ALBUM REVIEW: Darren Cross – Keeping Up?

Darren Cross returns with a new album called Keeping Up? In recent years he’s explored folk noir with Jep and Dep, his own eclectic solo albums and a pair of instrumental acoustic folk albums under the moniker D.C Cross.

Here he orbits planet Gerling closer than he has since the band split back in in the late 00s. It’s still a totally different musical creature but the synthetic/humanistic/subtly anarchic blend that band explored at times is still rippling through Cross’ DNA.

There’s a cosmic nostalgia at play. Dreamy, fragmentary and hypnagogic in the feelings it portrays and the visage it conjures up, this is Kraftwerk disconnected from their machines and cast into an interstellar dream state. Hi-brow, lo-fi – allowing the machines to wonder and reflect. There’s a sense of suspended reality, a remove from the chaos of reality, pressing pause on the VCR, cleaning the hard drive, looking for a way to process and cope with the avalanche of data we consume and are unwittingly fed with each day.

Drum machines are treated like arhythmic heartbeats, lazily loping along with a melancholic funk in their step. Synths wash and cascade like ultra slo-mo and woozy waterfalls. There’s an overwhelmingly immersive quality to the music. Drug-like, womb-like – that intrinsic memory of holding your breath underwater as a child and feeling at peace in the aquatic cocoon.

Keeping Up? is a battle for optimism in the face of decreasing digital odds. It’s a non-smoking area for mental health and a dystopian glance back at the malaise of the industrial age.

NEW MUSIC: Pascal Schumacher – Prelude To Robert M

Pascal Schumacher is a Luxembourgan composer and vibraphone player who’s built up an impressive resume playing with quartets through to orchestras.

This new release comes from an EP Tropismes (The Mudam Session) where he performed at Mudam, the contemporary art museum in Luxembourg, and you get a real sense of how he operates at the nexus of classical and minimal electronic composition. The lightness and beauty of his playing is hypnotic, like a dreamstate transmission. Heavy-lidded yet full of life and verve, fragile yet full fully-formed. Beautiful stuff indeed.

Check out his full-length 2020 release SOL for a full and immersive deep dive into his work.

NEW MUSIC: Empasse – Ultraviolet

Let’s kick off the new week with some really nice post-rock sounds out of Kirikiriroa (Hamilton) in New Zealand. If you dig the type of music created by Mogwai and Jakob then this will be your kind of thing. ‘Ultraviolet’ is moody, dark and ominous even when it’s not heavy. It’s cinematic too, but still operates in a compositional rock format.

Empasse is the work of Nick Johnston, a local government bureaucrat by day and musician by night. Some of Nick’s previous bands include post-rock band Sora Shima, and indie pop bands The Changing Same and Dynamo Go.  

Nick describes the Ultraviolet EP as a “soundtrack to a story that is not well known in New Zealand outside the Waikato Region where I live” – the story of the town of Rotowaro, a former mining village that was entirely removed in the 1980s to make way for an opencast coal mine. The mine fuelled the Huntly Power Station, the largest thermal power station in New Zealand which has been identified as responsible for over half of New Zealand’s carbon emissions from electricity generation. 

“Ultraviolet is about the damage and wounds that we cannot see – in this case, it is the rural communities that have battered over many generations to grow and power our larger cities, as well as the carbon emissions damaging the health of our planet.” 

NEW MUSIC: body / negative – Figure 8

Figure 8 is a haunting and dream-like piece of instrumental ambient composition from 22 year old queer, nonbinary ambient artist, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Andy Schiaffino from Los Angeles.

There’s a David Lynch, otherworldly atmosphere to both the music and the video clip – like a ghostly ballroom soliloquy from a bygone era. The song is a cover of a cover — originally a children’s song on the educational cartoon ‘Schoolhouse Rock’, popularised by Elliott Smith’s cover of it on his Figure 8 LP. Here it’s given a similar treatment to artists such as The Caretaker and William Basinski.

The song appears on body / negative’s new album Fragments due October 23rd on LA label Track Number Records.

NEW MUSIC: Wax Chattels – Cede

PHOTO CREDIT: Ebru Yildiz

The Aotearoa/New Zealand trio Wax Chattels release the final single from their new album Clot, out September 25 via Flying Nun and Captured Tracks.

The vitriolic choruses of ‘Cede’ are in Amanda Cheng’s (bass/vocals) native language — Taiwanese Hokkien — and are an indignant confrontation about Cross-Strait relations and self-determination.

Amanda Cheng on ‘Cede’ — “I am angry. Saying “you don’t know who I am” in Taiwanese Hokkien is to say “you don’t get to tell me who I am”. You don’t just scream like this to put on an album — you scream like this because it’s the only thing you can do.

This song is an affront to the near-silent cultural genocide that’s taking place — the censorship, the militant threats — and the international community’s insistence on practicing diplomacy with economics at the front of mind. If it takes a loud song that’s half in an unfamiliar language for people to ask, “what’s that about?”, then so be it.”
 

Amanda Cheng on the video for ‘Cede‘ below — “I set out to make a video that was unenjoyable to watch; unhinging a domestic, ‘safe’ setting. To contrast the blunt lyrics, the thematic statements in the video are more subtle — there’s a geopolitical narrative there, but you’ll miss it.”

The video was directed by Amanda, with the helping hands of Annabel Kean and Callum Devlin of Sports Team.

PRE-ORDER AND SAVE CLOT

NEW MUSIC: Tristan Welch – Asset / Defect

Tristan Welch‘s track starts with a keening, searching feel. Slow vaporous tendrils reaching up and out into the aether. There’s an insistent quality to ‘Asset / Defect‘ but one that takes the uplifting route rather than a dark and foreboding path. As time ticks by, the sonic layers deepen and widen, with a dawning quality – the first rays rising slowly from the horizon.

Gradually the celestial peak is reached before Tristan retreats from the digital waves and a more tentative place of solitude takes centre-stage. Across 11 minutes he achieves what the best ambient and drone music does – take the listener on a journey, drawing them into a certain headspace.

Tristan Welch is a musician, artist and activist based in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. His focus is creating soundscapes via electric guitar, treated with electronics and loops that are drenched in reverb, delay, and distortion. He likes to call his compositions; heavy ambient movements.

NEW MUSIC: Siddharta Corsus – Lightstream

Sweet synth mantras and new age vibes percolate on this track from Siddharta Corsus, a Belgian/American living in Portugal.

‘Lightstream’, from his new album Constellations, sets the mood immediately with pulsing, bubbling percussive elements that invite warm melodic washes to the meditation. The rest of the album follows suit, drawing on kosmiche, computer game and Eastern influences, such as tablas, and an inner sense of calm where the spiritual and digital worlds entwine.

NEW MUSIC: Tom Ashbrook – Oaktrees

Ambient and (neo)classical compositions can often tread a fine line, evaporating into the ethereal realm or overstating their grandeur. Both extremes lack the required balance of satiating the heart and the mind. In the hands of auteurs such as Nils Frahm, Brian Eno and Harold Budd, music of this ilk can blossom and sway with the most subtle of transitions and adjustments – and it’s those qualities we’re always looking for when we’re hunting out new artists and compositions.

Tom Ashbrook, a British composer, fulfils and exceeds the criteria on this new track ‘Oaktrees’, the third single released from his new EP Sensibus. You can hear the mechanics of his playing and the surrounding sonic detritus in the air. Soft synth pads widen the textural qualities of the piece and summon both the immersive sensation of being underwater and in space. Drift and a poetic sense of flotation being the common factor.