Ashen Swan - L'appel du Vide

Album Review: Ashen Swan – L’appel du Vide

Embrace oblivion.

It’s often difficult to write a review about an album created out of negative space.  L’appel du Vide, Ashen Swan’s latest record, is a lesson in embracing oblivion.  It’s a lesson in recognizing that there’s much more to music than packing it full of notes and flourishes to convey an idea when just playing the right note can accomplish the same.  There is an old adage that exists that less is more.  Ashen Swan takes this aphorism and runs with it.  This album is meditative magic.

So how does one write a review on nothingness?  I could give you my thoughts on instrumentation and composition.  The way in which Ashen Swan’s music sounds like the throaty whisper of a new dawn. I could tell you that Ashen Swan evinces qualities employed by the likes of Hammock and Lowercase Noises.  EBow heavy phrases of lush sound framed by billowy and Spartan piano..  I could do all those things, but the music inspired me on a more esoteric level.  L’appel du Vide begs you to reflect inward.  It asks you to dust the cobwebs from the lesser traveled inroads of your soul, to stop, to consider.

L’appel du Vide translates roughly to “void’s call” or “the call of the void”.  Most humans, in all their daily struggles, will often wonder what it would be like swerve into oncoming traffic.  Or perhaps your hiking here in Colorado at Royal Arch Trail.  You’re near the top and standing at the edge of the trail and get the sudden urge to just jump.  This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re suicidal.  It’s simply a phenomenon of the human psyche.  A phenomenon the French called “l’appel du vide”.  It is nothing more than morbid curiosity.  I found myself experiencing this urge years ago so I did a quick Google search.  It was comforting to know I was not alone.  There were others out there that have felt the pull.  Ashen Swan’s new album explores this concept in a musical sense.  And pulls it off.

L’appel du Vide is a barren landscape.  The short, quiet piano utterances are the green lichen hugging the rocks as they wait for a summer thunderstorm.  Soft reverb the slow rolling thunder of an alpine tundra.  A dreamy susurration whispers throughout each track like a lulling breeze that dances lightly through the purple forget-me-nots.

Ashen Swan’s newest venture is a contemplative and horrifically beautiful ride of ambient bliss.  You get the overwhelming feeling of just wanting to let go.  The music plunges straight for your heart and urges you to answer the void’s call.  To feel the rain in your face and the wind as it thrashes through your hair.  L’appel du Vide wants you to be free and as the album goes on it becomes increasingly difficult not give answer.

L’appel du Vide comes to us by way of Nathan Kwon who also composes for Chicago post-metal project Crawl Across the Sky. Ashen Swan came to us in the year 2017 with the desire to cross section the more ambient elements of the aforementioned Crawl Across the Sky and turn it all up to 11.  And thank the void he did.

 


Ashen Swan links:

Bandcamp

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Buried Treasure: Drive Like Jehu – Yank Crime

Drive Like Jehu is violence.  Their music more like a punch in the nose than orchestrated chords and rhythm. The guitars shriek and twist like exposed rebar after a post-apocalyptic nuclear rain.  The drums and bass repeatedly drive their gnarled fists into your chest with savage brutality.  The vocals slash and scream across all the bedlam like a feral animal with an unquenchable thirst for blood.

In the annals of post-hardcore Drive Like Jehu have an almost divine status.  They’ve managed to influence everything from Tacoma based metal band Botch to Modest Mouse.

Yank Crime was released in 1994.  It wasn’t soon after the records release that Drive Like Jehu broke up. This sudden departure and the member’s post-Jehu projects helped gain the band an almost cult like status.  What D.C. had started with the post-hardcore movement Drive Like Jehu perfected.  The post-hardcore sound of D.C. would eventually grow and gain influence during it’s pre-internet crawl across America.  One of these places was Jehu’s home city of San Diego where bands started adopting what would be called the “San Diego Sound”.

