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 ----------Deborah Martin / Erik Wøllo - Between Worlds

Between Worlds is a gentle album of subtle melodic music fusing contemporary synths and programming techniques with organic field recordings and performance material. The voices and instrumental sounds of American Indian musicians are sensitively involved so that they form a central thread without dominating the compositions. Often placed deep within the mix, the approach here is not to form synthetic backdrops to catchy indigenous samples or to deliver original songs with a bit of digital enhancement. Here modern sounds and forms are of equal import: electro grooves with distant, scratchy chants and flutes; atmospheric drones with hand drumming and shaker percussion; ambient soundscapes and rhythmic mouth bow; drifting melodic themes haunted by intriguing fragments now well over a hundred years old. Between Worlds is surely one of the most sensitive projects to convey these instantly familiar iconic sound forms in an electronic context to date.

ARTWORK   Montaged imagery in earthy tones hints at a fading culture and pattern of belief. The front cover image overlays shadows of trees upon pots and bowls and the top of a tee pee. This piece runs across to the back of the folded insert where similar elements centre around an ethereal figure that initially is barely perceived - an American Indian musician. The rear of the package delivers a tracklist with times for each piece along with Spotted Peccary logo and website address. Within is a set of photographs showing historical locations and musicians Credits are detailed and respectfully presented acknowledging the artists' debt to the communities that they have sought to sonically explore.

The latest 2009 release from the Spotted Peccary label delivers a collaborative project from two well respected electronic recording artists Deborah Martin and Erik Wøllo. This collection of twelve pieces features partial segments of cylinder recordings from the late 1800s - Omaha and Kiowa Indian voices thick with time. Current onsite recordings of Apache drums and songs as well as other genuine performance elements maintain the musical balance, with Deborah Martin providing vocals, synths, Taos drums and percussion and Erik Wøllo bringing further synths and programming. Steve Roach is credited with having provided additional synths and atmospheres for a number of tracks. This sound bridge between worlds seeks to illustrate something of American Indian belief whilst deftly presenting a rich heritage that made a connection with the earth strikingly different from that of much of today's society.





 ----------Longing For Orpheus - OtherSong

Relaxing new age and chilled melodic instrumentals. OtherSong has a lush serenity about it that increasingly absorbs the listener as the album unfolds - laid back beats combining programmed grooves and acoustic enhancements propelling dreamy melodies. The mellow themes are primarily of well selected synthetic sound, multi-layered lines buoyed upon smooth pads with additional multi-national samples sensitively entwined. Pianos, flutes, harp, erhu and pipa along with other exotic instruments constantly grab the attention and keep the colours bright and strong. Ethnic drums such as djeme, bodhran and shakers are employed to bring emphatic levels to the beats, the occasional electronic glitch and subtle sequencer pattern adding further depth.

MOOD   For the most part the mood here is one of optimistic tranquillity - even when the tempos lift somewhat, the hypnotic nature of the music remains. The album explores a range of genres from the balearic slant of EverSoul through the more overtly worldbeat NeverTale and UmbraStory to the progressive electronic ForestWake. That said - the listener would likely not spot any obvious shift in style since the whole package has a strong unifying identity that runs throughout the whole album.
ARTWORK   OtherSong comes in a jewelcase with single sheet insert. The limited palette of liquid blue and lilac creates a tasteful front cover - smooth sky and sharp blossom with simple title font. The rear cover presents a similar sky, this time with faint puffs of white cloud, bright copper leaves in foreground. The tracklist runs down the right side. Flipping the insert over; the thematic content is maintained with more vivid flora alongside a second tracklist. Here too are brief credits and website details with a suggestion that album notes can be found at the artist's site.
OVERALL    Longing For Orpheus is the solo project of classically trained US musician Derek Smootz. With its origin back in 2003, the project experimented with music influenced by the likes of Enigma and Vangelis. A debut album was released in 2006 entitled Skye making OtherSong the second full length CD currently on offer. According to the official website Derek is also involved in various side projects such as Artificial Emotion (dance-oriented) and Ice Queen Alias (synthpop). He performs with various choirs and theatres in the Austin area, and maintains the "After Enigma" online guide to Nu Ambient music. The new album can be heard at the Longing For Orpheus website.
WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   This is music for forgetting your cares and enjoying the moment. OtherSong has that fairytale dreaminess found in Amethystium and will likely appeal to fans of enigmatic music. Well suited as background sound - but a joy to experience on headphones too.




