Summons of Shining Ruin is Shinobu Nemotu, an ambient composer for whom the word ‘prolific’ was almost certainly coined. With hundreds of pieces released on a multitude of labels, it’s tricky to pick a favourite, but this was the very first work of his I heard, and I still play it a lot.
It’s called ‘Installed Teleportation Machine’ but for me its combination of tape loops and found sounds should be the soundtrack to a video tour round one of those abandoned cities you read about on the internet – empty tower blocks with trees growing out the windows and car show rooms full of orange and brown 1970s cars.
Sonically, it’s like a more accessible William Basinski, or the contemplative parts of the last Godspeed You! Black Emperor album, but with a gentle, melancholy feel to it which I hear in all of Nemotu’s work.
If you only listen to one track, listen to this one:
This was just about the first thing I stumbled across on Bandcamp. I was drawn in by the album name, I have to admit, before I even got to the music but having started it streaming through my crappy laptop speakers (before I spent a bit of money to upgrade everything) I was instantly captivated and it remains an album I go back to again and again.
I knew I was going to love this music the second that the gentle guitar of opening track ‘Other Spaces’ was interrupted by a police car siren in the background. Kramer stops, the car passes by, and he begins again from where he left off, a happy accident which somehow only adds to the track, marking the point at which pastoral folk begins to descend/ascend into something more abstract and less easily defined, and the track moves towards an ambient drone, full of subtlety.
And the whole album follows that (non) pattern – nothing is exactly what it seems, everything is in flux and liable to change. Stand outs include ‘Grass Burning in the Palm’ where Kramer adds his own voice to birdsong, saxaphone, hollow, echoing drums and what sounds like xylophone to create a fascinating soundscape, and some wonderful guitar playing on ‘For Bruce Langhorne’ – but there’s not a failure on here.
One of the few downsides of loving Krautrock is the fact that there’s only a limited amount of it. Sure, there are bands on the fringes of the scene to be picked up once you’ve obsessed over all those albums by Can, Kraftwerk, Faust and the rest of the big names, but they tend either to be not all that good or only have a single LP to their name. So it’s great that labels like Polytechnic Youth continue to release modern music which so beautifully fills that painful void where new kosmische music should be.
With shades of early Neu! , Future Tense is an electronic trip into space, full of retro sounding keyboard hooks and floating Spiritualised style vocals but with enough of a voice of its own to make the sound fresh, even to my elderly ears.
And they’re Scottish too, for extra brownie points!
Nathan Hall claims to create music which ‘mixes psychedelia with baroque touches’ and that’s as good a description of this debut EP from the Soft Hearted Scientists front man’s other band as any.
Beginning with the pop psych of ‘Everybody’s Burning Effigies’, a wonderfully upbeat XTC-like slice of 60s tinged loveliness, the EP slides gracefully into the more musically mellow ‘Song for the Flowers’. ‘Like a Setting Sun’ adds some orchestration and has a bit of a Peter Gabriel feel to it, before the record comes to an end with ‘Catacombs of Camden Town’, back in XTC (and Genesis) territory.
It’s a short listen, but a rewarding one, and the ideal way to discover whether you like Hall’s work (or are wrong, and don’t!)
This is the kind of thing Bandcamp seems designed for to me. Mellow, laid back layers of Krautrock influenced improvisations by four Finns – plus a cover of a Guru Guru song!
Aïr apparently started life as a noise duo, but morphed into a quartet in the late 90s, and put out this collection of four tracks recorded in 1999 in early 2017.
There’s a bit of everything in here. Chilled freeform psych guitar lines meander up to noisy garage freakout on ‘Multiple Mirages of a Nomad’, someone plays digeridoo on the more experimental live track ‘Kula Ring’, the cover of Guru Guru’s ‘Next Time See You at the Dalai Lhama’ is solidly enjoyable and ‘Camel Hair’ is a proper extended guitar work out, ending in feedback and effects pedal antics.
Nothing massively original, then, but well worth seeking out and spending a few quid on…
I drive along a winding country road every weekday, going to and from work. Last December, I ended up stuck in traffic on that road in the dark, inching painfully slowly forward, with snow falling and thick flakes being caught in the headlights. ‘Under Blankets’ was playing. It was a perfect moment.