Nestled within all the chaos of every track on Yank Crime there is always a hint of calculation. With Yank Crime there is a Point A and Point B, but the band is going to make sure you reach the end of your violent journey with a bloodied nose and two black eyes.  Jarring and discordant guitar riffs crunch their ways back and forth like two pugilists in a ring. Mark Trombino’s drums sound off like a gunfight in an abandoned Southwestern ghost town.  The bass drives it all home with pulsing and thrashing noise keeping the rhythm from tottering over the edge into oblivion.

I ran into Drive Like Jehu on accident.  A guy working the counter (who would later play bass for alcohol infused rock band Planes Mistaken for Stars) at my local record store recommended them when I told him I was getting tired of The Get Up Kids.  I was instantly hooked and would soon go on a campaign to ravage any band of their ilk.  Unfortunately for me Drive Like Jehu had already been broken up for two years at the time, but this only aided in my appreciation for what the band did for a lot of music in the Midwest where I was from.

Drive Like Jehu reunited for some reunion shows from 2014 to 2016.  They’ve got on in age but haven’t lost a step.  They still fucking slay and haven’t lost any of the energy that made them such an important band.

The band only has two releases and usually I would wail at the injustice that such an important band has so little material.  That being said, both of their records are so indelibly important to so many bands you may listen to today that any more releases than the two they have would almost be too much.

Floating In Space Dreamland cover

Album Review: Floating In Space – Dreamland

Floating In Space sets sail upon the solar winds with the new release Dreamland.

Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot is a significant picture.  Taken by the Voyager 1 from a record distance of 3.7 billion miles, it shows Earth as nothing more than a tiny speck in an endless blanket of space.  It puts things into perspective.  Earth is such a microscopic part of the greater expanse.  I understand man’s obsession with discovering what’s out there, but sometimes we miss the forest for the trees. There’s plenty of wonder and beauty right here on Earth.  Perhaps we should cast our eyes more inward?

I often ponder the beauty that is the impossibility of me.  Around 14 billion years ago there was nothing.  Imagine that.  Nothing.  How do you even wrap your head around nothingness?  We’re virtually incapable of truly understanding such a terrifying thought.  Then, inexplicably, there was something.  Depending upon your belief structure an event occurred and the Universe was birthed.  At least in reductive terms.  What exactly triggered this “big bang” has been the question hounding our existence since time memorial.  In all honesty, I don’t even think this question is relevant.  What’s relevant is that after the first second of this “bang” the size of the universe was expanding at such a rate that even the math can’t fully do it justice.

Fast forward 14 billion years and you have us.  From all the chaos and violence this planet has seen from its planetesimal stage up until now you get, impossibly, you and I.  This almost feels laughable.  After the first second of creation had things been off or different by even the most minuscule amount, none of this would be.  You’re a blessing…an absurd, inconceivable blessing.

Ruben Cabellero/ Floating In Space

Credit: Yera Espinosa

The earth heaved and groaned for millennia.  At some point in time during all the anarchy of creation events began transpiring that would eventually lead to the birth of a single thread.  This thread would whirl, loop and flutter through the winds of time and stop somewhere in Spain.  The story of the songwriter and multi-instrumentalist behind Floating In Space, Ruben Caballero, began 14 billion years ago.  He’s another infeasible creation of an event too far back for any of us to really, fully discern.  The odds that you even share a space in time with him are astronomically beyond your scope of understanding.  But space and time have a different story to tell.  Here you are.  And here is Floating In Space.  You both share the same blink of an eye in time.  Let us rejoice at the absurdity that bites at the edges of possibility.

On the 2016 debut “The Edge of the Light”, we were introduced to just a small portion of what Floating In Space was capable of.  It was a superbly tranquil journey through Caballero’s experiences and feelings as he viewed his life as if they were but mere sequences in a larger movie.  “The Edge of the Light” was to showcase the potential of the band.  The sophomore effort, “Dreamland”, is the realization of that potential.

“Dreamland” is a 12 song effort released by proverbial indie powerhouse Deep Elm and co-produced by its owner/founder John Szuch.  Floating In Space’s new release expands upon the piano driven cinematic motif.  Every song is brilliantly structured and realized.  There isn’t a track on the record you won’t find yourself humming along with after just a few listens.  “Dreamland” is a purpose driven record.  Every note has a purpose.  Every angelically choir-like vocal cadence is well measured.  I can’t help but feel that Floating In Space set out to create an album that deigns to set fire to every butterfly in our stomach.

