Monday, 3 December 2018

My favourite music artists of the 10s : #74 - Ynoji

Running late on this 15-month long series, you'll know why soon enough. In the meantime, let's remember fondly about Ynoji, now-defunct moniker of Belgian electronic musician Lucian Ditulescu.

Revealed, back in 2012, by a couple of beautiful mini-albums, Quemira and NIÑA released on Xtraplex Records aka my favourite electronic label of the decade (of course Schematic and Hymen would be up there as well), Ynoji really started to impress me with the following Kollider, born from the same fascination with mutant structures and esoteric, dreamlike atmospheres but much gloomier and deeply tribal in its rhythm patterns, creating some sort of somatic voodoo techno from outer space.

Fuelled with the same mystical and heavy darkness from the deepest corners of the mesoamerican jungle, and drawing influences from dark ambient as well as drum'n'bass and dubstep in their most apocalyptic and oppressive incarnations, Ronokironikon (published by Subtrakt) and Ekra (Xtraplex again) even managed to top that masterpiece, as did his requiem for the project, Kojito, out on Abstrakt Reflections and magnified by elegiac choirs. Final testament for the moniker Ynoji, Face Planet, his contribution to IRM's Twin Peaks tribute, delivered last year a much more ambient and droning approach to electronic music... maybe a glimpse of things to come under a new name ?

Sunday, 11 November 2018

My favourite music artists of the 10s : #75 - Leonardo Rosado

Except for some drones from the northern shores and a crackling keyboard lullaby, flickers of hope for a quick return to music released through his Soundcloud account, we didn't hear much from Leonardo Rosado the last couple of years. However, half a decade had been enough for the Portuguese ambient artist, who left the habour warmth of Lisbon for the cold of another port, Göteborg, half a dozen years ago already, to showcase his talent for sensitive and fragile soundscapes of electro-acoustic textures washed away by the tides of time.

Leonardo has been quite an important musician for me, one of my gateways to self-released modern ambient through his self-managed labels Heart And Soul and FeedbackLoop, putting out music from the likes of Gimu, Witxes, Monolyth & Cobalt, Pascal Savy, Porya Hatami & Darren Harper... and he made me come across the ghostly soundcapes and etheral vocal harmonies of Birds of Passage, who could have made this list as well.

The pulsating and eerie Dear and Unfamiliar, recorded with the New-Zealand winter lady and published by Denovali is thus one of my personal favourite along with the chiaroscuro masterpiece Opaque Glitter, the low-frequency piano/hiss melancholy of The Blue Nature Of Everyday, the reverberated, flickering, frosty recollections of Washed Away Memories and of course, probably his greatest work to date : Adrift, whose frozen soundtracks of displacement recall delicate streams of blurry impressions and subconscious feelings.

His latest album, featuring Aaron Martin (From the Mouth of the Sun) on afflicted and haunting cello lines, is also a must-have. And of course there is this murky jewel, exclusive track offered to IRM's Ashes compilation six years ago, a thick tidal wave of droning textures which still makes me hope to witness Leonardo Rosado wander someday into darker and noisier sonic territories :

Saturday, 27 October 2018

My favourite music artists of the 10s : #76 - Dave Miller (Algernon, Spam Filter, Lonesome Limos...)

If his solo album from two years ago, Old Door Phantoms, was a bit less impressive to my ears but still really good with his bluesy instrumentals blending classic rock, psychedelism and oddly dissonant bursts of guitar freedom inherited from his jazz musicianship, Dave Miller has been a consistently stimulating member of the Chicago improv scene this decade, from the freeform experiments of his short-lived quintet Spam Filter somewhere between dark ambient, jazz-noise anthems and tribal phantasmagorias, to the destructured beat-based grooves of Lonesome Limos' first EP alongside with Tom Perona, a weirder cousin of Red Snapper sampling Vertigo's soundtrack on the fantastic opening track Replicator, at the crossroads of abstract hip-hop and kosmische electronics.

