Ambidextrous: Rocket Mind
Cheju: Homecoming Part One
Cheju: Homecoming Part Two
Duncan Ó Ceallaigh: Distant Voices, Still Lives
Sonmi451: Probes & Prisms
This latest roundup of recent releases from the amazingly prolific U-cover label includes four pristine three-inch releases and four full-lengths in the label's “limited” series (155 copies each). If the three-inch releases sparkle and gleam even more brightly than usual, perhaps it's because Boltfish mainstays Mint and Cheju account for three-quarters of the material in question. Pulse from Mint (Boltfish co-owner Murray Fisher) offers five examples of his immaculately polished style, ranging from uptempo (the spirited “Térkép” and writhing brooder “Collapsed Airway”) to melancholic (the sweet and stately “When You Glow”), all of which show that Fisher's melodic gifts are as well-developed as his programming skills. Promoting an almost old-fashioned IDM style that's wholly free of digital dirt, Fisher showers his sleek tracks with glistening synth melodies and crisp beats.
Cheju's two-part Homecoming might just as easily be broached as an eight-track mini-album. Like Fisher, Wil Bolton excels at crafting finessed electronic IDM awash in multi-layered synth melodies. Part One opens ruminatively with the lulling keyboard counterpoint of “Cherryandcinnamon” before the dark ambiance of “Vita Glass” appears energized by a midtempo funk groove and softly glimmering melodies. “Embers” and “Celeste” further exemplify Part One's brooding spirit and cinematic aura. If anything, Cheju's voluptuous style intensifies on the slightly sunnier Part Two with the dramatic etude “Defect” a particularly robust exemplar. The luminous “Gone Again” benefits from a skeletal hip-hop underpinning while the whirr-and-click of skittish electro-funk swirl gives “Red Tin” and “Precinct” a strong kick.
Of the four mini-disc recordings, Duncan Ó Ceallaigh's Distant Voices, Still Lives is the major find. Using guitar, keyboards, bass, dulcimer, percussion, melodica, glockenspiel, and computer as tools, Ó Ceallaigh creates six electroacoustic settings that are closer in spirit to 12k than Boltfish. Subtle processing treatments and textural flourishes dominate meditative material such as “Out of Darkness” and the string-heavy evocation “Low Across Dawn Waters” while “The Sea and the Sand” and “Sábhaílte” exude a hymnal quality reminiscent of Stars Of The Lid. Providing a change of pace, pretty keyboard, acoustic guitar, and glockenspiel melodies grace the more song-based ballad “Watching, Waiting.” Ó Ceallaigh's twenty-three-minute release impresses throughout.
With one exception, the four full-lengths inhabit common stylistic ground, with the releases by fjordne, dirac, and Sonmi451 offering variations on ambient soundscaping (Ambidextrous's IDM focus makes him the odd man out). Unmoving by Tokyo-based Shunichiro Fujimoto (aka fjordne) is the latest in an ongoing series of meditative electroacoustic collections we've come to know and love (titles such as “A Time of Peace” and “Paused on Time” hint at the album's becalmed ambiance). Throughout Fujimoto's release, piano swirls and acoustic guitar shadings meld with rippling, Fenneszian static and willowy tones in eight heavily-processed settings. In the album's ten-minute centerpiece “Tick Away From Awake,” glitchy Ovalesque elements suggest the lapping pitter-patter of rain amidst strumming acoustic strums and blurry piano notes while marimba clusters dance alongside tinkling slivers in “A Book to Read.” The vaporous “Falling to the Ground” ends the album on an even more delectably peaceful note.
Produced by Austrian trio Peter Kutin, Daniel Lercher and Florian Kindlinger, dirac's untitled set (self-released in 2006 and now supplemented with an ambient-dub remix of “Cherubim” by Ontayso) is darker and more dramatic than Fujimoto's though no less satisfying. The group deploys an entire orchestra of acoustic instrumentation in constructing its long-form pieces—guitars, organ, flutes, vibraphone, piano, trumpet, saxophone, clocks, and glockenspiel constitute a fraction of the album's sounds—and adds David Knauer's e-violin to the glassy scrapes of the opening dreamscape “Elysium” and Ivana Primorac's phantom whisper and cello to the beautiful “Cherubim.” A note accompanying the release draws a connection between dirac's chamber sound and that of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and one certainly does hear something of the latter's funereal character in the stirring “Cherubim” (“Tar De Mah” could even pass for a mournful organ mass for the dead). The sixteen-minute “Lysis” aligns dirac even more closely to GYBE, not only in its song duration but in the piece's gloomy spirit. All praise to U-cover for giving the release the exposure it deserves.
When the shut-down of the Belgium Greenhouse label threatened to take Sonmi451's Probes & Prisms down with it, U-cover rescued it from oblivion. Though there's ample sonic variety, Bernard Zwijzen's nine-track collection might be characterized as tranquil and textural ambient-electronica that, being so immersive, has a soothing effect on the listener. “Outer Shell” seemingly merges the soft rustle and clatter of sticks and pebbles with harp plucks and strums, and “Probe” pairs field recordings and voices with looped strings and burbling patterns. When female voices whisper in one's ear and tones and patterns lullingly repeat, time feels as if it's slowing down and one's bodily rhythms respond in kind. Listening to Probes & Prisms is much like the experience of sitting by a softly babbling brook and suddenly developing heightened attunement to the setting's sonic riches.
Rocket Mind was inspired by the pilgrimage Moscow resident Nick Zavriev (aka Ambidextrous) made to the Baikonur cosmodrome in the summer of 2005. In keeping with the project's “retro-futuristic space” theme, he used vintage analog synths such as the Korg Poly 800, Roland Juno 106, and Elektronika EM25 in the music's creation. Zavriev, whose Ambidextrous sound has appeared on Toytronic, Merck, and Neo Ouija releases, opts for old-school IDM in the fifty-minute set. Though executed with considerable polish and panache, Rocket Mind is the least appealing of the four albums reviewed: the incessant throb and clatter of the beats grows tiresome, and the synths often possess that cheesy analog sound one associates with IDM in its crude beginnings. Beats gallop and synths swarm forcefully in “Rocket Mind” but the track sounds about twenty years out of time. “BCN” fares better, for the simple reason that the funk beats Zavriev incorporates are fresher (unfortunately, the effect is almost ruined by the needless addition of babbling voices). The languorous balladic flow of “Icicle” is appealing too, especially when Zavriev exercises more restraint in the track's overall sound design than is his custom elsewhere. Even so, Rocket Mind is all just a little too retrograde for my taste.