Categories
ambient

J. T. Boogaard & R. M. van der Meulen – PLACE

Eindhoven is no Rotterdam, although both cities have similarities: a lot of new buildings, wide streets (initially build for cars), daring architecture, rough edges and a couple of cozy working-class neighborhoods.

This morning I took a walk through Strijp-S and Woensel West with PLACE as a soundtrack. I was lucky: all the elements for a perfect experience were present. A beautiful low sun produced a warm glow and generated a bit of warmth and there were hardly any people outside.

Most of the names on this cassette tape, released by Rotterdam based cassette label No Hay Banda, refer to different locations. For me, the soundscapes do well with these far from polished cities. Maybe because it’s so obvious they aren’t perfect. While living in Cologne I used GAS and the Kompakt Ambient Pop series as a soundtrack for my city walks. Heerlen, for me, is a perfect match for the releases on Pollen Records and most of the Border Community stuff.

PLACE does a good job in Eindhoven. The seven tracks on this tape seem to be especially crafted with an eye for detail, but fact is that there are the outcome of an improvisation. Roel van der Meulen (active as singer-songwriter RoelRoel) and Jasper Boogaard (in Nagasaki Swim and founder of Front) gathered their machines and got together in their home studio and started building these soundscapes.

Seven beautiful time capsules are the result of this meditation. Flirting with the warm melancholy of La Düsseldorf (‘Nieuwe Westerdokstraat’), estranging and open (‘II’), pastoral, cold and slowly building toward a climax that never comes (‘La Vilette’, ‘Nieuwkoopse Plassen’) and mysteriously exciting (opener ‘I’). There are references to the Cologne ambient sound and releases on Border Community, but Van der Meulen and Boogaard definitely succeed in creating a sound of their own.

Love the fact that there are no beats present. It makes PLACE ideal as an environmental soundtrack, adjustable to the pulse of the moment.

Can’t wait to use this excellent tape for my walk or bike-ride through the dunes near Haarlem.

PLACE by J. T. Boogaard & R. M. van der Meulen is released by No Hay Banda.

Categories
ambient electronic opinion pop rock

Best albums of 2020

This post is dedicated to Martin Ploeg who died in 2020.

Since I stopped writing for music magazine OOR, making lists seems pointless. My taste is changing constantly and I love so many different styles of music that it is impossible for me to do justice to the diversity of cool albums I listen to.

Why posting a list of best albums of 2020 then? Good question. Music journalist and longtime friend Harry Prenger asked me to compile one and I felt like making a list because of this crazy year of working from home, not going to concerts and using music to give structure to a new daily practice without one.

2020 was a rough year for me. I left my teaching job at the Maastricht Academy of Media Design and Technology and wasn’t sure if my own Studio Hyperspace would provide enough work. My father died after years of suffering from Parkinson’s disease and I found myself in lockdown in a new unknown city.

Looking for new challenges in a world that seemed to have stopped spinning is difficult. I started STASIS to have an outlet to keep writing about pop culture. In November the Fashion Institute Amsterdam (AMFI, a part of HvA) asked me to help them set up a new master programme for changemakers in the fashion industry and just before the Christmas holidays, I got an offer by the new International Music Academy Lab of Inholland to join them as a learning director. The coolest job ever. E.V.E.R.

So professionally, 2020 turned out to be a great year after all. Personally, it was rough. Music played an important role to keep me happy and focused.

The following eleven records were important for me during the numerous train travels to my father in the deep south of The Netherland and, after he passed away, making the best of the situation.

Special shout out to Adorno. You are my best friend. I absolutely love your hairy fur touching my cheeks when I’m half asleep.

Okay, let’s go.

Apneu – Silvester

Been following this indie band from Amsterdam since the beginning and their third album is an absolute classic. It’s catchy, moody, tight. The production by Ralv Milberg lifts the album to a next level. But it’s the songwriting that makes Silvester stand out. Read my STASIS review here.

Applescal – Diamond Skies

Not only the missing link between the ambient techno of the Border Community sound and Dutch trance, but also a perfect medicine for missing out on parties and concert. Diamond Skies captures the moment in which the rave becomes you and you become the rave. Read my STASIS review here.

