Switched On – Lindstrøm: On A Clear Day I Can See You Forever (Smalltown Supersound)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Just the four tracks for Lindstrøm‘s sixth album, in which he makes an album from hardware instead of computer plug-ins for the very first time. His inspirations behind the release range from Barbra Streisand – whose musical On A Clear Day You Can See Forever inspires the title – to Robert Wyatt, whose solo albums, capped by Matching Mole, made an impact for their freedom and fearless approach.

The raw material for On A Clear Day is drawn from the autumn of 2018 and a piece Lindstrøm was commissioned to write by the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, a museum near Oslo. He gave three performances at the arts centre, and the sketches he composed formed the basis of this album, which is almost completely without beats.

What’s the music like?

Free as a bird, as Lindstrøm implied it would be, with each of the four minute tracks clocking in around the 10-minute mark.

The title track has no percussion at all, so the sonorous keyboard tones are free to work at their own pace in a sprawling structure that brings the music towards Jean Michel Jarre at times, while retaining Lindstrøm’s own distinctive language. Often it is composed of just one line, thoughts passed to the listener in musical sentences that have a similar rhythm to everyday conversations.

Really Deep Snow continues the hypnotic effect established in the title track, but more on the front immediately, bubbling synths leading and a kick drum that sounds ready to cut in but not quite. With a wobbly organ contribution and some lovely held string pads it is a stronger track.

The brilliantly named Swing Low Sweet LFO is next, the free bird analogy especially evident here as the glittering synthesizer figures soar and swoop over a weightless texture. Freedom is most definitely the name of the game here, even when a solemn chorale-like figure takes over towards the end.

Finally As If No One Is Here introduces ticking percussion, which creates a surprising amount of tension that is released by stealth into meandering lower range thoughts.

Does it all work?

Yes, as long as the listener bears in mind that this is music for the backdrop of a culture centre. It is much less driven than Lindstrøm’s work with beats, but the freedom apparent throughout the album is contagious and far reaching. As ambient music it fulfills its function easily.

Is it recommended?

It is, though with a concession to Lindstrøm fans that On A Clear Day I Can See You Forever does not contain any of the producer’s barnstorming modern disco numbers.

For now that is the style of music he is best known and loved for, and there are a few moments on this album where the listener inevitably pines for a new piece of beat-infused brilliance.

Instead, On A Clear Day I Can See You Forever uplifts and calms the mind in a more subtle way, and makes us anticipate his next move even more keenly.

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Switched On – A Winged Victory For The Sullen: The Undivided Five (Ninja Tune)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The Undivided Five marks a key point in the album career of A Winged Victory For The Sullen. The duo, Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Wiltzie, already had impressive musical CVs before uniting as a group eight years ago, O’Halloran with his solo work and Wiltzie both in a solo capacity and as one half of acclaimed instrumental duo Stars Of The Lid.

Since their inception AWVFTS, as they can also be known, have grown a reputation for intense instrumental music and atmospheric live shows. Their late-night Prom with Nils Frahm in 2015 drew admiration, while their soundtrack work for Iris and God’s Own Country has shown their suitability for the big screen.

The Undivided Five, however, is their first ‘artist only’ album since the Atomos album of 2014, and marks the start of a new chapter at Ninja Tune. The number ‘five’ is significant – it represents a circle of five women of which a recently deceased friend was a member. It also resonates with the significance to the duo of their key musical interval, the perfect fifth.

What’s the music like?

Subtly powerful. From the very first strains of Our Lord Debussy it is clear this is an extremely meaningful album to the pair. One of its themes is different strains of ‘goodbye’ – Keep It Dark, Deutschland for O’Halloran’s time in Berlin, as he moves to Iceland – then Adios, Florida, which would appear to be more relevant to Wiltzie and his location in Brussels, then Aqualung, Motherfucker, a tribute to their recently passed close friend.

Loss is a factor in this music, the duo also unexpectedly losing a close friend in the Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson last year. Perhaps because of this there is a barely concealed tension running through the music, which breaks cover at times but essentially powers the slow, strong and meaningful chord progressions.

