Lucid Culture

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Adrift Off the Islets of Langerhans with Cousin Silas

This is a quiet, magical album – and its composer is generously giving it away as a free download. In his Yorkshire studio, ambient composer Cousin Silas has methodically been creating one fascinating series of soundscapes after another, a mix of desolate, chilly, Ballardian instrumentals and gently hovering, trance-inducing themes. Ironically, although his work is high-tech and heavily produced, the effect it creates is completely organic: he creates a vivid milieu and then sets you down there. His previous album Canaveral Dreams ranked high on our list of the best albums of 2010; this one drifts closer to pure ambience rather than the eerie keyboard themes that dominated that one. Although there is rhythm in his music, it tends to be glacial: the pace shifts so slowly that the changes creep up on you, an effect which is often psychedelic and sometimes…well, creepy.

The opening track sets the tone, a subtly shifting, echoey soundscape – in academic circles, this is known as horizontal music, whose changes occur in timbre and shading rather than with a melody that moves from one note to another and so forth. The one after that sets echoey, staccato, minimalist U2-style guitar rhythm (or what sounds like a guitar, anyway) against a drone. The Beauty of Loathing adds shifting ambience against more Edge guitar, which eventually builds to a catchy, galloping lick that runs over and over again.

The Lower Field on Ebbetts Farm and Tarnscape are studies on light/dark contrasts, the latter with tongue-in-cheek bird calls that pop in when least expected. The most ethereal composition here is the appropriately titled Empty Coastline, waves hitting the beach through a glass, darkly and distantly. Likewise, The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral creates an eerie, windswept atmosphere with distant mechanical allusions. Building from a murky drone to Pink Floyd-influenced loops, Upstream is the closest thing here to an actual rock-style melody. The album ends with The Loathing of Beauty, an actually quite pretty tone poem that sounds like a lute and harmonium in outer space, and the hypnotically repetitive title track – whales and a mellotron, maybe? As with everything he’s ever done, nothing is exactly as it seems with Cousin Silas. Download it while it lasts.

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January 2, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chilling Soundscapes by Cousin Silas Evoke J.G. Ballard and David Lynch

A sonic suspense film, UK ambient music artist Cousin Silas’ twelfth album Canaveral Dreams (on the innovative and intriguing Acustronica label) is tremendously captivating and often absolutely creepy. It works best on good headphones, yet it’s equally good as a late-night passout album. The record label calls this stuff “dark Ballardian soundscapes,” a terrific way to describe these minimalist, nebulously cinematic pieces. Lynchian would be another way to characterize the way these soundscapes build and maintain suspense, vividly finding the menace in the mundane. Some of them center around piano melodies, like the viscerally haunting, apprehensive Concrete Towers, the wistful Through Glittering Trees or the reverberating, noirish A Passing, with the occasionally chilly gust in the background. Arriving Home works off a hypnotic two-chord theme with similarly chilly breezes, comfort beckoning just out of reach.

A couple of others utilize synthesizer tones, like the casually comfortable Crane at Train Station – a rare deviation from the general bleakness here – and the blithe Whitefield Pits, Moog melody set against a swirling backdrop. What Cousin Silas is most adept here is ambient, allusive tone poems loaded with suspense and dread, melody hinted at but never delivered. The mini-suite From a Lighthouse offers the whisper of a distant ragtime band over the waves, familiarity and companionship again well out of reach. The Decay of Concrete and Sawney Hill are marvelously subtle tone poems, every grim shade of grey you could possibly imagine. Sudden, insectoid spectral shifts add a dizzying touch to the viscerally disturbing Black Mold, similar to the junglescape that appears midway through the Art of Noise-style Last Night. A choir (or a clever electronic approximation) plays call-and-response with the shifting shades on To the Other Side; a muffled series of doppler effects, truck horns and sirens allude to an unseen tragedy on Time Lapse Crash, Scene 7, a trick that works even more disturbingly well on the title cut, seemingly a reference to the space shuttle disaster. The album ends with what could be an underwater scene complete with doors crashing above it: Pink Floyd’s Rick Wright would devour this.

Cousin Silas works fast: in the brief two months since this album’s come out, he’s released another, Adrift off the Islets of Langerhans available for free download at his bandcamp site.

November 10, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment