Shortcuts #5

shieldpatterns

Shield Patterns – Mirror Breathing
Gizeh Records, GZH68
CD/Digital 2016

Mirror Breathing is a duo from Manchester, formed by singer and multi-instrumentalist Claire Brentnall and producer Richard Knox, who also runs the Gizeh label which released the album. Their career started in 2013, but during these three years they’ve been quite productive, with at least one release per year, including the single “The Rule” remixed by Alt-J and the critically acclaimed full-length “Contour Lines”. Their music is an elegant form of electronic pop, marked by Claire’s delicate voice and an evocative ambience that made me think about Forest Swords. But Shield Patterns definitely goes one step further in terms of a much more concrete and less digital outcome. Despite the fact that “Mirror Breathing” has been entirely recorded and produced by the band, they manage to create an incredibly contemporary sound, blending atmospheric synths with piano, clarinet and layers of reverberated vocal tracks. This doesn’t sound at all like music made in a bedroom using Ableton Live, it has a symphonic feel that finds its highest peaks in the instrumental “On Needing” or in the tracks played with guest cellist Julia Kent (session player for Anthony & The Johnsons, Angels Of Light, Swans, Paolo Spaccamonti and many more). The intensity of this album is undeniable even if the percussion is often limited to electronic glitches and processed cymbals (“Balance & Scatter”, “This Temporary Place”). [Damiano Lanzi]

unland

Unland – Die Ruhe nach dem Sturm
Midira Records, MD 026
CD/Digital 2016

The title of this album could be translated as “the calm after the storm” and I think it’s an appropriate statement to describe the music of this German ensemble. There is a sense of absence and void in their minimal compositions, but there are also traces of the power of nature, as if this void has been created by an overwhelming and hostile force that swept everything in its way. Abstract lines of woodwinds, subtle piano scales, harsh electronic samples and sinister guitar drones; all these elements that make these four small suites, are intended as independent entities left free to move like paint on a blank canvas. It’s not just improvisation, it’s a perfect communion between these three musicians that creates a performance that goes beyond the sum of its parts. It’s remarkable how this ensemble can switch the mood of the composition in a natural, expressionistic way, as it happens in the coda of the title track. All of a sudden the low growl of the guitar fades out, leaving the scene to a serene piano phrase and then delayed guitar notes: the stormy clouds have passed and the sun warms the ground again, as some solitary drops of water still fall from the trees and the animals come out of their nests. [Damiano Lanzi]

hiddenplace4

Hidden Place – Nero Schwarz
Self Released
CDr 2016

After having celebrated in 2014 their ten years of activity with “Retrospettiva”, this influential Italian synthpop/new wave band releases another collection, this time featuring remixes and alternate versions of songs already appeared in their discography. Furthermore, the tracklist includes the 2015 single “Nei Versi di Prevert” and the previously unreleased “Histoire d’Amour”, which is a nice bonus to the compilation, with its pounding bassline, that pristine 80’s guitar and a beautiful arpeggiator in the chorus. The alternate versions are often radically different from the original, offering to the fans an unusual take on their classics. For example, “Alexander Strasse” and “Window Sill” are presented here in a faster and more rhythm-driven version, with an accentuation on the bass frequencies that makes them more dancefloor-oriented, while “Emotional Frequencies” has now a much clearer mix that makes it even more glacial. My overall impression is that Hidden Place’s wish was to compile together songs with a fast bpm and an uptempo beat that could entertain the listeners. I have to say that listening to it while driving to work at early morning has given me the needed energy to face a difficult day in these weeks! [Damiano Lanzi]

vonzachinsky2

Von Zachinsky – Vandringsman
self-released
Digital 2016
Some time ago I favorably reviewed “In Sepulchra Regionum” (dated 2015), one of the previous albums of this original neofolk/cabaret songwriter from Poland. I’ve been astonished to see on his Bandcamp page how his discography has grown in the meantime, including two more full-lengths and one single; he’s exceptionally prolific! In “Vandringsman” the acoustic guitar has a central role in the mix, and it seems like Von Zachinsky has renounced most of the weird instrumentation used in his previous efforts, in favor of a more spontaneous sound. In my opinion the material contained in this album justifies his choice. All eleven songs are really strong on a melodic level and are convincing even with an essential setup. While the guitar playing was already on an excellent level, I notice an evolution in the vocal interpretation: Von Zachinsky’s deep timbre has always been peculiar, but in this record his voice seems so secure and self-confident, creating an ideal link between the East-European folk musical tradition and the French chansonniers. There is also room for some experimentation: the lo-fi synths in “Szczeliniec (Große Heuscheuer)”, the psychedelic wah wah solo in the coda of “Cernunnos” or the retro-electronic detour of the last two tracks.. [Damiano Lanzi]

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