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Fovea Hex – The Salt Garden (Landscaped) – album review

Fovea Hex – The Salt Garden (Landscaped)

Les Disques du Crepuscule

Vinyl LP & CD package

Out Now

New remix album from quiet music band Fovea Hex, featuring two lengthy ambient pieces newly rearranged by producer Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), who also mastered the disc for vinyl. The CD that comes as part of the package includes bonus tracks By The Glacial Lake redone by Peter Chilvers and We Dream All The Dark Away which was rejigged by Abul Mogard. Ian Canty drifts off into the stratosphere…

At the tender age of 15 Clodagh Simmonds joined psychedelic/prog/acid folk trailblazers Mellow Candle as a featured singer and songwriter. That band released their sole album Swaddling Songs on Deram Records in 1972, which has gained a solid cult following over the years. Since then Simmonds worked with as diverse talents as Thin Lizzy, Mike Oldfield and Current 93. In the early part of the 21st century she formed Fovea Hex, a “quiet music ensemble” (well that’s what the press release calls them anyway). The group has a floating membership which has included on record Laura Sheeran, Michael Begg, Colin Potter and both of the Eno brothers, with Brian being a fan and heard here vocally on We Dream All The Dark Away, a co-write for Clodagh with Abul Mogard who also remixed the track.

It is immediately apparent on listening to the ultra-slow piano glide that heralds the first track here that we’re not talking about songs on The Salt Garden (Landscaped) except in the loose sense, as Fovea Hex deal far more in experiences in sound. The album is made up of two side-long efforts in Is Lanza Light & Given and Solace. This is definitely a work that the listener needs to be in the correct mood for, but that isn’t to say that it is difficult to listen to though. In fact, quite the reverse is true. There are some extremely pretty passages and you can easily understand why David Lynch might be a Fovea Hex fan, particularly on the aforementioned We Dream All The Dark Away. It conjures up a similar strange sense of beauty entangled with the sinister that is one could glean from his film work.

Rather than beginning, as hinted at above, The Salt Garden (Landscaped) more drifts into earshot with the first item Is Lanza Light & Given. Slow and with a peaceful serenity, it gently, just about audibly, develops with synth/string drones. Even though it is buried deep here, there is still a sense of progression, with deep choral voices and mildly harsh electro washes coming about six and a half minutes in. It’s a little like deathly slow electropop and I mean that in a good way.

At 10 minutes Clodagh’s voice comes in, giving the eternal, haunting feel a touch of folk. The sound almost fades away entirely, apart from the constant pulse, but then the voice comes back manipulated electronically and feather-light percussion a long way away somehow makes its presence felt. To close with a more traditional song shape develops, movingly so. Is Lanza Light & Given was my introduction to the world of Fovea Hex and it was one of chilled cool.

Flipping over the vinyl we have Solace, which clocks in at around the twenty one minute mark and shimmers into progress with long notes that fade away ethereally. Silence is used more as an instrument here, denoting changes in emphasis as strings make themselves heard. Patiently those strings build themselves up, before disappearing again. This is as far from rock & roll as one could imagine, having a lot more in common with classical music, but it works.

Two shorter offerings round off the CD that comes as part of The Salt Garden (Landscaped) package, though We Dream All The Dark Away is only seconds shorter that Solace. A slow fade in of keyboard sound introduces the piece, then after four minutes Simmonds’ voice comes in. The brief vocal interjections resonate, “We dream our paradise” sang so sadly as though that paradise can never be attained. It has that rare kind of “lump in the throat” beauty, with a male voice choir effect emerging three quarters of the way though as it builds to a fuzzy intensity. Finally By The Glacial Lake ends the CD, a folk-tinged song that has a meditative piano figure and slight feedback effects. Clodagh’s voice is jaw-droppingly lovely and enchanting here.