It’s a 40 minute long ambient piece of gentle swells and lulls, slow and soft, all rounded edges and muffled tones, and perfectly suited to a certain mood. Fraser McGowan, who is Caught in the Wake Forever (and also Small Town Boredom whose wonderful ‘Autumn Might Have Hope’ I have bought twice on vinyl)) is the finest crafter of melancholy (in its most positive sense) music working today. All of his releases are worth a listen, but this is a lovely, tranquil place to start.
Not my usual kind of thing really, but I heard ‘If I Followed my Heart’ somewhere, and was delighted to discover there was an entire album of the same kind of clever, witty guitar pop from the same artist.
The album is perhaps best summed up by Bird‘s description on their Bandcamp page:
‘content warnings: gun, sexual assault, being trapped, losing the will to live (cheerful ukulele context)’
It genuinely does contain all of those elements, plus a smattering of more than decent guitar and violin playing and some killer melodies. Like a cheery sounding Joni Mitchell singing some especially cutting Leonard Cohen lyrics, this is a surprising and often moving record (‘Smile’ is a particularly extreme example) which really deserves a physical release.
While you’re waiting for that, you could do far worse than picking up the download.
Bandcamp is positively littered with this kind of thing; huge, sprawling collections of themed cover versions by bands you’ve largely never heard of. The themes range from the tentative (single band efforts which are effectively just ‘stuff the band can actually play’ – though this set by Bournemouth based band Chuter is really good) to the pretty damn ambitious (there’s a great 45 track collection of Pearls Before Swine covers out there with not a single duplicate – or bad – track).
This Stooges covers collection falls somewhere in between those two stools. Crucially, though, the quality is great, and the approaches taken pleasingly varied (odd that more than a fifth of the running order is taken up by versions of ‘Ann’ though – it’s not exactly the most obvious Stooges cover). There are relatively straight-forward garage/noise covers, of course – including, predictably but enjoyably enough, ‘1969’ and ‘I Wanna be Your Dog’ – but also experimental soundscapes (‘We Will Fall’) complete with what sounds like someone taking a hacksaw to a violin. Nouvelle Vague-tinged euro electronica (‘No Fun’), and all sorts of heavy, bone weary twists on the Stooges tale.
Oh, and most importantly, the fabulous Frank Chickens do a cover of ‘Not Right’, so – frankly – there’s no reason not to own this, right now.
It’s actually not all that tempting to write something about each of these ambient masterpieces, because ambient (or drone or classical or experimental or however else you personally choose to label such music) as a positive listening experience depends on the listener’s mood and what they hope to get out of it, as much as on the artist’s intentions, and so it all tends to get a bit pretentious really quickly. I’d be talking about ‘washes of sound like warm water on your hands after a walk on a winter’s day’and ‘the echo of distant galaxies sliding across one another to dissolution’ before you could click Play on the first track.
So, instead, here they are – my current favourite five ambient/drone/call it what you will tracks on bandcamp.
Stars of the Lid – Dopamine Clouds over Craven Cottage
Rameses III – When the Phone goes Dead
Tim Hecker – Obsidian Counterpoint
David Colohan – Arc of a Snowfall III
Caught in the Wake Forever – To Wild Flowers Forgotten
Obviously (says me, a middle aged man with a huge record collection), physical artifacts are generally to be preferred to streaming and downloads, but in the case of ‘Time Shifts’, I’ll make an exception.
Not, I hasten to add, because their four track debut EP is rubbish (far from it, it’s great), but because the download from the always reliable Mega Dodo Records contains two extra tracks in addition to the four dream-like slices of keyboard magic on the vinyl, and every bit of 62 Miles from Space’s output is worth savouring.
Combining late 60s synth sounds with carefully positioned vocals on some tracks (check out the title track below), and Kraftwerk-infused electronica on others, the oddly named 62 Miles from Space (a ‘virtual’ band created by two talented Moscow-based guys who collaborate entirely via the internet) have created a short collection of songs which deserves to be more widely heard.