Album Review: Gregory Tan – Sky Threader’s Journey

Gregory Tan Sky Threader's Journey cover
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It’s quickly clear that Gregory Tan usually writes soundtrack music when listening to his latest album, The Sky Threader’s Journey. While 2016’s Far and Away was an ambient/post-rock styled release, The Sky Threader’s Journey sounds more like a video game.

As you could expect from the album title, Tan tries to take the listener on a journey with his music. We watch as soldiers prep for a grand battle; take in the grandeur of the bustling courtyard in King Arthur’s Camelot; feel the air rush past as we fly through the sky, riding on giant eagles. Or at least those are some wild interpretations… To quote Tan: “each piece takes the listener on a thematic adventure of sorts.”

“As a composer, it is just my desire and dream to capture emotions and transform them into music,” Tan writes, “but I would also want for this music to serve a purpose that goes way beyond the celebration of an individual’s creativity.”

Gregory Tan Sky Threader's Journey

Electronic tones on this album give it a dated feel, like a polyphonic ringtone, which probably explains why I imagine computer games when I listen to it. Plus the drums feel tight and rigid, making me guess that they are also programmed. This is offset by more traditional instruments. The blend of orchestral instruments like violins juxtapose against the inorganic computerised tones.

Tan is a prolific musician, a composer by profession. I find it intriguing when people who write soundtrack music decide to compile some of their works for release as an album [examples include Brad Couture, Rhian Sheehan, Christoffer Franzen]. Why choose these particular songs? What message are you sharing? Is there a cohesive theme that sets these tracks apart from the many others you’ve written?

Regardless of his reasonings, Tan is clearly proud of his work. It is tight, intricate and detailed – certainly more fleshed out than his last EP. Simultaneously going classical and modern, Tan has created an epic listen.


Gregory Tan links:

Bandcamp: https://gregtanmusic.bandcamp.com/

Website: https://www.gregtanmusic.net/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gregtanmusic/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/gregtanmusic

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/gregtanmusic

 

Joseph James

TRACK(S) REVIEW: U137 – ADAM FOREVER/THE GREAT LEAP

U137
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Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything; It is the essence of order and lends to all that is good, just, and beautiful. – Aristotle

There are as many ways to deal with pain or loss as there are stars in the sky. Music was handed down to us through the impossibility of timeless epochs by our ancestors. The importance of music throughout our history on this planet cannot be denied. Pre-history man used it as a means to tell stories, mourn the fallen or in ritualistic rites. Paleolithic humans would blow through bone flutes, clap their hands, bang rocks together, hum, whistle or roar.  Music and rhythm is an indelible part of human evolution. We take it, as we take life, for granted. It is almost unfeasible to imagine our short time on Earth without it.

The post-rock and cinematic instrumental genres are difficult to explain. I’m often asked what it is and usually I’m bereft of any explanation. I can never quite define it. “Why do you insist on listening to music that seems to be so damn sad all the time?” is one question I’m often faced with. The answer is easy: catharsis. There was a study published in Frontiers in Psychology that posits that we tend to listen to sad music because it elicits positive emotions. Aristotle suggests that when we overwhelm ourselves with undesirable emotions the music acts as a tool of purgation. There is a gap between what we perceive as emotive in the song and what is actually felt. That gap is what is so difficult to explain.

Oftentimes, as listeners we rely on the musicians to provide us with ablution through their music. Sometimes we forget that the musicians themselves may be writing to deal with their own pain.

In 2013 Swedish post-rock duo U137 released their debut album Dreamer On The Run. According to record label Deep Elm the album has over 40+ million plays on Spotify alone. Dreamer On The Run was a gem of an album. Fronted by Oscar Gulbrandsen and Adam Tornblad of Moonlit Sailor fame, U137 writes texturally deep and spiritually honest songs that dive right into the heart. It’s the kind of music that plays at the edges of that emotive gap highlighted in the study above. On November 17th U137 will be releasing a two song “single” Adam Forever / The Great Leap. Sadly, the release will be bitter-sweet. U137 and Moonlit Sailor lost drummer Adam Tornblad in May of this year after a long struggle with substance abuse and depression. This is Oscar Gulbrandsen’s catharsis:

“Writing Adam Forever was very difficult but also provided me with some much needed therapy. The feeling and sound in this song is my love for Adam.”

