Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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

Dreamy, Otherworldly Soundscapes from Lesley Flanigan

Imagine you had a recording session but for some reason you ended up in the studio with just a microphone and some random speakers whose hums, crackles and occasional roars you could amplify. Could you make it interesting, something that would speak to anyone besides yourself? That’s what Lesley Flanigan did on her album Amplifications. Flanigan is a sculptor, and the compositions here are designed as sound sculptures. Using only her voice and a collection of speakers that she builds herself out of abandoned parts, she’s crafted an intriguing series of soundscapes that transcend any avant-garde cred she may have achieved by creating them. Some of her compositions are simple and stunningly direct, while others rely on dizzying layers of studio effects. Either way, they draw the listener in, and they’re vastly more accessible than they might seem. Flanigan’s vocals are mostly wordless, with a timbre that ranges from high and clear to take on a smoky tone on the album’s last number.

She begins with the aptly titled Retrobuild, harmonies methodically layered over and over again, almost an exponential expansion of a simple two-note phrase. She bends the notes and adds a tinge of longing before cutting off the piece abruptly. Following that is a vivid dreamscape, vocals alternating with oscillating, droning textures buzzing and swirling from the speakers, creating simple, sustained chords. Sleep comes down, is interrupted for a second, shifts to a distantly nightmarish interlude with uneasy, Middle Eastern inflected vocalese and ends on a calm, balmy note.

Snow pits the drones, buzzes and frequent shrieks of the speakers against the voice. As with the previous track, Flanigan carefully adjusts the frequencies to create a chordal drone, voice eventually emerging resolute and triumphant over the lo-fi squall as the melody from the first piece returns. Thinking Real Hard finally introduces lyrics and a cinematic theme: “Would you star in my picture?” the narrator asks, with a torchy longing. The album concludes with the pensively layered Pinkish White, shades of the Cocteau Twins, and the restless, all-vocalese nocturne Say You. It’s a marvelous late-night album.

October 16, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment