Ambient

Ysbrydion Castell Rhaglan

Deep within the centuries old foundations of Castell Rhaglan lies the spectral residue of battles fought and kings slain. It’s cold, stone ruins a grave for the sodden ghosts of old Wēalas… ⠀
Arcane energy has been conjured with ‘Ysbrydion Castell Rhaglan’, a desolate traverse through the echoing bowels and caverns of a fallen dominion.

Old Tower ‘The Last Eidolon’

The concept of the eidola has its roots in Greek mythology. Spirit entities which temporarily occupy mortal beings to influence and dictate their decision making for desired outcomes before their eternal rest in the underworld. Ambiguous both morally and by nature, legends tell of Helen of Troy being kept prisoner in Egypt while her eidolon mimic was at the centre of the Trojan War, according to the writings of Herodotus.

The arcane energy which lies neglected under the castle ruins and centuries-old sediment of haunted Europe is a source of fascination and inspiration for Netherlands mage Old Tower. A dark ambient project born from the quasi-orchestral pieces featured in black metal, the sole creative force behind Old Tower mysteriously known as ‘The Specter’ has been crafting a series of deeply evocative and eerie synth pieces utterly immersed in the spectral reverberations of empires fallen and battles past fought, both thematically and in texture. While the murky throb of dungeon-synth certainly courses throughout, Old Tower avoids the PC loops and MIDI Renaissance silliness that can befall his/her contemporaries but instead reaches for deeper, alluring, and richer sonic alchemy.

In contrast to the weathered monochrome of previous artwork, Old Tower’s third and latest L.P. glares with a velutinous blood red, a hint of the exotic traverse of mood and space within. Comprised of three chapters, The Last Eidolon tells a story of a kingdom lain to waste by misuse of black magic and the futile reaching for past glory. Faded memories and desolate introspection pervade the entire record, ‘The Specter’ utilising subtle shifts in tone and instrumentation to convey the haunted echoes of the former dominion.

The first chapter ‘Loremaster’ opens with a ritualistic hammer of a gong crashing through the cavernous expanse. Recurring throughout as a motif albeit in differing levels of reverb and dank, shadowy drones and Gothic vocal choirs percolate deep within the stone fortifications before a sharp interruption of unearthly organs and martial drumming, the ghosts of old warning you not to tread further. ‘Shadow Over Thy Kingdom’ has an industrial clangour in its bowels, the distant pomp of ceremonial might and the metallic resonance of the swordsmith striking together around a mid-section of celestial choral intonations like the conjuring of a once great power. Final chapter ‘The Fallen One’ is a more subdued affair, a meander around collapsed archways and decrepit stone of atmospheric strings and funereal advance, the king wearily resigning himself and his empire to the slow, certain erosion of time. The track is sodden with the hissing fall of rain, the inevitable reclamation of nature that awaits all kingdoms.

Instead of merely presenting an album which provides fantastical escapism, Old Tower instead delivers a record which invites you to reconnect with the fertile aura that inspired centuries of storytelling and lore. The Trojan War, King Arthur, Norse mythology, all legends that stir man’s yearning for meaning and purpose in the short, terrible passion of life. The Last Eidolon is an authentic and beguiling soundtrack to the phantom trauma of the sins of our fathers and the buried empires they once ruled.

Sign Libra ‘Sea to Sea’

Silence isn’t silent at all. Bludgeoned by the unceasing demands of our collective labour, we obediently race through life in our useless displays of ‘productivity’ desensetised to the complex aural oceans of activity bubbling away outside our puny societal constructs. Stop for a moment and you’ll hear the piercing visceral hiss of subterranean nature reminding you of its indomitable awe against man’s temporary insignificance.

The sensory ether has been explored by Sign Libra since her debut E.P. Closer to the Equator. Inspired by BBC nature programmes on the rainforest, Latvian artist and producer Agata Melnikova soundtracked the organic microcosm of the jungle with a wide-eyed wonder of liquid arrangements and airy synths. Now aiming for the stars, Melnikova has sought humanity’s fascination with the Moon’s ‘lunar maria’ as thematic guidance for her first proper album Sea to Sea.

The spiritual and mythological relationship with the heavens course throughout the record. Each track named after one of the many volcanic plains historically mistaken for ‘seas’, Melnikova uses each sea name as a foundation to direct the flavour of each track. ‘Sea of Fecundity’ suitably opens the album, a rich and euphoric stir of vocal choirs and woodwind presets, Melnikova establishes the record with an unashamed harmony of celestial reach and cheesy instrumentation. Glossy kitsch develops further with keyboard sax and big club piano, all delivered with a knowing spirit of puckish fun. It’s a song which appeals to the heart over tiresome pretensions of ‘cool’, the rest of the album following suit.

