Switched On – Domenique Dumont: People On Sunday (The Leaf Label)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

People On Sunday is the soundtrack to the 1930 film of the same name (also known as Menschen am Sonntag, Les Hommes le Dimanche and People On Sunday). Dominique Dumont was commissioned to write the score for the Les Arcs film festival in 2019, where it was given a live performance. The film follows a group of characters going about their business in Weimar-era Berlin over one weekend, showing normal life in Germany before dictatorship

He took a great deal from the experience, documenting on his Bandcamp page how the film itself ‘strengthened my belief that the time we currently live in, although far from perfect, might be the best time to be alive’. That was before the Coronavirus pandemic, obviously, but a certain truth still rings true in his observation that, ‘we are living in a utopia compared to what came before and, perhaps, what is to come’.

What’s the music like?

Dumont’s music has the construction of a spider’s web, in that it has a fragile and graceful exterior but is held together with very solid musical elements. It also conforms to his optimistic outlook, with airy textures and delicate tones.

The twinkling lights of Arrival set the scene beautifully, using a minimal loop but expanding into droplets of melody up above. Where this track is cool, Water Theme (Le Château de Corail) has warmth through what sounds like steel pans.

Elsewhere the mood is blissful but closer inspection reveals the detail Dumont applies to every aspect of his work. The small but intricate melodic cells have consonant harmonies but feel as though they are providing light in relative darkness, finding calm and order away from hustle and bustle.

Rituals is especially good at this, panning out to find meditative calm, while We Almost Got Lost settles quickly into a trance, underwritten by a soft, bossa nova rhythm. Falling Asleep Under Pine Trees flickers with enchanting but restful activity, while Merry-Go-Round is charming and could easily run for double its duration on the brightly lit and closely woven parts Dumont brings forward. Watching Boats Pass By is as relaxing as the title suggests it should be,

Does it all work?

Yes. The music can easily be enjoyed as an album, independent of the moving images or even with other, more natural backdrops. Listening in a quiet space or on headphones brings out all of the individual elements employed, but these can also be listened to as a whole, setting the right, contemplative mood.

Is it recommended?

Yes. People On Sunday is a rather beautiful piece of work, shimmering in the half light and casting a spell on its listeners.

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Switched On – Laurence Pike: Prophecy (The Leaf Label)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Laurence Pike is on the crest of a creative wave. After an impressive output as drummer with PVT, he has joined forces with Luke Abbott and Jack Wyllie of Portico Quartet as Szun Waves, releasing their self-titled debut in 2016. Since then he has reeled off three albums as a solo artist, and Prophecy, his latest, shows his love for instinctive working continues.

The record is his response to the deepening global climate emergency but in particular hones in on the destructive wildfires wreaking havoc across Australia. The cover art, Goldens by Australian artist Gemma Smith, reflects his concerns in a striking image.

What’s the music like?

Instinctive. Pike works a very effective blend of pre-prepared material and improvisation, striking a balance between the two that feels just right.

He has close attention to detail with the brushstrokes of his percussive work matching up to broader musical sequences. Death Of Science bubbles with tension, creating quite a foreboding atmosphere. Ember is evocative, with a slightly distorted vocal and a distant but reassuring piano. The title track has a nice ambient backdrop while percussion clicks and whirs around.

New Normal is eerie both musically and in the fact its title was coined before the Covid pandemic, and it features clicks and brushes with a soft but insistent harpsichord motif.
Nocturnal noises continue into Born Under Saturn but with a softly voiced backdrop, before the musical camera pans out further on Rapture, the higher pitches suggesting we have taken to the air.

Pike’s use of percussion is never less than interesting but frequently sets vivid nocturnal pictures. Arguably the best is saved for last, with Echoes Of Earth underpinned by a steady but very sonorous chime, creating a rather beautiful epilogue.

Does it all work?

Yes. Pike’s uses the army of percussion at his disposal with a painter’s touch, and his brush strokes are commendably subtle at times. The way he combines the percussion instruments with subtle melodic loops or atmospheres is very effective, and the album works well both on headphones and surround sound.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. Laurence Pike’s work goes from strength to strength, and this particular episode is both effective and deeply felt.

