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Michael Hodgson

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  1. Both Jack Hertz and Christian Fiesel are prolific experimental electronic artists in their own solo works with multiple releases every year, but their occasional collaborations together have resulted in some very special music, with the mellow prog- electronic ambiance of 2016's `Fast Rails' being particularly memorable. The two are at it again here in a very different manner, with m00m being the name given to a project inspired by their love for Moog synthesizers and Krautrock music. It's a vinyl-length collection of ten schizophrenic and feverish electronic distortions and trippy sound collages, mostly twisted into short bursts with some prog-electronic arrangements and subtle ambient touches as well. `For a Snowflake' makes for an intangible, gargling and bubbling electronic opener. `Klick und Kluck' offers skittering looping programming over gentle ambient synth washes, `Walking in the Shade of Giants' is a drowsy electronic trickle laced with chiming unease, and `4 Fat Guys in a VW Bug' is a rough jangle of Heldon-like scuzzy and serrated electronic manipulation. The dreamy electronics of `Run Aground' take a calmer meditative hold, and the relentless `Stranger on Second Thought' pulses with a near industrial-like imposing machine coldness looming over fizzy colourful eruptions. The menacing `A Box of Marbles' reverberates with gurgling electronic bleedings as flighty shuffling slivers blissfully rise around to bring light, and the Harmonia-like `Scavenging for Trouble' is wistful and life-affirming with its shimmering cooing caresses. Reflective and achingly beautiful, `Every Tuesday Morning' opens as a submerged crystalline ambient drone that lifts to life with slinking pulsing programming and light symphonic Mellotron-flecked touches carefully infiltrating, and `No More Clouds' closes with twitching n' glitching machine tantrums over an unceasing pattering of low-key stalking beats that almost flirt with dance/trance touches. Get into the guts of the album and it takes a very disorientating, mesmerizing hold with its mix of edgier trippy dazes, kaleidoscopic dreamscape atmospheres and embracing ambiance. It proves to be a seductive and colourful Krautrock-modelled prog-electronic work, so let's hope for more team-ups between Fiesel and Hertz in the near future, especially in regards to this new m00m project, as there's so many ideas emerging and already on display on this vibrant and hypnotic debut. Four stars. (this review first appeared on the Prog Archives website on 26th March 2018).
  2. If 2018 is anything like the previous twelve months, it means a steady stream of solo works and collaborations ahead for sound experimentalist Jack Hertz, and `The Last Songs of a Dying Tribe' sees the man going it alone for an diverse series of pieces reflecting on ancient indigenous tribes and rapidly vanishing ancient cultures. Sure, Hertz could deliver a series of predictable tribal-flecked ambient tracks, but instead he offers fluctuating experimental electronic fragments, hypnotic prog-electronic journeys and intangible freeform sound collages that make up a very immersive and enticing near-seventy minute exploration. Looking at some of the highlights, opener `Fragrant Perfume of Pleasant Memories' is a subtle collage of treated percussion, hazy acoustic guitars, drowsy electronic washes and slinking bass, with traces of unease creeping around the edges of an otherwise heady chill-out. Restless and glitching electronics seep over raga-like dustiness throughout `Nyami Nyami Swells the Zambezi', `As if There is No Afterlife' is frequently a sauntering psychedelic bass rumination, and the ten-plus minute `On Being Ancient, a Faculty for Surviving Disorder' is a dreamlike ambient drift of ebbing synth drones. `Arabesque Forms in Pale Blue and Browns' almost lurches with restrained trip-hop grooves, and `Lost to the Ignorance of Progress' embraces those unhurried and carefully unfurling electronic atmospheres of the early Klaus Schulze albums like `Picture Music' and twists it with a languid jazzy waft. The fifteen minute `History, a Computer Stored in Tomorrow' starts as a surreal Steve Roach-like ambient drone of ringing crystalline slivers that turns enveloping and oddly embracing as fizzing synth caresses and lightly pattering percussive tribal beats circle the piece, but ultimately it distorts into schizophrenic twitching oblivion in the climax. Bleeding electronic pools permeate the hallucinogenic `Charred n' Pulsed', and the closing title track `The Last Song of a Dying Tribe' is skittering and frantic. Listeners unfamiliar with Jack's work should probably investigate something like his more obviously melodic space music/Berlin School-modelled double `Planet Red' from 2016 first, or his gentler collaborations with the recently late Wolfgang Gsell from last year such as `Sleeping Trees on Earth' and `Blue'. But `The Last Songs of a Dying Tribe' is a challenging, varied (maybe even a little maddening!) and eclectic set that is frequently, seductively disorientating and endlessly fascinating. Four stars. (this review first appeared on the Prog Archives website on the 2nd of March 2018)
