Posts Tagged ‘neo-classical’

Ben Chatwin

The battle between electronic and organic has always been central to the Ben Chatwin’s compositions. While the emotional heft in his works is left to strings and brass that conjure the modern miracles brought to life by the likes of Max Richter or the late Johann Johannsson, Chatwin lets his electrics chew on the results in a way that brings to mind Ian William Craig, or Craig’s muse William Basinski. Over the course of his solo albums Chatwin is steadily evolving this approach to leaning on wind vs. wires. On 2015’s The Sleeper Awakes his infection of electronics was pervasive drawing on shoegaze in its obsession with peaks and swells. For 2016’s Heat & Entropy, Chatwin cleared out the noise floor a bit and put the focus cleanly on strings. Though, his vision of strings was still laden with soot, putting him in league with the dust bowl crumble of Evan Caminiti as often as he did those heavy hitting neo-classical types I mentioned.

On Fossils, Chatwin is using his proclivity for noise in the most effective means yet. The pieces have electronics woven throughout them, tumbling on pulse gripping beats sandblasted with static and teeming with swelling synths that aspire to the size of his orchestral ensembles. He’s roping in dub’s cavernous clatter to forests of cellos that block out hopes with a cloud of desperation and anguish. Each side of his approach is pulling its weight hard enough to make this feel like two equally adept genre studies melted together. Its either the best neo-classical album heard this year or the best e. Where his previous effort worked its way through Thrill Jockey’s post-rock to broaden the scope of classical, here Chatwin twisting his vision of modern composition through the prism of prime period Kranky output – positing the film scores that would’ve existed had Keith Fullerton Whitman and Stars of the Lid found their pockets stuffed with enough cash to outfit a full string section with their odes to sonic float and aural decay.

The record is harrowing to say the least, barely letting any room for relief flood the speakers. He grips the listener with writing that’s packed full of mournful resolve that often gives way to crushing walls of noise that feel about read to render the listener dust by the time he lets off the pedal. Not for the faint of heart, but certainly for those looking to run the emotional dial ragged for forty minutes.




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Mary Lattimore

The harp has always had a precocious edge in contemporary music. But while the instrument is often used as a baroque folk accoutrement or as an ornamental touch on an otherwise fairly staid pop song, Lattimore uses the instrument to transport the listener to quiet pastoral hideaways perched on the edge of grand panoramic views. The harpist uses her chosen muse to combine classical sweep, subtle processing and field recordings to create crystalline worlds trapped in amber and nestled inside of rural hollows.

In some ways Hundreds of Days enters like a gorgeous minimal house perched on old farmland. The stark angles seem almost too crisp to touch, and though the bas relief cut against rolling hills and sparkling waters seem just slightly out of place with each other, its intended as an idyllic getaway. The problem being that the yoke of modernity is forced onto nature, dragging along the rigidity of city life with it. Hundreds of Days does in fact begin as a calm respite, a meditative retreat, but begins to skew just slightly off over time. As the album progresses that discord of the modern and the natural becomes more apparent, resulting in the warbles and darkening skies of “Baltic Birch.”

That song acts as a kind of break in the façade, the first drop into the water that sends ripples across the glass surface. Following the rationalization that there’s no forcing the two worlds together in harmony, the final track, unadorned and somber sweeps through like a sigh. Finally leaving behind the glass castle, this is where Lattimore communes with nature, faces mortality and finds peace. The record is nothing short of masterful and warrants a place on the list of modern composition high watermarks.



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Ulaan Passerine

I’ve had a longstanding run on the works of Steven R. Smith (Hala Strana, Ulaan Khol, Ulaan Markhor) and he’s never one to disappoint. The veteran guitarist specializes in carving emotion out of frothy noise walls with the vibrations of strings. His works are barren, harrowing, and sometimes laid down at the feet of desperation, but he’s never without slivers of light penetrating the mix. The latest as Ulaan Passerine, a somewhat more pastoral vision of his Ulaan line of projects, picks up the grey-hued yoke and absorbs dread and drought into two sidelong tracks of parched, gnawed-through doom-folk.

