REVIEW: Dorena’s “Nuet”

Dorena photo Dorena_cover_zps617feb97.jpg Dorena create music that rips hard on one end, becomes tranquil on the other, and that’s one of a number of ways to describe the sounds that make up Nuet (Deep Elm). The introduction of vocals on the opening song (“Semper”) doesn’t happen until over four minutes into the song, and by then, one feels welcome to enter a dream state with the music.

In truth, it’s primarily an instrumental album and they take on the challenge of being voiceless by trying out some nice arrangements that allow listeners to hear if they’re really good and worthy of checking out live. In other words, would an album like Nuet be enough of a reason to spend money on to see and hear in a live setting, and I think so. There’s also a slight progressive side to their being that makes this work, as a band who aren’t interested in saying in one musical place for long. While their dabbling in electronic music may lure a few Radiohead fans, this is not Radiohead light but something completely different. I enjoy what I’m hearing here, it’s as if I’m listening to the unveiling of a puzzle and I’m witnessing the gathering of pieces to complete a picture. I’m glad that there are more bands exploring the instrumental side of things, especially at a time when artists who overstay their verbal presentations would sound better if they shut their mouths.

REVIEW: Steve Roach’s “Rasa Dance: The Music Of Connection”

Steve Roach photo SteveRoach_cover_zps1251cba3.jpg The sounds on Rasa Dance: The Music Of Connection by Steve Roach could be considered progressive electronic music, the type of electronic music from the 1970’s that is one part atmospheric, one part meditative, and can be either be listened to deeply in a comfortable chair or on your living room floor while you are intoxicated by the substance of your choice. Or let the music take your mind where it feels it needs to be. The liner note for the album says the music was inspired by the idea of humans and horses are able to dance together, so if you take that into heart and understand the tranquility of what a horse can provide for some, you may be able to understand the beauty of the Rasa Dance. You will not need a horse to truly understand it, of course, but the way the song opens up throughout through its keyboard and synth melodies will help you come up with your own dance of peace and freedom. It may remind a few of the albums ECM Records released in the late 70’s/early 80’s but wherever the music takes the listener, it will be a ride they will want to return to many times over.

REVIEW: Myopic’s “We Were Here” (EP)

Myopic photo Myopic_cover_zps7cc890ff.jpg Myopic is from the mind of Dallas’ Jeff Ryan. At first you might assume from the musician lineup that this may be jazz, but then things get pretty progressive in how it is played. I hear a bit of minimalism and while jazz can be minimalist at times, this didn’t seem like jazz. Then the beat is turned up as Ryan’s drums are amped in the mix and you feel uncertain if you’re hearing the mic’d drums or checking out the overhead ambience. It becomes quickly obvious that We Were Here (Simulacra) is the electronic EP with not too many electronics, a rock release without overwhelming rock, and a jazz recording that swings but in its own way.

The minimalism returns throughout, as it does during the intro to “6of1”, as a simple four-note melody repeats itself over and over before it unfolds and reveals the beauty that is attracted by its simplicity. That can also best explain the contributors to this EP, so while Myopic is very much a Ryan venture, he also brings in Daniel Hart (violin), Jason Reimer (guitar), Todd Gautreau (guitar), and Stuart Sikes (guitar and waterphone) for the journey. On the progressive rock side of things, the tracks here sound like the moodier moments of all of those songs you discovered while reading a library book or discovered on an obscure German-based blog. On the outset it sounds very electronic, which comes from Ryan playing an organ and a Korg, but it’s electronic in the sense that Herbie Hancock or Yes are electronic, it’s merely an ingredient to what Ryan, as Myopic, helps to create here.

The sound of We Were Here is varied so while you may not be certain on what to lean on, embrace whatever Myopic throws out and you’ll start to feel the glory of an incredible musician and composer. It’s the existence of what existed, discover what was Here before we are no longer.

(We Were Here will be released on February 26th.)

