Sunday, December 1, 2019

Shadowfall Equinox VI

"The Hungry Ghost That Lingers"

[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.]

I really thought that, after narrowly missing being the first mix to achieve a sixth volume, surely Smokelit Flashback would be the second.  But it’s funny how things work out.  See, I listen to a lot of music at work, and, when I’m doing more mindless work that I don’t have to allot that much mental capacity to, upbeat fare rules the day: Salsatic Vibrato is a go-to, but Sirenexiv Cola or Totally Different Head are good choices too.  When I need to actually concentrate on stuff, though, I need something that’s a bit mellower, a bit more background-able.  For many moons Smokelit Flashback fulfilled that need for me.  Lately, though, Shadowfall Equinox has been coming to the fore.

This makes perfect sense, of course.  As I began describing way back with the inaugural entry into this series, and perhaps culminating with my deeper exploration of just what “ambient” means as a musical style in the third installment, SfE is all about ambient, and ambient is all about contemplative thought and creative endeavor.  As Brian Eno put way back in ‘78, “Ambient Music is intended to produce calm and a space to think.”  So it’s a crucial part of my work regime, and every once in a while I decide I need some more variety ... something new.  And that invariably leads to a new volume of this mix, my tribute to the Hearts of Space program that really kicked off my mixes as they exist in the modern sense.  So here we are.

Just as with Salsatic Vibrato VI, this mix is falling into a groove, but also showing even more variety as it goes along.  Volume I, you may recall, featured 3 tracks from Jeff Greinke and 2 from Black Tape for a Blue Girl, whereas this mix has only one track from each and no repeated artists at all.  In fact, only 3 more tracks are from artists we’ve seen before in this mix, leaving a whopping 13 tracks from new artists.1  Sure, that means that several artists we’ve come to expect—such as This Mortal Coil, Falling You, and Stellamara—aren’t here this time out.  But fresh faces are always good: new blood keeps the mix from going stale.

Of course, old blood provides continuity, and we weren’t about to see a Shadowfall installment without hearing from Jeff Greinke, who is the only artist to appear on every volume.  Though we’ve explored a few other albums from this ambient master, we haven’t fully exhausted the album where we started, Wide View.  “Glide” is another track typical of that amazing album: slow and autumnal, with a crispness somehow reminiscent of the brittleness of first frost.  From Black Tape for a Blue Girl,2 also a fairly typical piece, “Tear Love from My Mind,” from one of Rosenthal’s early(ish) albums, A Chaos of Desire.  There are muted, muddy vocals in there somewhere, but mainly it’s a swirling, floating, goth-drenched ethereal piece that epitomizes the darkwave sound.  And, while Kevin Keller didn’t show up for our very first volume, he’s been on every volume since, and this one is no exception.  “Peace” is a calm, soothing piece from only about a decade ago, and shows off Keller’s style admirably.  His marriage of ambient and neoclassical is sometimes referred to as “ambient chamber music,”3 and this track embodies that pretty perfectly.

Our other two returning artists are Jade Leary and Jens Gad, both of whom we saw for the first time last volume.  “Salvatrice,” is a fairly typical piece of gothic minimalism from Leary, while “El Momento” harkens pretty strongly back to Gad’s days with Enigma.  It’s tough to beat “The Orbiting Suns” (which is his piece from last volume), but this one is pretty solid too.

The Cocteau Twins are not technically a returning artist, but only because their track from last time (“Sea, Swallow Me”) was a collaboration with Harold Budd.  For this volume, I thought it high time we have a proper, solo4 effort from the Cocteaus.  “How to Bring a Blush to the Snow” is another beautiful piece off Victorialand5 which provides that amazing, dreamy sound that the Cocteaus are so well-deservedly known for, as well as a touch of a dark reminder that they started out as a goth band.  Angels of Venice we’ve not seen before on this mix, but of course we’ve seen them plenty: mainly on Numeric Driftwoodevery volume so far, in fact—but also on Penumbral Phosphorescence and even Fulminant Cadenza.  “The Sins of Salome,” from their second album, has a bit of Middle Eastern flair (as the name implies), but mainly its wordless vocals and sombre cello carry us, relaxed and untroubled, into our closing track.  Likewise, Télépopmusik has so far been relegated to Smokelit Flashback—specifically volumes IV and Vwhere their downtempo trip-hop fits in perfectly.  But “Swamp” is something a bit different: not quite creepy, but not quite not creepy either, the science-fiction background noises and the lonely jazz saxophone backed by strings in the foreground combine to make something more downbeat and ethereal than their usual fare.

Many of the new faces here result from an exploration I did looking for neoclassical bands I had not yet discovered.  Mira Calix, for instance, I was assured (by the Internet) was neoclassical, but I’m not sure I buy it.  South African born, London bred, Calix is mostly electronica of the decidedly weird variety, though she does have a tendency to mix in classical instrumentation.  “Schmyk” is a minimalist piano piece with some concurrent synth noodling and not as much discordancy as she seems to be prone to from my limited experience with her thus far.  Opener “Somnolence” is from Swedish dark neoclassical band Arcana.  They remind me quite a bit of Dark Sanctuary, the French dark neoclassical band we first heard on volume II.6  For a while, this volume just opened with “How to Bring a Blush to the Snow,” but eventually I decided it needed a short intro piece, and “Somnolence” is jsut too awesome to pass up.  I don’t like all of Arcana’s output,7 but this track is great: quiet, just slightly menacing, and building up to something.  Here I pay that off with the Cocteaus, which I think is a better choice than whatever Arcana used on their album.  Finally, Ludovico Einaudi is an Italian pianist whose spare “Solo” (from Nightbook) is the perfect closer for this set of late-fall-inspired contemplative tunes.