What is it that you think we’re all searching for?  Even when it appears we have everything in life we could ever possibly dream of having, still we search.  We search to fill the voids.  Voids as far reaching and depth-less as space.  “Dreamland” is about letting go.  Stop searching.  You have everything you could ever hope to have in a million lifetimes right here in front of you.  This is an album about recognizing the beauty you see before you instead of tearing at the remaining threads of your soul to find what it is you think you’re looking for.

Floating In Space is a gifted artist.  A band not afraid of baring its soul.  You can hear love and inspiration come through in every flourish of the guitar and syncopated beat of the drum.  But the real beauty of “Dreamland” is that the band isn’t afraid of letting you in.  Of sharing that grey area between dreaming and fearing.  Between utter solitude and warm fellowship.  We tend to drive distance between ourselves and our fellow man.  Distances measured in time. “Dreamland” closes that gap and makes us believe that we’re going to be OK.  Floating In Space dares you to dream again, but asks that you appreciate what it is that you already have.

Fans of labelmates Lights&Motion , U137 and Inward Oceans will feel right at home with “Dreamland”.  It’s truly uplifting and enlightened songwriting.  Floating In Space fits in so beautifully with the Deep Elm musical aesthetic.  This is a relationship forged in the fires of the big bang.  “Dreamland” is, from the opening notes to the last, filled with so many astoundingly gorgeous frames of optimistic grace that your heart is fit to burst.

If you find yourself adrift searching aimlessly for that next fix to fill whatever void it is in your life that haunts you, an album like “Dreamland” could aid in reminding you what it is that makes all of this so damn worth it.  Mathematically speaking you shouldn’t even exist.

You’re a miracle.


Floating In Space Links

Watch Album Trailer: http://bit.ly/fis-dreamland-trailer

Stream “Earth” on Spotify: http://bit.ly/fis-earth-spotify

Stream Album Preview: http://bit.ly/fis-dreamland-preview

Pre-Order – Apple Music: http://bit.ly/fis-dreamland-apple

Pre-Order – Deep Elm: http://bit.ly/fis-dreamland-nyop

Teller strive recess echo cover

Album Review: Teller – Strive Recess Echo

I don’t especially like it when bands sneak by me like some silent stranger in the night.  There’s just so much instrumental rock out there these days that it’s easy to miss a few here and there.  I’d like to believe that I have my finger firmly placed upon the crescendoing pulse of post-rock.  How Teller got by me beggars belief.  To my credit they’ve only released one EP back in 2013, but this band hosts a member of Swedish post-rock band Ef (Emanuel Olsson) and was produced by Daniel Juline (also of EF).  “Hello Scotland” is one of my favorite tunes of all time.  This isn’t about Ef, though.  This is about Teller’s first full-length Strive Recess Echo.  An album seven years in the making.

Someone should really do a study on the effects that Scandinavia has on music.  There must be something in the water.  This is a part of the world that’s raised bands like Immanu El, Moonlit Sailor and Oh, Hiroshima.  Not to mention Lights & Motion, who this blog is very fond of.  I’m starting to believe I was born in the wrong part of the planet.  Sure, I get to brag about post-metal sojourner’s Minsk, Russian Circles and even Tortoise.  There’s just something about the sound that comes out of Scandinavia that just gets me.

Teller isn’t new to the game.  As I’ve stated before, they have a member from Ef and indie outfits The Gentle Act Incident and Shiloh.  Drifting through the band’s history I learned that Teller is actually an idea that’s been around for almost 15 years.  From what I can gather (whether this was intentional by the band or not) is that they’re more than a group of writers and thinkers.  They’re friends.  The act of communing as a group to write music was almost secondary to their desire to just be in the same room as one another.  To hang out.  To have fun.  I can really get behind this idea.  The band’s desire to just be with one another and write has translated very well musically speaking.