The ability of the pair to make a great deal of substance from the most innocuous of musical cells is deeply impressive, and is very carefully thought through. Colour is very important to the music, but so is space, each track having presence in its outer frequencies but leaving plenty of space in the middle for the listener.

Our Lord Debussy is superb, growing slowly but surely from its elegant piano cell, the piano itself driving a chant-like piece of music as it mirrors the composer Debussy’s ability to replace melody with harmony. It is briefly reminiscent of some of the soundtrack work of Thomas Newman in its ability to slow time and space, creating a distinct sound world, but the development of the music is too individual for those comparisons to stay.

Two compositions stand out for their instrumental solos – The Slow Descent Has Begun, with a solemn violin solo, and Aqualung, Motherfucker, with a deeply poignant line for horn. This pair form the centrepiece of the album, with the following A Minor Fifth Is Made Of Phantoms offering a little resolve in its organ-like timbres.

The album’s stately progress continues with Adios, Florida, which falls over the edge in heartbreaking fashion at its end, and The Rhythm Of A Dividing Pair, a more consonant and peaceful work. Keep It Dark, Deutschland finds O’Halloran in consoling mood at the piano.

Does it all work?

Yes. This must have been a difficult album to make for O’Halloran and Wiltzie, but – as their band name implies – this is a band that galvanizes great strength from adversity. They do so here in music of rarefied atmosphere and latent power.

Is it recommended?

Yes. The Undivided Five takes their output up a level, expanding its possibilities and giving notice that A Winged Victory For The Sullen are getting better and better. This is their most effective and meaningful album to date, but the signs are it won’t be long until they go even further and better.

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Switched On – Erland Cooper & Leo Abrahams: Seachange (Phases)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Seachange is the ambient companion to Erland Cooper’s second solo album Sule Skerry. It continues Cooper’s celebration of the raw elements of his Orkney origins, the second of a pair based on the open sea. Behind both albums, and their ambient companions, sit Cooper’s long-standing desire to present Orkney in sonic form, preserving the island’s essential parts to be with him when he is working in the city. Initially these musical thoughts were for private use, but have proved incredibly successful when shared with friends and the listening public.

Seachange is split into three ‘Tides’ but runs as one whole, featuring the guitar work and studio craft of Leo Abrahams. Cooper imagines the music ‘pulled apart by placing recyclable source material into the North Sea and watching it become torn, pulled apart, diluted, stretched, weathered and then reassembled in Orkney Geo’ (the inlet between Orkney and Shetland). ‘It creates a different form, with dissolved and overlapping melodies that eventually disappear into granules like plankton’.

What’s the music like?

The intricacies of Abrahams’ guitar are the perfect foil for Cooper’s ambient workings, giving the music an appropriate perspective to represent the vast North Sea. In the foreground the woozy atmospherics are distorted by wind and spray, yet all the while more expansive drones reveal the wide open spaces as the eye looks further.

Seachange works best on headphones, where its details can be fully appreciated, or on a big system where the depth of the bass gives real depth. There is a deeply personal, awestruck appreciation of the sea, made real through music and complemented with Abrahams’ ever-thoughtful nudges and deft musical phrases.

Those familiar with the wonderful Sule Skerry album will recognise these phrases and appreciate the journey they have been on, with bird-like sounds and the ebb and flow of rippling textures all contributing to the movement of water both close at hand in the inlets and on the vast, open sea.

Does it all work?

Very much so. As with Solan Goose, his first album, Cooper has complemented the main release with an ambient companion allowing time for deeper reflection and peace of mind. In celebrating the elements it is a subtle way of pointing us away from busy urban lives and out to the beauty of nature.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Seachange is a reminder of just how small us listeners are when set in such a vast natural expanse, a reminder not to get too far ahead of ourselves and too absorbed in technology or man-made phenomena. The sheer beauty of nature will always trump that.

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You can stream Sea Change on Apple music here

Switched On – Balance presents Soundgarden mixed by Nick Warren

Various Artists: Balance presents Soundgarden mixed by Nick Warren (Balance)

What’s the story?

The Soundgarden is an enterprise headed by DJ Nick Warren and his partner Petra, and in what seems like no time at all it has evolved from parties and radio shows to compilations and now a record label. This compilation marks a return to the Balance series for Warren, who as half of revered 90s duo Way Out West has an almost unrivalled pedigree in house music.

