Steve Hauschildt Where All Is Fled (Kranky, 2015)
Steve Hauschildt's sixth record - and third for Kranky - is an emotionally riveting and wholly substantial record in a genre often yielding lightweight explorations into synth-based mood music. Where All is Fled, however, is a record that is dynamic and consistent, one that starts with fluid, sand-shifting tone washes and builds to suspenseful and lovely climaxes of stirring arpeggios and komische-inspired synthscapes. Hauschildt, of course, needs no introduction. As one third of Emeralds - a band that "broke" a culminating mass of young musicians forging new connections between 70's Kraut and New Age music to a wider audience - Hauschildt always felt like that group's unassuming ace in the hole. Since Emeralds' disbanding Hauschildt's output has been a winnowing work, a further edification of layered arpeggios, delicate, unadorned piano lines and rythemless propulsion that builds into a cascading torrent of perpetual motion. Where All is Fled has been a constant and versatile companion, and as I've waited this long to write the review, has been with me for much of 2015. It has accompanied me through paperwork sessions between clients and, most recently, perfectly paced runs through the woods near my house. Much of the bubbling, ebullient lines that make a track like "A Reflecting Pool" sound as if they are starting far away and bubbling up through some viscous liquid before dissipating. Where All is Fled is a precarious record, as the mark that Emeralds made is slowly fading, Hauschildt continues to make sturdy, relevant records that counts as some of the best music of the past few years.
Ruhe Patriarchs (Eilean Rec, 2015)
I am constantly amazed at the level of craftsmanship that Eilean Rec is able to bring to the table on each release. While I have loved everything that this label has put out this year, the Pacific Northwest composer Ruhe's work on Patriarchs is the one I have responded the most viscerally to. Simple, descending and ascending piano notes hang suspended in mid-air while their resonance settles and decays like dust through slanted sunlight. While most of the record follows this formula of minimalist piano lines unadorned with little else but highly emotive playing - a heavy heart's worth of weight pressing on those keys - tracks like "Shelter" feature several strands of tape manipulation and distant melodies waxing and waning across the composition with disembodied vocals humming stolen melodies. The eponymous "Patriarchs" features vocals from Ruhe, that in their explorations of our venerated (yet very human and anti-heroic), give a devastatingly accurate critique of our tendency for hero worship of very human and largely unheroic patriarchs...which makes this next sentence seem pretty absurd. RIYL Brian Eno, M. Ostermeier, Simon James Phillips.
Gordon Ashworth The One You Love & Cannot Trust (Latrogenesis, 2015)
Gordon Ashworth's follow up EP to one of 2014's truly important contributions to the world of experimental music, the full-length S.T.L.A continues that records' exploration of the intersection between sound art, field recordings, eloquent drones and notations of Ashworth's earlier work under the moniker Concern - which often focused on expertly played stringed instruments paired with various manipulations of the instrument or recording process. Guitars and other stringed instruments are all over this record, as is Ashworth's unique fingerpicking style. Ashworth's technique is difficult to classify within anything akin to American Primitivism or European folk music for that matter. It consists of Ringing open notes and quick clusters of deftly picked notes that run over Ashworth's field recordings collected through his travels and through his job moonlighting as a taxi driver in Portland. Sometimes, like on "New Moon" these lines are otherworldly powerful, the lines themselves are easy to pick out - but there is just so much sound happening around those discernible notes that a blissful sort of aural claustrophobia sets in. The nocturnal that permeates Ashworth's releases is strong on this one as is Ashworth's powerful ability to pull drones of crackling tension from adjacent electrical outlet and dread from a conversation happening in the next bando over from your newly gentrified street.
