Switched On – Peter Broderick: Blackberry (Erased Tapes)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

This is a surprise release from Peter Broderick, the Oregon multi-instrumentalist giving us his first vocal album in five years, since Colours of the Night in 2015. The release will not be as much of a surprise to Broderick’s followers, however, as they are used to his prodigious output on several musical levels. While more recently he has been lending violin to Tim Burgess‘ band, Broderick still finds the time to write his own classically-infused music and the sort of song-based material we find here.

The whole of Blackberry was recorded in Broderick’s home in south east London, an environmentally friendly album in concept and execution.

What’s the music like?

Subtle, meaningful, light-hearted and affecting. Broderick recognises the need of listeners to have something consoling in the times in which we find ourselves, but he offers a few witticisms along the way. Stop And Listen and But are both quirky songs littered with wordplay and wry observations, Broderick’s sonorous voice working well with the humour.

As the album progresses however so the music becomes more deeply affecting – and the thread of environmental awareness, which runs through the album, comes more to the front. Blackberry itself is a celebration of foraging, and is really nicely done, while the wordplay on The Niece is clever. Broderick’s voice has folk music inflections without directly using traditional source material.

The soft but compelling storytelling of What’s Wrong With A Straight Up Love Song leaves its understated mark, Broderick working really well with a longer structure of nine minutes on the album’s centrepiece. The soft brushstrokes of Let It Go are lovely, as are the autumnal strings on What Happened To Your Heart.

Does it all work?

Yes. The humour in the opening songs might not strike a chord with everyone but it is an essential part of Broderick’s carefree style, and works really well. His skill in orchestration and songwriting, meanwhile, comes through at every opportunity.

Is it recommended?

Definitely. Seasoned collectors of Peter Broderick’s music will be used to spending a bit of money to keep up with his prolific output, but that’s because they will argue the outlay reaps musical dividends. That is very much the case once again.

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Switched On – Rival Consoles: Articulation (Erased Tapes)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Articulation is the fifth album for Erased Tapes from Rival Consoles, the name under which Ryan Lee West releases much of his music. The inspiration for this album is György Ligeti, not in an explicitly musical sense but in the art of making music from a graphic score. The idea behind this was to get away from the computer and start with patterns, shapes or structures drawn by hand. This would generate musical solutions. Two of the initial scores sketched out by West are shown below:


Articulation


Sudden Awareness of Now

What’s the music like?

Articulation has less obviously musical content than its predecessor Persona. There are admirable and often striking sounds and textures achieved through this music, which often creates powerful pictures and atmospherics. Yet while the chord progressions are strong there is not so much of a melodic strength in depth.

Opening track Vibrations On A String is a study in tonal colour, moving between distortion and a more consonant sound until a forthright beat kicks in. There is a tension between the energy of the beats and the slow four-note progression of the string itself.

Forwardism and Articulation follow similar paths, with relatively minimal means. The former strips back to beats and jagged atmospherics, while the latter takes a more active broken beat and spins threads around it. Melodica is much warmer, the beats retreating and the music panning out a little, the approach allowing for more improvisation, while Still Here resembles an extended peal of mid-range electronic bells, delivered without beats.

Most impressive and enduring is the final Sudden Awareness of Now. With a dazzling array of textures applied to its central riff it crackles with energy, sending out trance-like pulses but surrounded by a warm haze of sound.

Does it all work?

Yes, in terms of conforming to West’s blueprint, but the shift away from computer towards drawings has not necessarily given the music more emotion. If anything, it sounds more processed, a collection of sounds rather than melodies. It is very effective for mood-setting and creating colours but does not always leave a lasting impression.

Is it recommended?

Articulation is an easy recommendation for Rival Consoles devotees, but it does not yet come across as his strongest album. Time will tell if it has the same staying power as other Erased Tapes releases, but for now Articulation is easier to admire than an album with which to form a strong emotional bond.

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New music and album from the Penguin Cafe

Photo credit (c) Alex Kozobolis

Good news for fans of the Penguin Cafe – the Arthur Jeffes-led ensemble have a new album setting foot on land in October.

For more than 35 years the Penguin Cafe name has stood for music free of constraint that looks to explore and embrace the colours of acoustic instruments around the world, enjoying the influence of classical music as it does so. The Jeffes name has been behind it from 1973, when Simon Jeffes began the group with cellist Helen Liebmann. More recently a second incarnation of the group, led by Simon’s son Arthur, was sealed by the 2017 album The Imperfect Sea.

At the core of the band’s message has been the state of the natural world, and as the press release details the new album Handfuls Of Night ‘began life after Greenpeace commissioned Jeffes to write four pieces of music corresponding to four breeds of penguins, to help raise awareness for the endangered Antarctic seas.

A fundraising evening at EartH in Hackney followed, where Penguin Cafe premiered the four songs named after their feathered counterparts to a sold out audience; the rousing contemporary folk inflected Chinstrap, the mournful and minimalistic Adelie, stoic and rhythmic The Life of an Emperor and the wistful, string-laden Gentoo Origin.

