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The Gamelan of the Walking Warriors

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cover imageMy fascination with the Sublime Frequencies and Nonesuch Explorer labels goes back many years, but it has been quite a long time since I have been properly floored by a revelatory feat of ethnological scavenging or scholarship.  I was starting to worry that my ears had lost their capacity for wonder until this 2017 gem from France’s eclectic Akuphone label belatedly crossed my path.  Unsurprisingly, the compiler (Vincenzo Della Ratta) previously surfaced on SF with 2016’s Kwangkay: Funerary Music Of The Dayak Benuaq Of Borneo and this album returns to a similar theme, swapping out the funeral music of Borneo for that of Bali.  Only part of this album covers field recordings of Balinese funerals, however, as the other half is culled from some truly visceral and mesmerizing rehearsal space recordings of the more contemporary and visionary Dharma Shanti Orchestra.  Both sides have certainly their appeal, but it is exclusively the Dharma Shanti material that makes the leap from "this is interesting and unique traditional music" to "this is what I desperately want the music of the future to sound like."

Last Updated on Monday, 15 April 2019 07:22

Sarah Davachi, "Pale Bloom"

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cover imageSarah Davachi’s tireless campaign to subvert expectations with each fresh release shows no signs of slowing down, as the label-hopping composer's latest opus partially revisits her formative years as an aspiring pianist.  While it would be fair to characterize Pale Bloom as “neo-classical” and a logical progression from 2018's Gave in Rest, Davachi has never been content with pastiche, reverent homage, or returning to previously covered territory.  Instead, she seems like an artist increasingly unfixed in time, drawing from the past to give her forward-thinking experiments in harmonies and overtones a foundation that feels temporally ambiguous and self-assuredly independent of contemporary music trends.  While there is not any particular piece on Pale Bloom that makes it tower above any of its predecessors, it is unquestionably a uniformly strong collection of new work that studiously avoids the familiar and hints at intriguing new directions to come.

Last Updated on Sunday, 14 April 2019 18:25

Fennesz, "Agora"

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cover imageIt has been roughly five years since Christian Fennesz last surfaced with a proper solo album (2014’s excellent Bécs), though he has certainly kept busy with other projects in the meantime.  For this latest release, however, he found himself in unusual straits, as he lost his studio space and had to move all of his gear into his bedroom.  In theory, that was not an optimal work environment and he never ended up setting up much of his usual arsenal, but new constraints can often lead to unexpected breakthroughs.  That is arguably the case here: while Agora is not quite an Endless Summer-caliber bombshell or a groundbreaking reinvention of Fennesz's aesthetic, it is definitely a modest masterpiece of sorts, as quietly recording in his room with minimal gear and omnipresent headphones paved the way for a quartet of truly lovely, nuanced, and absorbing soundscapes.

Last Updated on Monday, 08 April 2019 08:19

Yannick Franck Presents Mt. Gemini,"Just Like A River"

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cover imageJamaican-style dub music has been around for more than half a century at this point, yet new artists continue to emerge who miraculously find new ways to twist and evolve upon the form.  The latest example of that phenomenon comes in the shape of this new project from Orphan Swords' Yannick Franck, who ingeniously carves up vintage ska, rocksteady, and skinhead reggae to yield a suite of wonderfully soulful and hallucinatory collages.  In some ways, The Caretaker is perversely the closest kindred spirit here, as Franck is a similarly "outsider" deconstructionist:  he does not have a treasure trove of master tapes from legendary Kingston studios that would enable him to easily isolate a bassline or vocal melody, yet he inventively turns that disadvantage into an asset.  In transforming whole cloth recordings into something of his own, Franck has created something that bears almost zero structural similarity to traditional dub or reggae, but manages to translate its core essence into challenging and playfully experimental abstract art.  When he hits the mark just right, the results can be quite brilliant.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 April 2019 05:57

Mattin, "Songbook #7"

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cover image As the latest installment in his Songbook series, Mattin continues building from the concepts of those that came before, namely recording in a live setting with a variety of collaborators.  This time the set was recorded at the Digging the Global South Festival in 2017 and is quite a politically charged recording, with Mattin drawing from two events early in the 20th century and what he sees as the parallels to the current resurgence of fascism in Europe (and by extension the rest of the world).  Sprawling and challenging, the final product is anything but impenetrable though, and Mattin does a perfect job presenting the concept without ever sacrificing the music.

Last Updated on Monday, 01 April 2019 11:40

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