Nigredo Lunas Negras (Small Scale Music, 2015)
The group of Montreal composers, vocalists and stringed instrument players known as Nigredo have banded together on Lunas Negras to interpret and record a collection of poems by Frederico Garcia Lorca. In this unedited, live recording Geraldine Celerier Eguiluz's equally beautiful and terrifying vocals and classical Spanish influenced guitar are joined with a small troupe of stringed instruments and auxiliary percussion to create a performance that is tightly composed and highly emotional. These emotions range from mournful dirges to ecstatic, pointillist runs through an impressively high upper range. Eguiliuz's voice leads the strings through a diving, lilting, squawking traverse across Lorca's evocative poetry as if each player is sight-reading the poem as it is exiting Eguiliuz's mouth in a breathy exhale and horror-filled scream. There is an impetus: a clarion call and then a tumbling of clunky chord progressions reacting to and coaxing some of the most indelible and unforgettable sounds out of Eguiliz's reedy vocal chords. The tape, like all performances like this, is best enjoyed in its entirety, allowing the full spectrum to sink in and pass through you. Kudos to the newly-minted Small Scale Music for bringing this to light.
Anthéne Repose (Polar Seas Recordings, 2015)
Sometimes, all you need is a slab of white, granular drone to soothe a troubled psyche or focus your thoughts on a task. The soothing, stretched tones of Anthéne's Repose can do that like little else. Released on Toronto's Polar Seas Recordings this record is full of gentle pulls of spectral light from the dead cold. Bradley Deschamps is one half of North Atlantic Drift who share a similar tonal palate of placid, smoothed over tones that are emotive without being overbearing. Touchstones of Fennesz and Eluvium come immediately to mind. With the serene overtones and textures, this is a record that seeps deep into your subconscious if, perhaps, your attention has slipped away from active listening - you may wonder why you feel in tune with the gradual glacial shift from liquid to solid on a global scale. You need this in your life.
The Balustrade Ensemble Renewed Brilliance (Serein, 2015)
There are moments on Renewed Brilliance that hearken to a musical strain that is not present in much of the ilk in this tightly composed, yet spacious ambient music, a courtly medieval chamber orchestra dragged beneath guitar distortion and underwater atmospherics. When it comes up for air loose strands of mellotron, orchestron, dulcitron (having google imaged each before writing this) share top billing with familiar washes of distortion-filled guitars, fluttering harps and vigorous bowing of stringed instruments. I guess there was a time when post-classical was a legit genre, The Balustrade Ensemble actually feel like a group studied and trained enough to wear those pants. Just listen to the way all auxiliary sounds filter out towards the end of "Show Us to the Sky" - a muting of all harpists, oscillators, processed guitars until the sturdy backbone of the track emerges - gentle pulls across a violin's vibrato rich strings. There is a lot in here. I remember buying a CD at a thrift shop of glass armonica music; the ethereality, ringing tones and capturing of stately objectification of mankind's endless tinkering is something I greatly prize about that private press CD, this is that CD times x1,000 paired with incredibly beautiful, expertly crafted washes of ambiance and frighteningly astute multi-instrumentalism, yet led by a sturdy guitar set through multiple stages of tape and digital manipulation. One of the finest and rewarding records of the year.
From the Mouth of the Sun Into The Well (Fluid Audio, 2015)
At this point From the Mouth of the Sun should need no introduction. Comprised of multi-instrumentalists Dag Rosenqvist (Jasper, TX) and Aaron Martin, From the Mouth of the Sun is an impossibly beautiful pairing of Rosenqvist's late moves towards quiet, stately and sparse piano compositions and Martin's looped and processed cello and bowed banjo. These two fit together in seamless, mutual affection - a bond forged through uploading and unzipping files of gorgeous song stems traveling instantaneously from Gothenburg, Sweden and Topeka, KS. Songs that build like cumulus clouds of incandescent tones reverberating and quivering into each other, building until the break in some beautiful storm cloud of bowed or rung instruments that cut through the gently building haze like a shot through the heart. Huge orchestral swells that sound so clarion clear that it sounds impossible this is a recording. Mournful, elegiac...ennui has a name. God, this album is so fucking good.