However, my admiration for the guy stays deeply related to another project, the "post-rock" combo Algernon with Miller on guitar and the aforementioned Tom Perona on bass, joined by second guitarist Toby Summerfield, vibraphonist Katie Wiegman and drummer Cory Healey. Third and latest album to date, Ghost Surveillance made me call them "the new Tortoise" when it came out 8 years ago, which was, for me, pretty much the same thing as calling them the new best band in the whole universe. Nowadays, Australian quintet Tangents pretty much took up the torch as best heirs of the authors of TNT, since nobody heard of Algernon for years. But this album in particular remains a masterpiece of libertarian and playful instrumental rock, full of windy epics, cristalline melodies, dreamlike meditations and tense polyphonies rooted both in jazz, movie soundtracks and electricity.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

An ambient masterpiece of 2018 : Gimu - 'A Vida Que Deixei De Ver Nos Seus Olhos'

I already wrote a lot about Gimu in French, here of course, there too and other there, so it was more than time to give it a shot in English. Whatever language you'd use to search the internet, you wouldn't find many reviews of Gilmar Monte's tremendous body of work anyway - about 60 releases in 8 years, that i know of : "tragically overlooked" is therefore the first thing coming to mind about his music, which couldn't be further from our collective unconscious' idea of what Brazilian music is supposed to sound like.

No MPB, bossa nova, samba or tropicália here, Gimu comes from the noisiest side of the experimental ambient spheres and washes away his torments with flows of dark textures, droning synth radiations and haunted harmonies, sometimes with underlying beats (cf. Entre A Sombra E O Detalhe), bits of field recordings and manipulated vocals. His third release for the UK label Assembly Field, A Vida Que Deixei De Ver Nos Seus Olhos comes right after two of his greatest masterpieces, Gone Again, Haunted Again (Aurora Borealis) and Senses (Unknown Tone), and yet it doesn't disappoint. Not a bit.

Translated from Portuguese, the album title - "The Life I Can No Longer See In Your Eyes" - shows its intentions quite clearly, as well as track names like The Velvety Shelter Of Misery (almost a proper song, with Cocteau-Twinesque layers of dreamlike vocals floating within the humming and crackling drones and field recordings of a passing train), Era Só Um Ciclo, Terminou E Foda-se - "Just One Cycle, Finished And Fucked" - or Hora De Crescer (De Novo) - "Time To Grow (Again)". Gimu seems to have been through some painful changes in his life lately and the music on this new album translates this shakiness and frailty into sound with a crushing sincerity, from the swarming and seismic elegy of Era Só Um Ciclo, Terminou E Foda-se to the hypnotic arpeggiators of the melancholic closing track Abre!, whose retro-futuristic and rainy atmosphere somehow recalls one of the best scenes of the original Blade Runner movie.

Bleak and yet filled with the remnants of happier times (O Acaso Via TV), celestial and simultaneously massive and menacing like a scud of thunderclouds (Cerração), buzzing harshly over a background of delicate inner choirs (Atrás Do Tom) or slowly and violently disintegrating like radio waves crashing into solar eruptions on Hora De Crescer (De Novo), A Vida Que Deixei De Ver Nos Seus Olhos conveys the same visceral intensity blended into visionary experiments as Tim Hecker's or Fennesz' best works, 10 to 20 years ago, or Lawrence English's pinnacle Wilderness of Mirrors. A truely impressive experience of shattered emotions, fleshly experiments and cosmological magnitude, and one of the highlights of 2018 in music. Let's hope it finally gets this amazing artist the acknowledgement he deserves.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

My favourite music artists of the 10s : #77 - Kreng

Definitely one of the most impressive composers from Erik K Skodvin's excellent dark label Miasmah, even if Kreng's best work to date, L'Autopsie Phénoménale De Dieu, narrowly missed the decade, Grimoire alone would almost have been enough for Belgian musician Pepijn Caudron to secure a spot on this list, with its esoteric mixture of piano/strings based dark ambient, percussive horror-like imaginary soundtracks, darkjazz wishcraft and droning phantasmagorias, utterly frightening and filled at the same time with the infinite sadness of eternal damnation.