REVIEW: Headnodic’s “The Iguana”

Photobucket As a member of Mission:, which morphed into Crown City Rockers, Ethan Parsonage has been on top of his game not only as a producer, but as their bassist. The Headnodic moniker has kept his foot placed firmly in hip-hop, as a means to let people know he can make the kind of music that will make the head nod. While that in itself describes primarily hip-hop, it covers any form of music that will make you move, but often is used to describe the emotions feel when one listens to soul, funk, jazz, or any hybrid of these. All of his previous projects have never shied away from being hip-hop, but for The Iguana (Ropeadope), Headnodic leaves his assumed comfort zone to find himself in a place where he sounds quite comfortable.

If the album title is any indication, perhaps Headnodic seems himself as an iguana shedding its skin to reveal its truer, inner self. For me: Mission: and Crown City Rockers were always a band that were not only a hip-hop band, but a band who were great in playing a wide range of music. The public perception seemed to be that they merely played to show that they were a hip-hop backing band, and maybe that comes from hip-hop’s not so much misunderstanding of real instrumentation, but almost a lack of interest in it unless you were able to prove yourself. That’s not to say that Crown City Rockers didn’t, but after awhile it seemed its members were finding more adventures outside of the group’s core. Oddly enough, the core of the group would still remain, but by twisting things in a different way, one was able to find its own skin shedding, which revealed the different interests much stronger in this context. Headnodic’s previous album had a hip-hop focus but for The Iguana, hip-hop is put on the shelf and he allows himself to play the kind of music that made him want to become a musician in the first place.

To put it simply, this is the kind of album you would expect to find in the back of your favorite uncle’s or auntie’s closet, the one marked with the date 1977, along with handwritten call letters for one of the three radio stations that dared to play this music. The music is a mixture of not only soul and funk, but there are elements of jazz, Afro-beat, some Latin and Brazilian influences, and a track with a distinct Pink Floyd flavor that shows how he can move towards a progressive rock slant. As is my ritual, I like to listen to the music before I read anyone’s press release, I want my view of the music to be my own, I don’t like to be persuaded to feel one way just because that’s what they want me to feel. The influences I hear in this are very much what Headnodic wanted to achieve, and it’s nice to hear it done in this way, as if he’s saying “this is the kind of music I have loved, and this is not just me being a sample reference. There’s great music, and I’d like for all of you to hear what I can do with it.”

He does so with fellow friends Kat Ouano and Max McVeety, who are able to bring their own influences into the fold as they have with one another for over ten years, to show why these three click so well in the first place. McVeety gets to play hard if he wants, funky when ready. Ouano can be as soothing as she’d like to be but dig deep into the grooves, but you may catch a few classical references here in there, as she has always hinted throughout her career. Add to this mix the guitar work of Persephone’s Bees’ Tom Ayers and Agua Libre percussionst Valentino Peeps, and this comes off like some incredible and trippy album released between 1972 to 1978, maybe one that was released on a major label but only through the Japanese or German counterparts, obscure as hell but still sounds very familiar. It’s that kind of album Madlib would have fun recreating under one of his countless monikers, but what makes this work is the interaction between Headnodic and other musicians in the room, jamming with one another until they get something. It doesn’t have to be right or accurate, but if it feels good, they just let it go. It sounds great at 7am as it does at 12:15am, as it would at 2 or 3am. In fact, call it that 3am album where your mind is in that zone and you want to find the meaning of life and validate your existence. Or if anything, The Iguana compliments your existence and acknowledges what you like because they like it too.

I should also explain something. Most of the time when I put albums onto my iPod, if it is not indexed or numbered, I will do that myself, as it’s something I actually enjoyed doing. Realizing that the album I received was not numbered, it indexed the album alphabetically, which means I listened to it this way:
Blue In Green
Enter The Dragon
Galactic Expansion
Golden Hour
Gorilla Punch

I am someone who holds to “the integrity of the album”, which means the way the artist presents it, I want to show respect to the sequence as the artist and producer programmed it from start to finish. Without indexed tracks, it started with “Ambus”, which came off like a bum-rush into the ears, as if Headnodic was saying “let’s do this funky like a hip-hop track, to let everyone know that I, and we, are back.” It goes through the motions and then the prog rock vibe happens with “Dissolver” before leading towards the end with “Zaya”, which has the vibe of Africa running through as if to say “this is where all music originated, we thank you for this.” The proper order of the album actually begins with “Dissolver”, so immediately it shows that Headnodic is immediately distancing this collection of music farther from what he may be known for. When I heard “Blue In Green”, its jazzy groove was the album’s second track but its proper placement is the closing track, which shifts the dynamic of the album a bit, as if to tell the listener that this how I’m musically rooted, but the tree continues to grow, see what I have become. In fact, play the album first as is, and enjoy it. Then re-sequence the tracks alphabetically by title. It’s the same set of 14 songs, but unintentionally it comes off like two completely different albums, as it provides two distinct listening experiences. I may program it alphabetically, but backwards, just to see if I have a third.

