Switched On: Cool Maritime – Big Earth Energy (Western Vinyl)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Cool Maritime is a pseudonym for Santa Cruz musician Sean Hellfritsch. With a childhood spent outdoors in Californian orchards and canyons, he has perhaps not surprisingly fostered a deep concern for natural and environmental issues. His music is an extension of that, and Big Earth Energy builds on the success of last album Sharing Waves, released on LA’s Leaving Records. The name Cool Maritime reflects the bond he has felt with the northern coastal climates.

Hellfritsch had a concept for this album, looking back to 1995 and his first encounter with the game MYST. This time the player takes on the mantle of a prehistoric tree frog, changing ‘ages’ with each new level of the game and in the process finding out the massive changes the earth has gone through in that time.

What’s the music like?

Big Earth Energy takes its lead from 1980s Japanese ambient music, with a language that often ‘feels’ Eastern but never explicitly names a time or a place. Hellfritsch likes to keep things moving, but at the same time there is a good deal of ambience to enjoy when the listener pans out to listen on widescreen or headphones.

The richly coloured title track settles and builds its material from small building blocks, gently swaying as though in a breeze. Soft Fascinations has rippling textures that generate positive, restorative energy from which bigger chords can dominate. Amphibia is also deeply shaded, wide open in texture and melodic possibility.

Very soon the ear falls under the spell of the music, and its easy, slightly chunky 1980s sound profile sits very nicely in the context of its material. Avian Glide has a similar effect, with soft marimba lines complementing analogue synth washes. There is plenty of melodic interest, and a discernible pulse, but little outright percussion is used.

Hellfritsch has an appealing style, generating movement through positive melodies and consonant harmonies, with light textures that can sometimes mask the number of countermelodies and crossrhythms in play. Secret of the Megafauna is good example here, a dense forest of musical happenings with ‘plants’ that cross paths, interweave and break apart again. It leads into the sharper lines of closing track Apex, the highest plateau now reached.

Does it all work?

Yes. There is a cleansing quality to Big Earth Energy, the sort of album you would put on when looking to take the weight from your shoulders or feet – along the lines of a producer such as Matthewdavid (owner of Hellfritsch’s previous label) or current label mate Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. The feel of the music could be described as New Age, with washes of primary musical colours and ambience, but that shouldn’t mask its emotive content or depth.

Is it recommended?

It is – Big Earth Energy is a wholly positive piece of work in the face of environmental adversity.



Switched On – Szun Waves to release new album Earth Patterns

by Ben Hogwood

Today brings another very welcome musical return, with Szun Waves announcing a new album, Earth Patterns, due on The Leaf Label on August 19. The band – producer Luke Abbott, saxophonist Jack Wyllie and drummer Laurence Pike – have today released a taster of what we can expect, and it is mightily impressive.

Both the title and language of New Universe suggest a return to basics, and the music – rooted in the key of C as much ‘universe’-themed music seems to be – has stark, creation-like beginnings. As it evolves the music grows in strength, reaching a full blooded apex before subsiding a little, its growth made all the more powerful when experienced with Dom Harwood’s video, with its Martian parallels.

Watch and enjoy – on this evidence the new album, with additional production from James Holden and David Pye, promises to be something special:

You can find out about the album here:

Switched On – Gold Panda – I’ve Felt Better (Than I Do Now)

by Ben Hogwood. Picture of Gold Panda by Laura Lewis

Here is some news to cheer up a Tuesday – the very welcome return of Gold Panda.

Its title is deceptive, and makes perfect sense when you get a sense of what the producer, aka Derwin Schlecker, has been through. “I made this when my daughter was two years old and I felt knackered and I’d turned 41”, he says. “The samples just came together and sounded like “I’ve felt better…” and at the same time I was looking at my anti-depressants feeling tired and just thought ‘ha, that’s right!’”

Describing the track, Derwin says, “I mess with chopping up samples until I get an interesting loop so I never set out to write a track; I’m led by the samples and then go from there. Funnily enough, my life now is actually way better than it was 10 years ago and I’m a bit healthier and I probably actually do feel better in general (apart from when I had that brain haemorrhage last year).”

With everything now in perspective, it proves easy to appreciate the summer haziness and hypnotic grooves applied to the track – which you can enjoy right here!

The Unfolding is out now on City Slang, and comes highly recommended! You can listen and purchase on the Bandcamp link below:

Switched On: Feiertag – Dive (Sonar Kollektiv)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Dive is the second album from Dutch producer and drummer Joris Feiertag for Sonar Kollektiv. It finds him concentrating more on synth-based grooves than the upbeat, vocal-led tracks of previous album Time To Recover.

What’s the music like?

Once again Feiertag hits the sweet spot between poolside listening and a more immersive experience. His instrumentals are beautifully layered, especially the heat soaked Cala, with its urgent beats and liquid keyboard lines, and then Descend, also employing the chopped up approach with some nicely twisted percussion.

Opener Living In Slow is a clever piece of work, speeding up the vocals but squashing some of the beats to make a glitchy, sultry groove that works really well. It also has some of the urgency that courses through a track like Nocturnality, a quicker groove with flitting melodic figures that really gets going. Deep house with an edge.

Feiertag also writes fluid techno in the Detroit style with How U Do It, which is generally good save for a spoken word vocal that will be too crude for some tastes.

Does it all work?

Yes. Feiertag’s approach has a good deal of light and shade, and is really well constructed. This is music that sounds excellent on big speakers and headphones.

Is it recommended?

It is – a fine sequel and a sign that on the whole Feiertag is growing as an artist.

Listen & Buy

Switched On: Loscil – The Sails p.1 & 2 (Bandcamp)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The Sails is a two-part collection of music written by Loscil for dance projects over the last eight years. It brings together a number of specially commissioned projects, many of which were performed only once – and the Vancouver producer has arranged them into two collections of nine pieces each. These available on Bandcamp at a ‘name your price’ rate for the digital files, or as a double CD edition with special artwork.

What’s the music like?

This is a very interesting insight into Loscil’s creativity, and is a more animated complement to the serenity and vastness of his artist albums.

The two collections work well when listening back to back. There are the flickering messages of Wells, and it soon becomes apparent that there is more nervous energy in the foreground than we are used to in a Loscil set of pieces. This movement it is counteracted by slow, measured steps that are beautifully poised, sometimes acting as drones or operating with slowly shifting harmonies.

Some of the pieces are structured like an arch, with a composition like Still progressing from bare elements to richly textured loops with more movement, and then panning out again. Wolf Wind, a striking evocation, has a settled backdrop of a single held drone that changes colour thanks to the subtle movement in the middle ground.

Loscil also uses beats in a subtle but meaningful way. In Never they ricochet across the stereo picture, increasing their dominance over the slower musical processes going on behind. By contrast a work like Century has a stately beauty, like the opening of a flower.

Does it all work?

It does. The music has a different ambience to it from Loscil’s through-composed albums, but the use of more animated musical figures against a background stillness is still immensely reassuring, panning out into some richly shaded scenes.

Is it recommended?

Yes – the ideal complement if you already own a good deal of Loscil’s music. If you don’t, the ‘name your price’ option gives you no excuse not to get acquainted!

Listen & Acquire