Teller

Let me get this out-of-the-way first and foremost as I feel it’s the big elephant in the room: you can hear Ef all over Strive Recess Echo.  This isn’t bad thing at all.  I almost welcome it.  But there’s a ton on this record that sets them apart.  Yes, this is another instrumental rock album, but one that houses some incredibly infectious melodies.

One of the first things that really struck me as I was listening to this record was the musicianship.  Teller are impossibly talented musicians and composers.  And the group of folks they brought in for strings and brass are well deserved of any praise.  I haven’t heard trumpets used this brilliantly since *shels. The horn sections nestle themselves perfectly among the driving guitars adding just the right amount of texture.  There were ofttimes while listening that the song would drop and I would get pumped for the horn sections that wailed away with violent abandon.  I’m not trying to take anything away from the guitar, bass and drums.  Teller have managed to write some insanely gorgeous parts where you find yourself swaying lazily only to be brought back to the real world as they hit a crescendo.  Your heart drops into your stomach.

You’ve been here before with other post-rock bands, but it just feels different.  Teller doesn’t stick around very long on any one phrase.  Just when you’ve fallen in love with one part, they switch it up and you find yourself traversing dark tunnels of eerie ambience.  There are even some ghostly vocal undulations peppered throughout. The use of strings are sparse but always seem to be put in the exact moment when you want to hear them.  Any one that’s a fan of pg. lost‘s early work will be right at home with Teller.  A word of warning: If you go into this record thinking it’s just another loud/quiet/loud post-rock band, you’re going to be left wanting.  Sure, they employ these ingredients with aplomb but Teller has a sound all their own.

 

Teller -Gustav Recording Drums

In my past reviews I’ve often stuck to a particular theme in my writing to try and convey what it is about the record that I do or do not like.  I’ve decided to forego all the poetic ramblings for a more straightforward approach.  That isn’t because Strive Recess Echo didn’t inspire me in any way.  It’s because I wouldn’t be able to do the album justice.  It’s been four years since Teller’s last release.  Whatever they did in that four years obviously worked.  They noted that during that brief hiatus they were trying to find out who they were musically.  Where they fit in.  Instead, I believe they carved out their own little niche.

As the genre ages it’s becoming more and more difficult to stand out.  Teller does just that.  I’m reviewing this album late.  Strive Recess Echo came out in November completely DIY.  Had I listened to this album while it was still 2017 I would have had no problem putting it in my list of best albums of the year.

Hey Teller, I know it’s only been a couple months since the release but can we have some new material already?

 


Teller Links:

Spotify

Soundcloud

Bandcamp

Teller is:

Erik Banck – Guitar, Vocals & Art work
Torbjörn Henrysson – Guitar
Emanuel Olsson – Guitar, Vocals & sound engineer
Richard Svartz – Bass
Gustav Kronqvist – Drums

All recordings were done by Emanuel.  The album was mixed by Filip Leyman. Daniel Juline produced.

Mineral - The Power of Failing

Buried Treasure: Mineral – The Power of Failing

Mineral

Buried Treasure is a semi-regular feature that explores some hidden musical gems – the rare and forgotten B-sides, covers, hidden tracks, live versions and alternative takes that deserve some recognition.

The further away you get from a pivotal moment in your life, the more important it seems.  Sometimes you don’t recognize the moment as being truly crucial as it is happening.  It usually takes several years for the weight of it to settle in.  It’s this slow passing of time that lends the moment all its lofty nostalgia.  A nostalgia that fills us to the brim with terrible longing and beautiful memory.  Music has a way of pinning all your best and worst memories to a page.  No band did this to me more than Mineral.

The year was 1995.  I was an awkward Sophomore in high school in Illinois.  My mother was shopping for a birthday present for me and was apparently having difficulty in doing so.  Maybe 15-year-old boys are hard to shop for.  She would end up running into a guy in a record store at the mall (a fellow I would eventually become friends with) who told her to buy Diary by Sunny Day Real Estate.  My mom is a conservative Midwest type and it amazes me still that she took the advice of a stranger in buying a record.  I would devour this album whole.  Something just clicked.  It resonated with me and my extremely impressionable 15-year-old mind.  Diary would change me down to my core and would set me down a road of music that, even at 38 years of age, I’ve yet to stray from.

