Switched On – Amongst The Pigeons: Silence Will Be Assumed As Acceptance

atp

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

‘We need to save humanity, because no one else will’. The stark outlook at the beginning of Daniel Parsons’ third album as Amongst The Pigeons sets the scene for a 12-track salvo against the choppy waters we find ourselves navigating. It is a first-hand response to the pandemic, the destruction of the environment, social and racial injustice, and much more besides. It is delivered through his own inimitable set of gadgetry from a garden shed outside Worthing, with home-produced music whose message travels far and wide.

What’s the music like?

Silence Will Be Assumed As Acceptance has an extremely satisfying structure, featuring a raft of carefully chosen electronics but with Parsons’ own voice opening and closing. Some of the track titles are clearly borne of the last year – N.V.O.D. especially. Standing for Natural Vectors Of Disease, this track collaborates with Richard Wiseman to call out the government on their response to the pandemic, amongst other things. There is barely concealed anger here, channeled through a hard hitting burst of electronics, and it is typical of the album’s ability to make a forceful point without resorting to cliché.

Colour Blind achieves a similar aim, Parsons’ urgent vocal nicely blended with Ollie Barron’s chorus, and while N.V.O.D. is angry, Holding My Breath works an emotive blend of flickering electronics and the well-matched vocals of Tiger Mendoza and Charis Cooper. More tender moments can be enjoyed in Bring The Stars Closer, where the cooing of singer Emma King is complemented by poolside grooves.

Before The Storm Hits is a satisfying blend of stabbing bass and a soulful vocal from Fast Trains, a complement to Megan Lundford’s persuasive tones on the following After The Storm. The beats are busy but never too obtrusive, Parsons working a healthy quotient of riffs and some really effective percussive effects. The balance is ideal, typified by the rich voice of Hannah Katy Lewis, set to quickly turning studio cogs.

The album works like a mix, with each track segued into the next, and the panning effects Parsons works in work really well on headphones. On occasion the bass hits satisfying depths, too, none more so than the fine instrumental Can You Manage? Do You Understand?

However the album’s defining moment proves to be the inspired use of a Charlie Chaplin speech on You The People. Developing like a Chemical Brothers track, it exhorts us to ‘create happiness’, to ‘make this life a wonderful adventure’. Spread Hope, with The Sad Song Co., delivers a similar if more understated message.

Does it all work?

Handsomely. Silence Will Be Assumed As Acceptance is a lean beast, scooting through its dozen tracks in under 40 minutes with no padding at all. Its message is powerful but never ‘preachy’, and the busy electronics complement the vocals rather than smothering them. A word, too, for some striking artwork from Ella Manongdo, matching the album’s impact.

Is it recommended?

Yes, enthusiastically – an album full of incident and heart but with strong underlying messages that are fiercely relevant to today’s world. It is a shot in the arm – or should I say shoulder?!

Stream

Buy

 

Switched On – Late Night Tales: Jordan Rakei (Late Night Tales)

late-night-rakei

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Relaxation lies at the core of the latest addition to the Late Night Tales series from Jordan Rakei. The soulful singer, born in New Zealand but now living in the UK, has reached into his contact book for a selection of tracks from friends and associations who make music to recline to.

What’s the music like?

As the blueprint above implies, this is great music for horizontal listening – and Rakei gets a wonderful variety of styles into his choices.

The nocturnal jazz of Alfa Mist‘s Mulago is a great inclusion, coming as it does after Covering Your Tracks, a typically moody inclusion from singer-songwriter Fink. Jazz is also at the heart of Idiom, a classy collaboration between Joe Armon-Jones, Maxwell Owin and Oscar Jerome, The smoky down tempo soul of Charlotte Day Wilson‘s Mountains is a nice contrast, as is the consoling Count A Heart, where Rakei provides guest vocals for Moreton. Meanwhile frank intimacy lies at the heart of Puma Blue‘s Untitled 2.

Rakei also includes windswept tracks from the consistently strong C. Duncan (He Came From The Sun), the descriptive Seapoet (Eviternity) and a rather special track from Homay Schmitz, Speak Up.

As is traditional in the series there is a contribution from the mixer themselves, but here we have two more from Rakei – a softly glowing cover of Jeff Buckley‘s Lover, You Should’ve Come Over, and a slow burning, piano-led number in Imagination, before the mix ends with the traditional spoken word outro, film director Alejandro González Iñárritu reading Rakei’s own lyrics to Imagination.

Does it all work?

It does. Rakei has put a good deal of thought into this selection and the order in which it unfolds, resulting in a compilation where the skip function will not be needed. As with every good new mix there are some new names alongside the familiar, some new discoveries to be had.

Is it recommended?

Wholeheartedly. This is an extremely listenable set from one of British soul music’s finest young talents, proving that Jordan Rakei has a great awareness of the music around him as well as his own.

Stream

Buy

 

On Record: Toumani Diabaté & London Symphony Orchestra: Kôrôlén (World Circuit)

diabate-lso

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

This is the second cross-genre collaboration for the London Symphony Orchestra to be released in as many months, following on from their successful work with Floating Points and Pharoah Sanders, already getting plaudits as an album of the year contender. However this issue of a concert with Malian Toumani Diabaté and his ensemble dates from 2008, another of the kora player’s efforts to bring African music to new audiences.

With arrangements from Nico Muhly and Ian Gardiner, the 21-string kora is set alongside contributions from other Malian musicians and the fulsome presence of the London Symphony Orchestra, bringing forward music that, as Diabaté says, has a tradition stretching back beyond the music of Bach. Ultimately his vision is that we ‘look at African music in a new way’.

What’s the music like?

