As a contemporary dance term, "body isolations" refers to the manner in which an audience is brought to concentrate its full attention on a single element of the
performance. Following this principle, Donato Wharton sets out to arrange this album in such a way that each composition manifests a sole sentiment
While he does sometimes achieve this, there remains a continuity
between pieces, a sameness in mood, pace and arrangement; it leaves the
impression that these individual works are merely tiny scatterings of a sole
light refracted through a prism.
By and large, tracks are hushed and slightly dour. A gray cloud of fizzling ambiance wavers atop "Blue Skied Demon,"
punctured by gaunt guitar lattices and ripples of static. "Transparencies"
hints at this very same nostalgia, its watery loops of piano and subtle digital scratches testifying to some unknown missing contents.
With "Underweave," the forms become a bit more mangled, a bit more
aggressive and to the point, but they still lead back to the same sentiment
of reverence and dismay before some unknown, yet seemingly important absence.
After the dense buildup of steely
timbres and luminous organ chords, though, "Puget Sound" follows with slow swirling
pools of organ and electric piano, shaded by fuzzy electronic tones, and slips
back into a gauze of sublime nostalgia. Near the end of the work, an odd bluesy
slide of guitar is blended against skeletal bell-like tones and ectoplasmic smears
of sound, but this comes along too late to really tear the album away from pretty
Much of this album is indeed pretty, and it could well sit amiably alongside
any number of other ambient electronica acts (Marsen Jules and Yellow 6 come to mind). But prettiness aside, it's rarely anything more than the empty foam on the sea. More importantly, rather than achieving a flow of each track from its own internal episodic logic, Wharton is mostly content to repeat a limited number of basic themes.
Tim Hecker's sound gives coloration, form, and
intensity to something that never entirely says what it is. It balances
carefully crafted melodies and occasional sonic dissonance, taking a certain
solace in recognizable forms; but that aside, compositions forge into
the constantly mutating and indefinable.
Hence this album can be appreciated on numerous levels.
Hecker's broad, slowly evolving brushstrokes and the sharp momentum of the overarching structures invite listening to the work as a whole, while it's also rewarding to approach from a more specific standpoint and appreciate
the sublime level of detail underneath. On a large scale, for instance,
"Stags, Aircraft, Kings and Secretaries" is marked by a rubber-textured, muffled melancholy, but beneath the surface, there is an underlying network of quietly abrasive electronics, placid piano and flecks
of incidental color. On "White Caps of White Noise," the squalling sonics grow
more rabid. Crunchy, bone-crushing electronics beat against jagged detritus and
flurries of heavily manipulated guitar feedback, moving to an orgasmic climax
and being lulled to sleep by an undertow of delicate organ
Within this montage of crystalline frequencies, low synthetic hum and
rubbery, prowling basslines lies a series of minor-key melodies, emitting a warm
melancholy that heats the track from the inside. A woozy, aged atmosphere thus
this infrastructure of
avenues, dungeons and hidden rooms. Hecker's ear for harmony also infuses
these compositions with
a kinetic energy, all but assuring safe travels through the sprawling
structures, rife with subatomic
particles and gaseous clouds. Harmony in Ultraviolet refines
Hecker's emotionally complex and powerful voice, providing pieces that are as
harmoniously and texturally challenging as they are absorbing.
On Woodwork, poles collide, distances disappear, everything is interchangeable and mobile. Ergo, songs are a smooth and functional surface where the rustic tones of Per Henrik Svalastog's Norwegian zither flow audaciously. Along the way they're intercepted, mixed and reborn into a welter of different sounds, some austere and rhythmical, some hazy and hushed.
One can still faintly detect the warm, bellowing tones of the Kuhorn (a
cow's horn) and the Bukkehorn (ram's horn), but it's usually impossible to identify with any certainty what is real and what is not. "Slow Blowing Wireless" seems to contain the almost gong-like intonation
of the Bukkehorn, but blurred into a series of droning notes and set against a minimal, repetitive burble and grind of electronics, so one could easily be mistaken.
On most other pieces, the music is on the quieter side, nursing out small nuances such that minutely differentiated pitches ring, phase and rub against each other. "Connecting Joints," for one, samples the earthly timbres of the zither, layering loops that weave back and forth in the sound field, while the crunchy electronics' shifts in rhythm and pitch give the composition a rather woozy feel.
