ALBUM REVIEWS ROUNDUP/Dominic Valvona

Dr. Joy  ‘Dr. Joy’
(Idée Fixe) 17th September 2021

As with most polygenesis imbued projects attributed to the highly prolific Matthew ‘Doc’ Dunn you’re in for an amorphous, unburdened trip of the cosmic and often exotic. Appearing under numerous guises, in various forms, Dunn has instigated the Cosmic Range Canadian super group and collaborated with everyone on that country’s ultra hip underground scene (from Slim Twig and Meg Remy to Andy Haas and Carl Didur). He’s become a catalyst for so much of the great music making its way out of Toronto in the last decade. For this communal smorgasbord of musical ideas he’s joined up with that city’s psychedelic troupe Dr. Joy.

Bonding over a shared love of art, philosophy, film and, of course, music, the mutually agreeable partners have produced an assemblage of tripping psych, prog, krautrock and cult soundtracks for their debut collaborative album. Though the emphasis, as indeed the attribution of the album, leans towards the Joy part of that partnership.

Just like the artwork, a collage of acid smiley badge headed comic book action heroes, an exploding planet, galactic skull and the grill of some olds mobile, the sounds are just as much a luminous scrapbook of congruous influences. The album opens with the prog-rock (with shades of Ariel Kalma and Mythos) melodica wafting prism of pastel colours, ‘Weeping Façade’, and is immediately followed by the languorous sung, dreamy song merger of The Bees, Mercury Rev and a psychedelic Pretty Things ‘No Deal’

Vague echoes of global tuning, scales and ceremony can be heard throughout: spindled and tine thumbed touches of West Africa and the Orient.

Despite its trippy gauze and often-spiritual astral plane illusions, the partnership is often on the move musically. ‘Pale Satin’ for instance features a wept mirage of cosmic cowboy country, cult library music and Santana’s electric guitar – which sometimes sounds like a rearing horse! You could be in obscure psychedelic South America, or on a hallucinogenic Tex-Mex border. ‘Signed, The Body Electric’ rattles and shakes with mushroom ritual grooves that don’t sound a million miles away from The Stone Roses (via Can), and the mellotron-like trip ‘Midtown’ brought to mind Sakamoto & Robin Scott’s The Arrangement: if not a far more strung-out version. Curtain call, ‘River Story’, could be a magical union of Alice Coltrane, Laraaji and The Holydrug Couple.

Once more Dunn gets to let the sonic mind wander as Dr. Joy weave a rich tapestry of the spiritual and far out. It feels like an untethered pilgrimage in kool-aid drunken psychedelia; well produced assemblage of ideas and the imagination. And above all, seldom dull.

 

You may also like this:

The Cosmic Range  ‘New Latitudes’ (2016)

The Mining Co. ‘Phenomenology’
(PinDrop Records) 1st October 2021

Floating his usual brand of country-laced cathartic heartache towards deep space, storyteller, singer-songwriter Michael Gallagher goes in search of a new musical direction on his new songbook, Phenomenology. That country ached burr persists but the Americana is now of an entirely different stripe: more cosmic cowboy then prairie troubadour abroad in County Donegal.

Sprinkling space dust over the pains and sufferings of the human condition, Gallagher leaves terra firma for a tender, drifting cinematic drama in the universal: What better way to escape the pandemic and ills of a hostile world then to leave it behind for the unknown in space. Well, to a point anyway. A loosely based concept album, Phenomenology is in part a lyrical narration, but also the alternative soundtrack to John Carpenter’s 1974 cult sci-fi movie Dark Star.  That iconic film tells the story of a beleaguered crew looking to escape the tedium of their mission destroying unstable planets that could threaten the future colonisation of other stable, life-bringing ones. Now in its twentieth year, with weary crew of misfortunates, the mission is becoming increasing dangerous as the spaceship around them rapidly malfunctions.