  3. The duo of Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius deliver nothing in the way of tunes or melodic moments on their second Cluster album from 1972, `Cluster II', nor is it particularly similar to the subdued spacey drifts of the frequently near-ambient debut. Instead, noisy experiments, druggy improvisations and cryptic instrumental collages of guitar, organ and electronics are the order of the day here, closer to the darker atmospheres of the early Krautrock-era works of Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze. Opener `Plas' is a churning stormy drone that grows in stature amidst a heartbeat-like wavering klaxon and harsh ebbing and flowing serrated slivers. A snarling and grumbling electric guitar line repeats over and over into infinity throughout `Im Suden' with ambient distortion washes shimmering to the surface behind them, everything swamped in an unceasing brewing rumble of feedback. Chiming guitar tendrils try to snake their way through an air of shuffling electronic spirals and pulsing machine hisses that slowly abate to allow the briefest of light to enter, and `Fur Die Katz's alien-like twitches and scratchy distortion close the first side, a piece that could have easily found a home on Tangerine Dream's proto-dark ambient `Zeit'. The suffocating `Live In Der Fabrik' on the flip side is a cavernous environment of chugging machine oscillations feverishly ripped apart by delirious electronic ripples, and the growing menace of `Georgel's sombre droning organ with the lightest of crystalline airy wisps flitting about could have easily worked its way out of the spacey improvised section of Pink Floyd's `A Saucerful of Secrets' and `Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun' live performances from the late Sixties. Closer `Nabitte' wraps the disc on smiles and sunshine...no, wait, make that mucky clanging nightmares of brooding jagged piano and groaning eerie voices makes for deeply unpleasant stuff, pretty much the perfect soundtrack to the seediest snuff tape. `Cluster II' really gets under the skin with grubby fingernails, making for supremely uneasy listening but also one that remains wickedly addictive and completely consuming, laced beginning to end with that dirty sense of danger that permeates all the most satisfying Krautrock works. Four stars. (This review first appeared on the Prog Archives website on April 2ns, 2017.
  4. Electronic sound experimentalist Jack Hertz could never be called predictable, and along with numerous solo releases to date throughout 2017, each completely different to the last, he has also found time for some fascinating collaborations. Equally inspired ambient/electronic artist Wolfgang Gsell has previously teamed with Jack on several occasions (the most recent being back in January with the superior and intelligent `Sleeping Trees on Earth' disc in conjunction with the Trees for the Future project), and here they deliver an ode to the great blue bodies of water that cover a large majority of our planet. Thankfully we're not talking some bland new-age release with pretty and comfy acoustic guitar strums around lapping water sounds, instead `Blue' is a hypnotic fusion of immersive prog-electronic and enveloping ambient that somehow remains accessible without becoming too lightweight or insubstantial. On the opening nineteen-minute title track `Blue', the pair weave a shimmering crystalline soundscape of undulating electronic caresses, full of lulling ambient rise-and-falls, fuzzy pulses and twitching, unraveling washes with only the faintest of percussive teases flitting in and out, mostly relegated to the final minutes. There's almost a drowsy, more subdued (submerged?!) take on the soloing-heavy approach of Klaus Schulze on his early Seventies works throughout, and some darker twists near the climax, but overall the languid atmospheres take on a blanketing bliss that stretches on for eternity. `Ripples' is a relatively punchy interlude in a comparison between the two near-twenty minute bookending pieces of the disc, where pristine electric piano ruminations ring with the mystery around hypnotic electronic fuzziness, and some sparse programmed beats help ground the piece into a more compact arrangement that stops it drifting into pure ambient breezes. Hallucinogenic closer `Tides' invites complete immersion, a slow to unfold spacey sweep of unceasing approaching/retreating liquid caresses that lap around fizzing synth ripples and serene cascading swirls. It might still be a little too freeform and directionless for some prog-electronic listeners, but the album refuses to grind to a halt by settling into static drones and is too full of colourful movement to be mistaken for solely airy ambient music. Both Jack Hertz and Wolfgang Gsell are too clever the artists to deliver something so predictable or obvious, and instead they present `Blue' as a lightly psychedelic, completely encompassing and a mellow dreamy soundtrack to float away to. Four stars. (This review first appeared on the Prog Archives website 20th July 2017)
