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

Interview: Judith Hoorens – We Stood Like Kings

We Stood Like Kings USA 1982
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We Stood Like Kings are a Brussels-based post-rock quartet who specialise in re-imagining scores for silent films. Their upcoming album, USA 1982 (out 22 September 2017 on Kapitän Platte), was written to accompany American cult movie Koyaanisqatsi, directed by Godfrey Reggio. The film explores the imbalance of nature when mankind takes over. The original film was scored by Phillip Glass, so Judith Hoorans explains why her band decided to write music to fit something that already has a soundtrack.

Hi Judith. How are you?

Hi Joseph. I’m absolutely fine, thank you. Happy to be here!

Tell me about your personal musical journey. How long have you been playing piano and when did you first discover post-rock?

I started playing piano as a child. My parents really wanted their three children to have a musical education, so we didn’t really have a choice. I first learned violin, before figuring out it wasn’t really my cup of tea. I remember being very afraid of my teacher. Then I switched to piano. It’s only later, in my late teenage years , that I became conscious of how much music meant to me and that I could do something worthy with it. It’s about at the same time that I discovered post-rock through a good friend of mine. The first band I really enjoyed was Caspian.

How did We Stood Like Kings come to exist?

I’ve known Mathieu, our drummer, since a very long time. We were both students at the same boarding school in Aalst, a little Flemish town located between Brussels and Ghent. Our supervisor loved music a lot and even provided us with a rehearsal room. We started writing pop songs, playing covers. A few years later, we had lost sight of each other but met again by chance, almost literally bumping into each other at university. That’s when I let him hear some post-rock, and he was totally up for it. We started a new band, and over the years, We Stood Like Kings took shape with Colin on bass and Phil on guitars.

Who is your favourite film director and why?

I don’t really have a favorite film director. I’m not a movie know-it-all, I like to enjoy good movies and I don’t really watch them the way that I like listen to music (which I do in a more professional way, you might say, paying attention to meter changes, tonalities, etc.). The best movies for me are the ones which make you forget all the things you have to take care of.

What process does We Stood Like Kings go through when deciding which films you’d like to cover?

Of course we watch a lot of movies, and at some point, it becomes obvious which one we should choose. I guess we discussed the choice of Koyaanisqatsi for like, 5 minutes. Our second project for Vertov’s A Sixth Part of the World was a bit more tricky, because we knew that the movie was a difficult one and would raise many questions from the audience due to its political nature.

We Stood Like Kings

One your website you include a quote from Godfrey Reggio that includes the sentence “Copies are copies of copies”. How well do you think this applies to your current project?

The way I would interpret your question is that in my opinion, nothing is ever really new. We are all different but identical at the same time. Though I would say that we have consciously chosen a musical direction that was different from Philip Glass’ approach. Bands are always inspired by other art forms, be it music or other kinds of art, and there are always many others doing stuff that’s close to what you do. The only way to make it really personal is to put all your soul in it. Trying to create something to really resonates within you. Therefore you have to find what’s yours and not someone else’s and use it as your strength.  

You’ve covered Berlin, USSR – two lost empires.  And now you’ve chosen the USA. Was that a conscious decision?

Yes definitely. We had the idea of making a kind of trilogy on the subject of fragile empires. BERLIN 1927 is like a snapshot of Berlin right before the outbreak of World War II. USSR 1926 shows a glimpse of the Soviet empire at the height of its power. It was only logical to focus on the USA, the Western lifestyle and how it came to its actual form thanks to the technological evolution of the last decades. How knows how it’s going to end?

How does copyright factor into what you do, seeing as you are playing music to match other artists works?

We certainly have to handle copyrights. The two movies from the 20s are still protected by what you call “screening rights”, which we have to pay for each screening of the movie to the Film Museum who has restored to movie and commercialized it on DVD. For Koyaanisqatsi, we have made an agreement also. Of course it’s never free to use existing movies and one should be really careful about this to avoid bad surprises.

Have you ever received feedback from people who were involved in the films you write soundtracks to? And were you in contact with Phillip Glass at all during this process?

Well, not for our first two albums obviously, because the people who made them are dead now. We have not been in contact with Philip Glass. But we have recently sent our soundtrack to the directing team of Koyaanisqatsi. We are eagerly awaiting their feedback, that’s the least we can say.

Last year was the anniversary for the battle of Somme. I watched a documentary about it which was filmed during the the battle, and a live orchestra played the score in time with the film. Do We Stood Like Kings do something similar?

