REVIEW: ‘Wait For Me’ – Snowpoet

A PORTAL to aesthetic escapism, the divergent and beautifully efflorescent approach of Snowpoet (vocalist Lauren Kinsella and producer/instrumentalist Chris Hyson) was laid down in an early EP and their eponymous debut album of 2016, followed by 2018’s Thought You Knew.

Now, new release Wait For Me explores ‘the deeper questions of how we love, how we accept our faults and how we let go in a time of profound confusion’, offering ‘protection and solace, advocating openness to adversity and a way to safely navigate great change’. In that vein, perhaps these twelve original songs are more cogitative than before, given the uncertain age in which we presently live – but they’re no less compelling.

Whether you hear Godley & Creme/10cc in multi-layered A Chance To Hear The Rain, Annette Peacock in the ‘spoken singing’ of pop-pulsed The Wheel, or Laurie Anderson in the oblique art of Early Feelings, Kinsella and Hyson have the ability to coax memories of our formative years’ musical experiences, distilling them through their unique brand of genre-defying music and poetry (pop/electronica/jazz might be an opening reference point). There are also songwriter evocations of Joni Mitchell and Björk, with digital grooves and effects that bind the whole with more current influences. Each listen prompts another ripple of emotion – maybe a fleeting, halcyon recollection or even a physical sensation of hypnopompic warmth; and Kinsella’s wordplay may ‘click’, baffle or provide a single line or phrase that feeds the imagination. That’s the artistry – and therein lies the allurement.

Friends from the jazz/creative music world again contribute to the weave, including saxophonist Josh Arcoleo, pianist Matthew Robinson and drummer Dave Hamblett. While the structural foundation of these creations can sometimes be a simple oscillation or riff – as in the folky zephyr of FaceTime or elevated, anthemic Sky Thinking – it’s the blend of Hyson’s synthy atmospheres/arrangements and Kinsella’s distinctive palette of vocal expression and lyricalness that produce the wonder. For example, Roots bustles to her signature clipped soundbites and harmonies over radio-friendly beats, while also featuring Arcoleo’s billowing sax and the nightingale-suggested violin of Alice Zawadzki.

Preceded by Tiers’ industrial, Eno-style smog, With You hints at the electronic bop of Everything Everything, Hyson’s busy production packing much into its four minutes, while sustained fortitude in Here’s the Thing (“… she has a secret, there’s a field, there’s a forest, there’s a river running through her”) maintains a balmy sway. Burn Bright, too, possesses the gossamer weight of earlier Snowpoet, Kinsella’s encouragement (“Can you touch someone’s pain? Burn bright, my love”) supported by improvisatory elegance from Zawadzki and Arcoleo. The gently-accompanied prose of Floating Practice is delightful – just rest and listen; and ticking, nursery-rhyme-like chant Wool, Cotton, Lace & Snow leads out with “sunny days … and warming rays”.

Through word, music and ambience, Snowpoet adeptly build the layers on their canvases, while at times leaving space for our own impressions and emotions. These fifty minutes might simply wash over you, provide an urban soundtrack or become profoundly moving and connective. However you respond, there’s no doubting Snowpoet’s continued mastery.

Released on 19 February 2021 (streaming/download) and 26 March 2021 (worldwide – CD/LP) at Edition Records.

 

Lauren Kinsella vocals
Chris Hyson piano, synths
Matthew Robinson piano, synths
Josh Arcoleo saxophone
Dave Hamblett drums (except on With You)
Lloyd Haines drums (on With You)
Alex Haines guitar
Alice Zawadzki violin

snowpoet.co.uk

Edition Records – EDN1166 (2021)

‘Flying Machines’ – Flying Machines

FlyingMachines_digital assets

A NEAT SYNTHESIS of pioneering inspiration, elegant sleeve art and exhilarating original music ties together Flying Machines’ eponymous debut album – a jazz-rock experience founded on imaginative, soaring electric guitar expression and energized, synth-sizzling grooves. 

With crew of piano/keyboardist Matt Robinson, bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Dave Hamblett, guitarist/composer Alex Munk’s inspirited artistic approach is fired by the legacy and memory of his father, Roger Munk, whose tireless, award-winning vision for the advancement of British airship technology resulted in this year’s maiden voyage of the world’s longest aircraft – hybrid vehicle Airlander 10.

