Sunday, July 30, 2017

Shadowfall Equinox IV

"It's Dark and It Looks Like Rain"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  The series list has links to all posts in the series and also definitions of many of the terms I use.  You may wish to read the introduction for more background.  You may also want to check out the first volume in this multi-volume mix for more info on its theme.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]

This is the fourth volume IV I’ve written about so far.  And, much like the previous three,1 this mix of contemplative, mostly-ambient music is settling into a groove.  By volume IV, you’re looking to revisit some old friends at the same time you introduce some new ones.  And I think this volume delivers on that promise admirably.

So, right off the bat, we of course can’t have a Shadowfall Equinox mix without our old friend Jeff Greinke.  Having utilized 5 tracks off of his excellent album Wide View over the past 3 volumes, I decided it was time to branch out.  The main problem with that idea, though, is that Greinke, like Joe Jackson, never does the same album twice.  And, where Wide View is perfect for this mix, no other album of his is.  Still, we can find a few tracks here and there, and I went looking for them, scouring his back catalog as best I could.  What I came up with for this volume was “A Splash and Thunder,” off of Timbral Planes.  The majority of that album is dark and echoey, and a bit creepy.2  “A Splash and Thunder” retains a slight air of that creepiness, but it’s mellow enough to work here.  As the name implies, there’s a bit of (fairly abstract) thunder in this tune, which works well for this mix, because rainy days are perfect for staring out the window and just thinking about life.

Tim Story is also back,3 with “The Moors.”  It’s not quite as perfect as “Without Waves” was, perhaps, but it has a synthy, burbling water quality that I find very soothing.  Kevin Keller also makes a return appearance—his third in a row—with “Innocence,” another quiet piano-driven track, even slower than the previous two, that fits the mood of this mix quite well.  Stellamara, who graced us with tunes on volumes I and III, gives us an encore performance with “Leda,” a short but memorable track with a somewhat haunting quality.  It’s spare—two instruments at the most, and perhaps even only one, although I’m not sure which one(s).  Hammered dulcimer, perhaps? oud?  Well, no matter what the instrumentation, it’s another beautiful instrumental from the Balkan-focussed duo.  Also, Angelo Badalementi is back with another tune off the Twin Peaks soundtrack, and Hope Blister returns as well with another (even longer) minimalist track, this time off their Sideways promo release.  Finally, Smokey Bandits is back with “Last Mile,” a somewhat lonely-sounding track that’s primarily trumpet-driven.

In the category of harkening back to the inspiration for this mix4 but new to the mix itself, Ruben Garcia makes his debut here, with the same track of his that appeared on Hearts of Space: “The Continuation of Slow Motion,” off Lakeland.  This is a long, slow track, composed mostly of quiet piano melody backed by noises of distant thunder.  In that way, it’s like a combination of the Greinke and the Keller, which of course is pitch-perfect here.  And, being part of the original inspiriation, it by definition helped determine the sound of this mix anyway, so I’m glad to finally present it here.  We’ll be hearing more from Garcia on future volumes.

Then there are the artists we’ve heard from before, but not on this mix.  One of whom is David Darling, a cellist who I also discovered via Hearts of Space, and much of whose work is better suited to the mix we’ve featured him on so far: Numeric Driftwood, where he’s appeared so far on volume II and volume III.  Those tunes were more upbeat and soothing.  “Children” showcases his more somber side, and I’m sure we’ll hear more of that on volumes to come.  And, straight from his appearance on Smokelit Flashback IV, Carmen RIzzo gives us a Middle-East-flavored instrumental, “Strada.”  It’s got a little bit of mystery to it, but it’s still quite meditative, so it works well here.

Our opening stretch, composed of four shorter tracks—ranging from 1:05 to 2:12—also contains a few familiar faces, and some new ones.  I made the unusual choice of opening this volume with a “bridge,” which is really in this case an intro.  In fact, it has “intro” right in the name, and is in fact the opener for Visions by Jakatta.5  It’s called “American Dream (intro),” primarily because it lifts its basic melody from Thomas Newman’s theme for American Beauty.  The full length “American Dream” track is more of a house-style electronica tune, but this “intro” is more quiet, more thoughtful, and it builds into ... well, on Visions, it builds into another track entirely, but here I’ve let it flow into Bruno Coulais’ “In the Bed,” off the Coraline soundtrack.  So far we’ve only heard Coraline on Phantasma Chorale (which is, let’s face it, what that album was made for6), but this particular track is less creepy and child-like, and more fitting for inclusion here.  Plus it flows nicely into another new artist, Twine.  Twine is a long-distance collaboration by two purveyors of downtempo and trip-hop, one on the east coast and one on the west.7  “Small,” off Violets, is a short piece of nighttime contemplation that works beautifully here, and flows perfectly into Jami Sieber, cellist and Magnatune artist, whose pieces we’ve heard on Smooth as Whispercats I as well as Numeric Driftwood II.  “Homage” is also pretty much a bridge piece, building slowly and inevitably up to her fellow cellist David Darling.

