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Cocooning

By Javier Blánquez

Cocooning Javier Blanquez Lazy music . Those who have been educated in Christian morality will know that sloth is a capital sin, a reason to end up in hell. It’s not as heavy a sin as envy, which gives us little more than corrosion without satisfaction, but it’s understood that sloth is frowned upon by certain people: while some kill themselves trying to make things work and do good things for the country, there’s an army of people out there who hang around under the pine trees, play the flute, hide in the bushes, and generally do nothing but practise photosynthesis. There are some who believe that in this column complacency is celebrated, but that’s not entirely true. What we like here is the long moment of relaxation –the stretching of the soul– after a day well spent on productive things. To hang back on the sofa and listen to music or make love are just rewards at the end of the day, like that half can of ox paté we give the cat if it’s been well behaved. We don’t do proselytism of idleness, but responsible play. It’s not an addict’s column to escape from reality, either. Cocooning, and you should know that by now, is a humble guide for fans of horizontal music –there’s a bunch of them hiding in the closet, intimidated by tyrannical rockist attitudes; they’ll come out– and it has, of course, a hedonist goal: to keep you company during some of the hours in which you can listen with attention, calmly read, deeply rest. Records that won’t haunt the spirit –we have Silicon Implants for that, which is the naughty counterpart (know that yours truly is Gemini and proud of it), but will lull it, will feed it for eternity and, while we’re at it, will make it a little more noble. By the way, steer clear of “Pieces In A Modern Style 2” by William Orbit. His desecration, for the second time, of the great maestros should be reason enough for him to receive an invitation to spend his holidays at a maximum-security prison in Iran.

Ducktails: “Ducktails” (Not Not Fun) J.D. Emmanuel: “Wizards” (Important) These two records show an important aspect of the sonic corner this column is about: the sometimes almost unhealthy obsession with the nostalgic-blurry recovery of the past. Neither of the two are new –the Ducktails album is from last year and is now reissued on vinyl; the one by J.D. Emmanuel is from 1982– but they each have their archaeological importance. The first marks a sweet and never well-rewarded enough moment for the hypnagogic scene, and the latter indicates just how far the recovery of forgotten works of the cosmic scene can go. The story of “Wizards” is, moreover, one of little fortune. In its time, the album was buried under the avalanche of new age –a huge number of artists, among which were pseudo-mystics with synthesisers like Deuter, Mind Over Matter or Robert Schroeder. It’s reappeared recently on CD and vinyl (twice), taking advantage of the renewed interest in the vintage sequencer mantras. “Wizards” is weakened somewhat by the exaggerated charge of the magic-esoteric background, but it remains a curious work –which could lead to a secondary effect which we’re not sure is desirable: the reissue of the entire Neuronium. “Ducktails” is a more interesting and just recovery: Matthew Mondaline was one of the first to walk the path of distorted guitars with sunny textures, muffled voices, lo-fi reverb and pop fading in the fog of chill-wave. It would therefore be great if Ducktails were to be re-evaluated. In fact, Shdwply Records is now releasing the 7” “Apple Walk / Mirror Image Index” and Olde English Spelling Bee is reissuing “Landscapes”, his other and magnificent album of last year.

Outer Space: “Outer Space” (Arbor) Brother Raven: “VSS-30” (Digitalis) Suum Cuique: “Midden” (Young Americans)The modular synthesiser fever and the analogue turn that the majority of electronic music has taken is the final nail in the coffin of the digital obsession of a few years ago: now, the plugin collection has been substituted with furtive visits to eBay in search of whatever’s available. It’s the old law of pendulum motion, and there will be a time again when it’s no longer fashionable to buy old keyboards and we’ll return to the computer screen and mouse. But as long as the cosmic is in fashion, there will be records like the one by Outer Space –John Elliott, member of Emeralds– on which virtually every piece there is a melodic part reminiscent of what Christopher Franke did for Tangerine Dream in their titanic episode. The transparent vinyl and the sleeve art with the blue sky and the moon are great, so 70’s they don’t leave any room for imagination. In that respect it beats the rather ugly sleeve of Brother Raven’s “VSS-30”–the duo based in Seattle and formed by Jamie Potter and Jason E. Anderson. But the contents are a whole other story: it’s gliding and intergalactic, retro and plowing endless spaces, but with a rougher texture, not exactly revivalist: they use their arsenal of old synths to experiment, to make them communicate with each other, and the result is dissonant, a-rhythmic and even a bit enervating. If on top of that we would add some Pan Sonic-like icy moments we would get “Cartoon Life” or, even better, the whole of “Midden” by Suum Cuique, the best album of this batch.