Indeed, there is undoubtedly a sense of gliding freedom and adventure as these nine, aeronautically-themed tracks take to the skies, as if the guitarist’s overarching brief to the band is to ascend towards spatial euphoria. So although opening number Tracks ripples to incisively picked guitar, deftly chromatic piano and tricksy, propulsive rhythms, it then levels out into an above-cloud state of tranquillity, with Munk’s clean, sustained melodies basking in endless sunlight; and the busyness of Bliss Out also has wide-openness at its heart, Robinson’s anthemic piano octaves floating over Hamblett’s snare drum propulsion, giving rise to gutsy guitar improvisation.

Munk’s citation of Pat Metheny and Mike Walker as influences can be heard in dreamy As Long As It Lasts. Rapid, anticipatory synth patterns in Emotional Math Metal bubble underneath crashing rock chords and breathless, extended, bass-driven riffs (yet there are always moments of serenity for taking in the view); and the guitarist’s solo piece, First Breath, possesses a Tracy Chapman song-like simplicity which almost implies a lyrical vocal line, as well as a redolence of Steve Howe or Steve Hackett prog interlude.

This quartet coalesces superbly across these differently-hued episodes, the buoyant electric bass and Rhodes funk of Lighter Than Air perhaps suggesting Snarky Puppy or, again, Metheny; and Peace Offering‘s initial weightlessness hits some splendidly turbulent dynamic and rhythmic fluctuations, all so exactingly co-ordinated. Stratosphere‘s crunchy, pop/rock solidity treads somewhere between Blue Oyster Cult and Genesis; and post-flight A Long Walk Home (with Chaplin’s switch to double bass and Robinson’s acciaccatura piano inflections emphasising this more rustic, acoustic amble) views the afterglow with an exquisite, thankful reverence.

Technically and emotionally thrilling, Flying Machines’ own inaugural flight is ‘up there’ with the best. Released on 14 October 2016, it’s available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp.

 

Alex Munk guitars, compositions
Matt Robinson piano, synths, Fender Rhodes
Conor Chaplin electric bass, double bass
Dave Hamblett drums

flyingmachinesband.com

Sleeve art by Oli Bentley at split.co.uk

Pictor Records – 001 (2016)

‘Duski’ – Duski

duski

AN EPONYMOUS debut release from Welsh-based quintet project Duski, led by bassist/composer Aidan Thorne, offers relaxed grooves and pleasurably atmospheric hues throughout its eight original tracks.

Seemingly informed by ’80s new romantic, indie pop and ambient/electronic jazz, its appeal owes much to the undulating washes of Paul Jones’ keys/synths and Dan Messore’s electric guitar inventiveness. Carried on a wave of bubbling electric bass and Mark O Connor’s tight percussive rhythms, Greg Sterland’s luxurious, straight-ahead tenor sax resonances glide across these instrumental landscapes with reassuring warmth, frequently with an accessibility which recalls The Crusaders, though also with the nebulous searchings of, say, Zero 7 or Air.

Smoky melodic hooks and controlled synth/guitar expanses in Spare Part elegantly prepare a canvas for Greg Sterland’s subway-echoed tenor improvisations, whilst the ticking groove of Simple Tune might easily recall Talk Talk’s ‘It’s My Life’, glistening to Jones’ Fender Rhodes chimes and Thorne’s legato bass phrasing. Amongst dreamlike, vaporous miniatures, Sterland’s gruff-toned tenor in slowly-building Lakeside then becomes positively drowsy in slumberous Two Hours Long, its guitar sustenance suggesting endless late-night journeyings; and agile Another Simple Song again breezes along to relatively uncomplicated yet attractive pop harmonies with electronic refractions.

A likeable first outing indicating a penchant for pictorial soundtrack, Duski’s effectiveness in layering textures and evoking moods is admirable, and it even prompts thoughts as to how their already established group sound might develop in the future – perhaps augmented by voice or Canterbury Scene unusualities such as bassoon or oboe to provide a more distinctive edge. A pathway has been opened…

Released on 12 October 2016, Duski is available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp. Aidan Thorne tours as bassist with Slowly Rolling Camera; guitarist Dan Messore records as Indigo Kid.

 

Greg Sterland saxophone
Dan Messore guitars
Paul Jones keys, synths
Aidan Thorne bass, compositions
Mark O Connor drums

Illustration: Sophia Wagstaff

duskimusic.co.uk

Cambrian Records – CAM008 (2016)

‘Agartha’ – Oddarrang

Agartha

IT’S THREE YEARS since Finnish band Oddarrang came to the attention of UK audiences with their third studio album (and first with British label Edition Records), In Cinema, plus live gigs. Now, once again under the leadership of drummer and composer Olavi Louhivuori, new release Agartha permeates the senses with that same, statuesque wall of sound.