During a period of such message-driven eco and philosophical quandary (see Douglas Trumbull’s 1972 debut, Silent Running), Dark Star featured a sort of return-to-the-stars-merged plot in which two of the characters, the Californian surfer buddy Doolittle and accidently jettisoned Talby, find their inevitable final resting places amongst the starry fabric when one of the planet-exploding detonators they use blows up the ship: Doolittle in silver surfer mode clings to a surfboard shaped piece of debris as he falls fatefully towards his maker, whilst Talby floats off towards the Phoenix Asteroids that he’s grown fond of from afar. That affinity and poetic death proves rich with metaphors; and so you have ‘Talby Drift’ (drifting proves to be just one of the leitmotifs on this album) and Talby at one with the cosmos, on both ‘Beatify’ and the ‘Universal Son’

Yet amongst all the infinite space, Gallagher looks back occasionally at Earth’s lamentable cast of heartbroken and struggling characters. I believe there’s a second loose story that runs in tandem on songs like the opening car-crash meeting ‘Unexpected’.

To soundtrack this cosmic and earthly plaint, Gallagher experiments with a transfer to the electronic. Beautifully, occasionally ominous, the usual American is edged towards chillwave, new wave and yacht rock. Now usually played in a minimal and highly atmospheric manner, with accentuate and vaporous synths and only a little acoustic and electric guitar, this new direction proves very fruitful. Chromatics, Moroder, Marvel83 and The Cars converge with the Eels, Mike Gale, early to mid 70s Beach Boys (honestly, listen carefully), the Magnetic Fields and Lukas Creswell-Rost.

There’s drama, a certain languid inevitability of fate, chimed and twinkled rays and the odd bit of distortion (the album’s most heavy dark arts scowled ‘IWBHM’; the theme of which is about a child who dreams of being a heavy metal star that worships the ‘devil’) on a mostly free-floating songbook of brilliantly crafted songwriting. Gallagher, at least detached a little, remote a touch behind the Mining Co. guise, surprises with the electronic move; creating a whole new strata to showcase his craft. Phenomenology could yet be the storyteller’s best, most creative move and album yet.           

Further Reading:

PREM: The Mining Co. ‘Long Way To Christmas’ (2019)

The Mining Co. ‘Frontier’ (2019)

Catherine Graindorge ‘Eldorado’
(tak:til/Glitterbeat Records) 1st October 2021

Photo Credit: Elie Rabinovitch

Travelling across both the harrowing and more aching ebb and flows of a European landscape in crisis, the violinist, violist and composer Catherine Graindorge measures the emotional tides of the pandemic epoch with depth and sophisticated articulation.

Creatively delayed by the death of her father in 2015, but also by numerous scores for films and theatre, collaborations with Nick Cave and Mark Lanegan, and various albums with her trio, and one with Hugo Race, the adroit Belgian artist is only just now, almost a decade later, releasing a follow up to the solo debut album The Secret Of Us All. A lot has happened in that time of emotional anxiety and stress. Channeling that well swell of emotions, touching upon her own experiences in regard to welcoming and helping to re-home those escaping both poverty and genocide, Graindorge’s effective new soundtrack features an exceptional atmospheric, sonorous, disturbing and plaintive cooed tribute to the survivors of the Rwanda genocide; ached expressive longings for “Eldorado”; and sorrowful haunted memories.

‘Rosalie’, the first of those evocative pulls, opens the new album of brooding chamber music and experimental suites with diaphanous apparition like voices and breathing, rippled buzzing harmonium and pained yearning. The title’s subject escaped the horror of Rwanda’s darkest hour with her husband in the mid 90s to find refuge in northern Europe. A connection was made however when she came into contact with Graindorge’s late lawyer father. The remains of her family killed in the raging bloodbath were lost until 2019, when Rosalie returned to her homeland to bury them. Three days after returning to her new home Rosalie’s “heart stopped”. This then is both a saddened form of remembrance, a process of marking that existence and trauma, but also meant as a celebration of a life: now immortalized in music. It’s a deeply moving testament to grief.