The title track flirts with the pluck of guitar before sawing deep into the growling bow work that permeates its majority. The song is almost entirely shrouded from light, dusk-deep in a subtle, yearning need that bleeds sand from the bones. It’s not anchored to pain so much as it’s scarred by it. The ruts of hurt show deep on its face, but in the end the piece raises its chin to the cold and stumbles on elegantly, beautifully with the burden on its back and not a tear stain on its cheek.

The second side is pulled out of the soil some, a blissful hope tasting the first drops of rain in years. Smith knows how to build suspense, tension, darkness, and light into his works and he proves that in his hands the low roll of grey clouds can be a beautiful scene. Both sides capture an artist at the pinnacle of his game, cornering a a niche between folk and neo-classical that’s never going to enrapture the masses, but will light the way for the right kind of lost souls.




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Alder & Ash

Cellist Adrian Copeland follows up his equally harrowing album, Psalms For The Sunder with a new small press for Lost Tribe Sound. Clutched In The Maw continues his bleak, Cormac McCarthy world-building through classical composition. Though rooted in the cello like his previous venture, this album delves into processed sound on a much deeper level. However, while the processing adds to his landscape of decay and solemn isolation, it’s Copeland’s playing that’s at the core of the album’s stunning set.

He runs the full range of the instrument in a way that only those who are deeply classically trained can muster, but with the freedom of one who is not beholden to any notion of acceptable norms within the classical or neo-classical context. Copeland’s compositions scrape and gnaw, gasp and moan through the body of an instrument that shouldn’t seem like it has this much anguish inside of it. Each crushing drop of bile, blood and tears comes seeping through the speakers. There are those that choose to use their gifts to lift the listener up to see the sun through the fog. Copleand chooses to send us deeper into a hopelessness that’s flirting with the essence of Doom.

He digs us out of the hole by the end, though, proving he’s not as scarred by the darkness as the first half would lead a listener to believe. There’s an elegance and relief to “The Merciful Dawn” (as one might expect) and by the closer “The Glisten, The Glow” we’re back in some sort of daybreak, albeit one that’s streaked with greys. The album is a visceral run at anguish and acceptance, and ultimately a joy to behold.




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Golden Retriever

Portland’s Golden Retriever continue down their rabbit hole of avant garde explorations, again positioning effected bass clarinet against a sea of synths. This time, however, aided with a grant from Portland’s Regional Arts & Culture Council, the band expanded their reach to a full ensemble. The addition of strings, pipe organ, and an expanded winds section gives Rotations a fuller sound than the band has previously explored. Though, the additional heft of instrumentation doesn’t sway the band from their core sound which acts as a focal point throughout. There’s a familiar solemnity to the record that feels at once doused in the emotional spectrum that Golden Retriever often wade.

Emotions seem to be a focal point of the record in fact. The central theme that peeked out of the band’s sessions was the cyclical nature of hardship and endurance. It’s a constant pull between overwhelming escalation and tearful relief. The duo have a knack for the former, that’s for sure. When they want to express the crush of confusion, frustration and strife, the pieces can come on with an intense pressure that’s exacerbated by headphones. The synths buzz like nagging hornets at the mind until, when it comes, relief is welcomed and blessedly tranquil. It’s a record that’s skillfully executed but probably cautiously approached if you find yourself in the pocket of frustration itself. For those looking to scrape the pain away with noise and nourish with ambient calm, this is a worthwhile journey. If you’re only looking to soothe, perhaps look to the last two tracks, which are a decidedly gorgeous comedown.




