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Kid Koala + Emiliana Torrini * Mario Batkovic

Mario Batkovic

Music to Draw to

KID KOALA Feat. EMILIANA TORRINI – MUSIC TO DRAW TO: SATELLITE

No matter what specific genre you’re into, there’s always that moment that ‘sameness’ begins to bother you a bit. Too many people copying the familiar sounds, too few people pushing the boundaries. That is the moment that you’ll welcome a fresh wind, an album displaying an original point of view,  an unexpected surprise. Music to Draw To is such a surprise (at least for me).

The album title in itself refers to many classic ambient albums. It’s a reference to the live events where Kid Koala (Eric San, from Montreal) played his music while he invited the audience to draw. You can take this literally, too: the Deluxe CD version comes with a hardcover sketchbook.
But who would expect the scratch DJ/turntablist, known for his Ninja Tune albums and his live-sets with Radiohead, Beastie Boys, Arcade Fire, DJ Shadow and many more, would completely leave out the samples in favor of synthesizers, keyboards and guitar to create an album full of (18) atmospheric ambient pieces?

Music to Draw To is also the start of a new series featuring different vocalists, with Kid Koala writing and producing and performing.
The guest vocalist on this particular album is Emiliana Torriniwhose whispering dreamy voice and endearing Icelandic accent adds an irresistible romantic flavor to the seven songs on this album that feature her. Songs that “tell a tale of discovery and loss through the lens of lovers separated by an early space mission to Mars”.

It’s ‘ambient-pop’, more than ‘ambient’ by its strict definition.
But who really cares if it’s also music to make you dream? … Ánd draw?


Mario Batkovic

MARIO BATKOVIC – MARIO BATKOVIC (SOLO)

I saw many concerts at last year’s Le Guess Who festival in Utrecht, but the performance of Mario Batkovic was one of the most impressive I attended.
A Bosnian/Swiss guy, performing his solo work on his Zerosette Accordion to an audience that probably hardly knew what to expect apart from what they read in the festival program notes.

In Batkovic’ hands, the accordion sounds as powerful as a full orchestra. You have to look twice to check that he is only using his two hands… and then again to check that there really are no additional effects or electronics.
He filled the church completely with his majestic sound, and received  a well deserved ovation from a stunned audience.
This picture perfectly captures the experience (photo by Tim van Veen):

Batkovic LGW 16 photo by Tim van Veen

 

To give an impression of his mastership, here’s a video from an intimate session on the Eurosonic/Noorderslag festival in January 2017 (with thanks & credits to 3voor12):

 

Batkovic’s album was first released in 2015 on the Veruston label as “Solo”. It has been almost impossible to find until now, unless you were lucky enough to attend one of Batkovic’ performances.

Fortunately it is now (re-)released on Invada Records – including two additional tracks: Semper and Eloquens.

Most of the compositions on this album are built upon repetitive themes, in a way that reminisces the minimalist work of Philip Glass – but with the accordion as the full ensemble packed into one single instrument.
If you (like many) unfairly think the accordeon is an uncool instrument, not suitable for performing exciting music, this album proves you’re wrong.
And if you experience Batkovic performing live, without the help of any additional effect, you will realise you were VERY wrong.

Note: the Bandcamp link only offers the digital download version. Check the Invada site to obtain vinyl/CD version.


Also on Spotify

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Anzio Green – A Day without Distance

Anzio Green

Right after the light-hearted opener soundscape “Morning Tea”, “A Day Without Distance takes a somewat unexpected turn: “Fall Down” (with vocals by Kate Tustain) is a mysterious pop-oriented track that reminisces the sound of the 4AD label (or This Mortal Coil, to be more specific) in the mid-80’s.

After this track one would expect more ‘ambient-pop’ like this, but surprisingly the album takes a fairly radical turn into more experimental soundscapes.
But – even though Kate Tustain’s vocals are not reappearing – it never loses touch with the ‘accessible’ side. This is obviously what International DJ Magazine meant when they described the Rednetic label as “the subtle marriage of the adventurous with the accessible”.

Anzio Green is the collaboration between Mark Streatfield (New Zealand) and Wil Bolton (UK). A Day Without Distanceis their second album.

They both bring their own background influences: “While the first album was very much of a New Zealand vibe, this is very much the UK, with London and Liverpoopl playing a major role”.
Being neither from New Zealand nor from London or Liverpool, it’s hard for me to pinpoint those geographical properties to the music – but atmospheric this music definitely is!

A Day Without Distance presents many different moods and clearly demonstrates both Streatfield and Bolton’s experience and their ability to create different moods and atmospheres without becoming ‘arty for the sake of it’.

