penelope's hyperdiary

Music I bought - 2022/01

Posted: 2022-02-06

I don’t use subscription streaming services such as Spotify to listen to music. Mainly, I don’t like buying into the illusion that my subscription fee is funding the musicians I listen to, when it isn’t really. Paying Spotify a monthly fee is like tossing coins at an overcrowded cage full of thousands of artists and making them fight with sharpened fingernails over your pennies.

Instead, I have made a vow: every month, I will buy at least one album (or EP, or whatever) from an artist on Bandcamp and let you know about it on this blog. I’ll also nominate a “runner-up”: a release which I really think you should listen to but which I did not buy.

Soothing synths and sax

In the end, I decided to buy the album Irian Jaya by Alex Crispin and Nicholas Whittaker. A pair of veteran musicians, Crispin and Whittaker have put their multi-instrumentalist skills into the service of dreamy, sauntering ambient. Over four tracks, they bring a veil of summery haze (or wintry mist, if you prefer) over the listener and transport them to far-away places.

On Mesa, a looping lullaby is overlaid with gently jazzy wanderings on Whittaker’s saxophone. The mood of this track is reminiscent of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports - though I suppose every ambient musician owes a debt to that album.

The stand-out track (in my opinion) is Tephra: there is a more wistful and slightly troubled atmosphere on this one. Certainly the sound is replete with instruments: there are pickings on acoustic guitar, peals of woodblock and the occasional delicious moment when a heavy bass note wafts in. All of these ingredients complement an echoing sax, which calls out and yearns for another time and place.

Runner-up: Réelle

Somehow or other, January saw me fall a few feet down the “post-club” rabbit-hole. This fringe sub-genre seeks to take the loud drum samples and common processing effects of electronic dance music and turn them into something unfamiliar, abrasive and hardly danceable. There’s no use pretending that this music is not “challenging”. It is often uncomfortable and riddled with anxiety. For the intrepid listener, however, it is more than worth it for the fascinating sounds and complex emotions to be brought home from the journey.

Réelle, a seemingly reclusive artist who died in 2019, is known as a pioneering inspiration in this world. One hallmark of their tracks is the chopping up and processing of human vocal samples to the point where they are still recognisable as human but in which no words can be discerned. Eerily, it seems as if someone is trying to speak to you, but cannot make themselves understood no matter how hard they try.