Monday, December 2, 2019

Lou Rogai - Cathedral (2019)

Last year, Lou Rogai of Lewis & Clarke unveiled Implications in D major, Adagio for Chamber Strings, the first of a series of chamber music compositions Rogai wrote while also crafting a follow up to his last Lewis & Clarke album Triumvirate.

While Lewis & Clarke has often invoked the intimacy of chamber music both in its recorded output and its live shows, with Implications and now Cathedral, Rogai filters his slow building chamber folk into a classical idiom. 

A composition in three movements, Cathedral isn't your standard classical composition - from its use of field recordings, guitar, and synth, Rogai provides an interesting stamp on chamber music in a way wholly unlike his straight forward, elegaic Implications. Beginning with church , "Arrival", the first movement of Cathedral is an ambient wave slowly manuvering away from the shore - it's not until 2 and a half minutes with the entrance of the guitar that Rogai embarks on a direct presentation of a melody. Where each member of Rogai's ensemble flittered by in rapid blur or peeked from a haze before, they're all accounted for at this point, flute, double bass, clarinet, classical guitar, and strings weaving together in Rogai's characteristic slow build. 

"Acceptance", the piece's second movement is essential a marriage of Rogai as a composer and a songwriter (much like Lewis & Clarke), Rogai lends his vocals to the piece, at first vocalizing in response to the string and brass before he begins singing actual words. Much like "Arrival", "Acceptance" engages in about two minutes of musical world building - creating a hazy ambience meant to disorient and which makes the sudden clarity of Rogai's vocals all the more potent. 

"Ascent", the final movement of Cathedral, finds Rogai playing off of his field recordings of chimes as he creates a theme that seeks to replicate them. It's slow at first, gradually building and almost improvisatory as Rogai recalls the casual brush of the chimes and eventually eeks out a beautiful, furtive melody elevated to masterful grandeur by a lush string accompaniment. 

Cathedral isn't your standard classical composition. It isn't even your standard experimental classical composition. It exists as a mix of experimental composition and songcraft - similar but not entirely reminiscent of his work as Lewis & Clarke. Rogai has always crafted music that rewards the patient listener and Cathedral is no different - an exploration of theme and place where the place in question might not actually exist.

Cathedral is meant to resonate deep inside the listener like the church bells Rogai uses to signal the start of the piece and the shift between its movements. It's a beautiful and meditative piece of art that surprises and delights by virtue of its embrace and suspension of traditional form and its avant garde approach toward both the classical and singer/songwriter realms. 

Lou Rogai's Cathedral is out now on Veritidas Recordings. Both LP and CD orders come with bonus tracks of Rogai's Essere Amato film score. You can order it now. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

Listen: Diamanda La Berge Dramm - "Amazon"

photo by Juri Hiensch
My introduction to Dutch violinist Diamanda La Berge Dramm came curiously enough when I was scrolling through Instagram. As I was mindless swiping through the stories of my friends and casual acquaintances, the sounds of her siren-recalling glissandos coupled by her featherweight vocals immediately made me pause. A whole host of questions immediately rose in my brain: who is this? Who posted this? Where can I hear more? Those questions were immediately answered as the poster was none other than Peter McLaughlin, founder of the Pretty Purgatory label, announcing a new single of Dramm's from the collaborative record from Dramm and English poet SJ Fowler Beastings.

Before even looking up Dramm's biography, I could tell Dramm had a reputation that far proceeded her simply after listening to more than the 14 second sound bite McLaughlin has unknowingly gifted me with. Dramm started violin at the age of four, studied at the New England Conservatory, Royal Conservatory of Music at the Hague, and has devoted much of her professional career towards the presentation of new music, founding Splendor, an artist collective and arts space in Amsterdam that regularly puts on concerts. 

"Amazon", the second single from Dramm's forthcoming album Beastings, immediately hooked me with is juxtaposition of opposites - Dramm's vocals are light and airy against at first an effect not unlike a sliding trombone, and then a mounting cacophony of  Dramm caresses Fowler's texts holding them firmly aloft above them to set the mood but also to leap out among the fray of otherworldly sounds Dramm is somehow able to weave from her violin. Fowler's texts are elusive, weaving paths of serpentine grace as Dranm's accompaniment blooms forth, both occasionally dealing glancing blows at they intersect at just the right moments. "To be inside a background noise of a thing I don't possess" Dramm sings, accented by a rumbling low end. 

"Amazon" is an excellent piece of songcraft - multitudinous in sound and meaning, a luxurious unfurling reverie that's both delightful simple and awe-inspiringly complex. It's a testament to Dramm's compositional prowess that she's able to craft such a lush backdrop of infinitely rewarding instrumental flourishes that doesn't distract from the simplistic but elusive beauty of Fowler's text. 

Diamanda La Berge Dramm's Beastings is out November 22nd on Pretty Purgatory. It's available as a digital download, a rose colored cassette or as a CD with a chapbook featuring lyrics and expanded poens from SJ Fowler. 