 

U137 by Kristoffer Midborn

left: Adam, right: Oscar, credit Kristoffer Midborn

Adam Forever is Oscar’s farewell tune to a man he’s known for over two decades. This is Oscar’s goodbye song and a way to show his appreciation for a man he obviously dearly loved.

Adam and Oscar began writing music together in their teens and would eventually start ethereal post-rock group Moonlit Sailor in Borås, Sweden. Borås is known to go weeks without sunlight. An important fact to note as you can hear the peaceful tranquility of night dot the landscape of their musical library. In Adam Forever you can hear the hope of a new day in its opening notes. It’s almost a lullaby in reverse. It’s a song that reminds you that no matter how bad things get you have to shake off the dark, greet the morning with a smile and know that you’re 13 billion years in the making. But it is also a song that reminds you that the impossibility of you, you’re entire existence, is short and fleeting. It’s a song that reminds you that you’re loved and have the capacity to love. It’s a song of reclamation and reverie. It’s a song that begs you to celebrate what time you have with the ones you cherish because it all has to eventually stop. It stops but it does not end. Much like U137, Adam’s unfortunate passing isn’t the end, it’s a new beginning.

Adam Forever is the kind of track that’s difficult to un-hear. The synth-like strings swell and crash coupled with a tenebrous piano part that manifests the emotive gap. The guitars create a stable foundation and echo for eternity. Just as things begin to look too bleak the drums pound a crescendo and the song takes on an air of penance. You can’t help but feel completely and utterly redeemed.

You can hear Oscar all over the second track The Great Leap. It opens with a frenetic neo-romantic string section that would make Wagner roll in his grave. Beneath all of this are lush and verdant whole notes that surge listlessly in contrast to the dynamic strings. The song finally drops about halfway through with a guitar part that could make your heart melt. It’s exactly the kind of track you’ve come to love from U137. But there’s something more here. As good as Dreamer On The Run is, you can’t help but feel like U137 is beginning to truly ascend. Another full length will be on its way and The Great Leap, though written two years ago for U137’s second album, gives listeners a lot to get excited about.

I don’t know what happens to us after we die. There are countless pages written on this subject that I better leave to minds greater than mine. I know that we aren’t the tenacious, unbroken and resolute beings we pretend to be. Everything comes to an end, but there are those of us out there that leave an enduring and unforgettable footprint behind before we go. I can’t help but feel that Adam Tornblad is one of those people. Through his life we’re left with music that will ride on waves to the farthest reaches of far space and beyond. Would that we could all profess as much. Adam is gone, but his gift remains. Goddammit, Adam, thank you.


U137 links:

Pre-order – iTuneshttps://itunes.apple.com/us/album/adam-forever-the-great-leap-single/id1291175783

Pre-order – Deep Elm Digital: http://deepelmdigital.com/album/adam-forever-the-great-leap

 

ALBUM REVIEW: MMTH – PATERNOSTER

MMTH Paternoster cover
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There seems to be a general consensus within the instrumental rock genre that as it ages it risks falling prey to the very traits that make it so great in the first place. Bands that attempt to force change risk alienating fans. At the same time, the fans alienate the band by not demanding growth. It’s a delicate yet necessary symbiosis. Pushing the envelope just to say you’ve pushed the envelope achieves nothing. It’s counter-intuitive. Change is good, but change for the sake of change is not. Growth as a band has to be organic. There’s still a lot of room in this genre for bands that just want to write what they feel. It is for this reason that I enjoyed Germany based instrumental band MMTH so much. And this surprised me.

As far as first impressions go MMTH has to be happy with their initial DIY release. Paternoster is filled with great moments. Thematically, the band doesn’t stick with just one emotion. There are great moments of sludgy gloom peppered in with uplifting phrases of retribution. I may even add there are occasions where the band will drop right into indie groove. You’ll find yourself bobbing you’re head in time with a beast rhythm section.

