Tag Archives: electronic

Snakes of Pennsylvania – “Snakes of Pennsylvania”

Snakes of Pennsylvania’s eponymous release was among Field Hymns’ final releases of 2016. It should be noted that last year was a fantastic year for the label, and it remains one of my favorites. Field Hymns is usually my go-to spot for analog synth jams, but I always like a good deviation from expectations.  The album remains in fairly subdued territory throughout, so maybe we aren’t too far afield after all.

Starting from the middle, with “Instrumental One,” we find a simply stated, spacious, analog synth-based track. There are a limited number of layers, which keeps the texture uncomplicated and focused. “Instrumental One” is based around a simple, descending minor third motive entering after a brief ambient introduction. A dissonant second line then begins to counter the motive, before fading into a lulling and bright coda.

The track that follows, “The Human,” may contrast arrangement-wise, but is agonizingly beautiful nonetheless. The hushed guitar melody comes from the same world as the quiet moments of any Explosions in the Sky song. However, here a single guitar fills the role of Explosions’ three while still managing to capture the ambiance in between the notes as they gather.

“Attack of Lyme” adds to the album’s already varied palette with a plucked steel string acoustic adding more presence to the sound. Synth sounds skitter across the landscape as fingers skid down guitar strings in the foreground. A similar acoustic guitar sound appears throughout “Kolbojnik,” which features an even more patient construction by taking long breaths between fragmented melodies within a minute long framework.

“Snakes of Pennsylvania” successfully melds ambient analog synth sounds with guitars that both compliment and contrast.  The synth sounds end up adding, surprisingly, to the Americana sounds generated by steel string guitars.
Find “Snakes of Pennsylvania”:
A limited number of cassettes are still available on the Field Hymns bandcamp page. As with any album on bandcamp, of course it is available as a download in any format you can imagine.

Stream – Bam Spacey – “1998”

Released last month, Bam Spacey’s “1998” is an album of layered synths and minimal textures. One moment we’re left floating in a hazy realm emerging from warm extended tones, for example in the opening introduction. Other moments are much more clearly built around pop structures with clear harmonies sung over top of those layers of ambience. A track like “Markbildning (II)” floats lazily between these two worlds; it’s ambient and minimal, while the vocal melody holds to its own regular phrasing, tracing strophes, spaced out with ambient interludes.

Echoes of Tim Hecker, from a timbral standpoint, pop up through the texture from time to time, such as on “Markbildning (II).” That dark ambience is, however, mostly left behind on “Upplyst,” a track featuring prominent drums and a pulsation that approaches traditional electronic dance music. This is also the case with “Ropar Från En Avgrund;” it actually breaches the line straight into more dance oriented territory.

Most of the album drifts across slowly, enveloping the listener in pure sound that languishes for extensive periods nearly undisturbed. The layers of synths are ripples on the water and Bam Spacey uses a delicate hand to slowly add more to those ripples while making sure that they don’t turn into overbearing waves. The ethereal quality of the atmospherics is maintained throughout the album, forming a cohesive whole that manages to straddle the boundaries of synth-driven ambience and dance music.

“1998” is available now as a download from the Ceremony Recordings bandcamp page, and is also available as a limited vinyl release. There will only be 300 copies in the first pressing, so head over to the Ceremony Recordings website to pick up a copy.

New Release: Baths – “Ocean Death”

I’ve been a fan of Baths since the debut “Cerulean” was released in the summer of 2010. It didn’t really grab me at first, but I think that it really served as my gateway into electronic music in a lot of ways. I would always try to listen to Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin and other stuff and not really understand it, but when “Cerulean” came around it was really the first full album of electronic music that I could really connect with.

So, I think that, of course, there is some sort of sentimental value hearing this new track, but it’s pretty much undeniably good. “Ocean Death” is the name of the new EP that just came out last week, and is the name of the opening track, heard above. It’s darker in tone than anything on “Cerulean,” and pretty straight forward in comparison.

The opening track is pretty much a 3 part form with the outer parts taking the bulk of the track, and a brief contrasting middle section that drops everything only to build the structure back up again. The latter presentation of the original material features a bit of a development, which is probably a good thing because the first minute or so of the track has a tendency to feel like it is just sort of sitting there, and it just needs to move.

Nice thick bass timbres and a straightforward, moderate tempo dance beat accompany the opening of the song with a fairly static vocal that approaches from behind a perspective shifting harmonic progression. It’s pretty simple as far as songs go, but still effective in creating a darker mood, and captures the breathy, subtle scratchiness of some of the tracks on “Cerulean.”

