Tortusa is the project of electronic musician John Derek Bishop, who hails from Stavanger in Norway. On his second album, Bishop has assembled perhaps one of the strongest Norwegian jazz groups ever committed to record – drummer Erland Dahlen, guitarists Eivind Aarset and Svein Rikard Mathisen, trumpeters Arve Henriksen and Simen Kiil Halvorsen, and saxophonist Inge Weatherhead Breistein, Bishop’s collaborator on 2017’s ghostly Mind Vessel.
Except, a group – at least in the traditional sense – it most definitely is not: Bishop’s sleight of hand is to take samples of live performances by each of the musicians before adding analogue synthesisers, field recordings and computer processing to create imaginative, powerfully ruminative soundscapes. By his own acknowledgment, many of the musicians feeding into the twelve pieces on Bre are some of his heroes; yet his approach on a piece like ‘Bristen Ingen Kjente’, featuring Erland Dahlen, is to suppress the drummer’s rhythms into mere whispers, so vague that finding his playing is a little like trying to locate an imperceptible pulse in a hibernating woodland creature. Rather than using Dahlen’s dextrous playing to create the foundation of his track, Bishop instead uses a field recording of endlessly running water, through which appear tiny moments of treated percussion.
Sometimes the contributions are more pronounced. Breistein’s sax melody on the album’s title track carries a delicate, questioning quality that’s presented more or less as the musician would have played it; on ‘Lyset Likevel’, Aarset’s guitar ripples and shimmers over a dubby pulse. You can undoubtedly tell that Bishop has a weakness for Henriksen’s trumpet playing. His contributions to ‘Ubevegelige’ and ‘Preget Uten Minne’ might be treated with echo and surrounded by all manner of unpredictable sonic interventions, but Bishop leaves the trumpeter’s melody more or less intact, creating a haunting, stirring, inquisitive Souk-like atmosphere in the process.
The closest that Bre gets to the Norwegian supergroup suggested by gathering these luminaries together is on ‘Ikke Tale’, featuring Dahlen, Aarset and Breistein. On ‘Ikke Tale’ you can hear Dahlen’s gently polyrhythmic drumming, even if it’s placed far off in the distance; Breistein peels off some contemplative after-hours melodies; Aarset offers some pretty, blues-y guitar licks. On one level, this is a traditional jazz trio, but it’s one that’s strangely detached, deconstructed and reassembled, presented with a sparseness and reverb-drenched ambient aesthetic that is entirely Bishop’s own.
Bre by Tortusa was released March 5 2021 by Jazzland. Thanks to Jim.
The Cornish roots of the mysterious Kemper Norton run deep in his music. Though outwardly electronic, his compositions have a naturalistic edge inspired by the local folklore, mythology and topography of his home county. In the last few years he has released albums inspired by everything from the Torrey Canyon oil spill (Toll, 2016) to the abandoned arsenic production facilities that litter the Cornish landscape (Brunton Calciner, 2019 and Oxland Cylinder, 2020), in so doing isolating a sort of ghostly fascination with vestigial relics that have left an indelible mark on England’s otherwise unspoilt western frontier.
‘Troillia’ is an old Cornish verb meaning to spin round. Over time, the word became ‘troyl’, the Cornish equivalent of the ceilidh dance. With Troillia, we find Kemper Norton turning his distinctive gaze to the Cornish culture, through references to these traditional dances, exploring regional Celtic links to Scottish songs and the fairs, parades and civic events that can be found in many Cornish communities.
These are things that are somehow disconnected from time and place, passed down by generations ceaselessly without their true origins being understood. The effect is to give a piece like ‘Crowshensa’ and ‘Cantol’ a blurry, imperceptible, unplaceable dimension, their genteel, undulating accordion drones rapidly subsumed beneath layers of murky reverb and synthetic hum before once more returning to their original states or cacophonous chatter by the end. ‘Three Craws’ finds our Cornish spirit guide singing in a plaintive voice against a backdrop of subtle turbulence, while the angular, amorphous shapes of ‘Corwedhen’ offer glimpses of other things – cyclical passages, inchoate rhythms – that seems to encapsulate this notion of appreciating tradition while not appreciating whence they originate.
Kemper Norton’s enduring conceit is to give seemingly innocuous things a sense of creepy displacement. Though he is at pains to point out that this album was made in sunlight instead of in the darkness of Victorian Industrial Age relics, on Troillia you feel this sense of modernity clashing uncomfortably with tradition, without ever knowing precisely why it makes us feel this way. Its ten pieces occupy their own post-hauntological, interstitial time zone, a queasy, discomforting interzone where our electroacoustic hero is the sonic archivist of long forgotten cultural reference points.