Shadowfall Equinox IV
    [It's Dark and It Looks Like Rain]

        “American Dream (intro)” by Jakatta, off Visions
        “In the Bed” by Bruno Coulais, off Coraline [Soundtrack]
        “Small” by Twine, off Violets
        “Homage” by Jami Sieber, off Hidden Sky
        “Children” by David Darling, off Cello Blue
        “Strada” by Carmen Rizzo, off Looking Through Leaves
        “Leda” by Stellamara, off Star of the Sea
        “A Splash and Thunder” by Jeff Greinke, off Timbral Planes
        “Red Water” by Rapoon, off Cidar
        “The Continuation of Slow Motion” by Ruben Garcia, off Lakeland
        “The Downward Pull of Heaven's Force” by Babble, off The Stone
        “Momentary Truths” by Australis, off The Gates of Reality
        “The Moors” by Tim Story, off Threads
        “Innocence” by Kevin Keller, off The Day I Met Myself
        “Plainsong” by The Cure, off Disintegration
        “The Last Mile” by Smokey Bandits, off Debut
        “Sideways Four” by The Hope Blister, off Sideways
        “The Dawn” by Ēbn-Ōzn, off Feeling Cavalier
        “Laura Palmer's Theme” by Angelo Badalamenti, off Twin Peaks [Soundtrack]
Total:  19 tracks,  76:17

Of course, perhaps the most surprising inclusion here is the decidedly non-ambient track from the Cure, which, being the only song on the volume with any words in it at all, naturally provides our volume title.  “Plainsong” is the closest to ambient that the Cure gets on Disintegration, and, like most of that album, it’s quite gothy while not strictly achieving full goth status.8  But the use of the chimes gives it a shimmering quality that offsets the gloom of the lyrics and makes it quite lovely, and very workable for this mix, in my opinion.

Another Magnatune artist, Rapoon is really Brit Robin Storey, who comes to us via :zoviet*france:, who were an early bridge from proto-industrial to ambient.  As Rapoon, Storey is exploring Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian textures with a style often referred to as “ethno-ambient.”  “Red Water” is dark, and minimalist, and you’ll hear just a twinge of exotic lands in its relentless rhythms.  In complete contrast, Ēbn-Ōzn is pure 80s synthpop, and 99% of their output would be freakishly out of place here.  But there’s something about the synth-wash of “The Dawn” which I find irresistable.  They used it as the closer of their only full album, 1984’s Feeling Cavalier.  But I like it better as a bridge, in this case leading up to our closer here, which is the Twin Peaks selection.

And that just leaves our centerpiece.  It opens with another bridge piece, coming off the long (nearly 16 minutes altogether) minimalist trio of Greinke, Rapoon, and Garcia.  This time it’s from Babble, which is what the Thompson Twins morphed into once they actually were down to two people.  Babble isn’t bad, but it isn’t anything to write home about either.  On their debut album The Stone, there’s one good track,9 one interesting track,10 and there’s this: “The Downward Pull of Heaven’s Force,” a minute and forty seconds of slowly building synth noise that starts out like the distant noise of rushing wind and then gradually adds soft notes, like the dawn breaking over craggy mountain peaks.  Which builds beautifully up to Australis.  I can’t remember just how I discovered this great band, who are somewhere between new age and ethno-ambient, but I’m glad I finally did.  In this case, the name doesn’t refer to Australia at all, but rather harkens back to the original Latin meaning (“from the south”), and refers to the fact that this Utah project is spearheaded by Peruvian-born Oscar Aguayo.  There is occasionally some South American influence that you can pick out, but this is not Peruvian-pan-flute-style new age, if that’s what you’re worried about.  Australis has depth, complexity, and their tunes are quite interesting—and “Momentary Truths” is no exception.  We’ll be hearing more from this band, both here and on other mixes.

Next time, we’ll go from a four to a six.


1 Those would be Smokelit Flashback IV, Salsatic Vibrato IV, and Paradoxically Sized World IV, natch.

2 Although not his creepiest, which would have to be Cities in Fog.

3 From Shadowfall Equinox II, that is.

4 That would be the Hearts of Space program “Shadowfall II.”  Refer back to the mix intro for full details.

5 The alter ego of British DJ Dave Lee.

6 Or I suppose it’s probably more accurate to say that mix was made for that album, since Coraline’s “End Credits” is the mix starter.

7 Of the US, I mean, in case any of my readers are not US-based.

8 Okay, maybe “Lullaby” is full-on goth.  Spiderman is having me for dinner indeed.

9 Which I haven’t figured out where to put yet.

10 Which I know where to put, but that mix is a long way from being ready for prime-time.

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