The Salt Garden (Landscaped) is beautifully presented on clear vinyl and the inner sleeve includes an interview with Clodagh Simmonds plus comments from Steven Wilson and Brian Eno. This is music for chilly autumn nights, music filled with gentle mystery which will tantalise long into the evening. Perhaps not for everyone, but then again you could say that about any music. Fovea Hex prove here there is a need for music that takes one away from the endless talk and noise of modern life – this is a collection of quiet wonder and purpose.

All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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Durutti Column – Sex And Death – album review

Durutti Column – Sex And Death

Factory Benelux


Released 23 April 2021

Deluxe 2CD reissue of Durutti Column’s 1994 album, their 11th studio LP in total. This 12 tracker was produced by Stephen Street and was originally the first release on Factory Too, Tony Wilson’s 1990s attempt to revive the Factory name. This version is newly remastered and includes 10 rare bonus tracks on a separate disc…Ian Canty ponders two of life’s grand dramas…

By 1994 it appeared that Vini Reilly’s Durutti Column had effectively come full circle in the 16 years they had been in existence, with them heading up Tony Wilson’s recently launched Factory Too. This was a label aligned to the London imprint, with which Wilson sought to replicated the original Factory Records ethos. Tony was still acting the band’s manager at this time and it was only natural that DC were invited aboard and released the debut long player of the label Sex And Death, the band’s first since Obey The Time four years before.

Though by this time Durutti were to all intents and purposes a duo of percussionist Bruce Mitchell and VR, Sex And Death also includes contributions from Manchester fellow travellers Peter Hook of Joy Division/New Order fame and Martin Jackson, who played drums on the early Magazine records before becoming part of 80s hitmakers Swing Out Sister. There were also guest spots for long-term DC cohort viola player John Metcalfe and vocalists Rob Gray, Carrie Eastwood and Ruth-Ann Boyle.

The debt that Durutti Column owed Wilson as a mentor and constant supporter is recognised by the very first track presented here entitled Anthony, a lovely echoing piece of prime Durutti guitar meditation with added lyrical horn arrangement. This album effectively brought the band out of limbo and this melody was a truly chilled way to get Sex And Death underway. The Rest Of My Life has some lovely, evocative work by Vini over a static beat and For Colette builds up patiently through an electro pulse, with some gentle strings and Reilly’s guitar hovering behind coolly.

The Next Time is the first tune with a vocal, including some soulful skat singing playing off Vini’s typically understated voice. A big drum beat and some soloing, which gets close to metal even, marks this one. With a more dance-orientated, downbeat feel, Beautiful Lies uses both acoustic and electric guitar, plus a fractured voice. The calm of My Irascible Friend is in many ways textbook Durutti Column, with Latin guitar flourishes being deployed at a careful pace.

The second half of Sex And Death begins with the happy flutter of Believe In Me, a sparsely vocalised number. Then comes the ghostly echo guitar of Fermina. Where Should I Be is again more song-based, a lovely unguarded fragment with well-judged female vocals and this leads into the album’s genuine pop song Fado, which would have made a great single. A short but pretty Madre Mio leaves the classy and reflective Blue Period to end what is a very satisfying snapshot of 1990s Durutti Column. They are always instantly recognisable through Vini’s one of a kind guitar style, but it acts as the anchor allowing Durutti to develop the sound into other areas in a gentle and natural way.

The second CD of this set features 10 rare tracks, with 6 of these being previously unreleased and sourced from Tony Wilson’s personal collection. These bonus tracks feature a couple of early versions of Believe In Me, with the second take being particularly fine. The other eight pieces were recorded around the same time as Sex And Death, but ultimately were not favoured for inclusion on the album. My Only Love (aka Duet) immediately grabbed me with its wordless, rhythmic vocal sounds plus lovely jangly guitar and Picking Guitar For The Shrimp is a great example of Vini’s solo, echo-laden and beautifully realised instrumentals.

Get Me To The Beat On Time is far more in a dance mode, though I felt this offering slightly too busy for me. I suppose that sort of sound was all the rage at the time, but I can also sort of see why it went unissued. Slightly less of the vocal would have rendered it a touch sleeker in my view, because under that, there is definite dance potential. Jumble Drums, Growling Bass And The Whammy Bar is the very descriptive title of the following track, but this has some carefully deployed, bright ambient moves which I really liked.