The album’s title conjures up all sorts of historical, fabled images of lost cities of gold; metaphorical, allegorical utopias and dreams, but also the foibles of chasing something that doesn’t exist. Drawn further and further on a fool’s errand into the South American interior, the magical, paved with riches city had eluded the Conquistadors, and continues to elude everyone since. Graindorge alludes to a more personal vision, which could be read as a far simpler analogy for escapism and a safe refuge in tumultuous times. Most ambitiously, this search is nothing less than the quest for a better world. 

Graindorge and her producer John Parish, who also offers up a mix of stressed, wrangled and contoured guitar, scores a distraught wailed vision of that mythical goal, which at times – especially with the off-kilter ad hoc, feeling about jazzy and avant-garde drum kit of splashes, serial hits – reminded me of Tony Conrad & Faust’s Outside The Dream Factory union.

The only obvious reference, title-wise, to these unprecedented times and its effects is made on the harmonium droned and deep, bass-y foreboding ‘Lockdown’. Graindorge stuck in Belgium as the first lockdown took hold was unable to make it to Parish’s studio in London for the mixes. To “relieve confinement” Graindorge and her daughter would visit and play (social distancing and adhering to the rules of course) to an audience in various nursing homes. On this reification of that altruistic time there’s hints of Jed Kurzel, Anne Müller and John Cale to mull over.

Each instrumental (apart from ghostly woos and a French narration) will evoke personal imagery and scenes; the resonated traces of what was; and the reverberations of past dramas. Graindorge used slides from 1959 that she’d collected form her grandmother after she died as visual prompts for the album, so its no wonder. This is all achieved with much élan and with the desire to express the travails and darkness as well as the light through transportive moods and ghostly visitations.

As a nod to one influence in particular, the album closes with a dreamy Another Green World like tribute to Brian Eno. On a sea of ambient and ether drifts this curtain call is the album’s most serene piece of solace, contemplation on a work of harrowing and mysterious (bordering on the esoteric) stirrings.

Eldorado reimagines the scope, perimeters of the viola and violin on a troubled but also personal slow release of richly brooding and heart yearned memories. It’s nothing less than a completely immersive, intense soundtrack, and for that matter one of the year’s highlights: A real work of quality that leaves a lasting emotional effect.

Andrew Heath  ‘New Eden’
(Disco Gecko)  17th September 2021

Across a venerable landscape of light emitting environments, the ambient and contemporary classical composer Andrew Heath reacts to unprecedented times with the most languid of soundtracks. Indeed, wherever light falls, whether that’s upon the pews in an empty church or in the derelict ruins of some glade, Heath captures it on his latest collection of suites for the Disco Gecko label.

Very much the experienced artist in the ambient arena, collaborating no less with Roedelius, the adroit composer takes his time in revealing peaceful states of mind on a journey of escapism. The destination is ‘eden’: or as near as sonically possible. Getting very close to that entitled destination, the opening suite grows in volume across ten-minutes of heavenly-spindled chimes and diaphanous warm fronts. Stained-glass light softly and slowly touches upon every part of a low humming church organ on ‘Faith’ – which we now need in droves if we’re ever to survive this current nightmare.

Though I may have made it sound as if these places are all devoid of company, ambiguous touches of laughter, movement and preparation together with nature’s chorus are absorbed into the subtle fabric of Heath’s incipient compositions.

Heath’s signature singular and serial style of light, minimalistic playing is all present and correct, but there’s some nicely alongside abstract guitar gestures, rings and drifts too. Just throwing it out there, but the guitar on ‘You’ reminds me a little of Myles Cochran.

Sometimes you get a vague sonic narrative, with tracks obscuring interactions and scenes. It sometimes sounds like Heath is playing the piano in the shower, or thumbing through yellowed parchments. There’s also a lot of walking about, mostly in tight leather stretched, creaking shoes, and across gauzy-laced fields. And so it does feel like a sort of gentle trek/journey away from the grey and towards a soft light. Once again the master of “small-case minimalism” quietly conjures up escapism and mystery, signposting the way to a “new Eden” of a sort.