Yes, it’s what we do. We play live, below the screen, while the movie is playing and we are synchronizing our music with it. Of course there’s just 4 of us and not a whole orchestra!

This work has taken We Stood Like Kings a whole year to write. Talk me through the writing process.

Of course the first step is to choose a movie to work on. That took us quite a long time, as we had to watch tons of silent movies before finally coming across Koyaanisqatsi. But it was love at first sight. Once the choice is made, the next step is to watch it over and over again while trying to decide which overall mood fits in which part. Of course you have to split it up in different parts, and that might be a bit tricky as we have to take into account the fact that the album’s going to be released as an LP (which can’t hold more than around 20 minutes per side).

The musical writing process itself has taken us about a year. It’s a kind a puzzle really. You’ve got ideas and you have to make them match the length of the movie scene you are working on. We can’t just let ourselves be carried away by the music. Some songs were very easy to write, other have taken us months. I think one of the oldest songs we started working on, “Night Owl”, was one of the last songs to be finished. We just tried out dozens of different versions of that one before we felt satisfied.

The album features 11 songs. Had you considered writing a seamless, feature length track instead?

In fact, the album is divided into 11 songs but live, they flow seamlessy into one another. I think it’s much easier to fit in today’s standards to have separate tracks. Movie soundtracks released on CD are also always divided into tracks.

You recently featured one of your songs from the upcoming album on the Open Language Volume II comp that our friends at A Thousand Arms put out. Has this help you reach a new audience?

Yes, we definitely reached new people by being on the compilation. We were also thrilled by the review from Heavy Blog Is Heavy. They seemed to have enjoyed the track a lot.

How are you feeling about the upcoming tour you have planned?

Obviously we are incredibly excited. We just came home from the first 6 shows of the tour. These shows were a kind of test because we’ve added a new light show to our set. Technically, there were a lot of new things to take care of, but it was a success and we’ll carry on that way for the whole tour. We’re super happy to visit a few new countries and cities we’ve never been before, like Ljubljana in Slovenia for instance. We’ve planned several shows in Eastern Europe too, for which we got help from Colossal Bookings. Were looking forward to these as well.

The message of this silent film is implict, rather than overt. Post-rock and instrumental music in general is also often up to the listener’s interpretation. Do you feel confident that your music matches the themes of the film well enough?

Of course, you can’t discuss taste and it’s up to every single person to decide whether our music fits the themes of film. Obviously, we hope that we succeeded to give the movie, which we love so much and has influenced so many directors, a new breath and approach. Our goal is not to try to replace Philip Glass, we simply were so touched by the images that we wanted to express musically the feelings that the movie had stirred in us.

After a show, a woman has written us that she felt our music was more hopeful than the original soundtrack. That it made her believe that our world might still as well be saved. Because if there is no hope, there is no point, right?

You are planning on releasing this album on CD and vinyl, as well as digitally through Kapitän Platte. Do you think the music is best listened to on its own, or with visuals supporting it?

I think we wanted to make music that both would stand on its own and mix up with the screening in a way that wouldn’t be too disturbing for someone wanting to “watch a movie”. For me, the ideal setting for this project is a venue with comfortable seats, a big screen and a nice stage. It’s really meant to be half-concert, half-screening. If people just want to see a movie, they should go to the movies, not the a movie concert. I guess the balance changes in every venue but we definitely don’t hide behind the screen.  


We Stood Like Kings are currently touring Europe to promote USA 1982. Head along to www.westoodlikekings.com and click “shows” for more information regarding dates and locations.

We Stood Like Kings links:

Bandcamp: www.wslk.bandcamp.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/westoodlikekings

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/wslk/videos

Twitter: https://twitter.com/WeAreWslk

 

Album Review: Brad Couture – Lower Tones

Brad Couture Lower Tones
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Lower Tones is the first full length album from New Hampshire-based composer Brad Couture (his sixth release if you count his earlier works under the name Sleevenotes).

Couture’s serene cinematic tunes are perfect for relaxing to. I’ve played it often in the evenings lately, and find Lower Tones helps me to unwind brilliantly at the end of a busy day. It’s the soundtrack to sitting curled up in a warm blanket with a steaming mug clasped between your hands.

Well, it could be the soundtrack to whatever you choose really. Herein lies the appeal of instrumental music – the interpretation sits with the listener. Couture has licensed music to clients including The History Channel, ESPN, and Monster Energy, so his abilities clearly transcend mere playing around for a hobby.

