Depths of Human Psyche

Mathias Grassow has been going at it for quite some time. His interest and love with the synthesizer has lead him to the music that was coined by the legendary artist Brian Eno. Grassow's form of ambient isn't exclusive, in fact it's used been used heavily in electronic ambience as well, that is his use of overtones that drawn out dark, never-ending cycle of drones that asphyxiate the ears as if they were breathing themselves.

Some may peg the my statement in the summary I made for Grassow's latest work as a bit over the top. Truthfully it really isn't. Grassow has said on many occasions that his work as an ambient or an experimental artist is too delve within the human psyche. More specifically he believes the drawn out drones, overtones, and one key sequences are essentially what the mind wants to hear, a deep connection if you will. I can't say I disagree; to be honest ambient music itself is relaxing if not that, it surely grasps the mind within its construct. As ambiguous, overly complex, or even extremely simple as those constructs may be within the music it still shows us that the ambient genre has a strong connection within us. The similarities within nature and its ambience are not seen by accident within ambient music itself. Both are fairly repetitious if not clear what is being heard in its structure. Take for instance a jungle - each animal, plant, every living thing and its surrounding natural atmosphere have their own unique voices. And when you create conflict with those things such as gusty winds and trees they create an entirely different sequence of noises. Ambient music could be said to do the same, taking small sequences of noises and instrumentation and purposely conflicting them with one another.

Grassow's work doesn't quite take that same path as my underdeveloped comparison goes, but he does take huge amounts of it within his music. There is no doubting that Grassow's work relies heavily on the synthesizer and the keys of a keyboard, evoking such troublesome and dark moods only felt within truly traumatic events. And as "Samsara" may go strong with the same sequence of drone throughout its 20 minute span the generally lightly tapped piano keys and slight sounds of banging noises within its background are the most eerie, if not a bit haunting. That is something Mathias Grassow has tried to develop for quite some time - a muddled and highly induced tense moments within its not-so dynamic progression.

I seem to be caught in a hypocritical cycle within this review, every paragraph seems to lead to a point, but not entirely of what you were expecting. As I said, Grassow's work (the majority) involves shady and dim atmosphere that is covered with huge amounts of drone. While Calibration may seem to be take that same path on "Samsara", yet it is trumped by its next track "Emoticon, Pt. I". The drones aren't asphyxiating or tension driven, but serene and pleasant. Garnering feelings of natural chirping birds and a soundscape that only lasts a few short minutes. The short breaks within the manipulative and dark drones of the long tracks are sufficiently balanced with a more calming, tranquil, and less driven by the buzz of the music then it's background. Calibration moves away from its tone set in the first 20 minutes to an entirely different mood within the next 20. His signature synthesizer is ever buzzing in the forefront, but not as driving as it was before. The general regression from the state of "Samsara" is fantastic, albeit surprising. "From Where I Come" may drift into the shadow abyss with its last minutes of life it still does capture the entire song in those moments. The cycle of heavier moods with lighter moods is ever present within "Emoticon, Pt. II", a continuance with the last hints of "From Where I Come". This cycle intertwines within itself causing conflicting ideologies of man-made sounds to the clear noises of nature, from the dark moments verse the light moments, Grassow is building a road that is split in the middle and it generally works. If "Samsara" is set to make the atmosphere of the album then the 5th track "Shunyata" puts the cycle back to square one. A never-ending circle of movements, whether they be glorious and calming to menacing and overly drenched in overtones, Calibration seeks the extremes to the middle ground. "Shunyata's" cycle may less drawn out then the beginning of the album, but it surely shows what Grassow is trying to accomplish. The constant and spaced chirps in the background, the drone that swamps the track, and the acoustic strums, and the slowly, gradual climb of hand drumming that bring reluctance within your ears.

Grade: B-
Download: V0 (VBR)


Unknown Rarities

Its only when an artist dies out (figuratively speaking) or disbands that you truly realize their greatness. By no means is the collaboration of Ian Pullman and Clay Emerson completely groundbreaking in any form, but it was exactly what any ambient fan enjoyed. Elegantly pacing and one upping itself, the superior Wind and Water brought spacious, yet extremely rhythmic subtle nuances within its core. While their debut predictably named Loess was essentially a long standing war between the cold dreariness of ambient and its desolate electronic abrasiveness that accompanies it still brought something to the table noticeably healthier than their predecessors. To put it bluntly it had potential. That may seem like a cop out to many, but the self-titled 12-track debut had extremely long replay ability. It felt refreshing, yet it wasn't anything new in many ways.

