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

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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 – nnord – Funeral

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Band: nnord
Song: Funeral
Genre: Ambient, drone, soundscape
Social Media: Facebook/Bandcamp

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nnord are a French ambient project that I have talked about previously (see here) and back in June they put out their debut LP, Orbital. This release was incredibly atmospheric and moody; it had a lot of good and interesting sounds on it that kept me listening through some of the more challenging minutes. Now, a few months later, a new song has been released, which more of a collection of songs all is rolled into one titled Funeral.

This release clocks in at just over 20 minutes, it’s has five parts and it follows similar ground to that of Orbital. However, this time around, everything feels much more minimal and much more drone bits going on. You could even say that the album art is as descriptive of this release, as my words can be; it’s monotone. Throw away any thoughts of colour and happiness, this song is dreary.

Funeral is best suited to funerals, the synths and sounds here are all hugely low and have various drones and other bits of feedback going on. There’s also some percussion in the background during, what I assume is, the first half. The subtle touches on the percussion are nice, but I think a lot more may have been needed to just chunk this release out some more. As it is now, everything feels too minimalistic and the songs need some more depth to their sounds.

As it continues evolving, you can hear some organs (?) which I think are probably the most interesting sounds on this song, that and the clean keys at the halfway mark. To me, it feels a shame that there isn’t more here to listen to, the touches here and there don’t really interest me and if it feels like a longer version of the songs I didn’t enjoy off of Orbital. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t feel like there’s a decent enough pay off to justify the length of this song.

But that’s drone and it is possible I do just not understand, but right now, this release isn’t capturing me.

Final Comments:

There is some good content in here, but I just think it could be cut down so much. Right now, it just feels like just a bit too much foreplay with some uninteresting synths and some occasional percussion. I know nnord are capable of so much more than this.

New Music Review – Black Hill / Eensdenkend – Black Turns Grey (Split)

a2620827991_10Artists: Black Hill + Eensdenkend
Split: Black Turns Grey
Genre: Post-rock, drone
Social-media:
Black Hill: Facebook/Bandcamp
Eensdenkend: Soundcloud/Bandcamp

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Black Hill is the side project of the guitarist from musicformessier. I reviewed musicformessier’s album, Leaving the I.S.S, last month and thoroughly enjoyed the blissfully space-post-rock sound that both musicformessier and Cousin Silas had created together. Today, however, we’re looking at the split album, Black Turns Grey, featuring Black Hill and soundscaper Eensdenkend. Straight away, you can hear some heavy influences from musicformessier, but that is to be expected after you take one of the main sounds from a band and put it into another – the effects driven guitars, the focus on ambiance and space is still present throughout this release. But has it done enough to remain interesting?

Even though there is still some heavily effect driven guitars, they seem to have been used much more sparingly, at least it’s been cooled down with the strange phaser – delay is still utilised on almost every song. On tracks like White Widow and Black Turns Grey, they seem have cut back slightly on the effects and as such, it doesn’t sound quite as otherworldly as musicformessier. I think the inclusion of percussion on this release has also benefited the overall sound, even if it is all minimal. gAtE and Ten Gram, both have simple little drumming played underneath the tracks in a subtle and fitting way that doesn’t smoother any sound. I would have liked to have seen more drumming on this release, something quiet, just to break up the constant guitar and synth use.

Which leads me to my biggest problem with this release, is while the tones of the guitars are lovely, especially on the closer The Diva Of Sunshine, it all feels very samey. The exact problem I had with musicformessier last time. But then, both Black Hill and Eensdenkend work well together and that’s what makes this split worth a listen.

Eensdenkend’s side breaks up the typical six string play that I’ve been hearing for the past few songs and probably to the best effect too: the two last tracks, Just One More Step To Luna and The Diva Of Sunshine, both set a great atmosphere with some really thick droning synth sounds. The use of the distortion guitar (?) after the intro is killer – it’s not your typical way of using a distortion pedal and makes things sound much more drone-like.

It’s this coming together that makes this post-rock/drone release, interesting – the input from both of these lads has had a positive effect on both artists, I think it would have just been better to vary things up, put something else into the mix with Black Hill’s tunes and you’ll have something quite different.

Final Notes:

Black Turns Grey is another nice ambient release from post-rock guitarist, Black Hill and moody droner, Eensdenkend, but it’s nice to see that the latter is rubbing off on the former. Listen to this release for some twinkly and pretty guitar, some subtle percussion and a pair of great soundscape tracks that will haunt your speakers with their beauty.

New Music Review – The Monk By The Sea – Leave The World Behind

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Artist: The Monk By The Sea
EP: Leave The World Behind
Genre: Ambient, drone
Social-media: Twitter/Bandcamp/Soundcloud

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The Monk By The Sea is the solo, ambient and guitar based project by a Croatian guitarist, named Ivan Ujevic. Interestingly enough, all of the music is constructed with just a guitar and signal processing, although, sometimes you will be hard pressed to hear any guitar at all – Ujevic creates a very gentle synth sound with his guitar. Recently, this chap has released his third, relatively short, EP on Bandcamp, called Leave The World Behind and it has some pleasing sounds and vibes to it – Is that enough to carry this release? Let’s find out.

What we have in this release, is a minimal, ambient or soundscape release and as such, the use of textures in the music is important. I think that Ujevic has managed to create some truly serene ambience in all of these pieces. There’s a clear distinction between all of the music on here and each tune has a unique sound and mood to that piece.