Monday, November 11, 2019

Listen: Lake Mary & The Ranch Family Band - "Sun Dogs"

My introduction to Lake Mary, the Missouri based ambient folk project helmed by experimental guitarist Chaz Prymek happened, as all of my favorite discoveries tend to, by chance. I attended a house show to see proven favorites Ben Seretan and Cassandra Jenkins and was rewarded with the enchanting instrumental rambles of Prymek who was joined by Nevada Greene guitarist and Dismal Niche co-founder M. Crook as well as Ben Seretan on harmonium. The result was an absolutely spellbinding set of patiently plotted tracks that blurred the line between improvisatory ruminations and methodical compositions that kept the entire room in an awed hush. I was so won over by the set that when they mentioned they had another gig in town before heading back to Missouri, I immediately made plans to go and later, dug into the Lake Mary catalog. As a fan of long form compositions, Lake Mary's catalog was an embarrassment of riches full of solo works as well as incredibly fruitful collaborations recorded virtually all over the country which explains in some measure the expansive, windswept nature of some of Prymek's work.

"Sun Dogs", the title track from Lake Mary's forthcoming album out November 15th on, is an unofficial follow up to last year's River Ceremony and finds Prymek "getting the band back together" so to speak as Prymek enlists The Ranch Family Band again on this record with a few helpful additions (like Ben Seretan). While I associate Prymek's compositions as more of a slow burning amble, "Sun Dogs" is more brisk: a windows down drive instead of a exploratory stroll but the view is no less scenic, effortless conjuring images of sun drenched vistas and the wide open plain.

While "Sun Dogs" moves at swifter pace than most of Lake Mary's oevre, Prymek spins compositional gold out of repetitive themes, elevating them with virtuosic slide guitar, and employs dazzling builds that gives each instrument its time to shine and interact with its central themes. "Sun Dogs" is essentially through composed - shifting from one theme to the next without an attempt to double back. The bright frolick of Prymek's initial theme gives way to a looser, more spacious melodically suspended interlude with pulsating synths before shifting to a rollicking theme that expands on itself with graceful solos and a conversational interplay between its multitude of instruments.

Sun Dogs is out November 15th on Whited Sepulchre and Full Spectrum Records. Pre-order is available now. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Listen/Watch: Armel Dupas - "Loup Solitaire"

Photo by Aleksandr Balakin
Since meeting French pianist/composer Armel Dupas completely by chance, I have been taken by his unique approach towards music making in general, originally trained as a jazz pianist and enlisted as a common collaborator in a number of trios, quartets, film music composer, and touring musician, Dupas' first full length album Upriver presented interesting development of a style that remains distinctly indefinable. A blend of electronic and acoustic sounds that never overwhelm Dupas' gifts for delightful melodic songcraft or the seeming ease of his playing, it was a testament to Dupas' ability to conjure music of a sort of a romantic or impressionist mode without being wholly classical.

But Upriver was simply a beginning of sorts and since then Dupas has released two other albums in A Night Walk performed with Mathieu Penot and Kenny Ruby , and Broderies composed by Lisa Cat-Berro but recorded and arranged by Dupas. All the while developing a series of modern day salon concerts Dupas calls Home Piano Live that sees Dupas' touring and broadcasting these concerts through Facebook and Instagram Live. 

The success of these concerts have no doubt had their effect on Dupas' creative process and the result is Automne 2019 Languère Song(s), a solo album recorded live in the garden at his home in France in one-take, and without any traces of electronic experimentation of Upriver or A Night Walk. "Loup Solitaire", the first single of sorts from his upcoming album, is a dreamy reverie not entirely unlike the introspective nocturnes that composed A Night Walk, the key difference being Dupas opting for absolute intimacy. There's no layers of synths, no other performers, just Dupas' whose melodies seem to tumble out of him unencumbered. "Loup Solitaire" is a beguiling piece that steadily builds on itself - slowly unfurling, Dupas' timing is truly what makes the piece work: his rubato passages creating a sense of a conversation among itself. 

While initial establishing himself as one of the rare artists able to seamless blend electronic and organic sounds, Automne 2019 Laugère Song(s), offers a different version of Armel Dupas, one that thrives in live solo performance and one that few people get to see if they're not based in Europe where Dupas' tends to tour. In a way with both Home Piano Live and Laugère Song(s), is giving listeners a chance to experience Dupas' music in a brand new way, stripped back and intimate but still innovatively crafted and brimming with the confidence of a skilled player with a clear artistic vision. 

Automne 2019 Laugère Song(s) is out November 15th on Dupas' Upriver Records. Pre-order is available now. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Listen: Christopher Tignor - "I, Autocorrelations"

Photo by Ebru Yidiz
With his previous album Along a Vanishing Plane, violinist/software engineer Christopher Tignor essentially took years and years of refined techniques of electronically developed composition and chucked it all out. That might seem a bit dramatic but the result, an album played and recorded live with absolutely no samples, loops, or click tracks grounded Tignor's composition in an unmistakable human element. The heightened risk of imperfection somehow crystallized his technique and emblazened the actual heart of his emotions and led to an impressive array of extended techniques aided by Tignor's engineering capabilities.