The line-up is less than conventional (a clue can be found in the quintet’s name which, rather than having its roots in folklore, was in fact devised from ‘odd arrangement’). Alongside Louhivuori is trombonist Ilmari Pohjola, guitarist Lasse Sakara, bassist Lasse Lindgren and cellist Osmo Ikonen; and there’s significant band input on synths and voices, with Ikonen also adding Chinese/Asian stringed instrument, the erhu. So whilst Oddarrang’s original music displays the power of progressive rock and the drama of widescreen soundtrack, it is also flooded with the broad, open spaces and inflections of Scandinavian folk.

In fact, it feels like Louhivuori’s world is informed by many influences, opening number Aletheia mysteriously awakening through synth ostinati and sustained, descending hazes redolent of Vangelis and Tangerine Dream. This is not blistering-solo jazz, nor mundane ambience. Instead, a series of anthemic, post-rock panoramas are meticulously fashioned, often seeming to build their anticipatory energy towards a blazing aurora; and melodic Central Sun, in particular, reveals both the force and beauty of this fine instrumentation – steely, unison trombone and voices above driving guitar and percussion, steadfastly facing into the wind. In Admiral Byrd’s Flight, an ardent rock groove of determination and intrigue is woven around pulsating, phased electronics and impassioned cello (the stuff of adventure movie climax).

The remaining two tracks of five hint at those extended, storytelling, prog expeditions of yore. At around ten minutes’ duration, slow-burning Mass I-III moves through a series of connected movements, its orchestral poise maintained by trombone, cello and string synth sustenance; and the more folsky guitar addition opens the door to windswept electronics and a thunderously-drummed conclusion. And Telos/Agartha (the album is titled after the legendary city at the earth’s core) is another extended opus whose gaseous, overlapping textures invite the beautiful, cantabile vibrato of the erhu before eventually reaching a hymnal conclusion, with triumphant trombone and cello melodies elevated above the band’s now-familiar layers of synth and percussion.

Oddarrang’s ability to radiate awe and wonder through their specific instrumentation and careful detailing is sure to appeal to those who appreciate emotive, majestic soundscapes.

Released on 23 September 2016, Agartha is available as CD, vinyl or digital download from Bandcamp.

Video: Mass I-III

 

Olavi Louhivuori drums, synths, voice
Ilmari Pohjola trombone, synths, voice
Lasse Sakara guitars, voice
Lasse Lindgren bass, synths, voice
Osmo Ikonen cello, synths, erhu, voice
with
Aino Peltomaa voice on Aletheia

oddarrang.com

Edition Records – EDN1079 (2016)

‘Snowpoet’ – Snowpoet

Snowpoet

IN A WORLD where, like some time-lapse street scene, we are frequently bombarded by high-energy grooves and cacophonous soundbites, Snowpoet have an adroit ability to create, through arresting vocal melodies/utterances and unexpected instrumental timbres, a gossamer labyrinth of intrigue and enchantment in which to lose ourselves.

The mesmerising vocals of Lauren Kinsella, fronting these nine tracks, are sensitively woven into the band’s ebbing and flowing sonic spaces – and the effect, particularly when heard in quiet isolation, has a remarkable impact on the senses. Kinsella – who sees her voice primarily as an instrument – places an emphasis on syllabic deconstruction, as well as rhythmic and tonal modulation (reminiscent of Annette Peacock), explaining that “sound comes through the word and has a musical meaning all of its own, regardless of its linguistic understanding.” That approach, central to this album’s creative folk/ambience, can be inexplicably and emotionally moving. Comprising a personnel (see below) who, individually, perform across a variety of genres (including contemporary jazz), these soundscapes are mixed by Chris Hyson and Alex Killpartrick; and the musical environments they produce require a certain abandonment from the listener.

Vivid, sun-glinted rivulets are depicted in Mermaid, a beautifully accessible introduction teeming with instrumental/electronic life and dreamy, layered vocals; and the whispered usherings of In a Quiet Space lead to Kinsella’s characteristic, undulating voice, the sense of anticipation painted by luscious clusters of sound suggesting a magical discovery under a forest canopy. Glad To Have Lost is redolent of one of Kinsella’s other projects, Blue Eyed Hawk, in the way its prog-style guitar and electronics underpin her typically measured lines before melting into piano-teared ambience; and the Irish lilt of Laura Kinsella’s poetic, melodic speech here is so compelling.

