Switched on – Baths – Pop Music / False B-Sides II (Basement’s Basement)

What’s the story?

As its name begins to imply, Pop Music / False B-Sides II is a second chance for those ideas which Will Wiesenfeld has not been able to find a home for. Until now, that is. He has been through this process once before, around the time of release of his first album as Baths, Cerulean, but here he repeats the exercise as the first release on his own new Basement’s Basement label.

The fragments Wiesenfeld has drawn together are from a wider chronological area, but the lyrics – where used – are recent.

What’s the music like?

Soft. That’s not an insult, but Wiesenfeld has a nice set of electronic colours at his disposal, creating tracks that are notable for their dappled shades, their winsome lyrical couplets and some nicely constructed rhythms.

On songs like Mikaela Corridor and Sex, Wiesenfeld sounds like a softer version of Bombay Bicycle Club, especially in the latter’s couplet ‘Is this love or is this focus’. At other times he runs closer to singer / songwriters like James Yuill in his combination of intimate productions and songs that are easy to relate to.

Immerse is a blissful beginning to the album, while Wistful (Fata Morgana) gets a nice combination of busy beats, warm textures and Wiesenfeld’s soothing vocal. Meanwhile Stomach Tile has a dreamy fusion of guitar and piano.

The most meaningful song is The Stones, a substantial piece of work with the added personal reference that Wiesenfeld’s late father loved the line ‘I still trust that men can be lovely, do what you like, but do it to me’. It is softly sung, surrounded by shimmering electronics and calming keyboards. Be That runs it close, with some beautifully layered vocals that typify the warmth of the Baths production experience.

Does it all work?

Yes. Wiesenfeld’s sound world is extremely reassuring, and on headphones the extra musical material in the middle ground brings extra layers to the songs. It is the music of a solitary mind, but looks outwards and upwards. Ultimately Wiesenfeld’s positivity shines through.

Is it recommended?

Yes – although it is not a substantial listening experience, Baths devotees will have no problem in snapping this up. Those looking for blissful late night experiences are also encouraged to follow their instincts.

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Switched on – Apparat: Soundtracks: Dämonen (It’s Complicated Records)

What’s the story?

This is the third release in a series of soundtrack recordings from Apparat, aka Sascha Ring – who has made a name of himself as an accomplished instrumental music writer. This piece of work dates from 2015, when Apparat wrote and performed the score to a theatre play of Dostoevsky’s Demons, directed by Sebastian Hartmann.

Sascha wrote the sound- track and performed live in Frankfurt with Philipp Thimm and Christoph Hamann as Apparat. He then re-recorded and arranged this release with Thimm in his Berlin studio.

Dämonen is Apparat’s second collaboration with Hartmann – the first, Krieg und Frieden (Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace), has been released on Mute.

What’s the music like?

Hartmann described Apparat’s working style as ‘no beating about the bush, no fussing about frills – just working together and getting something done – staying inspired.

That approach comes across in the music for Dämonen, setting the scenes with economy and effectiveness, and never resorting to overindulgence. There are some moments where Apparat invokes the spirit of Hans Zimmer, for example in the closing scene Amos where the radiant textures are boosted by intelligent writing for the organ. Habakuk, too, has a swell and shimmer that we would associate with the older composer, but it is never derivative – Apparat’s harmonic language is very clearly his own.

The cello plays a leading role here, taking charge in Hosea and Jona, where it adds a strong melodic profile. By contrast Sacharja is a lovely, intimate scene with plucked strings, drawing the ear with its changing in mood and colour. The piano plays a subtle but important part in Maleachi, setting a slightly ominous pulse.

Does it all work?

It does. Less is definitely more in the writing here, and Apparat uses texture and harmony to get many of his deeper thoughts. The cello elevates the music wherever it appears, while the more brooding numbers such as Hosea do make a strong impact without obvious melodic material to match on to.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Sascha Ring has always written music of great depth under his Apparat alias, and he is perfectly suited to film or theatre – or both. Even if you don’t know the story of Dämonen, the music will tell you a good deal of what you need to know.

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Let’s Dance – Jody Wisternoff: Nightwhisper (Anjunadeep)

Jody Wisternoff Nightwhisper (Anjunadeep)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Jody Wisternoff is dance music royalty, being one half of Way Out West where he is joined by Nick Warren. The two have made powerful and progressive albums since the mid-1990s, sitting squarely between house and trance music, but are free to run their own solo projects alongside the duo. Nightwhisper is Jody’s second solo album, his first since 2012, and it has served as an outlet to express conflicting emotions felt through the death of his father, with a sustained period of caring for him beforehand.

Written in 2019, it faces those sorrowful events in the context of weekends where Wisternoff was involved in the ‘day job’, as it were, DJing at exotic party locations.

What’s the music like?

The conflict between the different areas of Wisternoff’s life is certainly felt here, but the overall impression is firmly positive. The songwriting here is direct and so it is easy to relate to. For example when the loop ‘don’t go away, don’t leave me now’ starts up on Here To Stay, the combination is just right – some introspective thoughts but presented through a really good vocal hook.

Wisternoff chooses his vocalists well, with the husky tones of Rondo Mo working well on Lately, or James Grant and Jinadu on the ultra cool Blue Space, singing how ‘I’ve been looking everywhere for a sign’. Grant also appears on the title track, a blissful number tapping into the spirit of The Beloved. The varied rhythms that Way Out West have always used are in evidence, too – Andromeda marshals its breakbeats well, Story Of Light works a sharper bassline, and the lovely soft timbres on For Those We Knew are really nicely done. Mimi Page’s vocal adds a beautifully weighted tribute here, an apt memorial piece.

Does it all work?