While their sophomore release Wind and Water still brought the abrasiveness of its electronic happening, yet it was free of all tension that was holding its position in place. While the comparisons of such bands as Boards of Canada aren't necessarily warranted they do bring something to mind - they dabble in melody greatly. The biggest difference being Loess' approach to such is extremely transparent, spacious, paced, and non-sample oriented, much more to the liking of Tim Hecker fans. They don't evoke emotion as Boards of Canada do yet show so much of what is expected with that comparison. An indie-electronic artist of sorts, Loess aren't truly known outside of raving ambient or say even IDM fans. Being totally uncertain of the situation and their collaboration, it is safer to say they're on hiatus then to say they've actually disbanded, besides they're a collaboration after all.

Burrows remains to be the varied summary of their entire collaboration. Spanning nearly a decade (2000-2008), this compilation released in May of this year brings mostly rarities never to grace a proper album by the duo from Philly. You expect a cross between their various album works, one that is cold and harsh and another that adds other textures of rarities like a sparse violin or pure distorted loveliness of the varied accordion and piano intros as shown on Wind and Water's "Sonde". Their progression from their debut to their sophomore album was the most logical step in keeping the music relatively fresh, yet it still felt genuinely Loess-like. Only by adding and incorporating sounds quickly and evolving them seemingly within those tracks were they sufficiently able to do that on Wind and Water. Burrows takes us on a journey of Loess' 8 years of collaborating together.

Roughly sequencing the various strings of their years together Burrows starts out with a simple, pleasing rhythmic beat that pulsates entitled "Lull". Wind and Water may have progressed their sound, but not by much. Their slight sequences that dance around in "Lull" feel as if it was a mixture of both their old sound and 'not quite so new' progression in Wind and Water. Ambient shrieks propel up and down as the same constant rhythmic drum and distorted mixture of waves and unresponsive voice sampling swirl back and forth. Essentially if you dislike the intro track it's safe to say you'll dislike Loess. Their first sound was encompassed by this same structure, only slightly varying it with new and surprising distorted instrumentation along the way. The constant repetition of the seemingly serene beat within "Lull" is all, but almost lost within the pauses that haunt within "Schoen" - practically bringing the same formula yet twisting it with haunting aspects and a pause central introduction.

There isn't much to say about Burrows other then it melds completely seamlessly within Loess' past 2 albums into one. Of course this isn't realized until halfway through "Bud", progressing slowly to its apex, yet feeling completely strained by the background. I know it sounds horrible, but what makes it so glorious is the constant mind-numbing happiness that bursts within your brain, consistently pattering through the beat as you feel it should go only to stick with its same repetitive and gratifying conclusion. The rarities feel as if they were meant for another album and that is just great considering this is only a compilation, a major treat for any fan. What Loess eventually contribute with this is album is bridging their small discography in one album. Burrows feels fresh for all the right reasons. Mixing basic, constructive, and dependable rhythmic beats, while eventually splicing them with shattered tones, distorted noises and instruments, and hardly ever bringing undistinguishable samples. Loess' gift to both the electronic community, more specifically to the ambient and idm groups and their fans is frankly much appreciated.

Grade: B+


Canada's Talent

I'd be lying if I said I can name some specific major influences on Kevin Brereton, there seems to be a huge gap in between the genres he splices with his rhythmic reggae, acoustic induced rock, and electronic influence that are pasted under his socially hip-hop aesthetics. While the pronunciation of k-os is "chaos" it's true meaning is 'Knowledge of Self'. Much like those two terms he does endow his music in both of those philosophies. His chaotic see-sawing of musical expansiveness knows no bounds whatsoever, but his socially adept and poignant lyrical stature aren't exactly forgettable at all. Understandably his style hasn't changed from his debut years ago, while Joyful Rebellion remains to be his best work to date Yes! still shows what makes him so interesting. Canadians sure haven't forgotten about his multi-cultural musical gears, but the rest of the world are reminded with Yes! why exactly he should be noticed.

You hear many people make statements in every genre about an artist's new record as being a "breath of fresh air"; k-os has been living that statement since he started creating his own musical highway of elusiveness. Though his 4th album's cover indicates exactly what he's been doing to the very genre he's apparently incorporated with, it still feels a bit unfair that he hasn't quite reached a high on popularity within the States or anywhere else (excluding Canada). The cover could be the clearest signal of his sound. In one hand he carries a paint roller, that could be interpreted as a changing of the guard, changing the style or the rules of the room (in this case a genre). In the other hand he carries a synthesizer and on the wall a black acoustic guitar sits, all of these landmarks on Yes!'s cover shows his variety and signal what k-os is all about.