A Light Below, the follow up to Tignor's Along a Vanishing Plane, explores the newfound freedom in Tignor's organic rooted compositional framework. "I, Autocorrelations", the first single from the upcoming record is an explosion of sound - a truly mindboggling rush of multitudinous layers that bely the fact that they're all being delivered by a solitary man. On "I, Autocorrelations", Tignor is firmly at a stylistic peak - shifting effortlessly through repetitive bowed phrases and pizzicato all at a positively dazzling pace all the while providing enough space for the various phrases to sing and resonant firmly with the listener. Tignor weaves an effortless tapestry, of dynamic shifts in tone and blend of textures between his own playing and subtle touches added by his software.

"I, Autocorrelations" feels like a continuation of Along a Vanishing Plane but trades the langorous yearning for a more spirited presentation of the liturgical melodies without shedding any of their emotional grounding. It's a sort of musical world building that's properly thrilling, subtler than reoccuring figures or leitmotifs but no doubt rooted in the same sense of elevated storytelling. It's enough to make me properly excited for the rest of A Light Below even if Tignor's proven time and time again to supersede the most wildest of expectations.

Christopher Tignor's forthcoming album A Light Below is out October 11th on Western Vinyl. You can pre-order the album now.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Listen: Sur Back - "Nostalgia in Motion"

After the release of her follow up to her debut EP Kitsch last year, the appropriately titled Kitsch II, singer/songwriter Caroline Sans notably marked almost half a decade of intensive creative labor with a surprising amount to show of it. Several of the EPs songs had existed for several years since the very formation of her project Sur Back, surviving delays, setbacks and reworkings, and though Sans has been offering work at somewhat more consistent speed than before, hers is delicate work that benefits from the passage of time.

Like much of Sans' oevre, "Nostalgia In Motion" has been a work in progress several years in the making, meticulously thought artfully sculpted over a period of about three years while Sans was still based in Florida. From its fluttering start, "Nostalgia In Motion" is bright and expansive with elements of Sur Back's darker baroque pop turns - enriching it into a multifaceted piece of layered electronic pop.

With "Nostalgia In Motion", Sans continues her winning streak, crafting a song of arresting beauty that conveys meaning less through lyrical content and more through its production. Sans vocals are as richly colored as her brass riffs, her stutter-stop drums. "And I keep calling you back to show I'm not your nostalgia in motion" Sans coos and though the lyrics read as a sort of kiss off, Sans delivers them with a gentle caress, like sun steaming into a bedroom window. It's not meant to be a harsh wake up, but a soft rousing to exist in the present.

The lyrics all seem to build to this titular moment, the production following suit, and it's evident the idea means a lot to Sans; of not merely functioning as a walking, talking embodiment of good times past but wanting to be an active participant in life for better or worse. To weather whatever storms live may bring despite uncertain or a lack of control. "I can't hold on like I'm used to" Sans sings with an aching tenderness before "I'm not your nostalgia" hits like an ocean wave.

Sur Back's new single "Nostalgia in Motion" is out now. Sans is playing a single release show with Den-Mate, NOIEA, and Rare DM at Alphaville in Brooklyn on July 18th. Tickets and details available here.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Listen: Harry Burgess - "Disarm"

One of the pitfalls of creating such a cerebral, fully realized project as art pop quartet Adult Jazz is the fact that there's a lot of time and energy put into seemingly every aspect of creating. Since the release of their debut album Gist Is in 2014, Adult Jazz has spent a lot of time facilitating not only their own creations but those of the constellation of their collaborators. They've subsequently released a follow up EP Earrings Off!, two years after their full length debut and while their next release seems to be forthcoming, they've eased the wait by engaging with other projects.

Most recently, Harry Burgess, Adult Jazz's frontman and member of experimental electronic duo Offer, played a solo set late last year, recorded it, and is releasing the results as Live Scraps/Fall of Troy, a cassette release bundled with an essay Burgess wrote about the death of his family dog who inspired the Adult Jazz track "Bonedigger". Unlike Adult Jazz's meticulously layered production or Offer's digital pyrotechnics, Live Scraps offers Burgess in an oft seen light: bare bones and simply offered. One of my favorite qualities of his growing number of projects has always been Harry Burgess' voice so it is essentially a treat to get to witness it this way, unadorned and unmanipulated.

But even as Burgess peels back the layers, his experimentalism still shines though. "Disarm", the first taste of his three song release, might just be Burgess' voice and guitar but it's not your standard fare. Burgess approaches his playing from a place of minimalism, focusing on repetitive two note chords and weaving vocal melodies around the sparse accompaniment. It's a transfixing work of art, utterly engaging in its simplicity and a testament to the strength of Burgess' vocal prowess.

Live Scraps/Fall of Troy is out July 12th on London based label Don't Delay. You can pre-order the digital album or the cassette/essay bundle now.