Switched on – Bibio: Sleep On The Wing (Warp Records)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Bibio has timed this release rather well. Sleep On The Wing is essentially a short album or a long EP, depending on your view – but it is an exploration of life in the wake of a loss, as well as a study of escaping the city to find peace in the countryside. In that sense Bibio – real name Stephen WIlkinson – is uncannily reflecting what many city commuters have found during the Coronavirus lockdown period, that an extended period in the country can shift the patterns of the mind considerably.

Sleep On The Wing is a deepening of Bibio’s folk connections too, using field recordings to bring the pure sounds of the countryside into the music, but also continuing his love of acoustic instruments. It has ten tracks and lasts just under half an hour.

What’s the music like?

Blissful. If you were indeed looking for music to help you escape the city, or as a distraction from the overwhelm brought on by electronic media in recent times, then this is definitely for you.

The music feels like a carefree celebration of the countryside, respectfully done but beautifully voiced. The pastoral language is soft but never too twee, and feels as green and pleasant as the beautiful cover from Joe Giacomet.

There is a slightly woozy feel about Bibio’s vocals, and when applied to the title track they give an appealing and slightly whimsical air. On Oakmoss they complement the rich acoustic guitar lines and ruminative violin,

The instrumentals are rather lovely. The Milky Way Over Ratlinghope spins a picturesque tale with the silvery tone of a viola and treble lines that include brief reveries for flute and wordless vocal. By contrast Awpockes is led by a softly picked guitar, while A Couple Swim follows the ripples of the water with the lazy lapping of its guitar,

The field recordings add to the charm. With what sounds like a thrush singing over running water, Bibio ensures Lightspout Hollow is bursting with life, while Crocus has a murkier profile.

Does it all work?

Yes, beautifully. Bibio’s songs or instrumental threads never outstay their welcome – if anything they could easily be stretched out for at least half their length, for his compressed way of working means time is never wasted.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Sleep On The Wing gets a strong recommendation, adding to the full to bursting Bibio discography a half-hour of pastoral charm. He is a remarkably consistent producer, but even so this is up there with his best work.

Listen

Buy

You can buy Bibio’s new release from the Warp Records website

Switched on – Jacaszek: Music for Film (Ghostly International)

What’s the story?

Polish composer Michal Jacaszek has pulled together excerpts from a number of different cinematic projects into a single work that runs for 45 minutes. It includes music from Rainer Sarnet’s black and white film November, a fantasy drama from 2017, where the brief was to create music ‘full of dark magic, strange beliefs, poverty, grit and natural beauty’, all around a story of love in old Estonian pagan times. Also included is music from He Dreams of Giants (2019) and Golgota wrocławska (2008).

What’s the music like?

As you might expect, Music For Film offers vivid imagery, often with cold and dark undertones. Jacaszek’s music unfolds with a measured tread throughout, a slow but determined walk forward that often leads into places of darkness. There is a close link to the music of Penderecki and Górecki here, more in mood than in explicit style, for Jacaszek is individual enough to hold his own comfortably.

The sparse textures of 49 are an ominous introduction, with a particularly cold piano sound, and this leads into the unsettling scene described by The Iron Bridge. Dance, too, has an underlying dread, the metallic and macabre sounds shuffling above a steadily moving bass line, eked out on a pizzicato bass instrument. Liina has a similarly bleak profile, with a cold vocal taking the lead.

There is white light in and around this music however, carefully and often beautifully shaded. Christ Blood Theme makes slow and stately progress while Encounter Me In The Orchard stops the listener in their tracks with a rich choral texture, like an imported piece from the Renaissance suspended in time.

November Early is particularly striking, painting the natural beauty required by the Estonian picture while reminding us of the bitter cold. Soft pianos toll, distant strings offer icy tremolos, but the steady foundations of pizzicato strings are what holds this music together, Jacaszek recreating the figurations of an old baroque-style Chaconne. By contrast the remove November Late builds from sparse beginnings to a full blooded orchestral climax.

Does it all work?

Yes, though Jacaszek’s work should come with the caveat that the listener needs to be in the right frame of mind to fully appreciate it! There are some very cold scenes here, achieved through masterly orchestration and the intriguing and often lingering glances towards older musical forms. Again this is in common with fellow Polish composers, but Jacaszek has plenty of original touches himself.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Jacaszek writes with powerful emotion, often through restraint. His music is often headed for dark places but it is well worth encountering if you haven’t previously heard it.

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Switched on – Squarepusher: Detroit People Mover

In these incredibly strange times, the arts are proving an area of real solace and inspiration for those stuck in isolation or worse.

The official video for Squarepusher‘s Detroit People Mover, directed by Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman, is a driver-less journey through the previously teeming Michigan metropolis. It captures the weird sense of half-life felt in most of the world’s cities currently:

As the commentary to this video notes, it contrasts dramatically with Tom Jenkinson’s previous video as Squarepusher. Terminal Slam is a flurry of activity and technology-inspired trickery, the sort of which seems almost impossible to imagine in the current climate. Jenkinson’s music is appropriately hyperactive as Daito Manabe‘s cityscapes rush by. Watch and compare!

Squarepusher’s album Be Up A Hello is out now on Warp Records. You can listen here:

On record: Brian Eno – Reflection (Warp)

eno-reflection

Summary

After the musical horror story that was 2016, it is perhaps important to remember there were some good bits along the way as well. One of those very much still with us is Brian Eno, who released the excellent album The Ship in April last year.

The timing of this new ambient album – 1 January 2017 – seems to be making a statement that this should be a year where we start to look forward again, embrace the idea of new music and allow it to soothe our furrowed brows.

What’s the music like?

Reflection is nothing new. That is not a criticism, more an observation that this single-movement work, continuing themes explored in Discreet Music of 1975 and Thursday Afternoon ten years later, retains all of the Brian Eno signature brushstrokes and textures.

From the first flourish of notes the mood is immediately set, and Reflection changes very little over the course of the next hour. After a few listens, however, the structure becomes more obvious and it also becomes clear that there is actually an exquisite tension at work, Eno setting down one pitch centre (G) and gradually working against it with notes based more in the area of C. He does this very subtly, and with consonant harmonies, so there is never any explicit threat to the peaceful nature of the writing, but there are little flecks of dissonance.

As the piece progresses it becomes like a lunar body on a slow journey, with the passing of twinkling stars and unblinking planets all around. Some of these are faster moving bodies, leaving tracers in the sky, while others are slow and ponderous, taking a while to go by. The music does become more animated but not by much, and fades into the distance gracefully.

Does it all work?

It all depends on where you listen to it. Headphones are recommended, and public transport, where the album has mostly been experienced, is the ideal setting. Eno manages to do just enough to avoid Reflections becoming pure background music, but if it is experienced as that it is at once calming and soothing, if a little on the dark side. The occasional frissons of tension keep the listener from sinking into complete complacency.

Is it recommended?

Yes. It is another example of Brian Eno’s mastery of the longer ambient structure, even though Reflections does not have any particular surprises in store. It puts the listener in a heightened state of mindfulness, definitely not a bad thing at this point in January!

Ben Hogwood

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