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Phil Mouldycliff, "Written on Water"

cover image This is a mixed bag; there are sections that are incredible and beautiful but unfortunately there is an equal amount of music that is difficult to digest. It sounds like something I should be into, however there is something missing or that I am not getting that is preventing me from fully appreciating this album. Maybe it is the fact that many of these pieces were written and recorded for exhibitions and installations that leaves the music feeling a little empty.



"The Stillness of Chinese Jars" and "Kettleblack" both reflect Mouldycliff's best musical sides. The chiming calm of "The Stillness of Chinese Jars" makes for an exceptionally pretty piece of music. Taking this prettiness and warping it, "Kettleblack" makes for an unsettling and disorientating five minutes. There is a strong sniff of David Lynch-style atmospherics throughout the piece and the sounds conjure up very lucid images; in my mind's eye I can see a very slow shot panning across an empty, rather ordinary but slightly askew room.

The longest piece on Written on Water breaks the spell that Mouldycliff initially casts on the listener. It is hard to pick out what it is exactly that makes "A Speculative Atlas (for David Mitchell)" so hard to listen to. It all sounds a bit clichéd, the sustained notes on the wind instruments and the flurries of piano noodlings bursting in every now and then. One element that I felt did work is the sound of children pushed way back in the mix. The first time I listened to it I did not know whether kids were causing havoc outside or whether it was on the CD.

On the final piece, "Spirit of Place," there are elements both of The Hafler Trio and Nurse With Wound which is not surprising considering the involvement of Colin Potter as producer. This is where Mouldycliff actually shines, even if it is heavily indebted to what other artists have done before. Mouldycliff never reaches the same psychedelic heights as these other artists but it is hard not to slip into a daydream listening to the heady drones of this piece.

Aside from those few pieces where Mouldycliff loses his footing, Writing on Water is an enjoyable but a bit of a journeyman selection of experimentations. When he is at his weakest, he is still at least worth a listen to try and figure out what is not sitting right with me. I feel his music is something I should appreciate but cannot pinpoint the cause of my discomfort while listening. Every year I read Conrad's Heart of Darkness because I do not enjoy it and feel I must. One day it surely will fall into place. I get the same feeling from this album. There is something worth investigating here but there is also some invisible barrier in my way.



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Review of the Day

Davide Balula, "Pellicule"
Active Suspension
Now this is what electronic-tinged folk is supposed to sound like. After all the hype that this sub-genre has received, after countless hit-and-miss or just plain miss releases, let it be known that Davide Balula gets it right. Pellicule is his debut full-length and it shows a tremendous gift for melody and mixing it all together just so, with no glaring errors or flaws from which points should be deducted. Balula doesn't just write songs: he creates atmospheres for his little organisms to cohabitate or war against each other or form parasite-host relationships. The emphasis is on the notes that are played, and what is used to create them is almost incidental. Most tracks do not even feature vocals, and it's of little consequence, as the warm tones and noodling devices still sound like the outpouring of a very genuine heart. When there are words they are in English or French, and those on the album's opener are convoluted and random at best, but then that's kind of the point. This is supposed to be music that requires examination before its ultimate purpose is realized. Every time I listened to this record I picked up something I hadn't heard before, and it differed when I was playing it in my car, on my home stereo, or on my portable with headphones. These are just pure, sweet, guitar-based laments with pulsating beats and processed breaks galore. At the end of it all, it's a compelling and heartfelt creation, one that is sure to infect anyone who takes it on. 


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