There’s a touch of funk in For Cameron de la Isla that is underpinned by an electro rhythm and in contrast War Torn is a vocal folk tune given a Durutti touch, with Rob Gray’s singing full and clear. The Celestial Bar, the final track of this set, seems a sequel to War Torn and follows the same pattern. Vini’s guitar paired with Rob’s voice works well.

The accompanying booklet features fragments of three 1995 press interviews with Vini, which help to set the scene nicely. It notes that this album was released that year as a CD-ROM and reveals that Wilson clearly but incorrectly thought this format was the future. Fortunately Sex And Death has held up rather better than that piece of technology.

This set has been expertly remastered by Peter Beckmann at Technology Works and the sound is uniformly excellent. Sex And Death is an album that showed the continuing development by Durutti Column at their own pace. They kept the core strengths and that enabled them to add gently different ideas and sounds. This reissue is highly pleasing in its quality, which is something you would expect from Factory Benelux. It sounds like a dream and if you wanted to check Durutti’s progress having lost touch with them since the early days, Sex And Death is as good a place as any to start catching up on their progress.

Durutti Column are on Facebook here and their website is here

All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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Album Reappraisals: Grouper – A | A: Dream Loss and Alien Observer

Grouper Grouper

A | A: Dream Loss and Alien Observer

Released in April 2011

Two remarkable albums from the contemporary music history page, celebrating the immersive power of emotion and ambience.

Although the name Grouper seems to specify a type of otherworldly-looking fish, it, in fact, refers to a spiritual community Fourth Way in California where American musician Liz Harris grew up. Still, this music summons up experiences relating to both versions – being underwater and listening to the ambience of religious chants.

Interestingly, Harris has gone very far from the influenced-by-George Gurdjieff Fourth Way practice which aims to decrease daydreaming thus achieving higher spheres. On the contrary, her music manifests somnambulism, wandering through memories and dreams.

Both parts of the A | A album – Dream Loss and Alien Observer – were released in 2011. The 10-year gap doesn’t seem so remarkable in a global historical sense. Yet, looking back from now, one may feel that this time is already distant, at least music-wise. It was still a moment when the noughties wave of the new sincerity trend remained in its zenith. The year saw releases of like-minded ambient-folk artists such as Julianna Barwick, as well as introverted singer-songwriters akin Atlas Sound and Kurt Vile. Although, being on-demand, sincerity was still a moving element.

Speaking of spiritual undertones, the record seems to be in tune with the concept of alchemical transformation. With its murkiness and twilight-y guitar passages akin to Neil Young’s soundtrack for Dead Man, Dream Loss pushes through emotional nigredo. It envelops into reverberant layers of inexplicable sadness, displaying a fragile emotional world underneath the water column of ambient sounds. These equally remind of mild airport traffic and static noise from the TV. Whirling into a polyphonic loop of distant folk singing, A Lie suggests an open ending, seemingly pointing to the direction of a buffer zone between two parts of the album.

Although deeply infused with nostalgia, Alien Observer is a contemplative take, an attempt to look at one’s own feelings from a distance. The opening Moon Sharp is soothing, expressing a glimpse of hope as if it was sunlight seen from the seabed. Tremolo-sounding arpeggio on the title track makes a celestial contrast to the immersive drone of previous compositions, perhaps, similar to the move from another planet. Consequently, the alien theme is continued in the music video for the song which displays a female protagonist visited by a mysterious lover. Dark mise-en-scène of noir scenes emphasises the numb feeling of desire when someone is distant and still very close.

Revisited this time, these two albums might sound like a message from a time capsule reminding us how beguiling can be the emotional complexity delivered in a lo-fi form. Yet, despite the prevailing DIY principle, the sound is sophisticated and solid, despite general vagueness, it is a direct communicator between the artist and her listener. A medium between the past and now.

A | A: Dream Loss and Alien Observer is available on Grouper’s BandCamp.