Like all the solo instrumentalists who submit their work to me, Couture possesses an unfair amount of talent. Mastering one instrument is hard enough. Being able to play a variety of instruments, arrange them in a compelling way, and record them in a home studio is just showing off.

The music is predominantly soft and subtle, as one would expect from an ambient cinematic project. Couture relies heavily on piano and synths to weave an aural tapestry, before employing other instruments to enhance the music.

Cello offers a rich bass sound that synth or bass guitar cannot replicate the same way. Acoustic and electric guitars also help to colour the music, with the distant scorching guitar solo featuring in “Driving Through The Golden Hour” taking the cake for one of the finer moments of the album.

“Restland” is my album highlight, purely due to how evocative I find it. A deep warm hum sounds replicates a conch shell. Violin sets a solemn scene, with light pads and percussion adding gravitas before making space for sparse piano notes. I can picture viking warships setting out on a voyage to distant lands far across the ocean.

If well crafted ambient music for relaxation sounds like you then look no further than Brad Couture. He has done a stellar job with this release and you owe it to yourself to unwind to his music.


Brad Couture links:

Bandcamp: https://bradcouture.bandcamp.com/

Website: http://www.bcouturemusic.com/

Facebook: facebook.com/bcouturemusic

Twitter: twitter.com/bcouturemusic

 

Joseph James

Album Review: Defend The Rhino – Static Breeze

Defend The Rhino Static Breeze Album Art
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Despite the very pop-punk sounding name, Edmonton’s Defend The Rhino is a solo cinematic instrumental project from singer-songwriter / composer / audio engineer Nathaniel Sutton. With a CV like that, Sutton sounds more than qualified to release an album.

Said album, entitled Static Breeze, is actually the second Defend The Rhino release, featuring ten short tracks that would all fit comfortably within the context of a film.

The album has a somber start ,with soothing waves of soft pads and heartfelt violins, broken up with lingering single piano notes. The second track progresses to using chords on the piano instead of singular notes, and drums add a welcome element.

There are some great elements in said track, “Sound The Alarm”, that are hard to pick up on unless you pay close attention. For example, the bass line at the start is adds awesome feel, but is hidden deep in the mix. Towards the end we hear some brilliant tinkling xylophone that should really stand out, but is again lost and ends up as a minor detail. This is among my favourites on the album because the drum beat and piano ostinato add such energy and liveliness to this song .

The bass notes on “Fade To Dusk” are well captured. I can visualise the thick, dense strings vibrating each time we hear it played. It is here that we are introduced to a ghostly coo that Sutton employs in a few songs – an odd mournful wailing effect that makes the song sound ominous.

Most of these tracks a short and direct, unlike a lot of instrumental music I listen to. They tend to keep the same theme throughout without delineating far from the key melody or beat. The drums especially make the songs appear straightforward, with the same simple beat dominating many tracks. I can tell that they aren’t programmed – there are little giveaways like rapping on the rims in “Dim Lights” and the snare drags in “Fallen Leaf” – but they feel rigid enough that I can tell that the person behind the kit would feel more at home playing another instrument.

“Fallen Leaf” features a funky electric organ tune reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”, and “Running In The Dark” just screams David Bowie’s “Heroes”. The latter is the only track on the album with vocals. Hoarse and almost whispered, the singing mirrors Bowie’s delivery of holding back until the chorus, creating suspense as we wait for the crescendo.

This is first and foremost a cinematic piano record. Beautiful evocative, it provokes my imagination into conjuring up all kinds of scenes to fit the music. Sutton includes a variety of instruments and effects to colour in the sounds, making for a varied listen. Static Breeze would be the perfect study album, with pleasant sounds in the background that could help you focus and lift your mood. And of course, it would work brilliantly soundtracking a film, seeing as it is so cinematic in nature.


Static Breeze is due out April 7th through Mint 400 Records,

Defend The Rhino links:

Website: www.nathanielsutton.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/defendtherhino
Twitter: www.twitter.com/defendtherhino
Instagram: www.instagram.com/defendtherhino

 

Album Review: George Will – Dawn

George Will Dawn Album Cover
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George Will almost quit music after his band Audrey Fall released their album Mitau in 2014. He sold off most of his gear and the guitars gathered dust for almost two years. But in recent times the film scores he was listening to inspired him to revisit the piano. One thing led to another, and he start playing again. Thank goodness he did.

