On Record – Nightlands: Moonshine (Western Vinyl)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Nightlands, the solo project of The War On Drugs bassist Dave Hartley, has reached its third instalment. Moonshine reflects a change in the pace of his home personal life, since leaving Philadelphia for the relatively deserted area of Asheville.

When crafting his music, Hartley has looked to build massive layers of keyboards and vocals on top of each other, creating ‘stacks’ of sound. They are in keeping with the album’s artwork, as the press release describes. “The surrealistic album art by Austin-based illustrator Jaime Zuverza depicts an archway opening to the stars over the surface of an idyllic sea flanked by both moon and sun”, it says. “Similarly, Moonshine reveals portals within portals leading to ever deeper places in Hartley’s vocal-centered labyrinth.”

What’s the music like?

As wide open as that introduction suggests it will be, but in spite of the big textures there is a touching intimacy too. On occasion it feels like the one person you are talking to has gone out for a quick smoke under the stars in a massive vista, and will be back inside shortly. The music pans out to give space to these thoughts, which are often tender and warm.

They are not without sharp-edged feeling, however. Stare Into The Sun has a direct observation on political machinations. “You’ve got your sheep but you’re no shepherd”, sings Hartley. “What does it mean…to buy everyone, and send someone’s son to Afghanistan?” No Kiss For The Lonely is equally pertinent, with its observation of “no love for you refugees, no rest for the weary”.

Most of the time, however, the album inhabits a calming place, the big vocals and keyboards complemented by languid saxophone lines and impressively supple rhythm tracks. The music unfolds with a slow and very natural groove, and Hartley’s warm-hearted vocals become its principle feature, often finding a style of music akin to a less troubled Bon Iver.

With You is a prime example, inhabiting a serene and content place, while Blue Wave goes even calmer, its keyboards like a slowly running stream.

Does it all work?

It does, especially at either end of the day. Moonshine has some very evocative moments, and it is beautifully written, rewarding background listening but also offering more to those paying attention to the lyrics.

Is it recommended?

Is it recommended?

Yes – an album of starry Americana that deserves its place in the moonlight.

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BBC Proms #26 – The Labèques, BBC Symphony Orchestra / Semyon Bychkov: Julian Anderson premiere, Martinů & Rachmaninoff

Prom 26 – Katia and Marielle Labèque (pianos), BBC Symphony Orchestra / Semyon Bychkov (above)

Anderson Symphony No. 2 ‘Prague Panoramas’ (2020-22) (BBC co-commission: World premiere of complete work)
Martinů Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra H292 (1943)
Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances Op.45 (1940)

Royal Albert Hall, London
Friday 5 August 2022

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse Photo (c) Chris Christodoulou

An unusually well-assembled concert this evening with what might be termed a programme of ‘three-by-threes’ – each of these three works having three movements which, in each case, results in a broadly symmetrical design, not least the Second Symphony by Julian Anderson (with the conductor, below).

Inspired by Josef Sudek’s photographs of Prague while utilizing two medieval Czech hymns, Prague Panoramas (might Prague Pictures be even more apposite?) is typical in its fusing evocativeness with precision. Not least the preludial opening movement, its stark alternation of quick-fire chords and silence evolving into aspiring melodic lines as build to a tumultuous if quickly curtailed climax, though this linear aspect comes to dominate the nocturnal central movement with its expressive intensifications then fades against a backdrop of bell resonance and luminously modal polyphony. The finale is a deftly organized rondo – its energetic main material, inspired by Josef Lada’s almost Rabelaisian depictions of pub brawls, interspersed with more lyrical ideas through to the heady peroration later subsiding into a calm postlude.

Although its first two movements had been heard in Munich and Prague, this was the work’s first complete performance and found the BBC Symphony at its collective best – not least the lambently interweaving woodwind and strings, the visceral impact of brass and a substantial array of percussion whose contribution was pervasive. Semyon Bychkov (under-appreciated as an exponent of contemporary music) duly brought out that unity-within-diversity such as gave this work an underlying focus across the 32 minutes of its eventful yet cohesive course.

From Prague-inspired music by a British composer to that by a Czech composer in America – Martinů’s Concerto for Two Pianos may never have gained the plaudits of his earlier Double Concerto but it typifies this composer’s exile in a tried-and-tested interplay of folk-inflected melodicism with a harmonic acerbity recalling Prokofiev and rhythmic dexterity redolent of Stravinsky. Its undoubted highlight is a central Adagio whose almost ‘harmonie’ woodwind writing and circling piano figuration (had the composer come across the gamelan-influenced music of Colin McPhee?) feels mesmeric and affecting. Neither outer movement comes close in their audibly contrived amalgam of the rumbustious and lyrical, but this is music in which Katia and Marielle Labèque excel and tonight’s performance could rarely have been equalled.

