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Fovea Hex, "Bloom"

Bloom is the first in a series of three releases by the collective known as Fovea Hex. Quiet and moving, this is a very promising first chapter by a group that contains some of ambient and experimental music’s most golden children backing up some equally golden voices. 

Die Stadt

Fovea Hex sees the likes of Brain and Roger Eno team up with Cloadagh Simonds (most famous for her work with Thin Lizzy and Mike Oldfield) and Carter Burwell (famous for soundtracking pretty much all of the Coen brothers’ works) to make some beautiful songs that touch on traditional, ambient and experimental music. As well as playing on one of the tracks, The Hafler Trio’s Andrew McKenzie has performed his production magic on each of the tracks. His influence is apparent but not overpowering. Simonds is the focus of the group, these are her songs.

Simonds’ lyrics are powerful, especially because of her delivery. On “That River” she conjures up images of a house that morphs all of a sudden into this beautiful description of a river: “She swerves a sapphire soul over the land.” Her singing is wrought with emotion, her voice blends a few traditional styles of singing, most prominently Ireland’s sean nós singing. I found that the other vocalists and musicians were all sympathetic to this style (half of the members of Fovea Hex have a solid traditional Irish music background) which means that the songs don’t end up sounding like a hodgepodge of new age commercial rubbish like the demon queen Enya.

As expected by the line up, the music is all soundscapes and ambience. Despite the mention of fretless bass and zither in the liner notes, the opening track “Don’t these windows open?” seems to consist entirely of disembodied voices with Simonds dancing lyrically over them. The entire record makes great use of sound as a three dimensional phenomenon. By walking around the room the sounds take on different characters. This is the subtle McKenzie effect I referred to above, it’s a trademark Hafler Trio technique but Fovea Hex does not sound like the Hafler Trio. Fovea Hex is more reminiscent of Coil’s work in their Solstice and Equinox series.

With some editions of the EP there is a bonus disc of reworkings by Andrew McKenzie. “The Explanation” is a single track of abstracted drones and utterances from Bloom. It gels together well, I wasn’t sure (considering how strong I thought the original songs were) that such a CD would work but McKenzie dissolved any doubts I had. This disc along with the main EP makes for a very fine piece of work. Bloom marks the beginning of the Neither Speak nor Remain Silent trilogy but if the quality keeps up I hope Fovea Hex keep going beyond this.



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Review of the Day

ml, "Man Is The Warmest Place To Hide"
With this year's eigth Piehead release the Oregon-based ml have curiously decided to crank out a full-length homage to the music of spooky film director and composer, John Carpenter. Many may not know that Carpenter often likes to write the music for his films, giving campy classics like Big Trouble in Little China and Dark Star their appropriately stiff and synth-heavy backing. ml, on the other hand, are more known for their tricked out beats and goofy sense of humor that place them firmly in the west coast new electronic psuedo-dance family these days, so while it's not what I expected from the former Thine Eyes guys, it's not hard to imagine either. I'm not sure how noble it is to crib someone else's style so deliberately that it becomes a tribute, but somehow Man Is The Warmest Place To Hide manages to be both fun and faithful to the source without ever sounding cheap. Well, it's no cheaper than a John Carpenter score so it seems to be working on that level. The music is all a series of simple themes with a filmic overtone that makes them moody but not overly complicated. While the sounds don't come from a Carpenter film, it's easy to see them working with one. Most of the timbres are lifted straight from vintage synths (or vintage synth emulators as may be the case) and the sound design is intentionally not clever or obtrusive. The few places where the guys resort to more recent sounding filters and patches actually take the songs out of that full-on Carpenter world and help bridge the gap between goofy experiment and music that's actually enjoyable on its own. Ml have never established a firm style to my ears over the years. They tend to blend in with other acts from the Pacific northwest who trade in quirky, laptop-fueled post-industrial beat making and so it's a little ballsy for them to put something like this out that gives most of the stylistic cues up to unseen source material. I'd like to see more people try this sort of thing, if only to see what talented musicians can do with an artificial but well-understood set of limitations. The obvious question is: is the record worth listening to outside of the context of the John Carpenter angle, and I'm not sure about that. I suppose the answer lies in how much you like John Carpenter's music. It definitely feels a little cheesy if you take away the idea that it's an homage, but if you know going in what it's all about, it's quite a fun thing to spin. As it stands though, this is my favorite batch of ml songs to date, and I'm not sure what that means for the rest of their discography. What it means for now is that Piehead scores again with another release we're not likely to have seen without this special series, which is pretty awesome. 


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