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Alog, "Amateur"

cover image Espen Sommer Eide and Dag-Are Haugan return as Alog for yet another fantastic album. They further refine their symbiosis of natural and electronic sounds, always sounding at once earthy and cosmic. Never utilizing weird sounds just for the sake of it, the dozen tracks on this CD are all pieces of music that sound more than beautiful. As expected from Alog, this is a remarkable album that reveals more and more with each listen.

 

Rune Grammofon

What I enjoy most about Amateur (and this applies to pretty much all the other albums put out by Rune Grammofon) is the attention to detail in terms of sounds and sound treatments. Eide and Haugan are not afraid to leave a sound as it is if it has the right character or to tweak it if it needs a little help fitting in with the rest of the sounds. Although I must admit, sometimes it is hard to tell what has been treated in the studio and what is a "real life" sound as there are so many unusual instruments used on and built for the album. Not only that but Alog approach voices from an interesting perspective, the vocal layering of "Write Your Thoughts in Water" sound like a living church organ (and from what I can tell, there no little digital trickery going on here).

Amateur has a dreamy, meandering feel to it. Many of the pieces (especially the aptly named "The Learning Curve") begin with random sounding noises, like the recording has started while the two musicians are trying to figure out what instruments they are playing. However, as if by magic, it all comes together to form a delicate and captivating whole. A good example of this is "The Future of Norwegian Wood," which for the first half of the piece is a cut up of the sound of nails been hammered into wood which makes for interesting listening on its own. When the treated piano comes in over this unusual percussion, the effect is startling and gorgeous.

Most of the album is fairly laid back but Eide and Haugan can bring the music to the boil when they want to, the powerful staccato of "The Beginner" and the middle part of the lengthy "Bedlam Emblem." While Amateur is far from a boring album, it would have been nice to have one or two more livelier pieces on it but that might be entering the realms of greed. As it stands it is a cracker of an album, a logical and fitting continuation of Alog's journey through sound.

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Larsen

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Review of the Day

MATMOS, "THE CIVIL WAR"
Matador
Upon first listen, The Civil War sounds completely unlike anything I've ever heard from Matmos. Initially, it is quite a struggle to place this new album in context with their previous work, which is characterized by minutely detailed electronica full of samples constructed from non-musical objects and field recordings. In stark contrast, most of the tracks on The Civil War are non-conceptual, traditionally structured songs with easily digestible melodies and chord progressions. Many of the medieval, folk and symphonic instruments on this album reach the listener untouched, without the usual precise surgical edits and digital processing that Drew Daniel and MC Schmidt have built their career on. This will be quite a shock for those who have become acquainted with Matmos through albums such as Quasi Objects and A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure. Even The West, though it was purportedly an exploration of country and blues, still shared the same fascination with sample-derived audio minutiae. So, it's fair to say that The Civil War is quite a departure. Luckily, the gamble pays off. I believe The Civil War is a singularly original record, effortlessly merging the medievalist whimsy of late-60's British folk revivalism with the collective unconscious of America's folk music past, all glued together with Matmos' incredible ear for sonic detail. On The Civil War, Matmos dares to allow simple melodies and crisply reproduced instruments to assert themselves as the primary element of the music. For the most part, Matmos have masked any obvious laptop editing and sequencing, preferring instead to let the digital processing underscore and accentuate the songs, rather than deconstruct them. Drew Daniel and MC Schmidt have spoken about the influence of The Incredible String Band on the new album. With classic albums like The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter and Wee Tam, the Incredibles created a new musical lexicon with their unorthodox, free-form combinations of medieval, Celtic, American, Oriental and Indian folk traditions, which were blended with amazing fluidity and imbued with a pastoral, psychedelic mysticism all its own. With The Civil War, Matmos are creating an ISB-like amalgam for the post-techno generation. "Regicide" opens the album, a lovely tribute to "Chinese White," the opening track to the Incredible's 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion - a hurdy-gurdy drone highlighted by a stately recorder melody and gently fingerpicked acoustic guitar. "Zealous Order of Candied Knights" is a rollicking Rennaisance symphony complete with horn fanfare, courtly drumming and some curiously Appalachain fiddle playing courtesy of guest Blevin Blectum. Throughout the album, instrumental tropes of the American Civil War are resurrected, along with the incongruous drone of synthesizers, including a vintage Buchla expertly played by Keith Fullerton Whitman AKA Hrvatski. These compositions have a free-form looseness, gradually finding themselves within the chaos, morphing into bright, patriotic concertos for piano and electric guitar, or gentle acoustic tributes to John Fahey or John Renbourn. The disarming "YTTE" utilizes samples from a fireworks display, expanding into a shimmering symphony of chimes, autoharp and guitar. "For the Trees" is the repeated musical motif of the album, a sweet, loping melody redolent of a breezy Fourth of July picnic. "The Stars and Stripes Forever" is an odd pastiche on John Philip Souza's patriotic marching-band classic, mixing a sampled instrumental rendition with throbbing beats. "Pelt and Holler" is constructed entirely from samples derived from a rabbit pelt, and as such is the only time Matmos engage their well-known propensity for constructing music from microcosmic sound events. After this brief tangent, Matmos tune into the British folk influence again, this time on "The Struggle Against Unreality Begins," where a majestic steel guitar melody is subtly intensified by sampled sewer pipe, blood and glass. Matmos' unexpected cultural cross-germination of folk traditions has yielded an album of exquisite beauty, an album that on repeated listens becomes more complex even as it affirms its simplicity. The Civil War is simply amazing.

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