Categories
ambient

Europ Europ – Slow Train

In a way Slow Train is a typical Europ Europ release: there is no easy way to describe the music. Referring to older material doesn’t work.

Next year the band turns 25. Still, with every release, the Norwegian trio sounds different. This new one is probably the most accessible. The emphasis on rhythm and beats gives a sense of structure and flirts with minimal techno. It reminds me of Repeating Mistakes (2012) and Mellowharsher (2012), both blending lof-fi noise with a sort of utopian krautrock. It also has some similarities with the dancefloor-oriented Much More Ordinary 7″ (2015).

But… Okay, referring to older releases doesn’t really work.

Slow Train is a combination of the eponymous 8″ single and a handful of new songs recorded this and last year. Although the differences between the tracks are significant, there is a common factor. All eight tracks are moody, dark, slowish, experimental, exciting and playful. Especially the playfulness makes Slow Train so incredibly good.

Slow Train is rhythm and beats driven and resides in the twilight zone between industrial ambient and psychedelic drone-rock. Well, that deserves a further explanation. In the early 1990s, the term industrial ambient described a loosely connected group of artists that blended elements of dub, soundscapes and industrial music with ambient. The results were terrifyingly beautiful. Think acts like Scorn, Ice and Techno Animal. Producer Kevin Martin made a compilation series for Virgin records, but he called the music illbient, a term also used for experimental hip-hop from New York.

Some tracks on Slow Train sound like they have been made in Birmingham around that period of time. ‘Spider’ and opener ‘Desert Disco’ would fit on Scorn’s Evanescene (1994). Psychedelic drone-rock is a more complicated term. I’m referring to bands like Hair and Skin Trading Company here. Europ Europ is definitely not playing rock on Slow Train, but ‘Slow Train to Death’, ‘Hear! Hear!’ and ‘Slow Train to Drugs’ have that sluggish, dark dub structure that was so typical for the short-lived career of that band.

That’s not all. Underneath that sluggish, dark dub structure Europ Europ experiments with different layers of beats, bass lines, soundscapes, noise, rhythms and sounds. When I wrote about their MellowHarsher release back in 2012, I described the music as a blend of New Weird America, unpolished folk and industrial noise. Trying to grasp the essence, I wrote:

Europ Europ sounds ‘primal’, as if they are digging deep in the essence of Northern Europe. Industrial machines are buzzing, the occult gods from before the invasion of Christianity seem to emerge. There to haunt us. This is music for a continent adrift, a soundtrack of the demise of Europe. Beautiful, raw, grotesque, terrifying but also cathartic. Music that seeks to expel the evil spirits from capitalism by freeing the ancient demons, hidden deep within earth itself. And well, we also know: those demons are within us. Scary stuff. But oh so beautiful.

In another review (for Gonzo Circus or OOR, I can’t remember), I used the term New Weird Europe to describe their music. I guess that’s still the best I can come up with. In spite of the emphasis here on rhythm and beats, the essence still lies in the haunted character of the music.

Ancient and timeless.

It’s the musical expression of Das Abendland‘s struggle for survival. The soundtrack to go with the ritual cleansing of a romantic past that never might have existed.

A typical Europ Europ release. And I love it.

Slow Train by Europ Europ is self-released.

Categories
ambient electronic

Applescal – Diamond Skies

There are so many layers to discover on Diamond Skies.

Let’s start at the beginning.

In a way, Applescal is the missing link between the ambient techno of the Border Community sound and Dutch trance. Like his other records, Diamond Skies lacks the strong melancholic element of Cologne ambient scene (The Field, Popnoname) but is full of grand gestures. The optimism and directness of James Holden are never far away. The trance influence takes the edge off. It never becomes sentimental, like for example Nathan Fake’s ‘The Sky was Pink’ does.

Applescal is Amsterdam based producer Pascal Terstappen and Diamond Skies, released on this own Atomnation record label, is his sixth album. This one is his most coherent and direct.

That’s the second layer.

The album sounds like dancing on a house festival somewhere in the woods near Amsterdam while the sun is fading away into the night but still feels warm on your skin. It makes you long for those golden moments. The moments you become the rave and the rave becomes you. Terstappen captured that feeling all too well. Maybe on purpose, because he finished Diamond Skies in Covid-19 lockdown.

In that sense, this a nostalgic album. Well, let’s replace nostalgic by the German word Fernweh. It’s not so much the longing for what once was (house festival in the woods, etc etc) but for what we’ve lost and eventually will get back if we’re lucky. The mood on Diamond Skies is that of longing for an alternative reality where we are still able to dance, watch the sun disappear, sip cold white wine, dance some more, and witness a beautiful sunset.

That makes me both sad and happy. That’s layer three.