I can appreciate what MMTH has done with this record. You can tell they’ve put a lot of love into the production. Both the sound quality and the mix are well done. The band even released a cassette tape replete with some pretty stellar art.

There’s a lot of diversity on this record. One moment you’re trudging knee deep through a swamp of thick and cloudy chords as on Big Mouth. The next you’re staring out the cargo bay door into the endless reaches of space. The highlight for me on Paternoster would be Pogba is the New Zidane. It starts out with a lonely piano part with guitars quietly humming in the background. The drums start an almost marching cadence which instantly gave me the impression of a convict of old marching to the gallows.

While the sound from song to song is different, there is one thing a lot of them have in common: driving and distorted guitars thrusting their pulsing violence into your earholes. These guys have to have a background in classic rock. As stated before there are parts that really groove and punch you right in the nose. Extra kudos have to be given to the drummer and bassist. These two really know how to carry a tune and seem to compliment each other well. If I had one complaint throughout this album is that there were times when I was begging for the needle to drop and hear an intensely distorted and loud rock breakdown. I wanted them to set their guitars to kill.

There’s a lot to like about Paternoster. The band doesn’t try to go out of its way to be something they aren’t. I’m not flooded with busy or overwrought guitar work or rhythm. Every note seems to have its place. Most importantly MMTH doesn’t come off as overzealous. For a first record I think they’re on the right track and can’t wait to see what they come up with next as they all grow musically.

MMTH


MMTH links:

Website: mmthband.com
Bandcamp: https://mmth.bandcamp.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mmthband/

TRACK REVIEW: THIS WILL DESTROY YOU – KITCHEN

TWDY Kitchen
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This Will Destroy You has had a strange year-and-a-half. Gone are long time bassist Donovan Jones whose work on bass and keys elevated TWDY’s already sonorous sound to next levels, and drummer Alex Bhore, a talent that made me believe in drums again. The band has since been able to fill this void with Jesse Kees and Robbi Gonzalez, two talents in their own right.

While TWDY fans eagerly await a new record and see what, exactly, these new additions bring to the table in a songwriting sense, This Will Destroy You hasn’t been resting on its laurels. Tasked with creating a soundscape for Chef Jordan Kahn’s new experimental restaurant experience Vespertine, the Austin based band would appear to be the perfect fit. Eschewing the more vanilla restaurant event that a lot of us are used to, Vespertine hopes to throw everything you’ve ever learned about the dining experience on its ear. It’s part art project, part gastronomical experiment. As with most higher end restaurants Chef Jordan Kahn wants to create an atmosphere. Enter This Will Destroy You, a band that eschewed the more traditional limitations of instrumental rock to create their own atmosphere.

Magic Bullet Records released “Kitchen” to the public on October 13th. “Kitchen” is the first track you’ll hear upon entering the restaurant. It is the tip of the spear so to speak and sets the stage for your dining experience. The band’s last two records saw them shed the mantle of everyday-post-rock and set out to create something they could call their own. Over the last two albums the band’s tracks have become darker and dripping with post-apocalyptica. “Kitchen” is in direct contrast to the mushroom cloud melodies and discordant yet controlled chaos of Tunnel Blanket and Another Language. This newest track is the silver lining. It’s the sun breaking through a blanket of purple clouds in a last ditch effort to hang on to the day. It’s a beautiful piece that hearkens back the band’s earlier days. “Kitchen” is full of hope and retribution, but there’s tragic despair there as well.

The opening notes hold on forever and act as the curtain slowly drawing back for the big reveal. Small layers of guitar are gently added on, careful not to tip the balance. The tones are soft, warm and cloyingly inviting. Everything swells languidly and every note seems to be just at the tip of your tongue. Eventually, a tiptoeing pizzicato emerges as if it’s crawling out of the dark. It’s the perfect amount of movement in a song that moves like quicksand. The way it all comes together evokes the imagery of soft colors dancing on the floor as light pierces a stained glass window. You’re filled with billowy joy, but there’s a ghostly edge there just out of reach that also fills you with the uneasy feeling that the stained glass window could come shattering to the ground at any moment.