With the inclusion of “Fall Down” at the beginning, it may seem the album cannot really determine its definite course, as if it cannot choose between ‘ambient pop’ or more abstract ‘sound-art’.
But the balance is restored with introducing rhythm tracks in “Thunderstorm” and “Sorry for all the Mistakes”, and ultimately the album manages to combine the best of both worlds. For this, it might be a perfect introduction of ‘ambient’ music for listeners that aren’t really familiar with the genre yet. In a way the instrumental tracks of This Mortal Coil did in their time.
But for real ‘ambientheads’ this is a most rewarding album too – maybe because it also links back to the real world down below…

 

Also on Spotify


ANZIO GREEN – TALL GRASS

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My Home, Sinking; Bluhm; Pan-American; Chr. Virant; W.R. Fritch;

In the Shortlist sections, I will mention the albums that I enjoyed listening to, but couldn’t find the time (or the right words) for a “full” review for. Still, I definitely think they deserve your attention, with or without extra words! 

My Home, Sinking

MY HOME, SINKING – MY HOME, SINKING
Enrico Coniglio often refers to Venice (Italy) in his music, which may explain the name of his new project. Released by Fluid Audio in a stunningly beautiful package (which is quickly selling out so don’t hesitate) it marks the label’s venture into new musical territory: ambient/experimental/improv crossover to rock/pop oriented music. This might have been risky ’cause when it failed it would have lost both audiences. But with this incredible set – and the help of people like Barbara De Dominicis, Laura Sheeran, Orla Wren and Katie English – Enrico Coniglio and Fluid Audio manage to define a completely new quality standard.

“The joined arsenal boasts acoustic instrumentation as well as synthesizer, manipulations and field recordings. Here guitar, cello, piano, harmonica, melodica, percussion and voice ring alongside Korg Monotron, Orla Wren’s processing, and Coniglio’s vinyls.Tracks range from glowing string examinations to humming whitewashes, from vocal reveries to textured pop allure.”


MY HOME, SINKING – MORNING WALK


Bluhm

BLUHM – THE VALE OF TEARS
The newly-set Fluid Audio standard is immediately and easily met by the labels follow-up release by Bluhm, a collaboration of Tim (‘Maps and Diagrams’) Diagram and Macedonian singer Genoveva.
They present a sound more ‘psychedelic’, with washes of echoes and vocal dubs, but (as My Home, Sinking does) their new releases also clearly marks a new musical direction.

“The musical production side utilises Tim’s trademark palette of drone, delay, reverb, discord, distortion, tape effects and granular synthesis. All consciously crafted with the light, ardour and purity that is always associated with his oeuvre. These primary melodies were presented to Genoveva, who then added her seraphic vocals.”
“It’s an exploratory, elemental union that includes a significant, immersive and expressive vocal narrative. The overall theme of light and hope is perhaps not so apparent on the first few listens because the vocals are full of hidden mystery. However, its nascent sense of optimism does become apparent the more you listen to it, essentially it’s a journey of hope”


BLUHM – WHEN WE CRY


Cloud Room, Glass Room

PAN-AMERICAN – CLOUD ROOM, GLASS ROOM
“With percussionist extraordinaire Steven Hess now a full fledged member, Mark Nelson and Pan-American deliver their first new album since White Bird Release from 2009. Bobby Donne (Labradford, Cristal) plays bass on multiple tracks, further emphasizing the live band feel.”
CLOUD ROOM, GLASS ROOM” delicately meanders from soft guitar rock-oriented soundscapes (‘Cloud Room’) to harsher noise experiments (‘Virginia Waveform’) or combinations of the extremes. With the thriving rhythm section underneath, Pan-American re-defines and sustains a completely unique sound.


PAN-AMERICAN – CLOUD ROOM


Christiaan Virant

CHRISTIAAN VIRANT – FISTFUL OF BUDDHA
Christiaan Virant was one of the originators of the now legendary Buddha Machine series, which may explain the somewhat contradictory title. Some sounds of the Buddha Machine are recognisable, as is the overall Zen-like feeling, but these nine tracks are full compositions, not just a collection of ‘loops’.

“Moving between China and Europe has allowed Virant a continuous access and appreciation of musical developments across the continents. Whilst still deeply Zen in mood and tone, the tunes here interweave minimal textures through drone and drift. Classical-trained Virant pays due homage to structure, drama and effect whilst completely understanding that, as Lou Reed once so accurately remarked, “repetition is anti-glop” Devotees of the Buddha Machine will treasure the connects and departures”.
But not just the devotees, I hope…


CHRISTIAAN VIRANT – RIVER PEARL


W.R. Fritch - Waiting Room

WILLIAM RYAN FRITCH – THE WAITING ROOM
Soundtracks are often great ways to bring music to an audience that otherwise probably would never find it. And there are quite a few names in contemporary music creating soundtracks: Cliff Martinez, Max Richter, Ólafur Arnalds, Johann Johannsson, Ben Lukas Boysen…and that’s just a few…
William Ryan Fritch has previously released music as Vieo Abiungo, but this soundtrack is released under his own name. “The Waiting Room” is a documentary by director Peter Nicks about the Emergency Room of Highland Hospital, Oakland, California.
“Fritch’s Waiting Room soundtrack is the ideal complement, with persistent gravities and thudding tempos that are keenly aware of the passing hours. The crawl of time is transcribed to sound with prolonged string notes, potent repetition and exquisite silences between topographies.”