The Bug & Dis Fig – In Blue

The only interview I did this year was a Zoom call with Kevin Martin aka The Bug. In Blue reminds me of other work of The Bug but also serves as a perfect sonic representation of being in lockdown. The thin, high-pitched and ghost-like vocals of Dis Fig, give the album a melancholic feel that triggers me to listen to it over and over again. Read my STASIS review here.

Jessy Lanza – All The Time

An absolute sucker for slick, catchy and sweet pop music with a microhouse feel to it. Jessy Lanza is the best. No idea why I didn’t wrote about this excellent album here at STASIS. Listen to All The Time at Bandcamp.

Hunter Complex – Dead Calm and Zero Degrees

Always loved the music by Lars Meyer aka Hunter Complex, but this album is different than his previous work because there is no nostalgia anymore. Meyer has found a way to use all kinds of sounds and tropes from the past to come up with something that is 2020 at its core: a post-nostalgic ambient synthpop masterpiece. Read my STASIS review here.

Coriky – Coriky

Maybe this is a bit of a nostalgic pick. Coriky is the band of former Fugazi (and Minor Thread) guitarist and singer Ian MacKaye. Got to think of it, my love for Coriky isn’t rooted in nostalgia: this debut album is indie rock at its best. Wonder why I didn’t write about the album for STASIS. Listen to the album at Bandcamp.

Vril – Bad Manners 4

Dancefloor oriented project by Vril aka Ulli Hammann for the Berlin-based Bad Manners label. The album is a registration of a perfect early morning set (think 3 am) in the ambient techno room of Dekmantal or another cool electronic music festival. Also, didn’t review this one for STASIS. Listen to the album at Bandcamp.

We Are Joiners – Clients + Carriers

Sort of compilation of the first two EP’s by an indie duo from the city of Groningen. Love the slacker atmosphere. Harry Prenger also can’t get enough of We Are Joiners. Really curious what they are up to in 2021. Read my STASIS review of Carriers here.

Europ Europ – Slow Train

Ancient and timeless, that’s Slow Train. It’s like 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. Maybe, Dutch anti-modernist politician, Thierry Baudet should listen to Europ Europ and fall in love with Europe again. Read my STASIS review of here.

Vladislav Delay – Rakka

For me, Sasu Ripatti never made a bad album. His work as Luomo is unique and unmatched. As Vladislav Delay, he is more experimental. Rakka is an exciting blend of ambient, industrial, techno and dub. A perfect soundtrack for an underground dance party in your mind. Read my STASIS review of the song ‘Rajaa’ here.

Hirashi Yoshimura – Green

Reissue of the 1986 ambient album by Japanese producer Hiroshi Yoshimura. The album sounds like it has been released on Kompakt records by a hipster Scandinavian producer who just moved to Berlin. Love it, even the green vinyl. Listen to Green at Bandcamp.

What are your favourite albums of 2020? Let me know.

Categories
ambient electronic

Fridolijn – Chapter Two

Although Fridolijn van Poll considers triphop as one of her major influences, her music has mostly been described as jazzy dream folk. Echos of Portishead and Massive Attack are definitely there: her sound is floating in a pleasant, distancing mood. She has been described as the heir of Nick Drake. On Catching Currents, she floats – yes, definitely a reoccurring word – between the softness of Joni Mitchell and the dreamy, untouchable sound of minimalist composers.

Earlier this year the singer-songwriter from Amsterdam released Chapter One, a collection of three songs somewhere between dreampop and folktronica. Follow-up Chapter Two just came out and takes the electronica influences even further. Together with actor and composer Lieuwe Roonder, Fridolijn crafted three moody, dreamy songs that rub against ambient house. The songs have two versions: a vocal and an instrumental one.

Fridolijn’s voice has distinct qualities and gives the songs a dreamy feel and on the moody side more depth, but to be honest, I absolutely love the instrumental versions. ‘Once More’ as instrumental for example sounds like quality microhouse from Cologne and could earn a place on one of the recent compilation by Kompakt.

The same goes for ‘Forever Maybe’ and ‘If Your Heart Were A City’. The slowed-down rhythm of the first one is mysterious and distant and would be a cool edition to next years Velvet Desert compilation. ‘If Your Heart Were A City’ is more ambient and moody, like the work of producer The Field.

Can’t wait for Chapter three.

Chapter Two by Fridolijn is released by Freija Label / Lab Music.

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.