I’ll probably never be able to visit Vespertine, but if “Kitchen” is any indication you’re in for one hell of a night. The track is subtle and invitatory, which is perfect as it’s the sonic set piece for your evening at the restaurant. We may be a long way off from a new full length from TWDY, but “Kitchen” does a magnificent job of sating any hunger pangs for new material.


This Will Destroy You links:

Label: http://www.magicbulletrecords.com/site/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/magicbulletrecs
Bandcamp: https://magicbulletrecords.bandcamp.com/album/this-will-destroy-you-kitchen
Band: http://thiswilldestroyyou.net/

EP Review: His Master’s Voice The Devils Blues- Woman

His Master's Voice The Devils Blues Woman EP Cover
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I first heard of His Master’s Voice when Mathias Hallberg reviewed Into Orbit’s latest album release show. I had been in the South Island at a sporting event, and came back to Mathias raving about this bluesy band from Auckland.

Needing to make up for missing the show, I made a point of seeing the band next time they visited Wellington, and Mathias was 100% right. They’re damn good.

The band sent me Woman yesterday. I’ve been playing it on repeat non-stop since.

His Master's Voice - The Devils Blues. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington

Image: Will Not Fade

Take the blues and revive them with dosage of danger. Add filthy southern rock riffs. Swirl in a generous serving of Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Drop in a few drugs. And then, amidst the swirling haze, you will find you have produced His Master’s Voice.

They play with such a swagger. Whether laying down a doomy groove, or ripping into a fast-paced swing section, the music is saturated with infectious feel.

My personal favourite is first track, “Burning” – a slow burner with a smooth, rolling riff. That is, until frontman Jesse Sorenson cries out “Come the groove!” And that’s exactly what happens. It all kicks in. If the bass line doesn’t get you moving then wait til the tambourines start ashakin’ and the primal drums kick in. And then, just to send you over the edge, we have a guitar solo.

There is no denying how much Black Sabbath have influenced His Master’s Voice’s sound. The title track on this EP reminds me of “Electric Wizard”. Sorenson channels his inner-Ozzy as he wails over a sweetly picked guitar melody. The rest of the band joins in, and the soaring guitars and organs elevate the music to the next level.

The only problem with Woman is the duration. 20 minutes is not enough! But I’ve been playing it on repeat and I can’t see myself tiring of these songs anytime soon. But honestly, what more do you need? Groovy blues with a heavy edge. Music that will possess you to dance. It’s just fantastic.

His Master’s Blues have pulled it off again, and Woman comes with my highest of recommendations.

His Master's Voice - The Devils Blues. Family of Strangers Tour. Valhalla, Wellington

Image: Will Not Fade

Woman is due out digitally on Bandcamp on 1 October 2017, and will also be available through the usual streaming platforms. The CD will be available at the EP release show at The King’s Arms on October 28th.

His Master’s Voice links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thedevilsblues
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thedevilsbluesnz/
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/thedevilsbluesnz
Bandcamp: www.hismastersvoice.bandcamp.com
Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/brando28
Reverbnation: https://www.reverbnation.com/hismastersvoice
Merch: www.thedevilsmerch.com

His Master’s Voice are:

Jesse Sorensen – Vocals and Guitar
Brandon Bott – Bass
Az Burns – Guitar
Renè Harvey – Drums
(Plus Paul Lawrence – Keys on ‘Evil’ and ‘Woman’)

 

Words and photos by Joseph James

EP Review: Masters Of This Land – Self Titled

Masters Of This Land
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Masters Of This Land is a post-rock/electronica duo from Cairo (closely linked to another act Go! Save The Hostages!). The two members, Amir and Youssef use guitar, bass, synth, a drum machine and a sampler to create relaxing downtempo music.

An interesting bent to this band is that they use their music to satirize the Egyptian government, as well as current nationalist movements around the world (Trump and Brexit were two examples that Amir offered). I can’t pretend that I am aware of the current situation in Egypt, but Amir has filled me in on some recent history, mentioning a 2013 Military coup following from rule by a Muslim Brotherhood.

This political theme is surprising. The imagery of aggression and power contrasts sharply against the mild downtempo music.

