Featured artists: Cédric Theys | Great North Star | Siobhan McCrudden | Daniel Crommie | Exowst Scotland
Rounding off the ADA section for 2023 we have five bite-sized reviews taking a snapshot of just some of the albums, EPs and singles to land at TPA:
• Cédric Theys – Colour Spectrum
• Great North Star – Great North Star II
• Siobhan McCrudden – Following You | Iron Goddess [Singles]
• Daniel Crommie – A Factor Of One
• Exowst Scotland – 20233825968 | 202311 | 20232025 | 20231 | 20238 | 20231999 [Singles]
With a recording career straddling two decades, it was only with the release of last year’s Légèreté De L’Être that I first came across Austin, Texas based multi-instrumentalist Cédric Theys. The music was vibrant and minimal in approach and predominately featured mallet instruments with the addition of reeds. A thoroughly engrossing journey, reminiscent of Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Anticipation was therefore high for this release.
Like the album title, Cédric Theys’ Colour Spectrum diffuses numerous seemingly achromatic elements to create music with a clear vision. Fusing elements of chamber music, jazz, minimalism, ambient, avant-garde, zeuhl and post-rock, Cédric distils a somewhat twisted progressive continuum. To achieve this goal, and alongside his U8 Touch Guitar and glockenspiel, Cédric has engaged Troy Jones (drums & glockenspiel), Deborah Schmit-Lobis (piano) and Elsbeth Williams (bass clarinet). Not a standard quartet line-up, but there again, Colour Spectrum is not a standard album.
It’s certainly a diverse album, however given the constraints of the ADA review, let us take one track as an example. Colouring the Skies reveals an intriguing amalgam of interlinking and interlocking parts, with all four musicians delivering metric ambiguities, accompanied by engaging melodies. The end result is a rather hypnotic and thoroughly compelling piece of music. Take a listen…
Equally engaging are Translucent Rainbow and Fallen Feather, whereas the more adventurous might look to Sea of Change or the album opener Weaving Light. The album is available on a couple of streaming platforms, but as always Bandcamp is my preferred choice. Colour Spectrum is a challenging listen, a good thing in my book, although I don’t see much middle ground – it’s either going to appeal or not. It certainly appealed to me…
Great North Star return with album number two, the follow up to the well received eponymous debut released in June 2021. Moving on to October 2023, II follows very much in the footsteps of its predecessor, with Dean Thom’s absorbing, atmospheric guitar noodling immersed within Phil Considine’s sonic manipulations and sound effects. The duo have adhered to the template set out on the first album, and once again the tempo throughout is unhurried, leaving both space and time for the tracks to evolve.
Referring back to my review of the debut: “as with a great deal of ambient instrumental music, the journey it takes the listener on is self determined, although the composer(s) vision may well be a far different venture”. For the penultimate track, GNS take us to Derbyshire’s Moscar Moor and the remaining Bronze Age stones which now constitute the Seven Stones on Hordron Edge, whereas my journey took me to Venice’s Ponte de i Sospiri, as for some inexplicable reason Dean’s guitar triggered the ‘atmosphere’ of Robin Trower’s Bridge of Sighs…
Across the eight tracks on II, Dean’s delicate guitar and Phil’s electronica explore a whole gamut of seemingly disparate influences, however the end result is cohesive and thoroughly absorbing. Never intrusive but always compelling, the duo’s ambient soundscapes make the perfect accompaniment for the end of the day.
So what have we got here? In a nutshell, two tracks performed by “alt folk singer-songwriter” Siobhan McCrudden, accompanied by Grice Peters on guitar and vocals, and filmed earlier this year as part of ‘The Sub Sessions’ at the Sound Gallery Studios. Both tracks, Following You and Iron Goddess, featured on Siobhan’s stunning debut album, Icarus Girl, released in 2018, here re-recorded in a ‘stripped back’ live performance.
