Switched on – Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: The Mosaic Of Transformation (Ghostly International)

What’s the story?

It is tempting to put forward the idea that what the musical world needs right now is a new album from t Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. That is because the music she has made up until now is not just a comfort for anxious times but it offers real, meaningful positivity from within. Recognising that potential, Ghostly International have proceeded with the album release rather than defer it, meaning that while Smith’s tour with Caribou may be cancelled the album she would be promoting is still with us.

Her previous release, Tides, was free of beats, and much of the rhythmic profile of The Mosaic Of Transformation is constructed without explicit use of bass drums. Yet it is an album of movement, exploring the relationship between sound and colour, and our own physical beings. She has a great wealth of knowledge and experience in this area, making music specifically designed to ‘fit’ our life experiences in a way that enhances them.

What’s the music like?

The Mosaic Of Transformation is light on its feet much of the time, but that does not make it insubstantial. Quite the opposite, for in tracks like Expanding Electricity, the ten and a half minute closing track on the album, Smith has put together sound collages of a deep and lasting beauty and also of a surprising density. If music were colour – which it often is of course – there would be deep blues and purples in this track especially, beginning with sonorous low register strings but curving upwards through the spectrum. When her multitracked voice proclaims, ‘I feel it, can you feel it expanding?’, the celebration of electrical power is wholeheartedly complete.

This love of electricity – without which very little of our music could be heard! – is felt throughout the album, where brighter pastel shades make themselves known. Carrying Gravity is another substantial track that develops instinctively and with a keen structural command. It has a luminous glow, especially as the textures thin out towards the end.

Some of the harmonic language Smith uses has an Oriental feel, which is either implied or more directly referenced – and the busy exchanges of The Steady Heart bring this through to the front. It is subtly apparent as the album gurgles into life through Unbraiding Boundless Energy Within Boundaries, while Remembering uses block chords and Smith’s distinctive layered vocals. After the initial relative stillness Understanding Body Messages stays true to its title with snippets of musical code passing along the line, conveying positive energy.

The beats are more gainfully employed in The Steady Heart, which has multi-layered vocals at its core – but everything is inevitably pointed to the closing, epic ode to electrical power.

Does it all work?

Yes – and the more you listen to The Mosaic Of Transformation, the more it has to offer. Smith’s layering technique is a sonic delight, because each visit to the music reveals previously hidden workings, subtle melodic touches and crossrhythms, all done with a light craftswoman’s touch. As the last sounds of Expanding Electricity subside, a lasting warmth is left behind.

Is it recommended?

Yes – and the more you listen to The Mosaic Of Transformation, the more it has to offer. Smith’s layering technique is a sonic delight, and each visit to the music reveals previously hidden workings, subtle melodic touches and crossrhythms, all done with a light craftswoman’s touch. As the last sounds of Expanding Electricity subside, a lasting warmth is left behind.

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Switched On – Recondite: Dwell (Ghostly International)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Recondite has been criticised for sounding the same between albums – as recently as the last few days – but when your output is as beautifully set up as his it would seem churlish to change your style unless you feel a strong conviction to do it. Real name Lorenz Brunner, he also recognises that his devoted fanbase thrive on his ability to continue doing what he does so well – and Dwell is the result of those endeavours.

What’s the music like?

Introverted but rhythmic. Dwell stays on the darker side where harmonies and atmospherics are concerned but there is a strong element of comfort to its vibes, a nice balance of warmth and cold.

Nobilia and Black Letter are two of the best tracks, both with starry flickers. In spite of the delicate drum tracks there is still a good deal of movement too. Mirror Games explores some rather lovely effects that are the sonic equivalent of dancing light patterns, refracting out over a bigger perspective. Moon Pearl is dubby, with light and shade, while Interlude 2 and Surface also explore a slower tempo to good effect. Wire Threat is extremely deep, the muffled kick drum and held bass a bed for slowly shifting, twinkling keyboards to move over.

Does it all work?

Yes. Brunner’s music reveals more than you think it might on first listen, describing a picture the listener can create for themselves. It is darkly shaded and nocturnal, but is ultimately a strong companion to have around. Turn the music up and it works well in a small club space too.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Our perception might be that Recondite may not be challenging himself overly, but it takes great craft and invention to keep interesting in electronic music. Dwell is full of good things, and provides proof that Brunner is still producing some beautiful music. Those who already love his output will see no reason to hesitate here.

