Ambient instrumental music is notoriously abstract and nebulous, making reference points and context hard to determine or convey. If a musician is trying to make a social statement or commentary, it’s usually done through lyrics or spoken work. Guitarist Tristan Welch creates expressive ambient music for thinking people that comes coupled with a message: all is not right with our economy and society here in America. He’s an outspoken musician with a sardonic take on modern human existence, and has just released his latest album Temporary Preservation—a concept based on his experience as a funeral director. Tristan is the most fascinating musician I’ve met in a long time, and I had to get in touch with him to find out more about the ideas and personal history behind his sound.
I started off by asking Tristan how he got started creating music and got a brutally honest response. “I’ve been playing music for a long time”, he says, “I grew up on punk stuff and hardcore, that was what appealed to me when I was younger, but I was never very good at it. And any band I had would fall apart for various reasons. And through a lot of that, truthfully I was on drugs. Like it was bad, so that would kind of take over.”
Recovering from drugs and addiction would form the basis of a personal rebound, but not without first abandoning his musical aspirations. “So around like 17, 18, that was my frame of mind, and as I mentioned before, I had a real bad drug addiction, so just really fell apart. Various jails and institutions and things for years. I sold everything I had or pawned it.”
“Music is like breathing, moving, sleeping, as natural and necessary as any other part of my life, for my mental health and understanding of the world far more than it being a hobby or pastime.”
— Matthew Shaw
After winding down his dreamy folktronic project Tex La Homa in the early 2010s, Matthew Shaw has been issuing ambient and field recording material on a variety of labels, including his own Apollolaan. He had a busy 2020, with his own material and with collaborations—not the least of which was his participation on the recent album by English folk icon Shirley Collins. While researching the Masstransfer book, I caught up with him to find out what he has been up to, and it made my head spin!
Do you remember when you would take some time to truly absorb and enjoy an album over multiple listenings, hearing and discovering more each time? Transnational post-rock/neo-classical collective Memory Drawings creates an exotic dreamscape of organic instrumentation that pulls you in, evoking either a Gaelic coastline or a Middle-Eastern desert, on their latest album A Few Scattered Hours. Woven throughout the album’s 11 songs is a comforting (for me) 4AD vibe, following the Dead Can Dance lineage; though the solid bass and drums anchor it squarely in the rock universe – a sound foreign and familiar at the same time.
I recently had the chance to speak with Joel Hanson, one of the core masterminds behind the outfit, and get some insight into how this hivemind of remote musicians can put together something that sounds so put together.
Accelera Deck can get you into a hypnotic loop, pulling you into its orbit and slowly adding new flourishes to the mix. Bass and drums are stuck in a repetitive groove while gamma rays of noise melt over the structure, oozing into every audible crack. Other than the rhythm, nothing else is identifiable.
Sometime in 1997 I received a demo tape from an artist called “Audio Wishe”, and passed it along to Carla Pino for her demo reviews in the first Masstransfer issue. Little did I know that this would be my first contact with a musician who would go on to prolifically produce works under a number of aliases over the next decade or so.
By the turn of the millennium, Chris Jeely had already racked up a solid discography – and the train was still moving. In the fourth issue of the Masstransfer zine in 2000, Pearson Greer penned quite an extensive overview covering most of his work until that time. A key line at the tail end of the article goes: “you know, I bet in 20 years, we’ll look back and see just how far this genius has come”. Hard to believe it’s been that long already.
I caught back up with Chris in 2020, after being notified of a new Accelera Deck release on Bandcamp. In return he sent me digital copies of recent works as well as his new banner Llarks – taking the best of his smeared tonal guitar playing to new heights. From his standpoint, this is his primary vehicle moving forward.
This article was originally published in the fourth issue of Masstransfer, 2000.
“We’re very much lovers of the energy of sound. The illusion that a musical environment can ‘float’ or ‘fly’, or portray ‘velocity’ and ‘depth’ is very much another aspect of continual fascination for us”, states Clark Rehberg of Michigan’s KILN.
Evolved over several year of experimentation, both musical and spiritual, KILN’s music is a nourishing mix of tones and rhythms, most accurately captured on their latest recording, Ampday. The ensemble is comprised of Rehberg, Kirk Marrison, and Kevin Hayes performing in various incarnations for over 5 year under the auspices of the Earthtone Colectiv.
In hindsight, this year started off like a fairly normal one for Detroit musician Steve Swartz, former guitarist of the dream/gaze band Au Revoir Borealis who’s been creating ambient soundscapes as Swartz Et for the past decade. I had the good fortune of chatting with him recently, and discussed many of the projects he’s been working on as well as the general state of 2020 and beyond.
His latest release from this past June, Light Leaks, seeks to bring awareness to the pain of seeing loved ones with mental illness by using found sounds and human utterances along with electronics to build wave upon wave of audio emotion.
It’s hard to believe that buying a split seven-inch in the summer of 1995 would lead me to meet bands and musicians that I’d still be following to this day. Such is the case with Sean Byrne, who first showed up in my record collection while in the band Lenolaback in the mid-90s. He’s been creating music under a number of guises and projects since then – appearances with Mazarin, Azusa Plane, Matt Pond PA; as well as his own brands The Twin Atlas (with Lucas Zaleski) and Lazy Salon.
Earlier this year, he released an album of a project, called Camino Sound, that he has been working on with a local musician along with a longtime friend from college. This “band” got me excited again about the prospects of neighborhood garage bands and how there are always opportunities to connect with fellow musicians to make something awesome.
A refreshing sound emanates from the notes of Western Excuses, filled with myriad styles swirling together and played in a band environment. There are no genre boundaries here – the songs span multiple styles, even within the same song. The members of the ensemble – Sean Byrne on drums, Van Kapeghian on guitar and Keith Allen on bass – represent many years of playing in and out of scenes, listening to and absorbing a variety of influences along the way.
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.”
“I think every human needs a creative outlet, some means of self expression. Music happens to be mine.” Meet Adrien Capozzi, the musical mastermind behind some of the most inventive indielectronic music of the past 2 decades. “But really what keeps me going is the nagging feeling that I can make something more interesting than last time. I just have to try again!”
Originally part of the NYC-based Carpetbomb records crew, he has recently picked up the mantle again after a few years in the wilderness, and hasn’t skipped a beat, so to speak – in 2018, he released no fewer than 4 full-length albums, with another album and EP so far in 2019.
From the moment I first heard them on the “Psych For Sore Eyes” compilation EP 6 years ago, and up to today – Lorelle Meets the Obsolete remain one of my favorite bands of the decade. The songs they produce are so genuinely unique, there are no direct comparisons or sonic competitors.
After hearing the track, I had to look for more – and I found Corruptible Faces, a swirly amalgam of guitar-noise-drone mixed with hypnotic beats and acoustic treats, layered with the hazy alternating male and female vocals of Lorena and Beto. It took a few months for that album to really sink in, with each passing week revealing a new favorite track.