Further Reading:

Andrew Heath ‘The Alchemist’s Muse’ (2020)

Toby Marks & Andrew Heath ‘Motion’ (2019)

Andrew Heath ‘Evenfall’ (2018)

Andrew Heath  ‘Soundings’ (2017)

Roedelius, Chaplin & Heath  ‘Triptych In Blue’ (2017)

Headboggle  ‘Digital Digital Analog’
(Ratskin Records)  24th September 2021

Quite happy it seems transmitting the optimistic explorations of a retro-futuristic synthesized world into a contemporary age, Derek Gedalecia (the maverick human behind the Headboggle moniker) has immense fun exploring the possibilities of the iconic Prophet polyphonic synthesizer. Channeling two decades worth of mischief and invention, Gedalecia releases a most ambitious sprawling album of quirky and cosmic cathedral library music, kosmische and transmogrified electronic soundtracks for the Oakland based Ratskin Records imprint.

Making good and expanding upon the one-minute suites and vignettes of the previous Polyphonic Demo set, the Digital Digital Analog album (a reversed play on the conventional ‘shorthand’ method of originally producing and recording music for the CD format) stretches the perimeters further.

Whilst previously favouring a improvised method or arrangement, the outer limit oddities on this 24 track album are more refined. In practice that means being transported to a plastic popping acid squelched symphonic dream world in which Raymond Scott joined The Yellow Magic Orchestra; Bruno Spoerii was reborn as the Aphex Twin; and a GX1 era Rick Van Der Linden played classical piano for the Galactic Supermarket. This is a both mysterious and cheeky album of synthesised heavenly music, strange burbled soups, Atari ST and Amiga computer game music, preset libraries, Vangelis fanfares, reimagined Kraftwerkian melodies and weird warped stirrings of Sky Records peregrinations.

Cleaner lines and crystal, almost pure, sound waves sparkle amongst fuzzier, fizzled effects and sharper, sometimes piercing, angular rays. Sci-fi phantasm sits alongside visions of Fluxus avant-garde pianist’s programming a robot, off-world thrillers and psychedelic synth pinball machine music on an idiosyncratic collage of filed influences: Believe it or not the album was, in part, inspired by Gedalecia’s studies of ragtime and, the more believable, classical.

The Prophet synth has its work cut out as it’s sent into outer space, to more foreboding realms, and to trippy planes of kooky chimed warbled magic.  A masterful sophisticated setting loose of expectations, Gedalecia’s screened Headboggle project playfully expands horizons and goes for broke in the synthesizer maverick stakes.

Niklas Wandt  ‘Solar Müsil’
(Bureau B)  17th September 2021

Like most of us either forced or choosing to use the lockdowns as an opportunity to rediscover our immediate environments, to take a pause and appreciate the simpler joys in a restricted climate, drummer-percussionist, producer, radio journo and DJ Niklas Wandt suddenly found his hectic live schedule cut suddenly short.

With no choice but to take this break away from his preferred method of live improvisation, the musical polymath hankered down to accept this as a period of contemplation. However, though the idea of fixing any specific performance, series of compositions on a recording didn’t feel right at first. Despite this Wandt found a semi-improvised method, and way of working, for this new solo (though various friends on the scene help out) album. It feels anyway like a musical journey that could go anywhere: even travelling in directions that prove surprising for its creator.

Schooled in jazz, psychedelia and, later on, electronica, the host of the WDR3 Jazz & World music programme Wandt’s tastes could be considered eclectic. His CV includes live performances with Oracles and Stabil Elite, collaborations with Wolf Müller, and the Neuzeitliche Bodenbeläge duo with Joshua Gottmanns. With that all in mind you can expect the musical range to be wide.