  5. 2017 sees the release of another collaboration from Jack Hertz, this time alongside German experimental sound artist Eisenlager. `Masks' offers eight interpretations for a broad range of ceremonial, religious, theatrical and ornamental masks, with the album frequently weaving ancient old-world elements with modern electronic styles, making for a varied but surprisingly coherent collection of ambient, prog-electronic, electronica and drone experimentation over field recording sound collages. `Zangbeto', traditional voodoo guardians of the night, is a drowsy tribal chant over lurching beats, `Avatar', a graphical representation of a computer user's alter ego or character is unsurprisingly modern slinking electronica, and `Topeng', a dramatic form of Indonesian dance blends twitching looping electronics to bring a gamelan-like hypnotic quality. `Batak' grafts chilled panning beats to shivering Steve Roach-like outreaching ambient pools, the drowsy `Skin-Walker' crosses murky beats with violent electronic slivers, and `Death' is an eerie and subtly consuming machine drone that never becomes completely pitch-black. Low-key acoustic strums pervade the disorientating droning drifts of `Gas', and `Ngil' is a surreal dark ambient closer full of unease, with ebbing dozy washes lapping around pulsing beats that skitter in and out of the darkly psychedelic atmosphere. The duo here have crafted a completely fascinating work for the Aural Films label with a cool concept that allowed them to offer a very colourful and eclectic range of interpretations of their source material. `Masks' also sees the artists at a good middle ground, with many pieces reasonably accessible without being vaguely commercial, yet always remaining intelligent and challenging, but nor is it as uncompromising or difficult to get your head around as might have been expected. Open minded electronic fans should definitely look into this diverse collection, and let's hope for more collaborations on this subject between Hertz and Eisenlager in the future, as it seems like they've just scratched the surface here! Four stars. (This review first appeared on the Prog Archives site on the 28th February 2017)
  6. Initially starting out as an electronic engineer, German artist Robert Schröder devoted himself fully to music by 1978, resulting in his fascinating debut album `Harmonic Ascendant' a year later. Despite the album sharing sounds in common with other artists working in what became known as the Berlin School style of vintage Seventies electronic music, his debut is remarkably original and fully formed with a distinctive voice all its own. In addition to subtle influences of Klaus Schulze (who's producing credit here will likely be an instant point of note for many listeners), if anything Mike Oldfield's `Tubular Bells' is a gentle inspiration as well, as Schroeder incorporates a diverse range of instruments such as acoustic guitar, piano and cello into his lush drifting soundscapes, creating a very grounded musical environment compared to his cosmic-bound compatriots. It's a couple of minutes before the side-long title track `Harmonic Ascendant' even reveals its electronics, instead opening with a gently melancholic piano and guest contributor Udo Mattusch's acoustic guitar theme. Slowly but surely electronic veils carefully begin to lift in prominence, almost taking in a wistful classical symphonic elegance, guest Wolfgang Tiepold's cello groaning sadly to life as synths waver in quivering, aching ecstasy. The cello begins to prance stirringly, delicate subdued sequencer trickles seeping in as the piece begins to grow in drama and presence, with a trilling little Moog tease in the final moments followed by a Rick Wright-like sombre yet warm solo piano close both welcome surprises to end on. The second side holds two unrelated extended pieces, yet both are initially built around similar mumbling Vocoder recitations that take on a vague hypnotic quality. Whirring and buoyant synth washes and fizzing ripples unfold around those robotic rambles in `Future Passing By', eventually joined by a commanding Mellotron choir rising in heavenly majesty. Confident cascading synth caresses spiral over `The Day After X', ringing sequencer chimes and upfront hypnotic soloing duelling back and forth in between a maddening Vocoder psalm. While the first side is the superior of the two, this is still a fully-inspired, dazzling release (and that beautiful cover painting from Swami Deva Anubaddha looks especially enticing on vinyl), made even more impressive by its minimal approach and careful subtlety. `Harmonic Ascendant' achieves a fascinating unison between electronic and acoustic elements that makes it truly stand out amongst the colder, deep-space explorations more commonly found in the vintage era of the progressive-electronic genre, and Berlin School followers looking for a unique interpretation of the style should investigate this one immediately. Four stars. (This review first appeared on the Prog Archives site on 16th April, 2016)
