Calika: The Bright Spot

Ochre: Lemodie

Michael Santos: Matters

Benbecula continues its Mineral Series (the Scottish label issues roughly one album per month with each containing new material, outtakes, demos, etc.) with Matters, a debut collection by Leeds, England-based Michael Santos, and The Bright Spot, a new Calika disc (and companion to the recent Audiobulb outing Small Talk Kills Me) by Simon Kealoha, plus adds Lemodie, a new Ochre outing from Chris Leary, to its mix of new releases.

Matters presents nine dramatic settings of delicately textured noise generated from guitars, synths, and basic minidisc recordings. If Santos's sound isn't radically innovative (the stately “ Edinburgh New Year” apes Fennesz), there's no denying the controlled artistry he brings to the free-flowing material. Attending to the carefully modulated unfurl of static and tonal detail that extends throughout the meditative “Light 8,” one is reminded of kindred soundscaping releases on labels like ROOM40 and Touch. More often than not a placid ambiance reigns but there's nothing objectionable about that when material like “Early Nineties” and “She's Affecting” is so soothing and evocative.

Calika's sound is harder to pin down, but that's not surprising given Simon Kealoha's background, a 10-year creative trek that found him moving from hip-hop and jazz to electro and IDM. Electronics cross swords with acoustic sounds throughout his shape-shifting pieces, tracks that aren't entirely rootless but are definitely 'broken' in some measure. “Sometimes I Feel Like I'm not Quite Here,” for instance, is as disorienting as its title: noises flicker and combust, strings briefly declare themselves, a hushed voice sings and a melodica wheezes—all of it caught in a web of clicks, scrapes, bells, and rattles and goaded by a grimy pulse. Adding to such indeterminacy, stylistic contrasts sit side-by-side: Calika follows “Max and Louie,” a rather straightforward exercise in electro-IDM, with a glacially unfolding soundscaper “Four Dummies.” In the title track, perhaps the best encapsulation of Calika's sound, Kealoha couples a bizarre rhythm loop that resembles a rubber-band pluck with a junkyard orchestra of creaking and clanking noises.

Lemodie is not only better behaved than the mischievous The Bright Spot but also impresses considerably more than Leary's 2004 Toytronic release A Midsummer Nice Dream. Ochre's melodic and orchestral sound has always been polished but that collection erred on the side of excessive politeness; the new disc hits harder and is all the better for it. Yes, there are predictably sweet moments—the string section interval at the center of “111,” for instance, and the sparkling harp strums in “Infotain Me”—but they're offset by the insistent clank of robust machine beats. Similarly, symphonic swirls and chiming keyboards illuminate the upper strata of “Beneath Fleeting Visions” but an intricate rhythmic slam brings a darker undercurrent to the proceedings. Dreamy cuts like “Lifewish” also prove that Ochre can hold interest when beats are omitted altogether. Leary's hour-long attempt to locate a satisfying interzone betwixt the light and dark makes for compelling listening.

August 2006