All words by Irina Shtreis. More writing by Irina can be found in her author’s archive.

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Elori Saxl: The Blue Of Distance – album review

Elori Saxl - The Blue Of DistanceElori Saxl

The Blue Of Distance

Western Vinyl

Out now

Elori Saxl’s haunting debut album is a haunting reflection on longing and memory, harnessing technology and nature. It’s the perfect cure for lockdown anxiety, says Tim Cooper.

In most music listeners’ minds, the term “ambient” conjures a cornucopia of different ideas – anything from synth soundscapes to neo-classical instrumentals and musique concrète. Not to mention nose flutes, chimes, birdsong and the mating sounds of whales.

The young New Yorker Elori Saxl’s The Blue of Distance combines most of the former and – thankfully – none of the latter, blending digitally-processed recordings of wind and water with analog synthesizers and chamber orchestra. The effect is stunning, with elements of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Brian Eno and much more besides.

It begins as a meditation on the effect of technology on our relationship with land/nature/place before evolving to become a reflection on longing and memory. The phrase “The Blue of Distance” was coined by Rebecca Solnit in A Field Guide to Getting Lost and refers to the phenomenon of faraway mountains appearing blue due to light particles getting lost over distance.

Half of the album was written in the Adirondack mountains during summer, the other half conceived on a frozen Lake Superior island in deep winter. The result, says Saxl, is intended as a subtextual dialogue between the two extreme settings. The remote community of La Pointe (pop: 261) on the island of Madeline Island (pop: 261) where Saxl spent the winter, is also the setting for two self-directed videos – Wave I and Wave III – embracing the calm and serenity of the setting.

Musically, Saxl’s intention was to combine the technology of electronic music with the rhythms of nature. She had been listening to a great deal of EDM prior to starting work on her album, and was struck by the use of modular synths to create pulsing beats. “I’d been spending a lot of time sitting outside listening to the wind and water, which I noticed were also pulsing,” she explains. “It hit me that maybe there was a way to use those sounds as a sound source to create beats. So basically trying to figure out how to shape wind and water into a pulsing beat that emulated a modular synth (or rather, pull out the pulses inherent in those sounds) was what led to the musical foundation of The Blue of Distance.

“Then I just tried to think about what acoustic instruments the electronics sounded like and just write parts that mimicked the electronics so that there was a blurring and confusion of sounds. The water and wind samples’ pitch bends and sways, mimicking a synthesizer and confusing the distinction between natural and artificial (or digital) sounds.”

Saxl, 30, makes music and film and has composed for new music ensembles and directed films for the New Yorker and Slate, earning her two Emmy nominations. She says of the album’s genesis: “Being born in 1990, I was interested specifically in exploring what it means to have grown up contemporaneously with the proliferation of the internet and new technology such as Google Maps, Youtube, and smartphones filled with photos and videos that allow us to access distant people and places without being physically present.

“I was interested in understanding how the personal experience of memory formation may parallel humanity’s changing relationship with land through new technology that allows us access to a place or person without being physically present. When I began working on the album, I was really focused on that abstract conceptual idea.”

Minneapolis-boprn Saxl, who now lives in New York City, wrote the first half of the album in the middle of summer amid the lakes, rivers, and moss-laden forest floors of the Adirondacks –  “one of the happiest times that I’ve experienced in my life” – using flowing water and wind as a sample source.

She returned to the album later that winter while living on an island in the middle of a very frozen Lake Superior, intending to collect more samples from her new surroundings, only to find the water beneath a foot of ice. “Emotionally, I was in a pretty low place, but I wanted the piece to feel cohesive, so I started looking back at photos and videos from my summer to try to remember what I’d felt like so that I could infuse the new music with that same emotion.”

The result was a distorted version of the original experience and emotion. “The sound itself also became distorted through the ice, mimicking the process my memory was playing on the original experience. Through this process, what began as something conceptual became very personal.”


More about Elori Saxl at her website, Instagram and Twitter.


All words by Tim Cooper. You can find more of Tim’s writing on Louder Than War at his author’s archive. He is also on Twitter as @TimCooperES.