  7. It's hard to believe that psychedelic space rockers the Ozric Tentacles are now thirty years and twenty studio discs (if you count those first six cassette releases) into their career! By the time of their terrific 1999 Album `Waterfall Cities', the band had begun evolving further than ever before in an electronic-driven direction, and it was a move that would affect their sound to this very day. But although the last few albums have hardly been poor (there seems to be some opinion that `The Hidden Step' from 2000 was their last truly great moment), there was a sense of repetition sinking into their music, perhaps even signs of a band just going through the motions a little, even though each album still had plenty of stand-out tracks throughout. But it's a welcome surprise to find that `Technicians of the Sacred' is their best release in many years, and this bold, confident and creatively inspired two disc musical statement has all the acoustic, electric, ethnic, world, ambient and psychedelic flavours expected of the band, as well as wholly embracing modern styles such as Goa and psy-trance to concoct a fascinating mix as always! The title suggests that these two discs reflect the coming together of the technological modern and future age with the ancient, spiritual and meditative ways of old. Much of the first disc moves these cyber hippies the closest they've come to more purely electronic journeys, and there's definitely less histrionic guitar wailing than any other Ozrics album. Unsurprisingly, their soundworlds are constantly upbeat, spiritually blissful and still just a little schizophrenic! As most Ozrics pieces end in a completely different place from where they begin, it's best to simply look at some standout moments instead of entire tracks. `The High Pass' is a pretty reliable Ozric opener that sounds exactly like you'd expect them to, all synth trickles and bubbling effects, pulsing beats and delirious electric guitar meltdowns. Tribal chants float around ripples of synths, a joyous trilling loop and slow-burning guitar in `Butterfly Garden', and `For Memory' holds blissful chiming guitar ruminations and gurgling beats. `Changala Masala' is a deep electronic psychedelic trance and world music race with slinking programmed bass and frantic guitar bursts (dig the manic throwback to their earlier track `Kick Muck' ever so briefly too!), after an almost oriental themed intro `Zingbong' morphs into one of those loopy reggae diversions that the band do so well, and `Switchback' delivers cascading and joyful synth melodies that could also get you dancing in between subtle moments of long ambient low-key stretches, and they even almost flirt with a kitschy J-Pop style in the opening! Guitar is more prominent throughout the second disc, and in some ways represents the earlier era of the band more frequently. `Epiphiloy' harkens back to the dusty mystery and eastern bazaars of `Saucers' off `Strangeitude' where hypnotic acoustic guitar intertwines with gnarling synths, gongs, hand percussion, chimes and some biting heavier electric guitars to emerge as something of a modern classic from the Ozrics, and if the band can play it in a concert setting, it's sure to become a live favourite for many fans! Dream-like synth ambience glides through `The Unusual Village' with cutting little electric guitar spikes, and your mind grinds to halt with the lethargic and distorted groaning synths dropping mud-thick grooves on `Smiling Potion'. `Rubbing Shoulders with the Absolute' (now there's a title that electronic ambient musician Steve Roach likely wished he'd got to first!) has some lovely sedate and reflective moments due to glistening electric piano fingertips and washing Alpha Wave Movement-like synth caresses, and album closer `Zenlike Creatures' combines ethereal synth waves full of wonder and equally soaring and chilled guitars. Even in the few less interesting moments, the album still sounds like addictive sonic ear candy all the way, and while it may not always hold their strongest or most memorable tunes, it's been a while since Ed Wynne and company have sounded not only so focused and determined to impress, but wanting to prove that they still have plenty of worthwhile music to offer and are more inspired than ever. `Technicians of the Sacred' is the Ozrics at their most vibrant, colourful and downright cool for some time, and it's great to have them back and finding their tentacled muse again! Four stars - and bombard your senses by playing it louder for the best results! Who knows, it might even have you thinking it's one of the best and most addictive albums of the prog year! (This review first appeared on the Prog Archives site on 23rd November 2015)