Nor was there any doubting Bychkov’s authority in Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances that followed the interval. Admittedly this now regularly played while technically exacting piece needed more rehearsal than the BBCSO was able to give it on this occasion, though the outer sections of the first dance had just the right ominous incisiveness and its middle part featured winsome alto saxophone from Martin Robertson. The second dance had irony and angularity aplenty, as was slightly offset by the strings’ less than unanimous response towards the close.

Its sombre ambivalence and intricate textures give the central span of the final dance a quality unique in this composer: if Bychkov might have endowed it with even greater intensity, there was no doubting his identity with this music here or on the way to its resplendent apotheosis.

For more information, click on the names of composer Julian Anderson – and for more on the artists, click on the names of Katia and Marielle Labèque, Semyon Bychkov and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. For more on this year’s BBC Proms as it continues, head to the Proms website

For more information, click on the names of composers Kalevi Aho and Kaija Saariaho – and for more on the artists, click on the names of Carolina Eyck, John Storgårds and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Switched On – Kuedo: Infinite Window (Brainfeeder)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Kuedo, the pseudonym for Berlin-based producer Jamie Teasdale, moves to the Ninja Tune family for third album Infinite Window, the first since 2016’s Slow Knife.

In the interim Teasdale has been extremely busy, collaborating with Flying Lotus on the Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 OST and scoring two films.

This album explores Teasdale’s love of contrasting styles of music, principally spaced out ambient synths and the more rhythm-based work of producers like Frank Ocean and The Weeknd, and looks to bring them together in a wholly complementary way.

What’s the music like?

Excellent. Teasdale’s prowess as a film composer is immediately evident, as it is easy to picture scenes to go with his descriptive writing. He also masters the combination of R&B and more through-composed synth music, meaning that we get emotive pictures set to rhythms that vary between intricate and driven.

The sound picture is slightly glitchy, with the vast backdrops given small dots of detail in the foreground, a bit like looking at a scene from Stranger Things where those white dots swirl in close to the viewer.

Harlequin Hallway simmers nicely and drops the beats, one of many occasions where Kuedo really flexes his muscles and drives the music forward. The title track acts as a kind of opening credits montage. Positioned halfway through, it gets just the right blend of moody introspection and pure strength from the rhythm section, while the synths, initially bubbling under, surge to the surface with simmering energy.

Sliding Through Our Fingers is a great start, rippling synth lines spreading out in the manner of Tangerine Dream to fill a massive space. The fluttering rhythms on Shadow Dance are brilliantly done, while Skybleed Magic has a really impressive scope, and feels like a sci-fi theme in waiting

Does it all work?

Impressively so. The album is really well structured, telling a story of contrasting moods and colours, but staying very true to a single path. There is a lot of energy just beneath the surface, especially when Kuedo is spinning those intricate synth lines, but the big drum tracks ensure that it is released in a wholly satisfying way.

Is it recommended?

Definitely. You could approach this album from the direction of Vangelis or Burial – and either way you would fine plenty to enjoy. Deeply impressive and consistently rewarding.

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BBC Proms #25 – Carolina Eyck, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / John Storgårds: Kalevi Aho Theremin Concerto, Saariaho & Shostakovich

Prom 25 – Carolina Eyck (theremin), BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / John Storgårds

Aho Eight Seasons (Concerto for Theremin & Chamber Orchestra) (2011) (London premiere)
Saariaho Vista (2019) (Proms premiere)
Shostakovich Symphony no.15 in A major Op.141 (1971)

Royal Albert Hall, London
Thursday 4 August 2022

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse Photo (c) Chris Christodoulou

John Storgårds has given some memorable Proms with the BBC Philharmonic in the decade since he became this orchestra’s guest conductor, and tonight was no exception for featuring a theremin concerto by Finnish composer Kalevi Aho. Its title Eight Seasons should be taken advisedly – the eight continuous sections encompassing a period from autumn to spring, as is reflected in the mostly restrained yet constantly changing textures which define a progression from the richness of Harvest to Midnight Sun with its serenity informed by new potential.