Fittingly, the titular opening track from Will’s new solo album, Dawn, reflects that story. It begins with Will playing softly on the piano, and evolving into something bigger by encompassing more instruments as Will regains his confidence.

 

Will sought out to create music that sounded different to his post-rock work of the past. Initially he used minimalist piano and cello, and his repertoire expanded as he experimented.

The very Lights & Motion sounding “Mist” takes us into cinematic territory with violins and hopeful guitars. “Rhea” also sounds suitably cinematic, with delicate piano setting the mood for a solemn affair that turns triumphant.

By comparison, tracks like “Rust” and “Iris” venture into more metal territory, even bordering on djent. Because as great as it is to try new things, there’s nothing as fun as letting loose and rocking out.

In all seriousness though, the tasteful symphonic album closer “Arda” is a testament to Will’s talent. The song is expertly crafted, growing gently and gaining momentum until it takes on a life of its own.

My highlight of the album is the last section of “Veil”. This is interesting considering that Will told me that he regarded as “Veil” one of his least favourite songs on the album. I cannot agree with him, because the second half of that song is so stand out to me.There is something irresistible about how the drum and guitar accents compound in such an epic way. Give it a listen when the album drops and please feel free to weigh in on that discussion.

 George Will Dawn Promo pic

Some albums are perfect for driving. Many are great for blasting at parties. Others are earthy and warm and suit being played on a turntable. Dawn is an album for headphones. Plugging it into my stereo or playing it through my speaker just doesn’t compare to listening to the album through headphones so that the all the elements jump out at me.

Will shared with me that he was undecided about whether he prefers being part of a band or going solo. Playing on your own can offer creative freedom, but is perhaps too open-ended without having others to critique your work as you write.

I’m pleased that George Will did decide to try his hand at some solo writing because Dawn is an inspired work. It is a wonderful album ranging from lush cinematic piano compositions to post-metal, stopping off at various instrumental sub-genres on the way through.


George Will Links:

Album Review: Floating In Space – The Edge Of The Light

Floating In Space The Edge Of Light
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There is little wonder that Ruben Caballero approached niche record label Deep Elm when he was looking for someone to release his début album, The Edge of Light. Deep Elm have switched their core focus from emo to cinematic post-rock in recent years, and Caballero’s project, Floating In Space, fits within this new vision beautifully.

Deep Elm have always been staunchly independent. In recent years they have adopted a brave strategy and made the move to Bandcamp, offering their entire catalogue up for pay-what-you-want. Obviously this does not make great business sense to offer your product up for potentially no return. The label still managed to make money however, by licensing their music for film soundtracks and advertisements.

Similar to other Deep Elm poster boys like Lights & Motion/Christoffer Franzen, Moonlit Sailor and Dorena, Floating In Space offers an inviting musical soundscape to whisk you away into places far away. The songs stand alone as strong releases, but also offer the potential to soundtrack a big screen blockbuster.

Caballero explores dichotomies with his music, stating “Through my songs, I try to show my vision of a world where light and shadows, calm and fears, solitude and togetherness meet in the vastness of space.” Hence the chosen title for this musical outlet: Floating In Space.

He also comments on the cinematic nature of the music: “There are two things that never cease to inspire me when I look through my window: the sea and the sky. I see all vital experiences, dreams and fears more clearly when taking a night walk along the coastline. Those walks inspire me to describe my feelings through music. So I’ve created an album that I would want to listen to, as if my experiences and feelings were sequences of a movie with my music as the soundtrack””

Floating In Space Ruben.jpg

One setback is that The Edge of Light sounds more like a collection of cinematic snippets than a cohesive album. Unlike most post-rock/ambient projects, the tracks found here never extend far past standard single duration, with longest song ‘Redshift’ clocking in at just shy of four minutes long. This is not to say that brevity is a bad thing, but more a suggestion that some of the tracks could have been pushed further and extended upon.

Sure enough, The Edge of Light spans the emotional spectrum, visiting moods and feelings with lush instrumentation. It really is a ride, ranging from intimate delicacy to intense urgency. One can hear the time and passion Caballero has invested into this project when we unfold the layers and notice each subtle component.

If cinematic music takes your fancy, then let Floating In Space take you on an expansive journey through time, space and emotion.


Floating In Space Links

Bandcamp: http://deepelmdigital.com/album/the-edge-of-the-light

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/floatinginspacemusic/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/floating_music

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

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/floatinginspacemusic

 

Joseph James