On one hand we see some strong satire of the current regime. The Masters Of This Land eagle symbol found on the album cover is based on the Roman SPQR eagle, a symbol of domination. The EP was released on the anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, when the military first took control. Amir shared that the band name was taken from a quote by a recent post-coup Justice Minister who was a former judge. Translated, what he said was that the judges were “masters of this land, and everyone else are slaves” (reference). The band name, symbol and release date are all pointed attacks on the government through ironic mimicry – an answer to the government’s “brain-melting propaganda”, as Amir put it.

One the other hand we have the wonderful music, which doesn’t invoke thoughts of defiance in the slightest.

Tranquil notes play over rigid electronic patterns. Glitchy beats coincide with serene swells. Acoustic and electronic marry and together they create sounds of peace.

Some of the song names are interesting. “C_LORRI”, full of spacey, sci-fi noises, is named after the file name of the first photo of Pluto that the New Horizons probe sent back to earth. “This She-Wolf Is A Gift To My Kinsmen”, with its music box intro, ethereal coos (possibly an e-bow?) clucky synth parts, was the first recorded sentence in (Old) English, written in Anglo-Saxon runes. “Factory 221” was the codename of the area where the Chinese developed atomic weapons in the 50s/60s.

Writing an EP full of relaxing electronic music is an unusual method of protest, but still something I can endorse. I’m a fan of political music, and have always loved the punk ethos of using music as a vehicle to stand up against injustice. And in a weird way it has worked. OK, so this short EP isn’t going to single-handedly overthrow any corrupt governments, but it has at least made me more aware of what is going on in Egypt.

I don’t wish for any of this to be misconstrued as racist. As I said before, I am largely ignorant to the happenings of the various Arab nations throughout recent years. But I do feel compelled to share when I hear stories of rebelling against oppression and injustice.

Politics aside, Masters Of This Land features some great music, perfect for relaxing to. Instrumental projects are open to interpretation, but this one features some fascinating content if you choose to delve deep. If not, never mind, the music stands up on its own as both calming and interesting.


Masters Of This Land links:

Album Review: Bandina ié – Synekdoke

Bandina ié - Synecdoche cover
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Copenhagen quintet Bandina ié have spent a long time working on their début album, Synekdoke. Six whole years for six tracks. Spending an average of a whole year on each track is either a sign of stupidity or great attention to detail.
Named after the Charlie Kaufman movie “Synecdoche, New York”, the album feels light and summery.
The introductory title track feels ambient and ephemeral, with light guitar picking, electronic swells, and tapping on the drum cymbals that sound like cicadas chirping in the trees. It doesn’t feel so much like a song, but serves to set a relaxing tone for the album.
“Arjuna” is fantastic. Everything about it makes me think of carefree dancing – the great groove, the way I picture fingers jumping off the strings on the fretboard, the way the drumsticks bounce off the rims of the drums, the way the shaker rattles in time to the beat. It’s a wonderful song, reminiscent of Dorena.
Likewise, “Solipsisten” warms my heart. Sweet guitar picking, a strong beat with a shaker and ambient swells combine to create a thing of beauty.
The reason I love this album so much is because it sounds so fun and lighthearted. I picture a fantasy scene with elves and fairies partying it up in a forest clearing, fireflies spiraling around them, and everyone having the time of their lives.
Not every track is a fun fairy tale soundtrack. A few are more ambient, and “Kazuaya” features a dangerous rhythm that comes close to a rave track. “Ophavet” opens and closes with clinking wooden wind chimes and rustling in the bushes, but features a down-tempo bassline between. But overall the album still sounds like an adventure in the wilderness.
Too much instrumental music is sad and gloomy. And as much as I love heavy music, the music that Bandina ié writes makes me want to celebrate life in a way that few other post-rock songs inspire me to do.
Bandina ié - Synecdoche
Synekdoke is available now (digitally and on vinyl) through Stella Polaris Music.

Bandina ié links:

Bandina ié is:

Johan Carøe (guitars):
Rasmus Boesgaard (guitars)
Simon Ulstrup (bass)
Mads Michelsen (drums, percussion)
Emil Duvier (piano, synthesizers)
Joseph James