Playing Diamond Skies loud on my stereo makes me long for a summer full of dance parties so much, but also makes me feel like I’m there. Opening tracks ‘Incognitana’ and ‘Legobeats’, played on high volume, suck you in and drown you in rave aesthetics. The subtle piano chords, playful synths and clouds of ambient melodies are incredible addictive.

Diamond Skies might be the most coherent and direct Applescal album, it is also his most sophisticated. Beneath the superficial and linear structure of the tracks, hides a moody and strong sentiment.

Come to think of it, maybe Diamond Skies is Fernweh because it emotionally connects to the best house party you’ve ever been to, and that might well be one that you’ve only imagined in your dreams.

This is an album for dreamers.

Diamond Skies by Applescal is released by Atomnation.

Categories
ambient electronic

Aārp – Propaganda

There is a thin line between a government that handles a crisis well and a government that takes advantage of the possibilities that disorder brings.

Due to the covid-19 the Dutch government introduced an intelligent lockdown. Citizens were not forced to stay inside but asked to do so in favour of fellow citizens. Prime minister Mark Rutte played to role of a fellow concerned citizen really smart. Is he transparent or is there a hidden agenda?

Governments have a history of misinforming society. Paris-based experimental musician Aārp got triggered by an event in Nantes: a young man drowned under strange circumstances after police ended a festival. After the incident was covered up by spreading misinformation and distorting the truth.

Propaganda is an album about misinformation, distortion of the truth and propaganda initiated by governments and other authorities. The tittle of each track is a quote taken from historical events that we remember as propaganda. The ‘Axis of Evil’ speech by George Bush in 2002 is a well-known example, but I’m sure you recognize all the quotes Aārp uses.

Musically he refers to the producers who influenced him when starting making music: Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Amon Tobin and Oneothrix Point, to name a few. The lush sound, glitches and playfulness are present in every track.

Aārp operates between these influences and an open synthesizer sound that we consider to be typically French. The layers of analogue sounding synths and ambient atmosphere give this album a distant future- like feel. As if Aārp wants to warn us: this may sound like the future, but the message is one of the past. Be. Critical. Of. Authorities.

Propaganda by Aārp is released by InFiné.

Categories
ambient electronic

KROOKS FIFTEEN

Party in Amsterdam!

KROOKS celebrates its first fifteen releases with this free compilation. A great way of getting to know the records label that started out earlier this decennium as a bold adventure by three friends to integrate electronic music culture with new ways of telling stories.

Although KROOKS magazine – with short, inspiring stories about contemporary issues with a call to action in the last sentence – and the KROOKS events – always a cool program on a special location – became popular in the city, both ended after a year of hard work and not earning enough to sustain high quality. In my opinion, KROOKS peaked too soon. The concept would flourish in the new culture of the 2020s.

The output of the record label has been stable since the early days (2015, right?), giving a voice to the emerging new kind of downtempo and lounge-like initiatives in the city.

This compilation is a good overview of the recent developments in the scene. The diversity is great, but all tracks included have that KROOKS-feel to it. It’s hard to describe what that is.

Let’s give a try: a slightly positive attitude with dark edges and a spiritual feel laced with downtempo beats and lush basses.

Something like that.

Best examples on this compilation? The moody and slow ‘Coyote de Arena’ by Absentune, the faster and playfully exciting ‘Supernova’ by SpaceAgePoetry (the beautiful spoken word in Dutch) and Dialogue (the production), the dreamy ambient pop of Arjuna Schiks’ ‘Mahesvari’, and the jazzy house of ‘Pink & Orange Sky’ by label co-founder Satori.

Leaves eleven more fine examples of the contemporary downtempo sound of Amsterdam. Although, there are also contributions from Nijmegen, Manchester, Buenos Aires and Mexico City on here.

Maybe it’s time to extend the solid musical basis of KROOKS to an event or even a publication to propagate the open and progressive nature.

Oh, wait…

Fifteen is released by KROOKS Records.

Categories
ambient electronic pop

Velvet Desert Music #2

Another compilation. While I normally listen to podcasts and my own playlists when I’m on the move, being in quarantine at home makes me long for selections by others. Since I don’t like Spotify and Bandcamp still doesn’t offer a playlist option (what is wrong with you guys!?), I’ve been turning to compilations and mixes.

Now, the best compilations come from Kompakt. The record label from Cologne has some long-running series: Total, Pop, Ambient. The quality is always high. I love the label. It released some of the best electronic music tracks and my top 10 of best dance tracks ever is filled with Kompakt stuff. I wrote about them in 2013 in The Quietus (read it here).

But when they announced a new compilation series called Velvet Desert, I was sceptical. Desert? Really? I mean, I’ve lived in Cologne for a couple of years, and I still have a lot of different associations with the city. Desert isn’t one of them. Since I believed that Kompakt and Cologne are like ying and yang, I had a tough time figuring out how to fit in heat, drought and sand.