The man's mission certainly is to be able to stretch the perception of the genre itself and expand more entrances to join him in his own revolt of hip-hop. He still remains to be the lone noticeable soldier on the battlefield, but it obviously does not bother him one bit. He still carries his country's pride on his sleeve whether discussing their problems or triumphs, either way k-os brings balance within his melting pot of musicianship. K-os' style is noticeably ingrained within his schizophrenic hip-hop lyricism, drum breaks that sometimes border on breakcore categories (rarely), exotic instruments, acoustic guitar movements, and gimmicky albeit effective violin movements are all exhibited in Yes!. "Astronaut", shows k-os' prowess in any department he delves into, melding all of those factors into one song. Most of his work relates to his social beliefs on his home country and on Yes!, like I said he takes a liking to the city of Toronto.

Brereton's latest album still travels from one end of the spectrum to another, with the only constant being k-os' vocals. Fortunately he's still tolerable after all these years and though some would be quick to say k-os is an alternative hip-hop style it still feels like that would be a cop out. His embrace of different genres, loves, and culture within the Canadian border and within his family ties has been his strongest selling point from day one and unfortunately for him some that can't stomach that will never accept him for what he is. At this point there isn't anything astonishingly new for those people to hear if they've already decided on their status with k-os.

Every one of k-os' albums has a certain charm to them and although Joyful Rebellion remains to be his best work to date he has yet to slip up substantially. Still showing the charm and type of creativeness that brought him to the attention - Yes!'s "Uptown Girl" is straight off of a Shocking Blues' song "Love Buzz", made popular by grunge group Nirvana and although it would seem uninventive it is entirely different than its predecessors. Only taking the bass for the majority of the ride, k-os' ambitions and entanglements of various instruments from violins, distorted guitars, and piano meld the song into his own; with each passing minute a progression within the song takes another drastic difference, enough to keep you interested. Yes! may not be k-os' best, but it still shows he loves what he does, even if he still hasn't quite accomplished what he may be trying to do it's still fun, after all that's what it's all about.

Grade: B-


Can You Attempt To Try?

Jeniferever's formation nearly 15 years ago has showed little progression up to this point. Their name as and hilarious as it seems is derived from the same song made by the Smashing Pumpkins in 1989. Clearly influenced by the group, the lead singer Kristofer Jönson's vocals are obviously a similar style as of Corgan's, but unlike Corgan it isn't exactly warranted in key situations. A string of EPs from 2001-2004 showed the potential the band possessed with their post-rock climaxes and indie lyricism, light melodic instrumentals, and soft-spoken lyrics. Clearly Choose A Bright Morning was an overdue debut, created 10 years after their formation. A solid debut by the quartet, but it was clearly held back by the lack of progression in their instrumentals and non-chalant vocals. 2 years after they released an underwhelming EP called Nangijala, clearly showing they haven't jumped any hurdles up to this point. Not exactly anticipated, the 2009 release Spring Tides still shows the passive vocal upbringings by Jönson and the traditional, albeit underwhelming ambient and post-rock driven climaxes that are so ingrained in their band. Much like the approach Sigur Ros take on post-rock and The Appleseed Cast's style of indie rock, Jeniferever would seem to be a crossroads to those bands. Regrettably it doesn't seem to be worthwhile up this point in their career.

If Jeniferever show something correct in their style it's by far their melodic instrumentals that coat piece of music they've made. While Jeniferever don't exactly hypnotize or captivate any one by any means with their style "Ox-Eye" does it correctly. Progressing slowly in the background remains the guitars and ambient feedback, while Jönson calmly expresses his longing for a better present with his long-time friend. Much like their Nangijala EP the appearance of piano is brought back, if so rarely in St. Gallen, For half of the 6 minute affair, Jönson is thankfully absent, but his non-impressionable lyrical content and still, utterly, non-energetic vocals mares the track. Thus, it comes again, the not-so-interesting vocal talents of Jeniferever. Honestly, the only fans I can see could be mildly interested in this band's vocal talents would be amainstream pop-punk fan with an infatuation with boring vocal talent, but we all know that won't happen when those very fans probably have no idea what the hell post-rock even is.