As for the new ambient artists, the collaboration bewteen Deborah Martin and J. Arif Verner is actually one I’ve had for a while now, but I think I must have forgotten about it and only recently rediscovered it.  It’s pretty amazing, if not particularly genre-transcending, and “Vicis Pro Vicis” is one of the most spare and ethereal pieces on an album where spare and ethereal are the words of the day.  Whereas Esther Garcia, who I originally found on Jamendo with one of those sets I like to refer to as “soundtrack portfolios,” is harder to pigeonhole.  Like all such albums, her Incidental Fussion is very eclectic, with no two tracks really sounding alike, but the delicate, airy beauty of “Air Elements” is the one that seemed perfect for this mix.

Like Télépopmusik, Laika is mostly downtempo trip-hop,8 but “Dirty Feet and Giggles” is more of a weird interlude on its home album.  Here it makes a bare-bones, echoey, too-long-to-be-a-bridge into the second third of the volume, and specifically into Kid Loco’s amazing remix of Talvin Singh’s “Traveller.”  The original is a meandering piece of rave-adjacent electronica from Singh, a Brit known for fusing Indian style into drum&bass.  What French DJ Kid Loco does with it here, on the other hand, is much closer to downtempo/chill.  It’s just a hair away from landing on Smokelit Flashback, but it’s just light and relaxing enough to end up here instead.

When it came to picking a volume title, it was slim pickings indeed this time out.  The line I used is from the Black Tape for a Blue Girl track, supposedly; I sure can’t hear it, but the Internet assures me it’s true.  And it sounded cool in any event.

Shadowfall Equinox VI
[ The Hungry Ghost That Lingers ]

“Somnolence” by Arcana, off As Bright as a Thousand Suns
“How to Bring a Blush to the Snow” by Cocteau Twins, off Victorialand
“El Momento” by Jens Gad, off Le Spa Sonique
“Vicis Pro Vicis” by Deborah Martin & J. Arif Verner, off Anno Domini
“Dirty Feet and Giggles” by Laika, off Sounds of the Satellites
“Traveller [Kid Loco's Once Upon a Time in the East mix]” by Talvin Singh [Single]9
“Swamp” by Télépopmusik, off Angel Milk
“Salvatrice” by Jade Leary, off And Come the Sirens
“Tear Love from My Mind” by Black Tape for a Blue Girl, off A Chaos of Desire
“Sleepwalker” by Colourbox, off Colourbox
“Godnat” by Analogik, off Søens Folk
“Peace” by Kevin Keller, off In Absentia
“Schmyk” by Mira Calix, off One on One
“Glide” by Jeff Greinke, off Wide View
“Air Elements” by Esther Garcia, off Incidental Fussion
“Find the Song” by Mary Youngblood, off Dance with the Wind
“The Sins of Salome” by Angels of Venice, off Awake Inside a Dream
“Solo” by Ludovico Einaudi, off Nightbook
Total:  18 tracks,  80:19

In the “what the heck are these guys doing here?” category, we have first and foremost Colourbox, the not-really-dreampop alternapop labelmates of the Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance.  And, since they were part of the 4AD stable, members of Colourbox appeared in the music collective This Mortal Coil, which is how I discovered them.  Colourbox is known—inasmuch as they’re known at all—for eclectic, upbeat songs, but “Sleepwalker” is something entirely different: another spare piano piece, but (unlike Keller’s “Peace”) with a more lonely sound, almost like the background music in the sad part of the movie, where the protagonist is feeling low before the climactic comeback.  Next up, Analogik, a Danish electrojazz group who came to me via LittleBigPlanet.10  “Godnat” is uncharactistically slow and meditative; its electronic sounds—reminiscent of an old ship creaking on the waves—are almost hypnotic here.

And, last but not least, I found Mary Youngblood when I went looking for some Native American music ... not the traditional sort, but more modern fare infused with Native American elements and, if possible, performed by Native American artists.  This is how I discovered that there used to be such as a thing a “Best Native American Music Album” Grammy, and that Mary Youngblood had won two of them.  I confess that I don’t properly appreciate all her songs, but her flautism is undeniably beautiful, and “Find the Song” is easily my favorite tune of hers.

Next time, we’ll swing back a bit more upbeat, to our bright-and-shiny videogame-inspired mix.

Shadowfall Equinox VII


1 Although, to be fair, several of them have been seen before here on different mixes.
2 Who we’ve seen on every volume but one.
3 At least Wikipedia refers to it that way.
4 Well, I suppose “solo” is not the right word to describe a three-person band named after twins, but you know what I mean.
5 Feel free to refer back to my full discussion of how I discovered this amazing album.
6 And, since the two bands started within a couple of years of each other, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a whole dark neoclassical scene in Europe that I’ve missed out on.
7 Come to think of it, I don’t like all of Dark Sanctuary’s stuff either.
8 Only they’re from the UK instead of France.
9 As always, I hate linking to YouTube.  But this one doesn’t seem to available for purchase anywhere, at least in the US.  Maybe if you’re overseas you’ll have better luck.
10 And, thus, they will eventually start showing up on volumes of Paradoxically Sized World.

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