An instrument as fascinating to watch being played as it is to hear, the theremin has become the victim of its own ubiquity as an enhancer of atmosphere in film-scores and for musicians from Brian Wilson to Jonny Greenwood. Carolina Eyck was a dedicated exponent (evident in her encore-demonstration) – not least in the latter stages when her vocalise proved an enticing extension of her instrumental prowess, and the myriad timbral shifts more than compensated for the intermittent blandness of Aho’s acutely fastidious if not consistently involving music.

The layout of this piece (wind quintet and percussion alongside reduced strings) necessitated an early interval to prepare for those relatively lavish forces of Vista, Kaija Saariaho’s latest return to the orchestra and inspired by traversing the Californian coast from Los Angeles to San Diego. This is embodied over two cumulative movements – the expectancy of Horizons duly fulfilled with the mounting activity of Targets which itself subsides into an intensified recollection of the opening, now sounding as expansive as that ‘vista’ envisaged by the title.

Music so complex needs a sure hand to maintain its focus, the BBC Philharmonic responding with alacrity to Storgård’s attentive direction while he steered a convincing trajectory through what is likely Saariaho’s finest large-scale work for years – the intricacy and translucency of her writing having a panache which ensured this was manifestly a showpiece with substance. In particular, the sense of ideas being tentatively anticipated then vividly recalled added much to the evocative quality of music as formally substantial as it sounded expressively involving.

From recent Finnish orchestral works to Shostakovich’s last and most equivocal symphony is a fair step aesthetically, but Storgårds ensured the succession was a meaningful one. If it did not evince the ultimate in ominous irony, those laughs elicited from the opening movement’s stealthy activity and allusive inanity were for real – as, more regrettably, were those hesitant coughs denoting uneasy response to the slow movement’s emotional intensity as heightened by its sparseness of gesture, while not forgetting an eloquent response by cellist Peter Dixon.

Nor was the percussion found wanting in its almost concertante role, to the fore in a scherzo where the whimsical and sardonic found an unlikely accord. From its sombre initial gestures, Storgårds then had the measure of a finale whose central passacaglia built toward a powerful climax, and while tension dropped with the resumption of earlier ideas, the spectral transition into the coda was judiciously handled with the latter mesmeric in its deft profundity. Should the BBC Philharmonic need a new chief conductor, Storgårds might be worth approaching.

For more information, click on the names of composers Kalevi Aho and Kaija Saariaho – and for more on the artists, click on the names of Carolina Eyck, John Storgårds and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Switched On – farben: textstar+ (Faitiche)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

This release brings together a series of four EPs released between 1999 and 2002 by the celebrated electronic musician Jan Jelinek, using the pseudonym farben.

The selection has been mastered from the original tapes, with two additional pieces also included. Jelinek also includes Polaroids of his home studio in Berlin at the time of recording.

“Every sound is a text” is the theme behind Jelinek’s thinking – “a bearer of meaning in search of a reader. Hoping the ideas inscribed in its autonomous existence will be understood as intended. While its beauty lies precisely in misunderstanding, in reading the coded message a new way every time. A thousand colours of sound, a thousand different ways to hear, to see, to understand.”

His description is a helpful accompaniment to the music as it takes hold.

What’s the music like?

Darkly cinematic. The way Jelinek works minimal material into something very descriptive is captivating throughout, and on headphones he effortlessly draws the listener in. With seemingly simple bleeps and clicks he can create atmospheres, while the subtle rhythms create surprisingly funky backdrops. These basic elements all help to form impressively constructed longer tracks, adding wider perspectives to draw out the listener’s aural view.

On the first track, Live At The Sahara Tahoe, 1973, the bleeps and clicks are complemented by shady pad sounds, while on FF things break out into a really strong, low-end funk. Beautone is an introverted, studio-bound track – and yet its chordal sequences hint at something much more active and the low-end squiggly bass is a treat. farben Says Love To Love You Baby has snatches of melody, rather like walking past a jazz club and hearing fragments of music.

The musical language is friendly and often with snippets of humour, easily glimpsed on the warm-hearted farben Says As Long As There’s Love Around, beats ricocheting around the stereo picture. farben Says So Much Love nails a more conventional but excellent deep house groove along the lines of Matthew Herbert, while the turntable scratches lend Raute extra warmth. Finally farben says Love Oh Love offers a watery backdrop, like its album companions setting a deep, nocturnal scene.

Does it all work?

It does, providing the listening environment is the right one – clubs or home stereos will bring out all the subtleties of Jelinek’s basslines and his intricately processed percussion.

Is it recommended?

Enthusiastically. You could even call it textual healing!

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