However, the compilation of theatrical and TV soundtracks Works for Abattoir Fermé 2007-2011, alternately haunting, distressing, sorrowful and over-the-top, was another must-have, and the beautifully dreadful The Summoner, an ode to deceased friends made of harrowing low-frequency drones, fateful doom guitars (on the title-track featuring metal band Amenra), resigned piano chords and Penderecki-like swarming strings, increased again the range of his roller coaster crescendos.

A sense of contrast pushed even further on his last soundtrack to date for the movie Camino, a quite preposterous but visually interesting survival flick set in the Columbian jungle where a photo reporter tries to escape a bunch of fake missionaries after she captured the truth about their traffic. From the modern classical sensitiveness turning ambiguous and haunted, to the dissonant string and brass menace, through drone shivers, funereal organ, synthetic anthems and the nighmarish bursts of electro-industrial tension during the chase scenes, Kreng did a great job managing to bend the picture's requirements to his own musical obsessions and textured pits of darkness, magnifying this B-movie' atmosphere like only a few composers like Morricone would have been able to.

Lately, Pepijn Caudron teamed up with like-minded German musician Yair Elazar Glotman to assemble the late Jóhann Jóhannsson's posthumous soundtrack for the action/horror thriller Mandy starring Nicolas Cage and featuring Sunn O))) on guitar, released last month... but what i'm really hoping for is a follow-up to The Summoner before the end of the decade, to make me regret not having put him much higher on this list !

Friday, 5 October 2018

My 10 favourite French-language "pop" albums of the 00s - part 1 of 2

Those years 2000 to 2009 have been such a blast for French-language music, i had to rule out blue chips like Bashung, Keren Ann, Françoiz Breut, Miossec, Valérie Leulliot, Les Hurleurs, AS Dragon, Mathieu Boogaerts and many more. I also chose to focus on a more pop side, putting aside hip hop (Monsieur Saï, Psykick Lyrikah, Non-Stop, Rocé), noisy rock (Expérience, New Paulette Orchestra) and experimental music (Programme/Arnaud Michniak, or Zero Degré somewhere between post-rock, electronica and spoken word). Noir Désir's last and best album was somewhere in the middle and will be absent from that list as well. I hope you'll enjoy that short selection nonetheless !

Bonus : Vincent Delerm - Kensington Square (2004)

Not a fan of Delerm's successful Rive Gauche songwriting filled with intellectual name-dropping and humoristic overdescription of the daily routine of relationships, but between his piano-based first album and the more arranged pop songs of Les piqûres d'araignée, Kensington Square unveiled a sorrowful side still unmatched since in his music, influenced by Neil Hannon and his Divine Comedy. Natation synchronisée, Deutsche Grammophon - a duet with the graceful actress Irène Jacob - and Veruca Salt et Frank Black (with Keren Ann and Dominique A - see the second entry of this 2-part selection) ensure the continuity of lightness and casualness but Le baiser Modiano whose string arrangements and lyrics would make a heart of stone break into tears, the jazzy and moody Évreux, Anita Pettersen and the painful title track Kensington Square remain the real highlights of this album and Delerm's entire discography.

10. Martin Angor - Martin Angor (2009)

Within that selection, this one probably has the most ties with Anglo-Saxon indie pop. Only solo LP from David Martin, former Lucie Cries (gothic coldwave) and C++ (retro Frenchpop with electronic sounds), Martin Angor mainly draws influences from the later (cf. Dans ta bouche), despite the use of post-punk drum machines and hypnotic basslines (Je suis en promotion). From the Epicurian existentialism of the acoustic lullaby Je voudrais quelque chose to the warlike romantic hit AK-47 with its flood of electric riffs, through the colourful predatory courtship of Le garçon, the album handles an absurd and crude poetry made of oniric recollections of childhood (the synthpop gem Mon vélo), bitterness of time passing (Les jours étranges) and decaying relationships (the cristalline and bittersweet twee pop of Si la lumière change), revealing sentimental and sexual ambiguities (Sombre disco) and resentment (the Gainsbourg-influenced closing track La femme transparente) without any modesty or shame, which is even more pleasing to hear nowadays.