  8. 2016 has been an interesting year for progressive-electronic/ambient icon Steve Roach. A few months back, the artist released two wildly different collaborative works with younger electronic musician Robert Logan, `Biosonic', which fused distinctively modern twitching liquid beats to subdued ambience, and `Second Nature', a sparse and pinpoint-fragile piano-based work. After a free download release `This Place to Be', `Shadow of Time' sees the artist back on his own and returning to the lengthy droning minimalist pieces of contemplative atmospheres and meditative moods he is often associated with these days, but still evolving and refining his work with the precision and subtlety that only a master of the genre can so carefully deliver. Despite press release statements comparing this new work to two of Roach's defining early releases, `Quiet Music' and the landmark 1984 dreamy and comforting electronic classic `Structures from Silence', `Shadow of Time' also flirts with darker reflective moods and the most careful of softly melancholic ambience. The title even has a somewhat ominous hint of confronting some inevitable things in life that no-one is eventually immune from being faced with, but the music finds a common ground of the dark and light so that the album is neither too airy or too stark. The opening 38-minute title track, devoid completely of any sort of percussive elements as is the entire disc, unfolds with an aching and reaching sweeping melancholy, but careful repeated listens reveal some skilfully subtle reprised themes that effortlessly weave in and out of the piece, with hopeful slivers of light teeming with life and reassurance beginning to break through and bring a delicate balance in the second half. Caressing synth washes glide through each-other in dreamy, drowsy embraces in the almost 24-minute `Night Ascends' (which is also available in an extended and reworked 78-minute digital download version that will hopefully see a stand-alone CD release in the near future), bringing a sensation of winding down as the day ends and finding solace in sleep with the promise of a new day ahead. `Cloud of Knowing' probably comes closest to the above mentioned important Roach titles (as well as lightly reminding of the opening title-track off his 2014 classic `The Delicate Forever', just without the psychedelic trickles of that one) with approaching and retreating ebbing fuzzy waves that quickly glisten with warmth, and it provides the close of the disc with a sense of hope and contentment, a quality slowly but constantly revealing itself throughout this entire set. It's sometimes hard not to be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the back catalogue of music Mr Roach has, or the amount of effort it takes for one of his works to gradually sink in. But given enough patient listens where the music is allowed to seep into your consciousness, `Shadow of Time' proves to be utterly captivating and deeply moving, a subtle and timeless work of great depth and genuine emotion that grows in power with each new closer listen. Only time itself will reveal if this is one of his true modern electronic classics, but there's every indication it will go on to be counted among his very best. Four and a half stars (and add an extra star for Michael Karcz's mesmerizing cover art). (This review first appeared on the Prog Archives site on 27th September 2016)
  9. In addition to the sublime `Shadow of Time', a pair of very different collaborations with up-and-coming electronic musician Robert Logan and a stunning archival live release `Pinnacle Moments', progressive electronic/ambient icon Steve Roach closes out 2016 with no less than three complete brand-new studio works, all offering glimpses of very different aspects of the artist's personality, genre bending and constantly exploring musical mind. Of the three, `Fade to Gray' is a long-form moody drone, and `Painting in the Dark' a lightly psychedelic pure ambient work, but this one, `Spiral Revelation' is constantly lively, and, like its colourful cover art, full of a pulsing energy, often in the form of heavy rhythmic-driven compositions that Roach doesn't step into all that often these days, making it another very welcome and exciting change of direction. `We Continue' starts the most gently and prettily, an opener that will become an instant Roach classic, holding traces of his early years with the honed intelligence and subtlety he's mastered over the decades. Whimsical chiming notes ring amongst glistening pools shimmering to the surface with the same joyful and comforting love that flitted through `Reflections