Noticeably it would be Jönson himself bogs down the group, he doesn't lead or stay in the forefront throughout the entire album as a "front man" should. After all, his only job is keyboards and vocals, yet he shows no promise since their formation. Like Choose A Bright Morning, Jeniferever still struggle to find a common thread between post-rock melodies, indie rock, and very passionate, yet unimpressionable vocalist. They still are hit-n-miss with their post-rock atmosphere, usually the latter is the culprit. I might of had an epiphany while listening to Spring Tides. Not exactly revolutionary by any means, most if not all of the best post-rock groups are energetic in some form or another. Drumming becoming the key in most instances, while Godspeed, You Black Emperor! choose to slowly and effortlessly climax their music at the right time, Jeniferever really don't do that to warrant any attention. There are a few instances where they work in "Ox-Eye", "Nangijala" and "The Hourglass", but it gets to the point where I find myself truly uninterested with the whole process with Jönson wallowing in his own self-restraint. Expectations were truly low after hearing Nangijala EP, but this has yet to truly capture my attention in any shape or form. I find myself asking why do I keep my interest in this band, is it because of their style is rarely seen in post-rock or because post-rock seems to be declining at a abysmal rate. Jeniferever can't seem to perfect either of the two and unlike my previous, even if they're were low aspirations for them, I find myself ignoring the very prospect of another release by them.

Grade: D+


Expanding Into Mediocrity

From Fathoms is the follow-up to a relatively successful debut called Loyal Eyes Betrayed The Mind. While it may not have had the sprawling, overabundant, and sometimes over flamboyant style as a traditional post-rock groups go, their style is quite rare in the genre and is still thought after as a post-rock band first then second. Loyal Eyes Betrayed The Mind was for the most part, purely guitar driven. Their style could be compared to another relatively odd post-rock group called Grails or even Russian Circles. Yet, with their small existence they carved up a solid record with some interesting results. Showing their musical roots with "Early Morning Ambulance", the unmistakable post-rock influence in "In The Company of Others", while flexing electronic backgrounds in "Miles of White". 3 years after showing some promise, the group have released From Fathoms this year.

Easily throughout the album you notice a key element within most of these songs: they're crafted well enough for you to enjoy, but once you begin to attach yourselves to a brief period of their pandering in their uproarious guitar lifts in their short post-rock extravaganzas you immediately succumb to disappointment with its short time span. While the electronic influences are in full-form and aren't skimmed over as they were in Loyal Eyes Betrayed The Mind it isn't enough to keep the listener interested entirely. Oddly enough vocals are in play, if vaguely you consider them a part of the song. Almost Isis-like in nature, but entirely toned down, From Fathoms plays around with low, muddled, and mostly unrecognizable lyrics, while the previous album strayed from all of this. There are a rare exceptions to this rule: a quick assault of post-rock sweetness is ferocious and beautiful in the short span of 4 minutes in "Weightless Frame" and completely switches up halfway through with acoustic strings, harmonized vocals that can only be determined to be something-like "Come" being hymned, even imploring to use the harmonica for some brief periods in its later half. That may be the best example to see how far they're trying to reach here, yet they still encompass some of those elements throughout the album in short spans, it just doesn't work as it should. The lone perfections within this album is by far "Resurface" and "Thawed Horizon", which successfully melds all of what was meant to be on this album, gradually pushing forward with high-paced eruption of post-rock and passionate vocals.

Those relatively new sounds components are what signals Gifts From Enola's newest album is really about. Their previously minimalistic influences are brought to the forefront along for the ride with their post-rock glory. This may sound all well and good, but there's one trying problem. Unfortunately it doesn't always work, from the electronic transitions, post-rock traditional appearances of strings, and yes the power cord sort as well. Much like Russian Circles' debut Enter impressed, their follow-up Station wasn't anything progressive and only mildly interesting. Gifts From Enola suffers the same fate, not with its non-progressive thought process, but their problems to establish a single unity within its structure from all its directionless deliberation. "Weightless Thought" sounds like a rendition of "Weightless Frame", only the opposite with an dreary and calm electronic transition. Understandably they're linked, but the song adds nothing to the process and is only time wasted. From Fathoms sees a band trying to reach too far, with too much in their hands. It's fantastic that they're trying to expand their sound with a different approaches, if not for a few inspired moments within most of these songs this would feel entirely mediocre and as a result From Fathoms can't help, but feel cluttered.

Grade: C

Marko Polo's Exploration © 2008. Chaotic Soul :: Converted by Randomness