His wish was to create a timeless pair of mixes in which each track has involvement from a member of the Soundgarden family, illustrating the community ethics of the label.

What’s the music like?

Warren’s wishes are largely fulfilled, using his components to make a pair of mixes that could easily be listed as two recordings rather than their 27 tracks.

He creates wide open spaces and is careful not to fill them with too much music, so that sometimes the music can sound quite minimal. It always has a forward progression though, and in the course of two and a half hours opens out beautifully.

Warren opens up with a typically airy number, in this case Aārp‘s Gemma III, and lets the mix establish its own footing with a couple of airy house tracks. Arguably the best of these is Aspen, by Synkro & Arovane, which has a natural feel to it. As time passes a firmer footing and bolder sound are established. Warren’s mixing is typically seamless – it’s difficult to spot the joins at points – with other highlights including Kamilo Sanclamente‘s Urania, dispensing stardust far and wide. Darper‘s Crystal Voyager has broad harmonies and curious bleeps, musing on time and space, then Emi Galvan‘s Embrace flat major has a nice shimmery breakdown before panning out for Ben Archbold‘s SF.

The second mix is dreamy, a little darker but again thoughtfully compiled, starting with the Eastern leanings of SIX‘s Berlin. There are dark hues from Black 8‘s Black Tiger, while Dmitry Molosh’s Note brings a combination of distinctive sharper sounds and an ethereal vocal.

Later on Warren’s own Dreamcatcher, with Black 8, is subtly hypnotic, while Eli Nissan‘s Restricted Delusions is tougher. By the time Oliver & Tom‘s Luly comes around the pace has increased slightly but the mood is contented.

Is it recommended?

Yes. He may be an old hand at this compilation business, but Nick Warren still knows how to pace and mould a mix to perfection.

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You can get this album from the Balance music website

Switched On – Larry Gus: Subservient (DFA)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Larry Gus is one of DFA’s best-established dance acts, and with Subservient he takes his long player count to four. It is easily his most personal album yet, too, dispensing with the sampler and with Larry – real name Panagiotis Melidis – playing every instrument himself. It is an itemised list, with a drum kit, an SM57 (Shure microphone), a guitar, a bass, a Teenage Enginerring OP-1 (synthesizer and sequencer), and a Roland JV1010 synth module.

Melidis sings both in English and his native Greek, with the overriding message based on empathy. He delves deep into recent experience as a father and a husband, as an artist trying to come to terms with the Greek crisis and similarly catastrophic world events. The musical approach is described rather neatly as a combination of ‘crisis funk pop and trad Mediterranean grooves’.

What’s the music like?

Given the circumstances you could forgive him for delivering some cold and rather harrowing tales, but the response to these challenges is one of outgoing warmth, shot through with a dash of humour and wistfulness.

Subservient does indeed feel a lot more organic with Gus playing the instruments, but more importantly the music itself is once again really well written. You’d struggle to find a more effective bass riff than Taped Hands Here this year, but that track is not alone – Ayler The Pilot is close on its heels with the hook ‘it’s not the family you have it’s just the family you know’.

The vocal tracks are indeed very personal, and A Likely Projection has a thoughtful contribution to go with the breezy riffs. Text of Intent is a remarkable piece of work, its rolling percussion taking the music far afield in response to the meditative vocal.

While some of the music is quite laid back, In This Position goes the other way with some incredibly busy and frenetic music, Classifying A Disease strikes out in the direction of space rock and the bass line on The Sun Sections is far out in an enjoyable way. It’s quite likely that Melidis has a short attention span, which he makes very good use of here.

Does it all work?

Yes. Subservient is a really strong blend of Larry Gus’s personal identity, influences and reactions to present day events. At the same time it brings out an undercover homage to 1970s funk and disco, given a fresh lick of paint and a new viewpoint in the studio.

Is it recommended?

Definitely. Larry Gus continues to make fresh sounds for stale ears, and remains one of DFA’s unsung treasures. Subservient finds him getting ever stronger musically on his most personal album yet, in spite of those day to day vulnerabilities.

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