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Mary Lattimore – “Returned To Earth”

As anyone who’s seen harpist Mary Lattimore play can attest, she has a way of bringing a hush over a room, sucking out the atmosphere and replacing it with something a bit more magical and serene. On her latest tape for Soap Library, she offers up two shimmering tracks of crystalline beauty. The first, an ode to astronaut Scott Kelly, inspired by his year-long journey in the International Space Station and a subsequent jaw injury that required two months of silence and reflection on her part. The track’s quiet reflection mirrors much of Kelly’s own isolation aboard the station and his attempts to connect with the world below through an online journal. The second track sees Lattimore pair up with composer Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, whom she met while playing a festival in Marfa. The two set out to improvise a piece together and their innate ability to sculpt subtitles into aural sculptures has proven fruitful on the delicate “Borrego Springs”. Any release from Lattimore is worth the price of entry, and this one’s no exception, but its scant length really leaves the listener aching for more.

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Ben Chatwin – “Euclidean Plane”

Another piece of the puzzle on Chatwin’s debut for Ba Da Bing, the gorgeous piece “Euclidean Plane” wavers between chamber pop bliss and the subtle underwater psychedelics of Sven Libaek. Aptly, like Libaek, the video for “Euclidean Plane’ takes to the seas, pairing the soft movement of an octopus with the burbling build of tension from Chatwin’s score. Though, unlike Libaek, Chatwin’s outlook is much darker. The edge of wonder is constantly in danger of being taken over by dread. The last dip into Heat & Entropy saw Chatwin move the dial a bit further from the clouded mist he’s been working in but this one fully emerges in bold and brilliant colors, albeit colors that are circling the reef and rippling with the light dancing on the surface of the water. Its a beautiful piece that bodes well for a full album that brings Chatwin the wider praise that he deserves.



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Ben Chatwin – “Inflexion”

Ben Chatwin’s last record, The Sleeper Awakes was a grey-skied masterstroke of noise-flecked neo-classical. His solo works find the deep ravine of sadness and rub cold dirt into the wounds, feeling somehow achingly painful and coolly soothing at the same time. The first bit of his new record for Ba Da Bing is just a quick flicker of the match but it hints at another album of cloistered and creaky compositions. Sounding every bit like the slow creep up the stairs to a dark childhood secret, the track pads in on soft dulcitone feet and that creeping music box feel runs up the listener’s spine with icy expectation. It appears most of the album centers around Chatwin’s use of pianos and, like the dulcitone, piano-like hybrids. This is just a tiny morsel of the album, but few bites have ever left me so hungry for more.



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Library of Babel

From the esteemed, if often overlooked Blue Tapes label, Library of Babel have released a collection of pieces for guitar, cello and double bass that eschews the more overtly dissonant elements that sometimes get pinned to the label’s catalog. The release isn’t by any means easily digestible, far from it, but it is structured and that makes it unique among some of its peers. Shane Parish leads the Asheville unit through an album that bumps against neo-classical, jazz and fingerpicked folk alike, drop-zoning into a kind of pastoral thrum that flickers like dusty film over the course of their eponymous album. The record takes on an anthropological quality, as if these are forgotten folk songs from a people who value the clash of strings to pristine pluck and crisp melody, letting the din reflect their own turmoil.

Parish’s guitar rattles and hisses, clatters like loose bones against strings, then winds itself back into a melodic whirlpool of notes while the cello and bass beneath him hum their own tempests, mostly melancholy though oftentimes breaking into death rattles of their own. There’s cinematic vein in Library of Babel and its narrative seems to rise from parched fields, patchy forests and mud flats flecked with dead fish and too little rain. There’s something that evokes the foothills of the American South in Parish’s work, but in a very modern sense, the fates of the rusted hulls of communities forgotten, plastered in stark black and white photos full of hard looks. Whether this is intentional or not remains to be seen, but its a hardscrabble feeling of want that comes seeping from the speakers over these thirty minutes. This is a standout release on a label that already has some gems from Katie Gately, Mats Gustafsson and Tashi Dorji in their stable.


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