Yes – Wisternoff uses his experience to provide exactly what is needed for a pool soundtrack or for the dancefloor. To be honest each of these twelve tracks can move effortlessly between the two, and since the vocals are good they stand up well to repeat plays.

Is it recommended?

Yes. This is classy, hot weather music which works really well on the beats front, but has music of substance to go with it. Because of that, Nightwhisper works equally well as foreground and background listening – and it stays with you emotionally too.

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Switched on – Aārp – Propaganda (InFiné)

What’s the story?

Aārp is an intriguing figure. Having started out as a viola player in an orchestra, the producer – whose real name is elusive – found his head turned by electronic music, specifically the likes of Squarepusher, Amon Tobin and Oneohtrix Point Never. His love of classical and exploratory electronic music spills over into a full length record for InFiné, his first album Propaganda.

With a title like that it is no surprise to report a political slant to Aārp’s thinking. It is a response to the tragedy of a young festival-goer in Nantes who drowned following a police altercation – and specifically a response to how that tragedy was reported and spun by the press. Aārp was inspired to create a series of tracks, each given the title of an important quote from world news that was treated in a similar way.

What’s the music like?

While it sounds like he is working with a heavy subtext, it is great to report that Aārp does not get too weighed down by his subject matter. In fact the opposite is true, as Propaganda has moments of light and shade, seriousness and humour. It is a restless piece of work, full of riffs that never quite stay still but go really well with his beat making. Nothing is off the table here and there is a lot of excellent work by instinct.

Ca fuit de partout sets the tone with a descending motif that has a quirky edge, which Condamnez-vous les violences? runs with, the riffs becoming more oblique. The Axis of Evil is a thrilling ride, glitchy beats preceded by a blast of rich organ chords. Meanwhile on The Herbicide That Gets To The Root Of The Problem, riffs flit across the stereo picture like birds not quite settling, the music hyperactive and uneasy.

Not all Aārp’s writing is as packed with events as the opening trio. His descending motif gets a different perspective in the more introspective Less than 1% of Patients Become Addicted, while darkness descends with the low threat of Nada es gratis en esta vida, a short but heavily loaded track.

Some of his soundscapes are really impressive – try the breadth of vision from I Prefer a Liberal Dictator to Democratic Government Lacking Liberalism, or Les malheureux sont les puissances de la Terre, which moves from what sounds like electronic steelpans to pinball-style beats and shimmering chords.

Does it all work?

As an album, yes – because Aārp has a distinctive style that constantly asks questions of its surroundings. The duration might be relatively short but a lot happens in 35 minutes! The bursts of hyperactivity might also be a bit too much for some, with a short attention span meaning some of the ideas don’t get developed as fully as they might, but the album follows a compelling path which rewards repeated listening.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Aarp has a fresh approach to electronic music that works rather well, and although the topics covered by Propaganda are pretty weighty, the responses to them offer blasts of fresh air.

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Listening to Beethoven #19 – Klage (Lament)


Schroder and his toy piano, drawn by Charles M. Schulz (c)PNTS

Klage WoO 113 (Lament) for voice and piano (1790, Beethoven aged 19)

Dedication not known
Text Ludwig Hölty
Duration 2’40”

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Background and Critical Reception

This setting of poetry by Ludwig Hölty continues Beethoven’s current preoccupation with downcast songs, having recently set the Elegy for a dead poodleKlage (translated as Lament) starts in a more positive light, describing the silver light of the moon, but soon talks of how ‘no peace smiles on me’, and ‘soon your silver light will shine on the tombstone that hides my ashes’.

Writing his programme notes for a collection of Beethoven songs on the Hyperion label, Julian Haylock describes this song as ‘an early setting that, despite its deceptively simple outlines and such delightfully naive effects as the doubling of right hand and voice in the first verse, touches an emotional nerve in the young composer’s psyche that was to be amongst his most enduring expressive traits – an exemplary handling of the minor mode.’

He also notes the stark closing postlude for piano, and its anticipation of similar instances in songs by Schumann.

Thoughts

If you listened to this song without a clue who the composer was, it would be hard to place. Although Beethoven does indeed use some of the ‘naive’ tactics described by Julian Haylock, his musical language is definitely looking forward to the likes of Mendelssohn and Schumann rather than backwards.

Again the topic is a relatively sorrowful one, suggesting that Beethoven’s downcast mood has lingered for a while since the death of his mother. The telling moment comes at the end of the first verse, when the silver light of the moon fades and the song turns to the minor key. Darkness falls, and tragedy with it, with little hope at the end. The bare chords from the piano offer little consolation as a closing statement.

Recordings used

Stephan Genz (baritone) & Roger Vignoles (piano) (Hyperion)

Hermann Prey (baritone), Leonard Hokanson (piano) (Capriccio)

Matthias Goerne (baritone), Jan Lisiecki (piano) (DG)

Peter Schreier (tenor) & Walter Obertz (piano) (Brilliant Classics)

The version for tenor and piano, beautifully sung by Peter Schreier with Walter Obertz, is set in E major / minor, while the version with baritone and piano is a third lower, beginning in C. For his version with Jan Lisiecki, Matthias Goerne has an ideally measured tone, with Lisiecki’s final chords completely bare. Stephan Genz and Roger Vignoles are the ideal match, while Hermann Prey operates at a much slower tempo with Leonard Hokanson, giving an even darker impression.

Spotify links

Hermann Prey (baritone) & Leonard Hokanson (piano)

Matthias Goerne (baritone), Jan Lisiecki (piano) (DG)

Peter Schreier (tenor) & Walter Obertz (piano)

Also written in 1790 Hummel Piano Quartet in D major

Next up Piano Trio in E flat major WoO38