard. It made me jump the first time I heard it, but I’m a complete wuss.

Final thoughts:

This album is massively comparable to the last one, but it does do enough for me to think that it treads interesting enough ground for it to not get boring. This Leeds duo has managed to pull off dark and oppressive even darker and more oppressive than last time, but I would like some more percussion play next time, something of a personal preference, but something breaking up this massive textures would be more than welcome.

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New Music Review – Efferat – Benzaiten

a4245998739_10Band: Efferat
Album: Benzaiten
Genre: Noise, dark-ambient
Social-media: Facebook/Bandcamp

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Efferat are Philadelphia based experimental, electronic, dark ambient project who have released a new album, which has probably been one of my hardest listens yet. Efferat released, Benzaiten on November 3rd and it was just as hard to listen to, as it was to look at the album-art (so many colours, my fucking eyes!) But, as you all know, I try to review everything that gets sent to me, because I’m just a nice guy that loves music.

Let’s start, as you should, at the beginning of the album, with the title track, Benzaiten. The slow build-up of these dusty, lo-fi synths is interesting and textured rather nicely; it feels like there should be an intro to some horror movie playing. As the track goes on, there are strange sounds that bare some resemblance to actual instruments, like the sliding up of guitar strings and some cleaner (slightly) synths. This track is likely the hardest track to listen to, as the other two have some resemblances to music that is easier to follow, it’s also the longest track, clocking in at practically eleven minutes!

The other two tracks share a closer semblance to structure, where the Benzaiten just felt like a collage of sound and madness. That’s not to say that Aka Manto and Yukonna are down to earth examples of sanity. In fact, Yukonna seems to be the flag bearer for painfully elaborate and long winded breakdowns, as the track plods along with a brief tinkering of some metallic noise, until it eventually erupts into a vicious onslaught of metal noise/feedback (?). Despite all this incredibly difficult to listen to noise, there are some very well-done sections that feel distinguishable against other noise music – the instrumentation works very well. I think the most notable example is the slides and guitar plucking’s of Aka Manto.

Despite some clever use of sound, noise and structuring on this album, I do still constantly struggle with how lo-fi this record is. This low-quality does add to the challenge of trying to piece together what everything on this album is, but it honestly seems like such an uphill struggle for a limited pay-off. I think at the end of the day, this album is all about interpretation and I interpreted it to give me a headache at most parts. Although I do like the fading off the last track Yukonna.

Final Notes:

Efferat and their album Benzaiten are a drugged fuelled romp into challenging sounds and listens that will leave you clutching at your ears, throwing your headphones aside, getting a drink of hooch, grabbing your headphones again and then trying again. I honestly think the best way to describe their music is with the email they sent me:

Our band is basically a Dark Sounding ambient with black metal and Dark Sounding Post rock talking about ancient Japanese folklore to LSD trips to witch craft.

New Music Review – Helicopter Quartet – Leading Edges

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Band: Helicopter Quartet
Album: Leading Edges
Genre: Post-rock, ambient, dark ambient
Social Media: Facebook/Twitter/Bandcamp

Helicopter Quartet is, funnily enough, a duo of sound-makers arising from Leeds, UK. Today, we’re going to be listening to their May release, Leading Edges.  This release treads along the same tracks as their release from last year, Where Have All The Aliens Gone; although, this release seems to have more direction and movement from the songs.

In my opinion this is a natural progression to the songs on Leading Edges. While Aliens seems like an obvious ambient record, this one moves more into post-rock; very akin to the likes of bands like Mono and certain World’s End Girlfriend records. This is incredibly apparent on The Way It Never Was and, somewhat, on Refuge. Both create this massive sweeping sensation of space and elegance with the manner that the violin and guitar work together.

This post-rock crescendo core direction also takes hold of the track Hothouse, which is mostly dark, slow and slightly melodic. Then it gets to the about six minutes in and it gets to these tremolo picked guitar, these ear piercing wail from (what I assume to be) the violin. It’s an incredibly majestic track that rewards patience and attention to detail.

That’s not to say that Helicopter Quartet have strayed from the dark ambience, my oh my no, it returns in palatable sections that don’t feel intrusive, or too crushing. 110 is an oppressive collection of string slides, darkly synth and stabs of noise. The whole song creates a horror-movie-esque atmosphere that feels as if it should be played while a camera pans around a murders safe house. All while it zooms in on the graphic nature and mentality of the killer.

It has to be said that I disagree with what people have said about the beauty of this album. For me, it sounds like the wolf in sheep’s clothing of post-rock; not what you’d expect from a band that utilises violins, guitars, basses and synths. This is strikingly clear in the tune Trailing Edge, which treads through various different atmospheres: there is the thick bass and violin at the begging that morphs slowly with the slimy synth in the background into a something much more sinister.

Leading Edges feels like a classy lady with a kinky edge that you’re not aware of until it’s too late; she has everything going for her on the upper layers, but when you let her sink in, you find something much more satisfying to your needs.

Rewarding and unique, Helicopter Quartet have created a truly great album without resorting to the splashing on of tarty effects and makeup to make something feel epic and wonderful evil.