in Suspension' off Roach's seminal 1984 classic `Structures from Silence', a nurturing innocence and comforting embrace at its very core. The fizzy beats of the ringing `Unseen Hand' skitter out of rising/falling caresses, the relentless `Finger on the Pulse' unravels with danger, mysterious electronics bleed and seep through `A Righteous Thing', and `Primary Phase' is a restrained head-nodding chill-out, growing strident beats and cinematic slivers weaving tastefully together. But the closing twenty-minute title track `Spiral Revelation' is a masterclass of deeply atmospheric and enigmatic prog- electronica, and is likely a piece that vintage electronic/Berlin school fans will greatly appreciate. Endlessly hypnotic with just a hint of early Klaus Schulze alien danger and the grace of Robert Schroeder's `Harmonic Ascendant' but given a modern and vital interpretation, undulating beats grow in presence and rippling unease with subtle surges forwards and retreating waves back, locked forever in an unceasing spiralling loop. A stark pure-ambient coda is exceptionally haunting, and it wraps the disc in a surprisingly emotional and subdued manner. It's very welcome to see the artist delving back into another more melodic, energetic rhythmic-based work so soon after 2015's `Skeleton Keys'. This collection provides endless movement and momentum but crucially doesn't skimp on the most minute of ambient intelligence constantly coating the background to give it a delicate richness, and it proves instantly that ambient albums can still be full of life and vitality. `Spiral Revelation', along with the other two wildly different above-mentioned simultaneous releases here, ensures Steve Roach wraps a wildly successful and artistically stimulating series of intelligent releases throughout 2016, and sets up the new year as surely another inspired, creative, divisive and absolutely vital period for the prog-electronic/ambient icon. Four and a half stars. (This review first appeared on the Prog Archives on January 9th, 2017)
  10. What a fascinating one-off `Rainbow Dome Musick' turned out to be in the diverse catalogue of guitarist Steve Hillage, as well as a completely ground-breaking work overall. He may have offered sublime Canterbury Scene-related offerings such as `Fish Rising' (not to mention his time with Gong and Arzachel) and spacey rock works with the trio of `L', `Motivation Radio' and `Green', but this 1979 album he composed with his partner Miquette Giraudy is something else entirely. Recorded especially for the Rainbow Dome at the Festival for Mind-Body-Spirit at the Olympia London that ran from April 21-29 in 1979, it has become one of the seminal and definitive ambient/progressive electronic works of the Seventies that still maintains its incredible status to this day. The album is split into two completely instrumental side-long pieces. `Garden of Paradise' is a pool of soft running calming streams, meditative chimes, shimmering electric piano tiptoes, glissando guitar wisps, rippling loops and weeping ethereal guitar strains that gradually build in rapturous ecstasy. Ebbing washes of spacey wavering synths seem to hover in the air, a sense of reflective stillness pervading the mood. The second side's `Four Ever Rainbow' holds soothing chimes, groaning electronic trickles, mysterious electronic drifts, tranquil delays of electric guitars, time-altering synth caresses rising and falling, and waves of serene glissando strains reach for the heavens lifting aching veils of angelic cries. `Rainbow Dome Musick' is just as iconic as other albums that successfully blended spacey electronics and new age/ambient atmospheres with guitar such as Ashra's `New Age of Earth', and it's one of the few albums that can completely alter the ambience and temperature of your environment. `Rainbow Dome Musick' was an album way ahead of its time when it was released, its aura and mystique has maintained for over 35 years now, and it still sounds absolutely timeless today. Five stars for a classic and definitive ambient/electronic/new-age work. (This review first appeared on the Prog Archives on January 13th, 2016).
  11. I literally voted `all of the above'! I follow several labels - Syn-Gate, ...txt, Aural Films, Harmonic Resonance, Projekt, Virtual/Ishq, etc are some instantly off the top of my head - and chances are I make purchases pretty regularly with them. Friends (mostly the online kind) will constantly make recommendations, or post updates from other artists that leads to exposure to new albums/artists constantly, especially modern and new stuff. Older music I will often come across at local record fairs I attend several times a year, which will always be on vinyl and usually the more obscure/unknown titles/artists. I also constantly take notice of reviews which lead to more suggestions. In short, every one of the above options are ways that I discover new electronic music, so every box got a tick!