A display of untethered, incipient and rhythmic breakouts on various drum and percussive apparatus travels through leftfield electronica pop, jazz-fusion, prog and the kooky; all through a sort of kosmische/krautrock lens on an album that seems to be constantly on the move. Even with a free-roaming mind and myriad of influences, this half-narrated journey is an enigma, a puzzle that takes on so many surprising turns. It’s a conceptual futuristic jazz album on one hand, Neue Deutsche Welle on the other. This is a world of the organic and synthesized; machine and dreamy cosmic traverses; starry visions and tubular moonbeams; percussive experiments and chamber string augmentation. The languages used change from German to English to Spanish and back again: the only voice I could understand was the sleepless wistful female English poetry on the hallucinogenic Cosmic Range funking-jazz turn mirror pop ‘Durch den Spalt’ (“through the gap”). 

Satellites and refractive rays bounce around in a Faust and Gurumaniax cosmology on the album’s solar-flared ‘Der Gläaerne Tag’ (“the glass day”), whilst Wandt magic’s up a weird exotic quirk of the YMO and mid 80s Sakamoto on the progressive-lilt apparition ‘Lo Spettro’ (“the ghost”). In between both worlds and the sense, Wandt ‘drums up’ a most unexpected journey that defies categorisation on his Solar Müsil album; a sonic nomad just travelling where the spark of creativity, mood and improvisational ingenuity happens to take him.

Ulrich Schnauss & Mark Peters ‘Destiny Waiving’
(Bureau B)  24th September 2021

Completing an expletory trilogy that began a decade ago, the congruous sonic musical project that first brought the renowned electronic artist Ulrich Schnauss and the Engineers guitarist Mark Peters together on the Underrated Silence album in 2011, continues with a third installment: Destiny Waiving. Although it must be pointed out that the majority of the material, in part made up by improvisational sets played across London, Dublin and Birmingham (at the city’s St. James’ Church as part of the Seventh Wave electronica festival), was pretty much laid down and formalized back in 2017: the same year Peter’s debut acclaimed solo album, Innerland, was released. The final mixes weren’t however picked up and finished until last year, and though there’s nothing to suggest it the restrictions of the pandemic couldn’t have helped to get this album out into the world at large.

Those familiar with both musicians will know that their pathways have crisscrossed on various occasions, with Schnauss, a solo artist of great repute and a member of a rejuvenated Tangerine Dream since 2014, even going as far as to join Peter’s shoegaze indie band the Engineers. A voiceless, wordless extension in some ways of that band’s slow burning brilliance (I bloody love the group’s 2005 single ‘Forgiveness’), but totally unburdened by it, the music is expansive, dreamy and often beautifully starry. 

Said to be the partnerships most focused and concise album yet, concentrated on some suites by the societal commentary referenced titles, Destiny Waiving still feels very much free to roam tonal and uncoupled evocative possibilities. Almost weightless in fact, despite some deeper guitar iterations and repeated synthesised waves.

Hints of Schnauss’ iconic German comrades in kosmische and soundtrack innovation, hints of Tangerine Dream can be heard in the cosmic sentiments of his melodic and arpeggiator palette alongside touches of Vangelis enormity, various polygons and quirks, and occasional kinetic beats. Peters on his part offers a subtle but effective array of trundled and spun electric guitar lines, and concentric resonated vibrations. I’m not sure what’s going on with the cosmological ‘Speak In Capitals’, but Peters seems to have borrowed some Talk Talk guitar melody: and why not?! They both create a rich mood board together that gently builds towards post-rock, neo-classical and dreamy kosmische type dramas and bliss. Searching for answers, expressing disillusion, this partnership escape by contouring open panoramas and the enormity of it all. It’s a real special album that captures both artist’s craft and sagacious low-burning deliverance.  

Psycho & Plastic ‘Soundtrack 2: Pappel’
(GiveUsYourGOLD) Out Now

A welcome coalesce of past techno pop and kosmische investigations and grooves – from the International Pony dances with Der Plan aboard a space station Kosmopop album to the ambience of Placid House –, the second purpose-made soundtrack from the Berlin duo is their most remarkable progression and transition yet.

Commissioned by the award-winning author Dalibos Marković to create an original soundtrack for his debut novel Pappel, the electronic partnership and label co-founders Alexandre Decoupigny and Thomas Tichai rose to the challenge with a sophisticated, evocative and lower-case cinematic beauty.