Troillia by Kemper Norton is released March 29 2021.
Bow Shoulder is the stuff of near-legend. The album documents a 2010 impromptu improvised recording session at the Chicago studio of alt. country stalwarts Wilco following a gig the prior day by Huntsville – the Norwegian trio of Ivar Grydeland (electronics, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and pedal steel), Tonny Kluften (electric bass) and Ingar Zach (tabla machine, drone commander, drums and percussion) – that saw them sharing a bill with Wilco percussionist Glenn Kotche’s On Fillmore side-hustle, and which saw both Kotche and Wilco guitarist Nels Cline hop on stage for the Hunstville encore.
Convening at Wilco’s Loft space on June 29, presumably because Cline and Kotche happened to have the keys, the Huntsville players entered into a lengthy session that saw the already formidable five musicians augmented by Kotche’s fellow On Fillmore partner Darin Gray (bass) and keyboardist Yuka Honda. Edited and mixed ten years later by Grydeland at Oslo’s Amper Tone studio, Bow Shoulder consists of four lengthy pieces ranging from a svelte seven minutes to a expansive twenty, each one displaying diverse tonalities and a seamless, highly perceptive interplay.
‘Side Wind’, which opens the collection, is like a gathering storm, a landscape full of sonic tension – scratchy guitar sounds, the kinds of wild yet totally controlled effects that Cline manages to weave into whatever project he is hired onto, tabla percussion, long, droning notes and the outlines of melodic gestures. There is movement and progress here, but little by way of pay off. Around eight minutes in it feels like it might suddenly blow over into a thunderous psych-motorik groove as a tight bassline nudges itself forward, but that would be too obvious for Huntsville & Friends; instead things subside again into a tense quietude but a sense of hypnotic, trance-like forward motion remains.
Each piece is different from the next, but yet somehow utterly inseparable from the whole. The most significant departure arrives on ‘Lower’, wherein a more muscular interlocking between Zach and Kotche produces intense bursts of rhythm and subtle percussion gestures, upon which are heaped growling, whining feedback, distorted countermelodies that recall Cline’s pal Lee Ranaldo, long, fluttering echoes and grubby electronics. There is a feeling here of loops unspooling into the void, their final resting place a dense, impenetrable web of murky, thrilling noise, the whole piece finally arriving at a brooding, rhythmic intersection of menacing guitars and incessantly pounded drums.
This is a mesmerising artefact born of chance encounters and shared aesthetics, of intense musicianship and the symbiotic power of seasoned improvisers playing off one another.
Bow Shoulder by Huntsville (with Yuka Honda, Nels Cline, Darin Gray and Genn Kotche) was released September 25 2020 by Hubro.
‘Friend’ is the follow-up to NY-based singer-songwriter Samina Saifee’s debut single, ‘Prom’, released earlier this year. With a talent for producing songs that seem to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders and which reflect back the often tragic poignancy of memories, ‘Prom’ was an ear-catching debut for both its heartfelt lyrical quotient but also its simple, understated delivery.
Her new single is, according to Saifee, “a letter to the one who got away, the person who was never yours but who somehow still managed to break your heart.” Across a delicate, fragile backdrop of swooning, dreamy pads, subtle beats and an omnipresent layered, bell-like melody, ‘Friend’ is a diaristic outpouring of intense emotion, almost like Saifee is narrating a moving scene from the movie of her own life. There is catharsis here but it is a bitter, difficult transcendence that you hear on ‘Friend’. Its final moments, as Saifee accepts that the elusive object of her affections is just that – a fleeting, impermanent person yet whose imprint on her heart is indelible – is nothing short of tragic to hear.
Two singles in and Samina Saifee is displaying a knack for delivering complex emotional epithets that document the pivotal moments in her life; the events that have shaped who she is and the way she views the world. The equivalent of the novelist’s roman-à-clef, Saifee’s music is personal yet relatable, and carries a subtle, stirring depth.
Twenty-five years after their debut, Code – a Kent quartet of Andrew Phillips, Darren Till, David Mitchell and Graham Cupples – have released the follow-up to 1995’s The Architect.
