ALBUM REVIEW: I AM SONIC RAIN – HIDDEN

I Am Sonic Rain - Hidden cover
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I have to admit that I’m a bit of a romantic.  Especially when it comes to this particular genre of music.  I can’t help but envision all these majestic landscapes as they pass through my mind’s eye like one of those Classic ViewMaster toys you had as a kid.  I can listen to a song and instantly be overcome with a slide reel show of the Moors in England or the mountains of Montana, all in their sepia tone glory.  This is only brought up because I’ve always wondered how much a band’s surroundings come into play when writing music.  Surely, if you’re surrounded on all sides by a sprawling nothingness and a grey sky that seems to go on in perpetuity, that would have to have some bearing in an artistic sense.

I AM SONIC RAIN hails from Treviso, Italy which sits about 40 minutes directly north of Venice.  I understand you didn’t come here for a geography lesson, but Treviso’s proximity to Venice is important.  If a mountain, a forest or a moor compels one’s artistic creativity then surely being within a stones throw from one of the birthplaces of the Renaissance would.  But it’s not all gambesons and surcoats.  Treviso (and Italy in general) has had a tumultuous history.  The rise and fall of Rome.  The Machiavellian era where assassins plied their trade.  The evils of a devastating World War.  Italy’s history reads much like any other country’s history.  The major difference here is that no matter how dark the days got Italy is the birthplace of some of the most inspired and beautiful paintings, sculptures, philosophy and literature the world has ever known.  It may sound hyperbolic, but I AM SONIC RAIN’S Hidden continues this trend with confident, laconic and inspired songwriting.

According to the band Hidden began production not soon after their last release “Between Whales & Feverish Lights”.  This is album that has been 7 years in the making.  There is a meticulousness and precision that immediately becomes evident upon starting the first track.  This is a well produced album where every note and musical phrase has it’s place in the world.  I tend to worry about albums that feel as if they’ve been produced into the ground, but I AM SONIC RAIN is still able to make everything sound raw and intimate.  The track Bastille really stands out for me on Hidden.  This is a stellar track and the only one that features lyrics.  Bastille is almost Jenniferever-like in style.  It’s melodic, dark and almost has an uneasy air about it.

Hidden is all about control.  I AM SONIC RAIN has an almost surgical precision approach to every bar on the page.  They are a highly disciplined band in regards to musicianship.  The more I listened to this new album the more I fell in love with it.  There are layers on layers on layers here and it will most likely take multiple listens for I AM SONIC RAIN’s genius to shine through.  Hidden absolutely rewards patience and attention to detail.  As a listener you almost feel as if you’re part of the process as there are several “Oh I get it” moments on the album.

I Am Sonic Rain. Image: Alessandro Carlozzo

I Am Sonic Rain. Image: Alessandro Carlozzo

Treviso’s own isn’t a band that throws some cords in a few amps and just starts writing.  They’re mad scientists in a lab creating order out of chaos with volatile ingredients that could start a dangerous chemical reaction at any moment.  There’s so much on this album to listen to and enjoy if you just take the time to really delve into their sound.  On the track “Bengala” alone you’ll hear beautifully layered guitars, an almost 70’s detective show horn section and pirouetting xylophones.  I AM SONIC RAIN even showcases a Suzuki Omnichord.  An instrument, I must admit, I had to look up but am now fully convinced is the raddest instrument to ever grace an album (seriously, Google this thing).

I AM SONIC RAIN isn’t formulaic by any means.  They are a band that employs perfectly a “controlled chaos” modus operandi.  Even in sections where they put the drop on a song and let it unfold (as on the track “Loulan”) you never quite feel like you’re out of your element.  This is both boon and bane.  There will be some who think the album feels sterile (like any good surgical instrument), but Hidden is deeply rewarding.  It is one of those albums you’re going to come back to and think “Hm, I don’t remember hearing a glockenspiel before”.

Hidden is aptly named.  The listener acts as an archaeologist on the hunt for an ancient civilization.  At first glance all you see are the hot, golden sands of an endless desert.  Lifeless trees the only landmark to break the horizon.  Once you are able to set up camp and begin to dig, you start to reveal the foundations of an ancient temple buried for millennia.  A temple hidden from the eyes of man for eons.  This new album is that temple and the deeper you dig the more that is revealed to you.

 


Hidden is available through Deep Elm on December 1st. Preorders can be found at this link: http://deepelmdigital.com/album/hidden

I Am Sonic Rain links:

Website: http://www.iamsonicrain.com/

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

Bandcamp: http://www.deepelm.com/iamsonicrain/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/IamSonicRain

 

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

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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: 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

ALBUM REVIEW: CHRISTOFFER FRANZEN – WIDE AWAKE

Christoffer Franzen Lights Motion Wide Awake
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I’ve always thought the act of sleeping to be somewhat of a strange occurrence.  While essential to one’s health and wellbeing it still strikes an awkward chord in me, especially in the company of new acquaintances.  Having toured and spent numerous nights positioning myself on a stranger’s floor, I’ve never quite become comfortable with the bizarre concept of turning one’s self off for a few hours.  I think I’ve sort of just accepted the process as strange and have never really taken the time to think about why.  We all do it.  Most of us wish we could do more of it.

