A ton of new music is rolling through the doors of Sonixcursions HQ – and I’ve been absorbing it over the long (and hot) weekend here in the states. Most of it has been in the ambient and analog electronic vein, which seems to stretch time out even further when you’re lying in the sun.
To mark this strange season – where it’s really nice outside, yet the ominous cloud of a global pandemic and a toxic political environment make it difficult to fully enjoy – I’ve started a series of mixes on Mixcloud to offer a soundtrack to the “festivities” (more about that below).
Take a virtual deep-sea diving session with Polypores, on Mr. Stephen James Buckley’s latest release Azure. The music here veers toward the aquatic – gentle arpeggios float along the currents, waves and washes follow the tides, echoes from undersea worlds beckon to be explored.
Constant rain during the recording sessions may have played a role in creating this bathysphere: “I was also able to immerse myself in various books, films, and documentaries related to the ocean, particularly the mythology and lore surrounding it”, say Mr. Buckley. It’s well worth the submersion.
I’m not here to tell you how messed up the world is right now on many fronts. It’s a difficult time in history to find any rays of light, but hopefully I can offer some solace from the real world if only for a short time. Put on your headphones, take a walk and let your mind float with the music.
Air Formation “You Have To Go Somewhere” – from 2007’s Daylight Storms
As I continue to work on the Masstransfer book, it’s amazing to see how many bands and musicians featured in the zine are still active and producing new works. These bands are achieving high points of their careers, and I’m excited to follow-up with them to add new material to the book and this website. Here’s a few of the highlights.
Very happy to report that Chris Jeely, aka Accelera Deck (among other monikers) has re-emerged under that guise to release a new EP entitled Crystalline Prickle. His return to the more electronic and “beaty” sounds of AD comes after focusing the last few years on an equally amazing project called Llarks, which explores more of the textured guitar that usually overlays older Accelera Deck works, and stretches it out beyond the horizon. Check his album from earlier this year called Come & Close Your Eyes:
Hopefully with the weather getting nicer and the lockdown starting to let up, the creative spirits will keep rising and we’ll be able to see live music again. I mean, at any good space rock show, people are 6-feet apart anyways.
I’ve been listening to a lot more music lately, and have also been working on the Masstransfer book that should come out later this summer. Though, it’s hard to believe how quickly a month goes by these days – time seems to have lost some perspective. But not all hope is lost, I still somehow seem to know which day is Monday.
For fans of textured guitar treatments smeared across a sonic canvas, The Virgance (aka Nathan Smith) returns for one final flight with Flying V, released this week by El Vals del Conejo. Though some song titles are a bit combat-oriented (“Wingman”, “Battle Damage”, “Attack Formation”) – the vibe is closer to flying fast through the stratosphere, high above where the Earth seems like a blur. Drum beats add a rhythm and structure, but the sharp edges are smoothed over and add to the pulsing movement of the songs. It’s a sound that shares a similar origin as the hazy realm of Flying Saucer Attack and Third Eye Foundation.
I’m sorry to hear this is the last Virgance album, having followed Nathan’s work for most of the past decade, but also excited to see what his next chapter brings.
This article was originally published in the second issue of Masstransfer, 1998.
Vancouver’s Electrosonics have emerged from a succession of lineup changes to release “Rampion”, the follow up to their 1996 self-titled debut EP, on Drive-In records.
The band coalesced three-and-a-half years ago with a nucleus of Eric White (vocals, bass), Heather Campbell (guitar, keys) and Clare Kenny (vocals, guitar). They put a musician’s ad in a local paper, which caught the attention of Curtis Hobson, who had recently quit a band which included an “alcoholically-challenged guitar player”, while Wendy Young joined in December 1997 to fill out guitar and vocal parts. Michaela Galloway was recruited in February 1998 after Clare left the band to return to university.
The Electrosonics debut EP features Clare on vocals and is reminiscent of early 90’s guitar based dream pop bands such as Lush and Slowdive, although Heather also lists the Monkees, Tears For Fears, and the Stray Cats as influences. However, this band adds an ever more textural mood to the mix. They utilize effects processors and obscure synths, such as the Jupiter 8 and the ARP Axxe, to build an emotional climax to their tracks. The last song on their first EP, “Star Scream”, is 8 ½ minutes long and captures groups penchant for slow-building epics.
The band also has a philosophical view regarding the future of music and how they fit in. As White explains, “popular music is a strange amoeba…just when you think it’s atrophied as much as it conceivably can, it stagnates further. Then it starts munching at fringe music. Then it digests it. I don’t really see that process changing. For the short-term though, it looks as though droney and more experimental bands are starting to tinker with structure and dynamics. The opposite is also happening, which is pretty cool. Honest and beautiful music will always exist. Maybe in the new millennium more people will be motivated to find it.”
