Fluid Radio

Mika Vainio – Life (… It Eats You Up)

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For around seven minutes, you wonder where you are. Extended, sharp, contorted droning outbursts emanate from somewhere, wrestling either to cling to or break free from their origin. It’s like witnessing an alien voice learn how to speak. And then, seemingly from nowhere, IRRUPTION! the music transformed into a massive doom expansion moving with the grace and momentum of tectonic plates. It’s a breathtakingly glorious but agonising moment, one that says everything about what Mika Vainio is setting out to explore on his new album, Life (…It Eats You Up).

This album hurts. Which is not to say that it hurts the ears (although, at times, they take no little pounding), but rather that every one of its 58 minutes comes from a place of sheer, horrified and enraged pain. One hasn’t heard an essay as stark and aggressively wounded as this since Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral. Indeed, the first example of regularity on the album, third track ‘Mining’, is built on a rhythmic loop reminiscent of NIN’s ‘Closer’. Those familiar with Vainio’s work in Pan Sonic may expect otherwise, but beats are emphatically not what this album is about; if anything, their presence can appear disorienting, begging the question of what they bring to the otherwise untethered violence. For it is violence with which one is confronted most—although the nature of the confrontation is one of half-spent energy, angular and wretched. Read more

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Richard Ginns – Sea Change

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Nostalgia is a curious and dangerous thing. Its essential condition – memorialising past events, beautifying them into an idealised rendition of the original – is a kind of historical plastic surgery, and its prevalence in contemporary culture shows no sign of abating. At its best, in the realm of the hauntological, it can become a sharp, incisive exploration of half-remembered memories, in the process losing the pretence that nostalgia, unwittingly but unerringly, inflicts on its subject. At its worst, in the realm of Hipstamatic and the neo-Polaroid, it becomes a cosmetic conceit, a wistful yet phony affectation, positing the notion that things were better or more lovely ‘once upon a time’.

Richard Ginns’ Sea Change exists somewhere between these poles, although more at the Hipstamatic end of the continuum (the artwork features precisely this kind of imagery). Ginns acknowledges that his foray into “the memory of childhood visits to the seaside” is “completely personal”, and that truth presents a further difficulty emanating from nostalgia: in some ways it is so utterly personal that one can barely hope to engage without resorting to nostalgia of our own, making for a rather diffuse, even faintly solipsistic kind of empathy. This crystallises in Ginns’ hope that such imagery “produces a sensation of fondness and memory”; notwithstanding the fact that ‘memory’ isn’t a sensation, the kind of ‘fondness’ of which he speaks is, again, entirely personal, and he cannot rely on the fact that, merely by presenting the listener with ostensibly loaded material, we will instinctively relate to it and be drawn into his memories as though they were our own. Artistically, as anywhere else, nostalgia is indeed a curious and dangerous thing. Read more

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Noveller – Glacial Glow

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Since departing from rock outfit Parts & Labor in 2009, Sarah Lipstate has taken to exploring deeply experimental territory. Under the nom de guerre of Noveller, armed with only a guitar and the determination to subject it to all manner of treatments, she has spent the last couple of years establishing a unique sonic language. In some ways, the title of last year’s album Desert Fires seems an apt description of the kind of soundworld Lipstate creates in her music. From the outset, on 2009’s Paint on the Shadows, her music has often evoked wide, open spaces, although suggestive less of grandeur than the perspective of being alone in the midst of a vast environment. In every sense, Sarah Lipstate creates ‘wilderness music’ (think Gus Van Sant’s film Gerry and you’ll be in the right aesthetic area), combining a sensitive use of restrained dynamics with an impressive sense of patience, allowing her material time to move, rather than hurrying it from place to place. Sometimes this leads in the direction of drones; elsewhere, pulsating, angular shapes are made, like bizarre rock formations.

Her new album, Glacial Glow, finds her in a different kind of wilderness, but one no less austere. Read more

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Aidan Baker – Lost in the Rat Maze

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There will be some who regard Aidan Baker as not just an important part of post-rock, ambient doom music, but as a sine qua non of that scene, perhaps even the benchmark by which its practitioners should be measured and judged. Such is his perceived importance to many, and the sheer scale of his output (Discogs lists no fewer than 93 solo releases, including this one) makes for an intimidating testament to the breadth and abundance of his creative imagination. Size isn’t everything, of course, and it often follows that, the more prolific the artist, the more inconsistent is the quality of their work. Furthermore, it’s interesting how the overwhelming amount of music Baker has created through the last decade serves as both an aid and a hindrance when approaching new releases – we know, broadly speaking, what to expect; equally, we never quite know what we’re going to hear. There are few artists about which that could be said; Aidan Baker’s work is nothing if not enigmatic. Read more

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Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972

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If there’s one thing that characterises Tim Hecker’s music, it’s a spirit of dichotomy, sitting comfortably betwixt smooth, rounded ambient edges and jagged points of noise. Ravedeath, 1972 continues that dichotomy, and embodies another one, combining the effervescent caprice of live improvisation with the cool consideration subsequently brought to bear on it in the studio.

From the outset, this album makes it clear that noise is going to be the order of the day. First track ‘The Piano Drop’ – presumably named for the curious event on the cover – unveils material pushed into overload, although it’s neither harsh nor forbidding, bludgeoning the ears with all the force of a pillow fight. Its spinning surface quickly erodes away due to its own constriction into a more shimmering, pulsating kind of object, that seems to fade rather too quickly (i could happily have listened to this develop for a lot longer). Read more

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United Bible Studies – The Gascoigne Observatory

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A few months ago, United Bible Studies made available in digital form their debut release, Stations of the Sun, Transits of the Moon, which first saw light of day as far back as 2003. Listened to beside the group’s latest album, The Gascoigne Observatory, released last month, makes for a fascinating and revealing contrast. In short, United Bible Studies have come a long way – so far, in fact, that their rough-hewn, folk origins are a distant memory, out of sight and most definitely out of mind.

Yet, while the language and mode of expression heard on The Gascoigne Observatory may bear little resemblance to earlier releases, the group’s strongest and most deeply-rooted characteristic – music emanating from improvisation – is more evident than ever before. And not just evident either; the fluid, coherent way in which the album’s single, 36-minute track unfolds is nothing short of breathtaking. Put simply, there’s not one single moment that doesn’t seem to make perfect sense with what went before; the sense of direction is impeccable, always straight and true, and this alone makes it a remarkable accomplishment. Read more

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Ironomi – Sketch

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While stereotypes abound when discussing music emanating from the east, an acute sensitivity to the machinations and subtleties of nature seems to be an unmistakable, almost ubiquitous characteristic. This, complimented by a profound kind of simplicity, sets such music apart from the preoccupations of the west, which so often gravitate to extremes, either abounding in cerebral filigree or playing around in frothy, superficial nonsense.

For the last few years, Japanese duo Ironomi (いろのみ) have been exploring their own response to the world around them, with a particular interest in the seasons. Pianist Junya Yanagidaira is invariably found in the foreground, generating a seemingly eternal stream of improvisations; at the fringes is Yu Isobe, using his laptop to weave impossibly delicate and restrained contexts for the piano. Despite the prevalence of the piano in contemporary ambient music, their combined approach is a distinctive and somewhat unusual one, demonstrated to good effect on a cluster of releases, of which Recode (2008) is arguably the most assured. Read more

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