Short reviews of noteworthy music, both new and old, that I’ve been listening to lately.
Strands by Steve Hauschildt
Although perhaps best known as a founding member of electronic outfit Emeralds, Steve Hauschildt has also released several acclaimed albums under his own name. Most recently, he released Strands in 2016, which blends modular electronics with stirring ambient passages.
The album’s title track is particularly lovely and affecting, with dreamy tones twinkling like stars on the clearest night imaginable, while melodic fragments and soft arpeggios drift below. Put simply, it’s one of those songs you never want to end, but rather, want to live inside for longer than its five minutes allows. (If I’d heard it last year, “Strands” would definitely have been on my year-end mix.)
Other highlights include “Horizon of Appearances” which begins the album on an eerie, twilit note; the percolating “Same River Twice,” which recalls vintage Steve Roach; and “Time We Have,” whose magnificent synth tones sound like they’re emanating from a cathedral in orbit high overhead.
A/D by Lorn
The Wisconsin-based artist known as Lorn describes A/D as “selected commissions, abandoned or rejected themes and broken mantras for moving picture. [L]argely beatless, ambient dives into tape with analog and digital synthesis, drones, dirty power and white noise.” That description covers a lot of ground, but listening to Lorn’s maximalist synth music, I can hear all of that in there — even though most of the songs clock in right around two minutes or less.
Given the songs’ origins as moving picture themes, there’s a suitably vast and cinematic scope to songs like “Spinning in a Dream,” which feels far more epic than its eighty-two seconds might imply. Both “Vestige I” and “Vestige II” tap into the same synthwave textures and arpeggios that Makeup and Vanity Set has used to such great effect in his work. Finally, “Unfolding” is aptly titled, as Lorn unspools his synthesizers to create a soundscape that’s as foreboding and ominous as it is beautiful.
Digital-Dance by Software
Vaporwave has overtaken the online music sphere in recent years. While vaporwave spans a wide range of styles, it’s best typified by slowed down and highly manipulated samples of ’80s/’90s-era jazz, muzak, and R&B. The result is a highly atmospheric, nostalgia-laden sound that constantly toes the lie between cheesy and subversive.
So how interesting is it to hear something that could easily be classified as vaporwave, and yet was created by a couple of German composers back in 1988? If anything, listening to Software’s Digital-Dance feels like you’re listening to the blueprints of vaporwave as they’re being drawn up. All of the elements are there: dreamy atmospherics, muzak-ish horn arrangements, and a sense that what you’re listening to should be written off as “cheesy,” and yet it all sounds convincingly sincere.
As I listen to opening track “Oceans Breath,” part of me wants to roll my eyes at the Kenny G-like saxophone and New Age-y keyboard plinking. Same goes for the pan flute-like tones on “Magnificent Shore” and “Sea Gulls Audience“‘s synth choir/sax duo. But Peter Mergener and Michael Weisser’s desire to use their “magic sounds” to transport the listener to another world seems so genuine and unfeigned that I’m ultimately fascinated by the end result.