The Architect was a deservedly celebrated album, dropping in at a time when crossover techno and dance music was perhaps at its most interesting, gaining significant audiences tired of Brit-pop. Code’s music had the sampleadelic diversity of The Chemical Brothers, the progressive house rhythms of Leftfield and Spooky and the rabbit punch to the temples embodied by the likes of Empirion.
And then… nothing. Eschewing the Code name in 1996, the quartet released the album Deco under the name Mortal (pseudonyms were a big thing in the genre-precious mid-1990s), but nothing followed. The title Ghost Ship is thus appropriately named: inspired by the real-life ghost ship, the MV Alta, that ran aground on the coast of Ireland in February of this year after disappearing out in the Atlantic near Bermuda and floating crewlessly for 18 months, the title is an allegory for a group that also just seemed to vanish.
The material on Ghost Ship was largely pieced together from hard drives containing material recorded just after the release of The Architect. Consequently, some of the tracks here have a certain period nostalgia to them – squelchy synths that burble and rise to the surface with ambient panache, glitch-free rhythms, Gregorian chants and the sort of blunt energy that existed before minimalism discarded all of the unnecessary accoutrements of dance music and instead channelled its essential, nagging pulse.
‘Breathe Slow’ has a sort of trippy fog, featuring samples of wobbly French dialogue, a sort of sub-aquatic dub-techno dynamism, and a reassuring vocal that is echoed in the hypnotherapy samples in the slow-motion, jazzy funk of ‘Listen To Me’ that follows. These tropes are familiar if, like me, you spent your time absorbing yourself in so many of the dance acts that emerged in the 1990s. Listening to Ghost Ship is like being aboard a boat back through your own history; listening to this lost gem is like being transported in time to how I felt as my ears were being opened up to dance music most fully, the decisions I made while flicking through racks and racks of otherwise faceless white labels and the friends I formed around the music I decided was mine.
One of the highlights here is ‘The Building’, a bristling, urgent vocal techno banger nodding in the direction of Underworld at their most commercial. ‘The Building’ broods with both a lysergic energy and a detached, almost quotidian trawl through daily movements inside a structure whose plans were sketched by ‘The Architect’. The other standout track is ‘Midnight’, whose wiry synths and plaintive vocals prompt a sort of trepidatious euphoria.
Ghost Ship is the album that never was, and the album that now is; a record from a band that vanished without a trace for two and a half decades but who have now run aground on our sonic foreshore with a cargo full of ideas fully intact.
Ghost Ship by Code was released November 6 2020 by Lo-Tek Audio Ltd.
Words: Mat Smith. With thanks to Gary at Red Sand.
Local Sound Developer is an alias of St. Albans-based electronic musician Damon Vallero, and the evocative title of this twelve-track album – Damaged Textures – could well sum up this intricately-presented album far better than any review I could write.
The sleight of hand that Vallero uses here is to blend together droning loops, enveloping ambience, clipped microscopically-detailed sounds and traces of rhythmic pulses with more organic sounds – what could be a reed sound from a Mellotron, snatches of overheard chatter and held tones reminiscent of an organ. The result, on tracks like the tense ‘Safe House’ or the wonky ‘A Town Stood Still’, is disconcerting, like Vallero is soundtracking some sort of weird, nonsensical but unsettling fever dream, encapsulating that disorienting notion that things simply don’t feel right.
There is also a fragility here that’s often easy to miss. The countermelodies of ‘Behind The Façade’ are mournful and searching, floating to the surface delicately like a desperate cry for help. ‘Hidden Places’ is among the more intriguing pieces here, skipping along gently like a broken music box, its melodic quotient feeling beautifully uneven, almost as if Vallero is deliberately trying to thwart a sense of familiarity from ever setting in. Opener ‘Never Found’ feels like Vallero has taken the coruscating peels of a jubilant bell and processed it with watery synth tones to leave you stranded somewhere in the tricky interzone between euphoria and abject pessimism, while ‘Under A Sun Shade’ is built from bucolic guitar lines that could, if you squint, sound like they belong on an exotica compilation.
Damaged Textures is a restless album, sitting in its individual no person’s land, and one whose complex, detailed design lightly commands your attention. One gets the impression that Vallero could quite easily suppress the instincts that give this album its distinctive, skewed centre of gravity and just produce music that drifts forth aimlessly; to his credit, he has made an album that prompts deep and frequently haunting reflection, that evolves and progresses with cautious deliberation.
Damaged Textures by Local Sound Developer was released November 6 2020 by Downstream Records.