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Ambient Industrial Project Manufactura’s “And The World Succumbs To Vermin”

We are silently set on fire
As they drown in their lies
And the world succumbs to vermin

The influential, controversial, admired, and despised project known as Manufactura returns from the abyss with their 10th and final album, And The World Succumbs To Vermin.

Merging elements of classical music, dark ambient, analog drone, cinematic soundscapes, and power electronics into a vast, dark, and epic journey of power ambient music, Manufactura’s lush soundscape offers hope, melancholic joy, and “inspired dreams crushed slowly against concrete that have been mangled through rugged soil into a fine sand…mercilessly scattered by the massive tides of a poisoned depthless ocean of darkness and time.” Neither time, neither distance or even death stood against the will of its creation. This release finalizes the 2nd styled poetic trilogy of albums from Manufactura.

The end of the world has begun.

The 120-minute magnum opus was designed to listen to at extreme levels and/or lower, more subdued volumes. The disturbing low frequencies are intended for prayer, meditation, drug consumption, contemplation, magick, remote viewing, deep relaxation, deep agitation, deep introspection, astral projection, lucid dreaming, healing, and/or other states of consciousness and/or chaos. The music within also creates lush visions and constructs a dark cinematic world, wrapped in orchestral gossamer and urgent strings. It is an album to be experienced in the context of the atmosphere and ambient soundscape, punctuating experience with raw, unfiltered emotion.

The outfit Manufactura was “conceived within a dream, in a distant past and foretold by a certain parallel future.” In their narrative, the world possesses our understanding of the meaning, of reality.

Check out their offerings below and steel your imagination for some serious low-frequency disturbance.

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Album review: TED & MAJELLA – Divine Timing (Ted Turner, ex-Wishbone Ash)

TED & MAJELLA - Divine [Release date 21.12.20] Ted Turner is best known as the one time original guitar slinger in Wishbone Ash with whom he remained until 1974 and then on and off until 1994. Ted reappeared in 2018 together with his partner … Continue reading

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Domenique Dumont: People On Sunday – album review

domenique dumont - people on sundayDomenique Dumont

People On Sunday

The Leaf Label

Out now (all formats) – buy here 

Domenique Dumont creates a hauntingly evoctative electronic soundtrack for People On Sunday, a landmark silent film from 1930. 

It’s often said of ambient music that it sounds “like the soundtrack to an imaginary film” yet to be made. In this case the film is real – and was made 90 years before the soundtrack.

People On Sunday is a black-and-white silent film from 1930 Berlin, made by a trio who would soon flee the advance of Nazism and make their names 6,000 miles away in Hollywood. As such, it’s something of a landmark in cinema history: a fascinating snapshot of Weimar-era Berlin before the appalling events that would soon engulf Germany and much of Europe. A last taste of freedom, if you like.

Domenique Dumont’s wistful score cloaks the images in the same lazy, hazy miasma of memory that the film evokes, but works equally well as a standalone musical piece. For the full experience, however, I would recommend cueing up the film on YouTube and syncing the music. It’s all instrumental, and barely half the length of the full film, but the titles – Arrival, Gone For A Wander, Falling Asleep Under Pine Trees, Merry-Go-Round, Running Down The Hill, Watching Boats Pass By – make it easy to cue them to coincide with the images.

The film itself is a blend of documentary and drama depicting everyday life in the German capital – and, specifically, a relaxing weekend. Its dramatic scenes, interwoven with newsreel-style footage of the city at work and play, focus on five individuals – all played by non-professional actors, using their real day jobs as a backdrop – enjoying a sunny Sunday of leisure and romance.

Against a backdrop of Berlin’s inter-war café society, boys and girls meet up; they travel to the lake for a day out; romance blossoms by the beach, where friendships are formed; they listen to music on a portable record player – there’s something almost futuristic about that! – and secret assignations are made in the pine forest behind. Then they all go home and get ready to go to work again the next day.