 ----------Mythos - Gallery Concerts

Live electronic wizardry woven into a non-stop mix. Mythos here presents the Gallery Concerts recorded live before an enthusiastic crowd of EM fans from all over Western Germany on August 29th 2009. The familiar sounds from previous albums well up in new form as Stephan Kaske allows his synths to meander around his strong melodic themes with an increased ambient improvisational approach. The crystal clear synths ring sharp and distinct in all their various layered forms whilst flute, electronic bagpipes and vocoder add further depths of sensitivity. The beats are strident and firm, even when allowed to dissipate and lighten, the measured certainty of their structures remains, bolstered by the constant ripple and cycle of morphing sequencer patterns. Gallery Concerts reveals something of the mastery that Stephan Kaske has over his musical form - whereas some live concerts become rambling and loose, Stephan avoids these pitfalls deftly. Instead this hands on performance enhances the emotive content and exploratory interludes to great effect.


A stark monochrome approach is taken to deliver this jewel case presentation. An angular edifice shot from a low view point rises in symmetrical grandeur on the front cover - few details, heavy texture. A detail from a similar image bisects the rear, titles, credits and recording information to one side. The two panel insert opens up to reveal a second half to the cover graphic - a dark gargoyle dragon semi-transparent and a single scarlet square. Flipping the sheet we find a gear list, website info and brief credits laid out on the left side whilst a black and white photograph on the right displays some of the essential Mythos kit.


The impressive Mythos catalogue broadens with this 'back to his roots' live CD. The album arrives with a Gallery Concert at the open air famous Grugapark in Essen, Germany and will be followed up with appearances at several Galleries, EM-Concerts and Vernissages. The music was all recorded in real time without the use of on stage PC control, instead utilizing hardware sequencers to drive the evolving sounds. This method allowed the artist the opportunity to improvise and develop emergent structures as well as space for solo performances using voice effects and flute. Stephan tells us that the initial presentation was very well received with, as he puts it, "Lots of happy faces, 2 times "we want more" and a hundred sold and signed GALLERY CONCERTS albums."





 ----------Various Artists - Imaginary Friends
STYLE   Sensitive electronic arrangements with dreamy, classical grace. Nova has collected together an exquisite album where artists new and old deliver a series of understated, elegant compositions touched with a rare melancholy beauty that gradually evolves as the various pieces unfold. Beginning with beatless piano and strings, the opener from Field Rotation sets a high standard. This neo-classical grace is picked up in the next track, enhanced here with electronic touches and faint glitch groove. Further pieces gradually see greater emphasis on beat and structure whilst maintaining the initial delicate sensibility - by track six from Cell the tone has moved more into experimental, downtempo trance, a development maintained by a subsequent series of Ultimae regulars perhaps peaking with the restrained intensity of Asura's Longing For Silence. James Murray concludes the set with Eleven (Decades Mix), a restful airy beat and almost ambient theme.
MOOD   Imaginary Friends has the mood just right. I have to confess I was hoping initially for more along the lines of the opening tracks (having recently developed an only partially sated hunger for glitchy neo-classical electronica thanks partly to Nova) - yet putting aside my own desires each piece here actually contributes to an unfolding journey of exceptional refinement. The somewhat non-lonely isolationist melancholia that wells up with aching beauty through the first half of the album is complemented well by the exploratory chillout of the latter half. The track Gently, Drown the Scene from Offthesky is a gorgeous passage - solemn, serene and blissfully transporting. Murya also deliver a quality piece with the soft focus melody of Gray Daze - sleepy, lovely and quite enchanting.
ARTWORK   Imaginary Friends comes in a three panel digipack of glossy shadow, a sixteen page booklet caught in a neat slot within. The luxurious black borders of this package are lit up alternately with curling flames, cave mouth openings and bright text. Inside geometries of photo images present the peacefulness of solitude in varied guises. A page per track inside the booklet allows for generous pictorial accompaniment - each shot with credits and poetic verse. Thanks are reserved for the final sheet with contact and website details appearing on the back.