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On record – Craven Faults: Erratics & Unconformities (The Leaf Label)

Written by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

How refreshing to find an artist that keeps their self-promotion to a minimum. That said, it would be good to know more about Craven Faults at some point! Real name Richard Formby, he has a simple biography on his record label site describing his moniker as ‘half-remembered journeys across post-industrial Yorkshire’.

In fact Craven Faults has been a thing for a while, with his well-received Lowfold Works EPs containing electronic music that shows off an ambitious grasp of musical structure. He is capable of stretching out his approach to minimal music into tracks of 20 minutes or more, using the barest of elements like Philip Glass does but building them up with oscillating synthesizers and drones.

Erratics & Unconformities is his first LP.

What’s the music like?

The Yorkshire reference is helpful, for as first track Vacca Wall establishes its shimmering content it feels like a look across the brooding landscape of the North Yorkshire Moors – but gradually opens out like the wings of a darkly shaded butterfly. This is music supported by a constant bass line, which tolls out like a deep bell, and a percussion track that never extends beyond a single kick drum, if at all.

The instruction from The Leaf Label to ‘put a 17-minute window in your diary and watch the video for Vacca Wall is worth following. In their words, ‘the rest of your inbox can wait, you need slowly unravelling analogue synthesizer arpeggios right now’:

With the mood set for the album, the next five tracks spread across nearly an hour, revealing different but often darker shades. The shorter Deipkier has a kick drum too, while Cupola Smelt Mill has sharper definition to the synthesizers and a bassline off the beat. Picking up the more industrial theme, Slack Sley & Temple is even darker, its brooding outlines giving the impression of a machine. This is the biggest track on the album, an expansive number of austere beauty.

Hangingstones regains some of the mood of the opening, while Signal Post has a more soothing drone at its base.

Does it all work?

Yes. Craven Faults has a distinctive style, and repeated listening brings out the rhythmic invention in his music, which is greater than you might at first think. It explains why he doesn’t need anything more than a kick drum.

Ultimately this album works best as a single unit in which to immerse yourself, drawing the listener in with its textures and spatial effects.

Is it recommended?

Yes, because there is some very fine music here – though it does come with the health warning that its dark nature is not necessarily ideal for the oppressively cloudy January days where it barely gets light!

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On record: Julia Kent – Temporal (The Leaf Label)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Canadian cellist-composer Julia Kent turns to expressive dance for inspiration on her fifth album Temporal. Much of the music here has its origins in the theatre, and looks for a more organic approach than the relatively confrontational Asperities, her previous album for The Leaf Label in 2015.

What’s the music like?

In a word, emotional. The cello has properties unlike any other instrument, an ability to function as bass, harmony or treble – and all combine here to heart-melting effect. Kent uses the distinctive timbres of the instrument’s ‘open’ strings to create a mood in Last Hour Story, the expansive opening piece, but when the bass drops the full range of sound is fully revealed.

The music does indeed dance, often slowly – but the cello takes the lead with probing melodies from its rich tones. The use of subtle vocal effects around the edges only enhances the human connection. While Imbalance uses more electronics, with a fluttering figure from what sounds like a hi-hat, it cuts to the wide open Conditional Futures, a glorious sonic panorama.

When other instruments do appear, such as the soft piano in Crepuscolo, they are at a respectful distance, the cello kept as the foreground ‘lead’.

Does it all work?

Absolutely. Julia Kent knows intimately the potential of a cello not just to sing but also to provide harmonic substance and rhythmic impetus. All elements come together beautifully here.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. Temporal represents a good way in to Julia Kent’s music but is also a natural pinnacle of her work so far. It repays both foreground and background listening, though the former is encouraged so you can get the extent of the intricacies in and around her cello. Once heard a few times, Temporal will become a permanent fixture.

Further listening

You can listen to Temporal below:

Meanwhile Julia has contributed a cello-themed playlist to Arcana which you can listen to here: