LJ Music Reviews

When backing up my Livejournal (read: tearing down my LJ and moving the content here) I find a few music reviews. Though some are kind of fleshed out, I figured it would be quicker to just bring them all to this one page and use anchor names to link to them.

Ambulance - Bells and Whistles

Review

As I have mentioned before, I first became aware of Ambulance through the YouTube.com submission I Love New Tokyo, a gorgeous piece of short cuts throughout a day in Tokyo with "I Am Not Zen" playing as background music. Tracking down a CD was a bit hard. Not only is there a band known as Ambulance LTD that most search engines assume you mean, but there is also an earlier (disbanded?) band called Ambulance that has a different sort of sound. Plus, once I found the CD it was a limited edition EP (500 copies, only).

I ordered it right away, waited a few days for it to came in, and gave it a listen. Basing expectations of a band's sound off a single track is tricky and so I had no idea what to expect. I sort of assumed an Explosions in the Sky (to whom, thanks to Emily, I had been recently listening) type sound, which turned out to not be far off. Labels are always a tricky thing. "Post-rock" means something, I am sure, and is often used for bands like this since "progessive" as a label tends to involve grander themes and "experimental" tends to involve a stranger sound. Somehow, between rock and progessive and experimental, you get this thing called "post-rock" which uses rock style stuff to make new sounds. I'm just going to call them "music" and "kind of rockish" and "fun to listen to" and be done with it.

The EP has six tracks. Starting with "The Golden Egg" we get a little calypso and whistle number with kazoos and a rattle sound. It is short and acts as an introduction to the EP as a whole. The next track, "Not the Same Boy" is a vocal track backed by banjo and a couple of guitars and a synth (flute and voice style effects) with drums coming in fairly late into the game. One of the key instruments is the voice, which simply repeats the phrases "I am not the same boy" and "someone told me I am".

The next two tracks are somewhat more easily predicted based on "I Am Not Zen". "The Woods" uses the same slightly changing cycles the earlier tracks do, with more a focus on traditional rock instruments. It is a generally upbeat number. "Grainer" also uses these rules, but with the additional occasional accompaniment of traffic noises. Both of these are pleasant and different sounding, without being too sweeping or grand.

For my vote, "I Am Not Zen" is the cream of the EP. With a strong bass line, appropriate use of sparse drums, and proper use of lead guitars to emulate more traditional Asian folk music while still keeping the vibe of the EP intact. We again get the Ambulance way of cycling music back and forth with increased little changes.

The last track is the most unusual for the EP as a whole. "I Can See Mars" is driving drum noise punk song with overmixed vocals and a wall of sound technique. The only lyrics I catch are "Looking up at the stars, I can see Mars" and "get ready to roll".

Overall, the EP is quite good and unique enough to be more than worth the purchase. At the time of this review, it is marked as being "backordered" and I have no idea if this means it is done or not (not sure how that works with limited releases). Maybe they will keep copies going, because it is enjoyable.

Apoptose - Schattenmadchen

Review

The CD begins with a low synth note, the sound of crows, and builds into an electronic whisper, like a television left on in the other room and echoing off of cement walls. Then comes the sound of storms, static and birds.

Apoptose's Schattenm├Ądchen is an hour long ambient + noise CD that largely fits in as a back of consciousness mood numbers. The main theme of "Asche", the opening track, brings to mind a storm heard through a window to the outside.

"Violet Silence", though, feels more like an ode to click springs and distant alarms. Minimalist not-notes and not-beats again playing almost with the idea of the sound being heard in the distance. It is overdubbed with someone (not Siratori?) reading an English translation of Kenji Siratori: trees-grief barren of parallel feeling replicant that was aspirated to anti-faust of the wrong abnormal living body that clone-dives the acid of fire to hybrid corpse mechanism plug in.

By the time you get to the title track, you have a good balance of most of the CD. Strummed strings with a small girl's whisper mixed in deep note hums. A slight percussion strikes, and we hear Kenji Siratori's voice come in the back notes. Following this is a loud synth-note and voices at the edge of hearing. The girl and the man move back and forth, dominating at different times, sometimes with a expansive handful of notes. Sometimes with low but steady drum rhythm.

My impression of this album is quite favorable and it will probably enter into frequent rotation as background sound. It has a distinct mood and a sense of control not always encountered in the experimental electronica and noise genres.

The three tracks described above are representative of the CD as a whole, which I would call Dystopian Landscape Minimalist Ambient if that term has any meaning (and it doesn't, but you probably understand it). The overall sound tends to be low key, and this is good because noise-bient tends to try and bring itself to mind a little too much, ruining both its ability to be a mood setter and not quite giving you enough to latch on to in front of consciousness at the same time.

The remaining tracks have similar moods brought to mind. "Ba-137m" is a static ode that works about as well as any static ode. "Karla" again uses the distant sounds of voices and talking in blend with repetitive, minimal notes. The voices, this time, seeming to be German and possible something of a dialogue. Isolation is a strong mood brought forth.

"Zwei Sonnen" plays with fairly strong dark synth notes and slides around to loud blares of heavy notes. Shoving itself into front and center, it falls outside of the strength of the rest of the album and is grouped with "Ba-137m" as the two weaker tracks.

"...und null Sekunden" is back to the same general territory as the earlier songs. For whatever reason, this one brought to mind a night spent sleepless in an old abandoned, but still lit, subway station. Sort of a mood of being abandoned in the midst of something living.

Then there is a second CD, which has, I think, four alternative mixes or sister tracks of "Schattenm├Ądchen". It is identified as being Kenji Siratori and Apopstose and is named by kanji characters for (I think) "Little Shadow Girl". Each is from 10-13 minutes long, and tends to be really low key with the hint of Siratori tweaked and a collection of low rumbles and static sounds. Definite background fodder, and not mentioned on any website detailing the album that I have seen.

Golden Age w/ Kenji Siratori - Psychotronic

Review

This fits strongly in the hard, electronic sound category. Golden Age (or, I think, GOLDEN AGE) is a Russian electronic act out of Moscow and Kenji Siratori is a post-human Cyber-cut-up (in the way of Gibson via Burroughs, not in the way of Kaufman via Max Headroom) from Japan. The former provides the sound and the latter the vocals.

Golden Age has a strong, hard beat. The phrases "dark" and "driving" or "gritty" might be applied if I was up on the lingo. As it is, their sound is just unpolished enough to be borderline annoying, which works well for what they are looking for. They overuse their favorite beat, and the forefront sounds could have been a little more experimental, but this is not a field full of diversity. Quite often, entire CDs in this field sound pretty much identical with only slight variations showing up. You take it or leave it. If you are a fan, then it is something with which you are familiar and have worked past.

And, of course, this helps to highlight the more "playful" tracks when they do arise, like the more up-tempo but just as dark "Strange Gods" and the two part piece with wider horizons "Corpse City" (these two and "Space" are my faves). Beyond this, it is sort of pointless to highlight individual tracks. Not only are they very much of similar cloth with one another, but this CD, I find, works as a whole more than as a part.

The main theme throughout is a constantly rambling spiel in Japanese by Kenji Siratori, going from unaffected to enhanced depending on the mood. I have NO clue what is being said, and if his novels are any indication, its is more about a sensation of trying to think like a slowly breaking down computer anyhow (which is HONESTLY effect he is trying to go far...though, well, results may vary...you can see some of his works on Amazon and that is pretty representative of his whole). His voice really works for me, it definitely makes the album. I would have liked to see some more rhythm and a few different tempos on top of the inflections, but it just constantly spills out and fills in the CD. And, considering that one of his lines starts "watashi" and ends "computa" his monologue might have a completely different feel from his written works (in other words, it begins "I" and ends "computer", which is more structured than his novels).

I'm going to go ahead and assign this CD a rank of good, it has a beat but you shouldn't dance to it. Nevertheless, it makes a good ambient album for its type. It is strangely relaxing in its "anything but" sort of way.

Written by W Doug Bolden

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