WILLIAM RYAN FRITCH – CODA


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For Nihon


For Nihon

If you are remotely interested in this kind of music you’re probably familiar with this release already. 
But in case you’ve missed it: 

Shortly after the Japan earthquake on March 11th this year, Keith Kenniff (a.k.a. Goldmund/Helios) and his wife Hollie decided to ask ‘a few friends’ to participate in a compilation album to help raise money for the Japan Earthquake Relief Fundset up by New York’s Japan Society.

The ‘few‘ friends quickly became ‘many‘, and the list of artists contributing to the (38) tracks featured on For Nihon” reads like an impressive who’s who in popular ‘pop ambient’:  
Arms and Sleepers, Dustin O’Halloran, Peter Broderick, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Biosphere, Hammock, Olafur Arnalds, Jon Hopkins, Nils Frahm, Alva Noto, Ryan Teague, Max Richter, Goldmund….And this is only just one-third of the full tracklist!
I guess it’s best to check the full list on the release page and order your copy immediately!

In the same period, Kanshin”  was also released: another double CD set equally impressive. There are no artists doubling on these two double-album sets – another proof of the liveliness of the ‘ambient’ music scene. 

On “For Nihon”, the ‘ambient’ definition may be slightly debatable, however.
Compared to Kanshin (which is leaning somewhat more towards experimental soundscapes), For Nihon is more ‘pop-oriented’ in style, and has a slightly lighter tone. Thus, it will probably also appeal to listeners less familiar to ‘experimental’ music. 

On the downside, I personally find the sequence of tracks somewhat less balanced at times.
For example, I think the Balmorhea live version of ‘Clamor‘ sounds a bit loud and somewhat intrusive, placed this way between other tracks (especially immediately following Alva Noto’s characteristic electronics..

But that’s just nitpicking, of course! Overall, it’s a great collection, a compilation very much worth buying.
For the music itself, if you want – but even more for the cause it supports (100% of all profits are donated to the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund). 

To ‘us’ living far away, march 2011 may seem a long time  ago, and the media hardly cover the issue now.
But in Japan people still struggle everyday to be able to recover from the disaster.  

“For Nihon” is available as a double CD set as well as digital download (MP3/FLAC).
Both are available for the same price ($20) (which probably means you donate somewhat more if you choose the download version?). Either way, don’t hesitate!  


For Nihon – compilation sampler by Keith Kenniff

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The Lights Galaxia – Global


Global EP

Obviously, since it’s very hard to earn a living (or even a part of it) from creating ambient music, a lot of musicians creating this kind of music offer it for free.
From their own websites,  through netlablels or using archive.org, bandcamp.com or one of the many alternatives for sharing music.

So if you take some time to do a good search you may find quite some nice music (and a pile of rubbish too).

Recently, The Lights Galaxia released a 4 -track EP called “Global” on their own label “Luxus-Arctica Records international” 

That’s not a very real label by old standards: in fact it’s more of a weblog with one recent EP released next to a single with one of the tracks from the EP. But who knows what’s yet to come!

Global” (published on archive.org) is a 4 track EP published on archive.org, and it’s worth listening.

Daniel Davis (Carl Sagan’s Ghost) and Joseph Snodgrass combine pleasant soft sounds of the ‘pop-ambient’ kind with electronic background soundscapes quite effectively.

Very Nice ‘Music for Sunday Mornings

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The Innocence Mission – We Walked in Song

Innocence Mission

It’s hard to tell what it is exactly that touches me everytime I hear the songs of The Innocence Mission. Is it the pureness (innocence?) of singer-songwriter Karen’s voice, reminding me of early 10.000 Maniacs? (This connection is no coincidence: Karen and Don Peris contributed to Natalie Merchant’s Ophelia).
Is it the open, seemingly simple, acoustic arrangements played by Don Peris on guitar and Mike Bitts on bass?
Is it the combination? Does it matter, anyway?
What really matters is that The Innocence Mission released at least TEN records, and that none of these gained any serious attention in Europe. Please, notice them! You can start with ‘We Walked in Song’ and work backwards from there…

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