9. Arnaud Fleurent-Didier - Portrait du jeune homme en artiste (2004)

Quite discrete for 8 years since the release of his latest album, the inconsistent but endearing La Reproduction (2009), bittersweet and sometimes ironic hymn to his family's philosophical genetics and their commonly dysfonctional communication, Arnaud Fleurent-Didier surfaced again last year as an actor playing his own self in the movie Bonheur académie for which he also composed the soundtrack. Listening to his previous and best release, Portrait du jeune homme en artiste, it would be easy to categorize the Parisian songwriter as the typical socially advantaged "bobo" artist struggling with wealthy young man's "problems" like self-image (Ce que les gens disent de moi), artistic success (the humorous Mon disque dort) and existential questioning (Vivre autrement). However, with his falsely light-hearted and deeply ill-fated acoustics, vocal harmonies and orchestrations inherited from Michel Legrand, his compelling rounded basslines and the heartbreaking desillusions hidden behind the fake candor of his lyrics (Le XXIème arrondissement de Paris), Fleurent-Didier, sincerely obsessed with art (Les poètes ont quitté Paris), French Touch synthetic vibes (Rock critique) and the politics of relationships (Je voterai pour toi), carries this haunting sense of daily life tragedy made of boredom (Emploi du temps), regret (En vieillissant peut-être) and fear of change (A l'ombre des jeunes filles en pleurs) able to transcend his vocal mannerism at all times.

8. Pierre Lapointe - La forêt des mal-aimés (2006)

Probably the only musician both still active and consistantly great on that entire list, the Quebecois songwriter even surpassed this second album and first masterpiece, with Punkt in 2013 maybe and most definitely with the shamelessly tormented and depressed La science du cœur last year. From orchestral soundtracks (the title track with its ghostly harmonies and twisted harpsichord nodding to Danny Elfman's gothic scores for Tim Burton's movies) to 60s french pop (Deux par deux rassemblés), from western folk (Au nom des cieux galvanisés and its Morricone-esque choir) to piano ballads (Tous les visages, Au 27-100 rue des Partances), from heartbreaking instrumentals (the interludes 25-1-14-14 and 25-1-14-14-16) to some kind of shapeshifting electronic retro-pop Bertrand Burgalat could have made (Qu’en est-il de la chance ?), La forêt des mal-aimés was back in 2006 my entry door to Lapointe's playful yet desperate songwriting and his quite bleak take on relationships. A personal classic.

My review in French at the time.

7. Julien Ribot - Vega (2008)

Ribot's previous concept album La métamorphose de Caspar Dix (2004), considered by many as his masterpiece, probably could have made that list, half the tracks already showcasing that unique blend of surreal romance, outer space melancholia and oniric maximalism, but i must admit being a little bit less fond of its funky synthetic side, compared to the perfect Vega, his third long play and last to date. Tangy female harmonies (Le rêve de Tokyo) and retro-futuristic bedroom pop arrangements (La chambre renversée) float above haunting piano melodies (1982), epic cavalcades (Vega Part. II) and comforting vocals (Les jardins de Boboli, fantastic duet where Julien Ribot and Annabelle Jouot's loving empathy allow them to sing what each other is feeling). Julien's voice is here as its greatest, purest, most natural bittersweetness (Nouveau chimpanzé), the instrumental interludes are either out-of-this world musical fairy tales (Interlude hypnotique) or heartbreaking piano laments (Musique pour un éventail qui bat au ralentit) and even the Gainsbourg-like emphasis of Amour City works as an irresistible ode to the ambiguous excesses of love.