‘Feeling The Effects (Of Saturday Night)’ is a new track from Fujiya & Miyagi and finds David Best, Steve Lewis and Ed Chivers in a reflective state of mind.
It’s also an old track – well, sort of. The track was a half-written idea lurking on a hard drive dating from 1999, before the group had released their debut album Electro Karaoke In The Negative Style. Alighting on the idea after almost twenty years, David, Steve and Ed began a process of building the track remotely during the early days lockdown.
“A vehicle for examining past triumphs and defeats, and the conflicting feelings such thoughts provoke,” according to David, the track carries subtle disco reference points and svelte electronics, bubbling away beneath gentle pads and searching half-melodies. The effect is like looking back on the person you were twenty years ago and being both remorseful at the passing of time but also thankful that you grew up and got all those crazy impulses out of your system; like contrasting doing shots and dancing in a club on a Saturday night in your twenties with watching Strictly Come Dancing with your kids while a drinking low-calorie beer in your forties. A brief swerve by David into what could be an unused line from ‘Oops Upside Your Head’ doesn’t sound remotely out of place here, even if any sense of joyous euphoria is held in check by the uncertainty and tentativeness that the track’s structure suggests.
A departure from recent Fujiya & Miyagi concerns – awkward funk, Italodisco, electro – ‘Feeling The Effects’ nods to David’s parallel work with Julian Tardo in Slippery People but points to a new (old?) direction for this group. Metaphorical hangovers rarely sound so serene.
Feeling The Effects (Of Saturday Night) by Fujiya & Miyagi was released November 20 2020 by Impossible Objects Of Desire
Fragments is the debut album from LA’s Body/Negative, the pseudonym of nonbinary multi-instrumentalist and producer Andy Schiaffino, and follows their Epoche EP from 2019. Beginning with an instrumental cover of Elliott Smith’s ‘Figure 8’ that sounds like it’s being heard through the gauzy vestiges of sleep, Schiaffino has produced an ambient album full of unique personality and highly personal, almost diaristic reference points.
Further. spoke to Schiaffino about the thoughts, feelings and inspirations that went into the creation of this beautiful micro-masterpiece of an album.
Listening to classical music as a child definitely influenced the way that I write. I primarily use sitting at my piano as my main source of inspiration – music always seems to come out of me easier on the piano if that makes sense. I grew up listening to a lot of classical composers and opera – things like Yanni and Andre Rieu – and groups like Thievery Corporation thanks to my oldest brother’s exceptionally good taste. I feel like all of those early sources informed the melodies that I create now and maybe even appears in my vocal style and often lack of lyrics.
The making of Fragments began probably in the summer of 2019. I had a lot of demos I was fleshing out with Dylan Gardner of the psych project Communicant, who ended up co-producing half of the record. I didn’t really intend to make an LP at first, I was just working on ideas, but all of those tracks just sort of found their way into being on this album. I put it down around the early spring of this year when I was in a really depressed state which eventually led to a major break up in my life, and I couldn’t bear to listen to any of the songs until maybe June or so when we were deep in quarantine.
I think I took a lot of inspiration not only from the electronic music, IDM and ambient music that I listen to, but also a whole lot of pop music. My co-producer has his roots in pop and produces a lot of pop artists. He showed me a lot of really, really awesome pop artists who have some pretty incredibly experimental production. I really tried to harness those textual elements that I found and put it in my music in a way that felt appropriate. Pop music really was a huge influence throughout the making of the first and second half of the record, in addition to things like shoegaze and dreampop.
Inspiration, productivity and creative impulses are pretty sporadic for me. I can’t really just sit down and force myself to write something. I really envy the people that do have that ability! I can pretty much only write when I want to and when I have an idea; whether a melody pops into my head while I’m driving, or I hear something in a song that I want to replicate. My demos always have to have some kind of clear purpose behind why I’m sitting down to make it, otherwise I just kind of make garbage.
A lot of my music is made while sitting on the floor of my living room surrounded by gear and tangled cables. I don’t know why but that kind of weird chaotic space makes the most sense for me and helps me get all my ideas out. Pretty much all of the album was recorded in my home, aside from ‘Figure 8’, which was recorded in my co-producer Dylan’s studio and engineered entirely by him. The final track ‘The Big Sleep’ was a remote co-write with my friend Nick Ventura. He did about half of the things you hear on that track, and I believe recorded his parts in his own home.
