Sound Bites: October 2020

Better late than never. I had to force myself to listen to a few new releases in the past week or so to get this out there but I’m glad I did. Unfortunately, these aren’t in time for this month’s Bandcamp Friday since it just passed but these are all available on their platform.

Sound Bites is a bi-weekly column of shorter reviews, not quite long enough for a standalone post or retrospective, but just right for giving a glimpse into what’s coming out.

Andrée Burelli – De Sidera

It’s easy to toss around adjectives like “ethereal” and “atmospheric” when discussing any artist that merely gestures towards ambient music. Yet, when it comes to Andrée Burelli’s latest album, De Sidera, all those terms are strikingly accurate – on top of it being an enthralling work of art. In a genre that’s predicated upon repetition and simplicity, Burelli takes her music in a direction full of possibilities and vitality. Her compositions are full of life, evoking the grandeur of gothic skylines, complete with spires and cathedrals, all while carrying itself with a naturalistic grace. 

Drawing from her Italian roots, there’s a quality in her style that’s distinctively operatic, like each note is motivated by an unspoken spirituality. The majestic opener “Mediterraneo” transports you into a structure so vast, yet so empty. In this setting, there’s only room for one sound, that of the striking piano chords reverberating through its granite chambers. Under Burelli’s hands, every note carries a purpose. Whether harmonic or dissonant, her playing demands to be felt. “Ultimi Raggi” takes this concept to even further extremes with its dominating presence. Yet, lodged between these two tracks is the fluttering “De Sidera,” carried by a bassline evocative of the MOOG-filled arias of artists like Mort Garson. Songs like these a more playful side to her writing, occupied by spritely electronics mimicking birds and her own weightless vocals.

Burelli effortlessly traverses between her influences in ambient, classical, and electronic music alike. It’s not that difficult to picture this album as a soundtrack accompanying a Roger Deakins film. Andrée Burelli is unmistakably a brilliant artist. Her canvas is just as much her lush soundscapes as it is your imagination.

Adrianne Lenker – Songs

Adrianne Lenker just can’t catch a break. Having released not one but two beautifully composed albums last year for her band Big Thief, songs proves that Lenker’s just as consistent as she is prolific. In contrast to her previous solo effort, abysskiss, songs projects beauty outwards, rather than reflecting it inwards. 

As always, Lenker’s songwriting is attuned to the rhythms of nature. This album especially revels in rich, vivid imagery. With lyrics much like poetic verse, “two reverse” and “ingydar” introduce listeners by immersing them in their own charming little worlds. Like an old polaroid, these songs feel like analog preservations of precious moments in time. As evidenced by Lenker’s wavering voice and her carefree spirit on tracks like “anything,” these songs, while deliberate, are performed spontaneously and candidly. The twangs and slinking of guitar strings on “heavy focus” bring you into the same room as her. Like a personal serenade, Lenker whispers and croons to you, each song a saccharine memory captured in song. 

The most remarkable part of songs is its unmistakable delicacy. While Big Thief songs are carried forward by momentum and energy, when stripped back, Lenker’s writing unravels into a wealth of tenderness and beauty.

Marble Wings – No More

I stumbled upon this release out of nowhere. Scrolling under the Black Metal New Arrivals tab on Bandcamp, I found Marble Wings’ No More a day after its release. Despite being so new, the 10 handmade CDR copies for sale were already sold out, so I figured I’d give it a listen to see what the hype was about.

The first track “ghost” is a quiet, patient keyboard instrumental that trods with an even but weighty rhythm. I’ve never been a huge Dungeon Synth aficionado but this feels less like the Castlevania-inspired synthesizer music the genre is known for and more like a powerful ambient piece. Knowing this was labeled as Black Metal, I half expected it to erupt into sheets of thin, razor-sharp guitar riffs but as I sunk deeper into its subtle majesty, those expectations dissipated. Although after a while, the motifs do wear out just a tiny bit, the song still brews an incredibly emotional, somber atmosphere.

The second half, “enough,” is a lot more understated, leaning more into elements of drone. There is far less to absorb, but more space for reflection. With its immersive stillness, Marble Wings really embody their own name. It’s quite fitting to describe this music as statuesque, as it just looms over you.

Sans Visage/Look At Moment – Split EP

I can never get enough of Japanese screamo. After their stunning 2017 debut, Moments, Sans Visage quickly established themselves as one of the most exciting bands from the scene. While their approach has traditionally been more focused and direct, they opt for a more nuanced execution on this EP. Leading off with “Deception,” the band mark their opening with mathy guitar rhythms. They fire across all cylinders but the song unfortunately never lands a hefty, satisfying punch. “Desperation” is among the few songs in their discography that houses clean vocals. In a style that sounds almost influenced by 2000s alternative metal, the vocals go from quiet murmurs to tortured screams in the last minute. “Desperation” hits closer to the mark but still leaves something to be desired. 

The good thing is, Look At Moment has Sans Visage completely covered on the heaviness front. On “Rigging,” they come out the gates with full force with a frenetic, driving bassline that underscores the accumulating tension from the guitars. By playing to their strengths, they completely steal the show on this split. Though distorted, the riffs towards the song’s end sound somewhat similar to My Bloody Valentine’s “You Made Me Realise,” which is nowhere bad to be. Screamo has always existed at the fine lines between genres like Hardcore and Emo in the “traditional” sense, but Look At Moment seem to be pushing it ever more towards the boundaries of Noise Rock, Math Rock, and even Shoegaze – and I’m all for it.

Zeal & Ardor – Wake of a Nation

Zeal & Ardor do what few metal bands dare. Not only is this a step towards a darker, heavier direction, it’s a striking political statement from front to back. The opener “Vigil” makes their message loud and clear. In the wake of political unrest and racial injustice in America, “Vigil” is a plea for it all to end. Wrapped in a solemn, gospel-like chant, the song strikes an even more resonant chord with all the recent social turmoil.

However, judging purely from the first track, you might not be able to tell that Zeal & Ardor’s sound has changed at all. “Tuskegee” comes in to correct that, blasting you with forceful, menacing screams that send chills down the spine. The imagery of the song is particularly haunting, with the allusion to the namesake clinical study that exploited African-American individuals as test subjects. “Trust No One” brings the same volume of energy with its belted vocals. Though I found this EP to be most enjoyable during its heavier blasts of metal, the quieter, more bluesy areas are rather tame and sometimes disrupt the angst of their message. Though Zeal & Ardor strike a tonal and thematic consistency, it lacks a sonic focus – which would’ve made this project all the more memorable if it had.

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