6. Laurent Barbin - Depuis la chambre (2009)

Named after his short-lived label responsible for Martin Angor's eponymous album reviewed above, this first and last recording from French photographer, graphic designer and traveler Laurent Barbin remains the worthiest legacy Dominique A's lo-fi beginnings ever begetted. Dreary drum machines and naked idiphones, crude and opaque poems about couples' decline, depression and existential mess, a sorrowful and edgy voice singing over somber and minimalistic loops of electric guitars and electro-acoustic arrangements... Barbin's musical idiom is nonetheless far more personal and idiosyncratic than that, evoking at times some kind of folky drum'n'bass (Entre la cuisine et la chambre, Une photographie), syncopated slowcore (Les filles), morbid techno (Les amoureuses), diseased americana (L'île), glitched acoustics (La paix) or gothic trip-hop (La vie est belle and its short breaks of lyrical, Ratatat-friendly, synthetic guitars). A truely unique record, and definitely not a joyful one but in periods of need it beats a bottle of whisky every time.

My review in French at the time.

To be continued...

Monday, 1 October 2018

Splinters of white noise and toxic punk from hell for Wizards Tell Lies and Lenina

I don't know the first thing about Lenina and couldn't find any info about her/him/them, but if Wizards Tell Lies doesn't share much about himself either, i have been familiar with his music long enough now to find my way around the mystery of the three forestry avatars - a fox, and owl and a hart - allegedly responsible for that dark and esoteric blend of post-rock, noise, drone and electronics, sometimes infused with elements of darkjazz or psychedelia.

Digitally distributed for free by Scottish label Herhalen, this split album follows the harsh path of the three-headed man behind the curtain Matt Bower's previous record Bad Nature published last april by Muteant Sounds, a nightmarish masterpiece of martial and doomy noise music - which i reviewed here in French - flirting with Skullflower (aka another "Matthew Bower", by some twisted trick of fate) and Justin K. Broadrick's most hellish projects. With maybe less massive drumming and more splinters of white noise sucking all the air out of our lungs, especially on Lenina opening and closing harsh beasts, two nefarious crescendos of pure sizzling abrasion.

On the first of his three tracks, Wizards Tell Lies invites a cellist, Simon McCorry, but make no mistake here, No I To No So has nothing to do with a walk in the park, more with a long, dissonant, nerve-wracking descent into the abyss of a very obscure deep-sea trench, 8 minutes of intensely disquieting dark ambient immediately shaken by the roaring harsh noise of In the Hive of the Lies Mind, filled with buzzing black light, cymbal drones and massive implosions of lo-fi drums. Finally, just as heavy, droning and larsening, Rip Obsolete is probably the pit of this whole underworld of toxic anti-rock, a true epic of punkish noise oozing of damned howls and lovecraftian synths.

 Brothers, the musical Leviathan of 2018 is at our door !

Sunday, 30 September 2018

My favourite music artists of the 10s : #78 - Christoph Berg (Field Rotation)

If nothing seems to match in my heart the initial strike of Field Rotation's second album Acoustic Tales 7 years ago, whose haunting cello harmonies, plucked strings and organ, disrupted by pulsated beats and elegiac drones, carried a profound, almost fateful sense of despair, the Berliner Christoph Berg never disappointed since then, from the hazy daydreams of And Tomorrow I Will Sleep (2011) to the recent suite for strings Conversations recorded last year under his own name, refined masterpiece of grief and regrets, but also hope for dialogue and reconnexion.

In the meantime, critical success really came with Fatalist: The Repetition of History, his third release for the acclaimed german label Denovali, one of the greatest purveyors of atmospheric instrumental music this decade. Eerie chants, mournful piano and ill-fated string arrangements underlying a sentiment of existential mystery and tragedy of destiny make it another pinnacle in Christoph Berg's sparse but essential discography, a nightly soundtrack of gloom and menace that could have been a great fit for Twin Peaks' movie or second season.