  12. `Slow TV' is a term used for a type of live `marathon' television coverage of an ordinary event in its complete length, popularised in the 2000s by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK), beginning with the broadcast of a 7-hour train journey in 2009. It is from this event that sound experimentalist Jack Hertz, collaborating with fellow electronic artist Christian Fiesel, draw inspiration, and the duo (following up their terrific earlier related work `End of the Steam Age' from April 2016) have crafted a fascinating album of both vintage and modern influenced expansive progressive/ambient atmospheres, cool electronica and experimental soundscapes, `Fast Rails', and there's the option to purchase an additional DVD of the above described stock NRK footage that runs the 77 minute length of the disc as part of a `crossover' package to compliment the album, which works to beautiful effect. `Crossing the Horizon' opens with subdued pulsing beats that grow and retreat in stature over reverberating sustaining electric drones and fizzing panning washes, subtle slinking electronica-flavoured grooves emerging subtly throughout. Both `Around the Bend' and `Glimmer on the Tracks' have a flowing Steve Roach-like shimmering aura teeming with mystery, with the latter almost able to pass for a lost Tangerine Dream soundtrack piece, and the lightly danger-laced `Bergen' fuses expansive Berlin School moods with shadowy electronic beats, electric guitar distortion, Mellotron-like choirs and ruminative acoustic guitar flecks that remind of Robert Schroeder's `Harmonic Ascendant' in fleeting moments. The strident guitar strums weaving in and out of the hovering electronics of `Station' hold a faint bluesy tone (and just listen for that lovely if brief Mellotron passage in the final moments), the psychedelic `Park Sides' is both playful and mysterious with a mellow The Orb-like lurching cool drowsiness to its slowly revealing slithering beats and sequenced trickles that perfect fuses old and new sounds, and the distorted electric guitar strains over wavering overwhelming electronics backed to a constant driving beat of the closing title track `Fast Rails' build to a wild and disorientating finale. It sounds like it could be completely dull, but the gently hypnotic visuals and the frequently floating music accompaniment work to sublime effect on this Aural Films netlabel release, and this is very far removed from placid slow-moving generic ambience or tired progressive-electronic clichés. Completely removed of the visuals on the DVD, the `Fast Rails' album in itself is a diverse and deeply immersive electronic collection of extended works, but together the two mediums achieve a mesmeric cohesion. It's also not a slight in any way to consider the disc a fascinating and cool background listen, and it turns out to be an unexpectedly lovely musical surprise that can be enjoyed on a number of levels from two intelligent and unpredictable artists. Four stars out of five. (This review also appears on the Prog Archives website)
  13. With its tranquil cover art and title, it might be easy to expect a bland wishy-washy New Age album with `Secret Coves', but sound experimentalist Jack Hertz would never resort to something so vapid and easy. Jack's numerous (and constant!) albums are always anything but straightforward, covering any style from ambient, progressive-electronic/Berlin School to drone from one project to the next, and this one is no different, a single 51 minute track album that weaves an immersive, even lightly hallucinogenic environment. `Secret Coves' reveals itself to be a drowsy and constantly-evolving fluid soundtrack, and while there's no actual melodies or obvious themes, lulling synths create a very hypnotic and disorientating atmosphere instead. Slinking beats lurch in and out of the piece and take on a subtle groove here and there, any light tribal-like elements that appear are distorted into subdued oblivion, and the whole piece is never completely breezy or lightweight, with occasional gently melancholic traces floating in and out of the serene surroundings. Sometimes comparable in only fleeting moments to Ishq or the occasional psychedelic Steve Roach works, the dreamy and mysterious `Secret Coves' is easy to have on as a background listen, but uneasy little slivers and unexpected sonic detours mean it's anything but a pure easy-listening experience. Those who like their electronic music at its most unhurried, drowsy and mysterious will discover a fascinating and shimmering work here, and it's an intoxicating fusion of nature and electronics. Three and a half stars, rounded up to four. (This review was first published on the Prog Archives, August 24th 2016.)
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