Nova has delivered some incredible compilations for Ultimae over recent years. The delightful Albedo back in 2005 setting a very high standard and the online streaming mix Things She Left Behind of equal charm. This current album sees the label's big names Aes Dan, Hol Bauman, Solar Fields, Cell and Asura providing the more groove centred arrangements with rising star James Murray, Murya, Offthesky and Kevin Andrew filling out the more fluid sections. There is a remix of the Rena Jones classic Photosynthesis, Nalepa having retained sufficient thematic material within his repacking whilst almost completely redefining the character of the original. Ultimae promotional material includes Nova's thoughts on the project: "With Imaginary Friends I've wanted to speak about solitude but not seen as alienation, disillusionment or isolationism. Loneliness somehow involves the release of human spirit and the consequent building of a new paradigm. Personal moments, like to plug in a pair of headphones and go for a walk in a park, sitting in a café watching passers by or when writing a poem. Poetry is not a simple form of art, no matter what language is. It requires some skill, a bit of logic, and lots of heart: it's about intensity, like ambient music."

WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   If you enjoy beautiful acoustic-electronic blends with wistful serenity then you could do little better than to go for a Nova mix - Imaginary Friends being a top-notch example. Albedo fans will love this collection - stream the sample here if you need more convincing.
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 ----------Sleepthief - Labyrinthine Heart

Lush, romantic array of heavenly voices and electro-acoustic soundscapes. Labyrinthine Heart lays down its statement of intent with the striking opening track Here I Confess: a sweeping piece of nigh orchestral grandeur, elegant strings, passionate piano, richly layered vocal beds and a singing style that has soundtrack expansiveness with hints of folk sensitivity. Sure enough, the pace picks up with the following piece and periodically throughout the album as Sleepthief draws on a number of genres from pop electronica through moody downtempo with a gothic edge to Deleriumesque baroque ethereal excursions. Nevertheless this release sees Sleepthief more fully defining the project's unique focus around a blend of classical breadth and cutting edge programmed sound with a strong traditional pastoral and celtic aesthetic. Often melancholy and nostalgic, at times shadowy, moody, in places upbeat and dynamic - Labyrinthine Heart tightens the identity of the project nicely without any sacrificing of variety.


The mood throughout Labyrinthine Heart ranges from swelling emotional outpourings devoid of any accompanying beats to the restrained joy of cool electro-pop rooted in 80s synth music. That said the unifying tone is mostly one of epic, cinematic soundscaping with a greater complexity than that of The Dawnseeker, haunted still by the distinct and powerful personalities of some of the moment's most beautifully emotive individuals.

ARTWORK   Dark, grainy photomontages adorn every surface of this sumptuous digipack and its enclosed booklet. The artist appears adorned in a black highwayman's flowing coat and three cornered hat clutching an antique bird cage with barely discernable white dove. Trees and countryside structures provide backdrops that fade into textured grungy obscurity at the edges whilst the narrative juxtaposition of birds both caged and free in flight is played out in the foreground. A full tracklist is found on the back cover with vocalists listed alongside. The inner booklet provides complete lyrics and credits with a track per page layout. A poetic composition by Michael Leonard introduces the songs whilst the pages conclude with a hazy double spread image of the artist and a generous array of thanks and appreciation.