Hello there fellow humans, we’re deep into this pandemic now and things have really slowed down. This has given some artists and musicians more time to compose and record, even if the topic is just the quarantine itself. I’m starting to see quite a few tantalizing releases on the horizon, including a big release for any fans of the old Detroit Space Rock scene (more on that to come). For now, check out these new treats, take care of yourself, and help out those you can.
Fans of Kosmiche-era eletronics will rejoice in the release of Diaphanous Structures, the latest from Listening Center. On this outing, the arpeggios are a little darker and more skeletal – “Hovering Haze” is the sound of a factory devoid of humans, continuing to do their jobs day in and day out. This feeling continues on songs like “A Torn Hedge” and “Sapling One”, which continuously morphs into new sequences of synth sounds. A few tracks, “Concentric Circles” and “Glass Phantoms”, elicit a comparison to the glassy tones of mid-70’s Cluster, while the around-one-minute interstitial material is reminiscent of fellow retrofuturists Broadcast. This is impressive company to be in.
In a similar electronic vein, yet decidedly more fun and funky, is the new album Puzzlewood from Plone – their first in like 20 years, this one on Ghost Box. If you’re prone to the sheer pleasure of dancing by yourself to retro futuristic beats a la the lighter side of Stereolab or the High Llamas, then by all means throw this on and have a time. From the label: “This is unironically joyful and melodic electronica; informed by library music, music for children’s TV and a deep passion for the history of music technology.”
If you‘ve been reading the blog for a bit you’ll notice a pattern in most of the bands covered here – they’ve been around for awhile and they continue to create evolutionary sounds and music. This month’s featured band, Zelienople, is no exception.
They emerged from a scene in Chicago in the late 1990’s roughly centered around the Loose Thread record label, headed by Melochrome frontman Pramod Tummala. He introduced me to many new bands and artists, but the first few Zelienople albums, along with Western Automatic (a solo project from the band’s singer and guitarist Matt Christensen) especially stood out. The band released 12 full-length albums up until 2015’s Show Us the Fire, after which they took a 5-year hiatus.
The New Album
A few weeks ago, Zelienople released their latest album, Hold You Up which continues their exploration of sparse soundscapes and hypnotic bleakness which began almost 20 years ago. I had the chance recently to talk with Matt, just as this coronavirus quarantine was starting to take shape. The emotions that the current situation evokes, those of loneliness and isolation – the ill-effects of social distancing – drive the sparseness of their sound and form a basis for lyrical content. “I’m also working in mental health. I’ve been dealing with a lot of communities that are impoverished”, says Matt, “a lot of the stuff that I write about deals with poverty and marginalized people. I also, you know, I have anxiety. Depression. Got a pretty messed up family. I write from that perspective a fair bit.”
During this time of self-isolation and ever-evolving news, get lost in an expansive mix of dreampop, ambient, spacerock and other outersounds.
The current pandemic and associated social distancing repercussions have devastated the short-term prospects of the musician and entertainment communities, so I’ve put the focus on some bands and artists that should be familiar with both Sonixcursions as well as Masstransfer readers from over the years. Please give your support where you can.
Light Heat “Used To Know Why”- from 2018’s V, continuing the musical evolution of Quentin Stoltzfus, who previously recorded under the moniker Mazarin.
Wow – a lot has changed in the 4 weeks since my last Orbitings post. Bars and restaurants are closing, causing ripple effects in the music and arts business. We need to put our heads together and figure out ways that we can help these musicians get by during this time of uncertainty. I’ll be writing more about this in the coming days, but for today BandCamp.com is Supporting Artists During the Covid-19 Pandemic by encouraging fans to buy music today (Friday, March 20) and sending all the revenue to the artists.
From their statement: “To raise even more awareness around the pandemic’s impact on musicians everywhere, we’re waiving our revenue share on sales this Friday, March 20 (from midnight to midnight Pacific Time), and rallying the Bandcamp community to put much needed money directly into artists’ pockets.” Go forth and support these artists today (and over the coming weeks and months) because we will get through this, and we’re all gonna want to see a show when this is over.
It’s been a couple of years, but Chicago’s Zelienople are back with a sonic document of the times, Hold You Up – a testimony to driving ahead amidst looming uncertainty. The bleakness of some of the songs speaks to our current state of isolation, especially with the title track as well as “You Have It”. I had the chance to sit down (virtually) with singer and guitarist Matt Christensen the other day, and should have the interview up soon, but until then check out the new album as well as their deep back catalog that goes back to 2002’s Pajama Avenue. Matt himself is fairly prolific on BandCamp.com as well, with over 100 releases posted. Well worth the dive.