Sound Bytes : Black Swan, K’an, Orphax and Birds of Passage

Black Swan - Tone Poetry
Black Swan
Tone Poetry
Ethereal Symphony

Black Swan was new to me when I first played Tone Poetry. And what a fantastic first impression the album made! [editor’s note: Headphone Commute has reviewed every single Black Swan release in the past, so it was time for Matthew to appreciate the artist.] I’ve played the album dozens of times, and yet I’ve found myself struggling with words to adequately describe it, despite how much I like it. ‘Ritual’ rolls in like a thick fog, dense and shapeless and all-surrounding, and it sets the tone for the proceedings nicely. ‘Eden’ is the longest track and a clear standout with its string harmonics and atmospheric reverb, all gliding by with glacial patience into the more harrowing sounds of ‘Prophecy.’ It is that continuity from track to track that makes Tone Poetry go down so smoothly, all sounding like one amorphous whole rather than discrete pieces or parts. The disembodied, oblique chamber arrangements (often sounding like strings or organ or other traditional instruments, buried in effects) remind me of some of the weirder more recent material from Tim Hecker, though the heavy fog of Tone Poetry might ultimately place it closer to David Lynch‘s Eraserhead on the sound spectrum, or perhaps the haunted sounds of The Caretaker. But Tone Poetry moves me more than any of those sounds, with a linear progression to it that is as patient as it is lush. For all of its darker moments, the final stretch of the album is, for lack of more eloquent words, fucking gorgeous. ‘Departed’ and ‘Elegy’ both unfold with a tragic beauty, elegant and patient. It’s an album that rises above comparisons by virtue of just how exquisite it is. Highly recommended for fans of ambient drone music, easily one of my favorites of the year so far.
K'an - Anima - Onyudo
K’an
Anima
Onyudo

This is an absolutely stunning collection of tracks from artist Paolo Bellipanni. Don’t let the harrowing choral loops of the opener mislead you too much… while it begins with an unsettling tone, much of Anima is quite gorgeous. With a little patience, those introductory loops begin to shudder and shake as ‘The Tree in the Garden of Limbs’ reveals just one facet of beguiling beauty. This beauty isn’t always so pretty, either, but just as striking when it feels tragic as it does when it’s fragile and warm. ‘Arsons Beneath Eclipsed Waters’ reflects this oscillation from light to dark and everything in between with its patient but intense crescendo of tremolo guitar, drones, and feedback. At the core of Anima is Bellipanni’s use of guitar, electronics, voice, and effects in ways where it’s difficult to tell where one ends and the next begins. I suppose what’s also refreshing about K’an is that while there are so many touchpoints that feel familiar (Fennesz, Tim Hecker, Grouper, Sunn O))), The Haxan Cloak), it still sounds unique and unto itself. ‘In a River of Light You Carve Intersections of Darkness’ brings a techno pulse into the mix, sounding not unlike the gloomy, hazy throb of Fennesz’s Hotel Paral.lel, but otherwise Anima is mostly a textural, visceral, languid affair. ‘Altars’ is a slithering beast that clocks in at nearly 15 minutes, shifting shape several times before it breaks through with a cathartic power drone of voices, guitar, and electronics. It’s a moving precursor to the tightly wound title track that closes the album with a sublime swoon (plus an epilogue that surprises me every time). Though I’ve done my best, describing K’an’s music here doesn’t do justice to its power. It’s tragic that I nearly overlooked this altogether. Highly, highly recommended!
Orphax - De Tragedie van een Liedjesschrijver Zonder Woorden - Moving Furniture
Orphax
De Tragedie…
Moving Furniture

Sietse van Erve is the man behind the bleak sounds of Orphax. De Tragedie Van Een Liedjesschrijver Zonder Woorden is his first official full-length for the project, and my first exposure to his music. The album is divided into 6 tracks, starting with the shimmering, drony haze of ‘Onder Het Noorderlicht’. It crackles with electricity, with some tense feedback just below the surface while an undulating tide of metallic drones does its thing. ‘Geluiden Van De Eerste Dag’ is the second track, even more subtle. Its taut, minimal drones and flutters of bit-crushed texture remind me of the drone music that initially hooked me on the genre in the 90s (that’s a good thing!). ‘Samen Aan Het Water’ continues the trend, even more sublime and sedate, lacking the grit that provided the dark underbelly of the first couple of tracks. There is a subtle push and pull between the more pastoral beauty of some of these pieces, including the gorgeous glide of ‘Winterslaap in de Zomer’ and the more tense layers of drones in the opening track and ‘Ochtengloren Boven De Ijzige Vlakte’. ‘Het Bos’ brings it all down with an elegant decline in its final moments, until there’s nothing but the faint sound of nature. Fans of drone music will no doubt enjoy it, touching on familiar sounds but with a bit of its own elusive personality that reveals itself on repeat listens.
Birds of Passage - This Kindly Slumber - Denovali
Birds of Passage
This Kindly Slumber
Denovali

Alicia Merz‘s third album as Birds of Passage for German Denovali Records is haunting and ghostly, much like her faint voice murmuring through a wall of effects. It’s difficult to not make comparisons to Liz Harris’s project Grouper, another stark solo project that skirts the line between songwriting and ambient drones. Rather than shoegazing, instead it’s more like the aftermath of that feedback and swirl of sound, diminishing returns of reverb with a stark, intimate, human touch. ‘Ashes to Ashes’ is a gorgeous prelude, but it’s with ‘Belle du Jour’ that Merz’s gloom rises to the foreground more overtly. That graceful combination of fragility and melancholy characterizes most of This Kindly Slumber, from the stark, concise songwriting of ‘And All of Your Dreams’ to the more sprawling ephemera of closing beauty ‘Lonesome Tame.’ I find Merz’s songs to be at their most effective when she allows them to just decay freely, delicate drones of voice, guitar, and synths reverberating indefinitely in some cases. That she allows her voice to often come through clear enough to understand her vocals is a nice bonus, although I find myself lost in the overall sound more than focused on her lyrics. And that may be the point after all. Highly recommended for fans of Grouper and other Kranky artists, such as Labradford, Windy & Carl and Mirroring.
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All words by Matthew Mercer of Ear Influxion
Additional editorial by HC