As for the album cover, while its elements started to reveal itself, it reminded me of an updated version of some of Roger Dean’s classic album covers, in fact it distinctly looks like a more futuristic version of what appeared on the back of Osibisa’s second album, Wכyaya, drawn by Dean.

Not sure if there’s a connection or it’s just an odd coincidence, but if there is a link, maybe in this case the iguana (and what it may represent) will now be the one to take flight and go in for the attack. Where is he going? Headnodic’s knows where he is going, he knows within.

(The Iguana will be released on October 23rd.)

REVIEW: John Orsi’s “A Room For The Night”

Photobucket New music from John Orsi means new worlds to explore, and for A Room For The Night (it’s Twilight Time), the six songs here are meant to be filled with surprises and delight, but you’re not meant to stay there for long. Look, listen, and head out.

The music here could be considered incidental music, the kind of songs that would create susprise in any action film or drama, in fact as I was listening to “Jaldi”, it’s clock-like precision and pace made me feel like it was an indication of time for someone in a movie that was trying to crack open a safe. Without cinematic themes in mind, it could also be the sounds of a Middle Eastern or Indian marketplace at peak hour, although when is it not peak hour at the marketplace? Or perhaps it’s Asian in nature, as it sounds like three or four gamelans at once trying to sound unique among one another but still coming through. A perfect example of this is the aptly named “Togetherness”, where one might hear a xylophone or vibraphone playing along with what sounds like a room full of clocks ready to strike at the same time but doesn’t. At times, Orsi’s work seems chaotic and peculiar but I think they’re both that on purpose. Behind each assembled track is a pulse that keeps not only each song working, but the EP as a whole working as one being. “Companion Wheel” combines synthesizers and distortion (sounds like a guitar at high volume but could easily be keyboards going through effects) with the heart of the percussion in the background, and I was wondering if I should listen to the song as an entry way, a means of escape, or simply existing within the orgy of sound. The EP ends with a subtle moral of sorts called “Two Trains Passing In The Night (not that many trains pass in my nights anymore)”, and while one can listen to this as the exit in this chain of songs because I see it listed as the final track, it can also be interpreted as a beginning to, or the final destination of solitude and meditation, or simply just finality in this project, the end of the stay in a room for the night. Now it’s time to head home. It’s also the album’s longest song, and with most of the album having limited time constraints (done on purpose), hearing this is almost orgasmic, or at least it’ll make you wide-eyed and wondering where each sound will lead. Going through the last track will make one assume this was an album going on for twice its actual duration (full length of this EP is 23:10).

The progressive sense I hear comes from hearing music mixed with machinery, traffic, and natural sound as a means to convey an aura. You are perhaps put into a city unfamiliar to you, and you’re hearing quick glimpses of an audio diary, page by page. Or maybe these sounds are partly familiar to you, and you know how to get back home through the unfamiliar. I could easily see a project like this taken to other musicians, composers, and sound producers to see how far this could go, so that one can say in the room for longer than a night, or to find different delights in different rooms along the way. To simplify this, it’s like hearing the non-musical portions of Pink Floyd albums and wishing one would create more music like that. You’ve now found that album, if only for one night.

REVIEW: Crown’s “The One”

Photobucket The sound on this EP by Crown is massive, the kind of plodding metal that can be overwhelming deliberately. What is amazing is that while this sounds like it comes from an incredible band, this band is actually a duo, outdoing the music that a lot of groups three members and over are at times incapable of pulling of.