Sleepthief's Justin Elswick presents the second Sleepthief album Labyrinthine Heart three years after the debut Dawnseeker, as before via Neurodisc Records. Sleepthief pretty much hit the ground running with a stunning debut that any artist would find hard to follow, but this successor definitely keeps pace - a slight refining of emphasis, but more essentially Sleepthief than ever; which is surely a good thing as any major change of direction often loses all that the fans prize about a project. Born and raised in Southern California, full-time attorney Justin takes on pretty much all duties of songwriter and composer in collaboration with the talented vocalists on the album. Additional musical contributions come from guitarists Vik Levak (Balligomingo, Viia) and Joshua Aker whilst Israel Curtis is again credited with production, arranging, orchestration, programming, mixing and mastering input. Joanna Stevens, Coury Palermo, Kirsty Hawkshaw, Jody Quine, Zoe Johnston, Kristy Thirsk, Caroline Levelle, and Roberta Carter Harrison are the chosen voices - many will be immediately familiar to lovers of the genre. The closing track is a cover of Russ Ballard's I Know There's Something Going on (originally recorded by Abba's Anni-Frid Lyngstad (Frida) back in 1982. There is also a moving duet entwining the complementary voices of Coury Palermo and Zoë Johnston - Reason Why (intended as a single).


If you enjoyed The Dawnseeker, the chances are you will be entranced by Labyrinthine Heart - especially if you appreciate Sleepthief's more romantic, pastoral side. Fans of Balligomingo, Delerium, Conjure One and Blue Stone will surely find plenty to enjoy here too.





 ----------Terra Del Sol - The Essential Collection
STYLE   Global electronic chillout instrumentals with occasional female vocals. The tracks here are a mixture of instrumental and vocal arrangements. Smooth synth strains and atmospheric pads drift across deftly constructed airy beats that feature some smooth drum and bass patterns as well as languid downtempo dance grooves. Organ patterns, sax meanderings and electric guitar phrases provide thematic content on a number of tracks whilst soft feminine phrases waft on the breeze creating a tranquil lounge feel. In other places international instrumentation creates a more distant exoticism oriental gamelan underpinning Indian violin work or Chinese erhu and hand drumming alternating with rich synthetic chimes. A somewhat higher tempo and bass throb accompany sensuous spoken words of the club oriented Je Danse, however, for the most part the beats are restful and deeply chilled sometimes even giving way to the night time ambience of crickets.
MOOD   The mood here is mostly one of Mediterranean sunshine chill although Indian and oriental elements tug the mind further eastward at times. There is a pervasive relaxed dreaminess that calls to mind warm shores and fresh air, Terra Del Sol eminently true to the title. The Terra Del Sol title tracks fuses some tribal percussion and dance beats introduced by a montage of African choruses and solo vocals.
ARTWORK   The promotional package that I have includes front cover artwork built primarily around the Terra Del Sol title itself. Below the blocked font a tangled procession of tinted aquatic forms rolls in pastel hues, curling tentacles entwined. On the reverse is a tracklist running down the right with associated timings for each piece, writing credits listed below. On the left half are three small photographs of the artists footed by details of their contributions to the project.

Terra Del Sol is the music of musician and label manager Alberto Hauss on keyboards and Spanish guitar and Christophe Garnerone providing percussion and harmonica. The Essential Chill Collection features the vocal talents of Maria Sanchez and Lalu. This current release is delivered via the UK's Tantajo Records, label subsidiary of German based Tantajo Studios, known for its ambient, downbeat and lounge output. This is a quality album of intense chillout music that would work well as a blissed out backdrop to that perfect evening or equally, Terra Del Sol provide sufficient detail and melody to reward headphone experience.

WHO WILL LIKE THIS ALBUM   This album seems most ideally suited to fans of balearic chill. If you enjoyed Alberto Hausse's La Tienda Mediterranean Ambiance then this will be right up your street. Cafe Del Mar lovers will likely enjoy the vibe here too.