And then there are people who don’t sleep.  I’ve really only been acquainted with one insomniac in my life and I can’t even begin to comprehend the amount of frustration they must experience.  As weird as I find sleeping to be, I’m very grateful that it comes easy for me.  However, with two young kids, I’ve had more than my fair share of sleepless nights.  I love my girls to death but these nights have been an incredible challenge for my sanity and never once have I felt the creative itch at the tired hours of 3 AM.  However, Christoffer Franzen (most notably of Lights & Motion) has been able to channel his sleepless nights in the most remarkable way.

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Franzen is no newcomer to the art of writing incredibly moving music.  His initial endeavor, Lights & Motion, quickly spread across the globe and captured the attention of Deep Elm Records.  Situated within the genre of cinematic post-rock, Franzen’s music is perfectly suited for TV and film.  He has great writing discipline that allows the music to breathe and grow but not become too drawn out and tired.  Self-taught on every instrument, Franzen orchestrates his music by himself locked away in a small Swedish studio during the early hours of a sleepless night.

Having garnered remarkable success in getting his music placed on major Hollywood film trailers (Concussion, Transcendence, Lone Survivor, to name a few), high profile ad campaigns and Super Bowl commercials, Franzen is a proven musician and, more importantly, a brilliant composer.  With three Lights & Motion albums under his belt, he is set to release his third composer release titled Wide Awake on March 18th, 2016.  Following in the footsteps of Music For Film & Television, Volumes 1 and 2Wide Awake is a twelve song exploration in brevity and mastery.  Unlike Franzen’s work with Lights & Motion, his composer releases are made up of short, straight to the point, orchestrations specifically built for licensing.  And while these pieces may leave the listener yearning for a few more minutes of musical bliss, they still work wonderfully as a whole.

Franzen took a different approach to writing Wide Awake as compared to Music For Film & Television, Volumes 1 and 2.  As the album title hints, he wrote these songs during the day.  This change in writing approach created a beautiful musical result that still remained true to his writing ability but revealed a more inspiring, uplifting side to his talent.  I have a deep appreciation for writer’s who allow their surroundings to drive their work and find Christoffer Franzen’s willingness to use his insomnia to musically articulate himself both rewarding and inspiring.

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While Wide Awake was written during the day, it still maintains a dreamy vibe that positions itself nicely next to Franzen’s previous work.  Understanding his background as a composer and his battle with insomnia, immediately moves me to look at each piece on Wide Awake as a short dream.  I’m not an avid dreamer, but when I do dream I find them to be short and fluid, moving in and out of semi-connected storylines.  The brief nature of all of Franzen’s compositions work wonderfully as a soundtrack to a dreamscape that moves from one idea to the next, sometimes working together and other times playing with sporadicity.  I’d like to think that while each of us are sleeping, Christoffer Franzen is hard at work writing the perfect soundtrack to our dreams.

C.J. Blessum

 

This review is about Franzen’s cinematic work. Click here for a review of Franzen’s other project, Lights & Motion.

Album Review: Lights & Motion – Chronicle

Lights and Motion Chronicle deep elm cinematic post rock cover
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Deep Elm have once again proved themselves as a vital record label at the forefront of the post-rock movement by releasing Lights & Motions’ third album, Chronicle.

Lights & Motions’ Reanimation was my favourite post-rock album of 2013. (Nuet, from Deep Elm label-mates Dorena came a close second.) Chronicle follows on and helps to build upon the legacy of a much hyped, yet relatively new band.

Unfortunately many post-rock bands fall into the trap of sounding the same. You know the same old cookie cutter recipe: start quietly and slowly build up the music with swelling guitars and inspirational keys. Many bands succeed at doing this and it’s all fine and listenable, but with very little to set them apart from the multitude of other bands who sound just the same, especially seeing as there are no vocals in most regards.

Some people would suggest that Lights & Motion are one of these bands. The music may as well be purely soundtrack. But I think that the variety and quality of instrumentation is enough to make Lights & Motion stand out. It’s enough to keep me coming back to listen to the music again, at least.

Christoffer Franzén is the man behind Lights & Motion. Everything on the record is him. He’s a modern-day Mike Oldfield, capable on a wide array of different instruments. And he’s self-taught as well. That takes some dedication. He’s more than adept on the drums, guitars, keys, violins, and all the other instruments that feature on the album.

Lights & Motion was essentially started with the attempt to capture the sound of dreams and memories. Franzén was an insomniac, so used his sleepless nights to hone his musical skills into something productive. And it worked. Franzén has captured moods and feelings and recorded them with instruments. “Reborn” sounds sinister. “Northern Lights” is a tenderly picked interlude. “Paper Wings” is a delicate piano ballad. They all sound inspiring, wondrous, the stuff of dreams.

Chronicle sounds epic, expansive, cinematic even. Watch the clip for “The Spectacular Quiet” and notice how it could have quite comfortably fit in to a film like James Cameron’s Interstellar.

Listening to Chronicle is a transcendent experience. The listener gets transported somewhere new. Somewhere grand, on a major adventure. These songs contain a story, and the lack of vocals means that the stories are completely up to personal interpretation. My friend Ivo from Stereofox summed it up well, calling Lights & Motion “a magical and epic journey that transcends all describable feelings and sensation.”

I would be surprised if Franzén doesn’t start scoring big-budget movies anytime soon. Stylistically, he’s more like Rhian Sheehan than Hans Zimmer, but he clearly has enough talent required to write the music for any major Hollywood blockbuster.

Chronicle is available for download on bandcamp. And while you’re there, make sure to browse the rest of the Deep Elm discography

 

Joseph James