Articulate Silences, Ambient Sounds #14: Barn Owl, Zelienople and more...
First up this month is The World Is A House On Fire, the latest – and undoubtedly finest – release from Chicago three-piece Zelienople. Occupying a spectral midpoint between classic, early 90s post-rock, smudged all-analogue ambience and downcast pop (think Talk Talk meets Grouper), this is a record shrouded in a pervasive, and totally addictive, melancholy. It’s also the sound of a group at the top of their game, refining every element of their sound to the point of perfection – opener ‘The Southern’ emerges from a fog of reverb and organ, underpinned by a persistent and utterly heart-breaking bass line, while ‘The Chemist’ simply floats in the ether, with every note allowed to disintegrate at glacial pace. But it’s the one-two of ‘….’ followed by ‘Colored’ that really astound – the former sees Mike Weiss’ incredibly inventive percussion take a front seat, driving the song forward with unerring precision, while the latter combines skyward smears of delay and rumbles of distortion before dissipating into a devastatingly sad guitar line. Seriously, don’t miss out on this one…
By this point, writing a column that didn’t mention Barn Owl or one of their many related projects would feel somehow wrong, and so Evan Caminiti has duly obliged with his third solo release of the year. Hot on the heels of the outstanding Night Dust, Dreamless Sleep finds Caminiti delving even further into synthesised textures, to truly stunning effect. And while the peals of distortion and sun-baked twang are still present, this is an album that explores resolutely kosmiche terrain, incorporating pulsing beds of heavily delayed guitar and vast arcs of wide-eyed synth. It’s a risky move for such a distinctive and compelling guitarist – especially given the current proliferation of synth-based artists – but the strength of Caminiti’s vision imbues every track with an atmospheric and deeply moving quality, and means Dreamless Sleep represents yet another high point in a near faultless discography.
Substantially less prolific is Thomas Koner. Indeed, despite the recent slew of Koner-related reissues, …. actually represents his first new release since 09’s outstanding La Barca. To these ears, that album still constitutes one of the finest ambient records of all time, and it’s to Koner’s credit that this latest offering very nearly reaches those lofty heights once again. Indeed, perhaps the only criticism of … is its relative brevity – the music itself possesses a depth of tone and sense of place that few can ever hope to match. And while an album inspired by a remote island in the Arctic Circle might not seem to represent prime summer listening, as the nights begin to close in once again, this is a record that will undoubtedly receive a great deal of rotation.
Equally legendary, although somewhat less indebted to painstaking sound design, is Michael Morley of The Dead C. Under his solo moniker of Gate, he’s been responsible for some of the bleakest deconstructions of rock music that you’re ever likely to encounter, and thankfully MIE Music have seen fit to reissue his long out of print classic The Dew Line. At times, it seems as though the Morley can barely summon the conviction to play at all, as single chords are stretched into a molasses-thick torrent and his vocals emerge from the murk as little more than an indecipherable drawl. Nevertheless, there’s something strangely affecting about the results and, in particular, the album’s towering centrepiece ‘…’ which sends relentless waves of granular distortion crashing into an aching, heavily delayed vocal melody.
Finally, for this edition, a fascinating record from Damian Valles, courtesy of Experimedia. Comprised entirely of samples from recordings of Western avant-garde composers and computer music released by the Nonesuch label in the 60s and 70s, Nonparallel (In Four Movements) is a meticulously detailed, and utterly intriguing, listen. It’s also a record imbued with a strange, and somewhat unsettling, sense of history, for while the source material is mostly altered beyond all recognition, the provenance of the sounds is always present, whether in the carefully mixed vinyl crackle or the shards of melody and recognisable instrumentation that occasionally surface from within the haze. Preview the album here
Thanks, as always, for reading.