Nothing less than a 150-year spanning journey’s worth of German history and a Kafka-esque tree-turn-human protagonist to use as inspiration, the possibilities could have been endless. Amon Düül II of course tried it, making a Krautrock opera out of a similar epoch – from the eventual founding of a united empire dominated by a victorious Prussia after the success of their war with France in the 1870s, to the hundred year long exodus of the German speaking population to the Americas, looking for a new Eden or escaping religious persecution, and the harrowing specter of the two World Wars. Soundtrack 2 couldn’t be more different. I’ve not had the chance to read the source literature, but its central character’s birth, life experiences seem to act as some sort of metaphor for that cannon of history.

‘Die Bäume’ (or “The Tree”) is the opener, the birth if you will of the story. Accented and attuned with a suite of field recordings and a progressive-kosmische score, we’re taken from under the forest canopy in which Pappel is born to realization. The very fibers and growth of the woodland is accompanied with an immersion of nature’s soundtrack and crisp fizzled cells; superseded later on by an almost supernatural vision of Sven Vath and Klaus Schulze – there’s even an elegant, nice dapple of Roedelius style serial piano at the end.

This moves into a half jazzy version of Nils Frahm joining forces with Manuel Göttsching on the dreamy ‘Wunsch Indianer zu Werder’ (“Desire to become a Indian”): a really lovely mysterious soundtrack into the heart of darkness. Passenger liner bound for ‘Amerika’ traverses an out-of-time plaintive and foreboding sea, whilst the pace, sound steps up into a semi-modern German version of Kavinsky’s Drive score and Moroder on the Euro-neon pulsed ‘Auf der Galeris’ (“On the gallery”).

Each track equating directly to a chapter in the book, sonically and musically tells a story, matching the scenes and atmospheres. A both intimate and outwardly searching soundtrack of intelligently placed techno, Cluster style ambience and beautifully descriptive melodies, this is, as I’ve already said, the duo’s most progressive if not best work yet. They build upon past excursions, experiments with a richer than ever palette, and prove that the soundtrack genre is very much where they should be.

VIDEO PREMIERE
Dominic Valvona 




The Mining Co. ‘Long Way To Christmas’
(Taken from the recently released Three Kings EP on Pindrop Records)


Following in the wake of his recent heart-pranged and peaceable country-laced Frontier LP, Michael Gallagher, under the Mining Co. moniker, has a crack at nailing the Christmas EP. Bringing in equal measures both nostalgic hazy recollections and more saddening ruminations, Gallagher channels a Donegal vision of Johnny Mathis, Lee Hazlewood, E, and that synonymous craftsman of despondent novelty hits Jona Lewie into a seasonal collection of easy listening and country honed sentiment.

Seasoned as much by those homely Christmases’ in Donegal as by the nativity scenes liturgy of his pal and long-term collaborator Paco Loco’s Spain, the Irish born troubadour adds a flair of Spanish classicism and tremolo to the more traditional comfort blanketed sleigh ride. Written in London, recorded in Andalucía, the Three Kings EP finds a commonality between the two cultures, with Loco’s Spanish influence permeating throughout: A touch of flared and fanned Spanish guitar adds an air of New Mexico desert Americana to the filmic, soft-creeping ‘Ghost Writer’ and more gauze-y coed blizzard ‘Holloway’, and a subtle remedying of Latin rhythms can be heard undulating the Bacharach smooch contender for ‘Christmas No. 1’. Less Spanish, Laco orchestrates the obligatory heartstrings tugging children’s choir on the banjo mosey ‘Long Way To Christmas’.

Today we’re premiering the video of the leading, and opening, festive paean from that EP, ‘Long Way To Christmas’. A mountain trail ambling Chris Rea, with “twelve miles to go”, Gallagher fondly recalls all the fond and longing memories of childhood Christmases’ to a plucked country and jingly chiming sweet snow flurry soundtrack. Far from a novelty, this lilted stirring evocation will last far longer than the Christmas leftovers. Enjoy.



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