My co-producer Dylan used to always play Elliott Smith’s ‘Figure 8’ for me on his beautiful teachers’ model Wurlitzer piano which I am so envious of and want one of my own. He used to always play me that song before I had ever really dived deep into Elliott‘s catalogue – Dylan was already a massive superfan and eventually showed me all of my now-favourite Elliott tracks. Dylan played it so beautifully that I always just assumed that it was one of Dylan‘s original songs; I never knew it was a cover of something! I found that melody to be so beautiful and so strange, and eventually one day I woke up with such a strong urge to cover it and make it my own, so Dylan and I recorded our version of it in one night.
I absolutely love Elliott Smith. I was kind of a late fan even though I’ve been seeing murals of him everywhere ever since I moved to LA in 2017. I hope I don’t lose too many cool points for admitting that! His music has such a fragile quality to it, and it’s got this just really beautiful element to it which I think isn’t found in a lot of modern singer-songwriters’ catalogues. I think he was a really special person and I relate a lot to his story… In addition to that he’s just an incredible guitarist and undeniable melody magician and I think that he is totally underrated.
The first half of Fragments was recorded in chronological order. I was feeling really down and there were a lot of tough things happening in my life. The second half of the record was kind of just reflecting on the idea of saving yourself, and helping yourself stay afloat.
The very last track ‘The Big Sleep’ is a euphemism for suicide (and also a cheeky reference to David Lynch). My decision to make that the final track on the record was not only because it is sonically lighter than the first half of the record, but it’s also a song that’s about wondering what lies beyond life. I never really felt existential in that sort of way. Rather than fearing the endless unknown of the afterlife, I always welcomed death with open arms, and there’s been a lot of death in my life, so it always felt very normal for me strangely.
That track was me grappling with the idea of, “What actually happens after I die?” for the first time in probably my entire life, so I thought it would be an excellent album closer, to leave things on a light note, right? I think the latter half of Fragments was both intentionally and unintentionally lighter, and definitely draws more from shoegaze and dreampop (mainly bands like Alcest, Slowdive, Hatchie, Tamaryn), much more so than the first half of the record.
Fragments by Body/Negative was released October 23 2020 by Track Number Records.
Yifeat Ziv is a Jersulem-born, London-based sound artist who won one of the six coveted prizes at this year’s Oram Awards. With a practice focussed primarily on the use of voice, Ziv’s works include 2019’s Rish Rush, based on the prevalence of onomatopoeic gestures in all languages, performances at Café Oto, a collaboration with David Toop on his recent Apparition Paintings album, and sound installations at numerous galleries in Israel and the UK.
Amazonian Traces Of Self, Ziv’s latest work, arose from a ten-day AER Labverde residency in the Brazilian rainforest last year. For the piece, Ziv undertook a series of excursions into the rainforest, making field recordings of the natural ambience and capturing her own vocal improvisations, both of which are combined together into this thoughtful composition, here presented as a seventeen-minute live piece recored at Iklectik in January of this year, but which also has a parallel existence as a sound installation (The Echo Of Our Breath). The CD release is accompanied by an essay, designed to be read after listening to the piece.
If you are remotely environmentally-minded, any mention of the rainforest should, by rights, bring to mind the progressive deforestation and devastation that the natural landscape has endured as a consequence of humankind’s progress; whether for repurposing as land for rearing cattle or for growing the so-called ‘sustainable’ soya beans that propel the world’s biofuel hopes, the rainforest has decreased in size at a phenomenal rate – over 50% over the last 60 years.
By focussing its initial attentions on the natural sounds of the environment, the piece prompts complex emotions. There is a sense of tranquillity and serenity, but it also feels strangely unsettling, like a creeping sense of impermanence that coincides with Ziv’s reverberating vocal interjections – breath, a sort of staccato passage, tremulous, quivering passages and almost bird-like calls. These sounds feel alien, like they have no place in this location, something that Ziv describes as “vocal pollution”, an allegory for the way we have encroached upon, and starved, the Earth’s lungs. A middle section of wailing voices sounds like a desperate, mournful elegy to what is lost, what cannot be replaced and that which we have caused.
Yet as the piece progresses, Ziv’s layered vocal sounds take on a different hue. They feel curiously natural and optimistic, sitting in balanced evenness with the natural sounds that she is vocalising over. We start to feel a symbiosis between her sounds and those around her, almost as if she is gently reminding us of our dependency on this place, of how we can live in harmony with these spaces. A sense of optimism begins to emerge, a feeling that all is not lost, that our devastation of a place upon which we all depend for our live-giving oxygen is not yet entirely irreversible.