All appear on the new album, which has at its heart the soothing At The Top of the Hill, They Stood…, which you can hear below. Here the piano arpeggios are reassured by soft bass drum and woozy harmonium:

It bodes well for the long player. Handfuls of Night is out on October 4th on Erased Tapes, together with a set of UK live dates, ahead of a world tour in 2020. You can pre-order the album here

On record: A Winged Victory For The Sullen – Iris (Erased Tapes)

winged-victory-for-the-sullen

Summary

For their third album A Winged Victory For The Sullen, the duo of Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran, have turned to film. Given the deeply atmospheric music of their first two extended works this was perhaps an inevitable move, though was made at the suggestion of Iris director Jailil Lespert, who had discovered their music online.

The film Iris is a remake of Hideo Nakata’s mysterious thriller Chaos, and speaks of unexpected sightings and unexplained appearances. Ideal, you would think, for a moody soundtrack laden with menace.

What’s the music like?

The Prologue sets the brooding scene and establishes the duo’s sound, a combination of beautifully scored strings and subtly used electronics. The slowly oscillating harp and long chords set a wary atmosphere, which by the time of Retour Au Champs De Mars arrives has spilled over into outright threat.

There are no obvious melodies in this music, but as you listen more the harmonic movements become ever more inevitable, the conviction of the music increasingly strong. Galerie is especially effective, the sheen of strings broken by a striking, mottled piano, while in Le Renversement there is the effect of distant gunfire, a chilling effect over static held notes.

Does it all work?

Yes. The music is very slow moving, so is not ideal for every listening situation, but the quality of writing for strings and the ability to paint dark pictures make Iris an increasingly compelling listen.

The combination of subtly used modular synths and the strings is an effective one, especially on bigger sound systems, and the music has enough about it for each part of the soundtrack to stand on its own.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Once again A Winged Victory For The Sullen show their ability to create unique and rather eerie sound worlds, and while some might find their approach a bit too dark and foreboding, there is always a shaft of light to pierce the relative gloom.

Ben Hogwood

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The 6Music Prom – Nils Frahm and A Winged Victory For The Sullen

Prom 27: Late Night With … BBC 6 Music: Nils Frahm and A Winged Victory For The Sullen

a-winged-victory-for-the-sullen
A Winged Victory For The Sullen at the 6Music Prom Picture (c) Chris Christodoulou

Watch here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/events/empxj5#b0640mhj

The story behind the second BBC 6 Music Prom was a gratifying one, built on a desire for classical music to make itself more available. Mary Anne Hobbs was the catalyst, playing music by Nils Frahm to enthusiastic listeners worldwide. Their response encouraged her to introduce them to his Erased Tapes label mates, A Winged Victory For The Sullen, a duo comprising Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Wiltzie.

Both acts were part of an extended mix for this late night event, aided by atmospheric lighting and smoke to turn the Royal Albert Hall into an after-hours club. Into this already heady environment came A Winged Victory, playing much of their second album ATOMOS. They were joined by an unnamed string trio and London Brass, their task to provide sonorous colour and slow but far-reaching melodies. O’Halloran and Wiltzie were on keyboard duties, drawing out chord patterns and soundscapes to give the listener an airborne sensation. This was further enhanced by members of the Random Dance Company, whose chief Wayne McGregor provided the stimulus for ATOMOS. Their relaxed interpretations of the music belied the effort required to contort their limbs!

The music was expansive, like a slowly changing cloud formation, and crucially had beauty of timbre to match. From the simplest of melodic cells came music of primitive meaning, evoking memories of pop music’s ambient craze twenty years ago but without any vocal samples. Here music was stripped back to its basics, and was all the more moving for the lack of incident and chatter. The crowd was thoroughly absorbed, most stock still but some perceiving the latent energy running through the music.

In truth London Brass could have been used more, their potential to add brightness only sparingly glimpsed. The string trio were more gainfully employed, the cello particularly beautiful when raised above the textures. As their set came to an end so Nils Frahm joined the stage, the two acts uniting in an improvised piece that brought more rhythmic definition – a sign of what was to come from the German pianist.

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Nils Frahm at the 6Music Prom. Picture (c) Chris Christodoulou

Frahm used a team of keyboard instruments, including two ‘prepared’ pianos – that is, with keyboards, hammers and strings all modified to secure the all-important timbres required. Frahm’s music is more obviously derived from classical music, with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Chopin and Debussy all discernible influences. It has more obvious kinetic energy, moving quickly during Hammers to imply a strong beat, even before the introduction of an incredibly warm bass note to rattle the ribcage.

Frahm was a hyperactive presence, rushing urgently between his pianos and synthesizer, occasionally looping small clumps of chords in the manner of Steve Reich or even Dave Brubeck, but always intent on carrying his music forward. It was largely successful, though the introduction of two toilet brushes for the closing number felt like a gimmick.

What really carried, though, was the intense desire for discovery on the part of the audience. 6 Music had been playing classical music in the lead-up to this Prom, sensitively chosen with the pop music lover in mind, hoping to arouse curiosity – and that is exactly what this sort of Prom should be doing, bringing in people who find classical music and its terminology a daunting proposition.

It was a handsome success, Hobbs having found a way of communicating its appeal while showing how electronic and classical styles are on a fruitful collision course. We should not just be limited to Erased Tapes, though, as Warp, Glacial Movements, Bella Union and One Little Indian are just four more labels excelling in this area.

It is to be hoped that at the very least we will have a sequel. Tom Service presents a program along these lines on 6 Music this Sunday, showing how the two stations do on occasion overlap. Both have open musical policies, and in their current state show the BBC at its best, providing musical stimulation for a clearly hungry crowd.