There's a downside, however, to all this integration. Not only do the more archaic instruments lose their particularity, it becomes altogether apparent midway through that a great deal of recycling is going on here. Minimal techo and dub already rely on repetition so much as it is; for this album, melting everything down for seamless performance threatens to act as the final nail in the coffin.
On his previous full-length effort, New Zealand sound sculptor Rosy Parlane
used cycling guitar and organ patterns to erect mountainous
drones and dense layerings. Spurred on by mite-like rustlings and
frozen blocks of digital ice, they loomed off into a vertiginous, chromatic
climb. John Wozencraft's immaculate blue-filtered photographs of snow-encrusted landscapes and silent stone buildings seemed to echo the album's mystique, and here on Parlane's second CD, his images once again prove telling.
The album's artwork features leafy foliage dangling over a murky
pool, which reflects the dense pall of green. The album works in
much the same manner, as subtle guitar dynamics stretch into tightly
manipulated, gently expanding and contracting textures. In turn, a
cluster of high-frequency tones and the soft thrum of an organ quickly mirror their
movements, creating a fine sense of space and letting the sound grow wider and deeper.
This almost minimalist discipline continues on the second track, as
composed, chiming harmonics and swooping feedback tones are gradually
fragmented by the scuttle and trickle of field recordings. The crisp
digital repetitions and sustained tones then begin to drift towards
despondency a steely-edged, roaring patch of noise suddenly attacks the
errant drone before receding into the night.
Here, Parlane demonstrates restraint and delicacy of feeling. Although heavily manipulated, pieces proceed naturally, with each discrete element quickly responding and often building upon the subtle movements of the others, which themselves disappear and reemerge at key moments. There's a fine
coordination on display in pieces both constant and disjunctive, diffuse and coherent.
At 19 minutes, the third and final track again builds up blocks of
sound, then rearranges them to suit the mole-like burrowings and slashing shards of digital clicks and hiccups. The
opening moments are serene, but the sounds of nature slowly encroach, joined by various string-scraping sounds, pointillist guitar
and hoarse feedback, turning the entire sound field into a mucky
pulp. It's the most blistering, overblown piece Parlane has put together so
far, and a fine highlight to his deceptively knotty sound.
Jessamine draws from Parlane's ongoing
tendency to contrast arching drones with slivers of digital noise which, in one way or another, often mimic animals or events normally seen in nature. But it also shows a new complexity, capturing his sound from new angles, bringing in
jarring elements to create a tense balance.
Can hips be witty? Jarvis Branson Cocker proved it last year as part of the
stellar ensemble for Come So Far for Beauty, the Leonard Cohen tribute.
Spanish handclaps, snaky stage moves, an irony in his deep and oh-so-English
voice that could come on like a taste within a single word, yet never
compromise a moment that mattered: oh yeah, Cocker caught the eye and ear
completely, the clown prince of the occasion.
If you knew Cocker's old band
Pulp, you'd already be aware of this mix of sly and heartfelt. Most people
saw Pulp's height as 1995's Different Class, one of the anthemic records
behind the Britpop phenomenon. I always preferred the darkness and
sophistication of 1998's This Is Hardcore, Cocker's mid-life pop-star crisis
record, crashing Bond theme orchestrations and Bowie glam frosts together
with pornographic confessions on his own used-up identity. Something had to
give, and it seems it was Pulp, as well as Cocker's long-term relationship at
Now married to a French stylist, and a new dad to boot, he finally
returns with a very fine solo album indeed. It resounds with booming Nancy
Sinatra ballads ("Don't Let Him Waste Your Time" was actually written for
her) and Spector-ish cathedrals of space, not to mention a brilliantly naked
sample of "Crimson & Clover" on his song "Black Magic." Much like Pulp, yes:
as the gunning guitars and bam-bam, garage-rock drums of "Fat Children"
("took my life") or the crooning piano menace of "I Will Kill Again" (his
serial murderer benignly enjoys "half a bottle of wine") variedly and
further suggest. Behind the bookish glasses and op-shop hipster image,
Cocker has always been a great storyteller, an outwardly playful satirist
with a ferocious moral vision of modern English life. Over the ambient hum
of "Quantum Theory" he sings "somewhere everyone is happy. Somewhere fish do not have bones." Strangely enough, you can feel this almost angry romantic
wants to believe it. It's probably because he really cares.