June for example, sounds like a spring morning – you know when you see those sped up camera shots of the sun-rising on a sunny day? This is the soundtrack to that. On the other hand you have the track, The Monk By The Sea, which sounds much thicker with its use of textures – The synths sound slower and lower, making for a grim mood.

This mood is similarly capture on the track, In November, however, both of these tracks manage to capture a wonderful sense of beauty in their runtime. Thankfully, none of these tunes run for too long and the EP is short, as I said, which means that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. This is also unfortunately Leave The World Behind’s biggest problem, it just doesn’t feel memorable enough – There’s very little staying power.

Yes, the songs on here sound lovely and all very pretty, but there isn’t much to make them stick out from the rest of all the ambient music out there. I honestly feel that, even though it’s all made with guitar, that Ujevic could have furthered this album in terms of its scale. Some heavily effected, but distinguishable, guitar plucking’s would not have gone awry. But hey, considering what genre this is, it wouldn’t be fair to focus on that too much.

Final Notes:

As it stands, The Monk By The Sea and Leave The World Behind has some simple and nice sounding tunes that would suit any art-house movie’s soundtrack. You can pick it up on Bandcamp for $3 or your countries equivalent.

New Music Review – nnord – Orbital

a0261383855_10Band: nnord
Album: Orbital
Genre: Ambient, drone, soundscape
Social Media: Facebook/Bandcamp

nnord are a French ambient, soundscape project that put out their debut LP, Orbital,  on June 16th through the newly founded record label, Winter Alternatives Records. nnord claim influences from bands like Sun O))) and Tangerine Dream and off the bat it’s easy to see where these influences come into play with the feel and sound of the LP. There’s a lot of work with textures and droneing going on, sometimes I even think of Solar Fields.

This is WAR’s first release on their label, so it’s important for themselves and nnord, to thrust themselves out there and although I do think Orbital does a decent enough job of this, it could be done better one.

Orbital is very much an ambient/soundscape and droney release and what makes these genres interesting, for me at least, is the textures used. nnord make fantastic use of textures in some points of this LP but I feel, that they could be infinitely more daring with their music.

There is an adventurous spirit that’s adopted on specific songs, but on the first track, which is also the longest, it’s left behind. Said first track, Arrival On The Great Plains, takes a long time to get anywhere and even when it does, it does not show nnord at their most brilliant moments. There are some pleasurable sounds on this track though, which make the slow pacing forgivable. The subtle changes in the synths at the 3min mark onward are all very pleasing, especially with headphones on.

There’s also this outro in Arrival On The Great Plains and it sounds majestic and elegant; the instruments sound powerful and, ultimately, it does make this track worth the listen.

The next track, Black Sky and Cosmic Dust, didn’t grab me either at first, until I heard something very strange; a synth that made me think, instantly, of that very plastic sounding, jelly-like synth sound from the 80’s. Now, this is something that has been used again sparingly throughout, Orbital. Again, it was this moment that broke up the slow droning of this song, which is what this project is all about; subtle surprises hidden in a thick world of noise.

This 80’s style of synthesiser is used again in Beyond The Orbital River and, my personal favourite track, The Last Bison. It works well in both of these tracks and explores a lot of new ground for nnord. At points in Beyond The Orbital River, it sounds like you could paste the track into The Terminator or possible Blade Runner and no one would bat an eyelid.

I think the song, Asteroid Tomb, does the best job of portraying nnord as an ambient act; the clean synths are incredibly satisfying and I adore the way that the track slowly evolves into a barrage of harsh noise. This track may also be the one that is spaced out and paced the best, as some of the songs feel a bit too long and could do with trimming just a spell.

The Last Bison remains my favourite song on this LP though, with its angelic synths at the beginning and the tiny little flares of something so gorgeous, I can’t put words to it. It’s also like this song is the most well thought out; everything has its place and, like Asteroid Tomb, seems well paced. It does turn around rather quickly into that 80’s movie soundtrack vibe again, but I like that and it suits nnords sound in my opinion.

nnord’s debut LP, Orbital didn’t grab me at first and I’m not sure it has yet, but there are definitely some well thought out ambient music on this record.

It’s by no means a bad LP and I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to listen to it, but I’d love to see nnord break some experimental ground; don’t be afraid of cutting things short.

Orbital is available through Bandcamp at a ‘name your price’ price and I think it’s worth your time, especially if you dig ambient and droning music.

New Music Review: Saåad – Alone In The Light (Song)

a0872262140_10Band: Saåad 
Song: Alone In The Light
Genre: Drone
Social Media: Facebook/Bandcamp

Saåad is a French experimental duo that create ghostly soundscapes with some massively crushing atmosphere to them. They’ve had numerous releases through Bandcamp and last month, they released their most recent outing, Deep/Float.

For now, we’re just going to be checking out the bands newest video for their tune, Alone in The Light. The song follows tune with what you’d come to expect from an experimental duo that specilise in drone side of music. And specialise they do; the textures in this song are incredibly cold and sound like some far away planet should be playing it for it’s theme tune. Maybe Hoth? I don’t really watch Star Wars.

What I really enjoyed about this piece was how all the little nuances and changes slowly unfolded into something that was so incredibly thick and cold, it felt like Mr Freeze was spooning me. Laying it on a bit heavy with the references today.

The tune is crushingly bleak in the best possible way, so if you get a chance, give these guys a listen, they deserve your time and coats.