However, Day Has Ended along with cellist Aaron Martin (From the Mouth of the Sun) unveiled that same year (2013) a more melancholic and bittersweet aspect of that nocturnal mood, and more recently, Bei, a collaboration with German pianist Henning Schmiedt, showed on Japanese label flau that Berg's music didn't have to carry such weight all the time, with its relatively peaceful - even hopeful on occasions - collection of chamber music compositions.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Altrice, from electronic dreamer to instrumental hip-hop storyteller

Revealed at the dawn of the decade by his inspired remixes for Radiohead and Caribou and sadly forgotten right away, Altrice had pushed the exercise to its limits, recreating Dan Snaith's entire album Swim in 2011. Stem, as a result, was quite an impressive and personal work of dreamlike and atmospheric nature, full of dark corners and evanescent textures.

However, I didn't follow that closely the Tucson-based beatmaker since the equally beautiful and haunting EP Fell released the following year, which gave him plenty of time to make his sound evolve through a handful of EPs and mixtapes from baroque electronica to evocative instrumental hip-hop.

thhf '18 set seems to be inspired by a Turkish tale, not far from Perrault or the brothers Grimm, about three young boys warned by their mother not to venture into the forest, a story for which the EP would be some kind of imaginary soundtrack. Beautiful loops of sampled eastern strings, deep bass and syncopated beats accompany the narrative on the opener once there was, and quickly the tension increases, a heavy breathing underlying the similarly loud trap-ish drum patterns of and twice there wasn't.

Fate, from a sneaky flute, seems to be lurking around this family of three brothers and after the polyphonic chamber wandering of big one, the menace is unveiled by in-the-middle with its horror-like sound effects and murky synths... the Witch enters the stage and teeny-tiny "the littlest one" only owes his salvation to his agility to dodge deep pulses and fluttering cuts, escaping through the serpentine boom bap of every day, their mother said.

Finally, the arabian melancholia of "you can play anywhere in the village..." comes as a relief for the brotherhood. Or was it all an eerie dream like the closing track "...but do not go into the forest." and its last phantasmagoria fading into the light appear to imply ? That EP sure was for the listener, and a quite enjoyable one !

Sunday, 23 September 2018

My favourite music artists of the 10s : #79 - Monade

Second entry in that end-of-the-decade early overview, i must clarify a few points already. Firstly, the ranking doesn't mean that much, after #40 maybe, a hundred names could have come up right there, at the #41 mark... barely a personal impression at that given moment. Moreover, plenty of still active all-time favourites of mine have been left out for various reasons : Björk, Massive Attack, Tortoise, Radiohead, Tim Hecker, Jim O'Rourke, Sigur Rós, Aphex Twin, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, múm, Alva Noto, Tindersticks, Max Richter, Deerhoof... an excruciating enumeration really. And finally, music artists with only one longform release since 2010 had no chance to appear, even Phoenecia whose incredible Demissions is simply my favourite album of the 10s so far (their Miami-based imprint of mutant IDM will be represented, though).

Moving on...

Not to be confused with the excellent post-rock side-project of Stereolab's vocalist Laetitia Sadier, Monade aka Roberto Donato is an italian beatmaker, perhaps the greatest regular contributor to the tragically overlooked Xtraplex Records, one of my favourite IDM and experimental electronic labels of the decade.

With the two beautiful and highly atmospheric tracks, made of pulsating beats, oniric textures and moody piano, that he recorded for compilations curated by both my French websites IRM and Des Cendres à la Cave (actually, half the musicians from that list took part to at least one of those, and i am quite grateful for that), i could very well have a soft spot for the guy. But with 5 albums in half a decade already, including at least three impressive ones, my admiration for Monade goes far beyond that, starting with the futuristic and shapeshifting Pt#9 from 6 years ago.

Equally synthetic and somatic, haunted and dreamlike, dark and melancholic, mutant and melodic, Monade's tracks infuse their electronic destructurations with anxious phantasmagorias, recalling the finest hours of Warp Records, with more and more focus on splintering rythms, deep ambient textures and organic clicks and cuts since Own Your Ghost (2013), an evolution culminating the following year with Puni's fascinating cybernetic mitosis, life emerging from a technological void and expanding, invading its synthetic substrate to merge with it and take over... probably his best release to date.