Creaking, tuned-out piano accompanies the vocal line in live-feel If I Miss a Star (an effect which recalls the quaintness of Peter Gabriel’s Me and My Teddy Bear), and countryfied Little Moon Man, with its acoustic guitar momentum, is utterly charming, delicately swathed in wordless backing vocals and ’70s-style synth riffs. The band’s acuity with audio imagery is continued in Gathering, as floating patterns, clicky extraneous sounds and broken, sustained electronics head downstream; and Kinsella’s playful dialogue in Waves is fused with 12-string guitar and plush vocal textures which later hit crashing breakers. Poetry of Stillness suggests an echoic, Peter Pan world of heavenly imagination with lengthened, storytelling vocalisations (“together, we walked up into a clou-u-ud of dreams”); and extended, rising Eviternity closes with a tingling sense of hope.

Especially in late-night solitude, this is a go-to album for immersive escapism – and that can be engendered in so many ways, be it disturbing, becalming or joyfully life-affirming. It takes deep, musical sincerity to achieve such powerful therapy; and for this reason, Snowpoet’s debut recording remains an outstanding body of work.

Released on Two Rivers Records, Snowpoet can be purchased in CD and digital download formats at Bandcamp.

 

Lauren Kinsella vocals, lyrics
Chris Hyson electric bass, keyboards, synths, piano, acoustic guitar, Wurlitzer
Matthew Robinson piano, keyboards, synths
Nicholas Costley-White acoustic and electric guitars
Josh Arcoleo backing vocals, synths, tenor saxophone
Dave Hamblett drums
with
Lloyd Haines additional drums (Little Moon Man, Poetry of Stillness)
Alex Killpartrick additional synth (Little Moon Man)

snowpoet.co.uk

Two Rivers Records – TRR 007

‘Shine’ – Jacob Karlzon 3

Karlzon

CONFESSEDLY, I was initially wrong-footed by the Jacob Karlzon 3’s new album, Shine. A casual first-track listen revealed electronica and piano with an amiable, anthemic melody suggesting this release may have more in common with the commercial accessibility of Coldplay than a creative jazz trio. But therein lies the clue…

Swedish pianist/keyboardist/composer Karlzon’s approach to his music is an unusual hybrid – seemingly a traditional piano trio (with bassist Hans Andersson and drummer Robert Mehmet), he seeks to combine the improvisatory unpredictability of jazz with the catchy immediacy of pop. Indeed, following on from 2012 ACT debut, More, and a successful couple of years honing their sound on the live circuit, the mood of these eight originals – along with a surprising U2 interpretation – is generally upbeat, either in effulgent vitality or warm serenity.

The production is tight, with a strong emphasis on synthesised pop techniques – yet, impressively, Robert Mehmet’s acoustic percussion and Hans Andersson’s sung bass meld organically with Karlzon’s shimmering electronics, as well as his eloquent pianistic wizardry. The title track’s Vangelis-like theme tune propulsion typifies this, providing Karlzon with the bright, washy canvas on which to sparkle high at the piano; and Bubbles twinkles magically, Andersson’s bass contributing a beautifully resonant extemporised tune. Recall Bono’s vocal to U2’s pounding classic I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (from 1987’s The Joshua Tree)… and then imagine it as a gently lilting, Enya-style piano solo – it works so well. And to follow, the more rock-driven piano/synth number Outsourced trudges with intent, bearing an uncanny resemblance, say, to Bruce Hornsby’s exuberant live offerings. So, already it’s clear that Karlzon is filtering many influences and styles to fashion a fascinating sound world.

Metropolis is more shadowy. Here, e.s.t. comparisons are difficult to avoid, given the complex techno drum rhythms and prominent, rolling prepared piano improvisations – but, still, it carries the Karlzon mark, tinted with ’70s/’80s prog rock. In contrast, the piano limpidity of Inner Hills, with its soft, simple motion, is a sure heartbeat reducer – time standing still for a light-headed few minutes. And, consistently, it’s the composer’s desire for melody which elevates his creations above any suggestion of humdrum ambience.

Folksong-imbued One More Day shifts into modulatory overtones of Thijs van Leer’s Focus, albeit with a funkier bass edge, Andersson’s pliant strings colouring Karlzon’s piano extemporisations; Screening Self seems to fuse late-Genesis rock influences with (again) a hint of Focus in its scratchy, ascending Hammond interventions; and, finally, Karlzon winds down with A Thousand Conclusions, a meditation which displays the subtle interaction of the ‘3’, building to showcase the pianist’s undeniable piano prowess.

Released in the UK on 15 September 2014, the Jacob Karlzon 3 reach for the feel-good, hoping that this album “helps each and every one who hears it to shine a little in their daily life.” More information and samples can be found at ACT.

 

Jacob Karlzon piano, keys, synths & programming
Hans Andersson bass
Robert Mehmet Ikiz drums

jacobkarlzon.com

ACT – 9573-2 (2014)