The narrative of the film is reflected in the music of Domenique Dumont, a pseudonym previously used by a trio – Latvian producers Anete Stuce and Artūrs Liepiņš and a French singer who may have been fictional – on a 2015 album Comme Ça, blending gentle Balearic beats and French pop. It was followed by Miniatures De Auto Rhythm. Neither were like this.

Now reduced to Liepiņš and “an artist from France whose existence can neither be confirmed nor denied,” ‘Dumont’ was invited to compose the score for a special screening and live performance of the film – also known by its German title of Menschen Am Sonntag, and the French name Les Hommes Le Dimanche – at the Les Arcs Film Festival in the French Alps in December 2019.

Dumont says: “Working on this score strengthened my belief that the time we currently live in, although far from perfect, might be the best time to be alive,” he says. All the bells and whistles, all the advantages that we have the opportunity to enjoy in the 21st century, are things people couldn’t have dreamt of only a hundred years ago. At the same time, we haven’t yet transformed away from our sense of humanity.

“As absurd and optimistic as it may sound, we are living in a utopia compared it to what came before and, perhaps, what is to come. Somehow this movie made me think of the present more than the past.”

The music, especially Sunshine In 1929, captures that mood by using electronic instruments that were not even invented at the time the film was made, yet somehow seem appropriate with their ethereal effects, delicate beats and fluttering arpeggios evoking the same sense of wonder and delight as the film, evoking a lost age of innocence.

In terms of cinema, too, the film is a piece of history demonstrating the generation of German talent that was lost: the script is written by Billy Wilder, it’s directed by Robert Siodmak, and the cinematographer is Fred Zinnemann – all three of whom became genuine Hollywood legends after they left Germany to escape the dictatorship of the Third Reich.


All words by Tim Cooper. You can find more of Tim’s writing on Louder Than War at his author’s archive. He is also on Twitter as @TimCooperES


Domenique Dumont has an official website, and can also be found on Twitter. 

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Watch this! Big Black Delta (M83/Mellowdrone) release new video

Big Black DeltaMellowdrone vocalist/bassist releases new video under his Big Black Delta pseudonym for the song Air Conditioned Dork, from his latest album, 4.

In Jonathan Bates’ decade of developing widescreen ideas in Big Black Delta, one fact has been irrefutable. “All of us suffer from the same insecurities,” says the Venezuelan singer/multi-instrumentalist. “All of us. Successful, not successful; none of us knows what we’re doing. The real shit is in lowering one’s defenses, so music can flow out freely and imperfectly.”

Weathering the twists and turns of this mortal coil ain’t easy. It’s a constant battle, something you have to work on and respond to regularly without losing sight of what’s really important. Bates found this out the hard way four years ago, when his father/best friend died and bad news became a daily occurrence — loss as a way of life. “I just cracked,” he explains. “I was engaged to be married, but that relationship ended partially because I was drinking a bottle and a half of Jameson a day. I’m naturally a skinny guy, but I ended up looking like the alien in Mac and Me. Honestly, I just wanted to die for about three years straight.”

The longtime Mellowdrone frontman/M83 collaborator is quick to clarify he’s not kidding. There came a point in the past four years where Bates felt he’d either have to fix his situation or end it. And the only way he was gonna move forward — healthier and happier than he’d ever been — was by giving up drinking entirely.

On the song, he says, “A couple of records ago, a writer had written some pretty nasty things about me and my music. I had never met the gentleman, but he went after my looks, dress, music, etc., enough to where it felt personal. Being the alcoholic mess that I was, I really let it hurt me in unnecessary ways. I didn’t have the understanding at the time to see that the embarrassment and pain that had caused was not necessary. So I imagined this sub floor of Dante’s Hell where you just had these air conditioned dorks floating around saying spiteful things like if Terry Gilliam directed Dune. So you have this guy working through some chords on a piano trying to write a song, and in come these floating critics, singing to you like a Greek chorus.”

Watch the video for Air Conditioned Dork below.

Follow Big Black Delta on Facebook and Twitter


Words by Nathan Whittle. Find his Louder Than War archive here.

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