Musically, both tracks are an absolute delight. Drawing from her folk roots, Siobhan’s voice is a thing of beauty and superbly captured in this intimate setting. Delicately chiming acoustic guitars form the backdrop to Following You, the perfect setting for Siobhan’s poignant and lamenting lyrics:
You know them all by name
You know anger
You know grief
But hope’s the one I blame
She reels me in and pulls me close
I’m tethered like a kite
Oh spool me out
Let me go
Your heart has taken flight”
And then there’s the chorus with its totally infectious melody accompanied by Grice’s adroit harmonies…
Equally marvellous is Iron Goddess, which boasts a fuller arrangement with recorded drums, subtle embellishments, and electric guitar effects employed by Grice to give the track an edgier slant. The track drifts effortlessly with Siobhan’s silky voice floating across the landscape…
Prolific Portland, Oregon based multi-instrumentalist Daniel Crommie returns with album number two of 2023, which follows on from the half a dozen released in 2022. With such a prolific output there may be the danger of him simply re-treading old ground, and although Daniel has a recognisable sound, there’s no real evidence to support any obvious repetition. His releases do however seem to follow ‘patterns’. For instance, last year’s double album Perihelion Chronicle / Journey to the Aphelion explored an ambient electronica furrow, contrasted this year by stronger ‘song’ based albums. Released in May, Collected Singles, EP Tracks and Other Morsels pretty much did what it said on the label and brought together remastered singles, EPs, with a few new tracks, collated from his back catalogue. The scene is set for A Factor of One.
The album opens with Lazy Sun, and rhythmically we are in familiar territory, accompanied by Daniel’s knack of adding catchy instrumental ornamentation. The following two tracks, This is My Rhythm and Jackrabbit Hwy, see Daniel’s delightful flute gainfully employed, and without seeming too obvious here, I am minded of Jethro Tull’s ’80s period Under Wraps and Crest of A Knave. Now it could be me but the album as a whole seems to pay homage to the electronic music of the ’80s, with artists such as OMD, Depeche Mode, New Order, Japan and The Human League regularly springing to mind. This said, Daniel firmly imprints his own stamp on proceedings.
A Factor of One has a rich weave of rhythms and infectious instrumentation, however if I were to add a down beat it would be the vocal melodies, which can be a tad one dimensional, especially as the musical foundation is so rich… Still, Daniel seems to have the knack of making his songs work, a prime example being found in Plastic Pop (Eat it Again)…
So, here we are with only a few days left before the start of 2024, and the collated quarterly ADA reviews from Exowst Scotland are well and truly behind schedule. The best laid plans, as the saying goes, have gone out of skew – so a break with tradition as we round-up the last six singles released in 2023. For those who have missed the first two quarterly reviews, they are located HERE and HERE. So in this bumper ‘Duchesse de Bourgogne’ six-pack edition we feature the ‘singles’ released between July and December 2023.
But before we start, a quick intro to Exowst Scotland releases, which are the creation of composer, drummer, percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Alan Emslie (Snow). All the ‘singles’ are simply denoted by a number, the significance of which is open to any number of interpretations. The key to the tracks is spontaneity, and to this end each part is a live ‘one take’ performance.
Both July’s 20233825968 and August’s 202311 are upbeat with the emphasis on the percussive element. Catchy synths and 8-string guitar are employed to flesh out the tracks; the end result is a dance friendly concoction.
In contrast, September and October are somewhat darker affairs. September’s 20232025 opens with sparse but hypnotic synths pulses, before heavy guitar crashes in. The message is very clear, as Snow growls the spoken words: “WAR | HUMANITY INSANITY | WAR IS COMING”. For October’s 20231 the synths provide deep bass drones and a shimmering rhythm. Low in the mix, the down-tuned guitar adds depth whilst the wordless vocals add an eerie and ethereal backdrop…
November and December both briefly remind us of the awesome drummer behind the Exowst project. But before this, I’ll offer a seasonal ‘half-baked’ explanation as to the numbers. Erm, 20238? In Chinese culture both 2023 and 1999 were Years of the Rabbit – denoting peace and prosperity. Coincidentally (or is it?), the number 8 is considered to be a lucky number in Japan. Or perhaps taking into account all this year’s releases have been prefixed with 2023, could it simply be reference to Prince’s pre-Millennium hit 1999? Moving swiftly on, the multifaceted 20238 opens with deep throaty synths accompanied by powerful drumming. The track then segues into Kimigayo, the national anthem of Japan. Rounding off 2023 we have the powerhouse 20231999…
Exowst will return with 20242024…