The dense interplay between percussive rhythms and Eastern Asian melodies create a beguiling balance of electronica and organic sonics similar to Japan’s Tin Drum, Melnikova adding some throat singing to add an extra layer of exotic. ‘Sea of Nectar’ features Melnikova’s treated vocals dart and flutter like Grimes across sculpted ravines of Fairlight CMI sounding production, straight out of the more buoyant cuts off Kate Bush’s The Sensual World. The chilly vibe of ‘Sea of Serenity’ provides a welcome break from the jubilant character of the album, Silent Shout style wanders of echoing whispers and nimble bass hooks that ripple in its Scandinavian tundra. Ending as it began, the final track ‘Sea of Knowledge’ is a Hi-NRG banger of majesty, a joyous jolt of giddy dance with a smattering of kitschy Prince Rama pomp.

Fluid, amorphous, and ever-changing, Sign Libra have presented a piece of work that shifts its form into enticing and unexpected patterns and creations. Sincerely igniting some ethereal electricity without tumbling into New Age po-faced nonsense, Sea to Sea is an honest and exuberant signal to an energy we could all perhaps tap into if only we stopped and paid attention.

Iona Fortune ‘Tao of I Volume 2’

‘Originating and penetrating, advantageous and firm’ is the first line to Zhōu Yì, the central core of the ancient Chinese text I Ching. Meaning to be open and upon receipt of divinity and further enlightenment, Qián 乾 and the 63 other units which comprise the archaic manual has profoundly influenced Eastern thought and provided the western world with spiritual guidance on art, literature, religion, and science.

Tao of I Volume 2 is the second entry in a planned eight-volume series of works which explore each of the 64 hexagons in it’s correct, King Wen order. Inspired by Jon Hassell’s ‘Fourth World’ theory, Glaswegian artist Iona Fortune fused her sound understanding of traditional Chinese instrumentation with deep synth washes to conjure the heady and brilliant 2017 debut Tao of I, winning her a support slot on Shellac’s U.K. tour of that year.

Expanding her palette of sounds with the addition of indigenous instruments such as the Zhong and Yanquin, Fortune avoids her sophomore effort feeling like a retread of her debut, but instead provides new hues and flavours to illustrate a sense of journey, or ‘Tao’. The thick rumbles of the EMS Synthi AKS cut and bristle once again, but you stumble into new territory on the nervy woodwind of closer ‘Yù 豫’, the flute-like Bawu creating skittish and troubled energy.

The zen balance of the synthetic and organic courses throughout, the meditative percussion and echoing strings on ‘Xiǎo chù 小畜’ recall Eduard Artemyev’s haunting score for the cerebral sci-fi classic Stalker, as well as Coil’s ambient explorations. The utterly exquisite ‘Tài 泰’ reaches extraordinary depths of arcane mysticism, beautiful singing Erhu strings glide and soar to sensual serenity, doing its hexagram meaning of ‘Peace’ or ‘greatness’ justice.

The world is busy, stifling, and choking itself. Spiritual nourishment has no value in the rapacious demands of the neoliberal age, and we’re sicker and alienated for it. Tao of I Volume 2 reminds you there was a world before it, a universe of curiosity you’re probably neglecting, and sincerely transports you to the ether.

䷈ ䷉ ䷊ ䷋ ䷌ ䷍ ䷎ ䷏

E B U ‘Hinge’

To see E B U live is to step into a universe of synthetic simulacrum, where the sensory tactility of the human experience is broken down and reinterpreted with lights and liquid electronics, fronted by the mechanic theatrics of the clockwork lover from Fellini’s Casanova. All the computer wants is to know what goosebumps feel like….

E B U, the moniker of Bristol’s Ella Paine, has fast become a key artist in the city’s vibrant music roster, offering an utterly distinct and striking voice in the crowded electronic scene. Describing her sound as ‘swamp pop’, E B U’s debut album Hinge is an invitation to spend a moment in an ersatz womb, Paul Lansky sonics float like follicles past garbled chatter, a thrilling exploration of the machinations of imagination.

Lead single ‘Falling’ is a tale of infatuation turned inside out. Paine’s vocals warp and squeal like Karin Dreijer mixed with the signal intrusion of the Max Headroom incident, dripping synths rippling in the analogue soup while a skewed pop sensibility wriggles to the surface. Echoes of Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’ imbue ‘Light Show’, a delicate sparsity enveloping the playful voices warning of lights and their puckish mischievousness, before ending with Kid A aural ascendancy.

The buoyant, digital beauty of ‘By & By’ foams and fizzes with Fairlight CMI sounding waltz amid reverberating string plucks and rumbles, while subtle menace rears its head on interludes ‘Arcade’ and ‘Plague’, brief moments of discord for your corrupted data/memory. Album closer ‘Holy Guardian’ reaches ecclesiastical heights, organs swirl against glitchy palpitations and vocoder flutters against the awe of E B U’s uncanny alter.

Hinge is a fascinating and utterly original contribution to electronic music, made with keyboards and software yet as natural as electricity, a masterful work of soothing disquiet.