Rather wonderful. The early exchanges of Haïnamady Town establish the sound world of the kora and orchestra, with an opening solo from Diabaté showing off his fluid and sensitive playing. The serene strings provide colour around the edges, dressing the material rather than dominating it, but as the suite progresses the orchestra takes a more prominent role.

diabate-lso-2

Balafonist Lassana Diabaté comes to the fore for Mama Souraka, a response to the kora that brings fresh, outdoor energy to the music. Attractive woodwind colours are the feature of Elyne Road, which segue to an attractive round that develops. Cantelowes Dream is a longer sequence, where Diabaté takes longer phrases, spinning them above held strings and gently undulating balafon. The music pauses in the middle, giving room for dialogue with the flute.

Moon Kaira has extra propulsion with a recurring bass motif and solos from kora and marimba, and is ultimately taken over by joyful string motifs. Mamadou Kanda Keita provides a fitting climax, beautifully sung by Kasse Mady Diabaté in the first vocal of the album, rapturously received by the Barbican audience.

Does it all work?

In every way. Many collaborations between electronics, jazz and / or symphony orchestra miss the mark because of balance issues, with everything turned up too loud or with too many notes given to too many instruments, or because one or more of the musical parties are not on the same wavelength. This makes Promises all the more remarkable, for even the LSO strings, adding their contribution a year hence, are fully in the moment.

The ‘less is more’ approach of this collaboration pays off in every way. Sure, the music is slow moving, but that is an essential part of its appeal, a meditation for large forces securing the most intimate of responses.

Is it recommended?

Yes, provided the piece is experienced as one. Gardiner and Muhly’s arrangements are nicely weighted, giving the right amount of balance with the African instruments and only occasionally threatening their clarity. The brightness of the wind instruments and softness of the strings complements the studied, picked timbres of the kora. Conductor Clark Rundell gives the music all the room it needs, lending the exchanges an instinctive, almost improvised quality.

Stream

Buy

You can find out more about the release and purchase from the World Circuit website

 

Switched On – Erik Levander: Jökel (Glacial Movements)

erik-levander

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

‘Jökel’ is the Swedish word for glacier, with its roots in the Icelandic word ‘Jökull’. It is an entirely appropriate title for Erik Levander’s latest album, borne out of a visit to the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in Iceland (seen below). He crafted a clutch of imaginary field recordings from the visit, inviting the listener to join him on a natural journey around and through this natural phenomenon.

What’s the music like?

Among his plentiful output, this will surely be one of Levander’s more minimal albums to date. Yet that is an entirely valid approach as he looks to capture the slow, incremental progress of the glacier, while also recognising the fact it sits on top of a volcano.

There are no melodies as such here, but the five tracks are compelling as they slowly develop in front of the listener’s ears. Tröskel (Threshold) has an ominous knocking sound that reoccurs as though natural bumps were going on that could lead to something much more substantial down the line. This is a theme developed in the longer Expansion, where the sound widens its perspective and more obvious pitches appear, winding outwards and upwards. This is quite chilling on headphones, before the comfort of the sounds submersed in thick ambience, as though wrapped up in ice.

Myrdalsjökull_01From there we move to Avstånd, where it is possible to discern pieces breaking off the main flow, the ambience still thick behind, before hissing and dripping sounds start to dominate the treble, again a spooky effect on headphones. Yta introduces the most definite pitches we have heard so far, rooted to a single chord initially but then changing to a pitch laden with overtones as the perspective changes. Finally, Massa (Mass) draws back a bit, letting us appreciate the sheer size of the construction, the wind audible over the snow and ice.

The five tracks last just over 50 minutes, and are definitely best heard as a whole in order for the listener to walk with Levander along the edge of this remarkable construction.

Does it all work?

Yes. Levander’s soundscapes are remarkably descriptive, sending a shiver of cold down the spine. This is not comfortable music, and when the listener has the subject matter to hand it is easy to think of the anguish involved with the melting of our glaciers. Levander successfully portrays his subject but with a fair bit of discomfort involved.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Jökel sits comfortably within the spectrum of the Glacial Movements label, and is a compelling document of a visit that clearly had a strong emotional effect on the Swedish artist. 

Stream

Buy

 

Switched On – Jimi Tenor: Deep Sound Learning (1993 – 2000) (Bureau B)

jimi-tenor-deep

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Bureau B have already had an extended look at Jimi Tenor’s legacy from the 1990s in last year’s NY, Hel, Barca – a fruitful foray into his impressively consistent archive. Deep Sound Learning visits a similar era, casting its eye over unreleased tracks from DATs sent by the Finnish artist to Warp Records, his label at the time. Warp preserved the tracks they didn’t use on his albums of that era, so this is a set of previously unheard music from the Tenor vaults.

What’s the music like?

Once again the music of Jimi Tenor is notable for its bold exploration and freedom, and the 19 tracks here cover all sorts of stylistic terrain. The saxophone often features, pulling some of the tracks towards deeper jazz, while many of these pieces of work venture into house and funk.

Colour is an important ingredient of the music, which is never dull, and never coasts. Exotic House Of The Beloved starts off by showing its age in a good way, with a chunky profile and funky beats. Dub de Pablo by contrast is a low slower, with a nocturnal air. Another Space Travel indulges Tenor’s love of a wobbly synth line, while Travellers Cape has an appealing bounce to its rhythm.

The Tenor saxophone blesses a few tracks with its presence, not least the evocative Sambakontu, or setting the scene on Downtown.

Does it all work?

More often than not. Sometimes the music is easily dated, which can be a good thing, but the standard is high. Only a track like O-Sex, with some familiar clichés, sounds like an offcut from the 1990s.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Deep Sound Learning is an ideal companion to last year’s exploration of Jimi Tenor’s early works, and shows just how consistent he could be – and how much fun he had while doing so. There will be something for everyone in this set, that’s for sure.

Stream

Buy