Rafael Anton Irisarri: “The North Bend” (Room40) Chris Abrahams: “Play Scar” (Room40)With these two records, the exceptional form both in the collective – Room40, the label founded by Lawrence English, has, little by little, become one of the stand-out imprints on the first-rate ambient scene, alongside 12k and Type– and in the individual is summarised. Chris Abrahams, member of The Necks, doesn’t make a mistake anymore when he delivers a solo album. It’s true that his style is limited to the digital manipulation of instruments and spreading whistles, crystal textures and endlessly prolonged notes over a background constantly switching between extreme delicacy and not-too-unnerving dissonance. “Play Scar” is somewhat more aggressive than “Ocean-Feeling Like” (signed as Mike Cooper), but the sensation of floating on a blue sea with the early morning sun on your head is still all over the album. The Rafael Anton Irisarri album on the other hand –his second this year, after the one by The Sight Below– is more mountainous, more forest-like and wintery, invaded by that first wave of cold after the summer that is so delightful to some.

Memoryhouse: “Choir Of Empty Rooms” (unreleased) Tanner Menard: “The Oceans Of Your Aura” (Slow Flow) Mark Harris: “The Boy Observes The Ocean” (Hibernate)This part is about pleasure. About weightless pleasures to be exact, for not everything in this garden has spines. There are beautiful and translucent flowers as well, there is music so ethereal that it sounds like a speck of dust. The music Memoryhouse make isn’t transparent, in fact: it’s a shower of intoxicating ambient, a ray of bright light, magnificent, that occupies the whole room with a piece of paradise. Yes, it’s twee, but this “Choir Of Empty Rooms” is celestial at its most inspired moments ( “Elena”, “Everyone Hears The Voice”), like a fattened version of Cliff Martinez’s soundtrack or old Eno records like “Discreet Music”. He hasn’t got a label yet (it will be announced soon), but Evan Abeele have already released it. Here’s hoping it will land them a cult following: there’s a space to be filled by Memoryhouse, left empty by Celer. Beware though: there will be fighting over it. Mark Harris steps in the arena of delicate ambient with an album full of demos recorded on furious beaches and seas full of life and that is like the coming and going of the waves: sometimes meekly slow and tranquilising and sometimes so energetic that it even sprinkles from afar. “The Oceans Of Your Aura”, to keep using the metaphor, is therefore for deep sea divers of audio, a abyssal and tranquilising record, without the icy touch of a Biosphere or Elegi record, but just as stunning. Somewhere in between is the absorbing world of Tanner Menard, which is a tad less liquid and somewhat more gassy, another young talent who wants to deny the laws of gravity with his music.

Celer: “Panoramic Dreams Bathed In Seldomness” (Basses Frequences) Clowbeck: “From Which The River Rises” (Sustain-Release)This block is about pain. Both Will Long –the only trustee of the Celer legacy– and Richard Skelton –artist hiding behind the Clowbeck alias– share the painful experience of having lost their partners. Danielle Baquet-Long, as we have told you before, passed away a year ago, prolonging Morpheus’s dream with that of the just, and ever since, Celer hasn’t existed as a creative entity but as an administrator of everything they recorded, with Long releasing it little by little. Some pieces are testimonial rather than rich in contents and emotion, but “Panoramic Dreams Bathed In Seldomness”, a CD album long in duration, is one of Celer’s best efforts: a kind of ambient that jumps, without interruptions, from the nebulous to the gloomy, from the softly spine-chilling to the infinitely calm. With the previous events in mind, this music will never sound peaceful again, and neither does Richard Skelton’s: on his new work under the Clowbeck moniker distorted guitars and bow instruments dominate and it’s divided in two almost exact halves which together run for little over half an hour. A soundtrack for a possible Western that would substitute the snow of “The Claim” with a rocky soil covered in ash, like the entrance of Dante’s inferno. Who’s talking about sloth now?