Baths is currently on tour across the US. Check the tour dates below. “Ocean Death” is currently available as a download from iTunes.

North American Tour Dates w/ Young Fathers & P. Morris:

The Space – Hamden, CT

The Bowery Ballroom – New York, NY

Port City Music Hall – Portland, ME

Bones Gate Fraternity – Hanover, NH

S.A.T – Montreal, CA

Ritual – Ottawa, CA

Horseshoe Tavern – Toronto, CA

Magic Stick – Detroit, MI

Pyramid Scheme – Grand Rapids, MI

The Vogue – Indianapolis, IN

Concord Music Hall – Chicago, IL

Triple Rock Social Club – Minneapolis, MN

The Aquarium – Fargo, ND

The Starlite – Edmonton, CA

Commonwealth Bar & Stage – Calgary, CA

Fortune Sound Club – Vancouver, CA

Neumo’s Crystal Ball – Seattle, WA

Rotture – Portland, OR

WOW Hall – Eugene, OR

The Independent – San Francisco, CA

Cellar Door – Visalia, CA

Constellation Room – Santa Ana, CA

Casbah – San Diego, CA

Stream: Brett Naucke – “Luau”

When a song starts a particular way I start expecting certain things to happen. I can imagine exactly how the track is going to go, and unfair or not this is how I listen. But, I think that we all do that. We’re expecting, and as we listen we are providing ourselves with a set of parameters based upon what it is that we normally listen to. Within the first couple seconds of a track we have all sorts of information regarding timbre and tempo and genre, and we start to pare down the realm of possibilities for what we are hearing, basing our judgment of whether it is “good” or “bad” upon these expectations.

Now, with this track, “Luau,” I was definitely starting to expect a bit of an aleatoric, sound exploration. The way it begins just basically sets up this whole premise. The slow groan of the low frequency that is barely audible at the outset underneath squeaking, glitching, scattered electronic sounds. Those scattered squeaks sounds like something out of one of John Cage’s Imaginary Landscapes, but before very long everything begins to congeal, and what grows from these disparate sounds is more akin to IDM, perhaps calling to mind a proto-Autechre. An echoed voice comes into the mix which adds a nice extra layer and a depth to the structure.

The concluding gesture, a fade-out of sorts, occurs rather quickly, but hints at the congealed sounds’ dispersal, returning from where they came.

This track comes from Naucke’s 2nd LP, “Seed,” released by Spectrum Spools and is currently available for order from Forced Exposure. You can also check out Spectrum Spool’s Facebook page, and the Forced Exposure site (highly recommended) for more. You may also purchase the album as a download here.

Fennesz – “Bécs”

Fennesz’s latest offering, “Bécs,” manages to find a way to balance electronic and acoustic compositional techniques where neither approach seems to take precedence over the other. From start to finish each track explores atmospheres that range from pure, amorphous clouds of sound that ebb and swell turning over and fold into themselves to allow various shadings of their harmonic palette become exposed and explored; to more traditionally beat oriented tracks that bring bright acoustic guitar sounds into the mix.

While “Pallas Athene” explores the former–the more amorphous sound-world–a track like “Bécs” places a more standard harmonic rhythm and progression into a structural role. The opening of that track investigates the overtones of a single attacked string, but before long the sound is granulated, it begins to feed back on itself, and a hazy cloud forms all around it until the very sound that opened the work sinks to the background. Though that string attack remains audible, one must work a little harder at times to really hear it and it becomes more a backbone than anything, the exact source of every sound that surrounds it. So, is it really that much in the background after all?

And these timbral, structural considerations aren’t the only way to look at this album. The emotive quality of something like the titular track should not be overlooked. The suspended melody and delicate harmonic underpinning, though shrouded in swirling granulation, is no less effective. When that cloud of overdriven haziness dissipates suddenly, though gently, at the end of the piece, one begins to truly feel the full weight of the track. That ending, the stripping away of everything, brings about a pretty satisfying resolution.

I would have to say that the standout track to me is “Liminality.” The 10 minute track moves from ambience to solo guitar, and back to electronics that sound similar to one of Tim Hecker’s works on “Ravedeath 1979.” The guitar line’s suspended dissonances ring out, and their resolutions are held back as far in the beat as possible, wringing as much tension out of each pitch as they can bear.

Overall, the album is successful at taking a fairly unique approach to electronic music, eschewing pure laptop sounds for a mix of synthesis and acoustics. Fennesz’s style of electro-acoustic music is at once engaging and exciting, intriguing and emotive, and simply put needs to be heard.

“Bécs” is out now through Editions Mego and can be picked up here on vinyl, CD, or as your choice of download. Samples of the album can be heard by following this link.