Well, I have this habit of overthinking stuff. Sorry about that.

With Velvet Desert, Kompakt wants to bring together contemporary electronic music that combines elements of rock, folk, country, surf, krautrock and psychedelics. Announcing the first edition, compiler Jörg Burger described the essence like this:

“Just think…from Sergio Leone to David Lynch, from Elvis in his deepest moments to Johnny Cash somewhere between amphetamine backlash and American Songs, from Hollywood Babylon to Hotel California, from Mulholland Drive to Paris, Texas. Served with a pinch of Tago Mago and Pink Floyd at Pompeii. Then you know exactly what Velvet Desert Music is about…”

Totally get Jörg’s idea, but I still had some concerns. That’s my flaw, sometimes I need some time to adjust to new situations.

With this second instalment, I’m ready to embrace Jörg’s concept, although I still think the music on this compilation would do a great job as the soundtrack for a space-age western. Music-wise, this collection of slow and electronic excursions into folk, krautrock, psychedelics and world music is really nice. Starting off with ‘Not So Far Away’ by Michael Mayer, a slow moody track with an incredible bass sound, it sets an atmosphere of detachment, submission and fernweh.

All of the fourteen entries are great, but the ones by Michael Mayer, Sascha Funke (dub blending with 80s guitar prog) and Lake Turner/WEM/Hand (the only faster song: sort of Neu!-like indie glam-rock) and Pluramon (what La Düsseldorf would sound like in 2020) are amazing.

Maybe the combination Kompakt, Köln and desert isn’t so strange after all.

[Move your mouse over the image and click to play]

Velvet Desert Music #2, compiled by Jörg Burger, is released by Kompakt.

Categories
ambient electronic

Reality As A Stage Set

One of the many hidden gems in the Dutch landscape of pop music: Enfant Terrible. The website of the record label states: ‘Elitist Pop Culture since 2004’.

Is the label elitist?

Well, yes. In a way. Founder and owner Martijn van Gessel knows his niche, and he knows to use words well. In interviews, he states that the music he releases has nothing to do with nostalgia or retro, although many of them have a minimalistic feel that could be associated with those terms. Of course, Van Gessel is right: using instruments that have been around for a long time, doesn’t mean making old music.

Instead, Van Gessel uses terms like (post) industrial muzak and weird pop. He manages four labels to make sure he is able to provide a broad range: Enfant Terrible for the more electro wave and synth-pop stuff, and sub-labels Gooiland Elektro (more dance-oriented stuff), Vrystaete (music related to folklore, psychedelic, lo-fi/lo-tech and experiment), and Cabaret Curioux (for the weird stuff).

In the past 16 years, Van Gessel released a lot of albums in limited editions on vinyl and some of them on cd-r. This compilation is a collection of his favourite songs he released in the past few years. The tittle Reality As A Stage Set refers to the weird current situation:

“We conceive the world around as reality… as a solid state of being… but it is not… it is a stage set… a construct… a frame… a bubble in which we float…”

The collection reflects Van Gessel’s thoughts on the corona virus being able to make cracks in our static construction of the world. Reality as a simulation that doesn’t represent the real anymore. It’s a dark, minimalistic and sometimes rough journey through eleven releases. The compilations ends with the beautiful, distant ambient elektropop of 11 RADKO.

Have a listen, download the compilation if you like, order some cool 7″, 11″ or 12″ at Enfant Terrible’s website, and visit the individual Bandcamp pages of the artists.

And, as Van Gessel puts it, take “a moment of recognition […] for contemplation… sit back… think…read… listen to music…”

Reality As A Stage Set is released by Enfant Terrible.

Categories
ambient classical

Jan Wagner – Kapitel

The early days of spring combined with solitude are perfectly expressed by Kapitel, the second album by Jan Wagner. Wagner lives and works in Berlin. He produced releases on the Berghain Ost Gut record label in the Faust Studio Scheer. In 2018 he released Nummern, a beautiful album full of ambient based on piano improvisations. This second one isn’t that different. Wagner is doing what he does best.

That is finding the beautiful spots in-between: piano chords that blend into a lingering sound, the sounds of the mechanics of the piano. Even surrounding sounds in the studio. That way of working gives his music a feel that is so familiar in ambient and a lot of electronic music. Harmony and even melody fade in a blur of non-distinctive sounds. The result is beautiful.

Wagner combines his skill as a pianist and musician with his experience as an electronic music producer. Using his piano improvisations as a basis to build new sound structures. On Kapitel this approach leads to stunning ambient that opens up space for the listener to fill in. Like in ‘Kapital 27’, one of the longest tracks on the album, where dominant piano chords are drowned in a pool of ecstatic sounds that keep building up.

Music that makes you blissfully happy while being lonely.

Kapitel by Jan Wagner is released on Quiet Love Label.