Fast forward to 1997.  My best friend Steve and I were all over the Midwest emo scene.  This was before GAP got hold of the word and cheapened it.  The post-hardcore scene of D.C. that was the birthplace of the sound we adored wasn’t that far in the rear view mirror.  This was in the early days of the internet.  Steve and I decided we’d start an online “zine”.  Looking back at it now, an online “zine” in 1997 was probably a little ahead of its time.  We called our little project Quagmire 9 and did music reviews, show reviews and collated all information for upcoming shows in a 100 mile radius of where we lived.  Eventually we’d end up getting into the show promotion game.

Imagine 17 and 16 year old kids being able to pull in bands like Cursive and Boilermaker to a sleepy, blue collar town on the Illinois River.

All of this eventually led to a small relationship with CRANK! Records.  We’d get little press packages that had all kinds of release information for bands they were distributing.  This is where we would become familiar with Mineral, a relatively unknown group at the time from Austin, TX.  We hopped in my 1985 Delta 88 and made the 30-minute drive across the river to CO-OP Records in East Peoria and picked up a copy of The Power of Failing, Mineral’s first album.  If Diary shook me to my core, The Power of Failing would resonate with me on a biochemical scale.  Every vital process of my entire being was owed to this album.  I came out the other end of my first listen as something different.

Listening this album in its entirety can still elicit a plethora of feelings inside of me.  A lot of my reviews right here on this wonderful site take on a theme of hopeless joy and redemption.  These are concepts that I often latch onto.  Looking back I would have to believe that it was lead singer Chris Simpson’s vocals that shaped my love for these ideas.  The album is just full of moments where it feels as if the world may collapse in on itself, only to come up for air and become awash in the sun’s healing rays.

“Tears stream down my cheeks only to meet their redeemer and be wiped away.  And there is joy.”

I’m unsure if it was the equipment used or just a lack of money for quality studio time, but The Power of Failing has one of the most incredibly raw and visceral sounds on a record that I can remember.  This rough-hewn sound gives The Power of Failing an almost violent edge.  It makes the melodic portions uneasy but uplifting while the more riotous and distorted parts come across as angry but supernal.  It would be difficult to imagine this record with anything other than the sound it has.  It’s since been remastered and it managed to retain the punch-you-in-the-gut sound that made it so absolutely brilliant.

I remember trying to get all the Smashing Pumpkin and Veruca Salt kids in high school to give Mineral a chance.  They just didn’t get it.  The younger me couldn’t get over how they weren’t moved by what they were hearing.

Mineral’s importance to the mid-90s emo scene is undeniable.  There were a lot of bands doing the Rites of Spring thing back in those days, but none of them did it with as much raw emotion as Mineral.  The lyrics weren’t weighted down in hyperbole or symbolism.  Chris Simpson spoke his mind and put everything in such a beautifully poetic prose.  It tore at your heart and left you smiling with a sort of recognition.  Pardon the cliché, but he was able to paint a picture.  A picture we’ve all found ourselves in but were always bereft of the words to accurately describe it.

“And I don’t know if I should say “I’m sorry” or “Thank you”.  I’ve tried to speak but the tears choke the words.  And I think I finally know what they mean when they talk about joy.”

This is just part of what made Mineral so damn special.  If the lyrics and vocal melodies weren’t tearing at your insides, it was the guitar, bass and drums.  They just had a way of making their instruments cry in torment.  I understand I’m starting to sound a little corny here, but before Mineral and bands like SDRE, guitars and rhythm played second fiddle to vocals.  Listen, I was an idiot kid but Mineral opened my eyes musically to concepts, ideas and feelings that I barely knew existed.

It sounds weird but this all started with my mom.  I honestly have her to thank for all of this.  If she hadn’t gone against her better, more conservative judgement and bought a Sunny Day Real Estate album at the behest of some skateboarding punk kid behind a desk at a record store, none of this would have happened.  Hell, I wouldn’t even be writing this. Thanks, momma.

 


MINERAL LINKS:

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Mineral Official Page

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