It’s easy to imagine Norm Chambers as equal parts musician and mystic - one hand on the keyboard playing blissful synthesizer melodies well the other hand dances wildly in the air, collecting ethereal timbres. This balance comes organically on Chambers’ latest outing as Panabrite, Soft Terminal, out now on Digitalis Recordings. Nothing on the record is forced, it evolves naturally and Soft Terminal exemplifies the interaction between humans and synthesizers as a point of transcendence. Gentle melodic waves, pulsing sequences, and crystal leads float about, conjured into meeting before dispersing back into the ether.
The album opens with “Rainbow Sequence” a hazy patch resembling an electric piano strikes delay saturated chords, a color washed, cross processed image appears as a vocoded voice sings an indecipherable incantation, and LFO chirps appear as DNA strings carrying the plan for the rest of Soft Terminal’s existence. An arpeggio swells in the background, frequencies filter, the picture grows clearer. A low analog drone grows, stretching along with the LFO chirps until they form pulses of pure energy. “Index of Gestures” follows taking the meditation to movement. Against a hypnotic sequence, a vibrato filled lead attempts to mimic human speech~the synthesizers are now alive and Panabrite acts as medium, channeling the cosmic message.
Panabrite explores the neo-kosmische (or neu-kosmische, rather) of modern synthesizer music that grew in popularity in the middle to late oughts. Rather than become absorbed in passionless criticism or trend absorption, he moves forward with the idea of cosmic exploration. Soft Terminal is an album that reconciles the synthetic, the vast unknown of the cosmos, with the organic, the human experience within the cosmos.
Songs like “Janus” and “Sound Softly” are driven by beautiful guitar melodies, while the drum machine cameos as propulsion in “Camembert Symphony,” although, in large, Soft Terminal is composed from synthesizer sources. Panabrite is obviously familiar with the instruments and this allows him to convey the message of cosmic unity that much clearly. The title of “Microlife” is indicative of the album as a whole - each song expounds upon the miracle of life springing from the lifeless, with the synthesizer as primordial ooze from which component organisms emerge in surprisingly complex form to connect in waves of beautiful movement before dispersing back to source.
- Curt Brown (of Rubber City Noise/Black Unicorn/Cane Swords) for Experimedia - Buy
When I heard that Jesy Fortino and Liz Harris were making a collaborative album (two PacNW residents who record solo as Tiny Vipers and Grouper respectively) my interest was piqued. Harris is well known for her elegiac, lo-fi, and often quite beautiful recordings, while Fortino is more of a traditional singer-songwriter. The results of the two’s time spent in collaboration satisfies my expectations completely and, really, provides us with a wonderful example of a case in which two distinct artists forge a new sound while remaining true to their individual aesthetics. Harris’ ghost chorals are fleshed out by Fortino’s more upfront songcraft and vice versa. A stellar album that reminds me of some nonexistent Flying Saucer Attack-offshoot that VHF might have released in the early 2000s. - Alex Cobb (of Students of Decay) for Experimedia - Buy
I’ll confess to not having been bowled over by everything I’ve heard from Dolphins into the Future, the solo endeavor of Belgium-based Lieven Martens. Much of this is due to my own cynicism/skepticism - the name, the crystal/New Age tropes, etc- I just can’t do it- so, needless to say, I approached this collection with quite a few reservations. While Canto Arquipelago didn’t shatter my preconceived notions of the project, or make me an instant convert, it is a really nice listen. A fairly transportive, romantic set of recordings that, really, do a good job of situating themselves alongside the private issue New Age (PINA) records that clearly serve as Martens’ muse. If you need to bolster your chakras, you could do a hell of a lot worse. - Alex Cobb (of Students of Decay) for Experimedia - Buy
Hyper (and hyper-detailed) electronic, beat-oriented music from Justin Hopkin’s RareBit project. These are vivid, frenetic tracks which range from post-techno bangers to amorphous synth workouts. Beautiful arpeggiations find themselves wedged between glitching electronics and propulsive percussion. Hopkins is a fine craftsman with a deft ear for melody and textures, these pieces feel alive in a way that a lot of beat-drive music doesn’t. Recommended for fans of the Brainfeeder label. - Alex Cobb (of Students of Decay) for Experimedia - Buy
Calling “Griis” a stark record would be an understatement. The monochromatic, blurry grey images that adorn the cover serve as the perfect barometer for the gauzy guitar-driven music within. Two side-long excursions sink into the murk that perfectly highlight Jan Kleefstra’s recitations in Frisian (a dialect spoken in northern Holland). The combination is oddly soothing even if, over time, it begins to feel almost overbearing. Each crackle, each subtle shift feels exactly in the right place. There’s a precision to this music that is organic. Even without understanding anything spoken by Kleefstra, you feel a connection with his words and the way it all flows. If the icy atmospheric guitars are the wreckage, his voice is the singularity that dissipates the fractured cloud. “Griis” skirts the line between hope & darkness and comes out the other side feeling utterly infinite. There is real beauty to be found in things so subtle. - Brad Rose (of Digitalis) for Experimedia - Buy
Ben Vida has been cooking up all manner of electronic fuckere over the last decade plus. Whether it’s been through his Bird Show project or other duos/trios/groups, Vida is a master of improvisation and composition. “Esstends-Esstends-Esstends” is a forward-thinking piece of visceral compositions. Intended as a device to engage the listener’s ‘sense of aural perception,’ Vida concocts uncompromising, microscopic vignettes that are as intricate as they are skull-piercing. Multiple layers buzz around each other, barely missing or utterly colliding, stretching the limits that your ears can handle. It’s an exquisite balancing act keeping track of each element as it glides (or crashes, as it were) in-and-out of focus. Like 2010’s Bird Show Band album (my previous favorite work of his), Vida is at his best when he’s assaulting boundaries and totally dialed in. “Esstends-Esstends-Esstends” is the best of both, presenting a singular focus that still keeps you guessing. Listen on headphones, listen on speakers, but whatever you do play it LOUD. - Brad Rose (of Digitalis) for Experimedia - Buy