Andrew Hargreaves: “Fragments” (Lacies) Andrew Hargreaves: “Defragment” (Lacies)The same way Troy McClure is known in Springfield for having appeared in all kinds of B-films, Andrew Hargreaves is known as 50% of The Boats and for having participated on a fistful of lo-fi melodic electronica records, playful techno and neo-classical experiments. The man handles the computer with ease and is already an established master in beautiful micro-sound, and at the same time he plays the piano. “Fragments” is an album on which all those aesthetic elements come together, displayed very harmoniously: it flows calmly and enchantingly, organic and synthetic in equal parts –the best is when the glitches interrupt the notes as if they were crickets or cicadas, or when some high piano notes filter through the digital fabric. Everything that didn’t find its place on “Fragments” was collected, by Hargreaves, on “Defragment”, thus becoming a kind of footnotes in a book that deserves explanation, only on a double CD. In any case, this text can’t end without giving kudos to the talent that helps to solidify the consistence of this work created with modesty and that reaches a high level. Danny Norbury, pianist and cellist, uses his talent to let the notes fall with the solemnity those noble instruments require. An essential listen before going to sleep. And if you want more cello, check out “Last Day In July” (Julia Kent), “Thousand Words” (Portland Cello Project) and the reissue of “Mount A” by Hildur Gudnadóttir.

Arandel: “In #D” (Infiné) Concern: “Caesarean” (Slow Flow)We shouldn’t pass on Arandel’s album. Who they are, nobody knows, the Infiné label keeps it a small mystery. We don’t know more because nobody really bothered to ask, and “In #D” is still a little shared secret. So let’s help spread the word: like the sensational “Auricle Bio On” by Francesco Tristano, it has the audacity to merge, in the same discourse, the beat of dance music –there is techno-dub and deep house with micro details– with the timbric richness of a chamber music ensemble. So, where there should be a glitch, or more synths, Arandel has violins, oboes and a church choir. The intersection is made with great care and it’s never a neo-classical pastiche with a runaway kickdrum nor a presumptuous techno record. It’s something more profound, more interior: it’s an experiment of textures in which nothing is discriminated against and two apparently very different worlds have found connections. The same happens on “Caesarean”: Concern comes from the world of drone, but this new album is enriched with strings and cinematic brass instruments that add variety and depth and take away boredom, and it will appeal to those who have Akira Rabelais’s records on an altar.

Steve Reich: “Double Sextet / 2x5” (Nonesuch) Steve Reich, the minimalist’s minimalist –not as prolific nor as accessible as Philip Glass, but with the same prestige as LaMonte Young and Terry Riley– has returned to the recording studio. He has been composing, “Double Sextet” got the music Pulitzer Prize last year, but the recording of those pieces on hardware, so that they are kept for eternity, is not something that happens frequently. The Pulitzer occasion, however, was a good time for it and “Double Sextet” shows a Reich who is in top shape within an established style: rhythmic precision, the use of marimbas and phasing techniques that he had already done perfectly on “Music For 18 Musicians” and “City Life”, are the chromatic base of a piece that isn’t going to surprise but is going to be liked, because it’s like pocket Reich and for all audiences. And much more efficient than “2x5”, maybe the definitive proof that, nowadays, changes don’t become Reich. “2x5” wants to be more rock –there are two electric guitars, played by the ensemble Bang On A Can– although it’s more of the same, only with a strange ending, like a minor revision of “Electric Counterpoint”. That said, you have your dose of info. Now be lazy, but use your head.

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