New release: Illum Sphere – “Ghosts Of Then And Now”

First of all Bleep’s website makes it ridiculously difficult to listen to anything at all. You can listen to each track in pieces because after the 30 second sample is up you have to slide the player over to the next 30 seconds etc. etc. I mean, I can understand why they do it, but I would be happier being able to hear one entire song than having to mess with the player to hear detached pieces of a track.

Thankfully Ninja Tune, the label that released “Ghosts of Then and Now,” was kind enough to upload some of the tracks to Youtube.

Anyway, the reason that I head over to Bleep regularly is, well they send me their newsletter, and I’ve been listening to a lot of Autechre lately and it has given way to a new fascination with electronic music and it’s where you can get Autechre’s albums. So, I’ve been looking for similar artists to broaden my horizons.

Listening to Illum Sphere (as much as I can anyway), with the ultra thick bass and synth that buzzes through most of the tracks, it reminded me in some ways to Baths’ “Cerulean” album from a few years back.  But there’s also hints at proto-IDM like Kraftwere, which I hear heaps of in “Sleeprunner.” The kraut-rock, motorik sound has an undeniable influence throughout the track with its heavily cyclical and repetitive synth line, though it  takes a gradual turn toward the end.

The album has been out for a few weeks now, and it’s a really interesting listen, worth checking out. From the motorik synths of “Sleeprunner” to the Wurlitzer sound of the titular track, there is a lot to grab onto. I wouldn’t quite say that it’s similar to Boards of Canada, but it’s definitely closer to their output than it is to anything Autechre has done. Check out “Sleeprunner” (above) and “Ghosts of Then and Now.” (below) The album can be ordered from Bleep on CD, 2xLP, or various downloads, as well as on iTunes. And if you head to Bleep, you too can have fun trying to use the audio player. Hours of enjoyment. Test your skill.

Stream New Music from Field Hymns: Black Unicorn and Cane Swords

Some brand-new, not yet released, stuff coming your way today from Field Hymns records. I’ve written about some of their releases before and I’m always impressed with what I hear. In case you aren’t aware, Field Hymns is a small label based out of Portland, Oregon, and they release a fairly steady stream of electronic and experimental tapes. Today I’ve got two new ones to share with you.

Black Unicorn - "Traced Landscapes"
Black Unicorn – “Traced Landscapes”

First up is Akron, Ohio’s Black Unicorn with their album “Traced Landscapes.” Trance inducing, retro synthed out 8-bit landscapes come in and out of focus. One minute pulsing delicately, while buzzing melodies cut through the atmospherics the next. Tracks are focused squarely upon one idea, and that singularity holds time in place for just a little while before it’s gone, only to be replaced by the next hypnotic transcendence.

Listening to a track like “Seafowl in Silhouette” one can’t help but focus their thoughts inward. Think of Boards of Canada slowed down 100x. The waves of sound don’t so much crash over you as they do envelop you. Black Unicorn is able to create the kind of sonic space that, in some pretty amazing ways, completely shifts our temporal perceptions.

There are also songs like “Trans-Dimensional Railway” that pay due to Kraftwerk. The kraut-rock, electro pulse is definitely there, even floating there in the background after everything around it completely falls apart, leaving us with the sensation of temporarily floating through space. It’s as though the ground has been pulled completely out from under us and instead of falling we float off into the night sky. Pretty interesting way to have temporal considerations create the divisions between sections of a song.


The next release that I have is “Temple Swords” by Cane Swords (also from Akron), a self described “synth exploration.” Comparing and contrasting with Black Unicorn, Cane Swords also create music that breaks free from music’s traditional treating of temporality, but they are doing so in completely the opposite way. Where once there was a homogenous landscape that created hypnotic trances, there is now an ever changing and intricately woven fabric of sounds that whirl in and out of range. Much more spacey, ethereal and in a lot of ways, kind of intense. Recommended if you like Morton Subotnick, as it says on their release, is pretty accurate. Tape composition practices are given an updated process, creating similar highly descriptive sound collages.

They do also have their darker, more ambient moments. Slower development across a long form composition, such as the “Telegraph One” and “Telegraph Two” suites, take a bit of a different approach to sound collage, stripping away some material to create a more homogenous sound. Overall the entire tape is full of some pretty enchanting stuff.

Both these tapes will be released on February 14th and will make the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for that special person in your life. Check out all the stuff that Field Hymns has to offer over on their site, including info on future releases, and listen to the tracks above. There are plenty more on the Field Hymns Soundcloud and Bandcamp pages.