What’s that you’re playing? July 2018 reviews

Reviews of what I’m loving right now in ambient, downtempo and sounds we don’t even have names for yet. New album releases by Kaya Project, David Parsons, Connect.Ohm and EugeneKha.

Atmanaut (Celestial Harmonies)

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An uncommonly gifted Westerner mining deep Eastern sounds since the 1980’s, New Zealander David Parsons’ latest album arrives with absolutely zero promotion. Why? Two possible reasons. One, pioneering label Celestial Harmonies turned its back on ambient some years ago. Two, Parsons himself – old-school to the end, bless him – maintains no internet presence whatsoever. Yet despite all this curious indifference the double-length Atmanuat is a fine thing. While it’s not actually stated anywhere, the album is an archival release dating from the late 2000’s which was never issued for reasons unclear. The music favours slow rhythms and percussive grooves, with layers of beautiful arpeggios rising and falling around a single chord. In that respect it sometimes resembles his 90’s classic Yatra (1994) with its electro-acoustic takes on Indian, Tibetan and Arabic folk melodies. He still leaves some room for the rich, awe-inspiring, dark-edged synth and vocal drones he’s best known for; it’s just that on this occasion those drones usually hover in the middle or background rather than taking centre stage in the form of long, beatless epics. Note: there is no CD or lossless file release: Atmanaut is confined to MP3 download stores and Spotify only.

Three Months (Pantheon Records)

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Enthralling, trippy environmental ambience by the Russian artist EugeneKha, soundtracking the three months of the Northern summer. The opener “June (Mantra)” is a surreal, dense sequence of buzzing didgeridoo, forest sounds and distant tribal drums. The 26-minute “August (Three Dreams)” is really masterful: haunting drones, vivid location recordings, and an extended hypnotic sequence of tribal drums from under which an organ chord gradually rises to the surface. Unexpectedly but somehow perfectly, the track ends with a breathtakingly lovely male acpallea vocal, some kind of devotional folk song in a language I don’t recognise. The album is part of an intriguing batch of new releases from the St Petersburg label Pantheon, run by Tim (aka PiedPaper) from the Microphones in the Trees reviews blog. They’re all good, but Three Months is special.

Up From The Dust (Bandcamp)
The Dust Remixes (Bandcamp)

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Under his long-running Kaya Project moniker, UK artist Seb Taylor has shown a special talent for capturing joy in a bottle and sharing it with the world. His new album Up From The Dust finds Kaya’s brand of downtempo global exotica undiminished, even in a crowded subgenre such as this. Wrapped around his liquid polyrhythmic grooves you can expect to hear Arabic and Celtic-sounding strings and flutes, Indian tablas, jangling ouds, glittering acoustic guitars and more; a familiar combo in chillout music, yet there is something magic here. As I’ve said before, I think it comes from the composer’s enormous dual talents as both a physical musician and electronic craftsman. With such talent also comes a magnetism that attracts first-rate collaborators, especially his guest vocalists who sing in a variety of exotic tongues and chants, all soul and texture because who cares about actual words (not me). Collaboration is of course the entire basis of The Dust Remixes, a companion album which turns out to be exactly as wonderful as it sounds. Such rich source material is a gift to remixers and they make the most of it, with a tasty menu that includes euphoric breaks (Birds Of Paradise), lush and gnarly strains of dub (Globular, Kalya Scintilla) and thundering midtempo doof (AstroPilot).

9980 (2018 remaster, Ultimae Records)

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Not that it really needs remastering, but Ultimae Records’ CD reissue of this downtempo classic from 2012 is an artfully packaged affair with striking black and white photography. And, of course there’s the music, resurfacing on the cosmic sea five years later, hopefully to be discovered by a new wave of listeners. 9980 remains Connect.Ohm’s only album to date, an inspired collaboration between France’s melodic space-tech master Alex Scheffer (aka Cell) and Japanese composer Hidetoshi Koizumi. “Snow Park” is still a stunner, oddly unassuming yet gliding with all the mass of a deep space cruiser, nudged along with gentle synth arpeggios and simple piano phases, while Koizumi’s subtle textural quirks – buzzes, bytes, tiny glitches – are sprinkled over its surface with great restraint. Most of the remaining tracks explore texture and beats in a similar style. Scheffer is probably the dominant voice on the album and it remains some of the best ambient he’s ever put his name to. It’s also textbook Ultimae: panoramic, cosmic, mysterious, melodic and skillfully engineered.


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