The One (Superstrong) shows a band who are comfortable with bringing together different styles of metal, from doom and sludge to progressive, but in the progress bring in a gloomy touch that may bring to mind some of nine inch nails‘ more finer moments, and if you know how to listen, there’s also a slight pop asthetic that isn’t done with humor or sarcasm. It’s a bit like hearing some of your favorite Italian prog rock bands getting trippy with their music, but reserving time to record a love song. These two make some brutal sounds that also shows a love with industrial music, complete with incorporating white noise to add a bit of extra depth to their construction. When they dig deep into a hellish sound, you feel at one with what they’re doing and want to band your head until it falls off. Yet you’re also reminded by the acoustic part which opened the song. You accept it as being the sound of Crown, and I know for myself I wanted to know how many more twists in their sound they’re willing to try out.

The digital version was released on February 6th and is available through Bandcamp. Compact disc version will be released on March 12th.

VIDEO: Au’s “Ida Walked Away”

Ida Walked Away from takcom™ on Vimeo.

The Portland duo Au have used the services of director Takafumi Suchiya to create a video for the song “Ida Walked Away” from their EP Versions (Aagoo) (which I reviewed here). The video is visually stunning, as critics might say, and suits the song quite well.

REVIEW: Au’s “Versions”

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Versions (Aagoo) may be a pit stop EP as Au are in the middle of recording a new album, but even if you have their earlier releases, you’ll want to pick this up as it primarily features new versions of songs from those old releases.

The new track on this EP is the powerful “Ida Walked Away”, but to hear revisions of “RR vs. D” and “All Myself’ are treats in itself. They create some nice power pop with hints of Afro-pop, punk, progressive rock, and new wave, what I like is that even with a song with a strong theme, they’re not going to go about it in a roundabout way, and that’s what has made them a favorite among their fans. At times their music sounds like a suicidal dirge, while other tracks are festive and come off like the kind of parade you wish you had in your city/town.

New fans can buy this and then go back to previous works. Older fans will love this and then protest somewhere for a new album to come out quicker.

REVIEW: Knitting By Twilight’s “Riding The Way Back”

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Being a fan of the project known as Knitting By Twilight for a few years, the one thing I always wonder with each new release is: now what? In other words, each project goes into a completely new direction that as a writer I never know what to expect. Yet as an artist myself, this is the fun of making music, being able to take yourself in any soundscape possible. As an indie artist, it also means not having to obey the rules or follow-up on your last success. John Orsi steers the ship along with wife Karen Orsi, Manny Silva, and Mike Marando, and for the 5-song EP Riding The Way Back (it’s Twlight Time) they go progressive, pop, and experimental/avant-garde. To me, the different blends are natural and in fact I tend to enjoy music that goes all over the place instead of being too comfortable for a long duration.

The intro to “Mike’s Glacier” sounds like someone coming in, finding some random instruments and playing what they feel like, but this is before things get intense with layers of eerie-sounding keyboards, deep percussion, and ethereal guitars. Think of a very dark and sinister scene of a mindfuck thriller and this is the song you’d hear to build suspense, a bit like what Milk Cult tried to do years ago but… you know how in some documentaries they’ll claim that a killer enjoys the thrill of seeing someone who is praying for you to not hurt them, as he slowly makes his way towards his ultimate climax? It’s a digusting thought but the song builds like that, a cross between the beautiful and potentially horrid. On the more abstract side is “She’s Here”, where the Orsi’s speak to each other in minimalistic distortion via electric guitar, electronics, and percussion. In a completely different direction is “”Blue Ink For Fountain Pens”, a drumless song that is moved along by a guitar bathed in reverb, a wall of keyboards, and a nice moving melody that would fit on anything from Weather Channel incidental music to something you’d hear on a Travel Channel documentary. The aptly titled “Twirling Guitars and Glad Tambourines” sounds like something you’d catch a group of people playing at a folk festival, where you’ll want to pick up whatever you can find nearby and play along with them. It sounds like something you’d hear and play at sunset or sunrise, with Karen’s guitar work coming off as if either scaring the spirits away or bringing them in to dance.

This is perfect mind music, and while I don’t smoke, I can only imagine what this would sound like while stoned. Each song may not have a cohesive meaning, but as individual pieces they come off like pages from a sacred musical diary. Either they are songs looking for personal definition, or it’s the listener who will find comfort in the warmth of these songs, most likely a combination of both. If I was in the position of being a music supervisor or executive producer for a film, I would definitely get Knitting By Twlight for the project.