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Switched On – Steve Hauschildt: Nonlin (Ghostly International)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Chicago-based Steve Hauschildt is in a rich vein of musical form at the moment, and follows up last year’s Dissolvi album with Nonlin, his second for the Ghostly label. The ex-Emeralds member has been recording while on tour, drawing from varied climates and cultural hubs such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Tbilisi and Brussels.

Hauschildt’s Bandcamp page describes his integration of ‘modular and granular synthesis’, and a technique of recording that plots grid-like backdrops, with subtle melodic loops, and treble lines that are relatively free to improvise.

What’s the music like?

This combination of a relatively rigid order for the background and free melodic presence in the foreground is effective throughout Nonlin, which manages to be both relaxing and stimulating at the same time.

Hauschildt eases us in with the soft and slightly moody outlook of Cloudloss and Subtractive Skies, which pulse with shimmering loops while evoking the bigger spaces their titles imply.

As the album progresses so we hear more the beats and the sharper edges of the producer’s analogue gear. Attractor B has depth to its beats while Nonlin itself is machine like, with busy patterns and noises. Reverse Culture Music has a nice poise, Hauschildt using twinkling motifs up top and broad notes and sounds to create the space below. The last two tracks, The Spring in Chartreuse and American Spiral, are more obviously techno-based, the latter starting serenely but gradually twisting its lines.

Does it all work?

Yes. Hauschildt is a reliable source of quality, easy to listen to but never standing still either.

Is it recommended?

Yes, for the point above. Hauschildt’s body of work has no duds – and Nonlin is another extremely solid addition to the canon.

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Switched On – Telefon Tel Aviv: Dreams Are Not Enough (Ghostly International)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

In the 2000s, Chicago-based duo Telefon Tel Aviv were highly regarded for their moody electronic music, notable for its wispy vocals and expansive panoramic views. Three high quality albums were released in that time, peaking with Immolate Yourself in 2009. Almost immediately following the album release however tragedy struck, with band member Charles Cooper unexpectedly passing away.

The surviving member Josh Eustis continued in a solo capacity under different aliases, exploring new ground with Puscifer, The Black Queen and striking solo project Second Woman, while briefly appearing as part of Nine Inch Nails’ touring line-up. Then he announced work on new Telefon Tel Aviv material, to the delight of the band’s still devoted fan base – and with Dreams Are Not Enough he releases their fourth album.

Its track titles link to describe a dream Eustis experienced at an early age. I dream of it often…a younger version of myself…standing at the bottom of the ocean…arms aloft…mouth agape…eyes glaring…not seeing…not breathing…still as stone in a watery fane.

What’s the music like?

The nine tracks unfold as a dream sequence might, staying true to the Telefon Aviv sound but if anything branching out towards more experimental territory. I dream of it often makes a really ear-catching start to the album, arriving by stealth as a reverie might, but gradually imposing itself with rhythms that ricochet and echo, the sound waves bouncing off the walls. The sonic panorama is vast, and captivating when heard on headphones, Eustis using drones that are incredibly comfortable on the ear but then blossom into something more substantial.

He continues to shift the sonic perspective, sometimes up close and very personal and then suddenly cutting away to a vast oceanic view. When he does this for standing at the bottom of the ocean, mouth agape or especially eyes glaring the vocals sound like ancient plainchant, the setting a vast underwater cathedral, the beats now resonating around the windows and arches.

There is perhaps inevitably a sense of sadness on the album, remembering Cooper, but there is an incredibly strong resolve too. As it progresses the vision of the recurring dream continues to be remarkably descriptive. Not breathing hammers home its heavy kick drums, as though the heart is struggling to cope, but when final track still as stone in a watery fane arrives there is a lasting peace, Eustis completing his cathartic journey.

Does it all work?

Yes. Electronic music is rarely as moving or as distinctive as this, and although Dreams Are Not Enough is not always an easy listen, it is never less than captivating. Eustis has a wholly original way with beats, the corrugated surfaces on tracks like arms aloft borne of a vivid imagination. It is great to hear his vocals again too, and although they are disembodied at times they frequently strike a chord.

Is it recommended?

Without hesitation. While Immolate Yourself was dreamy and leaned more towards song-based productions, Dreams Are Not Enough feels like an important part of the recovery stage for Eustis, and it continues the story of Telefon Tel Aviv in a reverential way, never wallowing but seeking new sounds, methods and ways of communicating. Anyone who thinks electronic music is devoid of emotion should head right here.

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