Saturday, July 19, 2008

Favorite Netlabel Releases: Part II

Well, it's been awhile since I wrote and posted the first entry featuring my list of favorite netlabel releases. I wrote in detail about three of those releases and said I'd write about the others as I had time and energy. So, after a six week break, due mostly to laziness and time wasting, here's the other three albums:

Colin Everingham - Skies of Error - (Enpeg Digital)- This album is distinguished from the others on my list by being the only one that you have to pay for, albeit only $2.00. Probably the best classification of its musical style would be dark IDM. It is an album I think of as "cloudy day music." It evokes for me images of dark clouds rolling in from the Northwest across the wide open landscape of Northern Illinois, where I live. That alone would be reason enough to love it, as far as I'm concerned. The sound of it is dark (though not opressively so), melancholy, and sometimes ominous.

The opening track, "In Memory, Differences Collide," has an almost wistful feel to it and makes me think of first waking up on a grey, overcast morning. After that opening, the album really gets going with the darker, more rhythmic "Subtractim," which features a chiming music box melody overtop of the gloom. "We Can Never Be" features a more ominous sort of overcast melancholy that evokes a deep sense of loss. The rest of the album largely follows suit, in varying degrees, from the template set by these three tracks. The short interlude "Similarities in Mind" features some darkly melodic piano playing, and the following track, "Corduroy Coast," features what sounds like an acoustic guitar. Several tracks feature a nice low bass sound that really adds a fullness to the music, while the beats and rhythms definitely reflect a mechanistic, Autechre type feel, but are nicely mixed in with the rest of the music, never becoming grating or obnoxious, even at the their most pronounced. At times, I am reminded of Gridlock, though with a less industrial feel. The album ends with "You Were Gone," six minutes of beatless, melancholy ambience. Another perfect album for a rainy day.

(Val)liam - Early Reflections - ( This excellent ambient album was originally released on the Dewtone netlabel, which has since reformatted its webpage and no longer releases new music, as far as I know. It can still be downloaded, however, from In contrast to the Colin Everingham album discussed above, this album brings to mind sunshine and cloud flecked blue skies. It has a dreamy feel to it that evokes heat waves rising on a slow summer afternoon when you're out of school and September still seems far off in some impossibly distant future.

After opening with the relatively short "Orange Horizon," which features a vaguely ominous and anticipatory plucked acoustic guitar melody, the album moves into two seven minute tracks of wonderfully dreamy, slow, warm, ambient music, which feature what sounds like sampled bird or animal noises mixed in. While the use of such sounds can sometimes evoke images of cheesy new-age nature music, these tracks avoid that possibility, much like Future Sounds of London's "Lifeforms" album, though where that album calls to mind a trip deep into some exotic jungle, these tracks evoke something more familiar and closer to home if still tinged by the mysterious. The rest of the album pretty much follows suit from these open tracks. The acoustic guitar makes a reappearance on a couple tracks, with the rest of the album mostly featuring beatless, warm, vaguely melodic, drifting ambient pieces. The album ends with a surprise, however, as the last track, which is also the title track, starts out with the dreamy ambient feel of most of the other tracks but then quickly morphs into a beat driven, ambient trance track. Though this might sound like a jarring incongruity with the rest of the album, it actually works rather well, as the track never loses the sunny, warm ambient feel of the album as a whole and calls to mind images of flying off into the bright blue summer skies that the rest of the album has evoked so well.

I own a lot of ambient music and this album is a standout, not only among netlabel releases but in general. It occupies a unique place in being deeply peaceful and evoking the natural world without devolving into new age cheesiness, while also avoiding the detached, isolationist feeling of a lot of ambient music. It's the perfect soundtrack for sitting in the backyard on a slow, sunny, summer afternoon and listening to the sounds of the neighborhood around you.

Xerxes - The Mirror Formula - (Xerxes webpage) - If the last two albums featured were perfect for cloudy and sunny days respectively, this album is more of a night or evening record for me (Of course you can listen to any music anytime you want. These are just my subjective impressions). Stylistically, this album falls somewhere in between ambient and chillout music.

The fittingly titled "Prologue" begins the album with dark, haunting, drawn out notes and builds a sense of anticipation by slowly adding in an ominous pulsing bass line and an almost martial sounding drum part before descending again back down to the opening notes. For a comparison, think of the progression of Massive Attack's "Angel" from beginning to end, though this track is far more restrained than that one. After that introduction, the album picks up with "Pirayana," a beat driven piece of moody ambient/chillout. This is followed by "Can You See This," a slower piece of ambient/chillout music, with a prominent piano melody. From here the album is nicely paced, moving back and forth between the darker, more beat driven ambient/chillout pieces and the slower more melodic, piano driven pieces. The album ends on what might be its best track, "Christmas Layers," which falls somewhere in between the more beat driven pieces and the slower more piano oriented tracks. An unforgetable, beautiful piano melody is played over a steady mid-tempo beat. The production here, as on the other albums included in this list, is excellent.

Since this album was released, Xerxes has begun to receive attention from some record labels and has released a couple of tracks on various artist compilations which can be purchased from the iTunes store and elsewhere. This album, however, is absolutely free from the Xerxes's webpage, which features a large selection of excellent tracks available for free download.

Well, that's it for my all time favorite netlabel releases. I hope you've found this list informative and have maybe been introduced to some great music you didn't know about before. I would also like, at some point, to do a list of my favorite netlabel compilations but I don't know when I'll get to that. I'll also try, when I have the time and energy (my constant mantra) to post on other music I find interesting and worthwhile, and to inform readers about good deals and cool finds that I make. Peace.


colin said...

hey, Gordon.
Thanks for the comments on my "Skies of Error" release. It's a very nice review. I posted it on my site.

-Colin. :)

Gordon Hackman said...

Hey Colin,

Just now noticing your comment for the first time. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. Glad you liked the review. Thanks for making your excellent music available for such an affordable price. Are you working on anything else for release?


colin said...

Yeah, i know its been a while since my last release, but its been seriously hectic around here.
I'm slowly rebuilding my music room, and will be able to dive into something new very soon. i have some ideas that will be quite different than last release.
I'll keep my site updated with any news to talk about.


Gordon Hackman said...

Thanks for the update. I definitely understand being busy, as that frequently seems to be my life lately too. I feel pressured to post new things here, but I'm tired and short on time lately.

Anyway, I'll be watching for whatever you do next and am intrigued by the thought of something different.